30 October 2008

Columbia’s Chief Planner Publishes Book

William E. Finley, the Chief Planner of Columbia, Maryland recently published the book “Curing Urbanitis.”

An overview of the book can be found on the Planetizen website.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with big cities. They love the vibrancy, diversity, the sophisticated shops and restaurants, the preserved neighborhoods and the museums and shiny towers that justify and state their importance. They dislike, but put up with, high costs, traffic, crime, rudeness, long commutes, too few taxis, erratic transit and many annoying inconveniences.

I [Finley] propose that Congress charter a nationwide non-profit corporation, in the public interest, to be the forceful catalyst in both administering the incentive grants to existing local governments and undertaking the planning and building of new metropolitan areas.

In order to give the new entity leverage with the budgeting functions of the Administration and the spending powers of Congress, the new non-profit will be able to float its own revenue bonds. Those indentures will be backed partially by a Federal guarantee and the net proceeds of the community development activities in building eight to ten new metropolitan cities of at least 500,000 population each. The details on how to achieve this dramatic goal are covered in Curing Urbanitis.

The proposed National Partnership for MetroCities would utilize its funds to match Congressional appropriations on a one-to-two basis; that is, it would match each $2 of regular Federal funds with $1 of its own financial resources. This, conceptually, would both give the new corporation the freedom to be creative in its grants program and give Congress an incentive to help it on its way.

No doubt this innovative methodology will be caught up in a myriad of politics but this approach to turning the metropolitan ship around is the only approach likely to succeed. Money talks!

Eventually, when the policies are in place, many subsidy programs affecting local governments, and they are many, could well be tied into the incentive-based grants program. Dealing with Congressional processes will be a challenging task.

I have ordered the book, and am anxiously awaiting its arrival.

06 October 2008

Forward Moving

Last Wednesday, the folks from General Growth Properties arrived at the CA boardroom to discuss downtown Columbia. Based on an agenda posted on the Columbia Association website, the topic of discussion was to be Symphony Woods. Upon arriving in the boardroom, it was clear that much more was going on. Easels were erected, festooned with large placards depicting Symphony Woods and other parts of downtown Columbia. A table had been placed in front of the CA Board of Directors “U-Shaped” dias, and chairs in the front row we reserved.

Minutes after the meeting began, it was clear that the 45 people in the audience were in for much more than a discussion of Symphony Woods. That afternoon, the ZRA for downtown Columbia had been submitted to the Howard County Government. Not only was Greg Hamm of GGP in attendance, but also Alan Ward (Sasaki and Associates) and Keith Bowers (Biohabitats).

Greg Hamm put out the larger points regarding the downtown plan, followed up by short presentations by Mr. Ward and Mr. Bowers. In the end, much of the evening did focus on Symphony Woods, but the announcement brought other aspects of downtown development in the discussion.

Much of this has been captured over on Wordbones blog.

A few points of which I would like to expand upon.

CA Board member Evan Coren (KC) and his mother, Ann Coren (OB Village Board member, but speaking as a resident) both displayed a passion for wildlife (both flora and fauna) and asked very good questions. In my opinion, Keith Bowers demonstrated a deep understanding of the issues and provided quality responses to their questions. It is clear that GGP and Biohabitats have clearly done their homework on issues regarding Symphony Woods.

A concern regarding the Lake Kittamaquandi lakefront area, first brought up by CA Board member Cindy Coyle (HC), was raised a few times.

Oakland Mills resident Barbara Russell spoke during resident speakout, which (for a change) was done after the presentation. Barbara informed the board that if Columbia had been built as first proposed, two current members of the CA Board members from Dorsey Search and River Hill would not be sitting at the table. I suppose Barbara should take solace in the fact that Dorsey Search and River Hill were there because without their residents (and also the residents of the Kendall Ridge section of Long Reach), Columbia would need downtown residents to get to the proposed population of 100,000.

Liz Bobo was in the audience, and apparently left before the meeting ended.

Joel Yesley, speaking for the Alliance for a Better Columbia, indicated that the County has insisted that Symphony Woods be maintained in its current, pristine state. I need to take exception to this charge.

Howard County’s 2000 General Plan discusses downtown Columbia on pages 177-178. On these pages, you will find the following references to Symphony Woods:

Open Space. Enhance Downtown open space, such as the edges of Lake Kittamaqundi and Symphony Woods, to promote enjoyment by the growing numbers of Downtown residents and visitors.

Symphony Woods. Encourage measures that enhance Symphony Woods as an attractive, inviting open space resource for families and individuals to enjoy natural beauty within the urban setting.

It appears that the actual text calls for enhancing Symphony Woods, not maintaining a pristine state. As far as pristine is concerned, the GGP report on Symphony Woods and adjacent properties shows that invasive species have degraded the area.

02 October 2008

GGP Sells Office Park

Based on a report from Costar, GGP has sold the Rivers I and Rivers II industrial parks for $42 million, or approximately $137/sq ft. These parks are located off Guilford Road, between Murray Hill Road and the Rt. 32 overpass.

View Larger Map

01 October 2008

Downtown Zoning Change Submitted

This afternoon, Councilperson Mary Kay Sigaty filed a zoning regulation amendment that has been proposed by General Growth Properties. The proposal calls for 5,500 additional dwelling units, 5 million square feet of office space, 1.25 million square feet of retail space and 1,000 hotel rooms.

The amendment will first be reviewed by the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning.

This topic was discussed at length at tonight's CA Board meeting. I will have a recap of the meeting, and some discussion of the zoning in the next day or two, but right now I have some reading to do. In the meantime, here are two quick links:

Wordbones encouraged people that attended the CA Board meeting to email him thier take on the meeting, check his blog for comments.

GGP's Town Center Webpage has info on the zoning.