Developers unveil plans for $100 million project in Columbia

A rendering of a proposed $100 million planned development for Columbia Town Center called The Metropolitan Downtown Columbia, a luxury apartment and retail project..
A rendering of a proposed $100 million planned development for Columbia Town Center called The Metropolitan Downtown Columbia, a luxury apartment and retail project.. (Design Collective)

The master developer of Columbia's Town Center aims to begin construction by early next year on a $100 million apartment and retail complex, the area's first new housing in a decade.

The Metropolitan Downtown Columbia will be a six-story, 380-unit development that the Howard Hughes Corp. plans to build in a joint venture with Kettler of McLean, Va., and Orchard Development of Ellicott City, on land next to The Mall in Columbia.

Rents are expected to range from $1,600 a month for a one-bedroom apartment to $2,800 for a three-bedroom unit — making them among the highest in the region. Plans by Design Collective of Baltimore also call for a parking garage with 675 to 750 spaces, 14,000 square feet of retail space, and amenities such as a swimming pool, two large courtyards, a fitness center and a public promenade.

The development team wants to begin site work in late 2012 and open the Metropolitan in the spring of 2014. Principals said that the apartments are intended to address what they see as strong demand for upscale rental housing in Columbia and that they don't expect any difficulty renting them.

"Columbia hasn't seen a new apartment development in a decade," said Asheel Shah, Kettler's senior vice president for real estate investments. "The industry has changed over the last 10 years. Designs have changed over the past 10 years. Renters' desires have changed over the last 10 years. This project reflects that."

Marsha McLaughlin, director of planning and zoning for Howard County, said she was impressed by the plans.

"It's well-designed," she said. "It has a good scale that fits in with the context of buildings nearby on Broken Land Parkway and Little Patuxent Parkway. They've put a lot of thought into it. I think the public promenade will be very attractive and will draw people. It's the kind of project we were hoping for. It will set a bar for others to follow."

The privately financed project represents the first residential development to get under way in Columbia's Town Center since the Howard County Council adopted a revised development plan that allows up to 5,500 new residences there. It is the first phase of an 817-unit development proposed by Howard Hughes Corp., Kettler and Orchard for a 12.8-acre tract next to the mall, along Broken Land Parkway.

Developers released preliminary designs and details in preparation for a public meeting about the project on Tuesday. The meeting is part of a review process that the developers must complete in order to obtain construction permits. Interest in the project has been high because it is the first submitted for the Town Center since completion of the long-range plan to guide downtown development.

The developers said they expect the residences to appeal to everyone from young professionals to empty-nesters.

Shah said he believes prospective residents will come from Howard County and the region, attracted by the development's features and by its proximity to the mall and other parts of Columbia. The development team wants to bring to Columbia the sort of high-end project found in the Harbor East section of Baltimore, or in Bethesda or Arlington, Va., he said.

"The luxury apartment market is not underserved in Columbia. It's not served at all in Columbia," he said. "We'll be setting the high-water mark."

The preliminary design calls for five levels of housing over one level of commercial space, which is likely to include a cafe and other businesses.

The county's planning board gave final approval to the 817-unit development last month, but the team still needs approval for individual phases to begin construction.

Howard Hughes Corp. controls much of the land once held by the Rouse Co., Columbia's original developer. General Growth Properties was Town Center's master developer from 2004 to 2010, when the Chicago firm spun off part of its real estate business as the Howard Hughes Corp. as it emerged from bankruptcy.

General Growth retained control of Columbia's mall, while Howard Hughes took over much of the undeveloped land around it.

Howard Hughes selected Kettler and Orchard last year as its partners for the multiphase project, which will contain up to 70,000 square feet of commercial space.

McLaughlin said she believes the first phase will set the right tone for the next wave of Town Center development.

"It reflects the discussions we've had about what the town center should be," the county planning director said. "I'm very eager to see it move forward."


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