Tapping the spirit of old Columbia Howard County: Oakland Mills evoked planned city's origins by pulling together.

October 17, 1997

AT 30 YEARS OLD, Columbia is a relatively young town that was founded on the notion of community. That spirit has been challenged in recent years as residents have built fences -- indeed, even gated communities -- around themselves, in conflict with founder James Rouse's notion of togetherness.

But residents in Oakland Mills have been rallying behind their neighborhood and may have just won a significant victory toward revitalizing their village. Four months after Giant Food closed a small store in the slumping Oakland Mills village center, Metro Food Markets announced plans recently to build a supermarket twice the size of the former Giant grocery. Metro has agreed to spend $5 million and to sign a 20-year lease at the Oakland Mills center.

It took the announcement of Giant's closing to whip residents into action.

More than 300 people attended a community meeting to vent and brainstorm. Truth be told, their village center had been sliding downhill even before Giant's decision. The store was too small; the shopping center's layout was passe.

Residents were angry, too, at the Rouse Co., the center's landlord, for allowing the conveniently located anchor store to break its lease and leave. They questioned the developer's commitment to Columbia's "original villages," their euphemism for older communities in the planned city. They poured their fury into something positive. Indeed, they unearthed the old spirit of Columbia, banding together and forming committees. They worked with the Rouse Co. to find a supermarket to replace Giant.

The partnership succeeded. Metro Food Markets, among the food chains taking aim at Giant's dominance in the region, has agreed to build a 42,000-square-foot store. Rouse officials, in turn, had proof of the commitment they say they always had. But prodding from residents didn't hurt.

Rouse agreed to spend $3 million to $4 million for a massive reconstruction of the center, similar to what is going on nearby at the Harper's Choice center and what is planned for another village, Long Reach. The late Mr. Rouse, whose ideals were invoked often during the controversy over Oakland Mills' supermarket and village center, would be proud of what has transpired there.

Pub Date: 10/17/97

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