Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bringing It Home

In all the rhetoric flying around about the Plaza Residences condominium tower in Town Center you seldom hear anything about the actual future residents of the building except in the abstract. The tower opposition forces have even gone so far as to imply that these future residents would not be in sync with Columbia's values (as they deem them to be). That is easy to do when you are dealing with an abstract but it is a little different when you replace that abstract with an actual person.

An actual person such as Gary Kaufman. Gary is the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Micros Systems, Inc.. Micros is a local company. It was started by a guy named Tom Giannopoulus in his kitchen in Allview Estates. Today, it is a company with 4,100 employees with a 248,000 square foot corporate headquarters in Columbia Gateway Corporate Community. The company revenues last year were $679 million. It is truly a hometown success story.

Gary has a contract to buy a penthouse unit. He is not buying some large mansion outside of Columbia with a mammoth carbon footprint. He apparently wants to live in Columbia, close to his office. Not only should Columbia provide housing for guys like Gary, Columbia should applaud the fact that Gary wants to live in the town. His home grown company and it's headquarters in Gateway probably pump close to $100,000 per year into CA's coffers through the CPRA assessment.

Given the money that the CA is doling out to it's executive staff Columbia is going to need more guys like him as lien paying residents.


J. Newburn said...

Wordbones, this is a lovely post. Thank you for your perspective and information here.

Anonymous said...

Just for the record, large mansions don't have to have large carbon footprints. Even using decades-old technology, it's possible to build, even in far less hospitable climates, very large residences that are energy self-sufficient for lighting, appliances, heating, and cooling.

And, conversely, very un-"green" condos can be built using very modern technology poorly, having considerable carbon footprints.

If you're somehow implying the Tower or like structures are the only residences successful people will deem worthy of inhabiting within Columbia, either you're mistaken about its investors and other successful people or they are mistaken about Columbia. There are many very successful people who do proudly call many parts of Columbia home, either growing up here or being welcomed when coming from elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I can't say that I have ever heard anyone complaining about the incompatibility of he values of the potential residents of the skyscraper being considered. Just the incompatibility of the building itself with its surroundings.

As usual, Dennis, you have set up a straw man and have knocked down your own creation. Too bad your straw man bears no resemblance to reality.

wordbones said...

Anon 11:25

"I can't say that I have ever heard anyone complaining about the incompatibility of he values of the potential residents of the skyscraper being considered."

Well I certainly have...more than once too. To suggest that you haven't leads me to conclude that either you intentionally filter that out or that you travel in a very small circle.

"As usual, Dennis, you have set up a straw man and have knocked down your own creation. Too bad your straw man bears no resemblance to reality."

Your opinion of course which carries absolutely no weight with me as long as you post anonymously.


wordbones said...

...and, by the way, I just did a quick "back of the envelope" calculation and realized that the Micros building annual CPRA asessment is actually closer to a half million dollars!

Anonymous said...

"large mansions don't have to have large carbon footprints"

Is this guy serious?!? WOW!

Anonymous said...

Yes, very serious, very real, very doable, and very feasible economically, too.

Here's a 4,000 sq. ft. very energy-efficient home built 25 years ago, at 7,200 feet elevation that heats itself year round where the temperature sometimes drops below -40 Farenheit. (Warning: the link may be hazardous to prolonging one's ignorance of energy-efficient design)

Even more efficient homes can be built today.

Anonymous said...

Wait, weren't you anonymous for quite some time? As I recall, you posted anonymously as 'wordbones' on various local blogs for months prior to coming out.

Anonymous said...

By far, the concerns related to the Tower have been the structure itself and its effects. So, how (besides the "more than once" conversations you've heard) would you get the impression the Tower issue is widely discussed not in those terms, but instead based on some kind of us vs. them objection to its potential occupants? Perhaps the "Us vs. Them" personification of the discussion authored on this very blog.

6/15 - Us vs. Them
6/22 - Us vs. Them Revisited
7/3 - MoreOfUs vs Them

"In all the rhetoric flying around about the Plaza Residences condominium tower in Town Center..."

Yet, rhetoric is a tool you admittedly employ, at least admitting such within the 6/22 post.

The purported strawman here may be just more of that same divisive rhetoric meant to motivate support for the side of this issue that has, according to you yourself, seen less popular support since the issue arose.

Really want more support for one side of this issue? Address the concerns that truly are prevalent. Really want less rhetoric in the discussion? The Wordbones doth protest too much, methinks.

wordbones said...

