Hickory Ridge Village Center (HRVC) owner Kimco Realty is proposing a $70 million redevelopment project to reconfigure the property and add a residential component.

While few would argue that the 25-year-old center is due for a makeover, the scale of Kimco’s proposed 230-unit apartment building has elicited concern from many residents, and even a few Howard County Planning Board members.

Even so, the Planning Board unanimously recommended approval of the project at its Jan. 18 meeting.

According to Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) Planner Bob Lalush, that action does not green light the proposal; rather, it confirms its compliance with the criteria for a major village center redevelopment.

“If the Zoning Board approves this case, then an actual site development plan will be coming back to the planning board later,” he said, during the board’s Jan. 4 public hearing. “More detailed site development plan issues could be dealt with at that stage.”

Market Forces

The 14-acre HRVC consists of a 66,655-square-foot Giant supermarket, a 29,912-square-foot, multi-unit commercial building, a drive-through SunTrust Bank with limited services, an assisted living facility, a daycare center, a gas station and parking lots.

Kimco’s vision for the center calls for demolition of the commercial building and bank, reconfiguration of the existing pedestrian promenade into a courtyard plaza, and new construction that would include 32,516 square feet of retail and commercial space, as well as a 3,229-square-foot ,full-service bank with a drive-through.

The proposal also includes architectural changes for the Giant store, which would also receive two additions, one of 540 square feet and one of 3,944 square feet, respectively.

Market forces and customer expectations are driving the need for redevelopment, said Kimco Vice President Gregory Reed.

“When [HRVC] opened in 1992, there were nine grocery stores within the five-mile trade area,” which has expanded to more than 22 grocery stores, he said. “We’ve seen it in the past; when the grocery anchor doesn’t do well, the village center doesn’t do well.”

The remedy that Kimco has embraced to sustain grocery anchors in village centers under duress is a transition to the mixed-use configuration, he said.

What’s foreseen for HRVC is a new, four-story apartment building located at the intersection of Cedar Lane and Freetown Road, consisting of a parking garage wrapped with residential units, 393 parking spaces for residents, 10,365 square feet of retail space and an internal courtyard.

Two new, 4,400-square-foot and one new, 11,599-square-foot retail/restaurant buildings would be added south of the apartment building, as well as a village green with seating areas, landscaping, lighting and other features.

“The Design Advisory Panel reviewed the proposal in December and expressed concern about the scale and massing of the residential building, particularly along Cedar Lane and Freetown Road,” said Lalush, which prompted a 70-foot reduction in the building’s proposed length and recession of the upper floor to reduce the appearance of height.

“We believe 230 units is the number [we need] to have the minimal success in this type of Class A building,” Reed said. “If you get too small, residents will not come.”

Parking Pickle

Many residents from surrounding communities turned out to the meeting, but support and opposition was mixed.

“The apartment building will overwhelm the 105,000 square feet of retail usage and become the primary purpose of the village center, comprising 71% of all use,” said Michelle Wood, chair of the Hickory Ridge Village Board, adding that the dense concentration of housing is not in keeping with the original planned community.

Clemens Crossing resident Elaine Persons predicted that apartment residents who can’t afford to pay an extra $75 per month for each additional parking space they need would instead use surface lots and clog Quarterstaff Road, the only nearby road with on-street parking.

Moreover, she said, Kimco’s post-redevelopment total of 421 parking spaces represents a deficit of 190 spaces when compared to what they started with.

“Those are spaces that the community is supposed to be able to use,” Persons said. “We are not designing this village center to be the apartments’ village center. It’s supposed to be the neighborhood’s village center.”

Ellen Levin, also of Clemens Crossing, said that Columbia has always prided itself on being a welcoming place to live.

“A new apartment building will bring many more customers to our local businesses, the business will thrive and we will all benefit,” she said.

Improving the Odds

Eric Stein, who owns the Decanter Fine Wines store in HRVC, approves of the changes.

“I don’t think the people waiting to get into the Wegmans parking lot are thinking about the future of Hickory Ridge,” he said. “Columbia has changed dramatically, and it will take a commitment by Giant to serve the demographics of our community properly.”

Four storefronts are currently vacant in one of the HRVC buildings, “but they will not be replaced until a decision is made about our future, and we’re suffering,” Stein said. “Once this plan is approved, we’re still going to have several years of an underperforming center. Do we remain an outdated design, or accept one that gives us a chance to compete with contemporary concepts?”

Apartments are not an option, but a necessity, he said. “[Customers] that have left the center are not coming back, unless we give them an array of businesses that appeal to a newer audience as Columbia’s growth continues.”

Although the Planning Board unanimously recommended the project for approval, Board Member Trudy Adler said she still had concerns.

“Primarily, the parking does fall short by a fairly significant number of spaces,” she said. “It looks to me like there’s just a full bet on [apartment residents] having fewer cars, and it doesn’t seem that there’s going to be any room to correct that if that bet doesn’t pan out. That should be looked at very carefully.”

The Howard County Zoning Board, made up of the five current Howard County Council members, is scheduled to review the project at its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Feb. 28.