Dear Members of the County Council,
My name is Bill Woodcock and I live at 6127 Orient Lane, Columbia, MD 21045. I'm submitting written testimony to address the entirely of the bills submitted thus far regarding the redevelopment of Downtown Columbia-- the Administration's bill package, in addition to those submitted by Councilmember Jen Terrasa. I commend all those involved with discussing and negotiating and writing all the local resolutions and bills-- of which there are currently 11-- before you. I'm also submitting written testimony, rather than oral, so that the message I need to share with is neither lost nor diluted.
I hope also, that you will read thoroughly and consider seriously what I'm writing. Because all of you have a once in a lifetime opportunity. And each of you have an opportunity to create and cement a legacy, as elected officials and as stewards of this community. And my view is that, to realize that opportunity, some big questions have to be answered here about downtown redevelopment. Maybe these questions have been answered. But maybe, some of them haven't even yet been asked?
I was reading social media last week, specifically Facebook posts about downtown redevelopment, and a supporter of downtown redevelopment, who has long been known to support the Administration's package, in trying to convince a dissenter, attempted to draw a picture of a redeveloped Columbia as, "picture Bethesda or Reston". As models of what a redeveloped Columbia could be.
Well. I believe in downtown redevelopment. I know a lot of people who want to move here. Because the way Columbia and Howard County are planned and designed makes sense. It's well managed. It's not....wait for it.... places like Bethesda or Reston. So no. I don't want Bethesda or Reston here. And a lot of people in Bethesda or Reston, don't want Bethesda or Reston where they live!
And what also strikes in the comparison to other suburbs is... this is a once in a two generation opportunity. That's that legacy thing I talked about earlier. And, 40 or 50 years from now, do we want our children and grandchildren, maybe even great grandchildren, to say, "Yep, they redeveloped Columbia all right. Made it look just like Bethesda or Reston. Boy, did they do great!" I don't think we do. I think we want history to think of us-- all of us-- as visionaries and people who cared deeply about this community. And before us is a chance to do that. To create something visionary. So I'm going to use the balance of this testimony to discuss what I think visionary looks like. Most of which is in the context of these pieces of legislation, but some of it isn't.
First, if we're going to create Downtown Columbia, let's create it. I keep hearing about Oakland Mills as being part of "Downtown Columbia". Then let's expand the Tax Incentive Financing (TIF) area to include the Oakland Mills Village Center area.
Second, a question: we want to beat our chests here and say we're creating something "world class" in Columbia. Let's stop using that term so loosely. What do world-class cities have? A landmark. The Sydney Opera House. The Empire State Building. Big Ben. What is Columbia's landmark? I suggest that it's Merriweather Post Pavilion. And as such, MPP has to be taken care of. It's been renovated. It must also be provided for in terms of parking and other infrastructure and it must be transferred over. There are good people who want to cultivate Merriweather and make it what they want it to be. Younger people for whom this is literally their life's work. Let them have that chance. I would like to see Howard Hughes commit to a date certain at which Merriweather would be transferred. It should be transferred before any downtown Columbia redevelopment legislation is enacted.
Third, there's a lot of jobs that are projected to be created and brought to Downtown Columbia. By my read, 19,000. Over twice the number of residents the 6,400 projected residential units will house, and one job for about every 15 Howard Countians. With the workplace moving farther from physical structure and hierarchical offices, and towards hotelling situations and telework, I'm not sure if all of those projected 4.3 million square feet of commercial space will be needed. I'd love to see some forward-projecting data that supports this figure.
Fourth, the TIF figure. A TIF is an unusual funding mechanism for this, I find. It's been pointed out to me that Arundel Mills, for example, was built using a TIF mechanism. And I pointed out to my friend, that the Arundel Mills area was woods. This is not Arundel Mills. It's already a successful area and so to ensure continued success, I find myself not so much against the TIF, but curious about how it will be backstopped should the economy run into problems and revenue projections not meet the mark. I would suggest that the developer, property owners, and tenants would share the responsibility somehow, but if it looks like meeting the TIF targets means levying fees and charges that places rents out of market-- what then? Not sure I've heard an answer to this question.
And fifth, for the county's investment, what are we getting? Are we getting a sustainable Columbia? How will commercial and residential space be built? Fir example, sustainable, certified space would make sense. Achieving the dream of a carbon neutral, green Columbia-- that would be wonderful! Game changing. Legacy defining. But if we're just going to build little squares with lots of back-in, slanted parking-- not so excited about that. That's kinda lame in fact. So I'd like to see some development details? Maybe these exist already, at least in part.
Sixth, this part about affordable housing. Those who know me know I'm not a fan of the Rouse Vision. But conceptually, what Jim Rouse talked about was very important and should be maintained. And chief among these tenets was housing for all income levels, spread throughout Columbia. Therefore, I'm not in favor of developments that are entirely targeted towards lower income levels. I am in favor of every development offering a mix of housing options. And newer ways to explore housing with lower rent, such as smaller apartments to take advantage of some current housing preferences, should be explored. And implemented! And these apartments should all be built of the same materials, development by development.
Seventh, and last, I don't see "jigsaw parts" on either of these packages. For example, I see a transit center discussed, but what's the broad vision for it? It doesn't need to be defined totally, but is this an enhanced county system? Spurs of Baltimore light rail and Washington Metro? A direct line to BWI? A maglev train stop? Some ideas, please. Same thing goes for the vision of a downtown Columbia school. Where would that go, even conceptually? Right now I don't think we know. And we should!
So I am urging all of you, Councilmembers, and the Administration to put all this together. I commend Councilmember Terrasa for her plan, but there shouldn't just be a "Terrasa Plan". There should be a Ball Plan. A Fox Plan. A Sigaty Plan. And a Weinstein Plan. It makes sense to do so, don't you think? That way you can listen to people, add your own ideas, get your plans together, synthesize with other plans that already exist, and forge a result that produces not a solution agreed upon by a committee, which contains nothing about which anyone is passionate. Rather, the forged result should be a grand plan, which is achievable, and which brings glory not just to Howard Hughes Corporation, or to any of you, but to all Howard County, for many decades to come.
I regret that I'm not available in person to ask questions, but I urge any of you to contact me at 410-963-0717 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
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