Columbia Council Rep Report

//Columbia Council Rep Report

CA Board Work Session and Meeting November 9, 2017

These notes reflect Nancy’s viewpoint only.
The official minutes of the Columbia Association Board meetings can be found on the CA website at:

Nancy encourages you to send her your comments on her notes. Please reply to her directly at 

Columbia Association Board of Directors Work Session

November 9, 2017


Discussion on New Town Zoning with Howard County DPZ and Consultants

Don Elliott, consultant for the County, is the director of Clarion, the company that is helping DPZ with the changes to County zoning regulations. 

This is phase one of the land development update. The current system succeeded in implementing the Columbia vision.   Mr. Elliott praised Jim Rouse highly. 

Some areas such as Gateway and residential outparcels were developed outside the net framework.

Initial success was achieved through site specific use and layout approvals (268).  Strict use controls were sometimes limited to only one or a few uses in some cases; very vague standards and decision criteria were used in other cases.

An overlapping system of design controls were imposed largely by covenants, not zoning.  Jim Rouse wanted the flexibility to do what he wanted to do.  He was in control and for the most part and the vagueness helped him create what he wanted to create.

 Now, because of the vagueness, it’s hard to find what was intended by Rouse as Columbia moves forward.

SDP/FDP/PDP system does not work well in the long run for citizens, staff or builders.  This is a process that developers must now follow in order to develop property.

Min/max numbers/percentages of acreages and dwelling units do not provide flexibility to respond to changes in the economy – open space minimum is an exception

Staff must interpret very vague criteria and standards which leads to unpredictable results.  Citizens and builders are subject to those unpredictable results.

Complex Village center and downtown redevelopment procedures were created in part to reduce unpredictability.

The original land use control system is not well suited to current commercial and mixed use residential and commercial development markets

Property owners need more flexibility for commercial and retail options and the ability to move between them without the need to update a site specific use approval.  Otherwise mixed use and commercial developers find locations outside Columbia more attractive which weakens Village centers

To encourage reinvestment in mixed use and commercial areas the trends are to create zone districts designed for downtown and Village center areas with strong controls over form, scale and quality.

Define broader and more flexible categories of retail service and commercial uses.  Allow property owners to make changes subject to approval of a site plan.  More objective standards and criteria could be more closely tied to Rouse’s vision.  Current system may not meet the needs of industrial areas very well.

The original vision was for industrial uses, such as fabrication and assembly, has declined and is not an issue at this time.  Changing technology and delivery methods have made some industrial lands uncompetitive for those uses.

Most new ordinances define a broader range of light industrial/business park/research and development/ institutional.  These uses reflect current markets. Snowden River Parkway is an example of these pressures.

Some neighborhoods may want to preserve their areas more closely than other neighborhoods. The historic styles want to remain while some housing stock may not be worthy of retention.  There is a wide range of house styles in Columbia and Howard County.  Updated ordinance can protect them strictly or flexibly.  Outparcels should be considered in this process.

Some communities that have sites with specific zoning regulations and have negotiated development approvals that inhibit reinvestment and often replace those with few, more general, more consistent zoning districts

New districts can better preserve the character and scale of the area through embedded development and design standards, while allowing more flexibility to responding to changing uses and internal site layouts.  That can be done in several ways:  A. no change, B. partial conversions of FDPs or C. burn them all and start over.

 Concerns with retaining the current system:

  • FDPs would continue to guide the future changes in NT (NEW TOWN ZONING).
  • Complex redevelopment process would remain in place.
  • Future redevelopment and amendments would continue to be unpredictable, requiring significant interpretation as markets change.
  • Reinvestment would be discouraged due to complexity and lack of predictability.
  • Administration of the system would continue to require very significant amount of staff, Board, and elected official time.
  • The system would still be designed over time.  


  • FDP – categorize by scale and character.
  • Permitted uses and development scale –A. new standard residential districts, B. new mixed use districts or C. new standard non-residential districts.
  • Ensure that redevelopment is consistent with the Columbia plans and vision.
  • Ensure that single family development reinforces the scale and characteristics of existing neighborhoods.
  • Allow mixed use and commercial.
  • Develop flexibility to respond to changing markets.
  • Recognize the changing nature of Industrial development and employment.
  • Retain open space.

