As the plan to redevelop the Wilde Lake Village Center, the oldest in Columbia, has evolved over the past four years, so, too, have residents' opinions on it.
Concessions and compromises have been made both by Wilde Lake residents and the village center's owner Kimco Realty Corp. The plans now before the Howard County Zoning Board, the County Council sitting on zoning matters, reflect those changes, including far fewer apartments and an expanded, better-landscaped courtyard.
"What we've created here through a lot of input, through a lot of different sources … is probably the best plan we've had in the last four years," Geoff Glazer, Kimco's vice president of development for the mid-Atlantic northeast region, told the board Tuesday, June 12.
Glazer said he doesn't expect the plan to change any more as it moves through the county process for final approval.
"If everything goes well," Glazer said, pausing to knock on the wooden desk in front of him, "we believe we'll be in good shape ... to break ground here in the early spring of 2013."
Wilde Lake Business Trust, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kimco Realty, presented its redevelopment petition to the Zoning Board June 12
In 2008, when Kimco first announced its redevelopment plan for Wilde Lake, it proposed tearing down the existing commercial and office buildings in the village center to make room for 500 upscale apartments and new commercial and office space.
Dozens of residents opposed the proposal, largely because it did not include plans for a grocery store to replace the Giant that closed in 2006. Residents also objected to the proposed number of residential units and Kimco's plan to eliminate the two existing buildings and the courtyard they sandwich — an area many see as the cornerstone of the center.
"Many of those people that were opposed to this project in the early stages are (now) supportive," Glazer said Tuesday.
The plan Kimco presented to the Zoning Board June 12 still does not include a grocery store. Glazer said the area can not successfully support one, especially as Wegmans and others move into the same market.
Residents have warmed to the idea of not having a typical grocery store chain as the anchor in Wilde Lake, as is the case in most of the other villages, five of which are also owned by Kimco.
Under the plan, 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.
The latest plan also proposes a maximum of 250 apartments — half of the original number Kimco tossed around.
Glazer said he sees the residences, which will include a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, attracting empty nesters and young professionals.
"We don't see this as a use that's going to be heavily family-oriented," he said.
The residential building is designed to wrap around a five-story parking garage. Earlier versions of the plan showed an underground parking garage.
The total number of parking spaces proposed as a part of the redevelopment is 697, plus an additional 90 Kimco is including for the Columbia Association's swim center, according to Adam Volanth, the civil engineer on the project.
Though most of the existing buildings will be demolished as a part of the redevelopment, the two that sandwich the courtyard will remain. Glazer said the plan increases the courtyard by 25 percent and adds a lot of landscaping, an element the center is currently lacking.
All of the design plans Kimco presented to the board had already been approved by the village board's architectural committee except for the drugstore design, which Glazer said he expects to submit in the next two to four months after he wraps up final negotiations with the interested tenant.
Glazer said that while it was hard for him to say out loud, the public input and various changes ultimately created a better plan.
"There were some ugly days in the process," he said. "But I will tell you when we're all said and done this is an exciting project for us corporately."
Opponents to the plan are scheduled to present their arguments June 20 at 7 p.m. The Zoning Board is expected to reach its conclusion that evening.
Daniel Griffith, a Wilde Lake resident who lives on Faulkner Ridge Circle, did give a brief opening statement Tuesday for the opposition, which is not presenting a coordinated effort or employing an attorney.
"I moved here because of the peace and quiet. ... Why are we trying to change this? A few people are going to make mega-bucks, but everyone else is going to get hurt," Griffith said.
If the Zoning Board approves the preliminary plans, Kimco will continue through the county process, which will involve traffic studies and school capacity tests to be conducted before final site development approval is granted.