Friday, July 31, 2009

Nice Ride



When I drove by the Columbia Pike Shell in Ellicott City the other day and spotted this old Hudson I immediately thought of Paul Newman’s character, Doc Hudson in the Pixar movie “Cars.”


It's rare to see a Hudson is such great condition. Yesterday I pulled into the service station at the intersection of Route 29 and Montgomery Road for a closer look. The guy behind the counter at the station told me that this 1949 Hudson belongs to a customer named “Jack.”


Nice ride Jack.

The fuzzy dice add a nice touch too.

Make Way

I have a small golf calendar on my desk at work. Each day features a golf quote of some sort. Today’s was from Bob Hope. It struck me as particularly timely given the latest weather initiative from Dr. Peter Beilenson.

“If I’m on the golf course and lightning starts, I get inside fast. If God wants to play through, let him.”

Federal Lawsuit Update 2

click to enlarge

There is still another federal lawsuit pending against the county. This is the lawsuit brought by Phillip Rousseau, Carvel Mays, Jr., Frank Martin and Paul F. Kendall. As in the lawsuit that was dismissed yesterday, the plaintiffs are represented by Susan Baker
Gray.

Phillip Rousseau specifically complains that his “home is about ¾ of a mile from the Seiling Industrial Park site. Historically, this property has been used for low intensity use, most recently as the set for the TV show “The Wire.” Plaintiff Rousseau and his wife will be severely harmed if the site is redeveloped into big box grocery stores as would be allowed under Final Development Plan Amendment, FDP 117-A-II, approved by the Howard County Planning Board in January of 2008.”

The complaint goes on to allege that:

"It has been estimated that were the entire property to develop in this manner, such development would generate huge increases in traffic on Snowden River Parkway behind Plaintiff’s home.

Plaintiff is aware that as of this time there is one big box grocery store—a Wegmans-- which is seeking approval to be constructed from Howard County. With Wegmans built, more and more large trucks will traverse Snowden River Parkway behind Plaintiff’s home because the parkway provides direct access to the distribution trucks coming from the mid west and providing goods to the store. Many of these trucks are diesel and will bring with them the additional fumes, dust, and noise, emanating from such engines.

The construction of Wegmans, a regional shopping venue, will draw shoppers from all over the region. Shoppers coming from western and southwestern Howard County, Montgomery County and Carroll County will likely use Snowden River Parkway behind Plaintiff’s home to get to and from the store.

Such additional truck and vehicle traffic behind Plaintiff’s home, resulting from the completion of a Wegmans store, will severely and negatively affect Plaintiff and his family’s ability to enjoy their home and the value of their property. "

What is truly interesting to me is the complaint about truck traffic and diesel fumes. What Phil fails to mention in this complaint is that, prior to being used to film “The Wire”, this property was used for the regional distribution of medical products by Cardinal Health. If anything the amount of truck traffic has actually decreased as the nature of the area has shifted from industrial to retail uses.

And the status of this case?

According to Kevin Enright, the county has yet to be served. Go figure that! Someone should tell Phil that the county offices are now almost as close to his house as the Wegmans site

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Federal Lawsuit Update 1

Recently I contacted Kevin Enright, the Director of the Office of Public Information to get an update on the three federal lawsuits that had been filed against the county by the activists favorite attorney, Susan Baker Gray.

I had no way of knowing how timely my request would be. This morning I received an email from a regular Tales of Two Cities commenter, Lotsabogeys, informing me that the lawsuit filed on behalf of Paul Kendall, et al, claiming that the county had deprived them of their First Amendment rights, their right to “substantive due process and equal protection as established by the Fourteenth Amendment” and their right “to petition the government for redress of grievances as protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution has been “dismissed without prejudice.”

A few months back when Frank Martin asked me why I hadn’t written anything about his lawsuit (he was one of the “et al” parties) I told it was because I thought the whole exercise was ridiculous.

