Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Word From General Growth

OK, it's a form letter from GG's Columbia chief Greg Hamm, but it's the thought that counts:

Dear Neighbor,

The General Plan Amendment for Columbia Town Center has been submitted! Thank you to everyone who has worked with us throughout the development of the plan, providing ideas and helping shape a plan that truly is "Many Voices: One Vision" for a revitalized Columbia Town Center. We believe the plan that has been submitted has been made stronger through extensive public participation and reflects the best thinking and ideas of all involved while honoring the values of Columbia and holding true to the vision of Jim Rouse.

Many of you have been eager to learn more details about the plan and we would like to highlight a few key elements that might be of particular interest. This is not a comprehensive list, and we encourage you to visit the Web site to view the General Plan Amendment in its entirety.

Highlights from the General Plan Amendment

The plan centers on the construction of five new downtown neighborhoods - Warfield, The Lakefront, The Crescent, Merriweather and Symphony Overlook - each of which, though interconnected, will have its own unique character and serve a specific purpose in making downtown more livable, vibrant and exciting.

Phasing of the Redevelopment

To ensure that redevelopment proceeds in a thoughtful way and that infrastructure, including an improved transportation system, grows apace with new development, the plan will be implemented in phases over 30 years, eventually creating 5,500 new housing units, five million square feet of new office space, and 1.25 million square feet of new retail space, new cultural and recreational amenities.Each phase throughout buildout will be submitted to the County for review and approval.

* Phase One would include the construction of approximately 1,640 residential units, half million square feet of retail space, 1.1 million square feet of office space and 250 hotel rooms.
* Phase Two would include the construction of approximately 2,000 residential units, 350,000 square feet of retail space, 2 million square feet of office space, and 250 hotel rooms.
* Phase Three would include the construction of approximately 1,860 residential units, 160,000 square feet of retail space, and 1.8 million square feet of office space and 140 hotel rooms.

Connecting Columbia Town Center and the Villages

The neighborhoods are designed to better connect the areas comprising Town Center - The Mall in Columbia, Lake Kittamaqundi and its immediate environs, and the area that includes Symphony Woods and Merriweather Post Pavilion. Additionally, the plan encourages less driving, more walking and biking and more convenient access to public transportation. Recommendations to enhance connectivity include:

* Improved pedestrian connections designed to better link downtown Columbia with the villages of Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills.
* A promenade lined with trees, fountains, restaurants and stores, called Market Square, which would link The Mall in Columbia to the cultural area and park.
* A series of landscaped terraces with fountains creating connections from Lake Kittamaqundi.
* A transit center that would serve as a hub for a balanced transportation system designed to discourage the use of automobiles and encourage walking, biking and the use of buses, and the creation of a nonprofit Transportation Management Association to manage transportation demand and implement a new downtown transit system.

Creating Amenities and a Cultural Hub

In addition to providing new housing, offices, shops, restaurants and caf├ęs, the plan creates recreational and cultural amenities including:

* A new cultural area and park anchored by a redeveloped Merriweather Post Pavilion.
* Development of a Downtown Cultural Commission and a Cultural Master Plan to promote Columbia as a focal point for arts and cultural activities in Howard County and the region.
* Creation of an amenity space in each neighborhood.

Encouraging Inclusion and Diversity

In keeping with the Rouse vision of community that is inclusive and diverse, the plan includes a commitment to full-spectrum housing so a mix of people of all incomes can afford to live in downtown Columbia.

* The plan proposes as a goal that 20 percent of the residential development in Town Center be set aside for mixed-income and affordable housing and to be built in step with other housing and distributed across all neighborhoods.
o Ten percent of residential development will be made available to persons earning less than 80 percent of Howard County's median income; today that's about $80,000 per year.
o Ten percent of residential development will be constructed to standards that will help make those units more affordable for people and families making 80-120 percent of Howard County's median income (about $80,000-$120,000)
* A Community Housing Foundation (CHF) is proposed as a community-led nonprofit which would manage an affordable housing fund and provide a housing subsidy to qualified applicants.

Restoring and Preserving our Environment

* Encouraging the use of "green" building standards in future construction and the implementation of practices to decrease storm runoff, thereby decreasing the amount of pollution that enters Lake Kittamaqundi and other downtown waterways;
* A commitment to protect and enhance downtown's natural resources, including its lakes, streams and woodlands;
* Restoring and enhancing Symphony Woods to support a sustainable forest and restoring Symphony Stream and Little Patuxent River watersheds and streambeds to allow them to become rich habitats for wildlife.

Next Steps
What happens next?

The General Plan Amendment has been submitted to Howard County. The Department of Planning and Zoning will now review it and then issue a report. Typically, the planning staff has 30 days to review and comment on a submitted plan.

Once the planning staff has finalized its report, the Amendment then will go to the Howard County Planning Board, which will hold public hearings and work sessions on the document before making a recommendation to the Howard County Council. The Council also will hold hearings and work sessions on the plan before voting on it.

We will keep you posted as the plan moves through this process. We also urge you to follow the actions of the Howard County Planning Board and to participate in public hearings. Citizen input is still critical in shaping and approving a plan, and ultimately for realizing the revitalization of Columbia Town Center, so make sure your voice is heard.

Thank you again for your support and thoughtful participation throughout the development of the General Plan Amendment. We couldn't have done it without you.


Gregory F. Hamm Regional Vice President General Manager, Columbia

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