A glimpse at a new Columbia

Draft drawings are revealed after weeklong collaboration with designers and residents


After a week of brainstorming ideas about the future development of Columbia's downtown, residents yesterday saw the product of their work at the conclusion of an intensive design gathering sponsored by Howard County.

Baltimore firm Design Collective Inc. unveiled a draft master development plan for Columbia's Town Center that aims to turn the area into a bustling urban center with additional homes and businesses, pedestrian walkways and a destination park.

The meeting process, known as a charrette, began Oct. 15 with residents invited to map out their visions of what Columbia's downtown should look like. In examining the 570 acres that make up Town Center's core, residents have talked about how to make the area more pedestrian-friendly, whether there should be additional homes and the need for cultural amenities.

The design team then shaped those ideas into alternative draft plans that residents have been criticizing and supporting during meetings throughout the week.

Yesterday, at General Growth Properties' Columbia headquarters, Matthew D'Amico, a principal of Design Collective, told about 200 residents that the draft plan his team put together didn't include every solution, but it was a start.

"Hopefully we're still in the spirit of Jim Rouse and how he started out 40 years ago," D'Amico said, referring to the town's founder.

The 30-year draft plan includes adding buildings ranging from eight to 20 stories in the downtown area; developing a stronger network of streets and pedestrian walkways; creating a corporate boulevard that would be a prestigious business address; and constructing a "Main Street" type of avenue by the downtown lakefront.

On the 51.7-acre crescent-shaped property next to Merriweather Post Pavilion, the plan includes a mix of homes and businesses and possibly a hotel. That development would surround nearby Symphony Woods, which would be turned into the town's central park with a promenade and natural areas.

Justin Carlson, a founder of grass-roots organization Save Merriweather, which successfully lobbied for the concert venue to remain an open air facility, said he thought the draft plan was "very impressive."

"I see something for everyone here," he said. "And, I think, if applied well, it can work."

William Santos, a resident of Columbia's Wilde Lake village, called the draft plan "a very good middle ground."

"It seems to take into account how people actually live," he said.

Marsha S. McLaughlin, director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, said that yesterday was not the end of the process. Public input is still welcome before the Howard County Council approves the final plan, which McLaughlin said will likely not be exactly as presented yesterday.

She said the weeklong process was not long enough to sort out all the details -- such as zoning and infrastructure needs -- but those aspects will be addressed next.

"We want to turn this into a living, breathing master plan," she said.


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