Political notebook: Most on Columbia Association board look to stay

March 07, 2010|By Larry Carson

Columbia Association board Chairman Phil Kirsch said he isn't sure whether he'll run for a fifth board term in next month's village elections, but unlike last spring, it appears nearly all the other nine members want to serve another year.

The only other uncertain seat is in Owen Brown, where veteran board member Pearl Atkinson-Stewart has not declared her intentions and has been out of town and unavailable for comment. Village board members said Atkinson-Stewart has not told them whether she plans to run again. Candidates there have until March 19 to file for a two-year term.

Four of the 10 villages have no board election this year since their members are in the midst of two-year terms, but those incumbents, and those from Harper's Choice, Hickory Ridge, Oakland Mills and Town Center all said they want to run again. Each Columbia village elects one person to sit on the association board. The four without elections this April are Long Reach, River Hill, King's Contrivance and Dorsey Search. Wilde Lake, which Kirsch represents, elects board members to one-year terms, while Owen Brown, represented by Atkinson-Stewart, uses two-year terms.

"I'm concerned about the village," said Kirsch, 63, adding that if he doesn't run for the CA seat, he'll run for the village board. Wilde Lake's village center is struggling without a supermarket and with several other vacant stores. Owner Kimco Realty soon will present a plan for redeveloping the center under Howard County's new zoning laws for village centers.

With the downtown Columbia redevelopment zoning now law, Kirsch's focus may be shifting to his home village.

Also, like the other CA board members, Kirsch said he feels that the board is functioning better and focusing on the association's role in the huge 30-year downtown redevelopment plan approved by the County Council on Feb. 1. Money to begin building a more welcoming Symphony Woods is part of CA's capital budget starting May 1, and issues such as better transportation and pathway connections, and cooperating in the renewal of Merriweather Post Pavilion, are moving to the fore.

"We're looking much more strategically than in the past. We're looking to the future - what we want to see in the next five to 10 years," Kirsch said about the board's less-fractious relations over the past year.

Also like other board members, Kirsch said new president Philip Nelson has "made a tremendous, positive difference."

Cynthia Coyle, 55, a retired Navy nurse who has represented Harper's Choice on the board for the past four years, had similar feelings.

"I think the board is making tremendous strides in strategic thinking," she said. This past year, she headed the board's budget committee.

"I plan to run one more time," she said. "My goal is to push for environmental sustainability," she said, which was another initiative in the CA operating budget. The board approved hiring a full-time watershed manager tasked with 18 environmental projects to improve CA's stewardship of the town's three lakes, streams and wetlands. The General Growth Properties' downtown plan also includes major environmental improvements to handling storm-water runoff and the planting of thousands of new trees near CA-owned land.

"I'm feeling that there's been a great deal of success," Coyle said in developing watershed improvement plans and dredging of the lakes over the past few years. She'd like to see those projects through. "I do love what I'm doing with the Columbia Association."

Suzanne Waller, 70, a former high school English teacher, art gallery owner and business consultant who represents Town Center, has perhaps the most directly at stake as plans for the downtown makeover inch toward construction over the next year.

A Columbia resident since 1969, she spent two years on the board in the 1990s before her current two-year stint.

"I think it's a particularly exciting time for change," she said, and yet board members have exhibited more civility. With "a lot of powerful personalities" on the board, she sees herself as a stabilizing influence, she said.

Alex Hekimian, 66, a retired transportation planner from Oakland Mills, is another veteran member, with three years of experience in the late 1990s before winning election to the board again in 2008. Having experienced those years of bickering and discord after original CA President Padriac Kennedy retired, Hekimian said he's been encouraged since Nelson's arrival.

"The transition has gone much more smoothly. We're headed in a very good direction," he said. He's eager to continue working on plans to build walking paths, a fountain plaza and cafe to draw more people to Symphony Woods, and a master plan for the Lakefront area.

Hickory Ridge's Gregg Schwind, a 42-year-old government lawyer, is finishing his first year of unpaid service, and despite the huge blocks of time the board takes away from his wife and three young children, he too is running for a second one-year term.

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