Last Tuesday, the Wilde Lake Village Board meeting was attended by an estimated 40-50 people. Those in attendance expressed views and concerns related to the Giant closing in the Wilde Lake Village Center. I believe the Wilde Lake Village Board moderated the discussion well, listened, and asked good follow-up questions.
In my opinion, it appeared that two themes emerged from the evening:
- a short term solution must be found for those who live in Wilde Lake and do not have cars. Some suggestions included scheduled bus service from Wilde Lake to either Harper's Choice or Dorseys Search, an arrangement with a food delivery service like Peapod for the community, or a co-op willing to fulfill a short term (approximately 18 month) lease.
- Find a grocery store that will locate in the Giant space. There was some difference of opinion as to what size the grocery store should be, but most expressed a desire for specifically a grocery store.
For me, the entire discussion boils down to a balance between two things: historical preservation and reconfiguration. What follows below is my thoughts on the issue.
Before any true discussion of the Wilde Lake Village Center can occur, it is important that all concerned parties understand that the property that most casual observers would consider as the village center is actually owned by more than one entity. The major property owner on the Wilde Lake Village Center site is Kimco. They own the Shoppes at Lynx Lane (from Produce Galore to David’s Natural Foods, including the Great Clips, UPS Store, and Hunan Family), the Grocery store pad (site of the former Giant Food), and the shops on the West end of the Wilde Lake Village Green (Melting Pot, Bagel Bin, Feet First, Today’s Catch, etc…). The Crown gas station and KFC are individually owned by separate entities. Columbia Association owns the property to the South and East (the Family Services Center, Slayton House, the Wilde Lake Village Green, Columbia Swim Center, and Wilde Lake Tennis Courts).
As far as I understand the situation, the Giant Food grocery store has remained in Wilde Lake for so long because the terms of their lease were based on the original lease signed back in the 1960’s. The lease has had multiple renewals/extensions written into the original lease. The building as it stands is the smallest Giant Food store in the entire company’s (Ahold) lease holdings (not only the smallest store in the Giant Food chain, but also smaller than any Martins, Stop and Shop, Bi-Lo and other stores held by the food company). Although it is small, the store maintained a profit. The final option of the lease was to expire in October 2007.
Kimco, the property owner, lists the square footage of the Giant Food site as 23,716 square feet. This is less than ½ the size that most grocery stores require before they will sign a lease. Expansion of the existing building has proven problematic because current zoning requires parking spaces to be added to the property if the building is expanded and all currently available space for surface parking has been used.
Lastly, external pressure, primarily from the potential of a Wegmans in Howard County, has many grocery stores apprehensive about new ventures in the area.
In the search for a new grocer tenant at the Wilde Lake Village Center it is imperative that the community understand the boundaries within which future decisions are made. The Wilde Lake Village Center is the first village center constructed in Columbia. The buildings on the Wilde Lake Village Center site are some of the oldest buildings in Columbia. It is these characteristics that make the village center a highly visible candidate for historical designation and preservation.
Conversely, the Wilde Lake Village Center is an active commercial center that meets the daily needs of both local and regional residents. In today’s world, there are few privately owned historical sites that can meet the original intent of the site and maintain its historical integrity. In order to remain a competitive commercial center, change must occur based on the following:
- The grocery store site within the Wilde Lake Village Center is less than ½ the square footage than any current supermarket site.
- Any additional commercial square footage on the Wilde Lake Village Center site requires more parking to be placed on the site due to zoning regulations.
- There is no more surface parking space available on the Wilde Lake Village Center site. If additional square footage is added, one (or any combination) of the following must occur:
b. Some other building on the site must be razed to allow for more surface parking.
c. A parking garage must be built.
d. Underground parking must be built.
So as we move forward, a balance must be reached between historical preservation and revitalization. In order to strike this balance, a few initial steps must be taken. The first step must be a top-to-bottom assessment of the entire property. The Wilde Lake Village Center is Columbia’s first Village Center. It is for this reason that the Village Center should be assessed for its historical value. It is vital that we as a community come to agreement on what aspects (architectural, cultural, social) should be preserved. This assessment must be communicated to Kimco and Howard County officials such that those elements which are defined as historical are maintained.
