27 February 2007

Coming Soon to Your Backyard: Ricky Bobby, Hummers, and the Grey Line

Town Center resident Joel Broida and Thunder Hill resident Paul Verchinski have been lobbying the CA Board of Directors to change the bike path policy to allow golf carts on the paths. Each has taken a different approach to motorizing the bike paths, Mr. Broida would like to create a golf cart shuttle system, using carts (manufactured by Daimler-Chrysler) that can carry 6-8 passengers, to and from the grocery store (for those Villages that currently do not have a grocery story in their village). Mr. Broida has gone on to state that when grocery stores are in all of the village centers, the multi-passenger golf carts could be used to conduct tours in Columbia. Mr. Verchinski would like a general use for all residents (with a minimum age requirement) to use golf carts on the bike paths for shopping, recreation, and enhanced mobility for seniors.

Where I think they agree is in their tone and the perceived benefit to the community. Both men have been aggressive in their positions. At the January CA Board of Directors meeting, Mr. Broida asked that a policy change to allow golf carts be instituted by the end of February. Mr. Verchinski, addressing the full board for the second continuous month, began his resident speakout session by stating (and I’m paraphrasing here) “I am back again this month because I was here last month and I have not seen any movement on this issue.” Both men tout the use of golf carts as a means to aid those who are aging in place and to reduce air pollution.

What I do not think they have realized is the unintended consequences of motorizing the bike paths. As they describe it, the golf carts would be used primarily to allow aging residents to extend their mobility. To go shopping, or visit a good friend. Contrast that with the following from a November 26, 2006 article in the Washington Post, written by Dan Morse (Carts Are in Demand, but Who Said Anything About Golfing?):

For residents on the outskirts of Washington, using a golf cart doesn't necessarily mean playing golf. Marty Scanlon, for one, appreciates his cart foremost as a piece of furniture.

"When we're together," the 45-year-old says, sitting on his cart next to his buddies, "this garage exudes knowledge."

Parked next to him is a neighbor who recently pulled into Scanlon's garage on his own cart. They face a TV, watching football highlights, smoking cigars and drinking beer. Conversation veers from politics to pontoon boats to cheese dip.

"It's a think tank," said Rick Rickson, 44, lifting a cup of Bud Light out of his drink holder.

Now let’s be careful here. There is no indication that anyone in the story was drinking to excess or that anything irresponsible was going on; however, alcohol, the operation of a several hundred pound vehicle, and the idea of trying to navigate Columbia’s narrow, curvy path system is a concern.

In addition, golf carts for non-golf course use have over the years been customized:

Lots [of golf carts] go to businesses, such as apartment complexes, car dealers and the like. But a sizable number end up with homeowners, said Don DelPlace, publisher of Golf Car Advisor, a trade magazine and wholesale catalog with products for the residential set. Among the Advisor's offerings: alloy wheels, rifle holders (for hunting) and kits to convert carts to roadsters resembling a Hummer H2 or a Buick Lucerne.


[Golf cart owner Mr.] Van Wie owns an excavating company. Working near Brandywine earlier this year, he repeatedly drove by a long fence, behind which were rows of golf carts. One day he pulled in.

Walking through the front door of Metro Golf Cart, he took a left into a showroom displaying options available: $220 dashboard covers, custom paint work with flames, CD players.

He and Danny Crescenzi, a co-owner of the business, walked out to the lot and approached a cart painted bright orange, bearing a No. 20 decal to match the Monte Carlo driven by NASCAR racer Tony Stewart.

"Can you do an Earnhardt car?" Van Wie asked.

"We can do anything you like," Crescenzi said.

At times speed goes beyond just the look of the golf cart. The November/December 2006 issue of the above mentioned Golf Car Advisor magazine has a feature article on high performance golf cart electric motors. The article leads off as follows:

As the private car segment of the golf car market continues to grow, and more
and more golf cars are being used like a second automobile or for non-golf
activities, the emphasis on increased speed has gotten even greater. At the
forefront of making golf cars go faster is Steen Products, of Fort Mill, South
Carolina. Steen Products is well known for their unique Plum-quick™ line of

From my point of view, I see additional problems related to infrastructure, regulation, and safety.

