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The Howard County Planning Board voted unanimously to change the renovation schedule for Merriweather Post Pavilion, a popular outdoor amphitheater in Columbia.
The Howard County Planning Board voted unanimously to change the renovation schedule for Merriweather Post Pavilion, a popular outdoor amphitheater in Columbia. (Courtesy of Ian Kennedy)

The Howard County Planning Board voted unanimously to change the renovation schedule for Merriweather Post Pavilion, a popular outdoor amphitheater in Columbia.

The change could speed up the ownership transfer of Merriweather from Howard Research Development Corp. to the Downtown Arts and Culture Commission, a nonprofit organization established to protect the vitality of the arts in downtown Columbia.

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Development in downtown Columbia is triggered by development milestones called Community Enhancements, Programs and Public Amenities, or CEPPAs. Currently, the ownership transfer is allowed if the developer has building permits for 5 million square feet of development – a transfer that could be years away. The development is just shy of 1.3 million square feet.

Under the change, the commission, instead of the current owner, would take responsibility of completing ongoing renovations — but only once the ownership transfer, a hand-off contemplated by local lawmakers for years, takes place. Renovations are expected to be completed by April 2020.

On Sept. 20, county officials met with concerned members of the community about Merriweather Post Pavilion's noise levels that some say have bombarded their homes over the last three years. Members of the Howard County Citizens Association, County Council, the county executive, Merriweather personnel and Police and Health Department representatives were among those in attendance to discuss the ongoing issue.

"Now we're talking about creating a real cultural attraction," said planning board member Phil Engelke.

The changes allow the commission to make renovations beyond requirements and guidelines laid out in 2004 study, including raising the pavilion roof 30 feet higher than originally planned, said Ian Kennedy, executive director of the arts commission.

Raising the roof could be critical in managing complaints from surrounding communities about increased noise from the pavilion, according to Kennedy. The change allows speakers to tilt down toward the audience instead of broadcasting straight into community, Kennedy said.

Funding to complete the renovations is available, including $9.5 million from a 2014 agreement and $4 million in state funding, Kennedy said.

The Howard County Council is considering an amendment to plans for downtown Columbia by Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty that would require the transfer to take place by the end of November.

"The transfer will happen by the end of November. It is the will of the council that we would expect to see a timely turnover of Merriweather," Sigaty said, adding the "ultimate goal is to have Merriweather beautiful for its 50th anniversary," which will be celebrated in 2017.

Wegmans liquor store

The board denied a proposal to bring a liquor store to the Wegmans building in Columbia, halting a highly-debated plan that opponents said would stifle competition for area liquor stores.

In a 3-1 vote, the board shot down the project, which board member Tudy Adler said grants an exception for a single grocery store unprecedented in any other grocery store in the county.

"You are giving one grocery store a very high advantage," said board member Jacqueline Easley.

The vote halts a development proposal that has evolved since the Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board, a five-member board that provides liquor licenses, said a previous proposal violated a state law that prohibits licenses "issued to or for use in conjunction with or on the premise" of a grocery or chain store.

Three years after Howard County's Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board denied a liquor license application for a proposed business on the second story of the Wegmans store in Columbia, a new entrepreneur is hoping to win the board's approval for a venture in the same spot.

The latest plan called for a liquor store in the Wegmans building with a completely separate entrance not directly accessible from the grocery store, according to a county report.

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Engelke, who voted for the proposal, said that distinction made the plan similar to allowing any other liquor store in a center with a grocery store.

Maple Lawn hotel

A new four-story Marriott Residence Inn hotel and three-story office building is slated for construction in Maple Lawn Farms, a community of more than 600 acres in Fulton. Maple Lawn is one of the largest planned communities in the state and includes a mix of retail, housing and office space.

The board approved the two buildings near Westside Boulevard, which sits near a community of town houses. The developer, Greenebaum Enterprises, did not identify any confirmed tenants in the office building.

Chris Hanes of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning said 221 parking spaces planned for the building meet county requirements.

The board also approved an addition to a Chick-fil-A in a commercial center on Dobbin Road in Columbia. The fast food restaurant will include roughly 700 square feet of additional kitchen space and another drive through lane, according to a report by the county's Department of Planning and Zoning.

The board also recommended the county perform a traffic study of the surrounding area. The restaurant, which opened in 2004, rests in a congested area that planning board member Phil Engelke said is "pretty much a mess."

"The greater concern isn't this property. It's everything around it," Engelke. "It's about time to do a traffic study of that whole area of Dobbin Center."

Joseph Ucciferro, an associate for Bohler Engineering, said the expansion will increase efficiency by enlarging the kitchen.

"Our hope would be that the traffic would get better," Ucciferro said.



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