I agree with the comment made recently by County Executive Kittleman that it's exciting to see cranes in Columbia's skyline again. Indeed, since the community charrette and the events that led to the Downtown Columbia Master Plan in 2010, a lot has happened, including the conversion of the former Rouse Company building into Whole Foods and Haven on the Lake, the completion of the pathway around Lake Kittamaqundi, the establishment and beginning of the Inner Arbor property at Symphony Woods, and most recently, the construction of the pathway between Howard County General Hospital and Blandair Park.
Now it's time for downtown redevelopment to take its next step, as the County Council holds it's first of what will be several public hearings to listen to bills submitted regarding the development of the Crescent property south and west of Merriweather; the Tax Incentive Financing (TIF) plan which will help finance the Crescent development, through the generation of increased county tax revenues; and the establishment of affordable housing in downtown Columbia. The Administration has filed a series of bills, which it reports are the consensus product from multi-party discussions including Howard Hughes, the developer, and the Downtown Columbia Housing Corporation. Councilmember Jen Terrasa has also filed some bills which provides an alternative to the Administration/HoHu plan.
For those of you keeping score at home, if you go to the county County Council website, you will find the Administration bills as CB52-2016, CB53-2016, CB54-2016, CB55-2016, CB56-2016, CR103-2016, CR104-2016, and CR105-2016. The Terrasa bills are CB43-2016, CB44-2016, and CB45-2016.
Also, public hearings on these bills are scheduled for July 14 and July 18, both starting at 6pm at the George Howard Building. Legislative Work Sessions will be July 25 at 8:30am, July 29 at 10am, and September 6 at 7pm at the same George Howard Building. I'm of the mind that there will be additional public hearings scheduled, but I have no inside knowledge of that and therefore have no clue when they might be.
Last night I attended an Oakland Mills Village Board meeting which featured presentations from the County Executive's office, Greg Fitchitt from Howard Hughes, and Councilmember Terrasa. It was a very interesting meeting. Rather than take the time to break down and deconstruct each of the plans-- because, you know, that way people will accuse me of being negative and/or taking a side-- instead I'm going to use the balance of this post to bring to the fore some interesting ideas and thoughts! To wit:
-- Expanding the TIF to include the Oakland Mills Village Center area. This might not be possible as apparently, the TIF property has to be HoHu-owned and contiguous, but if it was possible, it would truly lend the look and feel of a real "downtown Columbia", not just a built-up lakefront and Crescent and a huge divider called US29. There's a Councilmember or two out there who call OM "downtown Columbia's east side"; well, let's make that happen!
-- All density needs to be counted. The Administration/HoHu plan exempts the affordable housing from the density requirement. This doesn't make sense. Does the Columbia-wide (really, New Town Zoning-wide) density cap still exist? This would be the only reason I could see why this would even be proposed-- because counting the 900 units would exceed the cap. To that, I say: raise the cap! We need truth in advertising and if that means enacting local or state legislation to increase density in New Town, so be it.
-- I think we need a parking garage at Merriweather-- of course, isn't it being built?
-- I'm not keen on this 40-year agreement thing. For the uninitiated, there's a provision in the Administration package that, if the package were approved, would lock the terms of the development in for 40 years. I don't want downtown Columbia redevelopment to become a time capsule. I want it to be able to be dynamic and able to capture emerging trends in how people will live and work. If we do want to lock this in for 40 years-- well, for me, that would make us all hypocrites, and we have no standing with which to criticize the poorly-named Columbia Pioneers who want to hold onto the way things were supposed to be in 1967, with every fiber in their bodies.
I hope you make the effort to attend Thursday night, or another night, or at least watch on TV. It should be a fascinating conversation.
And let's be careful out there.
#columbiaMD #downtownColumbia #hoco #hocohousing #hocopolitics #HowardHughes #hococouncil