Redevelopment splits planners

April 14, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,

A proposal to allow major redevelopment of Columbia's village centers has so divided the Howard County Planning Board that members can't even agree how to describe their disagreement.

The board divided, 2-2, on the issue March 23 with one person absent. But Monday night, members were still arguing over what the description of their votes should say. After a closed meeting with a lawyer and a public discussion after that, the members agreed to try again to come up with a document they can sign to push the issue to the County Council.

"I've been very distressed at how this process has broken down," said board member Linda Dombrowski, calling it "a mess."

The dispute broke into public view just as the board prepared to begin discussing a much bigger issue, but one with even more potential pitfalls - General Growth Properties' 30-year plan to remake downtown Columbia.

The village centers are an original feature of the planned town, but several have fallen on hard times since the advent of big-box stores drained away business.

The zoning regulation amendment would change county law to allow the current owners of eight village centers to apply for a zoning change for major redevelopments, such as the 500 apartments proposed at the town's oldest center, in Wilde Lake. Only General Growth - as the town's master developer and successor to the Rouse Co. - has the legal right to ask for zoning changes.

The divide is over how much influence residents versus property owners should have on a plan. Dombrowski and Tammy Citaramanis opposed the proposed process, favoring more study and more say for residents; two others voted for the regulatory change that was hammered out.

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