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Residents divided on revised plan for Hickory Ridge Village Center's redevelopment

Officials of Kimco Realty on Wednesday unveiled this revised plan for the redevelopment of the Hickory Ridge Village Center, in west Columbia.
Officials of Kimco Realty on Wednesday unveiled this revised plan for the redevelopment of the Hickory Ridge Village Center, in west Columbia. (Photo courtesy of Kimco Realty)

Kimco Realty's decision to continue to propose high-density residential space in a revised plan for the redevelopment of the Hickory Ridge Village Center drew divided responses from residents and village center merchants Wednesday night. Greg Reed, Kimco's vice president of development, revealed the company's second redevelopment design during a community meeting at Howard Community College's Duncan Hall.

Roughly 225 Hickory Ridge residents waited inside the hall's Kittleman Room at 7 p.m. to hear the revisions to the plan, which Kimco officials drafted in the wake of holding 19 small group meetings between March and May in which they gathered community input on the plan.

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The company's first concept for the redevelopment was presented to the village board in December 2015 after Kimco filed a notice of intent to develop the area, proposing 280 to 300 residential units in a five-story apartment building. That plan also included three new retail buildings near the village center's edges, with retail space across from the Giant relocating to the new structures. Kimco officials said they proposed residential development to enhance the vibrancy of the village center, bringing more walk-in traffic, and stabilizing the shops for the surrounding community.

Early talks of redevelopment at the Hickory Village Center were met with mixed responses Wednesday evening at Atholton High School during the first pre-submission meeting when property owner Kimco Realty shared its mixed-use development concept, including both residential and retail space.

However, many residents were unaware of the plan until the first pre-submission community meeting to gather public input in March, when hundreds voiced disapproval. That concern led Kimco officials to hold the community meetings.

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The revised plan Reed unveiled Wednesday adjusts the residential space to 230 units inside a four-story apartment building off Cedar Lane. After learning that Kimco was continuing to propose residential space in its revised plan, residents and merchants who spoke at the meeting said they were either in full support of the proposal or in complete disagreement with it.

Apartments would cause more unnecessary traffic, as well as devalue neighboring properties, said resident Roger Lawson, the leader of the Neighbors of the Village of Hickory Ridge committee, a community group that formed to oppose residential space in a redeveloped village center.

The Hickory Ridge Village Board discussed issuing a survey in June to gather the community's feedback on the plan after members of the committee presented a petition to the board against Kimco and its plan. The board plans to release the survey following the second pre-submission meeting.

Lawson's group maintains that Kimco's proposal is not in compliance with the 2011 village center's community plan, which states that the village center property should be redeveloped only for commercial use with limited residential space. However, Valdis Lazdins, the director of Howard County's Department of Planning and Zoning, stated in June that the village community plan is used as a guideline in the redevelopment process, with no binding factor that states Kimco must follow the plan.

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At Wednesday night's meeting, Reed said Kimco hired architectural land planning firm Hord Coplan Macht in May to better incorporate community concerns into the revised plan. With surrounding competition on the rise, including the Columbia Wegman's and Safeway, Reed said it's important that Hickory Ridge have its own successful anchor: the existing Giant grocery store. Incorporating retail and residential space into the center would allow a solid customer base to flourish, he said.

Unlike the previous design, all buildings are now closer together, Reed said, keeping the Giant in place and adding a small avenue for cars to travel between two new retail buildings, one of which would have retail on all four sides.

The proposed residential space will feature market luxury apartments similar to those in the Metropolitan, in downtown Columbia, Reed said, excluding subsidized or affordable housing. Pricing will compare to the units in the Wilde Lake Village Center, ranging in monthly rates between $1580 for one bedroom and nearly $3,000 for three bedrooms. Inner residential parking will be at the center of the apartment structure, with a strip of retail on the first floor.

Nearly two dozen residents of the newly formed Neighbors of the Village of Hickory Ridge committee stood before the village board Monday evening to present their petition, with the support of over 240 residents' signatures, against Kimco Realty's first redevelopment plan for the village center.

"I know [the apartments] are going to devalue our property," Connie Rubler, a 30-year Hickory Ridge resident, said at the meeting. "I'm appalled and I'm really upset about it. The apartments do not belong there. They're a total eyesore."

Rubler said she and her husband, Andy Bates, who live on Braeburn Road near the village center, have witnessed an increase in traffic over the years, adding that the problem will only worsen with impending residential growth.

However, Decanter Fine Wines owner Eric Stein said the center needs apartments that would add walk-in traffic to keep the area commercially active. Stein has operated his store in the center for 20 years.

"My business is 2,500 feet from my [home's] front door," Stein said. "My home value is the same as your home value. And I will put that value any day of the week on a thriving, successful village center, before you look at one that's not doing any business."

Kimco also has proposed a larger village green area between the Giant and one of the other retail buildings, Reed said. Kimco and Hord Coplan Macht representatives are talking about "sinking" the green space lower than the surrounding buildings, making it more suitable for potential playground and performance space.

Kimco officials will conduct a second pre-submission meeting in September, with the zoning process to amend the preliminary development plan going into the spring of 2017. The company will continue to hear community input.

Reed said the project would not be completed until at least 2022.

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