Early talks of redevelopment at the Hickory Village Center were met with mixed responses Wednesday evening when property owner Kimco Realty shared its mixed-use development concept — including both residential and retail space — at Atholton High School in Columbia during the first pre-submission meeting.
Kimco vice president Greg Reed said he first presented the company's initial concept to the village board in December 2015 after the owner filed a notice of intent to develop the Hickory Ridge Village Center, which opened in 1992.
The conversation continued in February during the village center's concept planning workshop, required by the Howard County Zoning Board before Kimco can amend the final development plan.
"As any property owner, especially when you're dealing with commercial property, you always need to be looking at your assets, figuring out how to evolve with the market, times and how you can position them for the future," Reed said.
Kimco expressed its interest to incorporate both retail and residential space into the 14.16-acre center's future design, Reed said, allowing for a solid customer base to remain in the area, something that Wilde Lake Village Center lost after the Giant grocery store's closure in 2006.
"Kimco basically waited until Giant was gone and then the center had bigger issues. They were magnified when we lost Giant," Reed said. "We're trying to be proactive in our approach and look at all the village centers we own and see what we can do today to avoid the situation we got to in Wilde Lake."
In addition to Wilde Lake, other Kimco properties include Dorsey's Search, Harper's Choice, Kings Contrivance, River Hill and Columbia Crossing, according to the company's website.
Residential space in Hickory Ridge Village Center would act as an anchor alongside the Giant, Reed said, which the company hopes will stabilize the center for the next 20 to 30 years. Three new retail buildings – each approximately 8,000 square feet – are proposed near the village center's edges, with the current 30,000 square feet of retail space across from the Giant relocating to the new structures.
After demolishing and replacing the original retail space with a parking lot and green space, Reed said the plan proposes between 280 and 300 residential units in a five-story apartment building in the old parking lot located between Giant and Cedar Lane, along with a parking garage.
"That would include an additional 10,000 square feet of retail on the first floor," Reed said.
Roger Lawson and his wife, Mary, 25-year residents of Hickory Ridge, attended Wednesday night's meeting. Roger Lawson said his concerns lie with the parking garage planned for the residential units.
"Where is the parking going to be? They said there will be a parking level above the commercial floor," Lawson said. "Well, there are going to be 270 apartments. You're going to put all those parking spaces on one level? I don't think so."
During the evening's presentation, many community members shouted claims that money was behind Kimco's plan for residential units. Lawson agreed.
"They claim [the village center] is not viable the way it is for Giant to stay; that Giant will not renew the lease," he said. "That upgrade means more people shopping. I can understand why they want apartments."
Caroline and Chuck Sherman said they've lived in the area for nearly 40 years, watching ongoing upgrades and additions to their community. While the Hickory Ridge Village Center isn't perfect, Caroline Sherman said, they both shop at the Giant and other local businesses.
"I think the apartments are good for something to come to and people will live there," Sherman said. "It doesn't matter to me one iota. There is still plenty of traffic there and I don't think any apartments would detract from that. If you don't change things you have an inner city."
Jessamine Duvall, Hickory Ridge village manager, said Kimco agreed last month with the prospects discussed in the Village Center Community Plan, created by the village center's visualization committee to highlight the area's boundaries, existing conditions, recommendations and goals.
"The board's goal is going to be to get whatever plan comes to fruition to adhere to our wishes as much as possible," Duvall said. "At this point, the village board's stance is what's in the village center community plan. Obviously, the village wouldn't want the center to fall into disrepair or anything like that. We want it to be a thriving village center. The question is: What's the best way to do that?"
The community plan includes a more visible village center, Duvall said, with an interest in maintaining retail space.
"In our plan, it states that residential could be considered, but the thought was that that would be on the outer part of the village center and secondary to retail," she said. "Their plan, as it stands now, does not match with our village center community plan in a few significant ways. My hope is that as the plan changes and evolves, it will come more in line with that plan."
A series of small meetings have been scheduled between the first and second pre-submission meeting, Reed said, where groups of 10 or fewer will meet with Kimco and village board representatives to share their questions and concerns. Although the process may take three to five weeks, Reed said it allows everyone to provide input before Kimco moves forward.
"Our goal will be to be in harmony with the village plan as much as we possibly can be," Reed said. "There are a lot of different voices being heard right now. In redevelopment, you can never make everybody happy. The goal is to make as many people happy as possible."
The Howard County Design Advisory Panel, Department of Planning and Zoning and the Zoning Board must approve the project prior to construction, which Reed said might take three to four years.
Additional information is available at the Hickory Village website at hickoryridgevillage.org