Senior housing proposed for center

Oakland Mills site sought for 96-apartment complex


October 14, 2002|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

What was the site of an Exxon gas station at the entrance to Oakland Mills Village Center could become a senior apartment complex, if a local developer has his way.

Jeffrey C. Kirby, founder of J. Kirby Development LLC, has met with the Oakland Mills Revitalization Committee and presented plans to build a four-story, 96-unit apartment building for people age 62 and older on the 1.7 acres vacated by Exxon Mobil Corp.

Kirby has not submitted plans for the development to the county, but he said he has the land under contract, pending county approvals. The proposal would require a change in the development plans for the center, according to the county planning and zoning office. Residents say they hope the development will be the first step in revitalizing the troubled center.

"We heard his presentation, and we're really excited about it because it would make good use of that space, it would put people into the village center, and also it would be customers for the merchants," said Barbara Russell, the Columbia Council member representing Oakland Mills.

"Our village doesn't want additional apartments and townhouses, but this is considered a different kind of project," Russell said. "We don't have any such facility in Oakland Mills. It would be nice to know if you couldn't drive anymore, there's a place you can go. Perhaps, if this facility did go in, there would be more activities in the village center."

Kirby's plans call for a single building with one- and two-bedroom units and facilities such as a multipurpose room, billiards room, small beauty salon, movie theater, exercise room and small health center for visiting physicians. The building would have two elevators and secured entrances monitored by closed-circuit television.

The building would be similar to other 100- to 200-unit projects Kirby has planned in Montgomery County and will be the third project for his year-old company. The Montgomery County projects are expected to break ground next year, he said.

Kirby said he started the company after working on senior projects for Humphrey Development Co. in Silver Spring, and Stavrou Associates Inc. in Lanham for the past eight years.

Kirby said the village center is an ideal location because many other amenities for residents would be within walking distance.

"To me, this is an ideal site for elderly housing," he said. "This site has a real nice residential feel, yet it's within walking distance of the retail center that has all the services and products the residents will need."

Shopping for a grocer

But Oakland Mills Village Center could become a liability for the would-be development if Kimco Realty Corp., which manages the center, does not find a grocer to occupy the space vacated by Metro Food Market last year.

If the development is built, it would fill the second of three long-term vacancies the center has had in recent years.

The Rouse Co., which owned the village shopping centers before selling majority interest to Kimco this year, spent $4 million in 1998 on a renovation for the center, which included bringing the Metro to the area. But the investment did not prove fruitful.

Within a year, a string of robberies and low sales forced Royal Farms, the area's convenience store near the entrance, to close. That store was replaced by an independent grocery-convenience hybrid, called Sam's Mart, last year.

The Exxon gas station closed soon after the Royal Farms store did, leaving its property boarded up until it was demolished and the underground gas tanks removed last year. Metro closed in April last year, after three years at the location. Several shops remain in the center, but most are not visible from the street.

Kimco property manager Kevin Allen said Metro and his company have spoken to "numerous supermarkets" trying to negotiate a long-term lease or sale of the property, but have not brokered a deal.

Russell said she is hopeful that news of the developer's intent to bring residential housing to the village center will help speed the process of finding a grocer.

`Very positive reports'

"I would be hopeful that the grocery store is a lot closer than it would take to complete this [senior housing] process," she said. "Kevin Allen ... has been bringing us some very positive reports. He has given us reason to believe they're making progress in finding a grocer for the store."

Kirby said he expects to submit building plans to the county for approval within a few months and, if all goes well, the building could be open by 2004.

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