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Chatham Mall plans for renovation meet minimal opposition; High vacancy rate blamed on outdated design of facility opened in 1974


Although a handful of Ellicott City residents raised some minor concerns yesterday about a proposed face lift of Chatham Mall on U.S. 40, many seemed to agree that a renovation is long overdue for one of the oldest shopping centers in Howard County.

"I do agree that it has not been a viable center since the beginning," said former County Councilwoman Angela M. Beltram, who lives about a quarter-mile from Chatham Mall. "I look forward to any redevelopment as long as it doesn't negatively affect the surrounding area."

Beltram spoke after attending a public hearing yesterday at the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning. Chatham Mall Co. LLP, which built the mall in 1974, is seeking permission to reduce required setbacks from 100 feet to 80 feet for two freestanding buildings totaling almost 151,000 square feet.

A few nearby residents said they were worried about lighting and truck traffic generated by the improved shopping center, but Richard B. Talkin, an attorney representing the mall owners, said the residents also supported the renovation effort.

"People who were there were generally not opposed to it," he said. "In fact, after the hearing was over, many of them came up to us and said they liked the plan."

Bill O'Brien, Howard County chief of comprehensive planning, said the department would issue a ruling within two weeks.

Plans for the renovated shopping center call for a 14,820-square-foot building between the Giant and K mart stores. The mall owners would also build a 136,000-square-foot building where Caldor is now.

Natalie Swirdovich, the mall's manager and marketing director, said she did not know what retailers would fill those spaces and would not deny or confirm rumors that a home improvement business such as Home Depot would replace Caldor, which has declared bankruptcy and plans to close all eight Baltimore-area stores by mid-May.

Swirdovich said that the outdated enclosed-mall structure and shoppers' negative perceptions have fueled a vacancy rate that grew from 4 percent in 1992 to 70 percent today.

"Tenants today are looking for strip center space because their cost is reduced and they want more visibility," she said. "People want to get in and out to shop, and we see that."

Rick Hubata, owner of The Dugout, a hobby and sports card memorabilia store in Chatham Mall, said the vacancies have discouraged shoppers from returning.

"Basically, what we hear is surprise that nothing ever works here, but a majority of shoppers say they like to shop here," he said. "Something needs to be done to rejuvenate the economic viability of the property."

Pub Date: 2/05/99

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