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Columbia Association board crafting downtown response

The Baltimore Sun

Columbia Association board members will cull from criticism, praise and suggestions made at last week's public hearing as they work this week on a response to county officials on downtown revitalization.

At a meeting Thursday, the board will begin to craft a position on the county's framework document "Downtown Columbia: A Community Vision," which was released in September. The work session is set for 6:30 p.m. in the Columbia Association Building, 10221 Wincopin Circle. The public is welcome, but no public comment time is planned.

Comments at the hearing Thursday night covered everything from traffic to affordable housing to walkability.

"It would seem that the Columbia Association has abdicated its role as an important provider of numerous public and quasi-public amenities," Jud Malone, a former board member, said at the meeting. "I don't trust you, and I think you are failing the community."

He said he was concerned about any assumption that General Growth Properties Inc., Columbia's primary landowner, should pay for everything.

Others cautioned the board to be careful in its deal-making.

"My assumption is that even in a spirit of collaboration, when it comes time to decide who pays for what, there will be some spirited horse trading," said Harper's Choice resident J.D. Smith. "In this process, I respectfully request CA to not give away the farm."

Former board member Wolfger Schneider said: "CA needs to be vigilant, so it is not abused by a powerful developer."

General Growth plans its own set of at least a half-dozen meetings with groups and members of the public on a vision for downtown. Dates have not been announced.

County officials have held six public meetings on the topic.

General Growth will create a master plan proposal and request an amendment to the county's General Plan and petition for necessary amendments to zoning regulations.

Proposed amendments will be reviewed by the public and presented to the Planning Board and County Council for action.

Many have talked about bringing vibrancy to downtown, but John Jay Bonstingl, who owns a consulting firm in Columbia, said he favors "livability" and fears that "vibrancy" could translate into more pollution, trash and crime.

"We've missed a lot of opportunities to make this livable," he said. "Whatever happened to the paddle boats, what ever happened to the balloon festival, to the renaissance festival?"

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