Sunday, August 1, 2021

What if They Stayed Open?

I have been researching the School Districts of yesteryear and all the knowledge about growth patterns that come with it as a fringe benefit. One thing that always comes back to me is the closure of three schools in the early to mid 1980s; Faulkner Ridge Elementary, Rockland Elementary, and Waterloo Middle. The Elementary Schools closed in 1983 and Waterloo Middle closed in 1984. Enrollment was of course a factor but also the age and location of the Schools. 

When these Schools did close, it caused crowding of the Schools that absorbed the populations of the now former Schools. Not only that, but a new round of growth came quickly after the closures thereby making the Schools even more crowded. The more I research this, the more short sighted these closures were. Not only that, but the enrollment decline of the 1980s wasn't as steep nor did it last as long as originally projected. So lets go back in time and keep these Schools open shall we?

First lets start at Faulkner Ridge. West Columbia families in Wilde Lake and Harpers Choice had had their kids go through the School System and they graduated. Their families still live in their homes thereby causing enrollments in their schools to decline. At the same time however, growth was either happening or on the horizon in Hickory Ridge and Dorsey's Search. Also lets not forget that the growth that happened after Faulkner Ridge closed Swansfield and Clemens Crossing Elementary to receive large additions. 

Now the fun part; we redistrict as if the year is 1983 but Faulkner Ridge stayed open. Some things will remain the same such as the funneling of kids into Longfellow from Faulkner Ridge, Swansfield, and Bryant Woods. Longfellow was the School System's second choice for closure. Also, Hawthorn would be moved into Bryant Woods as well. At the moment, Faulkner Ridge only has its namesake Neighborhood attending its Elementary School but Clary's Forest and Cedar Acres that rides a bus to its current School will be redistricted into Faulkner Ridge  As Clary's Forest begins to grow, so too will Faulkner Ridge and the School System would have saved money by not having to add on to Clemens Crossing and Swansfield. 

Other fringe benefits would include Faulkner Ridge not being bused to Running Brook thereby allowing Fairway Hills to have Running Brook as its home School prior to 2003. Without Fairway Hills attending Talbott Springs, Talbott Springs would be able to provide relief for the always crowded Dasher Green. Clemens Crossing would also be able to provide relief to Pointers Run in the '90s.

By the late '80s, Faulkner Ridge would have become crowded with Students from Clary's Forest and Cedar Acres. An easy fix would be to redistrict Cedar Acres to Bryant Woods and Columbia Town Center to Running Brook. So now that I (hopefully) proved how it would be beneficial to keep Faulkner Ridge open, lets focus on Rockland. 

Rockland was located just off of Rogers Avenue not far from the current Holliefield Station Elementary. The building is still standing and now houses the Howard County Arts program. At the time of its closure, Rockland's capacity was only 261 even though the criteria to keep an Elementary School viable is 250 Students. In addition to this very fine line Rockland has to walk, the School needed lots of renovations. That's a lot of strikes against Rockland and still another one is; St. Johns Lane was also under capacity and was renovated recently. So Rockland closed and St. Johns Lane absorbed it. 

St. Johns Lane become crowded very fast which given the growth in the area, would have happened regardless of whether or not Rockland closed. Rockland also would have become crowded. In 1990 when Waverly opens, I would redistrict Rockland south of Route 40 into St. Johns Lane to back fill it. Seven years later, Hollifield Station opened which was for all intents and purposes a replacement for Rockland just 14 years too late.

Would Holliefield Station have been built if Rockland stayed open? I believe it would have because by 1997, the growth was too much for a site as small as Rockland's too handle. The building known as Holliefield Station would have been built at its current site and the only difference would be that the name Rockland would have been retained. Northern Ellicott City would have been much less crowded had Rockland remained in operation between 1983 and 1997.      

