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.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Wilde Lake Village Center: Lets See Some Leases

 2013 has been a busy year for Wilde Lake Village Center. Not only has the long awaited redevelopment begun, but a new Co-Anchor, CVS Pharmacy has signed on to have a new store built on the grounds of what is now the Crown Gas Station. Crown's lease is up at the end of the year which is two days away at the time of this post. We can expect construction to begin  once Crown has vacated the site and a new CVS in Wilde Lake sometime in 2015.
We've already seen some movement around the Center. The UPS Store, originally on Lynx Lane, has moved into the main courtyard taking part of the old Feet First location. Today's Catch Seafood Market, the lone survivor left in the building that once housed the ill-fated Giant has moved in between Anthony Richard Barber Shop and Absolutely Wine and Spirits. This space had most recently housed The Medicine Shoppe, a small Pharmacy that parted ways with Wilde Lake soon after the Giant. Both of these businesses appear to have settled well in their new digs. 
On the demolition front, the Buildings that housed the Giant and Produce Galore are no more. Kimco wasted no time in demolishing these long vacant eye sore that also house many of my childhood memories. Although Produce Galore remained at the Center another years and a half after Giant's departure, its building was demolished and level first and for good reason. The site of the former Produce Galore is the now the site that a brand new David's Natural Market will be built. David's is still in its old Lynx Lane building next to its new building that's being erected as we speak. The goal for Kimco and the Owners of David's is for David's to close its old store one night and re open in its new location the next morning. 
With all this new redevelopment energy in the air, the future seems the brightest it's been for Wilde Lake in a long time. In addition to existing stores like David's and Today's Catch finding new homes in the Center, room to add brand stores to the Center will be added as long as spaces that are currently vacant and won't be torn down. And they are........?????
Well there's the CVS, I mentioned that already so that leaves the new.......???? Hmmm, so far there aren't any new leases Kimco has announced at this time. The way Kimco was selling the redevelopment plan (I was present when the plan was unveiled to the public and made a snide remark about the lack of a Full Service Grocer right to the Vice President of Kimco's face) they would have you believe that perspective tenants would be banging their doors down waiting to sign leases at the new Wilde Lake Village Center. Apparently that hasn't been the case. In fact quite the opposite has been the case. 
Since redevelopment has started, the Center has actually LOST tenants. Either they had no intention of weathering the storm of construction, Kimco didn't renew their leases, or Kimco raised their rent too high. We know the reason for the Crown Gas Station's soon to be departure but what about the others? Since Jun 30, 2013 (ironically the 46 year anniversary of Columbia's dedication) the Center has lost; The Columbia Bank, Wilde Lake Cleaners, Hunan Family, and Acheivers Hair Salon. In defense of all but the Dry Cleaners, their buildings have been or will be demolished. 
Now a couple of these Businesses could have relocated to vacant storefronts that have not and will not be demolished, the route that Today's Catch and The UPS Store have taken. There's the other half of the old Feet First building that could have housed one of the smaller businesses and the boarded up KFC building could have taken the Columbia Bank. Heck it even has a drive-thru!
Granted, the construction of Wilde Lake Village Center is only in its infancy and perhaps I'm over reacting to the lack of forthcoming leases or the flight of Businesses who don't want to weather the storm of construction but I do care enough about the future of the Center to bring it up. I hope that as buildings continued to be torn down and rebuilt and the finished product begins to take shape that new leases will start coming down the pipeline. 
It would be hard to imagine a new Dry Cleaner, new Bank, new Hair Salon, new Restaurant  etc. signing a lease when they can't even occupy their new space until 2015! CVS, I could understand signing early as it is the cornerstone of the redevelopment and larger tenants usually sign leases much further in advance than smaller ones. I guess what I'm saying is, if there haven't been any announced additions this time next year, I would feel more obliged to say; Lets See Some Leases!
 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Columbia Landing Apartments; The County Owns It Too!

