Monday, March 30, 2009

The Claw

Senator Ed Kasemeyer is leading the legislative effort to rescue the petition challenging CB58. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, his emergency bill seeks to “retroactively negate the harsher aspects of a Dec. 19 Court of Appeals ruling in a Montgomery County case.”

This is the second time this session that Mr. Ed has stepped into the thick of Howard County issues. Earlier in the session he wrote a letter to the editor of the Columbia Flier supporting the positions of Liz Bobo and CoFoDoCo on the future of Symphony Woods.

That got me to wondering who Mr. Ed actually represents. I knew that his senate district (Senate District 12) included most all of Arbutus and parts of Catonsville and Columbia but I wasn’t exactly sure what parts of Columbia.

What I found sort of surprised me. Senator Kasemeyer’s district resembles a claw that comes out of Arbutus and creeps into Howard County through Elkridge, shimmies up Route 100 to the intersection of MD Route 108 and US Route 29 and then reaches in to grab virtually all of west Columbia except River Hill.

It looks like this.
Certainly this isn’t the only odd shaped district in the state but it does stand in stark contrast to the other senatorial districts in Howard County.

This is Senator Alan Kittlemans district (Senate District 9).

This is Senator Jim Robeys district (Senate District 13).

These two seem to be much more logical with the boundary thing.

The state interactive legislative map is kind of neat but it is also flawed. When I entered in my home address it came up with a location that is about 7 miles away from my house…in Mr. Ed’s district no less!

WB’s Pub

“Why don’t you just delete all of his comments?”

A buddy of mine posed this question to me today. He was referring to the almost manic commenting from a commenter who calls himself PZGURU. My friend felt that this particular commenter was a bit “over the top.” The truth is he just doesn’t bother me all that much.

Perhaps I should explain how I view this blog. I sort of see myself as the bartender at WB’s Pub. From behind the stick I freely dole out news and social commentary about stuff around here. When people post a comment it’s like one of the patrons of the bar throwing in their two cents. That is why I have maintained a liberal policy on anonymous commenter’s. At my place you don’t have to give me your real name if you don’t want to. We don’t even check ID’s.

Every pub worth its beer nuts has a gadfly, you know, the guy who sits at the end of bar and is ready to pick an argument with just about everything and everybody. For the most part, a good bartender will tolerate this. To a certain degree folks like this add a little color to the joint and a customer is a customer after all. Every once and awhile however, that customer will over indulge and take things a little too far. At that point a good innkeeper will cut them off.

When I delete a comment it’s the same thing. If the commenter doesn’t think this is fair they are more than welcome to leave and patronize another joint down the street where the atmosphere might be more tolerant of their ranting. This is certainly not the only blog in this county.

No one is banned forever though. At this pub anyway, you are always welcome back…until the next time.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Fish Out of Water

Around twelve years ago, two of my former colleagues, Steve Tove and Dave Noel, were approached by King, the owner of Sushi King, about finding a location for another sushi restaurant in Columbia. At the time, there was a vacant space on the lower level of the Exhibit Center building next door to what was then a cafeteria style restaurant called Fresh Choice. We thought that space would be perfect for him.

King loved the space. It was the right size and the setting was beautiful. There was only one problem; the landlord didn’t really “get” the whole sushi thing. They told us what they really were looking for was a combination coffee shop/ice cream shop for that particular space. They honestly didn’t believe that a sushi restaurant could make it there.

It took a little more time than we bargained for but we were finally able to persuade Columbia Management that King would do a great job and that sushi on the lakefront would work. Eleven years ago this month, Sushi Sono opened its doors. It has outlasted two neighboring restaurants and the original building owner.

Mama Wordbones and I joined some friends at Sushi Sono last night. The place was hopping and the sushi was, as always, mouth watering.

Happy Birthday Sushi Sono!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

On the Other Hand…

I’m still wondering why Tom D’Alessandro, the General Growth Properties Senior Vice President of Master Planned Communities, resigned earlier this month. This time last year he was in Columbia.

The Future of GGP & Columbia

It can’t be much fun at General Growth Properties these days. Each day the business press writes about their continuing struggles to refinance the massive debt they incurred when they acquired The Rouse Company back in 2004. Every article also mentions that the fact that the company is on the brink of bankruptcy. Just last week, Citicorp foreclosed on the 360,000 square foot Oakwood Center mall in Gretna, Louisiana. Others have since followed.

What does all this mean for the redevelopment of Town Center?

My crystal ball is no better than other prognosticators but I do have a couple of thoughts based on things I’ve observed so far.

