GGP, CA upbeat on meeting

The Baltimore Sun

The long-awaited meeting between the Columbia Association and General Growth Properties Inc. brought new pledges of cooperation, renewed optimism and a fair amount of Monday-morning quarterbacking.

About 100 people attended the meeting Thursday night at GGP's Columbia headquarters to talk about a variety of topics ranging from regional storm-water management to a new headquarters for CA to ideas for Symphony Woods and Merriweather Post Pavilion.

"I was happy that we finally met," said Barbara Russell, chair of the Columbia Association. "I was surprised that GGP revealed almost no [new] information. I have no idea at this point where GGP is in this process."

Russell said she found it puzzling that Gregory F. Hamm, GGP's regional vice president and general manager of Columbia, did not provide more details of the draft master plan that GGP is scheduled to reveal April 28.

"It did not serve the purpose of why we wanted to meet," Russell said. "We wanted to meet to find out what GGP's plans were that would affect our land and interests."

Hamm said he thought it was a good meeting that created openings for future cooperation.

"I needed to learn from them before we can show them anything," he said. "I think a very positive dialogue went to another level. I liked the fact that we heard from the board members and, by extension, the whole community about using the strength of their tenancy to do something bigger."

Columbia Association board members shared ideas about possibly using space in their future building to house museum, community or entertainment space.

Cynthia Coyle, the CA board member from Harper's Choice, said she thinks that several concrete things came out of the meeting.

The CA board now can give direction to its staff on how to discuss storm-water management with GGP, after the Thursday meeting and one the day before with Keith Bowers, a member of GGP's design team who presented his ideas for ecological restoration and planning downtown, Coyle said.

Bowers did a good job of relating work he had done elsewhere with his assessments of land, waterways and woodlands in Columbia, Coyle said.

"I had confidence that the residents of Columbia were being heard for the first time since the charette," Coyle said. "We were getting more than ethereal discussion."

The week-long charette, held in October 2005, was a collaboration of about 300 residents and designers to generate ideas for the master plan. It was followed by the creation of a focus group, consisting of community leaders and stakeholders who met for about nine months to discuss components of the master plan.

Russell said she planned to recommend at the next board of operations committee meeting that CA ask its staff to meet with GGP to talk about storm water management.

Last week's meeting with GGP left others frustrated at what they viewed as lost opportunities to be further along in the process of teaming with the Chicago-based developer, which is Columbia downtown's largest property owner.

"It would have accomplished much more if we had said, 'Go ahead and proceed,' " said Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, a CA board member representing Owen Brown. She said she was upset that CA hadn't agreed to certain matters before the meeting. "We should have walked in with what we wanted," she said. "We did not. We said we have to go back."

Atkinson-Stewart said CA "looked really bad. I think Greg Hamm is going to work with us. I applaud him for being patient. It is not GGP's fault; it's CA's fault if there's anything in that document that people don't want to see on the 28th. We provided no information to GGP in a timely manner."

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