There are several proposals out there regarding how the development of Downtown Columbia will proceed. The Howard Hughes Corporation (HH) has presented information in the deal they would like to have that reminds me of the Howard County School System's budget request. HH was authorized to build 5500 residential units in downtown Columbia, and supposedly needs big favors from the County to do it. Even though 5500 units is already high-density development, and will be very lucrative for the developer, HH is demanding the following perks: an additional 1000 units, reduction of the typical requirements for provision of affordable housing, waiver of Housing Commission fees of $30 million, and a large reduction in parking space requirements. There will also likely be special financing deals.
In addition to being exempt from the County’s current fees and zoning requirements, the HH deal includes a promise that no future changes in zoning laws can apply to them for 40 years!
What does the County get in return, lots of infrastructure provided, or extra amenities? I haven't seen that in the proposals so far. No, instead, the County is in fact providing most of the affordable housing that HH would be obliged to build as a percentage of the units authorized anywhere else in the County.
5500 units allowed; 6500 requested; 790 in NEW affordable housing (you may see the number 970 bandied about), but of that 790, only 330 is provided by HH controlled property. That's only about 6% of 5500 units, and only 5% of 6500 units. At this level of density, developers typically provide 15%, or sometimes can pay a fee-in-lieu, but the Housing Commission fee is being waived for HH as well. Yet, according to HH math, they are providing 970 units, over 10% affordable. Their definition of the word "providing" is interesting, almost 500 units "provided" by the County are in "their" number. They also use the lower unit total of 5500 to derive their percentages, instead of the 6500 total. This is disturbing, not to mention the fact that the HH plan will group affordable housing together.
Howard County Council Member Jen Terrasa proposes a 15% MIHU (Moderate Income Housing Unit) requirement on this project. This is more fair, and will spread out the affordable units across Downtown Columbia. The People’s Voice supports Terrasa’s proposal, or, in lieu of that, charging HH the appropriate fees and capping the density at 5500 units. It is absurd to assume HH needs all these favors to proceed.
There is a public meeting on Wednesday, 5/25/16, starting at 7:30 pm, to present details about the proposals from the County and from Terrasa. The meeting will be held at Wilde Lake Middle School, 10481 Cross Fox Lane, in the cafeteria. Please join me there, and I will update with new details. Also, this issue is set to be prefiled as new County Council legislation on June 6, with public hearing on June 20th at 7:00PM before the Council.