Friday, January 30, 2009

It’s Snow Use

Walking Peanut to the bus stop the other day was a real challenge. Only about a third of the sidewalks in our neighborhood had been cleared of ice and snow. By Thursday morning the sidewalks that had not been shoveled were a solid sheet of ice. The result of this was that the kids had to walk in the street to get to the bus stop.

This kind of defeats the whole idea of a sidewalk.

According to Howard County Code, Section 18.402(h) “The owner of property abutting a sidewalk in a public right-of-way is responsible for removing snow from the sidewalk within 48 hours after the snow has fallen.”

This has to be one of the most ignored laws in the county.

A quick survey of neighborhoods in Columbia and Ellicott City found plenty of sidewalks like the one in the picture above. This particular sidewalk is along Downdale Place in the neighborhood of Elkhorn in the Village of Owen Brown. This picture was taken this morning.

Want to take action?

The Howard County Bureau of Highways suggests the following remedies for dealing with this problem:

“If a property owner has not removed the snow within 48 hours, you may want to contact the property owner and advise him or her of the County code. If you are unsure who owns a property, contact our Real Estate Services Division at 410-313-2330. If you have an exact address, they can look up the property owner and may be able to give you a contact name and number.

Another idea is to reach out and ask the property owner if he or she needs assistance. Although the property owner would like to comply with the law, many residents are physically unable to shovel snow and ice and are hesitant to request help from neighbors or friends. Your thoughtfulness can make a big difference to someone who might otherwise be unable to cope.

If you are willing to help remove snow for seniors or physically disabled individuals in your neighborhood who need help, please call Regina Jenkins of Howard County's MD Access Point at 410-313-1417 to volunteer for the "Snow Help" program.

As a last resort, to file a complaint, contact the Howard County Police Department at 410-313-2200.”

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A TV Everywhere You Turn

A few months back I posted about the impending arrival of the Stained Glass Pub over in Elkridge. Last Friday, TW and I decided to check the place out for lunch.

TW knew some of the history of the restaurant and it’s origins in Silver Spring. I believe he told me it was a family operation.

Yesterday, an anonymous commenter here asked “Are there any good bars friendly to Steelers fans who might want to watch the Super Bowl with like-minded, enlightened football fans?”
Well, I’m certainly no Steelers fan but that comment did make me think of the Stained Glass Pub. That would be a great place to catch a game. Stained Glass Pub has twenty two televisions evenly spread around the bar and restaurant. That’s quite a few for a place that is about a third the size of Champps at The Mall which might also be a good place to find some fellow Steelers fans on Sunday night.

As for me, I’ll probably walk down to the party at JD’s and Danielle’s. He’s a Ravens fan and she’s a Steelers fan, big time.

I just hope it’s a good game. I’m rooting for the old guy.

Go Cards!

Baltimore Examiner to Cease Publication

In yet another sign of the troubled newspaper industry, the owner of the Baltimore Examiner, Clarity Media Group, announced today that the paper will cease publication on Sunday, February 15th.

This comes as no surprise to me. Last year the paper scaled back its free home delivery in Howard County from six days a week to two. Many of those papers went directly from the driveway to the recycling bin.

You read more about the papers demise in this story by Liz Kay in The Sun.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Two Neighbors, Two Opposing Views

Last Thursday, at the Planning Board public hearing for ZRA 113, one of the four members of the general public who actually got to testify was Stephen Meskin. Stephen is a member of the Town Center Village Board and a resident of the Town Center neighborhood of Vantage Point. Stephen told the Planning Board that he while was “impressed with GGP’s efforts to mollify the masses” he is strongly opposed to ZRA 113. He called Wells + Associates traffic studies he called “mistaken and optimistic.” He railed against “threats to historic lakefront buildings.”

I was sitting next to former Columbia Association president Padriac Kennedy. I asked Pat if the buildings at the Columbia lakefront were considered historic what would that make us?