1) GGP will likely emerge from this financial crisis as a much smaller company. The company has already demonstrated a willingness to sell off some of their trophy retail properties such as the Fashion Show Mall in Las Vegas and Harborplace in Baltimore. Simon Property Group, a retail REIT with a strong balance sheet, is likely to pick up a at least a few of the better performing traditional malls while The Cordish Companies is a likely suitor for some of the company’s urban marketplaces.

2) In all of the discussion on the sale of assets to raise cash, the sale of their master planned communities’ properties has never been mentioned. It could very well be that GGP sees these developments as the key to the survival and future growth of the company. Despite their financial travails, the company has continued to spend money on moving the Town Center redevelopment program through the county approval process. This is no small matter in company that is trying to conserve cash.

The bottom line is that the redevelopment of Town Center still seems like a good bet. Retail development has been drifting away from the regional mall model towards the mixed use community model. It appears that GGP may have already figured that out.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Merry Month of May

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m getting pretty sick of the cold. Actually, I am literally sick from the cold. Today, at my desk, I couldn’t shake the chill so I finally succumbed and went home and climbed back into bed. It turned out to be a mild virus with a 100 degree temperature. Come on spring, I don’t know how much longer I can hold out!

The good news is that warmer weather can’t be far off because I just got my invitation to the 27th Annual Columbia Foundation Spring Party. This year, the open bar party catered by Clyde’s, will be held on Thursday, May 7th in the Spear Center at the General Growth Properties Building in Town Center. If you have never been it is the most unique party in Columbia. Everybody goes! If you live and work around here, you are bound to run into someone you know at this event. If you do both you'll see even more. When the weather is nice the party spills out on to the top floor terrace of the building overlooking Lake Kitamaqundi. If you need tickets call the foundation office at (410) 730-7840.

The following Friday, May 15th, is Howard County Bike to Work Day sponsored by the Howard County Government. Bike routes (cue sheets) have been laid out starting at The Columbia Mall and culminating at the following locations:

* Temporary Howard County Government Office Building (Stanford Blvd)* APL/Maple Lawn Farm/Southern District Police Station* King's Contrivance Village Center* Gateway -- Robert Fulton Drive* NSA* Clarksville -- West to Rte 32* Downtown Ellicott City* Catonsville -- UMBC via River Road & through Patapsco State Park* Elkridge to BWI industrial parks

Participants can drive to the Mall and leave their cars for the day or simply bike to rally which will begin at 7:00 AM. You can register here.

Now if I can only get through the rest of March!

Free Beer

“It’s only the 31st annual? I thought Clyde’s has been around longer than that.”

I was talking to Mama Wordbones about the 31st annual Clyde’s American 10 K race. I received my application in the mail the other day. She didn’t remember that Clyde’s was not the first restaurant in that space on the lakefront.

The first restaurant was called The Odyssey. I recall that it had heavy drapes on the lakefront windows. Together with Karas Beef House in Wilde Lake and Kings Contrivance they made up the trio fine dining options in Columbia in the early years.

Anyway, this years 10K road race will be held on April 19th. I am still unsure as whether I will once again attempt to drag my fat butt across the finish line after traversing the 6.2 miles of hills in Columbia. I always say that if you can finish this tough course in about an hour it means you made it through the winter without totally becoming a couch potato.

The thing is, you don’t even have to run the race to enjoy the bounteous free spread (including free beer) that Clyde’s lays out after the race. All you have to do is get up out of bed early on a Sunday morning.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Good News on Main Street

When I wrote this post back in September, things were looking pretty bleak on Main Street in old Ellicott City. Now, six months later, the situation has noticeably improved with the openings of the Diamondback Tavern and the Wine Bin.

In my Scene This Week post from Sunday I commented about visiting yet another new store owner on Sunday. That wasn’t quite accurate. The Little Sunshine Trading Company isn’t actually a new store on Main Street, it is a relocated store. They were formerly located at 8202 Main Street and now they occupy a space at 8129 Main Street, right next to my favorite toy store, Mumbles and Squeaks.
It makes sense for them to be next to the toy store since they sell baby stuff, unique baby stuff.

We had a chance to chat briefly with one of the owners, Marissa Jonner. She likes the synergy of being located next to the toy store and is optimistic about their prospects in the new location. I applaud that attitude and wish them and the other new merchants success.

Things are looking up on Main Street these days.

Monday, March 23, 2009

"It's Just a Stinking Duck!"

Just before I left for a client meeting today a breaking news item came across The Sun website. In this story by Don Markus I learned that the Iron Bridge Wine Company had been vandalized and that the perpetrators had left behind a message.

“Get rid of the foie gras’” was painted in red on the stone landing in front of the restaurant.

