Bill Would Establish Partnership to Oversee Development

A County Council bill would establish the Downtown Columbia Partnership to oversee details of downtown development.


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.

MG42 May 29, 2012 at 04:19 PM
So when you purchase a new residential unit downtown, you're paying an avg of a little over $6,000 into this affordable housing fund. Congrats for making market rate housing so much more expensive!
Brook Hubbard May 29, 2012 at 04:51 PM
And of course, all that extra money you are paying goes to make it so someone who shouldn't be able to afford in Columbia can move in right next door to you and live off your "contributions". Just think, you make all that hard-earned money and pay through the nose so someone else can move in on the cheap and spend their money on personal luxuries!
jj May 30, 2012 at 12:46 PM
More wacky social engineering. A backdoor tax on honest taxpayers so that loony liberals can bring more impoverished people from around the state and world to Columbia.
Brook Hubbard May 30, 2012 at 02:13 PM
And as usual, someone has to make this about politics. This isn't about politics, this is about corporate greed. The government offers bonuses or helps a developer's path through bureaucracy when they cater to special assistance programs. Corporate developers (and the politicians in their pocket) will do whatever is necessary to gain these benefits, as it lowers costs and/or eases red tape. It doesn't matter the logistics of catering to these programs in the given area or the long-term effects; all they care about is easy money. Stop blaming "liberals", "conservatives", or whatever label you want for the woes of our county. A) That's an Ad Hominem attack with no basis on the core problem; B) That's an unfounded attack used solely to insult or spread hate; C) You're not even using those words right according to their definitions. This issue is about corporations and the politicians they fund (on both sides of the fence). Want to stop programs like this from coming to your neighborhood? Start working to stop the developers and the representatives in their pockets.
JH May 30, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Columbia Assoc needs to stand up and say enough. Have the money that these developers pony up go to better infrastructure to end the traffic problems and improve the overall environment / park lands in area. We want to improve the quality of life for those in the area now. We don't need to have more people stuffed into the town center through more dense development. And I agree that the affordable housing push by a vocal few will bring more urban problems to Columbia. Enough is enough.
Andrew Metcalf (Editor) May 30, 2012 at 03:00 PM
50 percent of the .25 cent tax revenue is to be used to improve transportation in the area, according to the bill. It'll be interesting to see how vocal be people are at the County Council public hearings on this legislation, I look forward to hearing residents' concerns.


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