The Columbia Association Side of the Symphony of Lights Story
Since the story broke about the Columbia Association and The Inner Arbor Trust filing a lawsuit to prevent the Symphony of Lights Vehicle Parade from Continuing, many in our community have asked why CA wants the event to stop and what lead up to CA's decision to pursue legal action.
Today, CA put out a document titled "FAQs Regarding Columbia Association's Action Against IMA" that answers many of these questions and provides their side of the story. The text and document are below.
FAQs Regarding Columbia Association's Action Against IMA
What is the purpose of the lawsuit?
Columbia Association (CA), the owner of Symphony Woods (the Woods), and Inner Arbor Trust (IAT), the non-profit developer and operator of an arts and entertainment park in Symphony Woods that includes the Chrysalis, have brought suit against the Downtown Columbia Arts & Culture Commission (DCACC), the owner of the Merriweather Post Pavilion (MPP) property, which is landlocked by the Woods, and IMA, the for-profit operator of MPP. CA and IAT are seeking a declaration by the court regarding the rights and obligations of the four parties under various easement agreements and an injunction preventing IMA and DCACC from continuing to exceed their rights under those easements and to trespass on and misuse CA property.
Why is CA refusing to continue to grant a license to Howard County Hospital (the "Hospital") to hold the longstanding Symphony of Lights ("SOL") event, a charitable event that benefits the Hospital?
The Hospital is not requesting a license to hold SOL, and SOL is not being operated as a charitable event. In 2017, CA expressed it's concerns to the Hospital about continuing to hold SOL as a drive-through event, given the environmental damage that vehicular traffic causes to the Woods. The Hospital agreed that 2018 would be the last year in which it would hold a drive-through SOL event. CA informed the Hospital that CA would grant the Hospital a license to continue to hold SOL as a walking event, but the Hospital chose not to pursue that alternative. SOL is no longer sponsored or operated by the Hospital and is not a charitable event to benefit the Hospital. Instead, in 2019, SOL was sponsored and operated by IMA, without a license agreement or other permission from CA, as a for-profit event to produce revenues for IMA.
Why has CA brought this lawsuit now?
There are a number of reasons.
SOL traditionally was routed through the parking fields behind MPP on property owned by Howard Hughes (Hughes), so very little of the vehicular parade was on CA property. Once Hughes began to develop the Crescent area, Hughes was unable or unwilling to make its property behind MPP available for SOL. It was contemplated that the event would be moved, so that the route would be entirely on MPP property. Apparently, this proved unworkable for IMA, so it decided, without consulting with CA, to route the vehicular procession through and place light installations on CA property.
In prior years, a license agreement was in place with respect to SOL that respected CA"s property rights, made every effort to protect the Woods, and required the SOL operator to bear the costs of restoring the Woods to the extent that SOL caused any damage. In 2019, IMA refused to enter into such an agreement with CA and failed to constrain the event to the MPP property owned by DCACC and operated by IMA. Instead, the event exceeded the uses allowed by the easement agreements between DCACC and CA and extended onto CA property outside the existing easements. IMA for all intents and purposes conducted SOL as if it, rather than CA, was the owner of the Woods.
Given these events, and the likelihood that IMA would continue to act in the same cavalier manner in holding an SOL event in 2020, CA attempted to pursue discussions with IMA, the Inner Arbor Trust (IAT), ad DCACC from January into April of this year in an effort to resolve these issues. Unfortunately, IMA refused to participate in that effort or negotiate any amicable resolution, leaving CA and the Trust with no recourse but to file suit.
Would CA permit some form of SOL event to continue to take place in the Woods?
It is not CA's intention to foreclose the possibility of continuing the SOL event in some form. However, CA has an obligation to preserve the Woods environment, especially since it is rapidly becoming the only oasis of green space in the Downtown area. If an SOL type event is to be held in future that might require use of CA property, it would have to be a walk-through event rather than a parade of slow-moving and idling vehicles negatively impacting the Symphony Woods environment to the detriment of the neighborhood and the entire community. The event also would require a license agreement with CA, in which the operator of the event would be required to remain within the limits of the easement agreements currently in pace and to repair any damage done to Symphony Woods, so that CA funds would not have to be expended for such work.