Friday, November 14, 2008

Phase It In

HoCo's planning staff issued a technical report on the proposal to remake downtown. It recommends that General Growth meet certain benchmarks for development in order to proceed from one phase to the next.

There is widespread agreement that phased development with clear benchmarks is necessary to ensure orderly development that enhances rather than overwhelms Downtown and the broader community. Therefore, this report recommends a phased approach to approval of development rights based on clear, enforceable standards and benchmarks. This approach would allow as a possibility the proposed 30-year development program, but since this timeframe presents many unknowns, it is unclear at present if such development levels actually can be accomplished in Downtown. Accordingly, this report recommends dividing the development program into several shorter-term phases that would restrict additional development unless specified benchmarks for a particular phase are achieved. Among the recommended benchmarks are the timely delivery of cultural and other community amenities, fulfillment of environmental, affordable housing and traffic mitigation goals, and completion of designated infrastructure improvements. Critical oversight of the Downtown development process over the coming decades with identifiable goals and standards is essential to achieving the community's complete vision for Downtown Columbia.

Some other highlights:

How are things going to be financed?

The proposal does not explain how the new development relates financially to amenities and infrastructure that may be needed. Funding concepts are introduced without demonstrating whether they are sufficient to provide for the kinds of physical improvements illustrated in the GPA. Downtown levels of development program, amenities and infrastructure require sophisticated management. A series of private associations are proposed to oversee and manage specific processes, but they are not analyzed to determine if revenues from proposed funding mechanisms are adequate to support these organizations. It may also be preferable to develop an alternate proposal with fewer new groups or to utilize existing community resources.

The plans needs more teeth to ensure accountability:

GG described a phasing plan which would include specific projects, their timing, responsible parties andfunding sources. The proposal does include a phasing plan, but it is not specific enough to be measurable and enforceable.

The plan proposes an innovative affordable housing financing strategy. However, the affordable housing strategy seems insufficiently empowered to require compliance with targets and goals. Affordable housing strategies must be enforceable; therefore, minimum standards are recommended in the zoning regulations.

Overall a bold start:

Howard County has a unique opportunity to weave together all the essential elements of a downtown that it has long deserved. GGP’s proposal is a bold and ambitious attempt to implement the vision described in the DCC. Although there are areas where the proposal should be strengthened, it clearly reflects the substantial investment
of time, effort and resources which GGP has already committed to preparing for Downtown Columbia’s future.

The process going forward:

This staff report will be presented to the Planning Board and the public at a public hearing that begins at 7 p.m. on December 11, 2008 at The Bain Center, 5470 Ruth Keeton Way, Columbia, Maryland. The Planning Board will also hear a presentation by GGP that evening.

Public testimony will begin on January 8, 2009, at 6 p.m. at The Bain Center, 5470 Ruth Keeton Way, Columbia, Maryland. Additional nights will be scheduled as needed. Citizens may also submit written testimony to the Planning Board by email ( or mail (c/o the Department of Planning and Zoning, 3430 Courthouse Drive, Ellicott City, MD 21043).

After closing the public hearings, the Planning Board will prepare and submit its recommendations on both the General Plan and Zoning Regulation Amendments to the County Council. The Council will file separate Council bills for the General Plan and Zoning Regulation Amendments, and will hold public hearings on both prior to taking action on the legislation.

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