Developers have begun promoting a 25-story tower of luxury condominiums and offices that will rise near the lake in Columbia's Town Center, promising amenities such as a rooftop pool and spa and $1 million penthouses with panoramic vistas.
Advertisements for Altaire on the lake, a mixed-use high-rise planned for the site of a former Bennigan's restaurant and an office building, describe it as a "monument to luxury living." Prices range from $300,000 to more than $1 million, according to the ad.
"Units of that magnitude will do well with a ... market full of empty nesters who would enjoy the amenities that living in Town Center would bring," said Dennis W. Miller, a vice president for the Rouse Co. and general manager of Columbia.
Rouse subsidiary Howard Research and Development Corp. has approved the conceptual site for Altaire, Miller said, but the builder has not applied for approvals from Howard County, which may require revisions.
Representatives of McWilliams Ballard, the Alexandria, Va., sales and marketing firm named in the ad, did not return calls for comment last week.
The skyscraper project is one of the final steps that the Rouse Co. can take in light of a recent Zoning Board decision.
Last month the County Council, sitting as the Zoning Board, voted unanimously against granting the Rouse Co. subsidiary a density increase that would have resulted in 2,141 more residences, 1,600 of which would have been in Town Center. Rouse can reapply after completion of a more intense study of the area and its infrastructure, the board decided.
A number of projects are changing the landscape of Town Center, with some people hoping it will create a more urban environment. These developments represent part of Columbia's original allocation of housing units, granted when Howard County approved the planned community more than 30 years ago. People are living in some of the 127 townhouses that have been built at Governor's Grant along Governor Warfield Parkway. Nearby, the Evergreens at Columbia Town Center, a 156-unit active-adult community, is under construction near The Mall in Columbia.
On the Lake Kittamaqundi waterfront, about a quarter of the 48 condominiums at Lake Side at Town Centre have been sold, said Judith Y. Britton, community sales manager for Ryland Homes, although construction on the former cinema site has just begun.
Two- and three-bedroom units there range from the mid-$300,000s to mid-$500,000s and will have parking under the building, Britton said. She expects people to be able to move in as early as October.
West Columbia Democrat and Zoning Board Chairman Ken Ulman said that these projects will serve as a test of what might occur with more units.
"My concern going into the Rouse case was, 'Gosh, we have all these other projects,'" he said. " ... It's a lot of people who are coming in here without any increase. Let's take a step back and see if the infrastructure can absorb" them.
Britton said that the future five-story building has attracted longtime Columbia residents looking for maintenance-free housing.
"It's fun because I'm selling to people who know each other," Britton said. " ... It's like this huge community already."
She described Town Center as swanky and fun, a place where people can walk out of their doors and shop or go to dinner.
"You almost forget you're in suburbia," she said.
Miller said Altaire would be comparable to mixed-use high-rises in areas surrounding Washington, such as Northern Virginia and Bethesda.
Altaire will break from the tradition of other suburban developments with its height, offering views of manmade Lake Kittamaqundi. It will also incorporate several thousand square feet of commercial space, suitable for a restaurant or services such as a dry cleaner, Miller said. The skyscraper will also offer a rooftop pool, spa, fitness center and catering kitchen, according to the advertisement.
"We don't have anything like that here in Columbia," said Donna L. Rice, Town Center's representative to the Columbia Council.
Although some people have complained about the cost of homes in the area, "most of the time real estate in the heart of the city is more expensive anyway," she said.
Rice described herself as an "equal-opportunity development person."
"There needs to be real estate available for everyone," she said, in both high-end and more affordable ranges.
Restaurants along Lake Kittamaqundi could also experience a boost.
"I think it'll be a tremendous adrenaline rush for us," said Paul Kraft, general manager of Clyde's of Columbia and the Tomato Palace.
Others, however, are not so sure that Altaire will be right for Town Center.
Ruth Cargo of Oakland Mills said a 25-story building would be "disproportionately tall" compared with Columbia's other structures and would disrupt the skyline around Lake Kittamaqundi.
"I think it would be weird; it would stick out like a sore thumb," she said. "If they want to go taller, they have to do it in increments, not a big leap like that. It's not New York City."
Sun staff writer Laura Cadiz contributed to this article.