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Company Unveils Columbia Proposal

General Growth intends to hold more than a dozen community meetings in May to further explain its plan and present a proposal in June to Howard officials for approval.

Other elements of the proposed development, which could start in 2010, are a 300-room hotel, 300,000 square feet of retail space and 200,000 square feet of office space, Hamm said. A cluster of older office buildings along Little Patuxent Parkway would probably come down to accommodate that development and to help create a pedestrian connection to a remodeled Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Another feature would create a series of landscaped steps, part of it lined with shops, from the mall area to the lakefront, Hamm said. "It will all feel as if you are part of the same place," he said.

Hamm said building heights in the first phase of retail and commercial construction would not exceed 12 stories, but he would not specify the height of future residential buildings, saying only that it would be "appropriate."

There are also plans to create an outdoor skating rink and marketplace adjoining the mall and to begin restoration of degraded streams winding through Town Center and beyond.

Other development could include a children's theater, a library, new headquarters for the Columbia Association and a small-cities think tank center to promote planning and the urban vision espoused by Rouse, Hamm said.

The developer will consider creating downtown bus shuttles to coax people out of their cars, Hamm said. But eventually, the road network might need a bridge over Route 29 to connect Town Center to Oakland Mills, he said.

Hamm said more density is crucial to creating a livelier downtown.

"If we replace 50 percent of [the mall's] asphalt parking lot with life in the form of people and green roofs and retail and cultural amenities, I think we've improved the status quo," Hamm said.

Before last night's meeting, some Columbia residents wondered whether the developer is seeking too much. Lloyd Knowles, a former County Council member and Planning Board member who is Bobo's husband, said an early proposal by the Rouse Co. in 2003 to build 1,600 residential units downtown sounded more appropriate for Columbia.

"Sixteen hundred units is not a small increase by any means," Knowles said.

Alan Klein, an organizer for the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown, said the citizen activist group wasn't happy when the idea of adding 5,500 units to Columbia first surfaced three years ago. Now, he said, "the number is less important than the impact. It depends on how it's done."

"Overall, I continue to be cautiously optimistic," Klein added.

But beyond addressing the impacts of development, he said, General Growth needs to weigh the community sensibility. "They have to keep the two in balance -- the corporate responsibility and the values of the Columbia community."


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