Council digs into Long Reach Village Center development plans, time line

Kate Magill
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

The County Council worked Monday to better understand the time line and plans for the revitalization of the ailing Long Reach Village Center. The council last met on June 19 to hear from Orchard Development about its plans for the center, as well as listen to concerns from residents.

During Monday's work session, council members asked Orchard President Scott Armiger and Department of Planning and Zoning Deputy Director Amy Gowan for greater clarification on the time line of the project, and how Orchard would be held accountable to deliver on its proposed plans and amenities for the community. If approved by the council, Orchard has agreed to buy the county's portion of the village center for $2.5 million. The county bought the 7.7 acres for $5 million in 2015.

The session included Armiger's explanation of how the revitalization could move forward if Orchard is successful in purchasing the parcels of land at the center currently owned by Deli Town, Richburn Liquors and Howard Research and Development, as well as how plans could be modified if those properties are not bought, saying that the "bulk of the plans" could still be accomplished.

Deli Town and Richburn Liquors are both properties entirely encapsulated by county land, and Armiger said that plans could feasibly be adjusted to work around those parcels if the owners choose not to sell, calling those pieces "holes in the doughnut" of the greater plan.

Armiger emphasized Orchard's commitment to working with the other property owners in the center, including Celebration Church, and said the company had been in conversations with church representatives as recently as last week to continue to have open lines of communication.

He clarified to the council that a design for the center that made use of the church's land was meant to show future redevelopment potential, if the opportunity arose later to procure that space. Armiger said that after initially speaking with representatives from Celebration Church in January, in which they expressed interest in leaving the center, Orchard then drew a plan that showed what that property could potentially be used for if that were to happen.

Armiger said while he is committed to keeping an open dialogue between Orchard and the church as well as other stakeholders, further discussions are "not appropriate" until the company buys the land from the county.

Council members pressed Armiger for greater detail on how these modified plans would work, as members were concerned that later changes could include losing some community amenities. Councilwoman Jen Terrasa said she is concerned that after the council approves the sale of its land to Orchard, it loses control over how the plans move forward.

"I like the proposal that is being presented in these documents," Terrasa said during the meeting. "But what you're telling me is this is just sort of high level conceptual. We don't as a council, as we're disposing of the property, have any way of knowing if this will actually happen."

The next step in the redevelopment time line is for the council to approve the sale of the land to Orchard, which the Department of Planning and Zoning hopes will happen at the July 3 council meeting, so that the county and the developer can enter into a purchase and sale agreement by the end of August.

The sale of the property would then close, according to the proposed time line, in January 2018 after Orchard has performed a due diligence on the property, which would include a market analysis. Orchard would have the option to back out of the agreement during this time before the sale closes.

The next phase of the project's proposed time line would then be the zoning approval process before the Zoning Board, which is made up of the council members serving in a quasi-judicial manner. The proposed time line would have construction begin on the center by the end of 2020, Armiger said during the meeting.

Councilman Calvin Ball called the time line "ambitious," and worried about its feasibility.

"I just want the public to know how ambitious this schedule and time line is," Ball said during the meeting. "Rarely does the Zoning Board work at this pace."

Armiger said in response that he is optimistic that the plan could be completed as projected.

"You have to be somewhat optimistic about the process and about the people involved, and that they're sensible and can move things along in a timely manner," Armiger said. "We're here and we're ready."

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