Thursday, July 17, 2008

Me and Pzguru

A commenter on this blog, who uses the pseudonym pzguru, has been engaged in a dialogue with me originating with this post. For well over a week now we have gone back and forth on an accusation of impropriety by an elected official that pzguru made in regards to a development project in the village of Oakland Mills.

Pzguru has argued that the county department of planning and zoning, under pressure from Ken Ulman, the county executive, “illegally” granted a zoning variance to the developer of the Meridian Square office project at the Oakland Mills Village Center which will allow them to provide onsite parking at a ratio of 3.5 spaces per 1,000 square of rentable space as opposed to 4.5 spaces per 1,000 rentable square feet as mandated for this type of use (office). An inference has also been made about corruption and a “special deal” since the developer also made a sizable contribution to Ken Ulmans campaign.

Our dialogue had reached the point that I decided to dedicate a separate post to this subject to give it a more complete airing and hopefully to put it to bed.

Pzguru has asserted that, at a public hearing, the county office of law informed the DPZ that they did not have the authority to grant this variance. This was after it had already been granted. I argued that while they may have overstepped their bounds but that this sort of thing is not all that unusual. To me the more important question is who is harmed.

This is not a case where a community is fighting a developer. The Oakland Mills community considers this building an important part of their revitalization efforts.

The developer asked for the variance so they could build a bigger building. The argument they used is that the building site is already surrounded by parking lots that are rarely even half full. The Oakland Mills community supported this argument and so DPZ, apparently overstepping its authority, allowed it.

Giving this project a parking variance should be a non issue. True, it probably could have been handled differently but the end result would probably be the same.

Pzguru argues that actions like this from our elected officials are the reason “why people are jaded and cynical about politicians and have no trust in the government.”

I beg to differ. What I see is a county government that worked with the community and a private developer to help them achieve their goals. They considered the unique situation on the ground (existing excess parking) and determined that a literal interpretation of regulation (creating even more parking) did not make sense in this case.

Pzguru is frustrated that I don’t want to hang Ulman by the balls for this. I don’t. No matter how I slice it, I just don’t see a ball hanging offense here.


Anonymous said...


$4 million in taxpayer money and you say no one is harmed?

PZGURU said...

This should prompt some good discussion, although you're being a little slanted in your presentation of things.

I never asked you to string Ulman up by the cahunas. I simply asked you to explain how what was done was legal. The bottom line is you can't so you choose to try to defend him with some lame "the ends justifies the means" argument.

I say that it's about rule of law and that rules, regulations, and laws are supposed to be applied equally to EVERYBODY. It is not acceptable for any public official to overrule any law or regulation. If current laws do not allow parking to be waived, then parking can't be waived.

If Ken Ulman wants to recommend a change in the law, then there is legislative, democratic, LEGAL process by which to do so. Why didn't he go down that route instead of the route he did go down?

In fact, the law could have been changed in a few months, and then what was approved would have, could have, been completely legal and I would have no grounds to make an issue of it. And even more importantly, the new law would apply to ALL developers.

Your case for defending this situation is weak on several other levels WB. Did Ulman talk to ALL of the VOM residents? Or just a handful? Maybe just the VOM Board - but did the VOM Board make this situation known to everyone in the community? How do you know that there aren't some residents who might have opposed this action?

Instead of being on the up and up, you seem to think it's ok for officials to be wheeling and dealing behind closed doors - which is exactly the kind of behavior that Ulman decried when he was running for election.

You are probably well aware of the "problems" and complaints that many Howard County residents have had with the whole development process and zoning regulations in general over the last 3-5 years. Most of the dissatisfaction comes from the citizens' belief that the County doesn't enforce regulations properly and that the developers get away with everything. The reality is that certain developers have gotten a lot of preferential treatment from the County, while other landowners get slammed into the ground. That's not right. And even the lawyers and engineers who do a lot of work in the County know it and find it unfair especially when they may have a client who is not getting the same treatment or consideration as other people.

Most of the blame unfairly lands on DPZ, just like in this case. Ulman left DPZ hanging in the wind over this. I have always maintained that the blame lies on certain elected officials running the County since the Department Directors takes orders from the CE and Councilmembers.

Do you remember right before the last election, how Ulman and Guzzone proposed legislation to create a "better process" for developments in the County? Their proposal was for larger notification signs to be posted on properties that were being planned for development so that there could be an "open process" and information would be readily accessible to the public? Well, what good is it to have a sign the size of Texas on the property if the underlying development regulations are not even going to be adhered to?

What would really help the process is if the elected officials in the County (and they're not all guilty of doing this mind you) would follow the laws. Is that too much to expect from the government? Isn't that the epitome of fair?

WB - please explain to me how applying the laws equally to everyone is an unreasonable expectation.

wordbones said...


To quote the bard of Avon, "the lady doth protest too much..."

I'm done with this. Suffice it to say that you have your opinion and I have mine. As the saying goes, never try to teach a dog to whistle, you'll waste your time and annoy the dog.

If Ken Ulman and his administration are so egregious, you and the rest of the voters will have the opportunity to replace him in two years.


PZGURU said...

