Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Ministers of Misinformation

If you read some of the Letters to the Editor on Explore Howard or some of the postings on the HCC listserv, you might get the impression that General Growth’s plans for the redevelopment of Columbia Town Center will put the county on the long road to ruin. The fact of the matter is that there are some disgruntled members of the community that, having failed to win mainstream support for their efforts to derail the process, have resorted to promulgating misinformation.

For instance, Russ Swatek, the Columbia Council representative for the Village of Long Reach recently wrote that “virtually all” the proponents of the plan “had real estate or a business that stood to gain directly or indirectly from the increased density and increased retail population base.”

I suppose if you count home ownership as real estate this may be accurate, but then again that would presumably include Mr. Swatek as well. The truth is that while some proponents, such as yours truly, hope to capitalize on the opportunities this redevelopment may present, for the most part they are ordinary citizens like former CA president Padraic Kennedy or the General Manager of Victoria Gastro Pub, Tori Marriner. Mr. Swatek has insulted at least a thousand people with this statement. Nicely done Russ.

On the HCC listserv, Columbia architect Tim Sosinski claimed that “Achieving a walkable environment will be set aside in the interest of doing profitable remote sites for the next 20 years.”

Wow! I like Tim and I respect his community involvement but this is just simply not true and he knows it. Keep in mind that Columbia does not exist in a vacuum and that just because GGP will have the right to build 5,500 housing units doesn’t mean they will sell. In order to sell those units GGP will need to create a special place that distinguishes Columbia from all of the other planned developments in the area. That will be good for Columbia and for GGP. Our interests are perfectly aligned.

The mother of all misinformation is former Columbia Council representative Barbara Russell. She often describes herself as Columbia’s first mother and I can only suppose that she thinks that gives her some sort of exalted status in all matters Columbia. Mothers are always right after all.

In her letter to the editor today she claims “From the beginning, GGP has committed to pay for almost nothing, not roads, not major water and sewer lines, not schools or school sites, not fire stations or fire station sites, not below-market-rate housing (affordable, full-spectrum, call it what you like), not cultural amenities, not parking garages, not sidewalks and not for the upkeep of the downtown area it developed.”

For starters, GGP has paid for a world class plan for Town Center. They have hired some of the best talent that money can buy to design a Town Center that will once again make Columbia a paradigm of smart community planning. Barbara also knows that the developers will pay for all of those items she mentioned as the plan gets built out. I think Barbara believes everyone is stupid but her.

I could go on but I think you get the point.


Anonymous said...

Actually Mr. Swatek does not actually own a house. He lives in his wife's house, and she gave him a lease so he could run for CA rep from Long Reach. So Mr. Swatek at least really does have nothing to gain and no real estate interest.

Bob O said...

I have to admit that I'm not intimately involved in this situation.

WB, I admire and salute your views and efforts. You can't stop development, but you can control it.

But, does not one sense a hint of some sort of groundswell of opinion in your listing of those who object to this plan?

The persons you quote seem to be against it, not for it. Where are the people who are for it?

Methinks the blogger protests too much.

I'm just sayin' that perhaps the protests against this plam are not some sort of plot against GGP, but maybe how most people really feel?

Maybe we need a referendum?

Not trying to be difficult here, just trying to get at how folk really feel.

Evemtualy this plan will rise or fail on its own economic viability. I'm just glad I don't own stock in GGP or have property in Columbia....

Anonymous said...

in watching the hearings, the majority of people in the community are for it. Most people against it won't be here to see the end of the 30 year plan. If they hate it so much, move to Florida! When it comes to downtown Columbia, don't trust anyone over 45--except me :-)

Anonymous said...

Most people are not for the plan. The Patuxent reporters counted, it was a 50/50 split on the original bill, including in the pro 50% GGP reps and those who will financially gain.

If we removed those directly involved, the split would be heavily on the con side.

The AMENDMENTS got favorable reviews, so DON'T keep confusing the two.

My Goodness, I detest repeating and repeating myself for sloppy reading.

Get another argument, you're not winning any points with the unscientific 'most people want it' crapola.