With respect to infrastructure, the Columbia bike path system consists largely of narrow asphalt ribbons that connect the Villages. Many of these paths are located in floodplains, traverse steep slopes, and have many blind curves. To accommodate a fleet of golf carts, most pathways would have to be widened (making them closer to resident’s side and back yards). With respect to slopes, either the grade would have to be changed or a major investment in signage (and driver training/orientation) would have to be made to alert golf cart owners that passage is prohibited. In the case of floodplains, I would suspect little could be done, with the exception of signage indicating a possible flood condition.

In addition, a good deal of the path system is nestled up close to homeowner’s backyards. Many purchased homes with the understanding that the paths would be used by children walking to school, bicyclists, and others walking the paths for pleasure and recreation. I doubt many envisioned the path as a motorized throughway. On a related note, the use of the path system by registered cars and micro-mini bikes is infrequent, but not unheard of. Would the acquiescence to golf cart use only encourage this illegal behavior?

With regard to regulation, I believe golf carts are already legal to drive on Howard County roads with posted speeds less than 30 mph. Would the county requirements be sufficient for use on the privately-owned path system, or would CA have to develop its own inspections and licensing system? Enforcement also seems to be problematic. Because the CA path system lies on CA open space, it is private property. Howard County Police cannot enter onto the property unless an obvious violation is visible. So items like speed limit enforcement, licensing, etc would have to be performed by staff hired by (or under contract to) CA.

Moreover, because all of the Columbia pathways are on private land, how would enforcement work? How about accident response? It has been only recently that CA and the 911 service have worked out a three digit alpha-numeric identification system for the tot lots. If one of these golf carts tipped over, and there were injuries, what would a caller say to the 911 operator?

“The golf cart is located kind of in between the end of Pamplona Drive and the end of Bull Ring Lane, closer to the end of African Hill, and farther away from the Stevens Forest Pool and the end of Encounter Row.”

That is a lot of detail, but does it effectively communicate the location to a 911 operator?

In the end, I believe the goal of Mr. Broida and Mr. Verchinski is noble. Providing a means to increase senior mobility is a good cause. However, I cannot imagine a scenario in which the safety of golf cart operators, their passengers, and other users of the bike paths would be preserved with any reasonable certainty. Large sums of additional monies would have to be dedicated for pathway widening, signage, monitoring, and enforcement. I would suggest that the above mentioned gentleman focus their efforts on getting golf cart lanes installed on the existing roadway system. It is a superior alternative to destroying the intended use of the Columbia path system.

23 February 2007

Rouse Icon Possibly Slated for Demolition

News from New York City indicates that the Rouse Company developed South Street Seaport may be razed to build a mixed use tower, a ferry landing, and open space development. The most extensive report comes from Michael Clancy at AMNY:

South Street Seaport's Pier 17 will most likely be razed to make way for a mixed-use retail, residential and open space development, a spokeswoman for the property's leaseholder said Thursday.

Asked how high a new structure might go, Fein, of the public relations firm Rubenstein Associates, said: "The lower you go, the less open space there is -- but nothing has been decided.""There is also the recognition that it is not just a land-bound place," she said. "We want to make it 360 [degrees], so that it can be reached by the ferry as well."But according to one person familiar with the developer's initial plan, General Growth is considering a tall iconic building for the site, and would also build a ferry landing and relocate the landmark "Tin Building" of the former Fulton
Fish Market. The rest of the pier would be left as open space.

