10 April 2008

Wilde Lake Village Board Election – 2008

This month, each of the Columbia Villages will hold elections for their Village Boards. I am running for the Wilde Lake Village Board. As I have been talking to people in Wilde Lake, the Wilde Lake Village Center is the biggest issue this election season. The prolonged grocery store vacancy and the recent closing of Produce Galore have heightened the concerns about commercial viability in Wilde Lake.

As a candidate for the Wilde Lake Village Board, I wish to make clear my Village Center position: I want to see a food store in the Wilde Lake Village Center; however, the current “wait and see” policy of the incumbent Village Board can no longer be tolerated. Last August, Wilde Lake Village Board Chairperson Vince Marando was quoted in the Columbia Flier :

Vincent Marando wants a grocery store to open in the Wilde Lake Village Center
as much as everyone else, he says.

But while several business owners are desperate for a new market to open as soon as possible, Marando, the chairman of the village board, thinks a new market should wait until the grocery store and retail picture in Columbia comes more into focus.

Since this article, Produce Galore has closed its doors and Anthony Tringali of the Anthony Richards Barbershop is considering doing the same. I believe the continued loss of retailers in the Wilde Lake Village Center will make the case for a grocery store even harder.

Now is the time for proactive steps to be taken to ensure the Village Center remains commercially viable. If elected, I will do the following:

Work with my fellow elected board members to write a letter to the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning regarding the installation of signs directing people to the Wilde Lake Village Center.

Currently the Harpers Choice Village Center, Owen Brown Village Center, and
Oakland Mills Village Center have several signs that direct people to these Village
. I wrote about the number of signs for each Village Center and their locations last year. I also contacted Mary Kay Sigaty, the County Council member that represents Wilde Lake. She indicated the Village Board needed to write a letter to get the signs put up. I communicated this to the Wilde Lake Village Board last November, and no action was taken. It is unclear whether the signs would have put off the Produce Galore closing, but I believe helping people find the Village Center could only improve merchant sales.

Establish a committee to write commercial architectural guidelines.

The need for commercial architectural guidelines has been known by the incumbent
Village Board for some time. In fact Vince Marando, the current Wilde Lake Village Board Chairperson, has contacted me by phone and during Village Board meetings about forming such a committee.(I cannot confirm, but I believe he has asked me repeated times because I have chaired past committees that rewrote/updated the Wilde Lake residential architectural guidelines and the Wilde Lake Architectural Procedures.) At each turn, I have indicated my willingness to serve on such a committee. The time has come to stop talking about commercial guidelines and to start writing the commercial guidelines.

Establish a protocol for communicating information to residents.

As the Wilde Lake Village Center issue has become more prominent, I have been concerned about the lack of information that Village residents possess. At a recent Wilde Lake Village Board meeting with Kimco representatives, a Wilde Lake resident offered that the Village of Wilde Lake has a population of 15,000 people. United States Census data indicates that Wilde Lake has a population closer to 5,300 people. Other residents have put forth particular grocery chains (Trader Joes, The Fresh Place, Grauls, Eddies, Macgruders…) that they believe (and quite frankly, I believe too) would be a good fit for Wilde Lake. Lamentably, Kimco has spoken to many (if not all) of these grocers (and many more), and each has declined to locate in Wilde Lake.

This information has been communicated to the Wilde Lake Village Board, but it has not been communicated to residents. To minimize repetition and reduce frustration, the Wilde Lake Village Board must adapt a structure to communicate the status of the Village Center to residents. Be it an email list, blog, web page, or printable flier available at Slayton House, there must be a means to update residents. An informed public can help make better choices.

Looking Beyond the Immediate

The three initiatives outlined above constitute what I believe should be enacted as soon as possible. However, I do not believe they will resolve the problems at the Wilde Lake Village Center. Other initiatives will take longer to implement, and need to be clarified. I respectfully submit the following, longer-term initiatives that I believe will help restore the Village Center.

Local Business Zoning

I have written about this idea before (here and here). It originated with towns that were being over-run by food chains like McDonalds. Simply said, zoning was enacted that stated if a business had at least eleven places of businesses that shared the same layout, architecture, menu or uniforms, they would have to undergo an additional round of review before being allowed to build. This allowed local businesses to thrive. I believe that the loss of many local businesses (Produce Galore, Bun Penney, Blue Cow Café, Fire Rock Grill…) in the last few months demonstrates a need to look at the zoning to ensure local entrepreneurs have a chance in the market. I believe a committee should be commissioned to study this type of zoning and make recommendations to the board. If favorable, the board may work with County officials to enact such zoning.

Commercial Sector Education

I believe it is critical for as many people to know and understand the mechanisms behind how a grocery store (or any other merchant) picks a location. Only with good information can good decisions be made. I believe this is so important that I would champion an initiative to bring in local experts on commercial retail leases, market segmentation, and demographics (and others) to Wilde Lake such that board members (including myself) and residents can understand what is in play when a retailer is deciding whether or not to locate in the Village Center.

I believe that taking these steps will start the process of revitalizing the Village Center. A place where local residents can meet their daily needs and also a destination place that draws from the entire Columbia/Howard County community. Please join me in this endeavor, and vote for me on April 26, 2008.

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