Liz Bobo: Almost as bewildered as we are

On July 6, we read that Columbia Association officials have pushed back the start date on construction of a redeveloped Symphony Woods due to what they are calling the “difficulty of navigating the new county laws governing that plan.”  CA Board chair Cynthia Coyle couldn’t understand why CA would be held to the same planning process as everyone else.

Meanwhile:

Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Columbia Democrat, said she was unsure if pushing back the start date on the park would threaten the state funding, which was intended for “shovel-ready” projects.

Although she said she had never heard of bond money being withheld, she said the legislature, “was very precise about its criteria for bond bills. There weren’t that many because money is tight.”

Eligible projects, she said, were required to be planned and ready to begin, thus providing immediate jobs, and awarded matching funds from another source.

“We certainly presented the (Symphony Woods) project as one that’s ready to go and I believe we were telling the truth,” she said of vetting the project in Annapolis last winter.  …

“Here they are, ready to go,” she said. “I’m bewildered by it.”

You’re bewildered, Liz?  Not as much as we are.

First, how could she call this project “shovel-ready” or “ready to go” when the deadline for proposals for landscape architecture, planning, and engineering services was just twelve days ago, on Thursday, July 29?

CA Website 7/28/10

Shovel ready?  The process has barely even begun.  Typically, between concept plan and “ready to go” is about six months: the actual design work ending in final, approved site plans; the bidding process; the awarding of the construction agreement(s); and – most important – the sometimes thorny process of regulatory approval, which includes approval through Planning and Zoning or Inspection Services.  For our park, this process is further complicated by a very sensitive environmental component.

Second, a look at the Bond Bill Fact Sheet reveals that construction was slated to begin in April 2011 – and to continue until summer of 2014, beginning with Phase 1 (a plaza and promenade), then onto Phase 2 (a fountain, parking lot, etc.), and, finally, “future phases” that include, among other things, a play area and small cafe.  So where is the holdup if the groundbreaking date hasn’t changed since the bill was passed, months before this article appeared?

2010 Bond Bill Fact Sheet

Third, the state deadline for spending the money is seven years away. This is typical, since capital dollars from the State are hardly required to be “shovel ready” like stimulus projects but rather are for community enhancement projects that take years to build.

Another fun fact: the total cost is estimated at $4,528,000.

Delegate Bobo says she told the state the project was ready to go four months ago.  In July, CA blamed the county for delaying its project.  And yet, twelve days ago, designers and planners for the project hadn’t even been hired, let alone begun the designing and planning process.

Furthermore, the delegate implies that the funds are being jeopardized because of this imaginary delay due to “very precise” state criteria about the readiness of the project.  This implication simply does not follow from a bill that allows seven years for the money to be spent and which includes “design” of the park in its description.

So: why so many discrepancies?  We are just bewildered.

UPDATE: HoCoRising and Wordbones have picked up this story with these respective postings: “Is CA doing a good job?” and “Careening out of Control” (which, incidentally, has quite a heated debate going on in the comments section!)  Get in on the discussion!

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4 responses to “Liz Bobo: Almost as bewildered as we are”

  1. wordbones says :

    Excellent post. It makes you wonder if Liz even read her own bill.

    More troubling is the CA board chair, Cindy Coyle, has no grasp of the status of her own pet project.

    -wb

  2. columbia2.0 says :

    WB, based on what you pointed out, can we expect this project to spiral out of control like the computer software debacle? And if this is budgeted at $4.5 million now, with no final design (thus, no final budget) in place, how much more might it cost us? In two years, will we be going back to the drawing board with outside consultants after CA mismanages this?

    Scary thought. There’s a lot of OUR money at stake here.

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