Gated project clears hurdle Planning Board OKs condo complex

January 30, 1998

Columbia's first "gated" community cleared what appears to be its final hurdle this week when the Howard County Planning Board voted, 4-1, to approve a site development plan for the nine-building, 108-unit condominium complex.

But for some, the idea of a 4-foot-high fence surrounding a development in the planned city built on the ideal of residents of all economic classes living side by side is a hurdle they will never get over.

Nearby residents and local community associations have accused Rouse Co., which is developing the 7.6-acre site at the southwest corner of Governor Warfield Parkway and Twin Rivers Road, west of The Mall in Columbia, of betraying founder James W. Rouse's vision.

"This is a direct violation of what Columbia stands for," said Jonathan T. Alloy, a 20-year resident.

"Gates belong on castles of war, not in communities of families. For [Rouse] to stab us in the back, it's sad."

Donna Rice, chairwoman of the Town Center Village Association, was a bit more optimistic.

'We can live with it'

"I'm disappointed, but I think we can live with it," she said. "I guess we'll have to."

David Forester, a vice president and senior development director for Rouse Co., said he was pleased with Wednesday night's vote, but he criticized opponents for being stubborn.

"I'm surprised by the lack of flexibility on the part of the community associations," Forester said. "I would think that there's room in Columbia for this kind of urban design."

The controversy is over a wrought-iron-style fence that will extend along three-quarters of the site's perimeter. Trees, shrubs and bushes will screen much of the fence from the view of motorists and pedestrians, Forester said.

Access to the site will be via a front gate on the southeastern end of the tract for tenants and their guests. Unlocked gates at the western end of the fence will allow residents in nearby Wilde Lake to walk through the complex to get to the mall.

The original proposal included a 6-foot-high fence around the complex. But Michael Lance, vice president of land development for Trafalgar House, which is building the complex, said developers agreed to reduce the height and leave the southern edge of the parcel open. That side will abut another complex of upscale apartments.

Forester told the board that the barrier is not intended to separate residents from the community.

He said the fence is needed to give residents seclusion from pedestrian traffic to the mall.

"We really see this in terms of privacy, not exclusivity," he said. "The fence serves a legitimate purpose."

Forester said the fence also will enhance the urban-style architecture of the project.

Members of community associ- ations demonstrated their opposition with blistering remarks aimed at the Rouse Co. during the meeting.

"A fence is an ancient symbol of willful exclusion," said Nicholas Mangraviti, vice chairman of Columbia's Town Center Village Board. "It is a unilateral affront of one against thousands."

Alex Hekimian, a Columbia Council member from Oakland Mills, said, "It's unusual that the Columbia Council opposes anything done by [Rouse]. We do not take this lightly. We do this because the proposed plan goes against the grain and tears at the very fabric of Columbia's community standards."

A former Rouse employee also expressed distaste for the project.

"The fence is nothing but a marketing move," said Bob Tannebaum, the chief architectural planner when Columbia was built during the 1960s. "But unlike the [advertising] balloons and signs that are removed, the fence will still be there."

Planning Board member Theodore F. Mariani agreed with opponents. "I think it's the perception that has everyone concerned," he told Forester. "I think the design is not sympathetic to the aura of Columbia."

The other four members voted to approve the plan. Board Chairman Robert Geiger said the fence is needed to guide pedestrian traffic around the complex.

"This is a small parcel next to a mall," he said. "I wouldn't want hundreds of people walking across my property to get to the mall."

Member Joan Lancos pointed out that many single-family homes in Columbia have fences and gates.

"I'm hearing this outpouring of disapproval, but I'm trying to find where this is different" from single-family homes with fences, Lancos said.

Lance said he hopes the community will embrace the complex when it is built.

"The intention was to create a win-win situation, something we jTC needed and something they could live with," Lance said. "I think there's a great need for [a reconciliation]."

Pub Date: 1/30/98

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