Townhouse project is set for Columbia


Washington Homes Inc. is scheduled to break ground this week on the last parcel of land reserved for residential development in Columbia's Town Center, with plans to build 127 brick-front townhouses that will carry a Georgetown flair.

The 8-acre project, called Governor's Grant, will be at Columbia's ground zero, directly across from The Mall. The development will be bordered on three sides by Governor Warfield Parkway, Broken Land Parkway and Twin Rivers Road, and be within a credit card's swipe of Nordstrom's.

Towers and turrets will punctuate the three-story, three-bedroom homes that also will offer two-car garages, lofts and decks. Seven floor plans will be offered, ranging from 2,200 to 2,400 square feet.

With sales scheduled to begin in the fall, base prices for the units will start at $279,900 and rise to $304,990, making it one of the most expensive townhouse projects in Howard County. In comparison, homes at a Ryland Homes townhouse project near Clarksville - Summerfield at River Hill - are selling for between $269,000 and $297,000 after opening sales in January at $219,000.

When the Rouse Co. initiated a design competition for the Town Center parcel last year, company officials - including David Forrester, who oversaw the competition as senior development director and vice president of Rouse - were intrigued by the neo-traditional proposal submitted by Domain Builders.

"What we were trying to do in the last couple of years was to get some variety in the housing," Forrester said.

Rouse officials selected Domain over two other builders, but Domain meantime struck a strategic alliance with the K. Hovnanian Cos., which in January acquired Landover-based Washington Homes. Washington Homes then took over as the builder of the project.

"We think it is an interesting product. It is something a little different for Columbia," said Mark D. Stemen, a division president for K. Hovnanian. Stemen also likened the design to Reston Town Center in Virginia and said the company had built similar rear-loading garage townhouses in Loudoun County, Va.

"I think [Columbia] is a good location for that product," he said. "It is encouraging people to walk around to businesses where they work, the mall, Town Center, the lake. It is a perfect location, I think, for a traditional neighborhood design.

"It will transition well between the commercial, the mall and the office and the townhouses on the other side of the street. It will have a wonderful look."

Break from tradition

The site plan and concept provide a break from the traditional townhouses that have been built over the years. Whereas most townhouse fronts face the community, with backs to the main entry roads, these will face out, showcasing the homes' brick facades and wrought-iron fencing.

"It is actually a very challenging site because three of the four sides are bordered by roads," said Forrester. "One of the things we liked ... was that the houses faced outward around the perimeter of the site. ... No matter where you are passing from, you were looking at the front of buildings as opposed to the rear of buildings."

Said Stemen: "Not to knock traditional towns, but at that high-profile location, with as much traffic that goes by and circles it, they'll see great views from all sides."

The other challenge was to keep as much green space as possible.

"There was a lot of concern about retaining as much of the existing tree cover above Governor Warfield as possible," said Cindy Hamilton, chief of land development for Howard County. Hamilton noted that Washington Homes is "saving quite a few trees along the parkway [because] that is really the beginning of that canopy that gives the flavor to the parkway."

But, she added, the trees along Governor Warfield Parkway will thin as the development winds toward Twin Rivers.

Washington Homes plans to keep a 69-foot-wide swath of trees along the parkway and has retained an arborist to help maintain as many existing trees at the site as possible.

"One of the things we have been very conscious of is trying to protect the open space that is next to it that is heavily wooded," Forrester said. "In fact, the site plan for the townhouses calls for some tree saves on the property, which in the density of 127 units on eight acres ... is going to be difficult. But they've made an effort to do it. That's important to the community and ultimately will be important to the marketing."

'Acceptable' noise levels

Another factor that might give consumers pause is noise from The Mall as well as the surrounding parkways. But a study conducted by the county before final approval concluded that noise levels "would fall within acceptable parameters," according to Chuck Dammers, chief of development for engineering in the Howard County planning department.

Stemen said he expects the project to lure two key demographic groups: younger empty-nesters and dual-income, professional married couples without children.

"They get to be down by Town Center where the action is and by The Mall, but are able to downsize," Stemen said of the those who might be moving out of their original Columbia colonials.

"At the same time, for young couples or singles who are working in Columbia, it will definitely be the address for them because it's right in the middle of everything. It is a very sophisticated, sexy [product] that should appeal to young professionals. It's not your run-of-the-mill townhouse. It's not your run-of-the-mill location. It's for a discerning buyer who wants to be close to the action."

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