Thursday, July 2, 2009

will burtonsville have a town or a square?

Woman In The Empty Shopping Center
A visitor to the soon-to-be-redeveloped Burtonsville Shopping Center.

Two years after we first learned that the Dutch Country Farmers' Market would be moving from the Burtonsville Shopping Center, the HowChow blog reports that they'll be closing this Saturday, July 4 before reopening in "last August or September" at their new location in Laurel. The so-called "Amish Market" signed the lease for a space on Route 198 at the Prince George's/Anne Arundel county line in March of 2008, but stayed in Burtonsville while developer Chris Jones worked to obtain permits to rebuild the shopping center.

And as construction begins on what's now called the Burtonsville Town Square (at right), Jones finally announced this week that Giant and CVS Pharmacy will anchor the new shopping center at Old Columbia Pike and Route 198. This is more than a year after Jones published marketing materials (warning! PDF file.) listing them as future tenants, which we reported last June. (It's unclear to me whether he's building the shops-around-an-actual-square model first proposed in 2004 (plans for which went before the Planning Board as recently as last March) or the smaller strip mall submitted in 2008, which The Gazette usually refers to, as does BMC Property Group's website, which is out of date.)

I'm becoming increasingly wary about the redevelopment of Burtonsville, talk of which is marked by contradictions. The "village center" has been hit hard by the Route 29 Bypass, which directs traffic away from local businesses. It's most obvious in the Burtonsville Crossing shopping center, where eight of twenty-eight stores are empty - due in part, say shopkeepers, to rising rents. While a representative of owner Edens and Avant says they're "talking with the county" about what'll happen at Burtonsville Crossing, there's no doubt that losing Giant as an anchor store will deter even more people from going there to shop.

Boulevard In The Business District
Maple Lawn's mixed-use business district models itself on a small town.

At the same time, businesses on Route 198 continue to resist changes as minor as sidewalks and residents say the "village green" first proposed in 1997 will "attract undesirables," leading planners who drafted the Burtonsville Community Legacy Plan to make minimal recommendations for how the village center could be improved. But this week's article in the Gazette shows that what makes Burtonsville attractive isn't the shopping - it's seeing the people in your neighborhood.
Shopping trips can now be isolating and worrisome for Melissa Leone, a Burtonsville resident for 23 years. She said the center is not the same without the businesses that used to occupy the plaza.

"It gives you that empty feeling," said Leone, who used to patronize the Parcel Plus store at the center, which has gone out of business. "You don't feel comfortable sometimes."

Burtonsville resident Craig Atenidegbe still goes to the Giant supermarket at the center, where he often bumps into friends. The shopping center brings a sense of community, he said.

"[It's] a community center for [the area]," said Atenidegbe, who heads Network for Humanity, a Burtonsville-based nonprofit. "I see people and go, ‘Hey, that's John.'"
I strongly believe that the future of Burtonsville is not solely as a shopping destination but as a place to gather. Burtonsville's small businesses will never satisfy all the needs of shoppers who visit big-box stores like Target or Kohl's or malls like Montgomery, Wheaton or Columbia. And the ongoing development of Maple Lawn, a mixed-use community that markets itself as a "small town," shows that there's a demand for a real public realm in Burtonsville - not parking lots and highways, but village greens and yes, even sidewalks. And retail establishments like the Amish Market, which was called "the closest thing we have to a town square." It's ironic that they're being displaced by a shopping center that may be a town square in name only.


Thomas Hardman said...

Dan, you hit the nail on the head with this one.

And you've also expressed, better than I could, why I tend to oppose the sort of attitude that say "we're builders, let's build" and don't bother to check the results of their former projects.

Empty storefronts in young shopping centers? That's okay, the build-some-more mindset seems to think that this problem can be solved by building even more commercial/retail space.

As to Burtonsville Crossing, I seem to recall that those office buildings -- complete with ample parking -- have a vacancy rate somewhere near 80 percent (discrete offices as opposed to lease square footage). Do we really need to build more offices or retail space? Or do we need to find businesses to put in the space we have?

Building projects will put people to work... for so long as the projects last. Once build-out is completed at one site, you need another site or all of those "jobs created" are going to be "newly unemployed". So the tendency is to approve even more projects that will "create jobs"... for so long as the project lasts.

And in the end, it's as if some paripatetic beaver has moved up and down the stream, building beaver dams every place it can. Anyone taking a quick look would think that there are a lot of happy beavers along that stream... but most of the beaver ponds are empty. There's just on beaver on that stream, and its obsession is unhealthy for both the stream and for the beaver itself, to say nothing of all of the wildlife displaced by the flooding.

The thing about Burtonsville, generally speaking, is that the best thing about it is that mostly there's no "there" there. The strength of a community is the community, not the amenities, as a rule. Build on that, and everything will be peachy.

So sad to see the Amish Market go, though.

WashingtonGardener said...

Without the Amish Mkt I'm not sure why anyone from SoMoCo would ever venture up to B-ville? It wil begreatly missed and the community will suffer because if this loss.

Thomas Hardman said...

I decided that I'd venture on out there to the Amish Market for one last time at the present location.

Wow, that place was packed.

Wait time at the meats counter was at least half an hour. It was worth it, of course.

But really, now that it's moving, there aren't all that many reasons for me to visit, other than that it's a convenient half-way point for my infrequent visits to Laurel.