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Editorial: Delaying Symphony Woods improvements would be frustrating, but wise

5:37 PM EDT, August 28, 2012

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One month ago, we expressed delight with recent developments in the plan to revamp Symphony Woods Park, downtown Columbia's last major green space and a linchpin in the larger downtown redevelopment. Now, it looks like the changes, discussed for years and years, might grind to a halt again.

Last week, the Columbia Association staff recommended that the CA board put the Symphony Woods plans on hold until the Howard Hughes Corp. decides how it will revamp Merriweather Post Pavilion, another Columbia landmark that is located in the middle of Symphony Woods. The purpose of the delay is to make sure CA and Howard Hughes collaborate and make sure the two redevelopments are compatible.

It is frustrating to see the plans for Symphony Woods sidetracked just as they appeared to be gaining steam. And it is tempting to say the heck with any more delays, let's get this going. Redeveloping anything in downtown Columbia already is a tedious, time-consuming, 16-step process, and adding a delay to that process is certainly distasteful.

Some CA board members expressed that very sentiment. "My concern, as it has been for the last two years, is we're not moving forward," CA board member Michael Cornell said when the request for a delay was made to the board. "We hit a milestone last month (when the county Planning Board approved final development plans for Symphony Woods, marking the halfway point in the process), and now we're going to wait?"

But tempting as moving forward without delay might be, it is also misguided. Another board member, Gregg Schwind, put it this way: "I'm generally very impatient. But I just think this is such an important project, we really have an obligation to get this right."

Added CA President Phil Nelson: "We are planning for an entire neighborhood concept. It's not just Symphony Woods, it's not just Merriweather Post."

That's the sort of big-picture thinking that makes sense on this issue. And what makes holding off more palatable is an accompanying CA staff recommendation to make some interim changes at Symphony Woods during the delay — installing sculptures, for example, and adding concerts, festivals and the like.

The CA board did not vote on the request for a delay last week. When they do, we hope they approve it. Symphony Woods Park, it now appears inevitable, will eventually be transformed from a little-used if lovely piece of property to a well-used but still lovely urban park. In the long run, whether that takes a bit longer to happen is immaterial.