Tuesday, January 16, 2007

It ain't easy...

Though superficially something I would support, this idea from the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown is misguided:

We support requiring that a minimum of 20 percent of the lot area of each individual parcel be devoted to public open space.
Thus far, my criticisms of CCD (here and on other blogs) have centered on the inconsistencies of their positions (asking for both low density and Metro), an unnecessary and counterproductive focus on numbers (e.g. 1600, 5500, 14 stories, etc.), and the propagation of an “Us vs. Them” mentality with respect to General Growth, the County and anyone who isn’t a “citizen.”

Since the group recently released its 40-some-page position paper, I’m finding areas for more substantive debate. And though I haven’t had a chance to digest the full paper and its arguments, I did have enough time to further contemplate why the 20 percent set aside is wrong.

First, let’s leave aside the questions posed by Wordbones a while back about whether this requirement would be in addition to the existing New Town Zoning requirement calling for 36 percent of Columbia’s land to be set aside as open space. That seems to be an argument solely for pedants (and I even include myself in that category, as you’ll see in a moment).

My concern with the 20 percent set aside is more substantive. And because I’m feeling lazy and I need to go buy a suit and a new bed for the mutt (just adding some personal bloggy flavor), I’ll just repost my concerns as stated in the comments from Wordbones’ post:
Yes, it's important that open space requirements are met, but it's more important that the open space we set aside adds something to the overall character of the place and fits in with the whole.

Saying that ever parcel must have a 20 percent set aside fails to account for the fact that on some parcels, finding 20 percent that would contribute to the general welfare of Town Center is impossible. Whereas, on some parcels, a larger set-aside would be feasible and desirable. An overly prescriptive plan might allay some fears of the unknown, but it won't result in the best Town Center, which is, I thought, what we all wanted.
Which is a long-winded way of saying, quality is better than quantity. And when it comes to open space, quality is defined by the value it adds to the overall health of the ecosystem first and to the community at large second. And in order to understand such values, it is essential that we preserve open space according to a plan -- specifically a Green Infrastructure plan.

I discussed at great length green infrastructure a while ago, so I won't go too far into it now. But I'll share the definition and a few key excerpts to give those of you not inclined to click the link an idea of what I mean:
The foundation for the idea of green infrastructure is similar to that of our "gray" or built infrastructure -- namely, that a comprehensive, interconnected and well-planned network of facilities (open spaces, in the case of green infrastructure) is the best way to ensure the entire system functions effectively and provides the highest return on our investments. Also like gray infrastructure, green infrastructure can be costly, especially in areas where land values and development pressures are high, like Howard County.

Just as we expect our roads to connect and our water and sewer systems to be built with adequate capacity to meet our needs, our system of green spaces should also connect and should also have the capacity to ensure healthy, functioning ecosystems. Or, according to The Conservation Fund:

"Green Infrastructure is the Nation's natural life support system – a strategically planned and managed network of wilderness, parks, greenways, conservation easements, and working lands with conservation value that supports native species, maintains natural ecological process, sustains air and water resources, and contributes to the health and quality of life for America's communities and people."

...Similar to land development in general, land preservation and conservation efforts, in their most prevalent current form, are conducted in an ad hoc, haphazard and unplanned manner. Rather than looking at acquisitions and easements in a broader context, investigating how a parcel will fit within and contribute to the overall strength of the existing green network, expenditures are made based on short-term needs, often because of political or economic expediency.
Green infrastructure is an idea people have trouble wrapping their heads around. Many, including CCD, confuse it for "green" grey infrastructure -- that is, building eco-friendly sewer pipes, roads, sidewalks, storm water management systems, etc. Here's what CCD has to say about green infrastructure:

In particular, County officials should develop and foster Green Infrastructure that minimizes disturbances to the land caused by the installation of roads and utilities. This concept, which is receiving national attention, also fosters the idea of using storm-water runoff for park and streetscape irrigation systems. Roads and pathways in Downtown Columbia should be designed to support the environment. Elements of a green circulation system would include the use of environmentally appropriate construction materials for roads, pathways, parking lots; lighting that incorporates solar as well as other alternative electrical power; landscaping that helps provide traffic calming as well as minimizing storm water runoff, etc. In addition, the overall system should be designed so as to maximize appeal and accessibility.

As you can see, what CCD is advocating for is basically the use of green building techniques when designing and building infrastructure. While I'd like to see greater use of permeable pavement and the like, I'd really like to see an integrated approach to land preservation similar to what I described above. Just as it's essential for man-made systems to connect, natural ones must, too. Basically, a patch of open space outside of Cheesecake Factory and one near the library are worthless on their own, whereas the same two patches of open space in a connected natural system along the edges of a stream are probably doing some good.

By requiring a 20 percent set aside for each parcel, we could lose potentially valuable open spaces as the developer meets only the minimum requirements. On the other hand, if we take a wider perspective and mandate a Town Center-wide preservation strategy -- similar to the 36 percent set aside that is part of the New Town Zoning regulations -- we could channel development and open space to the most appropriate areas and maximize benefits for everyone.

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for pointing out that the full 40 page document is now ready. After a quick review, there are a few major items that concern me, in addition to the negativism of shooting down DPZ at every opportunity.

First, the document has no authorship ackowledged. It would be very helpful to have an author for each section. I doubt that all who have agreed to have their names associated with the document really reviewed and approved prior to publishing took place. Hopefully, there will be some names of people who have some experience in designing cities.

Anonymous said...

Secondly, the idea of changing the existing zoning to form-based codes is dismissed as not required. There is an endorsement of multi-use buildings with commercial on the ground floor, office above and then topped with residences. There is no way that existing zoning can deal with the multi-use and also provide any control over the architecture. I think they did not understand the concept of form-based codes.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Ok, so you're asking for some flexibility in adhering to at least 20% open space preservation onsite, saying that so long as how things are juggled results in a "greener" outcome that less than 20% onsite open space preservation is ok?

I see so, so many potentials for abuse in opening up such a relaxation in required onsite open space preservation.

Currently, miniscule fees-in-lieu are sometimes used to avoid fully fulfilling onsite forest retention obligations for some developments.

