The Toby and Hal Orenstein Cultural Arts Center, coming soon to downtown Columbia, MD

On March 1st, 2018 the Howard County Planning Board unanimously approved the site development plan for construction of a New Cultural Center in Downtown Columbia. I’m jumping ahead a bit to be naming it after Toby and Hal Orenstein. She, of course, is the founder of Toby’s Dinner Theatre, the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts (CCTA), and has been a seminal figure in the Columbia arts scene for 45 years. What other name could we possibly give this center that will be the new home for Toby’s and CCTA, other performance spaces, and has been a dream of Toby and Hal’s for decades?

Meet Toby

Since 1979 Toby Orenstein has been the Artistic Director and owner of Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, MD.

Toby is also the Founder and Director of the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts, Inc. (CCTA). In 1972, at the invitation of visionary developer James Rouse, she created a school for young people who possessed an interest in the performing arts. A special group of those students, The Young Columbians, were invited to the White House and performed a musical tribute to America during the Bicentennial Year (1976). The Young Columbians still perform today at special programs all over Maryland. Continue reading The Toby and Hal Orenstein Cultural Arts Center, coming soon to downtown Columbia, MD

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Development proposed for Columbia Lakefront advances the Downtown Plan

The second hearing on the Howard Hughes Corporation proposal for Phase 1 of development of the Lakefront Core Neighborhood, is before the Howard County Planning Board on Thursday March 15. Here’s a collection of images and diagrams that illustrate what Hughes is proposing, along with Columbia Association’s preliminary thinking about how the existing Lakefront Plaza might be enhanced. And an analysis of what the development could mean for Columbia.

The Vision for Lakefront Core

As stated in the Downtown-wide Design Guidelines, the vision for the Lakefront Core Neighborhood is to bring community life and activity back to the water’s edge. Lakefront Core should be a lively, walkable neighborhood connected and oriented to Lake Kittamaqundi. New development should be designed to incorporate outdoor corridors to enhance visibility and access to existing amenity spaces.

The Lakefront Core should be revitalized with new development that may include cultural, retail, restaurant, office, residential, and hospitality uses. The Lakefront Core and the surrounding Lakefront Neighborhood are envisioned to be the potential location for new signature building(s), in addition to the existing former Rouse Company Headquarters’ signature building.

Continue reading Development proposed for Columbia Lakefront advances the Downtown Plan

We need to revitalize the Hickory Ridge Village Center, now

Kimco presented their plans for the revitalization of the Hickory Ridge Village Center to the Howard County Planning Board on January 4, 2018.  Many Hickory Ridge residents, including long-time denizens, support Kimco’s proposal.  The Village Board and most citizens that testified at the hearing oppose it. But the issues raised by the proponents are central to the future of Hickory Ridge, Columbia, and Howard County. To further the conversation, following are excerpts from the testimony of  several supporters who testified at Thursday’s hearing.

Eric Stein, Hickory Ridge

Owner, Decanter Fine Wines, Hickory Ridge Village Center

I am in favor of the plan, because I believe the Hickory Ridge Village Center is failing.  When the Giant opened in 1992, it was advertised as a gourmet Giant. It isn’t. Not today, and hasn’t been for many years.  Today, we have 4 empty bays in the center representing 65% of 1 building, and likely more to come.  Contrary to belief, Kimco, the landlord, hasn’t forced these businesses to leave.  They have left for many reasons, but they will not be replaced until a decision is made on our future, and we’re suffering. Once this plan is approved, we will still have several years of an under-performing center.

Do we remain an outdated design where the merchants face inward and can’t be seen, or do we accept one that gives us a chance to compete with contemporary concepts.  The apartments are not an option, but a necessity.  You can’t do anything without people, and those that have left the center aren’t coming back.  At least not until we offer them an array of businesses that appeal to a newer audience as Columbia’s growth continues. Continue reading We need to revitalize the Hickory Ridge Village Center, now

Latest plans for development of Merriweather District

The Howard Hughes Corporation shared additional renderings of the proposed development of Merriweather District (the Crescent) in downtown Columbia to the Howard County Planning Board on November 17, 2017. Simultaneously, they announced that the headquarters of the international cybersecurity company Tenable would be relocating there.

