'Fundamental difference' remains over Hickory Ridge redevelopment

Kate Magill
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

The owner of Hickory Ridge Village Center continued to press forward with its proposal to build 230 apartments as part of a mixed-used project that has been challenged by neighbors who say the apartment building would be too large.

“We believe apartments are critical to the future success of Hickory Ridge,” said Greg Reed, a vice president of Kimco Realty, the center’s owner and developer, at Thursday night’s meeting of the county’s five-member Planning Board, which is reviewing the project.

“If you look at Columbia over the last few years, there’s been a lot of added competition in grocery stores and shopping opportunities and it’s going to get more competitive with downtown [Columbia]. We think adding mixed units and high-end apartments gives our retailers a captive market,” Reed said.

Kimco, which owns six of Columbia’s nine village centers including the recently redeveloped Wilde Lake Village Center, has proposed a $70 million mixed-use retail and residential center. After the project went before the county’s Design Advisory Panel in February 2017, Reed said the company revised the plans to include clearer parking signs, increased landscaping and stormwater management plans.

Despite the changes, the neighborhood’s civic association, the Hickory Village Board, has criticized the project since its inception in 2015 and last November issued a formal statement opposing the plans. Among other things, the board questions the height of the four-story apartment building, the urban-style architectural design and the configuration of the proposed green space in the center, which the board states would limit safe pedestrian areas.

Columbia resident Greg Desroches said at the meeting that the proposed residential building would overwhelm the retail in the center, and was not in keeping with the community’s purpose and vision to be a suburban, single-family home area. Others said they believed Kimco was exaggerating the need to drastically change the center.

Reed said that while the center is not financially suffering, the changes are vital to ensure the center can keep pace with retail competition.

“I really feel that what we’ve heard from them tonight and what they’ve attempted to sell to you is a fairy tale,” Desroches said.

Reed said that the company is willing to work with the board and other community members to create a space that works for everyone but conceded Kimco and the board have a “fundamental difference” in their approaches to the space.

At Thursday’s hearing, the Planning Board heard presentations from several members of Kimco’s architectural and engineering team about its vision for the center. They described how they wished to create a center made up of a “connection of individual pieces,” to help break up the scale of the buildings and better blend in with the surrounding community, which includes using two architectural facades between the one-story retail buildings and the four-story residential building.

Planning Board members asked the Kimco team few questions on Thursday, and did not focus their attention on the scale of the apartment building, instead asking about smaller detail issues including stormwater management, landscape plans along Freetown Lane, potential playground space and where trash receptacles will be kept.

Kimco’s team said there are plans for trees to be planted along the exterior road on Freetown Lane to act as a buffer from the surrounding area. Reed said green space within the center will help with management of water runoff.

Columbia resident Susan Clock testified that she “favored progress,” and was excited for the new future of the center. She said she’s been unsettled by some community members’ opposition to the apartment building and its potential residents.

“Quite frankly seeing the center revitalized before it’s on its last legs is in my best interest as a property owner,” Clock said.

The board, which serves in an advisory role, postponed its work session and any recommendations until its Jan. 18 meeting.

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