Luxury complex planned in Columbia Project would be first in city to have gates


A proposed luxury apartment and condominium complex adjacent to The Mall in Columbia features an urban design, average rents of $1,000, computer-friendly amenities and gated entrances -- all apparent firsts for the 29-year-old planned city.

But that final feature -- in which residents likely would use a swipe card to raise the gates to the complex's parking lots -- troubles some urban experts who say it betrays Columbia's fundamental premise: residents of different incomes building a community together.

"This is a way of keeping people out," said Evan McKenzie, a professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago and author of "Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government." "The perception that you are unsafe in your home if anyone can drive up and down your street is a dangerous one."

But the project developers -- as well as some Columbia officials -- say that overstates the matter.

The gated entrances simply would block two driveways into the complex, but the complex would not be ringed by a continuous fence.

The border of the project would be a combination of fences, landscaping features and the buildings themselves, the developers said.

"The idea is to give the [project] some sense of enclosure. It's not a walled community," said David Forester, senior development director for the Rouse Co.

Another Rouse official, Alton Scavo, said the gates are a marketing device that reflects people's concern over crime.

He said it's hardly a trend for the planned city: "By gating -- if you want to call it that -- 200 of the 8,000 apartment units in Columbia, does that change the character of Columbia? I don't think so."

Still, one elected official who supports the complex -- which includes about 110 condominiums in addition to the apartment units -- acknowledged that times are changing. Joe Merke, who represents Columbia's Town Center on the 10-member Columbia Council, pointed to the garages with private entrances that lead to each condo unit.

"Twenty-five years ago, the idea would have been to make a common hallway so everybody gets to see everybody," Merke said. "This way, nobody gets to see anybody. So it's definitely different."

It does sound different than a Christmas greeting from Columbia founder James W. Rouse, published for Columbia residents in 1970. Reflecting on the initial plans of Columbia, Rouse wrote, "Conviction grew that the new city could, in fact, bring forth new structures, new relationships, new attitudes -- a new community in which understanding, trust, respect -- yes, love -- might flourish."

The apartment and condominium project are nearing the end of the Howard County approval process and could open in October 1997, according to plans presented this week to community groups in central Columbia.

The complex would be three or four stories high and located just east of Little Patuxent and Gov. Warfield parkways and just west of The Mall. Developers envision the residents walking to the mall, Wilde Lake Village Center and Lake Kittamaqundi -- and helping enliven Columbia's often lifeless downtown area.

They are trying to attract young professionals and older Columbians whose children have moved out and who are tired of mowing their lawns.

Richard Boales, an official with the Bozzuto Group that is developing the apartment complex, acknowledged that the gates are part of the draw. "It can convey a sense of exclusivity," he said.

He also hopes to attract tenants with what local apartment complex managers said would be unique, computer-compatible features for Columbia apartments. The two- and three-bedroom apartments would have nooks for computers with appropriate phone jacks, according to Bozzuto's floor plans.

The apartment clubhouse would house a work center where residents could use computers and fax machines.

"We're trying to make this the premier rental property in Columbia," Boales said.

The apartment and condominium complex would feature an "urban" design adjacent to the busy roads of Little Patuxent and Gov. Warfield parkways. Ironwork and traditional chimneys will add to the urban flavor, Boales said.

Lin Eagan, an agent with Long & Foster Realtors, said the project could only help Columbia's suburban downtown, which is difficult to manage on foot.

"It's not really a downtown," she said. "What we have is a Columbia Mall in an area that would like to become an urban center."

Community activists from Columbia's Town Center and nearby Wilde Lake village also appear eager to see the project built. "I'm excited about this," said Kathleen Liparini, Town Center village manager.

Eagan said the project could be successful, but added: "It's going to have to look special. It's going to have to be luxurious. I don't think people will flock to it."

Another real estate agent was more skeptical.

Chris Tsucalas of Remax said $1,000 was too expensive for a two-bedroom apartment in the middle of Columbia.

Boales said rents would be: one-bedrooms, $820 to $900; two-bedrooms, $980 to $1,050; three-bedrooms, up to $1,250. He said the average rent would be $995.

Tsucalas also said people would hesitate to buy condominiums that are adjacent to rental properties. But developers disagreed.

Pub Date: 8/23/96

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