Residents voice opposition to board's support of Hickory Ridge redevelopment plan

Plans to redevelop the Hickory Ridge Village Center drew opposition Monday at a village meeting where residents questioned their board of directors for supporting a developer’s proposal to add a housing component to the project.

Kimco Realty, a New York-based company that owns six of the nine Columbia town centers, is proposing a $70 million redevelopment at Hickory Ridge.

The village board recently drafted a position generally in favor of the plan, though expressing some concern about the height of a proposed apartment building and the number of dwelling units proposed.

The project has been four years in the making and has seen opposition from some residents who believe a redevelopment — and the 230 apartment units that are envisioned as part of it — will cause traffic congestion and lead to an increase in nearby school population.

More than 20 people testified against the plan during the contentious 2 1/2-hour meeting. Among them was Alan Schwartz, a resident and attorney who said he had volunteered to represent community members in opposition to Kimco and the board’s stance on the issue.

Schwartz presented a petition with more than 350 signatures in opposition to the plan and said Kimco’s redevelopment represents a change in the uses allowed for all village centers and “erases the entire models that James Rouse brought to us when he developed Columbia.

“That village center was supposed to be primarily commercial. It will not be if they change it,” he said.

Schwartz argued that proposed apartments would not be compatible with the surrounding the area, which is primarily single-family detached homes.

Representatives of Kimco did not attend Monday’s meeting and did not respond to an email request for comment.

Gregg Schwind, the Hickory Ridge representative on the Columbia Association Board of Directors, said he supports the board’s stance in favor of the Kimco plan because the redevelopment could revitalize the town center, which has room for 21 businesses. The center currently has several vacancies, including a space once occupied by Luna Bella, an Italian restaurant that closed in 2016 after 15 years.

Three residents spoke in approval of the Kimco plan. Jerry Carr said “urbanization… is a common thing today,” and added, “I don’t think, whatever we do… we’re going to get away from that.”

The Hickory Ridge Board of Directors most recent position on the redevelopment expressed support, with some modifications.

Chief among them, the board wants a commitment to limit the number of apartments “to the extent appropriate to support and enhance, but not overwhelm, other uses in the Village Center,” according to a draft document slated to be delivered to the county Zoning Board.

The Zoning Board, comprised of members of the Howard County Council, will ultimately decide on the redevelopment plan.

“The Village Board agrees that some residential units at the Village Center might increase foot traffic which would benefit our merchants, but asks that a lower number of units be considered for approval,” the documents states without proposing any numbers.

Village board chairwoman Allison Sultan said the request for a smaller number of apartments was made based on a survey commissioned by the board in which 46 percent of respondents said they “amenable to some number of apartments.”

Fifty-four percent opposed any number of apartments, the survey found.

The Zoning Board has yet to set a date to hear the case.

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