Hickory Ridge Village Center: Moving Forward with Caution
Advocates say they hope the new Robinson Nature Center will draw more business to the center.
Coping with the ailing economy and a blitz of big box stores, Columbia’s village centers face issues never imagined when the planned city took root in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Some village centers have made extensive changes, from building retail anchors to sweeping reconstruction to ignite business, but advocates say viable centers such as Hickory Ridge need only minor tweaking of their retail element, with careful attention paid to any new development around the shopping core.
Armed with new master plans-–suggested by a 2009 Howard County resolution-–Hickory Ridge advocates say they stand ready to deal with whatever changes loom.
- A fitness course, picnic area or similar small-scale Columbia Association facility
- New medical offices and services that complement a nearby hospital and nursing home
“We’re looking to keep a robust village center,” said Miles Coffman, village board chairman, by enticing as many people as possible to shop and gather in an “attractive and welcoming center” with a 55,000-square foot Giant Food supermarket, Chinese, Italian and Greek restaurants and a good mix of services, from a shoe repair shop to a new animal hospital.
The center is owned by Kimco Realty Corp.
Hickory Ridge residents say they have also long appreciated the importance of paying attention to what happens on land around the village center.
About 10 years ago, recalled Coffman, residents successfully squelched plans for a Walgreen’s pharmacy on a site across from the shopping center at Cedar Lane and Freetown Road.
“It wasn’t that we’re against development,” he said. “It was just that we didn’t feel Walgreens was a good fit.”
Unlike most other Columbia village centers, the 20-year-old Hickory Ridge Village Center has no Columbia Association-owned community or recreational building – but that’s about to change.
At the request of village officials, CA, in its fiscal 2013 budget, has allocated $25,000 for preliminary engineering and illustrative designs for an outdoor recreational project on three acres near the Giant Food, according to Rob Goldman, CA chief operating officer and vice president.
A Village Plans for Its Future
In a new village center community plan, which members of a village visualization committee took two years to develop, Hickory Ridge’s shopping center is identified as the “retail core.”
Several separately owned properties that surround it--including the former Walgreens site--are viewed as the whole village center, according to Steve Sternheimer, committee member and 30-year Columbia resident.
“We looked at the bigger picture, beyond the retail center and that’s why our plan, which was unveiled in January, took so long,” Steinheimer said.
All told, Steinheimer said, the Hickory Ridge plan should guide Howard County officials and land developers to understand the vision and planning concepts important to the village center as it changes over time.
Bill Mackey, Howard County’s chief of comprehensive and community planning, helped village officials with mapping the village center and its surrounding areas.
But he said the county has been “less involved” with Hickory Ridge, compared to other Columbia village centers under “New Town” zoning, which is Howard County’s special zoning class for Columbia with specific densities and uses.
Signature design aspects of the village center, from its green metal roofs to diamond logo, should be retained, for example, according to Hickory Ridge’s village plan.
But modern environmental elements such as rainwater collection systems and onsite storm water management would be welcome for new projects.
And since Howard County General Hospital, a nursing home and assisted living facilities, are already close by, compatible new development projects might include medical offices and services, the plan recommends.
“No project should compete with the center or draw activity away from it,” the plan stipulates.
Located at Cedar Lane and Freetown Road, a minor arterial and major collector road respectively, Hickory Ridge Village Center enjoys a prime location for much of west Columbia.
Village center merchants “overwhelmingly” cited the center’s “great location, in a safe area, with good customers” as reasons for locating their businesses there, according to the plan’s merchant survey.
But they also called for more foot traffic, better signage and more communication with Kimco Realty.
“Our center is not locked away in internal Columbia like other village centers," Coffman said. "It can be seen from the road."
So Coffman said he hopes visitors at the county’s new Robinson Nature Center, about a mile south on Cedar Lane, “will get hungry and come to our village center to eat.”
A Recreation Area for Hickory Ridge?
The original concept for Columbia village centers, according to the plan, was that in addition to retail stores, they would incorporate a number of different elements, such as recreational, interfaith and community facilities serving about 3,000-4,000 households.
But over time, the centers were built differently.
Six centers have interfaith buildings and all but two – Hickory Ridge and Owen Brown – include a community or recreational building, owned and operated by the Columbia Association (CA).
“There’s no CA presence at the village center,” notes Joan Lancos, Hickory Ridge’s land-use liaison and a former Howard County Planning Board member. “But we could soon see a picnic pavilion with grills, bocce ball court or some kind of facility to draw people to the village center.”
CA owns a three-acre property near the Giant Food that residents say would be ideal for lawn games, a picnic grove, or fitness course.
The good news, says Village manager Jessamine Duvall, is that the idea “is moving ahead and I’ll be pushing for it.”
In the months ahead, Goldman said CA open space staff will “brainstorm” with Hickory Ridge officials about “what to do with the three acres.”
Staff can draw upon a bevy of ideas already offered by residents, whose comments are documented in the 48-page village center community plan.
Coffman says CA should not build “any more big projects in Columbia,” but he endorses a sports fitness park or some kind of small scale venture for the village center.
Hickory Ridge Columbia Council Representative Gregg Schwind agrees, saying a new "CA community will be a great addition to the village center.”
Editor's Note: Originally the 3-acre-area was thought to be a good place for a dog park, and that option was included in the original article, but recently the Columbia Association notified the Hickory Ridge Village Board that they were looking at other locations for Dog Parks and this 3-acre space would be used differently. The article has been changed to reflect this.