HoCoRising said...

I think if there is anything we can all agree on, it is that the future plans are unsettled. There is reason for caution and a healthy suspicion of the powerful. Just as there is no evil motive for promoting development, I don't think there is a legitimate "bad" motive you can ascribe to those who disagree with the redevelopment.

Tim Sosinski said...

Dennis...I do take some offense for including my comments among those who are "Ministers of Misinformation." I credit your attempt to be entertaining. But, when you say that our community and GGP's interests are prefectly aligned, you have obviously misinformed your readers. Does that make you the "King of Misinformation?" Just kidding. Tim Sosinski

Anonymous said...

Each paragraph in this post has some sort of inaccuracy. My goodness man, you've outdone yourself today.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has sat through every hearing, work session, lots of community meetings and has actually read the plan, the bills, the EDA report, the fiscal impact report and hundreds of articles and studies about how every trend in Amnerica (social, employment, lifestyle) is moving in this direction, I know the facts and support this plan. The letters to the editor, HCCA posts and comments on this and other blogs are riddled with misinformation and they rely on the fact that this process is time consuming and the reports are boring to read so they can lie to people who don;t knoww the facts. The opponents are the same people who are taking the Turf Valley grocery store to referrendum, fought the Wegmans in Long Reach, fought the Walgreens on Oakland Mills and will fight on against any and all development. Barbara Russell is barely coherent at hearings, Klein is angry that his 15 minutes is almost over and the rest of them are just old hippies who still distrust business and government as much as they did in the 60's. Town Center was always supposed to be a city, these people moved here with that knowledge and the fact that Rouse failed to get it done doesn't mean it shouldn't be done now. The misinformation on HCCA is rampant and the pathetic thing is that the folks who write it actually seem to believe it. What have these folks done to make Columbia better over the past 15 years except complain about everything and screw up CA? The Patuxent paper hasn't "counted" anything - it was sloppy reporting. Don't you people think GGP and the County politicians have done polls and know how popular this is? As for vested interest, you bet I have one. A growing tax base that helps us maintain the standard of services we've come to take for granted, a place to do something other than watch the grass grow, some life for the young people so they might stay here when they graduate, slowing of our suburban sprawl and maybe even getting back to boating the the Lake. The folks who run HCCA and Klein's group do not speak for the army of us out here who want to see Columbia be something great again.

Anonymous said...

For someone who started out strongly by naming all the credentials, you tanked miserably by attacking the well informed Russell and completely missed the target on assessing Klein.

You dislike them because they are a danger to you. They make tremendous sense and that makes you fearful. Otherwise you'd have kept up the right tact through the comment above.

Anonymous said...

And anytime someone says, 'you people' it makes readers cringe. No one who is trying to make a decision is swayed by someone exhibits anger with talk like, "you people".

Sounds like you actually know you're a minority by calling out to the majority, 'you people'.

Bob O said...

WB, I salute you for this statement: "The truth is that while some proponents, such as yours truly, hope to capitalize on the opportunities this redevelopment may present..." I respect that point of view.

And, Mr. Sosinski, I respect and salute you for actually using your own name in a blog posting. I'm not surprised that Mr. Anonymous then goes after you. Perhaps you would be so good as to update your blog with your points of view and additional references on this subject, so we could listen to more than one voice on this issue.

As usual, full disclosure, I do not live in Columbia (which I consider the "Pre-Fab City", much as "The Monkees" were the "Pre-Fab Four"...hmmmm...lots of sixties things you could metaphorically insert here....),

I am not in the real estate business, and I actually detest urban living (and I have some chops there, having lived in Honolulu, Taipei, NJ, and El Lay). You want urban? Doh! 30 minutes to Baltimore or D.C., 90 to Philly, four hours to the Lincoln Tunnel.

What ARE you all thinking?

Anonymous said...

