The Howard County Council is considering a parking reduction in downtown Columbia as part of the Kittleman administration's plans to redevelop the area into a vibrant, urban core.
The move, which changes a 2010 development plan for the town, reduces parking from 1.65 spaces to 1.3 spaces for new studio and one-bedroom units as the county grapples with how to create an urban environment in a largely suburban area.
Parking reductions are common incentives to help developers like downtown Columbia's master developer, Howard Hughes Corp., build affordable housing, said Carl DeLorenzo, the county's director of policy and programs.
The council is considering two competing proposals — one from the administration and one from Councilwoman Jen Terrasa — to incorporate affordable housing into the downtown area, where visionary Jim Rouse sought to create a community where janitor and CEO could live and work side-by-side.
Pinning down the specifics of that model is a key policy decision that will shape the future of downtown, council members said.
As Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia undergoes a $19 million renovation and cements its place as a defining arts venue, the original Save Merriweather campaign has taken on a new mission: Park Merriweather.
"If it's going to be a pain to park … people will just go somewhere else," said Councilman Greg Fox.
At the same time, too much parking in downtown can stifle the development.
"I don't want to see us build more parking than we need," Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty said.
The plan for downtown Columbia, passed in 2010 and now before the council for revisions, relies on a park-once and shared parking model.
County planners said the proposed parking reduction will meet the needs of the redeveloped downtown based upon the county's comparisons to other development projects such as the Rio, a mixed-use center in Gaithersburg, which has similar parking requirements.
As Howard Hughes Corp. develops downtown Columbia, Howard County officials defended the need for $128 million in tax increment financing to fulfill the vision of creating a vibrant urban core, a framework laid out by the 2010 master plan for Columbia's redevelopment.
Parking itself is "not a science, it's an art," said Brad Canfield, Merriweather Post Pavilion's vice president of operations. For years, the outdoor amphitheater has embraced that art by relying on shared parking to accommodate guests for its shows.
The county plans to identify a site for the transit center by next summer. New electric buses will also hit Columbia's streets next year, an experimental technology that hints at the changing face of transportation overall, Graham said.
School and county planners said existing controls will ensure overcrowding is tackled as the county chases a vision to make downtown Columbia a true downtown environment. This conclusion rests on a key assumption: downtown Columbia will not produce as many students in the school system as other parts of the county, according to the county's projections. Higher-than average rents and studio and one-bedroom apartments in high-rise apartment buildings will mean less students, according to the