And, wasn't there a story not too long ago about these fees-in-lieu just sitting around unspent? They are meant for purchasing forested property elsewhere in the County to be preserved or to plant saplings on public land (replacing hundred year old trees with eeny weeny treelets somewhere else).

Are there reports published on a regular basis that detail greenspace destruction allowed through development, exemptions granted to onsite and offsite conservation requirements, number of times noncompliances have been granted over the course of a year, etc.? I haven't seen that level of detail.

You'd be amazed at what gets through the review and approval process, even with public feedback. And nature loses.

I think if you want to have flexibility to get to a greener ecosystem, there have to be considerable safeguards built into the system, foremost among them:
- very clear stipulations as to what is valued, what minimum justification levels must be met, what is allowed, etc. (not just the developer saying "this is the best we could come up with") and
- accountability in the form of DPZ public disclosure during the plan review/approval process and afterward both per plan and annual reports detailing the amount and type of exceptions allowed with clear statements of their justifications.

And if you truly do support interconnected greenways in Town Center (previous County General Plans have called for improving the interconnection of greenways in the eastern part of the County), a street network around Town Center that is a grid system is very, very bad, isolating greenspace areas from each other. Wildlife populations that are so isolated from each other, by dangerous and loud roadways, don't last long.

Instead, using the road network designs for Town Center that are found in much of the rest of Columbia, neighborhoods fed off secondary roads that have cul-de-sacs that finger into, but don't completely sever greenways/wildlife movement corridors would be the way to go.

AlanAKlein said...

Hayduke,

Your message is so long that I am finding it counterproductive to respond to it in whole. I will break it into parts, quoting what I am responding to as I go.

You said that CCD has “inconsistencies of their positions (asking for both low density and Metro), an unnecessary and counterproductive focus on numbers (e.g. 1600, 5500, 14 stories, etc.), and the propagation of an ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality with respect to General Growth, the County and anyone who isn’t a ‘citizen.’”

Well, didn’t Emerson say that a “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”?  We recognize that there are those who believe that none of what we want (the community wants) to achieve in Downtown can only be achieved with high density. Our position is threefold.

First – prove it. Any new density is a bonus granted to developers from which they will reap enormous profit. It is not up to us to prove that low density (which the Charrette participants called for) will not work. Rather, it is up to those who would seek to change the community’s mind to prove that high density is required. And so I await such proof.

Second – we point out that density and height have grown up around Metro stations and did not precede them.

Third – Our position ultimately is that all of downtown development is a system – changes in one place and in one area affect everything else. We speak for the values and vision that the community (and Jim Rouse) called for. These values need to be in balance with each other. An overly sharp focus on one, wonderful though it might be, will throw the others off. For example, an overly sharp focus on high density to achieve mass transit will result in crowding, gridlock, and a deterioration of the quality of life in Columbia. Similarly, an overly sharp focus on too low density will result in no change at all in Downtown.

You worry that we focus excessively on numbers. We actually pay them much less attention than we do values and vision. The numbers are there to put some concreteness to the vision and as our starting positions, based on our research and thinking. And, by the way, we are calling for 150 feet as a height limit, and not 14 stories, as it seems that there is wide variation as to what constitutes a “story”!

Finally, you are simply dead wrong as to the “us vs. them mentality” you see CCD as expressing. We have made it crystal clear that we see ourselves (the community) as the third leg of a three-legged stool, with the County and the developers as the other two legs. We see all three components as necessary partners in the ultimate creation of an excellent result in Downtown.

Your notion that we are somehow against those who are not “citizens” is way off base! Nothing could be farther from the truth. In our paper we try to use “residents” and “citizens” somewhat interchangeably to mean those who live and work here and will be most affected by Downtown development. We could care less about the specifics of one’s citizenship papers.

Our hope is to have a reasoned dialogue on all these issues and not just a nitpicking debate over one position or the other. By singling out the three areas above, does that mean you agree with the rest of the 98% of our paper? If so, welcome aboard and come on over to www.coalitionforcolumbiasdowntown.org and sign up as a supporter! We would love your voice to join over 180 of your neighbors in support of the values and vision that the community has expressed!

AlanAKlein said...

As to the 20% set-aside for open space on each parcel as versus looking at the open space requirements of Downtown as a whole, I personally think your argument has some merit. In any case, we are always looking at the overall result, both on the ground and in the regulations for the future, rather than holding blindly to the specifics of every particular position.

We point out, though, that one reason we are in the difficulty we are in with respect to the Plaza Tower and to affordable housing is that New Town Zoning was set up quite loosely to allow Rouse more freedom to do what he wanted to get done in Columbia. In effect, he acted as a wonderfully benevolent dictator.

If Doug Godine can show that he is a worthy successor to that title, then perhaps we and the community will relax. Thus far, however, though he has shown himself to be an avuncular fellow, we have not seen the vision and the passion from him that would merit such trust in the face of recent history.

AlanAKlein said...

I do not see our positions on green infrastructure as different, but rather complementary.

AlanAKlein said...

Dear anonymous,

Why hide behind anonymity? Our paper's authors did not. Their names are on the front cover for all the world to read, if they are of a mind to! And, yes, it is a group effort to which we have all signed on in agreement.

AlanAKlein said...

And, Anonymous, (or is this a different Anonymous) you say that "(t)here is no way that existing zoning can deal with multi-use..." First, we have always said that modifications will need to be made to existing zoning. And, second, please substantiate your remark and prove to us that your position is correct. We are listening and quite open to learning!

JD said...

Hayduke . . . or is it Hey, Duke!.

I am a supporter of CCD. I signed on with them because they are the only organized group supporting both the letter and spirit of the Charette outcome. They also explicitltly base their stance on values espoused by James Rouse. Let's face it, Columbia and Ellicott City are not rated the best place to live east of the Mississippi by accident.

Careful thought and planning are required to ensure that this quality of life continues. The only way to ensure this is that the people who live and work here participate as equal partners in the process of redevelopment. We need to be one of the legs of the thre-legged stool that Alan Klein mentioned.

I don't agree in specific detail with every word on their position paper. I agree in general with all of it. I also salute them for being the only consistent and insistent voice advocating for active and equal citizen involvement.

