Howard County Blog

A Blog on what is going on in Howard County

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Answers From Follow Up Questions From the West Columbia Candidates Forum

After the West Columbia Candidates Forum (video of which can be found here) candidates offered to answer follow-up questions and the Harper’s Choice Village Board that organized to forum collected questions and sent them to the candidates. Here are their responses. I had been waiting hoping more candidates would respond. I know it is the busy final stretch of the campaign so I waited to the end of the weekend to try to get as many responses as possible, but with the elections on Tuesday I felt I could wait no longer. If a candidate wishes to post their responses in the comments section they should go ahead.

The following candidates have responded as of this post:

HARRY DUNBAR (Democrat for County Executive

TOM D’ASTO (Republican for County Council, District 4

(Update: JOSHUA FELDMARK, Democrat, County Council District 4 responses added when recieved)

MARY KAY SIGATY (Democrat for County Council District 4)

UNCOMMON (Democrat for County Council District 4)

Candidates who have not yet responded are County Executive candidates CHRIS MERDON, KEN ULMAN, or STEVE WALLIS; or from County Council candidate JOSH FELDMARK.



1. The impending closing of the Wilde Lake Giant will have a significant negative effect on that community. It is of deep concern to many residents that, although this closing has been rumored for years, we are left without a plan by the County or the Columbia Association as to how to proceed. A strong village center concept is key to Jim Rouse's vision for Columbia. Will you pledge to work for a replacement grocery store as soon as possible and to do all you can to keep all of our village centers viable?

HARRY DUNBAR (Democrat for County Executive): My administration will work with the Harpers Choice Village Board to protect the Rouse vision around our Village Centers. I have been working with the Thunder Hill Action Committee. We have recently protected the Oakland Mills Village Center by stopping a couple of greedy developers and our present uncontrolled growth politicians from developing both sides of Little Patuxent Parkway and Thunder Hill Road. My administration will work with your board to find a replacement grocery store for Wilde Lake.

TOM D’ASTO (Republican for County Council, District 4): Of course, I will work to keep the village center concept viable. I think it is a great concept. I mentioned during the forum that this could be looked upon as an opportunity for other grocery stores to move into the area. I would add that some stores have business models that don't require as much floor space as it seems many of the large chain stores are moving towards. Consumers always determine the success of any business and as long as the area residents frequent the new store, the current village concept will continue to thrive. However, it might be necessary to consider enlarging the store to attract a big chain back to the center. This would require changes to the parking lot regulations.

JOSHUA FELDMARK, Democrat, County Council District 4: Yes, absolutely. As I have said before, I believe the village centers are the core of our communities, and the vitality of our village centers is essential. As Chair of the Wilde Lake Village Board, I proposed the renovation of Slayton House and revitalization of the village green. As Wilde Lake’s representative on the CA Board, I fought for and secured the funding to bring those improvements to the village center. I pledge to work closely with Kimco to ensure that a new grocery store opens as quickly as possible. I will do everything within my power to prevent a prolonged vacancy and ensure that the arrival of a new grocery store tenant is also used as an opportunity to make improvements to the village center.

MARY KAY SIGATY, Democrat, County Council District 4: A clean, well-run, well-stocked grocery store would be my top priority to replace the Wilde Lake Giant. While I served on the village board, I worked effectively with the Columbia Association to renovate Slayton House inside and out. I promise to work aggressively with Kimco, which owns the retail portion of the village center, to quickly turn Giant's departure into a long-term plus for Wilde Lake's residents and its other merchants.

UNCOMMON (Democrat for County Council District 4): Yes, I will pledge to work for a replacement grocery store as soon as possible store as soon as possible and to do all I can to keep all of our village centers viable. If larger retailers are unwilling to locate to Wilde Lake I will work to persuade smaller operations such as Boarmans, Bloom, Weiss or others to locate in the village centers. I will make relocation attractive and profitable for all merchants who participate in the Columbia experience.


