Planners chosen for Columbia Town Center

Baltimore-based Design Collective Inc. has been chosen to lead a charrette that will develop a plan for transforming the Columbia Town Center, the commercial heart of the 100,000-population Maryland “New Town.” In a fast-paced selection process, the government of Howard County selected Design Collective over three competing firms: Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., EDAW Inc., and RBA Group Inc.

Design Collective will lead the charrette this fall with the mission of showing how the Town Center — consisting primarily of an enclosed shopping mall and offices — can evolve into a lively, pedestrian-friendly environment. General Growth Properties (GGP) last year purchased the original developer of Columbia — the Rouse Company — and proposed placing a mix of businesses, housing, parking, and open space on Town Center land now used partly as parking for the Merriweather Post Pavilion, an outdoor performance center.

GGP has since commissioned Reid Ewing of the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education to study the walkability of the Town Center and discuss how it could be improved. GGP also hired Mahan Rykiel Associates of Baltimore to address the problems identified by Ewing. In late June, Tom McGilloway of Mahan Rykiel said that GGP wants to enhance pedestrian access by introducing changes such as shorter street blocks, street-oriented buildings, well-marked crosswalks, and additional sidewalks. GGP is seeking intensive development — possibly 710,000 square feet of offices, 148,000 square feet of retail, 1,000 housing units, and a 125-room hotel.

Bill Mackey, planning supervisor for the county, said GGP’s proposal “will be one of the background documents, a base to build on, but not a limitation.” Mackey said the charrette will look at the entire Town Center, not just the 52 acres that GGP wants to develop. The aim of the county-sponsored charrette is to reach a consensus on how the Town Center can accommodate substantial new housing and commerce while balancing the needs of pedestrians and vehicular traffic. “We will get an illustrative master plan and design guidelines” as a result of the charrette, Mackey said. The charrette may also lead to adoption of a form-based code, regulating development in the Town Center. u