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  1. The End of The Avenue at Hickory Ridge Village Center?

    There were 200+ residents at the Atholton HS cafeteria Kimco presentation of its redevelopment concepts for the Hickory Ridge Village Center. On such a cold night at February 18, the turn out suggested interest runs high. Thank goodness!
    The meeting was led by the owner-developer and centered upon their interest in exacting a given amount of profit from the real estate at the corner of Cedar and Freetown. Details of dollars involved went undisclosed.
    Pivotal in Kimco’s plan is retention of Giant as an anchor. The plan is to accommodate the grocer by reworking the entire site, with emphasis upon parking convenience and visibility of the grocer’s façade from Freetown. The graphic of the sought layout [see Hickory Ridge Community Association site, https://hickoryridgevillage.org/village-center-redevelopment/%5D pictures an abandonment of the central pedestrian experience in favor of a car dominated scattering of retail spaces. Sauntering down The Avenue is to be supplanted by trudges between a few different isolated retail installations at the site edges. The intimacy of the “interior” landscape would be forsaken.
    The Center would essentially become a Giant with things about it. These things would include a few hundred apartments plus parking structure. The serviceability of this new captive population to the interests of the food store can only be understood as Kimco’s prime, if not sole, purpose. Sadly, zero nod was made to the question whether the new drove would augment our community fabric in any way.; And there was some back and forth as to whether car numbers and people numbers would enable holding to a three story limit, wand whether warring for parking places would be a certainty.
    There was a fleeting acknowledgement that a proposed Cedar Lane, taxpayer provided park would enhance the new apartment complex. The question regarding the park’s accessibility to the rest of our community was met with some confoundment. The suggestion that we could simply drive past the Giant to get to it was belied by issues of traffic congestion and parking.
    It was presented as an article of faith that in the remaining five years of the Giant lease (expiration, 2021) it would be better to court them heartily that to construct a competitive scenario for that space. This runs counter to the fact that retailers have consistently shown themselves to be ambitious for the capture of Columbia dollars, which run deep even through difficult times. Giant is never without customers. And the proposition that in the entire United States there are perhaps four food retailers who would be interested in coming here falls short of credulity.
    Several comments attached to the theme, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That is to say the Center now works. Not only does Giant always have customers, but the restaurants fill the parking lots at night, there are no vacamcies, and most current vendors have been here for more than a decade. HRVC sustains 2 banks, 3 carry-outs, 2 barbers and a nail saloon, 4 sit down restaurants plus 2 dessert places, a shoe repair and dry cleaner, Feet First, Decanter Fine Wines, and a pet vet. This betters all the other Columbia village centers.
    AND. Community investment must count for something! One resident observed that the HRVC vendors have faithfully supported our schools over the years. I for one found it objectionable how blithely the Kimco fellow suggested that current vendors be repaid for their dedication by being put into flux for as many as three years. Nor was it explained who would ultimately have to bear the cost of knocking down and building back up.
    There was no consideration of current best practices for face-lifting established, working retail nodes. The thought of an architectural solution to the problems Giant sees itself having with its current entrance configuration was rejected out of hand. Correspondingly, the proposition that the current car-to-door trek runs counter to commerce wasn’t supported with measurements or comparisons to other stores, or references to retail trade publications. Nor did the image upon the screen convince that the sought after landscaping would much lessen car-to-door distance. And it could be called laughable that the tree dotted sidewalks through the sea of parked cars represents appealing opportunities for taking walks.
    Further on comparisons… In addition to concerns that the parking structure proposed for HRVC would dominate the skyline it was suggested that the hulking parking structure going up at Wilde Lake VC would be softened by grates over wall openings; there was no applause of assent for that. Mention was made that Harris-Teeter had required a new building as a precondition of joining its Kings Contrivance VC; not mentioned was the fact that the rest of KCVC was not knocked down to accomplish it. Part of what was kept is office space, which Kimco holds is entirely untenable as an alternative to the apartments it wants for our HRVC. And then, there is the only near example of what happens when Giant does command the VC re-do; that would be the case of Owen Brown, a sad pile up of nowhereness indeed.
    In all, it is unclear the extent to which Hickory Ridge community can be said to hold Giant dear. For starters, there’s design. Our grocer seems to have opted out of the movement that Harris-Teeter, Safeway, and Wegman have joined to ensure that shopping is interesting, even pleasant. One wonders why, for instance, our store retains colors that seem taken from the returned paint shelf at Lowes.
    But there are other issues, too: register “mis-rings” at checkout, long-faced employees, lard-and-sugar bakery, hard, tasteless produce, price markers with fine print, an after-thought flower corner, with “health foods” pushed into an opposing corner, dime store displays strewn in between. And please, nobody believes those posters about local farmers and far away peasants. The truth be told, if Giant is not enjoying its sought after profits the first place to look for an explanation is the mirror.
    The matter of what exactly “the back” of the Center is went unresolved. Kimco proposes the current back is adjacent to Decanter. Others of us zeroed in on the idea that the back would be where dumpsters are found. With the dispersal of the retail there would be several new such pads, each with its grease trail, smell, vermin, and clatter-clang of pick-ups.
    At the end, there was Q&A. Of the dozens of denizens who took the mike not one said, “Great work, Kimco! When can we break ground?” On the contrary, one is left with the impression that the owner of our village center has a formula- certifiably unimaginative- for draining our bucks, with hardly a hat tip to community standards, nor to the blood, sweat, and tears embedded in all our individual homesteads. Indeed, the meeting had begun with what was as much an admission of this; Kimco’s two lawyers, couple of design personnel, and project managers owned to being there because the law requires it. There was no enunciation of heartfelt interest in what we, the residents, and, quickly, the payers, care to live with.
    Yet, let us not leave matters on a divisive note. Implicit in all I have said above is the belief there would be a better way for us to go about loving Hickory Ridge Village Center. I propose forming a committee, doing research, and coming up with a better Plan B. I am certain we have within our community the commitment and talent to articulate a desirable, workable, profitable amplification of HRVC.
    Fred Nastvogel. Red Keel. nastvogelf@gmail.com

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