Now we come to our final and perhaps most complicated School; Waterloo Middle. Waterloo Middle, Ellicott City Middle (now Ellicott Mills), Patapsco, and Wilde Lake Middle were all grossly under capacity. When it's one section of the County like West Columbia or Northern Ellicott City, it can be easier to keep an under enrolled School open while growth has paused. However this is several Middle Schools in just as many parts of the County. The closure had a domino effect of beefing up enrollments in all of the Schools listed that remained open. After closure, the Waterloo Middle building acted as swing space for Waterloo Elementary and what would become Bollman Bridge. Last but not least, where would Deep Run go if the Waterloo Middle had remained open at its current location?

The only solution would be to open Mayfield Woods in 1984 so the existing building could still act as swing space before being torn down to make way for Deep Run. So Patapsco, Ellicott City Middle, and now Mayfield Woods are all under enrolled. Wilde Lake Middle could have survived by redistricting the way it ultimately did in 1991 by redistricting Hawthorn and Clemens Crossing from Harpers Choice and Clarksville Middle respectively. 

In this case, I agree with the decision to close Waterloo Middle. As I've stated before, the building had an after life and became the site for a much needed Elementary School. Had it stayed open, it may have hindered the 1989 opening of Patuxent Valley as well. 

I intended to prove that all three of these Schools could have remained in operation either to present day and/or until a replacement School was built nearby. I believe I did for two of them and as the saying goes; Two out of three ain't bad.     


Thursday, May 27, 2021

Schools in the 1990s: Playing Catch Up and the Equity Divide

There was a lot of growth on the outer edges of Columbia and surrounding areas in the 1980s but very little school construction. In fact there was a net loss of one school during that decade. So it's no surprise that the 1990s would see a boom not unlike the one seen two decades earlier. 
In the 1970s it was almost all in Columbia and Ellicott City and very little in Elkridge or North Laurel. The 1990s however, there will be many new Schools in both of those areas as well as Ellicott City and Clarksville. Very little new construction will happen in Columbia and what does happen there will be more to house students from higher growth areas.

Lets start in Elkridge where Waterloo Middle closed in 1984. There was talk of a replacement School almost immediately after its closure and land was acquired a shirt distance away on Mayfield Avenue. The Waterloo Middle building remained in operation both to house Waterloo Elementary from 1985-1987 while it was under renovation and then from 1987-1988 the district that would become Bollman Bridge. Upon Bollman Bridge's 1988 opening, Waterloo Middle was torn down but not for its own replacement, but for Deep Run Elementary which opened in 1990. 

Deep Run Elementary was the first new School in Elkridge since Waterloo Middle opened in 1955. Although Elkridge went 35 years without a new School it went on to gain five additional new ones in the coming years. First, in 1991 there was the long awaited Waterloo Middle Replacement School; Mayfield Woods Middle. Then, in 1992, Elkridge's namesake Elementary was replaced with a brand new building on Montgomery Road less than a mile from its original building on Old Washington Road. It should be noted that this building once housed Elkridge High School until 1952. 

About a mile west down Montgomery Road, Rockburn Elementary opened in 1993. On the same site as the new Elkridge Elementary, Elkridge Landing Middle opened in 1995. Nearby on the line in between Ellicott City and Elkridge lies Ilchester Elementary which opened in 1996. Though not in Elkridge, Long Reach High opened in Columbia that same year but a lot of Elkridge attends Long Reach and those left at Howard would attend a less crowded School. 

Meanwhile, back in Ellicott City, St. Johns Lane Elementary was the sole Elementary School for the northern part of the town from 1983-1990. Lots of growth happened there during that time as well. 
The western chunk of the St. Johns Lane was sent to the new Waverly Elementary in 1990 along with part of Centennial Lane Elementary. In 1994, part of that same area would then attend the new Manor Woods Elementary while eastern part of the St. Johns Lane District (similar to the closed Rockland District) would be sent to the Hollifield Station Elementary that would open in 1997. Hollifield Station took from Waverly Elementary as well. 

Ellicott City was also home to new Middle Schools in the 1990s as well. Burleigh Manor opened in 1992 serving the Centennial Lane section of town while Mount View Middle would open in 1993 providing relief for Dunloggin and Patapsco Middles respectively. On the eastern edge of town, Ellicott Mills Middle would be torn down in 1999 to reopen in 2001.

