Development proposed for Columbia Lakefront advances the Downtown Plan

The second hearing on the Howard Hughes Corporation proposal for Phase 1 of development of the Lakefront Core Neighborhood, is before the Howard County Planning Board on Thursday March 15. Here’s a collection of images and diagrams that illustrate what Hughes is proposing, along with Columbia Association’s preliminary thinking about how the existing Lakefront Plaza might be enhanced. And an analysis of what the development could mean for Columbia.

The Vision for Lakefront Core

As stated in the Downtown-wide Design Guidelines, the vision for the Lakefront Core Neighborhood is to bring community life and activity back to the water’s edge. Lakefront Core should be a lively, walkable neighborhood connected and oriented to Lake Kittamaqundi. New development should be designed to incorporate outdoor corridors to enhance visibility and access to existing amenity spaces.

The Lakefront Core should be revitalized with new development that may include cultural, retail, restaurant, office, residential, and hospitality uses. The Lakefront Core and the surrounding Lakefront Neighborhood are envisioned to be the potential location for new signature building(s), in addition to the existing former Rouse Company Headquarters’ signature building.

The existing Lakefront Plaza amenity space shall retain its identity as an important historic and symbolic gathering place in Columbia. Iconic sculptures such as the People Tree and The Hug are landmarks in the community and should be retained within the Lakefront area. Revitalization of the existing amenity space should include updating and refreshing the existing Plaza to encourage more active use on a daily basis as well as become an improved setting for performances, festivals, and other special events.

This chart illustrates the subject area of Phase 1 showing proposed buildings, active frontage, and new street alignment. The American City Building is replaced by a “Downtown Neighborhood Square” adjacent to existing and proposed amenity spaces shown. Parking is included within the new buildings.



Proposed maximum building heights for sectors in the Lakefront Core Neighborhood.


The existing Lakefront Plaza (B) is outlined, under the jurisdiction of the Columbia Association.


The Howard Hughes Corporation proposes replacing the American City Building with a “Downtown Neighborhood Square”, and shows a proposed Veterans Monument (C).


This chart, from concept designs developed for the Columbia Association, illustrate what the combined amenity spaces might look like.


This chart, from concept designs developed for the Columbia Association, illustrate what the combined amenity spaces might look like.


This chart, from concept designs developed for the Columbia Association, illustrate a possible enhancement of the Dock area.


More information about PB 435, the Howard Hughes Corporation proposal, is at

The hearing on March 15 begins at 7pm and will be live-streamed at

Urbanizing the Town Center of Columbia, Maryland [Excerpts]

by Will Macht (Urbanland Magazine) March 12, 2018

As a city planned to have a town center with a broad mix of retail, office, hotel, entertainment, educational, cultural, and civic uses within its central zone, Columbia is different from many suburbs. But the planning decisions—to forswear a rectilinear street grid, to break up the downtown with multi­lane parkways, to concentrate the retail heart in an enclosed mall, to have a paucity of urban housing, and to build at an automobile-centered, set-back building scale—present Columbia with challenges common to many suburbs seeking urban retrofits. The mall, lakefront, and pavilion remain physically and functionally separated.

From Columbia’s inception, the ten-story American City Building, an office structure located at the lakefront and flanked by restaurants, a hotel, a cinema, and a shared parking lot, signaled that a mixture of uses would be sought reasonably near each other, unlike in typical suburban centers at the time. However, the only pedestrian link between the downtown civic and economic centers is a slender pedestrian bridge that starts at the American City Building, traverses the six-lane Little Patuxent Parkway, and climbs the elevation rise to link to a path that goes around another office building, then crosses the inner-ring road to reach a tertiary mall entrance.

HHC’s decision to buy the American City Building opposite the mall only to demolish and replace it with larger-scale urban mixed-use projects substantiates the company’s strategy to intensify lakefront development. And because GGP, not HHC, owns the mall, HHC’s strategy is to create vibrant new urban cores on the southern and eastern flanks of the retail core, then link those back to that core.

From a development perspective, creating and controlling new urban cores on open land is more productive than trying to overcome the physical, legal, and financial challenges of developing on more restrictive properties. Moreover, those intermediate properties will become more valuable later when alternative cores flank them, which will make it easier economically to develop them in later phases.