Prehistoric,” he quipped.

In the same audience was Stephens Vantage Point neighbor, Jud Malone. Jud did not get the opportunity to testify last Thursday but I was able to get a copy of his written testimony. Jud is a former Columbia Councilperson representing Town Center. Jud and the organization he was representing, Columbia Tomorrow, “strongly support the adoption of ZRA 113 including the proposed density for housing, and for commercial and retail space.”

Columbia Tomorrow is also suggesting that Columbia Association “should transfer ownership of Symphony Woods to the County to be held in trust for the public.”

That’s one way of getting around CA and its dysfunctional board.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

NIMBY’s Still Going Strong in Mid Atlantic

This headline in today’s email from citybiz list caught my eye, “A decline in CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) people.”

Could it be true?

Alas, while that may be the case in the some parts of the country, in the Mid Atlantic, NIMBYism is still as strong as ever. The economy and the cost of energy have made development more tolerable in other parts of the country according to this study conducted by The Saint Consulting Group but not around here.

Perhaps if our region were a bit more depressed it might be more receptive to development and change.

Monday, January 26, 2009

US Foodservice to Go

According to this story in the Baltimore Business Journal, US Foodservice “will close its Columbia office, eliminating 150 jobs.”

US Foodservice was a real hometown success story until it was bought down by an accounting scandal in February of 2003. At its height, the company employed 500 people in Howard County but since the scandal broke that number dropped significantly.

US Foodservice is the “nation’s second largest food distributer and 11th largest private company.” In July of 2007, the former parent company of US Foodservice, Royal Ahold sold the company to a private equity group for $7 billion. The new headquarters is located in Rosemont, Illinois.

Planning Board Abuses Public

The way I see it, the Howard County Planning Board owes an apology to everyone who showed up to testify at last Thursday’s public hearing on ZRA 113. A fairly good crowd waited three hours to testify. Only four people were allowed to testify before the board adjourned.

The members of the Planning Board should be ashamed of themselves. The board was originally supposed to devote the first hour of the hearing to questions specifically for General Growth Properties. The public was told that their testimony would start being heard at 7PM.

Public testimony was not taken until 9:40 after a ten minute debate over whether it should be taken at all since they had already determined that they’d adjourn at 10:00 PM.

I have no problem with the Planning Board spending more time with GGP questions. That is their duty. What bothers me it the board never gave any indication as to how long they were going to spend with GGP. They should have realized earlier in the evening that their questioning was going to take longer than originally anticipated and allowed the other residents who came to testify to leave. They had already scheduled another day devoted solely to public testimony so it would not have been that big a deal. They didn’t do that.

Instead we got listen to sometimes utterly banal queries to GGP and its consultants. My personal favorite was when Planning Board member Linda Dombrowski asked the traffic engineer from Wells and Associates if his past traffic projections for the Crescent property had proven accurate in the years since it was conducted. The consultant kindly pointed out to Ms. Dombrowski that they hadn’t because the proposed development on which they were modeled was never built!


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hell House Hike

Yesterday Peanut and I took a hike up to the ruins of St. Mary’s College just outside of Ellicott City. The former seminary located at the intersection of Bonnie Branch Road and Illchester Road is also known in local lore as Hell House.

Near as I can tell, the scariest thing about this property is the overseer, a Mr. Allen Rufus Hudson. That may be justified. In May of 1996, according to this story in The Sun, he was charged with assault, battery and assault with intent to murder for shooting a trespasser with a shot gun.

I sort of wished I read that before we climbed these stairs.
At the top of the steps I spotted a small tent just off to the side. Fortunately, at 11:00 AM on a Saturday, it was unoccupied. We ventured on.
This is a really fascinating place. The only evidence of the five story main building that once sat at the top of the hill is a pile of rubble but there is ample evidence of its former life as school for the Catholic priesthood. We walked along the former driveways and took in some pretty nice views of the Patapsco River down below.
One of the few remaining structures on the property was this outdoor altar. I was struck by the irony of the satanic graffiti on this Christian shrine. I’m not a particularly religious guy but it did occur to me that the large decaying symbol of Christianity would still outlive the spray painted symbols of the non believers.

