Comment period on Columbia extended

Ulman gives residents 2 more weeks to offer views on revitalization plan for town center

October 19, 2007|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN REPORTER

Area residents will have an extra two weeks to offer their thoughts on plans to revitalize Columbia Town Center.

County Executive Ken Ulman has extended the monthlong public comment period through Nov. 16. The deadline had been Nov. 2.

"Executive Ulman heard from community members, and the [Columbia Association] board, that they believed additional time would be beneficial to this process," said Kevin Enright, a spokesman for Ulman. "Clearly, CA is a critical partner in the future of Downtown Columbia, and we want everyone to feel that they had sufficient time to review the draft framework thoroughly and offer feedback."

People can submit comments on the Web, by e-mail, by letter or in person to the Department of Planning and Zoning.

"I think that's great that he's extending the time," said Grace Kubofcik, a community activist who lives in Ellicott City. "But I really think that people are waiting for General Growth's comments. I think people need time to absorb the information that they've heard."

General Growth Properties Inc., the Chicago-based company that controls most of Columbia's downtown real estate, said it will hold at least a half-dozen meetings of its own on the downtown vision. Meeting dates have not been announced.

Last week, at the second of the county's six meetings, residents criticized a study that maps out traffic growth because it did not consider the number of people who will travel into Town Center in the future.

Ignoring those additional visitors underestimates both traffic counts and the cost of projects to mitigate traffic, said Alex Hekimian, an Oakland Mills resident who serves as president of the Alliance for a Better Columbia.

"The vision is fuzzy," said Hekimian of the framework, "Downtown Columbia: A Community Vision," released last month by Ulman. "Because it's fuzzy, it cannot work as a framework for a master plan. Because GGP is supposed to produce a master plan, it really is an abdication of the county's responsibility. It's the province of the county really to determine what a master plan should look like, with input from the developers and citizens."

Because several community groups are looking at the topic, they can share information rather than each duplicating the same research, Hekimian said.

"We waited for so long for the traffic study and vision to come out, and to be able to digest what's in both those reports takes some time," he said.

The traffic study, done by Sabra, Wang & Associates Inc., bases its 2014 projections on an additional 1,125 residential units, 1.1 million square feet of office space, 420,000 square feet of retail space, 274,000 square feet of medical and hospital space and 125 additional hotel rooms.

It projects an additional 3,300 peak-hour vehicle trips in the morning and 4,500 new peak-hour trips in the afternoon by 2014.

Paul Silberman, senior traffic engineer with Sabra, Wang & Associates, said traffic patterns are expected to become more local, so that the impact of other traffic would lessen rather than grow.

Groups assessing the revitalization ideas for downtown Columbia plan to make use of the additional time to ponder the various elements.

"I think it's wonderful," said Alan Klein, a spokesman for the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown. "At an emotional level, it will allow citizens to trust the county more. It's a better indication that they're serious about getting input from people than the previous deadline."

Additional county meetings are scheduled for:

Tomorrow: Presentation of "Downtown Columbia: A Community Vision" for the Columbia Association and village boards. Banneker Room, George Howard Building, 3430 Courthouse Drive, Ellicott City, 10 a.m. to noon.

Tomorrow: Open house. Banneker Room, George Howard Building, 3430 Courthouse Drive, Ellicott City, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Thursday: Open house. Wilde Lake High, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Oct. 30: Public forum. Oakland Mills High, 9410 Kilimanjaro Road, Columbia, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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