Is good design being applied to new Downtown Columbia Development?

The Downtown Columbia Design Guidelines were issued in November 2010 “to ensure that what is built in the Downtown will be attractive, aesthetically coherent, practical and of beauty and value.”  In the last five years, several significant construction projects have been undertaken that were required to comply with this plan. Let’s consider whether the designs have met this standard.


The Downtown-wide Design Guidelines and Neighborhood Design Guidelines will ensure that what is built in the Downtown will be attractive, aesthetically coherent, practical and of beauty and value. Specifically, the Guidelines will show how buildings and landscapes support and reinforce the physical, three-dimensional intentions of the Plan and create places containing pleasing proportions, scale and character that people will want to inhabit. The Guidelines also lay out the framework for developing a community’s sense of place and its identity and connection to the region.

Downtown Columbia Neighborhoods (Howard Hughes Corporation)

These Guidelines establish criteria for development within Downtown Columbia in order to:

  1. Ensure that new development contributes to the vision of Downtown Columbia as a sustainable pedestrian-oriented environment with a desirable urban character through the design and placement of new buildings, streets and public amenity spaces.
  2. Create high quality streetscapes with buildings and landscape that form pleasant, convenient and safe environments designed for both pedestrians and motorists.
  3. Reduce car travel demand by focusing mixed-use growth in appropriate locations and providing connections to destinations through a network of local streets.
  4. Provide a measure of predictability to property owners and stakeholders on what may be built on their land or adjacent property, while allowing for flexibility so that the mixture of land uses and design may evolve in response to market factors.
  5. Define desirable physical and visual characteristics of development in Downtown and the design criteria and methods that will help create a vibrant, walkable, ecologically sensitive, mixed-use urban center. The Design Guidelines also serve to articulate opportunities for integrating sustainability practices to improve the environmental quality of the development.

THE PROJECTS (click on image for slide show)


To improve design compatibility with surrounding development, to promote revitalization, and to enhance property values, the Design Advisory Panel (DAP) process encourages excellence in project architecture and site design.



Published by

Harry Schwarz

Nicknamed “The Professor” by his colleagues, Harry is a native Marylander who moved to Columbia in 2001. Harry’s wife, Cathy, is a Columbia acupuncturist and the family includes two college-age children, a dog and a cat. Harry is a partner with BearsolutionsLLC, assisting charter school authorizers to provide effective financial oversight. He is underemployed at this time and welcomes conversation about how he might help you.

2 thoughts on “Is good design being applied to new Downtown Columbia Development?”

  1. Harry, number 5 of the design “guidelines” has already been ignored with the clearing of the natural wooded area next to Symphony Woods and the construction of a large office complex at the corner of Broken Land and Little Patuxent Parkways. Of course, the idea that car travel demand will be reduced with “mixed-use” development is fatally flawed because it assumes people wish to live in what is quickly becoming an urban environment. What happens when all of these people are commuting in from Laurel or the Ellicott City area. Is one more lane on 29 going to handle all of that? I don’t think so. Should I be wrong and these people do stay, what about the demand for more schools with the increase in population? I already have a trailer park behind my house because of overcrowding and now they are proposing to build more housing in the same district at Hickory Ridge Village center. The bottom line is that Howard County and the Columbia Association are simply unwilling to stand up to the tremendous pressure from the development community. They are also foolishly thinking that this will build the tax base and pay for everything. The past 30 years of development, budget cuts, and shortfalls have proven otherwise.


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