A Comment about Comments

In the early days of this blog, back in 06, I used to participate in the conversation in the comments section much more than I do now. For example, in this old post with 19 total comments, six of them were mine. I haven’t come anywhere near to that level of dialogue in the last six months.

There is a perfectly good explanation of course.

Let me first make it clear that I am happy that anyone feels compelled to post a comment here and I heartily welcome all. As long as it is kept relatively clean and isn’t spam, I won’t delete it. Of course I will remain the sole arbiter of what qualifies as being “relatively clean” but I think I’ve demonstrated a pretty liberal interpretation of that so far.

Comments are what make a blog interesting. It is kind of like talk radio.

This brings me back to my commenting in the comments, when I was actively responding to blog comments I wasn’t posting as much as I am now. The month that I felt compelled to chime in six times on my own post I only wrote a total of six posts. Nowadays I am writing an average of 25 posts month. There had to be a time trade off somewhere.

That is not to say that I’ve given up throwing in a comment here and there. Sometimes the temptation is just way too great.

And while I’m at it, let me also say a word about suggesting stuff for this blog. I welcome suggestions, tips, insider information, and any other stuff that you think folks around here might find interesting. Feel free to send your stuff to

Friday, January 23, 2009

New Media in the Town Center Debate

Last night, before the Howard County Planning Board Public Hearing on ZRA 113, I stopped by the Columbia 2.0 event at Zapata’s restaurant in the Harpers Choice Village Center. They had to be happy with the turnout. It was packed with and for once, it was a Columbia political event that wasn’t dominated by old dogs like me. The crowd was young and savvy.


Yeah, savvy. Columbia 2.0 had set up a video studio in the bar so that attendees could provide video testimony instead of waiting to give public testimony at the hearing at Wilde Lake High School. This is vitally important. For many younger Columbia’s, carving out three hours to attend a public hearing on a school night is simply not an option. Columbia 2.0 provided younger Columbians an opportunity to mingle a bit, give their testimony, and then get back home to put the kids to bed.
The videographer was a local volunteer, Christopher Robinson.

At the end of last nights hearing, the Planning Board was discussing whether or not they would accept this Columbia 2.0 video testimony. As with any new media, acceptance by the establishment is never a given and is often approached with trepidation.

It would be wise for the Planning Board to allow this. The video testimony represents voices of the folks who will be most affected by the proposed changes to Columbia Town Center but they are voices that are seldom heard.

Is the Liz Machine Turning Against Sigaty?

There is word on the street that Delegate Liz Bobo is considering backing a challenge to Councilperson Mary Kay Sigaty in the next Democratic primary. The chasm between these former Democratic allies has been widening since Mary Kay found her own voice on Columbia Town Center redevelopment. Now it appears that Liz is seriously considering putting her formidable political machine behind someone else.

In local politics, Liz is often considered “unbeatable.” She has held her delegate (District 12B) seat since 1994 and in the last election she ran unopposed.

Nobody is unbeatable. Just ask Barak Obama.

Liz was also beaten by a dark horse in her bid for a second term as County Executive in 1990. That was year that Chuck Ecker defeated her by a little over 200 votes. Chuck went on to serve two full terms. He now serves as Superintendent of the Carroll County School System.

The question is, in this day and age of a new energy in politics, is the Bobo machine still strong enough to have it’s way in District 4?

Perhaps we shall soon see.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Eat More Fish

I got the urge for rockfish on Tuesday. I told Peanut I’d pick some up for dinner last night so I drove over to Today’s Catch in Wilde Lake Village Green. I was relieved to find them still open for business.

