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CA President: Difficult to Make Early Symphony Woods Plans ‘Sexy’

The Columbia Association is working on fine-tuning its vision of the park.

said he was surprised at a Howard County panel’s critical reaction to the association’s design plans for , the forested area that encircles Merriweather Post Pavilion.

The Columbia Association recently pitched its plan to the Howard County Design Advisory panel, a group of experts that advises Howard County planners, in one of the first major moves to redevelop downtown Columbia.

Members of the design panel said at the meeting earlier this month that the association’s proposal for the 36.2-acre park lacked a “vision,” with some saying the park should be as important to Columbia as Central Park in New York City, according to the Howard County Times.

The proposed development plan of Symphony Woods Park included new walking paths, additional parking spaces, a water fountain feature, a café and restroom facilities. In addition, a pathway would be constructed parallel to Little Patuxent Parkway, according to the Columbia Association proposal.

“It’s hard to make concrete and plumbing fixtures look very sexy,” Nelson told Patch. “If you submit a site plan, phase one will be pathways and some … plumbing for a future fountain. It’s hard to make those look innovative and imaginative.”

Six neighborhoods in downtown Columbia, including Symphony Woods, are going to be redeveloped as part of the downtown plan, and owners of those areas must submit their proposals to be reviewed and approved by Howard County officials.

The downtown plan, approved by the Howard County Council in February of 2010, calls for more residential units, office and retail space in Columbia’s core.

Donald Taylor, vice chair of Howard County’s design advisory panel, said a park needs to stimulate activity.

“Because of its location, it needs to be active in order to draw people there, particularly when is in session,” he told Patch. “You know, just to have a fountain in a park may or may not bring people to the park.

“A park is not much fun if it’s just sitting there,” he added.

Jan Clark, the Columbia Association landscape architect, said the design advisory panel would see updated Symphony Woods plans by the fall.

“It’s not that I don’t think they are very unhappy with anything--they would like to see us articulate our vision a little bit better,” she said. “They are wondering about the big picture - where is this project going in the larger sense.”

Nelson said the Columbia Association is also trying to figure out how to tie in the park plans with Merriweather Post and the changing demographics of the surrounding area.

He cited an adjacent neighborhood to the park, the Crescent, an area that is owned, for the most part, by the Howard Hughes Corp.

Its future could bring a different demographic mix to the area near the park, he said.

“We’d like to figure out the demographics before we put a bunch of money into something that will change,” he said. “… You never stop planning for a park.”

Clark said she didn't have cost estimates for the Symphony Woods redevelopment plans because bids have not yet been submitted for the project.

Barb Nicklas, a spokeswoman with the The Howard Hughes Corp., said there are no plans for development in The Crescent, but it’s zoned as mixed use, so “one can reasonably expect a combination of residential, office and retail” in that neighborhood.

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