10 November 2008

CoFoCoDo Advocates Agenda that is Counter to Rouse

The kind, well-intentioned, leaderless organization has been railing against the GGP downtown plan. One of the primary criticisms has been what CoFoCoDo “spokesman” Alan Klein calls phasing. “Spokesman” Klein was quoted recently on the Explore Howard blog (Groups weigh in on plan for downtown Columbia):

Klein said his group would like to see GGP’s plan broken into five-year phases rather than 10-year phases, which he said would ensure that each development stage is not approved unless certain goals are met.

A few days later, Alan Klein expanded on this theme via the HCCA Yahoo-Group:

In addition, it is vital that the additional density which GGP is asking for be phased in, through separate votes by the Council over time, rather than being granted up front, as they are asking for now.

What is intriguing about this stance by the “leaders” of CoFoCoDo is its hypocrisy. On the CoFoCoDo website, the “organization” states:

CCD wants to ensure that a vibrant Downtown Columbia emerges from the redevelopment planning process and that the plan remains true to the founder's vision for Columbia.

But let’s go back and look at the beginning. When Rouse first proposed Columbia, there was opposition to the project:

Still worse from Rouse’s standpoint, the [Howard County] commissioners issued a set of “guidelines” to the Howard County planning commission that sounded like flat rejection of several indispensable ingredients of the new city. The commissioners declared themselves opposed to row-house development. They warned that they would not “in any case” rezone the entire site for the city at one time. The commissioners were, they reiterated, committed to low-density development of Howard County.
Columbia and the New Cities, Gurney Brekenfeld, pp. 267-268, Ives Washburn Inc, New York, 1971

Sounds familiar?

Another interesting passage relating to the same discussion appears in “Creating a New City- Columbia, Maryland,” edited by Robert Tennenbaum:

[R]ouse contended that it was necessary for all of the property to be rezoned in order to obtain the financing for the project.

When the Commissioners began to deliberate after the close of the hearing, there were strong inclinations by Commissioners Force and Miller to rezone only the Town Center and the first village in order to provide a basis for a trail period.
Creating a New City – Columbia, Maryland, Robert Tennenbaum, p. 101, Perry Publishing, Columbia, 1996.

CoFoCoDo – 1965 is calling…

As Rouse insisted it was essential, the [Howard County] commissioners voted to rezone the entire property at once. [Attorney for the Howard County Commissioners Lewis] Nippard explained to me why, “We’ve had extremely good relations with these [Rouse] people, even though we’ve had differences. If we zoned less than the entire tract at once, they being practical people could take the stand that the county had hedged its bet and ‘we would have to do the same.’ We decided to indicate complete faith and let them develop at the pace the market will allow. Besides, wherever we drew a line, it wouldn’t be the right place.”
Columbia and the New Cities, Gurney Brekenfeld, p. 272, Ives Washburn Inc, New York, 1971

So on one hand, CoFoCoDo declares their intention “that the plan remains true to the founder's vision for Columbia,” while taking a position that was flatly rejected by Rouse.

Hopefully the CoFoCoDo “leadership” will reconsider their position and have “spokesman” Alan Klein re-issue a statement that CoFoCoDo supports the vision and actions of James Rouse.


PZGURU said...

Wow! Talk about mixing apples and oranges. Mr. Santos, you are so far off base I don't even know where to begin.

The discussions you reference from 1965 deal with the zoning for all of Columbia, whereas now we are dealing with just Town Center. How is that the same thing?

If the County Commissioners fixed density limits on Columbia back then, why does it need to change now. Rouse agreed to it, right?

I'm sure Rouse would have liked more denstiy, but what developer doesn't always ask for more than what they should get, or exepct to get, with the assumption that the County will pare it back a little?

And, if the County initially vowed to never allow townhouses, but low and behold we have LOTS of townhouses, then doesn't it seem fair to say that there was a certain level of compromise back then, in favor of Rouse?

