Just because the Hickory Ridge Village Center is doing well doesn't mean it can't be even better.
Village officials are satisfied with the center, which opened in 1992 at the intersection of Cedar Lane and Freetown Road. But residents are now looking at improvements that could enhance what is already there – additions that could be made on land nearby.
While other village centers in Columbia have been in flux in recent years, a committee is suggesting new features, ranging from a medical office building to a dog park, to keep the Hickory Ridge Village Center doing well.
“The real goal is the vitality of that site,” said Miles Coffman, chairman of the Hickory Ridge Village Board. “We’ve seen, overall, that we have good usage of it.”
The village center has a Giant Food grocery store as its anchor, along with restaurants, shops and banks. The main section of the shopping center has 18 open businesses and two vacant spaces. A gas station and other buildings are close by.
For the past year, a committee of residents and board members has taken a look not just at what’s on the site, but at what’s around it, while drafting a community plan for the village center. The effort comes out of a Howard County Council resolution in 2009 that encouraged villages to develop such plans.
The committee presented its draft on Tuesday.
“The purpose of the plan is an advisory document,” said Joan Lancos, Hickory Ridge’s land use liaison. “It won’t have any carved-in-stone impact.”
That’s because the shopping center is privately owned, by Kimco Realty Corporation. But a Kimco staffer said he was impressed with residents’ ideas.
“What you put together is tremendous,” said Kevin Allen, a leasing agent for Kimco. “The village centers in Columbia – and we’ve owned a number of them over the years – some of them have gotten to the point where they’ve started to deteriorate. What the village [Hickory Ridge] is doing here is getting ahead of it.”
In putting together their draft, committee members decided that the boundaries of what is considered the village center should reach to buildings and land beyond the shopping center.
Several adjacent properties – home to medical and assisted-living facilities, open space, undeveloped land, a daycare facility/preschool, a house and a church – are important to making the shopping center an active gathering place for visitors and for community members in the surrounding neighborhoods, Lancos said.
“We want the [community plan] to enable us to be proactive rather than reactive as development and redevelopment ideas are presented to the community,” she said.
The plan allows for county agencies, developers and future village boards to know what the community is looking for.
“These are the kinds of things we think would be good choices,” Lancos said. “Having everyone on the same page allows for productive conversation towards a common goal.”
The current draft of the community plan looks at what uses are allowed in several areas surrounding the shopping center and suggests how each area could be used.
A Columbia Association-owned open space adjacent to the shopping center, for example, could be used for an athletic facility or a community building, or perhaps for a dog park, a play field or an outdoor exercise area, the committee suggested.
A wooded area north of the shopping center and across Freetown Road could be used for office space, including more medical offices as a natural growth of the nearby health-care facilities, as well as the medical offices near Howard County General Hospital.
Land to the west of the shopping center across Cedar Lane could be offices or a multifamily residential site, the committee suggested.
Any of these would serve the shopping center, according to committee members. Not having retail outlets outside the shopping center would keep commercial business contained, and building more offices and homes nearby could mean more traffic to the grocery store, restaurants and shops, they noted.
Residents at Tuesday’s meeting said they were concerned about traffic and wanted more signs to direct people to the village center.
Allen, the Kimco leasing agent, told the group he agreed that nearby development could be good for the shopping center. “Additional office space that surrounds a retail center is a tremendous asset,” he said. “Additional residential is a great piece to support the village center. More bodies and more homes help.”
Lancos said the next draft of the community plan could be ready by the end of June, though she said getting it done by then was an “optimistic” deadline.
“We also hope that over time we will revisit the document and make changes to reflect the demographics of the community,” she said.