Howard Planning Board approves development plan for Crescent property

Howard County's Planning Board has approved plans for a major downtown Columbia development

Columbia's Crescent property, an undeveloped tract of land south of The Mall in Columbia that's slated to become a cityscape similar in feel to Montgomery County's Bethesda Row, came one step closer to breaking ground Thursday night.

With a unanimous vote, Howard County's Planning Board approved the project's final development plan, an outline of what the neighborhood will become.

Plans for the Crescent -- a half moon-shaped piece of property cradling downtown Columbia's Merriweather Post Pavilion and Symphony Woods, and bounded by Route 29 to the east, Broken Land Parkway to the west and Little Patuxent Parkway to the north -- include major residential, retail and office developments.

The approved outline proposes 2,300 residences; a 250-room hotel; 1.475 million square feet of office space; 313,000 square feet of retail and 225,000 square feet of civic and cultural uses spread throughout four development areas on the property.

Renderings show a vibrant neighborhood with a decidedly urban feel: Building heights in the Crescent will range from seven to 20 stories, with most in the 15- to 20-story range.

The 68-acre development will include a new road linking the Crescent neighborhood to the Merriweather-Symphony Woods neighborhood, as well as an extension of Hickory Ridge Road and a new north-south connector road linking Broken Land Parkway with Little Patuxent Parkway east of Merriweather.

"This is an exciting moment for us, for the county and anyone who wants to see the downtown Columbia plan happen," Greg Fitchitt, vice president of the Howard Hughes Corp., which is developing the Crescent property and other projects in downtown Columbia, told Planning Board members before their vote.

Fitchitt said the Crescent development's approval would "unlock the biggest chunk of development in Columbia" and would help attract potential tenants.

With Thursday night's Planning Board vote, the project is about halfway through a rigorous 16-step vetting process that has included community input. Last spring, some 75 residents turned out for a presubmission community meeting to see plans for the project. While reception for the Crescent was generally positive, some have expressed concern about the scale of the buildings and the likelihood of an increase in traffic.

Thursday, only one member of the public came to testify during the 3 1/2-hour-long meeting, which included presentations from multiple experts employed by Howard Hughes.

Joan Lancos, a resident of the neighboring Village of Hickory Ridge, shared testimony from the Hickory Ridge Village Board as well as some thoughts of her own.

Hickory Ridge Village Board members had concerns about the traffic generated by the project, according to Lancos.

"The Hickory Ridge Village Board’s primary concern is maintaining quality of life for Hickory Ridge residents as the Crescent is developed," she said.

Lancos said she has been waiting for the Crescent project to begin since she moved to Hickory Ridge in 1981. She shared the village board's concerns about traffic and encouraged Howard Hughes to minimize surface parking in the neighborhood.

"Surface parking is suburban design and has no place" in the Crescent, she said.

The next step for Howard Hughes is to submit specific site development plans for the project, according to Marsha McLaughlin, director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning.

A pre-submission community meeting for Parcel A of the Crescent, which would contain the hotel; 25,000 square feet of retail and restaurants; and 600,000 square feet of office space, is set for March 26 at 6:30 p.m. in the Oakland Manor Ballroom.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct an earlier version that incorrectly identified the street to be extended by the Crescent development.

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