JD Smith

Hayduke said...

You said that CCD has “inconsistencies of their positions (asking for both low density and Metro), an unnecessary and counterproductive focus on numbers (e.g. 1600, 5500, 14 stories, etc.), and the propagation of an ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality with respect to General Growth, the County and anyone who isn’t a ‘citizen.’”

Well, didn’t Emerson say that a “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”? We recognize that there are those who believe that none of what we want (the community wants) to achieve in Downtown can only be achieved with high density. Our position is threefold.

It’s funny that you chose that particular quote, which someone else left in the comments on this blog a while back. In that case, it was prompted by my admission that some were criticizing me for a lack of consistency regarding the charrette. I’m not sure what that means, but there it is…

As to consistency in general, even you have admitted in the past that some of your positions are inconsistent with each other – namely, I believe, calling for housing limits at the same time you bemoan a critical lack of affordable housing.

First – prove it. Any new density is a bonus granted to developers from which they will reap enormous profit. It is not up to us to prove that low density (which the Charrette participants called for) will not work. Rather, it is up to those who would seek to change the community’s mind to prove that high density is required. And so I await such proof.

I don’t disagree. Low density would work in Town Center. But since every transportation expert I have ever heard from has said that Metro or subways require a critical density above what you are proposing to be successful, I think the onus is on your group to show that both low density and Metro are compatible.

Second – we point out that density and height have grown up around Metro stations and did not precede them.

What kind of density limits were in place around these Metro stations?
Were they more or less stringent than what your group is proposing?

Third – Our position ultimately is that all of downtown development is a system – changes in one place and in one area affect everything else. We speak for the values and vision that the community (and Jim Rouse) called for. These values need to be in balance with each other. An overly sharp focus on one, wonderful though it might be, will throw the others off. For example, an overly sharp focus on high density to achieve mass transit will result in crowding, gridlock, and a deterioration of the quality of life in Columbia. Similarly, an overly sharp focus on too low density will result in no change at all in Downtown.

I don’t see this (an overly sharp focus on high density for transit’s sake) happening, though it comes up repeatedly as an example of why implementing the CCD plan would be problematic. Also, the fact that your group continues to try to claim the mantle of Jim Rouse’s legacy and vision seems a little presumptious and leads you further down the road of “Us vs. Them.”

You worry that we focus excessively on numbers. We actually pay them much less attention than we do values and vision. The numbers are there to put some concreteness to the vision and as our starting positions, based on our research and thinking. And, by the way, we are calling for 150 feet as a height limit, and not 14 stories, as it seems that there is wide variation as to what constitutes a “story”!

But, then, why put arbitrary limits on what can be included in the “vision?”

Finally, you are simply dead wrong as to the “us vs. them mentality” you see CCD as expressing. We have made it crystal clear that we see ourselves (the community) as the third leg of a three-legged stool, with the County and the developers as the other two legs. We see all three components as necessary partners in the ultimate creation of an excellent result in Downtown.

You are conflating your group with the community at large – what I implied by putting citizen in quotes. You are a group of a couple hundred folks in a community of thousands. Who's to say citizens don't have a voice outside of CCD. I hear from citizens through a variety of outlets.

Our hope is to have a reasoned dialogue on all these issues and not just a nitpicking debate over one position or the other. By singling out the three areas above, does that mean you agree with the rest of the 98% of our paper? If so, welcome aboard and come on over to www.coalitionforcolumbiasdowntown.org and sign up as a supporter! We would love your voice to join over 180 of your neighbors in support of the values and vision that the community has expressed!

This paragraph is just silly.

As to the 20% set-aside for open space on each parcel as versus looking at the open space requirements of Downtown as a whole, I personally think your argument has some merit. In any case, we are always looking at the overall result, both on the ground and in the regulations for the future, rather than holding blindly to the specifics of every particular position.

Then why bother with specifics at all? They just confound matters, particularly when they are expressed as uncompromising beliefs.

If Doug Godine can show that he is a worthy successor to that title, then perhaps we and the community will relax. Thus far, however, though he has shown himself to be an avuncular fellow, we have not seen the vision and the passion from him that would merit such trust in the face of recent history.

Let’s check back with each other once GGP releases its new plan.

I do not see our positions on green infrastructure as different, but rather complementary.

Our positions may well be the same and complementary, but our definitions are not. As I said, your group uses "green infrastructure" as a term to describe using green building techniques when building traditional grey infrastructure, in which case it seems more appropriate to just say green buildings/design or low impact development. The widely accepted definition of green infrastructure is a system of open space preservation that ensures parcels are set aside based on the value they contribute to the functioning of ecosystems and the welfare of communities. Like grey infrastructure, it is a connected natural system that supports life. I would like to see both low impact design and a green infrastructure system for Town Center -- and all of the county, for that matter.

locke said...

“Columbia and Ellicott City are not rated the best place to live east of the Mississippi by accident.”

This is a bit overrated and overstated by some of the citizens here in Columbia. As a member of the often overlooked and under represented (which is our fault) age demographic group of 25-30 (young professionals), Columbia is one of the least popular areas for this group to live.

Complaints of this group include:

Over-priced, old housing
Lack of restaurants and activities
Difficult road system to navigate, not marked well
Too few gas stations
“Everything is more expensive in Columbia” – including gas
Crime “perceived or actual”
Not welcoming of others, especially younger professionals
Lack of high-end shopping

I do not want to be overly critical of the area, all areas have problems and no where is perfect…. But please understand that Columbia is not the utopia some people believe it to be. The common conception of Columbia by this group is it is for retired people and hippies.

Alan Klein said...

Locke,

I have been around Columbia since I was 18 and my brother was 17. Young folks have always complained of how boring Columbia is!

I must say, though, that I am surprised to hear a couple of your list of complaints about Columbia.

I would agree the housing is over-priced, but compared to the surrounding area it is hardly old.

It also seems to me that there is a wealth of high-end shopping (pun intended) - indeed too much for my taste!

I am also quite surprised to hear that young folks feel that they are not welcomed. That sounds like something to really work on.

Finally, most young people I encounter are pretty savvy when it comes to our over-reliance on cars and don't seem too worried about a lack of gas stations or poorly marked roads.
~Alan Klein

Alan Klein said...