2. Because of his belief in the importance of the social values he espoused, one of the actions Jim Rouse took was to donate 36% of the land he had purchased to Columbia for use as open space, neighborhood centers, etc. Now Columbia's downtown is in the hands of General Growth and other developers, who will receive a bonus of up to 5500 additional permitted residences as part of the re-development of Downtown Columbia - a zoning change that will earn them, some say, up to a billion dollars of additional profit. What, if anything, will you advocate requiring of downtown's developers in return for this gift of increased profit, particularly in the areas of affordable housing, green technology, and cultural and civic amenities?

HARRY DUNBAR (Democrat for County Executive): My administration will not support the development of 5,500 homes on the Crescent site. We will be supporting a Convention Center and the other amenities that the community requested at the charrette. My administration does not - will not support the Plaza Tower. We will support height limitations for historic downtown Columbia etc.

TOM D’ASTO (Republican for County Council, District 4): The premise of the question implies that 5,500 residential units have already been approved. I reject the premise and will do everything legally allowed to stop this absurd idea. The selling out of our community to the developers to thwart a baseless threat about the loss of Merriweather Post Pavilion demonstrated a complete lack of leadership by our current Councilman, Ken Ulman, and the then CA Board Chairman, Joshua Feldmark.

JOSHUA FELDMARK, Democrat, County Council District 4:
• Economic integration is essential to the Columbia vision, and we must require that affordable housing be part of any additional residential development in Columbia.
• I am proud to have been the first candidate to propose requiring all new development in downtown Columbia to be LEED certified green buildings. I have also proposed providing incentives for buildings that exceed basic environmental certification and for property owners who retrofit existing buildings to increase energy efficiency and decrease environmental impact.
• I think it is critical to require civic and cultural amenities as part of the plans for any new development downtown. I have been very impressed by “1% for art” programs that exist in other communities and believe this may be a good way to have developers provide additional support for public art in our community.

MARY KAY SIGATY, Democrat, County Council District 4: General Growth will receive approval for 5,500 additional residential units only if the next county executive and County Council allow it. I think it would be crazy -- and counter to the wishes of most of the people I’ve met while knocking on doors in this campaign -- to grant such a huge increase in density. What we need is a thoughtful, transparent and inclusive reassessment of downtown's potential. Affordable housing should be one of the major goals of a new plan for Columbia's future, along with a commitment to cutting edge environmentally friendly design. We have the opportunity to demand and benefit from green design standards. As an artist, I see cities as a canvas where architecture, green spaces and people interact to produce the most important cultural amenity – a vibrant community. We must ensure that there are places for public art and guidelines that encourage risk taking. James Rouse, I'm sure, would agree with that.

UNCOMMON (Democrat for County Council District 4): I will sponsor legislation that maintains responsible zoning guidelines, limits density and requires developers to foot the bill for expanded roads, additional schools, facilities etc... If developers are able to make large profits on the back of our economic strength as a county they must pay for the burdens additional development will cause. Affordable housing must be included through equity share arrangements with the developer of the county. Allowing a set percentage of homes to be affordable at 75% of the market value in the community. All construction must comply with established "green" building codes.


3. The developer has met the current New Town zoning requirements and is not required by law to designate any additional acreage as open space in its further development. Would you also require additional non-credited open space (courtyards, etc.) as a condition of approval for each commercial/residential site plan?

HARRY DUNBAR (Democrat for County Executive): My administration plans to reform the entire zoning process. The developers are favored by the present process. See

TOM D’ASTO (Republican for County Council, District 4): Certainly. It would be far easier to accommodate this additional requirement if the plan did not include anywhere near the number of new residential units and commercial space currently proposed.

JOSHUA FELDMARK, Democrat, County Council District 4: Yes, an important part of Jim Rouse’s vision for Columbia was to create a strong sense on community among residents. We can see this in everything from our village centers to our mailboxes. Community gathering places are critical to fostering a sense of community, and spaces for people to gather and interact must be required in the plans for any new development.