Preliminary concepts for the pier and the former fish market will be discussed publicly for the first time on Monday, when General Growth, which acquired the East River site in 2004, meets with Community Board 1 to get feedback on its nascent
In the past, Community Board 1 (aka CB1) has come out in opposition to plans at the Pier 17 site. As related from the Curbed NYC blog via the Planetizen website (note pictures on this blog are of previous designs for Pier 17):
A tipster with a history on Pier 17 reminds us that mall giant General Growth Properties is not the first to propose an overhaul of the tourist mecca. And his experience tells him that a "tall iconic building" isn't passing muster with the local community board. He writes, "3 years ago Related Companies had made a deal to purchase Pier 17 from Rouse, the former owner. We did extensive plans (see above) to level the entire site and knit the pier back into the urban fabric, adding a market building, a beautiful icon 1800 seat public theater situated at the end of the pier, new public parks networked through the entire site, street level-only retail and a W hotel with conference center. This was the killer; CB 1 destroyed the deal, the project etc.

"Although we had an very slender 12 story tower which was within the zoning envelope, CB 1 came out in full force to protest and the project died then a month later GGP purchased Rouse. I am bitter this is the second project I've had that CB 1 killed. There is no way in hell GGP gets a tower. It is only actually structurally feasible on the northern most portion of the site which will block the view of the 3000 people in that god awful tower."

It appears that General Growth has learned from this past history, the AMNY article goes on to say:

On Monday, the company will reveal some basic mapping for the site to begin a dialogue about the project, which does not have a timetable, Fein said."The ideas are for a mixed-use place that will provide services to the residential community, to the business community, to New Yorkers as a whole, and to visitors to the city -- in that order, whereas the plan by \[prior owners\] went in the reverse order," said Fein.It's too soon to say what kind of zoning approval, if any, General Growth would need to build, because the site lies within a number of special zoning, national, local, historic and landmark districts, said Jennifer Torres, a spokeswoman for the Department of City Planning.
AMNY also talked with supporters of the project:

Waterfront advocates said General Growth should be given a fair chance to articulate a vision for reviving the site.

"We look at the Seaport as emblematic of every waterfront neighborhood today -- caught in the middle of looking back at the past and looking forward to the future," said Carter Craft, director of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance. "The synergy between commerce and maritime history has always been the vision but it has just eluded everybody thus far."

Most waterfront advocates would not shed any tears over the loss of the Pier 17 mall, a mix of chain stores, restaurants and specialty shops completed in 1983.

The mall obstructs the view of the Brooklyn Bridge and is a cumbersome structure, said Lee Gruzen, of SeaportSpeaks, a group of local stakeholders.

Thus far, she said, General Growth has done a great job of working with the community.

"The future of the Seaport is grounded in bringing its maritime history to life in a way that benefits those who work, live and visit there," Gruzen said.

Festival Marketplace Problems not Limited to NYC

Meanwhile, Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace is experiencing its own woes. Boston Globe reporter Maria Cramer wrote in a February 19, 2007 article :

Last spring, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, worried that Faneuil Hall Marketplace was welcoming national chains and repelling local merchants, decried the shopping center's high rents, vowed to put pressure on the management company, and ordered an audit into its lease agreement with the city.

General Growth Properties quickly agreed to start meeting regularly with Marketplace merchants and city officials to discuss compromises. The city scrapped plans for the audit.

But soon after, the company started canceling meetings, according to merchants. Rent and other costs for retailers have not been discussed and the parties have not met for about three months.

Meanwhile, merchants say, rents continue to cripple vendors, particularly pushcart owners, who have been hawking jewelry, sweaters, and painted scarves since the 1970s in Faneuil Hall's Quincy Market but are slowly being squeezed out. Last week, nine of 34 pushcarts in Quincy Market were empty, except for little placards that advertised local shops and the national chain stores that have cropped up in Faneuil Hall in recent years.

"This is the first year I've ever seen that . . . It's a ghost town," said Linda DeMarco , a pushcart vendor and a member of the advisory committee of merchants and city officials and representatives of management that formed after Menino issued a letter in June to General Growth threatening the audit. "We need results," DeMarco said. "Nine empty carts is not results."

