The chairman of the Howard County Zoning Board says he hopes the county's adversarial relationship with General Growth Properties is over now that a judge has upheld the board's decision to deny the company's request to increase the allowable housing density in Columbia.
County Council member and Zoning Board Chairman Ken Ulman (D-West Columbia) said he views last week's decision by Circuit Court Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. as an affirmation of the Zoning Board's authority over development in Columbia. Ulman said he is looking forward to General Growth's participation in a weeklong series of community meetings, known as a charette, that will focus on future development in Columbia's Town Center.
"Hopefully we are moving toward a mutually beneficial vision for Town Center and hopefully the upcoming charette will provide that," Ulman said.
More than a year ago, the board denied a company proposal for increased housing density in Columbia that would have permitted a mixed-use development, including mid- and possible high-rise housing, on a 51-acre site known as the Crescent property, adjacent to Merriweather Post Pavilion. Subsequently, the company submitted a plan to allow a large retail and commercial development there. It did not, however, withdraw the lawsuit challenging the Zoning Board's denial of the housing density change.
General Growth Vice President Dennis W. Miller said this week that the company does not plan to appeal the court's decision. He said the company instead has been focusing on its latest plan for the Crescent property and welcomes the opportunity to discuss it during the charette.
"We've been discussing it with the community," Miller said. "We'll continue to have a dialogue with the community."
The Crescent site is the largest undeveloped tract in Columbia. General Growth's proposal for the commercial development there is expected to be part of the charette, which is scheduled to begin Oct. 15.
During the weeklong series of workshops, community residents and others will be invited to draw up a plan about the best ways to develop remaining land in the center of Columbia.
The charette process, Ulman said, will provide an opportunity to reexamine the New Town zoning regulations that have given developers extraordinary freedom in developing Columbia since the 1960s, when developer James W. Rouse purchased farmland and announced he was building a city.
"There will be changes to New Town," Ulman said.
In its lawsuit, General Growth claimed the Zoning Board had overstepped its authority in requiring specific details about how the new housing would be designed and where it would be constructed. The company said the New Town zoning regulations had given Columbia developers more latitude in the past.