Letters To The Editor


November 18, 2007

Build up the middle of the doughnut

Like so many speaking up on the downtown Columbia vision, I am a long-term, passionate-about-Columbia resident. As newlyweds over 30 years ago we chose the Next America as the hometown in which to settle, raise a family and then gracefully age. In that time, I have been enriched by many community activities, including service on the Columbia Association board of directors back when the visionary Jim Rouse was our chairman.

I am very encouraged about the general community consensus on vibrancy, density, urbanism, Smart Growth, "green," and affordable housing. The "Downtown Columbia: A Community Vision," while somewhat abstract, continues to carry the essence of the charrette.

It is appropriate for county government to lay out a blueprint for the private sector landowners to respond to, and for the community to guide development through a County Council-approved zoning amendment, the Planning Board process, and for sure community political pressure on our elected leaders. I hope the Columbia Association will rise to the occasion and develop a comprehensive vision on how it can provide the 21st-century physical, social and cultural amenities that will continue to make us a national model.

Columbia, as a planned new town, did not evolve in a classical manner, and as a result today faces both unique challenges and opportunities. Will we be the best we can be by thinking in a bold and comprehensive manner, choose a status quo or worst yet find the lowest common denominator? Our downtown is anchored by a large regional mall, a few excellent restaurants and a vibrant Howard Community College as part of a cultural hub. However, downtown is no longer THE location for the investment, corporate office buildings, specialty retail shops or public amenities. We have experienced a form of slow sprawl as corporate headquarters and retail continue to move toward Gateway and the Interstate 95 region. Time is working against us.

In our favor, we have a general public that understands the importance of Smart Growth as opposed to the current sprawl. We have a general public that understands the importance of mass transportation. We are very conscious about building and behaving "green."

We have -- to oversimplify -- created a doughnut and now need to go back and build up the middle before the community goes stale. Howard County government must continue to kick-start further development and redevelopment of downtown. Our leaders can promote a true sense of place. Our leaders can significantly add to our taxable base. The community and our leaders need to have the wisdom and courage of the Howard County commissioners in 1964. There is such a thing as a win-win. The question isn't if we develop, it is how and where we develop.

Roy L. Appletree Columbia

Downtown Columbia found disturbing

I enthusiastically support the advent of the Columbia downtown master plan. The energy generated by the charette needs to be harnessed to fulfill the general plan's promise of a vibrant, dense downtown; of a true cultural and economic center for Howard County.

The current state of downtown Columbia disturbs me. As the owner of Lakeview Title Co., I have been committed to the promise of a true downtown. Our offices have been in the Merrill Lynch Building since the early 1980s, and were named for our fine view of Lake Kittamaqundi.

As the time for lease renewal approaches, I am forced to reconsider the benefits of this central downtown location. In order to maintain my lakeview, I am forced to choose between my current, well located but obsolete building, and several other obsolete buildings. Our parking garage leaks, our elevators are inadequate, our basic heating and cooling systems problematic. Our clients used to complain about lack of parking in our attached garage, but, with the substantial vacancy rate in our building, this has become less of an issue.

My leasing agent is strongly recommending alternate locations. Gateway is the current prestige office area and several tenants from my building have already relocated there. But, he urges, the Corporate 100 area is also booming, with new restaurants and amenities opening at a rapid pace. And then, of course, there is Maple Lawn.

With so many newer, more glamorous and efficient buildings to choose from, Town Center is becoming a "has been" location. If the dream of a vibrant downtown is to be realized, we must focus on redeveloping these older, shabbier buildings or risk outsourcing our economic future to more suburban locations.

We need to encourage business to redevelop so much of what is outmoded, as well as to commit to erecting exciting new structures. Without businesses like mine generating revenue and attracting clients to Town Center, we risk the economic base that is so critical to supporting all the other amenities -- the museums, the galleries, the restaurants, the public places -- that are the crux of the vision for downtown Columbia.

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