The long and fierce debate surrounding the potential redevelopment of the Hickory Ridge Village Center is (hopefully) nearing a conclusion, but what’s all the controversy about? I attended a zoning board meeting, chatted with the Hickory Ridge Village Board President, and talked to the opposition to find out. Here are the straight up facts as best as I could gather.
After a nearly 5 year saga, the Howard County Zoning Board, comprised of the five members of the Howard County Council, is now finally in process of hearing the Kimco proposal to redevelop the Hickory Ridge Village Center with new retail buildings and a new 230 unit apartment building. The inclusion of the apartment building is at the center of the debate. Supporters of the project recognize apartments as essential to a viable and vibrant village center while the opposition believes the size and scale of the apartment will overwhelm the village center. Testimonies continue February 5 as both proponents and opposition who signed up in advance are given opportunities to testifying in front of the zoning board. Once testimonies wrap up and any further legal maneuvers are complete, the Zoning Board will have 90 days to issue a final decision.
Kimco is proposing an $80 million redevelopment of the Hickory Ridge Village Center. The investment would be made entirely by Kimco with no public money or contributions. The proposal, as depicted in the headline picture of this post, includes:
A four-story 45 foot tall residential structure with 230 luxury market-rate apartments, internal parking for residents, and ground floor retail. The apartments will be a mix of 1 BRs, 2 BRs, and 2 BRs units with dens.
A new village green at the center of the redevelopment would sit between the existing Giant (with a new wraparound retail bay) and two new multi-tenant retail buildings. A third retail building and vehicle-oriented bank will also be built away from the pedestrian oriented village green.
The Giant (along with the other retail tenants in this building) will remain, though with a relocated entrance, improved facade, roof-line and but any interior renovations to the Giant itself would be the responsibility of Giant.
The total square footage of the proposed apartment building, including the garage, is 350,000 square feet and the proposed total retail square footage, including the Giant, would be 105,000 square feet (up from 97,000 square feet today).
It’s been a long road for the village center redevelopment, as community planning dates back to 2011 and Kimco first presented their plan in 2016. In the past five years, there have been numerous (dare I say hundreds?) of meetings, alterations, community feedback sessions, surveys, negotiations, concessions, studies, analyses, stops, starts, and delays; all of which is meticulously detailed on the Hickory Ridge Village website, not to mention elections that resulted in an entirely new Village Board and County Council. While the Hickory Ridge Village Center Board initially opposed the redevelopment, the Board has reconsidered and indicated that they would support the plan if several conditions were met.
The Zoning Criteria
The central question that the zoning board must determine is whether the proposed redevelopment meets the requirements of a village center, as defined in Howard County Zoning regulations as:
“a mixed-use development designed to be a community focal point and gathering place for the surrounding village neighborhoods by including the following items:
An outdoor, public, village green, plaza or square, which has both hardscape and softscape elements. This public space shall be designed to function as an accessible, primarily pedestrian-oriented promenade connecting the various village center buildings and shall include public seating features;
Stores, shops, offices or other commercial uses which provide opportunities to fulfill the day-to-day needs of the village residents, such as food stores, specialty stores, service agencies, financial institutions, personal services, medical services, and restaurants;
Space for community uses and/or institutional uses; and
Residential uses, to the extent appropriate to support and enhance, but not overwhelm, other uses in the village center"
The Oppositions Position
According to those opposed to the village center redevelopment, the height and number of apartments in the proposal would overwhelm the village center. They further believe that Kimco is a bad corporate citizen attempting to force the community into submission so they can profit. The opposition believe that Kimco has manipulated the market by forcing many retail tenants out after their lease has expired, so that Kimco can claim that the village center is failing and that it can only be saved if Kimco is afforded permission to build these apartments creating a new revenue stream for themselves and a captive audience for the retail tenants in the village center.
The opposition characterizes the design of the proposal as ugly, over-sized, and not in character with the surrounding community with a large residential building which abuts the street creating an urban feel that does not fit into the village center concept. Given the 3:1 ratio of residential to retail space footage in the proposal, those opposed to the project believe that the residential component will overwhelm the other uses of the village center. Survey results show that a majority of neighbors are opposed to the development, particularly to the size and scale of the apartment component, which many feel would be more appropriate for the urban core of Columbia.
Additionally, the new public spaces and village green concept that Kimco presents as a positive to the community are underwhelming and small, and the design has the retail components are spread out across multiple different buildings making them less accessible to pedestrians who would have to cross streets and parking lots to get between some of the different retailers. Traffic studies show that the development will result in a significant increase in traffic that can create congestion on nearby residential streets and would bring new students that will continue to stress an overcrowded school system.
Rouse believed in designated pre-determined land use areas so the people who bought into the neighborhoods knew what to expect. While many villages in Columbia (including parts of Hickory Ridge) were zoned to host a wide variety of housing options, the Clemens Crossing neighborhood of Hickory Ridge where the village center is located is zoned to be entirely single-family homes, so those against the project do not believe apartments would not be compatible with the surrounding community.
According to those in support of Kimco’s proposal, the village center concept in Columbia is antiquated necessitating change to keep the village center concept viable, particularly given trends in consumer shopping, online retail, and increased grocery competition. Many beloved tenants of the Hickory Ridge Village center have left in recent years, most notably Luna Bella and the Hickory Ridge Grill, and renovations are needed to attract and retain tenants.
The current Hickory Ridge village center is poorly designed and has suffered a significant decline in business resulting in many retail bays sitting empty. Kimco wants to invest $80 million into creating a clean, sleek, and modern village center that will enhance the use of the village central to serve as a community focal point. The residents of the apartments will provide increased foot traffic that will help support the businesses below to help recreate a vibrant community gathering place that can attract desirable tenants like bistros with outdoor seating. The pedestrian promenade in the existing village center is a little-used and an unwelcoming concrete slap that does not provide much utility, so Kimco’s proposed village green is a marked improvement. As time changes, retail needs to adopt and change as well, and the village center concept that Rouse envisioned in the 1960s needs to be updated to compete with all the new retail offerings being developed around Columbia.
Proponents of the project believe that without this redevelopment, the Hickory Ridge Village Center will continue to decline much like the collapsing Long Reach or Oakland Mills Village Centers while redevelopment will allow the center to be positioned to compete in the modern retail climate. Kimco recently redeveloped the Village Center in Wilde Lake in nearly an identical fashion to what is being proposed for Hickory Ridge (exactly 230 units) and the redevelopment helps the that village center support small business tenants like David’s Natural Market, Today’s Catch fish monger, Bagel Bin alongside retail giants like CVS and Starbucks.
Finally, supporters point to Rouse vision of a diverse community that includes people of all different racial and economic backgrounds, and adding apartments to Hickory Ridge provides additional housing options so people of various income levels and economic means can live in this community.
While the process has been contentious and has at times lacked the civility in which Howard County prides itself, at the end of the day, from what I gather, everybody wants a healthy thriving village center. The zoning board will soon decide to approve, deny, or approve with conditions, so we’ll soon find out what the future will bring to Hickory Ridge.