King's Contrivance: Columbia Council Candidates Q&A
The following are responses from the King's Contrivance candidates for Columbia Council / CA Board of Directors. Information on the King's Contrivance 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 am a happily married business owner who has lived in the Columbia area for 13 years. Originally from Florida, my family relocated to this area to follow career opportunity. We were drawn to Columbia and have stayed here because of its foundational commitment to being a community where all are represented, respected, and given equal opportunity to thrive. I am committed to applying these values to every decision, to listening and engaging with my neighbors so their voices are heard and to innovating so Columbia is a place where future generations will be just as eager as we are to call this place home. I would also like to be the catalyst for others in our community to see that being involved is not a burden, but an exciting opportunity for our diverse neighborhoods to continue to promote the inclusive and productive environment we all desire. Whether creative use of our open spaces, making sure outdoor pools are open for all or creating a more financially resilient CA, I would be honored to serve this great community.
I have lived in Kings Contrivance for over twenty-five years, and my two daughters attended Hammond High School. I volunteered through PTA on school issues, served on the county PTA, began teaching weekend yoga classes at Amherst House, and several years later became a KC Village Board member. I moved to the Baltimore region with my husband after teaching graduate business courses at Cornell University in the MBA program. While working at Towson University, I was tasked with finding a location for an offsite program in Columbia—after seeing the Lakefront, touring village centers, and attending the summer City Fair, I was sold on Columbia as a place that demonstrated the values of community, diversity, and fellowship in harmony with the natural world.
It has been an honor to serve on various county citizens’ commissions addressing issues including School Board effectiveness, the environment and sustainability, and county land use and zoning. I see the role of the KC Village Representative as one of service to the residents of our village, communication liaison between the Village Board and CA President and staff, and advocacy for Columbia as a master planned community that provides services and programs to enhance the quality of life for all residents.
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 business owner, I understand having to adapt to economic stressors. Given this is a community health issue, I believe that CA could have done more to prioritize services that would help improve the physical and mental health of our residents in a safe environment. This includes activities that would have allowed our community to enjoy outside spaces – like pools – where we could safely socially distance and providing additional services for families struggling to work while managing childcare, for example.
Like so many nonprofits, the Columbia Association was financially impacted by COVID closings and restrictions. Most of the services and community programs run by CA are funded through a combination of lien assessment and cash revenues from memberships. It was difficult as a Board member to call for the closing of the three gyms, knowing the impact it would have on community members who depend on the gyms for health and wellness. But the welfare of our members and community residents is my first priority.
Given the consequences of subsequent budget cuts, furloughs of long time CA employees, and economic uncertainty, we need to listen to our primary stakeholders in the community to begin to re-examine the mission of CA. I remain dedicated to the preservation and protection of CA’s pathway system and lakes, in fulfillment of the values of being good stewards of the land. Major restoration efforts of our streams has long-term benefits in lowering our carbon footprint, and has been achieved by a series of grants and cooperative efforts with the County and the state at almost no cost to homeowners.
Maintenance of CA facilities and repair of aging infrastructure will continue to require major operating funds, including our community pools. I am truly sorry that CA was not able to open pools last year, and that communication with our residents was inadequate. This summer, due to Board and CA staff efforts, at least fifteen pools will be open every day. Other pools are only closed temporarily, and as finances improve, I will work to bring more pools back on line. Residents have expressed their preference in past surveys for pools, paths and tot lots as basic amenities that drew them to Columbia. Holding resident forums, doing regular community survey research, and using social media tools will help get immediate feedback to changing circumstances.
3. The Columbia Association considers itself the "keeper of the Rouse Vision". How can CA best embrace this role?
The CA Board has a tremendous amount of flexibility in how they spend nearly $70m each year. When considering budget priorities, they should do everything in their power to proactively promote diversity and inclusion of all genders, races, ethnicities, and beliefs – to ensure every family, in every village, has equal access to rich and vibrant programming, services and open spaces, so we can continue to create communities that are “gardens for growing people.” We must also continually cultivate and promote the next generation of leaders in CA and in particular, ensure that our elected leaders truly represent the diverse communities they serve. This means more diversity of thought, experience, culture and race on the CA Board.
When I came to Columbia for the first time, I walked through the Welcome Center located down by the Lakefront. Rouse’s vision for Columbia as a New Town was on visual display, in maps and photos of each village, and the underlying values of diversity, inclusion, stewardship, and community participation were clear to see and were inspiring. The design elements of Columbia, including the winding streets, cul de sacs and neighborhood green spaces, contrasted with the rigid cityscapes I had known growing up in the Bronx, NY.
But our community has grown to over 100,000, and the assumptions that drove the vision in the early years of community building need to be reviewed, tested and perhaps revised in ways that keep the best of what has been achieved, while making room for new views of what constitutes the Common Good.
