Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Chamber Weighs In On CB58

According to this story by Jonathan Pitts in The Sun this past Sunday; The Howard County Chamber Commerce believes that the threshold of 5,000 signatures of registered county voters needed to put a bill to referendum is “low and antiquated.”

“After the recent launch of a petition drive challenging a law that that affects the size of grocery stores, the Howard County Chamber of Commerce has issued a call to increase the number of signatures required on such a petition.”

The petition drive being led by a small but vocal group calling themselves Howard County Citizens for Open Government is seeking to overturn the unanimous decision of the Howard County Council to allow the developer of a planned shopping center in Turf Valley to include a 55,000 square foot grocery store instead of an 18,000 square foot grocery store previously allowed in a Planned Golf Course Community (PGCC) zone. The three major neighborhoods surrounding the proposed development have all voted in favor of this zoning change..

The opponents are wrapping this issue in the cloak of open government. “Marc Norman, the group's organizer, says the county approved the project with too little study and too much secrecy.”

I don’t get that. The developer has held several community meetings to explain the project to those who will be most affected by it. The issue has been heard in open council and planning board meetings. How much more open do these people expect the developer and the council to be?


Anonymous said...

Pro-labor union groups from various nearby states have descended on Ellicott City to collect signatures for this referendum. Marc Norman has made an unholy alliance with labor union leaders who oppose the Harris Teeter to help him oppose this ZRA, despite support from the County Council and many neighbors. The anti-growth special interests and labor union special interests are working together to force their agendas on the community.

Anonymous said...

Oh stop.

You can't really think that most people knew this was even happening.

The trouble with news people is that you forgot what it was like to be normal.

How many even get the local paper, and how many residents read the small print in the back of the paper? close to 0%.

I know - I've spoken with people in Turf Valley and many didn't know - had no idea.

Anonymous said...

Well, we made the list:


2. Using profanity is against the law on playgrounds and in public parks in Columbia, Md.

along with WVa:

5. In West Virginia, anyone who taunts someone who decides not to participate in a duel or who declines to accept a challenge is guilty of a misdemeanor and can be sent to jail for up to six months and fined up to $100.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm....I remember when the Wegmans saga began that Buddy Mays (local food workers union president) pointed out that he did not oppose the Harris Teeter in Columbia and the Food Lion in Columbia/Elkridge. Now he is opposing a Harris Teeter. Perhaps he didn't realize that while a Harris Teeter isn't as big as a Wegmans they will put up many of them. Once again the unions feel like they should control what grocery stores should be built.

I am all for changing the requirement for the number of signatures required and/or restrict the people who can sign a petition to those who live a certain distance around the opposed site.

Anonymous said...

The Sun article included "Greenberg Gibbons Commercial, the Owings Mills-based retail property specialist behind Town Center at Turf Valley, says in today's economy, no shopping center with an anchor supermarket smaller than 55,000 square feet could survive."

To me, that statement seems inaccurate, considering ongoing successes and new store openings by multiple smaller format groceries, including international corps (ALDI), U.S.-based corps (Wal-Mart's Neighborhood Market), locally-owned co-ops, and privately held U.S.-based grocery chains.

Another example of success with the neighborhood grocery format is "The Fresh Market" chain. They have been in business for 25 years, are still privately held, now have 84 European market-style typically 20,000 square foot stores in 18 states (including MD, PA, and VA) and are not just surviving, but are also currently spreading continuing to add anchor store locations.

And they're based in NC - not exactly a bastion of union support, linemen or otherwise.

So, don't chalk up support for smaller format groceries to be just substantially driven by union interests. Sustainable communities invite very local shopping for grocery necessities. Resorting to super-sized groceries isn't necessary for either such smart living or for viability of neighborhood retail properties.

Happy New Year.

Anonymous said...

Harris Teeter's are in no way "super-sized". In my view they are no different in size than Giant, Super Fresh, and Safeway. The only difference is that Harris Teeter is non-union. Small markets like Fresh Market and Whole Foods fill a niche and I hope to see one of those come to Howard County.

Anonymous said...

A 55,000 square foot Harris Teeter certainly exceeds Wikipedia's 50,000 square foot threshold for what constitutes a superstore.

Anonymous said...

So Wikipedia is the authority on store sizes???? There is really isn't much of a difference between a Harris Teeter and all the other stores around here. I have been in the Harris Teeter here and ones in NC. I don't notice any difference between the size of their stores and the Giant's in Elkridge and Columbia Place.

Think about orders of magnitude. Maybe a Harris Teeter is 10K sq ft more (approx 1.2X) than a large Giant, but the Columbia Wegmans will be 105,000 sq ft more than the 55,000 sq ft Harris Teeter or 2.9X the size of the HT. Some of the additional space that Harris Teeter has over a Giant is not retail space.

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia is *an* authority, yes, chosen here for its neutrality and for the degree to which that article has been previously reviewed for accuracy. If you have a better reference for the point at which a store's size makes it a superstore, please share.

