Opponents of the Rouse Co.'s plan to build an apartment complex next to Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia have seized upon a curious argument in their bid to stop the project. They claim Rouse officials are plotting to put the pavilion out of business by placing residents so close that any loud music turns them against the concert facility. This argument has unfortunate currency among those who still see Columbia as a one-company town, the company being Rouse. Still, while we have to acknowledge Rouse officials' skill at strategic planning, such a Machiavellian scenario seems a stretch.
The fact is, if Rouse officials wanted to close Merriweather, there is nothing to stop them from doing so immediately. After all, they own it. They could always claim that the aging facility's profits didn't warrant its remaining open. Having it out of the way might even make it easier to build a more lucrative development in its place.
The company certainly doesn't need the excuse -- perhaps years in the offing -- that residents dislike the noise. That would only subject the company to criticism about its own planning, something in which it has always taken great pride.
Rather, it appears that Rouse officials want to build an apartment complex near Merriweather for exactly the reasons they've suggested. The company wants desperately to turn downtown Columbia into a livelier hub of urban commerce.
This has been hampered somewhat by the lack of foot traffic in the area, something that more residential development would correct. The chances are much more likely that the Rouse Co. will do everything it can to provide buffers around the apartment complex so that any existing noise is appropriately abated.
Yet, at this time, we must stop short of endorsing the zoning change that the Rouse Co. is seeking in order to build the apartments.
A change from commercial to residential zoning on such prime property is a major step that ought to be carefully considered. In effect, it would lessen the county's revenue-raising potential by precluding the property's development as an office complex.
The county's reliance on residential development as a revenue source is already excessive and in need of balancing.
That may not be enough of an argument to deny Rouse a zoning change, but it's worth adding to any discussion of this proposal.