We need to revitalize the Hickory Ridge Village Center, now

Kimco presented their plans for the revitalization of the Hickory Ridge Village Center to the Howard County Planning Board on January 4, 2018.  Many Hickory Ridge residents, including long-time denizens, support Kimco’s proposal.  The Village Board and most citizens that testified at the hearing oppose it. But the issues raised by the proponents are central to the future of Hickory Ridge, Columbia, and Howard County. To further the conversation, following are excerpts from the testimony of  several supporters who testified at Thursday’s hearing.

Eric Stein, Hickory Ridge

Owner, Decanter Fine Wines, Hickory Ridge Village Center

I am in favor of the plan, because I believe the Hickory Ridge Village Center is failing.  When the Giant opened in 1992, it was advertised as a gourmet Giant. It isn’t. Not today, and hasn’t been for many years.  Today, we have 4 empty bays in the center representing 65% of 1 building, and likely more to come.  Contrary to belief, Kimco, the landlord, hasn’t forced these businesses to leave.  They have left for many reasons, but they will not be replaced until a decision is made on our future, and we’re suffering. Once this plan is approved, we will still have several years of an under-performing center.

Do we remain an outdated design where the merchants face inward and can’t be seen, or do we accept one that gives us a chance to compete with contemporary concepts.  The apartments are not an option, but a necessity.  You can’t do anything without people, and those that have left the center aren’t coming back.  At least not until we offer them an array of businesses that appeal to a newer audience as Columbia’s growth continues.

George Clack, Clemens Crossing

Hickory Ridge resident since 1984; Spokesperson, Citizens In favor of a Vibrant Village Center (CIVVC)

In my view the Community Response Statement (CRS) shows a serious lack of leadership and vision on the part of the Village Board. The Village Board claims in the CRS to reflect the views of Hickory Ridge residents, but I do not find my views or those of my fellow CIVCC members represented in the document. The Village Board appears to have listened only to the quite vocal and highly predictable responses of the NIMBY’s of Hickory Ridge. The resulting CRS is far from a balanced, credible report; it nitpicks every possible detail to make what sounds like a lawyer’s brief against Kimco’s plan.

In brief, I care far more about having a viable village center 10 years down the road than I care about the height of any building at that center. Over the years we’ve seen Columbia village centers at Long Reach, Wilde Lake, and Oakland Mills turn into near ghost towns because their grocery-store anchors were no longer competitive.  And, in recent years, with the addition of Walmart, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, and Whole Foods, the grocery-store environment in Columbia has become much more competitive. Kimco’s basic argument – that the Hickory Ridge Giant needs a “captive audience” of apartment dwellers nearby to provide a sustainable base of customers – makes sense to me.

In summary, I am deeply disappointed in the Village Board’s CRS and the Board’s inability to see the virtues in a $30 million private-sector offer to redevelop a village center that could use help right now. Much experience elsewhere in Columbia and the country as a whole has shown that maintaining the human scale of a small-village retail center nowadays requires mixed-use development and that means apartments nearby.

Jerry Weinstein, Hawthorne

Resident of Columbia for over 40 years

I applaud Kimco for thinking long term in their desire to maintain Hickory Ridge Village Center as a dynamic, viable establishment.  While the VC certainly functions well now, it’s clear that trends in retailing and residential rentals have been and are changing.

Kimco deserves credit for trying to say ahead of the trends instead of being left behind. Given that Kimco is a publicly-traded corporation, with concomitant fiduciary responsibilities to its shareholders, any decision on Kimco’s part to invest substantial sums of money into an updated Village Center must make sense economically.

More retail space, combined with more residential presence, can only benefit the community. On the assumption that the county takes adequate consideration of infrastructure needs, the net result will inevitably be an increase in property values. And that means a more desirable community in which we live.

Harry Schwarz, Clary’s Forest


I support the Kimco proposal.  The people opposed to it want to keep things as they are, without acknowledging the changing world that we must grow into.  The County is expected to grow by 14% between 2010 and 2035, an increase of about 40,000 people.  We can create more suburban sprawl, eat up more of our open spaces, build more highways, and ignore environmental impacts, or we can implement smart growth and meet the challenge of more people by accommodating them in an ecologically sound way. I like to think that we are forward looking people in Howard County.

