Long Reach: Columbia Council Candidates Q&A
The following are responses from the Long Reach candidates for Columbia Council / CA Board of Directors. Information on the Long Reach 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’m a native of Western Pennsylvania and have lived in Columbia since 2007. My children have attended Howard County schools. My family has benefited substantially from what CA offers - before and after care, summer swim league/outdoor pools, gym membership, kidspace, Art Center classes, many hours in CA open space, free events, etc.
I have always supported the Rouse goals for Columbia:
Support community activity and involvement
through the village concept and by maintaining village assets.
with open communication and transparency.
by exploring initiatives that improve pedestrian accessibility and alternate forms of transportation to reach the greatest number of people.
through celebrating the diversity within our community with increased opportunities for community members to share culture and traditions.
Ensure economic viability with advocacy for responsible use of CA assessment dollars in a way that reaches the most community members.
Care for the Environment by supporting initiatives that care for our scarce resources, enhance green space and provide community outreach and education.
If elected, I would continue supporting improved communication and organization accessibility, supporting the environment, streamlining board meetings and processes for improved efficiency, identifying and aligning organization and community values and ensuring the organization's operations reflect those. With degrees in both business administration and landscape architecture, I bring a balanced approach to the Columbia Council with an understanding of what it takes to run an organization and the city planning and environmental best practices to help ensure the community continues to be an asset well into the future.
Anyone who’s worked with me in past projects, events, or my HOA, knows that I always make it a point to reach across the aisle for the purpose of ensuring that every voice is heard. That type of leadership has served me well in the past, as well as now. As the new Columbia Association Representative for the Village of Long Reach, I plan on to continue to bring cooperation and collaboration not only to the Columbia Association board, but also the citizens we serve who call Columbia home. I will make sure that projects benefiting Long Reach are carried out and implemented.
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?
While the pandemic has certainly brought hardship and difficult decisions, I also see it as an opportunity to really scrutinize what CA has always done and ensure that it aligns with what makes the most sense for the community and the organization. CA has operations that make money and those that do not but are valued as a community asset or service and so have been subsidized through the years, like the beloved outdoor pools and open space.
CA offers a number of very valuable services and amenities that the community has come to expect. I would like to ensure that CA continues to invest in the things most valued, which requires a good understanding of how things are used and perceived.
CA can improve its engagement within the community and provide more and various opportunities for providing information and gathering input to optimize the number of people it reaches. It is important to have guiding principles and periodically revisit those principles to ensure they continue to represent the heart of the organization and the community. CA can also increase opportunities to partner with community organizations and the county to improve synergy among like-minded organizations and make the most of scarce resources.
One of the main reasons I chose to run is to prevent these difficult decisions from having to happen. Collectively as a board, we need to take a hard look at our budget, and discover if we’re really making the most of our limited funds . I’ll take my village for example. For the life of me I cannot understand why our CA would take on a project like the Long Reach Tennis Club while the CA was considering closing community centers just a few miles away. These community centers serve many more people across a lot more income brackets than a giant indoor tennis facility. My child attended preschool at the Phelps Luck Community Center in the middle of this discussion of closure. While he was enrolled, we were listening to specific plans to close these community centers. So we knew we were not just dealing with lip service. As a member of the CA board, I see to it that our expenditures from top to bottom are reviewed and evaluated. I will support projects that serve as many residents as possible, and not just a tiny slice of the population. I will support amenities that are put in place for working families, such as expanded access to before and after-school care. We have to continue to make Columbia attractive to young families if we are to keep our population growing and thriving.
3. The Columbia Association considers itself the "keeper of the Rouse Vision". How can CA best embrace this role?
CA regularly looks to the Rouse values for guidance, most recently with the 2019 strategic plan. While COVID impacted the progress made against these priorities, the goals themselves are still valid and include ensuring CA’s role as a valued partner in the community, the importance of resource stewardship (financial and physical assets), continuing to be a leader in environmental sustainability, leadership development that increases the diversity on CA advisory committees, community groups, and the CA Board, and advocacy in things that impact Columbia’s future. The CA organization and board will need to refine these in light of any assumptions that may no longer be valid.
