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Amendments prefiled for Downtown Columbia Partnership bill

By Lindsey McPherson, lmcpherson@patuxent.com

6:32 PM EDT, June 28, 2012

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The Howard County Council Thursday prefiled 11 different amendments to legislation that would form a Downtown Columbia Partnership, including proposed changes to the partnership's leadership structure and the entity administering funds collected for affordable housing.

The partnership is intended to be the entity conducting marketing, maintenance, security, transportation and other services in downtown Columbia.

The bill, as introduced by County Executive Ken Ulman's administration, sets up a seven-member Board of Directors, which is responsible for managing the partnership and overseeing its budget. Four of the board members would be representatives from the major stakeholders — Ulman, Howard Hughes senior vice president John DeWolf, Mall in Columbia General Manager Katie Essing and Columbia Association President Phil Nelson.

The other three members will be representatives from Howard Hughes, until 500,000 square feet of commercial space is developed in downtown, at which time the county executive would appoint two members who either own commercial property or a business in downtown, or live in close proximity to downtown. The third member must be a commercial property owner in downtown.

Some members of the council have raised concerns about the legislation allowing four of the board members to be a quorum, given that four of the initial seven board members were proposed to be representatives of Howard Hughes. They also said they felt that the board did not include enough downtown Columbia stakeholders.

Howard Hughes, meanwhile, had argued that it should have controlling interest of the board until 500,000 square feet because the company is responsible for all the partnership's expenses until that point.

While none of the amendments change the structure of the Board of Directors, one, sponsored by Columbia Democrats Calvin Ball and Mary Kay Sigaty, changes the number of members required for a quorum from four to six.

Another amendment, sponsored by Ball, Sigaty and Ellicott City Democrat Courtney Watson, adds an 11-member advisory committee that would be allowed to attend the Board of Directors meetings.

The amendment specifies that a representative of the advisory committee must be provided with an opportunity to comment on all matters pending before the board. It also authorizes the advisory committee to examine the partnership's books and records "at any reasonable time."

The amendment specifies six ex officio members of the advisory committee:

• Howard Community College President Kate Hetherington

• Howard County General Hospital President Victor Broccolino;

• Howard County Economic Development Authority CEO Laura Neuman;

• Howard County Revenue Authority Chairman Michael Jack;

• Howard County Chamber of Commerce President Pamela Klahr; and

• Town Center Village Board Chairman Lee Richardson.

The other five members of the advisory are to be appointed by the council:

• two Columbia residents, selected from a list of four submitted by Ulman, that live in or in close proximately to downtown;

• one owner or general manager of a business within downtown that has fewer than 25 employees;

• one owner of property within downtown who has obtained a building permit for downtown revitalization; and

• one owner of commercial property within downtown.

Another amendment, sponsored by Sigaty and Watson, would eliminate the partnership's role as the Downtown Columbia Housing Foundation and establish a separate nonprofit to serve as the foundation and contract with the partnership. Instead of the partnership collecting the affordable housing funds and funneling them to the Howard County Housing Commission to administer, the funds would go to the nonprofit.

The nonprofit foundation would use the funds to assist developers in providing affordable housing units, provide low-income residents with rental assistance or homeownership loans and aid in eviction prevention and foreclosure assistance.

The amendment specifies that the nonprofit foundation "shall include representation from private entities, county and other public agencies, the community developer, organizations and individuals who are generally able to promote (a full-spectrum of affordable housing)."

The council would accept applications for groups of such stakeholders seeking to form as the nonprofit foundation. The council would reserve the right to withdraw its recognition of the nonprofit as the foundation if it determines it has failed to meet requirements it has set.

The council is scheduled to vote on the bill and the amendments July 2 at 7:30 p.m. in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.