Friday, October 31, 2008

A Ghoulish Tale in Howard County

Just in time for Halloween there was this story by Jonathan Pitts in The Sun today. The Rhee family in Clarksville is claiming that the developer of their subdivision, Highland Development, removed headstones from a 300 year old cemetery on their lot before building a house on it and never revealed this material fact to the purchasers.

No word as to whether the former inhabitants have made their presence known to the newer residents.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Balanced View

There is a nice opinion piece about General Growths proposed zoning changes for Columbia Town Center on the editorial page of The Sun today. The last paragraph says it all:

“Outright rejection of the plan would set a dangerous course. It could lead to unplanned, piecemeal development of the property with negative consequences for the county, citizens and General Growth. More open communication and compromise would produce a better result.”

Amen to that. You can find the complete editorial here.

Firewater at the Old Firehouse

In a previous post I wrote about a rumor that a wine bar would be the new tenant of the former firehouse on Main Street in Ellicott City. The other day when I was checking out the 90 year old tree that knocked out power in the old town, I spotted this liquor board hearing notice on the old firehouse doors.
It looks like the new joint will be known as the Wine Bin. Their application for a full blown (beer, wine, liquor) Class A-1 license was approved at the Liquor Board hearing this past Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


A big ol’ tree came crashing down in Ellicott City this morning blocking the intersection of Church Road and Main Street. As the tree came down it took some power lines with it which resulted in this fire.
Perhaps it is time to consider burying this spaghetti of power lines on Main Street.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Feelin' Fallish

Last night Mama Wordbones and I cruised through the mall. It was the day before her birthday and we were visiting jewelry stores. We visited six of them to be exact. The one she liked best was Littman Jewelers and the worst was Kay Jewelers.

One of the six we visited was Connell Jewelers. This is a non chain locally owned jeweler. Last night I discovered that the Connells had sold their store. I didn’t catch the new owner’s names but they seemed like good guys. It remains a non chain locally owned store.

Around 7:00 PM this dog’s stomach was growling and so we decided to hop over to Clyde’s for dinner. It felt cold as we walked down to the lakefront.

“Feels like fall now,” I remarked. Mama Wordbones said her feet were cold.

Much to our surprise when we walked into Clyde’s there were more than a few available tables. Later, Paul Kraft, the GM, stopped by our table and he acknowledged that it was an unusually slow Friday night.

“It’s the economy,” he speculated.

Mama Wordbones and I thought that it was the sudden arrival of a chilly night that was keeping folks at home.

It was most likely the economy though. The ripples of the financial crisis are certainly being felt locally. General Growth Properties is facing a “perfect storm” of its own financial crisis. Faced with a heavy load of debt that is coming due they find themselves trying to raise new capital in a very difficult and uncertain lending market. It is not an impossible task but it will take a herculean effort on the part of the company and its dedicated employees to get there. I wish them success.
To raise some cash, the company is soliciting offers for two Town Center office buildings. Neither of these buildings would be affected by the proposed redevelopment plans for that area of Town Center. Even though these Class A office properties are attractive assets they will have a difficult time fetching a top dollar offer given the current environment where most buyers are focused on distressed assets.

By the time we left Clyde’s around eight thirty, all the tables were full. As we walked back outside it seemed as if it had actually warmed up a bit.

Things are seldom as bad as they seem.

Smarter Growth

“Rather than continuing to suburbanize the agrarian landscape, we should urbanize more of the existing suburbs. This is the essence of ‘smart growth’”
In his “Shaping The City” column in today’s Washington Post, Roger Lewis makes the case for the very plan that GGP has proposed for Columbia Town Center. You can find it here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Local Snopes

Last night Mama Wordbones and I attended a cocktail reception to celebrate the newly constituted Reese & Carney law firm. On September 1st, Reese & Carney officially became Carney, Kelehan, Bresler, Bennett & Scherr. The event was held in the Great Room at Savage Mill.

I spoke briefly with Jen Terrasa, the County Councilperson representing District 3 (which happens to include Savage). I asked if she was in favor of General Growth Properties proposed zoning changes for Columbia Town Center. Being an adroit politician she avoided making a commitment. I’ll cut her some slack on this since it is still early and no public hearings have been held.

