A Howard County developer plans to build a senior apartment complex in vacancy-troubled Oakland Mills Village Center, pending a vote by the village board this week.

The Oakland Mills board was scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to support a proposed four-story, 96-unit apartment building, tentatively called Oakland Mills Manor. The complex, designed for people 62 and older, would be built on the site of a closed Exxon gas station. The board meeting was to be held after Howard Extra's deadline.

Although approval by the village board is not required, the project's developer, Jeffrey C. Kirby, founder of J. Kirby Development LLC of Marriottsville, said this week that he won't proceed without it. The development, however, must be approved by county planning and zoning officials.

The village center, one of the oldest in Columbia, has been plagued by businesses shutting down in recent years. In 2001, the center lost its 42,000-square-foot Metro Food Market and the Exxon station. Attempts to attract a new grocery chain -- including Giant, Fresh Fields and Trader Joe's -- have been unsuccessful. Last year, an Allfirst Bank branch closed there.

Barbara Russell, who represents Oakland Mills on the Columbia Council, said this week that the center's manager, Kimco Realty Corp., has told residents that it is continuing talks with potential grocers. She said Allfirst is also trying to find a buyer for its vacant branch.

Although some residents have touted the senior housing project as a way to revitalize the center, others would prefer to see the site developed differently, Kirby said.

"There are a few people in the community who feel that maybe more retail is the way to bring more customers to the area," Kirby said. "I believe that's a minority opinion. If the [apartment building] is something the community really doesn't want, then we probably won't move forward."

Kirby said if he receives approval from the Oakland Mills board, he also will solicit support from other village boards in Columbia before asking county officials to rezone the property from retail and commercial to residential use. He said he intends to submit plans to the county in the fall.

The complex would feature one- and two-bedroom apartments, a common area with a computer center, a beauty salon, arts and crafts room, exercise room, movie theater and a hospitality suite for visiting family members, Kirby said.

The moderately priced apartments, with monthly rents of $553 for a one-bedroom unit to $807 for a two-bedroom apartment, fit the housing needs of aging residents in the community, Kirby said. The Maryland Department of Planning predicted that the number of seniors in Howard will jump 169 percent, to nearly 69,000 people, from 2002 to 2020.

"These types of communities should be designed and put in each community," Kirby said. "This type of apartment allows them to stay in the community where they've either raised their family or they have family."

Oakland Mills Manor would be partially eligible for federal housing tax credits, resulting in income limits for residents. For example, the majority of single residents could not have an annual income of more than $27,900.

"I think every member of the board would agree that Oakland Mills has its fair share of low-income housing and wouldn't like to see another low-income housing project in Oakland Mills," Russell said.

But she said the project would give Oakland Mills residents an alternative to the high rents found in many other senior housing developments in Howard.

"It's a project that would serve the people of Oakland Mills who are growing older by the day," she said.

Russell said she thought more affordable senior housing would allow retirees and other residents to remain in Oakland Mills.

"This would be a wonderful opportunity for people to be able to move into an apartment that eliminates all those burdens of home ownership but remain in the heart of the village," Russell said.

The Oakland Mills Village Center, one of the oldest in Columbia, has been plagued by businesses shutting down in recent years, including the 42,000-square-foot Metro Food Market."It's a project that would serve the people of Oakland Mills who are growing older," Barbara Russell said.