I had to go see this. After my meeting I stopped by and was lucky enough to catch Steve Wecker, one of the owners of the restaurant. Steve’s a great guy and he and his brother Rob run a pretty successful business that has also been generous in giving back to the community.

Steve invited me in for a glass of wine.

“It’s just a stinking duck,” he told me as we settled in at his bar. He lamented that it was sad with all of the other problems in the world today that people would waste their energy on this. “There’s nothing so dangerous it can’t be talked about.”

The restaurant suffered minimal damage. The vandals nicely lettered message is on the ground and can’t even been seen from the road. The windows that were broken are double paned and only one pane on each of the four windows was broken.

“We were open for lunch,” he told me.

He told they actually once took foie gras’ off the menu but so many customers complained that they bought it back.

He has no intention of taking it off again.

The Great Elkridge Stamp Heist

According to this story by Freeman Klopott in the DC Examiner, a postal worker from the Elkridge post office was arrested last Wednesday and charged with stealing more than $600,000 worth of postage stamps.

That’s a lot of stamps!

The window clerk, Marvin Foster, was charged along with his alleged accomplice, Kyle Mathias, with stealing the stamps and selling them at a discount on Ebay.

Scene This Week In...

After a grueling day of labor Mama Wordbones and I took two leisurely strolls in Ellicott City yesterday afternoon, one with dogs and one without. For the dogs we choose the idyllic Park Lane which was once the subject on this post on Haydukes blog. It remains one of my favorite hidden spots in Howard County.

After depositing the dogs back at the house we returned to check out Main Street in Ellicott City. It was sixty some degrees and sunny and the old town had a nice sort of spring vibe going for it. We met a new shop owner and peeked in on the work going on at the space formerly occupied by Annabell’s. According to the guy laying tile, the new Pure Wine Café should be open in about three weeks.As we walked further up the hill I spied a lone yellow flower. It was a daffodil and it was the first one I’ve seen this spring so that made it this week’s scene in Ellicott City.

As I was cruising down Rouse Parkway last week I saw this extraordinary site. It was a crane lifting a new church steeple into place. What made it truly extraordinary was that this church steeple rising was occurring in the middle of Columbia.

There was a time, in those early visionary days of Columbia that the notion of any overtly religious symbol such as a church steeple was anathema to the Columbia ideal of all religions living and worshipping together in harmony. Ironically, this church was once housed in the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center.

Times change, people change. I’m not so sure that there even is a Columbia ideal anymore.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Project

Once March rolls around Mama Wordbones gets itchy to get her hands back in the soil. This urge inevitably leads to a project that necessitates my active participation. Before I left on my annual spring boondoggle two weeks ago she told me to have a good time because when I got home we were going to get busy outside.

Yesterday we started this season’s major project, a stacked stone planting bed in the front of our house. In fact, this project actually got started before I left town. We shopped for the stone and we sent in the requisite forms for the Architectural Review Committee of our HOA. We even met with a contractor before deciding to forge ahead on our own. These were our long lead items.

With our approval in hand, last week we placed an order for a pallet of Pennsylvania flag stone (aka Bluestone) stone from Luck Stone in Clarksville. It arrived on Tuesday.

A pallet of stone is a lot of stone.

Yesterday we began the process of turning that pallet of stone into a stacked stone wall. Though far from complete, we were pleased with what we accomplished on the first Saturday of spring.

And, after we put all the tools away, the Guinness sure tasted good.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Comment Deletion Policy

Regular readers of this blog know that I have maintained a pretty high level of tolerance for comments posted here. I can think of only one instance where I’ve deleted a comment that I thought crossed the line. On the other hand, I’ve never really established where that line is.

A few acerbic comments on this post and this post just defined that line. I must admit to waving my cursor over the delete comment button a couple of times but I resisted the temptation. Angry and overly insulting comments speak as much about the commenter as they do the comment being made. Once that profile has been established, however, continued ranting and insulting of this sort in the same post becomes boorish. A new floor for comments has now been established.

I do not seek to stifle any voice. The ability of many voices to read and comment on my writings is one of the more interesting dynamics of blogging. I don’t really mind when someone disagrees with me or challenges my assumptions. When someone takes the time to craft a creative insult I don’t get offended, I actually appreciate the effort. Schoolyard taunts, on the other hand, are the product of a lazy mind.

And finally, comments from spammers will always be deleted with relish.

Black Tie & Biker Chic

Each year, the Columbia Festival of the Arts hosts a major fundraising event to support the festival. For the past three years, the event has been a black tie dinner in the Spear Center in Town Center. Two years ago the evenings featured performer was John Waters. Last year it was Paula Poundstone. This year it will be Henry Cho.

