Last year, the Columbia Association expected to be starting construction this summer on the first phase of redeveloping Symphony Woods into a more publicly used park.
Instead, on Thursday, July 12, CA was presenting its final development plan for the first phase to the county Planning Board — the halfway point in the 16-step development process for downtown Columbia that must be complete before construction on any project can begin.
"We expect to complete the extensive county review process by early spring, and are planning to begin construction after Wine in the Woods 2013," Jan Clark, CA's landscape architect and project manager for Symphony Woods, said in an emailed statement after the hearing.
CA's plan is to create a pedestrian entryway off Little Patuxent Parkway — directly across from Mall Access Road — with a wide stairway leading down to a pathway connecting to a central fountain. The plan also includes a smaller network of pathways that connect with the fountain, which is to serve as the central gathering space in the park.
"We think it's important that it's scaled such that it is visible from the edges," said Charles Bailey, landscape architect with Mahan Rykiel and Associates Inc., one of the companies CA hired to develop the plan.
When the water is turned off, the fountain is planned to function as a performance space for small concerts and theater performances.
"We feel what's really going to liven this park, bring activity ... is the programming that we anticipate," Clark said.
Outdoor group fitness classes, art classes, temporary art exhibits, performances and festivals were among the potential programming Clark mentioned.
Bailey discussed the design guidelines for the whole Symphony Woods/Merriweather neighborhood. Future phases of Symphony Woods, he said, could include a woodland garden, amphitheater, children's activity area and picnic area.
Bailey also noted there are ideas for a cafe and other structures that could be shared with Howard Hughes Corp., owner of Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Tree removal protested
After CA's presentation, the board heard testimony from seven Columbia residents, most of whom opposed the plan because they feel it involves removing too many trees — a longstanding complaint from many residents.
Symphony Woods "means woods," 15-year Columbia resident Rhonda Spero said. "It does not mean a formal park that is going to be paved over with a lot of destruction of trees."
Spero is part of a group called Preserve the People's Trees. Wendel Thompson, speaking for the group, presented the board with an alternative plan that would remove only 12 trees.
CA's plan "has a worst-case scenario of 64 trees" being removed, Bailey said.
Columbia resident Rex Carpenter proposed none of the trees be removed, leaving the woods as they are today.
Joan Lancos, also a Columbia resident, worried the plan does not include elements that will draw visitors to the park year-round, and the straight pathways pictured are "in direct contrast to such a rolling topography."
George Barker, speaking on behalf of Columbia advocacy group Bring Back the Vision, was the only resident to speak in favor of the plan.
"It is amazing how few people actually frequent Symphony Woods," he said. "I think what is being proposed is a classic attempt to do what parks are supposed to do ... attract people."
The planning board did not have time to deliberate before Thursday's meeting ended, so it postponed a vote on the plan until its July 19 meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m., in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.