While there isn't much size difference between HT and other similarly large grocery stores of late, that isn't the gist of the matter here compared to:
- the impact on both nearby residential and competing commercial properties this change in zoning will present vs. retaining the originally planned, 18,000 square foot anchor grocery for a golf course community
- the need to improve public notification and involvement when such changes are proposed.

Good zoning practice should safeguard the interests of all.

Anonymous said...

Competition is a good thing. If the impact to competing stores was taken into account for any construction you wouldn't see a Walmart across from a Target or a Lowes near a Home Depot. Government should not restrict competition by preventing a store from being built just because a similar store is in the area.

An 18,000 sq ft store can not compete. If one was built it would only be a convenience store. What chain is going to open a store that size? Weiss is nearby, I wouldn't wish Food Lion on anyone, and the others won't go that small.

Things change over time. An 18,000 sq ft store may have been considered adequate when the community was first planned and built, but not now.

If the opponents are putting so much effort into obtaining signatures why don't they go to every Turf Valley home owner and take a simple yes/no poll. That would end any discussion about what the residents want. County residents far away from Turf Valley should not have a say in the issue.

Tom said...

It's so funny to read a string of Anons arguing with each other. Where "Civility Howard"?
Doesn't anyone trust each other enough to use a semi-real or even real name. Or don't you really believe what you are writing?
Where are all you transparency advocates when it's you engage in a real conversation? I believe the word is hypocrite.

Anonymous said...

At first glance, there is indeed a bit of humor to it.

Not to discount the full spectrum of social engagement by any means, but we've all spoken with many civil people whom we've never known by name. Anonymity doesn't equate to incivility. Incivility equates to incivility. Just because some people have used anonymity as a means to exercise incivility at times, that obviously doesn't mean all who opt for anonymity in some forums are incivil. Similarly, some people who do include a name (not necessarily either their real one, or full one, or even a constant one) have exercised incivility at times.

And, unfortunately, incivility comes in many forms, not just directed invective, but also in misrepresentations, self-editing to accept omissions that stop short of full discourse of a topic, and even just subtly restraining public involvement and input in public issues, to name a few. Persuasion to garner support for worthy positions doesn't require such, well, disingenuous deceit that disrespects the audience.

That some are motivated to choose anonymity when contributing, I believe, speaks more to the degree of civility lacking in society in general that precludes those individuals from wading into any forum of untold numbers of eyes wearing a "Hi, My Name is ..." label every time. Sadly, but pragmatically, it's just foolish to trust everyone all the time.

"Civility Howard?" Did you mean the seemingly omnipresent "Choose Civility"? We do have plenty and continue on the journey to more, thanks. Feel free to visit.

Pardon me, but, no, the word isn't "hypocrite", as those who post anonymously are, by definition, not feigning any openness of their identity. The accurate term would be "double standard", with the justifications for that double standard being many, foremost among them unfettered free speech to provide robust feedback of conduct of persons in positions of public trust, the actions they undertake in office, the proper enforcement of current statute, and the adequacy of current statute.

I'll assume the misuse of 'hypocrite' was merely an oversight. Were it not, trying to simply stamp such form of involvement by the public with the inaccurate label of hypocrisy can be perceived as an intellectually lazy means to besmirch people presenting opposing views while avoiding directly addressing the core issues being raised. [Both Marina Orlova and Thomas Sipos can clarify the word 'hypocrite' further for those interested.]

Such mud may be an effective tactic among unsophisticated debate audiences, but I give our community a bit more credit. But I also credit those among us who avail themselves on occasion of such forensic low-road devices with part of the onus for why others may at times avail themselves of anonymous expression. If one is going to expect or request others to extend the claimed civility of named involvement, then civility should also be a constant in discourse therewith, not simply a means to better aim the dismissive and distractive mud of inaccurate descriptors.

For anyone still awake at this point, returning now from the tangents of anonymity, incivility, and hypocrisy, yes, competition is good. But, so is predictability. A consistent and open zoning process provides that predictability. Investors, all the more now, aren't too keen on becoming involved with projects within municipalities that lack that kind of predictability in their zoning processes and their enforcement.

An 18,000 square foot store most definitely can compete, on multiple bases: value, convenience, quality, lower infrastructure cost, lower labor cost, etc. That is exactly why, in many locations domestically and in other developed countries, these smaller format stores have been and continue to be developed, by multiple retailers, thousands of times over. Review this blog's previous discussions on this topic, here and here, and you'll see that the other retailers, Harris Teeter included, really do go that small: repeatedly, competitively, successfully, and profitably.

Yes, things do change over time. If some are now claiming an 18,000 square foot grocery isn't "adequate", a well open and publicly-inclusive process should be the recourse to effect changes to zoning. While the process used to effect this change adhered to code, it didn't include the public, including residents of the oldest nearby neighborhoods, as much as it could have.

Do you think the parties requesting this change in PGCC zoning went to every nearby homeowner and took a yes/no poll? Do you think that might have been part of the problem? Many parties at the Council hearing, Council members included, expressed positions that better prior communication with and involvement of the existing community would have been helpful.

