WCI Tower

This vacant 1.1-acre property - located across from The Mall in Columbia and located near Lake Kittamaqundi in downtown Columbia - which has been the subject of neighborhood tension, court battles and widespread development speculation in recent years was purchased for $3.5 million earlier this month by local developer David Costello. (Rendering by WCI Communities / September 20, 2005)

A vacant 1.1-acre property near Lake Kittimaqundi in downtown Columbia that has been the subject of neighborhood tension, court battles and widespread development speculation in recent years was purchased for $3.5 million earlier this month by local developer David Costello.

Costello, who owns Columbia-based Costello Construction, bought the land at Little Patuxent Parkway and Wincopin Circle, under the name LPP Investors Inc., from the former owner, Florida-based WCI Communities, in part to "spur some advancement of downtown Columbia, where nothing has happened for 10 years," he said.

"We've watched this place stagnate. It's like being in a time warp," said Costello, who built the Columbia Lakefront building on Wincopin Circle more than a decade ago and has been based there since 2001. "If anything, it's moved backwards."

The land Costello purchased has sat empty for years, as local residents, including nearby Wincopin Circle resident Joel Broida, have fought a 2005 proposal by a WCI subsidiary to build a 22-story condominium tower on the property. An ensuing court case remains open before the Howard County Board of Appeals, but is considered all but dead now that WCI has sold the property.

In part because of that case, Costello declined to discuss in detail any plans he has for the property.

"I have a vision for what I think would be appropriate there, but with the pending litigation and everything with the old WCI plans, it's still really sensitive," he said.

"I think the people of Howard County and Columbia deserve to know what's going to happen there sooner than later, so as soon as I'm in a position to know that, I'll let you know," he said.

In 2010, development on the property was capped at nine stories as part of the Downtown Columbia Plan, according to Marsha McLaughlin, the county's director of planning and zoning. Because of that, any development by Costello would have to be less than half the height of WCI's planned tower.

Still, under the downtown plan, the property is allowed to have residential apartments, and Costello said he is going to work "expeditiously to pin down everyone's position" on the property in order to move forward with a development concept that is beneficial to the lakefront area.

"Whatever is there we want to blend in and be as much as an amenity to the lakefront community as possible," Costello said.

How the controversy surrounding the property and the new development restrictions impacted the sale remains somewhat unclear, but Costello acknowledged they played a role.

"Ultimately I think we paid close to what it was worth," he said. "There's a lot of risk associated with the site, and that probably kept the price down a little bit."

Costello said his focus was solely on what the property was worth to him, but that he thinks WCI wanted something closer to $5.5 million.

Connie Boyd, a spokeswoman for WCI, would not comment on the sale or disclose how much WCI's subsidiary, Renaissance Centro Columbia, paid for the property in 2005, when it purchased it from General Growth Properties.

"We do not comment on our sales," she said.

Andrew McAllister, of Washington D.C.-based MAC Realty Advisers, who served as WCI's local broker on the deal, also declined to comment on whether WCI took a loss on the property, but said the sale was in line with the company's overall market approach.

"WCI has exited this region, so they're focusing on Florida," he said.

Open space wanted

For Broida, who in court became the lone resident deemed to have standing in the case against WCI's proposal, and his wife, Gail, Costello's purchase brought a new round of questions and hopes.

"I hope they're taking into consideration the area that the property lives in, and its neighbors," Gail Broida said.

Both she and her husband said they would like to see some sort of development that leaves part of the property as open space.

"I'd like a four-story (building) with a big space in the middle with arches on each of the side walls to allow a park in there, a county park," Joel Broida said.

He said there could be retail space on the first floor with apartments above and an underground, public parking garage below.

"I think it would be very attractive for downtown," he said.

Costello said he is motivated by a similar desire to improve the downtown area.

"It's something I feel passionate about," he said.