During this time, Ellicott Mills Students would attend the built but unopened Bonnie Branch Middle. Ellicott City would not get a High School during the 1990s but its western edge would attend the new River Hill High which opened to its own population in 1996 while other parts of town would be redistricted to Wilde Lake High whose replacement building opened in 1996 and attended River Hill for two years while original Wilde Lake was torn down and rebuilt. 

As I previously stated, River Hill was built in 1994 but opened to its own population in 1996. It would serve Clarksville, Fulton, Highland, Dayton, its namesake Columbia Village, and the western edge of Ellicott City. Almost all of this area attended Clarksville Elementary and Clarksville Middle up until 1991 when Pointers Run Elementary opened. This School served Fulton and the part of Clarksville that would become Columbia's Village of River Hill. In 1997, Fulton would gain its own Elementary School and the northern part of Clarksville, Dayton, and Glenelg would gain a new Elementary school in 1998 known as Tridelphia Ridge. The following year, Fulton and Highland would get their own Middle School; Lime Kiln. Lime Kiln was built on the same site as Fulton Elementary just two years earlier. 

In North Laurel, school construction raged on through the 1990s just like the rest of the County. The need for newer schools didn't go away when Bollman Bridge Elementary and Patuxent Valley Middle opened in 1988 and 1989 respectively. In 1992, Laurel Woods and Hammond Elementaries donated parts of their districts to make the new Forest Ridge Elementary. Laurel Woods remained crowded and the new Forest Ridge quickly became crowded as well so in 1998 Gorman Crossing opened allowing growth in the area to continue. On the Middle School front, Hammond Middle would donate its eastern chunk to make Murray Hill Middle which opened in 1997. Hammond Middle would refill itself by providing relief to Patuxent Valley.

Did you catch all of that? I barely did and I was a Howard County Student during all of that time. Although I lived in Columbia which was hardly impacted by these new Schools. The price tag of all these new Schools was quite high. So high in fact that systemic renovations and additions to Columbia Schools fell far behind and continue to do so even to this day. The 1990s was the start of the equity divide between old and new schools and the Neighborhoods they serve.            

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Decline to Growth: The School System in the 1980s

The 1970s represented a period of unprecedented growth in Howard County in the form of School Construction as did the 1990s. The 1980s however did not. When the 1970s closed out, the School System had just opened Clemens Crossing Elementary and a replacement Clarksville Middle. The long range Capital Improvement Plan included building new Schools in Hawthorn, Elkhorn, Hopewell, Savage (replacing the Elementary School that closed in 1973) and either renovating or replacing Guilford. As you can tell, very little of this actually happened. 

According to notes from old School Board Meetings from that time, enrollment had begun to decline in the older West Columbia Schools and Ellicott City Schools while the Southeast and East Columbia had remained strong and were still growing. In some cases this was due to a large concentration of Schools in a small area, too many new schools at once, a delay in construction in some parts of Columbia, and lack of turn around in Neighborhoods. This decline put the School System in a panic.

The panic made the School System decide that some Schools had to close. In West Columbia there was talk of closing Longfellow given its low enrollment and small district. There was also talk of closing Faulkner Ridge whose district was consumed by the opening of Clemens Crossing. In Ellicott City St. Johns Lane, Worthington, Northfield, and Rockland had low enrollment as did the Middle and High Schools that fed into them. 

The decision was made to close Faulkner Ridge and Rockland Elementaries in 1983 and Waterloo Middle in 1984. It was thought that Longfellow would soon follow in 1986 but the redistricting in 1983 funneled a lot of students into it while the remaining West Columbia Schools received the rest of the Faulkner Ridge District. Rockland Closed that same year with St. Johns Lane taking the entire Rockland District. Waterloo Middle had the bulk of its population districted to Ellicott City Middle (now Ellicott Mills) while the rest was annexed to Wilde Lake Middle where enrollment had already been low. 

