The following are responses from the Hickory Ridge candidates for Columbia Council / CA Board of Directors. Information on the Hickory Ridge election and voting is available here.
1. Please tell me a bit about yourself and what you hope to bring to the Columbia Council.
I moved to Columbia in 2000 with my husband, who grew up in Oakland Mills. Since then, I have called Howard County home. Over the years, we have lived in River Hill, Harper’s Choice, Ellicott City, and finally settled back in Columbia in the Village of Hickory Ridge in 2017.
I am currently employed as the Executive Director of Girls on the Run of Central Maryland, a nonprofit youth development organization that inspires girls in Howard and Carroll counties to be joyful, healthy, and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running. I have worked in the nonprofit sector for more than 20 years at organizations around the country, including community associations, arts organizations, and human service providers.
Many Hickory Ridge residents may remember me from my five years in the role of Hickory Ridge’s Village Manager. Prior to that job, I also worked for the villages of River Hill and Long Reach. My experience of having worked for villages and served on the village board gives me a unique perspective on CA and how it serves our community. I am familiar with the organizational structure, have worked with some staff members in the past, and already have a deep understanding of the many ways CA impacts the quality of life in our community.
My name is Tradd Ritchey, and I am a husband, a father of a three-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter, a Marine Corps veteran, a Georgia Tech alumnus, and a recent transplant to Hickory Ridge Village. As an Army brat myself, my wife a Navy brat, and both of us veterans in our own right; our move to Columbia was the first time in our lives in which we had unilateral control. We chose Columbia. We chose Columbia, because it is a special place. It blends urban living with green space, creating a harmonious, healthy, and modern living environment for a population of citizens who embody everything America was designed to be. My vested interest in Columbia is in laying down roots, in integrating myself and my family into the fabric of our community, and working to make Columbia an even better place for our children to live, love, and grow within. Admittedly, as a new resident, I lack the historical knowledge and experience with the area, so my opinions expressed below are made without any privileged knowledge, but only with the data of an average citizen. However, an analyst by trade, I maintain an open mind and will reshape my opinions to reflect new and superior information as I receive it.
2. The impact that the pandemic has caused on CA's financials has resulted in the CA Board having to make difficult decisions on which services to keep and which services to cut. How would you prioritize the services and amenities that CA offers? What is CA doing well that they should continue? What could CA be doing better?
As a member of the CA Board for the past year, I have been faced with difficult decisions at every turn. In October 2020, another board member and I led a half-day values workshop for the CA Board to help us clarify how we would evaluate programs and services as we worked on the FY22 operating budget. The values we agreed on were Trust, Stewardship, Community, and Financial Stability. As we went through the budget process, I turned to these values when faced with tough decisions. The toughest of these was the decision to close Haven on the Lake. While it was clear that Haven was a beloved and special community for the roughly 1,000 members it served, the Board’s role as stewards of our residents’ assessment dollars and the need to ensure CA’s financial stability meant that we had to make this difficult choice.
CA had some missteps in 2020 due to the unexpected challenges the pandemic brought the organization. Looking back, communication was the biggest shortcoming. Unfortunately, CA was without a Chief Marketing Officer for most of last year which made clear and consistent messaging a challenge. Now that we have two new, excellent marketing staff members on board, I am starting to see a significant improvement in the frequency and thoroughness of CA’s communication with the community. I think 2021 will bring a renewed focus on communication and the creation of an ongoing feedback loop with CA’s members and residents.
I believe some of the choices that the CA has made in cutting certain services may have been short-sighted. However, it was, and remains, difficult to accurately predict the scope and timeline of the global pandemic which has upended all of our lives. Yet, I am concerned many services which would incur substantial start-up costs, such as Haven, will never return. As we hopefully approach the light at the end of the tunnel, it is my belief that the CA should prioritize children’s services, such as reopening KidSpace for children under two, services at The Barn, and ensuring summer camps have proper funding so that they make be conducted in a COVID-safe manner. Our children are our future, and in many respects, they have borne the brunt of this disaster.
3. The Columbia Association considers itself the "keeper of the Rouse Vision". How can CA best embrace this role?
CA could and should do more to share with our residents about Columbia’s unique history and how revolutionary our “New City” was when it was first built. Many newer Columbia residents don’t realize what a unique place Columbia is.
Another key role that CA will play in the next several years will be to advocate for and protect CA’s unique zoning designation, New Town zoning. It’s clear that some changes to Columbia’s unique zoning classification must be made because it has been more than 50 years since it was revisited. However, whatever changes may come should respect Columbia’s history as a planned community. Traditional Euclidian zoning should not simply replace New Town.