That’s no small feat. Right next door to the original Columbia fish market, Columbia’s original grocery store sits empty. Bill Miller, the owner, told me that his business is down. The combination of the departure of Giant and the state of the economy has had a big impact on his traffic but he’s hanging in there.

I first met Bill when he and his former partner opened the original store in Harpers Choice Village Center. Back then, in the late seventies, Today’s Catch even featured a raw bar and served beer. When they later moved to Wilde Lake they got rid of the raw bar.

Bill picked out a couple of nice filets for me and gave me some suggestions for grilling them up. Bills brother goes to the Maryland Wholesale Seafood Market in Jessup every morning around 4:30 AM to pick out the best fish for his store. He’s doing a great job, our rockfish was delicious.

I told Bill that I would be back next week to try the tilapia.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Perhaps the Final Word on Altieri Homes

I’ve written a few posts on the impending demise of local home builder, Altieri Homes. They were once one of the largest regional homebuilders with projects in at least three states. The company headquarters was located on Red Branch Road in Columbia where they employed a fair number of people and did business with a fair number of other local companies. 

I speak of them as if they are no more because for all intents and purposes they are no more

According to this story in this week’s Baltimore Business Journal, Altieri Homes has lost its state charter. “When a business loses its charter, it loses its legal status as a corporation, including its right to sue others in court.” 

The Alteri home buyers who are waiting for the company to fix construction problems will find themselves waiting in a very long line. The firm is in default of a $3.7 million loan with Wachovia, “a $1.1 million judgment in Baltimore County Court sought by John H. Myers and Son Inc.; A $300,212 judgment in favor of Commonwealth Construction Co., Inc. in Howard County Court; and a $542,000 judgment brought in Baltimore Court by Builder Services Group Inc.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Sage Speaks!

As all eyes turn towards DC this afternoon for the swearing in of our 44th president I thought I’d share a comment that the noted regional economist, Anirban Basu, gave at a business luncheon in Baltimore two weeks ago.

The sage of the Sage Policy Group said “Washington, D.C. is the new Wall Street.”

That’s what happens when the government becomes the lender of last resort. Somehow I think this may actually benefit this region.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Scene This Week In...

It was a bad week for some birds and a good week for other birds. While the Arizona Cardinals were able to advance to the Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa next month, the Baltimore Ravens will not be their opponent. It was a very good and largely unexpected run for the Ravens this season but it ended yesterday. In New York, a flock of birds brought down a commercial airliner making heroes out of the pilots and crew for an amazing crash landing.

Some birds seem to have a pretty cushy life in Columbia. Peanut and I were sitting in the court area in front of Nordstrom this Saturday when she spotted this little bird fearlessly darting around the tables. While other birds have to deal with the elements and other predators, this little guy has the run of the mall.

Compare that lifestyle with these birds I spotted hanging out in the Patapsco River in Ellicott City.

This cold weather also got me yearning for another group of local birds. It won’t be long before the boys of summer will be heading south for spring training and yet another hopeful season will commence in Baltimore.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mall Musings 1

Yesterday Peanut and I were shopping in the mall. As I passed the court in front of Macy’s I noticed that the Comcast Wi-Fi lounge was gone.

During the holiday season, this little courtyard was set up with free Wi-Fi connections and a high definition television. It was a welcoming little spot to crash for a few moments while shopping in the mall. Though I personally never spent any time there, it was always occupied when I passed by. Often, on Sundays, I would see guys watching football games there.

How good is that!

Now it’s gone. That’s too bad too. This little marketing effort was actually starting to make me think better about Comcast after years of bashing them for their abysmal customer service.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Which Choice Makes Sense?

In his column “Shaping the City” in today’s Washington Post, Roger Lewis poses the following question about the future of Columbia’s downtown:

“Thus, which choice makes the most sense: preserving the form and function of Columbia Town Center as originally envisioned in the 1960’s or embracing a vision to create a vital downtown for the 21st century?”