We got to talking about blogging and the internet and its impact on local politics. We both lamented the fact how bad or even outright false information often gets taken for gospel. It was Jen who suggested that it would be great if we had a local rumor checking site like where residents could check the veracity of any local rumor they may have heard. She shared with me how one of her constituents had heard that the council would be voting on GGP’s plans at the end of this month. I could only laugh at the thought that government would ever move that quickly. That only happens when Wall Street needs $700 billion.

But I digresss…

I told Jen that I also thought a local Snopes site would be a good idea. I mentioned to her that James Howard had already created a search engine for local issues. Perhaps he could take that to next level and address this concern too.

Just an idea anyway…

Thursday, October 23, 2008

2008 Howard County CoRE Tour

If you were driving around Howard County yesterday you may have been suddenly stopped in traffic by a police escort of three Eyre’s buses. Did you wonder who the hell could possibly be in these buses that they required a police escort?

Was it some foreign dignitaries?

A sequestered jury pool?

Some mortgage brokers being run out of town?

You would probably be surprised to find out it was just a bunch of bankers, developers and commercial real estate brokers participating in the 2008 Howard County CoRE Tour put on by the Howard County Economic Development Authority. This tour is held every eighteen months to highlight the key commercial real estate development projects in Howard County. This was the first year it was afforded the police escort.

Was this a little overkill?

I happen to think so. I have been on similar tours in Anne Arundel County where they have had police escorts so it is not as if this is something that new, it’s just that it is new to Howard County. In my opinion, it really wasn’t necessary and I am not even sure if it helped to speed things up.

Aside from that, it was an interesting tour, as they usually are. I did learn two new things that I was previously unaware of. The first is the plan by W.R. Grace to develop an office park on 70 acres of their existing corporate headquarters campus on Grace Drive in Columbia near the village of River Hill. This is certainly a prime location along the Route 32 corridor.

The second piece of big news is that Trammel Crow has received a signed Letter of Intent for 150,000 square of the 200, 000 square foot Franklin Center building at 6841 Benjamin Franklin Drive in Columbia Gateway. It was just a little over a week ago that I wrote a post about this building and the high vacancy rate in that park.

This is great news for the local economy and it’s a further indication that our area is better off than most areas of the country right now.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A New Hangout for Terps Fans?

I noticed this sign on the windows of the closed Tiber River Tavern on Old Columbia Road in Ellicott City today.

I asked the boys in the office what they thought a “Maryland Style Tavern” was. The consensus was that it would be a place you could get crabs and beer. And, perhaps some terrapin soup as well.

These 19th century buildings are known as Taylors Row. They were originally a collection of barns built between 1830 and 1870 for the “ livery trade.” A little over 10 years ago they were transformed into a restaurant called the Mill Town Tavern which was then replaced by the Tiber River Tavern.

The sign did not give any indication as to when one might actually enjoy a libation again in these old horse barns.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Weekend Words

It’s been a pretty good day. The Ravens won big in Miami. It was a bit chilly but the sun was warm. It’s really feels like fall now. I need a new book.

Actually I’ve needed a new book since late August when I finished “Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America,” by Walter R. Borneman. James K. Polk. presided over the largest territorial expansion of the United States. He was nominated at the Democratic convention in Baltimore.

Now I am in search of another book. Today I saved the book sections of The New York Times and The Washington Post. I haven’t had time peruse them yet though.

My morning started with a supply run. First stop was Costco in Gateway Overlook. At 11:15 AM the lot was packed and the store was jammed. I asked one of the checkout ladies if this was an unusually large crowd for a Sunday and she confirmed that it was. Costco is one of those retailers that benefit from the current constriction in consumer spending.
This was the situation at their gas station. The price for high test was $2.83 a gallon. I don’t quite get that. Last night I filled up with mid grade for $2.99 a gallon at the Carroll Independent Fuel station at Dobbin Center. There was no line. I’m thinking that all those cars idling waiting in line at Costco are burning up any savings not to mention the added pollution.

As I headed for my next stop, the Giant at Lynwood, I lamented the lack of a Harris Teeter that was closer to home. I’m trapped between a Giant and a Safeway.

I suspect that Harris Teeter is angling to open a store at Turf Valley. According to this story by Derek Simmonsen in the Columbia Flier this week, Mangione Family Enterprises, the master developer of Turf Valley and Greenberg Gibbons Commercial are seeking a “major” zoning change that will allow it to expand the permitted size of a food store within a “Planned Golf Course Community” from 18,000 square feet to 55,000 square feet, the average size of a new Harris Teeter.