Hayduke,

Could you please point out the places in our paper or our website or any other documents where we say that the specifics we present are "uncompromising"? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

"But since every transportation expert I have ever heard from has said that Metro or subways require a critical density above what you are proposing to be successful, I think the onus is on your group to show that both low density and Metro are compatible."

The experts you have spoken with believe a certain critical density is necessary to support Metro. I think the number you've previously cited was 7 residences per acre. (Columbia's overall density is 2 residences per acre.)

Can you briefly what is the critical density you believe is necessary and why it is necessary? Or even cite a source that explains that number?

Several of your previous references elsewhere for that number pointed to the same discussion of the topic from 1963. Are we going to plan our transit future based on the transit reality of 44 years ago?

A huge contributor to the high density you assume is necessary to support Metro is because you are assuming Metro to be the transit system that will be pursued. But Metro is expensive to build and expensive to operate. Find a transit system that costs less than Metro to build and operate and the critical density goes down.

Also, Metro is inconvenient, making many riders drive, park, and then walk to get to a Metro station, wait for a train to arrive, wait at each intermediate stop, sometimes disembark to wait for a connecting train and wait at further intermediate stops, and then walk a greater distance to their destination, resulting in trip times that can average perhaps 25 mph. What commuter wants to give up 55 mph travel for that?

Instead, find a transit system that has more convenient, less distant stations, vehicles waiting at the stations for riders, vehicles that travel directly to their destinations without any intermediate stops (because the stations are all offline stations that don't obstruct the through track). Commute times could be less than a fourth of Metro's commute time and even faster than cars. With that kind of convenience presented, a greater percentage of people would use it instead of cars, allowing an even lower population density to support a transit system.

Don't say we need to build density to afford Metro. Metro is the wrong answer. Building density to support the wrong answer makes even less sense.

Others are looking at better solutions.

Evan said...

Locke,

As a fellow young professional I agree with some of your list and disagree with others:

> Over-priced

(Yes, this is one of the main reasons why I am so upset by the insufficient mix of housing the county is currently proposing for downtown)

> old housing

(Actually compared to nearly an city I can think of our housing is really new. Of course I have lived in London, have recently visited NYC, and regularly visit friends in Naltimore and DC and all of these cities have much older housing stock)

Lack of restaurants and activities

(Yes, again this is one of the reasons I am a big fan of the idea of redeveloping downtown AND why I am so disappointed in the current plan because it clearly will not achieve the vibrant street life that the proponents are claiming)

Difficult road system to navigate, not marked well

(Yes, that is true, of course if you look at the proposed grid plan for downtown with its zig zag intersections and one or two blog long roads it will only make navigating our roads worse)

Too few gas stations

(Actually I think we have more gas stations than most cities I know)

“Everything is more expensive in Columbia” – including gas

(Yes on gas, which is why I get my gas in Laurel, other prices are about the same as DC, not sure about Baltimore, but I think we might be a little more expensive)

Crime “perceived or actual”

(Compared to DC or Baltimore it is not even in the same ballpark, but we certainly have work to do. This is why it is very important that downtown have no single use zones that will be dead areas during certain times, such as the current Corporare Blvd. This can be easily fixed with the buildings in Corporate Blvd have 20% residential. The residents and the office workers can even have different exits so that the business do not have to share elevators with people in shorts.)

Not welcoming of others, especially younger professionals

(I think we have discussed this before, but I am sorry you feel that way. I always try to be very welcoming.)

Lack of high-end shopping

(I guess the issue is compared to what. Yes, NYC, London, Milan, San Francisco, and LA probably have much more, but compared to Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Sacromento we are about the same)

Evan said...

Oh, and I think Anon 1:44 did a great job saying a lot of my own thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ian,
This is Mary Pivar.
1. I agree with anonymous about Metro. And will add that since that has always been spoken as maybe reality 30 years down the line, its practically in terms of Downtown decisions in the near future is miniscule.
2. I totally agree, and am glad to see it expressed, that the logistics of getting to and from public transportation are not inconsequential. Usually cars are used to get to the first step.
3. Ian, I wonder why you are so critical of a grass roots citizen group addressing development in Columbia? As I recall the Merriweather Post group, you, and we, delighted in the fact that a grassroots group sprang up, united, and advocated for a position you claimed represented many thousands of folk. So CCD, of which I am a member, sprang up the same way. It is a group of activists which rallied after Liz Bobo spoke to a large group of people who assembled in 10 days and to whom she gave an update of the concerns she was hearing from many, many people. Our position paper is not written on stone tablets. It is a "work in progress" and will, no doubt at all, grow as we grow.
And, yes, we agree that when GGP releases its plan some positions may change.
I also get tired of using the Rouse name. It is a tad like the Bible in that respect.He was a visionary with a hard nosed developer edge. However, using the raw results of the Charrette is valid, since they are acting as bookends to our position paper. And, until we organized, were far more reflective of the citizens, than any other group. The County DPZ FG was selected fairly quickly. Its flaws were several, but basic. CCD also reflects a counter balance to that group.
Ian, you and I have had several private emails since we met each other in the ZB 1031M issue. You were focused on MPP, and we were very contextual in our concern about the issue.
You have also said you were more concerned about what goes into buildings than their height or number. (if I remember incorrectly, I apologize and hope you will correct me)
I am concerned about both, as you will surely remember. CCD reflects my value system more holistically than the first DPZ plan.
4.Since we still have no idea of the details of the form based zoning overlay to be presented, the core of the issue remains a mystery. And zoning is the core.
As of now, DPZ wants to present Downtown zoning changes first, and Secondary area zoning changes later. I oppose two step zoning. Hopefully, you will join the advocacy for either adjusting present NT Zoning Regs to fit a new MP, as advocated by CCD, or insisting that all zoning issues be addressed simultaneously.
5. There is no "us" vs "them" mentaliy in CCD approach. There is no way to become educated if there is not dialog among all interested. We have lively discussions. I have no need to agree with all elements of the position paper, and I don't, to agree with the importance of the group voice. Why not join us and add your voice?

Alan Klein said...

