Shopping center makeover

Apartments, commercial use proposed for Normandy

  • Normandy Shopping Center lost its major tenant, Safeway, this year.
Normandy Shopping Center lost its major tenant, Safeway, this… (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy…)
December 06, 2009|By Larry Carson | larry.carson@baltsun.com

Howard County's first suburban shopping center would be transformed into a mixed-use center with about 200 apartments and garages in the rear and a series of modern commercial buildings closer to U.S. 40 in a proposal that some nearby residents are viewing warily.

A community information meeting on the proposal is scheduled for 6:30 Monday night at the Ellicott City Senior Center to explain details of the plan to residents.

The roughly 25-acre Normandy Shopping Center, built in 1959-1961 by members of the Moxley family whose developer-descendants still control the property, lost its anchor Safeway supermarket this year.

"The Safeway has been here since 1961," said James R. "Rob" Moxley, a principal in Security Development, a large firm active in the area. Moxley said loss of the anchor tenant jolted the family into planning for a new future for the center, which he called "the gateway to Howard County" for motorists traveling west on U.S. 40 from Baltimore County.

The idea, he said, is to create a mixed-use "avenue"-style place with offices above some stores in one- and two-story buildings, with "high-end, luxury apartments" in the rear. Those four-story residential buildings would use a "doughnut" design to hide parking garages for the tenants. Still, the plans at this point are only conceptual. "We do not have [commercial] users lined up," he said, though some current business owners at Normandy want space in the new center.

Moxley said Security Development is not the center's owner or developer, though various family members are involved in the project. He has served on several county advisory committees on the future of U.S. 40 and on ways to spruce up the corridor.

As with the much smaller Forest Motel and diner property farther west on U.S. 40, the plan for Normandy includes a mix of residential and retail/commercial buildings. County planners have encouraged the trend, arguing that older centers are the logical places for Smart Growth while renewing aging and sometimes-struggling areas. Putting residential units with offices, stores and transit encourages people to live near their work and walk to shopping.

The idea is also driving the proposed downtown Columbia project and several smaller developments along the U.S. 1 corridor. Planning director Marsha McLaughlin said she's pleased to see redevelopment at both ends of the U.S. 40 commercial strip.

The shopping center sits next to the closed Miller family auto dealership, which is not part of the proposed rezoning. John Miller, whose family owns the 4-acre auto lot, said his firm is also considering redevelopment into retail stores but isn't ready to submit plans to the county.

According to William E. Erskine, the development lawyer who will seek rezoning for the project, the phased approach would allow current merchants to relocate and stay in the center. The row of stores including the old supermarket would be the first to go, he and Moxley said. Much later, the row of 1980s buildings on the downhill side of the center could also be replaced.

Erskine said the owners couldn't leave the old center as it is, and a new supermarket tenant is unlikely.

The apartments would be on an undeveloped 5-acre parcel on a hillside at the property's rear, Moxley said. Normandy Drive, the roadway that goes through the center to connect U.S. 40 with Rogers Avenue at the property's rear, is privately owned.

"We're surrounded by residences in the rear" of the center, Erskine said, so that's the appropriate place to put apartments. The large Town and Country apartment complex is just behind the center, across Rogers Avenue.

County planners first suggested converting Normandy and perhaps the Chatham center farther west along the highway to mixed use in the 2003-2004 comprehensive rezoning, when one idea for Normandy encompassed nearly double the current acreage, including the auto dealership and properties on the east side of the highway.

This proposal is much more modest, Erskine said, though the concept is similar. "All the services and retail products would be available" to residents, he said.

Angela Beltram, a former County Council member who lives off St. John's Lane west of Normandy, applauded the idea, though she said the details must be studied. "These are the kinds of things we wanted," she said. "I think it's worth it to look at the plan.

But Stephen Cohen, a five-year resident who is president of the 76-home Normandy Heights Improvement Association next to Normandy Shopping Center, said residents know improvements are needed but worry about more apartments in an area that already has hundreds.

"Mixed-use development is a good use of land, but we have concerns about crime," he said. Residents also worry about the impact of new homes on schools. "It seems to me this neighborhood is always under assault."

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