Squaring off on Wilde Lake future

Residents argue developer's plan is too large, far from original

August 07, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

A discussion this week between Wilde Lake residents and officials of the firm that wants to redevelop Columbia's oldest village center sounded more like a verbal tug-of-war than progress toward consensus.

Kimco Realty Corp. officials first announced in March a $40 million plan to raze and rebuild much of Wilde Lake Village Center, adding 500 apartments. But residents are pushing an alternative plan designed by Columbia's original chief architect, Robert Tennenbaum, which they say would maintain the center's original character.

His idea would preserve inward-facing stores built around a village green in the late 1960s, despite recent vacancies. The center's small Giant supermarket closed in 2006, followed this spring by Produce Galore, and last week by Great Clips, a hair salon.

Mary Pivar, a village board member, accused Kimco of "having this rigid economic model. Five hundred units will not stand," she vowed after the Monday night meeting between Kimco officials, the village board and about 40 residents at Slayton House, the village's community center.

"It's so sad to hear our little village center disappearing," said resident Joyce Ardo, 60, a rare fan of the Kimco plan, despairing over the closed stores.

Despite the recent closings, residents insist that they need a grocery store. They said Kimco's plan to build four six- to eight-story apartment buildings with underground parking and 50,000 square feet of retail shops won't work.

During the 90-minute meeting, the two sides seemed to be talking past one another.

"It is a very difficult layout to get retailers to want to come to it," said Geoffrey Glazer, Kimco's vice president of development, repeating the message he has been delivering for months.

Times have changed since the days when Columbia's founder James W. Rouse and his company controlled everything in the planned town and could force retailers to locate in the village centers, Glazer said. Now, there is competition from huge retailers such as Costco on Route 175, and a 160,000-square-foot Wegmans supermarket planned for a site off Snowden River Parkway, also outside the village centers.

"You don't want to be stuck with 100,000 square feet of retail that's not leasable," Glazer said.

"You need to listen to what we're saying," Glazer pleaded at the meeting's conclusion.

Glazer said he hopes to apply to the county in five or six months for zoning changes for Wilde Lake. The county is working to change laws that allow only the town's developer, now General Growth Properties, to apply for zoning changes in Columbia.

If everything goes well, he said, construction at Wilde Lake could begin in 2010.

But Glazer wasn't scoring any points with Pivar.

"I think it's a perfectly wonderful plan. I wish you would put it somewhere else. There's nothing wrong with the viability of this village," she said, deriding the idea of 500 apartments "where people have to get into their cars to go to the grocery store."

The General Growth Properties plan for nearby town center is pedestrian-friendly, she noted.

"Why shouldn't it be walkable here?" she said.

Tennenbaum derided the Kimco plan, saying construction disruptions would kill existing businesses, despite Glazer's assurances that he intends to keep as many existing businesses as possible.

Tennenbaum urged Glazer to build 200 apartments instead of 500 and make David's Natural Market the retail anchor in the old Giant building. He suggested the company knock down the buildings along Lynx Lane that now house David's and the old Produce Galore space and put the apartments there, nearest existing homes. The Kimco plan puts apartments on the other side of the 9-acre site.

"The initial purpose was to preserve the village green," Tennenbaum said.

Glazer said hundreds of shopping centers nationally have been redeveloped without major damage to existing retailers. He noted his work at the Kings Contrivance Center, where a Harris Teeter supermarket opened this spring, as an example.

But Joyce Baer, 77, who said she doesn't drive, said that while she can afford a taxi to shop at nearby grocery stores, many of her neighbors can't. They need a grocery store that they can walk to, she said.

But Ardo, a resident in favor of the plan, was incredulous at the criticism.

"I am totally in support," she said. "I am thrilled that they want to spend $40 million more on our community."

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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