By: Fatimah Waseem
County officials have selected a $2.5 million offer by Orchard Development Corp. to buy and resuscitate Long Reach Village Center, an aging, dilapidated center in Columbia the county purchased for twice that amount two years ago.
Orchard Development's plan, which was selected by competitive bid and unanimously recommended by a county-led committee selected to review proposals, would transform the center by adding around 300 residential units, nearly 1,000 parking spaces — including an 854-space parking garage — 20,000 square feet of retail, a village green and a food incubator.
The county purchased 7.7-acres of the property from Long Reach Village Associates LLC, a corporation affiliated with Pikesville-based America's Realty, for $5 million in 2015.The developer plans to demolish most of the village center, which was built in 1974 and has fallen into disrepair after the Safeway anchoring the center left several years ago.
The residential units would take up most of the center. Opposite a village green designed for events and gatherings, roughly 132 market-rate units of multifamily housing wrap around the five-story parking garage, which is screened by a vertical garden. Space for a food incubator, which will allow local chefs and food vendors to create and package their food for local distribution, is also part of the design. The structure includes a planned daycare, dog park and a smaller plaza.
Scott Armiger, Orchard's president, said the plan could make the center "a destination spot" that is driven by residential density.
"If you look at the center now, what's there doesn't work and hasn't for a long time. We're trying something that will work for many years to come and create a special place to be," Armiger said.
The center has struggled with significant market competition nearby, and has experienced high vacancy rates since the Safeway closed in 2011.
The proposed pavilion for retail will include 17,500 square feet of retail and another 17,500 square feet of medical office space. Nearly 52 townhouses and 120 units of senior housing will fill the remainder of the site.
A complete demolition of the portion of the center the county owns is planned. The developer hopes to incorporate property owned by Deli Town and Richburn Liquors into the project. The Stonehouse, an events venue owned by Columbia Association, will remain, and its visibility is expected to improve with the redesign of the center.
The developer plans to work with the county to ensure a smooth transition for current tenants who want to stay. Biking and pedestrian connections are also planned as the county develops its bikeshare program, and a bike path that would connect to neighboring Blandair Park.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman recommended the proposal, which he said closely aligns with revitalization goals identified by the community throughout the planning process for revitalization.
"It is time to make the Long Reach Village Center, once again, a thriving place for our residents and businesses," Kittleman wrote in a statement.
"Though it is lower than what the county paid in 2014 under a previous administration, I'm confident that this approach will, in the long-term, lead to the kind of renewal that will benefit all county residents in general and the Long Reach community in particular," he added.
The selection of plans has long been anticipated as other village centers like Wilde Lake, Hickory Ridge and Oakland Mills undergo their own revitalization efforts.
County Councilman Calvin Ball, who represents the area, said the selection of the proposal marks a "milestone moment" for the center that he hopes will improve safety and connectivity in the area.
"While it was significantly less than we purchased it for, moving forward, we need to come together for our village center," he said.
The Long Reach Village Board and area residents crafted a master plan for the area in 2012 after local lawmakers laid out a redevelopment process for Columbia's village centers in 2009.
Soon after the county purchased the center over two phases in 2015, planners launched five community meetings to create a broader vision for the center and establish objectives for the revitalization effort.
Orchard's plan was selected from four proposals through a competitive bidding process initiated in December. The offer was not the highest bid, but within 5 percent of other proposed purchase prices before closing, according to county officials.
A seven-member committee, which included three community members, evaluated proposals based on their compatibility with planned visions for the center, a major element in the decision-making process.
Committee members Jahantab Siddiqui, Kittleman's deputy chief of staff, and Amy Gowan, deputy director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, said they were especially impressed by Orchard's identification of community partners invested in the project, including Howard Community College and the Arc of Howard County.
"This has truly been a community-driven and community-inspired process," Siddiqui said.
The selection of the proposal jump starts a months-long planning process. After the county's planning board reviews the plan on May 18, the Howard County Council will vote on the purchase, leading to a series of community input opportunities and zoning steps.
Armiger anticipates beginning demolition early next year.
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