Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Columbia in Retrograde

Tomorrow night, certain members of the Columbia Association Board intend to identify a "material change" in the Inner Arbor plan from that originally approved by the Board in order to begin the process of withdrawing the easement that allows the Trust to develop the park.

Opponents of the Inner Arbor Plan have been encouraged to attend tomorrow's CA Board meeting and even provided lines by Board Member Alan Klein:

The important message this week is not about your support for the original Symphony Woods Park plan or even whether or not you like the IA plan. ​Rather, it is simply that you see "material changes" in the ​current Inner Arbor plan and want the CA Board to review and vote on those changes. You can also add that you hope the CA Board disapproves them!

("Here's what you do, see, you come in all innocent like, see, and then you tell them you're all concerned-like, right?  Yeah yeah.  There's 'material changes', see?  Then we'll get 'em!")

This appears to be your Columbia Association of 2014"Proudly Moving Backwards."

On their best day, the only likely outcome is another decade of an empty park.  If the CA Board identifies a "material change" that meets the conditions of the easement and if a majority of the Board moves to revoke the easement, the fate of Symphony Woods is going to court.  Sometime before or shortly after anything is filed, lawyers will meet to reach a compromised resolution, presuming that a compromised resolution is preferred.  But what's so concerning here is that is not the case.  One part of one side (CA Board) seeks the entire obliteration and extermination of the other (Inner Arbor Trust).  I can assure you that will never be an approved condition of settlement.

So we move to trial.  And unfortunately for Mr. Klein, amateur hour ends at the courthouse.  There are no e-mails telling witnesses what to say.  However, what we will have are reams of discovery.  E-mails amongst Board members.  E-mails between Board members and Mr. Paumier (as someone who submitted a competing bid and now seeks reversal).  E-mails between Board members and residents.  I can assure you it will be a very disappointing, but interesting, time to live in Columbia.

And what if, through all these hoops, the easement is revoked?  Oh happy day, says 0.1% of Columbia!  Not really.  I don't know the terms of the easement, but am quite certain that any debts incurred by the Trust or grants made for the purposes of developing the Inner Arbor Plan will run with the land.  In deciding not to fulfill those plans, those financial obligations will be the only memorial of anyone trying to improve those empty woods.  And I think it is likely this will be another dispute that ends up in court.

There's your final outcome - an empty park loaded with debt.  And in this review, I've excluded all exigencies like the County intervening or CA's financial obligations making it unable to maintain a decade in Court (bringing legal action against a 501(c)(4) created by the suing entity is not something covered by insurance).

I've had my doubts about this Board, but I can't see six members being willing to take on this legacy.  I can't see six members being willing to do this to the city they love, no matter how much they may have wanted an alternative plan.  Whether you agreed with it or not, the Columbia Association made the decision to go forward with the Inner Arbor Plan in February 2013 and confirmed that decision when it approved the easement later that year.  Let's go forward and allow this park to happen.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love.