Your Opinion

September 10, 2006

THE ISSUE: -- Having heard protests from foes of a planned 23-story residential and retail complex in Columbia's Town Center, county officials are considering a height limitation of 14 stories for new buildings in Columbia. What height limit -- if any -- would you favor for new construction in Columbia and the rest of the county?

Tower will not blot out the sun

I must confess that I don't understand the recent controversy over the height of new buildings in downtown Columbia. It seems that some people are locked into their image of how Columbia was 20 years ago and are resistant to all change. Columbia has grown into a sizable city, over 100,000 people, if I'm not mistaken; yet some people want it to stay a small town forever. While I can empathize with the sentiment, I just don't think it's realistic or desirable.

My family moved to Columbia in 1977, and I've watched our town grow over the years. Every new change brought with it cries of opposition. Despite the many prophesies of doom, though, Columbia is still a wonderful place to live and to raise a family.

What it lacks now is a vibrant downtown, like that of Reston Town Center. At the moment, all we have is the Mall and outlying shopping centers, the like of which you see everywhere. To me, a pedestrian-friendly downtown shopping area is far more in line with the Rouse dream than what has been built along Route 175 east of U.S. 29. Those buildings are all one story, and quite hideous. I don't see the problem with tall buildings that improve and beautify our downtown area.

I understand the concerns about infrastructure and traffic congestion, and these are questions that must be addressed in any long-term plan. To me, though, these are easily solved issues. With a little foresight, it shouldn't be hard for the infrastructure to keep up.

The only other complaint I've heard is one of aesthetics. It seems that some of the people who bought condominiums in the existing building at the lakefront are going to lose their view. Of course, a 14-story building will block their view as effectively as a 23-story one will. Similarly, views of the lake will be blocked by buildings of four stories or more, never mind the taller ones being discussed. I think that the whole idea of the lakes in Columbia was for people to get out of their homes and their cars and walk around them. The existence of ground-level shopping promenades will make that more common and more enjoyable.

I don't believe that progress toward a more appealing and active Town Center should be held up over arbitrary limitations set by opponents of change. Those extra nine stories are not going to blot the sun from the sky.

Jason Smith


Building heights just one part of equation

Fourteen is just a number to paraphrase the Jamaican song. In developing downtown we need to consider building heights, of course, but also design, parking, roads, where people live, places of employment, retail shopping, open spaces, arts centers and civic spaces and how all these function and look from across the street and down the road. Call it a simultaneous equation to solve in order to design all the features of downtown.

If we top out too many things at uniform story heights, we get the Soviet block-style look, the 1950s garden apartment monotony or my childhood neighborhood of cheese boxes in a row. Fourteen can be too high, too low and just right in a particular place.

Completely missing in the discussions at the Columbia Focus Group using the otherwise wondrous computer program that graphically showed heights of buildings were the widely varying altitudes in Town Center.

Fifty-foot altitude differences occur only a few hundred feet apart in many locations or even just across the street in one area bordering The Mall in Columbia. We should design with the natural terrain we have in mind -- perhaps taller in the lower areas, shorter at the heights, but not necessarily. We may want a really tall signature building of distinct style that could visually define the community to the world (or at least passing cars on U.S. 29) on top of a hill.

The solution we all seek, especially we nearly 5,000 residents of Town Center already in place, ultimately will come block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood. It's hard work to be planned and implemented over many years, not just a number.

Lee Richardson


Traffic, parking concerns raised

First of all, that "23-story" building on Little Patuxent Parkway will essentially be at least 25 stories high by the time the pool and recreation area is added to the top, according to my information.

Second, the first problem to be dealt with is how the city is going to manage the kind of traffic and parking this skyscraper is going to bring with it. Why the county should approve a building that is two times the height of any other building within 20-plus miles of Columbia without having traffic plans makes me question the good thinking of the County Council and planning commission.

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