Just a week after Howard County's Planning Board voted to approve an outline of the Crescent neighborhood, which will bring apartments, office buildings, shops and an urban feel to a large, undeveloped plot in Columbia's downtown, developer Howard Hughes has presented plans for one portion of the project.
Renderings for parcel A, a plot of land at the northern end of the Crescent property near the intersection of Little Patuxent and Broken Land parkways, show two office buildings and a 1,200-car parking garage surrounding a landscaped terrace of trees and a pond.
Space for a restaurant is included on the ground floor of one of the office buildings.
Howard Hughes Vice President of Development Greg Fitchitt said the developer is focused on making this first parcel of the Crescent "a major employment center" with "wonderful views from the buildings into the forested land and parkland" of neighboring Symphony Woods.
"We're really jumping into the next step of the downtown Columbia plan," Fitchitt said, citing progress at the newly built Metropolitan apartment complex developed downtown by Howard Hughes, where he said about 100 units had already been leased. "If the motto for Howard County is 'a place to live, work and play,' we've got the 'live' portion started – now we're getting to work on the 'work.'"
Fitchitt said Howard Hughes was "in discussions" with "potential major employers" to occupy the parcel's more than 300,000 square feet of office space.
Special consideration was also given to the development's location at the intersection of two of Columbia's major roadways, planners said.
Both office buildings will feature glass facades, and the building at the corner of the parkways will be separated from the road by a landscaped plaza. The exterior of the eight-story parking garage, which fronts Broken Land Parkway, will likely be used to promote Merriweather Post Pavilion, according to Howard Hughes Senior Vice President John DeWolf.
"We wanted to make it something a little more special than your typical office building," said Matt Herbert, a project manager at Design Collective, the firm working on design plans for the Crescent neighborhood.
Reception of the plans was generally positive. About three dozen people attended the presubmisison meeting, which included music from a DJ and a champagne toast for longtime Howard Hughes employee Bob Jenkins, vice president of engineering and construction.
Questions centered around traffic and parking issues and environmental considerations.
DeWolf said parking in the garage would be free for office workers and could be used in the evenings and on weekends as Merriweather overflow parking. And though the wooded area on parcel A will be bulldozed, planners touted reforestation projects elsewhere on the Crescent property.
The development plans for parcel A still have to go through a lengthy approval process that includes a presentation to the Planning Board.
Howard Hughes hopes to gain approval in time to break ground on the buildings in the fall, with a targeted opening date of late 2016 or early 2017. The roads could start to be built sooner, possibly this summer, DeWolf said.
Fitchitt said plans for the Crescent's Area 3 – the development's largest parcel, which will include residential, retail and cultural space – were in the works and would likely be presented to the community before the end of the year.