With construction nearly complete at Wilde Lake, a draft plan in place for Long Reach and a plan update in the works for Hickory Ridge, Oakland Mills has emerged as the next Columbia Village Center for its residents to begin contemplating redevelopment.
At a May 10 Oakland Mills Village Board meeting, County Executive Allan Kittleman and Columbia Association (CA) President Milton Matthews introduced Bolan Smart Associates, of Washington, D.C., as the consultant group that will lead the process.
Retail Development Strategies Managing Principal Tom Moriarity, who also worked on the Long Reach plan and CA’s Village Center Market Study, will share in the effort.
Kittleman said the process to develop a marketing plan to refocus the Village Center would begin with a feasibility study, with the county contributing $50,000 and CA contributing $25,000. “That $75,000 should be able to get something really good here, so we’ll have a better idea of what we can do in the future,” he said.
Revitalization will move forward with county funding from the RENEW Howard program, which received $2 million in funding in Kittleman’s fiscal 2017 budget.
“That $2 million is designed to leverage about $20 million to allow people having difficulty selling their homes to get financing,” he said. “Our whole desire is to have new people coming in to bring more energy to the communities all around Howard County.”
According to Kristin O’Conner Mazerski, chief of comprehensive community planning for the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning, the study’s goal is to determine the market and financial feasibility of alternative anchors and other uses, to reposition the Village Center relevant to downtown Columbia, Blandair Park and the other villages, and to visualize a concept and ideas for redevelopment and refocusing.
Oakland Mills Village Center opened in 1969. It faltered after losing its Giant Food anchor in 2000, until the current Food Lion opened in 2003. The Village Board developed a community plan in 2015, with a vision of becoming a true destination with a clear identity.
“What has been missing throughout its planning history has been the opportunity to bring together the market and economic piece, and put it together with visioning to take it a step further,” said county planner Kate Bolinger. “We’re looking forward to thinking about potential changes to policies, regulations, potential incentives and other tools, and looking for synergies with recently announced programs, like RENEW Howard.”
One of the potential uses to guide identity development could come from CA’s indoor ice rink on Thunder Hill Road, behind the Food Lion.
“Dick’s Sporting Goods is O.K., but it’s not a hockey specialty store,” said Moriarity. “[Parents] waiting for practice might want to get a cup of coffee or a place where they can talk. Why hasn’t that happened here?”
Likewise, The Other Barn’s potential as a wedding or family party venue is also hindered by the lack of a nearby caterer. “Things that build on activities and uses and the unmet demand that’s already here has to be the first step,” Moriarity said.
Although relatively small in comparison with other village centers, Oakland Mills possesses undeveloped land and is proximate to Downtown Columbia.
“We can ride on the edges of Town Center and steal some of their market share and provide great services [for both communities], Moriarity said.
Similar to the Long Reach process that incorporated community, group and one-on-one meetings with stakeholders, Bolan Smart will use the input to develop several scenarios that will be presented to the community during a development framework charrette in the fall.
“There’s hope for a planned kickoff meeting in early June,” said Bolan Smart Managing Principal Eric Smart, followed by a more detailed process in the summer involving members of the real estate, developer and user communities.
Despite its smaller size, Oakland Mills has just as much complexity in terms of financial stakeholders in comparison with other village centers.
“You have eight property owners in the core,” Smart said, while there were a total of 13 property owners throughout the village, according to a 2014 Oakland Mills Task Force meeting document.
Pam DuBois, director of asset and community services for Bolan Smart, said the CA’s latest studies would also be taken into account as part of the study.
Two important considerations for Oakland Mills are those of connectivity and the uncertain future of its anchor.
Village Board co-chair Ginny Thomas suggested that board members and study facilitators consider the implications of an emerging trend known as Trail Oriented Development, which was the subject of a recent study by the Urban Land Institute.
“I think some of the ideas they had, such as multifamily housing [catering to] bicyclists or a velodrome, might work here, too,” Thomas said.
Moriarity cautioned that the current grocery anchor represents one of the biggest unknown factors.
“Food Lion isn’t the greatest grocery chain, but because of their acquisition by Ahold … we may have Giant back again,” he surmised, citing market speculation that many underperforming Food Lion stores could close and be rebranded.
“That could be a great thing, or maybe not,” Moriarity said. “If that grocery store goes away, the whole prospect of grocery anchors here goes out the window, and we have to think about what other destinations could provide activity and a reason to show up.”
According to Smart, the study facilitators expect to return to the community with findings and a development framework no later than October, to be followed by a final presentation no later than early December.