July 27, 2008

Questions persist on Town Center plan

The General Growth Properties (GGP) presentation on the Town Center master plan earlier this month was most impressive. It is clear that the plan has been well thought out and that GGP is committed to thinking creatively in terms of redefining Town Center as the heart of a new Columbia that will endure as a leading edge community of its size for future generations. However, there are three looming questions in my mind that still need to be addressed.

First, how does a million square feet of retail space, five million square feet of office space and 5,500 residential units get filled? I am most concerned about the retail and office space, especially since we have so many vacancies in our village centers, which are much smaller.

Second, how does the impact on connections to the neighboring villages, indeed all the villages, get addressed? Town Center cannot become so transformed independent of transformation in the other villages. Certainly, infrastructure around Town Center will have to be expanded. But what of the other village centers?

Third, how will Columbia, through this development, become a global leader among cities of its size. This was not defined at the meeting. One thought: let the Town Center put more energy into the environment than it takes out - make it carbon positive.

The presentation July 9, I know, was part of a much longer process; nevertheless, these questions need to be addressed for the sake of the community.

Bill Woodcock, Columbia

CA board fails Symphony Woods

I write to express my disappointment that having failed to take an informed leadership role in caring for the Symphony Woods property, the Columbia Association Board now fails to take an informed leadership role in determining the property's future. Frankly, the CA Board of Directors has missed the boat.

The charrette was years ago - ample time for this board to have consulted professionals, whether its own staff, Howard County's planners or outside consultants. Instead, the board did little but talk to one another in a self-congratulatory bubble. The board's failure to work with its staff, the board's failure to work with other community organizations, the board's failure to work with the county and the board's failure to work with Columbia's developer have shortchanged us all.

I point first to the failure, to the board's neglect, that allowed Symphony Woods to degenerate into an empty, unused stand of dying trees amidst a quickly eroding watershed.

I point next to the board's amateurish attempts to come up with a so-called "plan" for Symphony Woods, a plan that is naive in the extreme and a clear indication that the board does not understand the scope of the project, whether standing alone or in the greater, and more important, context of downtown.

If there is any lesson to be learned from GGP's many community meetings, it is that good design is more than sitting down at a kitchen table with a crayon and a picture.

The board has missed the chance to play an intelligent, informed role in planning downtown Columbia. Instead of helping lead the effort to improve Columbia, the board is filled with the alarmists, the naysayers, the Johnnies-come-lately, nipping at the heels of the professionals who have been listening to the community at meeting after meeting and adjusting their plans accordingly. The board can play a role, but now only a role guided by its own isolationism, and not a role fulfilling its fiscal responsibilities and its opportunities to be a visionary organization.

The CA board is "out of the loop." Please, do no more harm and get out of the way of people who actually know what they are doing.

Christopher Tsien, Columbia

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