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:
I support the plan. In the face of continued population growth, suburban sprawl and development of more and more of our natural lands are not sustainable. Higher densities in appropriate locations throughout Columbia is smart growth, will promote public transit, and will serve to improve pedestrian and bicycle amenities. Two of my previous posts about this subject are here and here.
Citizens In favor of a Vibrant Village Center (CIVVC)
Many of us have attended the public meetings Kimco has held and been disturbed by both the tone and substance of the comments made by many in opposition to the plan. The level of uncertainty, fear, and worst-case scenarios has been high in these meetings.
Residents of Columbia, Maryland are objecting to the increased urbanization that is developing in the Downtown. Alas, it means cutting down a lot of trees that long-time Columbians have gotten used to. But suburbia is not sustainable, and perhaps Jim Rouse, the founder of Columbia, knew this. He always intended that Columbia have a real downtown and he set aside the land surrounding Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, known as the Crescent (pictured above), for this purpose.
Increased densities in appropriate locations throughout suburbia, such as the Crescent and the Village Centers in Columbia, are the right thing to do. Here’s why:
A primary goal for Crescent is to create a sustainable, urban live/work neighborhood overlooking Merriweather-Symphony Woods. This neighborhood will be unique to Downtown Columbia, with tall office and residential towers set on the periphery within new development parcels on the high ground between lower, environmentally-sensitive areas.
One of the neighborhood’s greatest assets is its natural setting with preserved and enhanced woodlands and tributaries to Symphony Stream and Little Patuxent River. And, while the developed areas will be fairly dense, the park setting, the curvilinear roads, and the rolling topography will set Crescent apart from the other Downtown neighborhoods.
A sustainable built environment will be created through the creation of mixed-use development with amenity spaces that allow residents to socialize, work, shop and play; the design of complete streets where residents can walk or bike to destinations or public transit; the design of buildings that are healthy and use natural resources more efficiently; and the creation of a healthy environment with clean water, clean air, and increased connections to the natural environment.
I live in the new Hickory Ridge Village Center that was finally completed in 2022. Locals will remember that Kimco proposed to redevelop the Village Center in 2016 with an initial plan that was roundly criticized for the height and number of apartments being introduced, the parking lot-centric design, the lack of intimacy for the Village Green, and the failure to embrace the future Columbia Association Park. The revised plan attempted to address all these issues, including reducing the size of the apartment building, and was approved in 2018.
Cathy and I were pleased The Apartments at Hickory Ridge Village Center, with all its amenities and high-end finishes, was available after the kids moved out of our single-family home. By moving here from Clary’s Forest neighborhood, we have been able to keep in touch with our friends and pursue a lot of the same activities. Cathy is a Tai Sophia-trained acupuncturist; is able to see her patients in an office here in the Village Center. I work for a nonprofit in Town Center and bike there when I can, traveling mostly on the new Downtown Columbia Trail.
Most of our immediate neighbors are professionals. There are some retirees, a doctor at the Hospital and his wife, a Philosophy professor at HCC, a couple who operate a day spa with two kids, a young lady that does animation for a firm, a plumber and his adult son, somebody that works at NSA. Our friends from over Quarterstaff Road are downsizing and moving here next month.
It’s easy to get to know folks here — the apartment has monthly activities that bring people together. I’m a member of the HRVC Merchant and Resident Advisory Council that works with Kimco to make sure this stays a nice Village Center. Cathy and I also play in the monthly bocce league that meets in the new Columbia Association Park at the end of The Avenue. We have players from the Clemens Crossing neighborhood, and some folks from Sunrise and Harmony Hall retirement homes as well.
We love being able to walk to all the stores here; thank goodness Decanter Fine Wines agreed to remain in the Center. There are Village concerts and other events in the Columbia Association Park, along with a tot lot, trails, and picnic tables. And it is true bliss to to be able to amble out of our apartment and eat at the new coffee shop, dine at one of our favorite restaurants (including a new Argentinian steak house), or hang out on the Village Green. We’ll meet friends or just come down on a whim. And among the shops are two places my wife frequents, a new upscale hair salon for women and a yoga studio and apparel shop.
People dismissed the idea when the apartments were proposed, but we hardly ever use our car. The Apartment has its own pool and fitness center. Cathy and I use our bikes even more with the improvements that have been made to the Columbia Trail system. And the increased density in Town Center and a few of the other Village Centers has enabled buses that come through here every hour. A new transit hub in Town Center makes it easy to take advantage of longer distance transportation.
People were skeptical back in 2016 about the impact a 230 unit luxury apartment building would have on our Village Center. From my perspective, it has made the Center more of a focal point for our community of Hickory Ridge. The apartments have brought greater stability to the merchants, has encouraged Giant to improve their store, and has attracted additional retail. The quality of the stores and expanded amenities have been cause for an even greater diversity of people gathering here and making it a part of their lives. Life at the new Hickory Ridge Village Center is everything I could want.
Jim Rouse was an idol of mine, growing up in Severna Park. It was such a thrill for this twenty something in the early 1970s to see Columbia for the first time; to visit the Exhibit Center and take in the architecture and open spaces and design of this new city. And having studied economics and considered Marxist analysis, I was impressed that the Rouse Company, a shareholder-owned corporation that was driven to make money, created this wonderful city. Continue reading Commentary: Change and Renewal in Columbia