After defining what structures or features must be preserved, it must be understood that all other aspects of the property may undergo reconstruction to better suit the needs of a potential anchor grocery store. This may include additions to existing buildings, demolition and reconstruction of some structures, the loss or relocation (either temporary or permanent) of some commercial tenants, and the possibility of structured or underground parking. Although these changes will be disruptive, it is important to realize that if the goal is to have a grocery store in the Wilde Lake Village Center, some of the above will have to occur.
Better Together – Keeping Us All on the Same Page
As Columbia, the Wilde Lake community, the Howard County Government, and Kimco move forward on this issue, it is important that all parties work together to resolve the grocery store issue. There is a lot of goodwill and fondness for the village center on all sides, but at some point there must be an accommodation for both the practical and the desired. The installation of a new grocer cannot be accomplished in one step. As decisions are made, some feathers will be ruffled and advocates of some of the finer points may have to swallow some pride in order to achieve the goal of a grocery store in the Wilde Lake Village Center with the center’s historic aspects preserved. It is crucial to recognize that at this early stage, all stakeholders appear to be on the same page.
Based on public conversations with Kimco, their representatives have been working diligently to secure a lease for the Giant Food space for quite some time. Many vendors (both grocery store chains and other potential clients) have toured the site. As of today, no potential client has made a commitment to the space.
Based on what we know at this juncture, the following scenarios are provided to provoke thought. They are a result of brainstorming and are at best trial balloons. In addition, there should be more ideas that are not in this paper.
Scenario One – Strict Preservation
In this scenario, it is assumed that the entire Wilde Lake Village Center has been deemed architecturally and culturally historic. Its dimensions, facades, and basic architecture are to be preserved. Building expansion is not considered an option. It is also assumed that Kimco has agreed and endorses this outlook. Because the buildings are not expanded, most likely a typical grocery store chain will not lease the space. The upside is there is no need for additional parking space.
Possibility A – Cooperative Endeavor
Because a typical grocery store will not occupy the space, alternatives to a grocery store are explored. Cooperative enterprises are sought out to lease and provide food items.
Pro: Those without a car can still meet basic needs at the village center. No parking improvements are required.
Con: Although a cooperative may work out in the end, initial hunch is that a cooperative may not generate as much foot traffic as a grocery store and smaller businesses may suffer as a result.
Obstacles: Number of viable coops in the region is unknown. A coop’s ability to meet lease agreement is unknown. Although grocery store and existing merchants tend to compliment one another, coop may feel competition from existing merchants may be too much.
Possibility B – Put ‘em All under One Roof
Although no current merchant in the Wilde Lake Village Center has expressed interest in the following scenario, the following remains a possibility. Allow Produce Galore, David’s Natural Foods, and Today’s Catch to locate within the space left vacant by Giant Foods. These three stores under one roof could approximate the shopping needs of most patrons daily or weekly shopping. This scenario would also open up significant new space for smaller businesses to compliment the Wilde Lake Village Center shopping experience. Possibilities are endless, but some popular suggestions include a new pub or bakery.
Pro: This may be the closest thing to Rouse’s vision that Columbia has seen in quite some time. No parking improvements are required. New stores could create new interest and draw new patrons.
Con: Although many feel it is a great idea, it is still experimental. Individual merchants may seek short term leases to protect against things going wrong.
Obstacles: Current merchants ability to relocate and work together is an unknown. Reworking the leases may be a legalistic nightmare. Shared items, such as shopping carts, baskets, bags, checkout (or separate checkouts?) could be problematic.
Possibility C – Better Living Through Chemistry
Lease the Giant Food space to a drugstore. Many CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aids are approaching the size of the current Giant Food space.
Pro: Would in a limited sense compliment existing merchants. Local residents could shop at drug store, Produce Galore, and Davids to meet basic food needs. This is the only possibility within this scenario that allows residents access to OTC cold medications and shampoo, soap and other staples. No parking improvements are required.
