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Friday, December 5, 2014

Columbia Village Center Report issued

    This week the Columbia Association released the final report from consultants hired to look at the viability of Columbia's village centers and potential for growth.  This report highlights the difference in each village center and the significant differences in the demographics of the different villages. Retail changes since the Rouse Company first envisioned the village centers is made clear in this report.
      The anchor grocery stores in the village centers now have significant completion from large competitors located away from the village centers such as Costco, BJ's, Wegmans and now Whole Foods.  Doing your weekly grocery shopping at the supermarket in the village center is something that is less common than in the past.  For many Columbians food shopping now includes multiple food stores.  The report summarizes this change in this way:

    "The grocery-centered model is in transition in Columbia, paralleling changes in the grocery
store industry nationwide, which have affected middle-sized chain affiliated grocers, such as
the 25,000 to 50,000 sq. ft. stores in the village centers. The grocery-anchored village center
model has also been affected by development of newer, more specialized grocery store
categories such as Wegmans, Whole Foods Market and Wal*Mart, the latter of which is the
top seller of groceries in the U.S."

     Another area where village center retailers have more competition with restaurants and fast foods.  The selection of each of these retailers has exploded in areas away from the village centers.  Where we once had our restaurant choices limited to restaurants in village centers and the Mall we now have an amazing range of choices just a few miles of where we live.  I can't remember the last time we ate at a village restaurant.
     The report highlights the challenges of the Long Reach Village Center and the lack of a supermarket anchor.  This missing element has had a significant impact on the viability of the village center and has lead to the purchase of the village center by the County.  A deteriorating village center is the last thing you want to see in Columbia.  The impact on the value of housing in the village with a troubled village center could be significant.
     Finally the report makes these recommendations:
    " 1) Prepare Strategies for Future Village Center Changes/Alternatives. The Wilde Lake
redevelopment plan will be one precedent and refocusing of Long Reach Village Center will
be another. Proactive consideration of alternatives to the grocery-anchor model should be
undertaken for those village centers with the greatest competitive challenges.
    2) Review Village Center Planning/Redevelopment Process. Review the village center
planning and redevelopment process as part of the New Town zoning update..
     3)  Identify Infill Locations. Identify locations for new residential infill uses in and near village centers.
     4) Consider Expansion of Retail Retention and Recruitment Efforts. It is recommended
that existing retail recruitment efforts be expanded through a coordinated program. The goal
would be to assist retail businesses and to enhance the business mix in the village centers
and other retail areas throughout the county. The role of such a program, including a
designated retail recruiter, is to reach out to property owners to understand what spaces
they may have available, and to explore the broader market for operators of
innovative/specialty stores, cafes and restaurants, and consumer service businesses that
would complement and strengthen the existing retail mix.
     5)  Promote Technical and Resource Assistance. It is recommended that the expanded retail
recruitment and retention program include promotion and coordination of existing and new
technical assistance programs for retail businesses that need help with business
management, finance, operations, expansion strategies or other issues.
      6) Review and Summarize Columbia’s Existing Commercial Covenants. While residential
covenants are well understood in Columbia, there is less clarity around the extensive use of
commercial covenants that affect potential development/redevelopment in office, industrial
and commercial areas throughout Columbia. There is a need to document these private
agreements including transferability and terms that affect land use and architectural design.
      7) Prepare a GEDS Property Database. Prepare a detailed GEDS database to document
existing uses, associated square footage, ownership, conversions, and occupancies by site
and sub-area. There is no comprehensive inventory today that can inform planning
      8) Analyze GEDS Area ‘Undeveloped’ Sites. Analyze the vacant sites in GEDS and the
adjacent Gateway Loop to understand the competitive development context for the GE
Appliance site, Dobbin Road and Snowden River Parkway sub-areas."


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