As to consistency in general, even you have admitted in the past that some of your positions are inconsistent with each other – namely, I believe, calling for housing limits at the same time you bemoan a critical lack of affordable housing.

Actually, I believe our proposals, as a whole, are consistent with each other. What I have said before…and am saying now…is that an overly sharp focus on any one, such as transit or affordable housing, has one missing the forest for the trees,
I don’t see this (an overly sharp focus on high density for transit’s sake) happening, though it comes up repeatedly as an example of why implementing the CCD plan would be problematic. Also, the fact that your group continues to try to claim the mantle of Jim Rouse’s legacy and vision seems a little presumptious and leads you further down the road of “Us vs. Them.”
Actually, it was you who were focusing over sharply on transit, so I guess that could explain why you don’t see it happening! 
We do not see an “us vs. them”. We see a “we” – that is to say, “the community”. In addition to our growing list of Supporters, we presume to speak for the community as we take our values from those the community expressed in the Charrette, which was the County-approved mechanism for community input. Add to this the fact that the community’s input at the Charrette was aligned with Rouse’s values. Add to that the fact that the new County Executive and three fifths of the newly elected Council signed on as Supporters of CCD and won their elections. And, finally, add in the fact that the new Executive’s proposals for Downtown during the election were modeled after CCD’s proposals.

But, then, why put arbitrary limits on what can be included in the “vision?”
I don’t believe any “limits” we may be proposing on the vision are “arbitrary”. They are there to have it conform to the values expressed by the community during the Charrette and to Rouse’s goals for Columbia.
In addition to expressing what we see as the community’s shared values and vision in regard to Downtown, we feel it is helpful to shape a set of proposals that put form and substance to those values. You are, of course, free to nitpick at any particular proposal. What we would prefer to do, however, is to have a larger and more useful set of discussions.
What I was referring to is the fact that any numerical limit has a certain arbitrariness about it. Why is it 16 to drive a car, 18 to vote, but 21 to drink? Certainly there is some data to support those numbers, but in the end, we all know they are in some respects arbitrary. We all know, for example, 16 year-olds who are mature enough to vote and 21 year-olds whom we wish would never be allowed on the roads. Similarly, though we propose a height limit of 150 feet, I can easily imagine 160 foot buildings I would love and 140 foot buildings I would hate. This does not stop such limits from being useful, however, when applied to whole groups of people or whole groups of buildings.

Alan Klein said...

Also, Anonymous (if, in fact that is your real name), you believe we are shooting down DPZ at every possible chance. Actually, we do nothing of the kind. In fact, we have had high praise for Marsha and her staff. It is the County elected officials we take to task.

Much more importantly, if you actually read our work, you will see that we provide frequent comparisons to, not attacks of, the County's plan and to the Executive's proposals. In addition, you will see that we praise their plan and proposals, in addition to offering critiques.

B. Santos said...

Alan,

In your 12:40 AM comment, you asked for:


Could you please point out the places in our paper or our website or any other documents where we say that the specifics we present are "uncompromising"? Thanks.


It is true that your poisition paper is full of "belief" statements, but what does "believe" mean?

Illustritive is the following quote:


"In return for this windfall, we believe it is only fair to require that developers contribute a meaningful share of their profits to help provide and maintain the amenities needed for a truly vital Downtown. We believe this should be instituted as a requirement in order to preempt the possibility that some developers may be unwilling to do this voluntarily."


The interweaving of "believe" and "require" moves the statement to inflexibility.

So what is your intent in using the word "believe?" Is it a suggestion? a wish? a mandate? It is certainly less than clear.

I also find it an interesting construct in that beliefs can be defended, but are often not proven wrong.

numbers.girl said...

Along those lines, I'd like to point out the language used with regards to free parking:

"We strongly believe that public parking must be guaranteed to remain free of charge..."

Guaranteed? Sounds uncompromising to me

Hayduke said...

Mary,
It’s good to hear from you. It's been a while since we've had a good back and forth.
I agree with anonymous about Metro. And will add that since that has always been spoken as maybe reality 30 years down the line, its practically in terms of Downtown decisions in the near future is miniscule.

I agree with this, too. I don’t think I’ve ever come out fully in support of Metro for Columbia. Which is not to say I don’t want to see it -- just that it doesn’t seem entirely plausible and therefore isn’t really worth substantially advocating for. We shouldn’t base decisions on “potential” or wishful thinking.

I brought it up in this post as part of an analysis of the CCD plan, which calls for both Metro and low density – two things that I see as being incompatible.

With respect to Anon’s points about “experts” I’m taking a pragmatic approach. Those who hold the purse strings for public transit will rely on “experts” and cost/benefit analyses when assessing whether to spend money on such projects. If they say Columbia (and the areas in the path of any northward extension of the Metro) are not sufficiently dense to feasibly support a subway then we have almost no chance of seeing it happen.

I’m not saying we need high density or we need Metro, or even that I want either. I’m saying if we want Metro we need high(er) density.

I totally agree, and am glad to see it expressed, that the logistics of getting to and from public transportation are not inconsequential. Usually cars are used to get to the first step.

I agree with this, too. A downtown metro stop may cause more traffic than the master plan itself.
Ian, I wonder why you are so critical of a grass roots citizen group addressing development in Columbia? As I recall the Merriweather Post group, you, and we, delighted in the fact that a grassroots group sprang up, united, and advocated for a position you claimed represented many thousands of folk. So CCD, of which I am a member, sprang up the same way. It is a group of activists which rallied after Liz Bobo spoke to a large group of people who assembled in 10 days and to whom she gave an update of the concerns she was hearing from many, many people. Our position paper is not written on stone tablets. It is a "work in progress" and will, no doubt at all, grow as we grow.

I think it goes without saying (though I will anyway) that I support citizen activism. If I’m critical of CCD, it is not because I have something against citizens forming groups, but rather because I disagree with what it is saying or how it is saying it. For instance, the use of “developers” as a bogey man, when during the last couple of years most of what GGP has done seems perfectly reasonable and conciliatory. I know the proof is in the pudding, so we’ll have to wait and see what their new plan looks like.