My vote goes to the latter.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Wegmans Saga Part Nine

I ran into Richard Talkin at the Roger Lewis talk this past Wednesday. Richard is the local counsel for Wegmans. Whenever I’ve wanted to find out what’s going with Wegmans I’ve turned to Richard.

In my last post on Wegmans (Wegmans Saga Part Eight) I speculated that, with their most recent court victory, they would likely be on track for a late 2009, early 2010 opening. Local food blogger HowChow pointed out that on the list of upcoming store openings on their website; the opening for the Columbia Wegmans is listed as “to be determined.”

I asked Richard if Wegmans was postponing their expansion plans due to the economy.

“We’re still working to resolve the legal challenges.”

Apparently, the latest Board of Appeals victory was not the end of the legal battles. “We have three separate court cases going on,” he told me, “It’s ridiculous.”


The Wegmans opponents continue to appeal every loss despite not having won a single ruling so far. It seems that the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has determined that even though they may not stop Wegmans from eventually opening in Columbia they can at least delay the inevitable.

Not suprisingly, this same union has also allied itself with a very vocal minority who are trying to keep Harris Teeter out of Turf Valley. They seem determine to pud a lid on anymore non union grocers in Howard County.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

400,000 New Jobs in the Next 15 Years

The Fort Meade Regional Growth Management Committee (“RGMC”) predicts that our area will see a growth of 400,000 new jobs over the next 15 years. This committee was established to facilitate collaboration on major issues that are regional in scope. The region covered by this committee is highlighted in blue.

According to the RGMC, “The growth stimulated by Fort Meade will almost certainly be the largest single source of new jobs for the region during this period.” 

The RGMC also estimates that this new job growth will result in 85 million square feet of new commercial space and more than 265,000 new housing units. 

Columbia and Ellicott City are particularly well positioned to benefit from this extraordinary job growth.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fatburger Ravens Connection

According to this article from Citybiz, the new Fatburger in Gateway Overlook is the first of ten planned for Maryland by former Ravens offensive lineman, Orlando Brown. 

“Orlando Brown is so certain his fellow residents will love Fatburger as much as he does that he is planning to open a total of 10 locations throughout D.C. and its surrounding suburbs over the next six years.” 

Football fans may recall that Orlando Brown was the player who suffered an eye injury after being accidently hit by a referee’s flag in 1999 while playing for the Cleveland Browns. As a result of the eye injury he had to sit out three seasons before returning to play in Baltimore. He last played for the Ravens in the 2005 season.

Altieri Begins Fade to Black

According to the Howard/Arundel Report, Altieri Homes has reduced its stake in the Hebron Manor development in Ellicott City to nine homes in “various stages of construction.” The builder recently sold off the remaining 60 undeveloped lots to Columbia based Williamsburg Homes for $6.92 million.

Presumably the troubled Altieri will attempt to finish and market those nine homes that it still holds but that could prove challenging given that two different banks, K Bank and Bradford Bank hold the construction loans on them. Couple that with the fact that they will be selling against Williamsburg in the same community. Williamsburg has a much better record of customer satisfaction.

Of course, at the right price, anything will sell.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Becoming a City: Lessons for Downtown Columbia

As I noted in a previous post, Bring Back the Vision is hosting a talk by Roger K. Lewis entitled “Becoming a City: Lessons for Downtown Columbia” this Wednesday evening from at The Vantage House auditorium in Town Center.

So who is this guy?

Roger is a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland School Architecture. He also writes a column called Shaping the City for the Washington Post. He knows a little bit about Columbia. Twenty years ago he was part of study group put together by The Rouse Company to chart a future for Columbia’s downtown.

The Sun ran this story about him on Sunday. Among his Columbia observations were the following:

"Columbia is a distinct settlement with the identity, population and geography of a city - it just doesn't look or behave like one,"

"There is a clear advantage to having a downtown that is more than a central business district,"

"The Lakefront is a lost opportunity in a culture that has rediscovered [the benefits of living and playing near] water,"

"Columbia is a patchwork of disparate elements, and it's not greater than the sum of its parts. "But it could be."

