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CA explores agreement to coordinate Symphony Woods redevelopment

The Columbia Association will explore entering into a trust with Howard Hughes Corp. and the Howard County government, which would result in a more coordinated master redevelopment of the Symphony Woods and Merriweather Post Pavilion neighborhoods.

The non-profit trust, which is outlined by the county's downtown development master plan, is set to be formed between Howard Hughes and the county to govern county land in the Merriweather Post Pavilion neighborhood.

By becoming the trust's third party, CA could be given a seat a the table regarding the future development and management of the neighborhood, which borders Symphony Woods Park.

"If we're at the table, we have more leverage than if we are by ourselves working against those who have more leverage," CA President Phil Nelson said during the CA board's discussions on Thursday, Oct. 11.

While joining the trust could influence future plans for Symphony Woods, Dorsey's Search representative Tom Coale said CA would negotiate terms to ensure it maintained control over its property.

"CA will benefit from this trust by ensuring that there is congruent development," Coale said. "The Columbia Association will and should maintain a significant amount of control over what happens on their property."

Just by exploring joining the trust, the board is leaning closer toward delaying the redevelopment of Symphony Woods, which was recommended by staff and CA's outside consultant.

At an August meeting, staff recommended delaying until Howard Hughes's new plans for the redevelopment of Merriweather Post Pavilion take shape.

The Symphony Woods redevelopment plan, which includes a fountain and new pathways, received final development approval from the county Planning Board on July 19, marking the halfway point in the 16-step, while Howard Hughes's plan for Merriweather Post Pavilion is still in the early planning process.

During a "straw vote" at the board's Thursday, Oct. 11 meeting, the board unanimously agreed to explore entering into the trust with the county and Howard Hughes.

"I think it's a very good idea for the plans to be done in concert with one another," Town Center representative Suzanne Waller said. "It's in the best interest of how everything turns out."

Owen Brown representative Andrew Stack said he would be pleased to join a trust with both parties.

"I see a three-way trust as a good thing. It would bring the county out into the forefront," Stack said. "If the three parties do work together, Columbia now and Columbia in the future will be a whole lot better for it."

Tom Coale reiterated to the board that a partnership between the county and Howard Hughes is inevitable.

"Whether it happens now, or it happens 10 years from now, that entity (a partnership between Howard Hughes and the county) will exist. Whether or not CA is the third part of that is up to this board to decide."

While the board agreed to allow staff to explore entering into an agreement, the specifications of the potential agreement are still unclear.

Following the public meeting Thursday evening, the board held a private session, where specific terms of CA's involvement in the trust were to be discussed.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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