Turf Valley is the only development in Howard County that has this zoning.

It still wouldn’t put a Harris Teeter store any closer to me but I’ll bet the folks on that side of Ellicott City would like it. At least some would anyway. The owners of the Waverly Woods Shopping Center have already voiced their concern. They are worried that a new grocery store, especially a Harris Teeter grocery store would put their Weiss Markets out of business.

If I were Weiss Markets I’d be worried too, very worried.

There will be a public hearing on this proposed zoning change tomorrow night.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Transportation Trash Talk

Liz Bobo is “skeptical about Columbia gaining mass transit anytime soon because of high costs.” That’s what Derek Simmonsen wrote in the first of a four part series on General Growths downtown redevelopment plan in the Howard County Times this week anyway.

When I read this I thought,”fat chance we can get any government mass transit dollars for rich old Howard County.” Then I wondered if we can’t get mass transit here “anytime soon” when can we?

And what exactly is anytime soon, five years? Ten years? Twenty years?

I think it makes a difference. GGP is proposing a thirty year development plan for Town Center. At the end of that time, not the beginning, there would be 5,500 new residences. Why can’t we start laying the groundwork now so that in thirty years we’ll be in good shape?

Maybe Liz shouldn’t be so shortsighted and think more long term.

And speaking of transportation Alex Hekimian is claiming that GGP’s Town Center traffic study “is not credible.”

Alex believes he knows better since he is a “retired transportation coordinator” for the Maryland-National Capitol Park and Planning Commission. What exactly is a transportation coordinator?

The title calls to mind someone who manages a motor pool. Would that make him an expert on traffic studies?

It certainly would be valid for Alex to have some objections to certain criteria in the study but to say that a traffic study prepared by a professional traffic engineer is “not credible” is both a little over the top and insulting. Martin Wells, that very traffic engineer responded that he “followed the Howard County design manual that lays out guidelines for traffic engineers and the conclusions were similar to those reached by other firms that have studied downtown.”

You can see Martins Wells traffic credentials here. You can see Alex Hekimians traffic credentials here.

Who looks more credible to you?

Scene This Week In...

Earlier this week, this sign popped up on the corner of New Cut Road and Montgomery Road in Ellicott City. The actual property being auction is on College Avenue, about three miles from this spot.
What struck me is that this is an “absolute” auction and that includres real estate and “contents.” Many real estate auctions contain a “reserve” price which enables the seller to reject any offer that doesn’t meet that reserve price. In theory, any bidder who shows up with the $10,000 needed to bid could walk away with the whole eleven acres and even a “Corvette” for that price. In reality it will likely go for much more but one thing is certain, it will be sold by Trac Auctions on November 1st. You can get more detail on the offering here.

I had the opportunity to look at this property about year ago when it was listed with Kimberly Kepnes. As you wind down a rutted dirt road you enter into a place that more resembles Appalachia than Howard County.

It is an unfortunate sign of the times and so I decided to make it this weeks Scene In Ellicott City.

I was at the traffic light at Dobbin Road and Rouse Parkway waiting to make a left turn when I noticed this Choose Civility magnet on the car in front of me. I wondered if the upside down juxtaposition was intentional or a prank. These magnetic stickers are pretty easy to manipulate after all.

Than I wondered if it was intended to be that way, what are we to infer by it?

Seeing this also called to mind the Embrace Hostility blog that comes complete with a full line of Embrace Hostility in Howard County accessories and this “Choose Hostility in Howard County” bumper sticker that I spotted back in early August on the same road

Anyway, I snapped a quick photo before the light turned green with my trusty Sony DSC T100 and made it my Scene This Week in Columbia.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tax Day

I filed my taxes today, my 2007 taxes. Today is the last possible day you can file your taxes without a penalty. It is truly a day for procrastinators.

I’m not alone either. TW, who sits in the desk next to me, is still working on his and when I picked up my paperwork from my accountants office this afternoon, there were several other clients’ files waiting to be picked up as well.

Since this is the very last day, it is considered a good idea to send them in by certified mail. This necessitates a trip to post office. I’d say it was mildly busy this afternoon. The lady who waited on me smiled when she realized what I was mailing.

“Have you seen a lot of these today?”

“The past couple days,” she corrected me, “though I have seen many more of them today.”

It’s nice to know that there is colony of fellow procrastinators out there. I told her about TW. “How late are you open this evening?”