MARY KAY SIGATY, Democrat, County Council District 4: I believe that what this question goes to is good design – design that is inspiring, people friendly and encourages gatherings and interaction. I would advocate for a design review panel to ensure that each project would meet the desired outcomes. Unfortunately, I don’t think that the Planning Board and the county administration have insisted in recent years that new development reflect these qualities that benefits all of us in the long run.

UNCOMMON (Democrat for County Council District 4): Yes


4. There has been recent speculation in the press about the fate of the Rouse (GGP) Building, which has a major place in the history of the new town of Columbia. Would you agree to work with CA to ensure that, in the event GGP moves to sell this building, the County and/or CA would purchase it and see that it includes spaces for public use for community and cultural events?

HARRY DUNBAR (Democrat for County Executive): My administration will work toward making certain portions of Little Patuxent Parkway including the old Rouse Building a Historic site - not to be touched by anyone. I will work with the Communities leaders to make this so.

TOM D’ASTO (Republican for County Council, District 4): Absolutely. Enhancements and improvements to the lakefront area should not include the destruction of any historical buildings nor should it include the addition of roads near any of the these sacred areas.

JOSHUA FELDMARK, Democrat, County Council District 4: I believe the Rouse Building and the Exhibit Center are two historic buildings which must be preserved. When CA began exploring it options for a new headquarters after its current lease expires, I opened a discussion of CA buying one of those two buildings. At the time, GGP said absolutely not. However, these two building are such a critical part of the history of our community that I think they should be preserved and dedicated to civic or cultural uses. I also proposed the possibility of converting the Rouse Building into a center for local nonprofit institutions and new start-up nonprofits to share space and services. Given that the building is such a landmark for Columbia, I would like to see it utilized as a true community asset.

MARY KAY SIGATY, Democrat, County Council District 4: I appreciate the history and the pedigree of the former Rouse Co. headquarters. It's a fine example of Frank Gehry's mid-career architecture. At this point, though, it seems to be underutilized. Perhaps it could be renovated into a complex of restaurants, clubs, performance spaces and exhibit halls, then it would become a huge asset. I would work with anyone to ensure that it remains an integral part of the lively lakefront area that Jim Rouse envisioned.

UNCOMMON (Democrat for County Council District 4): Yes


5. What are a few aspects of the plan put forth by DPZ on February 27th that you find meet your principles and your vision for the re-development of downtown Columbia? What are a few aspects that fail to do so?

HARRY DUNBAR (Democrat for County Executive): I do not care for the new streets that DPZ proposes downtown. My administration will rework the entire plan to accurately reflect what is best for our historic suburban downtown area.

TOM D’ASTO (Republican for County Council, District 4): The Columbia Mall is a vibrant, and functioning community/commercial center. DPZ stated that earlier plans omitted the mall inadvertently. My wife, Jennifer, was very pleased to see that the DPZ recognized this oversight and plans to maintain the mall in future plans. What makes Jennifer happy, makes me happy!

Essentially, everything else failed to meet my vision and the vision of most residents of Columbia. Testimony by Focus Group audience members still maintains that the 350+ residents involved in the charrette-charade are not representative of the community. As I listened to the presentation of the plan on the 27th, I wondered if ever a community was developed in Howard County that did not include a plan for an additional school! The recent traffic studies of the area claim that the 9 or 10 existing intersections are failing and the plan still calls out approximately 30 new intersections around the mall! This plan and any future plan should be checked against my guidelines that I published earlier this summer on my website,

JOSHUA FELDMARK, Democrat, County Council District 4: I appreciated the focus on community gathering spaces and believe that is a critical need. I also support the idea of a downtown shuttle/trolley that circulates regularly on inner and outer loop routes.

I think one of the biggest shortcomings of the plan was that it did not address the Plaza high-rise. Allowing that project to move forward outside the scope of the master plan severely undercut the entire master planning process because the Plaza project defies the vision which the community expressed during the charrette. I was frustrated that the secondary study area of surrounding villages was not fully included; and I was also disappointed that this “vision plan” was not more visionary in reflecting Columbia’s values and spirit. Columbia was founded on strong principles as a cutting edge community, and I feel strongly that our plan for downtown should reflect those principles and put us back on the cutting edge.

