Howard Hughes says employment focus for Columbia crescent

Officials from Columbia landowner Howard Hughes Corp. say the vision for the 93-acre crescent property is to create a downtown employment center that also will include a 300-room hotel, a 50,000-square-foot conference center and streetscape retail.

"We are trying to make this an employment area not a residential area," said Bob Jenkins, Howard Hughes vice president of engineering, at a pre-submission community meeting held Monday at Howard Community College. "We want to make it an employment center so we can really activate the downtown community."

Preliminary plans for 23 acres of the crescent, which encircles Symphony Woods and lies between Little Patuxent Parkway, Broken Land Parkway and Route 29, show approximately 750,000 square feet of office space in two areas.

According to Howard Hughes Senior Vice President John DeWolf, the uses likely will be divided between a number of buildings that could be a maximum of 15 stories tall. DeWolf said Howard Hughes plans to build 500,000 square feet of office space, the hotel and conference center, which is planned to house a 15,000 square foot ballroom, at the corner of Little Patuxent and Broken Land in what is called "Area 1."

DeWolf said the remaining 250,000 square feet of office, along with 490 residential units, which will be a mix of for rent and for sale, is planned for "Area 2," which is located where Broken Land Parkway meets Hickory Ridge Road. Preliminary plans show the construction of a new four-lane road that will meet Little Patuxent, run parallel to Broken Land and divide Symphony Woods and the crescent.

The new road, temporarily named "Crescent West," will also provide access to Hickory Ridge Road, which will be extended into the crescent toward Symphony Woods. Other two-lane roads are planned throughout the development to connect the main roads and buildings.

DeWolf added that Howard Hughes is exploring "structured parking" for the area, but whether that will be underground or a parking garage has not yet been decided.

DeWolf estimates it would take a year to get through the 16-step downtown development process, and that Howard Hughes would like to start construction on the roads in early 2015. DeWolf said Howard Hughes could have buildings to occupy by 2016.

According to DeWolf, the plans presented Monday are just the beginning as Howard Hughes hopes to build more office space in other parts of the crescent.

"If we can get it started here, we think we can hit the home run in Area 3," DeWolf said referring to property in the neighborhood south of Symphony Woods. "If we can get it kick-started here, Area 3 would be the location for the big user."

DeWolf said Howard Hughes is focused on attracting an employer of national significance to the new property.

"We want to fill the office buildings up with a single or dual user," DeWolf said. "We think that is the missing piece in downtown."

DeWolf said Howard Hughes is exploring who that could be and that any employer of "significant scale" would be considered.

At Monday's meeting, some residents expressed concern about traffic in the area and how the new development would effect patterns.

"I'm worried about the density," said Walter Zaron, who said he has lived on Hickory Ridge Road since 1982. "I don't think the roads can support more traffic. If they don't factor that in, it will catch up with them."

DeWolf said Howard Hughes will conduct a full traffic study and redevelop the intersections that need fixing.

"Traffic is not anything but a science," DeWolf said. "Traffic flows brilliantly through Columbia. It can be managed."

In addition, some attendees raised questions about how the development fits with the Inner Arbor Plan for Symphony Woods, which was approved by the Columbia Association Board earlier this year. That plan calls for an arts district in the park that will include a new CA headquarters, restaurants, theaters and an outdoor amphitheater.

DeWolf said he meets regularly with representatives from the Inner Arbor Trust, a corporation set up to manage the development of the Inner Arbor, and said he applauds their proactive plan.

"We've been careful not to be critics of each other and we are respectful that we have our property and they have theirs," he said. "We know we have to make the whole of the thing work together. Instead of playing in the same sandbox, we are in adjacent sandboxes."

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