Monday, October 30, 2006

And Speaking Of Downtown Plans...

Okay, I have to admit I got energized by two letters to the editor in the Howard section of The Sun Yesterday. One was by Marylou Semones in support of The Plaza residences in Town Center and the other was by Robert Tennenbaum urging his fellow downtown task force members to get off the dime and move the Town Center planning process forward.

Amen to Ms. Semones and Mr. Tennenbaum.

As far as the Plaza Residences go, enough is truly enough. Let's give WCI communities their building permit and get this beautiful building started. First of all it is in the right place, not on the lake where it might obstruct views but right on by Little Patuxent Parkway. Secondly, yes , it is a tall boy but really, when you consider that is actually downhill from the Mall, it will probably end up (visually anyway) not much taller than Merrill Lynch building.

As for the rest of the Town Center plan, it is time for action, not more study.

The largest landowner in Town Center, General Growth Properties, has shown more patience with this "planning" process than could reasonably be expected. Keep in mind that they still have the right to put big box retail and offices behind Merriweather without a new plan. It was primarily Ken Ullman and Judd Malone (former Town Center Columbia Council rep) who convinced GGP to get on board with the county and comunity to consider a wholistic plan. Now both of these guys are being attacked for doing just that. Judd Malone lost his reelection to the council and now it sounds like Ken's opponent, Chris Merdon, has made a campaign issue out of it.

No good deed goes unpunished they say.

Theodore Roosevelt put it best:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. "

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Downtown Plan...For Ellicott City

While much of the county is focused on the future of Columbia's Town Center, I think there needs to be a hard look at Ellicott City as well.

I am speaking of the historic district not the great amorphous area that makes up the Ellicott City zip codes.

Historic Ellicott City is a rare gem. It makes sense to preserve and protect it. The best way to achieve that is to make it economically strong.

That is not to say that it isn't doing well. In some cases it is doing quite well and in others it is falling short. The main challenge continues to parking. Without adequate parking it will stagnate.

I know there were once plans to float a bond issue in order to fund a parking garage behind the Post Office but I don't know what ever became of that.

With the addition of a parking garage (or two), perhaps on street parking along Main Street could be eliminated (at least on one side) and the sidewalks widened. This would allow restaurants to offer some outdoor seating and reduce the traffic tie ups that occur when people attempt to maneuver into a Main Street parking space. You have to admit that parallel parking skills vary widely.

Wider sidewalks would also provide an opportunity for street trees and benches. Some older and disabled folks might enjoy an occasional bench to rest on as they navigate the hilly topography of the old town.

Any other thoughts or ideas?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Angela Beltram endorses Chris Merdon. Does anyone else find this scary?

Do you really think that she would have even gotten involved in the Comp Lite debate if it had been a Lutheran or Catholic church that wanted to expand instead of a Korean one?

Scarier still are all of the other politicians who want to be seen standing next to her this campaign season. She has become the flavor of the month because the candidates believe she will deliver votes in November.

We'll see...We'll see.

Politicians would do well to consider that the 7,000 people who signed her petition represent a mere 4% of the registered voters in the county.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Decisions, decisions...

I can't make up my mind as to whether I should be Comp Lite legistlation or a real estate developer for Halloween. If you listen to any of the candidates for county offices you'd think these two things were scarier than Frankenstein!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Attack of the Evil Developers

What is the deal with all of this negativity towards developers?

It seems to be fair game in this political season to attack the opponent as being in the developers pocket as if this was akin to dancing with devil himself. Developers (and they come in all shapes and sizes) seem to have become the root of all that is wrong in the county.

I guess they are an easy mark. They are a small constituency, they tear up the land, and they give money to politicians. Bad boys all around.

Yet consider this...Jim Rouse was first and foremost a developer. True he had many altruistic leanings but he understood that you needed to make a profit.

And this...developers not only contribute to political campaigns (and since when did that become a bad thing...didn't Tip O'Neil say that money was the mothers milk of politics?) they also give generously to community causes. In fact I would wager that, as a group, developers support more community events than our local technology companies do.

And what do they get in return?


The development business is a risky proposition. Developers place bets on where the economy will be two years from now. That is the average time it takes from conceiving a project to generating revenue from it. During that time they spend a great deal of money in legal fees, architectural fees, engineering fees, construction loans, permit fees and so on. In the end, if the economy goes sour, they run the risk of losing everything while they try to salvage their investment.

