Friday, July 27, 2007

Ironic Twist

It's somewhat comforting to me when a chain restaurant gets replaced with a local establishment and that is exactly what is happening at the site of the former Bennigan's at Snowden River Parkway and Waterloo Road in Columbia.
Bennigan's local franchisee, Next Shift, unceremoniously shuttered the restaurant this spring. It is hard to imagine how a national chain could manage to screw up a location as good as this but they did. The food just wasn't very good. A group of local investors have purchased the property and are in the process of converting the building into an "upscale hamburger joint" named Victoria's. I heard they will have a pretty nice wine selection as well. On the other hand this twist of fate really isn't all that surprising. Many times the second restaurant in a new location enjoys far greater success than the original. The site has some "additional capacity" so the developers are planning some new retail space to go along with their restaurant venture.

For more on locally owned restaurants check out HocoLoco Girl. Jessie is doing a pretty good job of showcasing the non chain scene in Howard County.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Prius Politics

A developer friend of mine called me from the beach today. He related how it was nice to have time to truly read the newspaper while you are on vacation. Today, for instance, he told me that he spent some time with the editorial page of the Washington Post. It was there that he ran across "Prius Politics" by Robert J. Samuelson. He said it was quite apropos given all the green initiatives popping up not only here in Howard County but across the nation too. It's a great read and an important perspective.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


All of the homes on Seaward Court are sold. Seaward is a new street in the new community of Taylor Village just outside the historic district (less than a mile) of Ellicott City.

I think it's Seaward Court anyway, what else could the "CL" represent?
Okay, so there are only seven homes on Seaward but they are all brand spanking new.Just around the corner on yet another new street, people are even buying homes yet to be built.

With the slump in housing nationally, Ellicott City must be an anomaly. It is amazing to me yet not all that surprising when you think of it. This is a good place to live.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Momentum Is Building

The Bring Back the Vision group has amassed over 187 signatures to their statement to the County Council. What is particularly interesting to me are the names of the people who have signed on. This group includes some of the most active volunteers in our community, people who have given both their time and their treasure to making Columbia a better place to live.

You don't believe it?

Check out their new website and see for yourself. What you won't find are pandering politicians. What you will find are people whose actions speak louder than words.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Kudos To HoCo Pub Schools

This just in. Forbes magazine has recognized the Howard County Public School system as the 7th best "school district for the buck" in the country. The article and rankings appeared in the July issue of Forbes. As noted "Winners in this rating system are counties whose schools deliver high performance at low cost. The losers spend a lot of money and have little to show for it. "

Howard was bested by Montgomery county which was ranked 5th in the country. I hate it when Montgomery county beats us at this stuff. On the other hand I grew up with a lot of Montgomery county envy. Montgomery countians have always tended to look down their noses at us "country folks". God only knows why.

But I digress...

I have a daughter in the school system and I am very happy with the quality of education and individual attention she is receiving. Way to go Dr. Sydney L. Cousin and the 7,000 or so employees who make the darn thing tick.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Party's Over

The final day of Columbia's 40 day fortieth birthday celebration was yesterday. The forty day party concluded with a reunion performance of the Young Columbians (they ain't so young anymore!) and a concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Although it was quite humid inside the pavilion it was still a great evening in Symphony Woods.

I remember back thirty years or so ago when the Young Columbians performed their show on a stage in the center court fountain of The Mall. They ended up taking the show on the road to many of the other Rouse malls around the country and even performed at The White House (I believe it was for Nixon). The reunion show bought back many memories. I admire the stamina of these now forty something young Columbians for giving it their all on a very warm night.

This morning there was an article about Columbia on it's fortieth birthday in the Washington Post. It is a pretty fair depiction of the current debate over the next forty years. The online version has a slide show with some great historical pictures. There is one showing the Town Center area with just the Teachers Building, the Exhibit Building and the American Cities building. This is what it looked like when I moved here.

It's Nice To See Everyone Getting Along

I have posted before about the parking challenges in the historic district of Ellicott City. I still believe that this is major impediment for the businesses and restaurants located there. I always feel like I won the lottery when I find a parking space at least relatively close to the place I am attempting to patronize. With this in mind I was heartened by this article in yesterdays Sun paper. It appears that there is now a bipartisan effort to address this very issue. It's nice to see that both parties are working together on a solution.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Postcard From The Redneck Riviera

I just got back from a week on the Emerald Coast which is sometimes referred to as the "redneck riviera". In case you haven't heard of this place before it basically consists of the beach towns along the Florida Panhandle. The water is emerald green clear and the beaches are covered in pure white sand. It is the summer beach vacation of choice for folks living in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee and Arkansas. You don't run into many Marylanders there.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Just Drivin' Around

I cut out of work early today. I wasn't the only one either. The parking lot at my office building was half empty when I left. That's what happens when you get a holiday on Wednesday. It shoots the hell out of the remainder of the week.

