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News Maryland Howard County Columbia

Advocates of fountain, cafe present redesigned plan for Symphony Woods

The designers of a plan for a fountain and cafe in the northern section of Symphony Woods have redeveloped their concept in hopes of convincing the Columbia Association to accept the project.

Led by Columbia resident and landscape designer Cy Paumier, the group will present the redesign to members of the public at an 8 p.m. meeting on April 4 at Kahler Hall in Harper's Choice.

"Almost every great city has a downtown park, and we don't have that." Paumier said.

The original park plan, which included placing a fountain in the middle of the woods near Little Patuxent Parkway, was discarded after the CA board voted Feb. 14 to pursue the Inner Arbor Plan as the lead concept design for the approximately 50-acre parcel.

Although the final development plan for the original park concept was approved by the County Planning Board in July, criticisms that the plan "lacked vision" and cut down too many trees led to the emergence of the Inner Arbor Plan, which proposes creating an arts village, a CA headquarters and restaurants on the eastern side of Symphony Woods.

The revised park design, which will take up 8 to 10 acres, would relocate the fountain further south and closer to the proposed cafe, which will border Merriweather Post Pavilion.

It also would have a new circular walkway resulting in the removal of 30 fewer trees, planners say, something that effectively satisfies one of the Planning Board's criticisms.

"The center of the park will remain open which, I think, is something a lot of people will like," Paumier said. "The two most important things people advocated for was a fountain and a café, and I don't think people have changed their minds."

Because the Inner Arbor Plan does not propose major development of the northern parcel, Paumier, an internationally renowned park designer, believes his revised plan and the new plan can be built in harmony.

"These two ideas work together; they are not in conflict," Paumier said. "I think it's unfortunate that wasn't said from the very beginning."

Alan Klein, leader of the citizen group the Coalition for Downtown Columbia, has advocated for the creation of the park.

"The unfortunate thing is people keep pitting the two against each other, but the two can coincide," Klein said.

Inner Arbor Plan designer Michael McCall, however, is not in favor of combining the two plans, citing the Planning Board's decision, which "emphasizes preservation of existing trees by routing pathways around healthy trees."

"It doesn't matter if the geometry is circular or linear, the Planning Board has said they want (the preservation of) trees as the priority," McCall said.

McCall said the Inner Arbor Plan proposes developing the park with picnic tables and meandering pathways built around the trees.

"We want to make it a place to be, but to do so with the Planning Board's order," McCall said.

Despite the opposition, Paumier remains optimistic the park will get built.

"Many times I have experienced questions and controversy, but if you have a sound idea based on substance, they will come around," Paumier said. "I think the community, the people who have been here a long time, really understand the importance of this park. People really care about this."

Paumier said he has been speaking with members of the CA board about inviting him to present his group's plans, and that some of those conversations have been positive.

River Hill representative Michael Cornell said he will, and already has, spoken to some board members regarding the revised proposal.

"I think Cy’s revised plan is much closer to what we originally had presented and does address some of the issues residents and the county had," Cornell wrote in an email. "It still requires removal of many of the trees and realigns some of the features in the Inner Arbor Plan."

For Paumier, that's progress.

"All we are asking for is an opportunity," he said.

Even if he doesn't get to appear before the board, Paumier has no plans of giving up.

"This is a process that has been going on for a long time," said Paumier, who originally offered to design a park for CA in 1999. "All I want to do is get the park built."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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