Columbia's Town Center might be a good place to shop and work, but the planned city's downtown lacks one thing most urban centers already have -- more residents.
The county Planning Board will hear a site development plan today for 105 condominiums on the east side of Banneker Road, something Columbia's visionaries say is needed to make downtown the vibrant urban center planners had hoped it would be.
"We don't have many people living in Town Center -- people who would be likely to walk to the library, and walk to the college and walk to the mall," said Richard C. Lewis, chairman of the Columbia Forum's Downtown Work Group.
The group has for years encouraged the Rouse Co., Columbia's developer, to make the city's downtown area more of a 24-hour urban center, instead of simply a place to shop and work during the day.
An important part of the formula for that transformation is adding high-density residential development. That and the mix of shopping, employment, recreational and other uses will create a "critical mass" that builds upon itself, Mr. Lewis said.
It is unclear just how much development will be needed to achieve the proper urban mix, however, said Suzanne S. Waller, Town Center representative on the Columbia Council and member of the work group.
"I think [the condominium project] is probably just the beginning, or maybe the middle," she said. "I certainly think we need more of a variety of housing."
The project, called Wyndham, would consist of seven two- and three-story buildings and will be built by Trafalgar House Residential of Maryland. Eight of the 15 units in each building would have garages, said Brooks Palmer, executive vice president at Trafalgar House.
Mr. Palmer said the condominiums are expected to start in the $90,000 range. Depending on the approval and permit process, the first units could go on sale in May and be ready for occupancy in September.
The zoning designation for the 5.5-acre site was changed from commercial to apartments by the county Zoning Board in March 1992, and the Planning Board permitted reduced setback and building separation requirements for the project in November.
The next step toward building a downtown population, just across Little Patuxent Parkway from Wyndham, will be planned this year by the Rouse Co., said Alton J. Scavo, company vice president and community development director.
The company is planning to develop the area between Little Patuxent Parkway, Broken Land Parkway extended and Governor Warfield Parkway with a mix of commercial and high-density residential development, either apartments or town houses, he said.
Rouse Co. planners are now doing market research on combinations similar to what the company has developed in the Village of Cross Keys in Baltimore, Mr. Scavo said.
The Wyndham project also represents a first of sorts for Columbia, said Planning Board member Joan Lancos. It is the first time something built as part of the planned city has been torn down and replaced with new residential development, she said.
The site was the home of the Columbia Association's public works garage, which has been moved to the Guilford Industrial Center.
"The city's only 26 years old, and already we've got urban renewal," joked Ms. Lancos, a former member of the Columbia Council.