I decided to run few errands before heading home. My first stop was at Petsmart in Snowden Square to reload on some dog food. As I pulled up I noticed the demolition/construction work going on in the old Best Buy space. In case you didn't know, this is going to be a new Filene's Basement. According to the hard hatted fellow I spoke with, they plan to be open this fall.

I then started to head for the mall but somewhere along the way I decided that I really didn't need to go to the mall so I decided to head back towards EC by taking the long way home. I often do this. This time my long way home route took me by the Blue Cow Cafe in Thunder Hill. I decided to drop in for a nice cold bottle of water.

Before I go any further, let me just say that I want to like this place. Today, however, I was struck by the amount of trash directly in front of the place. There was even a little pile that looked like someone did a little sweeping and then forgot to come back and pick it up. Did they suddenly get busy and had to abandon this clean up?

Apparently not so. I was the only customer and two young folks were behind the counter. They certainly didn't look very busy. No one seemed that concerned with how the front of the store looked. It's a shame and it reflects poorly on a place of business.

The bottled water in the cooler was room temperature too.

From Blue Cow I crossed back into EC territory stopping at the Watermont Pharmacy at the intersection of MD 104 & MD 103. This place is a throwback to the pharmacies of an earlier time. Still locally owned and operated, it is a treat to visit. Great folks too.

The front of store (including parking lot) was not immaculate but it was noticibly cleaner than my previous stop.

The bottled water was very cold too.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Bring Back The Vision Statement

Since these folks don't have a website (yet) I offered to post their statement for the County Council on this blog. If you agree with them, you can add your name by sending an email to Emily Lincoln. Emily informed me that as of yesterday, 150 county residents had signed on. A little civic activism seems an appropriate way to recognize this July 4th holiday.

Bring Back the Vision Statement
Submitted to Howard County Council
RE: Zoning Petitions ZRA-79 and ZRA-83

We the undersigned citizens of Howard County are members of Bring Back the Vision, a citizens group formed to support the thoughtful development of downtown Columbia, development in keeping with the realities of the 21st century, development that recognizes the inevitable growth and change that requires mixed-use, recycling land, green buildings, smart growth, market-driven business and citizen friendly density, housing appealing to those of moderate income and housing appealing to the wealthy.

Because of the convictions expressed above, we OPPOSE Zoning Petition ZRA-79 and Zoning Petition ZRA-83.

Zoning Petition ZRA-79 would limit building heights in Columbia to 150 feet until new Downtown Columbia zoning changes are adopted by the County Council. We OPPOSE this proposal for the following reasons:
· Height restrictions are not effective approaches to managing growth. Restrictions eliminate architectural flexibility and fine design while encouraging sameness
· A variety of building heights could include some taller buildings which by going "up" do not go "out" and leave more opportunity for green space and pedestrian access as opposed to restrictive height resulting in squat buildings that eat up land space.
· Restrictions deny the premise of Smart Growth which is to increase density where density exists thus preserving green space.
· Restrictive development and affordable housing are not compatible. Housing opportunities are limited and housing prices are driven upward.
· The coming decades will bring tremendous growth to this region. Howard County and Columbia must be prepared with a thoughtful approach to development resulting from creative flexibility, not restriction.

Zoning Petition ZRA-83 would create a clause that would retroactively affect cases under judicial review and cause them to be subject to Zoning Regulation changes. We OPPOSE this proposal for the following reasons:
· This zoning change, if enacted, would directly and negatively affect The Plaza Residences, a project already approved by the Planning Board in 2006 after ample opportunity was provided for public testimony. Enacting this proposal would result in a failure to build the Plaza as originally approved until such time, if ever, that a master plan for Columbia is completed.
· Predictability in the development process is absolutely essential to attracting high quality partners. Changing zoning regulations retroactively is poor business practice and the negative business climate created in Howard County by enacting this proposal could result in high quality development partners avoiding our community.
· Approved as a mixed-use project, The Plaza Residences becomes part of the solution for our city and county. It can create more open space thanks to its height and its plan, more housing opportunities for our aging population, more shops, galleries and pedestrian improvements. It can be the first step toward the distinctive town center that is Columbia's and Howard County's downtown.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

More of Us vs Them...

We've got a good little debate running here since my last Us vs Them post. In the latest comment by "pzguru" responding to an earlier comment from Hayduke, pzguru asked "As far as I can tell, there seems to be more people opposed to the recreation of Town Center than those who support it. What empirical evidence are you using to support your consensus claim?"

Okay, I'm not quite certain what pzguru means by "people opposed to the recreation of Town Center" but I think he means Them.

I personally am all for recreation in Town Center. The more the better.

And I'm not alone. The numbers of people coming out in opposition to groups like CoFoDoCo are growing.

Remember the Us's had a late start.

In any event, the Bring Back the Vision group has already amassed 130 signatures of thier statement. They have accomplished this without any endorsements,(yet) from our elected officials or a website. I suspect many more people will sign up once they become aware of it.

The "empirical evidence" that pzguru has requested will soon be forthcoming.