Nearly two dozen residents of a newly formed committee called Neighbors of the Village of Hickory Ridge stood before the village board Monday evening to present their petition against Kimco Realty's first redevelopment plan for the village center.
Since Kimco's first plan was released, community members have voiced disapproval of the company's proposal to bring a five-story apartment building to the village center, leading Kimco engineers to start from scratch to develop a second plan and address the public outcry. Although Neighbors of the Village of Hickory Ridge asked the village board to comment on Kimco's first plan, board members declined.
Led by community advocate Roger Lawson, a 25-year Hickory Ridge resident, the committee's petition urges the village board to relay the residents' disagreements to Kimco, stating Kimco's development plans do not fit the specifications in the village's community plan that was developed by the board in December 2011. That community plan places restrictions on proposed residential space and the design of the overall village center.
The petition includes signatures from more than 240 village residents.
Former Rouse employee Al Edwards presented the petition to the board during its monthly meeting June 20. Edwards is currently an engineer in charge of planning and construction for Columbia Association.
"We are well aware that Kimco is assembling a new design team for a second plan," Edwards said. "We are not here to discuss that first Kimco plan. We are aware that the village board recently publicized statements, stating that this village board reserved comment on the development until Kimco produces another plan."
In response to the board's reservation, chairwoman Michelle Woods said the board did not want to "take a position" until Kimco revealed a definitive plan.
"The main reason is because the board has agreed to undertake the expense of actually mailing surveys to every resident in the village because, when we take our position, we want to be able to tell the County Council that we are speaking for the entire village," Woods said.
Beginning with an initial concept presentation last December, Kimco representatives have shared plans with the village board for the future of the Hickory Ridge Village Center, which opened in 1992.
While the village center currently caters toward retail, Kimco discussed incorporating residential space into the area's 14.16 acres to enhance and establish the center's customer base; a dwindling factor that contributed to Wilde Lake Village Center's demise in 2006 when its Giant grocery store closed.
The company proceeded with concept planning workshops in February and March to amend the final development plan, as required by the Howard County Zoning Board. However, many residents continue expressing concerns with Kimco's proposals, as some fume over potential residential parking congestion as well as its limited alignment with the village's Community Plan developed in 2011.
Joan Lancos, the board's land use liaison, said Kimco recently concluded its small group meetings of 10 or fewer, where representatives interacted with residents and village board members, , listening to any questions or concerns.
"They had 19 meetings. I attended seven of them. Each one had their own flavor," Lancos said. "It became pretty apparent a third of the way through [the meetings] that they all had a theme [with residents]: 'We don't want apartments. We don't like the Giant. We're worried about the parking. We like the Avenue.'"
Lawson said the community plan provides an essential guideline in the center's redevelopment.
"When you read that plan, you recognize that what the board has approved, so far, is not compliant with the 2011 community plan," Lawson said. "For example, what is identified as 'Area A' in the village plan states that the residential usage is only permitted as a secondary use to retail. The new plan should identify the retail as a primary use and it does not."
Lawson referred to statements made by Kimco vice president Greg Reed in March's first pre-submission meeting, when Reed said that the residential space – between 280 to 300 units in a five-story apartment building in the old parking lot located between Giant and Cedar Lane – would become a secondary anchor alongside Giant.
Reed previously stated the complex, and its accompanying parking garage, would stabilize the center for the next 20 to 30 years.
Three new retail buildings – each approximately 8,000 square feet – were also 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.
"The community plan restricts that kind of residential development on what is essentially commercial property," Lawson said. "We're not opposed to redevelopment. We actually encourage Kimco to make improvements to the Hickory Ridge Village Center to bring in more retail and enhance the center by bringing in more anchor stores."
The village board's community plan differed quite a bit, Lancos added, incorporating a three-story apartment building that would surround the village center property, rather than Kimco's proposed five-story apartments on the property.
"Our plan also said we didn't want pod sites, so that's another thing that didn't match," she said. "Our plan indicated that residential space would be secondary. When we did that [community] plan, we never thought residential would be on the property."
In a phone interview Monday, Valdis Lazdins, planning director for Howard County's Department of Planning and Zoning, said they have not been part of the redevelopment's conceptual phase.
"Except for any early concept, I really have not seen anything," Lazdins said.
However, he said, while the village community plan is used as a guideline in the redevelopment process, there's no binding factor that states Kimco must follow the plan.
"It's a plan and the plan is as a guideline. It's early, so whatever the residents may think is really their prerogative."
Howard County communications director Deidre McCabe echoed Lazdins' comments, stating that "it's probably not going to benefit from anybody in the county executive's office commenting prematurely on this plan."
"I certainly understand why the residents want to have their voices heard and have interaction with Kimco," she said.
A representative of Kimco Realty did not respond for comment as of Monday evening.
At the conclusion of the meeting, village board vice chairman Tom Louden said the board would prepare a village-wide survey to gather resident feedback.
"If we find out people support Kimco, we have no choice but to support that plan," Louden said to the crowd gathered at Monday's meeting. "I think it's great that you all got together and voiced an opinion of the community, but the survey will tell us what we need to know."