Village at Waugh Chapel needs a lot more soul


DEVELOPER Robert DeStefano has the opportunity to build something exceptional, but his current conceptual design plan for the Village at Waugh Chapel looks to be nothing more than another uninspired suburban shopping center.

When the Anne Arundel County Council passed legislation earlier this year to create a "suburban community center," it expected a precedent-setting development. It wanted the $50 million Village at Waugh Chapel to be the county's first mixed-use development that would seamlessly combine residential and retail uses.

Mr. DeStefano has assembled all the elements in his plan. There is housing for senior citizens, an office building, a day-care center, retail, fast food outlets, family-style restaurants, a movie complex and several banks.

But instead of melding these elements into a coherent environment, they remain segregated, separated from each other by acres of parking lots, roads and storm water management ponds.

It was not supposed to be this way.

When the approval for the Village at Waugh Chapel was being debated, opponents said the legislation was nothing more than "spot zoning" that would allow Mr. DeStefano to turn a residential-zoned parcel of 72 acres into a commercial one.

Showcase for development

Proponents rebutted that this development had the potential to break the mold of uninspired suburban shopping centers that have consumed acres of open space. The Village at Waugh Chapel could be a showcase for creative development, they said.

Planners hoped that by giving Mr. DeStefano unprecedented flexibility in mixing uses, his development would immediately create a sense of community. It could be a model for town centers currently being incorporated into a revision of Anne Arundel's master plan.

Instead of following the typical suburban plan of segregating housing and shopping and requiring people to hop into their cars to buy a quart of milk, see a movie or withdraw cash from a bank machine, the Village at Waugh Chapel would have all these amenities in a concentrated space. More remarkable, a resident could run these errands without getting in a car.

Unfortunately, translating these exciting ideas into a concrete site plan has yet to happen.

If the Village at Waugh Chapel is built as proposed in the preliminary plans, pity the poor senior citizen who wants to catch the afternoon matinee.

In the western corner of the 70-acre property there is housing for senior citizens that includes apartments, assisted living units and a nursing home. At the far end of property sits a free-standing movie complex.

Judging from the drawings, it looks to be about a half-mile hike from the residential complex to the movies. Even worse, the unfortunate senior who has the stamina to make the trek would have to cross a major automobile entrance off Crain Highway. Any rational person would drive to the movies.

The office building stands off by itself, unconnected to the retail complex. The plans calls for several banks, but they are all located in the middle of parking lots -- not easily accessible by foot -- as are the fast food outlets.

The "marketplace"? It features a supermarket, larger retailers and a "junior" department store arranged much like a conventional strip mall. Even the four family restaurants sit off by themselves.

The two-story village commons building, overlooking a pond, comes close to fulfilling the expectations of this development. It contains small shops, day care, health club, a community center and doctors' offices. With the exception of the senior housing and the village commons, the conceptual plan's "footprint" looks much like so many other unimaginative shopping complexes that line Anne Arundel's highways.

Not all of Mr. DeStefano's conceptual plan is discouraging. The architectural design of the buildings' facades is imaginative and attractive. Brick fronts, awnings and interesting details reduce the monolithic appearance of the storefronts. It also appears that hundreds of trees will be planted throughout the development, softening the appearance of acres of parking.

Since this development only exists on paper, it is not too late to correct the shortcomings.

The pond, which also doubles as a storm water management catchment, should be the focus of the development. Building a plaza or green around it will provide the public space that most shopping centers lack. Placing all the buildings around the pond and the plaza will make the entire development more pedestrian friendly.

Mr. DeStefano wants to break ground in June, creating a great deal of pressure to approve a less-than-acceptable plan.

The citizens' advisory panel, which the council created to oversee and critique the development, should not shy away from its responsibilities.

In an area overrun with soulless shopping centers, the advisory panel should not allow one more to be built.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 12/15/96

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