Walgreens plan upsets village

Store: Hickory Ridge residents oppose a planned pharmacy, fearing increased noise and congestion.

August 02, 2004|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Three years ago Leon and Joyce Kutik moved to the quiet Hickory Crest senior housing development in Columbia to spend their latter years in a home with a back yard bordered by trees, providing a buffer from nearby traffic and noise.

But now the Kutiks and some of their neighbors fear their peaceful setting could be compromised by a Walgreens pharmacy that's proposed to be constructed on land that abuts their development and is across the street from the Hickory Ridge Village Center.

"It's obviously going to be a source of noise; it won't be as quiet," said Leon Kutik, 77, a retired laboratory manager. "It will add to the congestion of the area."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Aug. 2 Howard County edition of The Sun about a proposed Walgreens pharmacy in Hickory Ridge reported that some residents were concerned about the store competing with the One Hour Photo shop in the village center. One Hour Photo closed June 30. The Sun regrets the error.

A subsidiary of Mangione Family Enterprises owns the lot, which has long been zoned residential, and wants the Howard County Council to rezone the area for commercial use to allow for the 15,000- square-foot, one-story pharmacy with a drive-through window.

The council will consider the zoning change as part of its "comp light" legislation beginning in October, which includes zoning issues that were left out of the county's once-a-decade comprehensive rezoning approved this year.

The disputed nearly 4-acre site sits between Owen Brown and Freetown roads and Cedar Lane, a busy thoroughfare to Route 32.

"It's best suited for a use like this," Louis Mangione, vice president for development of Mangione Family Enterprises, said of the proposed Walgreens. "It is not a residential lot, although there's a house there now, because of the exposure to the road and the traffic signal."

The site is slated in comp light for planned office research use, which would allow for banks, offices and restaurants, but not a business such as a pharmacy. However, that's not a compromise the residents are willing to consider.

"The fact is, we want residential [zoning], and that's our bottom line," said Gregg Schwind, a member of the Hickory Ridge Village Board.

Residents say they feel a Walgreens is unnecessary and fear that it would not only attract unwanted traffic and noise, but also compete with the village center's smaller businesses, such as One Hour Photo and Sara's Cards & Gifts.

Ajit Nandi, owner of Sara's Cards & Gifts, is worried that large chain stores such as Walgreens could wipe out the smaller businesses.

"They sell [at] cheaper prices, which we can't afford," he said. "Our smaller store, our mom and pop store, when we sell something, we pay high rent compared to them, and we don't have the buying power to sell cheaper."

Jim Pak, owner of the Hickory Plaza Pharmacy on Hickory Ridge Road near the village center, is confident his customers won't abandon him for a larger pharmacy because of his business's family atmosphere. But he worries about the movement of larger chains taking over small businesses.

"I am concerned, because you see the trend, who else is going to come in?" he said. "In all [of the] United States, we survive based on individual stores."

However, Mangione said he expects that the Walgreens would only be a competitor for the Giant Food pharmacy in the village center.

"It would not compete with the small businesses anymore than the Giant already competes with the small stores," he said.

Kutik is concerned the Walgreens could be a 24-hour pharmacy -- though Mangione said he didn't know what the operating hours would be -- and become a hangout. He worries that, unlike the berm-camouflaged village center, he will see the pharmacy, parking lot and lights through the trees that buffer his back yard.

Mangione said that between the Hickory Crest development and his property is a stream, requiring a 75-foot tree buffer on both sides. He said residents would probably only see the Walgreens in the winter.

"Man can't make a better screen than what they have," he said. "No one will be looking at the parking lot from their house; people will see it driving home."

Linda Hitzelberger, chairwoman of the Hickory Ridge Village Board, said the community is united in its opposition to the Walgreens and is trying to lobby three County Council members -- Christopher J. Merdon, Allan H. Kittleman and David A. Rakes -- who it believes may be leaning toward allowing the Walgreens.

"Not one person has come forward, saying, `Give us a Walgreens,'" Hitzelberger said. "If we have several hundred people coming to us, [saying] `Please put a Walgreens in there,' by golly we'll put one in there."

County Councilman Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat whose district includes the disputed land, said he supports the residents' desire to keep the area zoned for residential use.

"I just think we ought to continue to embrace the village center concept when possible, and the retail area in that neighborhood is the village center," he said.

Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat, said he's taking both sides into consideration and has not reached a conclusion.

"It's far too early to make a decision, but we're certainly open and listening," he said.

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