A look at these images and stories gives us a glimpse of what the Merriweather District is becoming.

View of Merriweather District full build-out looking East West: The three new buildings in Area 1, including the MedStar Building, is near the upper right. The Hickory Ridge Road entrance off of Broken Land Parkway is at the “Area 3” label of the yellow box. The Chrysalis is in the foreground.

Continue reading Latest plans for development of Merriweather District

Does Columbia still believe in Affordable Housing?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development states that housing is affordable if it costs no more than 30% of family income. Affordable housing for all economic groups is a bedrock principal in Columbia. Nonetheless, the three newest apartments in Columbia – – Alta Wilde Lake, The Metropolitan, and Lakehouse (Little Patuxent Square) — are all Class A or “luxury” apartments. This is evident by the ways the apartments describe themselves, and it’s easy to see by their starting rents that they are unaffordable to the secretaries, sales associates, builders, maintenance workers, cooks and waiters that make it all happen. 

The Downtown Columbia Plan anticipates construction of 6,250 residential units that will be priced however the market will bear. The February agreement by the County and Howard Hughes Corporation requires there be 900 affordable apartments built downtown, but advocates say only about 500 units will create new family opportunities; 400 units duplicate what is already available in other Columbia Villages. And we’re further increasing the stock of high-rent apartments with Kimco’s proposal of “luxury” apartments at Hickory Ridge Village Center. Continue reading Does Columbia still believe in Affordable Housing?

Columbia Lakefront Design Guidelines being considered by Design Advisory Panel

As stated in the Downtown-wide Design Guidelines, the vision for the Lakefront Core Neighborhood is to bring community life and activity back to the water’s edge. Lakefront Core should be a lively, walkable neighborhood connected and oriented to Lake Kittamaqundi. The existing Lakefront Plaza amenity space shall retain its identity as an important historic and symbolic gathering place in Columbia. Iconic sculptures such as the People Tree and The Hug are landmarks in the community and should be retained within the Lakefront area.

One of the objectives for the development of Downtown Columbia is to create a vibrant, walkable, and economically sustainable community in which to live, work, and play, by creating dense and compact mixed-use neighborhoods. A
sustainable neighborhood should create an urban ecology through an integrated green infrastructure network that includes trees, vegetation, and amenity spaces.

https://www.howardcountymd.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=hLLFe9LkP84%3d&portalid=0&timestamp=1496683188759

Design Advisory Panel

by Russ Swatek, Howard County Citizens Association

The Design Advisory Panel (DAP) is meeting in the Ellicott Room on Wednesday June 14, 2017 7pm at the County offices to address the Howard Hughes Corp (HHC) newly proposed Columbia Lakefront Core Neighborhood Design Guidelines.

Passing these proposed Guidelines past the DAP is just the first part of their journey to the Planning Board and on up the chain to eventual approval/ disapproval. The DAP recommendation of approval/disapproval will go along with it and be considered by future entities in their deliberations of the proposal.

  1. These proposed Guidelines are intended to be a total replacement of the existing Columbia Downtown wide Design Guidelines for the Lakefront Core Neighborhood.
  2. The footprint of the Lakefront Core Neighborhood is proposed to be expanded to include the current American City building with its parking lot and the Copeland restaurant/parking structure areas.
  3. The maximum allowable building heights for the additional areas proposed to be included in the Neighborhood are to be raised from 9 stories to 15 stories. This new area is on the east side of Little Patuxent Parkway.
  4. The Wincopin Circle street is proposed to be extended southward from its current location to run between the current American City building with its parking lot and the Hug Statue / Columbia Association Lake Kittamaqundi amphitheater area and then on past Whole Foods.

