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I Support CA’s Inner Arbor Plan. Do you?

If so, please sign this petition. The goal was to get at least 300 signatures by this Thursday, when the CA Board is scheduled to discuss and vote on the plan. I think there’s something like 226 right now. Please click the link, sign the petition and encourage your friends to do the same. This is too important to our future to delay.


p.s. Here’s what we can continue to expect of Symphony Woods if we don’t act:



We have it pretty good here in Columbia when it comes to pools. Indoor, outdoor, waterslides, you name it, we got it. But every once in a while you have to take a step back and make sure things are up to par. After all, some of our pools have been around a long time. Not to mention, some are underutilized while others overcrowded.

That’s why CA is preparing an Aquatics Master Plan. It will document existing conditions of Columbia’s aquatics facilities and programs; assesses the future needs of residents and other users; and make recommendations for future investments in aquatics venues and associated programs.

This week, CA is holding 2 workshops where you will have a chance to be heard. The first is Tuesday, March 29 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at The Other Barn in Oakland Mills, and the other is Wednesday, March 30 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Hawthorn Community Center in Hickory Ridge.


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.

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

Happy Birthday, New City Alliance!

We’d like to re-print part of a statement released today by our friends at New City Alliance, marking their first birthday. And what a difference a year makes.

…Ongoing efforts by special interests and opponents of Smart Growth threatened to dilute and delay the plan. Our community’s vision was being put at risk by those who could not imagine the big picture nor grasp the realities of growth and change, what Jim Rouse called “failing to deal realistically with the world as it is, attempting to push things somewhere else rather than seeing that they’re done well.”

To ensure our community’s vision was not compromised, we launched New City Alliance with the express mission of “holding our public officials accountable” – putting our elected representatives on notice every step of the way to ensure the community’s best interests were priority number one.

Today, we’ve seen the unanimous passage of the downtown plan by our bipartisan County Council; passage of the legislation that details the public facilities plan; and, twice, public validation of the strong support for the plan, through the decisive failures of legal and political maneuvers against it.

We are proud of our neighbors for their commitment to taking charge of their own future. We are grateful to our public officials for carefully balancing the benefits and assurances this community deserves with the needs of the developer.

They went on to say that they’d continue to hold elected officials and the developer accountable “prior to breaking ground on the redevelopment and throughout the 30-year development process.”

As for that 30-year process, Columbia 2.0 would like to give special mention to Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty for her foresight and dogged determination in insisting that the downtown legislation was enforceable upon any developer of the land, not just General Growth Properties. Now, as the Howard Hughes Corporation takes ownership, we can rest assured that Councilwoman Sigaty fought for that distinction.

Happy birthday, New City Alliance, and congratulations to Columbia for coming so far in the last year!

(The full statement will be printed in full on NCA’s website.  Find more about NCA’s members here:

CA, why hide it? You’re making a good decision here!

The Columbia Association recently created a new Community Development Service Bureau, which, according to this article in the Flier, is “tasked with overseeing CA’s role in the redevelopment of downtown Columbia, as well as master planning and revitalization projects throughout Columbia.”   A little slow on the uptake here, as the redevelopment has been in the planning process for over five years, but kudos to CA for (eventually) doing something that makes sense.

The creation of the bureau includes a new position for Community Planner, which is where Jane Dembner comes in.  She seems to have the expertise and experience to do a great job.  As someone who rides her bike three miles to work on a regular basis, she says improved connectivity is one of her goals (which is fitting, since connectivity is a signature goal of the downtown redevelopment.)  She says, “Columbia was planned by a very visionary person.  CA hasn’t had this position before because it was a planned community. … I do think we have a great start. But how do we expand that?”

Our question is: what is the Community Development Service Bureau? For what seems like such a significant and timely new organization, we couldn’t really find out anything about it online, other than that Phil Nelson mentioned it back in February, and $350,000 was proposed for it every year in the budget back in January.  It is kind of strange that CA doesn’t have any more information about it available publicly, but maybe we are just missing something.  Does anyone have information on this?  E-mail us at if you do!

