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Do we remain an outdated design where the merchants face inward and can’t be seen, or do we accept one that gives us a chance to compete with contemporary concepts.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: https://www.facebook.com/Hocomdcc/
For more information about the revitalization of the Village Center, see HoCoMdcc’s previous posts at https://hocomd.cc/category/hickory-ridge/ or the Hickory Ridge Community Association, https://hickoryridgevillage.org/village-center-redevelopment/.
All images in this post are from Kimco’s presentation to the Planning Board January 4, 2018.