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Downtown Drama

Last night, I attended the pre-submission community meeting for GGP’s proposed new development at the mall. I’ll let you read about the drama that ensued here.

One of the things that kept coming up during the question and answer portion of the evening was the fact that the documents and renderings displayed around the room were hard to understand.

Really?

Let me get this straight. You’re not an architect, planner or engineer, but you expect have a good understanding what’s going on in complicated site drawings? Really?

I heard a lot of negative comments, but one in particular really made me angry.  A woman named Ursula Kondo, who I remember from her LTE’s opposing the beautiful new Walgreens at the corner of 175 and Thunder Hill Rd said, “This is a waste of time.”

Really?

Let me get this straight. You’re seeing these documents before they are submitted to the county, yet you think this is a waste of time?  Really? Isn’t MORE community involvement one of your mantras?

Look, it is clear to me that the same tired old voices are trying to remain relevant and will stop at nothing to derail or delay the progress we need downtown. If we thought the opponents of change that tried so desperately to stop the plan before would magically disappear, last night’s drama at HCC is proof that they were just laying low for a while.

Those of us who fought so hard to get the plan passed cannot just sit by and let these people dictate the terms of this process. Stay tuned….

-Brian

Getting Closer to Shovels in the Ground

We fought long and hard for the changes that will be coming to Downtown, and now we’ll finally get to see the plans for the first project! Tonight at 6:30, Howard Hughes Corp. will present its plans for 817 residential units and more than 76,000 square feet of retail space. The meeting will be held in room 400 of The Rouse Co. Foundation Student Services Hall at Howard Community College. Hope to see you there!

-Brian

Getting it Done for All of Us

We sat down with the Columbia Association‘s Jane Dembner the other day to talk redevelopment, village center master plans and how CA is building relationships for the good of its stakeholders.  It is truly exciting to see everyone coming together on our community’s plan!  Thanks, Jane, for all your hard work and your vision.

One Year Ago

This week marks the anniversary of the historic passage of CB 58 & 59. After 5 years of charettes, meetings, hearings, work sessions and discussions, our County council voted unanimously to approve the bills that are now providing the framework for the development of Downtown.

At times, it seemed like it would never get done. But we, as a community, believed in a bold future for Columbia. So we pressed on and we are beginning to see real progress.

It’s been an interesting 12 months to say the least. The opponents of the plan continued to try to derail things, but they failed. The county executive and county council who worked so hard on the plan were unanimously re-elected; supporters of the plan continued to turn out in overwhelming numbers to public hearings on the conforming legislation; the Adequate Public Facilities provisions were passed; and now we’re knee-deep into finalizing the guidelines for design and signage.

We’ve come a long way, but there is still important work to be done.  Let’s keep it moving, Columbia!

“If you don’t create change, change will create you”

 

Yesterday, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman gave his annual State of the County speech.  He talked about managing well, partnering well, and investing well – the “principles that have guided this administration from Day One.”

The two things that stood out to us were his comments on downtown (of course!):

I am extremely proud of the community effort that we went through for downtown Columbia. The master plan we passed last year embodies the vision and values of the community, respects our history and establishes downtown Columbia as a dynamic, attractive place to live, work and play.

And his emphasis on the impact from the coming expansions at Fort Meade (BRAC and Cyber Command):

… after talking about base realignment for years and seeing jobs trickle in, we’re now poised to see the flood of jobs we’ve heard so much about. Already, 500 positions have been moved on base, and by September, that number will grow to 5,800 -- over 5,000 new jobs in 9 months. That’s staggering.

And by the end of 2012, we are expecting an additional 15,000 private sector jobs to have accompanied this expansion….

Wow.  There is no question: Columbia and Howard County will see some stunning changes in the next few years and decades.  We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: we can look at change as a problem or as an opportunity – but either way, it’s coming.

We choose to embrace change proactively, and we believe Columbia, with our tradition of “creative, forward thinking community planning,” is a great place to do that.

___________________________________________________________________________________

If you’re interested in more of what the county executive had to say, you can read the full text here or watch it on video on Comcast Ch. 99/Verizon Ch. 44:

January 25 – 7 p.m.
January 26 – 1:30 p.m.
January 27 – 11:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m.
January 28 – 1:30 p.m.
January 29 – 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
January 30 – 1:30 p.m.

Calvin Ball Tells It Like It Is

In today’s Columbia Flier, a letter to the editor appears criticizing County Council Chair Calvin Ball for saying at a recent public hearing, “many of the people who testified against the bill have been naysayers of the redevelopment plan since its beginning stages. Their perspective is not new.”

I’m just not sure I understand the grounds for criticism.

What about Dr. Ball’s statement is not true?

Tomorrow’s Downtown

Phil Engelke is a local architect and urban planner who has worked on projects all over the globe. Last week he was kind enough to walk around Columbia’s underutilized downtown with us to talk about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead as we begin our redevelopment.  Thanks, Phil!

Back in March of last year, on a much nicer day, my sister and I went to the lakefront in hopes of interviewing people there about what they wanted to see Downtown.  The only problem was, there was no one to interview…

Shifting Into High Gear

It looks like the new execs at the Howard Hughes Corporation have made some big changes here in Columbia.  We don’t know what to make of them yet.  All we know is that this project needs to keep moving forward.