Seems like this could be a great opportunity for everyone.

UPDATE: Columbia Association’s Manager for Communications & Community Relations Division responded by e-mail to our post above.  Below is what she had to say.  (And thank you to her for the response!)

Thank you for your interest in CA’s Community Development Service Bureau.  We are enthused by the level of talent and passion that our two newest team members, Jane Dembner and John McCoy, will bring to the organization.

In January 2010, CA’s organizational structure was modified to better address the needs of our internal and external stakeholders. This concept, titled the “Service Bureau Model,” was designed to encourage CA divisions and departments to work together, combining knowledge, expertise and resources. Committees comprised of team members representing various divisions within the organization are often formed to collaborate and exchange ideas on major projects and initiatives.  One component in this reorganization was the creation of a Community Development Service Bureau (now the Community Development/Sustainability Service Bureau). This was created largely in response to the overwhelming feedback we got from the Villages who requested assistance with Master Planning and zoning issues.  Recently, we expanded the scope of this service bureau to encompass both Community Development and Sustainability in response to the citizen-driven request for a Watershed Manager and CA’s strategic direction in sustainable operations and programs.  The Watershed Manager is responsible for implementing the programs and projects in the Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan and furthering that work beyond the present initiatives in that plan for future sustainable water quality initiatives, improving the quality of all water bodies in Columbia.

The Service Bureau is also responsible for leading CA’s going green program; acting as the liaison to the county, state and federal government for CA’s Emergency Preparedness and resiliency programs; and coordinating CA’s Capital Improvements Program including our aging infrastructure.  All of this is performed by existing experienced professional CA team members, along with Jane Dembner, our new Director of Community Planning, and John McCoy, our new Watershed Manager who form the core of this Service Bureau.

While we are working to make this information even more accessible on the main CA website,, we do have a robust web site devoted to our watershed efforts,  As the bureau continues to develop and CA strengthens its going green-sustainability and community planning efforts, we look forward to updating our site with additional content on a regular basis.

A Unilateral Plan

Columbia is characterized as being created from the very best community planning processes available. Our county’s planning process has been a thorough one, from Jim Rouse’s original, painstaking planning of this first community of its kind, to the five-year process we’ve just completed for the revitalization of Columbia’s downtown. Indeed, this most recent planning process was one of the most extensive planning processes in the history of Maryland. We are proud of our planning process, which is meant to ensure that nothing is rushed through, that every perspective is given equal consideration.

Some of the most vocal advocates of an extended planning process sit on the CA Board, including at least two members who collected signatures in an effort to take our downtown plan to a referendum by voters after it had been passed unanimously by the County Council with overwhelming public support. Time and time again, the folks on that side made unsubstantiated arguments that the process was being circumvented or hurried along and that the county was giving the developer special treatment.

Now, in a sudden rush to redevelop Symphony Woods – which the CA Board has neglected for decades – these members of the CA Board are expressing surprise that they, too, should held to the standards established in our community’s planning process – the same standards they so vigorously upheld when applied to someone else.  The Board is asking to skip certain steps in the planning process, while pointing fingers at the county for “holding up” its rush plan.

Previously, the Board had opted out of the opportunity to participate with the community and the county during the planning of downtown, which included funding from the developer for special projects just like this. Instead, CA procured $250,000 in taxpayer money, and an equal amount in anonymous private funds, to draft its own plan with minimal, if any, community input. It is not clear yet how the remainder of the *$2 million plan will be funded, nor is it clear who exactly formed the consensus on the plan aside from, presumably, the eleven members of the board.

Why does the CA Board think it is exempt from the planning process?

*UPDATE: CA’s plan for Symphony Woods is budgeted at $4.5 million.

Symphony Woods: a difference in perspective

Last week I read with amusement the portrayal of Symphony Woods as “open-space parkland” in a letter to the editor in the Columbia Flier.  That description is a little far-fetched for a place that has become basically a walk-through to Merriweather and hosts one community event a year.  It may be open space, but it’s not a park.  A park implies people.  There are almost no people in Symphony Woods.  For most of the year, it’s neglected and it’s empty.  Take a look at the video (below) my sister and I made last year.  It says it all.

