Friday, November 10, 2006

Roaring Mice

The publisher of the Business Monthly wrote a great letter in this months issue.

I couldn't agree with her more!

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Belmont is not regulated by the National Trust. That error in the editorial is indicative of the lack of information the writer has about this project and what the difficult issues are. Yes, there is a group of neighbors trying to protect their way of life, but there are also a lot of other folks including The Maryland Historic Trust, Preservation Maryland, and Preservation Howard County that are watching the proceedings with a wary eye. If things were proceeding predictably and according to strict interpretations and openly- and consistently, there would be no issues. If you want to start a thread on Belmont- we can disucss the issues from both sides-rather than just give lip service to the single dissenters from either side.

Town Center is another case in point. People walked out of the Charrette feeling that they weren't heard. CA gave away public access to build the Condo tower. The Condo tower dodged existing laws to get approval. I think we do need a better planned more vital downtown, but this should take very thoughtful planning with very good experts- with no vested interests in stopping it- or growing it. That hasn't happened. And, in this case.. it is way more than a few dissatisfied people.

Turf Valley is also interesting. It is being blocked largely by people who don't want density or diversity of housing in their community. It has been a long long fight. TV had huge numbers years ago when this started. But the process is designed to wear dissenters and communities down. It is expensive, it is unbalanced and it is unfair. Ken has said he will fix that process and I'm looking forward to that positive change. You could start a whole thread on this that argues the merits of this development as well. It would be a great opportunity to hear and fully understand the complete issue and not the sound bites you get from the press or the front lines.

All three of these are very complex issues. All three of these cases have merit on BOTH sides of the issues. Why don't we get the details... use our minds... rather than believe on editorialist from a pro-business, pro-growth newspaper who doesn't even have the basic facts correct.

wordbones said...

Anon,

Thank you for the suggestion of starting threads on Belmont, Town Center and Turf Valley.

If these are things you feel that passionate about perhaps you could start your own blog. There is no barrier to entry as evidenced by the likes of me.

Now, to your points. I will acknowledge that HCC has done a poor job on disclosure of the relationship between Chip Lundy and the HCC Foundation. They certainly should have known better. That being said, it is vitally important that Belmont remains economically healthy in order to insure it's continued preservation. Preservation is expensive. The best way to support preservation, in my not so humble opinion, is to create a situation where the facility and surrounding property can stand on its own financially. There are some in the county who find that reasoning to abhorrent. I happen to disagree with them.

As far as Town Center is concerned, yes there were people who were unhappy with how the charrette process shook out. There were also people who were fairly pleased with it. It is important to remember that it is still a work in progress. No matter how it all eventually turns out, there will always be a very vocal group of folks who will not be happy. That is life.

What often gets lost in all of this Town Center talk is the simple fact that we are talking about private property here. The land in Town Center will be developed...profitably unless the government buys it all up at a market price. That is not likely to happen. GGP has shown a willingness to work with the community on an overall plan but in the end it is still their land which they paid handsomely for when they purchased The Rouse Company. It is reasonable to assume that will be looking to achieve a decent return on this investment.

As far as the WCI tower is concerned I have to say I don't get it. I think it is a beautiful building and we are fortunate that WCI is willing to make that kind of investment in our community. It will only serve to raise property values and attract more investment into our Town Center.

When Columbia was begun, the Exhibit Center (now the WCI sales center) featured a model of what a "built out" Columbia downtown might look like. I can assure you that this model had much more density than anyone is even talking about today. I seem to recall that it even showed a road crossing Lake Kittamaqundi and connecting with Oakland Mills.

The WCI tower comes accross as quite tame in comparison with those plans.

And what is actually wrong with having a "pro business pro growth newspaper?"

If we are to "use our minds" as you suggest, shouldn't we have a forum for those viewpoints as well?

Anonymous said...

Belmont

Belmont operated in the black for years before it was purchased by HCC. It would continue to operate in the black as a conference center. That isn't the issue.

The issues are:

How much new building and growth can Belmont sustain without affecting its historic viewshed? Should we worry about protecting the setting- or is public education more important than historic preservation?

Is Belmont owned by a private or public entity? If it is private than it doesn't get the funding and advantages of being a public agency- like new roads, for example. If it is public, then it has to operate and develop as part of a public process- which it hasn't been able to do with any great success.

Do we need to cut a new road through the forest in order to allow Belmont to operate? (Trick question- the answer does not depend on an economically viable use for Belmont- we know it can be viable with the existing road- but on whether or not it can be viable as a college campus).

Do the existing covenants control the site? (Another trick question- easements are interpreted and enforced by MHT)

Good intentions aside, was the deal made with Foundation member Mr. Lundy legal? If not, what repercussions does this have on any potential for the County to acquire the property?

Is the hospitality program successful and can it operate efficiently at Belmont?

Should R&Ps acquire the property and debt and lease the facility back to HCC?

etc etc

Anonymous said...

Town Center

Zoning trumps private ownership

Jane said...

Bus Monthly is an excellent source of information.

