Sunday, August 27, 2006

Priorities, priorities

Here's a great story about Town Center and balancing what we want with what General Growth wants out of our new and improved downtown.

"It's all about housing," says Del. Elizabeth Bobo, who is also a member of a focus group studying the future of downtown. "The other stuff they can do already."

To others, the principal question is not how much additional housing but what the community receives in return.

"I'm comfortable with greater density as long as the proper tradeoffs are made," says Alan Klein, principal of Klein Consulting, who has attended most of the focus group meetings even though he is not a member. "Things like the developer paying for more affordable housing opportunities. An agreement that the development would be to green building standards. And set-asides and resources - money and land - for cultural and other artistic purposes.
Although we may disagree on some of the details, Klein and I share the same perspective on this. The challenge is finding the right balance and properly prioritizing what we want and what we give, which is, as has been seen, an especially contentious and important exercise.
The plan for downtown is so sweeping that many people say its impact will be the most profound since the origins of Columbia more than four decades ago.

"The only question is: Are we going to be really good or excellent?" says Timothy J. Sosinski, another member of the focus group and a principal with ARIUM Inc., an architectural, engineering and planning firm. "If we can't do something spectacular, shame on us."
Sosinski believes the debate over density is missing the fundamental point, which, like Klein, he says is what the community receives in return.

He estimates that granting 5,000 housing units would produce a windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars for General Growth Properties, although the company scoffs at that.

The county, Sosinski says, should demand a "quid pro quo" for sanctioning such density. "We can say, 'You can have your [money] ... but we want you to give back half of that for the community good,'" he says. "They may just say, 'Fine.'"
I'm working on something I hope will provide a better illustration between all of these factors (profits, density, community amenities) but it's going to take more time than I have now.

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