Now we go to East Columbia and the southeast where enrollment was continuing to grow. Crowding at Phelps Luck had calmed allowing Locust Park to return there from Waterloo, Worthington, and Jeffers Hill. Jeffers Hill for one needed the extra room because the Sewells Orchard out parcel was being built throughout the 1980s. Jeffers Hill also had the western part of Huntington districted there as Atholton Elementary and Guilford weren't able to take more crowding. Dasher Green was becoming more crowded by the day and could have really used an Elkhorn Elementary at this time. Talbott Springs was not overly crowded and could continue to have Hopewell districted there. There was debate about closing Guilford Elementary in the early 1980s due to the age of the building and possibly sending the population to Hopewell if it were built. 

This didn't happen so Guilford received a large renovation in 1982. Despite its proximity, Hopewell didn't attend the larger Guilford as its current district was growing at an uncontrolled speed from Huntington in King's Contrivance. Atholton Elementary was in a similar boat as large amounts of growth from the Dickinson and MacGills Common Neighborhoods of King's Contrivance were being built. Atholton did however receive a renovation in 1980. Elementary Schools had been Master Planned into both Dickinson and Huntington as had a Middle School. None of these Schools were ever built. Crowding also continued at Whiskey Bottom Road Elementary (now Laurel Woods)

Now back to the "declining enrollment" parts of  the County. In Ellicott City, the decline was very short lived. Pretty much immediately after Rockland Closed, St. Johns Lane became crowded due to having the population of two schools within its walls. Northfield was also crowded as Dorsey Hall, Gray Rock Farms, and Plumtree Drive were being built. Worthington was now crowded as Stonecrest Hills, Wheatfield Way, and Brampton Hills were being built. 

Back in West Columbia, Longfellow never closed. Having its enrollment inflated by Swansfield and Faulkner Ridge has allowed Longfellow to remain adequately enrolled. Hawthorn Elementary was scrapped and the growing Hickory Ridge Neighborhood attended Bryant Woods. Running Brook could not take growth from the Fairway Hills Neighborhood under construction further up Columbia Road so Talbott Springs took them in. So how could Swansfield afford to send much of its district to Longfellow? The answer is two short words; Clary's Forest. Development in Clary's Forest made Swansfield very crowded. Though an Elementary School for Clary's Forest was master planned into the Neighborhood but was never built. Instead, a large addition was built onto Swansfield to allow Clary's Forest to remain there. 

So what happened to the School Buildings that closed? Faulkner Ridge became offices and Rockland became the Howard County Center for the Arts. Waterloo Middle however had a more interesting after life. First from 1985-1987 it hosted Waterloo Elementary as it went through a massive renovation. From 1987-1988 it acted as a makeshift Elementary School for select Students from Guilford since Huntington was making it too crowded and the newly minted Laurel Woods (nee Whiskey Bottom Road) as growth near there was causing crowding and because Savage Elementary closed upon Laurel Woods opening when it really shouldn't have and it never reopened.

So essentially Waterloo Middle acted as a "new" Elementary School for a year. So where did the Students from this swing go after the 1987-1988 school year was over? They went to the first new School in Howard County built in nine years; Bollman Bridge. 

Bollman Bridge was the long awaited replacement for Savage Elementary that came 15 years after its closure. The school board promised in 1973 not only a new Elementary School for Savage but a Middle School as well. That promise came to fruition one year later with the opening of Patuxent Valley Middle in 1989 just next door to Bollman Bridge. Patuxent partially relieved crowding at Hammond Middle and Ellicott Mills. 

Once Bollman Bridge opened the old Waterloo Middle was torn down to make way for a new Elementary School set to open in 1990. What Elementary School you ask? Well. I guess you'll have to wait until I write about the School System in the 1990s. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Route 100: The Westward Expansion

 In 1999, the completion of Route 100 from Route 29 to MD-177 Mountain Road in Pasadena was completed as a contagious Roadway connecting multiple communities and allowing many others to pass through without using already clogged roads such as Route 103, 108, 104, 176, 175 and countless others. Not only that, it paved the way for many new developments to take place the largest of which is Arundel Mills. As good as this was for Eastern Howard and Anne Arundel Counties, how did points west of Route 100's western terminus fare?

