Friday, March 30, 2012

Elkridge Corners Redevelopment

My Proposed Redevelopment of Elkridge Corners

In addition to talking about the Schools, another purpose of this blog is to urbanize Howard County. I don't advocate turning it into Baltimore, more like Rockville, Towson, Bethesda, or Silver Spring. They're all suburbs but have high density housing, retail, and offices in addition to lower density single family homes. As demand for housing of all types continues to increase and available land continues to decrease, it's time to look for smart solutions to meet the demand. One of these demands includes redeveloping old suburban areas and replacing them with higher density mixed used centers. The first one, I'm going to discuss is Elkridge Corners and the adjacent Lawyers Hill Apartments. 
Elkridge Corners, like its name suggests is located in the high growth area of Elkridge across Montgomery Road from the new Elkridge Crossing Development which is the perfect example of urbanization in the suburbs. I think Elkridge Corners along with Lawyers Hill Apartments can be redeveloped with the end result being that of a higher density mixed use center.  
There are two fundamentals that are essentials in redeveloping a suburban Shopping Center into an urbanized mixed use center. The first is parking, sprawling parking lots are valuable real estate that can be built upon. A parking garage either under or above ground covers less ground but still offers ample parking. Now parking garages are not the most attractive structures in the world so a lot of developments hide them by putting them in the middle of the development and building Retail, Office, and Residences on all four sides of it. The second fundamental is an increase in building height, when urbanizing an area space is at a premium so in order to keep development compact one has to build up instead of out. 
 Now for the fun stuff of what goes where. Currently there is a Green Valley Marketplace with a dated facade at the southern end of the Shopping Center. That would be knocked down and rebuilt with Route 1 frontage although the actual doors will face the parking garage it will only appear to face Route 1 to enhance curb appeal and draw in shoppers. The building will not be shorter than the parking garage as it will hide it. The new building, like its predecessor will be roughly 40,000 square feet but will have a grand modern facade. The Route 1 entrance to the center will now boast a traffic signal.
The rest of the Retail which includes Pizza Hut, Cindy's Spirits, BB&T Bank, Rite Aid, a Dry Cleaners, a Nail Salon and a Chinese Restaurant. They will be redeveloped and placed along Montgomery Road to hide that side of the parking garage. The Montgomery Road entrance will be even with Elkridge Crossing Way and a traffic signal will be placed here. Apartments and Condos will be located above these Retail Shops. Both the BB&T Bank and Rite Aid will have drive thrus to serve their customer's needs.  
The current Green Valley Market Place building and the current Retail shops will be knocked down and in place of the Green Valley Market Place building will be an Apartment Building and a Condo Building will be where the Retail strips currently are thus completing the four sides to hide the parking garage. Behind Elkridge Corners is the old Lawyers Hill Apartments, as part of the Elkridge Crossing redevelopment I've slated Lawyers Hill Apartments for redevelopment as well. They will be replaced with Town Homes of varying sizes to provide housing for varying income levels. When it's all said and done the number of new housing will be as follows 220 Apartments and Condos and 45 Town Homes minus the loss of Lawyers Hill Apartments. Construction on housing won't begin until 2014 after Elementary School #41 opens and Middle School #20 have both opened as the area's Schools are too crowded right now. 
Like I said a goal of this blog is to urbanize Howard County so this post is the first of many that will propose redevelopment of this nature. As Howard County reaches build out and older parts of the County continue to age this type of redevelopment will be crucial to keeping Howard County viable.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Oakland Mills: In Chains


There's been some very interesting news that has come across our beloved Oakland Mills Village Center' Chains, this Village Center that for most of its existence has hardly had a chain store will very soon be getting two chains; A Dunkin Donuts and a Little Ceaser's Pizza. Chains are a lot harder to woo into a Shopping Center than an Independent Merchant due to the fact that a chain can go anywhere it wants; usually on a bust thoroughfare and even then the bigwigs at the chain's headquarters are very picky. So given that Oakland Mills, off the beaten path has landed not one but two chains is a VERY big deal because it shows that the Village Center is seen as attractive to outsiders.
Now I have seen Oakland Mills at its best like it is today and I have seen it at its worst. The history of this Village Center is one plagued with vacant storefronts, empty parking lots, and crime. Oakland Mills opened in 1969 as Columbia's second Village Center with a Pantry Pride anchoring it. The Grocer Space in Oakland Mills believe it or not was smaller than the Giant at Wilde Lake. Other than Pantry Pride, a Bank and Chevron Gas Station, chains eluded Oakland Mills. The Center in its earlier days was an enclosed Mall not unlike Baltimore's Rotunda.

