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Input remains important after Inner Arbor approval by Columbia Association [Commentary]

It's unlikely that the residents of Columbia will ever agree completely on what to do with Symphony Woods, the 36-acre downtown tract.

The reaction to plans by the Inner Arbor Trust to build an arts park in the woods that abut Merriweather Post Pavilion site has been mostly positive, especially of late. Still, there remains a core group of opponents.

The divide is reminiscent of when residents were invited to a series of meetings to offer ideas of how to reimagine downtown Columbia several years ago. As with Symphony Woods, it was impossible to get everyone to agree on a single, workable solution. Ultimately, just as with the Inner Arbor plan, residents' expectations of their level of input might have been exaggerated.

In the downtown Columbia process, it was the developer who held the cards. The notion that the process was about a plan being built solely by community consensus and not more by economic realities was misplaced. Fortunately, several good ideas came from those sessions and were incorporated into the plan.

The Inner Arbor situation is different in that citizens have had direct involvement through community meetings and through an elected Columbia Association board of directors that had to OK the plans. There was even an election in April where the trust's plans were used as campaign topics and candidates won or lost depending on their position on the plan.

So when the latest Columbia Association board supported the plans last week with a 6-4 vote, it left no doubt about the future of the site. Despite the desire some have for a more passive park, that vote gives the trust the backing it needs to continue.

Of course, that doesn't mean the park is going to move forward. Economics will play a key role. Early estimates of an approximately $35 million price tag on the amenities still seem like an ambitious goal for the nonprofit. And the Columbia Association, and Howard County for that matter, could still play a role in how they offer financial support.

At the same time, we'd urge the trust board to invite more public involvement in refining the plan. While they have approval to move forward, they are doing so on property that is a community asset. They should consider it a civic duty to keep the process as open and inclusive as possible.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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