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Preliminary plan for Long Reach Village Center unveiled

Preliminary plan for Long Reach Village Center unveiled
Department of Planning and Zoning Deputy Director Raj Kudchadkar discusses the preliminary draft of the Long Reach Village Center's revitalization plan on Nov. 10 in Columbia. (Staff photo by Andrew Michaels)

After garnering public input throughout the summer, Long Reach Village Board staff presented the preliminary draft of the village center's revitalization plan Tuesday evening, announcing that Howard County will be selling its share of the property to a private developer to analyze the area's potential.

Plans to breath life into the center began last year, following the County Council's vote declaring the empty village center a blight zone. The county later purchased 7.7 acres in October 2014 for $5 million, according to Department of Planning and Zoning Deputy Director Raj Kudchadkar, and spent another $2.5 million in February for the former Safeway grocery store.

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During four community meetings, held by County Executive Allan Kittleman, design firm Morris, Ritchie Associates, who had been involved in the Wilde Lake Village Center revitalization, shared several concepts with the public, including arts-related galleries and centers; a food strip with farmers markets and urban gardens; and a health and wellness center.

"We had over 150 people attend the meetings and over 300 suggestions of what we want to see in Long Reach Village Center, so we've got a lot to work with," Kittleman said.

While the concepts act as an "appendix" of the overall plan, Kudchadkar said the plan discusses the county's objective for the village center's revitalization as required under an urban renewal plan statute.

"The key take away is that this plan is looking at 19.1 acres as the plan area, which is more than the 7.7 acres the county owns," Kudchadkar said. "It's laying out what we can do, not what we must do. We're setting the goal post, more or less, with this plan."

During the meeting at the former Dollar Buys in the village center, about 40 residents gathered as the deputy director said the property will be sold to a private developer through a request for proposal, or RFP, process, allowing the possibility of a public/private partnership. While Kudchadkar said some residents think the plan "overrides" existing requirements, such as having a grocery store, the deputy director added that it actually sets the requirements in place.

"This plan shows [developers] the potential if they're able to acquire neighboring properties," he said. "For example, the Columbia Association owns 5.16 acres and the Columbia Association might want to partner with that private developer and work with them. So, when the plan lays out the fact that we want to increase connectivity or we want more open space, we're looking at all 19 acres to accomplish those objectives."

In addition to discussing potential land uses, the plan will also include the potential techniques to achieve the county's objectives.

"I knew that, together, we could do exciting things," County Councilman Calvin Ball, who represents Columbia, said at the Tuesday gathering. "Now, we've had a lot of challenges recently in Long Reach, but coming together, I know we can write that next best chapter in our community's history."

As a Long Reach resident of seven years, Kudchadkar said he's personally excited about the plan.

"I shopped quite a bit at the village center and used that space," Kudchadkar said. "As we move forward with the revitalization process, there's a lot of potential there."

Kudchadkar said the Department of Planning and Zoning hopes to introduce the plan to the County Council in December with a hearing expected in January 2016.

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