Columbia Association might consider a carousel for Symphony Woods

The Columbia Association's plans for Symphony Woods Park have gone up and down — before the county, before the CA Board of Directors — with varying feedback, the highs and lows mimicking that of horses on a carousel.

Now, a real carousel could be a part of CA's plans for the future of the 36-acre park, the first project moving forward in Columbia's downtown redevelopment.

Richard Knight, owner and operator of the carousel in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, proposed that the board of directors include his carousel in their plans at their Thursday, Aug. 11 meeting.

The 106-year-old carousel has been operating in Harborplace for 31 years, Knight said. The 65-year-old Columbia resident said the carousel was in need of a sponsor and some "tender loving care," but that he and his wife had been considering moving the carousel out of Baltimore and were looking for other venues.

"Our roots are in Columbia," Knight said. "It would be a great asset to our community. It's a beautiful machine, and with your help we could make it part of Symphony Woods, for the children."

Repeatedly, Knight said, developers at Harborplace have told him and his wife, Heidi, that a building would be created for the carousel. That has never happened, Knight said.

"I don't dream about a kitchen or a new bathroom in my house," Heidi Knight said. "I dream about a building for my carousel."

Still, buildings will not be a part of the park until the later stages, with restroom facilities possibly being a part of Phase II.

When the design development plans for Phase I, which could be completed by fall 2012, went before the county's Design Advisory Panel in July, the panel denounced the plans, saying they lacked vision.

Alex Hekimian, chairman of the planning and strategy committee and Oakland Mills representative, presented updated plans for Symphony Woods Park to the board with staff members Jane Dembner, director of community planning, and Jan Clark, landscape architect. They included a stronger vision statement for the design development plans.

The vision statement, written Aug. 3, describes the park as being "an inviting and beautiful park, a provide respite — a breathing space downtown."

The goals of the vision statement include the park being a "green place of respite," a "destination for active living," a "shaded amenity area and setting for cultural events," a "gathering place for social interaction," a "connector among downtown Columbia activity centers" and a "front porch" for Merriweather Post Pavilion.

With the meeting turning into a meandering work session for the park as board members discussed permeable pathways, restroom facility design and the potential for a pond being a destination for wedding photography, and with Phase I plans still getting off the ground, CA President Phil Nelson reminded board members that plans for the park would be ongoing, and that the more board and staff tried to put into it all at once, the more the county would pick it apart.

"This is the initial phase of development," he said. "The park is never done. You'll be in phase 385 before this is all over."

Dorsey's Search representative Tom Coale was of a similar mindset, recommending to the committee and staff that in the future, the board address Symphony Woods Park in piecemeal.

"This was a blank check to talk about anything we wanted about Symphony Woods Park," he said. "I think we can do really great things at Symphony Woods, if we keep focus and pace ourselves. We just tried to sprint, and we're in a marathon."

Design development plans for Phase 1 of Symphony Woods Park redevelopment still must go before the county Department of Planning and Zoning. Site design plans still must go before the DAP.

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