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One Year Ago

This week marks the anniversary of the historic passage of CB 58 & 59. After 5 years of charettes, meetings, hearings, work sessions and discussions, our County council voted unanimously to approve the bills that are now providing the framework for the development of Downtown.

At times, it seemed like it would never get done. But we, as a community, believed in a bold future for Columbia. So we pressed on and we are beginning to see real progress.

It’s been an interesting 12 months to say the least. The opponents of the plan continued to try to derail things, but they failed. The county executive and county council who worked so hard on the plan were unanimously re-elected; supporters of the plan continued to turn out in overwhelming numbers to public hearings on the conforming legislation; the Adequate Public Facilities provisions were passed; and now we’re knee-deep into finalizing the guidelines for design and signage.

We’ve come a long way, but there is still important work to be done.  Let’s keep it moving, Columbia!

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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?

Shifting Into High Gear

It looks like the new execs at the Howard Hughes Corporation have made some big changes here in Columbia.  We don’t know what to make of them yet.  All we know is that this project needs to keep moving forward.

From the comments in the Sun article, it looks like both our elected officials and the new Howard Hughes leadership understand that the momentum of the community’s plan is intensifying.

The new CEO of the corporation, David Weinreb, said, “We’re shifting into high gear now. This is the time to be making bold moves.”

County Executive Ken Ulman and members of the county council stressed the enforceability of the plan, regardless of land ownership.

“This points out exactly what we’ve been saying for the last three years,” Ulman said. “The plan is the plan. It does not depend on ownership. They can embrace the plan and build the downtown … or not. On the one hand, it feels like we’re starting over with new people, but we’ve got a plan to protect the interests of Columbia and county residents.”

County Councilwoman Courtney Watson was more blunt. “We don’t have to approve the rest of the process unless the company performs. I think we’re in the catbird’s seat,” she said.

Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty can take much credit for insisting that the legislation be written for any developer of downtown, not just General Growth Properties, who happened to be the developer at the time.  We should thank her for her foresight.

As David Weinreb said, it’s time to “shift into high gear.”  For over five years now, we’ve been engaged in a comprehensive planning and creative process.  Now, we’re looking forward to the process of building the vibrant, connected, and walkable downtown we’ve envisioned.

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

A Bright, Bright Future for Howard County: County Executive Ulman talks about the “transformative” changes coming to our area

The spotlight was on County Executive Ken Ulman on WBAL TV’s Sunday Q & A. Asked about the plan to redevelop Downtown (around minute 1:30), he hit the nail on the head: “We have a great downtown, a great mall, a lakefront, Merriweather Post Pavilion – but you can’t walk from one to another!” He went on to talk about the $26.5 million “rebuilding” of Merriweather “for the next generation.” (Hey, that’s us!!!)

Then, the question is posed: “You guys are on the cutting edge of the cyber security world out there. Are we going to see more jobs coming to Fort Meade because of this?” His response? Absolutely.

See the rest of his comments here, starting around minute 3:00, about the “transformative” impact of BRAC and Cyber Command on the region. Columbia and Howard County are perfectly located for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  If we are going to capture that opportunity, we must start preparing.

County Executive Ulman on WBAL Nov. 28

Welcome to Columbia

We already blogged about the formation of The Howard Hughes Corporation, but we haven’t formally welcomed them. So, on behalf of Columbia 2.0 and all of our members, we would like to welcome our new partners to town. Just as we did with GGP, we expect to work with them and hold them accountable to the community as the downtown plan moves forward.

And speaking of GGP, we would like to thank them for all the amazing work they did for us over the past 5 years. They went through some hard times, but never wavered in their support for Columbia. Thank you and good luck as you continue your mission.

And in the “good first move” category, they’re keeping Greg Hamm at the helm. Here’s to a successful partnership with THHC, as we continue to build upon the vision of Columbia.

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: http://www.newcityalliance.org/aboutus.html)

Art, Culture, and Life Downtown

Since our founding, we have enjoyed a diverse and rich arts scene in Columbia. Culture? Well, that might be in the eye of the beholder, but one thing is for sure. If we want downtown Columbia to be successful as we begin our redevelopment, both the arts and culture must play an integral part.

The photo above is the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, which is in the Basque region of Spain. The museum houses modern art and has helped to revitalize the city.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) night at 7:15, in another Frank Gehry designed building, you’ll have a chance to help come up with ideas on how best to incorporate art and culture into the new buildings and open spaces that will make up downtown.

Gail Lord of Lord Cultural Resources, will hold a special presentation entitled “Conversation on Art and Culture in Downtown Columbia, “ in the Spear Center at the General Growth Properties building, 10275 Little Patuxent Prky., Columbia, MD 21044.

If you’d like to attend, RSVP: cathyvsmith@verizon.net

See you there!

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

Bobo, Klein and the Politics of Spin

We’ve had a great discussion over the last few days on this blog about schools downtown. A reader skeptical of the plan asked a thoughtful question, and we provided the facts of the legislation, while an original decision-maker on the issue weighed in with an insider perspective.  This was a substantive, reasoned conversation with a real outcome.

So how disappointing was it to see this article in the Sun today:

Bobo criticizes school board on Columbia redevelopment plan

Bobo asked why the Board was “not reserving a site for a possible new school for the proposed 30-year Columbia redevelopment.”  The Board, of course, replied that the issue had already been evaluated, decided, and legislated, with the result that the board has the right to reserve a site downtown if it deems it necessary, leaving their options open while development occurs so that they can make the best decision when the time comes – taking into account the ongoing needs of the rest of the county.  And Liz, Alan: everyone knows this.

It seems Delegate Bobo has resorted to spewing Alan Klein’s campaign rhetoric – making last-gasp lunges at any issue, regardless of the facts.  It’s embarrassing to watch them make these wild claims that are easily refuted with even a passing knowledge of the unanimously approved plan and the extensive process involved in its creation and refinement.

You’d think a seasoned politician like Liz Bobo would know better than to try to pull off last-ditch shenanigans like this – especially on behalf of a candidate like Alan Klein.  He’s already known for not being well-versed on the issues or the budget (which he admitted to never having read) without his Mentor chopping him off at the knees by making reckless public statements that betray their growing desperation.

We can’t wait to see what ridiculousness they’ll come up with next.

Schools Downtown: If, When, and Where

Today, a reader of A Double Negative” asked a couple of good questions about the plan for schools downtown. Not surprisingly, there has been some campaign-related misinformation floating around about this so we were lucky to have someone directly involved weigh in.  And, hopefully, this will be the last word on the subject.  John Hannay, President of the PTA Council of Howard County, responded in the comments (our emphasis, below):
.
Mr. Hannay: 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.
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.

It is clearly stated in the legislation.  Item 10 in the Downtown Community Enhancements, Programs, and Public Amenities Implementation Chart (CEPPA Chart) says: “10. GGP shall, if deemed necessary by the Board of Education, reserve a school site or provide an equivalent location within Downtown Columbia.”
In other words, we do not anticipate needing a site now, but if we do need it at some point, we’re covered.

Mr. Hannay (and C2.0 wholeheartedly agrees): 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.

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.