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Planning Board Approves $65 Million Downtown Columbia Building

The building is planned to include 160 residential units as well as commercial and office space.

The location of the 9-story building planned by Costello Construction in Downtown Columbia.
The location of the 9-story building planned by Costello Construction in Downtown Columbia.

The Howard County Planning Board unanimously approved a redline revision for an estimated $65 million, nine-story Downtown Columbia building project Thursday.

The building is planned to fill a grassy space at the corner of Wincopin Circle and Little Patuxent Parkway across from the mall where a large apartment complex was previously pitched in the mid-2000s.

Critics of the decision said that allowing entirely new development projects to receive approval through a redline revision is a misuse of the redline process, which is typically intended for minor revisions.

"I'm concerned about setting a precedent to use a redline in this way," said Lisa Markovitz, an Ellicott City resident who testified at the hearing. "If there's going to be this change, the community should have the hearings that are normally required."

However, Marsha McLaughlin, the director of the county's department of planning and zoning, said the redline revision was appropriate because the property already had a site development plan approved in 2006 before the Downtown Columbia Plan was instituted, making it unique.

"The intent was to modify the plan so it's more receptive to concerns of height," said McLaughlin. "In many ways it's a similar project."

The developer, Costello Construction Inc., plans to construct a building that includes 160 residential units, 10,000 square feet of retail space, and 120,000 square feet of office space. 

The previously approved plan, called the WCI Tower, was for a 22-story apartment complex at the 1.5 acre site. The tower fell through after legal wrangling, community backlash over its height, and the economic downturn stalled the project.

Both buildings are similar in square footage at about 380,000 square feet. The new building is being called Little Patuxent Square.

In June 2013, David Costello, president of Costello Construction, said having to go through the full 16-step Dowtown Columbia approval process, "would make things very complicated." Costello and partner Kingdon Gould Jr. bought the property for $3.5 million in 2012.

"We did what the community wanted us to do, which is make it shorter," said Costello after the hearing. He said the approval will allow his company to market the building, but he didn't know when construction will begin.

DPZ wrote in its technical staff report that a traffic study for the building was approved in December 2013. The study recommended a third left-hand turn lane from Governor Warfield Parkway to Little Patuxent Parkway be constructed to mitigate traffic.

Parking requirements for the building would be satisfied by 534 onsite garage parking spaces and 58 offsite spaces, according to the technical staff report.

Costello did not say how much the rent for the residential units would be. 

In unanimously voting to approve the new building, members of the planning board said the use of the redline was appropriate.

"This is a peculiar case," said Bill Santos. "I don't think it will lead to greater use of the redline process."

Josh Tzuker said that even a large tower could have been approved at the site, but this plan took into account previous community concerns.

"If they built something garish and large it would be fine," said Tzuker. "Here's something where the footprint is largely the same, but product is different."

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