Roger will not get into the specifics of GGP’s town center plans but he will “offer generic observations and suggestions gleaned from lessons learned by other cities and from Columbia's own mistakes and successes.”

I like the fact that BBV is doing this. Instead of constantly hearing from what I refer to as weekend or armchair planners, BBV is raising the dialogue by hosting an independent view of the opportunity and challenges facing Columbia.

The meeting will be held from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Vantage House, 5400 Vantage Point Road. It is open to the public but reservations are requested by e-mail to

The Best Offense is a Good Defense

Much to Mama Wordbones chagrin, I spent the better part of the past weekend watching football. As a Ravens fan I am thoroughly enjoying their improbable run towards the Super Bowl. It just doesn’t get much better than this for a football fan.

While I was watching the action on the gridiron, a local developer took a lesson from the Ravens playbook and made an impressive defensive move. The developer of the proposed shopping center in Turf Valley has launched a website to counter the efforts of those would like to derail the project by putting the size of the grocery store in the center up for referendum. It was fellow blogger Freemarket who first made me aware of this.

I like this move. Rather than sit back and let the anti-growth activists define the issues, Greenberg Gibbons has responded with an informative website that even provides instructions on how to remove your name from the petition if you believe you were misled by the petition gatherers.

On another small note, the developer’s website informs us that the proposed grocery store for the new center will in fact be a Harris Teeter. I believe I called it here first.


In This Months Business Monthly

It is hard for a writer to resist doing one of those “year end” retrospective pieces in January or December. This year I succumbed to the urge as I cast about for something to write about in the second week of December that would still seem relevant in January. The Business Monthly had an earlier than usual deadline last month because of the holidays.

What really inspired me though was one of the newest retail centers in Howard County, The Shoppes at Shipleys Grant. This 24,000 square foot strip center, developed by Bavar Properties, is arguably the best designed small retail center in the county. Projects like this raise the bar for all that follow and that is a very good thing.

The contrast of that center and Gateway Overlook is startling. Gateway Overlook with its prime location at the I-95 and MD Route 175 interchange is about as unimaginative as a retail center can be. Even though it has a great lineup of retailers it’s layout is a throwback to retail planning of two decades ago. General Growth Properties inherited a project that was already well underway when they acquired it along with the The Rouse Company in 2004. Much of the blame for the poor design can be laid at the feet of the former Rouse Company executives.

I also couldn’t resist taking a couple of year end pot shots at the dysfunctional Columbia Association board and the anti-growth activists.

You can find my January column here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Speed Bump

About a year ago, I wrote a post in another blog that featured a panel from Dave Coverly, the creator of “Speed Bump.”

Speed Bump is one of my favorite comics. I make sure to check it out everyday (except Sunday) in the Washington Post. Some days he makes me laugh out loud.

He did just that yesterday. It particularly struck home given that we have been discussing healthcare here (and here) lately.

In all discussions it is healthy to maintain a certain degree of levity.

I emailed him and asked if I could share it here. He once again graciously complied. Thanks Dave.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Stinky Starbucks

Yesterday I stopped into the Starbucks in the Mall in Columbia. After grabbing my drink I slid into the restroom.


I’ve seen cleaner restrooms in a gas station. It stunk too.

The thing is, this isn’t the first time I’ve found these facilities to be sub par. What’s up with that Starbucks?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

C’mon, Man Part Two

In a previous post I came down hard on Charter Internal Medicine for the way they handled their decision to reverse course on transforming to a concierge type medical practice. In early December Charter announced that it was bowing to pressure from state regulators and reversing course. Patients of Charter first learned of this change of course by reading about it in the paper. As a Charter patient I did not receive any communication from them about this change until January 2nd.

Last week I had an appointment with my Charter doctor. I told him I thought it was handled poorly from their end and he apologized. He told me that they were faced with a quick decision to challenge the state or to comply. The potential for a large legal expense to fight it discouraged them from the challenge.

