Jul 29, 2014
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County's Long Reach Development Plans 'Unique'

The county is preparing to take the first step to purchase and develop the ailing Long Reach Village Center.

County's Long Reach Development Plans 'Unique'
Howard County is moving forward with plans to purchase and develop parts of Long Reach Village Center.

"The Long Reach community has long been concerned over the decline of the Village Center," said County Executive Ken Ulman, in a statement. "Vacancies, security, and maintenance are real issues, and now we have a unique opportunity to make progress."

The county was approached by the owners of the property, America's Realty, to purchase the property and is currently involved in negotiations with the company. The purchase cost or an estimate has not been released.

The county has redeveloped residential properties in the past such as Monarch Mills in Columbia and Burgess Station in Ellicott City, but not a large commercial property such as this, according to David Nitkin, communications director for the county.

"This is a first of its kind," said Nitkin. "It's unique."

Nitkin said the village center's high vacancy rates, deterioration of the property, and "grave" community concerns led to the county's involvement.

In the short term, the county is planning to hire a property manager to improve the appearance of the center.

In the long-term, said Nitkin, the county intends to create a development plan and to partner with a private developer to manage the commercial properties.

"The county is good at vision, big picture ideas and how to help a community," said Nitkin. "Then there's other folks who would be good at construction and running commercial properties."

First though, the administration submitted a bill to the County Council that would designate the commercial portion of the center as an urban renewal area. This designation must be approved before the county can purchase the property and begin planning. Residents are invited to testify about the purchase as the Council considers the bill, which is expected to take place over the next month.

Karen Hitcho, the chair of the Long Reach Village Board, as well as Calvin Ball, Long Reach's County Council representative, said they were pleased with the county's involvement.

"Long Reach needs and deserves a thriving Village Center, and I think the County can play a role in making that happen," said Ball, in a statement.

The county hopes the revitalization will increase property values, bolster other village centers and create an arts community, according to Nitkin.

In recent years, businesses have moved out of the village center in droves as development in the nearby Snowden River Parkway corridor added major national retail outlets to the city.

When asked why the county doesn't consider replacing the village center with residential property, Nitkin said it's not what the community wants. He said the county will use a market study undertaken by Columbia Association to identify how the village center can serve the community.

Currently the county is eyeing arts for the center. A partnership between the Howard County Arts Council and the Columbia Arts Association, which is located in the village center, is being discussed.

“Having both the Columbia Art Center and the Howard County Arts Council programs available to the public in one convenient location creates a plethora of possibilities for community arts,” said Liz Henzey, Director of the Columbia Art Center, in a statement.

Over the past few years multiple armed robberies have been reported at businesses in the center, including one at a cell phone store in July and two at the same business, Deli Town, in 2012 and 2011.

Still, there are some businesses that remain including Deli Town, a liquor store, and the Exxon Station. The former location of Safeway, where The  Family Market abandoned in 2013, would not be included in the county's development plans, according to an initial report by  The Howard County Times.

Celebration Church, a tenant of the village center, is pursuing plans to expand into the former Safeway location.

"It is gratifying that the County is interested in this important project and look forward to working together," said Robbie Davis, Celebration's pastor.

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