Citizens group opposes annexing land

Rouse Co. property could be expensive for Columbia, foes say

June 13, 2000|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Alliance for a Better Columbia took a strong stance last night against the annexation of Rouse Co.'s Key property in North Laurel.

The newly revived citizens group argued against annexation because of the financial burden it would place on Columbia and the group's distrust of Rouse Co. and the Columbia Association.

The seven-member board of Alliance for a Better Columbia unanimously passed a resolution stating that the group opposes annexing the property.

Rouse Co. is asking the Columbia Association to foot the $3.6 million bill for adding recreational amenities to the property.

That's a cost the developer, Howard Research and Development Corp., owned by Rouse Co., should pay, said Arie Eisner, an alliance member.

"Rouse Co. calls all the shots even though CA is not controlled by them," Eisner said. "We no longer have to play their game. We no longer have to pick up the tab for them."

The Key property is 517 acres near, but not adjacent to, Columbia. Rouse Co. has asked the Columbia Association to make a decision on annexation by fall.

Rafia Siddiqui, Columbia Association's vice president for administrative services, recently presented revised financial projections about Key at a Columbia Council meeting.

Siddiqui placed the residential and commercial assessment revenue from Key property at $36.7 million over the next 20 years.

Siddiqui said Columbia would receive a return on its initial investment, but it might not occur for 20 years.

Alex Hekimian, president of the alliance, said Siddiqui was invited to Alliance for a Better Columbia's meeting but backed out when told not to attend by higher-ups on the Columbia Council.

Some alliance members said that Rouse might want Columbia to annex the property before it is developed residentially to market the property under Columbia Association's name.

Hekimian said the Columbia Association is not making enough information available to the public.

The Columbia Council has held one closed meeting about Key, Hekimian said.

"In light of the cry for more openness during the recent election, this is not the sort of thing we expected," he said.

The need for more information about Key was a theme repeated during the meeting, including what land Key encompasses and its zoning.

Many alliance members said that, aside from the recreational facilities issue, it would be premature for the Columbia Association to annex Key.

Some alliance members said the group should caution the Columbia Council against purchases and extra costs until Columbia's governance issues are resolved. Columbia is governed by a homeowners association but some residents feel Columbia has grown large enough to become an incorporated city with a different form of government.

The alliance's board unanimously approved a motion to support Councilman Vince Marando's proposal at Thursday's council meeting to develop a team to study governance options.

Originally started in the late 1980s, Alliance for a Better Columbia dissolved after many of its members were elected to the Columbia Council.

Most of them have retired, and Hekimian said the alliance re-formed last month to provide a voice for Columbia residents.

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