The Rouse Co. is not accustomed to heavy scrutiny, especially on its home turf. But it got some recently when two members of the Howard County Planning Board questioned the company's commitment to the kind of inventive residential development for which it has become renowned.
The objections centered mostly on a 55-unit townhouse development in the Kendall Ridge section of Columbia's Long Reach village. Planning board member Theodore F. Mariani, himself a developer, wondered aloud whether Rouse officials had considered how the new development would fit into the surrounding community. Singularly unimpressed by the plans for the subdivision, Mr. Mariani said, "I think that something's being lost in the development of Columbia. Some things look like they came out of developer Joe Blow's handbook."
While Mr. Mariani's remarks were overstated, they did prompt Rouse officials to produce a better presentation for the board's next meeting, when they not only explained how the townhouses would meld with the community, but also reiterated the company's commitment to high standards.
The fact is that recent Rouse developments in Columbia have been an improvement over earlier efforts. The amount of open space set aside in communities during the past two decades has gone from one-quarter to well over one-third of the available land. The company's 10th and final village, River Hill, will have about 2,200 residential units, but will preserve half of its land for open space. In addition, a man-made lake originally planned for the village was abandoned because it would destroy the natural habitats of mammals and birds.
It is quite all right for planning board members to continue to grill Rouse officials about their projects; it might even keep them on their toes. But Rouse has hardly turned its back on the concepts that made it a pioneer. If its plans in Columbia seem a little stale after 25 years, that is less a function of the company's running out of steam than of the fact that its ideas have been so widely duplicated that they now seem common place. As flattering as are the imitators though, no other planned community in the nation can boast this amount of success on such a grand scale.