Increased densities in appropriate locations throughout Columbia, such as the Crescent and the Village Centers, is smart growth for Hickory Ridge, for Columbia, and for Howard County as a whole.  Kimco’s proposal helps assure the continued viability of our community. It improves the fiscal health of the County by reducing the need to duplicate infrastructure elsewhere.  Putting housing on land that currently serves as a parking lot helps reduce our consumption of land elsewhere and allows us to protect valuable open space, farmland, and habitat.  Expanded transportation options become possible with higher ridership.

Columbia has always been a model of smart growth.  From the beginning, it has been committed to creating “complete neighborhoods” by integrating multiple uses within close walking distance in order to accommodate people’s varying needs.  By increasing the density of neighborhoods, Columbia retained more of our land for open space.  Mixed land use and varying density are the cornerstones of smart growth.  Kimco is offering a great place to live, with all the amenities we are used to, and the option to walk, drive or ride transit. Kimco’s proposal serves the interests of Columbia and Howard County for smart growth.

Susan Clack, Clemens Crossing

Howard County resident for 54 years; 34 in Clemens Crossing

I wholeheartedly support Kimco’s plan to redevelop the Village Center. I am in favor of progress, and I’m delighted we are fortunate enough to have an experienced national developer anxious to invest $30 million dollars to improve our center. Quite frankly seeing the center revitalized before it’s on its last legs is in my best interest as a property owner.

Having initially attended Kimco’s community outreach meetings about their plans for the Center, I was appalled by a few, but very vocal, residents’ objection to apartment dwellers. Several residents made statements such as “Apartment dwellers do not share our values.” My jaw dropped and I could hardly believe what I was hearing. This wasn’t the inclusiveness embraced by the Columbia I moved to 43 years ago.

What I witnessed was Kimco’s continued graciousness while a few residents spewed hate and personal animosity. Kimco listened and responded to residents who had more rational requests and modified plans accordingly. We’ll get a much more attractive center.

Jonathan Wilson, Cedar Acres

I wish to voice my support for diversity of housing and more housing choice.  It makes us a more inclusive community.  In 1986, the developers of Columbia were planning the new Village of River Hill.  The developers brought forward to the County Zoning Board a proposal to zone roughly 90 acres of land near what would be the River Hill Village Center as non-single family detached housing.

The existing community members pushed back stating this was not the vision of River Hill; it was just supposed to be single family homes.  The Zoning Board largely accepted the arguments of the community and approved only 33 acres for non-single family housing.  Today, this land is now condominiums and townhomes. There are no apartment buildings in River Hill.  Members of our community now question why River Hill is so exclusive.

No one really knows what the economic makeup will be of the proposed rental apartments at the Village Center. On paper, these will be luxury, high end units.  Maybe they won’t bring more economic diversity to our community.  But they will bring opportunity for people who don’t have money for a down payment in our high cost community. Rental units offer choice and the prospect for more diversity of income levels. I believe there are many people in our community who would view this as a good thing.

Ellen Levin, Clemens Crossing

Resident of Clemens Crossing for 30 years

I love living where I do. And I love the Village Center. It is wonderful having an excellent grocery store nearby as well as some necessary and enjoyable small businesses.  Before too long it looks like we may have a new look to our Village Center. We may have additional small businesses. And we may have high end apartments, new places for people to live.

Different people have different housing needs and preferences. A young professional couple may not need or want a house with many rooms to clean and care for. An empty nester couple may be looking to downsize, to make their lives simpler.  One day those of us who live in townhomes or single family homes may want to join them.

Change is hard.  We are not used to having an apartment building in our midst. So we don’t know what to expect or how these apartments and their occupants will affect us. But I do know that Columbia has always prided itself on being a welcoming place to live, a welcoming place to all. Let’s welcome our new neighbors and discover some additional businesses while we continue to support the businesses we have always loved.