They also subject themselves to more input from the general public than any other private business.

What do you imagine a community would look like without developers?

Those are the comments I would be interested in hearing.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Letter To The Editor from Jim Binckley

As a Columbia resident of over 38 years , I have read more than my share of letters to the Columbia Flier. Over the years, most people want to inform us what bugs them about this town, who bugs them in this town , bashing CA, or what's best for their gifted and talented children.

Since the passing of Columbia founder Jim Rouse over a decade ago, a different type of letter has evolved. The themes and thin skinned rants are the same, but now people tell us that Mr. Rouse would have thought the same as them. The letters are fortified with passages like, " What would Jim Rouse think of this?"........." Jim Rouse would not be happy if he knew" ...... " Jim Rouse would roll in his grave if "......... "Jim Rouse would never have endorsed"....... After each Rouse observation , all a person has to do is insert his or her condemnation du jour, and presto, you got yourself a sacred point. That's right folks, all one needs is to stretch and pull each syllable that has ever been uttered by this mythical, Zen-like, yoda of a man , and you have achieved undisputed legitimacy. Who knows, maybe even run for local political office someday!

Master syllable stretcher, and redundantly elected Columbia Association board member Barbara Russell,she of the hot spot (excuse me village) of Oakland Mills, was recently quoted in the September 20th Baltimore Examiner in regards to the height restriction "crisis" in Town Center. Ms. Russell took the Jim Rouse high road to uncharted levels. It was her contention that Jim would be on her side , so she yanked a short passage from a Rouse speech, " It Can Happen Here", made in 1963. That's right ... 46 years ago! In that speech Rouse stated, " that serious problems in society stem from the fact that the city is out of scale with the people". This undoubtedly meant to Ms. Russell that Jim Rouse would never have liked a tall building in Town Center because he used the word "scale". Nice try, but the context of the speech wasn't even close to her smokescreen.

Soon after reading the Russell/Rouse quote, I visited the Columbia Archives and met with the curator to obtain a copy of the speech. The "scale" Rouse was referring to was the overall size of entire cities, not the scale of a building. Rouse further stated," I believe this out-of- scaleness promotes loneliness, irresponsibility, superficial values. I would visualize a series of small communities separated by topography, highways, public institutions, or greenbelts, and united by a center that provided cultural, educational, recreational facilities for many , say 10 to 20 small towns around it"

It is my contention that Jim Rouse may have been conceptually laying the foundation for the village concept of Columbia in the 1963 speech. The "small communities" being the neighborhoods, and the "small towns around it" being the villages. Those are just my thoughts, I don't speak for Jim Rouse. You remember the village concept don't you ? The success and uniqueness of the centers were the core of the Columbia concept. What happened? Kimco Realty, the village landlords, have somehow determined through intense market research, that after 40 years of evolving, Columbia residents like to do three things. Eat bagels..... get our nails done ..... and buy liquor. Good Lord! The Barbara Russell's of this town and the other members of the political junior varsity known as the Columbia Council need to protect the foundation of this town before they lend their Rousian input into it's future.

In closing, I would like to lend some historical perspective in regards to a city that did in fact struggle with height restrictions, and in this case had real ( not imagined ) founding father input . In 1894 the city of Philadelphia erected what was then one of the tallest structures in the world. The City Hall building had a crowning statue atop it of William Penn, that rose 548 feet in the air. It was decreed then and for the better part of the next century that no building in Philadelphia shall ever exceed the statue of Mr. Penn. That was until Willard Rouse II , with substantial monetary, legal, and design input from his uncle , Columbia founder Jim Rouse, decided to build two buildings that topped William Penn's hat by 200 feet.The city fought Rouse long and hard , but gave in to the tireless developer. Willard , head of Rouse & Associates stated in 1984 that," I agree whole-heartedly that this project will probably set a precedent for the future, but people who are afraid of that are afraid of the future." I have no doubt that uncle Jim agreed with Willard .In 1987 One Liberty Place opened and the entire retail square footage of two buildings was leased quite profitably by our own Rouse Company of Columbia, Maryland through a handshake agreement between Willard and Uncle Jim.