Letters to the editor

Letters to the editor

November 25, 2007

A rush to pervert the Columbia dream

I was speaking recently with a Columbia resident who was asking me about James Rouse's vision. More specifically, she asked me if his vision was still valid. The easy answer is "yes." Everyone who has an opinion about what downtown should look like cites Rouse's vision -- or parts of it -- as a rationale. Well, with all the opinions floating around, Rouse was either very indecisive, or those who cite Rouse do so for obvious reasons -- who would dare speak out against him. Rouse was, no doubt, a great visionary. He created a model city for the 20th century.

The longer answer is that Rouse's vision would have evolved into a new vision for the 21st century.

Today, even as Oakland Mills is revitalizing, plans are under development to remake downtown. I find myself having to consider: Toward what vision are those plans taking us? Who dares speak for James Rouse? Whose vision guides us? More importantly, whose vision should guide us?

Columbia has grown up. The youngest of the villages is nearing 15 years of age. The eldest celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. We have come of age. It is time for Columbia to re-envision its future and to create a bold new vision as a model city for the 21st century.

However, what I see is local government officials turning over the planning for our Columbia to a private mall developer whose interests are driven by quarterly results for stockholders and a Chicago-based board of directors. I see a developer proceeding with private meetings and development plans even before the County finalizes its framework that should guide such development. I see attempts to sell the residents of Columbia on plans not of their own making. I see a headlong rush toward perverting the dream of Columbia to chase the promise of huge profits. I see our community circumvented. I see lobbyists in Annapolis protecting the interests of a private developer. I see attempts to strong-arm the elected representatives of the Columbia Association to participate in behind closed-door meetings rather than negotiate for our future in the open.

I see an opportunity to create something bold and innovative and lasting that all of Columbia can be proud of slowly slipping away.

Let us call on county officials to demand private developers cease their headlong rush until the vision document is complete. Let us call on the county officials to incorporate village and resident concerns into its finalized vision framework. Let us be assured of protecting and enhancing our environment and open space. Let us see award-winning building designs for businesses and mixed-use development. Let us see development of housing for all who work here. Let us create alternative transportation modes that support the movement of traffic and pedestrians. Let us see the plans for ensuring we have the infrastructure to support added growth and density.

Together, let us re-imagine a Columbia for the future.

Michael Cornell Columbia

The writer is a Columbia Association board member who represents River Hill.

Article did not make a key distinction

After reading the article, "An Incomplete Home" in last Sunday's Howard County edition of The Sun, I am both relieved and concerned. Relieved because an unprofessional contractor who had been hurting a number of Maryland families is no longer licensed to conduct business in Maryland.

My concern with the article is that it did not differentiate between Maryland Habitat Inc., the contractor under investigation, and Habitat for Humanity International, which has become one of the most respected and admired nonprofits in America. Habitat for Humanity has 18 affiliates in Maryland, including Howard County. Our state-support organization, Habitat for Humanity of Maryland, was chartered in May 2006 to provide advocacy and resource development for Maryland's 18 Habitat for Humanity affiliates.

Habitat for Humanity's first Maryland affiliate, Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity, based in Baltimore, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Habitat for Humanity has helped more than 800 families, close to 2,500 people, attain affordable housing in Maryland. On average, we are building one house every six days here in Maryland and one house every 26 minutes worldwide.

Each Habitat for Humanity affiliate is responsible for its own fundraising and local home production. This is accomplished by developing partnerships with businesses, faith-based and other organizations and individuals to fulfill our mission of eliminating substandard housing.

During a time when business ethics is less and less apparent, it is important that we differentiate those who truly serve Marylanders, from self-serving organizations.

David Roura

The writer is the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Howard County Inc.

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