Concerns draw voters in Oakland Mills to polls

Worries about crime, development helping unite community, Russell says

Columbia

April 23, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

With crime and a struggling village center likely on their minds, 442 Oakland Mills residents hit the polls for village board elections Saturday - a sign that the community is serious about addressing its problems, said Barbara Russell, the village's representative on the Columbia Council.

The strong voter turnout produced a close race for the five spots on the village board. Russell was running uncontested for the village's seat on the council, which also acts as the board of directors for the Columbia Association.

A key concern of the Oakland Mills candidates is revitalizing the village center, which is struggling despite a $4 million renovation in 1998 by the Rouse Co. The center has not had a grocery store since Metro Food Market left last April and has also lost an Exxon gas station and a Royal Farms convenience store.

Crime has also been a significant worry. In January, a man was fatally shot in the head in front of the Stevens Forest apartment complex, and residents worry about teens loitering at the village center. The combination of a string of robberies and low sales prompted Royal Farms to close in 1999.

Russell said she and the village board have been working with police and the state's attorney's office to fight the problem.

"Instead of our village hiding its head in the sand, we said, `We need to address these issues, we need to inform the community,' " Russell said yesterday. "I don't think it's an accident that the community has responded in that way."

Seven candidates, including five incumbents, ran for five spots on the Oakland Mills Village Board.

The votes ranged from 360 for incumbent David Hatch to 182 for challenger Eula Caldwell.

Karen Blue was the only incumbent to lose her village board seat. She received 220 votes, compared with 307 for Bill Woodcock, who will replace her. Incumbents Hatch, Kittye S. Wright, Calvin Ball and Bill McCormack Jr. will continue to serve on the board.

Blue said she was so wrapped up in running the Blue Cow Cafe, which she opened in Columbia in September, that she did not have time to campaign. When people asked for whom they should vote, she said, she pushed for Caldwell and Woodcock because she "really wanted to see new blood on the board."

Blue said board members get comfortable in their positions, resulting in the same ideas and little change. The village needs fresh perspectives now that it is "in a position where a lot of things are changing," after Kimco Realty Corp. of New Hyde Park, N.Y., bought the village center this year, she said.

"I think we just needed some energetic blood in there, people who are willing to speak their mind," said Blue, who was on the board for two years.

Oakland Mills was one of four villages to have contested board races. But it was the only village with two more people running than the number of board seats available. The other three villages - Dorsey's Search, Hickory Ridge and Wilde Lake - had only one more candidate than the number of available seats.

Among other villages, Long Reach and Owen Brown had high voter totals, with 581 and 545, respectively, and River Hill had the lowest with 61.

Oakland Mills, which has about 9,700 residents, allows one vote per household. In last year's elections, 653 in the village voted, likely because three people were running for the village's Columbia Council seat.

This year, Russell garnered 386 votes, more than any other candidate running for Columbia Council. Joshua Feldmark of Wilde Lake also ran uncontested and received 349 votes. Donna L. Rice of Town Center did not face a challenger either, but the village did not hold an election because none of its seats were contested.

Russell, who said she has been "very much in a minority position" on the council, said she still campaigned to ask voters for their help to "make my voice stronger on the Columbia Council."

"I think they're sending the message to the council - we support our council representative, and we want you to listen to her," she said.

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