The Howard County Zoning Board last week unanimously approved a preliminary plan to redevelop the Wilde Lake Village Center with a minimum of 85,000 square feet of commercial space and a maximum of 250 residential units.
Owner Kimco Realty Corp. is planning a mix of retail, restaurant, office and residential space.
The plan does not include a grocery store, which most other Columbia village centers have, but David's Natural Market will be moving into a larger space and a drugstore will be added.
Together, Kimco contends, the two should serve the basic needs of nearby residents.
Geoff Glazer, Kimco's vice president of development for the mid-Atlantic northeast region, said the development team is excited to finally be finished with the preliminary approval process. Though it has been four years since Kimco officials first announced their intent to redevelop the village center to get to this point, he said the plan is better for the delay and the changes made.
The process Kimco has been going through was laid out in legislation the County Council passed in 2009 to allow the owner of any property within Columbia's village centers to directly petition the county for development changes. Previously, owners went through developer General Growth Properties (now Howard Hughes) for initial permission, as they had to do for 40 more than years under rules laid out in Columbia's Preliminary Development Plan.
Before passing the 2009 legislation — which Kimco, owner of half of Columbia's village centers, requested — the council added provisions to ensure input from the community and village boards would be included in the county's review process.
After four years of working with the community and the Wilde Lake Village Board and making several changes to the plan, Kimco received approval June 20 from the Zoning Board, which is the County Council sitting on zoning matters.
Wilde Lake, Columbia's oldest village center, is the first to go through the process. It has been without an anchor store since the Giant closed in 2006.
Zoning Board Chairwoman Jen Terrasa said she is thrilled that the majority of the community was able to come together and support Kimco's plan.
"That I think speaks volumes to a process we created," she said.
'A terrible loss'
Only four people spoke in opposition to the plan during the board's June 12 and June 20 hearings.
"We're all in favor of this project, but we have a really big problem with one small element," Columbia resident Cy Paumier told the board.
Paumier, Jervis Dorton and Bob Tennenbaum, all of whom worked as architects or planners for the Rouse Co. in the 1960s and 1970s as Columbia was being developed, vehemently oppose the removal of one of three existing buildings — the one currently attached to what was the Giant grocery store before it closed in 2006 — that form a courtyard in the village center.
"I think that would be a terrible loss," Dorton said, noting the building and the courtyard are an important part of Columbia's heritage and Jim Rouse's legacy.
Added Paumier, "Everybody wants to honor (Rouse), but nobody, nobody wants to honor him by keeping this space intact."
Both Paumier and Dorton (Tennenbaum was not at the hearing but he submitted written comments) recalled the courtyard as one of the major public gathering spaces in Columbia during its early years and said they feel Kimco's plans eliminate that space.
"A courtyard is a public space surrounded by buildings," Dorton said. "Once you blow out the longest side of a courtyard, it's no longer a courtyard."
Though Kimco met with the three former Rouse employees several times to discuss its plan, Glazer said they don't agree that the courtyard is lost in their plan, as it keeps two of the existing buildings and the original trees surrounding the fountain area.
"I believe the courtyard is only getting enhanced by what we're proposing," Glazer said.
He said the elimination of the third building increases the courtyard space by 25 percent and increases visibility of the retail space.
The board seemed to agree.
"What this (plan) does is actually opens that courtyard area to the other uses in the center," board member Mary Kay Sigaty, a Columbia Democrat, said.
The center will become "much more of a piece rather than two divided sections," she added.
The other two opponents raised concerns that Kimco's plan would affect the quality of life in nearby neighborhoods.
Maureen Shuttle said she worries about the effect the 70-foot residential building will have on her home and others on Cross Fox Lane that are located directly behind where the building is planned to go.
"We're not going to have so much sunlight and so forth," she said.
At the June 12 hearing, Daniel Griffith, a Wilde Lake resident who lives on Faulkner Ridge Circle, said the plan would destroy the peace and quiet of the neighborhood.
The board's approval clears the way for Kimco to continue through the county land development review process, which will involve traffic studies and school capacity tests to be conducted before final site development approval is granted.
Glazer has said that if all goes well, Kimco could break ground on the project in the early spring of 2013.