Columbia master developer Howard Hughes can start building a mixed-use development across the street from the Mall in Columbia before the city's pathway system for pedestrians and bicyclists is finished, Planning Board members decided Thursday night.
Plans for a $125 million, two-structure apartment-and-retail complex in the Warfield neighborhood are complete and Howard Hughes has submitted construction drawings to the county's Department of Planning and Zoning for approval.
But, due to a recent land-use appeal, the developer is unable to obtain financing for the Warfield project without a change to the pathway agreement, a representative told Planning Board members.
"We're big believers in downtown Columbia, but we need some level of certainty before committing significant funds to the next phase," said Kevin Peterkin, director of real estate and investments with Kettler, the developer working with Howard Hughes on the mixed-use project.
As part of the 27-point Community Enhancements, Programs and Public Amenities, or CEPPA, agreement between the county and Howard Hughes, the developer had agreed to build a multi-use pathway connecting east and west Columbia, from Blandair Park to Howard County General Hospital, before gaining approval for the 500,000th square foot of downtown development.
The Warfield project, with its nearly 30,000 square feet of retail and 437 apartment units, would push the total square footage of downtown development past that threshold.
With phase I finished and phase II currently under construction, construction on the pathway is progressing. Phases III and IV have been designed and funded, and Howard Hughes has obtained all the necessary easements.
Recently, however, an appeal from a business owner who says his property value will be diminished by the pathway has put the brakes on the pathway's timeline.
Ryan Daggle, who owns the Exxon at 10611 Little Patuxent Parkway, is concerned that plans to build the pathway on the deceleration lane into his business will make it more difficult and dangerous for customers, many of whom drive large trucks, to turn into the station.
His appeal was denied by the county's Hearing Examiner. He's scheduled to go before the Board of Appeals in October.
Alex Adams, an attorney for Daggle, said he and Howard Hughes have reached a verbal agreement that would allow the developer to build the path on Daggle's property, rather than in the deceleration lane. He argued that amending the CEPPA was unnecessary.
But Planning Board members said they wanted to make sure that downtown Columbia development wasn't slowed by the appeal process.
"For the majority of this pathway, it looks like they are on the right schedule to getting this done," said board member Bill Santos. Under the new agreement, Howard Hughes has pledged to post security with the county for the cost of the remaining pathway construction, as well as $500,000 for improvements to the pedestrian bridge over Route 29.
"To have all that [progress] halted over something like this, I don't want that to happen," said board member Jacqueline Easley.