Ge Site Being Molded For Retail Use

August 11, 1991|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff writer

The Rouse Co. hopes to transform what was once Columbia's manufacturing hub into a home for large-scale retail outlets such as the Price Club, PACE and IKEA.

Last week, the company cleared one hurdle toward rezoning 65 acres of the former General Electric Appliance Park East on Snowden River Parkway.

The rezoning would allow construction of a 400,000-square-foot development including two fast food restaurants and a gas station.

The project aims to keep Columbia residents from leaving the area to shop at large warehouse-style retailers, said Gerald E. Brock, Rouse vice president and senior development director.

That trend has shown up in various Rouse marketing surveys, said Brock, who admitted, "Even my wife is doing it."

Planning Board chairwoman Helen Ruther agreed, saying, "Those kinds of bulk retail stores are the kind of things that will be economically beneficial to the county . . . and popular with consumers, I think."

The county Planning Board on Tuesdayrecommended approval of a petition by Rouse's Columbia branch, Howard Research and Development, to change the 65 acres from industrial toB2 zoning, which allows retail development.

That recommendation now goes to the county Zoning Board, which will make the final decision.

The board will sponsor a hearing on the petition Oct. 2.

If final approval is granted by the end of the year, the first stores could open in 1993, Brock said.

While there are no agreements with potential occupants, he added, Price Club and other outlets are looking to expand in the Baltimore-Washington Corridor.

Planning Board members also recommended changing an additional 357 acres in the appliance park from industrial to M1 (manufacturing) zoning to allow the property to be subdivided for more than one tenant.

The site includes GE's former electric range plant and distribution center.

B. Green & Co., a food wholesaler, is eyeing the facilities for a major distribution center, but the properties are still on the market, Brock said.

The land is part of nearly 1,100 acres zoned in 1968 for industrial use. That zoning was intended for a large industrial complex with one owner and was bought by GE for its Appliance Park East.

The park, which opened in 1970, was touted as Columbia's manufacturinghub and expected to employ 10,000 workers. But at its peak in 1974, only 2,800 employees worked there. Later that year, GE closed its airconditioner plant, partly because of a demand for more energy-efficient units.

The microwave plant closed in 1986 after GE started buying the appliances from Japan and Korea, and two years later the plant and its land were bought by Rouse.

The range plant closed in June 1990 after the GE acquired another plant in Georgia with three times Columbia's production capacity. And on Jan. 1, Rouse bought back the remaining 422 acres.

A warehousing contractor continues to distribute GE products from the distribution center building, but that operation is expected to move to a new facility this fall.

The HRD petition makes several arguments for the zoning change.

It asserts that development under the current zoning is no longer feasible in part because the character of the Baltimore-Washington Corridor has shifted away from manufacturing and toward service and distribution. The Zoning Board made a mistake, it asserts, in failing to consider that change in character in its most recent comprehensive rezoning in 1985.

The petition also argues that the requested change is in keepingwith the county's 1990 General Plan because it calls for expansion of uses in the area and encourages development of existing employment centers that are likely to increase both jobs and the tax base.

A county planning staff report on the request, however, points out thatthe area is designated for "mixed use," which calls for some residential development after the year 2000.

Since M1 zoning does not allow mixed use, some additional rezoning would be required to satisfy the General Plan, the report said.

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