Planning Board delays vote on village center rezoning

The Baltimore Sun

After more than two hours of discussion, the Howard County Planning Board put off a vote on changing the way Columbia's village centers can be rezoned until at least Feb. 4, its next work session.

None of the four board members present at Thursday night's meeting objected to the main concept of Zoning Regulation Amendment 102, which would allow individual property owners in the village centers to petition for zoning changes.

Currently, under what is known as the "gatekeeper provision," only Columbia's master developer, now General Growth Properties, may ask for a zoning change in the commercial centers. The provision was used initially to allow the town's original developer, the former Rouse Co., to have more control over how the community was planned.

"I think there's a recognition that times have changed," said county Planning Director Marsha McLaughlin. That's partly because GGP doesn't own any of the village centers, and the firms that do own them aren't allowed by law to ask for zoning that would permit redevelopment without General Growth's prior approval. Several centers are struggling to compete with newer big-box retail operations nearby.

The proposed change was prompted by Kimco Realty, which owns six Columbia village centers. Kimco wants to demolish the partly empty Wilde Lake Center and redevelop it with 500 apartments and about 50,000 square feet of retail space. It is the closest center to downtown Columbia, where GGP has proposed building 5,500 residential units and 1.25 million square feet of new retail space around The Mall in Columbia during the next 30 years.

The board decided to give itself more time to discuss changing various ancillary provisions of the proposed zoning amendment that control things such as community participation and notice, limits to what might be built, and how changes in land use would be handled versus minor revisions of current uses.

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