MARY KAY SIGATY, Democrat, County Council District 4: First and most importantly, the plan did not include the entire Town Center. If we really want to create a plan for an innovative downtown that addresses traffic issues, highlights arts venues and civic amenities and connects points within the downtown with visually stimulating streetscapes and public transportation, I believe that the entire area including the Wilde Lake Village Center must be part of the plan.

UNCOMMON (Democrat for County Council District 4): DPZ does not meet any of my principles or vision for re-development. As Councilman I will review all DPZ regulations and submit new criteria for dealing with resident concerns based on personal experiences as well as discussion with area residents. I will request suggestions and encourage citizen groups to meet with me to help revamp the entire DPZ process.


6. DPZ has stated that New Town Zoning Regulations will be amended and are proposing a two-step process. The first, which is being called the Downtown Overlay, will address density and other issues in the Downtown part of Town Center. The second will address density and other issues in the "Secondary Study-Planning Area", which is the rest of Columbia. Do you agree with this two-stage proposal, or would you require all New Town Zoning Regulation amendments to be presented at one time and to be addressed in the context of Columbia as a whole?

HARRY DUNBAR (Democrat for County Executive): See #3. The community will decide what changes to make to the New Town Zone not DPZ.

TOM D’ASTO (Republican for County Council, District 4): This is a typical ploy by developers to wear-down the residents. I watched the Fulton community fight the developers of the Maple Lawn project for years only to have amendments proposed again after the original plan finally met approval. Communities should not spend all their resources and family time fighting the seemingly never-ending battle with the developers. I whole-heatedly reject a multi-stepped amendment process!

JOSHUA FELDMARK, Democrat, County Council District 4: What happens downtown has a direct effect on the surrounding areas so we must consider them together. By the nature of New Town Zoning, any changes in one part of Columbia impact the potential changes in other parts of Columbia. Therefore, I believe we must look at changes in zoning for downtown and the rest of Columbia together as part of a comprehensive process.

MARY KAY SIGATY, Democrat, County Council District 4: As I have been advocating for the last 3 years, New Town Zoning must be amended to allow current property owners, not just General Growth Properties, the right to petition for a change to the Final Development Plan. Whatever other changes are deemed necessary to the zoning must be done at the same time so that the results are coordinated and our well planned community doesn’t fall victim to piecemeal redevelopment. I intend to put a comprehensive look at Columbia's zoning at the top of my priority list if the voters give me that chance.

UNCOMMON (Democrat for County Council District 4): All amendments must be requestd and addressed as whole


7. Members of the public have expressed concerns over an unannounced, last-minute meeting that was held during the Charrette between developers, County officials, and the Columbia Association. While technically not a closed meeting, it certainly was not an openly publicized meeting; practically speaking, the public was not made aware of this meeting and was therefore unable to attend. Please describe how this fits or does not fit into the way you conceive of openness and transparency in government.

HARRY DUNBAR (Democrat for County Executive): Unlike our present government officials practices my administration will operate totally in the open.

TOM D’ASTO (Republican for County Council, District 4): This does not fit my understanding of an open government. Apparently, our current Councilman, Ken Ulman, was, yet again, trying to mislead the public on his feigned commitment to an open public process. This action leads to only one conclusion: the charrette was a complete charade!

JOSHUA FELDMARK, Democrat, County Council District 4: It was as a direct response to this situation that I proposed and was successful in passing (both through the original vote and a reconsideration vote) a policy mandating that any downtown partnership meeting—even those only involving staff, and not the board—be open to the public and announced in advance.

MARY KAY SIGATY, Democrat, County Council District 4: On the Wilde Lake Village Board and more recently on the Board of Education, I learned that it takes no special gifts to do the public's business in public only a commitment to do so. In addition, I believe that we will build a better community with the multiplicity of ideas that come from an open and transparent government.

UNCOMMON (Democrat for County Council District 4): All county Government meetings should be open to the public.