 
With all the talk that's been generated about the County's purchase of the Verona Apartments in Oakland Mills, it can be very easy to forget that the County owns another Apartment Complex whose circumstances are similar to that of the Verona and its surrounding Community. In the Village of Long Reach there sits a sprawling distressed Apartment Complex now known as Columbia Landing (nee Bentana) yet when the County purchased this Complex several years back, there was talk of redevelopment in the future like there has been with the Verona. I'm here to introduce such talk in hopes that it will spur reinvestment and redevelopment in Long Reach much like I have introduced for the Verona and Oakland Mills.
As I have mentioned in my previous post, Long Reach Village Center is in a crisis state. I threw most of the blame to the Center's current owners America's Realty LLC. Although they deserve a good portion of the blame the state of the lies within the deteriorating housing stock surrounding the Center. There are numerous distressed Rental Communities as well as Town Home and Condo Communities that have given way to Rentals rather than ownership. This lack of sustainable housing surrounding the Village Center has attracted a perceived criminal element that has kept Shoppers, Quality Merchants, and Residential investment at bay.
So, what can be done to help? Usually to get private money to invest in a distressed Community, public money has to do it first. Since the County has owned Columbia Landing longer than the Verona (pictured above), it can apply for redevelopment assistance funds at an earlier date. If the County's truly serious about its commitment to Long Reach, they will begin to see that redevelopment for Columbia Landing is the best and possible only option to get Long Reach viable again. The County may be able to get financial assistance as early as 2018 if they use the same methods of acquiring funds that they appear to be doing with the Verona.  
My question to the County is this; Why aren't you actively pursuing redevelopment options with Columbia Landing in the same manor you are with the Verona? Although I don't work for the County I think I can attempt to answer it at the same time. In 2008, the year the County purchased Columbia Landing, the economy had tanked, and it was a good two to three years before the Plan Howard 2030 Plan bad been drafted. The Plan Howard 2030, emphasizes redeveloping aging Rental Properties not unlike Columbia Landing. Between 2008 and today, the County has successfully redeveloped Guilford Gardens into Monarch Mills (pictured above) and is currently redeveloping Hilltop and Ellicott Terrace into Burgess Mill Station. My guess is that Columbia Landing got lost in the shuffle. 
If you remember my post on the Verona, you will see that I championed a full redevelopment of all the Rental Properties in Oakland Mills and even a few poorly aging Condo and Town Home Developments. I feel the same redevelopment is needed in Long Reach and Columbia Landing should be used to get the ball rolling. When the scent of redevelopment is in the air, my hope is that other aging Rental Property Owners will be shamed into redeveloping their properties too. Eventually, Lazy Hollow, Sierra Woods (pictured above), Longwood House, and Shalom Square should redevelop in conjunction with Columbia Landing. 
 
Like Oakland Mills, Long Reach has some non Rental Properties that have a high amount of Renters and Foreclosures according to Public Records. In order to give Long Reach a full face lift, Long Reach Knolls, Heatherstone, Long Reach House Condos (pictured above), Jeffers Glen Town Homes, and Treover Condominiums should look into partial if not full redevelopment. That may be a hard pill to swallow and a lot to take in but sometimes in order to keep a Village viable, some part of it have to be rebuilt. The synergy created with this new development will no doubt lure an exciting new mix of shops to the ailing Village Center.
With all the talk of redevelopment of the Verona in Oakland Mills, one must remember that the County owns Columbia Landing as well and that the County can and should redevelop Columbia Landing first. The future of Long Reach is hanging on the line.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Long Reach: Village Center In Crisis

