CA reviews options for fence around Lake Elkhorn tot lot


Cathy Ferrera stood before the Columbia Association board, an 8-by-10-inch photo of her son in her hand, shaking and crying.

"Your beautiful lake took my son and swallowed him and took his breath away," she said. "I am angry. ... Start doing something about your playground."

She implored the board at its meeting Thursday night to put a fence around the Lake Elkhorn tot lot where 23-month-old Alex Ferrera drowned Sept. 2.

Newly elected board member Cynthia Coyle stood by Ferrera as she spoke, rubbing her back and wiped away tears afterward.

After the toddler drowned - according to police he was being cared for by a licensed in-home day care provider who called 911 to report a lost child - a number of residents have been pushing the board to fence the tot lot.

The board responded by authorizing to pay a consultant a maximum of $20,000 to design a plan and also agreed to spend up to $30,000 to build a barrier, if necessary.

The board reviewed seven options Thursday night for the site, ranging from leaving the playground as it is to putting a fence around almost the entire perimeter of the playground, which, according to an association document, is about 150 feet from the dock of the lake and about 47 feet away from a sidewalk along Cradlerock Way.

Board member Patrick Von Schlag made a motion for the board to vote on the most extreme fenced-in option, with a few changes. Currently, the option has a fence around most of the perimeter of the playground, with gates at two pathway entrances. The other two pathway entrances leading to the playground are open.

The fences could be chain link, ornamental iron or white vinyl picket, and would vary in cost. Chain link is the cheapest option, with the project that Von Schlag selected costing about $9,600, according to Jan Clark, an association landscape architect who presented the options to the board. An ornamental-style fence would cost twice as much, she said.

Von Schlag suggested that only one entrance should be accessible by gate. He said residents have made it clear that they want the playground to be secured and the board should respond.

"What this reflects is our community's desire to have a different amenity to manage larger groups of kids," he said.

However, board member Phil Marcus said that option was "excessively" enclosed and suggested a more attractive plan that would create buffers with a 2-foot-high shrubs.

"I think we need to maintain tot lots that are visually attractive," said Marcus said, adding that Von Schlag's suggested plan "sort of looks like a prison yard."

Board member Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, who represents Owen Brown, the village that houses Lake Elkhorn, agreed with Marcus. She compared a fence around the perimeter of the playground to a "stockade" and called it "most unattractive."

"When people come to this location, it's for the beauty," she said.

Board member Barbara Russell acknowledged that a chain link fence is not attractive, explaining, it's "never going to be in a drawing over my fire place." However, she said safety of children is more important than an aesthetically pleasing play area.

Board Chairman Tom O'Connor said the board will discuss the matter again at its May 25 meeting and vote on it at a June 8 meeting.

After the board reaches a decision, it will have to be approved by the Owen Brown architectural committee, said Atkinson-Stewart.

Jennifer Terrasa, a Kings Contrivance parent who has headed the effort to get a fence built around the tot lot, became impatient with the board after its discussion. She wants the playground to be entirely enclosed by a fence and asked the board during resident speakout, "What are you afraid of?"

"I don't understand how a partially enclosed fence is going to make it safer," she said. "Kids will run around the edge of fences."

Terrasa agreed that the area should be as aesthetically pleasing as possible but "never at the expense of the safety of our children."

"What evidence do you have that shrubs are going to make this safer?" she said. "Would they be safe around your pools?"

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