“Seven o’clock but don’t tell that to your friend”

The clerk standing next to her behind the counter chuckled at that too.

What about BRAC?

An anonymous commenter on my last post posed a simple yet poignant question “So, what’s going on with BRAC? Weren’t we supposed to get huge numbers of jobs that need office space?”

The simple answer is yes…but not quite yet.

BRAC, the Base Realignment and Closure initiative of the US Department of Defense is intended to make the military more efficient by closing some military installations and consolidating activities into others. One of the larger beneficiaries of this initiative is Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County which is just across the Howard County line. Beginning in 2010, 5,400 government jobs will be added to Fort Meade when the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), The Adjudication and Office of Hearings and Appeals Offices, and Defense Media Activity relocate to the base.

According to this article by Raymond McCaffrey in the Washington Post, “The transfer of DISA positions to Fort Meade will be part of the anticipated growth of 22,000 defense and private-sector jobs related to BRAC, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, which considered job gains at the National Security Agency, other defense-related organizations and businesses leasing property at Fort Meade.”

The rule of thumb for commercial office space is approximately 170 square feet per employee. That equates to approximately 4 million square feet of new office space demand over the next three years.

While this is all good news for the long term, it doesn’t offer much immediate relief for those owners with empty buildings today.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Happy Columbus Day!

Today was one of those “optional” holidays. Government offices were generally closed. No mail. No banking. No trash pick up and so on. On the other hand schools were open, the stock market was open and, for more than a few companies, it was business as usual.

Or not.

Because it has become a sort of optional holiday, finding someone to actually do some business with you on Columbus Day can be a bit of a crap shoot.

For me, the day started with an appointment with an existing client. This particular client had recently eliminated a self funded start up and thus their space needs had been significantly reduced. Unfortunately, they still had a few years of lease term left. This is hardly an isolated occurrence. The recent economic slowdown has resulted in an increase in the amount of space offered for sublease in Columbia.

As I left the appointment I heard on the radio that the Dow was up 400 points or so.

At noon I met Ed Ely for lunch at the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company. Ed and I go way back. He used to be the guy you had to see if you wanted to buy any land in Columbia. But we apparently go much farther back than that. He knew my older sister Pat from Catonsville days when they both attended St. Mark CYO dances!

I told him a little about my morning meeting and the overall state of the commercial real estate market in Columbia. It has been pretty slow since the spring. Today, according to CoStar, the office vacancy rate in Columbia Gateway is 21.6% but when you factor in the available sublease space it jumps to 24%. Town Center is actually fairing a little better in this regard. The office vacancy rate in Town Center is currently 15.9% with the sublease space only jacking it up to 16.2%.

When I got back to the office the Dow was up 600 points.

Later in the day I had to drop off a couple of checks. One I had to take to my accountant, whom, I should mention, is the best dam accountant on the planet earth and another one to the HCEDA 2008 CORE Tour. This is a half day symposium and bus tour covering commercial real estate in Howard County. I’m happy to report that the HCEDA offices were open for business today.

As I left their offices in Columbia Gateway, I decided to take a look around the park to see what a 21.2% vacancy rate actually looks like. It was just too nice of day to rush back to the office.

It is relatively easy to see. The vacancy rate for this part of Columbia is largely due to three buildings that stand within a quarter mile of each other. All are new, never been occupied buildings. The oldest one is 7021 Columbia Gateway Drive. This building was finished over a year ago and was once even offered for sale. Today the doors were locked. This counts for 105,215 square feet of the vacancy.

Just a little further down the road is 6811 Benjamin Franklin Drive. This buiding was finished in March. It adds 57,600 square feet to the vacancy rate.

The third building is 6841 Benjamin Franklin Drive. The building, known as the The Franklin Building, is just now nearing completion. It adds 200,573 square feet to the vacancy rate.

As I drove back to the office the radio announced that the Dow has closed up over 900 points. It was some kind of record.

Happy Columbus Day!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Portable People Meters Proliferating

Over three years ago I read an article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine about an evolutionary business change that Arbitron was making. Locally based Arbitron is in the business of rating and measuring the audiences of radio stations. For as long as I can remember, they accomplished this by getting randomly selected listeners to fill out a diary of their daily radio listening habits. Back in April of 2005, the magazine story told of new device the company had developed called the portable people meter (ppm) which would eventually replace the diaries. The ppm is worn by survey participants during the day and plugged into a cradle at night. It automatically picks up inaudible signals sent out by radio stations wherever the survey participant goes. Needless to say it greatly enhances the value of the information as it is no longer relying on someone’s memory at the end of the day.

