Letters To The Editor

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

November 23, 2008

Put action on GGP plan for Columbia on hold

As I read the newspapers about the General Growth Properties plan for downtown Columbia development and the reactions of Howard County government officials and Columbia Association officials to that plan, I feel like I must be living in a parallel universe. Hasn't anyone noticed that the entire world financial picture has changed?

We are now in a recession that is worse than anything that has happened since the Great Depression. Stock markets and banks around the world are in a critical situation, and GGP's stock has fallen from $51 to less than $1 a share within the last year.

Spokesmen for the company have said GGP may soon have to file for bankruptcy, and there is serious speculation that a cash-strapped GGP will be bought out by another corporation.

In light of all of this, county officials are apparently still going ahead with their review of the downtown development plan GGP submitted in September, and some CA board members want to continue talking to GGP about the company's plans for Symphony Woods or other CA-owned property - perhaps in a closed meeting. This is incredible.

The only rationale I've heard for continuing to consider GGP's plan or to continue having discussions with the company is that somehow it would benefit the county or CA to make an agreement with GGP before some other corporation takes over. That just doesn't make any kind of sense - business or otherwise. If another corporation takes over, we will have to deal with that corporation.

Meanwhile, GGP is asking the county for the right to build an additional 5,500 housing units (1,650 for Phase One) in downtown and for the corresponding zoning changes required. If granted, this would increase the value of GGP's property exponentially overnight. Any discussion about what GGP would do to contribute financially to downtown development during the next 30 years, in return for this financial bonanza, is irrelevant given GGP's present financial condition and unknown future. This same reasoning also applies to any further discussions between GGP and CA.

All action or discussion on GGP's plan should be put on hold at this time.

While I'm sure we all sincerely wish GGP well in dealing with its overwhelming financial situation and have compassion for the people affected, it is not the responsibility of Howard County taxpayers or Columbia Association assessment payers to contribute to GGP's financial rescue. It is the responsibility and duty of the county executive, the members of the County Council and the board of directors of CA to protect the financial interests of our citizens in these worrisome and uncertain times.

Finally, I would like to comment on suggestions that some have been made that the county or CA purchase Merriweather Post Pavilion or the GGP headquarters building (formerly the Rouse Company headquarters) to preserve them. These should be considered and not hastily made decisions because the structures are 40 years old and in need of very expensive repairs.

Barbara L. Russell, Columbia

The author was a member of the Columbia Association board for eight years and served as chairwoman before stepping down last spring.

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