Friday, February 02, 2007

T.G.I. Round Up...

I know it’s been a slow couple weeks around here (and all local blogs, for that matter), and I apologize for the lack of salaciousness or even substance. I have no excuse – really, I don’t, so I won’t even try.

While my subconscious stares disappointedly at itself in the mirror, I’ll try to correct some of the slowness with an action-packed, T.G.I.F. Round Up, the guaranteed blogging cure for all that ails (not really). And, rather than burying the juicy stuff, I’ll put it right up front.

Lines are being drawn. In response to the Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown, a new group has formed under the banner “Bring Back the Vision.” With 20-some members, BBV is pushing for a more urban, city-like Town Center and sees the fight against the Plaza tower and master plan as misguided. From the Flier:

Michael Davis says he moved to Columbia 25 years ago because its founders claimed it would become a new kind of city.

Instead, he has watched Columbia become a new kind of suburb, he said, adding that, in doing so, the planned community has not achieved some of its promised vitality, energy and excitement.

"The early people who moved to Columbia -- they all bought into the idea of a new city, not a new suburbia," said Davis, a Wilde Lake resident who has a law practice in Town Center.

Needless to say, CCD is critical of BBV’s efforts:
[Lloyd] Knowles said he is suspicious that Bring Back the Vision is working with the Plaza's developer in an effort counter criticism of the high-rise, adding that WCI officials hired public relations consultant Jean Moon, a longtime Columbia resident, to handle publicity for the building.

In an e-mailed response asking for comment on Bring Back the Vision, Knowles called Moon a good friend, adding that, "she obviously has a substantial personal following. WCI made a good choice. ... I suppose some of her job is to garner support from the community to the WCI cause."

Lincoln and Davis said the group has no connection to WCI, adding that they are motivated to act solely as residents who want Columbia to flourish. Moon also said that she and WCI officials played no role in the group's formation.
Now, I know the papers try to make situations seem as controversial as possible (so I’m taking Knowles statement with a grain of salt) but what does it say about our current dialogue when the default tactic is connecting the other side to developers?

Speaking of Town Center and developers, Diane Brown has a great column in this week’s Flier about an event discussing Jim Rouse last Sunday. The best bit, by far, is the end:
Someone asked Kellner, "What would Jim Rouse do?" regarding the proposed changes in Columbia's downtown, including a 22-story condo building. She recalled that he wanted the advice and opinions of the work group he engaged, but that group was not planning the city.

Kellner noted that The Rouse Co. started Columbia with a blank slate of 14,000 acres of land and that its executives did not have the active, interested opinions of today.

Among people I know, one longtime Columbian says he hopes the 22-story Plaza Residences will one day be the shortest building downtown. A new resident told me that 22 stories is too high.
I don’t believe length of stay in Columbia has any effect on the validity of one’s views about Town Center, but Brown’s anecdote (which proves little) is nonetheless interesting.

OK, enough with the bulky, should-have-been-their-own-posts items in this Round Up. Let’s clean it up as succinctly as possible, shall we?

A decent compromise on the idea of having planning department employees attend pre-submission meetings between developers and the community. Previous discussion here.

Remember Centennial Gardens, the proposed affordable housing complex in Ellicott City? Well, that’s all it is, a memory.

Here’s a novel thought: Let kids be kids. Actually, nature deficit disorder isn’t just a problem for kids. We should all try to spend a little time playing outside each day.

Kids being adults: Student board of education member likely to receive voting rights.

Where are you watching the Super Bowl? Not at a bar, apparently. (I’m not.)

The senior tax credit: Some people for it, some against. Discuss.



pzguru said...


I spent almost 20 minutes typing a comment for this post, but it's nowhere to be seen. Was it deleted or is your site epxeriencing technical difficulties?

Hayduke said...

PZGuru: I don't know if Blogger's having technical problems, but I haven't ever deleted anyone else's comments. What was the gist of your comment?

Anonymous said...

Many do enjoy the true "New City" Columbia has become, opting for its well balanced, less congested, and more natural atmosphere than cities like Baltimore and D.C.

It always amazes me when I read about someone saying they think Columbia needs to be more vital. I see plenty of vitality. It doesn't take concrete canyons and jungles to make it so.

Anonymous said...

Composing your comments in a word processor on your computer will allow you to avoid whatever occasional Blogger glitches occur when posting. When you're ready to post, then copy and paste to here. It's an extra step, but worth it when Blogger's in the mood to make your day.

pzguru said...

The gist of my comment was that if Rouse was active in the actual construction in Town Center until the mid 1980's, then what exists now is exactly what he chose to actually build. If the actual differed from the initial concept plan for Columbia, so what. Most projects, esepcially ones of this scale (land area), change significantly from concept stage to construction stage.

The other point I want to make is that people need to think back to the context of Columbia compared to the rest of the County, based on how the County looked 45 years ago. Compared to the vast rural/farm characteristic of the County, Columbia Town Center WAS considered very urban, which was in keeping with Rouse's vision. Just because the rest of the County has become much more developed over the last 30 years does not take away the urban characteristic of Town Center. Nor does it justify in any way these recent calls for Town Center to be re-developed with high rises and higher density. With the infrastructure (specifically roads) already in place, it is not feasible to re-invent Town Center. There are still several undeveloped parcels in Town Center, such as the Crescent Property, and I fully support the proposals that GGP put forth for that property since it was within the existing approved PDP for Columbia.

