Symphony Woods' development stirs more debate [Editorial]

The debate over the future of Symphony Woods is back on center stage – thanks, in large part, to a letter by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

Gehry, whose firm designed Merriweather Post Pavilion and the former Rouse Co. building on the Columbia lakefront, told the Baltimore Sun in a letter to the editor last week that the Inner Arbor plans "deeply disturb me" and that those plans were not in keeping with Columbia founder Jim Rouse's original vision for Symphony Woods, something he said he and Rouse discussed nearly 50 years ago.

Gehry, like many longtime Columbians, is advocating a more passive approach to the woods and adding things like an interactive fountain and a cafe. This plan for the 35-acre site came from Cy Paumier, once a close colleague of Rouse's. Gehry's letter sparked comment, some found on these pages, particularly from longtime Rouse supporters who continue to urge the Columbia Association to keep Symphony Woods more like its current setting.

The comments come the same week as the Howard County Design Advisory Panel approved the Inner Arbor Trust's more ambitious plans for Symphony Woods one with a shell-shaped ampitheater, a 300-foot floating picnic table and an 800-foot-long, 15-foot-high "caterpillar designed to divide the park.

CA, which owns the land, approved both plans, but the Inner Arbor Trust plan is the one moving forward, though the CA Board of Directors is considering altering its representation within the Trust to get more seats on the Trust's board.The plans are the latest example of what we seem to see with any major project in Columbia: It pits a more traditional approach against calls for a more dramatic change; a change some perceive to be in conflict Rouse's plan.

So, in the case of Symphony Woods, maybe we should do something crazy. Let's ask residents.

CA has an election coming this April where residents will be electing board members and village. Can't we ask residents' opinions on Symphony Woods as well? The results would not be binding, because only CA board members can have an actual vote on association matters. But maybe it will energize some residents to pay attention to the annual elections.

Is that too radical of an idea?

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