Pantry Pride didn't last long as the Chain went bankrupt in the early 1970s, this was the only time in the Village Center's history that finding a Grocer to anchor it was not a problem. Giant decided to open its second Columbia Supermarket in Oakland Mills. Small businesses came and went, the Chevron Station became an Exxon, an independent free standing Burger Joint became a Roy Rogers and a Royal Farms opened where a putt putt course once stood. A Rite Aid Pharmacy operated out of one of the Center's larger spaces before becoming a People's Drug and finally a CVS.

Some may say that the opening of a new much larger Giant at the new Owen Brown Village Center in 1978 which featured its own Pharmacy the first of its kind in the area was the beginning of the end for Oakland Mills Giant. The Giant didn't close in Oakland Mills until 1997 but shoppers were turned off by its small size, and lack of amenities that new stores had like a Bkery, Deli, and Seafood Section. Oakland Mills originally had some of these but as business declined, they were discontinued. It became obvious that Giant wasn't satisfied with the performance of its Oakland Mills location but at the same time it didn't want to do much to improve the store.

In 1995 or 1996 perhaps the only other chain at the Center; Roy Rogers was bought out by McDonalds and rather than convert it into one they boarded up their free standing building. In the years I've been following Oakland Mills Village Center I can't say I remember a chain opening up there except for the ill fated Metro Food Market and the Food Lion.

At the time of Giant's closure, Oakland Mills had several independent businesses such as the Shoe Doctor, Alexander's Restaurant, Venerrai's Pizza, Lucky's China Inn, Oakland Mills Dollar Store, Last Chance Saloon, Oakland Mills Cleaners, Oakland Mills Liquors, Oakland Mills Barber Shop, Casa Dora Hair Salon, and Columbia Video. After a complete redevelopment of the Village Center after Giant's closure, Oakland Mills attracted a Metro Food Market which opened in late 1998 or early 1999 with only a small number of tenants from the old center; Last Chance Saloon, Columbia Bank, Oakland Mills Liquors, Lucky's China Inn, Oakland Mills Cleaners, and Village Barber Stylist (this was the old Oakland Mills Braber Shop however they expanded to a full salon with women's hair as well as tanning beds.)

There was still a vacancy in the new Center, Residents went and campaigned to have Vennari's reopen and the owners heard their cries loud and clear, (I can see why, their pizza is delicious), they reopened in the summer of 1999. The Center's only vacancy by then was the boarded up Roy Rogers which soon became the Center's second Chinese Restaurant known as Congee House, it didn't last long which was good news for Lucky's and myself because the food is excellent Congee House then became Bankok Garden, a Thai Restaurant.
After crime reared its ugly head in the fall of 1999, the Royal Farms, 1st National Bank, and Exxon all located on Stevens Forest Road on pad sites closed up due to excessive holdups. Although these were the only two businesses to close at this time, business and foot traffic at the Village Center dropped off dramatically. In 2001 the Metro closed as part of "corporate restructuring" It was at this point that Sam's Mart took over the old Royal Farms. For more than a decade, the Exxon and 1st National Bank sites would remain vacant blighted eyesores. Not too soon after Metro left, the Last Chance Saloon closed which was a shame because my Family and I used to go there often for their superb burgers.
Now that Food Lion has roared into the Village Center and as a tribute to the befallen Last Chance Saloon, the Second Chance Saloon has opened in its place. Now after decades of not having chain stores in the Village Center and vacant pad sites on Stevens Forest Road, Oakland Mills will have redevelopment of the vacant Exxon site with a Dunkin Donuts!

This is great news for the Village whose Center was lacking this key Retail Component. Also the First National Bank building has been leased to a Little Ceasar's Pizza, a chain that has come back after being run out of town by Papa Johns. I haven't had a Pizza from there in 20 years! My only objection to that is that Little Ceasars will cut into the business of Venari's. I can only hope that the two businesses can both survive and thrive together.