General Growth was quoted in the article as follows:

Michael Kelleher , who manages the Marketplace for General Growth, said many of
the cart owners left their pushcarts empty for the winter season and plan to return next month. Half of the 40 pushcart vendors who traditionally sell in the summertime are returning for the season, he said.

"No one has told me that no one is coming back," he said. Kelleher said the management company asked to postpone one meeting around August so a General Growth executive could attend. A spokeswoman for Menino said he would not comment for this story.

"We are sensitive to the level of business, and to that end we speak often with
the merchants," he said. "My door is always open." He said that 88 percent of
the pushcart vendors are local merchants who on average stay in the marketplace
for 11 1/2 years. "I'm proud of that," he said.

My Comment:

In Columbia, the name Jim Rouse is probably spoken, typed, emailed, list-served, blogged, and read scores of times each day. Let’s face it, we are all admirers of the man and his works. So where do we stand with regard to the degradation (and possible elimination) of our far-off Rousian retail cousins? Personally, I am unsure. If one of the previously owned Rouse malls were to shut down, I would probably shrug and not think much of it. But the end of a Festival Marketplace seems different. The pain is a little deeper than I expected. Perhaps its some misplaced and misunderstood feeling that, as a preteen, I connected the marketplace as a little bit of Columbia being brought back to the big city.

22 February 2007

A Call to Service

As stated in this article in the Columbia Flier, the nomination period for the Columbia elections is currently underway in some Villages and soon to start in others. I believe that all the races should be competitive. All CA Board positions should have at least two people running for each spot. In the Village Board elections, there should be more people running then there are positions available; no matter if it is 2, 3, or 5 positions. Competitive races, an open debate and dialog is sorely needed in all of our communities. So please, get involved. Sign out a petition, talk to your neighbors, and represent your community.

Flattery is the Sincerest form of Flattery

With respect to the downtown height issue, Hayduke does the debate justice here and here.

21 February 2007

Express Yourself

Maybe because of the warm weather, or just any other reason, let's have the first Haiku contest of the year. The poems must adhere to the 5-7-5 syllable framework and must have something to do with downtown Columbia. I will post the best and worst on Friday. Here is my lame attempt to get things started:

A vibrant downtown
With shops and parks, work and play
A dream we all share

19 February 2007

“To Me, the Word Suburb is Appalling…”

No, these are not my words. These are the words of Padraic Kennedy, the Columbia Association President, in 1987. The quote appears in a June 4, 1987 Columbia Flier article, “Plan for downtown unveiled (A ‘more dressed and neat’ area).” The article is a series of pieces written in the Columbia Flier during 1987 that followed the development of a downtown Columbia plan created by Land Design Research. From the article:

The Columbia Association commissioned the consulting firm to analyze Columbia’s entire downtown and lakefront area. The cost of $34,000 study is being split with Howard Research and Development Corp, Columbia’s developer.

Impetus for the project came from the Columbia Forum and other groups concerned with downtown Columbia, and from CA’s growing awareness of maintenance problems in Town Center, said Fred Pryor, CA’s vice president for land management.

In the article, details included (and some may sound familiar to charrette attendees):

  • Changing Little Patuxent Parkway into an urban boulevard
  • Art would be used to create landmarks
  • Putting sculptures at the Governor Warfield Parkway/Little Patuxent Parkway intersection and Broken Land Parkway/Little Patuxent Parkway intersection
  • Opening up the view to Wilde Lake from Little Patuxent Parkway
  • Bridges from each side of the lake to “Nomanisan” Island on Lake Kittamaquandi

The plan was also praised by Robert Russell, the Harper’s Choice CA Board member. The article ends as follows:
Al Scavo, vice-president of Howard Research and Development said that “common interests, common ownership and a common acknowledgement of the lakefront’s need for renovation led HRD and CA to commission a master plan jointly.

