Town Center no longer top retail focus New 'power center' on town's east edge affirms shopping shift

Trend alters Rouse vision

Some residents eager for new Route 175, Snowden River shops

September 22, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

More traffic, more sprawl, more stuff to buy.

Columbians can expect big changes with the opening next month of another warehouse-style "power center" off Route 175, this one with a Target store the size of three football fields.

The retail center, Columbia Crossing -- together with the area's other shopping behemoth, Snowden Square -- will offer low prices on everything from chain saws to dinner jackets.

But the latest power center does not come without a price.

Its opening affirms the shift of Columbia's retail hub away from the city's Town Center, which was designed as the planned community's shopping focus as part of the larger goal of containing suburban sprawl.

Now the center of gravity for Columbia shoppers has shifted to Columbia's eastern fringe -- near Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway.

The combined 1.2 million square feet of shopping at Columbia Crossing and Snowden Square eclipses The Mall in Columbia's 876,000 square feet, according to data from Howard County officials and the Rouse Co., Columbia's developer.

This retail shift toward Columbia's eastern fringe troubles some Columbia purists, even those who say they shop at the warehouse stores.

One of them, local architect Nicholas Mangraviti, serves on the Town Center Village Board and teaches urban dynamics at Catholic University of America in Washington. He terms the new retail hub "Town Center East" and says it has helped turn Columbia into just another sprawling suburb.

That's just fine with Robert Thomas, a Columbia resident who recently stopped by the Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon being built near Columbia Crossing. He jokingly told the construction workers to hurry up so that he could come eat.

"I think all this growth is great," Thomas said, standing in the Lone Star parking lot. "Everybody I know is, like, 'I can't wait till Target opens.' The Columbia purists, they need to get a reality check."

With growth, though, comes more traffic.

Already, 5,664 vehicles pass through the intersection of Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway during the peak hour of evening traffic, according to traffic studies done last year by county engineers.

By 2003, an additional 2,503 vehicles will pass through the intersection during the evening rush hour, according to Rouse estimates. By 2020, 5,411 more vehicles are expected during the same time period, almost double the current peak load.

"It's already a nightmare; it's going to get worse," said Cecilia Januszkiewicz, chairwoman of the village board in Long Reach, which borders the north side of the new retail giants.

Making matters worse, county and state officials are considering postponing major improvements at Route 175 intersections with Snowden River Parkway and Dobbin Road.

Originally, county and state engineers were to decide between a cloverleaf-style interchange and an innovative "dispersed-movement" design that called for extra turning lanes and timed traffic signals.

But with construction funds in short supply, county officials now are thinking about proposing only minor improvements in the area with the hope that in three years, when Route 100 is fully opened, fewer cars will be on Route 175.

"We may come out with a determination to wait," said Gene Straub, director of traffic safety for the State Highway Administration.

But Route 100 won't be a panacea. The projections of increased traffic along Route 175 take into account the opening of Route 100, according to the county.

A task force made up of community leaders and county and state officials is examining options for the intersections. A report is due next month.

For avid shoppers such as Thomas, however, the new stores and ensuing retail battles are worth additional traffic headaches. There certainly will be retail battles -- competition that may benefit consumers.

"You got the big boys coming into town. It's war," said Mark Millman, a retail consultant and head of Millman Search Group Inc. in Lutherville.

In this case, the biggest boy is Target, scheduled to open Oct. 6.

This is no standard Target, but a supersized, 142,000-square-foot "Target Greatland."

The typical Target -- like the one also set to open Oct. 6 in the Long Gate center just south of Ellicott City -- is about 115,000 square feet. Target Greatland offers more products in all categories, said Terry Marschall, manager of the Columbia Target.

The two Targets are among 13 stores the chain is opening this year in Maryland.

At the Target in Columbia Crossing last week, employees could be seen stocking shelves and scrubbing floors. The store has 22 checkout aisles. It is so large that it is divided into "worlds" that are color-coded with strips of neon. Shoppers will find hammers, for example, in "blue world."

Other stores to open in Columbia Crossing include Toys 'R' Us (scheduled to open in November) and Dick's Clothing and Sports Goods (scheduled to open next spring), said David Forester, senior development director for Rouse.

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