Columbia Jr. Mixed-use centers promised in 1990 are finally moving forward.


SIX YEARS have passed since Howard County's 1990 General Plan called for centers where homes, businesses and recreational areas could co-exist in targeted areas of the county. Suddenly, these centers are beginning to take shape.

First on the drawing board was Cherrytree Park, a 42.5-acre site near U.S. 29 and Route 216 in Fulton. It was designated as a mixed-use center last May and is awaiting development plan approval. Now comes a proposal by the Rouse Co. to convert 526 acres in North Laurel to a mixed-use community of 1,420 housing units. Single-family homes would cost as much as $400,000, but they would be balanced by townhouses, apartments and condominiums, including low- and moderate-income housing.

To be sure, the North Laurel center remains years off. Rouse says it plans to file a request next week to seek mixed-use designation for the site, which is currently zoned for an employment center. The request must be approved by the Zoning Board. Construction would not begin until at least 1999.

Mixed-use centers were an appealing part of the 1990 General Plan of then-County Executive M. Elizabeth Bobo because they were envisioned as communities where a resident might be able to live, work and play. Few people living in a metropolitan area are likely to be fortunate enough to avoid lengthy commutes. The Rouse proposal would set aside 15 percent of the land for business and an impressive 36 percent for open space. Residential density would be 2.7 homes per acre.

DTC No real opposition has emerged from residents who live near the site, but there is concern. The new community draws parallels to Columbia, because it would be developed by the same company and be about half the size of a typical Columbia village. Just the mention of Columbia worries some countians, who are accustomed to more bucolic surroundings.

But neighbors of the proposed site would fare better with a mixed-use center by the reputable Rouse Co. than with the unpredictability of an employment center. Besides, Rouse has proved that it knows how to develop mixed-use centers as well as anyone. Its planned community remains one of the most desirable addresses in the area. North Laurel could do far worse than to have a mini-Columbia.

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