Saturday, August 09, 2008

Mother Nature got me thinking...

A couple issues that sprouted up in my little piece of Columbia got me thinking. Unfortunately, these thoughts haven't led me to any conclusions…just more thoughts.

So, I'm presenting these matters to the collective wisdom of the local Anonymouses in hopes that my own thoughts might start crystallizing.

First, there's the Walgreens. I'm not exactly sure where it is in the development process, but almost all of Oakland Mills seems to know of and have an opinion about it. For those who aren't in the know, the chain pharmacy is working to locate a new branch at the intersection of Rouse Parkway (Rt. 175) and Thunder Hill Road, a decidedly non-village center site.

That last bit presents a problem. We can argue about tall buildings, but one thing that's pretty clearly part of the "vision" of Columbia is that the life's essentials would be located in our village centers. I don't think I'm slavish in my devotion to founding principles, but when there's a struggling village center that currently has no place for residents to get the medicine they really need – that is, not the over the counter junk – it seems kind of strange to support construction of a pharmacy out on the village's fringe.

But pharmacies don't play that way anymore. Unless they're part of a grocery store, today's pharmacies follow the stand-alone, along-major-roadways model. I'm guessing they do this because it's proven to be successful, and whatever niceties might be said about providing access to medicine, it's still all about the money.

(And contrary to what some may think, Columbia was never intended to blunt market forces in favor of the common good or social gains. Indeed, its true genius was exploiting them to achieve social ends…but that's for a later post.)

Also I'm also sensitive to the fact that this location, as opposed to one in a village center, would be more convenient for some (ahem...) and less convenient for others. Which way the scales tip in this instance, I can't say.

The other undecided I have is with respect to the idea of a new bridge connecting Town Center to Oakland Mills and whether this bridge should serve people, bikes, buses, cars or all of the above. I've long been of the opinion that a bridge open to all vehicles and made safe for pedestrians is the best option for Oakland Mills but others have raised good points that have me rethinking my position. Whatever happens, the bridge must be safe (in all ways) and convenient before it sees significant usage. The bridge we have now doesn't fully meet these standards and I don't know if anything can be done to make it so.

What's more, a really well-designed bridge would give our city another defining piece of architecture, which we desperately need.

So there it jumble of thoughts. 

How about you?


Karen said...

I'm with you, Hayduke. These are tough issues. And, they are actually very strongly linked.

First the Walgreens. I agree with you and many others. It SHOULD go in the village center. Perhaps the more important question is WOULD it? Walgreens has said that not getting a right-turn-in off of Thunder Hill would be a deal-breaker, even though access off of Twin Knolls Road is only 150 feet further. (For the record, I don't support the proposed right turn, and it would require a change to the FDP.) Doesn't sound likely they would move to the village center instead, does it? Nevertheless, we are trying.

Because the Thunder Hill/RT 175 space is zoned commercial, there is nothing to prevent them from building there. So the question then becomes, what might go there instead? A while back, a strip mall was being proposed. Certainly doesn't sound like a better option to me.

Businesses are not anxious to move into the village centers (in case you haven't noticed), especially the older ones that are not on major roads. Oakland Mills is definitely the worst in terms of access and drive-by traffic. People frequently say, "you should bring in Starbucks or Walgreens" or whatever, but those businesses won't even consider a location with so little traffic. We know, we've tried. We are going to have to be more creative in Columbia and rethink the village center concept if we want them to survive.

That brings us to the connection between Town Center and OM. That connection will be vital to the success of the OMVC, esp. as Town Center develops. An automobile connection would most likely help the center and has some real possibilities, but could create other issues. I can't really do justice to all the pros and cons in this comment.

Recently we saw the presentation by Fred Gottemoeller and John Slater for a combination pedestrian/public transport bridge and connection. This really has tremendous potential in my opinion, especially if it were paired with some mixed-use redevelopment of the village center and the surrounding apartments, as well as continuing to work towards making OMVC an arts incubator.

Speaking of which, the second performance of the "Jazz in the Mills" series is Sunday night, and it should be fabulous. Hope to see you there.

Karen Gray

macsmom said...

I don't understand why it would be bad to have the Walgreens at that location. Far better a thriving business than an empty building looking vacant and unsuccessful. Yes, the Village Center would be better, but if this is not possible I think a Walgreen's would be helpful to the people of OM. I also know that the indefatigable OM Board would probably find a way to get the Walgreens involved in helping the neighborhood overall.

PZGURU said...

The idea for a vehicular bridge connecting VOM and TC is one of the biggest flaws in the whole TC redevelopment idea. All of the traffic coming off of Route 29 onto the bridge would create an instant and serious bottleneck logjam. If the design was for a loop (no stop signs or signals) then the traffic would flow too fastly onto the bridge and then would back up when the traffic gets to Town Center or VOM, where it would have to stop. If the design puts a stop sign or signal at the off-ramp onto the bridge, then traffic will back up onto Route 29. How safe is that going to be?

If you don't think so, then let's look another nearby location to get an idea. Broken Land Parkway at the entrance into MPP (traffic signal at Hickory Ridge I believe). When there are concerts at MPP, traffic easily backs up all the way back up BLP down the ramp and onto Route 29 (coming north). Heck, even for regular weekday afternoon rush hours, traffic often backs up onto Route 29, maybe not to a complete standstill, but certainly causing the traffic to slow down to a slow crawl.

Now picture the bridge. Once it is constructed, a lot of the traffic that would have exited onto BLP will circumvent that route (according to Marty Wells during his presentation at GGP a month or so ago) and come up to this bridge. And presto - bottleneck logjam.

I would agree that a nicely designed bridge can make a heck of a focal point but this is not the location for it.

I think that catapults would be a great idea. VOM residents get vaulted over Route 29, land in Lake Kittamaqundi, and swim to shore to go to their favorite restaurant or store. Of course, in winter landing on a frozen lake might sting a little bit, but Columbians are a tough people.

Then, to get back to VOM, circus canons would be specatacular. What a thrill for mom, dad, and all the kids to be exploded back to home. How can you top that?

PZGURU said...

Well, I guess I killed this discussion, although that was not my intention.