I voiced my concern that Columbia should not become homogenized.  Columbia will never be like any other place because of Village centers and how they relate to communities around them.  We want Columbia to retain its unique qualities.    

It was asked if covenants in residential neighborhoods have a negative impact.  Mr. Elliott said there were no complaints.  People buy into the neighborhood and most like the covenants’ protection to maintain their homes’ values.

Architectural and design covenants are a choice for the Villages.  Fundamental design standards however are included.  Materials are not included – scale and relation to street is talked about – articulation is common in the zoning.  Covenants go beyond that to talk about style or color or materials etc. 

If healthy redevelopment by Villages is allowed, it could create a really unique place by tailoring the zoning ordinance to take what’s here into consideration.

The strong trend around the country in wealthy areas now is trying to have more objective and measurable standards than what currently exists. 

There was a question of transportation. We were told that Howard County has a good road system.  Howard County doesn’t currently have adequate transportation, especially where there are plans for parking lots to disappear in heavily used areas, i.e. lakefront at Lake Kittamaquandi.

I voiced my concern about the three condos that are proposed to go up at lakefront at Lake Kitt.   CA owns that lakefront and has many activities there.  I wanted to voice my concern in front of the director of DPZ and say that the County decides density which is a concern.  It also thus decides the character of an area.  The focus seems to be on economic development.  Columbia is a very desirable city for developers.  Howard Hughes (HHC) is here because they are aware of how important an area Columbia is. 

HHC will benefit greatly from being here.  We don’t want to be sorry they are here.  Access to the lakefront must be retained.  With no parking for the residents of Columbia and County to attend activities there, the character of the lakefront will change.  The plan is that Columbia will become a more walkable, bikeable community. However, the demographics show that the senior community is growing faster than any other, and they are in greater need of use of cars than those able to walk or bike.  Handicapped, young families, and seniors must be considered.    The need for parking cannot be ignored.  The largest cities, LA, NYC, and WDC have parking garages for people to use.  The Lakefront has been used for 50 years and parking has been adjacent for the public to use for 50 years even if it was on private property. 

 Residents were not expected to live in certain areas, such as the Lakefront.   Rouse created the Villages to give people an opportunity to participate in their community.  If people are now allowed to live in areas where there is no plan for a Village – we are rethinking the idea of Columbia.

Columbia doesn’t have large roadways that are in other cities.  The streets are changing and there are concerns about this.  Even major connectors are changing.  We don’t want the roads to become route 40 or Route 1.  

Zoning cannot stop a street from expanding.  But controls can be put in place over public realm to make it walkable and friendlier.  

 Resident Speakout

Jervis Dorton, Oakland Mills resident, believes that the presentation was an over simplification.  He didn’t agree with much of what Don Elliot had to say.

Paul Verchinski, Oakland Mills resident, said he feels we need to determine what the vision is that we have for Columbia going forward.  He suggests we look at what uses we want in the industrial parks. 

Russ Swatek, Long Reach resident, is concerned about the potential changes.  He doesn’t think more objective criteria will solve the problem. There was a statement put out by the downtown partnership that states that parking will not be reduced.  The statement suggests there will be 700-800 spaces.  Will they be available to the public for lakefront activities?  During construction of the large condo buildings, where will the parking for residents be located?

 Stu Cohn, president of HCCA, thanked the CA Board for contributing to the film about Columbia.  

Brian England, Hickory Ridge resident, spoke about the zoning in industrial parks.  He suggested there be an interim panel to help with the needed changes.  He also wants CA to do something about enforcing the covenants in the industrial parks.  He says we can enforce the covenants, however, HRD is the entity responsible for the industrial parks.

Celeste Hooker spoke about indoor swimming.  She talked about the master plan that was created, also about the potential bubble for making an outdoor pool available for winter use.   She asks that we return to looking into creating more indoor pool space.  

