Howard County Times
Howard County

Residents praise, but question, plan for Columbia park

The community response Monday night to detailed plans for unique structures and artistic landscaping in Symphony Woods in downtown Columbia could be categorized as cautiously optimistic as residents both praised and questioned the plan.

"I commend the group for laying to rest many of my doubts," said Hickory Ridge resident Steve Sternheimer following the Trust's hour and a half presentation on the plan, which was held at Howard Community College.


"The team should be applauded for that. But I still have concerns."

Phase one of the plan will bring more acitvity to 16-acres in the park north of Merriweather Post Pavilion Among the architectural features is the Butterfly building, a sweeping structure of mirrors and glass that would include an art gallery and large decks. An outdoor amphitheater known as the Chrysalis, which would have a shell-like covering of a lightweight metal.


And then there is the Caterpillar, described by landscape designer Martha Schwartz as "a great big worm kind-of tube" stretching 800 feet east-west across the park as a boundary between Merriweather and Symphony Woods. The tube, which would be wired for irrigation and electricity, would be covered in live plants.

Sternheimer was not alone in his mixed reaction as others also expressed both praise and concern for the plan. Of the concerns, residents seemed most fixated on park maintenance, parking, funding and security.

"The questions were very understandable questions," said Michael McCall, president of the Trust, which was created by land owner Columbia Association to manage the development of Symphony Woods.

"Those are very practical things that need to be sorted out. We just need to decide what it is we are trying to do before we figure out how to do those things."

Parking was a particular hot issue, as the plan currently does not call for any structured parking to be built by the Trust for the development.

"I don't see a drawing that shows where the people will park and how they will get to the facilites," said Jervis Dorton, Oakland Mills resident.

McCall said parking will be addressed at a later date, and that building a garage is "way beyond the payscale of the Trust."

"We are not in this alone," McCall said referring to Howard Hughes Corp., owner of Merriweather Post Pavilion and developer of the land surrounding Symphony Woods known as the Crescent.


"Parking has got to be solved (in downtown). There's been a lot of energy put in already and there's going to be more put into it. It's going to be solved."

While logistical concerns were raised, the plan also received high praise from a lot of residents, some of which are eager to see the plans put into motion.

"I am wowed by the ideas and the visions you have," said Liz Henzey, Kings Contrivance resident and director of the Columbia Association's Art Center.

Lee Andersen said she is "thrilled" about the project.

"My question is: when can you start?," said Andersen.

According to McCall, the first piece of the plan, the Chrysalis amphitheater, could be completed as early as 2015. The next step for the Trust is to submit site development plans to Howard County's Department of Planning and Zoning, which it will do by Jan. 28.