James Rouse was a visionary and his approach to a successful community has been proven over time. CA’s best opportunity to embrace these values is to make sure to 1) always keep the values in mind to support direction and decision making; 2) help educate the community on the history and importance of these values in shaping Columbia; and 3) be open to the reinterpretation of these values to continue to support and advance life in Columbia.
It was said by Rouse, that Columbia would be “a garden for the growing of people”. It is the amenities, services, and the preservation of our treasured open space is where we can do just that. We must identify, and support what the CA does well, and improve on those attributes in order for Columbia to truly thrive. The CA plays an important role in this “garden” by funding and administrating our many features that make Columbia a dynamic place to live, raise a family, and retire.
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 can and has acted as an advocate on economic development and zoning policies that would support the Rouse values of social, racial and economic diversity.
While villages control covenants that impact renewal in older neighborhoods, CA could provide support both from a community planning best practices perspective, as well as help facilitate things like design services and finding access to low-cost loans to provide options for residents interested in reinvesting in their property.
On a village level, CA has been vocal about supporting redevelopment in village centers. In the case of Long Reach, the County has owned the village center since 2014 with little forward progress. CA has supported renovations and has made many attempts to work with the county and the developer of the previous plan to support various initiatives and ensure that CA assets are ready to move forward as things evolve. Now, CA has little choice but to renovate its assets without waiting for a more comprehensive plan from the county that may never come. This is unfortunate since this could be an opportunity for synergy and maximizing investment.
Which brings me to my final point about the opportunities for partnerships. We are lucky to live in an area with so many amenities available. However, there is a greater opportunity for teaming up to provide even more value for more people. With higher levels of coordination, various entities can pool resources to maximize the value brought to the community while also maximizing assessment and taxpayer dollars.
The CA has a unique opportunity to be that shot in the arm to the neighborhoods that need it most. Our older village centers tend to have the most diverse housing stock. It is important that we don’t lose focus on this, as housing prices skyrocket. In my opinion, the CA could do more in promoting Columbia’s benefits to potential new residents. Many people outside of Columbia have no idea how wonderful it is to live here. In addition to housing, many residents in our older villages find themselves within a short walk of their village centers. I will make it a priority to spur investment opportunities toward our aging village centers. It will be my goal to further improve our village centers, creating vibrant spaces to shop, dine, gather, or perhaps take in some live music.
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 has the potential to be a true community focal point and gathering place. The revised concept plan is thoughtful, practical and achievable, offering a variety of usable community amenities, as well as flexibility for different uses within the park. In addition, this plan is environmentally sensitive and utilizes areas of the park that hadn’t been incorporated before. It will provide an amenity that can be used throughout the year. I support this plan and find it a welcome departure from the disjointed, impractical and expensive plan that preceded it.
One big part of Rouse’s vision is land preservation. Symphony Woods is such a beautiful patch of open space that greets patrons to Merriweather Post Pavilion: Columbia’s crown jewel. Personally, I love the land in its current state. With so many other projects requiring planning. I don’t see the need to change a thing.
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?
Symphony of Lights is a valued community tradition and even though its sponsorship and benefit have changed over time, the community still looks forward to it each holiday. I do not support a driving event through Symphony Woods. However, there is no reason that the event cannot continue as a driving event without impacting or being routed through Symphony Woods. It only takes cooperation from the organizers.
Symphony of Lights is such a unique, and special holiday event that took upon the form of social distancing years before social distancing was even a concept. For over 27 years the Symphony of Lights has brought joy and hope to thousands. It breaks my heart knowing that there are organizations that feel that the only way that they can communicate with the Symphony of Lights is through litigation and court battles. This doesn’t seem to me like “Civility in Howard County”. As a member of the Columbia Association board of directors, I will help put an end to these tiresome and unproductive feuds that cost us all time and money. Events like Symphony of Lights and venues like Merriweather Post Pavilion should be celebrated and promoted; not fought in litigations over imaginary fence lines.