I have worked with other doctors in Howard County who have transitioned their practices from the insurance reimbursement model to the retainer model without any interference from the government. The difference between those practices and Charter is that they were small. With over 9,000 patients on its rolls, Charter was big enough to attract the regulators and politicians attention.

Of course this isn’t right. The government is effectively forcing the doctors to work with the insurance companies. The insurance companies have a very powerful lobby.

The result of all this is that the consumer (patient) is disconnected from the actual cost of healthcare. This is one of the fundamental problems with the cost of healthcare in this country as Dr. Mark Perry points out in this post on his Carpe Diem blog.

I still say “c’mon, man” but now I direct the comment to the Maryland Insurance Administration and politicians who are trying to stifle real healthcare reform.

C’mon, man!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Going Green in Oakland Mills

This past Monday I convinced my colleagues to check out the Second Chance Saloon in Oakland Mills for lunch. When I mentioned to the boys that they have sliders on the menu it was a done deal.

Driving down Kilimanjaro Road, we started talking about the unique single family homes that the former county housing director, Leonard Vaughan once described as looking “like mobile homes.” Some of these homes have aged quite well, some others not so much.

As we were passing Torrent Row we noticed some new construction. I drove by for a closer look.
Much to my surprise, someone was building a LEED for Homes house where one of these smaller houses once sat. The architect is an Ellicott City firm, DW Taylor and Associates.

This is an encouraging sign in an older neighborhood.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Fatburger, Finally

There has been much discussion around here about when and, for that matter, if Fatburger was going to open its store in Gateway Overlook near Trader Joes’s. HowChow had the latest update that I am aware of.

Until today that is.

You heard it here first. The Fatburger in Gateway Overlook will open next Monday, January 12th. At least that’s what the big guy in the Fatburger shirt told me this afternoon. He even yelled inside to his colleagues for confirmation.

“Yup, it’s definitely January 12th.”

So there you have it, Fatburger will open just in time for your New Years resolution to lose that extra ten pounds.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Armed Robbery in Columbicott City

According to this Howard County Police Daily Crime Bulletin, the Howard Bank branch located in the Columbia Corporate Park 100 office park was held up last Friday by two men, “one armed with a handgun and one armed with a shotgun.”

“Customers were ordered to the floor and two bank employees were ordered to open the vault where cash was taken.”

Sheesh! That had to have been pretty scary.

Off The Market

In October, General Growth Properties put 50 and 60 Columbia Corporate Center (AKA Parkside and Park Square) on the market to raise cash. As I wrote back then, the only current shoppers for these types of commercial assets are bargain hunting. I doubted that GGP would let these prime Town Center office buildings go for a “fire sale” price.

It looks like I was right.

According to the Howard/Arundel Report, GGP has taken the two office properties off the market.

It may be that the pressure from Chicago to sell local assets was eased some by the recent land sales by the company in the planned community of Emerson. In December GGP sold all of the remaining lots in the Emerson Corporate Commons to the James F. Knott Realty Group for just over $13 million and all the remaining single family lots in Stone Lake to Craftmark Homes for $4.2 million.

These prices were a discount of approximately 40% over what was being paid for the same land this time last year.

Scene This Week In...

Normally I like to have a story to run with the pictures I post for Scene This Week. This time I don’t. Since we took down and put away all of our holiday décor at home I figured it was time to do the same here. The picture of the Christmas carolers in Ellicott City needed to be put to the curb with the Christmas trees.

With snow and ice in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow it seemed appropriate to post scenes of water…and ice.

Scene this Week in Columbia is a shot of a lightly frozen over Lake Elkhorn in Owen Brown. It was taken this morning.
Scene This Week in Ellicott City is a small waterfall off Bonnie Branch just off Bonnie Branch Road in Ellicott City. There are actually a series of small waterfalls along this stretch road making it one of the most beautiful roads in the county anytime of the year. This photo was taken yesterday.

