Howard County Blog

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Downtown Columbia Redevelopment Focus Group

The final Downtown Columbia Redevelopment Focus Group happened this afternoon. Use this thread to share your thoughts about the downtown Columbia development plans or the focus group.

One of the items discussed at today's focus group was the proposal to extend Wincopin Street south through the Hug Statue Park and over the top edge of the grass amphitheater at the Lakefront.

You can find out more about this proposal and the problems with it here.

This proposal to extend Wincopin Street south has been one of the most persistent elements the Department of Planning and Zoning have stuck with despite repeated input from the community and focus group members that this extension was not needed and would destroy some of the best community gathering areas in Howard County.

Well, as long time readers of this blog know, there is a way to solve this problem and still allow the developers to make a huge profit.

Here is a re-post of that solution for Wincopin South:

OK as I have listened to the community over the last couple of months I have heard a number of concerns about the current plan that could be fixed by a creative solution so I wanted to throw it out for discussion. Though some of these concerns on their own are not some people top concerns I do think the plan would be better if they were addressed. Here are the particular concerns that this particular solution would address:

1) Wincopin Street South cutting through the Hug Statue Park and over the top edge of the grass amphitheater

2) The elevation drop from the Mall/Merriweather area to the Lakefront that makes walkability difficult

3) The main walking axis being through the Mall

4) The phasing of the plan
5) The lack of small retail places heavily subsidized and available to artists, craftsmen, and musicians
6) The lack of workforce housing
7) What happens to the economic draw to the Lakefront while Clyde’s is gone if they renovate or tear down the CA Building?
8) How do we make sure we get amenities before we give away everything the developer wants?

Answering this last question goes to the issue of building trust back into the process. It is pretty clear to me that trust is gone from the process because of General Growth behavior thus far and the approval of the 22 story Tower, which robbed the community of the believe the government would stand on their side, while also proving that developers left to do what they want don’t - despite everything Dick Talkin says during the focus groups – look out for the communities interests.

OK so what is the solution to these concerns? It is to have the first part of downtown to be built be on the current Spear Center parking lot and have what is built there be an elevation transition building that serves as a South Lake Pavilion and then turn Wincopin Street South into a pedestrian only street. I know that is not very clear so let me walk you through the parts:

1) The elevation drop from the Mall/Merriweather area to the Lakefront is very steep and thus not very walkable. In Wellington, New Zealand they have parallel roads that are 3 stories higher than each other. To address this they use a cascade of shops inside buildings like Gallery Place at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to transition people from one level to the next. If we built a similar building on the current parking lot south of the Spear Center and make it a South Lake Pavilion modeled in content after Faneuil Hall in Boston or Pike Place Market in Seattle, then we create an elevation transition building that will transition people from the end of Corporate Boulevard to the Lakefront and added an economic draw to the Lakefront that will keep the Lakefront alive during any remodeling of the CA Building.

2) This new South Lake Pavilion, combined with some (maybe 20%) residential in Corporate Boulevard creates an east-west axis that complements the Mall to Merriweather Promenade and thus makes the main east-west axis not be through the Mall. We could even make Corporate Boulevard into a new Main Street.

3) At the end of this new Main Street would be a giant arched entry to the South Lake Pavilion that would then have a cascade of shops leading down to the Lakefront with a giant glass wall looking out at the lake. On one of the mid-levels would be an exit on the north side leading to a pedestrian only boulevard leading to the Hug Statue Park lined on the side away from the lake by cafes, restaurants, and small retail places heavily subsidized and available to artists, craftsmen, and musicians in 4 to 6 story buildings maybe looking like this:

4) North of the Hug Statue Park Wincopin Street would start.

5) In the area off of Little Patuxent Parkway would be a free public parking garage for this area with a walkway from the parking to the walking boulevard like downtown Silver Spring has. On top of the parking will be some office space and residential units so that the combined height of the structure is 8 to 10 stories and the upper stories are staggered enough away from the lake to ensure the lake and the walking boulevard are not crowded by tall buildings.

6) The residential units above the parking and maybe even some on the upper stories of the South Lake Pavilion could include some units that are co-rented with retail space on the walking boulevard and in the pavilion so that the owners, managers, or workers in the shops can live near work at an affordable price. These units would be sprinkled in with other non shop-connected units whose cost reflects the full range of incomes in the county.

7) Walking bridges over Little Patuxent Parkway could connect a building in the Main Street zone and another near the Mall with this area.

Having this project done as the first part of the redevelopment of downtown provides the community with a nice pedestrian friendly area with small shops and workforce housing up front and it removes any need to run a road through the Hug Statue Park and over the top edge of the grass amphitheater. It also addresses the elevation transition between the Mall/Merriweather area and the Lakefront. It adds economic draws to the Lakefront and it creates a focal point of economic activity for future development to work out from down the new Main Street, up the Lakefront, down to the walking bridge over Rt. 29, and around the apartments near the Central Library to the Crescent zone. It also has the added plus of starting on an area that does not require tearing down any buildings first.

I know this plan doesn’t solve all of the concerns with downtown Columbia. Personally one of my top concerns – having mixed income housing throughout – is not solved by it, nor is the traffic flow problem north of the Mall. However it does address some of the other concerns out there and might be part of the solution to many of these problems.

Let me know what you think.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree.

Keep Wincopin from extending south through Hug Statue Park. Keep the amphitheater usable in the summer by not having road traffic noise right along its back edge.

Keep the lakeside and environmentally sensitive stream buffer south of the Rouse Building free of a roadway unnecessarily wrapping around the Rouse Building and behind the condos by the library.

Get real commitments that these greenspaces will remain green and not unnecessarily be sacrificed just so there's a nice little "naturistically" (which has very little to do with "naturally") streetscaped shortcut to GGP and GGP's faux Main Street.

3:51 AM  

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