CA board 'off to good start'

The Baltimore Sun

At its first regular meeting, the newly constituted Columbia Association board received encouragement from state and county officials, vowed renewed cooperation and concluded one minute after the pledged 10:15 p.m. end time.

"We have some huge decisions in front of us as a community," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, who spoke at the Thursday meeting. "You play a pivotal role in that. One thing I really hope we can avoid is saying it's a mess, it's boring, it's unattractive. Look at this place. It's spectacular. We could do a lot to make it better, and we could ruin it. I want to offer whatever help I can as we work our way through it."

Each board member received an orchid plant symbolizing Columbia's abundant open space and a "people tree" pin as part of an induction ceremony.

"I think we're off to a really, really good start," said Cynthia Coyle, a board member from Harper's Choice. "I'm thinking this is the year that might be really different for us."

Suzanne Waller, a new board member from Town Center who served on the board for four years during the 1990s, said things had changed for the better since the last time she was on the board.

"I think we have terrific people, and if we can come together in a collegial way, we're likely to get more of what everyone wants," she said. "I don't think we need to be so rigid and uptight. I see the developer [General Growth Properties Inc.] as presenting possibilities. Let's not look at everyone as the enemy all the time."

Within 10 minutes of the start of the meeting, Vice Chairman Michael Cornell of River Hill had informed Tom O'Connor, the new chairman, that he was a few minutes behind schedule. The length of meetings and the civility of board members toward one another during the meetings were debated by the former board.

Association President Maggie J. Brown updated board members on the first meeting that the staff had with GGP. Negotiations about the meeting had been going on for months.

"I think we're all ecstatic about it," O'Connor, who represents Dorsey's Search, said in an interview. "We're delighted it's happening."

The meeting, held May 20, included a discussion of Symphony Woods and possible locations for association headquarters, Brown said. The current headquarters lease was discussed, and General Growth seemed receptive to one or more extensions of the lease.

The association lease for 20,000 square feet on the first and second floors of the Wincopin Circle building extends through August 2010, and the association board would like to extend that for three years, Brown has said.

Board members have talked about building a two-story, 30,000-square-foot headquarters building that would cost an estimated $11 million.

Property the association owns adjacent to Toby's Dinner Theatre and Little Patuxent Parkway, near Merriweather Post Pavilion, is the proposed site of its new headquarters.

Among the other topics that the board recently authorized the association's staff to discuss with GGP are wastewater management and related environmental issues.

"We stated that we would provide the information we have on the viable areas of Symphony Woods for a headquarters, and in turn GGP will provide us the studies they have done on the environment and viability of the areas they have studied in the woods," Brown said.

The developer and the association hope to set up a meeting this week between GGP's environmental consultant, the association's watershed consultant and the association's watershed project manager to discuss a process that would enable them to cooperate in identifying shared goals related to watershed issues.

GGP officials also told the association that they would provide estimates of revenue from downtown development, Brown said. That development is designed to make it more convenient for pedestrians and improve connectivity between The Mall in Columbia and the lakefront, GGP officials said.

In other action last week, the board voted unanimously to authorize the chairman to draft a letter to county officials asking that any changes in New Town zoning be delayed for a month to give the CA board time to talk with county officials.

"At this point, we haven't talked to them at all because we've had this embargo on staff talking to the county," O'Connor said in an interview. "We're working that issue through. People want us to be an advocate, but we don't want to be stepping on anyone's toes."

GGP has said that it expects to submit its proposed master plan next month.

A delay in any New Town zoning changes also would affect any proposed changes within individual villages, CA board members noted.

In March, County Executive Ken Ulman proposed that legislation be drafted to make county zoning regulations more flexible for Columbia's village centers. That legislation would need to go before the Planning Board and the County Council.

Columbia's village centers are caught up in shifting consumer preferences, making it increasingly important that each of them has the flexibility to evolve, Ulman has said.

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