Howard council approves feasibility study for Oakland Mills, funding for new food bank

Kittleman testifies at FY16 budget hearing

The Howard County Council voted Monday to approve funding for two one-time projects proposed by County Executive Allan Kittleman.

Columbia's Village of Oakland Mills will get $50,000 for a feasibility study to look at revitalization options for the aging neighborhood, and the Community Action Council, a local nonprofit, will receive $290,000 to help buy space for a new food bank.


Both projects will be funded with money from the fiscal year 2015 budget. Kittleman and Budget Director Holly Sun said last month that higher-than-expected tax revenues collected this summer have boosted the county's general fund coffers by about $4 million.

The feasibility study will be a comprehensive market assessment and financial analysis of the possibilities for redeveloping Oakland Mills, according to Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning Director Valdis Lazdins, who told councilmembers last week that the goal was to "find a perspective that is grounded in reality rather than just another vision for a village center." Some members of the community, as well as local sports teams, have expressed interest in turning the village center into a sports destination, with an ice rink, 50 meter swimming pool and indoor track.

"I think this is an opportunity to try something new," Councilman Calvin Ball, a Democrat who represents Oakland Mills, said before voting in favor of the funding. "We all want to see Oakland Mills succeed."

But councilmembers also emphasized involving village center property owners in any redevelopment planning.

"I think it's important to remember that the only way this can work is if the property owners are willing to do it," said Council Chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty, a Democrat from west Columbia.

"I would expect that the Oakland Mills Village Board and leadership would be doing everything they can to work with the various property owners that are part of the area there," said Councilman Greg Fox, a Republican from Fulton. "We could spend $50,000, be in a position where we have a great plan…. But without buy-in from stakeholders, it's money and time... that ends up being wasted, and I just would hate to see that."

The $290,000 allotted to the CAC matches a state grant awarded this year to help the nonprofit purchase a new space for its food bank, which has outgrown its current location off of Route 108. At 8,000 square feet, the food bank's new headquarters would nearly triple the size of the current building, which is 2,700 square feet.

The funding for both projects was approved unanimously, 4-0. Councilman Jon Weinstein was absent.