Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday Paper Scan

Today's newspapers had a couple of interesting stories. The first story that caught my attention was the Political Notebook column by Larry Carson in the Sun. In "Columbia tower bills a source of differences" he pretty aptly summarizes the prevailing political winds swirling around Councilperson Sigaty's two pieces of anti tower legislation, Council Bills 63 and 64.

What really struck me though were the quotes from Alan Klein, spokesman for CoFoDoCo. Alan posed the rhetorical question of "Why should you vote in favor of these bills?" to the council members during last weeks public hearings on the bills.

Alan answered his own question. "The simple answer is that you said you would. Three of you, along with both major candidates for county executive and many of he candidates who were not elected, announced your support for height limits in Columbia that would include the proposed Plaza tower."

As Larry Carson pointed out none of the council members actually promised to vote for THIS legislation and, ironically, Alan's statement actually lends support to those who oppose this legislation.


The very fact that that no candidate came out in support of the tower in the last election meant that pro tower voters had no clear choice of who to support. Most of us, myself included, were left to decide which candidates would use reasonable judgement when faced with legislation such as this. In my case, my councilperson is Courtney Watson and so far I have been impressed with her common sense approach to the issues. I hope she will dismiss these comments from Mr. Klein as just so much whining. "But mommy you said..."

The other Sunday paper story that resonated with me was in the Metro section of The Washington Post. In an article about a fence in the planned community of Montgomery Village Steve Hendrix explored the conflict over a security fence that has been erected between a neighborhood of "low income and subsidized townhouse" and its more affluent neighbors. Though the story did not deal directly with Columbia, it's central premise will be familiar to anyone in Columbia. The more affluent neighbors grow increasingly frustrated with trash and vandalism and seek to erect a barrier in what was previously open space.

The erection of the fence causes an uproar in the less affluent area and the neighbors then look to the courts to resolve their differences.

In the end though, the conflict has served as a catalyst for bringing neighbors together. As a result of this the neighbors may be able to get to the real root of the causes of the trash and vandalism problems rather than trying to put a fence around them.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Another Top 10 List

Dow Jones Marketwatch has come out with a list of the ten best cities for business in the US. The Washington, D.C. metro area was ranked number 7 while Baltimore came in well out of the top ten at number 34.

So where does that put good old Howard County?

Appropriately enough, somewhere in the middle.

The Marketwatch rankings were based on " the number of firms from the most recent Fortune 1000, S&P 500, Russell 2000 and Forbes list of 400 private companies based in its metro area. S&P 500 and Russell 2000 lists are as of Sept. 14. The same per-capita calculation was made on the numbers of small businesses -- companies with fewer than 500 employees -- in these metro regions."

They also considered job growth and unemployment. In this category the Washington DC metro area had no peer. "The region was the only one of all 50 metro areas to post a sub-3% unemployment average for the sample months."

The number one city on this list was Minneapolis-St. Paul. "The Twin Cities region has a high concentration of massive and diverse Fortune 1000 and S&P 500 companies. It also has a significant number of Forbes 400 private companies. Further, Minneapolis-St. Paul has a healthy array of up-and-coming companies on the Russell 2000 index. And it has more small businesses per capita than just about any other city. "

The number 50 city was New Orleans. "Not to kick a city when it's down, but the Big Easy probably would have made this list even if Hurricane Katrina hadn't struck two years ago. It just may not have been on the very bottom."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Plaza Tower Hearing

Last night the County Council held a public hearing on Councilperson Sigaty's legislation, ZRA-79 and ZRA-83. ZRA-79 is an effort to impose height limits on all new buildings in Town Center and ZRA-83 is a less than veiled effort to stop the construction of the Plaza residence tower being developed by WCI Communities in Town Center.

First, let me state that I did not attend the hearings last night. I really wanted to go and testify against this legislation but I was unable to do so for personal family reasons.

Anyway, I was happy to hear that there were plenty of folks who shared my view that this legislation is bad policy. Thanks to Dave Wissing at the Hedgehog Report, I was able to find out what transpired.

It was a good night for the voices of reason. It apparently was a bad night for Alan Klein.

"Even when Alan Klein tried to show the “overwhelming support” for the legislation by asking people to stand in support, only about a third of the room actually stood up,..."