Roger That

“Columbia’s master plan and zoning should be revisited primarily to retrofit and infill the town center, adding new streets and buildings with a rich mixture of uses, including housing.”

Though that statement sounds like it could have come from General Growth Properties as they seek zoning changes to transform Columbia’s downtown it actually came from Roger K. Lewis, Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland School of Architecture. It was written twenty years ago.

In the fall of 1989, Roger wrote an article in the Columbia Magazine entitled “Are We a City Yet?” in which he lamented that “Columbia is really not that different from much of the rest of suburbia, not that different from the patchwork quilt of subdivisions ringing metropolitan Washington or Richmond, Boston or Philadelphia, Dallas or Los Angeles.”

So what does Roger think of GGP’s proposed plans for Town Center?

You can ask him yourself. Bring Back the Vision has invited Roger to share his views at a community meeting on Wednesday, January 14th from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM at the Vantage House Retirement Community in Town Center.

This should be interesting.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Uncle Jay and the Year in Review

My sister Bobbi (aka Sandgas) just sent me the link to this video. It’s very well done and a pretty good chuckle. A wag of the tail to Sandgas.

Friday, January 02, 2009

What Day Is It?

For that matter, what time is it?

Things are a little out of kilter at our home. Both Mama Wordbones and I took off today. The girls slept in this morning. It felt like Sunday. Around 11:00 or so this morning Mama Wordbones whipped up some breakfast which meant that lunch would screw up dinner. When we get a holiday in the middle of a week it really throws off the normal ebb and flow of our household.

The ebb and flow of the Columbia lakefront restaurant scene was the topic of conversation while watching the Trojans maul the Nittany Lions in the Rose Bowl with some neighbors last night. We were mostly talking about the recent demise of Jesse Wong’s Hong Kong. One of my neighbors contended that it is just a lousy spot for a restaurant.

I could understand why he would think that. There has been a progression of failed restaurants in that spot. The first was a salad concept called Fresh Choice. They were followed by a Brazilian steakhouse concept. I can’t recall what that place was called.

And now Jesse Wong’s, a dim sum concept, closes.

So is it the operator, the concept, or the real estate?

Jesse Wong’s Hong Kong was run by an experienced successful restaurateur. That tells me there is nothing wrong with the operator.

The lakefront location is flanked by Sushi Sono on one side and Tomato Palace on the other. Both of these restaurants are doing fine, even in this current recession. That tells me that there is nothing wrong with the real estate.

So it must be the concept.

Starting Off Behind

I had fully intended to write a New Years Day post. If, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then yesterday I was a paving stone.

On New Years Eve, Mama Wordbones and I attended a neighborhood party that was also a wedding reception. The bride and groom have a great sense of humor which was reflected in their wedding cake.

After bringing in the New Year with the new couple and our neighbors, we walked home. There is something to be said for attending a New Years Eve party that you can walk to. By 1 AM we were snug in our own bed where we remained until 11:00 the next morning.

When I came downstairs and looked at the Christmas tree I decided that would be my priority task for the day. Once Christmas Day is over, the Christmas tree loses most of its luster. In place of nicely wrapped gifts dressing up the base of the tree there are a scattering of pine needles and the odd opened gift. All a Christmas tree represents to me after Christmas is an unfinished chore so I tackled that chore yesterday and today my tree sits at curbside waiting to be recycled into mulch for our county parks.

This morning when I got up, I resolved to do my first post of 2009.

I want to begin this New Year by thanking the readers of Tales of Two Cities. It is extremely gratifying to see how the readership here has grown over the past year. In December 2007 this blog recorded a little over 2,000 visits. One year later that number was just over 3,500.

I attribute some of this growth to the fact that I am posting more regularly now. In 2007 I wrote 107 posts. In 2008 I wrote 258 posts. My goal for 2009 is 365 posts.

I’m already one day behind.