The Howard County Council on Thursday prefiled a bill that would establish a partnership to direct the Downtown Columbia development.
The legislation sets up the framework for an independent organization that would collect funds for affordable housing, market the downtown district, provide security and fulfill responsibilities of the downtown Columbia plan.
“What we did with the downtown community plan is set up a series of implementing legislation,” said Council member Calvin Ball. “This is now more of the nuts and bolts of how we’re going to accomplish the things we wanted to accomplish in the master plan to ensure we have a wonderful and vibrant downtown.”
The bill comes on the heels of a by a group of developers of what is planned to be the first major building constructed in the downtown district.
The proposed initial board of directors of the independent Downtown Columbia Partnerhsip would consist of four representatives from Howard Hughes Corp., the general manager of the Mall in Columbia, the president of the Columbia Association and the county executive.
After 500,000 square feet of commercial development, the county executive would choose two members who reside or work in Howard County and have knowledge of Downtown Columbia to serve on the board.
The board would collect funds for the partnership through required payments, which would fund affordable housing, and a .25 cent per square foot tax on commercial properties in the downtown district. Half the tax money would be used to fund transportation improvements in the district.
Transportation improvements may include promoting car pooling, dedicated spots for energy-efficient vehicles, increasing bikeability and eventually a dedicated downtown circulator bus, according to Mark Thompson, director of downtown development for the county.
Required payments by developers would help fund an affordable housing trust fund, which would eventually be used to provide affordable housing in the district.
As part of their role as lead developer of downtown, Howard Hughes Corp. would pay $1.5 million in initial funding to set up Downtown Columbia Housing Foundation and another $1.5 million after the 400th residential unit is built.
In addition, the foundation’s fund would be increased through one-time payments from developers as residential units are built.
- $2,000 per unit up to the 1,500th unit in downtown
- $7,000 per unit between 1,501 and 3,500 units in downtown
- $9,000 per unit for each unit between 3,501 and 5,500 units
The Howard County Housing Commission would then administer the fund to provide affordable housing in downtown.
Thompson said the housing commission was chosen to administer the funds due to their expertise.
“Funds may be used to promote home ownership, used for rental property, to purchase existing residences or rehabbing residences,” said Thompson. “The fund is set up under a structure that provides a great deal of flexibility and is not tied to one form of housing.”
“I think it is a visionary approach to addressing the affordable housing challenges we have in a flexible way,” said Ball.
The partnership’s board would be subject to the state Open Meetings Act and Public Information Act, but it would not be under Howard County Public Ethics Law.
“Our ethics laws require that employees basically can’t have fiscal benefit from activities they're engaged in,” said Thomspon.
As part of their responsibilities on the partnership’s board, Howard Hughes employees and others would have a direct financial benefit, said Thompson. But, he said it would be important to have them on the board because it’s in their financial interest to effectively market downtown.
“This organization is going to be charged with creating a whole new marketing approach for Downtown Columbia,” said Thompson.
The board would be responsible for drafting their own ethical guidelines in by-laws, which would later be approved by the County Council. Requirements for those by-laws include provisions prohibiting self-dealing and collusive practices.
The legislation is scheduled to be introduced at a public hearing on June 4. An additional public hearing will be held on June 18 and a vote is scheduled for July 2. Meetings will take place at 7:30 p.m. in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.