As many of you know developers like GGP are gaining an increasingly larger control over development in Columbia, while Howard County Officials and the County Council have turned a blind eye.
The County Planning Director and her staff have recently approved several traffic studies that have mistakes or are simply inaccurate. And even though county planning staff admitted in internal documents that the traffic study for the controversial Wegmans big-box grocery store on Snowden River Pkwy had errors in it, they refuse to demand a new study from the developer. It is no surprise that the county is siding with the developer, since it was GGP that advocated for changing the zoning at this property.
Now GGP will wants us to accept and believe their traffic studies for downtown Columbia when they won’t even stand up and ensure that an accurate traffic study is used on the Wegmans site. Regardless if you support the proposed grocery store or not, we must all demand that the county planning staff require honest traffic studies and accurate development plans. They work for us, not GGP and other developers.
Please email or call - Barbara Nicklas and Gregory Hamm at GGP and ask them to support accurate traffic studies for downtown Columbia.
Barbara Nicklas - firstname.lastname@example.org (410) 992-6262 Gregory Hamm - Gregory.Hamm@ggp.com
Be sure to include County Executive Ken Ulman’s Chief of Staff, Aaron Greenfield, so the County knows that residents are getting tired of the County putting developers first.
Aaron Greenfield - email@example.com
Please to forward this email to your friends and neighbors who care about over development and the growing traffic problem in Columbia. We have to speak up or nothing will ever change.
From the first sentence, there is a demonstrated lack of history. When shareholders of the Rouse Company willingly voted to be acquired by General Growth Properties (GGP), the development of properties in Howard County also transferred. In the months preceding the sale to GGP, the Rouse Company was engaged in a proposal to develop downtown Columbia. As I see it, GGP has continued in the tradition of Columbia development that the Rouse Company started over 40 years ago.
The assertion that the county has turned a blind eye to Columbia development is equally void. Since the turn of the century, the county has been actively engaged in the development process. It was a County Councilperson that initiated the changes in downtown Columbia to encourage mixed use. The county chartered a committee to look at Merriweather Post Pavilion’s viability. The county funded and sponsored the Charrette. The county worked hard to keep big box stores out of downtown. The county brought forth legislation to limit building heights in downtown Columbia. Sounds to me like the county has been pretty involved.
In the second paragraph, there is a reference to “several” traffic studies. Could these be named? Why not stipulate the number of traffic studies that are known to have mistakes? Why hide behind vagaries? In addition, what is the character of these “mistakes” and inaccuracies?” Are these pagination errors? Number transposition errors? What are the specifics? Do these errors amount to real concern? Said a different way, are these errors (in these “several” traffic studies) large enough to change the level of service in the study area?
The last sentence in the second paragraph marks the departure point from reality.
It is no surprise that the county is siding with the developer, since it was GGP that advocated for changing the zoning at this property.
A little history lesson for the author of the email: It is written in the Howard County Zoning Regulations that the Rouse Company (or its successor) is the only party that can ask the county to change any zoning in the New Town District. Before being acquired by GGP, it became known that the Rouse Company would charge companies money to make the request for a change. In fact, the Rouse Company had created a plan in which it would sell “development units” to future developers if it had gotten the density in Columbia changed.
This left a bad taste in many people’s mouths (myself included). Recently, a task force of Columbians sought to review New Town Zoning and made several recommendations. The chair of this task force was (to the best of my knowledge) Owen Brown resident (and Owen Brown Village Board Chair) Andy Stack. I believe Andy’s participation on the task force was as a resident of Columbia and not in his capacity as OBVB Chair.
Regardless, Andy has been a community leader since (I believe) I was in high school (Hammond, Class of 1984), and this task force recommended that GGP be taken completely out of the New Town process. Now, given the public backlash against the development unit scheme, and the New Town Zoning Task Force recommendation to remove GGP from the process (Executive Summary, Recommendation 3). GGP appears to have taken the position that if someone is looking for a change in a Final Development Plan, they are willing to fulfill their obligation to initiate the process. There is no evidence that GGP receives any benefit from this process and there is no evidence to suggest that GGP played any significant role in bringing Wegmans to Columbia. There is evidence that Wegmans has been talking to the property owner, Science Fiction, for some time.
Moreover, the change sought at the Wegmans sight was not a change in zoning. The land is still zoned for industrial use. The change sought was to amend the FDP such that a permitted use on the industrial land site was to include a large grocery store. These are two distinctly separate actions.
This half-baked logic continues on to the next paragraph in which the email states that:
Now GGP will wants us to accept and believe their traffic studies for downtown Columbia when they won’t even stand up and ensure that an accurate traffic study is used on the Wegmans site.
Not to belabor the point, but a review of recent history helps to clarify the issue. GGP did a traffic study for downtown Columbia in 2005 (Wells & Associates). The county then commissioned a second traffic study in 2006 (Glatting Jackson), and then commissioned a third traffic study in 2007 (Sabra Wang). So GGP and the county have commissioned three different reports, from three different firms, in three successive years regarding traffic in downtown. I have no supporting evidence, but it may well be that downtown Columbia traffic has been the most studied traffic area in the State of Maryland over the last five years.
I would like to close by saying that for all the flaws, I admire the folks who are sending this email around. That being said, the vagaries, inconsistencies, and lack of knowledge of history greatly diminish the impact of this letter. When it comes to trying to effect change, a lucid, rational argument will carry the day. Banging drums only makes noise. It is my hope that those at the county realize the distinction. If you agree with me, please contact the county and please tell them to ignore the noise.