So you make a big production of this post, but when you can't back up your position on a legal basis, or even a rational one, then you want to cut off the discussion.

What I hope the citizens of HC realize is that as long as there are officials like Ulman running the show, there will not be an open, honest process. That's what the people have been demanding for years, and believe me I spoke to many residents who expressed their frustration over the process. I understand and agree with their frustration.

Instead of the bumper sticker slogan "Choose Civility", I would suggest a new one: "Choose Honesty".

Anonymous said...

my big brother can beat up your big brother..

Anonymous said...

Anon, this is no joke. Our elected leaders impact our daily lives and our financial situation. I work for money not recreation so I watch every cent.

PZ is exactly on target and he/she is hardly alone. Likely most county residents feel this way.

There are many reasons why Ulman won, but precious few have to do with his policies.

And I'm not a Republican and don't dislike Ulman, so forget that argument wherein the source is attacked rather than the issue.

Anonymous said...

"...they may have overstepped their bounds but that this sort of thing is not all that unusual. To me the more important question is who is harmed."

Is "overstepped their bounds" a euphemism for approving something that couldn't legally be approved? If that's the case, "who is harmed" is the general public when laws (in place for the common good and public safety) are not being followed or enforced. More specifically, on-street parking poses much greater risk to:
- pedestrians near on-street parking,
- vehicle drivers/passengers entering/exiting vehicles that are on-street parked,
- drivers/passengers in vehicles attempting to park and rejoin traffic from on-street parking,
- and to drivers/passengers in vehicles traveling roads lined by on-street parking.

It will be a very big deal to the first person(s) struck. There will be no joy in putting a real name answer to your important "who is harmed" question.

No one wants that to happen, but that is exactly why those laws are in effect, and such laws should only be waived using currently available legal means to publicly propose, discuss, and approve such waivers. Playing by the rules isn't hard.

Anonymous said...

PZGURU can't vote in two years against Ulman. He doesn't live in Howard County. PZGURU, I hope you use your time and energy to help your own county and not just to complain about a County your don't even live in or pay taxes in.

Anonymous said...

Governing is a difficult process, not question about it. We only have to look at numerous examples throughout the country and DC to see good examples where the law of the land is not being followed.
WB and PZGURU have raised some good points about the Ulman affair. I haven't been convinced that he has done anything wrong. I didn't vote for him either.
It's unfortunate the PZGURU has such angst about whatever happened to him in Howard County. Having suffered his bitterness, I would like to suggest some counseling.
You're a good man PZGURU.
The bitterness will destroy you.

Anonymous said...

why does everyone think pzguru is some bitter individual? he makes his point very clearly and it is well founded. oakland mills can be revitalized with a smaller building ad the parking regs could be followed. Why does ulman and the dpz staff find it so hard to follow the law? PZ is right if they don't like it change the law. That might shed some light on the illegality of it all if there was a public discussion. The only reason I can see that these rules were violated was to reward the developer for campaign $$$. If anyone thinks otherwise, I'd love to hear the explanation. This is a quid pro quo if ever there was one.

Anonymous said...

Thanks anon 7:09. You've restored my equilibrium.

At times I visit these blogs and am blown away by off target claims by hosts, and this has been a very bad week for several HC blogs in that regard. Too numerous to take on - outlandish posts that make no sense from any angle.

Thanks to commenters who speak up an make more sense than the hosts.

I guess expectations should be adjusted - becoming a blogger doesn't mean they're smarter than the average citizen.

Anonymous said...

"why does everyone think pzguru is some bitter individual?"

Ha ha ha ha !

New to the blogs, Anon 7:09?

PZGURU said...

Several of you anon commenters really crack me up. You can call me bitter or whatever you want, but the fact is you can't refute what the County (Ulman) did so you resort to immature, childish name calling. I'm completely happy to not be working there anymore. It was stressful to have politicians put us employees in a position of bending/breaking the rules for certain individuals whether they are developers or otherwise. I listened to too many residents who also felt betrayed by the officials and that there are two sets of rules in Howard County. It's demoralizing and frustrating because it shouldn't be that way.

You can call it a personal vendetta or whatever, but the fact is I'm right, until you can prove me wrong - which you obviously can't. And, as long as Ulman keeps doing things that I think are improper or illegal, I'll continue to bring those issues to light and try to make the public aware of it. I've only scratched the surface of Ulman's questionable behavior.

Notice also how quickly WB tried to bury this blog post. Maybe he was embarassed by it and maybe he realizes just how ridiculous his position is (ie: defending the indefensible).

Rock on!

wordbones said...


Now hold on a minute partner. Nobody tried to bury anything around here. On the contrary I think I have been more than fair to you and others who take an opposing view to my posts.

Your antagonistic approach does not do you any favors.


PZGURU said...

It seemed to me that your post after this one was kind of hastily thrown in, and was posted not long after this on. This post was only up for one night. I figured you'd give all of my detractors longer to throw out names and insults at me, that's all.

I'll take you at your word that you weren't burying this post. And, for the record, prior to this whole issue, I'd say I agree with you more than disagree, so I'd harldy say I have been antagonistic toward you. I may have agressively backed up my position in this case, but what's wrong with that?