It's really sad and pathetic, though not unexpected, how you and many other pro-redevelopment people vehemently attack Mr. Klein, Liz Bobo, and those who disagree with you.

You repeat the same old lies about how Town Center is dead. It needs to be made "vibrant". What a bunch of baloney. If GGP wanted to add cultural attractions that would add to the "vibrancy" of Town Center, they can do so at any time.

Furthermore, under the CURRENT approved zoning for Columbia New Town, GGP still has plenty of development potential that can be done in Town Center, including additional residential development.

And, it was people like you and the Save Merriwether group (ie: Ian Kennedy) who testified during the Crescent Property hearing about the "lack of details" as to what exactly was going to be built and where on that Crescent Property and how you could not trust GGP to do what's best for Town Center. (That was shortly after GGP bought out Rouse.) Now, just a few years later you've done a complete 180 and have blind faith and trust in everything that GGP is asking for.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying to not trust GGP, because frankly I think they, and HRD before them, put more thought and care into their developments than any other developer around. AND, while I supported their previous plans for the Crescent Property, I DO NOT support this current proposal because I think it is way too much density and way too much development for Town Center. It's a bad idea, and the constricted nature of the Town Center area (ie: existing roads and the lake make it difficult to make improvements that would be needed to make the current proposal work/function properly).

If you want to debate the issue, then debate it fairly and honestly and stop personally attacking those who disagree with you.

B. Santos said...


I appreciate your comment, however, I must disagree with what you say. As I see it, this is not a apples/oranges discussion. I would agree to a navel orange/Clementine, or possibly a beefsteak tomato/grape tomato comparison (as your supporting statements seem to indicate), but definitely not apple/orange.

With regard to your supporting statements, they seem to further support my initial post. Could it not be said that prior to 1965, the County Commissioners had fixed the residential density for the New Town area of the county at levels below that which Columbia required? It’s essentially the same question you put forth today. So to your question “why does it need to be changed now?” I ask you, “why did it need to be changed then?”

On the subject of townhouses: The County Commissioners where opposed to rowhouse development that was prevalent in Baltimore. Rouse explained that rowhouse type developments would not be built in Columbia. The type of attached housing would be townhouses, typified by the development we see throughout Columbia today. Hindsight may provide the luxury to say that this is a distinction without a difference, but at the time, the difference was seen as significant.

One area in which we agree is the subject of size of project. Yes, Rouse proposed a zoning change for a chunk of land equivalent in size to Manhattan Island, with the intent to build 30,000 units in a 15-year timeframe to house 100,000 people. Currently, GGP proposes to place 5500 units on a piece of land the size of Georgetown and house in the rage of 8,000-12,000 people. I am pleased that we both agree that the GGP proposal is relatively small when compared to Columbia and Howard County.

Regrettably, the balance of your quote does run high on emotion and low on substance. I question the use of the word “attack.” I feel it is important to question the statements of CoFoCoDo when it seems that they are based on less than solid information. I believe it is healthy to bring such issues to light. Should we just accept their statements without question?

On vibrancy, I included in my post a quote from CoFoCoDo that included the term vibrancy. I felt it was important to include the entire quote. It was never my intention to revisit the vibrancy issue, but to give context to their (tenuous) link to the “Rouse vision.” On reflection, I will take the hit.

But since you brought up the fact that I brought up a quote from CoFoCoDo that speaks to vibrancy, I will say that I believe the simple addition of cultural attractions will fall far short of restoring vibrancy. It would create a cultural park more like a business park; and we all know how vibrant Gateway or Oakland Ridge are.

Regarding my historical viewpoint of downtown development, I would first ask for a clarification. It is my recollection that the Rouse Company did propose developing the crescent property (and some sites around the mall/lakefront). I also recall that many many hearings were held on that proposal. When the Rouse stockholders approved the sale of the company to GGP, another proposal for the Crescent property was discussed. This proposal included references to big box stores and was, to the best of my recollection, never submitted.

