Responses from Executive and Council Candidates

(Received as of 10/30/06)


We asked the candidates for local offices to respond in general to our Executive Summary. In the interest of saving their time and yours, we suggested that they might want to simply respond to any areas of disagreement they saw.


In addition, we asked them to respond to the following three position propositions:


  1. The County Council is about to consider a nominee to fill a vacancy on the Planning Board. We urge the Council to table this appointment. This is not about the nominee or his qualifications, but rather a statement that the new Executive, and especially the new Council, should be the ones making this decision.

  2. We support the County Council's move to protect Governor Warfield Parkway as a Scenic Road and thank Council members Ulman and Merdon for responding to citizen input and proposing this designation.

  3. The proposed Plaza Tower building is much too tall for the rest of Downtown and is out of keeping with the human scale of development that the citizens support. Its construction should be halted and the use of that site considered in the context of the rest of the Charrette area.


The table below indicates their responses (if any). Within each race, the candidates are listed alphabetically.

(Following the table are each candidate’s additional comments about our Executive Summary. In this listing, the candidates are listed alphabetically, regardless of the position for which they are a candidate.)


Want to comment on the candidates’ responses? Please go to the Howard County Blog and join the discussion!



1 – Planning Board Nomination

2 – Governor Warfield Parkway as a Scenic Route

3 – Halt the Plaza Tower

State Senate

Jim Robey

County Council call

County Council call

This project has been approved by the Planning Board and is

currently undergoing an appeal. These are the proper arenas for

such decisions to be made.

County Executive

Chris Merdon

I do not plan to vote for the appointment of a new Planning Board member at the County Council meeting on Monday, October 30, 2006. This is a critically important position to fill and should be dealt with by the new County Executive and County Council. The Planning Board will be deeply involved with the issues of downtown Columbia and I want to ensure that the Board is comprised of individuals who are well qualified for the position.


I am pleased to have been a co-sponsor on this legislation. The designation of Governor Warfield Parkway as a scenic road will protect the beauty and serenity of this section of roadway for generations to come.


I will do all within my legal means to slow the process of planning

for downtown Columbia so that the community and government

have time to collaborate on a plan that works. I will not bring

forth a plan for the first year of my term in office in order to

allow a sufficient period of time to develop a comprehensive

proposal that includes input on all details including height



Ken Ulman

I voted to table the nomination of a new Planning Board member to fill the current vacancy so that this decision can be made by the next County Executive and County Council.

I am proud to have sponsored this legislation as well as my previous bill to strengthen the Scenic Roads Act by requiring the preservation of at least a 35 foot buffer of existing trees along all wooded scenic roads.

I agree that the Plaza Tower is too tall for downtown Columbia.  This is clearly something about which the community feels very strongly, and a more appropriate use for the site should be determined with the community’s input as part of the master plan.  As County Executive, I will introduce a height limit for New Town Zoning to prohibit any building over 14 stories.

Steve Wallis

I agree that it would be appropriate to await a new CE and county Council

I concur

Not entirely sure at this point. I think it appropriate to listen to 
positions/arguments of all sides, but I lean toward abiding by the 
wishes of the community, in this case, the Columbia community 

County Council – District 1

Tony Salazar

Wholeheartedly agree.
In fact, I have called 
for all of the members 
of the Planning Board 
to submit their 
resignations pending 
reappointment by the
new County 
Executive and County 


I agree with the sentiment. However, I'm uncertain as to whether

the County could legally halt construction. That would be an issue

worth pursuing.


However, I would not object if the County delayed issuing

building permits, etc. until all legal questions surrounding the

 project have been fully and finally resolved.

Courtney Watson

I believe that it would be wise for the current administration to allow the next administration to review and approve this appointment.

I agree that Governor Warfield Parkway should be a Scenic Road.

I agree that the proposed Plaza Tower building is much too tall

and is out of keeping with the human scale of development that

the citizens support. I am not certain, however, whether the

county now has the legal standing to halt the construction of the


County Council – District 2

Calvin Ball

At this point, I am leaning toward tabling the appointment of this nominee.

I support protection of Governor Warfield Parkway as a Scenic Road.

I believe that we should aspire toward development in Columbia

that is visionary, considered in the context of the community, and

honors as well as enhances Columbia's values.

Gina Ellrich

I agree that the appointment should be tabled at this time.


I support protecting Governor Warfield Parkway as a scenic road.

I am not sure if it is legally possible at this stage but believe it

warrants research. 


County Council – District 3

Jen Terrasa

I agree.  When I left the press conference on October 16th, I contacted my county councilman and indicated why I thought consideration of the nominee, regardless of qualifications, should be tabled until the next council is seated.  As a former member of the Planning Board, I know the significant impact the Planning Board has on development; particularly on New Town.  With less than 10 days until the election and less than 45 days until the new council is seated, I believe this suggestion makes sense.

