Fifteen years after the Route 1 Corridor Revitalization Study and a few fewer since the issuance of the Route 1 Revitalization Manual, the result is a continuum of development activity stretching along the corridor, as well as across the calendar.
Nowhere is that more evident than the expanse between Route 100 and Route 175, where some projects are wrapping, others are in full swing and still more are just entering the planning stage.
Along the way there have been new legislation, Zoning Regulation Amendments and Comprehensive Rezoning, plus a new Howard County administration and a new Department of Planning and Zoning director.
Those changes and a recession notwithstanding, the biggest downside, in general, has been lingering decay in some areas and a handful of lots that were cleared early on, only to lay dormant a bit longer than owners and developers intended.
New and New-ish
Looking specifically between Route 100 and Route 175, there is a lot of new, and new-ish, activity to observe.
One of the sidelined projects now off the blocks is the Montevideo Crossing mixed-use development at Montevideo Road. According to Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) Director Valdis Lazdins, the Planning Board was scheduled to hear a case on Jan. 5 regarding a proposed CVS drug store and Royal Farms convenience store and gas station proposed for this parcel.
A new plan for Dorsey Center Parcel R in the Dorsey transit-oriented development (TOD) area calls for 230 apartments, he said, while a recent pre-submission meeting focused on an additional 230 units for Corridor Square in a new, adjacent TOD district.
Howard Square, meanwhile, has submitted a site plan for a new, 344-unit apartment building, Lazdins said, targeting residential completion after construction of this addition and some additional townhomes. Nearby Blue Stream has received building permits for a 168-unit apartment building and is about 50% built-out.
“Getting commercial for both of these projects has been a struggle,” Lazdins said.
At the Maryland Food Center Authority’s distribution center, located just off Route 175 at Route 1, in Jessup, a new, 160,000-square-foot headquarters building for produce supplier G. Cefalu’ & Bro. should be complete by mid-February, said Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA) Vice President of Business Development Mark Thompson.
Additionally, the Lorien Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, in Elkridge, submitted a Certificate of Need to the Maryland Health Care Commission in August petitioning for a 25-bed addition to its 70-bed nursing facility.
“There are a few other properties in this stretch of the Corridor that are in the land assembly phase, but there are no plans for them at this point,” Thompson said.
Rooftops vs. Retail
Like Lazdins, Grace Kubofcik, a community activist and president of the Patapsco Heritage Greenway, has noticed a disparity between residential and commercial/retail markets in the Corridor. The result, she said, has impaired the intended mixed-use concept for new construction that calls for residential density above retail space.
“From the beginning, it seemed like it didn’t matter where residential was located along the Corridor. It did well,” she said, as the projects quickly attained 70% occupancy rates that increased to 90% over time.
“Retail, however, has been a consistent vacuum, with some of it never being occupied,” Kubofcik said. “And the type of retail it attracts is pretty consistent, there are a lot of nail salons, and residents are lucky if they have a pharmacy nearby. A lot of it has remained vacant.”
Thompson has also recognized the disparity, which he attributes in part to a stronger residential market than experts anticipated and a slower retail catch-up phase.
“We know that retail follows rooftops,” Thompson said. “Commercial and retail parcels are fairly limited in this area as well, but we have had some recent interest from a number of supermarkets looking for space in the Corridor. For us, it’s an exercise of finding the right sites for them, which isn’t always easy.”
There have been a lot of drivers enticing residents to Route 1, Kubofcik said, particularly easy access to jobs along the Corridor and a more streamlined commute to downtown Baltimore and northern Montgomery County.
“We’re a small county, and we’re running out of land we can use,” she said. “As we begin redevelopment of downtown Columbia, we should consider Route 1 when we ask what opportunities we have in Columbia.”
Getting the mix right in mixed use is important, but there’s also a question of zoning that’s been festering for some time. Comprehensive Rezoning was supposed to help, but some county residents argued that it went too far, launching a petition effort to bring some of the resulting zoning decisions to referendum in 2014. That effort may have been struck down in the courts, but residents and Howard County Council members alike continue to debate the efficacy of Corridor Activity Center districts and other provisions.
“Do we have too many zones?” Kubofcik said. “There are more than 350 pages of zoning regulations [in Howard County], and something like 15 types of commercial zoning and 12 types of residential zoning.”
It’s interesting to note, she said, that the county’s best growth has occurred within overlay zones.
“Things aren’t simple, and they shouldn’t be simple, but I think we have to ask how we can make things as flexible as we need them to be, but still be understandable,” Kubofcik said.
Howard County Councilman Calvin Ball (D-Dist. 2), who represents constituents along this stretch of Route 1, said there hasn’t been much legislative attention paid to the Corridor in recent years.
“There have been some updates and adjustments to earlier legislation and to different programs, like PILOTS [Payments In Lieu of Taxes],” he said. “With that in mind, the current development situation may warrant some type of formal assessment to see what’s being done right and what may still need to be tweaked.”
According to Lazdins, DPZ had targeted a study and plan for the Route 1 Corridor in its 2016 work plan, but dealing with the Ellicott City flood took priority.
“DPZ is instead preparing to undertake a plan for Ellicott City beginning in the spring of 2017,” he said. “We still plan on doing the Route 1 study, but later in 2017 or early in 2018. Zoning revision and the expansion of overlay districts is one of the topics we had hoped to look at as part of that Route 1 study.”