The Baltimore Sun

Height-limit bill should be delayed

I am a landscape architect, a land planner and a consultant to people who develop land. I work in the private sector and have practiced my craft and lived in Howard County since 1989.

I reside in District 4, which is Mary Kay Sigaty's district. I have no financial interest in the downtown tower whatsoever, nor do I have any contractual arrangement with WCI.

With respect to Councilwoman's Sigaty's proposed legislation to limit heights to 150 feet in downtown Columbia, I would say this: A long time ago, the government of Philadelphia decreed that no building in the city could be taller than the statue of William Penn, which stands atop City Hall downtown. As a consequence, almost all of the buildings in Philadelphia are of the same height, just lower than the head of the statue.

The skyline of Philadelphia is one of the least interesting you'll ever see. It's so flat it reminds one of the deck of an aircraft carrier.

And please don't buy the argument that this is just a stopgap measure until the downtown plan is completed. First of all, what would the bill be stopping now except the Plaza Residences, which is under construction?

The "sunset" provision of the bill is designed to make the legislation palatable to opponents of height limits, but it should fool no one. Its intent is to kill the Plaza Residences and limit the height of buildings permanently.

The bill's proponents understand human nature. They know that if the council passes this bill, the 150-foot height will become the standard, and every project that is proposed at higher than 150 feet will be treated as deviating from a previously accepted norm.

If this bill is passed, we will spend more of our time and effort to get it reversed in the future.

We will be put through this same battle again, and it is unnecessary. The Plaza Residences is under construction. Nothing else is in the pipeline. The master plan is just around the corner.

Let's wait for the master plan to address issues of height in downtown.

With respect to Bill No. 64, I would summarize it simply as an abuse of government power. It flies in the face of every concept our society has about fairness and fair play.

Keeping your promises, making your given word mean something worthwhile and guaranteeing equal protection under the law are all basic stitches which hold our society's fabric together, and they are all offended by this bill.

David Dows Columbia

Business opposition to 275-foot tower

Contrary to what has been reported, a great many Howard County business leaders are unalterably opposed to construction of the proposed skyscraper in the heart of Columbia.

The Chamber of Commerce claims to speak for all business people in Howard County. It does not.

We, the undersigned business owners, and many others whose names do not appear below, strongly support the height-limit legislation before the County Council.

We do not want to be stuck with a 275-foot-tall structure (the first of many?) in an area currently planned for buildings of 180 feet or less.

We dread seeing a Skyscraper City sprouting up around our community's beautiful lakes.

Like so many others, we were first attracted to Columbia by the beauty of this well-planned environment, by the human scale of our buildings and by the unspoken promise that the community's original values and vision would be carefully preserved for future generations to enjoy.

The proposed Plaza Tower is against the best interests of the business people and residents of Columbia and Howard County.

If construction is allowed, our ability to create a coherent master plan for our community will be irreparably compromised, and we will have no choice concerning building heights at the lakefront.

We commend Council member May Kay Sigaty for introducing legislation to stop the skyscraper and other similar structures from being built.

The two bills before the County Council are the best way to ensure that the proposed Plaza Tower is blocked, allowing us to create a master plan that will preserve and enhance our high quality of life.

This, after all, is the reason we chose to live and do business in Columbia in the first place.

Money magazine chose Columbia as the best place to work and live east of the Mississippi. They could have chosen a place filled with skyscrapers. They chose our human-scale New Town instead.

We strongly encourage readers who share our convictions to make their voices heard now, loud and clear, before it is too late.

John Jay Bonstingl Bonstingl Leadership Development International

Len Berkowitz Great Panes Stained Glass Studio

Judith Vogel and David Glaser Vogel/Glaser & Associates Inc.

Corporate influence affects Columbians

The larger issue of Columbia downtown development and revitalization is still with us. While I have my own opinions on individual aspects, like the tower, I am not here to share them with you.

What I would like to address -- and hear from you about -- is a more broad-based issue that permeates so much of public discourse and politics today: corporate influence.

Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in the late 1800s, the American judicial system not only recognizes corporations as individuals, but also grants them the rights of individuals. This means corporate rights now also include free speech in the form of political campaign donations.

When we look at local issues, such as downtown development, the debate is between not only growth and sustainability, but also between individuals and corporate interests of developers.

In politics today -- at almost every level -- the voice is overwhelmingly corporate.

Simple observation reveals that many corporations, and their political action committees, or PACs, often donate to candidates in opposing parties running for the same office. Corporations do not bet on a winner -- they guarantee themselves a winner.

Further, corporate lobbyists ensure corporate donations are a sound investment for the corporation. This is why some of the largest corporate donors include health insurance companies, pharmaceutical firms, defense contractors and commercial real estate developers.

In some places in the country, citizens -- individuals -- are taking action to remove corporate political influence from local elections.

This past year, Humboldt County in California became the latest, and largest, jurisdiction to abolish the legal doctrine known as "corporate personhood."

The measure effectively bans corporate campaign donations.

I urge all citizens to read up on downtown development. Find out how your quality of life may be affected -- for good or for ill. Let your elected officials know how you feel. Get involved so your interests are heard and accounted for.

You want the tower? Fine. But let's have the tower because residents want the tower.

Michael Cornell Columbia

The writer is the representative from River Hill on the Columbia Association's board of directors.

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