Monday, March 20, 2017

Long Reach: Village Center of Nostalgia

For the past 10 years, I have been grasping at straws and looking for every possible way to save Long Reach Village Center. To say this has been frustrating is an understatement. For this entire length of time and the some, Long Reach has been losing quality tenants only to be replaced by low quality tenants that don't stay at the Center very long. That was the best case scenario. The worst case is those spaces remain vacant and rotting for what seems like an eternity.
As there have been rumors of new trendy Grocery Stores coming to Columbia like Wegmans and Whole Foods, I have made a case to bring them to Long Reach instead of the high traffic areas they currently enjoy. When Safeway left and the Family Market moved in, I gave them a chance thinking they may usher in a slew of ethnic Restaurants that can't be found along Route 175 making Long Reach a draw for the diverse population not just near the Center but the entire County and beyond.
The Family Market closed after barely one year in operation and with it any hope of the Center becoming an International Food Hub. The area got so bad and neglected that the County bought the Center from its slumlords with the sole purpose of redeveloping it. Many ideas on how to move forward with the Center have floated around. The most popular of which has been moving the Howard County Arts Center to Long Reach. I support this idea however I don't think enough attention is being paid to attracting Retail. That's why I have come up with a plan to redevelop the Center as mixed use Retail-Residential-Institutional with a nostalgic approach to the Retail.
As someone who's grown up in Columbia, I share a common bond with thousands of others who have also grown up here. That bond is nostalgia. So many people here miss the Village Centers of yesteryear before chains started coming to town. Back then, the Village Centers were practically the only Retail for Columbia. This allowed for some truly unique independent Businesses to flourish in the early days. By reopening these stores in a redeveloped Long Reach, I believe this will draw a lot of people back to the Center and will make a great addition to the new Howard County Arts Center.
I have resigned to the fact that Long Reach won't be able to attract a full service Grocer. That being said, I have become intrigued by Wilde Lake's dual anchor model. Wilde Lake has attracted a new CVS and moved David's Natural Market to a brand new building at the front of the center. These two anchors promise that together, they will provide most if not all of the staples found at a full service Grocery Store. With that in mind, I would like to apply that same dual anchor concept to Long Reach.
Although a Full Service Grocer is out of the question, I do still believe that a drug store could be attracted here. Given that there isn't a Rite Aid in the area, I choose them to co-anchor Long Reach. What will the second co-anchor be? Produce Galore! With Rite Aid and Produce Galore, I believe these two anchors will fill the role of a full service Grocery Store. Of course everybody remembers Produce Galore, this nostalgic gem was located in Wilde Lake until 2008. A big draw for Produce Galore was its selection of homemade soups. When Wilde Lake was failing, Produce Galore closed much to the chagrin of its patrons. I think a brand new Produce Galore in Long Reach will bring those patrons back in droves.
The next dose of Nostalgia will be Bun Penney. Bun Penney was one of the first tenants in the Mall and has been a favorite of Columbia Residents for generations. Like Produce Galore, bringing back this old Columbia staple will be crucial to drawing people back to Long Reach. I would have it located at a new pad site at the entrance to the Center from Couldleap Court to welcome people into the Center. Produce Galore and Bun Penney are the two new tenants that would start the ball rolling into encouraging old businesses to re-open in Long Reach but there are plenty more that along with the County Arts Center will turn Long Reach into a thriving Village Center once again.
This post is a more abstract view of the redevelopment. I will write another post that will focus on what will go where and how it will come together as a redeveloped Center. Stay Tuned.      