My concerns are that the majority doesn't squash the voices of the minority who do know, who have more information than most voters.

I was also dismayed to see a few citizens with recognizable names support people who were less than honest during their campaigns. I was tremendously relieved and surprised to see results go in the opposite direction.

But we absolutely need these people. It goes beyond just saying, "it's their right". Without dissenters I cannot imagine where we'd get the information needed to make good decisions. I've said throughout this election process, debate is a solid source of information.

Recall Weisel's Night, probably the first line, "They called him Moshe the beadle." wherein Moshe was the lone warning voice, and so was dismissed.

Anonymous said...

Jane
There are people who supported Chris who feel that Ken ran a less than honest campaign. And, from your post, it seems that there are people who supported Ken who believe that Chris ran a less than honest campaign. I think that is the nature of elections. Followers of one candidate can't see beyond their perspective to view events through the eyes of an opponent. Candidates and their respective camps need to villify an opponent in order to campaign agressively against him/her. It makes mending fences difficult.

I will never believe that Chris was less than honest. I believe he ran one of the 2 or 3 clean campaigns of the election season. And I don't doubt that you believe that Ken ran a clean campaign. And I admit that the fact that I think you are wrong is skewed by my perspective.

Those people, with recognizable names, who stood by Chris were smart people. They had been in the trenches a long time and I trusted their opinion. I think that they will continue to put their love for the county above their love for a particular party or candidate - something the rest of us are having trouble doing.

wordbones said...

Anon

"Zoning trumps private ownership"

The undeveloped land in Town Center is already zoned for development. Development could just as easily proceed with what is currently in place...without a charette. The public could have input but they could not stop development of what is currently allowed under the NT zoning.

Zoning does not "trump" development it guides it.

Anonymous said...

You are incorrect. The land is not zoned for development. "Zones" only specify what the use is for the land. Development is controlled by the General Plan and the regulated development process. NT has a designated number of residential units before it is considered "built out". It has reached those numbers. Additional density for NT or anywhere else in the County must follow the proscribed process for approval.

There is no "right to develop".

Property rights belong not only to the property owners, but to the neighbors and surrounding community.

The right of Joe Smith who lives in Town Center is equal to the rights of GGP who owns the adjoining parcel.

The County absolutely has the right to restrict further development of NT as per its General Plan. GGP is smart to recognize this and to play the game instead of trying to bully through as they tried to do initially.

If GGP wants density above and beyond what the general plan calls for.. they can pay for it. They can buy development rights from elsewhere in the county so that the balance of growth and preservation is maintained.

wordbones said...

Anon,

"You are incorrect. The land is not zoned for development."

I am afraid that you are sadly misinformed. The land most certainly is zoned for development. Check your facts.

You are correct that additional "residential" development is not permitted under the current zoning. GGP could simply proceed to develop the Crescent property with a mix of only offices and retail.

Is that what the community really wants to see?

I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

Zoning is not development. Zoning is the category of use for which the land will be utilized. Land is not "zoned" for development. It might be zoned for commercial, or residential, B1, B2, NT, TNC, etc etc etc...

Do you understand the difference, or am I not explaining myself well enough?

Anonymous said...

What makes more money for GGP at this point? 5,000 units of residential or commercial and retail? or is it a wash?

Is that what this is about? A trade? More intense development for hands off crescent?

Can you explain it- in a nutshell?

Anonymous said...

As I've heard it the rationale goes something like this -

Some people want Town Center to be more "urban and vibrant".

(I'm guessing a minority of Columbia's 88,000 agree with this view, so to be generous I'll estimate 43,000.)

A portion of those people believe to make it more "urban and vibrant" there has to be more shopping and more to do.

(I'm guessing maybe half of the 43,000 agree, so that's 22,000).

A portion of those people believe these additional shops and attractions will not be economically viable unless there is more local population density to patronize these establishments.

(I'm guessing maybe a quarter agree with that, so that's 5,500).

A portion of those people believe it is necessary to add additional population density right there in Town Center to do that, exceeding current New Town Zoning density (which itself is even higher than the original New Town Zoning density).

(I'm guessing maybe 2/3 of the 5,500 agree with that, so that's about 3,700 people, or about 4% of Columbians are in favor of adding residential density to Town Center to support adding commercial development to Town Center to have more shopping and things to do. Being guesses, none of these numbers have any accuracy.)

So, the property, per current zoning, can be developed commercially, but some believe it won't be nearly as viable unless zoning gets changed to increase population density in Town Center.

Perhaps all the additional shopping (those centers on Snowden River, Dobbin Road, and Long Gate) we do have around wasn't anticipated by Columbia's original plan and now negates the need for and greatly diminishes the viability of this additional commercial development in Town Center.

Is this a case of creating one problem (adding population density and congestion) to fix the developer's problem of commercial development there being less viable, in part due to competing commercial development the developer has done and benefitted from nearby? If so, it sounds like a bad deal.

