Revitalization efforts build on village pride

In Columbia, residents hit the streets to survey need for neighborhood upkeep

October 20, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Mary Pivar knows she might sound a little silly, but she is really concerned about median strips. She wants the beds of concrete and grass in Columbia's Wilde Lake village to be manicured, not looking like their current "bedraggled" state.

The strips should resemble The Mall in Columbia's landscaping, she said, where "the grass is all edged, and it looks like nobody has ever walked on it."

As a member of the Wilde Lake Revitalization Committee, Pivar will have a chance to make her case to county and business officials.

She is among about 50 village residents who are hitting the streets, taking notes on damaged infrastructure - cracked sidewalks, graffiti, broken streets lights - in an attempt to preserve their aging village.

The concerns may appear small, but the challenges the committee has tackled in the past, small and large - including replacing deteriorating power cables and building sidewalks - have helped shape perceptions of Columbia's oldest village, said Bernice Kish, the village manager.

"The little things add up to the general view of the village," she said. "If the residents live right there, it's a big thing to them."

The revitalization committee wants to survey the entire 35-year-old village, excluding private property. Interested residents packed a meeting room recently to learn about the effort.

"Wilde Lake is the historic district of Columbia," Kish told the crowd. "And, we're going to be the best village Columbia has ever had because we're going to keep [the revitalization] up, and we're going to make it work."

The last time residents surveyed the village's infrastructure was in 1995, after Howard County Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung formed a Columbia revitalization planning committee. Residents, senior county representatives and business officials meet quarterly to address concerns in the participating villages - Wilde Lake, Hickory Ridge, Harper's Choice, Town Center - and the Beaverbrook subdivision near Columbia.

Vince Marando, chairman of the Wilde Lake Revitalization Committee, said he does not know of any major problem areas in the village, but residents might bring some to light. The committee's survey results will be given to the Columbia revitalization group at its Nov. 20 meeting.

The Columbia committee has become a campaign issue for the candidates running for Lorsung's seat.

Republican candidate Joan Lancos said the committee empowers residents to take responsibility in their neighborhoods.

"If you have people who are actively paying attention to their neighborhood, they are much more likely to report crime and say, `I'm taking pride in my neighborhood,'" she said.

Democratic candidate Kenneth S. Ulman said if he were elected, he would quickly take care of small maintenance needs. He also wants to creatively approach revitalization, such as offering tax incentives for remodeling older homes.

After seven years, Marando said, it was time to re-survey the area while taking the opportunity to build on the interest in revitalization from the council candidates.

"It got a good boost from the campaign for County Council," Marando said. "We're expecting the two candidates to carry this forward."

Marando said the heightened concern is typical for the 6,000-population village, he said. "This is the best embodiment of Columbia," Marando said.

Pivar joined the committee to make sure that Wilde Lake, which she calls the "core of Columbia," does not have a failing infrastructure.

"It's important to me that the neighborhood retain the ambiance of graciousness that it had in the beginning," she said. "I also do not want to see Columbia go the way of most cities, where new is considered valuable and old is allowed to deteriorate."

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