In case you have never heard of Henry Cho, here’s a little sample from a performance on the Late Late Show.

This fundraiser is a great night out in Howard County. Though the tickets may seem pricey at $150.00 each, consider that this includes dinner, drinks and a performance.

Henry Cho is a Tennessee-native so the festival decided to theme the event in honor of Tennessee’s most well known libation, Jack Daniels whiskey. Since Jack seems to be the whiskey of choice among bikers, the festival decided to theme the event Black Tie and Biker Chic. The featured drink will be Lynchburg Lemonade.

The event will be held on Friday, May 15th from 6:30 PM to 10:30 PM. For reservations call (410) 715-3044.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

And Yet Still More Pennies from Heaven

According to this story by Ovetta Wiggins in The Washington Post yesterday, Howard County is getting an additional $3 million in federal stimulus bucks for local road work.

Yesterday the governor doled out $242 million to local counties from the second and last installment of the federal stimulus transportation monies.

That’ll fill a few potholes.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It's the Law

A few commenters’ on my recent post about the stench emanating from the petition drive to overturn CB58 have suggested that somehow the rules of the game were changed to derail the effort and marginalize a citizen’s right to petition the government.

The rules were not changed. The law governing referendum petitions was in place before this effort was even contemplated.

The Maryland law is quite clear:

Section 6-203. Signers: information provided by signers.

In general. – To sign a petition, an individual shall:

sign the individual’s name as it appears on the statewide voter registration list or the individual’s surname of registration and at least one full given name and the initials of any other names; and

include the following information, printed or typed, in the spaces provided:

the signer’s name as it was signed;
the signer’s address;
the date of signing; and
other information required by regulations adopted by the State Board.

That seems pretty straightforward to me. If Marc Norman and his union buddies were not aware of the law it doesn’t mean that they weren’t bound by it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Luck of the Irish

In a post on his blog the other day, Pat Hiban painted a pretty grim picture of the state of the local commercial real estate market. He pointed out recent retail failures including the former Trapeze restaurant in Maple Lawn.

The picture may not be as bleak as Pat paints.

Last Thursday, Looney’s Pub opened in the space that Trapeze vacated last fall. Today, TW and I dropped in for a St. Patrick’s Day lunch. It was packed.

“This is nothing,” our bartender informed us, “We were jammed over the weekend.”

I’m thinking good for them. Judging from the looks of the place the owners spent a few bucks transforming the joint into an Irish sports bar, not mention hiring a very large staff. They’ve placed a big bet in a down market and from the looks of things so far it was a pretty good bet.

Perhaps the luck of the Irish will spread throughout the county now.

23 out of 26

While Marc Norman wraps himself in the US Constitution and proselytizes about the threats to our rights as citizens to petition the government he neglects to come clean about the tactics his group used to secure signatures for his petition for a referendum on CB58.

Allow me to share some things that most people are unaware of. 23 out of 26 petitions submitted to the Howard County Board of Elections in the first phase of the petition gathering were submitted by union employees, not union members. All these employees signed an affidavit that they were not paid for this. I find that very hard to believe, but we’ll leave that alone for a minute. At least one of these union employee petition gatherers identified themselves as being members of the Howard County Citizens Association.

Only three of the 26 petition gatherers, Marc Norman, Angela Beltram, and Amy Polefrone were from Howard County. Together these three people collected only about 10% of the total number of signatures submitted.

The union is not concerned with traffic or big box stores or the health of the existing supermarkets around Turf Valley. Before they got on board with Marc Norman and his statistically insignificant Howard County Citizens for Open Government, they approached Brian Gibbons, the developer of the proposed shopping center and offered him a deal. If Harris Teeter agreed to go union, the union would support the development. When Harris Teeter declined the union hooked up with Marc Norman.

I seriously doubt if anyone who signed the petition was aware of this.

This petition has a stench so bad it can be smelled from here to Annapolis.

An Irish Tale

So this fellow walks into the Mermaid’s Bar in Listowel, Ireland and orders up three pints of the Guinness. The bartender delivers the three drinks believing that the man will soon be joined by two others. Instead he watches as the gentleman proceeds to quietly drink one at a time until all three glasses are empty. After he finishes the last pint he gets up and leaves. 

Two weeks later, around the same time day, the gentleman returns and the bartender immediately recognizes him from before. 

“Three pints of Guiness please,” the man asks again as he sets on a stool. 

“Listen,” the innkeeper tells him, “I noticed from the last time you were here that yer drinkin these three beers yourself. Ya’d be much better off if ya ordered one at time. That way they won’t go flat. As ya can see we're not that busy so its not like ya’d have to wait for ‘em” 

“Ah but thanks,” the man tells him, “but if its all the same to you I’d just go ahead and have the three at the same time. You see,” he continues, “I have a brother in America and a brother in Australia and we were all once very close. Since we can’t be together now we try to regularly honor each other by going into a local pub and having three beers, one for each brother.” 