8. Much controversy has resulted from the process related to development.

What proposals would you bring forth to ensure greater independence to the Planning Board? Other than publishing meeting notices, how would you propose to allow more effective voice to citizens seeking involvement in zoning issues?

HARRY DUNBAR (Democrat for County Executive): I will provide training that will point out their independence and point how important that is. I will make Planning Board members aware of the fact that they are not beholden to the County Executive, the County Council, or DPZ. In addition, the training will also emphasize their responsibilities to the residents of Howard County.

TOM D’ASTO (Republican for County Council, District 4): This question implies that the zoning process is somehow broken. I do not believe the zoning process is broken. Citizen testimony is part of the current process. Communication between the citizens and their county leaders is also essential to the process. My message to District 4 residents: elect sincere honest people!

Let me take this opportunity to point out that the zoning process originally rejected the GGP zoning application to increase the density of the New Town zoning. GGP then took the decision of the Planning Board to court and it was rejected there as well. GGP then sought, along with the support of our Councilman, Ken Ulman, and at the time the CA Board Chairman, Joshua Feldmark, a legal way to subvert the zoning process. That process is the charrette, and the approval of any charrette plan will only require the blessing of three County Council members. You can stop this lunacy by electing me to the County Council!

JOSHUA FELDMARK, Democrat, County Council District 4: To effectively fulfill its purpose, the Planning Board must be more independent from the Department of Planning and Zoning. The Planning Board needs staff support, but having that support come from DPZ staff makes the Board too dependent on DPZ and the Administration. I believe the Planning Board should have access to an independent professional who works specifically for the Planning Board, not DPZ. Any good public participation process must include three critical components: an opportunity for members of the public to contribute meaningful input; an open, clear and transparent decision making process; and an opportunity for recourse if citizens believe a mistake was made. We must work to improve all three of these aspects in our current zoning process.

MARY KAY SIGATY, Democrat, County Council District 4: The Planning Board is as independent, effective and representative as the people who serve on it. We've had some excellent people on that board over the years -- among them Lloyd Knowles, Helen Ruther and Joan Lancos. More recently, the board has had trouble even keeping all its seats full. If elected, I would recruit talented, committed people to join the board, and I would challenge those who serve on it to put the public's interest ahead of everything else.

UNCOMMON (Democrat for County Council District 4): I have a plan to establish a 9 member {5 citizens 4 industry professional} advisory board to review all development zoning requests. Panel would be charged with advising County Council and their opinion would carry substantial weight in the final determination of any development plan.


9. In a number of instances recently, citizens have been rebuffed in attempting to appeal planning and zoning decisions by claims that the citizens do not have standing to press their protest. Will you immediately introduce and work for passage of county legislation removing the words "specially aggrieved" from the Howard County code so that the law would read "Any citizen may appeal..."?

HARRY DUNBAR (Democrat for County Executive): "Any citizen can appeal". I support and will immediately work toward this grand suggested end in regards to this needed change to the Howard County code.

TOM D’ASTO (Republican for County Council, District 4): On the surface, this sounds like a reasonable idea that I would support. I am sure my array of opponents will quickly agree to this action. However, I will first have to ask the Office of Law to report on the impact of such a change.

JOSHUA FELDMARK, Democrat, County Council District 4: Yes, as I mentioned above, an opportunity for recourse is an essential part of public participation. When the basis for standing is so narrowly defined that no one has standing to appeal—not even the residents immediately adjacent to the property in question, we definitely need to re-examine the requirements.

MARY KAY SIGATY, Democrat, County Council District 4: I believe there should be a speedy, affordable and fair process for anyone to appeal government actions; we need to preserve the right to reasonably challenge a decision. As for legislation in this area, yes, I will work to ensure that citizens need not be “specially aggrieved” in order to appeal. In addition, my immediate target is the irresponsible decision by the county's election board not to support citizens who gathered thousands of signatures challenging the "comp light" zoning bill. These citizens asked the election board for advice, and followed it carefully. When a judge ruled that this advice was flawed, the board refused to appeal that ruling. What a disgrace.