During our discussions of CA’s Five Year Strategic Plan, it was clear that we needed to focus renewed attention on the issues of diversity and advocacy. There need to be clear and measurable goals and objectives established on a yearly basis, and attention to community outreach efforts that are interactive, rather than passive and website based. A Columbia based Leadership Academy, a school based internship program for young people, and organization wide recruitment efforts where staffing is concerned, would help to enhance diversity in leadership development.
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 should be the number one champion and marketer of Columbia and its villages. This means working with village boards, residents and with the county to ensure resources are available and directed towards maintaining and improving the condition of our neighborhoods and the services and amenities that are available. This starts with listening. We can’t know what each community needs if we aren’t asking – if we aren’t promoting a culture where all stakeholders are welcomed to be heard. And if the community desire is for revitalization, then that should be a priority of the board. Revitalizing our neighborhoods to keep pace with the changing needs of our environment should always be a priority of the association.
I have been participating in the HC General Plan PAC, under the direction of the Department of Planning and Zoning HoCoByDesign staff, where various scenarios for future development of the County have been crafted. These different and alternative visions of the future will have a direct influence on the ten villages that make up Columbia, and on New Town Zoning, a critical element in local design standards.
One possible scenario puts more emphasis on redevelopment of older business and commercial centers, including Gateway. The remaking of the Gateway complex into mixed use residential and commercial has great potential, if it is approached as a master planned community. The inclusion of ample green spaces, the commitment to walking and biking paths, and the development of community gathering places could all result in an attractive and vibrant new “village” with both day and night life. But any approach needs to address the need for more full-spectrum housing, of various building types, not just luxury high rise apartments and condos, or clustered single family homes.
It is clear that Rouse wanted Columbia to have multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-socioeconomic neighborhoods that were welcoming places for people at all income levels. CA and the CA Board can continue to advocate for this broad vision, to make sure that Columbia and its surrounding communities address the housing affordability concerns of millennials, our aging population, and members of minority communities.
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?
Symphony Woods should be a go-to amenity for families across Columbia to enjoy year-round. It is not this today. While I have not been privy to internal decision-making around revised plans for Symphony Woods, I don’t believe that CA has been the most effective shepherd to-date of this space. There is tremendous opportunity for Symphony woods to be a true public amenity – to be a fully-activated open space that is a focal point for residents, while continuing to protect the land from development as is currently set forth in the Downtown Columbia Plan. If elected, I look forward to working with my colleagues to determine if there are more effective stewards of this land.
I support the new Concept Plan for Symphony Woods Park, which when developed will complete the Rouse vision for a vibrant “Central Park” for the enjoyment of all residents. We need more gathering spaces for the arts, music and weekend events, as a series of walkable, interconnected spaces that enhance a growing downtown population.
Many of the events run by the Inner Arbor Trust at the Chrysalis are low cost or free to the public, which is so important to young people coming to Columbia. Movie nights have focused on the diversity of cultural backgrounds and languages that now make up Columbia and Howard County. The Trust is a 501C3 nonprofit that can bring in additional needed grant money, beyond what CA alone can provide, to help develop the park. I support the continued cooperation between CA and IAT staff.
CA’s great strength and achievement is in the high standard of maintenance of our ninety-five miles of pathways and green spaces throughout every village in Columbia. As a CA property and public amenity, residents will have confidence that this “green oasis” in the heart of downtown will be part of our cityscape into the future, a place where new memories can be made and nurtured.
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?
As I stated above, I support civility and all community partners working together to improve our community now and for future generations. Symphony of Lights has been a highlight of the holiday season in Columbia for almost 30 years now. I would like to see it continue for future generations to enjoy. I understand laws and easement rights, however there is also something called the spirit of the law. And the space in contention is supposed to be used for the benefit of the community, not to prove litigious points. I believe with the talent and intellect that exists here in Columbia, we can find a way to safely, environmentally, and socially, facilitate a tradition like the Symphony of Lights. And if that occurs during a pandemic where socially distancing is best for community health then driving sounds like a pretty good idea to me.
In many ways, the issues around the Symphony of Lights annual event represent the changes that have occurred in Columbia over time. As a strong voice for environmental sustainability, I do not see a car-focused event, with its month-long constant stress on the trees and woodland ecosystem, as sustainable for the future.
In the past, cars entered the Merriweather site from the area that is now being developed by Howard Hughes as the Crescent Neighborhood. My daughter used to volunteer on cold nights on this spot, collecting tickets for the hospital fundraiser. But the recent redirection of cars into the smaller section of woods, with increased pollution and congestion, has resulted in damage to CA property and roadways. The event operator has been invited to discuss and resolve this issue.
While I fully support HC General Hospital and all its fundraising efforts, the SOL event has outgrown its original setting. Since people attend this event from all over Howard County, a shift in venue in the future to an alternate site, able to accommodate both cars and walkers, without damage to the local environment, would be appropriate.