On that first proposal, put forth by the Rouse Company, I did participate and did not support the proposal. You are correct that I (among others) was opposing because of a lack of detail. I find the current proposal (ZRA and General Plan Amendment) has an immense amount of detail that did not exist in the original Rouse Proposal. So my position has remained fairly consistent.

I do not have a crystal-clear picture on where you are PZ, but I believe our opinions on downtown development tend to come down to density and traffic. This may be simplistic, but may also provide an avenue (pardon the pun) of discussion.

With respect to density; I ask: is the proposal going to lead to overcrowding? Overcrowding is the real question, not density.

On traffic, I believe that to reject the entire plan based on waiting a few extra minutes in traffic is foolish. It emphasizes the primacy of the auto and diminishes of the destination.

All said, thanks again for you comment. I hope to hear from you soon.

PZGURU said...

That's a lot to digest and repsond to. I will follow up later on, after I finish a clementine from the box I just got - very tasty.

PZGURU said...


"Could it not be said that prior to 1965, the County Commissioners had fixed the residential density for the New Town area of the county at levels below that which Columbia required?"

How do you determine the level at which Columbia required? That is a very arbitrary question. The Commissioners no doubt set the density where they did because they felt that was right level, especially given the rural nature of the County at that time. And, I would add, that if the approved level was not enough to have made Columbia work, then Rouse would must certainly not have accepted it and moved forward with the development of Columbia.

I don't see any real difference between rowhome or townhouse, other than the latter terms probably sounds more appealing from a marketing standpoint.

"So to your question “why does it need to be changed now?” I ask you, “why did it need to be changed then?”"

This is a red herring type question so I;m gonna have throw a flag. It wasn't changed then as you put it. If there was any change then (at that time) it was the fact that the zoning classification was approved (chaged) from rural to New Town. That was the change. The fact that the Commissioners SLIGHTLY lowered the density when they approved the zoning request can not now be used to say that more density is justified.

As to "vibrancy". Well all I can say is that that seems to be the primary justification for those who support the redevelopment plan entirely. I say entirely, because there are plenty of people, and I guess I would consider myself to fall into this category, who do not entirely support the current zoning amendment request. The concept of improving the Town Center area is nebulous. I think it could be improved. But I happen to know that it could be improved with pedestrian overpasses, cultural amenities, boutiques, and even some additional residential units WITHOUT having to grant a zoning amendment or density increase to GGP.

What this really comes down to is they don't want a modest slice of pie, they want the whole pie and ice cream on top. They could certainly turn a very healthy profit by doing additional development within the current New Town zoning limitations. And I have absolutely no issue with any developer turning a profit. I am a huge property rights defender. But I think what they are requesting is just way too much, and it will not function properly.

Yes - it boils down to overcrowding and traffic in my eyes. I have heard so many people say they envision Town Center as a replica of other places such as Falls Church, Bethesda, or several other DC area "hot spots". The problem is that people don't realize how congested those places are with traffic, noise, fumes, pollution, and so on. They may seem "vibrant" or active on the surface, but there's a downside to being TOO ACTIVE. In my opinion, Town Center right now has a good balance of activity without being TOO ACTIVE.

As far as traffic goes, the proposed grid network would be a mess. With several dozen intersections to navigate to get from one side of TC to the other, it will be a mess. There's a reason why the current road network was done. Having a ring road (actually 2 roads: LPP and GWP) to circumnavigate TC with only 6 intersections (I believe) allows for traffic to flow smoother and quicker.

Also, the idea to have a bridge over the Lake to tie into Route 29 and VOM - an absolute disaster. Traffic would back up onto Route 29 during peak times, and would also back up into VOM for poeple waiting to get of VOM and to TC or onto Route 29.

There are just too many constraining factors with existing geography (the Lake) or existing roads (Route 29) to be able to somehow recreate/improve the road network. And, as much as people want to hope that buses and metro service would be used by everyone (or even a healthy number of people) and thereby reduce car dependency, how do you ensure that? Can you make that a condition of approval for GGP? Nope.

