Howard council, community leaders react to Long Reach Village Center plans

Community members had the chance to voice their opinions on newly proposed plans for the redevelopment of Long Reach Village Center during Monday night's County Council meeting. Many residents expressed their support for the plan, which they said is badly needed to revitalize the ailing center.

The plan, which was introduced by representatives from the Design Collective on behalf of Orchard Development Corp., alongside the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, showed a more detailed concept of what the new space will look like, including townhouse units, retail and restaurant space, a daycare, a senior living space and a village green space.

Milton Matthews, president and CEO of the Columbia Association, offered his support and excitement for the project, saying he believes, once it's completed, the proposed plan will lead to turning the center back into an "attractive destination"in the community. CA currently operates two spaces in the center, includingthe events venue known as the Stonehouse.

"The proposed development plan will reposition the Long Reach Village Center in the marketplace," Matthews said. "The Long Reach Village Center is more than 45 years old and redevelopment is needed for it to continue to serve the community in the future."

The Rev. Robert Davis Jr., lead pastor at Celebration Church, which owns a space in the center, said he was concerned about the church's inclusion as a partner in the plan. Several members of the church's congregation also attended the meeting.

Davis said during the meeting that while he and his congregation are in support of the "re-engineering" of the center, he has been frustrated by the lack of communication between Orchard Development Corp. and the church. Davis said he became more skeptical of the "invitation" to be a partner in the plan when drawings for the new center emerged that had "erased" the church from the center, without giving church officials prior notice.

Davis said that while he spoke with Orchard president Scott Arminger , in January about the potential for the church to be involved in the plans, after their first meeting communications "went cold."

"I cannot communicate how offensive the idea [is] that anything could be put on the table when the longest standing anchor in the village of Long Reach was erased from the picture," Davis said.

Davis emphasized how important he and his congregation feel the redevelopment of the center is, and that his church hopes to have a voice in the process.

"Celebration Church stands and will continue to stand as a partner with this village," Davis said. "It's our home, and it's our desire not to be marginalized in this process, but to be at the table. We beg you to consider our voice and to respect our voice."

Cedily Bedwell, of the Design Collective, provided the council with a breakdown of the conceptual plan for the village center, which she described as serving as a new "hub" for the community.

"Our vision plan really did look at redeveloping this area and creating a new center for Long Reach," Bedwell said during the presentation.

Anchoring this new center is a proposed 1.1-acre green space that could be used for public events. The space would also be linked to the surrounding trail system with a shared path along Tamar Drive, and would include space for a bike share.

A large part of the plan described by Bedwell included space not yet owned by the county. Plans to construct townhouse residential units are contingent on the purchase of land currently owned by Deli Town and open space owned by Howard Hughes Corp. The plan as proposed also includes the purchase of space owned by Richburn Discount Liquors, though the plan could be redrawn without that space. The property owned by Celebration Church could be used in future development plans, but is not included in this first plan proposed by Orchard Development.

Planning and Zoning Deputy Director Amy Gowan told council members that the hope is to complete the first of three phases of construction on the center by the summer of 2020, which will open some of the retail space and village green.

Councilman Calvin Ball asked about the proposed timetable for moving forward with the project. Gowman said that the process is on a tight schedule, with the hope of entering into a sale agreement between Orchard and the county by the end of August.

This story has been updated.

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