Monday, August 13, 2007

Back In The Saddle

In case anyone was wondering why I hadn't posted or responded to comments last week it wasn't because I dropped off the face of the blogosphere like some other local blogger. I was actually on vacation in Florida and found myself without any Internet connectivity. I did suffer some initial withdrawal but that gave way to blissful relaxation as I settled into reading and morning runs on the beach.

The books of choice on this vacation were The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance by Ron Chernow and Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog by John Grogan. I am still working on the former but I finished the latter in two days. If you like dogs you will definitely enjoy Marley & Me.

I also read a very interesting story about immigration in the New York Times Magazine on August 5th. I have been meaning to write a post on the face of immigration in Howard County but I don't think I could do a better job of capturing the essence of this debate than Alex Kotlowitz did in Our Town. A great and important read.

The best news on my return was the story in the Sun yesterday about the Plaza Residences beginning construction. All I can say is that is about time. It is no surprise that Mary Kay Sigaty is still pushing her legislation to stop this project but hopefully the rest of council will see the folly of this effort.

Ahh, it is good to be back.


Anonymous said...

I think you're confusing Mark Kay's legislation with the appeals. The appeals are meant to stop the project. The legislation isn't to "stop this project", but is rather just to provide sensible height limits.

It's a shame an adjacent property owner was judged to not have standing to request a hearing examining if the Planning Board made a mistake in approving the tower. Had such a hearing gone forward now, it would have cleared things up all the sooner for everyone. Instead, we're currently left with the appearance of a Florida developer trying to hurry up and build before County citizens can fully exercise their rights and protections.

Should that be what the tallest building in Howard County will stand for? Some communities reserve their tallest architecture to stand for something more.

Dave Wissing said...

What is the definition of a "sensible height limit"?

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:06-

Can you please give an example of communities' tallest architecture "standing for something more"?

Far as I can tell, it's always been about money and engineering feats.

If it weren't about this project, the legislation wouldn't be retroactive.

wordbones said...

Anon 10:26,

It is disingenuous to assert that Ms. Sigaty's legistlation is not about stopping the tower. As Anon 8:48 states "If it weren't about this project, the legislation wouldn't be retroactive."

As far as the adjacent property owners are concerned, the Broida's are either BANANA's (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone) or just plain stupid. I'm not sure how an educated person can plunk down down a half million dollars for a condo and not inquire as to what will be built accross the street.

"Should that be what the tallest building in Howard County will stand for? Some communities reserve their tallest architecture to stand for something more."

What do you think this tower stands for?


Anonymous said...

A "sensible height limit" would certainly respect the 15-point Urban Bill of Rights Bill listed some time ago here.

Perhaps the definition of a "sensible height limit" is a height above which a structure either:
- poses hazards to occupants, neighbors, or emergency services personnel during emergency site response or evacuation,
- exceeds local emergency services existing equipment capabilities,
- obstructs air traffic or increases the building's related risk,
- creates unnatural microclimates through light obstruction and wind pattern alteration,
- interferes with seasonal airborne animal migrations due to its structure or exterior lighting,
- significantly blocks either the day or night sky from view by either neighboring ground viewpoints or neighboring buildings' residences,
- incongruously dominates the vista or horizon relative to existing characteristics,
- or may momentarily evoke the sense of being a Manhattanite and, therefore, a Yankees fan (this last attribute by itself is reason enough for height limits).


One example of a community's tallest architecture standing for something more was Philadelphia's City Hall, housing its three bodies of city government and topped by a statue of William Penn. Penn's contributions to democracy a hundred years before our independence and to this country's freedoms are formidable.

Built in 1901, at a height of 548 feet, it was for seven years the tallest building in the world. Long after it was commercially feasible to build taller private structures, the building remained, soley through an understanding of the city's citizens, the city's tallest until 1987.

Columbia's and Howard County's tallest building, instead of being inspiringly topped by one of the principal contributors to a free world, will have a members-only pool. It's an interesting contrast and interesting in what it will say about our community.

wordbones said...

Anon 10:06,

Okay, let's start with your "Urban Bill of Rights."

This "NIMBY" manifesto was penned by a columnist for the Berkley Daily Planet, not exactly mainstream media if you catch my drift. I would say that the prevailing political climate in Berkley California is somewhere left of Che Guevara.

The Philadelphia City Hall is another interesting comparison. True, it remained the tallest building in the city until 1987 but this was largely due to economics. Ironically when this self imposed height limit was breached in 1987 it was Jim Rouse's cousin, Willard Rouse, who did it with his One Liberty Place project. The Comcast tower, now under construction, will soon replace One Liberty Place as the tallest building in the City of Brotherly Love.