As a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, a philanthropist, and an avid public servant, Rouse’s vision for not just a city, but a community, was brought to life in Columbia. He saw this as his chance to instill his principles in an idyllic planned community, with his focus on creating a great place to live for all its citizens. Shifting his drive away from profits and bottom lines, and towards community engagement and community resources shaped Columbia in to a truly one-of-a-kind city. I think the best way to embrace the CA’s role is to stick closely to Rouse’s founding ideals with continued focus on program and service improvement, community engagement, protecting our green spaces, and developing in a smart, calculated fashion.
4. What role should CA play in community and in economic development? What is CA’s role in spurring investment in older neighborhoods in Columbia?
CA plays an essential role in the development of community in our town. Whether it’s people meeting at the gym, participating in village program offerings, or gathering at neighborhood pools and tot lots, CA plays a key role in facilitating the sense of community for our residents. To me, this is one of CA’s key reasons for existence.
As far as economic development and investing in older neighborhoods, CA can advocate for older villages to streamline the exterior alteration approval process for new homeowners who are renovating older homes. CA can urge the county and local mortgage lenders to develop creative financing options for first-time homebuyers who want to renovate older housing in Columbia.
I believe the CA should play an important role in advising city and county officials on the will of the people and on smart, measured development and revitalization, particularly for Columbia’s older neighborhoods. I am a firm believer that a rising tide raises all boats, but if some of those boats are left to rot, they will sink. We cannot ignore any one area in favor of others. The CA should be a champion for all areas of the Columbia community and ensure none are being left behind. Development for development’s sake, or for special interests, or in the pursuit of profits over community interests, runs counter to the ideals of James Rouse, and should be anathema to the CA board, who are ostensibly the stewards of our community. However, I believe progress and the pursuit of “better” are some of the fundamental principles of human society – this grand, universal experiment we have all embarked upon together. Thus, I believe it is essential that we continue to move forward, but smartly, conscientiously, and together.
5. Let's talk about Symphony Woods. What do you envision for the future of Symphony Woods? Do you support the revised plan for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods and protecting Symphony Woods as a CA-owned public amenity?
I think that the new proposal for Symphony Woods is a sensible, thoughtful plan that would work to enhance Columbia. I absolutely support protecting Symphony Woods as a CA-owned public park for the use and enjoyment of Columbia residents.
I believe Symphony Woods is key to maintaining and enhancing Columbia’s “green-urban” aesthetic. I believe the revised plan for Merriweather Park both protects this key green-space and enhances its accessibility and utility to residents. As such a key entity in our community, I do believe it should remain a CA-owned property and the CA should ensure Symphony Woods is protected as a centerpiece of our city center.
6. Symphony of Lights has been subject to litigation between the various landowners and downtown arts and culture organizations. What do you want to see happen with Symphony of Lights? Do you support or oppose allowing the event to continue as a driving event on or adjacent to Symphony Woods?
I think Symphony of Lights has been a great event and a fun holiday tradition for our community. I also believe that the development of Downtown Columbia makes it difficult for this event to continue in the same way it always has. If Symphony of Lights is to continue as a drive-through event, the time may have come for it to move outside of Downtown. I would absolutely support a walk-through SOL event in Symphony Woods, though I understand why some folks prefer the convenience of driving through the event, especially in the winter cold! It’s not clear to me why the organizers haven’t been able to find another great location for the event. The Howard County Fairgrounds or the Farm Heritage museum may be an ideal fit, but there may also be barriers to using those properties that I’m not aware of. The net-net is that something has to change to allow Downtown to grow and to continue the Symphony of Lights experience in a positive manner. I am hopeful that all the parties involved can come to an agreement that everyone can support.
I hope to see Symphony of Lights continue for years to come. In light of the recent global events over the last year, I can see how a drive-thru event would be the preference. With capacity limitations and cancellation of many public events, I don’t see a problem with allowing the Symphony of Lights to use the Merriweather Post Pavilion and Symphony Woods property. However, I understand over the last few years there have been issues with parking and access rights regarding these properties, and with COVID restrictions lifting, I can see this may become a renewed issue. The Symphony of Lights brings thousands of people to Columbia each winter season, and I’m hoping that an agreement can be reached that appeases all parties. Whether that be walk-thru only events, or a modified schedule that aligns with that of the adjacent properties, I think that a solution exists which is amenable to all stakeholders.