Tot-lot-barrier decision shifted to Owen Brown


The fate of the Lake Elkhorn tot lot is out of the Columbia Association's hands -- for the moment.

The association board decided Thursday night to shift the responsibility of whether to put a barrier around the popular Columbia playground to the village board of Owen Brown -- where the tot lot is located. The action followed a 5-3 vote that denied a motion to move the subject to a Columbia Association committee.

"I fundamentally don't think it makes a difference at this point, and [the Owen Brown community] is aware of the issue and can perfectly appropriate the leadership role in taking this forward," said Patrick von Schlag, board member for River Hill.

But board member Barbara L. Russell of Oakland Mills said she thinks the board made "the wrong decision."

"While I have a record of being extremely supportive of the villages, there is a delegation of responsibility and it's the responsibility of the board for what is going to happen with our property," she said.

Neil Dorsey, chairman of the Owen Brown Village Board, told the association board that his village would like to organize a community discussion about the playground. Dorsey offered no specifics at the meeting and could not be reached for comment Friday.

If the village board does find a solution, its recommendation will go to the Columbia Association board for action.

The board has been grappling with whether to place a barrier around the playground after a 23-month-old boy, who was in the custody of a caretaker, wandered from the tot lot and drowned in nearby Lake Elkhorn in September.

After the death, a group of parents lobbied the association board to build a fence around the playground, and the board responded by hiring a consultant to review the playground's safety.

The board disregarded the consultant's report that concluded the playground is safe and then approved building a fence or natural barrier at the playground.

But after Columbia Association staff members presented safety options at the board's meeting June 8, the 10-member panel voted not to build a fence. Immediately after that decision, the board surprised observers by unanimously voting to close and remove the playground. But after complaints from residents protesting its decision, the board changed its mind at a meeting June 14 and reopened the popular facility.

Sun reporter Laura Cadiz contributed to this article.

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