Meetings are set to develop a plan for Columbia's core

Public invited to offer design ideas for downtown at sessions Oct. 15-22

August 31, 2005|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Howard County has announced that it will conduct the weeklong, intensive design gathering that will result in a master development plan for Columbia's downtown from Oct. 15 to 22.

The Baltimore firm Design Collective Inc. will lead the charrette, at which residents will be invited to share ideas about how Columbia's downtown should be transformed into a bustling urban environment.

The meetings will focus on the 570 acres that make up Town Center's core - including The Mall in Columbia and the 51.7-acre, crescent-shaped property near Merriweather Post Pavilion - and will address issues such as mixed uses, walkability, the balance between pedestrians and cars, diverse and affordable housing and the environment.

All county residents will be invited. The public's attendance and ideas are key to making the process work, said Bill Mackey, the county's planning supervisor.

"There's a synergy when you get people together with county officials, with consultants," he said. "We don't have a predesigned solution, we're looking to the public to come and bring their ideas."

County Councilman Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat, echoed Mackey's views about the need for public involvement.

"This is your opportunity to be engaged," he said. "This is not a presentation to you, this is an interactive experience, where you will ... have a pen placed in your hand, and you will be asked for your comments and feedback."

The county will create a Web site next month that will list the schedule of meetings and provide information to the public after the meetings are under way.

The meetings are scheduled to begin the afternoon of Oct. 15 at Wilde Lake High School, where the public will break into groups and design plans for what Columbia should look like, Mackey said.

During the week, the consultants will review those plans and put them together into a number of alternative proposals. Those ideas will be reviewed during three evening work sessions, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 17, 18 and 19, Mackey said.

General Growth Properties has created a draft master plan for downtown Columbia, which was presented to the public in May and June.

The crux of that plan is a mix of businesses, homes, parking and open space on the 51.7-acre property near Symphony Woods - Columbia's largest chunk of developable land - now partially used for parking by Merriweather patrons. The plan calls for 1,852 additional residential units in the Town Center's core, increasing the area's population from 2,699 to 6,600.

Mackey said General Growth's ideas will be included in the plans that will be reviewed by the public and consultants.

"We consider the work they've done important work," he said. "But it's really a beginning point."

During the week, the public can also visit the design team at the Spear Center in General Growth Properties' downtown building to look at the plans and offer ideas.

At the end of the process Oct. 22, the consultants will present a draft master development plan for downtown Columbia, Mackey said.

The public will still have opportunities to share ideas after the charrette, Mackey said, because the plan will have to be presented to the Planning Board, possibly in December, and the County Council, which will have the final say.

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