Howard County Blog

A Blog on what is going on in Howard County

Friday, January 19, 2007

Finding Agreement

HayDuke has a superb post on “The Community’s Vision for Downtown” from the Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown’s position paper. Here is his take on ten items on it:

1. The community supports the continuing development of Downtown and wants it to be done on a human scale and at moderate, not high, density.

I agree, though rather than the moderate density language I would say at a density in-line with the context of the area and values of the community. Sure, my language is squishy, but it’s no squishier than “moderate” density.

I also believe that density should be one of the last items mentioned. To me, it is far less important than ensuring the four principles of our community are upheld. Furthermore, if Town Center’s development were an equation, density would be the dependent variable – that is, the level of density would be dictated by what we expect from Town Center development (i.e., amount of open space set asides, affordable housing, cultural amenities, public transportation, traffic, infrastructure, etc). In short, the more goods we want, the more density we tolerate.

Evan's comment: I strongly agree!

2. The community backs mixed-use development throughout Downtown.


3. The community wants new housing units to be affordable for a wide cross-section of people.


4. The community rejects the proposed major increase in traffic congestion and resulting deterioration of our quality of life.

I don’t like the wording – it is both negative and sounds as though traffic congestion is an end and not an externality. Nobody is proposing increases in traffic. They are proposing increases in development that will result in more traffic. I know this is nitpicky, but I’m a writer and language matters. All that said, I don’t want traffic congestion deteriorating my quality of life. But this is a subjective position and I think Town Center traffic isn’t anywhere near that point now.

Evan's comment: Yes, but the traffic study showed that under the current plan it would be congested.

5. The community wants to move about safely and conveniently by foot, bicycle, auto, mobility devices, and mass transit.


6. The community desires Downtown to have a wide variety of civic, cultural, and entertainment, amenities.


7. The community recognizes the Lakefront as the heart of Columbia and wants it to be protected against overdevelopment.

Yes, but the “overdevelopment” language is again squishy. I certainly think more development than what is currently there could enhance the Lakefront.

Evan's comment: Let's refine the language then. How about we say the the current frame of the Lakefront from the Rouse building to the Exibit Building be preserved including the Hug Park and Grass Amphitheater. Buildings in this area and those facing the lake should reflect a scale that does not crowd the Lakefront.

8. The community considers Symphony Woods and the Merriweather Post Pavilion as Columbia’s “Central Park” area, deserving of special consideration.

I agree that they are vital parts of Town Center and should be given special consideration.

9. The community expresses strong support for implementing sound environmental practices in future development.


10. The community is intent on continuing to be actively engaged in decisions concerning their Columbia – the Next America.


That I agree with all of these points may surprise some, but it didn’t surprise me. I’ve been saying, in one way or another, these things for years, a fact that is inconsequential.

I am not surprises since I have been hearing HayDuke say these things and knew we were in much more agreement than the tone recent posts have taken. We all want a good plan. My issue with the county plan more than anything else is that it won’t achieve what we all say our declared goals are. I see the CCD paper as a way to move the process forward by getting down what elements the county needs in its plan for it to be workable. I already see HayDuke as helping further improve the CCD proposal by raising the issue of Green Infrastructure. As I have reflected on this I think that we should include in the plan that the Zoning Board is asked to approve a Green Infrastructure connectivity plan that lays out the rough location of such a Green Infrastructure so we don’t have to retrofit this in as an afterthought.


Anonymous Hayduke said...

First, a few nitpicking items:

Note how I said “I don’t want traffic congestion deteriorating my quality of life” rather than “I don’t want traffic congestion.” With future Town Center development, I expect and will gladly tolerate a certain level of congestion. I haven’t thought about it enough to say at what point I’d be sick of it, but as I said we’re nowhere near that point now (even during the busy Christmas shopping season).

Lakefront: I think it needs an update. I don’t like the Teachers building and I really don’t like the access/entryways leading to the Lakefront. More needs to be done to integrate the Lakefront to the rest of Town Center and preserving it the way it is now isn’t the answer. This is not to say that “overdevelopment” is the answer, either.

I am not surprises since I have been hearing HayDuke say these things and knew we were in much more agreement than the tone recent posts have taken. We all want a good plan. My issue with the county plan more than anything else is that it won’t achieve what we all say our declared goals are.

I don’t think there was anything wrong with the tone of my previous posts. I disagreed with the details of CCD’s plan because I don’t think they will accomplish our goals and in some ways think they might actually cause harm: the stringent focus on numbers at this early stage; the emphasis on restrictions; the imbalance between willingness-to-have and willingness-to-pay; the lack of prioritization; promoting the charrette-charade and evil-developer canards; etc.

As I alluded to in my post, it is telling that the first point in the summary section of the paper is about density (and this gets at my prioritization point). Density may not be CCD’s main issue but it is its rallying cry. The impression I get – which might be wrong – is “limit density first, discuss the rest later.” (I know there are differing viewpoints within CCD about this, but broad generalizations are the price individuals pay for collectivizing.) This is, in my mind, totally backwards and forces us to rely on a constrained vision.

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Constrained vision? Yes, and for good reason. After all, we do have finite space, finite resources, finite infrastructure, and finite capabilities, all of which are themselves constrained because of their finiteness. To expect a limitless palette on which to draw flights of fancy doesn't jive with reality.

You will tolerate more congestion? That's one vote for more noise, more pollution, and longer commutes for many.

Why integrate Lakefront with the rest of Town Center? Sometimes sense of place requires some discontinuity. Lakefront's natural retreat is something that shouldn't try to blend with the Mall parking lot. The Lake's ambiance would suffer as a result.

My impression of CCD starting with density was a good one. Increased density causes so many other issues - school overcrowding, traffic, crime, pollution (runoff, sewage, noise, light, air), loss of greenspace.

CCD arose out of community-focused concerns, not out of development vision. Their paper reflects those concerns.

Agreement can be found, but a lot more planning, analysis, and detail need to be forthcoming.

10:11 PM  
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