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Kittleman approves sale of Long Reach Village Center

A rendering of the proposed plan for the redeveloped Long Reach Village Center in Columbia.
A rendering of the proposed plan for the redeveloped Long Reach Village Center in Columbia. (File art)

County Executive Allan Kittleman on Monday approved Orchard Development's purchase and sale agreement for the Long Reach Village Center.

The sale is a step forward in the redevelopment process for the long struggling village center to be transformed into a new community hub, a project that has been ongoing since the county bought the property in 2014. Orchard's designs for the new center include a village green space, retail space, more than 250 housing units and 50 town homes.

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"We have a developer who is local, who really cares about Howard County, who will make it ... something people will all be proud of," Kittleman said. "The Long Reach community has waited a long time for this."

Kittleman approved the sale of the 7.7-acre property to Orchard for $3.4 million, higher than the previously projected $2.5 million price tage.

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Amy Gowan, deputy director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, said the higher price was the result of a shift in the timeline for the Zoning Board approval process. The property will now not be transferred to Orchard until after the project has been approved by the board, making it a more "secure and predictable" process for the developer, Gowan said.

The property is not currently zoned for residential units, so having the center rezoned to allow for residential development increased the value of the land, according to Orchard Development President Scott Armiger. He said the new deal took some "push and pull" between the company and the county, but that the new price is still "reasonable."

"I think the county saw an opportunity there and they grabbed it and we kind of went along with it," Armiger said.

The executive's approval of the sale is the latest in a string of steps that need to happen before Orchard can break ground on the center. The developer is in the midst of a due diligence period, including a market analysis. Orchard has the option to back out of the agreement during this time before the sale closes.

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Now that Kittleman has approved the sale, Armiger said a next step for the developer is to begin more serious discussions with owners of two other properties at the village center, Deli Town and Richburn Liquors, about selling their portions of the land. Armiger said he is hopeful the two owners will agree to the sale, but that if not, plans for the project could still work.

The official close of the sale and zoning approval process is slated to take approximately a year, with the first buildings, possibly the town homes, anticipated to be completed in 2020, according to Armiger.

Construction for the village green, however, could begin as early as next summer, Armiger said, with a project timeline of only three or four months.

The expedited completion of the green was another aspect of the recent negotiations between the county and Orchard, Gowan said.

"Starting the village green would show a lot of good faith and get the community excited earlier," Armiger said.

The timeline for the project has been met with skepticism from some county officials, including Councilman Calvin Ball, who called the schedule "ambitious" at a council meeting this summer. While Gowan said the project's timeline is in fact ambitious, she said it is feasible to complete the process on schedule.

Orchard will host two community meetings this fall to discuss its plans for the center as part of the Village Center Community Planning Process, Gowan said. No dates have been released yet for those meetings.

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