Well, lets start at Route 29 which is the western terminus of Route 100. Well, the entirety of Route 100 is dumped onto Route 29 and causes lots of traffic jams going northbound on Route 29 to connect to I-70. In addition, Route 108 becomes very congested when traveling west of Route 29 towards Clarksville. This shouldn't be a surprise since there has been unprecedented development west of Columbia heading towards Montgomery County and Frederick and many Residents work east of their homes and take Route 100 to get there. My commute was in reverse for 7 years traveling from Glen Burnie to Ellicott City. 

So what does this mean? It mans that traffic is awful. But how should the Community respond? Well, I believe they respond the same way they did when Route 100 was a glimmer far off in  the heads of state highway planners. I could provide a long winded history of the road and what it was originally meant to bypass but that's what Wikipedia's for. I'll get right to the point; Route 100 ends prematurely at Route 29 and in order to handle not only the current traffic but the projected increase from still more development will only make matters worse and the only way to improve it is to expand the road westward to Route 32.

Now that everybody's had a chance to catch their breath at such a proposal, allow me to explain myself. I don't wish to tear down a single dwelling nor do I wish to permanently "donate" an acre of park land. Many newer highways have had to shove their way into existing Residential Communities (Route 216, the ICC, and the existing Route 100) to name a few. This was done because the State couldn't buy up enough land to secure a right of way indictive of a straight line. Case in point, the hairpin turn the existing Route 100 makes between the communities of Shipley's Grant and Montgomery Meadows. Expanding Route 100 westward will include those same hairpin turns and something the existing Route 100 doesn't have; Tunnels.

So lets take a trip on the newly expanded Route 100. Instead of starting at its current western terminus of Route 29, I intend to start it at the new western  terminus I have created; Route 32. Route 32 has had lots of expansion at the southern end of Columbia from the rural Guilford Road to a major highway with a right of way all its own. This stops just above Route 108 in Clarksville where it returns to being a rural roadway once again with no shoulders and just one lane in each direction. Luckily Route 32 is being widened and its ancient at grade intersections are being replaced with grade separated interchanges to handle the increased traffic volumes and will be a highway from Route 108 to I-70.

This makes Route 32 the perfect new western terminus for Route 100. Route 100 will begin eastbound at Route 32 just above its new interchange with Linden Church Road. It will travel roughly a mile before meeting Sheppards Lane just south its roundabout with Folly Quarter Road. Route 100 will then make a hairpin turn to cross Homewood Road with another interchange just east of the aforementioned roundabout. After this interchange, yet another hairpin turn will occur so that Route 100 will travel above the existing Farside Community along and will cross the now cut off  Manor Lane. If Manor Lane between Route 108 and Route 144 reopened, an interchange will be built, but not in its present condition. There will however be an interchange at Centennial Lane between Route 108 and the entrance to Centennial Park. 

Here's where things get hairy to say the least. Are we going to plow over Centennial Park and its picturesque views, lake, pathways, tennis courts etc.? No, of course not but how will Route 100 travel from Centennial Lane to its current western terminus at Route 29? Well, lets think outside the box and think inside the "tube" if you will. That's right, it will be tunneled underground through Centennial Park so as not to disrupt Centennial Park. This will be Howard County's version of the "Big Dig" in Boston except this will be minus the corruption and shouty workmanship that plagued Boston. The finished product did include a multi block park that connected Downtown Boston to the then neglected North End Neighborhood. 

Now back to Route 100, now that we know Centennial Park won't be bulldozed, lets continue our Journey eastward to Route 29. There will be a bridge but no interchange with Old Annapolis Road heading towards Dorsey Hall just west of Leyden Way traveling north between Blue Barrow Ride and Gwynn Park Drive. At this point, Route 100 will become tunneled once again so that it doesn't cause a disruption between existing residences and traffic patterns along Gray Rock Drive where it will cross via a tunnel without an interchange between Red Bandana Way, Fragile Sail Way, and Firefly Way. Route 100 will finally rejoin itself at Route 29 before traveling between Dorsey Hall and Northfield Elementary and Dunloggin Middle at the Forest Hill Country Club.