It's been decades since Oakland Mills has been viable enough to attract chain stores but finally it's turned a corner in a positive direction that chains have decided to make the investment into Oakland Mills. It's finally in Chains!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Elkridge TOD

Now since I write a Columbia Blog wouldn't one think that an Elkridge post would be on that one? Well, the northern border of Elkridge is very close to Baltimore County which in turn is very close to the City. Howard County is also looking make TOD districts along Route 1 to take advantage of its proximity to BWI and Fort Meade and the associated BRAC growth. Howard County calls this zonong "CAC" or Corridor Activity Center.
Now I know what you're thinking and it's not the case. My previous post called for the closure of the St. Denis MARC Station which I'm still calling for but Elkridge is not the location for the new station. Elkrdge will not be associated with MARC. However, the Camden Line tracks do run through Elkridge on their way to the Dorsey Station. What I have also called for the past almost four years has been the localiztion of MARC Lines not unlike the Baltimore Regional Rail Plan. The Orange Line will share the tracks with the MARC Camden but will have more stops that won't interupt service for the MARC lines. THIS is what Elkridge will be a part of.
Ironically, the Station and associated development will be in the heart of the Elkridge Historic District. No building will hit the wrecking ball that isn't a blighted industrial use. It just so happens that the Historic District has the most undeveloped land and that's where the tracks cross Route 1. Everything will center around the intersection of Route 1 and Levering Avenue but will travel down Furnace Avenue as well. Furnace Avenue does not have a direct intersection with Route 1 and the only way to make that happen would be to demolish an old house which is not what I would propose.
The parking garage(s) would be located on Levering Avenue just west of Route 1 on an old industrial plot of land (pictured above). The intersection of Route 1 will be transformed into a safe haven for pedestrians seeing as how there would be a lot more with the addition of a train station. Additional pedestrian "countdown signals" would be added along with an island between each direction of traffic along Route 1. On all effected streets sidewalks will be added, and speed limits will be lowered. On Route 1 sidewalks will extend to the new Elkridge Crossing development (pictured below.)
Speaking of Elkridge Crossing, (pictured above) it's a new high density development built on the grounds of a long abandoned drive in theater. Although it's located roughly a mile away from the new Station I do consider it part of the rider "catch" area. Not dense enough to be TOD it does fall under the CAC district which calls for high density development. In between Elkridge Crossing and the new Station is a wooded area could more TOD be in the works for that area? No, it will be roughly 100 single family homes with no access to Route 1, not optimal when trying to maximize rider "catches" but the geography of that area that's about all that can go there.
On the forefront of new TOD in Elkridge will be Furnace Avenue. It's already a location for proposed Apartments and Retail. My plan will be continue this trend with similar developments of a higher density.
There are several plots of undeveloped land along Furnace Avenue as you can tell by how many pictures of it I have (I have more) . Howard County has released a Master Plan to revitalize the Route 1 Corridor and redevelopment along Furnace Avenue goes along with that plan.
A discussion about Furnace Avenue can not be complete without bringing up the Elkridge Furnace Inn. This building has been an existance since circa 1744 and has been used as a Fine Dining Restaurant and a Wedding Hall for the past 20 years or so. I was a busser here in late 2002 but I was let go after three months or so. One thing I learned about the property while working here is that it backs to the Patapsco River and Wecker Brothers (who own the Restaurant) own five surrounding acres. It offers picturesque views that any new development would thwart so I won't include having that land being sold off as part of my plan, that's my way of saying "no hard feelings." Now the largest elephant in the room; how do they get up there? The train tracks are elevated and the roads are not. Well to find an optimal solution I just drove a couple miles north to Halethorpe. Their MARC Station (pictured above) has a great elevated platform accessible by multiple staircases depending on where the rider has parked or is walking from. There will also be elevators for those unable to climb the stairs.
Well, I wanted to bring transit to Elkridge so that's what I did, it wasn't by creating a new MARC Station after just after my proposal to shut down the St. Denis Station but by creating a stop on the Orange Line. Speaking of St. Denis MARC What will I do to replace it? I guess that's a cliff hanger that you'll have to stay tuned for my solution.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Elkridge Crossing: Lets Right the Wrongs

