The Howard County Zoning Board has given its blessing to a redevelop plan for the 44-year-old, blighted Long Reach Village Center in Columbia.
The approval by members of the County Council, who also sit as the Zoning Board, capped a protracted debate over a proposal by Orchard Development Corp. — and also beat a deadline that had threatened to stall the decision until after the November general election.
Officials said approval of the concept plan is a major step toward completing a sale of the center to Orchard Development. In September, County Executive Allan Kittleman announced an agreement with the company to purchase the 7.7-acre parcel for $3.4 million. The pact calls for the company to deliver a village green for community use during early stages of the project.
The concept includes at least 70,000 square feet of retail, restaurant, community and office space; 132 multi-family housing units, 110 senior housing units, 73 townhouses, structured and surface parking and public spaces a village green, plaza and square.
It also has a provision for an innovative “vertical garden,” though the developer can construct a comparable amenity instead if parties agree the garden isn’t feasible.
The board’s 4-1 approval — with County Councilwoman Jen Terrasa casting the dissenting vote — came after Orchard officials met with board members Monday, huddled with Long Reach Village Board on Tuesday to refine aspects of the plan, then came back to the zoning board Wednesday for a verdict.
“This entire process is a great example of how a developer and the community can work together," said Nina Basu, chair of the Long Reach Village Board, in a press release from the county.
Basu, who testified at Wednesday’s meeting in support of the deal, said the community supported an earlier concept plan but worked with Orchard when the company sought flexibility on certain aspects.
“We met with the developer several times, and we worked out minimum standards that the community could accept,” she said in the release.
The final plan was largely what had been discussed earlier, but includes some language related to boundaries and also to include economic “incubators” as a permitted use.
The county purchased the Long Reach center in 2014 with the goal of revitalizing it. In the county release, Kittleman said the concept renovation plan is “innovative, economically sustainable and encompasses key components requested by the community.”
Scott Armiger, president of Orchard Development, thanked the board for hearing the case prior to the June election cycle.
In October, the board had announced it would not hear any zoning cases after mid-April in order to provide enough time to finish existing cases before June 26 — a deadline that’s imposed due to the impending primary election. That delay would have pushed a decision beyond the November election, until a new County Council is seated.
Kittleman and others pressed for a decision before that deadline, and the board ultimately agreed.
The developers say they hope to see the first new construction at the center in 2020.
This article has been updated.