The Columbia Association staff has recommended putting Symphony Woods Park redevelopment plans on hold until Howard Hughes Corp.'s plans for redeveloping Merriweather Post Pavilion are clearer.
In a presentation to the CA board last week, CA Landscape Services Manager Jan Clark said CA's consultant, the engineering and planning firm WR&A, believes the pause will allow for a better development of the two adjacent parcels, which make up the Merriweather-Symphony Woods neighborhood.
"The advantages (of the delay) would be to optimize park and Merriweather integration, to make the best decision about site resources," Clark said at a CA board meeting Aug. 23. "The design team sees a lot of value in pausing at this time."
The Symphony Woods redevelopment plan, which includes a fountain and new pathways, received final development approval from the county Planning Board on July 19, marking the halfway point in the 16-step development process.
According to Clark, the current Symphony Woods plan was developed, in part, with Howard Hughes' first conceptual rendering of a Merriweather redevelopment in mind.
However, Howard Hughes has since discarded that idea in favor of a dramatically different concept, which Clark said is more in line with the overall downtown redevelopment plan.
"We are in slightly shifting sands," Clark said.
Clark said Howard Hughes' change of course leaves the association with three options: Stay the course and begin the second half of the development process; pause until plans for Merriweather take shape; or pause and develop interim programming that would expand the immediate use of the park.
Clark said staff recommended the third option, including enhancing park programming by installing sculptures, beautifying the property and increasing the number of concerts, festivals, group exercise sessions and other programs.
"Programming is really what's going to activate this park. ... There's nothing stopping us moving forward with that," Clark said.
River Hill representative said Michael Cornell said putting the project on hold is worrisome.
"My concern, as it has been for the last two years, is we're not moving forward," Cornell said. "We hit a milestone last month, and now we're going to wait?"
Kings Contrivance representative Shari Zaret agreed and said she doesn't see how Howard Hughes' new plan conflicts with designs for Symphony Woods.
"What happens if we lose momentum?" Zaret said. "Entropy will get you. I just don't yet see where there is anything that conflicts with what we've heard with Howard Hughes."
CA President Phil Nelson urge board members to keep in mind the bigger picture: creating an integrated Merriweather-Symphony Woods neighborhood.
"We are planning for an entire neighborhood concept," Nelson said. "It's not just Symphony Woods, it's not just Merriweather Post. The county expects us to be planning for a neighborhood design."
Hickory Ridge representative Gregg Schwind expressed the importance of getting the project right, even if it means a delay.
"I'm generally very impatient," Schwind said. "But I just think this is such an important project, we really have an obligation to get this right, and I think staff's recommendation is a good one."
Cynthia Coyle, who represents from Harper's Choice, recommended combining the three options by simultaneously moving ahead with the project, collaborating with Howard Hughes on a master plan and enhancing programming.
"There is no reason to say the only way you can collaborate with (Howard Hughes) is to pause," Coyle said. "This is a fundamentally good plan that allows for additional collaboration with (Howard Hughes)."
The board is scheduled to vote on the recommendation at a later meeting.