New Symphony Woods Plan Headlines CA Board Agenda

A critical discussion of the plan has already begun on local blogs.


Whether you love it or hate it, Columbia Association is inviting local residents to speak out on the new "Inner Arbor Plan" for the development of Symphony Woods on Thursday night.

The meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at CA Headquarters in Town Center, will include a presentation of the new plan, as well as an overview of the trust that CA plans to establish to pay for the developments.

The Inner Arbor Plan features a new Arts Village, a tree canopy walkway, restaurants, a children's theater and an "iconic" sculpture, among other features.

The new plan was formally announced on Friday and has received praise -- and criticism from at least one local advocate.

Local blogger Julia McCready wrote in a recent post, "I am excited about the new plan because it will create something worthy of the citizens of our community. It promotes engagement, participation, and a connection to the values we honor as Columbians."

Alan Klein, of the Coalition for Downtown Columbia, said his biggest concern   about the plan is secrecy involved in the planning process. But also raised concerns about what the possibility the woods may be overdeveloped .

CA officials said in a meeting announcing the new plan that the approval process for the county would continue at step 9 in the 16-step Downtown Columbia development approval process, where the old plan left off after its Final Development Plan was approved by the Howard County Planning Board over the summer.

"Why are we skipping steps?" asked Klein. "It should go through the steps that are outlined."

Patch contacted the Department of Planning and Zoning with that question on Tuesday, but has not received a response.

Patch also tweeted at County Planning Board member Bill Santos about his thoughts on continuing the process from where the old plan left off.

"I don't know if there is enough info to make that call today," tweeted Santos in reply.

Klein said he liked some of the changes in the new plan, but said "When a good idea is sprung on people, it makes it hard to accept."

CA Board member Tom Coale, who represents Dorsey's Search and is a supporter of the plan, pushed back against Klein in a post on his blog HoCo Rising. He noted the plan had been orginally discussed in an open October CA Board meeting.

"I respect Alan as a dedicated Columbia activist, but he's wrong here," wrote Coale. "The presumption of bad intentions has brought him to distort a Plan that preserves the vast majority of the natural setting, while integrating a limited number of buildings (parts of which are projected to be built underground) into what may make up less than 5% of the entire Park."

Dennis Lane, who runs the Tale of Two Cities Blog, also criticized Klein, questioning how active the membership of the Coalition for Downtown Columbia is.

"Alan and his small but vocal band of aging activists are predictably opposed to anything that disturbs their own belief of what Columbia should be," wrote Lane. "They are truly the coalition of the unwilling."

Klein said in an email that he expected the criticism and said Coale, who helped announce the new plan, is "an insider" on the plan and that Lane goes out of his way "to belittle anyone who dares to ask questions of the developers."

Commenters on Patch hailed the new plan.

"I was concerned that the old plan didn't really engage with the rest of Columbia; a fountain and hot dog stand is hardly enough to draw people into the park," wrote Harry Schwarz, "But incorporating the Library, Toby's, CA headquarters, and expanded arts venues into Symphony Woods is a masterful stroke. I like it."

CA officials have not determined the cost of the plan yet, but believe a 501c3 Trust will be the vehicle to pay for the park's development.

Officials expect a variety of sources to help finance the park, such as community members who can pay to sponsor a tree or a park bench, corporate sponsors, government grants, philanthropic organizations and individual donations to supplement CA’s investment.

Tells us, do you think the plan overdevelops the park or is it just what Downtown Columbia needs?

Related Articles

CA Dramatically Alters Plans for Symphony Woods

Phase 1 of Symphony Woods Development Approved

Speak Out: Should Symphony Woods Redevelopment Plans Be Delayed?

Photo: Columbia Connecting Path to Start Construction Soon

Renowned Architect Frank Gehry Visits Columbia

Symphony Woods Plan Sparks Concerns Over Elimination of Trees

Mall Groundbreaking Signals Beginning of Columbia's Downtown Construction

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Alan Klein January 24, 2013 at 02:19 PM
Two points: 1. How can CA be asking the public for comments on a plan that hasn't been presented to the public yet, and which won't be until after the Resident Speak Out at the meeting? 2. The "plan" is not "headlining" the agenda. According to the posted Agenda, it is at the end of the meeting, following at least two hours of other discussions. Also, according to the Agenda, it is the "Trust" idea that is being presented, not the "plan" itself.
JD Smith January 25, 2013 at 12:53 AM
Dennis Lane, in his continuing, tiresome quest to brand people who disagree with him as inconsequential misses the point - as usual. The issue for many of us is not whether this plan or another plan is better or worse. The issue is the process whereby the the change was implemented. As Alan said, the change to a publicly vetted and legally approved plan was discussed behind closed doors and was the one, according to Phil Nelson's memo to CA staff and board, "favored by the County, Howard Hughes Corp and (unnamed) community leaders." Forget democracy and a public process. As long as this troika of entities favors it, it shall be done. Very undemocratic and uncivil.
L Jackson January 25, 2013 at 03:25 PM
While the diagrams are very nice. I am disappointed that the plan does not tie Symphony Woods to downtown Columbia better. The location of the parking lot over at Toby's is going to be a long walk. All of the venues in the woods are only going to be viable for the warm months of the year. If they intend to put businesses in those buildings and expect them to survive pay Columbia level rents, they are going to need to make this venue more accessible.
Bob Chasnow January 28, 2013 at 04:51 AM
Bob Chasnow More imagination is needed to link the idea of a grand and special park to its logical extensions. Clearly , the park should be as accessible as possible to the new downtown. Second, there is merit to an arts area, to include Toby's but also with one or more uses oriented towards children and families, perhaps borrowing from the ideas of Glen Echo Park near Bethesda with its live childrens and puppet theatres and a centerpiece merry-go-round. Third, and equally important, the sustainability aspect implied in a special park should be in strong evidence such as by a pavilion dedicated to a festive farmers market operating as such for 6 or 7 months of the year on weekends and holidays. Durham, NC, has a very successful farmers market operation as a linchpin of its downtown renaissance. I think Annapolis, MD, may have one too. On the other hand, 30,000 sf HQ for the CA in the park? Highly questionable.


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