The bartender is touched by this sentiment and readily complies with the man’s three beer request. 

Over the next couple of years the man becomes a regular of the bar, coming in at least a couple of times a week to honor his brothers in this manner. Often times he is joined in his three beer brotherly toast by the other regulars of the establishment who’ve come to know and respect his tradition. One day, upon taking his place at the bar he asks the bartender for two pints of the Guinness. 

The pub goes suddenly silent. 

The barkeep quietly pours the two pints and brings them to patron. “I just want you to know you have our deepest sympathy,” he says.

“For what?” the man inquires.

“Well I see that ya only ordered two pints today so I just assumed that one of your brothers passed.” 

“Oh no,” the fellow replied, “I just gave up drinking for Lent.” 


The graphic above is by Jonathan McHugh. It was the cover art from a St. Patrick’s Day card sent me by my sister, Mumball. It was from the Irish Illustrators 21st Century Leprechauns’ Competition.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Real Juggling Act

I just got back from Florida yesterday so it has taken me a little time to get caught up on my Sunday newspapers. Today I read this story by Janene Holzberger in The Sun about former Ellicott City resident, Anthony Gatto. Anthony holds a dozen world juggling records and is currently in Baltimore as featured performer with Koozå by Cirque Du Soleil.

Anthony got his start in the old Chatham Mall on Route 40 where he was introduced to juggling by his step dad, Nick Gatto. Nick was a retired vaudevillian who taught his sep-son a few tricks while working in Nick’s tobacco shop. Mama Wordbones told me she remembers Nick Gatto and his Pipes and Things shop from the days before the mall was torn down. Today a Home Depot store stands in its place.

Check out the story. It even includes a nice video showing Anthony Gattos juggling prowess.

If You’re Gonna Fight, Do It Right

As reported last week in an article entitled “Turf Valley referendum halted after review of signatures” by Derek Simmonsen in The Columbia Flier, the petition drive to overturn CB58 has been put in limbo. For those of you just now joining the conversation, CB58 basically allows the developer of Town Square at Turf Valley to include a 55,000 square foot grocery store in the development as opposed to an 18,000 square foot grocery store allowed under the previous zoning. It is widely assumed that the larger grocery store will be Harris Teeter.

Harris Teeter is a non union grocery store. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has launched an all out campaign to keep Harris Teeter and another non union store, Wegmans, from encroaching on the union stores turf (pun intended) in Howard County. Union members were instrumental in helping Marc Normans group, Howard County Citizens for Open Government, gather the requisite 5,000 signatures on a petition to put CB58 up to referendum. Judging from my own experience, they reached this benchmark by subterfuge.

It now appears that the petition takers failed to take proper measures when they secured signatures for their petition.

“Voters now must sign their names on the petition form using the exact name that is on their voter registration; variations on a name will no longer be accepted”

That sounds pretty reasonable to me. Apparently it was problematic for Marc Norman.

“Norman said his own signature on the petition form may be invalid because he did not use his middle name, which is part of his voter registration.”

Geez, you would think a guy would be a little more diligent with his own petition.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Political Pen Pals

In a recent exchange initiated by Barbara Russell on the Howard County Citizens Association listserv, Delegate Liz Bobo offered to write a letter to the editor criticizing General Growth Properties plans for the redevelopment of Columbia Town Center for a certain “JD Smith.”

Is JD Smith another one of her hand puppets or is editorial letter writing become one of her constituent services?

It’s good to be back.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Postcard from Spring Training

I saw the O’s play the Cards in Fort Lauderdale yesterday. They were behind for most of the game but managed to keep it close, losing by 6 to 5. Who could complain though? The weather was perfect, the beer was cold and there wasn’t a bad seat in the eight thousand seat stadium.

This may be the last season for the Orioles at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. Built in 1962, it certainly isn’t one of the nicer stadiums in the Grapefruit League. Before the Orioles took up residence in 1996 it had been the spring training home of the Yankees. Still, yesterday at least, it sure beat sitting in an office in Columbia.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Where I'm At

I blew out town Wednesday afternoon for the annual gathering of my college buddies in Naples, Florida. The first couple of days we get together are a whirlwind of activity making it very difficult to set down that glass of wine and write a post for the old blog.

This morning I thought I’d jot off a quick post while the rest of the boys are sleeping off last nights festivities which included dinner at the Tommy Bahamas restaurant in old Naples. Until last night I never knew Tommy Bahama even had a restaurant.

