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New development plans revealed for prime Columbia site

After years of litigation, Costello Construction plans to begin building nine-story structure in the next few months

By Steve Kilar, The Baltimore Sun

8:29 PM EDT, June 24, 2013

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A prime lot near Lake Kittamaqundi in Columbia that has sat vacant for years is likely to become a construction site in the next few months, the land's owner said Monday.

David Costello says he's eager to move forward with his vision for the site: a $65 million, nine-story development with 160 apartments, 130,000 square feet of office space and 12,000 square feet of retail space.

"People want to see something happen," said Costello, president of Costello Construction. "People want to see people back at the lakefront."

Some community leaders, believing Costello's plans still need to go through a rigorous review process, are not as enthusiastic about his timeline.

"I firmly believe that we should follow the process," said Linda Wengel, chair of the Town Center Community Association, the village's governing body. The rules can delay development for up to a year, she said, but they ensure a well-planned future for downtown.

Costello purchased the 1.1-acre site on the northeast corner of Little Patuxent Parkway and Wincopin Circle last year for $3.5 million, after a Florida-based company dropped its plans for a 22-story condominium tower there. Community resistance to the height, a major departure from the low- and mid-rise buildings that dominate the villages of Columbia, had tied that project up in legal wrangling since 2005.

Costello, whose company has been in Columbia for about two decades, is partnering on the project with the developer and parking mogul Kingdon Gould Jr. The two see the building as a gateway to the waterfront, Costello said, and the beginning of Columbia Town Center's urbanization.

"We are trying to create an urban feel in somewhat of a suburban market," Costello said. They want the property to spur more walkable amenities, he said. "I really believe the rest of Columbia wants some density. … They want to see Bethesda in Columbia."

The building will be the first major construction in downtown Columbia since 2001, when Costello completed the Columbia Lakefront office building where the Rusty Scupper restaurant used to be. Costello Construction's offices are in the Lakefront building, just a few hundred yards from the site of the new project, called Little Patuxent Square.

"It's sad to me," Costello said of the stagnant state of development in Columbia. The downtown is falling behind the trend toward urbanization, he said.

"It's really going to help reshape Columbia," Costello said of his project. "It's going to get the ball rolling."

When Costello took over the property, he said, it was already authorized for 160 residential units. But he did not want to build more of the low-rise, wood-frame residences that are the norm in Columbia's villages.

"It was inconsistent with the potential of the site," Costello said. He also did not want to stick with the plan of his predecessor, WCI Communities Inc. Their 22-story building would have been "overbearing" and a "dramatic departure" for Columbia, he said.

Still, he admitted, his plans are "real big by Columbia standards." There will be five levels of underground parking below the building, which Costello said will have a significant number of environmentally friendly and sustainable features, including a rooftop partially covered by plants.

Costello said his plan has been well received by community members.

"I think that people are overjoyed that we're not going to have a 22-story high-rise in that location," said Suzanne Waller, who represents Town Center on the Columbia Association board of directors. "There are many people in Columbia who don't like the concept of high-rises, period."

Waller said she's pleased to see the green roof but that she has not seen detailed enough plans to comment any further. Joel Broida, a neighbor and village board member whose lawsuit against WCI Communities went to the state's highest court, declined to comment on the new proposal.

Costello would like to get started on Little Patuxent Square in late-summer or early fall, he said. Once construction begins, the building should be complete within two years, Costello said.

"We want to get going," Costello said. He would like to get started with excavation and site preparation using the building permit that was drawn up for the 22-story condo tower, he said.

Wengel, who said there was "mixed reaction" to the building design when it was presented at a village board meeting several months ago, does not believe that Costello has the right to start construction under the current permit.

"We contended that they have to go through the whole … process," said Wengel, speaking on behalf of the village board. "If they're not building the exact same building, then they have to go through the downtown development process."

Ultimately, it's the county's decision to determine whether Costello's proposal needs to be reviewed more thoroughly, Costello said. County officials familiar with the development could not be reached for comment late Monday.

Costello said he wants the community to be satisfied with the final product.

"Assuming that we get the support of the county and the residents, we're in a position to start late summer early fall and we're eager to do so," Costello said.

steve.kilar@baltsun.com

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