The Howard County Council approved the Downtown Columbia Partnership with significant amendments, including changing the number of board members needed for a quorum, creating an advisory committee and changing the administrator of the housing funds.
While the amendments keep the makeup of the board of directors intact, one amendment, submitted by Mary Kay Sigaty and Calvin Ball, changed the quorum of the board from four members to six, which wrested some control of the board from the Howard Hughes management company.
The board guides the actions of the partnership, which is responsible for providing affordable housing funds, transportation, marketing and security for the downtown district.
Under the legislation, the board is made up of seven members— four employees of Howard Hughes Co., the general manager of the Mall in Columbia; the president of the Columbia Association; and the county executive. Without the amendment, Howard Hughes held a quorum of four votes by itself.
The thought was that because Howard Hughes was providing much of the initial start-up costs of the partnership, that they deserved initial control, .
With the amendment, Howard Hughes would need to convince at least two more members of the board to go along with their decisions.
“The quorum amendment not only reflects the expansion of Partnership,” wrote Council Member Calvin Ball in an email, “but also helps ensures that more members actively participate in the decisions about the future of our downtown Columbia.”
Local political blogger Tom Coale wrote on his blog, HoCo Rising, on Tuesday that, “the original bill would have essentially allowed the Partnership to become a back-office of Howard Hughes, never to be seen again but for the prodding of county officials. By expanding the quorum from four… to six, the Council has prevented that from happening.”
In addition, another amendment passed that created an advisory committee that would give other stakeholders in downtown a greater say in the operation and management of the partnership.
According to the amendment submitted by Council Members Calvin Ball, Mary Kay Sigaty and Courtney Watson; the advisory committee will exist of 11 members, six consistent (ex oficio) members and five members selected by the Council.
The ex oficio members would include:
- President of Howard Community College
- CEO of Howard County General Hospital
- CEO of the Economic Development Authority
- Chairperson of the Howard County Revenue Authority
- President of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce
- Chair of the Town Center Village Board
The other five members would be chosen by the Council based on the following requirements:
- Two individuals from a list of four residents living in close proximity to the district submitted by the County Executive.
- One owner or G.M. of a business located within the district that has fewer than 25 employees.
- An owner of property who has obtained a building permit for downtown revitalization.
- One other individual representing community enhancements programs and public amenities requirement 25.
According to the amendment, the committee will advise the board on all matters concerning the management and operation of the partnership, may inspect the books and records of the partnership and shall be provided with an opportunity to comment on all matters pending before the board, according to the amendment.
Ball wrote in an email that adding the advisory committee to the board gives community members and stake holders a strong voice.
Even Howard Hughes said they were supportive of the amendments, which took some control of the board away from them.
Howard Hughes Senior Vice President John DeWolf said he was pleased with the amendments and added, “Everything that (the Council) came up with was well thought out,” according to an article on Explore Howard.
Lastly, the approved amendments changed the administrator of the affordable housing funds.
Downtown Columbia Housing Foundation
Under the original legislation the affordable housing funds, which will be collected by fees on units built in the downtown district, were to be administered by the Howard County Housing Commission.
On Monday, the Council approved an amendment that would change the administrator of the funds to a nonprofit, yet-to-be established group called the Downtown Columbia Housing Foundation.
Affordable housing advocates criticized the original legislation that allowed the Housing Commission to administer the funds after they believed it was decided in 2010 that an independent nonprofit would administer the funds.
The Council apparently agrees and changed the partnership legislation to include the creation of the Downtown Columbia Housing Foundation.
In an email, Ball wrote, “The amendment that creates a Downtown Columbia Foundation implements what was envisioned when we passed the Downtown Columbia plan; a new, innovative, way of ensuring a full spectrum of housing Downtown. This could be a model of how we effectively integrate affordable housing into our neighborhoods across our Nation.”
The Council voted 4-1 to approve the legislation with the amendments. Jen Terrasa was the only member to vote against the amended legislation, according to Explore Howard.
Terrasa said the legislation didn’t have all the necessary safeguards “to ensure all the amenities we wanted to see,” according to Explore Howard.