Rouse plan again is focus

Move to block proposal for housing is rejected

7th hearing slated Monday

Lawyer wanted project put into rezoning effort


October 16, 2003|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

A lone resident tried unsuccessfully to block the Rouse Co. proposal for significant residential development of Columbia's downtown, making a motion last night for the county Zoning Board to dismiss the developer's petition.

E. Alexander Adams, a lawyer from Glenwood, claimed the plan belonged in Howard County's comprehensive rezoning process, where it would be considered within the scope of the entire county, not just Columbia.

"There's no specific authority for the proposal you all are considering," he told the board as it heard a sixth night of testimony on the petition - and voted down the motion to dismiss.

"I don't believe there's any public good served in transferring this to another forum," said board member Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat. The board is made up of the five County Council members.

A seventh hearing has been scheduled for 8 p.m. Monday.

The development company is planning to add about 1,600 residential units - which would bring in an estimated 2,352 additional residents - to the 60-acre, crescent-shaped property behind Symphony Woods.

Rouse officials are hoping that the increase in Town Center's population, which is now 4,265, will turn Columbia's downtown into an vibrant area, including nighttime activities.

In the hearings that began in July before the Zoning Board, a handful of residents - many of whom live in Town Center - have supported the proposal, eager that Rouse's expectations will become a reality.

But many residents are protesting the plan, arguing that the additional people will stress the town's facilities and infrastructure.

If Rouse's petition is approved, it would result in an additional 2,141 residential units for Columbia. While the majority of units are dedicated for Town Center, 150 units could be built in Oakland Mills and 100 units are reserved for Kings Contrivance.

Another 291 units would be set aside for villages to use on a first-come basis, and resident Mary Pivar of Wilde Lake fears that will lead to an unnecessary confrontational situation among the villages.

"It is difficult to think of a situation which could be more destructive to this community at large than competition among the villages for the remaining units each might need," she told the board.

Columbia's 10 village boards are divided in their support for Rouse's petition.

Five boards, including Town Center, fully support the plan. Three boards support increasing density on a case-by-case basis. The boards of Hickory Ridge and Wilde Lake - which border Town Center - voted against the petition.

The Town Center land is zoned for commercial use. If zoning remains that way, it could include 300,000 square feet of big-box stores, 800,000 square feet of office space and 100,000 square feet of other retail development.

If Rouse's plan is approved, the site could have mid- or high-rise mixed-use buildings with 400,000 square feet of office space and 100,000 square feet each for big-box and other retail.

According to an economic-impact study prepared for Rouse by Tischler & Associates Inc., the county would receive $78.8 million in net revenue if the site had residential units, with 10 percent of them being age-restrictive and 5 percent dedicated to affordable housing.

But that study has been challenged by some residents. During a roughly hourlong presentation to the board Sept. 24, Frank Martin of Ellicott City submitted an alternative study, claiming that the residential units would cause a deficit that could be as much as $30 million.

"The Tischler study was handcuffed by the information supplied by [Rouse]," Martin said. "It simply rubber stamped the information supplied by [Rouse]."

The site Rouse wants to develop surrounds the 9-acre Merriweather Post Pavilion site, causing some residents to protest the plan. The company has said that it hopes to convert the open-air venue into a year-round enclosed theater.

The amphitheater - which was built in 1967 as one of the planned community's original amenities - is beloved my many concertgoers who don't want Rouse to alter the structure, designed by architect Frank O. Gehry.

This week, Bethesda-based concert promoter I.M.P. announced that it is taking over management of Merriweather in 2004, replacing Clear Channel Entertainment Inc.

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