As with any evolutionary technology, the Arbitron ppm has generated some controversy. This past Saturday, Paul Fahri wrote in The Washington Post that “African American and Latino listeners have raised questions about the new systems accuracy”

“Attorneys general in New York and New Jersey filed suits to stop Arbitron from making its people-meter data available to stations and advertisers in the New York area, which is the nation's largest radio market. Later yesterday, Arbitron responded by filing countersuits against the attorneys general to prevent them from blocking the data; the company denied the attorneys general's allegations that its electronic system is "fraudulent."”

You can find the full text of that article here.

It’s never easy being an evolutionary. The ppm was developed in Columbia.

Creighton’s Run

The Columbia Town Center neighborhood of Creighton’s Run was the featured neighborhood in The Washington Post real estate section feature “Where We Live” yesterday.

This is the only neighborhood of single family homes in the village of Town Center.

Friday, October 10, 2008


I was cruising down Rouse Parkway around eleven this morning, listening to the wild gyrations in the stock market on the radio. I had just passed Thunder Hill Road and was heading east to Tamar Drive when a late model white Mercedes pulled up in the lane next to me. I glanced over at the pretty lady behind the wheel and as she slid past me my eyes moved to her license tag.


Whoever you are, thanks. I needed that.

Blandair Blues Again

According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, the plan for Blandair Park has been revised once more. The new plan moves the skate park and multi purpose building from the perimeter of the south side of the park to a location in more in the middle.

This final plan, pictured here, will be voted on by the Parks and Recreation board next Wednesday.

Though the county acquired the property over ten years ago, the earliest you can expect any construction to commence is “sometime in the year 2010 or later.”

If you are wondering what has taken so long for this central park to come to fruition, you can thank a certain guy in Centreville, Ohio for much of this delay.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

In This Month’s Business Monthly

When someone first mentioned putting a structured parking facility in Ellicott City a few years back, I immediately thought of the existing public parking lot behind the former post office on Main Street, otherwise known as Lot D. It is large enough of a space and the existing topography seems to favor it.
It turns out that I was not the only one who thought this. The 2003 Ellicott City Master Plan also recognized this as the proper location for a parking facility and called for it to be built in five years.

Five years later not only is the parking facility not built it is not even designed.

What’s up with that?

It turns out that a very vocal minority of the businesses that surround Lot D are opposed to the parking facility in this location because of the disruption it would cause to their businesses during construction. Some of them are promoting an alternative location behind the former firehouse.

While I can certainly empathize with those businesses it does seem to be a case of cutting your nose to spite your face. Though it will undoubtedly disrupt some business while it is under construction in the long term it will benefit all businesses in the old town. The delay this focus on an alternative location has caused means that the earliest a parking facility in Ellicott City could become a reality is sometime in the year 2011.

The wheels of change turn very slowly in the old mill town.

You can read this month’s column here.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Election Day 2008

I was standing in line at the main post office on Oak Hall Lane in Columbia today when I noticed that the guy in front of me was holding an absentee ballot.

“You voting today?”

“Yeah I’m going out of town so I’m sending in my absentee ballot.”

“I’ve thought about doing the same but not because I’m going out of town. I’d do it just to put the whole deal behind me. The only thing that is holding me back is the fact that I actually enjoy going to my polling place. It is that whole sense of community thing.”

He agreed. He said that if he wasn’t going to be out of town he’d probably wait until November 4th. That being said he admitted that he was relieved to be done with it as well. He said the drawn out primary season had given him a bit of election fatigue.

I heard that too.

Monday, October 06, 2008

GGP Replaces CFO

Lacey, a commenter on the post “The Winds Are Shifting Part Two,” pointed out that nine senior executives of General Growth Properties “dumped millions of dollars of stock on around Sept. 26, days before the amendment submission.”

It turns out that the bulk of those insider stock sales were by one guy, the chief financial officer. From September 18th through October 3rd, Bernard Freibaum sold 6,460,381 shares. According to this story from The Sun this past Saturday, Mr. Freibaum has “$3.4 million of margin debts outstanding” and “is no longer with the company.”

You can see how Mr. Freibaum sales compared with the other eight senior executives sales here.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Scene This Week In...