As a 33-year resident of Columbia, I strongly identify this road with my sense of Columbia, and I fully support designating Governor Warfield Parkway as a scenic route.

I agree that the Plaza Tower as currently planned is just too high. I

am also concerned that the Tower does not incorporate affordable

housing, is exclusive, and that parking and traffic are not

adequately addressed in context of other development to occur in

the downtown area.  As a result, the building is fundamentally out

of character with Columbia and its vision. There need to be height

limitations, and the Tower must be compatible with the

surrounding area. That area is our beloved lakefront, where we

gather for celebrations, or sit on a warm summer night to watch

Mr. B's movies.

It is a gathering place, a place to build community.  We should

create more of these places, not building on top of them.


The Plaza Tower should have been considered as part of the

Charrette, and now it should be brought back to the table and

now included in any future planning of downtown. The process

should be slowed down to adequately address the concerns

outlined here  and in the CCD executive summary

Donna Thewes

I agree 100%

I support this proposal.

I think that it is possible to stop the building at least until the court

case is resolved. I did not support the decision of the Planning

Board to approve this building and was very disturb by the

explanation on why they approved this. I do not know if the

county has the ability to stop the building at this date but it should

be researched. There should be requirements for height limitations.

County Council – District 4

Tom D’Asto

I agree.

I agree.

I am unsure if we can actually stop the Towers. If elected, I will

certainly inquire at the Office of Law about this issue and act


Mary Kay Sigaty

I agree entirely with the call to delay the appointment of a new Planning Board member until after the election.

I'm in favor of the scenic road designation. In addition to retaining the drama of the trees, I have a personal stake in it because it will directly impact my townhouse community.

I hate the 22 story building. I don't know what can be done at this

point, but I will actively investigate the options in an attempt to

eliminate it and allow the parcel to be part of the master plan area.

State Senate

Jim Robey

County Council call

County Council call

This project has been approved by the Planning Board and is

currently undergoing an appeal. These are the proper arenas for

such decisions to be made.



Thanks for the summary. I read it and believe that we are on the same side. I was pleased as I read it because much of it sounded similar to my 8-pt set of Guidelines that should be assessed against any development plan. We have some space between us on the housing and transportation issues, but not much.


I hope to have the chance to work with your coalition and advocate your vision on the County Council/Zoning Board.


I think we need to close any loopholes in the current zoning legislation to actually create the 15% that is defined. We also have housing coming on-line shortly and we should actually assess the purchasing or leasing of this housing to see if folks that live there are actually working in Howard County. This is the main reason that the zoning legislation exists: live and work in the same place.


The transportation separation resides mostly in the free shuttle service. I am not sure how that would work financially. It would seem that the end user should pay some reasonable amount. The idea seems a bit utopian, sorry.


I am in full support of the Coalition's low-density objectives and published my position on this subject back in June of this year at!



I want to take a moment to say how pleased I was to be present for your press conference at the Hug statue earlier this month.  It is wonderful to see your group come together for the admirable purpose of honoring and enhancing Columbia’s founding values as its development moves forward.


I grew up attending Bryant Woods Elementary School in the heart of Columbia, riding the bike paths between Wilde Lake and the Mall and enjoying a diverse group of friends from a wide variety of backgrounds.  My best friend in my youth was Lisa Spear, daughter of Rouse Company President Mike Spear –- Jim Rouse’s right hand man. Mike spent many hours talking to his daughters and me about the Rouse vision for Columbia and even then, we knew where we lived and went to school was very special.  As part of the Spear extended family, I got to spend time with Jim Rouse himself at family picnics and Fourth of July celebrations at the lakefront headquarters.  During my summers home from Syracuse University, Mike helped me to get a job as an intern in the Public Affairs department of The Rouse Company and there I learned first-hand the real values that drove the Rouse vision and its success and had the chance to communicate them to the public. 


I am telling you all this only to impress upon you my long-standing relationship with and passion for Columbia and its founding values, my appreciation for its lakefront and downtown and my deep desire to uphold the vision that Jim Rouse set for our home.  


General Plan Comments

In general, I find your plan well thought-out and in concept can support most of it.    There are, however, a few areas that I cannot fully support as written because we differ on some details.  While I agree with you about the fact that 5500 new units for downtown is too much, I am not able to commit to your exact figure of 1600 at this time.  Truthfully, I am unsure what the right number is and I believe much more careful research needs to be done before anyone commits to an exact figure.  At first blush, you figure seems reasonable, but I would want to examine further research before emphatically committing to it.


I also support your transportation ideas, but believe it may be difficult to fund a free shuttle bus service.  Perhaps there is an opportunity to provide a reduced rate service that would not cost the county as much but still serve the same purpose.  Again, further examination might provide a solution that would allow free service.  For example, perhaps there is a public/private partnership opportunity that could be fulfilled to enable this service. 


