In its first vote on a redevelopment project for downtown Columbia, the Howard County Planning Board Thursday approved a plan for a mix of new residences and retail in the Warfield neighborhood to the west of the Columbia mall.
Howard Hughes Corp. plans to build up to 817 residences and 76,098 square feet of retail on slightly more than 10 acres of undeveloped land, located between Broken Land Parkway and the Sears side of the mall. The development will be divided into three blocks.
In addition to the retail and the residences, this first phase of development in Warfield will include a 6,000-square-foot playground, dubbed the Warfield Playground, and 28,500 square feet of promenade in the southeast. The West Promenade is expected to extend into the Symphony Overlook neighborhood to the south and create a connection to Symphony Woods Park.
The first phase of Warfield development also includes two new connecting roads. One will come off of Broken Land Parkway and connect to Mall Ring Road directly south of the development. The other will extend Twin Rivers Road across Broken Land Parkway to Mall Ring Road, which will be improved as a part of the development.
Because part of the area that is being developed currently serves as overflow parking for the mall, the plan involves converting a 2.6-acre grass-covered parcel of land — located across Mall Ring Road from the parking lot that serves Macy'sand Nordstrom — into a temporary overflow parking area.
Few other details on the development were provided in the Final Development Plan the Planning Board approved. The FDP, covered in the first half of the 16-step development review process for downtown Columbia, provides general design guidelines Howard Hughes must follow as it builds out an area of downtown.
"We're sorry we can't be more specific tonight about what we're doing," Howard Hughes Senior Vice President John DeWolf told the board. "But we know that time will come soon."
More project specifics will be revealed in the Site Development Plan, which is the second half of the development review process. After the board vote, DeWolf said he expects the SDP process to begin in a couple of weeks with advertisements for a pre-submission community meeting.
Detailed or not, board members appeared pleased with the company's plan, approving it in a unanimous vote.
In presenting its plan to the board, Howard Hughes called upon a number of experts on its development team.
Christopher Streb, an ecological engineer, said all the buildings in this phase of the development, which can be a maximum of seven stories, will be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Urban planner Cecily Bedwell said the mixed-use Warfield neighborhood, located between the mall and existing residential neighborhoods, "creates the transition, where there really isn't now."
She said the area will include features such as bike lanes, broad sidewalks, street trees and parallel parking.
Planning Board member Josh Tzuker asked Bedwell how the plans "make driving more of a pain in the butt than walking," an overall goal of downtown Columbia redevelopment.
"(It would be) nice to get the parking on the periphery, have parking garages that one can park in and get out sooner, so there's not too many cars coming into the core," Bedwell responded.
Asked by a resident of downtown what type of retail is suitable for the development, Bedwell said the retail would be "inviting to people who live in the neighborhood."
She added: "It would be great to have some restaurants across the street (from the restaurants currently located by the mall), so there would be some synergy."
Before the board took its vote, three residents testified on the plan.
Linda Wengel, who spoke on behalf of the Town Center Village Board, cited concerns about traffic. She said the studies Howard Hughes conducted ignored "the reality of the heavy Mall Ring Road traffic" during weekend and holiday hours.
Tzuker said while he understands the village board's concern, he thinks "the whole purpose of this endeavor is to create a new reality."
He added: "It might not be as car-friendly, but it's more people-friendly. And I think that's a good thing."
Former Planning Board member Joan Lancos said she was impressed with the plan.
"It really shows the thoughtfulness that this wonderful new development deserves," she said. "I'm excited to see its implementation."