River Hill yearning for one-of-a-kind shopping Some say they want the somewhat exotic, but will they get it?


Chicken or burgers -- or something more exotic?

If River Hill residents have their way, their new village center will contain ethnic family restaurants and personalized, one-of-a-kind shops with fresh produce, seafood and gourmet baked goods. But it remains to be seen whether they will get the shops on their wish list.

Residents had the chance in a recent survey to state their preferences for shops and services tenants at the center, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 1997.

Although only 10 percent of the 600 surveys distributed by the River Hill Community Association were returned, those who responded had definite views about the center, said Jennifer A. Blake, a Village Board member who created the survey with Liz Buckley, marketing manager of Columbia Management Inc.

"Residents were concerned that we not duplicate a typical center, but that we kind of stretch beyond that," Ms. Blake said. "Given the income level, it seemed to me there could be a little different market right now because of the demographics of this particular area; the dual income household and educated population."

Prices for single-family homes in River Hill -- the last of Columbia's 10 villages -- start in the $200,000 range but quickly increase to more than $300,000.

Market considerations will play an important part in the Rouse Co.'s choice of vendors. Applications from prospective tenants are being evaluated, and leases will be signed beginning this summer, said David E. Forester, vice president and senior development director at Howard Research and Development Corp., a Rouse subsidiary.

The only vendor in place is Giant Food, which will be part-owner of the center. The new Giant, the center's 67,000-square-foot anchor, will be more than twice the size of the Wilde Lake Giant.

Rouse officials are counting on the Giant to provide dependable traffic for the cluster of small shops that will fill 32,000 square feet of space around a plaza. A free-standing office building, a gas station, two fast-food restaurants and a Columbia Association recreational facility also are planned.

The smaller shops could include a dry cleaner, bank, bagel shop and video store -- and something unique, said Fred Paine, leasing representative for Columbia Management.

Some say that even the pricey neighborhood won't be able to support specialty shops.

As David Ward, vice president of Hicks & Rotner, an area realty company specializing in shopping centers, put it: "It's going to be a little while before the market is mature enough to support many specialty shops."

And Alton J. Scavo, a Rouse senior vice president and general manager of Columbia, noted, "Sometimes there's a conflict between what a community might want and what the market will bear."

Some Rouse officials believe that the form the center eventually will take is still unknown.

"This center has unique circumstances," said Mr. Forester. "We don't have any other centers that are near two major roads. [Routes 32 and 108] converge right here at the center. It gives us the ability to get the rents we need and gives us a market that's a little bit more difficult to define."

He said that Rouse estimates that 26,500 people will live in the River Hill center's "trade area" by the year 2000 -- including 20,000 from a portion of western Howard County.

Cy Paumier, director of urban design at LDR International, a Columbia planning firm, said, "My guess is, they'll get most of what they need."

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