As to your point about “green” buildings, I fully support providing incentives for “green” enhancements to buildings and encouraging developers to build “green” for new construction.  At this time, requiring “green” development for all new construction is not something I can fully support – strongly encouraging it is.




In addition to the above thoughts on your overall proposals, I have provided answers to your specific questions below:


  1. I agree that the appointment should be tabled at this time.
  2. I support protecting Governor Warfield Parkway as a scenic road.
  3. I am not sure if it is legally possible at this stage but believe it warrants research. 


Thank you for the interest you take in our community and thank you for participating in the political process by inviting candidates to comment on your hard work.  I hope to have a chance to work with you to further your goals in the future.




I would like to say that I commend you and your organization for taking the time to develop a thought out guidance document. I believe we need to strongly consider the points that you have laid out as well as those presented by Tom D'Asto. To do this, we need to take Chris Merdon's approach of slowing the process down and ensuring all stakeholders are involved.

In general, I agree with most of your presentation conceptually, but still need to research some of the specific details of each proposal that backs up the summary. I am definitely concerned about the height issue. I am concerned for two reasons. First, I am not sure that it is appropriate. Second, and possibly more importantly, I am disappointed in the method in which it was approved.

As you might know, I am somewhat familiar in the area of energy conservation, having been involved in that area for 17 years. I do believe we should strive for LEED certification, but do not believe it should mandated. This is something that needs to become part of the ASHRAE building standards over time. One way to move it in that direction is through incentives as well as lobbying and involvement in the industry. Currently, the Federal Government does have some incentives and we should be looking to the State and County to potentially look at what they might be able to do.




Thank you for providing me with a copy of your proposal for Columbia’s Downtown. I am happy to say that I agree with your vision and have already announced my intentions for changing the current process should I be elected County Executive.


As you know, I have promised to slow down the planning process for the development of downtown Columbia. I support a vision for a compact, walk-able mixed-use downtown with open spaces that include greens, plazas and paths. A combination of businesses and residences will make for a vibrant area to live and work. I will direct our planning office to conduct thorough independent traffic studies before any density decisions are made. Public transportation and parking must be viable as well as considering other options such as rapid transit. Public infrastructure must be addressed including space for schools, and cultural amenities. A vision plan requires citizen input throughout the entire process and I am committed to an open transparent process that includes the community.




I appreciate your time and your personal commitment towards improving and protecting Columbia.


Since personally inaugurating the County's first-ever charrette on October 15, 2005, I've continued to encourage all members of our community to participate in the planning of Howard County and Columbia's Downtown. I agree with you that the hope and excitement that filled the cafeteria at Wilde Lake was both impressive and inspiring.


I must however disagree with you that the process has somehow not lived up to its full potential. If anything, the process has brought about very high levels of participation, interest and initiative - including your own initiative to create a new organization that represents your views in this process. Your vision for Columbia will continue the dialogue and be melded with the many visions of other Columbians and Howard Countians as this public process continues to unfold.


Since I will not take part in this dialogue as your County Executive, I will leave it to others who succeed me to engage in these important discussions until the community reaches consensus on a renewed Vision for Columbia.


I do applaud your efforts and look forward to hearing of your progress in future.


Thank you for your commitment to the public dialogue.




(candidate’s responses in italics after each point in our summary)

In Summary The Community’s Vision for Downtown as Expressed at the Charrette:
1. The community supports the continuing development of Downtown and wants it to be done on a human scale and at low-to-moderate density. Yes. I also want any development plan to be considered as part of a greater whole that stretches from the Rts. 29 &175 bridge to the hospital and is planned with its impact on the Wilde Lake Village Center considered very carefully.
2. The community backs mixed-use development throughout Downtown. Yes
3. The community is determined that new housing units be affordable to a wide cross-section of people. Yes. These housing units must be for people at every income level. We also must encourage a mix of rental and ownership housing.
4. The community rejects the proposed major increase in traffic congestion. Yes!
5. The community wants to move about safely and conveniently by foot, bicycle, auto, and mass transit. Yes. I actually think that we can make many improvements now, not wait for the future.
6. The community desires Downtown to have a wide variety of civic and cultural amenities. Yes, starting with beautifully designed buildings. I firmly believe that Howard County needs a Design Review Panel for all future building.
7. The community recognizes the Lakefront as the heart of Columbia and wants it to be protected against overdevelopment. Yes.
8. The community considers Symphony Woods and the Merriweather Post Pavilion as Columbia’s “Central Park” area, deserving of special consideration. Yes.
9. The community expresses strong support for implementing sound environmental practices in future development. Yes, and in addition, sound environmental studies should be done as one of the parameters for the entire project. The ideas that have been proposed aren't based on an analysis of the wetlands in the Downtown nor the future dredging and maintenance that the lake will need. The current difficulties in finding an appropriate location to dry silt should be an indicator of considerations needed in the plan for Downtown's future.
10. The community is intent on continuing to be actively engaged in decisions concerning their Columbia – the Next America. Absolutely -- something that I will work tirelessly to ensure.





