Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

June 17, 2007

Whistling past the graveyard

William Rowe, vice president of WCI Communities and front man for its Tower Plaza project, was whistling past the graveyard when last week he predicted the condominium tower would eventually be built and at the planned 270-foot height ("Tower A Go, WCI Asserts," The Sun, June 10). He claimed it would "be good for Town Center." He doesn't live here - how the heck would he know, and why would he give a darn?

Rowe made the prediction when, no surprise, the Planning Board recommended against Councilwoman [Mary Kay] Sigaty's height-limit plan. Who can recall a time when the Planning Board did not align itself with a developer's plan?

I believe WCI will not build at 270 feet because potential buyers have backed out of their contracts because building has been delayed, and that has hurt both WCI's construction and permanent financing by making lenders nervous. Also, no elected politician in their right mind will put their shoulder to helping this unpopular project.

WCI claims they cannot make a profit below 270 feet. No one with professional experience in development has endorsed that. Why not build two 140-foot towers with the same number of condos, stores, etc.? (I'll bet GGP would sell an extra acre at a bit below market just to get this albatross off its deck.) For WCI officials, I believe it is a matter of pure personal stubbornness, a bad basis for city planning.

I recently offered one of the challenging plaintiffs $20 if the tower ever got built, but he does not have to pay me a nickel if it never does. I am not worried. A couple of weeks ago, a Baltimore City Council committee killed a 260-foot tower on the city's waterfront. About the same time, Gov. [Martin] O'Malley and Attorney General [Douglas F.] Gansler killed a bay project on Kent Island. Both had completed all their routine paperwork.

Our Howard County executive and council will figure a way to protect our beautiful Kittamaqundi lakeside, and also protect my $20.

Phil Marcus Columbia

The writer is the former vice chairman of the Columba Association board who represented Kings Contrivance.

Compromise needed on the tower

I read in the Howard section of Sunday's Sun - after the Planning Board's vote - that the developer intends to go forward with the Plaza Tower. On Saturday at the lakefront, a sales agent for the tower told me that the developer had offered compromises that had not been accepted. I believe that compromise is needed. The future of Columbia and the civility of the community are at stake. Because I have seen no specific compromise offer, I state my preferences based on ideas I've heard related to two issues: location and height.

If there is still an opportunity to negotiate a compromise on the tower, for me, by far the most important issue is location. The approved site for the tower is completely inappropriate for anyone who seriously cares about achieving the best possible new plan for downtown Columbia.

There is no question that the proposed compromise site on the lakefront south of the old Rouse headquarters is a superior location. If the developer and the Chamber of Commerce are unwilling to switch to that site, it indicates to me that they really don't care about the best possible development of downtown Columbia. All they care about is getting this one building built and making their money.

If this happens, it is an indication to me that my wife and I should seriously consider our options as we move into retirement. Maybe it's time to move out of Howard County and to a place that still has or is developing a vision of community. It is becoming apparent that the vision of Columbia is dead. James [W.] Rouse gave it his best shot, but corporate America trumps community.

Columbia in the future will be no different than any other community that has been engulfed by sprawl. The best we will be able to do in the future is look at what still exists from the first 20 years of Columbia and speculate about what might have followed.

For me, height limits are a secondary issue at this point. I can envision a plan for downtown Columbia in which the design allocates some specific land parcels for high-rise, high-density buildings, others reserved for lower-height buildings, and other sites set aside for public community "commons," open space where people can interact and debate ideas. Such a design could provide for buildings as high as the tower.

For example, consider the residences that have been built adjacent to the downtown central library. When I moved to Columbia in the early 1970s, someone told me that the south end of Lake Kittamaqundi was being reserved for future high-rise residences. In my view, the four-story residences that have been built on that site are among the ugliest buildings in Columbia and are certainly not "high-rise."

How much better would it have been if a couple of real high-rises (about 20 stories) had been built and the remainder of the land around them had been landscaped so that pedestrians could move through that downtown area and appreciate the land adjacent to the lake.

Because the plan for downtown has not been completed, it is unclear where the high-rise buildings should be, how high they should be and what their function should be. Because of this, it might be desirable to ask the tower developer to reduce the height of the tower. However, if in the end it should come down to a choice between location and height, it is a "no-brainer" to me. I would take the existing tower on the site at the south end of the lake over a reduced-height building on the currently approved site.

Ray Donaldson Fulton

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