Friday, March 10, 2017

Sneak Peek into 2017

Here's a sneak peek at what I've been working on with the Columbia Blog. I've been playing around with ideas on "paint." The first is my plan on how to redevelop Long Reach Village Center, the second is creating a Promenade around the southwest corner of the mall, and finally some more redevelopment for the Mall.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Oakland Mills Village Center Redevelopment

In the mid 1990s Oakland Mills Village Center fell and it fell hard. As its very small Giant closed so too did numerous other businesses. What was worse was that the dated enclosed mall layout of the Village Center didn't exactly entice replacement Grocers to take the old Giant space. The size of that space was also a problem as Grocers were now demanding spaces 2-3 times that size. So Oakland Mills was able to secure Metro Food Market as a replacement Grocer under the pretense that the majority of the Center be redeveloped. And Redevelop they did.
The new open concept Village Center features a 40,000 square foot Metro Food Market along with five spaces for Neighborhood Retailers filled by Oakland Mills Liquors, Oakland Mills Cleaners, Village Barber Stylist and Lucky's China Inn. Vennari's Pizza re-opened in the fifth space a little bit later. Last Chance Saloon, Exxon, Royal Farms, 1st National Bank, The Columbia Bank, and a vacant Roy Rogers rounded up the pad sites of the Village Center.
Fast forward to 2016, the Village Center has had its ups and downs. Metro Food Market did not last long and closed with the rest of the chain in 2001. After three years without an Anchor Food Loin opened in 2004 and has remained there ever since. The tenants in the main strip have remained intact for the most part but there has been movement among the pad sites. Last Chance Saloon closed and the space is now occupied by Second Chance Saloon, The Columbia Bank space is vacant, the Royal Farms is now Sam's Mart, the First National Bank is Little Caesar's Pizza, the then vacant Roy Rogers is now a Thai Restaurant called "Siam Spice", and the old Exxon was torn down in 1999 and has been a vacant eyesore ever since.
The reason I have mentioned pad sites so much is because they're going to be the cornerstone of my redevelopment plan for Oakland Mills Village Center. They also were untouched during the redevelopment of the late 1990s. The end result will be a mixed use Center with lots more Retail and probably the largest number of Apartments a Village Center has seen. Given that this Village Center is located where the proposed connecting Town Center and the Multi Modal Pathway comes out, it is crucial that the Center be a welcoming environment that show cases the best Columbia has to offer.  
The first Apartment building will be located on the grounds of the former Exxon Station with a parking garage (hidden) located on a surface lot for the Meeting House directly behind it. This building will be exclusively for low income Seniors due to its location in the Village Center. The low income Senior Apartments will draw on the aging population of the Village living in older Apartments that lack ADA compliant amenities. The first floor of this building will contain Retail from old pad sites in the Center including; Little Caesar's, Second Chance Saloon, Siam Spice, and the Howard County Police Satellite Office currently housed in a trailer.
The second Apartment building will be for all ages and will contain a mix of market rate and affordable units. I'm doing it this way as a bigger part of a larger redevelopment plan for the area surrounding the Village Center which will greatly reduce the number of rentals in the general area. This building will be located where the Siam Spice Restaurant, the old Columbia Bank building, and the Police Satellite trailer are currently located. A new Bank and an ethnic Hair Salon/Spa will round out the ground floor Retail in this building. The ground floor Retail in both buildings will face Stevens Forest Road and will invite shoppers inward to Robert Oliver Place. 
The buildings containing Sam's Mart and Little Caesar's will not be the site of Apartments. Sam's Mart will remain in place and will receive a massive renovation inside and out. The Little Caesar's Building will be demolished and a Gas Station will rise in its place with Sams's Mart acting as the convenience store for said Gas Station. 
The existing Retail strip will be expanded after the existing Second Chance Saloon space is demolished my plan will be to close the gap between the Liquor Store and the Other Barn with three more Retail spaces including a Nail Salon, Ice Cream Parlor, and a Parcel Plus. The vacant space facing Thunderhill Road next to the Food Lion contain a Starbucks, whose presence will invite people into the Center from Thunderhill Road.
The non Retail sections of the Village Center will seen extensive renovations. The Ice Rink will be modernized to look like the rest of the Center as will the small office buildings along Santiago Road. The Meeting House will get a new Parking Lot as the existing one will engulfed by the new Apartments. The Meeting House will also gain a new Zen Garden space perfect for outdoor Yoga classes and the like. I would like to explore the possibility of putting Mini Golf back to the site between Sams's Mart and White Acre Road. In the early days of Columbia one was there.
In the mid 1990s Oakland Mills Village Center fell and it fell hard. Since the the Center has made amazing strides in its journey back to life but by adding a critical mass of Apartments with Retail and by extending White Acre Road to Town Center with the Multi Modal Path, Oakland Mills Village Center will be a truly welcoming environment that showcases the best Columbia has to offer.        

