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Don't sell downtown Columbia short [Commentary]

Howard County Times

This is a critical month for Howard County residents.

Two very different legislative packages are set to be introduced before the County Council on Friday. The policy decision before the council will shape the future of affordable housing in downtown Columbia, have a significant impact on the future of Columbia, and may set precedent for affordable housing throughout the county.

My plan is simple and implements the original recommendations of the Columbia Downtown Housing Corp. Calling for at least 15 percent affordable housing for all future downtown residential development, it ensures that downtown Columbia develops with a full spectrum of housing options as envisioned in the Downtown Columbia Plan. My legislation provides flexibility but ensures that when market rate units are built, so are affordable housing units, and it integrates units throughout the community.

In contrast, the county executive's plan is overly complicated, giving the appearance of delivering a greater community benefit than the proposal actually provides. It increases density by at least 900 units with no actual limit on density, concentrates a majority of affordable units in low-income housing tax credit projects, reduces the parking requirements and binds the county to a 40-year agreement with Howard Hughes, in which the county commits not to change the applicable laws for that same time period. I am hearing from the community that these are big concerns.

Also troubling is that along with their affordable housing legislation, the county executive is proposing a $90 million Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for downtown Columbia.

TIF financing should be used to encourage the revitalization of blighted or economically depressed areas where development would not otherwise occur but for this extraordinary infusion of public financing. Why are we being asked to use taxpayer money to encourage development in Columbia?

Downtown Columbia is a far cry from what I think of as blighted or economically depressed. While making downtown Columbia more vibrant is a goal many of us share, we are selling ourselves short if we think we need $90 million of public subsidies to make this happen.

We have no reason to sell downtown Columbia short.

We have no reason to compromise on the core principle that people of all socioeconomic backgrounds should be able to live side-by-side in downtown Columbia. We have no reason to jump down this rabbit hole when we have a very straightforward, well-reasoned, and perfectly simple, effective alternative on the table.

Be sure to voice your opinion by coming to testify on July 14 or July 18 or submit written testimony to councilmail@howardcountymd.gov.

Jennifer Terrasa is a member of the Howard County Council, representing District 3, which includes portions of Columbia, North Laurel, Savage, Guilford and parts of Jessup.

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