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.