CA president Padraic Kennedy had said in March that CA wants a lakefront design it can work on for the next decade. “To me, the word suburb is appalling,” Kennedy said then. “We are a community moving to be a city. The real question is, what kind of a downtown? Will it have elegance and warmth and attractiveness to people?”

15 February 2007

Mythical Heights

As the downtown Columbia discussion continues, one of the constants has been the polarization of the community over building height. Today’s Columbia Flier includes two letters to the editor that address the building height issue. Over the last year and a half, I have heard people mention Washington DC and Paris as good models regarding building height. I addressed these models in the following post. Recently, I came across this website, which catalogs buildings all over the world. From this database, I have compiled a list of buildings in Washington DC that would violate “the coalition” recommended (Stated? Suggested? Wished?) height limit of 140 feet:

Old Post Office Building, 12 floors, 315 ft
One Franklin Square, 12 floors, 210 ft
Healy Building, 4 floors, 200 ft (on U Georgetown Campus)
700 Eleventh Street, 13 floors, 199 ft
Renaissance Washington DC Hotel, 15, floors, 188 ft
1090 Vermont Avenue, 12 floors, 187 ft
The Tower Building, 14 floors, 177 ft
National Archives Building, 8 floors, 166 ft
Cairo Hotel Condominiums, 14 floors, 164 ft
1625 Eye Street, 12 floors, 162 ft
1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, 14 floors, 160 ft
World Bank Headquarters, 13 floors, 160 ft
1201 Pennsylvania Avenue, 13 floors, 160 ft
1000 Connecticut Avenue, 13 floors, 156 ft
Capital Hilton, 13 floors, 155 ft
1875 K Street, 12 floors, 155 ft
Wyndham Washington DC, 14 floors, 153 ft
1701 Pennsylvania Avenue, 13 floors, 153 ft
Washington Gas Building, 15 floors, 152 ft
William T. Golden Center for Science and Engineering, 12 floors, 151 ft
Connecticut Connection, 12 floors, 150 ft
1225 Eye Street, 12 floors, 149 ft
1201 Eye Street, 12 floors, 148 ft
Columbia Square, 13 floors, 148 ft
Madison Hotel, 14 floors, 144 ft
1100 17th Street, 12 floors, 144 ft
Potomac Electric Company Building, 10 floors, 143 ft
1000 Connecticut Avenue, 13 floors, 156 ft
National Press Building, 13 floors, 141 ft

Similarly, a list of the ten tallest buildings in Paris reveal a higher than expected skyline:

Paris' 10 tallest skyscrapers:

Tour Montparnasse, 59 stories, 689 ft.
Total Fina Elf, 48 stories, 614 ft.
Tour Gan, 42 stories, 604 ft.
Societe Generale I, 38 stories, 548 ft.
Societe Generale II, 37 stories, 548 ft
Coeur Defense, 40 stories, 528 ft.
Tour Axa, 41 stories, 521 ft.
Tour Egee, 40 stories, 509 ft.
Tour Adria, 40 stories, 509 ft.

So what do you think? Is the longing for a DC or Parisian skyline in keeping with the reality on the ground?

13 February 2007

We Need Another Seat at the Table

As reported by Hayduke and Wordbones, we have another blog in Columbia! I beleive we will see good things from Hometown Columbia. I encourage all to link, click, read and comment.

08 February 2007

Retail and Transit

OK, I have from time-to-time linked to Richard Layman’s blog “Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space,” and he has two great posts today. Richard, keep up the good work.

The first post deals with some thumbrules of retail and the US Patent and Trade Office (sound familiar, Columbians?). It is certainly a great read and provides some perspective.

The second post deals with transit ridership and is a great compliment to Hayduke’s post today.

