Emergency Preparedness

The Howard County government and the Community Emergency Response Network are conducting a campaign from Sunday to Oct. 22 to encourage individuals, families and businesses to think about disaster and emergency preparedness.

Volunteers from the network will present workshops at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Historic Oakland, 5430 Vantage Point Rd., Columbia. The sessions will encourage communication within families and neighborhoods. To register, contact the Town Center Community Association at 410-730-4744 or towncenter@columbiavillages.org.

Columbia Council Update

The Columbia Council voted Monday night not to meet again until May in an effort to streamline Columbia's governance structure.

The council, comprising 10 elected representatives from the community's 10 villages, also sits as the board of directors of the homeowners association, which provides services and amenities to Columbia's 97,000 residents. Some members of the council say that the group has no real power and that the board of directors by itself can provide democratic governance.

Some members of Columbia's village boards, however, urged the council to delay permanently dissolving itself to allow more community debate and to decide after village elections in April. The council agreed and will discuss whether to permanently dissolve in May. The council also has requested a formal opinion from the state attorney general on the matter.

Free CA Membership

The Columbia Association is offering a free six-month membership to families who were displaced by the Gulf Coast hurricanes and are living with a host family in Howard County. Host families are also eligible for the free membership.

The relocated family must go to the association's Membership Service Center, 10221 Wincopin Cir., Columbia, and provide a Social Security number and a driver's license if available. Families with children in school can present enrollment verification. In addition, the host family must provide a driver's license showing residency in Howard County.

For more information, call 410-730-1801.

County Loses Round

An advisory committee studying proposed zoning changes to protect more farmland in Howard's rural west declined to recommend any new restrictions on development in the area.

The panel's decision was a blow to efforts by the Department of Planning and Zoning to correct what it said was a mistake in zoning regulations that inadvertently permitted greater building densities on prime farmland. The 19-member committee, which included developers, farmers, small property owners and land use lawyers, reiterated at its final meeting Tuesday that the department's proposed changes would unfairly devalue land.

The committee said the county instead should revise its agricultural land preservation program to offer landowners better prices to protect their land and look at ways to transfer building rights from the west to the county's east.

Marsha McLaughlin, director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, said that without changes in zoning, the county can't compete with prices offered by developers to build on western land.

"I can't say I'm happy with the result," McLaughlin said when he meeting ended. She said she would talk to County Executive James N. Robey (D) about whether the department should continue to pursue zoning revisions.

Beautification Project

Families of Swansfield Elementary, 5610 Cedar Lane, and Grace Church will be working Saturday to revitalize the 30-year-old school.

The church will supply landscaping plants, materials and about 75 workers. The Swansfield PTA is inviting families, community members and local leaders to volunteer. For more information, call Marcia Tallman at 410-313-6907.

Programs for Teens

The Columbia Teen Center, in a partnership with the Oakland Mills Community Association, will hold a program next Thursday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the center, 5853 Robert Oliver Pl., to highlight after-school programs in the community. For more information, call 410-992-3726.