From the comments in the Sun article, it looks like both our elected officials and the new Howard Hughes leadership understand that the momentum of the community’s plan is intensifying.

The new CEO of the corporation, David Weinreb, said, “We’re shifting into high gear now. This is the time to be making bold moves.”

County Executive Ken Ulman and members of the county council stressed the enforceability of the plan, regardless of land ownership.

“This points out exactly what we’ve been saying for the last three years,” Ulman said. “The plan is the plan. It does not depend on ownership. They can embrace the plan and build the downtown … or not. On the one hand, it feels like we’re starting over with new people, but we’ve got a plan to protect the interests of Columbia and county residents.”

County Councilwoman Courtney Watson was more blunt. “We don’t have to approve the rest of the process unless the company performs. I think we’re in the catbird’s seat,” she said.

Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty can take much credit for insisting that the legislation be written for any developer of downtown, not just General Growth Properties, who happened to be the developer at the time.  We should thank her for her foresight.

As David Weinreb said, it’s time to “shift into high gear.”  For over five years now, we’ve been engaged in a comprehensive planning and creative process.  Now, we’re looking forward to the process of building the vibrant, connected, and walkable downtown we’ve envisioned.

Cultural Diversity in Columbia: It’s A Good Thing!

Next up on the agenda for the Downtown Plan?  The drafting of a Cultural Master Plan for Downtown, as required in the legislation.  Hired for this purpose at the developer’s expense is Lord Cultural Resources, the largest cultural planning firm in the world, with an impressive resume that includes The World Trade Center Memorial Museum in New York, the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

As part of the process, a Cultural Advisory Committee has been meeting extensively with the community to get their ideas on what that plan should look like.  Since September, there have been two large community-wide public meetings and four focus groups (one each for teens, young professionals, parents of young children, and older adults).  Following that, a survey went out via e-mail so that anyone who is interested can participate.

The survey is here, and the message that went out with it reads:

It is important that your voice be included to ensure that a wide range of ideas and perspectives are shared with the Advisory Committee.  Please share this link with your organization’s database as well as family, friends and others who might be interested in providing their input.

For me and Columbia 2.0, it is truly exciting to see the nuts and bolts of the plan coming together.  But, it seems not everybody views this as an opportunity for inclusion.

Recently, I witnessed an individual from the Columbia Association camp dismiss the Cultural Advisory Committee’s efforts to reach out to the community as disingenuous, after a community member had expressed excitement about receiving the survey to participate.

This attitude is really disheartening.  We should be encouraging community participation, not repressing it. Can’t we expect someone associated with CA to promote involvement and diversity in a public plan?

There’s something very wrong when the people who represent our community question the value of participating in it.

- Brian Dunn

Architect Magazine Spotlights Columbia and Ellicott City!

November’s Annual Design Review edition of Architect Magazine devotes a page to Howard County, focusing on Columbia and Ellicott City.  How exciting that our area is being recognized!  Part of that recognition is no doubt due to the “upcoming opening of the U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade” bringing thousands and thousands of new government jobs, and all of the growth that flows from that.

The incoming federal workforce will require housing and amenities, while many companies that depend on cyber security will need to relocate or open satellite offices to be close to this defense epicenter. It’s almost impossible to measure the number of private-sector jobs that will follow the public ones, from high-tech support and ancillary industries to service and construction workers.

Time to start preparing, Howard County!

A Bright, Bright Future for Howard County: County Executive Ulman talks about the “transformative” changes coming to our area

The spotlight was on County Executive Ken Ulman on WBAL TV’s Sunday Q & A. Asked about the plan to redevelop Downtown (around minute 1:30), he hit the nail on the head: “We have a great downtown, a great mall, a lakefront, Merriweather Post Pavilion – but you can’t walk from one to another!” He went on to talk about the $26.5 million “rebuilding” of Merriweather “for the next generation.” (Hey, that’s us!!!)

Then, the question is posed: “You guys are on the cutting edge of the cyber security world out there. Are we going to see more jobs coming to Fort Meade because of this?” His response? Absolutely.

See the rest of his comments here, starting around minute 3:00, about the “transformative” impact of BRAC and Cyber Command on the region. Columbia and Howard County are perfectly located for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  If we are going to capture that opportunity, we must start preparing.

County Executive Ulman on WBAL Nov. 28

Welcome to Columbia

We already blogged about the formation of The Howard Hughes Corporation, but we haven’t formally welcomed them. So, on behalf of Columbia 2.0 and all of our members, we would like to welcome our new partners to town. Just as we did with GGP, we expect to work with them and hold them accountable to the community as the downtown plan moves forward.

And speaking of GGP, we would like to thank them for all the amazing work they did for us over the past 5 years. They went through some hard times, but never wavered in their support for Columbia. Thank you and good luck as you continue your mission.

And in the “good first move” category, they’re keeping Greg Hamm at the helm. Here’s to a successful partnership with THHC, as we continue to build upon the vision of Columbia.

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