07 February 2007

An Evening with Mr. Doug Godine

This evening, the Wilde Lake Village Board held a special public meeting with Mr. Doug Godine of General Growth Properties. Mr. Godine began by stating that he has talked with many people in the community, and that some have stated to him that Columbia is a city, and it works as a city. The city has great schools, and good hospital, lakes, open space, and it works; so why change it. Shifting gears, Mr. Godine stated that people have asked him, “What is your vision?” He remarked that his vision was not the key and Columbia’s vision was what needed to be the focus.

“What will Columbia look like in the future?”

“How can we make this city a much better place in the future?”

Mr. Godine revealed that his staff is working with the Design Collective design produced at the end of the charrette (and incorporated, to some extent, into the Department of Planning and Zoning Draft Master Plan) as the basis for downtown development. He further stated that he saw the Design Collective plan as one designed at 35,000 feet, and his focus has been working at the street (and human) level. He wants downtown to be more livable and pedestrian friendly.

He also stated that he has set up eleven committees within his organization to study certain aspects of downtown Columbia. He did not state all of the committees, but the ones he mentioned included affordable housing, arts and culture (he also recognized Wilde Lake Village Board member Mary Pivar for working with him in concert (pun [mine] intended) on the arts and culture committee, but I digress), open space, transportation and green buildings.

Aspects of each committee highlighted by Mr. Godine include:

Affordable Housing:
  • It appears subsidies must be used to make affordable housing work.
  • Looked at affordable housing in Portland, OR, Spokane, WA, and Montgomery County, MD.
  • GGP wants downtown Columbia to be on the leading edge of making affordable housing work.
  • GGP will most likely be able to determine the percentage of affordable housing that will work in Columbia, but not necessarily the qualifying income levels for the housing.
Arts and Culture:
  • How to incorporate arts and culture into building interiors.
  • How to incorporate arts and culture into walking paths in downtown.
  • Answers may not be readily available, and some may be two years away.
  • Mr. Godine believes the current HATS “green bus” system does not work. He stated that waiting ½ hour for a bus was not acceptable.
  • Mr. Godine stated he was working with Del. Liz Bobo and has contacted Congressman Cummings with regard to extending the DC Metro green line into Columbia.
  • Mr. Godine stated (and this was the second public meeting I had heard this during the week, so I don’t think this is spilling the beans) that the County was going to commission an extensive traffic study in the near future.
Open Space
  • Mr. Godine stated that this committee is looking at creating some parks in downtown, walkways, and emphasizing environmentally sensitive design. This is being achieved through a partnership with Bio Habitat.
  • When asked by a Wilde Lake resident about using local species of trees and plants, Mr. Godine said he was informed that this is something that had not been done well in the past, and he understood there was a need to use many more local plants in future designs.
Green Buildings
  • Mr. Godine stated that green building (LEED) technology has been explored as part of the preliminary planning process and his team was well aware of the LEEDS standards. He also said there have been visits to/with LEED certified buildings and that it will be incorporated, to an extent, in downtown.
With respect to schedule, Mr. Godine said GGP will present a white paper to the County this Spring. He would not define that any further than the April-June time frame. He also believes the County will present its zoning proposal this spring. Mr. Godine was asked if he would allow the public to look at any of the proposal prior to submission to the County. He stated that he would not do that, and that when the proposal is presented to the County, there will be plenty of opportunity for public input at that stage. He also stated that if he allowed the public to look at the proposal before submission to the County, there is little possibility that the proposal would ever get approved. He also emphasized that he, and the architects, engineers, and planners in his company are currently listening to the community and talking with people in the community.

06 February 2007

What is Human Scale?

Human scale has been used an awful lot lately. Some people have wed the term to building height. I think they are being a little too simplistic. What do you think?

01 February 2007

Is Natick Mall the Model?

