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Jane Dembner, Columbia Association planner and executive, dies

Jane L. Dembner was enthusiastic about bicycling, and she and her husband traveled long distances.
Jane L. Dembner was enthusiastic about bicycling, and she and her husband traveled long distances. (Handout)

Jane L. Dembner, the Columbia Association’s director of Planning & Community Affairs, died of parotid gland cancer June 11 at Gilchrist Hospice Care of Howard County. She was 58 and lived in the Hobbit’s Glen section of Columbia.

She also worked in Washington, D.C., and managed the revitalization effort along the Anacostia waterfront and a 20-mile riverwalk from Kenilworth Avenue to the 14th Street Bridge. She also helped create master plans for Frederick and Queen Anne’s County.

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She was the project manager for a 2000 comprehensive plan for Washington, D.C., and guided its passage through the City Council.

“She was bright and intense. She was creative and big problem solver,” said Don Edwards, the CEO of Justice & Sustainability Associates. “She definitely made a difference. She was a really good manager, and she paid attention to the details. I learned a lot from her.”

Born and raised in New York City, she was the daughter of Red Dembner, a book publisher, and his wife, Anna Levi. She was a 1979 graduate of Hunter College High School and earned a bachelor’s degree at Oberlin College. She had a master’s degree in planning from the University of Pennsylvania.

“She was full of energy and life. She was totally driven in what she was doing,” said her husband, Michael Osborne.

He said they met through friends when she was a Library of Congress intern in the early 1980s.

In addition to her work in Washington, she also did plans for the Route 1 corridor in Maine as well as planning studies in Chicago and other locations. She worked in land use, transportation, development and revitalization.

Since 2010, Ms. Dembner had been director of Planning & Community Affairs for the Columbia Association and was a member of the executive team.

“Jane was an accomplished urban planner, and she brought us the insights we needed as we worked with Columbia’s revitalization through the Howard Hughes Corp. and the Howard County government,” said Milton W. Matthews, president of the Columbia Association. “She had a good perspective and brought a vision of inclusiveness and diversity to her job.”

Mr. Matthews said she was a founder of a Columbia speakers series that addressed the social concepts that underpinned the founding of Columbia.

According to a biography prepared by her sister, Ms. Dembner oversaw Columbia’s capital development, planning, parks and open space, watershed management and landscape services.

“She developed and implemented an overall strategic plan for Columbia as well as master plans for serving older adults, improving bicycle and pedestrian mobility, and the community’s many swimming pools,” said Alice Dembner, her sister, a Needham, Mass., resident. “She was known as an intrepid innovator always ready to lead a new project that would engage and benefit the community.”

Her sister also said, “She had a love of life and new experiences and would jump in with both feet with any new opportunity.”

She founded and served as president of the board of the Columbia Housing Center, an organization that works to ensure that the community is welcoming to people of all races, ethnicities and religions.

She also led the Family Council at Vantage House, a Columbia retirement community.

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She and her husband bicycled long distances — one trip took them from Vancouver to Seattle. She was a Howard County bicycle advocate and had studied bike planning and paths in Copenhagen, Denmark. She wanted to create a multiuse path, for bikes and walking, from the Patuxent Branch Connector Trail to Lake Kittamaqundi.

“She was one of us who believes in the spirit of this place, and Jane was a go-getter,” said Ian Kennedy, director of the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission. “She was persistent and driven, and when an idea came along like the trail, she would pursue that goal with stubborn determination.”

After her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008, she assisted him in the Breathe Deep Columbia from 2013 to 2017. The 5K walk in Lake Front Plaza raised more than $200,000 for the LUNGevity Foundation, a group that provides cancer research funding.

Before her work with the Columbia Association, Ms. Dembner was associate vice president of HNTB, an engineering, architecture and planning firm. She had earlier been a principal at LDR, a Columbia-based urban design, planning and landscape architecture firm. She was previously a consultant for BDM International.

In addition to her husband of 30 years, a rare book dealer, and her sister, survivors include a son, Daniel Osborne of Columbia; her mother, Anna Dembner, also of Columbia; a brother, Stephen Dembner of Rome; four cousins; and two nieces.

A memorial life celebration is being planned.

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