A Double Negative

2010 represents something huge for Columbia: the second coming of the original planned community that was so ground-breaking in its day, it’s still awe-inspiring to consider how James Rouse pulled it off back in the 60s.

We’ve seen the creation of a 30-year comprehensive plan created to inject life into a fading downtown, re-invoking Rouse’s ideals – to respect the land, to create a place a for people, and, finally, to create a “real City.”

We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but it’s good work.  It’s environmental restoration of lands and bodies of water that have been sorely neglected; it’s building pathways and walkways that will allow us to travel by foot and bike, on a human level; and it’s a creation of a $43 million housing trust fund to help make these opportunities available to everyone.

As we look at the upcoming elections through this lens, two candidates in Howard County stand out as embodying what we don’t need going forward.

Alan Klein doesn’t have much of a record – a work record or a political record.  The little we know about him is that he likes to oppose things.  He continually criticized the downtown plan, although he couldn’t articulate why exactly.  After that plan passed with overwhelming public support and major re-writes by local government, he helped with a petition effort to take the issue back to the drawing board.  He couldn’t make that happen either.

Now, his one-issue candidacy hinges on unsupportable statements about that same plan.  He continues to rant, for example, that the plan is too much, too soon, despite the fact that it is phased over 30 years and he can’t offer anything better.  And he continues to insist that the plan is unenforceable, despite statements by the Council and legal opinions to the contrary.

Klein doesn’t have a better plan, alternative solutions, or even a reasonable basis for opposing the existing plan.  He doesn’t have any expertise or experience on any of the other major issues he’d have to address as County Council representative.  He just represents a big Dead End.

Liz Bobo began as a pioneer and participant in Columbia.  She was really something.  But times changed and she didn’t.  Her effectiveness has been marginalized to the point that she seems to derive her political power from opposition – to almost everything.  Let’s take a look at some of the things she’s done for Columbia and Howard County:

1.  Fought to “limit additional medical centers from moving to Howard County.”  (Flier, 8/26/10).

2.  Fought to deny Dorsey’s Search’s inclusion in Columbia.

3.  Fought the construction of Route 100. How much did that fight cost us, as taxpayers, with the eventual cost of Route 100 going up so much over the years?

4.  Fought growth in western Howard County by trying to implement 20-acre zoning.  Remember the tractor-cade?

5.  Fought growth throughout Howard County by instituting the draconian concept of a growth moratorium.

6.  Fought for a diminished vision for downtown Columbia.

7.  Fought the current plan for the redevelopment of Columbia’s village centers.

8.  Expressed grave concerns about Wegman’s being constructed.

9.  Opposed Walgreens.

10.  Instituted a land use policy for Howard County while she was County Executive that lost her her re-election bid.

And, this doesn’t even address economic development measures she has resisted over the years.

Columbia needs leaders with courage and vision, leaders who aren’t afraid to “make no little plans.”  We’ve worked hard to keep that founding principle alive.  Let’s not allow these negative candidates to take that away from us.


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10 responses to “A Double Negative”

  1. Jon says :

    Maybe you can answer my questions about the 30-year plan for the Town Center redevelopment. As I understand it from GGP’s pdfs on their website, two facts present:

    1) 5,500 new housing units will be constructed over 30 years, with the bulk of new housing relatively front-loaded in the plan.

    2) No new schools will be constructed, and Wilde Lake area schools are expected to absorb the new resident children.

    My questions — maybe you can answer them in a blog post or comment:

    Is this the most up-to-date information? Or are they setting aside space for schools? Or money for expansions at Wilde Lake and the feeder schools?

    If they’re not setting aside money and space for new schools or expansion, why?

    36% of homes in Columbia have school-age children, and there’s no reason to suppose that the new homes will be disproportionately filled by retirees. 36% of 5,500 is 1,980 homes with school-age children, or about 3,960 kids. Another way to figure it is that 26% of Columbia’s population is under 18 and the average household size is 2.54, which figures about 3,674 kids, or about 200 kids per grade level.

    I’ve heard the argument that the Town Center will try to attract young working adults; the kind without children. But young adults tend to have children later: A BRAC-associated software engineer with a BS will have kids at age 28, so if she moves to a brand-spanking-new Town Center condo in 2015 at age 23, right out of college with a tax-revenue-generating $80K programmer job, expect to see her kids enter the Wilde Lake system starting in 2025.

    …unless GGP plans to put depo-provera in the water?

    • John Hannay says :

      The line that the downtown development plan contains no provisions for schools is misinformation (if not outright lie) being promoted by Mr. Klein’s campaign. The Plan absolutely contains provisions for schools. I know this because as President of the PTA Council of Howard County I was personally involved in discussions last winter to ensure that the Plan addressed the need for schools. Last December, an invitation came from Mary Kay Sigaty (who then Chaired the County Council) to the Board of Education (BOE) for a recommendation for how the need for new schools should be handled. The BOE reached out to a number of public education stakeholders (including the PTA Council) for input on the issue. BOE President Ellen Giles and BOE member Alan Dyer were the ones with whom I communicated. I, in turn, consulted with PTA leaders at the three local schools most likely to be affected: Running Brook Elementary (where I currently have a son enrolled), Wilde Lake Middle (where I had a son enrolled…he’s now at Wilde Lake High), and Byrant Woods Elementary (part of the Wilde Lake school cluster). Out of the various discussions that occurred, the BOE eventually recommended that it be empowered to determine if, when, and where a new school would be needed as development occurred, and that the developers be required to donate the necessary parcel of land to the County School District at that time (if needed). This recommendation was then communicated to Councilmember Courtney Watson (who was then Council Chair) in early January 2010. This recommendation then became part of the legislation, as one of the 90 amendments adopted.

