Columbia Association President Milton Matthews and Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman introduced Bolan Smart Associates consulting firm to the Oakland Mills village board Tuesday evening in announcing a joint partnership in funding a village center feasibility study.
The Washington, D.C.-based firm presented its plans for the study at the Other Barn, making Oakland Mills the fourth village center to undergo revitalization.
Pamela DuBois, Bolan Smart's director of asset and community services, said the firm will study and develop marketing and feasibility plans to refocus the village center, using $50,000 from the county and $25,000 from Columbia Association.
"It's time to give residents a sense of direction," Bolan Smart managing principal Eric Smart said. "We're looking at market and development issues. We know [residents] have been through a lot, both in terms of embracing the community and doing what they can as individuals."
According to county press secretary Andy Barth, the RENEW Howard program will be represented in the revitalization, with $2 million placed in the 2017 fiscal year budget for the neighborhood revitalization program to support aging housing stock in the county.
"As Oakland Mills was one of the earliest built villages, a lot of the housing in this area would qualify for this program," Barth said. "The low-interest loans provided by this program could be used to renovate houses in this village, which would thus help in the overall revitalization efforts of Oakland Mills."
Oakland Mills Village Center opened in 1969.
Matthews said the village centers were created to be "focal points" of each village and try to address residents' needs throughout the community. However, Oakland Mills has fallen behind over time and now needs the community to help bring it into the future.
"Oakland Mills Village Center is not the anchor for the village that it should be and that it once was," the Columbia Association president said. "In addition, the proximity of Oakland Mills to Downtown Columbia means a revitalized village center could benefit further by redevelopment in the downtown area."
Howard County planning and zoning department head Valdis Lazdins said earlier that the study would focus on both commercial and residential options.
Matthews said community leaders advocated for an athletic complex with a 50-meter pool, hockey rink and indoor track.
"It is an option that will be discussed, but it is not the only option on which we will focus," Matthews said. "Columbia Association does have Columbia Ice Rink in Oakland Mills Village Center and will continue to re-invest in that facility."
Columbia Association is also working with the Oakland Mills Community Association, Matthews said, to develop other options that will attract a private developer.
An earlier market study for Columbia's village centers also suggested a new anchor business for Oakland Mills, leaving the increasingly competitive grocery store market behind.
Columbia isn't new to revitalizing its village centers. While construction is underway at Wilde Lake, Columbia Association and county officials continue discussions to revamp Long Reach and Hickory Village centers.
Following its groundbreaking in 2013, construction at Wilde Lake has seen significant progress in plans to include a five-story, approximately 250-unit apartment complex; a CVS pharmacy to replace Crown gas station; and the demolition of the Giant Food building.
Meanwhile, the community saw preliminary plans for Long Reach in November that incorporate arts-related galleries and centers; a food strip with farmers markets and urban gardens; and a health and wellness center.
Property owner Kimco Realty also shared a mixed-use development concept for Hickory Ridge Village Center in March.
Kittleman said the opportunity for revitalization of Oakland Mills will create a team effort between the community and consultants for a successful project.
"It's exciting to see the revitalization effort we've worked on for so long now really getting underway with the kickoff of the feasibility study," Kittleman said. "The new consultant we've selected will work with community members to focus on ideas that work, projects we can deliver and plans that will put Oakland Mills back among the most desirable village centers in Columbia."
As the study begins, Smart said a kick-off community meeting will be held in early June, with findings and development framework prepared by late September or early October and a final presentation by mid-November or early December.