Moreover, CCD invited debate on this topic and that’s what I’m engaging in. I’m critical of the inconsistencies in the wish list and of CCD’s stance that it is the voice of the citizens (as a whole, being the implication). Save Merriweather never claimed it represented anyone other than those who expressed support for our group (indeed, we often debated for sake of counting when the “supporter” threshold was crossed for certain individuals so as not to unnecessarily inflate our numbers).

I am glad to see that CCD’s paper is a work in progress and hope that as this debate continues, details change.

We have lively discussions. I have no need to agree with all elements of the position paper, and I don't, to agree with the importance of the group voice. Why not join us and add your voice?

I’m not clear on the importance of a group voice during a debate. I see the current situation as part of the debating period, not the advocating period, meaning ideas are important and solidarity is not. If the plan and zoning changes that ultimately end up before the council are disagreeable to most citizens (including myself), I will gladly join any group in opposition to it. But nothing final has been presented. Action is not imminent. Changes are being made. And there are many avenues for individuals to express their opinions about the master plan.

Alan,
Actually, I believe our proposals, as a whole, are consistent with each other. What I have said before…and am saying now…is that an overly sharp focus on any one, such as transit or affordable housing, has one missing the forest for the trees.

On a principled level, the plan is consistent. But the details need to be, as well.
Actually, it was you who were focusing over sharply on transit, so I guess that could explain why you don’t see it happening!

I’m not quite sure how to respond to this. I mentioned transit as it relates to density to point out that low density and Metro – two things your group advocates for -- are incompatible. I’m not focusing on the details to play “gotcha.” While I like to discuss things from a broad, philosophical perspective, we need to discuss the details of your paper to make sure they all fit together.

CCD’s plan can either exist as a statement of values or a detailed course of action. Given all of the specifics included, it seems to fall into the latter category. Perhaps I’m misreading it, however.

We do not see an “us vs. them”. We see a “we” – that is to say, “the community.”
Is GGP considered a part of the “we?” The county? If not, that’s what I mean by “us vs. them.” By continuing to say that the outcome of the charrette was a scam perpetrated by the county and GGP, the divisiveness grows.

I don’t believe any “limits” we may be proposing on the vision are “arbitrary”. They are there to have it conform to the values expressed by the community during the Charrette and to Rouse’s goals for Columbia.

In addition to expressing what we see as the community’s shared values and vision in regard to Downtown, we feel it is helpful to shape a set of proposals that put form and substance to those values. You are, of course, free to nitpick at any particular proposal. What we would prefer to do, however, is to have a larger and more useful set of discussions.

I think for the most part we agree on the values. Why should we not discuss the details?
Similarly, though we propose a height limit of 150 feet, I can easily imagine 160 foot buildings I would love and 140 foot buildings I would hate. This does not stop such limits from being useful, however, when applied to whole groups of people or whole groups of buildings.

Why should we rely on such an imperfect measure, then? If a really great 160-foot building doesn’t get built because of the height limit and a really crappy 140-foot building does, what good has the height limit served the community?

It seems to me that we should seek the most effective ways to translate the values of our community into the future of Town Center, rather than relying on crude regulatory measures.

Anonymous said...

"since that has always been spoken as maybe reality 30 years down the line, its practically in terms of Downtown decisions in the near future is miniscule"

But we are talking about the 30-year plan for Town Center, right? So, why shouldn't a 30-year plan include planning and provisions for mass transit that will both be very needed and come to be in that time frame?

I do disagree that it will take 30 years to see personal rapid transit built. WVU has been running something similar, albeit slower, ground-based '70's technology, continuously since the '70's. An elevated more modern system will begin operation next year at Heathrow. China's investing considerable funds into solving their commuting congestion crises, some in similar elevated smaller vehicle maglev transit systems.

Also, the only graphic from the Charette that showed a transit line had it coming into Town Center along 29 and then hugging the river (sensitive areas that are supposed to be protected, hello?) to get to a point near the southern end of the Rouse Building. If we don't make provisions now for where mass transit will eventually be best placed to access Town Center, what we'll wind up being forced to do is put mass transit either very, very expensively underground or unnecessarily destroy sensitive environmental areas, much like the Inter-County Connector.

Planning for our future mass transit needs to be included in the transportation plan for Town Center, including detailing where it would run. As it stands now, there is no such detail in the plan.

Knowing mass transit will be needed, but allowing development to proceed without providing for mass transit's eventuality will inexcusably, unnecessarily, and immorally foist solving a then even more complicated situation onto the next generation.

And so is just waiting until we are told by 'experts' we are now sufficiently congested to meet density criteria to pay for overpriced and less optimal solutions of light rail and Metro. That illogical path fits perfectly with the transporation consultants' recommendation to relax the road congestion criteria to allow development to cause congestion to build public support for paying for very expensive Metro or light rail transit.

locke said...

Evan and Alan Klein,

your responses to my comments are well taken and on some levels I understand/agree with most of them. I guess it would help if I noted what I and most of my friends compare this area too. The point of comparison for the large percentage of my friends is Northern Virgina/Fairfax as that is where most of us settled after college. Most have moved on from there but Reston/Fairfax is often compared to Columbia for better or worse. Yes our building stock is much, much newer than the city housing of DC/Baltimore but still older than most areas in NOVA. As Columbia is more and more considered a suburb community of DC and maybe Baltimore...i tend to think of it and compare it that way.

From my point of view, I'd like to see a high density core development with a mixture of shops, restaurants, condo's, etc and at the same time, a movement to preserve some of the more traditional communities of columbia. The fact is that there is a serious lack of housing in columbia and anything that can be done to add building stock is generally a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Serious lack of housing in Columbia? That's like saying an 8-seater SUV can't hold 25 people so it must be flawed.

Columbia was purposefully designed to be a certain size and density with a certain amount of open space.

If the density and congestion of NoVa and Fairfax is your nirvana, have at it, but Columbia ain't Fairfax and, I'm guessing, most don't want it to be.

Presently, Fairfax has triple the population and nine times the density of Howard County. Even in the past Fairfax had its density issues: quoting Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairfax%2C_VA, "In a celebrated incident in the town in March 1863, Mosby's Confederate Rangers, disguised and with stealth and cunning, awakened in bed and captured an embarrassed Union General Edwin H. Stoughton along with 2 Union Captains, 30 prisoners, and 58 horses without firing a shot." 33 men and 58 horses in the same bed? Now THAT is density.

locke said...

