This is how Jay Cincotta wants his neighbors to greet the millennium: He wants them to walk out their doors and see candles. Thousands of them, lining the streets, filling the first day of the year 2000 with their soft glow.

Cincotta, 39, is in the midst of organizing what certainly qualifies as Columbia's most ambitious public art project ever: the placement of a quarter of a million lighted candles along the streets of the planned community in Howard County.

Cincotta's quixotic vision is reminiscent of the massive public projects of site artist Christo, who wrapped the German parliament building in fabric; placed thousands of giant steel umbrellas on the shores of the United States and Japan; and surrounded islands off Miami in pink cloth.

Such art charms and perplexes. Even ardent admirers ask why. Cincotta has pondered that question for years. It's not about the goal, he says. It's about the journey.

"A hundred years ago, people had a sense of community. They don't have that anymore. If we could do this, it would bring a lot of community members together to accomplish something that's pretty difficult," he said. "It's about empowerment."

Consider what is needed for the project. A quarter million luminarias, small white bags with candles inside. One hundred tons of sand to pour in the bags to weigh them down. A heck of a lot of matches.

Then there are the people. One thousand street captains to coordinate lightings on each street. Numerous warehouses, run by distribution managers, to store the materials. Fund-raisers to pull together the estimated $30,000 cost. It essentially requires forming a fairly large company focused on providing a single service on a single day.

"I'm probably out of my mind but, for whatever reason, I'm not daunted as much as I was last year," Cincotta said.

Last year, he organized the lighting of 25,000 candles along 100 streets in the Kings Contrivance village of Columbia. The year before it was 10 streets, 2,500 candles. Three years ago, when his candle hankering began, Cincotta just lighted up his own street, about 30 houses and a few dozen candles.

"It became like a little block party," he said.

Kings Contrivance village manager Anne Dodd said that given Cincotta's past successes, she expects him to pull off his Y2K plan.

"He's very ambitious, but when he began these projects in Kings Contrivance he pulled them off," she said. "I was very impressed."

Cincotta's quest is influenced by his own study of modern management techniques--a melange of New Age thinking and business school case studies. His basic philosophy is, he explains, "Your word creates the world." In other words, where there is a will there is a way.

"If we can pull this off, think of the sense of accomplishment," he said. "I want people coming away from this with a feeling of success."

Cincotta is an energetic man, pausing before making his points. He works by day as principal software engineer for Columbia-headquartered RWD Technologies, a technology consulting firm. Columbia has been his home since 1970, and some of the idealistic spirit of its founder, James W. Rouse, rubbed off on him.

"His word was powerful enough that people bought into his ideal," Cincotta said of Rouse. "My project is consistent with his vision of Columbia."

Ask Cincotta about the project, and he'll pull out maps of Columbia with multicolored markings scrawled across them. He has a Web site (www.luminaryproject.com) and fund-raising form letters. Earlier this month he persuaded the Columbia Council to back his effort with $500 in seed money and organizational assistance.

But the seed cash is gone, spent on computer software. With just under 90 days until Y2K, Cincotta has mustered only a fraction of the crew and the money he needs. Nonetheless, as always, he is optimistic.

"Your word creates the world," he repeats.