Brian Dunn

Fast and Loose with the Facts: Wilde Lake elections

Columbia Compass blogged today about the CA election in Wilde Lake.  Specifically, he talked about some Letters to the Editor in the Flier in which, CC feels, the authors took – shall we say – liberties with the truth.

The post is best read in its entirety, which you can do here.

The Letters to the Editor he mentions are below (titles slightly paraphrased – we kid! We kid!), and are followed by some interesting exchanges from both sides at these original postings:

Leaves are Important

The CA is Nice

What do you think…?

Fun and Games at the Polls

It will be interesting to see what shenanigans go down this year at the Wilde Lake Village election for CA Board. Last year, there were a couple of notable incidents.

First, candidate for CA Board Phil Kirsch actually worked at the site of the polling center where his name was on the ballot on Election Day.* **

Second, Liz Bobo was also there in support of Kirsch, hovering over people while they were casting their votes – doing a little something we call “electioneering.” She left after she was informed that this inappropriate interference was not appreciated.

Phil Kirsch and “intimidating” don’t belong in the same sentence, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, and just call his presence at the polling place on Election Day highly, highly inappropriate. Maybe he was merely acting in good faith on orders from the top.

Liz, on the other hand, is smarter than that. Is this long-time lawyer and politician that ignorant, or is she that arrogant? In past years, she has made a number of efforts supporting Kirsch, including sending e-mails (some from her official legislative e-mail account on a state computer, resulting in an ethics complaint), leaving campaigning notes at houses in Wilde Lake, running a phone bank out of her house (located in a non-lien assessed outparcel in Harpers Choice), and hanging out at Slayton House on Election Day.

What is her great interest in this area where she and her husband do not live? Oh, right, it’s their rental property investment business (Property 1; Property 2; Property 3; and Property 4, which she neglected to include in her ethics financial disclosure to the House of Delegates). Not that we’d ever criticize someone for trying to boost their bottom line, but its seems using state resources to pursue private commercial interests in the name of an elected office is – well, again, let’s just call it highly, highly inappropriate.

Let’s hope CA steps up this year to draw some clear ethical lines at Slayton House on Saturday. This election is too important to be treated so cavalierly by these entrenched incumbents. CA may be “just” a homeowners’ association, but maybe if these elections weren’t treated like a joke, the seats themselves wouldn’t be treated that way.

The CA Board has the potential to be the vibrant, progressive, unifying force it once was for all of Columbia. Let’s not take it, in its current weakened state, for granted. Let’s elect responsible candidates who treat the office responsibly.

* We are not posting the 2009 Volunteer Schedule on which Phil Kirsch’s name appears, because it contains presumably private contact information for him and for other workers.

** UPDATE: From someone else who was present, we hear that Phil just helped to set up a tent at the election, and was not necessarily inside talking to voters.

Step Down Russ

As you’ve probably heard by now, the same people who tried unsuccessfully to derail the process of passing the legislation to redevelop Downtown are trying to take the issue to referendum. This is annoying because the people of Columbia have spent over 5 years to bring this consensus plan forward. That it was passed by a unanimous vote is an indication of the depth of support it has throughout the community.

But what’s even more annoying is that this referendum drive is being lead by Russ Swatek who sits on CA’s Board of Directors. This is a huge conflict of interest, and C20 joins Jud Malone’s call for him to step down immediately. Using your position to further your own agenda is criminal and we won’t stand for it.

This initiative is a huge waste of time and we expect that the outcome of any ballot will produce the same result.

Ethics Complaint Against Bobo

An ethics complaint has been flied against Del. Liz Bobo, an adamant critic of the downtown redevelopment plan, for using her state email to influence CA elections. So why do we care? CA has a strong voice with County officials and, as we have suspected for years, much of the CA leadership is in the tank for Bobo. Is CA’s opposition to the plan based on the best interests of its homeowners or is it merely the will of Bobo and her cronies. And why is killing the plan so important to het that she’s willing to risk her political career? Below are links to the complaint and public information request.