It also seems disingenuous that the developer sought housing density at one level at one point in time around the Mall and has come back asking for higher density now, which means more real estate $ and more shoppers at the Mall giving more money to the developer, too. And, wasn't there one increase in density beyond the original plan already granted some years ago, too?

wordbones said...

Anon,

I am responding to the anon who wondered if I knew the difference between zoning and development.

I can assure you that I do.

You are correct when you noted that "land is not zoned for development."

I should have written that the property is zoned to "allow for commercial" development. That is more accurate but it still doesn't change my point. If an undeveloped property holds a commercial zoning designation I think it safe to assume that it will be developed at some point in time.

Did I make myself clear now?

wordbones said...

And as to the question on which use (residential, commercial, or retail) is more profitable for GGP, I have to say that a combination of the three is best since they would all compliement each other.

Take Columbia Gateway for example. There is approximately 3 million square feet of existing office space in this park but no residences. The only real restaurant serving this office population is Aida Bistro because after dark and on weekends the place is empty.

Mixing uses is better for the environment because if people can live, work and play in the same area they will be less prone to drive everywhere.

And alas, there will be no "hands off" on the crescent property unless the government steps in and pays a market price for the land. I just don't see that happening nor do I think it should.

What this is really about is simply applying lessons we have learned from years of real estate development. After decades of segregating offices into office parks, retail into strip centers and malls and housing into separate communities we have come to realization that society is best served when we integrate these uses together.

Jim Rouse himself once acknowledged that one of his disappointments about Columbia was its dependence on the car. We have a unique opportunity in front of us to address that shortcoming in Town Center and mixing uses together is how it can be achieved.

That is what this is all about.

Anonymous said...

So we're also supposed to live in office parks to provide after hours business to their lunchtime restaurants? I can hardly wait for the late evening noise, unnatural pinkish-orange industrial lighting streaming in my windows, and the omnipresent smell of burned fry oil.

Your observation about Aida does bolster the likelihood that Town Center, if developed solely commercially, would not be as intensely developed, allowing Town Center to better keep its current feel.

Instead of permitting more combined residential/commercial development of Town Center to solve the ill environmental effects of using cars, many other options exist, including promoting telecommuting (much more viable now with the Internet and would decrease the amount of office space needed) and modern public transit solutions.

Tom Berkhouse said...

Wordbones,

You are correct about the zoning already being in place for the Crescent Property. The Preliminary Development Plan (PDP) for Columbia, established that area as Commercial and Open Space, at the start of Columbia (back in the late 50's early 60's).

I also agree with you that mixed uses are a good plan. Which is exactly what GGP had proposed on the Crescent Property Sketch Plan, about 2 years ago. That's the plan that started off with big box retail, offices, and age-restricted. It's also the same plan that Ken Ulman blocked from being approved, as did the Planning Board, even after big box was removed from the proposal.

The only real question is whether what was proposed on that plan was ok, or should MORE density/development (as currently proposed in the Charette Plan) be allowed?

I adamantly support the Sketch Plan in terms of the amount of development - mostly because it was consistent with what was approved on the PDP (meaning it was allowed by right in my humble opinion). Wordbones, I think you essentially have the same opinion.

However, I do NOT support the amount and scope of development proposed on the Charette Plan. Nor do I think GGP needs that much development to enjoy a fair return on their money.

Anonymous said...

Wordbones that small vocal group will be at it again tonight.

The anti-tower group brings its second round of appeals tonight before the Board of Appeals after their initial appeal got tossed out because of lack of standing.

This time they will use every bullying tactic in the book. They are probably working overtime today to pack the room, hand paint signs, and come out with quirky but inaccurate slogans.

This well organized effort should net about 300 supporters tonight or roughly .001 of the population Howard County. But this group will surely proclaim that they represent every man, woman, and child in the county. The truth is most people work hard all day and want to spend time with their families and not attend some legal hearing, and as we all know, people that support projects like this rarely come out to hearings.

But what is wrong with democracy, what is wrong with having your voice heard?

Nothing… in the right forum.

But tonight’s quasi judicial hearing on matters of law is not the place for politics and intimidation. The Board of Appeals has a set of guidelines that they follow in making decisions- and who shouts the loudest is not one of them.

The county has a process in place and a time for the “people to be heard” and for heads to be counted… this is not one of them. This is intimidation and undermining of the legal process.

So come on out and watch these people put on a great show tonight, but that is all it is, a show and should not influence the decisions of the Board of Appeals.

wordbones said...

I would love to attend the Hearing this evening and let my spport for the tower be known

Unfortunately, life gets in the way this evening. My fiance's daughter is on the GHS Field Hockey team and they are competing for the state title tonight in College Park.

Go Gladiators!

Hopefully some other voices of reason will find a way to attend.

Jim Binckley said...

Kudos to you MC . Your take on the "process" in regards to the tower is right on the money. It's gonna be the Lloyd and Liz show . I think they are going to bring Jim Rouse back from the grave to scold people about tall structures. Hopefully many citizens won't recognize Liz because the picture in her tri-fold handout is from 20 years ago.