I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown (CCD)'s Executive Summary. CCD did a tremendous job of articulating what many of us have been thinking in the months following the charrette -- that the original vision that occurred on the first day of the charrette was not adequately reflected in the plan that emerged at the end of the week. I was excited about the concept of the charrette, which I saw as intended to increase community involvement and give more opportunities for citizen input in the process of developing downtown Columbia. Unfortunately, the excitement, promise, and vision of the first day of the charrette were not maintained, and the results fell short of the hopes and expectations of many, and the vision of the first day.


I share CCD's concerns about the development of downtown. In fact, one of the reasons I decided to run for county council was my desire to have an impact on the development of downtown and to see that it is consistent with Rouse's vision. I want to ensure the planning is done right and that whatever emerges will reflect careful study, citizen and other stakeholder involvement, and appropriate expert opinion. I fully support CCD's efforts and agree with the ten summary points at the end of your Executive Summary. My vision of Downtown includes diversity in terms of age, race, and socio-economic status, affordable housing, and infrastructure that encourages people to walk and/or use public transportation and use in Downtown, as well as to and from Downtown. In assessing the cost and benefit to the County, we need to accurately evaluate increases to infrastructure, police officers, and firefighters. The Count must also responsibly estimate the impact on the public school system.


I am now hopeful that with efforts and citizen involvement we can get back on track and work toward the directions set forth in the Executive Summary. I look forward to being part of the discussion and working through the details with CCD and others. I thank CCD for their efforts to unify the community and have it speak with a one voice regarding where it wants its future to be.




I find that your plan offers some very strong and positive goals. I do not want Merriweather to become part of the county at this time. We are not in the field of entertainment and since the new Management Company has taken over, the Pavilion has seen a profit. I support the idea that Merriweather stay an open concert pavilion. It should be renovated and maintained. I also strongly agree that open space must be preserved. We must get the traffic study prior to setting any housing goals and height restrictions should be put in place. I support the summary completely and the free parking. This plan is a good starting point and much closer to the plan that many envisioned in the charrette process than what the county proposed (which I do not support). I was born and raised in Bethesda and I live here because I love the quality of life Howard County offers. Bethesda has been taken over by the District and is too congested, over built and hectic for me. I never want to see any part of Columbia designed to be like that.





Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the Coalition’s Executive Summary. I agree wholeheartedly with most of the Coalition’s positions. As you suggested, in the interest of time, I will focus mainly on one major difference in opinion I have with the Coalition’s Executive Summary, and I feel I must clarify my perspective.


The summary makes reference to “the County’s proposed 5,500 new residential units.” First, I feel it is important to emphasize that the County has not proposed a plan yet. There were concerns coming out of the charrette that the County would rush into adopting a new master plan without adequately addressing the details. I shared those concerns and advocated to slow the process down to take the time to look at those details carefully and incorporate more community input. I believe there is still much work to do before any proposed plan for downtown would be put forward. I believe much of that work revolves around ensuring that the principles raised during the charrette and discussed in the Coalition’s Executive Summary are appropriately reflected in the master plan.


The number 5,500 which is so frequently (and often inaccurately) cited was a number the County’s consultants recommended as an estimate of the maximum number of units the market could support. When I first heard that number, I thought it was ludicrous, and I still feel that way. The traffic study confirmed what so many of us believed intuitively—that the full scope of possible development suggested by our consultants during the charrette would simply be much too much for our roads to handle.


I believe it is inaccurate to say that the County has proposed 5,500 units. I can say with absolute certainty that when I am County Executive and when “the County” will then refer to my administration, we will not be proposing 5,500 units. I cannot say definitively at this point what the final number will be, but it will certainly be much closer to the 1,600 units the Coalition proposes.


Thanks again for the opportunity to comment and for all the Coalition’s work for the future of Columbia’s Downtown.




Thanks for forming this coalition, which I think is entirely appropriate and will contribute valuable perspectives, I am certain.


It is clear that these proposals have been crafted with a great deal of care. I am in general agreement with all of the elements, as written...............general meaning that I'd like to hear from all sides regarding the two issues dealing w/density and height/

It's really rather well though out, and I think what is proposed would make for a wonderful, vibrant Downtown Columbia.

Nicely done.............and thanks for the opportunity to respond accordingly.





Having participated in the charrette as a citizen, I agree with the summary document in the way it describes the community’s vision for downtown as expressed at the charrette. I agree with much of what is proposed in the summary document. There are some areas in the summary document that I will ask for more information about as a County Council Member in order to make fully informed decisions.