The Right Thing For Symphony Woods….Years Later

Last week, Wordbones had Cy Paumier on his podcast, and wrote a subsequent blog about it titled, “Captain of the Dream Team”.  One passage stood out to me:

Some have called this the “dream team” of planners. Some have criticized CA for not bringing in new blood.

It’s a moot point. The Dream Team is “weeks away” from unveiling their master plan for Symphony Woods. What many don’t know is that Howard Hughes has also been busy with Merriweather Post Pavilion. HHC has retained Sasaki & Associates to develop a new master plan for the outdoor theatre. They have been working closely with CA to make sure both efforts are complimentary and the two parties may have found the formula to make the café in the woods concept work.

And then this past Sunday, HCR released a statement from The CA Board, in the form of a blog post, saying:

In an effort to meet the goals of Howard County’s General Development Plan, CA will be working with the Howard Hughes Corporation to develop a complete neighborhood plan for the Symphony Woods/Merriweather Post “Neighborhood.” The Columbia Association feels that the proposed neighborhood plan will fulfill the General Development Plan’s purpose of providing an exceptional cultural and recreational area in the new Town Center area. Additional details and negotiations with Howard Hughes will begin so that land uses and area amenities will benefit park and pavilion users. CA believes that this venture will meet the goals of the plan and will be a place that can be enjoyed by Columbians and those who will visit both the park and pavilion.

HCR then goes on to write:

“I believe this is the only way to go on this issue and am very happy with the manner in which this partnership has been able to develop.  Respectfully, this was never about “big ideas” for Symphony Woods.  It was about connectivity and congruence.  This approach should meet both objectives and find its way through County vetting. “

I respectfully disagree with HCR when he says, “this was never about “big ideas” for Symphony Woods.” It was about “big ideas” when GGP engaged a world class team (Jaque Robertson of Cooper, Robertson & Partners, Alan Ward from Sasaki Associates and Keith Bowers of BioHabitats) to work on the plan for Downtown, including Symphony Woods. I remember hearing about the possibility of a having library or museum that would have fostered the growth and development of Howard County’s children in the Arts. As CA’s plan stands now, we’ll get a cafe, water feature and years more of underutilization.

I do agree that connectivity and congruence are important, but we could have had that a long time ago. The manner in which this partnership has developed goes back a long way and I can’t help think that it only came about after the County twice rejected CA’s plan for Symphony Woods. It all goes back to when CA first refused to work with GGP on Symphony Woods. They completely rejected their vision for it and decided to develop it on their own, despite the fact that they are not developers. I find it telling what Cy Paumier said about it three years ago in this interview with MIA reporter Jack Cole. In it he (Mr. Paumier) states:

“No one’s ever really cared enough about it to do a plan, CA hasn’t been encouraged, nobody in the community has been saying we ought to create a great park there. So along comes General Growth [Properties], General Growth’s got a couple hundred acres that they’ve got to develop right? They’ve got all the land in the world to develop, why don’t they just focus on what they own. I mean they don’t have to start taking CA’s land . . . its crazy!”

So there you have it. Mr. Paumier was upset that GGP had the gall to include Symphony Woods in their overall vision (“big idea”) for Downtown Columbia. So, fast forward a couple years, and now Mr. Paumier has convinced CA to hire him to come up with the plan that currently exists. You know, the one that’s been twice rejected by the County.

Look, I’m glad CA is finally getting in the game, and I hate to dig up the past. But the fact is, this should have happened years ago. To say that Symphony Woods isn’t about “big ideas” is to sell it short. As the father of young daughter, I want Symphony Woods to become a special place for her to enjoy now, and to hopefully one day bring her children to. After hearing about this partnership between CA and HHC, I am hopeful that, after all these years, it will be.



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3 responses to “The Right Thing For Symphony Woods….Years Later”

  1. Tom (HCR) says :

    I rushed a post in advance of the Ravens game. My comment was directed at the fact that the County’s denial of Phase 1 was “not about ‘big ideas.'” It’s a semantic freebie to say that SW is about “big ideas.” Of course it is. But in response to the County’s decision on Phase 1, many people came out saying “We need a plan that captures the imagination of 1,000 school children” or some other of that variation. That was not the grounds for the decision.

    As to your view of what SW should have been, I think one area in which CA can not be faulted is the manner in which public input was solicited and incorporated into the Plan. My personal belief is that this aspect of planning worked to create confusion moreso than add to a good plan, but that is besides the point. I like this Plan and think it is important to maintain an actual park as opposed to having buildings, no matter how exciting those buildings may be.

    In short — SW has always been about making it the best possible use of CA land possible. I’m sorry you don’t like the final proposal. There are many big ideas that will flow from Phase 1 and I hope you will stay involved in having your voice heard with regard to those proposals. The same level of input cannot be said for the other property owners in the new Downtown.

  2. columbia2.0 says :


    It’s not so much my dislike for CA’s plan for Symphony Woods, (although I do think it lacks imagination) as it is the whole saga over it. For years, CA refused to work with GGP, and now we are left with (in my opinion) a sub par plan. I didn’t even get into the whole bizarre anonymous donor matching a state bond to fund the project or the part where Liz Bobo claimed the project was shovel ready a year and a half ago.

    So now that CA is having trouble getting the County to approve it, they decide to work with HHC. Wouldn’t the community have been better served if CA decided to work with the developer from the start? After all, it looks like we’ve now come full circle with this partnership and I can’t help but think what a plan for SW would have looked like with 4 years of collaboration with GGP/HHC instead of going at it alone.

    Are buildings (or a building) the answer for SW? I don’t know. At least then people would have a reason to go there. It sounded like an idea worth exploring to me. Especially if it added to the connectivity between SW and The Mall.

    I do plan to stay involved, and hope that the congruence of which you speak can be achieved. I think this partnership goes a long way to ensuring that it is, even if it is a few years in the making.


  3. JessieX says :

    Hey Brian, Seen this bit about CA’s budget & videos? Can you help get this to the KC board? – Jessie

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