Howard Week

September 05, 2004

Rouse Co.'s influence on Columbia seen to have been waning

Although the sale of the Rouse Co. signifies the end of a hometown company that made its mark on American development, the company's impending takeover may not be all that noticeable in Columbia.

Rouse's presence and influence in Columbia has been waning for years, say many residents, scholars and public officials.

The town that Rouse built nearly 40 years ago has grown into a national model for planned communities, and many of Columbia's 96,000 residents have become more skeptical of the company. Development proposals that decades ago would have probably sailed through are being protested by residents and voted down by officials.

Rouse's proposal to increase housing density in downtown Columbia was rejected this year by the Howard County Zoning Board. And it was turned down by the Columbia Association, which it created, for a proposal to annex its new Emerson development into Columbia.

The company has also been unloading some of its most significant Columbia commercial properties - selling eight village centers in 2002 to an out-of-state company and offering to sell Merriweather Post Pavilion to Howard County this year.

Violent crime up; homicide, property crime drop

Certain types of violent crime in Howard County increased slightly in the first half of the year, but the homicide rate and the number of property crimes were lower than during the comparable period last year, according to figures released Monday by the county Police Department.

The figures showed that there were 105 robberies from January to June - 13 more than the same time a year ago. The number of aggravated assaults rose to 144 - 24 more than during the corresponding period last year.

There was a sharp increase in arrests of juveniles who had committed violent crimes, mainly robberies and aggravated assaults. Police made 42 arrests from January through June, compared with 23 arrests for the same period last year - an 83 percent increase.

The county's homicide rate was the lowest since 2000. One homicide was committed in the first half of the year, compared with three for the same period last year.

SAT scores in county above state average

Students in Howard County continued to outperform their counterparts in the Baltimore region on the college-preparatory SAT test, posting a one-point gain this year to a combined total average of 1097 out of a possible 1600.

The results, released Tuesday, also put Howard's total score 71 points above the state average and gave the county its highest total ever. But school officials expressed concern that scores of the county's African-American students continue to lag.

"As long as we're making progress, it's a good sign," said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin. "I would have liked to see the score raised by a larger number, but the fact it increased at all, it's good. The concern I have is with the subgroups. We need to analyze these results and see what we can do to work with subgroups to improve their performance on this test."

Town Center adding housing at Sterrett Place

Burgeoning residential development is under way in Columbia's Town Center, as a Sterrett Place office building is being demolished to make way for a high-rise and a nearby upscale condominium complex is approaching completion.

The office building that once included a Bennigan's restaurant is scheduled to be fully demolished by next month in preparation for residents to begin moving into the adjacent Ryland Homes condominiums in December, said Dennis W. Miller, a Rouse Co. vice president and general manager of Columbia.

Miller said the high-rise deal is in negotiations and would not disclose further details about the development. "I expect there will be a high-rise on that site sometime in the near future," he said.

The site has been slated for a building with commercial and residential use, and Miller said the advertisements that appeared in local newspapers earlier this year for Altaire on the Lake are no longer applicable. That builder - whose ads boasted a 25-story tower of luxury condominiums and offices, a rooftop pool and spa and $1 million penthouses - will not be constructing the high-rise, he said.

Group accuses CA board of breaking state law

The Alliance for a Better Columbia is accusing the Columbia Association board of violating a number of rules under the Maryland Homeowners Association Act and is threatening to pursue legislative or judicial avenues to make the organization comply.

Members of the watchdog group have been complaining that the board does not follow the state law that applies to the Columbia Association, the homeowners group that manages the planned community's amenities and collects an annual fee from property owners.

The alliance sent a letter to board Chairman Joshua Feldmark on Aug. 20 outlining the group's concerns. Feldmark said the letter is full of accusations but does not explain specific actions the board has taken that lead the alliance to its "guilty verdict." He said he plans to place the matter on the agenda for the board's Oct. 14 meeting.

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