Long Reach Village Center

Howard County government announced plans Tuesday to purchase the majority of the Long Reach Village Center from aloof landlord Americas Realty. (File / January 8, 2014)

Howard County government took the first step last week toward purchasing and redeveloping the Long Reach Village Center by introducing legislation designating the area as an urban renewal zone.

The county announced its plans to buy a portion of the property, currently owned by Long Reach Village Associates, a spin-off of Pikesville-based Americas Realty, at a Long Reach Village Board meeting earlier this month.

“The Long Reach community has long been concerned over the decline of the Village Center. We’ve heard those concerns and can’t wait any longer to act,” said County Executive Ken Ulman in a news release distributed last week. “Vacancies, security and maintenance are real issues, and we now have a unique opportunity to make progress.”

In order to purchase the property, the county must designate the area an urban renewal zone through the passage of legislation. The law is required because it is a conflict for government to own commercial property within its jurisdiction. No purchase price was available because of ongoing  negotiations.

The legislation, which was submitted to the Howard County Council on Thursday, Jan. 23, will likely be vetted by the council next month, with possible approval coming in March.

Ulman said the goal of the project is to create “a sustainable and vibrant community focal point that could serve as a model for future redevelopment in Columbia. The release said Ulman is asking the planning process to evaluate creating an arts district on the site with Howard County Arts Council relocating to the center.

“The arts can be a powerful tool in community development and revitalization. The arts activate and enliven declining neighborhoods by bringing people together, by creating a welcoming sense of place, and by instilling a sense of community pride that is at the core of community building,” said Coleen West, executive director of the Howard County Arts Council, in a statement.

“We look forward to working on plans for new art space and a possible new home in a diverse community that is more accessible to both artists and visitors.”

According to the release, the county plans to use an architectural and engineering firm to assist in conducting a planning process that will include community outreach.

Celebration Church, located nearby, is also pursuing purchasing and redeveloping space in the center. The church is looking to expand into the former space occupied by Safeway and most recently the Family Market.

“It is gratifying that the county is interested in this important project and we look forward to working together,” said Celebration Pastor Robbie Davis. “Our congregation is committed to making investments that will improve the community, and we are gratified that the county is doing the same.”

County Council member Calvin Ball, whose district includes the village, and Karen Hitcho, chair of the Long Reach Village Board, praised the project.

Ball said: “This is an exciting time, and I am pleased that we are in a position to respond to the community’s needs and build on the strength of Long Reach – Columbia’s largest village. ... Long Reach needs and deserves a thriving center, and I think the county can play a role in making that happen.

Hitcho said: “We are pleased the county is taking this step. ... The decline of the center has been evident for some time and this is an opportunity to turn that around.”