Last month, General Growth Properties Vice President Doug Godine stated that the company plans to expand The Mall in Columbia, and add a residential component to the expansion. After news reports about the expansion were published, I wrote this post:

On Thursday morning (1/4/07), Douglas Godine, the GGP Vice President and General Manager of Columbia, spoke at the State of Columbia Luncheon, sponsored by the Columbia Business Exchange. At this luncheon, he announced plans for expanding the Mall in Columbia. It is way too early to tell what this announcement really means, but it does show some initial similarities to a General Growth Properties project at Natick Mall

Although this announcement is not a complete surprise, it is disappointing. Over the last 18-months, GGP had appeared to be embracing mixed use, evidenced by the hiring of Tom D’Alesandro and a prominent presence at the Mixed Use Conference in November. This announcement of mall expansion is, in my opinion, a step backward.

I have since done some research on Natick Mall. Below are the numbers from General Growth Properties' website for Natick Mall and The Mall in Columbia:

Physical Description

Metro Center:

Natick Mall: Boston
The Mall in Columbia: Baltimore/Washington

Type Of Center:

Natick Mall: Two-level, enclosed, super-regional
The Mall in Columbia: Two level, enclosed, regional mall

Anchor Tenants:

Natick Mall: Lord & Taylor, Macy's, Sears
The Mall in Columbia: Nordstrom, Lord&Taylor, Macy's, JCPenney, Sears, L.L. Bean, AMC Columbia 14

Number of Retail Stores:

Natick Mall: 170
The Mall in Columbia: 202

Total Gross Leasable Area (GLA):

Natick Mall: 1,156,000 square feet
The Mall in Columbia: 1,389,000 square feet

Number of Parking Spaces :

Natick Mall: 5,600
The Mall in Columbia: 7,200

Year Opened :

Natick Mall: 1966
The Mall in Columbia: 1971

Trade Area Profile (Demographics)

Current Population:

Natick Mall: 661,780
The Mall in Columbia: 783,799

5 Year Projected Population:

Natick Mall: 673,854
The Mall in Columbia: 844,023

Current Median Age:

Natick Mall: 38.9
The Mall in Columbia: 36.6

Current Average Household Income:

Natick Mall: $110,559
The Mall in Columbia: $89,439

In my opinion, these two malls have similar physical characteristics and the demographics of the surrounding area are similar. If Natick is the model, what can we expect? A recent Boston Globe article written by John C. Drake details the project, and the concessions made by General Growth:
General Growth Properties Inc., the owner of Natick Mall, is adding 100 luxury stores and restaurants, in a 550,000-square-foot expansion on the north side of the property at Route 9 and Speen Street, as well as 215 luxury condominiums. Developers aren't just adding size. They are adding swank and high style to the staid indoor mall of decades past.
The anchor Neiman Marcus storefront features a rolling gold sign that is inspired, designers say, by the folds of a women's skirt. The plaza where the old mall meets the new will feature a mezzanine "floating" above a water fountain. All around the expansion, birch leaves will hang from a glass skylight.
The mall's developers have been on the Planning Board's agenda for most of its meetings over the last 4 1/2 years. Jim Grant, vice president of development at General Growth Properties, has made the trip from Atlanta for each of those meetings.
The Planning Board's overriding concern has been making sure Natick is compensated for the impact the expansion will have on the town, officials said. "We believe that we've achieved the vast majority of mitigations that any municipality can expect to receive from a developer," said Julian J. Munnich, the board's chairman.
The developer estimates that for the retail and residential projects combined, it is contributing nearly $15 million toward road improvements, street signs, sewer improvements, and other town needs. In return for the right to build the 215 luxury condos, General Growth Properties will create $9 million worth of
affordable housing in Natick.
"I don't think, four years ago, we expected it to be that high," Grant said of the total mitigation costs. "In every case, we said, 'Gosh, this is tough, but we can live with this amount.' "
Natick would not have received the concessions "unless the town could show they had the wherewithal to be serious in its negotiations," Munnich said.

I believe there are some familiar themes that run through Natick’s experience and what would probably happen here Columbia. For a summary, the Boston Globe also published the following data in a separate article. Anybody have any thoughts?