Friday, August 24, 2012

CA Board Recap: August 23, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:32 pm
End Time: 10:40 pm

This was a good meeting.  I had a lot of negative energy leaving the last meeting and it took a while to dissipate.  I was not looking forward to this meeting and it took a lot just to get myself back into a mindset that would allow me to consider the matters at hand and not get bogged down in the inter-personal frustrations that have been such a large distraction for me this year.  Thankfully, none of that came up.  We do not have much of anything to show for our 3 hours (no votes), but we managed some important oversight matters that needed to be on our radar.  Many in the community expect the CA Board to act as a quasi-legislative branch, approving motions, etc., but that is only a small portion of what a non-profit Board does.

CA Turf Maintenance

I don't have much to say on this topic other than to note how much I respect our Open Space Department.  They manage a significant element of CA assets, which plays a large role in the quality of life and general appearances of our community.  CA maintains and overseas 650+ acres of open space throughout Columbia.  While not a part of their report last night, you can imagine that their inbox is not filled with "Thank you" but rather "Don't mow this", "Why haven't you mowed that", and "Someone put their old couch on CA property.  Please move it."

The Open Space department is working to develop more relational and environmental sustainability elements into their operations, which is great.  I wish I had more to comment, but all I'm left with is "Thank you and keep up the good work."

HOA Legislation

I imagine that this item will be the next agenda albatross to fill the shoes of the Dashboard (hand twitches a little when I write that word).  CA Staff has rolled out a community engagement process to education the public about the substance of the bill that would redefine Columbia Association as a "nonprofit community service organization."  The ERC brought this process up for review at last night's meeting.

Thus far, the focus has been on retaining Village feedback, which is critical.  CA is offering the opportunity to all Villages to be included in this legislation and remain under the auspices of the same lobbyist in Annapolis.  The Villages have some concerns and uncertainty about the bill, which must be addressed, and I think CA Staff has a good plan for doing so.

What I find lacking is any plan for addressing the elephant in the room: Alliance for a Better Columbia.  I don't mean to make too much of this, but a representative from ABC told me that they would accept and support a bill that would include all of the transparency provisions that they find lacking from the current proposal.  CA has the unique opportunity to test whether this organization is an honest broker or stubborn petitioner.

I suggested that Staff reach out to ABC and ask them to draft a proposal that would incorporate all provisions that they find lacking from the current bill.  I was very disappointed in Staff's response.  They echoed the same fruitless arguments that have prevented this organization from moving forward on the bill for the last year.  "The provisions are already incorporated."  "Critics don't understand the bill."  This is all irrelevant.  Call it a lack of fortitude, but the current bill will not pass this Board without some effort to constructively respond to critics, which amounts to more than presenting a counter-argument.  If Staff is not willing or not able to do so, we should shut this whole thing down and save everyone a lot of time and agita. 

The concern is that our organization has personal obstructions to working with a group that, for good or bad, can mobilize opposition very effectively.  You don't neutralize opposition by fighting.  You do so by incorporation.  And if ABC is not an honest broker, you need to have faith that we will be able to make that case when the time is appropriate to do so.

Staff has indicated that it will be holding a work session to go over a draft of the bill, but further indicated that there will be no overt entreaties to ABC.  That is their prerogative, but we'll see how far it goes.

Symphony Woods Park

CA has received preliminary approval from the Planning Board and is awaiting its draft recommendations.  In light of the recommendations presented at the hearing, the design group retained by CA has presented a new schematic with more "meandering paths" that allow for the preservation of additional trees. 

Maybe the design will grow on me, but my preliminary opinion is that this is a step-down from the original cruciform design.  In fact, I would suggest this new plan be referred to as "The Melted Cruciform".  If you imagine a wax cross that was left upright in the sun for the day, you are getting close to the new proposal.

Despite receiving this approval, Staff recommended that the Board "pause" further development of the Park to allow Howard Hughes an opportunity to "catch up" with their own proposals for Merriweather.  As may be imagined, there was a great deal of disappointment amongst the Board members that we seemed to have gone from cruising speed to parked without much of a warning.  Those members were reassured that CA certainly still could go full-speed ahead, but that it may not be the optimal way to develop our property in Symphony Woods. 

So let's see if you're paying attention.  When the CA Board comes to a fork in the road does it: A) Go right; B) Go left; or C) Pick it up.

If you chose "C", you will a HoCo Rising merit badge.

One Board member recommended that Staff continue to go full-speed ahead with the plan while collaborating with Howard Hughes to make a cohesive neighborhood plan.  My immediate reaction to this was "If that was possible, I'm certain Staff would have done so without coming back to the Board."  Nevertheless, this proposal may have had some purchase with the Board (if for no other reason than it sounded nice) and I asked Staff to see what they could do to make another option under those parameters.

My real interest in all of this is making sure we put out the best possible park.  In light of the Planning Board's tweaking, I no longer think the current proposal is the best possible park.  We have seen some other proposals, one in particular drafted by a resident, that I would like to go back to and test the ability to incorporate this proposal into what has already been approved.  Right now these outside plans are treated like "things not talked about at dinner parties."  I'm not one to encourage "all options" be placed before the Board, but in this instance I think it is critical. 

That's all for today.  I have been so excited to see 225 people sign up for Main Street Appreciation Weekend.  Please check out the event page.  Folks have been sharing recommendations and asking for tips on what Old Ellicott City has to offer.  It has been particularly heart-warming to hear back from the Old EC merchants who have faced such adversity over the past year.  This is what real community is about.

Have a great Friday doing what you love.  It is impossible not to.