Sunday, October 29, 2006

Elections?

I'm guessing that most voters don't really start following local races until a week or so before the election. I make this guess based on very little evidence -- really, just my experiences from past elections, conversations I've had recently, and the fact that the Sun today (nine days before the election) ran several summary pieces about key races.

Notably, growth and the race for County Executive. If you have time to read only one story about the candidates, this one's probably your best bet.

Also, there's the senate race for District 13 and the recent birth control mailers that have caused quite a stir (among those who follow these things closely, see above).

Aside from summary pieces, the press also likes to write about the underdogs hoping to sneak in because of some external circumstantial change in their district, like "demographics."

Finally, though I don't want to encroach on the turf of our local education blogger, here's a story about the Board of Education race and how the candidates feel about redistricting.

With that out of the way, the only other item I want to highlight before going out for Leaf Raking 2.0 is a great letter to the editor from local planning sage Robert Tennenbaum.

For years, Columbia residents have complained about Town Center. It's not complete, it's not good for pedestrians, there are few attractions or cultural amenities. Every new construction project was a surprise as residents were kept in the dark about future development. While residents must submit home improvements for architectural review, there is no professional design review for commercial projects in downtown. The complaints go on and on.

Things had to change. Downtown needed a master plan. Ultimately, the county agreed to fund a first-ever community planning process called a charrette. A consultant developed a concept to illustrate what was interpreted were the results of the charrette. The outcome of the charrette was not a master plan, it was a concept. A focus group of residents was created to meet with and advise the highly professional Department of Planning and Zoning staff to further refine the concept and help draft a master plan. The planning staff responded to all focus group comments and concerns. Without serious deliberation, the focus group decided not to reach consensus. This left the focus group efforts and the planning staff's work swinging in the breeze.

I believe we are on the edge of destroying the entire one-year effort of creative hard work. I also believe this is because many involved residents either have not fully read or do not understand what is in the proposed draft of the downtown master plan. The planning staff assembled a good and comprehensive draft downtown master plan. Does it need to be tweaked in places? Yes. Do we need a better traffic study? Yes. Most importantly, does it respond to residents' complaints about downtown and propose a more complete, active, vibrant, pedestrian-friendly and beautiful mixed-use Columbia downtown and more? Yes. Does it fulfill what my former boss, Jim Rouse, would have supported? I believe yes.

There comes a time when we all must come together, agree that we cannot satisfy everyone (especially in Columbia) and look at the big picture. If we cannot do this, the planning effort will die. What a terrible message that sends to the world about Columbia, the model city. Let the process move forward.
That's all for today. Blogging will be back to normal -- which is to say, in Full Force -- this week, as we slouch towards Election Day.

11 comments:

wordbones said...

Thanks for posting Robert Tennenbaum's letter. He truly is a "local planning sage" as you so aptly put it.

Tennenbaum was an intregal member of the early design team for Town Center that also included Jim Rouse and Mort Hoppenfeld. We are fortunate that he is still available to contribute to this next phase of Town Center growth as well.

David W. Keelan said...

We are blessed to have Mr. Tennenbaum. We should move forward and do so cautiously. Columbia will celebrate it's 40th birthday next year. It took years to build Columbia. It took months of regularly scheduled 2 day meetings to establish guidelines for Columbia's redevelopment.

Columbia is now following the characteristics of most any other community in the US.

Lets get this done right.

David W. Keelan said...

That should read it took months of regulary scheduled 2 day meetings to establish guidelines for Columbia's DEVELOPMENT.

Anonymous said...

Are we "on the edge of destroying the entire one-year effort of creative hard work"? Or are we reaping the benefits of the one-year efford of creative hard work, realizing that the hard work didn't produce a product that's ready for prime time?

Should we go forward just for the sake of going forward? Or fix what's wrong with the plan before going forward?

If the transporation doesn't work, don't proceed. If the density increases doesn't work, don't proceed.

It's kind of like having your car serviced and having it returned with only three of four wheels attached. Sure, you might be able to drive it off the lot, but it won't get very far.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the elections, Wired Magazine had an interesting article about thousands of Maryland machines being fixed in 2005 for a problem first noticed a few years earlier. http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,72021-0.html?tw=wn_index_13

Vote on paper if you can.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Tennenbaum,

Please stop with the invocations of Jim Rouse! Nobody should say what they think Jim Rouse would have liked or not liked. You don't know.

As for your comments about "not being able to please everyone", let me offer a different perspective on this. Of all the residents in Columbia, including Town Center, only about 40 people showed up for the hearings on the Crescent Property Sketch Plan (not the re-zoning application, the plan that came after the re-zoning application was shot down). So, 40 out of some 50,000 people were displeased with what was being proposed. Maybe those 40 people should be considered the ones that "can't be pleased" and they can be ignored.

The problem with what is being pushed for Town Center is that IT IS UNNECESSARY. Town Center is perfectly healthy and vibrant right now! If not, how do you explain that Columbia/Ellicott City was voted 4th best place to live in America? And, if HRD (post Jim Rouse) did such a lousy job of developing Columbia, then why did so many people choose to live here?

Town Center is not dying, and it doesn't need fixing. If you wanted better pedestrian circulation, then fine, add sidewalks, and pathways, and crosswalks, but there is no need for 5,000 more residential units, or 3,000,000 square feet of more retail/office space.

How do you justify such a huge increase in development for people who bought a house/condo in the current Town Center? Is it fair to them to turn their backyards into a mish-mosh grid of streets? And, how about taking away their views and replacing them with highrises? Does that seem fair to you? I think not.

If such drastic, and ill-conceived plans are "good" for the tax base and good for the vibrancy of a community, then why not re-zone ALL of Howard County to allow the same density EVERYWHERE? Simple, it's not necessary, and it would not be good planning.

