Developers of a $100 million building proposed for Town Center laid out comprehensive plans for the building, which a Howard County Council member called a "high quality" first step on Tuesday Night at Howard Community College.
However, other residents criticized developers for leaving out affordable housing options.
Representatives from Howard Hughes, Kettler, Design Collective, Orchard Development and other companies focused on specific aspects of the design of the proposed mixed-use residential and retail building that will face the Sears parking lot in Town Center.
“We think this going to be an outstanding project, something Columbia hasn’t seen before,” said Robert Jenkins, vice president of engineering for Howard Hughes.
The proposed "Metropolitan Downtown Columbia" building is the first step in a 30-year plan to develop downtown Columbia into a more urban, walkable environment.
The basic plan breaks it into two buildings, which are connected, according to Ryan Kautz, an architect from Design Collective, Inc.
The five-story South building, which borders two office buildings, would consist of an indoor parking lot in the middle with 750 parking spots and apartments lining the exterior.
The six-story North building, which borders Parcel C, an undeveloped section of land owned by Howard Hughes, would include a first-floor promenade that faces Sears and contains three or four retail establishments. Residential units would line Broken Land Parkway as well as the upper stories facing the Mall in Columbia. Additionally, a pool and courtyard would be placed in the middle of the North building.
The 380-residential units ranging in price from $1,500 to $2,800 and 14,000 square feet of retail space.
Cecily Bedwell of Design Collective said the promenade in front of the building would be an integral part of the required 28,500-square foot promenade that will eventually extend through the entirety of the Warfield development, a number of parcels of land that surrounds the Mall in Columbia.
Bedwell said changes to the roads in the area would include “sharrows” on Mall Connection Road, or lines painted to make drivers aware that they are sharing space with bikers. She said Mall Ring Road would be widened to four lanes, and that a five-foot dedicated bike lane would be added as well as optional parallel parking on both sides.
One of the major concerns raised at the meeting was the lack of affordable housing.
“I didn’t see any reference here to affordable housing,” said Sherman Howell of the African American Coalition of Howard County. “Where are we going with this issue of affordable housing?”
Kevin Peterkin, director of real estate investment and development for Kettler, said this particular project does not have any affordable housing requirement, other than a $2,000 per unit investment into the affordable housing trust fund.
L. Earl Armiger, president of Orchard Development Management Group, said that investment would be a considerable amount that would eventually lead to development of affordable housing in Town Center.
Jenkins said Howard Hughes was contributing $1.5 million to affordable housing as part of its role in developing Town Center.
Alan Klein, a spokesperson for the coalition for Columbia’s downtown, asked Howard Hughes specifically to make room for affordable housing in its development plans.
“We’re asking, as Sherman and Jim Rouse said, to go past the minimum,” said Klein. “There is no legislation that specifies how the [affordable housing] fund will be used. Our hope is they will be used for these purposes.”
Matt Wilson, who runs the Lost in Columbia blog, said he believed the building would be more suited to a downtown area if it had retail wrapping around it, rather than just on one side of the building.
In response to that, Peterkin said Parcel C, an area that borders the Cheesecake Factory and movie theatre at the Mall in Columbia would make more sense for a large portion of retail space. He said it would create a “critical mass of retail space.”
Howard Hughes owns Parcel C and the development of that site is in the works, according to Jenkins. He said Howard Hughes didn’t have any existing plans yet for the parcel, but partnerships are being developed to build there next.
“We see finishing up the other two parcels here and then maybe jumping across and doing something in the lakefront area with some partnerships over there and from there proceeding to the crescent below Merriweather,” said Jenkins.
The developers said they aren't discouraged by the economy.
“I think the economy is coming back,” said Jenkins. “That will give us the wherewithal to keep going. And Kettler, as the apartment developer, does their own analysis and they certainly see [a strong market] or else they wouldn’t be here.”
“We think there’s a strong rental market that has not been underserved, it just hasn’t been served here in Columbia and in Howard County for that matter so we’re real excited,” said Peterkin.
Members of the public said they were impressed with the proposal.
“My overall impression with these plans is you’ve done a great job,” said Bill Fox of Columbia.
“Their presentation was pretty well-put together,” said Elliot Sperling, 20, an urban design student from Kings Contrivance. “I enjoyed a lot of the elements and it had a good focus on sustainability.”
The developers said the building would be LEED-certified and there would be a stormwater management system in the front of the building. In addition, there would be public art on display in the promenade as well as a playground space for children.
Mary Kay Sigaty, Howard County Council member for District 4, said given the lack of opposition at the meeting, she doesn’t anticipate major roadblocks at the county level to the building being approved.
“I think this is a strong start,” said Sigaty. “Whenever you step into something new, the first step has got to be a really high quality step. I think I’m looking at a real high quality step.”