Plans for huge supermarket alarm Howard planners

Rouse officials also fear harm to Columbia 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 they said after a hearing in Ellicott City yesterday that putting a 100,000-square- foot "hyper-grocery" building on industrially zoned land would not only hurt the planned town, but also would reduce the amount of land available for manufacturing.

The newest supermarket nearby is a 60,000-square-foot Giant 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 its first 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, which has 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.

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