Huge market being sought

N.Y. developer proposes Wegmans store on 10-acre site on the east side

`It would have a negative effect'

Planners, Rouse fear damage to village concept


March 16, 2004|By Larry Carson and Laura Cadiz | Larry Carson and Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

A New York developer is seeking to bring a huge upscale supermarket to an industrial site in east Columbia despite opposition from Howard County planners and the Rouse Co., which fears it could hurt Columbia's village concept.

County and Rouse officials praised Wegmans as a first-rate store but said after a hearing in Ellicott City yesterday that putting a 100,000-square-foot "hyper-grocery" on industrially zoned land would hurt the planned town and reduce the amount of land available for manufacturing.

The newest supermarket nearby is a 60,000-square-foot Giant Food store that opened recently where a movie theater once stood.

"It goes against the principle that village centers have grocery stores of that size," said Dennis W. Miller, a Rouse vice president and Columbia's general manager.

Wegmans has not agreed to build a store in Columbia, but Staten Island, N.Y., developer Timothy C. Harrison is hoping to attract the store if he can get permission for the project.

The chain, which plans to open a store in Hunt Valley next year, has 66 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia, where it opened a store last month, in Sterling. The 130,000-square-foot store has a restaurant with seating for 260. Another store is planned for Fairfax, Va.

"I think it's a first-class operation, and we would welcome it to our community, but it would have a negative effect to what we're trying to do at Oakland Mills and Long Reach," said County Councilman David A. Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat who is working to revitalize those two village centers.

Columbia's village centers have suffered from big-box competition in recent years despite multimillion-dollar renovations, and the Oakland Mills center is without a supermarket. Giant Food, with eight stores in Columbia, owns the Owen Brown center, about two miles from the proposed Wegmans site.

In 2002, Rouse sold eight village centers to KIMCO Realty, which sold the Long Reach center to Perrine & Wheeler Real Estate Investments of Norfolk, Va., last month.

Jo Natale, consumer services manger for Wegmans, said the company has been talking to a number of developers about a store in the Columbia area.

"We would be interested in that market if an appropriate site became available," she said. "But as of yet, we have not identified one."

The Rochester, N.Y., company is planning to open its first Maryland store, with about 500 employees, next year as the anchor tenant at Hunt Valley Towne Center, a "town center" style shopping and entertainment center that is to replace most of Hunt Valley Mall.

Last year, Wegmans dropped plans to open a store in Timonium after it was opposed by businesses and community groups who feared increased traffic and did not want the store on land zoned for industrial use.

Wegmans, a family-owned company founded in 1916, is known for its in-store dining and a huge variety of cheeses, produce and prepared meals. Some customers drive long distances to the stores.

The Howard County planning director, Marsha McLaughlin, who attended yesterday's technical hearing, said the retail market is so hot that it is encroaching on land available for industrial use. "We want to retain the industrial," she said.

Harrison is seeking permission to develop a site for Wegmans on 10 acres across Snowden River Parkway from a Rouse-owned development that contains a BJ's Warehouse, which sells groceries as a sideline. A warehouse occupies the site across McGaw Road from Apple Ford.

Richard B. Talkin, Harrison's local zoning attorney, said in a Dec. 1 letter to the county, "We believe that the Wegman's type operation is a permitted use" on the industrially zoned site.

The county zoning chief, George L. Beisser, replied in a Dec. 4 letter that "a retail grocery store use is not permitted" on the site Harrison has in mind.

County hearing examiner Thomas Carbo said he would decide within two weeks whether Harrison is entitled to a full hearing on his proposal.

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