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Residents fear plan for housing near Merriweather


Some Wilde Lake residents fear that a proposal to allow about 345 apartments or condominiums in downtown Columbia could threaten Merriweather Post Pavilion's existence and create a community with inadequate walkways, lighting, playgrounds and transportation.

The Wilde Lake village board -- while taking no position at a Monday night meeting on a Rouse Co. request to rezone two parcels totaling 23 acres from commercial to high-density residential use -- agreed with residents that the developer appears to lack a "comprehensive urban design plan" for Town Center.

But the company, which has a hearing tomorrow before the county Planning Board, maintains that it has a plan for Town Center's development over the next 15 years. Columbia's developer also says that county noise ordinances would limit conflict between the apartment residents and the Rouse-owned music pavilion, home to a summertime series of loud rock concerts.

The new developments would be near Wilde Lake village, and several residents told their village board Monday that they opposed the rezoning request, saying the areas are in appropriate for residential development.

Merriweather "is one of the premier features in downtown Columbia," said 27-year Wilde Lake resident Jack H. Anderson. Placing housing close to the pavilion threatens its existence "as a viable entity in the long-term future" because of potential complaints about noise, he said.

Other residents said building homes on the two isolated parcels in Town Center -- surrounded by busy roads and commercial development -- would create a poor environment marked by a lack of space for children to play, traffic problems and safety concerns.

Rouse's general manager of Columbia, Alton J. Scavo, said yesterday that the proposed residential development would give consumers an urban-style housing option and help make Town Center a more vibrant downtown for the new town. "Different people have different likes," he said. "This is a different environment than other areas of Columbia."

The planning board hearing is at 9:30 a.m. at the George Howard county office building. The board will make a recommendation to the county zoning board, which will decide the case.

One parcel -- 11 acres east of Broken Land Parkway near Hickory Ridge Road -- borders Symphony Woods park, which surrounds the concert pavilion. The other, parcel, about the same size, is bordered by Little Patuxent and Governor Warfield parkways, near The Mall in Columbia and Wilde Lake village.

The Town Center board voted two weeks ago to support the rezoning proposal but expressed concerns similar to those of the Wilde Lake board.

Town Center officials have worked to resolve noise complaints from other new developments near the pavilion, said Suzanne S. Waller, Town Center's Columbia Council representative.

Wilde Lake officials expressed skepticism about Rouse's longtime promise to create a vibrant downtown, a key component of Columbia's plan since its inception 30 years ago.

"The urban heart was part of the promise" of the planned community, said Norma Rose, Wilde Lake's Columbia Council representative. "So little of it has been made a reality. There's a need for a real commitment to carry through on an urban center."

Residential development won't create excitement "if you don't have things that get people out of cars and things for people to go to," she said.

Mr. Scavo said the proposed residential development -- most likely three- and four-story apartment or condominium buildings -- would help enliven a downtown that "goes flat" when offices empty. "We're not there yet, but we're trying to get" a more exciting downtown, he said.

The same Rouse request to rezone land near Merriweather for residential use was rejected by the Zoning Board in 1992, even though no residents opposed it. Paul Farragut, then a county councilman, argued against the rezoning because of the land's proximity to the pavilion. But Mr. Scavo noted that the county's General Plan targets the area for housing.

Rouse's long-term plans call for adding as many as 1,200 housing units in Town Center.

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