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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.

Family Market closed on July 17, 2013 at the Long Reach Village Center after being cited by the health department and failing to pay rent. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
Family Market closed on July 17, 2013 at the Long Reach Village Center after being cited by the health department and failing to pay rent. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
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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Report: County Looking to Purchase Long Reach Village Center

Brook Hubbard January 24, 2014 at 01:06 AM
I love how this article only barely mentions the real reason why this property is useless: crime. As long as the neighborhood surrounding the village center is full of trash and criminals, no matter what you put in there the center will fail. You want to renew interest in the center? Then target the surrounding neighborhoods for quality of life and safety concerns. Until then, most of us in Long Reach will continue to use Centre Park for our shopping needs.
hankski January 24, 2014 at 09:42 AM
I have lived in this community since 1978 and have see a lot of change. It was disappointing to see the Safeway leave and the Family Market failure. I know that the large space vacated by these businesses is not in play, but I would love to see the empty space filled by traditional and permanent indoor farmer's market. This would be an excellent small business development zone quite different from the traditional supermarkets which have a poor track record at this location. It is also an excellent draw for all the stores in the area. If you want to see how these markets thrive, go to Lancaster Central Market or West Shore Farmer's Market in Lemoyne, PA. Just my two cents...
Andrew Kanicki January 24, 2014 at 11:30 AM
This is a wonderful step in the right direction! An "Arts Village" will be a draw from the entire county. A dynamic and "out of the box" plan is exactly what we need. The current ownership turns a blind eye to the hoodlums that hang out at the VC, and refuse to ban these individuals. That will change now. The riff raf will be pushed out.
Kathryn Wisniewski January 24, 2014 at 01:54 PM
Like Oakland Mills, Long Reach is suffering from too much subsidized and low-rent housing. Over half of the students at Phelps Luck Elementary now receive free and reduced-price meals (FARM), and the trend is up (in 2006, only 36% of the students qualified for FARM). The county's practice of concentrating subsidized housing in a few spots is making the older Columbia neighborhoods into low-rent districts. Until the housing mix changes, no amount of beautification or change in the retail mix will make the center an attractive, safe destination.
Don Taskitsnoneofyourbusiness January 24, 2014 at 02:00 PM
Actually, that is a huge misconception. There is no subsidized housing in Long Reach. All of the adjacent apartments rent at market rates. If anything, Long Reach has been getting a free ride and not pulled its weight in terms of taking on our poor and low-income populations. This location would be ideal for more low income housing. Jim Robey knew this when he was County Executive and proposed putting a crisis center nearby. The residents raised hell then and a blighted shopping center is their just reward.
Brook Hubbard January 24, 2014 at 02:07 PM
Please provide proof of that statement. I know for a fact there are rentals in the townhouse neighborhoods along Phelps Luck that accept Section 8 vouchers, confirmed not only by property management but HCPD. Many apartments and townhouses are not listed as "subsidized housing" because they are privately owned and it is up to the landlord if they accept voucher. Regardless, in direct contrast to your claim, Sierra Woods (directly across from the village center) is listed on the HUD website as participating in Section 8 housing.
John DiTomasso January 24, 2014 at 05:35 PM
To further enhance what Brook has said, it should be noted that the Columbia Landing Apartments are County owned and a percentage of the units are subsidized. There is no question in my mind that a centralization of subsidized housing in Long Reach and the other four oldest Columbia Villages is the underlying cause of the problems these villages are having. I applaud the County for taking on the revitalization of the village center. And, I challenge the County to reverse course, and not only stop further subsidized housing in the five oldest villages in Columbia, but to find ways to reduce the existing numbers of subsidized households - decentralize subsidized housing.
Brian England January 24, 2014 at 06:01 PM
Where is David Nitkin? He should be resonding to residents concerns. Someone should be looking at the big picture, it looks like it is a lot more complex than just buying the center. Here is David Nitkin's phone number 410 313 2022
John DiTomasso January 25, 2014 at 02:38 PM
Think about these numbers - About 80% of the subsidized housing in Howard County is in Columbia. Of the 80%, the overwhelming majority is in the five oldest villages. You can find the data with this link. http://www.howardcountymd.gov/uploadedFiles/Home/Highlights/Housing/Rental%20Survey%202012_Part%201.pdf
Matt M February 05, 2014 at 11:14 AM
John, I'm interested to know if 80% of the housing in Howard County is also in Columbia. Is there any way to know about that?

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