Best of both: Enjoy the urban within the suburban

NEIGHBORHOOD PROFILE : Columbia

Town Center offers its residents many downtown amenities

April 15, 2001|By Diane Mikulis | Diane Mikulis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If Donna Rice has her way, the list of cities for a major traveling art exhibition might read: Boston, New York, Philadelphia - and Columbia. Yes, that's right, Columbia, Md., Rice's home for the past 30 years.

Rice lives in Town Center, the downtown for Columbia, and has served on its village board for 13 years. She believes the time is right for Columbia to become "a solidly vibrant city that's a force to be recognized."

Part of Rice's vision is to build a large museum in Town Center to house many of the smaller museums that are scattered around Columbia.

"We could then get some of the exhibits that tour the country," she said.

Town Center has served as host for a number of restaurants, The Mall in Columbia, the Howard County Central Library, several corporate headquarters and many office buildings. Its signature entertainment center is Merriweather Post Pavilion, where concerts and festivals are held from May through September. That's another thing Rice would like to see changed.

"We need a year-round, enclosed facility where we can have plays, shows and concerts," she said.

While most of the Town Center land is used for commercial purposes, nearly 3,000 people live in an assortment of condominiums, apartments, townhouses and single-family homes. The residential areas are scattered among the commercial buildings.

"We have five neighborhoods, and none of them are connected," said Pat Laidig, village manager. She said Town Center is continuing to grow - 125 townhouses are scheduled to be built and 550 apartments are already under way. When those developments are completed, Laidig expects the population to be nearly 4,300. There's also more residential land in Town Center that can be developed.

"We like to say it's an urban community in a suburban setting," Laidig said.

Convenience was one of the things that persuaded Barbara Hands to move to Town Center from Lewes, Del., in January. "There's so much available. You just get out in the car, and you're there in no time," she said.

Hands decided to move to Central Maryland to be closer to her daughter, who lives in western Ellicott City. She looked at retirement communities in Catonsville, Sykesville and Silver Spring and eventually chose Vantage House in Town Center.

Vantage House provides many amenities for its residents such as a bank, a hair salon, an exercise room with a personal trainer, a library and a convenience store. But for those things she can't get there, Hands likes the fact that The Mall is only a half-mile away.

She also finds it convenient to drive into Baltimore to meet friends or to Ellicott City for church services.

"The only bad thing is [that] the post office is so far," she said referring to the location of the main post office, several miles away in eastern Columbia.

But Hands, an avid walker, doesn't want to drive everywhere. "Because of the weather, I haven't had much of a chance to walk around the lake," she said. "I'm looking forward to the spring, when I can get out and walk around more."

Fellow Town Center resident Garry Chandler also likes to walk. "You can walk to The Mall and the library," he said. "It's kind of like a little city."

Chandler and his wife relocated from Hanover, Pa., in June 1999. They were looking to downsize and move closer to his job as a firefighter in Howard County. His wife is a teacher in Baltimore.

"We wanted to find somewhere that had the kind of lifestyle we wanted - somewhere with restaurants, a mall and parks," he said.

It seems that for many people, Town Center offers the perfect lifestyle. Carolyn Marie, an agent with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., recently listed four homes in the Chandlers' neighborhood. One has sold, and the other three are under contract.

"I have six couples waiting to get in there, and I have three potential sellers," Marie said. She added that by the time real estate ads and brochures are published, most of the Town Center homes are sold already.

Condominiums in the area sell for a minimum of $75,000; townhouses are in the high $100,000s; and single-family detached homes can go for around $300,000.

If Donna Rice and the village board are able to make their vision for Town Center a reality, it may become even more desirable.

"The heart of the city needs to be more in tune with the needs of all its residents," Rice said.

Columbia Town Center

ZIP code: 21044

Commute to Baltimore: 25 minutes

Public schools: Running Brook and Bryant Woods elementary schools, Wilde Lake Middle, Wilde Lake High

Shopping: : The Mall in Columbia, Wilde Lake, Dorsey's Search and Hickory Ridge village centers

Homes currently on market: 1

Average listing price: $125,911 *

Average sale price: $125,350 *

Average days on market: 66 *

Sale price as percentage of listing price: 99.55% *

* Based on 4 sales in the past 12 months as compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

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