Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I fear I'll do some damage one fine day...

The ongoing battle over the Plaza Tower may shift venues, from the hearing room to the council chambers.

After County Executive Ken Ulman mentioned the issue in his State of the County speech yesterday, the Sun today reports that absent a compromise in the near future, the county council will likely take action.

...County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty, a west Columbia Democrat, has submitted two proposed zoning changes that would limit the height of any Town Center building to no more than 150 feet - equaling 14 or 15 stories - and change the county's grandfathering provisions to allow the height limit to retroactively cover the tower.

A group of four citizens opposed to the height of the tower is appealing county approvals for the 275-foot high-rise, although the builder, WCI Communities Inc., has all three building permits it needs to start construction.

"I'm actively engaged in discussions with all parties," Ulman said, and "I'm hopeful all parties will come together and compromise."

...Sigaty said she, too, would like to see an agreement, but added that her zoning proposals also serve a purpose. "This allows the public process to go forward," she said.

...The first of Sigaty's proposals would impose an interim 150-foot height limit, preventing new high-rise towers until a complete plan for redeveloping central Columbia is adopted. The second measure, according to Marsha S. McLaughlin, the county planning director, would apply the height limit to any proposed building under appeal.
Reactive policies aimed at a single, specific issue (e.g., the tower) often suffer from myriad problems. Usually, the law of unintended consequences steps in to screw things up, but I don't see this being the case with Sigaty's proposals.

Rather, the situation seems similar -- in some ways -- to the Wal-Mart health care bill passed by the General Assembly last year but ultimately killed by the courts. Singling out a specific project or entity and making it adhere to a separate set of rules, I think, is simply unfair. Concerns about this "sending the wrong message" are entirely justified.

That said and even though I don't support such limits, I'm glad to see the height limit proposal is only designed to be a interim measure until the final Town Center master plan is approved. My hope is that such restrictions are ultimately left out of the master plan, as deciding on strict building heights (and density limits, for that matter) now fails to allow any flexibility in the future.

With these two issues in particular, context matters. And as good as we may think we are at envisioning the Town Center of Tomorrow today, things are going to change dramatically in the next 30 years. Restricting future generations' ability to respond to these changes, like laws targeted at a specific project, strikes me as unfair.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Restrictions can be beneficial as we have finite resources, finite space, a lot of need to regain environmental balance, and no true need to increase residential density in Town Center (unless you believe increased density is necessary to sustain new intense commercial development of Town Center).

Just what would be the difference in commercial development value ($) between an increased residential density Town Center and one that stays within the planned density limit for Columbia overall? Anyone?