Approximately 100 residents filed into the Hawthorn Center in Columbia on Thursday night to ask questions and learn about a study that will recommend future economic uses for eight of Columbia's village centers.
"I think it went well. ... We are off to a good start," said Jane Dembner, chief of Community Building & Open Space for the Columbia Association, who is the lead agency sponsoring the study.
The study, which is also being sponsored by the Howard County Economic Development Authority and the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, will look into the current and future economic viability of eight of Columbia's village centers.
The study will also evaluate at the Snowden River Parkway and Dobbin Road corridor, which is home to a number of restaurants, grocers and other retail outlets.
Dembner said the questions on Thursday were "good questions" and ones that are important to be "answered publicly."
"We heard concerns and interest here. I think the interest is really high. Now we have to look forward, do more analysis and come back to the community with what we have," Dembner said.
However, the real questions, like the recommendations from the study, have yet to be answered.
"I think everybody wants to hear what can help the village centers, particularly those that are not doing well. That's the next stage," said Dembner. "What changes will they recommend? What have they found? Where is the demand? … Those are the kinds of things we are looking for."
The consultant group hired by CA and the county is led by Tom Moriarity, a managing principal at Retail and Development Strategies LLC. According to Dembner, CA is the lead agency conducting the study and is bearing two thirds of the total cost, which is approximately $137,000. The EDA is covering the remaining third.
The next public meeting on the study is scheduled for late March. At that meeting, Moriarity and the consultants will present preliminary findings from the study.