As far as private swimming pools are concerned, Columbia has a long tradition of "members only' pools as you put it. One of the earliest multi family developments in Columbia, The Cove in Wilde Lake, has long had it's own pool reserved exclusively for those who live there. Tor Apartments in Oakland Mills also features an exclusive swimming hole.

Doesn't anyone want to discuss what good books they've read this summer?


pzguru said...

Wordbones - if the Broida's live in the garden style condo building directly behind where the WCI tower is supposed to go, then they would have had NO idea about the tower when they bought (asusming they bought when their building was originally built) because the tower wasn't even in the site plan process at the time. If that is the case, that would certainly be their basis for being upset about the tower going up. The same thing is happening in Baltimore City. People buy a condo with a view of the harbor. Then, 2 years later a developer constructs a tower in front of the other person's building, thereby blocking their view (which they presumably paid out the wazoo for). Is that right? Is that good "planning"? Is that good design principle? If you paid $50k or $100k for a harbor view, you'd be pissed too if someone came along and obstructed that view.

I don't think it's fair or correct for you to call them NIMBY's simply because they oppose the tower. They have valid reasons in my opinion. Plus, their real objection is the height, correct? If they were true NIMBY's, they wouldn't want anything built there at all. As far as I know, that is NOT their position.

The bigger point in the "standing" issue is if someone who lives next door to a development site is not considered to have standing, then who the hell could/would be considered to have standing. Remember, judges are very politically influenced, so their decisions aren't always the right one. I would argue that just about anyone in the County has standing to sue over this issue (or Comp Lite) since these impacts go well beyond the immediate neighbors.

Plus, I hate when lawsuits are half decided - that is - they are dismissed on some petty technicality before the real meat and potatoes of the lawsuit are ruled on. Closure does not come from such dismissals.

wordbones said...


Oh the Broida's most certainly knew about plans to build a high rise tower on that site, or at a minimum they should have known. While it is true that WCI was not in the site plan process at the time the garden condos were built, the previous developer, I believe it was a group called Renaissance Properties, had contracted to buy that site and build a 20 plus story condo project well before the Broida's building even broke ground. If they were not informed of this by their developer, Ryland Homes, then I suspect that they may have a stronger case against Ryland for not revealing his material fact.

What views would be obstructed for the Broida's?

Little Patuxent Parkway?

The Mall?

No, I suspect that they would be happiest if that site were left vacant. Just my humble opinion of course but I think I'll stick with the NIMBY tag.


Anonymous said...

You chose to completely avoid directly addressing the content of that proposed Urban Bill of Rights and instead responded to it by associating it with its author, its author with its publication, its publication with the community in which it was published, and that community with a completely uninvolved radical. That's a pretty tangential and way off-topic response to both sensible height limits and those specific proposed rights. What's so radical about them?

The 15 "rights":

1. The right to see significant greenery, the sky, and the sun from within one’s home.
2. The right to natural cross ventilation in one’s home.
3. The right to enjoy peace and quiet within one’s home with windows open.
4. The right to sleep at night without excessive artificial ambient light.
5. The right to be free in one’s neighborhood from pollution of air, water, soil, and plant life.
6. The right to be free from undesirable local environmental change caused by poor urban design, such as wind, shadow and noise canyons, excess heat caused by overpaving, etc.
7. The right to adequate space for storage, hobbies, and other personal activities in and around each dwelling unit, including play space for children in family housing.
8. The right to mobility, regardless of income. If automobile use is discouraged by prohibitive pricing, public transit must be adequate and low cost.
9. The right to parking space for each household.
10. The right of convenient access, on foot if possible, to basic daily needs, such as good quality food at reasonable prices, daily household and medical supplies, laundry facilities, etc.
11. The right of convenient access, by foot, private vehicle, or transit, to places of employment.
12. The right of equal access to the commons and to taxpayer-funded and other public facilities, such as government buildings, libraries, museums, bridges, and roadways.
13. The right of access within walking distance to nature, recreation, outdoor exercise, and discovery, including parks, open space, and areas inhabited by wildlife.
14. The right to equal and adequate police, fire, and emergency services, which shall not be infringed on the basis of income or neighborhood character.
15. The right to participate in and guide, through equitable, representative, democratic processes, land use decisions that affect oneself, one’s neighborhood, and one’s community.

They certainly seem fairly innocuous, demand-driven, and contributing to quality of life to me.

