Plans for high-rise advance

Developer submits revisions for 22-story lakefront tower in Columbia

September 23, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

Plans for a 22-story lakefront tower in Town Center are moving forward even as the county prepares for a new planning process designed to map out central Columbia's future.

Florida developer WCI Communities submitted revised plans for the building near Lake Kittamaqundi last week, and the county Planning Board could get the project as early as next month.

A sales office is scheduled to open next month in the former Columbia Exhibit Center next to the 1.2-acre site, now a grass field where Bennigan's and an office building once stood. Construction is expected to begin next spring, company officials said.

"Clearly, this will be a really tall building that will be a landmark," said Marsha S. McLaughlin, county planning director.

Prices at the 160-unit condominium will start in the $500,000s, and each of the six penthouse units on the top floor will sell for more than $1 million, said Tony Albanese, president of the firm's tower division.

Sizes vary from 1,350 to 2,400 square feet each, Albanese said, and residents will enter their homes directly from semiprivate elevators - two apartments per elevator.

The county-sponsored charrette - a weeklong series of meetings during which residents will be invited to share ideas about how Columbia's downtown should be transformed into an active urban environment - is to begin Oct. 15.

And while some county officials and residents said they would prefer the tower be planned as part of that process, they understand that market conditions and the commercial needs of landowner General Growth, Columbia's' developer, may require exceptions.

"The downtown area is a moving target, and the charrette just has to jump in," said Jud Malone, who represents Town Center on the Columbia Association board.

Dennis W. Miller, vice president of General Growth, said the building has been in the works for 36 months and has been repeatedly discussed with county officials and area residents.

"It's going to be really important to Columbia because it will be the most prominent downtown feature - at least until something new is built," said Lee Richardson, chairman of the Town Center Village Board.

Malone, who lives in a townhouse community near the high-rise site, said the builder's presentation showed "a nice-looking building."

Malone and County Councilmen Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat who represents central Columbia, and Ellicott City Republican Christopher J. Merdon said that including the new project in a comprehensive plan produced by the charrette would have been ideal.

The Cheesecake Factory restaurant, being built on the parking lot adjacent to the AMC Columbia 14 movie theatre at The Mall in Columbia, is another example of development moving more quickly than the planning process, Guzzone and Ulman said.

"That's why we want the charrette as soon as possible," Ulman said.

He and Guzzone said they respect the commercial process, and Guzzone noted that construction won't begin for months, giving the results of the charrette time to influence what ultimately is built.

"The reality is they have certain rights in the law to go forward with projects in the pipeline like this one," Guzzone said. "I understand their desire to move ahead."

Referring to the high-rise and to the Cheesecake Factory, which is expected to be completed before the holiday season, Miller, of General Growth, said: "When opportunities of that magnitude present themselves, you try to take advantage of them."

Ken Plonski vice president for communications, said WCI Communities has built and planned more than 80 towers since 1988, most along Florida's coasts.

"We're finding it's becoming a very attractive lifestyle to boomers," Albanese said, adding that he expects 80 percent of the market in Columbia will be "empty nesters already living in Howard County."

The building is to feature 320 parking spaces, including two underground levels, a series of rooms off the lobby for residents' social gatherings, and a spa and swimming pool on the roof.

Small "convenience-style" retail will be on the street level.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

Lakefront tower

How large

22 stories with 160 units (1,350 to 2,400 square feet each).

Developer

WCI Communities (Florida).

Location

1.2 acres next to Copeland's restaurant in Town Center.

Price for units

Starting in the $500,000s; six penthouse units on the top floor will sell for more than $1 million.

What's unique

Residents will enter their homes directly from semiprivate elevators - two apartments per elevator.

[Rendering by WCI Communities]

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