Howard Co is going to grow. It always has and always will. When I read these message boards and the newapaper, it sounds like opponents believe this is a debate about growth. It's not about how much, it's about where it will happen. They talk about the additional cost of services and infrastructure, but all but schools are costs that will be incurred no matter where the growth occurs. Right now we plow over farms and create suburban sprawl. It's terribly expensive for the County to provide services to the suburbs and rural areas, the greatest cost of which are the children/school costs that come with this type of housing. We will always have this type of housing for the residents who prefer that environment. But, Howard Co is incomplete without a city - an employment and recreational core. If the County will grow regardless, why not add a city to what Howard Co can offer? Lots of people want it and it's more economical than the suburbs for the County to serve. It does seem like some people fight all growth and, while that's their right, it does seem that they'll further any argument to stop a project like this one.

Anonymous said...

Mugane's, Swatek's, Russell's, Sosinski's, England's, Pivar's, Broida's, Klein's, Knowles', Kubofcik's, Hekimian's, Smith's, and their many, many HCCA colleagues' and other community advocacy groups' members' comments, efforts, and testimonies at County meetings and diligent questioning of this proposal's failings, continue to consistently impress me and are just one more reason why I am thankful to live in such a community.

Growth always before and always from here out? That is simply and repeatedly incorrect. DC, Baltimore, Howard County as a whole, and Columbia specifically, per the Census website, have all seen population decrease phases during their courses. Growth is not inevitable, just as our resources are not unlimited. It is actually about deciding Columbia's future, pitting focusing on high quality community sustainability against massive growth/density increase. So, yes, it is very much a debate about how much, if any, and where, as well as how. The degree of growth that may occur or even needs to occur hasn't been truly determined or publicly evaluated in any thorough sense. As for the desired degree of growth, keep in mind that even at the Charette, the community's consensus was for *low density*, not drastically increasing density as is now proposed.

The core issue here is this proposal to drastically alter Columbia detours Columbia from its original model and balance in many, many costly, deleterious ways. And the argument about 'do it in Columbia or else the rural areas get developed' is vacuous. There are NO set asides in this proposal that result in any additional protections for the other portions of the County. It's primarily adding more development potential, well beyond the master plan that's successfully guided Columbia's continued sought after balance.

GGP proposed sacrificing forested land not specifically theirs for roads and buildings, land that was presented by Rouse at the outset and maintained by CA lien payers thereafter as permanently preserved open space. There's even a '60's photo of Rouse in front of a large poster stating "PERMANENTLY PRESERVED OPEN SPACE" in the County's recent preliminary Town Center master plan. I think that same preliminary master plan had a Robert Tennenbaum cover illustration looking across a pristine Lake Kittamqundi, from near Clyde's toward the far south end of the lake. Only now this proposal differs from that County-created preliminary master plan and treats 'permanent' as 'expendable' and uses that portion of the lake as a probable future road overpass to an interchange in an environmentally-sensitive area, for only making a partial dent in what will still be, based on today's standards, a failed traffic outcome. There's no excuse for breaking promises and representations and no excuse for failing to uphold protections of promises and standards now.

It sure sounds like the earlier Glatting Jackson study's 'just kick the can down the road' suggestion of just permitting a density increase to cause traffic failure to happen as a means to garner well after-the-fact public acceptance of a costly, later designed, shoehorned-in, and publicly funded transit system is being pursued. That sounds less like good governance and more like punishing future generations without telling them. Dr. Ball asked Evan Coren about a transit system's cost. No cost estimate was stated then or apparently pursued thereafter. 'Shhh, let's just whistle past the graveyard' seems the current course. Well, next month the ghouls of working to actually worsen, not improve, traffic standards start to come out.


Anonymous said...

The proposal as-is asks us to accept too-limited explanations of its impact on traffic, schools, and environment. I keep hearing pro-proposal advocates applying rosy labels to it (smart growth, pedestrian friendly, incorporating transit, environmentally sensitive, etc.) that simply do not hold up upon review of the material presented. If the ingredients in the box don't match the claims on the box label, take it back, demand a refund, and hold out for the product that the community actually wants - respectful and sensibly (and economically) moderate solutions that actually directly address the few wrinkles Columbia has as defined by the Charette.

