Consultants gave residents a glimpse last week of a Columbia no longer so dependent on cars -- a place where walking, biking and taking a train or bus were all very real options for getting around.
"We believe that Columbia will be a very attractive part of the regional transit network," said Matt McKibbin, senior transportation planner for ARUP based in San Francisco. "Columbia will be served by a range of transit options that will increase connectivity. There really isn't good incentive for transit to come to Columbia right now. This development makes that case."
The first phase could be a new bus service that links The Mall in Columbia, Howard Community College and Howard County General Hospital, McKibbin told about 100 people who came to hear details of the General Growth Properties Inc. redevelopment plan for downtown Columbia.
Already, GGP officials said they are looking to improve some of downtown's biggest bottlenecks.
"I think gradually, as residents come to Town Center, the services will increase," McKibbin said. "The patronage will be so strong that the MTA won't be able to ignore it."
GGP's redevelopment plan calls for a first phase that includes a skating rink that converts to an open-air market in summer, 300,000 square feet of new retail space, 200,000 square feet of office space and a new hotel.
Other proposed improvements call for a makeover of Merriweather Post Pavilion to give it a new roof, stage, back-of-house facilities and concessions. Additional attractions could be added nearby to create more of a cultural destination.
The redevelopment of downtown -- a plan that would span three decades -- would include, in the near term, new pedestrian walkways connecting The Mall in Columbia to the lakefront and to Merriweather. It is the first major renovation of the Howard County planned community since it was built 40 years ago.
"This process has been ongoing for many years," said Gregory F. Hamm, GGP's regional vice president and Columbia general manager. "The body of that community involvement is inherent in this plan. The reason we're having these meetings is to confirm that we've listened and heard and responded."
Residents who attended the meeting asked for details about proposed changes to traffic patterns.
Traffic experts have told GGP that eventually there will be a need for a four-way interchange connected to Route 29 near South Entrance Road, Hamm said. Initially he opposed the idea, but he now recognizes that allowing that road to cross over the end of Lake Kittamaqundi may be the least environmentally damaging option.
"Clearly, there's a lot of engineering and discussion that would have to happen," Hamm said. "That's the exact position of the bridge over the lake that was shown by Jim Rouse. It's not the only idea, but it's an idea."
Evan Coren, a Columbia Association member from Kings Contrivance, said he has "concerns about the bridge over the lake and what impact that's going to have on noise and the experience of the lake."
Hamm said there needs to be additional development downtown for new transit options to happen.
"Good planning principles and a good mix of densities really precede transit," he said.
General Growth Properties Inc. will conduct a community discussion series in all villages to gather comments and ideas from the community on the master plan. Those dates are:
Monday: Long Reach, noon-2 p.m., Stonehouse
Monday: River Hill, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Claret Hall
Monday: Harper's Choice, 7 p.m.-9 p.m., Kahler Hall
Tuesday: Kings Contrivance, noon-2 p.m., Amherst House
Thursday: Dorsey's Search, 7 p.m.-9 p.m., Linden Hall
Saturday: Wilde Lake, 10 a.m.-noon, Slayton House
May 19: Owen Brown, 7 p.m.-9 p.m., Community Center
May 20: Hickory Ridge, 7 p.m.-9 p.m., Hawthorn Center
May 21: Oakland Mills, 7 p.m.-9 p.m., The Other Barn
May 22: Town Center, 7 p.m.-9 p.m., Oakland Manor