So there you have it, I extended Route 100 westbound from Route 29 to Route 32 without disputing a single residence or an acre of park land. I do however know what you're thinking; this is stupid. Why would we shove a highway through well established communities and literally rip them apart? Why should disrupt farmland and some of Howard County's dwindling Rural scenery? The answer is; we shouldn't and you're right this is stupid.

That being said, the problems cited at the beginning of this post are very real regarding the clogged roadways and continuing development all throughout the effected regions. There absolutely does need to be a highway extension of Route 100  to Route 32 and it should have happened. However, Dorsey Hall, Centennial Park and several other Neighborhoods were built without taking this into consideration. The result? Unmitigated sprawl. A Route like this should have been master planned into the County before development occurred but it hasn't. Although I pretended the extension of Route 100 would be of little disruption to existing communities, who are we kidding? Of course it would. And that is why development can't be a singular venture. It has to be a puzzle consisting of multiple pieces and to quote "The Wire"; "And all the Pieces Matter." Now we must continue to find a solution to keep the ever expanding traffic flowing smoothly.    




Sunday, August 25, 2019

Modern Day Busing

So somebody wrote an article claiming that Howard County's Schools are economically segregated and poverty only lies within older Columbia Schools and those along the Route 1 Corridor. So now the County is trying to redistrict its way out of this pickle they've just now found themselves in. Usually redistricting is something to keep to a minimum if necessary so that Students can remain the same School without being disrupted. The majority of the time it is done when a new or replacement building opens or an existing building has added capacity. Even then, you should still be kept at the school nearest your home.
So now that this article has been written, the School System is jumping through hoops to rectify a "problem" that Free And Reduced Meal (FARM), an indicator of poverty, are concentrated only in some schools while other schools have very few. There's a reason for that and it has nothing to do with school districts. As I had stated, many of these Schools are located in Columbia. Columbia was meant to be a mixed income Community and it has kept its promise as being one. Most other parts of the County are anything but. Most subdivisions are newer than Columbia and are economically segregated. So of course the mixed income Community will have more FARM Students than the "NIMBY" Communities outside Columbia. This was no accident.
So what does redistricting Pheasant Ridge to Harpers Choice MS and Clary's Forest to Clarksville MS do? Other than blatant attempt to balance out the percentage of FARM students, all it does is makes both sets of Students now travel farther to their districted School, a practice known as "busing." This was done when Schools that were all white due to the Neighborhoods they served, bused in black students from other Neighborhoods to promote diversity. Busing is basically admitting that some schools in your district are better than others. The County seems to be doing this now with its current redistricting plan.
County Schools did not get this way overnight. As I had mentioned before, Columbia is a mixed income community and always has been. As Communities beyond Columbia began being developed, the mixed income component of Columbia was lost on them. Most of what was built were Single Family Homes that very few could afford. When these communities were being built, so too were new Schools to house Students living there. At what point did Schools like Pointers Run, Fulton, Ilchester, and Rockburn try to include Columbia Students in their districts? They didn't. Also, at what point did the County say it was building too many new Schools and it would instead add on to existing Columbia Schools and house Residents from those glitzy new subdivisions there? They didn't. Everybody knew what they were doing and thus a funding gap was created between brand new Schools and existing Columbia Schools.
With this funding gap came the poverty segregation that this article is talking about. I experienced first hand growing up in '90s Columbia when the wealthier Students in my classes jumped ship and moved to these newer Communities leaving Schools like mine with a much higher FARM rate. This also deterred new wealthy Howard County Families from moving into wealthier parts of Columbia as well and overtime a higher and higher percentage of Columbia Students were FARM.
Here we are today trying to redistrict this problem away. First of all, by acknowledging this article, the County's admitting that the richer Schools provide better education and that there's a problem to begin with. Second of all, redistricting does nothing to de-concentrate poverty itself, it just sends it to different schools. Third of all, why are we redistricting now? No new Schools are slated to open until the 2022-2023 School Year which is the Talbott Springs replacement School. HS#13 and a newly renovated Hammond HS with a 250 seat addition will both open the following year and the year after that is ES#43. Those years should be the next time redistricting is done. When said redistricting is done, the percentage of FARM kids may be addressed or it may not be. What will happen is balanced capacity/enrollment ratios across the board so Schools aren't crowded and Students attend the School nearest their home.
So what have we learned here? We've learned that other than Columbia, Howard County doesn't encourage poverty and has done nothing to evenly distribute FARM students except for this feeble attempt at modern day busing. We've also learned that modern day busing doesn't de-concentrate poverty, it just sends it to different schools. We've also learned that redistricting won't undo decades of income segregation policy the County practiced post Columbia. I will leave you with this; de-concentrating poverty is something that needs to be done from the ground up reinvesting in and redeveloping impoverished areas. Then and only then can the percentage of FARM Students decrease not just in Columbia Schools, but in Howard County as a whole. Anything else is modern day busing.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Could West Columbia Lose A Grocer?

