Which version of the Hickory Ridge Village Center is likely to survive?

The Howard County Design Advisory Committee (DAP) is reviewing Kimco’s revised plan for the Hickory Ridge Village Center on Wednesday, February 8th.  Their decision may very well determine whether the Village Center survives. Moreover, it’s a decision that will affect all of Columbia and whether our city will take the steps to become truly sustainable.

There is considerable community opposition to adding apartments to the Village Center.  Many residents of Hickory Ridge feel just as strongly that the higher density is essential to the Center’s future viability.  It is a struggle that has occurred in Columbia before and is likely to continue. I support the following perspective, and it applies to other Village Centers as well.

Dear members of the Design Advisory Panel,

I represent a citizens’ action group of Hickory Ridge residents recently formed to help ensure a viable Hickory Ridge village center, one that would be designed for the 21st century.  Our group, Citizens in favor of a Vibrant Village Center (CIVVC), believes that Kimco’s revised plan for the village center offers the best hope of creating a flourishing village center 10 years from now.

We also think Kimco’s revised plan responds appropriately to the DAP’s suggestions at its last meeting. Here’s why:

The DAP’s purpose is “to improve design compatibility with surrounding development, to promote revitalization, and to enhance property values.”  Several of us attended the DAP public meeting on Kimco’s original plan. It seemed to us that the panel in its response to Kimco’s previous plan neglected to consider two of the three factors set out in its mission statement:  promoting revitalization and enhancing property values.

Put simply, we believe that that the future of the Hickory Ridge village center requires having a large enough population base nearby to support a solid grocery-story anchor in the highly competitive Columbia grocery market. Our concern as a group is less about the height of a building than about whether in 10 years our village center will look more like the derelict Long Reach village center (now county-owned) or the thriving River Hill village center, another Kimco village center that offers apartments near the center. We believe a reasonably sized apartment building of 230 units, a number scaled down from Kimco’s original proposal, will help provide that customer base for the grocery store and the rest of the village center.

Proposed apartments at Hickory Ridge Village Center – Giant is on the left, shops are on the ground floor of the apartments and on the right, (Kimco)

In Kimco’s revised plan the apartment building has been sited further from the roads than in the previous plan. This step, and the design of the building with its setbacks and variegated fronts, makes the building appear less massive than in the original plan and far less massive than the much criticized apartment building at Wilde Lake that is often cited by Kimco’s critics.

Hickory Ridge Village Center – Cedar Lane and Freetown Road (Kimco)

Kimco’s slide titled “Building Separation and Height”  in the company’s latest presentation illustrates a fallacy that we’ve often heard stated by some Hickory Ridge residents – that the new apartment building would be plopped into a quiet neighborhood of single-family houses. There are single-family houses on only one side of the village center – the Clemens West neighborhood, which is tucked around a bend and out of sight of the village center. Opposite the village center across Cedar Lane are medical complexes of comparable height to the proposed apartment building.

Distances from the 4-story proposed apartment building to other nearby buildings and their heights (Kimco)

We’d point out as well that according to the CA-commissioned Market Study of Village Centers, Nov. 2014, Hickory Ridge contains 4,965 housing units, 39 percent of which are single-family. Owner-occupied housing units in Hickory Ride are 59 percent of the total housing units. In our view an apartment building at the village center would not be a disruptive force on the neighborhood we have now.

On the panel’s concerns about design compatibility with the neighborhood – we can’t help but feel that the present buildings around the village center make for a mish-mash of styles. There’s the Sunrise facility, the Goddard daycare building, the standard Sunoco gas station on one side with the low-slung Hickory Crest senior housing units located across Freetown Road, in addition to the Harmony Hall and Gilchrest Center medical buildings across Cedar Lane. It would seem an extraordinarily difficult task for any architect to coordinate the village center design with the current architectural polyglot of the neighborhood.

There’s one final point the DAP should be aware of in its deliberations: those in opposition to Kimco’s plan are fond of using some variation of the phrase “most residents do not want any apartments.” This statement is not based on facts.  The village board’s recent survey of Hickory Ridge residents showed 86.3% of Hickory Ridge Village residents did not have enough knowledge, passion, or concern about the village center redevelopment to respond to the survey. Of those that did respond, 54.2% said they were opposed to all apartments at the village center; 45.8% said they were fine with some apartments.  Approximately 10 percent of village residents, then, are on record as opposed to the concept of apartments at Hickory Ridge.

Existing Hickory Ridge Village Center (Kimco)
Proposed Hickory Ridge Village Center (Kimco)

In sum, we CIVVC members see the latest Kimco plan as the best way forward to a successful village center for the future. James Rouse’s vision of village centers was right for its time – the 1960s and ‘70s – and we still want the convenience of a good village center five minutes from our houses, but we live in a different Columbia and a different world of retail than in Rouse’s day. Much experience elsewhere in the USA has shown that maintaining the human scale of a small-village retail center nowadays requires mixed-use development.

George Clack, Coordinator, CIVVC

CIVCC Steering Committee:  Shirin Bozorg, Susan Clack, Shahriar Etemadi, Alison Hickman, Niklaas Hickman, Harry Schwarz, Brent Showalter, Steve Sternheimer, Eric Stein, Jerry Weinstein, Matt Young, Suzi Young

What you can do

You can learn more about the upcoming DAP meeting and submit your comments at this link:


For more information about the Redevelopment of the Hickory Ridge Village Center and sustainability, see my previous blogs by clicking on the topic in the Category Index on the left.

Featured Image at top of post

The composite is by HoCoMD.cc. The left image is from the Hickory Ridge Community Association; the right is from Kimco.



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.

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