Today we are planning to drive across the state to catch the one o’clock O’s game in Fort Lauderdale.

More news later…

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

She Believes!

This last Planning Board public hearing on the proposed redevelopment plan for Columbia Town Center (ZRA 113) was covered quite well in our local online community. In addition to the posts put up by Explore Howard and yours truly, there was play by play twittering by Ilana Bittner, video of every testimony by Howard County Issues and audio recordings by Columbia Blog Project of Toby Orenstein, David Barrett, Barbara Russell and, one of my personal favorites, Cynthia Coyle.

For those readers who do not know Cynthia Coyle, she is the Columbia Council representative for the Village of Harper’s Choice and an outspoken opponent of being outspoken.

I found listening to her almost twelve minutes of testimony to be highly entertaining and not for just for the many malapropisms. In her own words, “she has heard from numerous residents praising the work that the CA board has done.”


I think that sounds a little strong, but there does seem to be a religious theme working here. Cynthia also believes.

“I believe that the CA testimony is thorough, forward thinking, and reflective of the majority of community opinion.”

She believes!

I found Jack’s audio recordings to be much more user friendly than the itty bitty video put up by Howard County Issues. It was just too small for these tired eyes of mine.

Advocate for Anonymity

When I wrote this earlier post about a recent Maryland Court of Appeals ruling protecting anonymous commenter’s on blogs I didn’t realize there was a local connection. Though the case that prompted the ruling was based on a incident at a Dunkin Donuts restaurant in Centreville, Md, the majority opinion in the case was rendered by Judge Lynne Battaglia, a Columbia resident.

In his column in today’s Washington Post, Marc Fisher delved a little deeper in the ramifications of this ruling and he shared Judge Battaglias opinion.

“…an aggrieved party first must go on the message board to let the anonymous commenter know that the slammee is ticked off and seeks justice. Then the target of the comment must identify the offending statements and persuade the court that the statements constitute defamation. Only then does the court weigh the claim of defamation against the commenter's First Amendment right to speak his mind.”

Marc generally agreed with Judge Battaglia. “Our system of protecting free speech depends on the marketplace of ideas to generate its own self-correcting mechanisms.”

I met Judge Battaglia when I lived in the Town Center neighborhood of Vantage Point. We used to regularly run into each other during our morning and evening dog walks in the neighborhood before I moved to Ellicott City.

Well done Judge.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Scene This Week In...

It is amazing how the weather plays out in March around here. Just last week the schools were closed as the area battled with one of its biggest snowfalls of the season. Yesterday the temperature climbed into the seventies and in my neighborhood guys were wearing shorts while washing their cars.

It’s not over yet, the month of March can be a fickle lover. Even as the flowers begin to sprout from the ground there are ample reminders that winter is still with us. I spotted these mounds of snow along the perimeter of a parking garage in Town and decided to make it this week’s scene in Columbia.

In Ellicott City my camera was drawn to the blue sediment control fence that has gone up around the George Howard building. Now that the county offices have relocated to their temporary digs on Stanford Boulevard in Columbia, work has commenced on the renovation of the offices in Ellicott City. It will be approximately two years before this work is completed and the county can move back to the county seat.

Two Announce for Columbia Council

Much like the crocuses pushing up through the cold earth as a harbinger of spring, candidates are beginning to emerge for the Columbia Council seats in play this year. James Howard and Linda Odum have both announced their intentions to stand for election on April 25th.

James Howard is running for the Long Reach village seat which is currently held by Henry Dagenais. Hank has indicated that he will not be running for reelection. James has a pretty good understanding of the issues and challenges facing The Columbia Association as well as the county at large. Among other things he has served on the CA Financial Advisory Committee and the Howard County Public Engagement in Land Use Taskforce. I believe he would make a nice addition to the council. So far he is running unopposed.

Linda Odum is running for the Wilde Lake village seat which is currently held by Phil Kirsch. It is widely expected that Phil will run for reelection. In his last election he was strongly supported by the Liz Bobo political machine and he has pretty much marched in lockstep with Liz on Columbia issues. Linda served on the council before when she was the council representative from Long Reach before moving to Wilde Lake. Linda is a long time Columbian and it would be great to have her independent voice back on the council.

This year there will also be council elections in Dorseys Search, Oakland Mills, Owen Brown, River Hill, Kings Contrivance and Hickory Ridge.

