Howard Hughes is Playing Three Card Monte with the New Transit Center Location

Howard Hughes is playing game of three card monte regarding the location of the new transit center. The transit center is here, or there, or there. The DRRA states

The Downtown Columbia Plan envisions a new transit center as part of the redevelopment of Downtown Columbia. The December 2011 Nelson Nygaard transit study (“Study”) provided to the County by HRD in satisfaction of CEPPA 5 recommended locating the new transit center in the Symphony Overlook Neighborhood, generally between the Mall and the Corporate Center buildings. In accordance with CEPPA 14, HRD, in cooperation with the Howard County Office of Transportation, will identify the site (the “Transit Center Site”) prior to approval of the first SDP in the Symphony Overlook Neighborhood . . .

DRRA page 19.  As shown in the DRRA,  the location specified in the Nelson Nygaard  study and reference in the DRRA is what is Star 2 –a location in the Mall in Columbia parking lot, owned by GGP. The DRRA implies that this is the location for the transit center. Yet, the staff of Howard County DPZ believe otherwise. Two of them individually told me that the transit center will be in the corner of Symphony Overlook at the location now occupied by a parking garage and the building with a Wells Fargo, Kinkos, and Union Jack’s. Greg Fitchett of Howard Hughes also suggested this location in a conversation on July 14, 2016.

Yet, nowhere does the DRRA mention these other locations. Moreover, in speaking with Clive Graham of the Howard County Department of Transportation, he stated that the location has not been determined and that the County will be conducting a study to determine the exact size and location for the transit center. It is in the parking lot, no it is at Union Jack’s, no it is in the parking lot.

The DRRA just skips right over this location issue. It also skips over the fact that when the 2010 Downtown Plan was crafted the property owned by GGP was all within one corporation. With the spin off of Howard Hughes, something seems to have been lost in the planning for the redevelopment of the Mall parking lot. GGP is not currently participating in the redevelopment of Columbia.

While the DRRA discusses the “Development Rights Property” owned by GGP, it is generally in the context of affordable housing. It also states that if Howard Hughes “fails to acquire fee ownership thereof within three (3) years after such recordation, then such property shall be deemed automatically released from this Agreement on the expiration of such three (3)-year period.” DRRA page 28. So what will happen if GGP does not sell to Howard Hughes? Where will the transit center be built. What happened to plans for hotels and retail in the parking area? What happened to the plans for a promenade near the food court entrance?

Will GGP decide one day to redevelop the Mall on their own. Having been released from the restrictions on the Development Rights Property, will GGP ask the County for an increase in the number of housing units to build say 2000 more?

And how does redeveloping the existing buildings in Symphony Overlook effect the value of the TIF? There is not much tax increment from tearing down existing buildings.

Follow the ball. The transit center is here or there. The housing is here or there or there. The promenade is there or not there. Keep following the ball. The TIF is here or there.

Sorry you are wrong. Want to play again in 2026 with the DRRA submitted by GGP?



The New Parking Garage Location is WRONG

The Administration and many members of the Council believe that the TIF needs to finance a public parking garage in the Crescent Neighborhood so that people will “park once” in Downtown Columbia. They believe that we need a publicly owned garage because all of the parking in Downtown is controlled by GPP and Howard Hughes. While the theory of park once might be a sound one, the planned execution will be a failure. “If you build it, they will park” is not necessarily a sound public policy.

To encourage people to park once and walk there must be something to walk to and parking elsewhere must be difficult, costly or time consuming. The new 2450 space parking garage fails on all metrics. First, the location is not central to anything. The garage is at the far southeast corner of the Crescent Neighborhood. It is bounded on the east by open space, the river, and Route 29. On the South, it is bounded generally by open space and the Route 29 exit flyover. To the west will be the new Crescent buildings, many with their own garages. To the north is Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Show me all the people who will park in the far corner of the Crescent to have dinner, then walk to the AMC movie theater in the Mall, and then pick up a few things at Whole Foods and then walk back to their car. Even with a Downtown Circulator this will be unlikely. So long as there is free and available parking at the Mall or the Lakefront, people will move their cars to each location.