It's one thing to try to rejeuvenate a dying city like Detroit or Baltimore, but there is NOTHING wrong with the health of Twon Center.

Hayduke said...

Anon #3: Since much of your argument stems from your belief that Town Center is fine as it is, I would urge you to reread Mr. T's first paragraph. Which I completely agree with.

I didn't hear during the charrette people saying Town Center was fine as it is. I heard people saying they want more public art, more plazas, more cultural amenities, more affordable housing, more transit, more pedestrian connections, more small shops, a more human scale to town center (making an area pedestrian friendly requirs much more than the few crosswalks you propose), and more say in the zoning process. These are the "goods" of development that are only possible by trading off for some of the "bads" -- density, more residential units, traffic.

The process Mr. T describes hasn't been one of pro-development people fighting anti-development people. Rather, it has been of all people trying to find the right balance between the goods and the bads. You seem to only be concerned with one half of the equation.

Also, you seem to think your preferences are universal by asking how people who recently moved to town center would feel about new development. Maybe they like it. After all, they did move to the most urban part of the county.

Hayduke said...

Oh, and if anyone (aside from Patty) is allowed to presume how Jim Rouse might feel about the plans for Town Center, it's Mr. Tennenbaum.

Anonymous said...

Anonumero uno said -
Ok, reviewing that first paragraph -

"For years, [some] Columbia residents have complained about Town Center. It's not complete [well incomplete still ranks #4 in the country for best places to live so how bad can it really be], it's not good for pedestrians [which is fixable without highrises and grid streets], there are few attractions [unless one counts a mall with hundreds of stores, movie theaters, restaurants, the lake, the lakefront, parkland, walking paths, an outdoor music pavilion, a public library, and festivals in the woods] or cultural amenities [like a nice new performing arts center at the college]. Every new construction project was a surprise as residents were kept in the dark about future development [other than the development complying with the original New Town Zoning]. While residents must submit home improvements for architectural review, there is no professional design review for commercial projects in downtown. The complaints go on and on." [And adding highrises, grid streets, more traffic, and more population will decrease the complaints?]

"I heard people saying they want more public art, more plazas, more cultural amenities, more affordable housing, more transit, more pedestrian connections, more small shops, a more human scale to town center (making an area pedestrian friendly requires much more than the few crosswalks you propose), and more say in the zoning process."

More, more, more, more, more. The amount of space in Town Center is not unlimited. How many people would prefer the balance that Town Center has remain as is? It would be interesting to, without a push poll, survey the community and see.

"These are the 'goods' of development that are only possible by trading off for some of the 'bads' -- density, more residential units, traffic."

Achieving some 'goods' doesn't necessarily require incurring some 'bads'. Why assume that accepting such 'bads' are the only way to achieve improvements?

"...asking how people who recently moved to town center would feel about new development. Maybe they like it. After all, they did move to the most urban part of the county."

Is Town Center really the most urban part of the county? You might want to check densities along Routes 1, 40, and southwestern Snowden River Parkway.

And does labeling Town Center as urban justify subjecting it to the 'bads' you mentioned?

shouldbejogging said...

Anonymous,

It really doesn't make much difference if 99% of the people in Columbia want to leave Town Center as it is. GGP owns most of the property and has the right to develop it according to the current zoning. Think about the 22-story building. It's highly unlikely that that would have been approved under the master plan that is currently being proposed, but it was approved under current zoning.

The purpose of the town center master plan as I see it is to try to fashion a reasonable long-term plan that will be agreeable to most sides. Granted, the plan is not there yet, but at least the process is moving forward and people have had a chance to make their voices heard. Personally, I wish the plan was more creative and visionary.

What solution are you proposing? Do you think the county is going to change the zoning to prevent GGP from developing its property at all? Would you prefer that GGP (or whomever GGP might decide to sell to) develop it piecemeal based on the current zoning with minimum public input and no long-term plan?

I can understand, although I might not necessarily agree, that people feel that the current proposed density may be too high and that some of the problems, like traffic, have not been fully addressed, but I can't understand what people expect to happen if we don't try to continue working toward a reasonable plan. Do you honestly think that development will stop just because you want it to?

Anonymous said...

Yes, GGP does own most of the land and does have the right to develop it according to current zoning and current development regulations.

Regarding the 22-story highrise, having seen other developments' plans that haven't complied 100% with regulations, but got approved nonetheless, I'm skeptical as to any particular approved development's compliance with existing zoning/regulations. So, I wouldn't use that one development and/or its perceived-by-some inconguity with its environs as justification for accepting a change in Town Center zoning that bears multiple deficiencies.

Also, would that development have been as doable without Columbia Association granting a permanent right-of-way to the development across Columbia Association's right-of-way/property? along Little Patuxent Parkway? I believe at least one CA board member mentioned regretting voting to approve that and said he wasn't aware of the true scope of the right-of-way consumed.

Yes, people did have a chance to make their voices heard during the charette. Yet, there's a lot of variance between the consensi at the charette and the official master plan preliminary drafts or whatever they're called.

I find it problematic that there's such a rush to finalize the plan with these differences between charette and plan, that the proposed transportation and density don't work, and with multiple other deficiencies remaining in the plan.

No, I don't think the county will prevent GGP from developing its property at all. But there's a big difference between the development allowed under existing zoning and the huge amount of additional density that's being proposed under the new zoning proposals.

No, I don't think development will stop just because of any one person's whim. But it's not too much to ask that CA work in the community's best interest, especially when considering ceding open space, rights-of-way, or control thereof.

And it's not too much to ask new roads not be built in areas (wetlands, streams, and their buffers) that are supposed to be protected by existing regulations against encroachment. Some of the revisions for the New Town plan just such encroachments. Why?