Rouse plans ninth center River Hill facility is to feature open shopping area

Old flaws avoided

Public plaza designed for gatherings

August 14, 1996|By DAN MORSE | DAN MORSE,SUN STAFF

The Rouse Co. -- steering clear of the design flaws at its old and ailing village centers in central Columbia -- will present plans tonight for a ninth and final center, in the Village of River Hill along Columbia's western border.

The red brick center, due to open next fall, will feature a "Gucci Giant" about twice the size of the grocery stores in Columbia's original village centers that opened from 1967 to 1978. Next to the Giant, a second building will house small shops in a strip-mall fashion.

The Giant and the strip mall will open onto a shared, 487-space parking lot -- creating a spacious, open shopping center in sharp contrast to the older centers.

At those centers, the backs of the stores face the parking lots. The fronts of the stores encircle courtyards that many of today's crime-weary shoppers find too enclosed.

Rouse will present its plans to the Howard County Planning Board. The Department of Planning and Zoning has recommended approval.

Rouse officials hope that when the River Hill village center is built, residents will gather between the two buildings in a small public plaza that also will serve as a walk-way entrance to a proposed $6 million health club.

They envision neighbors meeting as they shop -- just the kind of scene Columbia designers envisioned 30 years ago for the villages of Wilde Lake, Harper's Choice, Oakland Mills, Long Reach and Owen Brown.

"That was the whole function of the village center, it was the gathering space for the community," said Alton J. Scavo, who manages Columbia for Rouse.

The River Hill plans appear similar to Rouse's two most recent village centers: Hickory Ridge and particularly the strip-type center in Dorsey's Search. At those centers, shoppers can park their cars near the front of the stores and not feel as if they are shopping in isolation.

In addition, in both the Dorsey's Search and River Hill designs, the parking lots are visible from the small plazas, creating a more open feeling.

The River Hill center also has something else going for it: It will be the farthest village center from the three mega-store "power centers" along Columbia's north and east borders.

One of those centers, Snowden Square, off Snowden River Parkway, already is open. Two others -- Columbia Crossing, off Route 175, and Long Gate, off Route 100 -- are due to start opening stores this fall.

The warehouse-style retail centers draw shoppers from village centers, according to village center merchants and shoppers.

Rouse officials also say that River Hill probably will draw shoppers from the Clarksville and Highland areas to the west of Columbia.

"The services out that way are sporadic at best," Scavo said.

He said the proposed health club in River Hill also would help draw people to the center. Outside of the Columbia Athletic Club, for example, people gather on benches before and after their workouts.

Earlier this year, the Columbia Council, which is the governing body of the Columbia Association (CA), voted 8-2 to spend $275,000 to plan the health club. CA already owns two health clubs.

In addition to the grocery store anchor, the River Hill village center will house a variety of shops that could include restaurants, a pub, dry cleaner, drive-through bank, bagel shop or video store.

The center is being developed jointly by Rouse and Giant, Scavo said. Rouse has developed all but one of the other village centers. Giant developed the Owen Brown Village Center.

Scavo declined to identify merchants, aside from Giant, saying the company still is in lease negotiations.

In other business at tonight's Planning Board meeting, the board is scheduled to vote on a controversial "tot lot" children's play area in River Hill.

Based on letters submitted to the Planning Board recently, most of the residents in the Pheasant Ridge neighborhood seem to have lined up in support of the latest tot lot location.

Pub Date: 8/14/96

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