As you are all well aware, Long Reach Village Center is in crisis. The departure of the short lived Family Market in June has left a 55,000 Square Foot hole in the Retail Offerings. It's an all too familiar song and dance that Columbia's Village Centers have seen; An Anchor Tenant leaves and other stores begin to follow suit. Wilde Lake is currently attempting to pick up the pieces after its Anchor a Giant left in 2006 and redevelopment has been the only option to keep the center viable once again. Is this the only option for Long Reach?
One reason I consider Long Reach to be a Village Center in crisis is due to the lack of attention the Center's owners are giving to the ailing Center. After all, they're still making money off of a fully leased Center. When Safeway left Long Reach in 2011, it didn't terminate its lease. Safeway was the Family Market's Landlord while Safeway still continues to pay America''s Realty (The Center's Owners) rent. One doesn't have to look far throughout the Center to see that America's Realty is the textbook definition of a slumlord.
All one has to do is look at the Business Plan that America's Realty's President Carl Verstandig touts to find the slumlord mentality, "Buy distressed Shopping Centers", do "cosmetic improvements", and back fill vacant storefronts below Market Rate. It's obvious America's Realty doesn't care what caliber tenants occupy the Shopping Centers they own. If I were a Business Owner shopping around for Retail Space and I saw one of America's Realty trade mark "below market rate" signs, I would take my Business elsewhere. I don't appear to be alone, the only new tenants to come to Long Reach in the past several years are better suited in West Baltimore. I've blogged extensively on and driven and walked through West Baltimore so I feel qualified to make such a comparison.
Next, we have the claim that when America's Realty buys a Shopping Center (most likely one that's distressed) that they will make cosmetic improvements. Well Mr. Verstandig, it's been about two years since you've purchased Long Reach when are you going to get around to that? Long Reach Village Center is in dire of a make over in the short term and if it has any hope whatsoever of attracting a new Anchor Tenant(s) a full redevelopment may be in order. I'm also very upset that America's Realty has not been a part of the Long Reach Community. The Village Board and Residents alike are very concerned about the future of their Village Center (as well they should be) but attempts to reach out to America's Realty have been unsuccessful.
The underlying theme of this post is that Long Reach Village Center needs a full scale redevelopment in order to get from crisis mode to that of a viable Village Center that attracts Residents from the ENTIRE Village if not all of Columbia. Where in my brief summary of America's Realty does it mention this? It might be time for Long Reach to be put on the market and have a Management Company with a better track record of redeveloping Shopping Centers and moving them forward into the 21st Century.
Sadly the Rouse company no longer exists, they're responsible for redeveloping Harpers Choice and Oakland Mills. Kimco did a partial redevelopment of King's Contrivance after it lost its Safeway and attracted a wildly successful Harris Teeter in doing so. Kimco owned Oakland Mills at the time Food Lion signed on to Anchor the Center after Metro Food Market didn't turn Oakland Mills into a Shoppers as they had done with their more profitable stores. Today, Wilde Lake Village Center is hitting the wrecking ball thanks to Kimco and will soon be home to a CVS Pharmacy as well as a new David's Natural Market as co Anchors. 
Given that the Rouse Company no longer exists, it's time that America's Realty sells Long Reach back to Kimco. Kimco puts forth the necessary money for the redevelopment that's required at Long Reach as is evident at Long Reach and the clout to attract Anchors like they did when they owned Oakland Mills and more recently, King's Contrivance. 
Now, what would a redeveloped Long Reach look like? The truth is, I don't know exactly. I can tell you that the Center should have more of an open feel such while maintaining a Courtyard at the same time. This is obviously easier said than done. I would like to use the dual anchor method that's being being tested at Wilde Lake. I think the now vacant Safeway/Family Market building would have to be demolished in favor of two smaller stores one that's similar to that of an H-Mart which is a chain of International Grocers that has the long term sustainability that the Family Market lacked and team with a Pharmacy not unlike the CVS that is set to open at Wilde Lake. Perhaps a Rite Aid or a Walgreens.
Another part of the Center that has got to go is the Exxon Gas Station. That seems to be a hot bed for crime and drugs despite there being a Police Substation right across the parking lot. Speaking of the Police Substation, it appears no to be able able to deter crime like it used to. It still needs to be there but I feel it should be better staffed and be of greater assistance to Residents.
Although Long Reach Village Center is in crisis today, it doesn't mean that it has to be tomorrow. I'm also aware that the Village Center is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to redevelopment in Long Reach. Perhaps America's Realty should get that memo, assuming they're even aware of the crisis.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2015 Redistricting: Bring on the High Schools