The Council discussed at its prior hearing the desire to “solve the Merriweather parking problem.” People wore their supportive “Park Merriweather” T-shirts. While the spaces will be helpful for people attending MPP events, clearing the garage after a concert with a congested ramp and only two exits, especially until the new Route 29 interchange from Symphony Drive is constructed could be quite a lengthy process.

While the garage might go a long way to solving the MPP  event problem, most of the other 330 days or so a year, this will be one empty parking garage. Moreover, if 6000 people tried to park once and use the retail, restaurants, and the library, the neighborhood amenities would probably be filled well beyond capacity.

If park once is to be successful, the garage must be centrally located. In the Crescent, this would be at Merriweather Drive and Hickory Ridge Road. People could then walk north to the development parallel to Broken Land Parkway, east to MPP, and southeast to the central Crescent development.

Yet, where do those planning for events in Symphony Woods expect people to park? Because it is closer, they will park at the Mall and neighboring garages. So rather than the Crescent, the Howard County Garage should be constructed in the Symphony Overlook Neighborhood so that it could serve commuters at the new transit center during the day, shoppers in the evening, events at the Chrysalis and other events in Symphony Woods and still be available for MPP events.

Only then might “park once” be viable. Otherwise, if you build it, they will skateboard might be the result most days.


#HoCoMD #Columbia



The New Library Location is WRONG

What kind of community builds their main Central Library at the end of dead end street with a cul-de-sac? Perhaps a community that has an historic warehouse or mill building that they want to convert to a public use. A planned community would locate the main library on a highly visible road and make it the center of activity in a neighborhood. That is apparently a planned community other than Columbia.

If one reads Exhibits C-1 and C-2 attached to the DRRA, the location of the new library is shown tucked away in the corner bounded by woods and the BGE power lines and Broken Land Parkway. Will Howard County never learn from its mistakes? The Howard County Government Complex and Police Headquarters are not located at the center of activity.

The Circuit Court building is next to impossible to find without signs or  a map or GPS–located at the end of a long tree-lined winding road beyond a parking lot created out of a former neighborhood. And then there is the so-called main entrance–past a large vehicle access and support area several stories below, through a narrow colonnade, to a single door into what appears to be a small basement level lobby area. Not like the Anne Arnudel Court building at the center of activity near the Maryland State House. Not like the Baltimore City Courts located in downtown Baltimore. And not like the Kent County Courthouse in Chestertown on the quintessential small-town town square.

So back to the new library. It is not visible to anyone driving on the new roads as they turn the corner. The building is set back from the street–dwarfed by the Food Mart and Retail space. The main entrance would seem to be on a plaza perpendicular to the road. Yet, the ground level street frontage is about as large as the coffee shop shown in the Central Plaza–diagonally across the street from the library.

Not only do I think that the library should be highly visible, but so does the Howard County Library System itself. On October 26, 2004, the Howard County Library Board of Trustees adopted the  “Howard County Facilities Assessment and Master Plan 2004-2030” which states:“Any new replacement facilities need to be located in highly visible, frequently traveled accessible areas of the communities they serve. Ample parking is an essential requirement.”

And why is a Central Plaza adjacent to retail space rather than the library that would be hosting events? International Day Food Festival would not be held at the library but across the street. Bands will be playing across the street from the library.

The library should be the central gathering point in the Merriweather Park Neighborhood (yes I am still arguing for that name.) for events, bands, protests. The library should be located on Merriweather Drive with entraces also on the side of the Central Plaza.

However, if the DRRA is approved, moving the library seems to be an uphill quest for the County. Staff will say that the plan is “not a done deal” and that the plan still needs to complete the regular DPZ and Planning Board approval process. Yet, the DRRA states that the

CC. “New Central Library Site” means a site located within the Crescent in the approximate location shown on Exhibit “C” attached hereto and incorporated herein or a comparable site suitable for a New Central Library building as mutually agreed by the County and HRD.

So what happens when HRD declines to “mutually” agreee to another library location? And it would seem that “a comparable site” would be one at the end of dead end street, lacking visibility and not frequently traveled.

Tell the Council to reject the DRRA until the New Central Libary Site is not only central in the community, but central in the development, visible and frequently traveled.