A year ago I experienced a little health episode that resulted in a thirteen week stint at the cardiac rehabilitation unit at Howard County General Hospital. It was there that I first met Joel. At that time he was still on medical leave from his main job which involved a daily commute from Columbia to Suitland and back. His Nordstrom gig was much more manageable and he had no intention of giving that one up. I wrote about Joel back in January in a post on my other (and recently neglected) blog, the heart attack guy.

This past week I ran into Joel again at Nordstrom. He was happily tickling the ivories for the passing shoppers. He told me that he retired from that awful commute. He obviously still works at Nordstrom, mostly on Friday evenings, but he is also doing some work with his church.

Count me as one of those who enjoys hearing a live person play the piano in a public space which is why Joel is this weeks Scene in Columbia.

Every week my daughter moves between days and evenings at her mother’s house in Catonsville and mine in Ellicott City. We have a developed a sort of rhythm to this and for the most part the transition is seamless. At times, however, we need to improvise on logistics.

The fate of a large stuffed horse provided one of these logistical challenges. It was too big to send to school with her so the horse was placed in a shopping bag and hung on the front door for mom to retrieve before the after school pick up. After I placed the bag on the door I wondered about how other families in similar circumstances handled these things. I also thought it made a great picture and so “horse in a Ralph Lauren bag” is this weeks Scene in Ellicott City.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Hot Grills Go Cold

I was sitting at the traffic light at Rouse Parkway and Dobbin Road today when I spotted this Barbeques Galore closing sign up on the hill by Dick’s Sporting Goods.
As I looked closer I realized that there was a guy standing behind the sign holding it up. Nice job. At least the weather was agreeable.

I guess the market for expensive barbeque set ups has cooled…so to speak.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Winds Are Shifting Part Two

After a pretty hectic morning it has finally slowed down a bit so I can finish up on the notes I have from last nights meeting. This morning I met Jud Malone at the Lakeside Coffee Shop in Town Center. Jud took copious notes last night and he was kind enough to share them with me.

GGP was represented by Greg Hamm. He bought along two of the town center master plan consultants, Alan Ward and Keith Bowers. They presented a revised plan for Symphony Woods that incorporated some of the concerns of the community. For example, a fire station is no longer included since it turns out that the fire department didn’t want one there anyway. Alan Ward spent some time on the rationale for the cultural connection between Merriweather Post Pavilion and the mall.

After they finished their presentation they took questions from the board. The following is the run down of some of the questions and responses that Jud gave me:

Suzanne Waller (Town Center) voiced concerns about traffic and GGP’s current liquidity problems. Greg acknowledged that times are tough but he was confident that this plan and his company would move forward regardless.

Evan Coren (Kings Contrivance) was concerned about the fact that GGP was suggesting that one third of the trees in Symphony Woods would be removed in this new plan. Keith responded that out of the current inventory of trees in Symphony Woods, 527 would be “impacted.” At the same time, 13,600 new trees would be added, not including street trees. You can see what “impacted” looks like here.

Evan was also concerned about the impact of this plan the on birds and other wildlife in Symphony Woods. There is no wildlife in Symphony Woods, except after concerts.

Cindy Coyle (Harpers Choice) wondered what happened to the fire station. Gregg explained what happened to the fire station.

Cindy noted that there was no connection to the lakefront. Gregg explained that they were not talking about the lakefront in this phase.

Pearl Atkinson-Stewart (Owen Brown) was concerned about a proposed shuttle that would ferry folks around the new town center areas. She recalled the days when CA ran a money losing bus service and she did not want CA to get back in that business. She said she liked the plan.

Mike Cornell (River Hill) noticed that there were more pathways in the proposed plan and thought that was a good thing. He also had questions about the new downtown partnership that would be formed to oversee Town Center. GGP is proposing that a new partnership be created between GGP, CA and Jud could not remember who else, to oversee four non profit agencies focusing on Environmental Sustainability, Housing, Culture, and Traffic in Town Center.

Tom O’Connor (Dorseys Search) wondered if the two barns at Merriweather, that GGP proposes turning into a children’s theatre center could be made “green.”. Alan Ward responded that they could be. He also expressed concerns over the connection to Oakland Mills.

Phil Kirsh (Wilde Lake) wasn’t sure why we needed two buildings ( a new CA building and a new library) in Symphony Woods. He also wanted to be sure that any roads in Symphony Woods would truly be “park drives.” Keith told him they would.

