For all intents and purposes, the story of the Plaza Residences was finished a long time ago, but the state's highest court has written a disappointing epilogue.
The Plaza was to be a 22-story condo building in Columbia's Town Center. Supporters of the project hailed its potential for energizing the local economy and broadening the county's tax base. Opponents argued it would overwhelm roads, schools and the sewers and would constitute a lakefront eyesore.
The economic nosedive of three years ago and the troubles of the developer, WCI Communities, effectively ended the debate. WCI scrapped the project and put the land up for sale. Meanwhile, the County Council passed comprehensive legislation governing the redevelopment of Town Center, including a provision capping the height of buildings at nine stories. That provision would apply to any future development on the erstwhile Plaza site.
The Court of Appeals' Aug. 19 decision won't make any difference to the skyline now, but it leaves unresolved the question of whether the plaintiffs in the case — or in similar cases in the future — actually have the right to take such matters to court.
When the county approved the project, four Columbia residents who opposed it took it to the Board of Appeals, the Court of Special Appeals and finally the Court of Appeals, Maryland's highest court. Its decision last week faulted the Board of Appeals for not ruling definitively on the question of whether each of the four plaintiffs — including one who lives next door to the Plaza site — could be adversely affected by the project and therefore had the legal "standing" required to sue, and sent the matter back to the board for it to resolve.
The project as conceived, however, is no longer possible, so the board isn't likely to consider the case again. So we continue to wait for someone — the legislature, the courts — to resolve this fundamental question.