Letter: Razing Wilde Lake building would be 'crime in Columbia's history'

March 29, 2012

Although the Kimco plan for Wilde Lake Village Center has faults, we want to see the project move forward for the future of Wilde Lake Village. However we strongly oppose demolition of the central building of the horseshoe shaped building that encloses the Village Green Courtyard. We urge the Planning Board to have the courage to do the right thing and save the central building from demolition.

Kimco has proposed demolition for only one reason, to be able to see the Courtyard stores from the parking lot to lease stores. Yet fully leased stores in Kimco's three Village Centers, Hickory Ridge, Kings Contrivance and Dorsey's Search over one half of the stores cannot be seen from parking. Kimco's reason for demolition to make stores visible from parking is therefore unnecessary given their success in leasing stores that cannot be seen from parking.

Jim Rouse is honored and beloved as Columbia's founder, yet one third of the original Wilde Lake Village Green's building, in Columbia's first Village Center, is about to be demolished by Kimco. Jim Rouse was deeply involved in the design of the Village Green building. He reviewed and approved the building design, brick color, use of expensive red roof tile, and courtyard landscaping and monitored the first tenant mix. Demolition is not the way to honor Jim Rouse.

The July 19, 2010 the Wilde Lake Village Board's own county-required Village Community Plan clearly states in two places that the "… the Village Green Shopping Center buildings and Village Green open space "shall be upgraded" (meaning not demolished). The Village Board reinforced this statement in writing on October 18, 2010, which states that, "The Board supports maintaining the north and south buildings as depicted in the (Kimco) plan. The Board supports upgrading the building west of the courtyard". (The central building).

The Village's own five member Architectural Advisory Panel opposed demolition, but again was ignored by the Village Board. Except for one Board member, the Village Board ignored its own plan (never mentioned it at any public meeting), ignored professional advice and community emails that opposed demolition by 32 to 13. We architects reminded the Village Board of its own Village Community Plan but the Board has chosen to ignore its previous commitment to the community and county. The Village Board says we retired volunteer architects are respected yet our pleas to save the Village Green's central building and our suggested renovation and design improvements to the central building have been ignored.

The Kimco plan went before the county Design Advisory Panel (DAP) in October 2010. The final DAP Summary and Motions report was too brief and omitted important critical points made by DAP members. DAP members took turns commenting on the design. The first member made a comment, the next member would say "I agree" and then add his/her own critical comment and so on. We reported these omissions to the DPZ and DAP but there was no response.

DAP members said the Kimco plan, "lacks sense of place, needs a heart like the courtyard, be respectful of the nice scale of the courtyard and upgrade it, courtyard edge is precious (the enclosing buildings), courtyard gets lost if opened up" (central building demolition). The DAP Summary and Motion omitted conclusions that demolition of the central building will destroy all of the good attributes of the courtyard.

The importance of a horseshoe-shaped building enclosing a courtyard is not just the whim of a few community architects. Throughout urban history it has been shown that people prefer to gather in courtyards, plazas, squares, or greens - that are enclosed by a building on three sides - because they "create a sense of place" meaning a person's feeling of pleasant enclosure, like a large outdoor room, and a sense of aesthetic well being. A horseshoe-shaped shopping center around a central landscaped courtyard was the design concept for Wilde Lake Village Green.

The uniformity and proportions of the two-story building on three sides of the courtyard with arcaded shops and office above is an ideal enclosure for the public courtyard. Demolishing the central building opens the courtyard to a large parking lot immediately and forever destroying the sense of place.

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