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Inside the Election of the Hickory Ridge Village Board

Full Disclosure: I am a current board member of the Hickory Ridge Village Board, but I am not running for re-election. There are 12 candidates running to serve a one-year term on the 5 member Village Board of the Hickory Ridge Community Association (HRCA). 12 people, including 4 incumbents. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only village in Columbia with a contested village board race this spring. This is awesome! Go Hickory Ridge! Here are the candidates (incumbents listed first in bold):

  • Janssen Evelyn

  • Fred Johnston

  • Gregg Schwind

  • Skye Anderson

  • William Inglis

  • Debra McPherson

  • Kristine Amari

  • Lisa Dean

  • Tradd Ritchey

  • Laura All

  • Paul Armstrong

  • Jesse Harvey

A Hickory Ridge Candidate forum will be held on Tuesday April 6, at 7 PM, that will provide an opportunity for residents to hear more from these candidates (as well as the two candidates running for Columbia Council Rep, Jessamine Duvall and Tradd Ritchey).

First, let me emphasis how amazing I think it is that there is so much interest amongst Hickory Ridge residents to serve on our Village Board. Volunteering on a village board is a fulfilling and rewarding use of time, and you can truly make a difference in our neighborhood, so it is great to see so many candidates step forward willing to commit their time to bettering our community.

While I think it is fantastic to see so much new faces, I do want to take a moment to speak to the qualifications of the four incumbents seeking reelection that I have had the privilege of serving with this past year. Janssen Evelyn, Fred Johnston, Gregg Schwind, and Skye Anderson are all dedicated community leaders who pride themselves on carefully and thoughtfully approaching issues brought to the board, listening to residents concerns, and striving to find common ground in advocating for the interests of residents in Hickory Ridge. While we don't always agree on all issues, our diversity of thought, collaborative solution-oriented mindset, dedication to community service, and unique skillsets and backgrounds have resulted in an incredibly strong Hickory Ridge Village Board that have resulted in many notable accomplishments over the past year.

These include:

  • Bike and Pedestrian Infrastructure: Strongly supported new safe, improved low-stress pedestrian and cycling connections in Hickory Ridge on Cedar Lane and the Hickory Ridge Road & Broken Land Parkway intersection by providing input into the Hickory Ridge Road Bike Corridor Study

  • Pools: Advocated for opening the Clary's Forest's Forest Pool. Clary's Forest is one of 8 outdoor pools that will not open this summer. It has (A) 9th highest overall attendance out of all 23 pools, (B) the highest attendance out of all pools that will remain closed this summer, and (C) higher attendance than 7 pools that will be opened. The Hickory Ridge Village Board met with residents, CA Aquatics Director Marty Oltmann, and sent a letter on behalf of the Board and residents to CA urging them to keep this pool open. We even offered, as a partner with CA in providing services to our residents, to utilize our own cash reserves to help support its reopening. This offer was not accepted by CA and the Clary's Forest pool, along with 7 others in Columbia, will remain closed for the second summer in a row.

  • Tot Lots: Successfully had CA remove a video surveillance camera from a Hickory Ridge Tot Lot that they were using as part of a study to evaluate tot-lot usage. The Village Board has worked with residents to identify maintenance needs and potential tot lot improvements.

  • Financials: Managed the HRVA financial and programmatic challenges brought on by the pandemic, which included a $130,000 decrease in annual rental revenue from the Hawthorn Center. Our prudent financial management has us on target to close FY22 in the black, setting up the Association to be in strong financial position to resume community events and activities moving forward.

  • Hawthorne Center: Prepared for safely reopening the Hawthorn Center for rental and community events in full compliance with COVID-safe protocols.

  • Columbia Community Care Donations: Hosted two drive-through donation drives to benefit Columbia Community Care that resulted in over 15 carloads of food, toiletries, and other household items being donated.

  • Village Manager: Conducted interviews and hired a new Village Manager

  • Community Engagement: Hosted bi-monthly virtual board meetings, which included informational presentations and resident Q&A with notable community organizations such as Howard County Police, Howard County Department of Transit BIKE HOWARD initiative, Community Ecology Institution, Brightview Senior Living Center, Patuxent Commons, Inner Arbor Trust on Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, Howard County Community College, CA Department of Aquatics, and others.

The Hickory Ridge Village Center (HRVC) Redevelopment

While I'm looking forward to hearing more from the candidates next week, based on candidate statements submitted, at least a handful of the challengers seem to be single-issue candidates opposed to the HRVC redevelopment.

See my February 4, 2020 article: "The story behind the Hickory Ridge Village Center redevelopment" for additional background.

It is odd that these challengers are running in opposition to the village center now because after an incredibly lengthy process, the Howard County Zoning Board has finally concluded hearing the case to redevelop the HRVC on March 24, 2021. The Zoning Board is now in deliberations and a decision on whether or not the redevelopment plan will be approved is imminent. The opportunity for HRCA to provide feedback to the zoning board is over. The ship has sailed. The case is closed. The decision is pending.

The HRCA provided testimony to the Zoning Board, via an addendum to the community response statement in early 2020, prior to the current Hickory Ridge Board being elected. In this testimony and the amended CRS, the HRCA indicated support for the redevelopment plan only if certain requirements were met. These requirements include: reducing the number of apartment units as to not overwhelm other uses at the Center, limiting the height of the apartment building, ensuring parking meets applicable parking regulations, verification of the accuracy of a traffic study, and the implementation of pedestrian safety and traffic calming measures. This addended CSR offers a compromise that best reflects the desires of the entire community, including those Hickory Ridge residents in favor of the redevelopment proposal while incorporating the concerns from Hickory Ridge residents who took issue with Kimco's original proposal. Our current board has stood behind the testimony that our predecessors on the Board provided. We have not otherwise provided any additional input and have focused our efforts on the aforementioned accomplishments.

The HRVC finds itself at a crossroads. Kimco Realty has put forward a plan to invest nearly $80 million into redeveloping the HRVC with new retail spaces, a new public green, and an apartment building. As it stands now, the HRVC already has many empty retail spaces and the center risks further decline if it is not modernized as it faces increased competition in a changing retail environment. Rouse envisioned the village center as a central part of his vision for Columbia, and I believe that Columbia village centers need to adapt to changing market conditions in order for them to remain at the center of civic life. We can breathe new life into our village center with a revitalized plan that closely resembles the newly renovated community hub that is the Wilde Lake Village Center, which smartly combines retail and residential. A modernized concept will enable the Hickory Ridge Village Center to thrive for decades to come by providing new public spaces for hosting community events and helping to attract new neighborhood serving retail tenants that could include coffee shops, restaurants and/or bars alongside existing long-standing favorites, whose businesses would all benefit from having new residents living on site.

I'm confident that if re-elected; Janssen, Fred, Gregg and Skye will remain focused on opportunities that the HRCA could pursue to enhance quality of life for all Hickory Ridge residents. I fear that some of the challenging candidates will attempt to monopolize the community association's time and money in pursuing desperate, long-shot bids to stop the village center redevelopment at all costs should the Zoning Board rule in favor of Kimco’s petition.

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