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The East-West and North South Connections Between Oakland Mills and Town Center

When the cloverleaf at Broken Land Parkway and Route 29 opened in 1992, this was the beginning of the end for Oakland Mills Village Center. Why? Because there were connections to 29 via smaller roads that sent commuters right through the Village Center. Now these connections have been severed and the through traffic going trough the Village Center have dwindled. I applaud Village Residents for staying loyal to their Center and working hard to attract tenants like Food Lion and Second Chance Saloon when their predecessors went out of business. I do think it's high time that Oakland Mills be given a direct direction to 29 once more.
I'm not the only who thinks this. The Downtown Columbia Redevelopment arm of the County Government along with GGP have come forth with plans to decrease traffic congestion as development continues Downtown. Their plans include a north south road that runs just parallel to Route 29 as a northward extension of the Broken Land Parkway ramp. Also included is an east west road which begins between the entrance to the Library and Whole Foods. The east west road is to built in conjunction with the Downtown Columbia Pathway which will run from Howard County General Hospital to Blandair Park when completed.
The east west road will be the new connection from Route 29 to Oakland Mills as well as Downtown. The exact route of this new road is unclear but I'm thinking the east west road should merely be an extension of White Acre Road across Stevens Forest Road running in between Forest Ridge and Grande Pointe Apartments, across Route 29 and dead ending at Little Patuxent Parkway even with the current Mall Entrance across from the Whole Foods.
Not only should this extension to White Acre Road connect Oakland Mills to Downtown, it should connect Oakland Mills to Route 29. While there isn't room for a full cloverleaf, access to 29 North from White Acre Road and access to White Acre Road can and should be obtained. Those looking to go to South on 29 can take White Acre Road into Downtown and simply turn left on Little Patuxent Parkway and then a left onto South Entrance Road. Travelers going southbound on Route 29 can take the existing South Entrance Road exit, make a right on Little Patuxent Parkway and then a right on White Acre Road and then crossover 29 into Oakland Mills.
As Downtown continues to grow, the intersections of Little Patuxent Parkway and Route 29 will continue to become more congested. The same rings true for Broken Land Parkway and Route 29. Creating a third intersection that utilizes South Entrance Road from 29 South and the natural position of White Acre Road, this will help traffic on Little Patuxent Parkway and Broken Land Parkway flow smoother while bringing more traffic into Oakland Mills Village Center thereby increasing business at the Village Center.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Owen Brown Village Center Redevelopment

Since the life of a Village Center is constantly changing and evolving, I don't find it strange that I'm proposing more redevelopment efforts at Owen Brown Village Center. In the early 2000s, GFS Realty, them owner of Owen Brown demolished a row of stores and rebuilt closer to the front of the Center and used the space once occupied by the old row of stores to expand the Giant. This created a newly modernized Giant and a new row of stores but that's it.
Had GFS Realty wanted to spent the money and do it right, they would have built a new Giant roughly where the new row of stores are, demolished the two back strips of stores and built the entire Center facing Cradlerock Way. The finished product would have looked like Dorsey's Search Village Center. But as it stands now, the Giant cuts the Village Center in half and only the front half sees foot traffic. The back half resembles a ghost town. My redevelopment plan although it doesn;t include building a new Giant, it does include demolishing the back half and redeveloping those spaces as ground floor Retail to a new Apartment Building (like in Wilde Lake) and the entire Center will flow smoother.
To minimize disruption to existing businesses, work would have to be done in phases. The first phase is to build two pad sites just to the right of the Interfaith Center on what is now fields.The pad sites will include Bank of America and the other one include Sonoma's Bar & Grille. Also part of Phase I would be to rebuild the small professional building behind the Bank of America. The new location for this building will be the nook that is in between the Giant and the Avis Car Rental. Once Phase I is completed both the small professional building and the Bank of America Building will be demolished and the space Somona's is currently in will never host another tenant again.
Phase II includes building the Apartments. The building will be located just left of the existing building and where the Bank of America once stood. It will run back towards the old professional building I had demolished. It will have ground floor Retail. The attached Parking Garage will have Apartments on all sides of it and will be placed on an unused parking lot at the back of the Center. The parking garage will also contain ground floor Retail. 
The ground floor Retail will contain the stores that are currently in the back half (Warren's Barbershop, Future Nails, Chick 'N Friends, Budget/Avis Rent-A-Car, and Hunan Master/Chinese Gourmet. With Sonoma's moving to a pad site, there will be three vacancies now. I will build these vacancies into the new Retail to lure three new tenants into the Center. My ideas include; An Ice Cream/FroYo Shop, Women's Hair Salon/Spa, Ethnic Hair Salon, Kabob, and Sushi/Fo Asian Fusion Restaurant. Once this has all been built, the back half of the Center will be demolished.             
Phase III includes the professional Center. This will be relocated behind the Giant so that the illusion that the Center is being cut in half by the Giant is lessened. After that, the existing professional Center will be demolished. Phase IV is a simple one that includes updating the existing facades to match the new construction. A Village Green will be built close to the tunnel going under Cradlerock Way to expand Lake Elkhorn into the Village Center. The road will access all new and existing structures and will start and stop at existing locations. With an updated flow of the Village Center, Owen Brown will stay viable for years to come.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Mixed Use Village Centers Coming Soon