Golly gee, I take a break from the blog for a holiday weekend and the anons attack!

Very well. First to Anon 6:45 AM: Yes I blogged (continue blogging) under the psuedonym of wordbones. That is somewhat different from blogging anonymously. I have no problem responding to freemarket, pzguru, young at heart, and so on. I may not know who they are but I have come to know them. It doesn't matter that I know their real identities because they consistantly use the same psuedonyms. It makes it much easier to carry on a meaningful dialogue. There are simply too many "anons" to do that.

And as for Anon 10:46:

"By far, the concerns related to the Tower have been the structure itself and its effects"

What is it about the structure of the tower that you don't like?

It's height?

It's design?

I'm sorry but I just don't get that. The Plaza tower is certainly nicer looking than the monolithic mall that dominates downtown. And isn't it better environmentally to build up rather than out?

The building is much better being sited close to LPP than the lake itself and the site is lower than the mall which negates some of the impact from the height.

On the other hand I often hear tower opponents pointing to the "exclusive" roof top pool as evidence that this building runs counter to Columbia's values. When I have noted that two older Columbia developments (Tor apartments and Cove condominiums)have private "exclusive" pools this was dismissed because "you can see those pools."


Also, keep in mind that the village of Town Center does not have any neighborhood pools. The only village in Columbia with that distinction.

To me it appears that the problem is not with the "exclusive pool" it is more likely with the exclusive pool users.

I also hear opponents whining about increased traffic. How come they didn't moan when the AMC cinemas and the Cheesecake Factory came to Town Center? Certainly these two uses generate more vehicle traffic than the Plaza will.

No, I don't think I have a straw man here. I just think that the Plaza opponents are not being honest with themselves or the public at large about what really bugs them about this building.

Then again, I could be wrong and it would not be the first time either.


Anonymous said...

To clarify, your 8/13 citing of the Cove's and Tor's pools was dismissed not because "you can see those pools" (using "can" instead of "can't" makes that an erroneous paraphrasing), but because, quoting the 8/13 discussion, "the Cove and Tor's private pools exist, but neither occupy a highly visible, highly elevated location serving as a symbol of Columbia's character day and night, far and wide. Columbia's inclusive community recreation facilities enjoy far greater prominence."

"Also, keep in mind that the village of Town Center does not have any neighborhood pools. The only village in Columbia with that distinction."

I don't begrudge anyone the luxury of either taking an elevator to a pool or having their own pool, but claiming Town Center is the worst off of the villages for pool access is a stretch. Almost all of the residences in Town Center are less than a mile from either the Running Brook Pool or pools in Wilde Lake, at most a couple minutes driving, 10 biking, 20 walking. There's neighborhoods in other villages that are greater distances than that to the closest CA pool.

Height limitations are nothing new to Howard County. Single family homes have had height restrictions of 40-some feet for years, probably for both safety and aesthetics.

Other non-inclusive structures that have also been objected to in Town Center because of their height include the initally-planned 6-foot? tall wrought iron? fences bordering Governor Warfield Parkway where some of the new condos or townhomes were built. As a result of those objections, I believe those fences were reduced in height. So, if a 6-foot structure can be objected to on those grounds, it certainly seems reasonable to think twice about something almost 50 times that height and give similar consideration reducing that in height, too.

Interestingly, a 275-foot tall tower can be seen from the ground over 23 miles away on a clear day or night. If I'm out on a clear night in Mount Airy, I'd much rather see an unfettered starry blanket than have to only look towards Union Bridge to enjoy a view of the sky free of pool house lights from the heart of the next county over. And wouldn't a building that tall have to have blinking lights on top of it, blinking on and off and on and off all night long, too? Hardly aesthetic and very much a step backwards when it comes to reducing light pollution in our community.

How many migratory animals will be thwarted from reaching their nesting or wintering habitats by such a tall structure with such elevated throughout-the-night constant and blinking illumination? We see and hear geese, ducks, and other birds traveling by moonlight. This building's beacon-like top, from the height of airborne migrating birds, will be viewable by them from distances well exceeding 23 miles on clear, moonless nights. On cloudy or clear nights, a building this height may pose a deadly hazard to these birds, ironically having its faux-lighthouse-evocative structure possibly misguiding these travelers to their demise. We've seen a 40% decrease in indigenous bird species populations over the last several decades. While not the foremost cause of this alarming decline, interference with migrations is one of them.