Anonymous:

No doubt Columbia is not Fairfax, however, it has a lot of the same pressures bearing on it.

Fort Meade is not going way
Brac is coming
DC/Baltimore are thriving areas and people must have places to live.

Tell me, where should these people move? Most would be happy to live in Pennsylvania if you would accept 12 lane freeway through the center of Columbia connecting the new suburbs you created with the base.

By putting our heads in the sand and saying not in our back yard we are not planning for the development that IS coming. We will end up with a Fairfax type (non-planned) area with all of its associated issues. Howard County/Columbia MUST change to accept the new economic realities. How we do this is open for discussions and most if not all of the original tenants of Columbia can be applied for an higher population area.

All areas change, it is a fact of life. How we plan for these changes is the issue at hand.

Anonymous said...

Fort Meade is not going away. True.
BRAC is coming. Also true.
DC and Baltimore are thriving (arguable - see below) and people must have places to live (true).

Untrue is your premise that Howard County/Columbia MUST change to accept new economic realities or else wind up with Fairfax's unplanned sprawl. Columbia's existing zoning and covenants prevent such an outcome. Similarly, Howard County's zoning provides lesser, but still adequate protections from incurring Fairfax's crushing density and congestion.

Hinting that Columbia will incur a 12-lane freeway through it if it doesn't accommodate BRAC migrants by accepting increased density and congestion in Town Center is silly. Would you then be promoting Fairfax-like density in rural Pennsylvania, too? You scare me.

To answer your question as to where these people should live, smart growth planning would encourage occupying brownfields, not consuming green space. Part of the solution is DC and Baltimore themselves. Baltimore, last time I checked, owns about 10% of its housing stock, sitting vacant. Baltimore is also between two of the major BRAC sites and has the infrastructure.

Baltimore's population has been dropping since the 1940's 939,024 to 2005's 636,251.

Quoting Wikipedia, "Recently, a 2005 census estimate projected that Baltimore was the city with the largest population drop alongside Detroit and Washington D.C., losing over 84,000 residents between 1990 and 2000".

84,000. And that's just Baltimore. Assuming DC had even half that drop and together they total 120,000 residents that could be accomodated even without any new construction.

So, both DC and Baltimore have capacity and infrastructure. Lord knows they could use the revenue.

What amount or percent of BRAC influx population do you think need to be squeezed into Columbia's Town Center instead of these nearby places that have seen population drops? Town Center is far from the only solution.

Anonymous said...

The difference is few want to live in DC/Baltimore. In an ideal world, brac would be in DC or Baltimore where the building stock is available or easily available.. it is not. people have the right to live near to the place where they work. the place where they work is on columbia's doorstep so some of them will live in columbia. I personally do not like columbia, it is too small town for my taste. i moved here because my job is here for the time being. for me, it came down a sacrifice between a long commute or columbia.. i'd rather be home to see my kids before they go to bed each evening.. hence.. i now live in columbia. this is a valid discussion and i agree with those who have posted that the growth must be planned and controlled.. but i laugh every time someone tells me that columbia is already over-crowded and can not grow to accept higher density.

Anonymous said...

The difference is few want to live in DC/Baltimore

'Want' being the opertative word there. Yes, I agree that is what it boils down to - some *want* to increase development in Town Center to sell additional residences to some who *want* to live in Town Center. Neither of those are necessities.

"people have the right to live near to the place where they work"

That would be an interesting right to have, but does that really exist? Did I miss some stealth passing of a 28th Amendment?

As much as most people would like to live near their workplaces, some don't because their workplaces may be too noisy, toxic, dangerous, or even expensive to live near. However, no such right to live near work exists.

Work doesn't exist where workers cannot afford to live or commute to because employers can't find workers to fill those positions. If a business model can support it, employers will raise wages to the point where they can attract enough workers to tolerate a long commute or afford to live nearby.

People do have the right to choose a job which allows them to live near it if they can find such a job. However, people don't have the right to choose a job and then demand they get to live near it.

Should I be able to accept a job as a lifeguard and expect to have a beachfront home handed to me? Oh, all the beachfront homes are already owned. Well, darn it, I am a lifeguard, I must have a beachfront home. Build me a house in front of the other homes already there.

Sorry, that doesn't work.

If I can afford a beachfront home, I can buy it. If I can't, I have to live elsewhere.

"the place where they work is on columbia's doorstep so some of them will live in columbia."

If they can afford to, yes. Otherwise, just like people have done since Columbia's inception, they will live elsewhere if they find Columbia too pricey. There are plenty of good places to live in the area, Baltimore and DC included, depending on one's tastes.

"for me, it came down a sacrifice between a long commute or columbia.. i'd rather be home to see my kids before they go to bed each evening"

It is a shame personal rapid transit is not yet available for our region. That way you could have lived in an area further out in the country or in one of the two cities nearby, any of them being as fast or faster a commute than doing so by car from Columbia.

"but i laugh every time someone tells me that columbia is already over-crowded and can not grow to accept higher density"

Columbia was designed for a certain density, a certain number of people, and a certain amount of open space. People paid premiums (CA liens) for those features.

To have developers now requesting more density is kind of like paying for a state room on an ocean cruise and having the cruise ship company come knocking on your door once underway, saying "Mind if we make your deck level room more like steerage by putting another two floors on top of it, along with thousands more passengers to occupy those rooms? Oh, and by the way, all of the facilities on board will now be more crowded because of the additional passengers. And the time for you to get off and back on the ship will be longer, too, because of the additional passengers, as will the time in line for meals."

Columbia can grow to accept more density, but that isn't the density that Columbia was designed to be. Kind of like buying a ticket to a hypothetical show at concert pavilion, being told 5,000 people will be on the lawn and then having another 2,000 tickets sold on top of that, hearing from the staff and latecomers "Oh, it's ok, just everybody squeeze together".

Bon voyage.

locke said...

"If I can afford a beachfront home, I can buy it. If I can't, I have to live elsewhere."