UNCOMMON (Democrat for County Council District 4): I will.


10. Public bus transportation, as it currently exists, is inadequate to meet the need of working families in the County, many who commute to Baltimore or Washington. Vehicular traffic in Columbia and Howard County is often in gridlock, even in non-rush hour periods. Quality of life in suburban districts without access to good, mass transit will continue to deteriorate, as increasing commute time and hassle robs individuals of time to spend in recreation or with their family. Air quality and pollution from vehicles, often occupied by one individual, continues to be a major problem in our area, as well as for the planet.

The idea to bring light rail or metro into Columbia was raised many years ago, and was on the table in the late 1980s, when discussions envisioned a rail/metro station to be erected next to the library downtown (now developed with apartments and condos). If land and resources are NOT set aside now, in planning for downtown Columbia, there will be no options available at a later time.

If elected, what will you do to set aside land and other assets and to begin efforts to make light rail/metro connection to Columbia a reality in the near future?

JOSHUA FELDMARK, Democrat, County Council District 4: I agree that we must start planning NOW if we hope to have light rail or Metro service to Columbia in the next 20 to 30 years, and setting aside land for a transit hub must be part of our plan for downtown.

As someone who commuted into Washington, DC for six years via a combination Howard Transit, MARC and Metro, I am familiar with the challenges of our current mass transportation systems and the frustrations that commuters face. If we want to get more people out of their cars to use mass transit, we must make our transit options more convenient and time efficient. I am a strong supporter of bus rapid transit; and as a County Councilmember, I would work hard to move forward with the State and Montgomery County to establish a bus rapid transit route down 29 to Silver Spring. I also think we should explore other viable routes for bus rapid transit. Bus rapid transit would be a significant improvement to our current mass transit options and would help lay the foundation for the future possibility of a light rail/Metro connection.

MARY KAY SIGATY, Democrat, County Council District 4: I'm a supporter of public transit – I've worked hard with Transportation Advocates, and my husband takes a commuter bus to Washington every day – and I'm a natural optimist. Still, it's impossible for me to envision a light rail or Metro link to Columbia in the near future. I hope that the study authorized by the General Assembly this year will prove me wrong. Until the study is complete, it is impossible to identify what and where assets need to be reserved.

In the mean time, we should be working to increase the frequency of busses both within the County and to neighboring jurisdictions. Making bus transportation friendlier to commuters will go a long way to reducing cars on the road.

I also believe the county government can show leadership in promoting telecommuting. Not only does this ease the strain on our roads, it also expands opportunities for people with disabilities and for those who care for children and aging parents. If we can build stronger families while reducing traffic congestion, we'll have plenty to celebrate.

UNcommon, Democrat, County Council District 4: Do we really want light rail/metro in Columbia?

Nearby might be nice, but right in Columbia NO.

Columbia was originally envisioned as an island of diversity and suburban community living. It was intended to welcome all to a safe clean community where we could exist without fear of overpopulation, crime and all the ills that come with urbanization. Mass transit rails will bring increased density that we want to avoid. Setting aside land for mass transit is good for the transit system but do we want Columbia to become another Alexandria, or Arlington with limited parking, over crowding and inferior quality of life.
We want to retain our suburban character as a bedroom community to Baltimore and Washington DC - not become a part of a megalopolis and swallowed up in urban sprawl.
The MARC train stops at Arundel Mills Mall and Laurel would be acceptable locations for additional mass transit with perhaps commute bus routes to and from those locations. I would support such legislation.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neither Dunbar nor D'Astro responded to the mass transit question? Also, why was the mass transit question phrased specifically referring to just light rail and metro, ignoring both an improved bus system and personal rapid transportation as other mass transit options. No wonder Sigaty answered buses (sticking to what's economically viable and known) and UNcommon answered no to light rail/metro. PRT really should be considered for Columbia town center's 30-year transporation plan. Add up the pluses and minuses for each and let me know what you think.

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