Budget session is key for amateur sports

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

April 18, 2004|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

IT'S HARD to evaluate just how important Thursday night's budget hearing before the County Council really will be, in terms of adding lighted, synthetic fields to the new Western Regional Park in Glenwood.

All of western Howard County's sports groups, with thousands of players, have said and will again Thursday say publicly that they favor the altered plan for the new park being built off Carrs Mill Road, just west of Route 97.

The money for the lights and plastic grass allotted in the county's proposed construction budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 isn't much within county finances. Legally, it's earmarked for recreation use only.

Then, County Council member Allan H. Kittleman, the Republican who represents western Howard County, told us Thursday, "Actually, the total number of e-mails I've gotten about [changes at Western Regional], from both sides, you could count on both hands."

That surprised us, given the emotion that gushed a couple of weeks back when the same issue went before County Executive James N. Robey. After that session, Kittleman had told us, "This is one of those issues where however I vote, someone won't like it."

But Kittleman also opined Thursday that lights for Western Regional seem now to him to be much more a local issue involving a few park neighbors.

Understand, dear reader from Ellicott City/Columbia eastward, Glenwood differs from our world. It's Traditional Home - lovely in places, with horse farms, white fences, winding country roads, grazing sheep here and there and acres of grass that after last week's mini- monsoon turned vivid, Irish green.

Two generic strip shopping centers face one another at Carrs Mill Road and Route 97, not as big combined as one far more attractive, efficient Columbia village center. Congested - except for commuting hours - that part of Howard County is not.

But changed, it is, indeed. Drive five miles east, south or north, and you'll grasp why youth sports groups can't wait for Western Regional Park to open. Build 'em, and they will come - houses, lots of houses on big lots, McMansions and real mansions. People in them have kids, and they want their kids to play sports. More than a few parents play, or would play, too.

Thus, Western Regional Park makes sense, which few, even in Glenwood, dispute. It's just those darned lights, or is it?

So, Thursday's hearing remains important for those in Howard County amateur sports. We hope those leaders who exercised some newly found political coordination before the county executive can muscle up again in the County Council chambers.

The hearing concerns, in small part, a Department of Recreation and Parks proposal to install three synthetic turf playing fields - two at Western Regional and one at Rockburn Branch Park in Elkridge - and to add lighting to several new fields for football, lacrosse and soccer at Western.

It's also another chance for sports groups to work together, which is new. Their reasoned presentation for Robey was the best consolidated effort they've mustered in years, if ever.

Seeking, perhaps, a middlin' viewpoint, we called Tim Dowd about the Western controversy. He's a neighbor of Western Regional Park, a farmer who changed a few years ago to make part of his livelihood out of recreation for new exurbanites.

His land on Carrs Mill Road now houses a sizable, year-round indoor tennis facility and health club and, for the past two winters, a bubble for fields on which soccer and other teams practice.

"I'm all for more fields. The youth programs, I'm all in favor of," Dowd said. "It's the lights. Gary Arthur [Department of Recreation and Parks director] is telling us they're needed for adult programs, that they need to stay open until 11 p.m. But if there aren't any adult programs here now, and there aren't, why do we need the lights?

"If adults play ball at night in that park, that means we'll have people from outside, and there'll be drinking. ... I just don't want a bunch of yahoos riding up and down the road at night, throwing cans out the window."

Being argumentative wasn't why we called Dowd. Others in Glenwood say the same thing.

But in all fairness, drinking isn't much of a problem in other county parks; it's illegal, for one thing. And a few yahoos already toss beer cans along Glenwood's twisty roads, and the park has nothing to do with that.

The broader story in Glenwood really is the play-out of "build 'em, and they will come" as county policy. No doubt, it's altering life in Glenwood. But life there will still be darned attractive, even with lights focused on several ball fields at one end of a new, needed park.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@baltsun.com.

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