At least two village boards are urging the Columbia Council to proceed cautiously on a proposed face lift for the community's downtown, and to delete from next year's budget money for designing a pathway system for Lake Kittamaqundi.
Representatives from the villages of Owen Brown and Long Reach said this week that their boards had voted to oppose a Columbia Association staff recommendation that the association fund a $37,500 study on how to make the far side of the manmade lake more accessible to pedestrians.
The money is part of the proposed budget that would take effect in May for the nonprofit organization that provides community and recreational services to Columbia.
Other village board members said they would be seeking assurances on how the money would be spent.
Although the study represents less than 2 percent of the $2.7 million in capital projects contained in the staff's proposed spending plan, some board members said they were concerned the council would consider it a license to go ahead with the entire $6.5 million plan to upgrade the lakefront and portions of Little Patuxent Parkway.
"We do not want a steamroller effect. We believe that happens too often in CA," said Long Reach village board member Phillip Blustein.
"Once you spend $37,500 of CA money, plus money from the Rouse Co. and the County Council, it's pretty sure that you're going to have a project."
Blustein was referring to the joint financing arrangement that has been proposed for the three-phase downtown plan, which includes projects to provide better access to the lakefront for disabled persons, the addition of outdoor gardens, gazebos, benches and sculptures, and repairs to existing stuctures.
The most recent cost estimates, which were based on land ownership, show that the Columbia Association would be responsible for about $4.2 million, or 65 percent.
The contribution from The Rouse Co., Columbia's developer, would be $1 million, while the remaining $1.2 million would most likely come from the county or through state and federal grants.
While discussions on which group would be responsible for what portion of the project are still under way, The Rouse Co. has already agreed to move forward on a bridge that would link the mall to the lakefront.
The Howard County Department of Public Works also has recommended that County Executive Elizabeth Bobo include $56,000 in the budget that takes effect next May and $525,000 for the year after to "beautify" Little Patuxent Parkway with new lights, landscaping and brick median strips.
The village boards' reservations, which representatives said would be presented at public hearings on the association's proposed $20 million budget this week, amount to the first organized opposition to a plan that so far has been received enthusiastically.
In October, after the association unveiled the proposal to the public, 80 people sent in response postcards to the Columbia Forum, a local think tank on community issues, and only one was negative, said Gail Saunier, the forum's staff member.
But Marty Nicholson, a village board member from King's Contrivance, said he believes discontent is beginning to surface now that discussions are focusing on specifics and costs. The Columbia Association budget is funded by a property assessment and fees from recreational facilities.
"The first time everyone sees it, it looks beautiful. There's nothing not to like about it," Nicholson said. "But how are we going to pay for it?"
Pamela Mack, community relations director for the Columbia Association, said the planning and design money in the budget was not for the entire downtown plan, but only a $850,000 portion. Of that amount, $529,000 would be paid for by the association and the rest by the county and possibly other sources.
The entire plan "would probably take 10 years to implement, and the beauty of that is that some projects will get done depending on the community's priorities from year to year," Mack said. "I don't think anyone wants to commit to doing the whole thing."
The council's chairman, Lanny J. Morrison, said the council had asked the staff to include some money for the downtown plan in the next budget as a way of stimulating discussion about its merits.
"Even if we approve the planning money, the council may decide, depending on what the plan shows, to stop after that," Morrison said.