Steve Sternheimer, Hawthorne

37-year Columbia resident; Officer in home owners’ association of 18 homes

I was a member of the subcommittee that discussed/drafted the Hickory Ridge Village Center Community Plan, 2009-2011, so I feel qualified to speak about the concerns and intentions of the subcommittee and put the Village Community Plan in context.

The starting point was to ensure a thriving retail center for the decade to come. The “threat” seen by those on the subcommittee was not too many residents in the Village Center, but empty space in spread-out and mostly vacant parking lots; incursion by fast food & convenience stores in pads in the same area; and possible competing retail development in vacant land across Freetown and Cedar.  Discussion in the subcommittee and subsequent comments on drafts by residents included many who did not oppose a Kimco-type plan with increased on-site housing density.

Comments in the published Plan favored offices & residential structures in the Center, up to 5 stories, with a priority on more foot traffic for merchants. The Subcommittee’s discussions re: the height of buildings in the Center were nowhere definitive nor result of  modeling but a sense that the highest roof gable of Sunrise Assisted Living (about 4 stories) might be a standard.

And Finally . . . . 

Please share your comments on HoCoMDcc’s facebook page at:

For more information about the revitalization of the Village Center, see HoCoMdcc’s previous posts at or the  Hickory Ridge Community Association,

All images in this post are from Kimco’s presentation to the Planning Board January 4, 2018.


Latest plans for development of Merriweather District

The Howard Hughes Corporation shared additional renderings of the proposed development of Merriweather District (the Crescent) in downtown Columbia to the Howard County Planning Board on November 17, 2017. Simultaneously, they announced that the headquarters of the international cybersecurity company Tenable would be relocating there.

A look at these images and stories gives us a glimpse of what the Merriweather District is becoming.

View of Merriweather District full build-out looking East West: The three new buildings in Area 1, including the MedStar Building, is near the upper right. The Hickory Ridge Road entrance off of Broken Land Parkway is at the “Area 3” label of the yellow box. The Chrysalis is in the foreground.
View of Area 3 looking North, proposed Phase 1 development: Tenable Building is labeled Office A1 and includes a restaurant; Building B includes 382 dwelling units, 556 parking spaces, and restaurant/retail on the ground floor; Parking Garage includes 1,349 parking spaces; Buildings E2 and E3 are for restaurants.
Closeup View of Area 3 looking South: proposed Tenable building is front left (Howard Hughes Corporation)
View of Area 3 looking South from Merriweather Post Pavilion: The proposed Tenable Building is front left (Howard Hughes Corporation) [image updated 12/12/17]
View of Area 3 looking East, full build-out; Building B apartment is center right overlooking the plaza, E2 restaurant building is in the foreground, and E3 restaurant building at other end of the plaza.

Tenable to relocate to new building in downtown Columbia [EXCERPTS]

by Meredith Cohn and Christopher Dinsmore (The Baltimore Sun) November 17, 2017

Tenable, the fast-growing cybersecurity company based in a Columbia office park, plans to relocate its headquarters to an urban-style campus in downtown Columbia [Merriweather District] and add hundreds of employees in the next few years.

View looking West : A rendering of the proposed headquarters for the cybersecurity company Tenable in downtown Columbia, with Parking Garage on the right (Baltimore Sun)

The Howard Hughes Corp. has pitched the area  to Amazon for its highly prized second headquarters. Tenable plans to occupy the top six floors, or 150,000 square feet, of a 12-story building on the so-called Crescent property.

Tenable’s relocation and expansion will be a key piece for Howard County as it works with Howard Hughes to establish an urban-style downtown and redevelop the area around The Mall in Columbia.

The Merriweather District, where the Tenable building will rise, is planned to include 2,300 residences, a 250-room hotel, over 1.5 million square feet of office space and 314,000 square feet of retail with a central park.

It’s designed to appeal to the “creative class,” such as cyber workers and other high-tech workers, said John DeWolf, Howard Hughes’s executive vice president.

“The redevelopment of downtown Columbia is a transformative development for our state, creating a true urban core in the heart of the celebrated suburban area, nestled between the city of Baltimore and the nation’s capital,” Hogan said.

