Attempting once again to enliven downtown Columbia after business hours, the Rouse Co. has asked county officials for a rezoning that could add 345 apartments or condominiums to the planned community's Town Center.
"The idea is that when the office buildings empty out at 5 or 6 in the afternoon, the downtown goes flat," said Alton J. Scavo, Rouse general manager of Columbia development.
Rouse planners envision a Town Center alive with young couples, empty-nesters and others interested in living a short walk from restaurants, theaters, nightclubs and even a concert pavilion.
That pavilion -- Merriweather Post Pavilion in Symphony Woods -- was the undoing of a similar proposal in 1992.
County Council members, sitting as the Zoning Board, rejected a Rouse plan to convert commercial land next between Merriweather Post Pavilion and Broken Land Parkway to residential use.
Although no one testified against the request, then-Councilman Paul Farragut argued that people who moved into the area would complain about the noise, which would put pressure on the tTC pavilion to restrict its concert offerings, and perhaps make it less commercially viable.
But his successor, Councilwoman Mary Lorsung, said she saw no evidence of that phenomenon last summer from new condominiums built just across Broken Land Parkway from the pavilion.
"Interestingly enough, we got three complaints at our office, and two of them were from the same person, and none of them were from Town Center," she said.
She declined to say whether she would support Rouse's specific set of proposals, however, until after the board held hearings on them.
Mr. Scavo said Rouse hopes to create a mix of living environments, including the kind that could be built next to the mature woodlands that surround the pavilion.
"The concept of living next to 35 acres of parkland is one that a lot of people find attractive," Mr. Scavo said. "You make a decision as to whether you want to be part of the excitement or not."
The requested rezonings are on four parcels, three in Town Center.
Besides the 11 1/2 -acre parcel next to the pavilion, the Rouse rezoning request seeks a second commercial-to-apartment change on a similar-sized parcel bordered by Governor Warfield Parkway, Little Patuxent Parkway and Broken Land Parkway Extended. Just northeast of that parcel is about four acres Rouse is asking to change from residential to open space.
The fourth parcel is the largest: 135 acres on the edge of the former General Electric Appliance Park East between Snowden River Parkway and Interstate 95.
Rouse wants to expand Columbia's borders by converting that land from light industrial zoning to Columbia's peculiar new town zoning. While such a change would have little effect on the company's plans to develop office-warehouse buildings and distribution centers, it would expand Columbia to 14,272 acres.
The change would put the land under the nonprofit Columbia Association's annual property levy, which helps pay for upkeep of city parkland and community services provided by the association.
The additional acres also would allow the construction of 317 housing units sprinkled throughout the rest of Columbia, because the number of homes the county allows under the new town zoning is calculated at 2.35 units for each acre, including commercial property and parkland.
So far, the Rouse Co. has not reached its density limit, and does not need the change to allow the additional units in Town Center. Mr. Scavo estimated that Columbia is now at 2.27 units an acre.
Neighborhood groups recently have complained that Rouse planners have been trying to squeeze as much density as they can out of the city's remaining undeveloped residential properties. Long Reach village residents have been especially critical, and succeeded in getting Rouse to lower the number of units planned for the village's Kendall Ridge neighborhood.
Mr. Scavo said both of the Town Center parcels likely would be developed as three- to four-story apartment or condominium buildings. The buildings will have a "little more urban" character than apartment buildings elsewhere in Columbia. Ideally, Rouse would like to see something similar to the apartments at the end of Banneker Road in Town Center, which were approved at the same time the apartments near the pavilion were rejected.
It's the sort of thing that the 1990 General Plan, the county's 20-year blueprint for development, encouraged in Columbia's downtown area, said Joseph W. Rutter Jr., county planning and zoning director.
"The General Plan specifically talks about having a mix of uses in a concentrated location," he said.
The public will get its first opportunity to testify on the land-use proposals at 9:30 a.m. June 8 at the county Planning Board's meeting in the County Office Building.
The board will make a recommendation to the Zoning Board, which will then schedule its own hearing and decide the case.