With Kimco in the process of redeveloping Wilde Lake Village Center as a mixed use by ading Apartments into the mix, it showed that perhaps other ailing Village Centers without a full service grocer anchor tenant can go the way of mixed use and build a larger critical mass while attracting people to the centers in other ways.
Enter the County who has purchased Long Reach Village Center when it lost its anchor tenant and is attempting to redevelop the Center as a mix of Retail, Apartments, with a strong Arts Component. Columbia already has an Arts Center in Long Reach but the County is trying to move its Arts programs currently at the old Rockland Elementary School to Long Reach as well. In addition, one of the redevelopment proposals shows a portion of the old Safeway space being used as Artist space while some of the proposed Apartments will be subsidized for Artists. 
At first it seemed that this mixed use redevelopment was only an option for struggling Village Centers with no Grocery Store, indeed the void left by a vacant Grocery Store will make the Center more of a blank slate for redevelopment. But then Kimco did something that surprised me. It probably surprised many others as well. It submitted a site plan of a redeveloped Hickory Ridge Village Center as mixed use. Hickory Ridge is one of Columbia's most successful Village Centers anchored by a high Volume Giant. So what's the deal?
I can't speak for Kimco but I believe that coming up with plans like this is to ensure other Village Centers remain modern and viable by keeping large critical masses living near and in the Village Centers. They probably chose Hickory Ridge because it mostly has lower density Single Family Homes surrounding it. The Giant has no plans to leave the center and Kimco's plans shows Giant in the same anchor spot.
The current layout of the Village Center shows a pedestrian promenade known as "The Avenue" with shops on either side of it. There are also parking lots both in front of and in back in of the Avenue. The strip of shops that doesn't have the Giant is proposed to be demolished to give the Center an open feel. The Apartments would go on a parcel of the front parking lot closest to the Cedar Lane and Freetown Road intersection with the majority of the Retail from the demolished strip would be located on the ground floor of the Apartments. There are three Retail pad sites proposed which would most likely contain the larger footprint Restaurants (Luna Bella, Peking Chef, Hickory Ridge Grille.) The Retail strip connected to the Giant would remain unchanged as will the Sunoco Gas Station.
Upon coming across these redevelopment plans, I began looking at the other six Village Centers in Columbia and I began looking at parcels surrounding the Centers and their space for mixed use while simultaneously opening them up to give them better road visibility. I was able to easily come up with mixed use redevelopment plans for all of the Village Center with the exception of Harpers Choice which already has loft Apartments above it. The following posts will address each Village Center in detail and my plan to redevelop it to keep it viable for decades to come.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Could Rail Transit in Columbia Be Closer Than We Think?