About Tenable

Tenable™, Inc. is the Cyber Exposure company. Over 23,000 organizations of all sizes around the globe rely on Tenable to manage and measure their modern attack surface to accurately understand and reduce cyber risk. As the creator of Nessus®, Tenable built its platform from the ground up to deeply understand assets, networks and vulnerabilities, extending this knowledge and expertise into™ to deliver the world’s first platform to provide live visibility into any asset on any computing platform. Tenable customers include more than 50 percent of the Fortune 500, large government agencies and mid-sized organizations across the private and public sectors.

Additional images of Merriweather District plans


The future of transportation is “Complete Streets”

Transportation has been in the news a lot lately. Governor Hogan announced his intention to spend $9 billion on a massive highway project. Howard County is holding public hearings on how to upgrade our public transit system. Columbia Association just held its annual BikeAbout. And Horizon Foundation is holding its Open Streets event Sunday October 1st.

We need to think of these aspects of transportation as an integrated whole or else we’ll waste a lot of money without fully supporting our community needs. Contrary to Governor Hogan’s approach, Howard County has committed to a “Complete Streets” policy, and the Open Streets event will demonstrate what that is.  Here I attempt to make sense of it all. Continue reading The future of transportation is “Complete Streets”


Howard County is a bicycling community – Join the fun!

As temperatures cool, more and more people are bicycling, for fun, exercise, and basic transportation. Howard County provides numerous opportunities to join the movement. There are several events coming up in the next few weeks and organizations that are devoted to cycling. Our transportation infrastructure is changing to support a more walkable and bikeable community. Bicycles are now available on demand for short trips around Columbia.

Come join the fun. There are no excuses not to. Continue reading Howard County is a bicycling community – Join the fun!


How government and nonprofit services came to be in HoCo

Forty-six years ago, as rural Howard County was being inundated by Columbia, a three-day charrette was held to consider what human service needs should be addressed by government and nonprofit organizations. Organized by the Association of Community Services and Howard Community College, the charrette was attended by some 335 people, including citizens, providers, community leaders, new Countians and old Countians. 

They overcame distrust, suspicions and competing interests to reach consensus on a report that is excerpted here. Many ideas were visionary, others just practical, some misguided. The goals they outlined are a measure of how far we’ve come in nearly half a century, and point to what more we have to do to create the city and county that James Rouse envisioned  – a place that provides for the growth of people.

It all started with James Rouse

In 1969, James Rouse created the Columbia Foundation [now the Community Foundation of Howard County] the first community foundation in the state of Maryland.  He and members of the founding board had the prescience to realize that the new town of Columbia would continue to grow and attract new residents and would have pressing needs for decades to come.

[James Rouse stated], “We have always envisaged bringing into being the coordinating leadership, on a continuing basis, to overlook the quality of life of the city; assert entrepreneurial initiative to bring into being new institutions as required; encourage existing institutions to spread their services to areas not covered or avoid unnecessary duplications”.

[In] 1971, the Foundation awarded its first grant to the Association of Community Services of Howard County to “explore human services needs and possible approaches.” Continue reading How government and nonprofit services came to be in HoCo


Does Columbia still believe in Affordable Housing?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development states that housing is affordable if it costs no more than 30% of family income. Affordable housing for all economic groups is a bedrock principal in Columbia. Nonetheless, the three newest apartments in Columbia – – Alta Wilde Lake, The Metropolitan, and Lakehouse (Little Patuxent Square) — are all Class A or “luxury” apartments. This is evident by the ways the apartments describe themselves, and it’s easy to see by their starting rents that they are unaffordable to the secretaries, sales associates, builders, maintenance workers, cooks and waiters that make it all happen. 

The Downtown Columbia Plan anticipates construction of 6,250 residential units that will be priced however the market will bear. The February agreement by the County and Howard Hughes Corporation requires there be 900 affordable apartments built downtown, but advocates say only about 500 units will create new family opportunities; 400 units duplicate what is already available in other Columbia Villages. And we’re further increasing the stock of high-rent apartments with Kimco’s proposal of “luxury” apartments at Hickory Ridge Village Center. Continue reading Does Columbia still believe in Affordable Housing?