Henry Dagenais (Long Reach) made some comment about toad crossings he had seen in Europe. I wondered if Evan has ever heard of them?

He was also concerned that the planting of all these new trees not make Symphony Woods look like a “tree farm.”

Miles Coffman (Hickory Ridge) questioned whether “reforesting” Symphony Woods would preclude having Wine in the Woods. GGP’s plan envisions closing off the new “park drives” in Symphony Woods for events like Wine in the Woods.

After the board asked some more questions, residents were allowed to speak out. I won’t go the litany of those who spoke and what they said because quite frankly, at this point, I was tired of taking notes. I did want to mention though, that fellow local blogger Bill Santos, got up and spoke about a speech that Jim Rouse once gave about the folly of trying to stop development.

So there you are. If I got anything wrong, please post a comment and set the record straight.

The Winds Are Shifting Part One

The big news out of last nights CA board meeting with GGP is not that it was well attended but that the mood was generally positive. The reports I have received so far from those who were in attendence is that, for the most part, GGP’s plans, specifically the plans for Symphony Woods, were received with “cautious optimism.”

That’s a far cry from an earlier meeting in which GGP’s Symphony Woods plans were discussed.

The bigger surprise of yesterday though was that GGP’s long anticipated zoning regulations amendment was actually sponsored by Councilperson Mary Kay Sigaty. This is the zoning amendment that would clear the way for GGP’s Town Center redevelopment program that proposes up to 5,500 new residential units in the Town Center area. This is the same Mary Kay Sigaty that sponsored that ill conceived legislation directed at stopping the proposed Plaza Residences after they had already secured a building permit. This is the same Mary Kay Sigaty that I have previously accused of being Delegate Liz Bobo’s hand puppet.

It looks like I had her all wrong. Apparently Liz and Mary Kay no longer see eye to eye on all things Town Center.

And what about Liz?

She was there last night with her husband, Lloyd Knowles but they didn’t stay to the end. Perhaps it wasn’t acrimonious enough for them. That didn’t stop The Washington Post from seeking her out for a quote for this article in the morning’s paper though.

I don’t quite get why she was quoted and not Mary Kay. As the story pointed out, Liz is a former county councilperson. She will not have a vote on this zoning regulation amendment, Mary Kay, the current county councilperson representing Town Center will.

Liz says she wants “to be very sure this planned out and planned out well, and I just can’t tell yet how it’s going to work.”


How much more plan does she need? This thing has gone through over two years of planning and public meetings where it has been tweaked and refined. At some point you need to stop planning and start doing.

Anyway, other notable no shows last night were Columbia Councilman Alex Hekimian (Oakland Mills) and CoFoDoCo spokesperson, Alan Klein.

I’ll post some more observations from last nights meeting later today

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Let The Games Begin!

The CA Board is meeting with GGP tonight to discuss Symphony Woods. The meeting will be open of course which means there will be ample opportunity for pandering and grandstanding from certain members of the board. I just hope that everyone keeps an open mind about what is best for future generations of Columbians.

As much as I’d like to, I am unable to attend this evening due to a prior commitment with my daughter. Because of this I am enlisting citizen correspondents to cover the meeting. If any readers of Tales of Two Cities attend the meeting tonight at 7:00 PM in the CA Board Room (in the CA building just above Clyde’s) and would like to share their observations and comments, please email me afterwards. Tomorrow I will put up a post with whatever folks send me. Though I am admittedly (and openly) biased I will endeavor to be even handed in the post.

And speaking of GGP, my sources tell me that GGP will be submitting it’s long anticipated New Town zoning amendment to the county as early as today.

Let the games begin!

Poor Reception

As I was leaving a clients office on Red Branch Road the other day I noticed a black cord stretched across the sidewalk. Somehow I had missed it on my way in.

One end of the cord led to this curious set up on the grass next to a parking space. The other end trailed into a space in the building. Closer inspection of the parking space set up revealed that this was an XM radio antenna.

I have a similar situation at my house. Despite claims by XM and Sirius that their satellite radios can work well inside a home or office, I have often had trouble getting a signal. Moreover, once a signal is successfully acquired, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will stay that way, especially during a storm like the one last night. I have often resorted to sticking the antenna on the ledge of an open window in order to get a signal. This fix could be problematic once the weather gets colder.

I thought about drilling a hole in the wall and affixing the satellite antenna to the outside of the house but Mama Wordbones wasn’t having any of that.