Chairman’s Remarks

  • He has completed a tour of all the Village Boards.  
  • The State of MD has given CA a Secretary’s Citation on the celebration of the 50th birthday.

 Work Session Topics:  Department Overview – Open Space and Facility Services

There are about 100 open space team members.  They take great pride in making Columbia the greatest city in the US.

Jason Heath, project manager of capital improvements, explained what his team does:

  • Paving crew – repair pathways and parking lots.  They make sure that the parking lots don’t flood during heavy rains.  
  • Carpenter work on tot lots, bridges, pathways, decking along docks and lakes.  They built the Boardwalk around Lake Kitt.  
  • Grading does stream stabilization, and works on storm water facilities.  They work closely with John McCoy.    They also built the sediment site for the lake dredging projects.  
  • They oversee other projects as well.  The Lakefront Bell-tree was installed thanks to these dedicated workers.  They also put up the poster trees displaying these original posters in Kennedy Gardens at Lake Kitt.

Sean Harbaugh talked about operations and how they engage the public with exploring Columbia, i.e. Columbia walks.   

  • Community Cleanups in the spring can have over 200 people participating.  They get hundreds of bags of trash.  
  • Almost 1,000 work tickets covering many tasks must be handled by this team.  
  • 2/3 of CA property is covered by trees.   675 acres of turf are mowed every 2 weeks.
  • Lake Elkhorn is the most visited lake in the inventory.  The loop around the lake is almost 2 miles.  
  • They plant flowers at signs throughout the year.  Mulch is also placed at all the Villages and at tot lots for safety.
  • When it snows, operations takes care of the 94 miles of pathways, 24 miles of sidewalk.    They also take care of the dog park.  There are 294 registered dogs.  
  • Landscape services team manages trees and non-turf plantings in the open space.
  • Hobbits Glen has worked hard to make it look good.  They also do hard scape and reforestation.   There is also a deer project to reduce the number of ticks that cause Lyme disease.   Sean explained this program.  Also he spoke about reducing the herds which helps reduce auto insurance premiums. 

Rene Ordonez, Special Projects, spoke about snow removal and keeping the lakes clean – trash removal, fishing hooks removal.  They clean up debris after the storms and after events.  This is no small Job.

Danielle Bodner spoke about watershed projects and management activities.  

  • They also work on sustainability projects.  There has been a lot of work to help manage the stormwater issues in Columbia.  
  • They do outreach through educating the community about what to do and how to do it.  They also deal with the mosquito issue.  Weed warriors, and lawn tester programs are managed by this group.  
  • Energy efficiency and coordination with peer groups is part of their role.  Hot water heaters at CA facilities, and HVAC projects are also handled by this busy team. 
  • The solar farm in West Friendship provides electrical power for the Athletic club and other parts of the CA footprint.   The solar farm is on 10 acres of land.  

 Josh Bennett, construction coordinator – facility services and capital improvements: 

  • They repair and maintain assets in 90 locations.  They serve the Village association and sports & fitness facilities.  They have worked about 5,300 work orders so far this year.  
  • Capital projects are working on the Long Reach Tennis Club – they manage design, procurement, and work with various contractors to get the jobs done.  Small projects to large ones come to them.  


Columbia Association Board of Directors Meeting

November 9, 2017 


Report from the CA Representatives to the Inner Arbor Trust Board of Directors

The Inner Arbor reported that CarnEvil was successful.  The IAT hopes to do more events to help raise funds for the Butterfly building, pathways and the playground.

 Assessment Share – Cap on Cash Reserves

The Board voted to put a 20% cap on reserves for the Villages from FY2018 onward.  It was stated that if the Villages needed money, they need to go to CA and make their case.  This hasn’t happened so it was decided that 20% should be sufficient.

Also, the four Villages that will have reduced allotments after this year will be able to retain the money that would have been returned to CA for FY2017 to help alleviate the pain of losing some money going forward. 

 Happy Thanksgiving to all.   I wish you and your loved ones a happy, healthy and festive holiday.


Nancy McCord