Elkridge Crossing was supposed to sweep Elkridge by storm as the area's first high density mixed use Neighborhood that would serve as a model of redevelopment for areas in Central Maryland looking to urbanize. Unfortunately there have been numerous pitfalls regarding the development of the Neighborhood, School Crowding, and a strict HOA. The concept is Elkridge Crossing is one that I admire, so I would love for all the wrongs to be righted moving forward and construction to continue as planned.
The site now known as Elkridge Crossing was once a Drive In Movie Theater that had closed decades ago and has stood vacant ever since. Up until recently, the outskirts of Elkridge have been the subject of intense residential development, as those areas have reached build out, developers have been focusing on the town center of Elkridge, developing and redeveloping areas that are under utilized. That is where Elkridge Crossing enters the picture.
The Brantly Development Group and Ryan Homes teamed up to make Elkirdge Crossing a reality. Elkridge Crossing when built out, will have 266 "two over two" town homes, 96 Condos, 90 Apartments, an Office Building, and Retail that faces Route 1.
In 2008 Construction began on some town homes and condos as well as the offices. 2008 marked the beginning of the housing collapse which put future phases of development on hold indefinitely.
Meanwhile, the first phase did sell well relatively considering the freeze in new mortgages nationwide well into 2009. There were some other projects in Elkridge that contained rental Apartments which the already constructed phases of Elkridge Crossing did not have which allowed their developments in full as the rental market was not effected as drastically as homes for purchase. As the first Residents of Elkridge Crossing moved in, they began to see that their homes, schools, and HOA were not what they were hoping for.
As for the construction, residents who moved into the two over two town homes have begun to question whether or not slabs of concrete that were used as sound proofing between their next door and up/down stairs neighbors were in fact installed. It seems that Residents can hear their neighbors even when they weren't talking loudly or walking hard. The HOA has also according to Residents, been fining them things as petty as leaving their garage door open for too long. The Neighborhood Schools Elkridge Elementary and Elkridge Landing Middle have become very crowded much to the distress of Residents.
One resident went so far as to purchase the domain name to air these concerns for future Residents. They also are upset that future phases have failed to come to fruition due to litigation against both the developer and the builder. Ironically, if future phases were built in a more timely fashion that would have produced more children attending the already crowded Schools that current Residents already complain about.
As far as litigation between the builder and developer, as of 2010 the legal matters have been settled and earlier this year a building request was submitted to the County for the development of 36 of the remaning 200 two over two town homes. The Apartment Building and Retail have yet and 164 remaining town homes have yet to be submitted.
Moving forward I think future phases regarding Elkridge Crossing should right the wrongs that are currently at the forefront of minds of current Residents. First off, all new town homes should contain better sound roofing walls and ceilings. The Schools will also be dealt with.
Elkridge Elementary went through a major renovation/addition in 2009 upping the capacity from 610 to 779. Although this hasn't stemmed the major growth in the area there is a new Elementary School in the area is slated to open in 2013 to take a huge chunk out of Elkridge, Bellows Spring, and Deep Run Elementaries and a new Middle School in 2014 will relieve Elkirdge Landing, Mayfeild Woods, and Bonnie Branch.
In the coming years Elkridge Crossing will be completed and I believe it will live up to its promise of being the County's first mixed use Community as a model for Communities looking to urbanize in Central Maryland, however they must first right the wrongs.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Oakland Mills: No Longer In Bloom