True, the Cove and Tor's private pools exist, but neither occupy a highly visible, highly elevated location serving as a symbol of Columbia's character day and night, far and wide. Columbia's inclusive community recreation facilities enjoy far greater prominence.

Good summer reads? The New Yorker recently had a long and fascinating article detailing the disappearance of honey bees and the possible causes.

FreeMarket said...

Anon- Thanks for the tip on the magazine article. However, everybody knows that honey bees are disappearing due to cell phones. That’s why I keep seeing bees wearing aluminum foil hats.

pzguru said...

Wordbones - you are probably correct that the Broidas realtor or sales person did not infomr them of the Tower. It's always up to the buyer to do the research (although I feel that disclosure on a salesperson's part should be more reliable). If they didn't do the research, then I agree that they have no to blame but themselves. If they did know about the Tower, then I agree that what they are doing is not legitimate.

As for the "view", I was thinking more along the lines of the sky, not necessarily the view of LPP. I know - there aren't many views in that direction, but you know what I meant.

I am not a fan of Nimby's either. I do believe in property owners rights to develop in accordance with the laws and regulations. In this case, though, I'm not sure if the FDP amendment change was legal. If the judge ruled that it was, then I would say it's over. Since the judge didn't even address that point, I think it leave the issue open to further debate, which is unfortunate. I'd rather have a clear and final resolution to it.

Anonymous said...

Freemarket, the article points the finger elsewhere, but makes no definitive conclusions.

Just one more example of our ability to impact our surroundings exceeding our ability to concurrently understand what we're doing. Thankfully, when the undesirable impacts and corresponding causes are subsequently understood, regulations often soon follow to ameliorate impetuses to ignore reality.

wordbones said...

Anon 8:28,

You are correct in noting that I ignored the substance of the "Urban Bill of Rights."

I have an aversion to these so called Bills of Rights (Air Travelers Bill of Rights, Kids Bill of Rights and so on) that fail to contain a corresponding Bill of Responsibilities. For example your "right to be free in one’s neighborhood from pollution of air, water, soil, and plant life." should be attached to being responsible for picking up litter on the sidewalk even if it isn't yours.

When we are ready to make people more responsible I will be ready to consider the validity of more "rights."


Anonymous said...

Did such rights-tied-to-responsibilities civic-mindedness persuade you to pick up others' litter garnering your scorn outside the Blue Cow Cafe on your early day off?

I've sometimes picked up others' litter, other times passing it by, but I don't think reticence to do good deeds should require sacrificing the right to a healthy home and community.

Your concept of needing to earn rights only by contributing to the public good seems to differ considerably from the intent of our nation's founders, who believed that rights were inherent to the individual and only through their consent did government exist. Our nation's Bill of Rights continued in that tradition, ensuring all individuals' rights were protected and expanding those rights.

Your objection seems like an easy out for those externalizing the effects of their pollution to the detriment of others, saying "if you're not willing to freely clean up my mess, I'm not willing to forego continuing to make a mess".

It's through requiring those who externalize their pollution to be responsible enough to not do so in the first place that we'll ensure the rights of all.

wordbones said...

Anon 10:53,

Your reference to the Blue Cow Cafe post indicates that you may be a regular reader of this blog.


Regarding your assumption that I did not pick up the trash that day, be careful. You know what they say about assumptions don't you?

It is also reinforces my point that you might assume that I did not pick up the trash because that is the expectation we have of our fellow citizens.

Okay, if my litter picking responsibility is too high a price for new "rights" how about this, in return for your Urban Bill of Rights, every citizen of voting age should minimally be required to know the name of their county councilman. Would that be too much to ask?

And please don't wrap yourself in the cloak of the men who founded this country. Those guys knew that rights required responsibilities better than anyone. Someone who demands rights without accepting more responsibility wouldn't be worthy to carry their water.

Anonymous said...

I didn't make any assumptions which is why it was an interrogative, not a statement, and was followed by a self-descriptive statement to ensure you didn't take the interrogative as accusatory.

While both civic knowledge and civic volunteerism are admirable attributes, I find neither necessity nor validity in tying these rights to either attribute. Does that mean people who have other concerns in life for their attention should be freely subjected to pollution? Does that mean adults who are mentally challenged shouldn't be guaranteed clean air, clean water, and quiet neighborhoods? Does that mean children wouldn't have such rights conferred upon them until they are adults, lacking standing to petition for such in the meantime, and being subjected to airborne particulates that cause much higher rates of asthma in urban environments in children?

Such litmus tests for rights were used years ago and found to be unconstitutional. Ask any parent if their family should be guaranteed clean, unpolluted water to drink and I doubt they'll agree it's a new right that has to be earned.