I'm sure this debate will continue for a while so I do not need to go into every thought I have on the charette plan and so on. I hope to post some of my own thoughts on David Keelan's blog in the future.


Hayduke said...

Although I have no source for it, I've heard it repeated often that Rouse believed surface parking in Town Center was only temporary -- leaving one with the impression that greater density would occur. Indeed, in many ways, dedicating so much land to surface parking is a pretty smart form of land banking (especially when the tax code is lined up in your favor).

A minor quibble: Rouse left his namesake company in 1979.

numbers.girl said...

"The gist of my comment was that if Rouse was active in the actual construction in Town Center until the mid 1980's, then what exists now is exactly what he chose to actually build."

Do you really think that Rouse had no expectations that Columbia would continue to grow and change to accomodate the people and culture as they change?

pzguru said...

I couldn't say. And wish other people wouldn't try to guess or invoke his name (as is often done). The fact is that once the infrastructure is in place, it becomes MUCH more difficult, if not impossible, to redevelop an area such as Town Center if it involves new road layouts and so on. On top of that, even thought there are plenty of people who support the idea of higher density and high rise construction, there are no dount many people who oppose it. I have to give more consideration to current residents who oppose the plan since they obviously bought into Columbia/Town Center as it currently exists, and to change the whole nature of Town Center so drastically is not fair to them. They should not have to forfeit their home, their dream, whatever you want to call it. I feel that people who want a more urban lifestyle should move to a city that suits their desires.

Hayduke - thanks for the clarification on Rouse. Although he left in 1979, was he still on the Board or in any way involved with HRD decisions beyond that year? I don't know where to find out that kind of info. Is there an HRD archive (on line) that people can research?

pzguru said...

Oops - I meant to type "doubt", not "dount". My fingers are cold.

numbers.girl said...

So are you the only one who can invoke Rouse's name? This is what you did when you speculated on his Town Center vision.

A lot of weight is given to Rouse's vision when discussing the future of Columbia, and rightly so. People take pride in the unique goals of Rouse when devising Columbia. Fostering discussion on how to carry his vision, while meeting the needs of an ever-changing society, is a worthwhile endeavor.

Hayduke said...

PZG: I'm pretty sure when he left Rouse in 1979 his ties were fully severed. By 1982 he was already well into the next phase of his career, which had nothing to do with Columbia -- other than the location of his office.

More generally, I disagree with the notion that changing Town Center is somehow unfair to those who bought into our community at a single point in time and expected to stay that way for a few reasons.

First, nothing stays the same. I think most people understand and appreciate that.

Second, before buying a house it is incumbent upon the purchaser to investigate all of the relevant zoning/development issues surrounding your property. Anyone buying into Columbia likely knew of it's stature as "The Next American City" and, specifically, could have learned that Town Center would function as our urban hub/downtown. Notwithstanding changing definitions of "urban", it seems to me that most understood Town Center would be changing/developing over time.

Even more broadly, however, one could argue that stopping future Town Center development is also unfair to a large segment of the population, including me. I bought into the notion that Columbia is a fully self-sufficient city: that all of my daily needs could be met here, that I could satisfy my cultural, entertainment, dining, recreational and sundry other desires within the city's boundaries. To some extent Columbia has lived up to the moniker of self-sufficiency, but not completely. Where you stand on this question dictates largely how you feel about the future of Town Center, I think.

pzguru said...

Numbersgirl - when I mentioned Rouse, I wasn't doing so in the context of "Jim Rouse would have thought..." It was in the context of what he actually did do as far as what was actually built (although I was off on the timeline by a few years). There is a difference.

Hayduke - I agree that it is up to the buyer to research before buying a house. That's exactly my point. Those people would have gone to DPZ and found out what land could still be developed, what could be built on it, and so on. They would not have any idea that this curent proposal for ADDITIONAL density and development was even remotely possible. True, nothing stays the same, but there's a difference between natural change and influenced change. Natural change would be older couples moving out of a neighborhood and younger families moving in ("turnover"). Influenced change is something that was spurred to happen, that wouldn't or couldn't have otherwise happened, such as a rezoning. Assuming you had done similar research before buying a house in Columbia, you must have found that the area did sustain you and your desired lifetstyle or you wouldn't have moved there, or you wouldn't have stayed.

I guess I view the proposed changes as being thrust upon those who feel Columbia is fine as it is. And, I don't think that's right. It would different if GGP wanted to build high rises if the FDP's allowed it (which they do - there are generally no height limits in Town Center), AND if it did not involve a density increase.

I don't think that the proposed ideas are bad in and of themselves, if they were being used to create a new city somewhere, I just don't think it's good planning to be done to an existing city.

Anonymous said...

"First, nothing stays the same. I think most people understand and appreciate that.

Second, before buying a house it is incumbent upon the purchaser to investigate all of the relevant zoning/development issues surrounding your property"

Zoning exists in large part to provide continuity, some predictability of one's neighborhood, benefiting the community, the developer, and the home buyer. Try living in an area that doesn't have zoning. It's not fun when a year after you buy a home, you get to then listen to people placing fast food orders into a clown head half the night at the new surprise fast food restaurant next door.

PZ's point about the additional density sought is a good one. Could this additional residential density be necessary to provide sufficient business for the commercial development planned? Could it be that the "New City"'s original plan didn't foresee the adjacent commercial development that now competes quite effectively against commerce within Columbia proper? And now the only way to develop Town Center commercially at the originally planned density and sustain it in light of this outlying competition is to seek additional 'captive' residential density nearby? Could it be?