I have always had high hopes for Oakland Mills Village Center. Like Long Reach, in order for that goal to be achieved, a lot of redevelopment in Neighborhoods around the Center would have to occur. My dreams for the Village Center have recently taken a hit however, when Food Lion's parent company announced that they would be discontinuing their upscale market chain known as Bloom, since Oakland Mills already has a Food Lion, I had wanted that store to be converted into a Bloom but given that that chain no longer exists I will have to look elsewhere to carve out a niche for Oakland Mills Village Center.
Since I knew the Safeway in Long Reach was going to close, I had always wanted a Whole Foods to replace it, now that the Family Market has opened and has appeared to be busy and is bringing a larger clientele to Long Reach, I would still like to find Whole Foods a Columbia home in a Village Center rather than Downtown. Wilde Lake is out of the question because Whole Foods would kill David's, a long time Columbia staple. Ironically in the 1970s David's was in Oakland Mills before relocating Wilde Lake. That being said, I think it's in the best interest of Oakland Mills for it be the location of Columbia's Whole Foods Market. Sorry Food Lion.
Another great possible Grocer for Oakland Mills is known simply as the Fresh Market. The only other one in the area is located on Greenspring Avenue in Pikesville/Mount Washington. My Mother, an Ellicott City Resident drives all the way up there to shop there surprisingly often and with gas being as expensive as it is, that must mean the Fresh Market is worth it. If one were to open in Oakland Mills there's at least one shopper built in already. Now one thing to remember is that all posts I write fit together like a puzzle. That being said, if you're wondering how the current demographics of Oakland Mills can support a higher end Grocer I refer you to my posts regarding redevelopment in Oakland Mills that would provide more home ownership opportunities and more of an income mix. Also keep in mind that both Whole Foods and the Fresh Market are "destination retail" which means shoppers from all parts of Howard County will be drawn to it not just those within walking distance.
I will be the first to admit that the location of Oakland Mills Village Center is the poorest when it comes to traffic counts, location, and roadside visibility. That makes it all the more crucial to give non Village Residents reason to come there. The Village Center right now has two faces. First, there's the businesses that have survived insurmountable odds after Metro left in 2001 and stayed in business until the opening of Food Lion in 2004 and then there's the Buildings with frontage along Stevens Forest Road. The buildings along Stevens Forest Road are a disgrace and all need to be demolished. They're almost all vacant and once redeveloped would look like the newer buildings on Robert Oliver Place.
Along Stevens Forest Road I envision a restaurant haven with choices not offered in the big box centers along 175. Where the old putt putt course was once was I would like to see a Bonefish Grille, the only one in the area. Next to it, since they're owned by the same parent company would be an Outback Steakhouse where Sam's Mart now sits. There's an Outback in Long Gate but I think the distance is far enough that the two can survive together. Where the old vacant M&T building is would be a new expanded Sam's Mart with BP Gas Pumps. Oakland Mills hasn't had a Gas Station since the Exxon closed in 1999 and I think it's high time that Oakland Mills played host to one once again. Where Bangkok Garden now is, I would tear it down and relocate Second Chance Saloon there I think it would be beneficial for the entire center to have it there and I'll explain why later.
Now, where the old Gas Station used to be has been the subject of many heated debates with the would be developer, the County, and CA. I have blasted the amount of red tape that the County and CA have implemented on that site or anything that warrants redevelopment for that matter because the developers had walked away from the project due to the County and CA hurdling them every step of the way. It was going to be a four story Office Building with ground floor Retail. There is a sign that says "Financing Provided by Sandy Spring Bank" however my camera battery had died so I couldn't snap a picture of it nor could I call the phone number to see just what if anything is currently being built.
What I would like to see built are Senior Apartments with a few ground floor Retail Bays. The Apartments would be 100% subsidized for Seniors with all the amenities of an upscale Senior Community. Most Apartments would be independent living but Assisted Living units would also be provided. Retail use I would like to see a Day Spa, an African Hair Braiding Salon, and a new location for Bangkok Garden. Parking will be in an underground garage to make full use of the site.
Meanwhile back on Robert Oliver Place I have vacated the building that the Second Chance Saloon now occupies. I would have it demolished and more shops would be added past the Liquor Store and towards the Barns. Tenants would include a UPS Store, a Nail Salon, Cold Stone Creamery,and a new location for the Howard County Police Satellite Office to get rid of that awful trailer. Connected to the current Food Lion, there's a vacant space that I would fill with a Starbucks. I know it's a chain that's all over the place but it will draw people into the Village Center and given its visibility on Thunderhill Road, it would be beneficial to all other businesses with less roadside visibility.
Although the Bloom chain has gone out of Business and Oakland Mills as a result can't get an upscale Grocer owned by Food Lion, I think a Market like Whole Foods or the Fresh Market will make Oakland Mills a huge draw Countywide and will spur new businesses to open up in the Center and encourage redevelopment in the surrounding Neighborhoods.