I support the plan for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods

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Dear Planning Board: I support SDP-14-073, the site development plan for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, and you should too. (signed) Frank

As previously noted by Bill Woodcock and Julia McCready, tonight (Thursday, November 6 at 7 pm) is the meeting [PDF] of the Howard County Planning Board to consider (among other things) SDP-14-073, the site development plan for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, otherwise known as the Inner Arbor plan, as submitted by the Inner Arbor Trust. I hope to be able to be at the meeting to express my support of the plan, but just in case I’m not able to do that I also submitted written testimony to the Planning Board earlier today, as follows:

To the members of the Howard County Planning Board:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on SDP-14-073, the site development plan for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods. As a longtime independent observer of the work of the Inner Arbor Trust I believe that SDP-14-073 provides a complete and detailed blueprint for a beautiful and functional cultural park. This blueprint more than fulfills the vision and requirements laid out in the Downtown Columbia Plan and the neighborhood design guidelines. In particular SDP-14-073 represents a considerable advance over the final development plan FDP-DC-MSW-1 previously reviewed by the Planning Board. The plan respects the natural landscape of the site and its status as a special place within downtown Columbia, and the various park features display a consistent degree of design excellence, as attested to by the unanimous approval of the Design Advisory Panel and the comments made by its members.

With respect to the conditions put on approval of FDP-DC-MSW-1 by the Planning Board, SDP- 14-073 meets not only the letter of those conditions but their spirit as well. Not only does the plan minimize tree removal through careful siting of the various park features, it provides an extensive system of meandering paths on which visitors can fully enjoy the natural setting of those features. In sum, the plan works with the landscape, not against it.

SDP-14-073 also shows the result of the requested coordination regarding integration of the park and its features with Merriweather Post Pavilion, making the overall Merriweather-Symphony Woods neighborhood the “unique cultural and community amenity” referred to in the previous Planning Board decision. The Chrysalis shared-use amphitheater proposed for Phase 1 will provide a suitable second venue to Merriweather Post Pavilion, the Butterfly guest services building is well-sited to serve visitors to both the pavilion and the Chrysalis (and displays an architectural excellence not found in the existing Merriweather outbuildings), and the Caterpillar “living berm” is an imaginative solution to the problem of controlling access to Merriweather Post Pavilion during events while providing access to the pavilion property during other times.

I’ve previously blogged about the parking situation at Merriweather Post Pavilion. (See here and here.) I agree with the DPZ staff that the parking arrangements proposed with SDP-14-073 are adequate for the various uses detailed. Although some may be concerned about increased traffic and parking needs associated with the development of Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, those concerns cannot be fully addressed in the context of the park itself, since to a large degree they arise from joint uses with Merriweather Post Pavilion. In that regard I recommend the Planning Board carefully review parking proposals submitted with any development plans for the rest of the Merriweather-Symphony Woods neighborhood and (especially) for the Crescent neighborhood.

In conclusion, I strongly urge the Planning Board to approve SDP-14-073, including both phases 1 and 2 and the subsequent phases 3 through 7, subject to further review as noted. I also urge the Planning Board to adopt the DPZ staff recommendation and allow the access drive from the Merriweather VIP Lot to the Chrysalis amphitheater to extend below the southeastern boundary specified in the final development plan. Among other things, mandating an alternate routing would be inconsistent with the previous Planning Board conditions relating to minimizing tree removal. Finally, I urge the Planning Board to refrain from putting any conditions on the site development plan, now or in the future, where such conditions might compromise the integrity of the park design or otherwise result in the park not fulfilling its promise as a unique and valuable cultural and community amenity for the residents of Columbia and Howard County.

Frank Hecker, Ellicott City, Maryland