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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.


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.”


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….



Bigotry Trumps Civility

Last Thursday night, I attended the Zoning Pre-Submission Hearing conducted by the Howard Hughes Corporation. After their presentation, they opened the floor to questions and comments. At one point, Joel Broida, one of the more vocal opponents of the redevelopment grabbed the mic and made a comment that literally left my mouth open wide.

Here’s his quote from The Columbia Patch article: “Renters don’t have pride in the community,” he said. “They aren’t the ones to pick up that piece of paper someone dropped.”

Instead of commenting on just how wrong I believe his statement to be, I will instead ask you to read this post by Bill Santos over at Columbia Compass. He sums it up more succinctly that I could ever hope to.

However, I would like to add one thing. It is obvious that Mr. Broida is so against change that he would violate core values of inclusion and diversity we hold dear here in Columbia, just for the sake of complaining. And that’s just sad.



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?

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:

Tomorrow’s Transit, Today – Together

Every morning, I drive into DC for work. And let me tell you, it ain’t no fun. On a good day, it takes an hour and 15 minutes. On the worst of days, it can take 3 hours, like it did a few days after Snowmageddon.

Such problems are not unique to our region, but thankfully, we have forward-looking community leaders such as Sharonlee Vogel who are fighting to address them now.  As Chair of Transportation Advocates, Sharonlee organized and moderated a forum this morning about what the future of transportation should look like in Howard County and the region.

Before I braved my way in DC, I attended the forum. Although much of what was discussed surrounded the future organizational structure that will provide transit services in the county and region, I was curious how this would actually be incorporated into the redevelopment of downtown. And after hearing many people speak on the topic, a few things became clear.

First, the new development we will see must be clustered around transit stations. It must be pedestrian-friendly, attractive, and connect the rest of the neighborhood to the transit station. These mixed-use centers will foster that “sense of place” so many people feel is lacking downtown.

Second, transportation choices will be key. Public transit, walking, and cycling all must be given equal consideration. Living, shopping, entertainment, and employment opportunities must be within walking distance of transit stations so that people can easily use transit in place of cars.

And finally, we need to make a real, long-term commitment to transit if we want it to succeed. We must work with local and state officials to ensure that the quality of our transit service is safe and reliable. And our local policies must support and encourage transit usage.

One more thing (and I hate to even mention this): I saw some of the same old faces of the people who continually gripe, continually criticize, and never offer any answers.  When are they going to start focusing on solutions instead of problems?

Guys, we are all working towards a better Columbia.  Please, let’s work together to accomplish this, instead of undermining each other so that nothing gets done.  “No one wins when everyone loses.”  We have a real opportunity for everyone to win here.  Let’s not squander that!

These are just a few quick thoughts I had after the forum, but I think they are worth exploring. What about you? Let us know your thoughts…

– Brian Dunn

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.

Alan Klein: Off the Deep End

At the candidates forum Tuesday night, we were absolutely stunned when Alan Klein compared the downtown redevelopment to the Iraq War.  Below is the footage of Klein’s comment – and Brian Dunn’s response.

TAG petition falls short of required signatures

It appears the referendum effort to halt the redevelopment of downtown won’t go forward. As was reported the other day, TAG, the group sponsoring the petition, was falling short of the 2,500 signatures required to move their effort to the next level. Today, a look at the Board of Elections website confirms they weren’t able to meet that threshold.

While I don’t agree with a thing TAG claimed, I understand that, in their minds, they thought they were right. And I applaud them for trying to do something about it. But they misjudged the overwhelming support this bold new plan for Columbia has generated, and I would hope that they can get on board with the coming changes.

Regardless of how you feel about these changes, they are happening, and we need to come together around that. Columbia is about to begin its transformation into a world class city, dedicated to the arts and culture. There will be something for everyone, especially children. Theaters, museums, and restaurants will entice people to stay for the weekend instead of driving in and out in the same day. Our success here will be talked about, studied and imitated for generations to come.

So today truly is a historic day. A great day for some, a sad day for others. But in the spirit of innovative ideas, Columbia is moving forward and everyone’s invited.

-Brian Dunn

Reporting from the Fringe

Yesterday, I ventured into the Den of Incivility (Russ Swatek’s dining room) to see for myself who’s in charge of trying to kill the world-class plan to save Columbia.

The open house was a call for volunteers to gather signatures for a referendum against the recently passed legislation to redevelop downtown, but I showed up to let them know that we’re not about to let a few nut jobs stand in the way of real and lasting progress here.

I left with several observations, which I will share with you now:

Russ Swatek thinks the east coast is too crowded. I heard him utter those exact words. So it’s no surprise that the CA Board member is leading the referendum. He joked that he was a “professional pest” or something to that effect. Hey, Russ, this is no laughing matter when we’re talking about such a bold plan for our future.

As the spokesperson for the so-called Taxpayers Against Giveaways or TAG (a group reportedly holding meetings at the home of Liz ” No No” Bobo), there may be a real conflict of interest here. In fact, there’s a petition being circulated calling for his resignation on those grounds.

Then there’s Frank Martin, of Turf Valley fame. Google this guy. It seems that there is no lawsuit he doesn’t love, and he spent a lot of time yesterday bragging about how much time he spends in court. He was offering advice to other volunteers in the room about signature gathering. His main problem is the increased taxes from the additional school aged kids that might come along with their parents to Columbia. You know, the kids who grow up to work and live in Columbia, to pay taxes, and to raise their own families. Don’t worry, Frank – if you have it your way, there won’t be a Columbia left by the time these kids grow up.

They all kept insisting that this plan was ramrodded through and that it will burden Howard County taxpayers. Yet when I brought up the EDA and fiscal impact reports that say just the opposite, they quickly dismissed it. The fact is, they just don’t like any development and it wouldn’t matter what the plan was. They absolutely have a right to petition, but this isn’t about giving voters a choice. This is about being sore losers. It’s about delaying a Plan that was passed unanimously by the County Council after thousands of hours of meetings and community input.

What bothers me is, they only need signatures from 5,000 of the 163,000 Howard County voters to get this on the ballot and create another year of delay. That’s right – just 3% of our voters can hold up this thing for the other 97%. I have a hard time letting the fringe say “no” for all of us to an estimated $5.7 billion in total economic activity and 29,970 new jobs in Howard County.

So if you’re reading this, and you understand how much of a boon this redevelopment is for Columbia and Howard County, tell your friends and neighbors that there are a few people out there trying to deny us the complete city Columbia was always meant to be. It’s just not right.

-Brian Dunn

Brian grew up in Columbia and currently resides in Kings Contrivance

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.