Last week, I joined Long Reach Village residents to unveil plans for their village center, one of Columbia's oldest centers. Two years ago, we embarked on an intensive, community-driven process to help shape its future.
Howard County purchased the Long Reach Village Center prior to my election as county executive. While I generally do not support having the county purchase property for nongovernmental purposes, I have been committed to ensuring that the village center becomes a model for not just Columbia, but for the state of Maryland.
That's why we reached out to the Long Reach Village Board and the community and asked them to drive the planning process to make this a truly community-directed redevelopment plan.
Over the course of five well-attended community meetings, we received input from more than 350 residents and stakeholders. At the first meeting alone, residents offered more than 300 ideas for the center.
Suggestions included a dog park, daycare center, yoga studio, music store, Amish market and movie theater. Some residents wanted restaurants, others wanted entertainment, while others wanted fitness and recreational options.
Through those ideas, we developed the Reimagine Long Reach Request for Proposals and last week Orchard Development was selected as the master developer. As one resident commented at the announcement, the company "nailed it" when it came to fulfilling the needs and wants of the community as outlined in the 2016 Reimagine Long Reach Plan and the 2012 Village Center Master Plan.
This process stressed collaboration on every level — from the first community meeting through the efforts of the seven-member evaluation committee, which included three residents. This hardworking group spent dozens of hours reviewing four development plans submitted in response to the request for proposals due March 1.
The plan put forth by Orchard Development was the unanimous favorite of the evaluation committee, reflecting Orchard's long standing in the county, deep understanding of the area and addressing the goals set by the community.
Chairman and CEO Earl Armiger remarked, "We don't typically go after RFPs. But when we saw this, we thought, we could really make something special here. We feel the new center will be extraordinary when completed."
Orchard offered $2.5 million to purchase 7.7 acres owned by the county and hopes to close on the sale by early 2018. The developer also entered discussions with owners of parcels not owned by the county that could ultimately be included in the redevelopment.
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The plan includes a village green bordering Tamar Drive, envisioned as a focal point for community events and operated by the Columbia Association. This plan includes a daycare center, medical office space, retail space and a dog park.
The "food incubator" will allow local food vendors and chefs to produce meals for local consumption similar to Belvedere Square or R House in Baltimore. Another feature — the three-story, hydroponic vertical garden — will offer an indoor garden providing fresh produce to the community year-round. Orchard anticipates the garden as a workforce development site.
Fifty-two for-sale townhomes, 132 units of market-rate, multi-family housing and 120 housing units for seniors will ensure the center stays active. Having a thriving, vibrant village center once again is what the community asked for.
"The process the county undertook has attracted a great, community-centered redevelopment," said Village Board Chair Nina Basu, who also served on the evaluation committee. "Orchard's redevelopment will make this a vibrant community gathering space and amenity."
The proposal will be reviewed by the Planning Board May 18 and then move on to the County Council. Orchard expects to move the first businesses and property owners in by early 2020.
Allan Kittleman, a Republican, is Howard's county executive.