 

Plans for Columbia Lakefront Core Neighborhood

The Lakefront Core Neighborhood, surrounded by the larger Lakefront Neighborhood, is located between Lake Kittamaquandi and Little Patuxent Parkway and is bounded by Wincopin Circle to the north and the access drive to
Whole Foods/ former Rouse Company Headquarters to the south.

 

Lakefront Core Neighborhood – Connectivity

The Lakefront area has been isolated from other areas of Downtown Columbia due to the design of Little Patuxent Parkway and topography. The Downtown Columbia Plan proposes three new amenity space corridors extending east
to west that will enhance connectivity between the lake and other downtown destinations.

Lakefront Core Neighborhood Active Frontage Plan

As described in the Downtown Columbia Design Guidelines, Lakefront Core is envisioned as a lively, walkable neighborhood connected and oriented to Lake Kittamaqundi where residences, offices, shops and restaurants as well as entertainment, civic, and cultural uses are all integrated.

Lakefront Core Neighborhood Building Height Plan

In character with this vision, buildings range from 1 to 15 stories in height with shared parking facilities and parking facilities integrated either wholly or partially within individual buildings.

Amenity Space, Downtown Columbia

Open spaces, such as plazas, promenades, and greens, are incorporated within the neighborhood, providing connections back to other Downtown destinations and views to the lake. Natural areas flank and buffer the lake, providing trails and shared-use paths that connect to a larger pedestrian and bicycle network.

More info and share your opinion

by Russ Swatek, Howard County Citizens Association

The Design Advisory Panel (DAP) is meeting in the Ellicott Room on Wednesday June 14, 2017 7pm at the County offices to address the Howard Hughes Corp (HHC) newly proposed Columbia Lakefront Core Neighborhood Design Guidelines.

The newly proposed Design Guidelines are at:

https://www.howardcountymd.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=hLLFe9LkP84%3d&portalid=0%C3%97tamp=1496683188759

The DAP agenda can be found at:

https://www.howardcountymd.gov/Departments/Planning-and-Zoning/Boards-and-Commissions/Design-Advisory-Panel#

If you have any thoughts about these proposals, then please submit them to the DAP.  The DAP does not take public testimony at their meetings, but written input can be provided in advance of their meetings by using their web input form at:

https://www.howardcountymd.gov/Departments/Planning-and-Zoning/Boards-and-Commissions/Design-Advisory-Panel/Submit-Comments-Form

or by emailing your comments to: dap@howardcountymd.gov

Note that any comments should be there before Tuesday night so the DAP members have a chance to read them prior to their meeting.

The BRT is coming to US29 in Montgomery County. Should Howard County be next?

Howard County has few transportation options for people traveling into DC. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) may be a relatively inexpensive option.

Montgomery’s bet on an ambitious Bus Rapid Transit system hinges on Route 29

By Luz Lazo (Washington Post), May 13, 2017 – ABRIDGED

Montgomery County’s years-long plan to build a 14-mile Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line on one of Maryland’s busiest commuter corridors appears to finally be moving from idea to reality.

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who has championed BRT as the county’s next major transit undertaking, included $21.5 million for the project in his capital budget. A County Council committee earlier this month signaled its support for the BRT project, voting to send the plan to the full council for approval of funding for the design phase, putting the project one step away from construction — and closer to a 2020 opening.

The plan as it stands would put buses on shoulder lanes for a portion of the route, but also in regular traffic. This decision, which sacrificed earlier plans to have a reversible HOV lane in the southern portion of the route, cut capital costs by more than half to $31.5 million. Officials say the money will pay for new stations, buses, and new bike and pedestrian infrastructure. The county’s portion will be matched with a $10 million federal grant.

For the complete article, go to:  https://is.gd/cgXjJC

What is Bus Rapid Transit?

by Institute for Transportation and Development Policy – ABRIDGED

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a high-quality bus-based transit system that delivers fast, comfortable, and cost-effective services at metro-level capacities. It does this Continue reading The BRT is coming to US29 in Montgomery County. Should Howard County be next?