Mixed Reviews on Columbia Slide Show

By Susan DeFord
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 13, 2008

As landscape architect and urban planner Alan Ward talked about invigorating downtown Columbia, his PowerPoint presentation flashed pictures of projects around the world that he helped design, including the massive Olympic Green in Beijing for this summer's games.

But as soon as the slide show was over, Ward faced a skeptical audience.

Resident Sal Cosentino said he didn't want to see a "high-density downtown area" in Columbia, like Ward designed in Reston Town Center. Cosentino, who has visited Reston, said he felt as though he were being "compressed by buildings." There was scattered applause.

Ward, a consultant to General Growth Properties, is working on a draft plan for redeveloping Town Center and didn't let pointed questions ruffle him. He had help from Thomas D'Alessandro, a GGP senior vice president who traveled from the company's Chicago headquarters to attend last week's public forum, the first of four at GGP's Columbia offices.

D'Alessandro said Reston's downtown reflected community consensus. "It's the Town Center they wanted," he said. "You won't have Reston Town Center. You have your own vision, your own history, your own culture. It is going to be different."

Others in the audience warmed to GGP's approach. Barbara Kellner, manager of the Columbia Archives, said the company's process reminded her of the way Columbia founder James Rouse planned Columbia.

County Council member Mary Kay Sigaty (D-West Columbia) said afterward: "I have a good feeling. This is a firm that knows how to listen."

GGP is expected to unveil its proposal for Town Center on April 28 after forums on cultural resources, ecological restoration and urban design.

Skateboard Lobbyist

Wilde Lake High School junior Dan Lesko just wanted a place where he and fellow skateboarders could have room to practice their jumps, spins and wheelies. But during last week's county budget hearing, he waited with Wilde Lake High School sophomore Sam Scheltema for a turn to address County Executive Ken Ulman (D).

Lesko, 16, has become the de facto chief lobbyist for converting basketball courts at Centennial Park to a 7,000-square-foot facility of ramps and pavement that would cost about $150,000. In February, Lesko recruited more than 100 skateboarders, parents and friends to appear at a parks and recreation board meeting.

Some nearby residents think the facility will be too noisy and draw crowds, but Lesko thinks skateboarders are getting a bum rap.

"You never hear about rowdy tennis players," he said.

The recreation advisory board is expected to vote Wednesday on whether to approve the plan. Ulman will then decide whether to include money for it in the 2008-09 parks budget. Lesko is hopeful.

He said Ulman looked him in the eye during last week's hearing and said, "This is definitely going to happen."

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