Design panel advises stronger vision for Symphony Woods Park

The Columbia Association's final design plans for Symphony Woods Park, the first project moving forward in the long-awaited redevelopment of downtown Columbia, lacks vision, according to the Howard County Design Panel.

The panel, comprised of architects and designers, urged CA at its meeting Wednesday, July 13, to create a more cohesive theme for the 40-acre park.

"I don't hear or see a vision or narrative, or a description of what is the goal for the park," said panel member Mohammad Saleem. "What are the resources that you see that are valuable, that need to be kept, enhanced, expanded, preserved? What is the big picture for this park? … It's not just a gathering place."

Panel member Hank Alinger said the park had potential to be a landmark in the process of downtown development, and member Phillips Engelke agreed.

"We're not the design police, and we try to be encouraging since this is the first shot out of the cannon," Engelke said. "We're waiting for you to step out onto the stage, because this will influence other things that will happen downtown. If it's generic, other developers will say there's no standard."

Engelke likened the influence Symphony Woods will have on Columbia to the importance of Central Park in New York City.

"This is obviously more modest, but it's of the same caliber for our community," Engelke said. "We encourage you to develop that narrative and make it a cohesive statement to become the basis for all open spaces downtown."

A key point of discussion was whether or not the proposed fountain in the center of the park, which would not become a reality until later phases of the development, would be interactive or not.

Jan Clark, CA's landscape architect, admitted the fountain design was not well-developed, but said the predominant feeling in the community was that the fountain should be interactive, which assuaged the panel's concerns.

"I'm not against the fountain," Saleem said. "I just need to understand the rationale for providing a fountain, and for what purpose."

Clark said the panel had given CA "great ideas" to take into consideration as the organization continues to work on the design development plans, which still must go before the Department of Planning and Zoning.

"The panel gave us lots to think about for the future of this park," she said.

CA will come back to the design advisory panel in late August or September with site development plans, Clark said, which also much be approved by the Department of Planning and Zoning, before construction can begin.

The first phase of development could begin as early as next spring, and be completed by fall 2012, Clark said.

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