Thank you again to NCA for sending this to me and offering it up to this audience. I can tell by the Facebook posts that I am not a favored blog of the Alliance, but I also try my best to give both sides equal room to speak, and try not to call anyone any names.
Here is the release, without further edit or commentary:
MYTHS VS. FACTS
As we work to fulfill Jim Rouse's vision for a vibrant downtown Columbia, we hear that there is some misinformation floating around from some folks who are opposed to change. We'd like to set the record straight by sharing some facts right from the Downtown Plan legislation and primary documents.
INFRASTRUCTURE AND TAXES
MYTH: "Puts burden of providing new roads, parking, sewers, etc. on ALL county taxpayers. Too few demands on developer to provide roads, parking, and other infrastructure. Higher taxes. CB-59 is big County giveaway to GGP."
FACT: All fiscal reports point to a net gain to the county, not a loss. It is estimated that the new development will generate between $7 million and $13.4 million to the County annually. Again, those are the net amounts - the monies left over AFTER the County has delivered all of its services.
FACT: The developer must pay for all new infrastructure (roads, sewer, water, parking) as required in the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. The requirements for building and paying for infrastructure are the same as for every other developer in Howard County. In Columbia, the developer has gone above and beyond those requirements by also committing to a series of amenities for the community, including, but not limited to:
- Renovating the Merriweather Post Pavilion, and eventual transfer of its ownership to the community;
- Providing sites downtown for a new Transit Center, school, and fire station;
- Preservation of the building that formerly housed Rouse company headquarters;
- Building four new pedestrian/bicycle pathways, connecting Downtown, the hospital and community college, and villages;
- A $43 million fund for a full-spectrum housing program; and
- Renovation of the bridge over Route 29.
MYTH: "Allows 7,600 additional Columbia residences - at least 5,500 must be in downtown."
FACT: In Downtown Columbia, the maximum number of residential units that can be built over 30 years is 5,500. It breaks down this way: in the first ten years, a maximum of 2,296 units may be built. An additional 2,404 units may be built in the ten years after that. And in the final ten-year phase (ending 30 years from now), 800 more units may be built. Outside of downtown, the zoning does not change.
FACT: The plan is carefully designed to transition Columbia into a walkable community with public transportation options. Congestion will be mitigated by diverting traffic to a new network of streets (built at the cost of the developer); by accommodating increased automobile traffic through roadway improvements (such as adding lanes and reconfiguring streets); and by decreasing reliance on single-occupant vehicles in and around Columbia. This transition to a pedestrian- and bike-friendly environment allows for shorter trips, improves transit connectivity and use, and makes it possible for people to "park once" and walk to shops, restaurants, and other amenities.
Over the next 30 years, as individual projects are submitted, the adequacy of the roads must be evaluated before new development is approved.
MYTH: "20-story building height allowed - [Lake] Kittamaqundi effectively becomes a 'private' lake obscured by tall buildings."
FACT: Building heights around the lake are capped at 4 stories, with the exception of one building. In other areas, anything above 9 stories is very limited. Twenty-story buildings are only allowed to be built on 6 parcels, which are primarily located at Downtown entry points.
MYTH: "CB 59 is written by GGP for their own gain. Their land skyrockets in value while we are guaranteed nothing."
FACT: The County Council scrutinized the enforceability of these bills, consulting with experts and legal counsel both in-house and independently. They fortified the language of the bills to ensure that the requirements are legally enforceable. By law, if the developer fails to meet any requirements, development stops.
Council Bill 59-2009 reads: "NO PERMIT FOR LAND DISTURBANCE ACTIVITY IN ANY PHASE OF THE DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION PHASING PLAN SHALL BE ISSUED FOR DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION UNLESS (I) THE COMMUNITY ENHANCEMENTS, PROGRAMS AND PUBLIC AMENITIES (CEPPAS) HAVE BEEN PROVIDED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE DOWNTOWN CEPPA IMPLEMENTATION CHART AND CEPPA FLEXIBILITY PROVISIONS, EXCEPT AS PROVIDED IN SECTION 125 A.9.I.2 AND (II) BUILDING PERMITS HAVE BEEN APPROVED FOR AT LEAST THE MINIMUM LEVELS OF DEVELOPMENT IDENTIFIED IN THE DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION PHASING PLAN FOR THE PRECEDING PHASE FOR RETAIL, OFFICE, RESIDENTIAL AND HOTEL LAND USE TYPES."
MYTH: "Rushed through County Council against citizen and Planning Board requests."
FACT: The Planning Process for this project is unprecedented in the state of Maryland. It began almost five years ago, on May 18, 2005, with the introduction of a draft master plan at a public Town Hall Meeting. Since then, there have been literally hundreds of meetings, including focus groups, work sessions, a week-long charrette, public meetings, forums, presentations, question-and-answer sessions, County Council meetings, and public hearings.
The Planning Board studied and tweaked the plan for ten months before passing it along with its recommendation. Citizens testified publicly in 2-to-1 support of the Plan before a bi-partisan County Council. The County Council, which is elected by the people, then passed the plan unanimously.
Videos of public testimony on the bills and amendments:
MYTH: "Few environmental requirements on new buildings or land. Columbia is exempted from the State Forest Conservation Act."
FACT: The environmental requirements on new buildings in downtown Columbia are higher than anywhere else in Howard County. Howard County's Green Building Law requires LEED certification on all new construction 50,000 sf and greater; the Downtown Plan raises that standard significantly by applying those requirements on all new construction 10,000 sf and greater.
Columbia itself is exempt from the state's conservation requirement because it already exceeds that requirement. The Downtown Plan, in fact, requires ten times more trees to be planted that is called for in the state conservation requirement.
The developer has also committed to restoration and enhancement activities that will create or improve streams, non-tidal freshwater wetlands, and forests throughout Columbia and contribute to the long-term environmental health of the surrounding areas.