Monday, February 9, 2015

Long Reach

The most pressing local issue in Howard County is the disposition of the Long Reach Village Center.  While it is easy to tune out on a village you don't live in (and neighbors you don't have), the underlying themes on this are fascinating - the future of the village center concept, the interface of public and private enterprise, county-church relations, transition of county leadership, and political move-making in the context of a four year cycle.

Are you with me yet?

So to bring you up to speed, approximately one year ago, County Executive Ken Ulman announced the county's intention to purchase the Long Reach Village Center and turn it into an arts center.  As part of this announcement, Celebration Church announced its intention to purchase the 55,000 square foot vacant Safeway location (i.e., the "anchor" spot) for its 3,000+ member congregation.  As noted in the article, the struggling business owners in the village center were optimistic about the new approach taken by the county and that "help was on the way".

In October 2014, after the County Council voted to declare Long Reach a "redevelopment area", Howard County purchased the Long Reach Village Center for $5 million.  Then candidate, now County Executive, Allan Kittleman expressed reservations about purchasing the center, noting that county purchases of private property decreases the tax base.

Sometime after the new Administration took over redevelopment, negotiations with Celebration Church over parking at the Village Center fell through.  According to this article by Amanda Yeager with the Flier, the County asked Celebration Church to pay $1 million for non-exclusive parking rights in the Village Center on top of the $2.5 million Celebration would be paying for the Safeway space. Pastor Robbie Davis reported that the County was not receptive to negotiating the $1 million price tag, making the deal untenable for the church.

Under the terms of the original Village Center purchase, which did not include Safeway, Celebration Church had 120 days to buy the anchor spot.  With that window now closed, the County will be compelled to buy the property.

Shortly after it was announced that the deal fell through, deputy pastor Larry Walker posted his disappointment on Facebook, beginning with the sentence "ELECTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES...and this black church sure got the short end on this one!"  I would recommend reading the post as it includes all of the under-appreciated services our church community provide to Columbia and Howard County.

Meanwhile, it doesn't seem that there are many viable alternatives being discussed for the Safeway spot, other than Council-member Greg Fox's endorsement of "blank slates" and "open dialogue" (hmm, ok).

This issue is heating up and either heading for an early resolution with Celebration Church (before February 20th) or significant community opposition to the County's handling of this matter.

That's all for today.  Have a great Monday doing what you love!