Columbia Redesign Clouded By Bankruptcy

November 15, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,larry.carson@baltsun.com

Hopes for a reborn central Columbia clashed with fears over a bankrupt developer's future at an unusual, daylong Howard County Council hearing Saturday.

Discussion has been going on for five years as debates raged over traffic, affordable housing, schools and infrastructure cost. The council intends to vote on the resulting legislation by January, though critics say more time is needed.

Columbia's master developer, General Growth Properties Inc., the Chicago shopping center chain that bought the Rouse Company five years ago, is pushing to urbanize downtown Columbia with a new street grid, pedestrian plazas, sidewalk shops, restaurants and multistory, densely packed offices and garages.

But GGP declared bankruptcy in April, and some residents fear the firm merely wants new zoning to burnish its holdings for sale to others.

"While we welcome a more exciting and well-designed downtown, we ask the council to reject both bills until the county designs a master plan in the best interests of residents rather than those of a bankrupt developer," said Bridget Mugane, Howard County Citizens Association president.

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