"[Columbia's] more economical than the suburbs for the County to serve"

Research data actually shows increasing density can increase public services costs. There are sweet spots relative to density vs. public tax burden and quality of public services. This proposal seems to drive density to a more costly, and for some public services, a lower quality of services spot on that curve - a cost taxpayers countywide would bear.

"why not add a city to what Howard Co can offer?"

Columbia already IS a city, the kind of rehumanized city Rouse intended physically, socially, economically, and environmentally as a curative response to the dehumanized and decaying cities of the '50's/early '60's. And Rouse was understandably recognized for achieving that.

Yet, here we are now being asked to accept loss of open space, more dangerous and wastefully congested traffic, and 20 story buildings. That sure doesn't sound like smart growth. So, what's really an appropriate height for buildings in a "smart city"? Léon Krier, who some credit as being the founder of New Urbanism, says 5 stories or less. Notice he didn't specify height. The reference to stories can be explained in his book "Architecture: Choice or Fate", (p. 161): "If authorities allow developers to exceed the critical point of five floors, the value of building plots rises astronomically, which in turn creates more pressure for higher and higher densities. It is a vicious circle which, in the long term, results in an insidious 'Manhattanism' and represents the financial overexploitation of the land of the city whose unavoidable structural bankrupcty must in the end be paid for by public funds."

Now we see a proposal before us that appears not focused on a city of 2050, but a city of 1950 - skyscrapers, traffic congestion, an aversion to full spectrum housing, an absence of an appreciable and robust transit plan that would keep traffic within existing standards, consumption of preserved open space, an absence of a definite plan for a neighborhood school and talk of decreasing land requirement standards for any new school that might go somewhere around there later, greater reliance of on-street parking and its resulting worsened pedestrian safety - all things that seem to discard Rouse's vision of a rehumanized city. Shouldn't we be pursuing and accepting only better standards across the board, not worse ones?


Anonymous said...

This is one that I can breathe through -- Thanking God I was not deeply invested like the residents of Columbia and knowing from the very start how the council would vote. Those community meetings were to assuage y'all, not to listen to you. Been there.

So Columbians, are you ready to cooperate with Howard outside of Columbia? Are we all in favor of voting out the sitting incumbency that does not and will not ever represent us? Because voting them out, getting voters to ignore their money for favors will require cooperation from Columbia to Lisbon to Elkridge -- including all of the taxpayers who will subsidize this new city.

Now that it's passed, I can accept it but I will sign a petition for referendum. Now that it's passed I can plan for the outrageous and inevitable waste of my paycheck going to pay for this new city. I don't like sprawl but I abhor dishonesty more and any one of those council members who claims to represent their consituents is not being honest.

PZGURU said...

ANON (with the three continuations) - WELL SAID.

ANON 6:22 a.m. (comment #3) - you got a lot of nerve telling people to move to Florida. How about if you and all the people who want to live in a more urban location MOVE!!! There are plenty of existing urban centers all around this country that you can live in. People who bought a home or rent an apartment in Columbia chose Columbia for how it currently is!!! NOT for how you and a select few want it to be.

I have not heard one single opponent of this ill-conceived plan say that no development, or no re-development, should occur. In fact, many ideas and concepts that are being bandied about are already feasible if GGP chose to do them. Such as improving pedestrian circulation. Adding cultural or artistic venues. Or adding beautified landscaping focal points. And even adding some residential units!!! Yes, by God, GGP does in fact have prior approval for some 1,200 or so residential units that they could place in the Town Center area WITHOUT needing this rezoning legislation. But, instead they are asking for 5,500 units as the extorted price tag for agreeing to make other improvements.

Ulman and other supporters state that this will expand the tax base, so it's in the public interest. HOGWASH!!! The cost to operate and maintain all of the new infrastructure will far outweight and surpass the increase in tax revenues. In fact, the County is already making water and sewer infrastructure improvements to support this project instead of GGP paying for it. Of course, the County will say that these improvements were already needed, but it's not true. It's a dirty trick, but hey, that's par for the course for this administration.