      Is there a specific parcel of land identified for schools in the Plan? No, because as stakeholders considered this issue, we felt it was not in the best interest of children and their parents to lock the school system into a particular place or strategy. Further, the Plan only contains provisions for donation of land, which has been the past practice. Generally speaking developers have not been required to pay for school construction (or additions to existing schools), only donate land, when needed. Funds for school construction come from the BOE’s Capital Improvments Budget, which is funded by local taxes and (to a modest extent) state grants.

      I hope this information is helpful. If you need further information, please feel free to communicate back.

      • Jon says :

        Thank you! This is my own personal concern, not something I heard in a campaign ad.

        As a sociologist, I quickly saw that 5,500 new units would be a big strain on the Wilde Lake system. I live in Oakland Mills, and if Wilde Lake has 200 more kids per grade level, I can see a major population problem spilling over to my area. My nice, local, 20:1 student:teacher elementary school could be turned into an overcrowded mess. And adding significant spillover population to OMHS’s enrollment would be a blow that the school can’t really handle.

        I don’t trust people wearing rose-colored glasses. Nothing’s perfect. So when I hear anti-Bobo people talk about how they oppose her because she’s doubtful about the Plan, and the Plan is super duper so she’s bad for opposing the super duper plan; it sounds fishy to me because I feel like there are some serious, unanswered questions about school capacity.

        GGP’s website and PDFs simply say they decided not to build a new school in the plan. So naturally, I’m worried. Thanks for alleviating some of that worry: I’m glad that they’re going to donate land for an elementary school; but I’m also not sure a new elementary school will be enough. Maybe you can reassure me further: What is WLHS going to do with all the extra students?

        School building is like driving an oil tanker: You have to steer way ahead of time. And school construction and remodeling takes far, far longer than apartment/condo construction. GGP doesn’t have to foot the bill, but someone does.

        I don’t want to see WLHS and OMHS (two of the lower-scoring schools in HoCo) deteriorate under overcrowding because the Town Center plan called for school construction only as a reaction to population strain. We can forsee the strain, so let’s get building now!

        I don’t think we need a new high school, but we have to plan for huge capacity increases at WLHS now. That may cost millions of dollars and take a decade; so it’s worrisome that I can’t find any info about it.

  2. John Hannay says :

    The points in your editorial are well-taken. While I’ve been a fan of Liz Bobo on a number of other issues, I’ve been most disappointed with her behavior on this one…and I’ve respectfully told her so directly.

    What’s important now is that eligible voters (registered Democrats) in District 4 who believe that Ms. Sigaty did the right thing in ensuring responsible downtown development now vote in this election. It’s one thing to cheerlead on Mary Kay’s behalf. What makes the difference is that support for her gets translated into votes. It’s also important to talk with your friends and neighbors about the need to support Mary Kay. Mr. Klein and his supporters are doing their best to create an impression that everyone is moving toward him. Based on door knocking I’ve done on behalf of Mary Kay in my neighborhood, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. So, talk up Mary Kay, and BE SURE TO VOTE.

  3. John Hannay says :

    Re: schools in the downtown plan, the dilemma in all of this is that it’s hard to know at this time what will be needed in the way of schools. It depends on what type of housing gets built where, what the current enrollments are at the existing schools and what the ages of those students are, and what the capacities are for renovations and additions (which are generally less expensive) at existing facilities. That’s why the language that’s in the Plan was developed the way it was. Generally speaking it takes 3-5 years to plan and build a new school. Additions and renovations can be done more quickly. What’s important in the Plan is that the Board of Education controls when the process for building a new school starts and determines generally where land (if needed) has to be found. The school system has long-established formulas for anticipating when new schools or additions will be needed that are fairly adept at ensuring that facilities are present when needed. If a new high school is needed (not considered likely in the near future), there will generally be more lead time to prepare because when families move into new housing they tend to have younger children. I hope this helps further.

  4. columbia2.0 says :

    Jon, thanks for the good questions and, Mr. Hannay, thanks for the information! It’s great to have answers from a first-hand source. It looks like there is enough information here to turn this into a blog post, as people seem to be very interested in this topic – as they should be.

  5. columbia2.0 says :

    One more thing: The units that are being constructed are, indeed, designed to attract young professionals, empty-nesters, and retirees – which do have a disproportionately low number of school-age children. No detached houses (which would be more conducive to larger families) are proposed.

    That said, it is a likely scenario that many young adults who have children over the next 15 years will move out of what will have been their “starter homes” and into larger units away from the denser downtown. In this case, the scenario pretty much ends there, since those families would be using those same schools regardless of where the parents lived as young professionals.

    And, BTW, here’s Item 10 in the Downtown Community Enhancements, Programs, and Public Amenities Implementation Chart (CEPPA Chart):
    “10. GGP shall, if deemed necessary by the Board of Education, reserve a school site or provide an equivalent location within Downtown Columbia.”

    So, we (collectively) have achieved what we (C2.0) think makes sense: we do not anticipate needing a site now, but if we do need it at some point, we’re covered.

    • John Hannay says :

      No problem…it’s my pleasure to share accurate information. BTW, don’t always assume that condos and townhouses don’t attract families with children. We’ve had a “boomlet” recently of families at Running Brook with young children living in townhouses and condos currently south of the Mall. Typically, they live in this housing while they get themselves established and then move on to larger housing, using buying from empty nesters and retirees who are downsizing in other neighborhoods.

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