Thursday, March 25, 2010

NCA Reaches Out

I received an e-mail/press release from the fine people of the New City Alliance addressing what they believe to be some of the Myths that have been promoted by their "opponents."  It certainly adds to the conversation, but I encourage the "opponents" of NCA to get me their spin, or just respond in the comments below.  I would encourage any response to cite, to the extent possible, documents or studies that support their position.  That said, I think it is important to note that the non-monied interest cannot pay lawyers, economists, or urban planners to respond to those hired by the side with a potential profit.  That is not a villanization of developers or "the rich," but rather plain old common sense.  You can't turn to the person that says "You've got a hole in your boat" and say "Yeah, well where's your boat," expecting that to solve the debate of whether, in fact, you're sinking.

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.
 

DENSITY
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.

TRAFFIC
MYTH: "Could end up like Rockville Pike at rush hour."
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.

BUILDING HEIGHTS
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.  

ENFORCEABILITY
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."


PLANNING PROCESS
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:

ENVIRONMENTAL REQUIREMENTS
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.

9 comments:

  1. You know, Rising, I appreciate your posting the New City Alliance "Myths vs. Facts" on your blog. But I do wonder about your introduction. While anyone is free to post their opinion about the plan for downtown, regardless of how well-founded or well-researched that opinion may be, I would hope that anyone who posts "opinions as facts" will take the time to support those facts with substantiation. The purpose of this piece was to cut through the emotion and get to the "facts" of the General Plan Amendment and associated zoning changes. There have been far too many "drive by posts" where shots are randomly taken at the plan for downtown without any pause to consider where there was any factual support for those shots. This is not an issue regarding monied interests. This is not "spin." This piece was put together to educate. If there are any incorrect statements in the piece, then they should be corrected with substantiated facts, not just opinions. (Mike Davis)

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  2. Mike,
    I'm not sure that you actually do "appreciate" that I posted this release. It is unfair to assume that I will take e-mails that are sent to me, and then just regurgitate it onto these pages without commentary. I haven't done that for anyone at CCD or TAG, and I won't do it for NCA. I think my comments were fair, and I think they were accurate.

    As a lawyer, you know as well as I do that the persuasiveness of an argument is only as strong as the support you are able to lend to it. I think the NCA release is very strong in the way it is crafted and the support it provides. However, I will not reject counter-arguments simply because they can't pay professionals to do the research in support. The counter-arguments may not have the same weight, but that is for the "fact-finder" (i.e., the public) to determine.

    I do not understand why proponents of the new legislation insist on everyone "supporting their plan." Isn't it enough that you won the Council vote and opponents are now backed into a corner? There will always be disagreement, and those that disagree will not always be able to hire traffic consultants or other professionals to draft supporting reports. But I will always want to hear what they have to say, so I can decide for myself, rather than have anyone else pat my back and tell me "everything will be just fine."

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  3. HCR, thanks for posting this. If citizens know the facts and still oppose the legislation, they have every right to support the petition drive. But we do think it's important for people to know the facts before they make up their minds. It's been frustrating to hear the misinformation that TAG is telling people and knowing that people who would otherwise support the plan are signing a referendum petition to kill it. There are even a few people who signed the petition, only to understand it later, who have written to the Board of Elections to have their names taken off. I guess we'll see what happens in the next week or so!

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  4. Thanks for the comment, David. I think it is good that NCA is taking the referendum drive seriously and putting information into the conversation. While it may be difficult for you to see the referendum drive progress, I've been concerned by the amount of people I've talked to that don't even know what CB 58/59 mean. Even if there is nothing added to the ballot, I am happy that the conversation is continuing and that more people are finding a need to be informed.

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  5. NCA lied. They said the residents supported this density increase and are now claiming that putting the decision to the voters (ie. residents) will kill the density increase.

    The residents were never behind this. Even if the bill isn't taken to referendum, we'll see what happens in November. Those campaign war chests better be buff, and after the war chests beefed up we're going a hunting for the sources of the dollars and the lack of transparency.

    :)

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  6. NCA lied? My statement meant that the people signing the referendum were hoping to kill it, not that the referendum itself would kill it.

    These people are so far out on the fringe it will be a miracle for them to get their signatures despite the very low requirement in Howard Co. And if they do, the referendum will get defeated 2-1 with little effort from supporters.

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  7. Another lie, David. These people are far from the fringe. In fact, if you're going to describe fringe as distance from center you are the looser. Support the referendum to prove the populace is behind you.

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  8. Going back to the drawing board (in the form of a referendum) based on unsubstantiated claims that fly in the face of black-and-white evidence (legislation and plans) just seems like a lot to ask. If we do, fine, and the support or lack of support for the plan will be settled once and for all, but it just doesn’t seem reasonable to me to expect people to support an effort that, right now, can’t explain itself.

    Respectfully, I gotta say: if those who are opposed to the plan can’t provide evidence for their arguments, maybe that’s because there isn’t any evidence.

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  9. I love being called a liar by anonymous posters who lack the courage to comment in their own name. As we've come to expect from these folks, posts from anonymous sources who preferr to attack us personally rather than offering a coherent factually supported argument.

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