In 2012 and 2013 it was Elementary Schools, in 2014 It was Middle Schools, and in 2015, in order to recreate a balanced feeder system and relieve over and under crowding, it's time to redistrict High Schools. In the plan I'm about to set forth all 12 High Schools will be effected. Fortunately, the County is planning ahead for a 13th High School in Elkridge in the next 10-15 years which will be needed by then if not sooner. However, it will not be open by 2015 or immediately thereafter so this plan will be sustainable until its opening. So, without further ado, I present my redistricting plan for 2015.
First I start with Atholton, in the coming years crowding will rear its ugly face as students from Pointers Run and Emerson enter High School. These students will remain at Atholton though. Instead I have opted to redistrict the Hawthorn Community out of Athtolton and into Wilde Lake. Upp until 2002 Wilde Lake served the Hawthorn Community and it was redistricted to Atholton thinking Atholton would be UNDER crowded by the opening of Reservoir. This was not the case and given that Hawthorn attends either Bryant Woods or Running Brook Elementaries. this creates a flawed feeder system at the High School level. With Hawthorn back at Wilde Lake High the feeder system for Wilde Lake Middle will be as follows; All Students from Bryant Woods and Running Brook will go to Wilde Lake High and only students from Clemens Crossing attending Wilde Lake Middle will attend Atholton.
Another tweak for the Athtolton district is Crest Road above Route 216. This area currently attends Reservoir. This is a small feed of the Hammond Elementary District that attends Reservoir. With the redistricting from Hammond Elementary into Fulton in 2012 this is the only part of Hammond Elementary still attending Reservoir. This redistricting will allow students attending Hammod Elementary to attend either Atholton or Hammond HS instead of the current three. I was hoping the ENTIRE area redistricted from Hammond ES to Fulton would then be redistricted to Lime Kiln in 2014 but now only a portion of the effected area was done. This would have eliminated a feed into Reservoir from Hammond MS. My plan fixes this "oversight" but apparently the County has gone on a different path.
Next we have Centennial. There are a few week feeds between Centennial and Mount Hebron that I will attempt to fix. First there's Worthington, the entire Worthington district was redistricted back into Mount Henron from Cdentennial in 2005 when Marriotts Ridge opened. This made the Middle School serving Worthington (Ellicott Mills) feed into three High Schools (Centennial, Howard, and Mount Hebron.) By redistricting Worthington from Mount Hebron BACK to Centennial, Ellicott Mills will only feed into two High Schools.
To make up for the loss of population from the Worthington Community, Mount Hebron will receive the River Mills Community from Centennial. This corrects a feed from Veterans. Right now, Veterans Students who attend Ellicott Mills will attend Centennial. But if you attend Dunloggin, you will attend either Centennial or Mount Hebron. By redistricting River Mills into Mount Hebron, the small feed from Veterans to Dunloggin to Centennial will be eliminated and all Veterans Students attending Dunloggin will attend Mount Hebron.
Another part of Centennial that needs addressing is the Wheatfield Way Community. This Neighborhood is very close to Howard and I can't for the life of me figure out why this was ever redistricted out of Howard. This also creates a very small feed of Waterloo into Centennial. By redistricting this Neighborhood back to Howard it will eliminate this small feed and the High Schools it feeds into as Howard or Long Reach and no longer Centennial.   
The last part of Centennial I will attempt to address is the Oak Lea Court Community. This area attends Manor Woods Elementary BUT attends Centennial. This was a small oversight I'm sure but this very small area is the only part of the Manor Woods District that doesn't attend Marriotts Ridge. That is why I'm electing to eliminate this small feed by redistricting Oak Lea Court from Centennial to Marriotts Ridge.
Next we come to Glenelg, there was a small part that was redistricted here from River Hill a few years ago which I think was a mistake. First off, the crowding that was supposed to occur at River Hill never came to fruition, second, this makes a very small feed of the Dayton Oaks District that attends Glenelg. In my 2014 Redistricting plan I opted to send the entire Dayton Oaks District into Folly Quarter and not having that entire feed feed into River Hill would defeat the purpose of having all of Dayton Oaks feed into River Hill. I would like to have the ENTIRE Folly Quarter District attend River Hill but in order to make that happen Glenwood would have to have a larger building for that amount of redistricting. If a replacement Glenwood with a 662 capacity were built I would champion the redistricting from Folly Quarter to Glenwood.
Next we come to Hammond. As part of the 2012 redistricting, parts of Bollman Bridge and Patuxent Valley as part of the 2014 redistricting now attend Reservoir instead of Hammond. Bollman Bridge and Patuxent Valley have both had all their High Schoolers attending Hammond. It used to be that only the Patuxent Valley part of Forest Ridge attended sans a small part of Emerson and then Murray Hill Students from Forest Ridge would attend Reservoir.As of 2014, the entire Forest Ridge District will attend Patuxent Valley. Therefore, in order to stay true to all of Patuxent Valley attending Hammond, the remainder of Forest Ridge not attending Hammond, should be redistricted there.
Also as part of the 2014 redistricting, a small part of the Patuxent Valley District just beyond Oakland Mills Road was redistricted to Owen Brown/Lake Elkhorn. This makes the portion of Owen Brown/Lake Elkhorn attending Hammond larger however I think it appropriate that all of Owen Brown/Lake Elkhorn attend Oakland Mills HS instead of Hammond. That is why the entire Oakland Mills Road/Guilford Gardens Community should be redistricted to Oakland Mills.

Next we have Howard, there has been a lot of growth in this area and it will need relief before the 13th High School opens. That is why I have elected to redistrict the lower Hanover Road area, Barrington Court, and the last remaining section of Locust Park to Long Reach, which can sustain the growth until High School #13 Opens.

Adding to Howard will be the Wheatfield Way Community which was discussed in the Centennial section.

Next there's Long Reach, all the redistricting here is addressed above in the Howard Section.

The Centennial section includes my proposed redistricting for both Marriotts Ridge and Mount Hebron.

The Hammond Section addresses Oakland Mills

Both Atholton and Hammond address Reservoir

Atholton also addresses Wilde Lake
That concludes my 2015 redistricting plan. The fact that I justified many of the proposals by eliminating small feeds from Elementary and Middle Schools and redistricted to keep Students attending High School with the same Students they attended Elementary and Middle School with shows the necessity of this plan. After 2015, I don't see a need for any more redistricting until 2019 when I would like to open four new Elementary Schools all at once. Stay tuned for that post!