By Edward Gunts, The Baltimore Sun
8:23 PM EDT, October 19, 2011
In its first major project planned for downtown Columbia since emerging from bankruptcy last November, the town's master developer has proposed building up to 817 residences and 70,000 square feet of retail space.
The Howard Hughes Corp., which controls much of the land once held by the Rouse Co., says the as-yet-unnamed project next to The Mall in Columbia is being designed to attract young professionals and others who work nearby.
Robert Jenkins, vice president of engineering for Howard Hughes, said his company chose the site for its first downtown project because it has "major infrastructure" already in place, including water and sewer service, and is centrally located and within easy walking distance of restaurants, stores and other amenities.
"We're optimistic about the potential," he said.
Marsha McLaughlin, director of planning and zoning for Howard County, said she expects community interest in the project to be high not only because it comes from Howard Hughes but because it is the first proposal since the completion of a long-range plan to guide downtown development. It is one of the largest and most expensive projects proposed for Howard County since the economic downturn began.
"I think we're all really excited that after five years of planning … the town center, we're finally at the stage where a proposal is coming in," McLaughlin said. "A lot of citizens have been very active in the planning process. People will be very interested in what this project will look like and how it will fit in."
Before last fall, the master developer of Columbia was General Growth Properties of Chicago. It emerged from bankruptcy with Howard Hughes Corp. as a separate company. General Growth Properties retained control of Columbia's mall, while Hughes took over much of the undeveloped land around it. Each company now has assets originally owned by the Rouse Co., which began assembling land to build Columbia 49 years ago and which GGP acquired in 2004.
Howard Hughes Corp. has scheduled a community meeting for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 27 to outline preliminary plans for its project, which would rise on a 12.8-acre tract between two ring roads surrounding the mall.
Jenkins said the community meeting is an early step in the company's effort to develop design guidelines for the property and obtain the planning approvals needed to proceed with construction.
The company does not have a firm cost estimate or construction timetable for the project, but hopes to move ahead "as fast as the process will allow," Jenkins said.
The residences would likely be developed in phases, with those in the first, covering about five acres, offered for rent. The average residence would have about 1,000 square feet, with one or two bedrooms and a variety of layouts, Jenkins said.
According to Howard County's website, the tract eyed for development lies just beyond the main parking lot that surrounds the mall. Signs were posted recently announcing the community meeting at the Student Services Hall on the Howard County Community College campus, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway.
Jenkins said Howard Hughes Corp. would likely build the project in a joint venture with other companies. Design Collective of Baltimore is the architect working on the project, and GLW is the civil engineer.
The project is being designed to comply with all county zoning requirements, including the need to provide about 1.5 off-street parking spaces for each dwelling, Jenkins said. Although Columbia residents have long sought a downtown grocery store, he said the proposed 70,000 square feet of retail space probably would not include one.
The zoning plan for downtown Columbia adopted by the County Council allows construction of up to 5,500 residences.
The project would contain nearly four times the number of residences envisioned for the nearby Village of Wilde Lake, where another property owner, Kimco Realty, has unveiled preliminary plans to build about 220 residences on the site of a vacant Giant supermarket. McLaughlin said she expects to see a more specific proposal for Wilde Lake's village center soon.
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