The first draft of a redevelopment plan for Columbia's ailing Wilde Lake Village Center may be ready late next month, according to Geoffrey Glazer, vice president of Kimco Realty, the center's owner.
Glazer told the Wilde Lake Village board and a crowd of about 20 citizens Thursday night that he hopes to have a plan ready for a public unveiling by late April, but won't likely submit a proposal to county government for review under a new zoning law for village centers until the end of the year.
"I've got a lot of pressure on me to get a plan in," he told the group.
The center lost its anchor supermarket more than three years ago, and several other stores are vacant. Remaining business owners complain that inaction and empty stores are badly sapping their trade. An earlier Kimco plan to demolish the center and build 500 apartments and 50,000 square feet of retail stores was defeated by solid resident opposition and the recession.
The discussion at Slayton House was officially about where to set the formal boundaries for the center -- the first step of the long rezoning process the County Council approved last year -- but there was little agreement. Glazer had proposed setting wide boundaries to include several residential and commercial areas bordering the commercial heart of the center along Little Patuxent Parkway, Governor Warfield Parkway, Twin Rivers and Harper's Farm Roads.
The village board had proposed tighter boundaries, including only the commercial part of the center, the two adjacent county schools, and the community and worship facilities already there. Both sides seem to agree that the Cross Fox condominiums on the center's western edge should not be within the boundaries.
Glazer said professional planners prefer larger areas to increase flexibility, but he repeatedly said Kimco could only build on the 10 acres of commercial property it already owns. Kimco also owns five other Columbia village centers.
"All I was trying to do was give the board the biggest canvas to work with. My part is 10 acres," he said. "The bigger canvas I give them [designers], the better plan they can do," he said.
If residents are more comfortable with the smaller boundaries, he won't fight that, he said repeatedly.
Despite assurances from county planning officials that the larger boundaries offer no increased housing density or other concrete advantage for the developer, but would offer residents added protections under the new zoning law, several people remained skeptical.
"We as a village board have never really dealt with anything on Little Patuxent Parkway," said board member Vincent Marando, and board chairwoman Nancy Alexander added that the board has no authority over those peripheral commercial properties. Marando wants the board to hire an attorney to produce an independent opinion on the effect of the larger boundaries.
"[County planning director] Marsha McLaughlin said that, but that is not proof. It's not a legal ruling," Marando said.
Board member William Santos said that if a commercial property owner on Little Patuxent wants to build a 20-story tower, including the site within the village center boundaries would give the board and residents notice and more opportunities to influence the proposal than it has now.
"It gives us more protection," he said.
Housing densities are controlled by the zoning law that covers all of Columbia. The placement of village center boundaries has no effect on that, he said.
Others also saw potential benefits in setting wider boundaries.
"I'm convinced there are different cases [to be made] for different parcels. I don't view what he's saying with suspicion," said Lawrence Schoen, another board member.
Jervis Dorton, a retired architect and resident, also said including commercial properties within the boundaries is wise.
"It does give a heads-up to the village board about what may be there," he said. "I think it's important that strip be included."
Glazer said he'd like to find new ways to increase access to the center for nearby Howard Community College students, but in answer to Joel Broida, a resident and Segway user who bemoaned current pedestrian access, the developer said he can't afford to do much.
"My little piece will not support a lot of infrastructure off-site," he said, noting that Kimco might spend $20 million to $30 million to rebuild the center, and income from the new structures would not pay for expensive bridges or roadways.
Glaser urged the board to mull things over and reach agreement before they meet again to discuss boundaries.