As we look further into our Village Centers and how to keep them viable in our current market, we must look into another aspect of their existence, this time into Grocery Stores. In one way or another, 8 of our 9 Village Centers are Grocery Anchored with Long Reach as the exception due to its pending redevelopment and its location that is surrounded by multiple Grocery Stores. 20 years ago, it was a given that all Village Centers were to be Grocery Anchored and when one closes, it will would be back-filled with another more viable Grocer, or the Center would be redeveloped because the existing Grocer space is too small.
In the past 20 years, mainstream Grocers have faced increasingly tighter competition as new stores have opened and larger big box stores like Target, WalMart, Cosco, BJs, Wegmans, and Sams Club have begun dominating the market scene as have smaller concept Grocers like Trader Joes and Aldi. One can't mention emerging Grocers without the ultra trendy and upscale Whole Foods. As far as competition to the Village Centers is concerned, it has effected the East Columbia Village Centers the most.
Oakland Mills has had the largest amount of Grocers leave its center. A Giant now wanting to stick around for redevelopment, a Metro being bought out by Parent Companies, a Food Lion being one of several to be bought by Weis, and a Weis closing citing robberies and under performing sales. Somehow Oakland Mills has lured yet another Grocer, LA Mart. LA Mart is not a mainstream Grocer and focuses on international foods as well as standard American Groceries. The international concept is due to the very diverse population around Oakland Mills Village Center and is also looking to be a regional destination for those looking for a more diverse array of Groceries.
Kings Contrivance has always been a successful Center as a whole with a mix of independent and chain stores with few vacancies. This however has not always been the case with its Grocers. Upon opening in 1986 Kings Contrivance had a small Value Food that closed in 1999 as the company filed for Chapter 11. The interior of this store was quite dingy already but none the less Safeway opened 30 days later after minimal renovation. Although Safeway brought brand name recognition, the store was run properly and instead of performing much needed renovations, it was shut down in late 2005. This is when Harris Teeter began scouting out spaces in which to expand into the Maryland Market. They chose Kings Contrivance and demolished the old Safeway building and build a brand new store much larger than its predecessor and opened in 2008. No stores left the Center in the three years it had no anchor.
The saddest Village Center is Long Reach. It hasn't had an anchor in six years and has been bought by the County to redevelop. Getting the go ahead to redevelop has been a long and arduous road with no end in sight. A Grocer will not be sought out replace the vacant Safeway/Family Market space since the area is too saturated by stronger Grocers. Since the Grocer space has gone vacant, the Center has lost most of its tenants and is a ghost town. Redevelopment plans show mixed use. It is unclear if any of the few remaining tenants will remain during and after redevelopment.
Owen Brown Village Center has maintained its Giant throughout its entire 41 years existence. Owen Brown has struggled with vacant storefronts but has had a consistent Grocer that has expanded and modernized its store through the years. Some redevelopment has occurred here but more is required to inline tenants filled.
By comparison, the West Columbia Village Centers have seen significantly less activity on the Grocer front. Dorsey's Search, Hickory Ridge, and River Hill all have Giants and have had them since they opened in 1989, 1992, and 1998 respectively. Wilde Lake has seen the most redevelopment recently when its grossly undersized Giant closed in 2006.
After an exhausting redevelopment, existing specialty Grocer David's Natural Market re-opened in a brand new store with a more traditional Grocer layout. A CVS has also opened in Wilde Lake as a dual anchors. Wilde Lake is now mixed use with Apartments. This has been successful as Wilde Lake has lured a Starbucks, Smoothie King, JC Hair Salon, and Bliss Nails have all opened recently in the Center. Feet First, Hunan Family, Today's Catch Seafood Market and the UPS Store have moved to new location within the redeveloped Center while long term tenants like Anthony Richard Barber Shop, Pizza Bolis, and the Bagel Bin have remained in their original locations throughout redevelopment.