Stay tuned

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Gouging Grassroots

When I read this article by Larry Carson in The Sun yesterday I wondered what kind of a house Grassroots had rented for $10,000 a month. According to the story, Grassroots rented the home, known as Building 21 on the Sheppard Pratt campus on College Avenue, from Historic Ellicott City Properties to house the county homeless. This is a picture of Building 21.
Doesn’t seem like much of a place for 10 grand a month to me. To put that number into perspective consider that you could rent this home in Ellicott City for $2,690 a month. That seems like a better deal.

Historic Ellicott City Properties is owned by Dr. Bruce Taylor. In what could possibly be the biggest public relations blunder of the year in Howard County, not only did Dr. Taylor get a premium rent from the non profit, he is also stiffing Grassroots for half of the security deposit.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Not Bad

I just read Derek Simmonsen’s article in The Columbia Flier about last nights planning board public hearing on ZRA 113. As I mentioned previously, I didn’t stick around very long consequently I didn’t hear much of the testimony. I did get to listen to Mark Bishoff. He testified right after me.

“While he initially wondered why redevelopment was necessary in a city that appeared successful, he said times are changing.
“Things that worked in the past won’t work in the future,” Bishoff said, arguing that it is time to “seize the opportunity” to transform downtown.”

I actually got a chance to talk with Mark before the meeting. He’s an old dog like me. He worked for The Rouse Company back in the early years of Columbia and it turned out we knew some of the same people from back then. We shared a few anecdotes from the past. Mark has lived in Columbia since 1971.

Before he testified I didn’t know what he thought about General Growth Properties plans for Town Center. We didn’t talk about it at all except to acknowledge that we were both motivated to take the time out to come and testify because it was important.

Though I believe I made the right decision in bugging out early, I missed a couple of good testimonies. During her testimony, Ilana Bittner somewhat inadvertently referred to the Columbia Council as “weenies.” She probably didn’t mean the whole council.

And Derek reported that Barbara Russel brought a brown paper bag to use as an exhibit in her testimony. If I had been there I could have given her a suggestion.

About Last Night

I experienced a rare treat last night. I was the first person to testify at the last Planning Board public hearing in support of ZRA 113. By 6:45 PM I was in my car and headed to Victoria for a quick bite before going home. I actually got to spend some quality time with Mama Wordbones before going to bed.

Why didn’t I stick around listen to the testimony that others gave? I listened to a few but they held this hearing in a room that was way too small and it wasn’t long before it felt downright stifling in there.

I did hang out in the corridor outside of the hearing room for a few minutes and it was there that I ran into Councilperson Mary Kay Sigaty. Mary Kay is the sponsor of this town center redevelopment zoning amendment and that has led to a big falling out between her and Liz Bobo. Last night in his testimony Liz’s hubby, Lloyd Knowles, called on Mary Kay to withdraw the bill.

I think I may have misjudged Mary Kay. Her failed attempt to derail the Plaza Residences condominium project in Town Center made me think she was anti business and anti growth.

Now I’m beginning to change my mind and last night I told her so. She is planning on running for reelection and I told her she’d have my support. I also told her it wasn’t the first time I’ve tasted crow.

After talking to Mary Kay I literally ran into Frank Martin. Frank is one of the “development-wary residents” who are suing the county over its land use policies. They are seeking to have federal supervision of Howard Counties land use decisions and they also want $10 million for their troubles.

I know Frank. We went to high school together. I haven’t seen or talked to him in years and I had often wondered if the Frank Martin Turf Valley activist was the same knucklehead Frank Martin that I grew up with. As it turns out it is. This can be a really small county sometimes.

I should note here that I mean “knucklehead” in a friendly sense.

Frank asked me why I hadn’t written anything about his federal lawsuit yet. I told him that while I thought it was a ridiculous lawsuit it does make a good story. He laughed and said he agreed with the part about it being a good story.

You never know what kind of story will come out of these public hearings.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

In This Months Business Monthly

“Are you on Facebook yet?”

Over the past year I’ve been asked this question at least a dozen times. Initially I resisted. I reasoned that I really didn’t need another reason to spend time in front of a computer. This blog takes up enough time as it is.

Still I was curious as to what the attraction was to this social networking phenomenon. Heck, five years ago nobody was even talking about social networking. Now it seems that’s all some people talk about.

The fact is, we have been social networking all of our lives; it was called staying in touch and we did not consider every person we knew or encountered to be our friend. The term friend was usually reserved for someone we were truly connected to. I always thought of a friend as someone I could count on in a pinch.

This really hit home when I read about Hal Niedzviecki and his attempt to actually meet up with his Facebook friends. Hal soon found out that his 700 “friends” were more like casual acquaintances than actual friends.

You can read this month’s column here.

Bringing Home the Bacon

While the national press is lambasting earmarks that Congress is attaching to the budget bill like the $1.8 million to research how to deal with odors emanating from pig manure, it turns out that Howard County will also be the recipient of some Congressional earmark largess.

