As a tenant with a long-term lease, the Columbia Association is competitively poised to solicit developers to build it a new headquarters, according to an urban economist.
Don Zuchelli, a contract worker for Design Collective Inc., has suggested that the homeowners association allow developers to compete over buying land for a new headquarters and constructing the building, which could also house restaurants and entertainment.
"Let private enterprise come in and make some offer to you," Zuchelli told the association's board of directors Thursday night. "This lease is worth a lot of leverage."
Zuchelli called Thursday's meeting "a sequel" to his Oct. 20 meeting with the board during the county-sponsored, weeklong charrette for the future development of Columbia's Town Center. While that meeting was open to the public, it was held behind closed doors, and the public and media were never notified.
Thursday night was the first time the public had the chance to hear about Zuchelli's idea.
Board Chairman Joshua Feldmark, who defended the original meeting with Zuchelli, promised residents that the process of choosing a new headquarters will be open.
"I will commit to this board, so long as I am chair, to make sure that this process ... is open, it's deliberate, it's public," he said.
The association has been renting space at its current lakefront building for 17 years. The lease on the building, owned by General Growth Properties, expires in August 2007. The association has been compiling a list of alternatives, ranging from continuing to rent, to buying a building or constructing a building on land it owns in Symphony Woods.
Should the association vacate its current space, that could lead to the possibility of tearing down the building to make way for an open vista to Lake Kittamaqundi, a concept that came out of the charrette.
Zuchelli acknowledged that an artist rendering produced at the charrette -- which was led by Design Collective -- shows a vista leading from Little Patuxent Parkway to the lake that would require "partial or complete removal of the building."
However, he said he has not endorsed razing the building.
Zuchelli said he doesn't know where the best site would be for a new headquarters, but he said, "I know ... it's not in Symphony Woods."
Board member Barbara Russell, of Oakland Mills, does not support tearing down the current headquarters and pointed out that the building already has food and entertainment, as it is the home to Clyde's Restaurant and the Tomato Palace.
Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard County Democrat who criticized the board meeting held behind closed doors during its original meeting with Zuchelli, said in an interview she believes demolishing the building is "a very unwise place to begin."
"To me, it just defies common sense to start by tearing down a building there," she said.