So, it's no big surprise that people who believe their property/homes/families may be affected might avail themselves of the still other means allowed by code, referendum, to seek redress. Nor is it a surprise that they might find support from other County residents in seeking to improve the zoning change process to provide better notification and to be more inclusive of the public's involvement.

On to the concept of more distant citizens, non-resident property owners, or nearby residents and property owners having less or no say in neighborhood matters. Does that also mean the oldest, close neighborhood within Turf Valley should have the most say? Or would your choice of geographic involvement limitation extend out just far enough to have a majority in favor of the expansion in grocery size?

Local governance has many merits, being sought and contested throughout known history. Many other parts of the County, too, are grappling with local governance issues, including Columbia. It's dealing with it on multiple fronts: GGP being a gatekeeper for NT zoning changes, attempts (some successful, some not) to privatize portions of the Town Center Master Plan development process, interests groups either founded by some far afield from Columbia or comprised mostly of non-Columbia residents seeming to some to want a strikingly disproportionate say in Columbia or Columbia Association matters. I believe for what governance there should be, the more localized it is, the better. But governance shouldn't wholly omit a framework of more regional governance that ensures certain standards, protections, and predictabilities for community sustainability and protects against negative impacts of local changes on adjacent communities, the County, State, or region at large.

For 2009, here's wishing you all health, happiness, prosperity, and time well spent.

Transparent Tom said...

I think I stand corrected

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3:25PM

I'm not sure I agree with you. Your remarks sounded measured and correct about the best government being the most localized. I think its too simplistic. Our lives are so complicated by technology, interaction with others who have different opinions from us, our rule of law, etc that we are constrained to seek out experts who have no community interest except monetary in the projects. I am the first to call a computer techie to fix my computer. I don't have the time nor inclination to learn how to solve the glitches in Microsoft Vista. I can only guess what the transportation increase will be on route 40 if a 50,000 sq ft grocery store is built or whether it will be economically viable. I don't see why we shouldn't allow our experts, the county Planning and Zoning people whom we pay, and our County Council members whom we elect to make those decisions on our behalf. After all, they also take care of our countywide sewer, water, police, fire and other services.

Anonymous said...

Much is being made by the anti-Turf Valley folks that 55,000 sq ft increase for that one store will adversely impact the community and that the process used by the County Council was somehow not open or not transparent.

Two questions, would the 55,000 sq ft change the retail space usage in that area and was this process different from the other 75-100 ZRAs that become bills each year?

18,000 sq ft of a corner store and 37,000 sq ft of patch work stores is no infrastructure difference to a community. The process was just as open and transparent as many of the other ZRAs that some of the same referendum advocates have supported in recent years.

Anonymous said...


Let's have your last name. "Tom" is too common, and it sounds like "anon" to many of us.

Thanks in advance.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:25:

Rarely have I read an entire post the size of yours, and never has it been as pleasant.

Not only were your thoughts robust, but you explained the outcome, fully thought through and expertly presented with no annoying distractions.

You make a fantastic case.

Anonymous said...

A problem with the anon 3:25 argument is none of the example 18,000 sq ft stores are compared to the Turf Valley area. The small Harris Teeter that is mentioned is in downtown Charlotte. An apples to apples comparison is needed to make an effective argument.

Anonymous said...

Some observations....

- Generally, 10% of petition signatures are routinely invalidated. That being said, you can't be too careful when dozens of people are collecting signatures and you don't know what quality control standards to expect from each one. You either meet the requirement within 60 days or you're out of luck.

- Developer resources, influence and legal tactics are generally successful in commanding the political and legal arenas. The ONE aspect of the zoning and growth process where they can't exert disproportionate control is when issues are placed on the ballot. This is the one vehicle where citizens have considerable influence and power.

- A few of the reasons that citizens from across the county have been motivated to take CB58 to referendum are:

1. The attempt to rezone a single property for the express benefit of one owner is clearly "spot zoning" which the Council should have referred to the Zoning Board. Unfortunately, development attorneys have learned that it's much easier to push a ZRA text amendment through the Planning Board/Council than it is to meet the legal "change & mistake" burden required by the ZB.

2. As a text amendment, there was absolutely NO requirement to notify neighborhoods bordering the one affected property. Furthermore, the ZRA was mistitled by DPZ, without any reference to Turf Valley or the property owner.

3. The Turf Valley developers chose not to submit the complete ZRA application (from DPZ's website). They chose not to report financial contributions to 5 out of 6 elected county officials as well as the DEPUTY DIRECTOR of DPZ !!!

4. CB58 represents a significant change to the Route 40 business corridor. Rather than being reviewed in the context of a Route 40 Master Plan, utilizing current retail market demand and traffic information, the Bill was approved under the misnomer of being a local neighborhood grocery store that was welcomed by the majority of area's residents and businesses (both of which are egregious misrepresentations).

The overwhelming concensus of citizens, taxpayers and registered voters is that the vast majority of people support well planned and managed development that is supported by forward funded infrastructure improvemements and public amenities.

So much for being an obstructionist ;-)...