As for the Crescent Proposal, i know a lot of people thought there was a lack of detail on the first plan submitted. However, that plan was only a "sketch" plan. It was supposed to be site specific or site detailed. It was only laying out what possible uses (office, retail, residential) could be placed on each parcel of land within the Crescent Property. Additional plans, including the FDP (which would spell out building height limits, setbacks, parking requirements, etc) would have followed (with additional public input at public meetings) and then site development plans showing specific proposed buildings, which plans would also have to go back to the Planning Board for even more public input. This process was clearly explained to the people who attended those meetings. And, even after "big box retail" was eliminated from the list of possible uses, the opposition still carried on. A lot of opponents testified about concerns about noise, fumes, light glare, pollution, added landfill waste, and traffic congestion. But, those same people suddenly don't have those concerns and this current proposal has somewhere in the range of 4-5 times the amount of development that was proposed under the Crescent Property plan.

When you can explain that sudden change of heart I'd gladly tip my hat to you.

Anonymous said...

PZGURU - "Pedestrian overpasses"? You have got to be kidding. This was a planning idea of the 60's that has utterly failed. Today cities, including Baltimore, are planning to, or already removing them. They have proven to remove street life if they are even used at all. I lack either the time or patience to refute some of your other ideas, but let me suggest you find some planning ideas that are not founded on 1950's to 1970's growth and sprawl development. Today we tend to focus more on the pedestrian and "place" as opposed to removing people through "efficient" traffic patterns.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12/4/2008,

You offer a lot of claims, but do you have any tangible examples to support those claims?

"[Pedestrian overpasses were] a planning idea of the 60's that has utterly failed."

That assertion is not correct. You may want to review this very blog's May 22nd discussion, wherein the June 13th comment provides numerous examples of continued and current acceptance of pedestrian overpasses' value in addressing safety and efficient transportation.

Further, you apparently do not understand that pedestrian overpasses weren't a planning idea of the 60's: they arose decades before that, pre-WWII, in direct response to the increase in automobile use and their faster speeds and kinetic energies posing dangers to roadway-crossing pedestrians.

"Today cities, including Baltimore, are planning to, or already removing them."

Baltimore is actually, like many other communities, planning to add pedestrian overpasses. 2005's SAFE-TEA Federal Transportation Bill included funding for 29 projects that incorporated either pedestrian bridges, pedestrian overpasses, bicycle bridges, or bicycle overpasses.

Among that bill's projects is a pedestrian bridge at Coppin State University in Baltimore. Justification detail for that pedestrian bridge mentions 'access the main part of campus safely over a busy street' and 'could serve to improve conditions for bicycling and/or walking per approved local, regional and/or statewide bicycle and pedestrian planning documents.'

"They have proven to remove street life if they are even used at all."

Let's talk real street life then. Grade separation has proven to save lives very effectively, eliminating human error from allowing high energy impact of faster-moving vehicles with much slower-moving, alternate vector pedestrians. Traffic engineers' professional societies continue to agree on this point, as do government transportation agencies.

"Today we tend to focus more on the pedestrian and 'place' as opposed to removing people through 'efficient' traffic patterns."

Efficient traffic patterns don't 'remove' people, they 'move' people. Inefficient transportation causes unnecessary delay, stagnation, pollution, excess noise, and energy waste.

Focusing on the pedestrian, safety is paramount. The proposal to add 13,000+? daily car trips in Town Center, weaken traffic congestion laws, reduce off-street parking requirements and allow on-street parking that obstructs drivers' and pedestrians' lines-of-sight from seeing each other and puts far more people in and in close proximity to moving traffic, and its lack of a viable public transit plan for the next 30 years should give us all concern that pedestrian safety will be at risk.

PZGuru's points are well put, both about how much potential for profit and improvement are still available under current zoning and about some of the many problems that would result from this proposed zoning amendment and its degree of density increase.

Like a glimpse of the possible outcome of changing our traffic congestion laws in Town Center to match Montgomery County's? See here.