Con: Is least likely approximates the grocery store experience. Initial hunch is that a drug store may not generate as much foot traffic as a grocery store and smaller businesses may suffer as a result.
Obstacles: Possible neighborhood opposition.
Scenario Two – Strong Preservation/Expansion
In this scenario, it is assumed that the Shops at Lynx Lane and the Wilde Lake Village Center courtyard shops have been deemed architecturally and culturally historic However, it has been determined that the Giant Food Location should be expanded to meet the requirements of a potential grocery store tenant. It is also assumed that Kimco and the tenant have worked out the details of who pays for the cost of expanding the building. The possibilities that follow will discuss possibilities for parking options.
Possibility A – Lobby Lobby Lobby
Have Kimco ask for a zoning variance for the property.
Pro: No parking improvements are required.
Con: Variance may fall short of total spaces required for improvement.
Obstacles: The majority of shoppers at Wilde Lake Village Center are in one councilmatic district. Other County Council members, sitting as the Zoning Board would have to vote in favor. This may or may not be a significant obstacle.
Possibility B – Lose Some Business
Purchase either the KFC property or the Crown gas station property (or both). Remove buildings and provide additional parking on those lots.
Pro: May meet the parking needs for an expanded store.
Con: Loss of business is not good for either the property owner or the community. In particular, the loss of the gas station would require patrons to drive elsewhere.
Obstacles: Additional parking may not be enough. A zoning variance may be required in addition to the purchased land. Kimco would have to determine the funds to purchase the land.
Possibility C – Really High Volley
Enlist the Columbia Association to build a parking garage (2-3 floors) on the site of the Wilde Lake Tennis Club and place the club on the top level of the parking garage.
Pro: Innovative use of space for both recreation and suits needs of village center.
Con: Parking garage would need to have specific architectural character to avoid dominating the pedestrian’s sightlines. Garage may be perceived as too far away from shops to be used often.
Obstacles: Structured parking is expensive to build. Some shared funding arrangement would be necessary to construct a garage. Some maintenance agreements would have to be reached concerning lighting, snow removal, etc…There may be significant resident opposition.
Scenario 3 – Moderate Preservation/Reconfiguration
In this scenario, it is assumed that the Wilde Lake Village Center courtyard shops have been deemed architecturally and culturally historic, but the Shops at Lynx Lane buildings and the Giant Food space are not historic. It has been determined that these buildings should be demolished to allow the shopping center to be reconfigured. In all cases, it is assumed that the Giant Food space is demolished such that the courtyard is opened to the parking lot. It is also assumed that Kimco and the tenant have worked out the details of who pays for the cost of constructing the new buildings.
Possibility A – Rearrange the Deck Chairs
Construct a new building between the gas station and Giant to house Produce Galore and David’s Natural Foods. Relocate Great Clips and UPS Store to the courtyard, and build a new grocery store upon the site of the shops at Lynx Lane.
Pro: New locations for existing merchants gives new energy. Configuration allows for the center to be “framed” by tennis courts, grocery store, Produce Galore/David’s, and the courtyard shops.
Con: Parking would have to be added, either structural or underground. Grocery store close to Cross Fox condos may create noise problem when trucks make deliveries to the grocery store.
Obstacles: Structured parking is expensive to build. Some shared funding arrangement would be necessary to construct a garage. There may be significant resident opposition.
Possibility B – Stack the Deck
Maintain Produce Galore and Davids in current location, build a grocery store above Davids and Produce Galore.
Pro: Compact design allows for more parking. Stacked retail allows for shoppers to park and shop on same level for single use shopping.
Con: Davids and Produce Galore may appear to be “hidden” under the parking deck. Parking deck may be imposing structure and face opposition from residents. Cost of parking deck construction is expensive.
Obstacles: Public opposition.
As I said, this is just possiblities, I do not advocate for a single one, but it does represent some ideas that are worthy of thought.