According to this story by Paul West from the front page of The Sun today, Representative Elijah Cummings has attached an earmark of $475,000 to the spending bill for Howard County to purchase hybrid electric buses.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Ho Co Building Permits Reach New Low

According to the Howard / Arundel Report, the number of residential building permits issued in Howard County last year “was the lowest since the county started keeping records in ’79.”

It wasn’t much better on the commercial side either. Only 1.4 million square feet of commercial space received permits last year, down from 2.2 million in the previous year.

I think it would be appropriate here to put in a plug for the Howard / Arundel Report. This subscription only newsletter is published by my buddy, Jim Troy. We have been subscribers for years and have found it to be a valuable source of local real estate market information. .

BRAC Facts #2

The United States Army Corps of Engineers has awarded a $32 million design-bid build contract to Skanska USA Building, Inc. to construct the three story, 151,590 square foot building for the Defense/Military Adjudication Activities Facility at Fort Meade. The new facility will be located on the MD Route 175 side of the base and is expected to be completed by March of 2011.

The contract was awarded on February 20th.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

What’s Up with You These Days?

Occasionally, particularly when I can’t think of something more interesting to write about, I write about you, the reader. Outside of my coworkers, friends and neighbors I really don’t know who actually reads this blog. Contrary to what some might think, I have no knowledge of who the anonymous commenter’s are either. That is outside of my somewhat limited computer skills. I’m an old dog and that’s a new trick.

Anyway, what I do know about you I know from data I collect courtesy of Google Analytics. For example, Google Analytics tells me that 2,360 “absolute unique visitors” visited this blog in the last 30 days. The average visitor looked at two pages and spent a whopping two minutes here.

You visitors are appropriately split evenly between two cities. There were only slightly more visitors from Columbia (660) than Ellicott City (543). Rounding out the top five visitor cities are, Baltimore (363), Washington (290), and New York (189). Out of the top five, Washingtonians spend the most time (5:16 minutes) and New Yorkers the least (0:54 minutes). That seems to be in line with the phrase “a New York minute.”

Many of you also visit other popular Howard County blogs. HowChow, Freemarket, Columbia Talk, Hayduke and Columbia 2.0 are all in the top ten of sites that refer visitors here. I thank my blogging brethren for sharing their readers with me.

That’s it. That’s really all I know about you and really, it is as much as I care to know. I am happy that you visit and that at least half of you (52.61% to be exact) come back regularly.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Gentlemen Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks

With apologies to the Bard of Avon, this altered quote seems appropriate to the dust up that Robert Tennenbaum is having with local blogger Jack Cole.

According to this post on Jack’s blog, Bob became so upset with the interview post that Jack wrote that he demanded it be taken down. Jack refused.

I don’t blame him. In fact, I fail to see why Bob got his feathers all ruffled.

Yesterday I listened to all three raw unedited interview tapes that Jack posted on his blog. In them Bob shares some fascinating history of the birth of Columbia. If you ever read Joshua Olsen’s biography of Jim Rouse, Better Places, Better Lives and were left hungry for more detail on those early years, this interview will fill in some blanks.

Chill out Bob. It’s all good.

In Like A Lion...

As I said last week, it aint over yet! I just hope my little electric snow blower is up to the task today.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Discovering Discovery Dinners

It all started when Mama Wordbones brought home a list of restaurants participating in Howard County’s Restaurant Week. As I scanned the list of familiar local haunts one place caught my eye.

Belmont Manor House.

I wasn’t aware that the Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge was now operating a regular restaurant. Belmont is a one of my favorite places in Howard County. If you’ve never been there, take a little video tour here and you might understand. Mama Wordbones and I first met each other at one of their summer jazz concerts. We decided to check it out and booked a reservation through Open Table this past Friday evening.

As it turns out, this is only the second weekend they’ve been open like this. They call it Dine & Discover Dinners. Dinner is preceded by “Cocktails and Conversation” in one of the parlors in the restored historic manor. Last week the topic was the history of Belmont. This week it was opera.
Due to a miscommunication from Open Table we missed the Cocktails and Conversation part, arriving just as it was ending. We did get a chance to spend a few leisurely moments at the small bar where we were treated with Belmont stories from Michael Popp. Michael, besides being an excellent bartender, is also the Facility Manager for the property.
I’ve long since written my last restaurant review post so I’ll leave the review of the food to HowChow and Live in Howard County. They do a better job anyway. I will say that we very much enjoyed our meal and would definitely return. The half price wine was a nice surprise on a Friday night too.

These Dine & Discover Dinners will continue through April 4th.