The Howard County Zoning Board voted 3-2 on Wednesday night to deny New York-based Kimco Realty Corp.’s petition to develop a 230-unit apartment building, retail space and a parking garage in the Hickory Ridge Village Center in Columbia.
Zoning board members Deb Jung, Liz Walsh and David Yungmann voted to deny the petition. Opel Jones and Chair Christiana Rigby voted not to deny the petition.
Kimco did not return requests for comment.
Following the meeting, Walsh called the vote “a wow occurrence,” and said it was “a huge win for all the neighbors that came out and took the time to testify and present evidence.”
Speaking as a resident, Lisa Dean, chair of the Hickory Ridge village board, said the zoning board decision was a “great victory.”
“Village centers are meant to be the heart and soul of the community, a gathering place,” Dean said. “Apartments are not appropriate for our village center.”
Hickory Ridge, which includes the neighborhoods of Hawthorn, Clemens Crossing and Clary’s Forest, has more than 4,700 housing units and more than 13,000 residents. It is the second-largest village in Columbia. Kimco’s plan for the 29-year-old village center was introduced five years ago and included the construction of three buildings for retail along with the apartment building and garage.
During several public hearings and via written testimony to the board, many Hickory Ridge residents expressed concerns about traffic and school overcrowding if the redevelopment plan was approved.
On Wednesday, the four-story, 230-unit apartment building proved to be the sticking point for the zoning board.
Evidence presented by the village center board and other concerned residents “made the case extremely well that this plan, as it stands right now, the residential portion overwhelms the commercial portion in every way: size, bulk height, intensity, density,” Jung said. “Really, there was nothing left to the imagination I think on this one.”
Jung said the area is “already overwhelmed with apartments.”
“There are more than 805 units within 1 mile of the village center that are pending, built or in the process of being built right now,” she said.
Yungmann said the number of apartments proposed was unacceptable, adding that the apartment structures would “essentially wrap” the site.
“This is not an apartment area,” he said. “Any significant number of apartments, I think, is going to overwhelm the area.”
Rigby argued that apartment units already exist in the area and said that Hickory Ridge includes more than single-family homes.
“Apartments have always been part of Columbia’s plan,” Rigby said. “Apartments do not equal urban.”
Yungmann responded that apartments are not in “every single neighborhood of Columbia” and that if that were the case, apartments would already exist in the village center.
After learning that no modifications to the plan could be passed to advance the issue, Rigby made a motion to deny the petition, which was seconded by Jung.
Deb McPherson, co-chair of the Hickory Ridge Village board, was “thrilled” with the zoning board’s decision.
“We feel we did our best to represent the voices of the residents who didn’t want these apartments to go up,” McPherson said. “This was a big issue. A lot of people were watching this from afar. We are so thankful.”
Alan Schwartz, a Hickory Ridge resident and a lawyer who represented some of the residents opposing the development, said he was “gratified” by the vote.
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“The overall opposition to this was astounding,” he said. “A group of residents went up against a multibillion-dollar company and stood firm. I had the good fortune to help them.”