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Ninja Cyclist

I have to admit that I was a bit floored when I found out that the Columbia Bicycle guy has a Facebook fan site with a thousand or so members. I've seen this guy all over Columbia. He has even been spotted in the county seat. Thanks to Jessie, I now have a name to attach to our prolific peddler. He is Athtar.

This, along with an anonymous comment posted on Hayduke's blog, got me thinking about Columbia's original prolific peddle pusher, the "Ninja Cyclist."

Around eight years or so ago I was hooked up with a local group of cyclists. We'd gather for a regular Sunday ride out on in western Howard County. We actually had a group name too. We called ourselves the Howard County Road Surfers.


After our rides we'd hang out for a bit and every once in awhile someone would bring up the Ninja cyclist. We had all seen the Ninja cyclist around not only Columbia but in Ellicott City as well. One time I saw NC standing against the inside guard rail at the merge of Route 29 and Route 40. That is not exactly a fun place to be on a bicycle.

Everyone agreed that NC was an accomplished rider and most of us had witnessed the black rider doing some very trick moves.

Rumors abounded. A bike mechanic at Princeton Sports told one of our group that NC was a transsexual. Another of our group said they heard that NC was a fashion designer.

Whether either of those two things are true or not I think it is safe to say that our NC is a little different. I once sat two stools away from NC at the bar in Clyde's. NC was dressed entirely in black. including a black baseball hat with a BMW logo. NC even wore black gloves while eating dinner. I attempted conversation but NC didn't exactly warm to me. Though I often have that effect on people I still suspect that NC is not as approachable as Athar.

I have not seen NC for some time now. I hope all is well. I consider this person to be part of our quirky local scene and I would be sad to find out if that is no longer so.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Thank you David...

In my post "Battle of the Broadbands" I shared some of my frustrations of migrating from Comcast internet service to Verizons new FIOS service. One of the comments to this post was from fellow HoCo blogger David Keelen. David wrote "If you ever have problems with your FiOS call me."

Well I had problems. In fact I emailed David that I was almost ready to go back to the "devil I knew" rather than "staying the course" with FIOS.

That was two days ago.

Yesterday a Verizon FIOS guy named James showed up at my door. James proceeded to delve into the gremlins that had beset the "House" computer in the basement. This is a computer that I keep just for my daughter and any guests that visit. It was not responding well to the divorce from Comcast. It had issues.

James was soon joined by another Verizon technician named Bill and the two of them worked for about two hours to isolate and fix the problem. I am happy to report that the house computer is now purring like a kitten and all is well. Thank you David. Thank you James. Thank you Bill.

This was a far cry from any service experience I ever had with Comcast. It was enough to convince me to stay the course.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I Just Looked Around & They're Gone...

Last Friday I decided to pick up some flowers for Mama Wordbones for the weekend. It wasn't any special occasion though she is still a bit frustrated with the FIOS/Comcast switch so in the back of my mind I probably thought it wouldn't hurt. I stopped into Howard County's oldest florist, Wilhides Flowers just off Old Columbia Road in Ellicott City. As I was paying for my Irish bells and Snap Dragons I made a comment about helping out my old buddy Lee Wilhide. I've known Lee since serving on the board of the Columbia Business Exchange with him about twenty some years ago. I even wrote a Valentines column once using Lee's front line observations.

"They've moved to Florida."


It turns out that Lee and Bev Wilhide are no longer county residents. That is major news to me at least. Besides running the flower shops, Bev Wilhide also once served as Chuck Eckers Chief of Staff. Bev and Lee were a local institution.

Taken alone this news wouldn't have hit me so hard but right after picking up the flowers I drove down the hill to Annabell's on Main Street in Ellicott City to procure some wine. I parked in front of what once was "Oh My Word" , a calligraphy store. I say once was because last Friday the windows were covered up with brown paper. The owners of "Oh My Word" were Colette and Jimmy Roberts. Jimmy was the guy most often in the store. He and I go back to the early eighties when he managed a Rouse mall in Springfield, Massachusetts and I was his regional marketing director. I always enjoyed stopping in his store and trading banter with him about the goings on in our community.

Now the store is gone. There was no information posted on the door explaining where they went. I'll miss Jimmy. I only hope that he and Collette are fine. Maybe they are in Florida now too.