Role by youth urged in Columbia's plans

July 29, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

With the formal rezoning process for central Columbia's redevelopment about to begin, a group of young, business-oriented Howard County residents has stepped into the nearly five-year-old discussion.

Called Columbia 2.0, the new group drew about 25 people to a news conference yesterday on the parking lot of The Mall in Columbia, a short distance from a restaurant where David Yungmann, 41, a Columbia real estate agent and one of three leaders, began the event.

"We wanted to highlight how hard it is to walk from there to here," Yungmann said, explaining that his group wants to involve more young people in the discussion and push for the kind of redevelopment plan proposed by General Growth Properties Inc., the Chicago-based firm that bought the Rouse Co.

"The status quo is not an option," Yungmann said, noting how difficult it is to move around Town Center's vast parking lots on foot.

General Growth Vice President Gregory F. Hamm has said the firm plans to submit rezoning requests to the county next month. The firm is seeking approval for a 30-year plan that would include 1 million square feet of new retail space, 5,500 more housing units, 4.9 million square feet of office space, 640 more hotel rooms and 265,000 square feet of cultural space in a more urban setting that would transform the town's central core and the land behind Merriweather Post Pavilion.

The proposed density has alarmed some longtime residents, who are demanding such details as the percentage of affordable housing among the new units and who will pay for infrastructure changes and provide more classrooms. So far, the public discussion has been dominated by middle-age and older residents.

Yungmann, who grew up in Columbia, said his group wants details, too, but mainly it wants to get more young people - especially those who live outside Columbia - involved in moving General Growth's plan forward.

Katie Dunn, 26, of Ellicott City, who said she books entertainment acts and performs comedy on weekends, said she was born and raised in Columbia. But when out-of-town friends visit, "there's nothing for me to show them. I want to not have to drive to Baltimore or Washington."

Mac Cassity, 34, of Woodbine, the group's third leader, said he owns two Internet-based businesses.

"We didn't have a voice," he said. "If it doesn't work out good, we're going to have to live with it."

Alan Klein, a spokesman for the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown, said more voices are welcome. His group favors redevelopment, but it wants to make sure plans are firm and not empty promises. "The issue is: What are [Howard County and GGP] going to put in place to make sure it happens?"

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