As a child, I spent holidays and vacation time in the New England area, visiting Cape Cod and the Islands of Nantucket. During my youth, Nantucket Island had little development and the beaches were amazingly pristine. I spent summers collecting seashells, reading about whaling, and participating in Maria Mitchell Association science research. Later, I was married at Brant Point Light House, barefoot and happy. But, as with Columbia, the ground had started shifting on the Island. Tourists had discovered the treasure that is Nantucket, and with them came residential and commercial development. Town leaders engaged the voters of Nantucket to establish the first of its kind in the nation, Nantucket Islands Land Bank, to acquire land for the benefit of the public in perpetuity. The Land Bank legislation created an quasigovernmental program designed to hold and manage important open spaces for conservation and recreational purposes in perpetuity. Other Land Banks have been inspired by the Nantucket Islands Land Bank, including the Cape Cod Land Bank and the Block Island Land Trust. But this was only the beginning of the story, Nantucket cultivated a team effort to protect, educate, and preserve its fragile ecosystem. Additional conservancy groups were established in a collaborative effort to protect the wildlife habitats, educate their youth, and raise public awareness.
The time has come for Columbia Association (CA) to become the visionaries that Jim Rouse modeled during the 1960s when he proposed a "balanced, planned community" that would "fit naturally into the Howard County landscape, preserving the stream valleys, protecting hills and forests, and providing parks and greenbelts." CA has established a Climate Change & Sustainability Committee and Watershed Advisory Committee to advise the Board of Directors and staff on approximately 3,600 acres of open space, numerous ponds, golf courses, and lakes. Columbia is fortunate in that it has attracted passionate environmentalists who have contributed their time and talents to these committees.
And, then there is today, COVID-19 has caused financial stress for CA and the possible elimination of New Town zoning is being discussed by the Howard County Department of Planning & Zoning and consultants during the HoCo by Design (master plan) effort. (New Town Zoning is the Howard County legislation that required CA maintain a certain amount of open space.) The Nature Conservancy says, "How we choose to live with nature will determine our future." I would like to offer the following, "Protecting and conserving the land, streams, and lakes through changing the legal structures that preserve these natural resources in perpetuity is essential." Revisions to the legal structure of CA's open space/land ownership (only) is essential to the future of open space and could enable CA to apply for federal, state, and private grant money. Nantucket is the guide, but other models are also available; Nature Conservancy, Sate of Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and private land trusts. The Community must find its voice. Whether COVID-19 is truly an inflection point for CA corporate governance is yet to be seen, but there is no doubt that the pandemic has challenged the core premises of our model of governance, and the Board of Directors should take an active role in ensuring that there is a more sustainable vision for ensuring the future of our natural resources.