Oakland Mills’ Vision
The Village Center Community Plan (VCCP) updates and expands the 2007 Master Plan to chart a course for redeveloping Oakland Mills. It also aligns with Council Bill 29-2009, which was key in the redevelopment of the Wilde Lake Village Center.
New Village Center Boundaries
The VCCP defines the boundaries of the Village Center to include not only the two barns, the ice rink, and the retail strip but also the nearby garden apartments, Shadow Oaks condominium, The Meeting House, and the adjacent schools.
The wider boundaries are important because under the terms of Council Bill 29-2009, when a developer files a Notice of Intent to Develop with the county, the Village Board must be notified in writing. The process requires two Community Meetings, 30 days apart; everyone gets a chance to look at the plans and discuss the pros and cons. The village has 45 days in which to write a Community Response Statement. Planning and Zoning officials give great weight to the Community Response Statement. If a developer revises his plan to meet our concerns, the community can comment again. It’s a lengthy process, but it guarantees that the entire village has a voice in what happens in the Village Center area.
The VCCP identifies the following key elements of a vision for redevelopment:
Encourage Cohesive Mixed-Use Development—Find a New Focus
The Columbia Market Study of 2013 advises older villages to find a new focus, in addition to a grocery store, to attract visitors. The most important attribute is something that draws people from outside Oakland Mills on a regular basis in order to achieve the critical mass needed to support amenities like a coffee shop and café. Ideally, the new focus should also attract young people to rent and ultimately settle in our village. Possibilities include a major sports facility like an expanded ice rink or a 50-meter pool. Whatever the new attraction is, it should also create job opportunities, during and after construction.
Since technology is key to the Millennial generation, the Village Center redevelopment must seize every opportunity to insist that apartments, commercial properties, and public spaces offer the best and fastest available internet access.
Implementation. The plan directs the Board to explore and promote new uses, such as a major recreational facility, that will revitalize the Village Center area and to appoint a Technology Liaison/Committee to identify opportunities for high-speed internet access in public and private spaces. The Board should also explore new ways to market Oakland Mills.
Create a Strong Gateway to Town Center—Bridge Columbia
Transforming the existing bike/pedestrian bridge over Route 29 into a true gateway to Downtown Columbia is absolutely essential to redevelopment. It capitalizes on our village’s prime location, directly across from Downtown. The county’s feasibility study identified several options, but the VCCP supports a cable-stayed bridge with two-way public transit (a Circulator bus). As soon as the Multi-Use Path, being built by the Downtown developer, is completed, the bridge will link our Village Center not only to Downtown but also to the Community College and the hospital at one end of Columbia and Blandair Park at the other. Any option that involves public transit will make the project, known as Bridge Columbia, eligible for state and federal funds.
Implementation. The Howard County Executive is already committed to completing Bridge Columbia with public transit. To speed implementation, our Board and Columbia Association Representative must partner with Friends of Bridge Columbia to advocate for an accelerated schedule and designation of Bridge Columbia as a “high-priority project.”
Upgrade Housing—Comprehensive Housing Policy
The obsolescent garden apartments in the Village Center area should be replaced with a full spectrum of housing choices, ranging from affordable rental units to luxury condos on the bluff overlooking the Downtown. Given the amount of low-rent housing currently surrounding the center, it is crucial for the county to implement a Comprehensive Housing Plan to provide ample opportunities for tenants at all income levels throughout the county.
Implementation. The Village Board should urge county officials to adopt and carry out a countywide Comprehensive Housing Policy/Plan to establish economic diversity and opportunity throughout Howard County.
Advocate for Schools in the Oakland Mills Cluster
The public schools are the heart of our village. We must ensure that they afford Oakland Mills students the same opportunities as students elsewhere in the county. Because our schools have higher proportions of children coming from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, the PTA and other support organizations do not have the same capability to do in-house fundraising. This can translate to a less equitable provision of support and materials beyond what the school system officially provides. A stronger economic hub for Oakland Mills, via a reinvented Village Center, could help mitigate the disparity.
Implementation: As a top priority, the Board must vigorously promote equitable and appropriate allocation of resources to Oakland Mills’ public schools and supporting organizations. Our students should enjoy the same opportunity for achievement and advancement that prevails in other Howard County schools.
Promote High Environmental Standards for Redevelopment
Sustainability and green development should inform all decisions about every aspect of redevelopment, land use, and new commercial facilities in the Village Center. Our housing stock needs to be retrofitted to achieve lower energy use, and we must insist that new housing be built to much higher standards. Net-zero energy usage is an attainable goal if passive solar construction and solar electricity and water conservation are incorporated into home designs and landscaping choices.