This post is one of those rare opportunities in which the content is relevant to both blogs. As a result it will appear on both blogs. With that being said, I ask you this question; Could Rail Transit in Columbia Be Closer Than We Think? Short answer; Yes. Relatively short answer; yes but nobody knows it. Long answer; yes but nobody knows so I'm going to explain how it can happen.   
The redevelopment of Columbia Town Center has slowed considerably due to the recession but in 2012 plans have begun to pick up steam again and in 2013 construction has begun and this year construction has continued as well as new plans being introduced. Part of the Master Plan for Columbia Town Center includes a Rail Transit Stop that will link Columbia to Baltimore. This same stop could also eventually link to the DC Metro for a truly regional comprehensive Rail Transit System. 
Everybody says this is way off in the future but in order to keep producing posts for this blog, I spend my days looking at maps any and all types ideas. In doing so I found a way that can link Columbia to Baltimore relatively easily and by using mostly existing tracks it will be much cheaper than most other projects coming down the pipeline.
In order to make this appear feasible we must first look at what's already there. Right now we have the Central Light Rail Line. In the Baltimore Regional Rail Transit Plan the Central Light Rail Line will break into two separate lines; The Blue Line and the Yellow Line. The Blue Line is already built to what is proposed in the Regional Rail Plan going from Hunt Valley to Cromwell Station between in Ferndale/Northern Glen Burnie (although my goal is to extend it to Annapolis) Then there's the Yellow Line, when completed it will share some track space with the Blue Line as already but when completed it will go from Towson to Columbia Town Center. 
To break up the two lines and "birth" the Yellow Line, all that would have to be done is to change the maps. If one is to ride the Central Light Rail Line (Blue Line) they will no longer have the spurs going to Penn Station or BWI Airport. The Yellow Line in its infancy will be those spurs starting at the Airport. joining the Blue Line for the vast majority of its length until it's expanded and then ending at Penn Station. Eventually the Yellow Line will get to Penn Station by way of Charles Center, Mercy Hospital, and Mount Vernon but that's way in the future.
Now back to Columbia, the Yellow Line is the Line that is to be extended to Columbia. Its southern end is at the Airport. Therefore we have to find a way to connect Columbia to the Airport. Before the Yellow Line (as I will be calling it from now on) turns into the Airport it runs parallel to Aviation Boulevard (MD 170) it will roughly continue to do so intersecting the MARC Penn Line at the BWI Amtrak Station. It will then travel through land that is largely undeveloped and is being banked for the future BWI "Aerotropolis. In Hanover at the Howard/Anne Arundel County line, the line will join the MARC Camden Line.
When funding more funding is in place the Yellow Line will continue on its own southbound with stops at the Baltimore Commons Business Park and Arundel Mills Mall/Maryland Live Casino which is one of Maryland's fastest growing areas. After leaving Arundel Mills it will meet the MARC Camden Line at the Dorsey MARC Station. Again, this won't be right away.
Once the Yellow Line joins the MARC Camden Line it will share tracks until there's a westward split between the Jessup and Savage MARC Stations. This leads into a largely industrial part of Savage and Jessup and skirts Guilford, an out-parcel of Columbia, This spur of train tracks ends in between Guilford, and the Columbia Villages of Owen Brown and King's Contrivance. Given how there's no real funding in place for tunneled rail transit this is the end of the line for now. It does give Rail Transit access to Columbia, not Columbia Town Center just yet. 
When the time comes for a Town Center expansion I would have it go up Broken Land Parkway and have it go through Oakland Mills for a stop at its Village Center (pictured above)as the Multi-Modal pathway proposed will make for a great right of way. This will also spur much needed reinvestment and redevelopment for the Village of Oakland Mills. Using this same Multi-Modal path, the Yellow Line will cross Rote 29 and will reach its ultimate southbound destination; Columbia Town Center.
Although I have started the route to Columbia by hardly laying any track down, when the route goes all the way to Town Center via Arundel Mills, there will have to be new tracks laid down, dug up and tunneled. However this "el cheapo route" will surely help the Mastered Planned vision of the Yellow Line come to fruition and that Rail Transit in Columbia actually is a lot closer than we think.