Concerns about traffic resulting from increased residential development in Town Center have exceeded concerns about traffic from Mall expansion because Mall expansion has been something the community's experienced in relatively small, recurring doses over decades, whereas recent proposals for increased residential development in Town Center are for increases beyond Columbia's original scale, both from an architectural standpoint and a population standpoint. And the proposed considerable population increase to be placed in Town Center has an accompanying traffic study that has shown the roads will be resultingly congested to failure.

Some Mall expansions, as Bill Santos noted a while ago, were also accompanied by traffic studies that predicted traffic congestion. In some of those cases, the Mall developer committed to funding road improvements to alleviate the expected traffic congestion. Some of those promised improvements were done, others, according to Bill's research, decades later have still not been provided as promised, possibly leaving the public's time regularly wasted trying to drive near the Mall. Adding the proposed rectilinear grid of streets and many more intersections along LPP and Governor Warfield will only increase the difficulty and time to travel to and through Town Center.

Another reason for less objection to the Cheesecake Factory/movie theater/L.L.Bean area than the Tower is while the Mall's exterior has been nothing to write home about, the most inviting outside parts are the people/pedestrian-friendly spaces outside these newer additions. More greenery would make it even more inviting.

Yes, it's better to build up and not out, but neither is positive when unneeded and the benefit of "up" can only outweigh the negatives of "up" when there are corresponding, direct, and permanent set asides of other land as open space that would have occupied a similar amount of "out". Without such (and in this case there isn't), "up" seems like just a foothold for, attractor for, and very visible reminder of similar and very increased density to follow in short order.

Is Town Center headed for more gated communities, either horizontal or vertical? I hope not, but approving increased density therein may not allow avoiding it, changing Columbia's environment and spirit to something less open, less welcoming, and less the embodiment of what Columbia, as an experiment in improved society and the community resulting therefrom, has striven to achieve.

PZGURU said...

Good Lord, that's the longest comment ever (maybe).

I only wanted to address the point made about traffic generated when the mall expanded for the AMC theaters and the restaurants. There may not have been much of an impact for that type of expansion due to the assumption (by the traffic study conductors) that traffic heading to the movies may already have been destined for the mall. I'm sure that some mitigation had to be done.

In contrast, the WCI tower residents would be brand new vehicle trips. As in, they are not there now, but once built, there will be new trips going to and from the tower. The impact is much different and greater than the mall expansion.

I'll let your "duel of words" with anon continue now.

J. Newburn said...

Good Lord, but ain't we gotz ourselves, in HoCo, about 83k inbound commuters each week and about 48k headed north-ish to Baltimore and another 48K-ish headed south-ish to DC?

I'd like to add another perspective to this traffic conversation, as I am ever so weary of T-h-e T-o-w-e-r being blamed for future traffic when we clearly have a bigger concern on our hands.

I personally believe, such as, and for the good of U.S. Americans and Howard Countians everywhere, such as, I personally believe that to ease traffic congestion, we might want to put some attention on increasing home-based workers and telecommuters, rather than blaming about T-h-e Tower and T-h-e residents who will be moving in ther?

I envision the day when our cadre of brilliant local professionals and our rich municipality find some way of providing technical support to area businesses to get more people set up to work from home. At least a couple days a week, if not full-time.

Of course, people who work from home will also do errands, including going to T-h-e Mall, and traipsing down Li'l Patuxent Parkway. But, speaking as one who does work from home, I do my darnedest to run my errands in off-peak hours. Not, mind you, out of any citizen duty to minimize traffic congestion. I do it because it's easier and faster.

Pzguru, I may have matched you in comment length.

Love to you all, my U.S. Americans and the people of Iraq and Asia. Oh, and South Africa, too.

wordbones said...

I must admit I grew tired of my banter with anon 1:06 AM. I also have been distracted by real life things like getting my daughter ramped up in a new school year, taking care of business (it always comes in these maddening spurts), getting started on fundraising for next years Columbia Festival of the Arts, working out my issues with FIOS (subject of a new post!) and other things that effectively fill my time.

I also think I have given enough energy to an anonymous commenter, probably more than he or she deserves.


Eagle eye said...

I can’t believe that anon 1:06am suggested that, when construction is complete, The Plaza Residences can be seen from Mt. Airy. Quite frankly, that is foolish notion.

J. Newburn said...

I just reread my comment, a couple above, and want to clarify that the commuter numbers I wrote are per workweek day, M-F: 83k in, 48k to Balt, 48k to DC, M, T, W, Th and F. A little attention to switch those numbers around might do a lot more good to ease traffic congestion than wailing at T-h-e Tower.