March 05, 2006

College is defended in Belmont brouhaha

I have watched with dismay as a small group of Howard County citizens opposed to Howard Community College's plans for Belmont have verbally trashed the college and its president, Mary Ellen Duncan.

HCC has been one of the true treasures within this county, which has contributed significantly to both the county's educational and economic excellence. Over the years, HCC has exceeded expectations with respect to any obligation or initiative that it has undertaken. It has earned the trust of citizens, not based upon words, but a history of integrity and performance.

Howard Community College has consistently lived up to promises and has never been devious.

The American Chemical Society sold the conference center because it has never been financially viable in its existing format. HCC's plan to initiate a hospitality curriculum along with an expansion of overnight facilities is modest and would benefit the county's students in addition to creating a viable conference center, which would be a jewel for Howard County.

HCC initiated one of the more open processes in an attempt to both communicate and interact with the community and county government. The result is to be accused of arrogance.

I think that it is time for those within Howard County who have experienced the benefits and integrity of this valued institution to speak up. There is nothing that HCC can do that will ever please the Belmont opponents. If this small group of citizens is successful, it is the county and the vast majority of its citizens who will be cheated.

Steve Sachs


The writer served on the HCC board from 1987 to 1999.

`Visioning process' target of criticism

The county government's planners don't seem to realize it, but the "visioning process" they've been trying to hustle past the public has raised more questions than answers about the future of Columbia's downtown.

With up to 5,500 additional homes, 5 million square feet of new offices and 750,000 square feet of extra retail being proposed, the vision plan is a radical change from today's downtown and a radical change even from the Rouse Company's long-established plan for Columbia's future. Adopting this plan without careful and inclusive consideration would be irresponsible.

These are just a few of the questions that need to be addressed: Will the new downtown overload our schools? Where will an enlarged fire station be located? Will there be enough parking? Will our sewage treatment plant be overwhelmed? Will affordable housing be a condition of development? How will the road system handle the additional traffic? How will this intense urban development affect other parts of Columbia and all of Howard County? Is a 22-story apartment tower just the beginning of what we're going to see? Who will profit from all these changes? And who will pay for it all?

Maple Lawn Farms, which will add only 1,000 dwelling units and commercial properties to Howard County, took more than a year of Zoning Board meetings to win approval. The Highland master plan, an agreement affecting a small number of property owners, also took more than a year to design. The Route 1 master plan took a similar time, as did the Ellicott City master plan - which didn't add any density or commercial development rights.

The downtown master plan will dictate what happens in the center of Columbia for the next 30 years. With so much at stake, it is imperative that we take the time to get it right. The process needs to be driven by thoughtful review, not an election year timeline.

Mary Kay Sigaty


The writer is a member of the Board of Education and a candidate for the County Council from District 4.

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