Columbia's juggling act

Howard County: Plan to build up Town Center shouldn't come at the expense of natural amenities.

February 11, 1999

HIGH-DENSITY residential development has been expected near Lake Kittamaqundi and Symphony Woods in Columbia almost as long as there has been a Columbia -- 30 years. But some are raising concerns now that the Rouse Co. has agreed to build 550 apartments on property behind the Howard County Central Library.

One worry is that the new development touted as part of the effort to make Columbia Town Center more like a real downtown might detract from the natural beauty that surrounds and enhances the commercial area.

The size of the 210-apartment Gramercy complex on Little Patuxent Parkway has greatly altered the landscape, some would say for the worse. Any new residential development should help pedestrians avoid traffic on busy Broken Land Parkway when walking from Gramercy to The Mall.

More apartments are needed in Howard County, where existing complexes enjoy a 98 percent occupancy rate.

It is important, though, with the county running out of land zoned for apartments, that new units become available at a variety of rents. The county is averaging more than 3,000 new jobs a year. Yet many of these workers can't find affordable housing.

Expansion of The Mall is nearing completion. Final touches are being put on a new parking deck. A Nordstrom will open as another anchor store in the fall. Across the street, a smaller parking deck has opened to accommodate restaurants on the lake. And nearby Merriweather Post Pavilion has a new owner who is expected to make improvements to the outdoor concert venue.

Town Center is indeed witnessing a metamorphosis. The Rouse Co. and county planners must make sure the final product preserves the spirit and attitude that have made Columbia such an attractive place to live.

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