Please don't compare Columbia to beachfront property.

If a business model can support it, employers will raise wages to the point where they can attract enough workers to tolerate a long commute or afford to live nearby.

yes and no, the federal government does not follow the business model as you described. a lot of people being transferred here have to move because their job is moving. it is sometimes more important to have a job and put food on the table then live in an ideal area.

i do agree with you about the need for increased rapid transit. it is a shame, living in an area such as ours, that we can not find the political will to get it done. unfortunately very few are willing to pay the higher taxes (or fees) to get it done. every time DC-Metro raises fees or asks for increased funding you'd think the world was ending. i'd expect the same reaction here.

areas change, as the orginal farms owners moved on when columbia was founded, i expect some of the current residents to move on as columbia changes into the future. no matter what occurs, there will be a percentage of the population (very vocal) that will be dissatisfied with the changes or lack of changes that have been allowed to occur. these people will complain and probably move on. a few of the farmers who lived here before Columbia was founded battled to stop Columbia's development.. where their values and concerns any less valid then yours?

It is impossible to please everyone. If after a lengthy discussion and review process the majority of the leaders and population of Columbia want the area to change (or not change), it will.

Anonymous said...

"i do agree with you about the need for increased rapid transit. it is a shame, living in an area such as ours, that we can not find the political will to get it done. unfortunately very few are willing to pay the higher taxes (or fees) to get it done. every time DC-Metro raises fees or asks for increased funding you'd think the world was ending. i'd expect the same reaction here."

Please be aware that personal rapid transit (PRT) isn't the same as Metro. PRT is less expensive to build (and operate) so tax revenue needed to fund construction would be considerably less than the tax revenue needed to build as-is Metro expansions. PRT could also allow getting between Columbia and Tysons Corner in just 20 minutes, too. (By car that takes 45 minutes with no traffic. With traffic, good luck.)

"no matter what occurs, there will be a percentage of the population (very vocal) that will be dissatisfied with the changes or lack of changes that have been allowed to occur."

Yes, some will be very vocal in their disapproval of these proposed changes, some will be vocal, and some will be against the changes but not express their disapproval. To say that the portion of the community opposed to these proposed changes will be very vocal incorrectly implies that the actual percent of the community opposing these changes is actually smaller than public discourse presents.

"a few of the farmers who lived here before Columbia was founded battled to stop Columbia's development.. where their values and concerns any less valid then yours?"

A few? Again, you seem to be downplaying the number of people who have questioned if proposed changes are for the better. Twas more than a few.

No, the farmers predating Columbia's concerns were no less valid than anyone's concerns now who question the proposed density expansion now beyond Columbia's original plan and even the subsequent density increase granted at some point thereafter. Your point?

Alan Klein said...

Bill,

Your 12:37 comment is not entirely clear to me. I understand the words, I just don't get them as illustrative of CCD being "uncompromising". Certainly you point out a statement of a belief we hold. Nowhere, however, do we say that our beliefs are not open to influence, i.e., that we are uncompromising.

Alan Klein said...

Ian, you said, "CCD’s plan can either exist as a statement of values or a detailed course of action. Given all of the specifics included, it seems to fall into the latter category. Perhaps I’m misreading it, however."

I see it as both, with the emphasis on the former. Statement of values alone are almost of no use, as they usually end up being as hard to disagree with as the proverbial "Mom and Apple Pie".

Therefore, we have included our best shot at what we envision operationalizing those values would look like.

Clearly, no "detailed course of action" means anything until GGP weighs in with their's.

Alan Klein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Klein said...

Ian, you said, "It seems to me that we should seek the most effective ways to translate the values of our community into the future of Town Center, rather than relying on crude regulatory measures."

I agree. Do you have any ideas as to what those "most effective ways" would be? (Until we have agreement on those, it seems to us that "crude regulatory measures" are all we've got...and they are a darn sight more effective than the current "encouragement" that is in the County Code for promoting green technology, for example.)

Alan Klein said...

Ian, you said, "I’m not clear on the importance of a group voice during a debate. I see the current situation as part of the debating period, not the advocating period, meaning ideas are important and solidarity is not. If the plan and zoning changes that ultimately end up before the council are disagreeable to most citizens (including myself), I will gladly join any group in opposition to it. But nothing final has been presented. Action is not imminent. Changes are being made. And there are many avenues for individuals to express their opinions about the master plan."

I think you are setting up a false dichotomy. Action is quite imminent (witness the Tower situation), so solidarity is important. And, nothing is final (we are still waiting for GGP to weigh in), so debate is great.

I would remind you, though, that if citizens, with CCD and its members in the forefront (starting with Liz Bobo's meeting a year ago at Slayton House), had not spoken up loudly, clearly, and with one voice, the County's plan from February 27th would have been in place for the past several months.

The development community (whom, despite the protestations of some, we do NOT see as evil boogeymonsters) would not be doing their job if they did not take full advantage of every opening the community gives them to make more profit. They will encourage and exploit any and all differences they can spot in the community to make money; not because they are evil, but because that is their job.

Jim Rouse was one of the EXTREMELY rare individuals who could resist the Siren song of the dollar; no that he didn't make money, but rather that he made sure that money was number four in his value list, not number one.

Thus far, I have not seen any evidence that GGP, WCI, Dick Talkin, or others share that ability to resist the Siren's call. Perhaps they do, but they will need to prove it to me, as the consequences of trusting that they do and being proved wrong later is too great.

This is why it is vital that those of us in the community who are serious about making the values we share a reality need to keep our "eyes on the prize" and not devolve into petty bickering about percentages, etc.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ian,
Mary Pivar again. Thanks for your response.
Your recent statements seem to indicate that your values/specifics about Downtown are more in sync with CCD than may have been immediately apparent.
Hopefully, it also means that the idea that all CCDers or others must agree with all details of the CCD Position Paper for it to be valid will be recognized as Strawman argument. I don't know anyone who agrees with every plan detail of DPZ, Charrette, GGP Plan 1 or CCD .
Right now, I consider a valid vibrancy is occurring, because so many care and are speaking up. Debate sharpens the focus, clarifies positions, improves them as well. I state the obvious.