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Feedback sought on vision for Columbia

The Baltimore Sun

Howard County residents will have plenty of opportunities to learn about - and comment on - the new vision for downtown Columbia.

Late Friday afternoon, the county government released "Downtown Columbia: A Community Vision," as a framework for General Growth Properties Inc. as it plans the future of Town Center. General Growth Properties, which took over Columbia when it bought the Rouse Co. in 2004, controls most of the downtown real estate, including The Mall in Columbia.

"This is a draft," said County Executive Ken Ulman. "It's a draft we're very proud of. We think it encompasses the community desires. But we want feedback."

Each of the meetings are open to the public:

Oct. 10 - Presentation and discussion of "Downtown Columbia: A Community Vision" for the Columbia Downtown Focus Group, The Other Barn, 5851 Robert Oliver Place, Columbia, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Oct. 11 - Presentation of traffic analysis by Sabra, Wang & Associates, Kahler Hall, 5440 Old Tucker Row, Columbia, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Oct. 20 - Presentation of "Downtown Columbia: A Community Vision" to the Columbia Association and village boards, 3430 Courthouse Drive, Ellicott City, George Howard Building, Banneker Room, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Oct. 20 - Open house, 3430 Courthouse Drive, Ellicott City, George Howard Building, Banneker Room, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Oct. 25 - Open house, Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Oct. 30 - Public forum, Oakland Mills High School, 9410 Kilimanjaro Road, Columbia, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The report says, "An appropriate balance of three key components - the amenities that contribute to quality of life, the amount of development, and the transportation infrastructure" - must be met to ensure a successful downtown. There should be well-defined districts within downtown, a pedestrian-friendly environment and height limits for buildings that are appropriate to each district's character.

The report includes a traffic study that recommends roadway extensions of streets, including Hickory Ridge Road, Corporate Boulevard and South Entrance Drive; intersection improvements such as added turn lanes at Governor Warfield Parkway, Wincopin Circle, Broken Land Parkway, Hickory Ridge Road and Symphony Woods; interchange improvements along U.S. 29/South Entrance Road and U.S. 29/Route 175; and the creation of a transportation management center to monitor and manage in real time traffic operations and incidents.

Calling Symphony Woods and Merriweather Post Pavilion the Columbia "Central Park," the report advocates converting the 40-year-old pavilion to an indoor-outdoor facility for year-round use. It also states that surface parking lots should be reduced or eliminated by building parking garages.

There should be housing for low-, moderate-, and middle-income families, the report states, and that "green" environmental technology should be used whenever possible.

The process for the report began in October 2005 when a weeklong planning charrette was held to discuss Columbia's future. Founded by James W. Rouse, Columbia celebrated its 40th anniversary this summer with 40 days of events.

The release of the plan is the first of three steps outlined in the report. The second step is for General Growth Properties to create a proposal for a master plan, request an amendment to the county's General Plan and petition for necessary amendments to zoning regulations. The proposed amendments, under the third step, will be reviewed by the public and presented to the Planning Board and County Council for action.

"The heart of Columbia is James Rouse's vision," said Bill Mackey, planning supervisor and project manager for this framework document. "And this continues that."

"Downtown Columbia: A Community Vision" is available at all Howard County public libraries, the Department of Planning and Zoning public service counter, County Council offices and the Howard County government Web site,

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