 Harper's Choice in the early to mid 1990s began bleeding tenants as the very small Valu Food there failed to attract shoppers. Despite many vacancies, Safeway agreed to open at the Center but only after a massive redevelopment. The old Valu Food was demolished making way for a brand new Safeway close to three times the size of its predecessor in 1998. Since then, Harpers Choice has had very few vacancies.
So now, in this crowded market of Grocery Anchored Village Centers in West Columbia, could something close? Grocers these days are stressing quality over quantity and are closing smaller under performing stores and choosing to invest in ones that are already more successful or taking over spaces left by now defunct Grocery chains. So what could this mean for the West Columbia Market?
Well, the outer Village Centers such as Dorsey's Search and River Hill have minimal competition so I don't see their Giants closing. Wilde Lake doesn't have a traditional Grocer as an anchor and both the CVS and David's Natural Market are both in brand new redeveloped spaces. That leaves Harpers Choice and Hickory Ridge vulnerable. Both are very close by one another, both have full sized mainstream Grocers, and both have their own set of struggles.
Hickory Ridge has announced that it intends to redevelop its Center. This announcement came at a time where Hickory Ridge was almost fully leased and probably could have simply remodeled it aging facades and expanded and modernized the Giant and everything would have been fine. However this was not the course of action taken and the uneasiness that accompanies redevelopment has made tenants flee the Center. Could Giant be next? They have vowed to stay at Hickory Ridge during the redevelopment which includes a renovation and expansion to their existing store. Giant has left Village Centers in the past such as Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills and in Baltimore has left the Rotunda despite promising to stay on as it was redeveloped but left in favor of a space up the street vacated by Fresh 'N Greens.
This is probably something that weighs heavily on the minds of Hickory Ridge Residents and the Village Center's landlords alike. So if Giant left Hickory Ridge, where would it go? Would it even reopen elsewhere? Would it simply shift focus solely on Dorsey's Search and River Hill? Would it move to...... Harpers Choice? The same Harpers Choice with a Safeway? Harpers Choice does have fewer vacant storefronts and has a higher density of housing surrounding it. That could be a prized possession to the ever aggressive Giant.
Harpers Choice Village Center though relatively successful may have some cracks starting to form in the Grocer front. The biggest one is Residents plain old don't like the Safeway. They'd rather go to another store in another Village Center. Residents have stated that they'd be more likely to shop there if the Grocer wasn't Safeway and the Center undergoes additional redevelopment. What I'd like to see happen is for Kroger (same parent company as Safeway) to take over that space. Kroger as a whole is a nicer Grocer than Safeway and with new management can give Harpers Choice a shot in the arm and encourage redevelopment. That unless Giant leaves Hickory Ridge, outbids Safeway, and snatches up the space from under them. Not what I want to happen, I just believe it to be possible.
So where would that leave Hickory Ridge if it lost Giant? Personally I think with its redevelopment plans in tow, it could lure another Grocer. Perhaps even a mainstream Grocer like Harris Teeter, Weis, or Kroger (if it isn't in Harpers Choice already) could move in after redevelopment and Hickory Ridge will get back on top. I also think if Safeway were to leave Harpers Choice, it too would have options and be back filled by a another main stream Grocer. So do I think West Columbia could lose a Grcoer? Well not now, but Harpers Choice and Hickory Ridge definitely have to play their cards right to co-exist so closely together.