Thursday, October 6, 2016

A New Slogan?

I wonder if, years from now, 2016 will be remembered as the year when Greg Fitchitt became known as the "Walmarts and garden apartments" man.

"There could be development, but it would not be the kind that the downtown plan envisions. You can have garden apartments and Walmarts, if that's the kind of development you want," Fitchitt said, adding that the market alone can support a suburban environment. "You cannot fulfill the downtown Columbia plan without the TIF."

This quote, from Fatimah Waseem's article about further analysis of the TIF, is virtually identical to what Mr. Fitchitt said in the small group meeting I attended, hosted by the Howard Hughes folks. I have to give him credit. At the time I thought this was something he was putting out there quietly, in order to put the fear of God into people. Apparently he is willing to shout it from the rooftops.

It's good to have the courage of your convictions. What disturbs me is that this comes across less as useful information and more as a threat. I'm just not so keen on that way of doing business.

Howard Hughes has some things that people here want, like a parking garage that will enable Merriweather to stay in business, and plans for a multi-use Performing Arts Center that Toby Orenstein really, really wants. (Did I mention that Howard Hughes paid to have those plans drawn up?) And Columbia/Howard County has some things that Howard Hughes wants.

That's just business. Either we work together or absolutely nothing happens. If nothing happens for Columbia there's a danger that we become, as time goes on, a faded reminder of a sixties utopian dream. Lovely yet not living. And, eventually, not even lovely. I get that. If nothing happens for Howard Hughes I guess they cut their losses and move on. They are bigger than we are and have many other playgrounds on which to play.

The new analysis of the TIF suggest that information supporting its approval is insufficient. This appears to back up Councilwoman Jen Terrasa's concerns.

"We need adequate information to make this decision," Terrasa said. "That's been my concern all along: that we don't have enough information."

Someone told me once that The Howard Hughes people weren't happy with how the Downtown Plan negotiations went. Their representative "gave away the store," he said. Now they're clearly trying to get it back. This does not make them inherently evil. This is a very long game for them and their game is business and they are known for doing it fairly well. But if we are going to enter into such an enormous financial proposition I think we should be making that choice based on sound documentation and analysis, not on the threat of Walmarts and garden apartments.





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