Apparently the judge agreed.

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND

PAUL F. KENDALL, et al., *
Plaintiffs, *
*
v. * Civil No. JFM 09-CV-369
*
HOWARD COUNTY, MARYLAND, *
et al., *
Defendants. * *
*****
ORDER
For the reasons stated in the accompanying opinion, it is, this 30th day of July 2009
ORDERED

1. Plaintiffs’ motion for a preservation order (document 11) is denied;
2. Plaintiffs’ motion and application for preliminary injunction (document 17) is denied;
3. Defendants’ motion to dismiss (document 19) is granted in part and denied in part;
4. Plaintiffs’ claims for equitable or discretionary relief are dismissed;
5. Plaintiffs’ claims for money damages are stayed for a period of at least sixty days; and
6. This case is administratively closed.

J. Frederick Motz
United States District Judge

A big wag of the wordbones tail to Lotsabogeys….here’s hoping you get more birdies!

Ellicott City Parking Plan B

I had intended to write a post about the latest news on the Ellicott City parking situation yesterday but I got a little sidetracked. Both my real job and my paid writing gig interfered with my blogging time. This morning I was able to steal a few minutes before running into Baltimore to show a property.

According to this story by Mike Santa Rita in the Howard County Times this week, “county officials are considering installing a paid parking system or making the entire street into a timed zone where parkers would have to leave after a certain time period without simply moving to another spot along the street.”

Parking in Ellicott City has been a hotly debated topic among the locals for some time now. While some, including me, have advocated for a parking garage and the elimination of on-street parking on Main Street, others have insisted that there is plenty of parking already in the old town and that the parking problem is overstated.

Steve Lafferty, the Director of Special Projects for the Department of Planning and Zoning thinks a paid parking program might address some of the parking issues that some merchants believe are a detriment to business.

“Currently county officials are in discussions with Ellicott City merchants to decide whether to pursue paid parking on Main Street or whether to make the entire street a timed zone, Lafferty said. Meetings on the topic are planned for August, he said.”

Stay tuned

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Those Apartment Recycling Blues

A commenter identified as “SH” on a recent post raised a question about why Howard County had stopped free recycling to the county apartment complexes. SH went on to ask the following four questions:

“How does it work for folks in single-family homes or townhouses? Do you pay extra for recycling? Is it funded through property taxes? Am I wrong to be annoyed?”

Well SH, I contacted Josh Feldmark, the county environmental czar, and got some answers for you. As it turns out, owners of townhomes and single family homes in the county pay an annual recycling fee of $39.00. For “several years” this service was provided to county apartment dwellers at no charge “but that program fell victim to budget cuts.”

“With the cancellation of the program, if the complex wants to continue recycling, they can do one of three things. We will continue having our contractors pick up the recycling for a fee that we pass on to the residents. They can sign up for the Chamber of Commerce's new recycling co-op or they can arrange a private contract the same way they do for trash.”

I asked Josh to identify some of the apartment complexes that have taken some of these steps. He cited Bowling Book, Columbia Town Center, Autumn Crest, Elkridge Town Center and Orchard Park apartment complexes as participating in the Chamber co-op program and he further informed me that Poplar Glen, Village Towns and Gatherings at Lynwood have arrangements with private contractors.

And as to the final question as to whether it is wrong to be annoyed, I'd have to say no. The only question is who to be annoyed with. If it were me and my apartment complex did not have a recycling program I’d be annoyed with the management.

Pick the Opening Act

Virgin Mobile is sponsoring a contest to select the opening act for the FreeFest at Merriweather Post Pavilion on August 30th. You can find the details here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Lakefront Table Games

On my way to meet a colleague for lunch at Clyde’s today I noticed that the outdoor tables had been moved.
They were relocated to the lakefront gazebo where Clyde’s hosts after work parties during the warm months.Is this a permanent change?

Not quite. It turns out that the liquor license for the space adjacent to the restaurant was never “extended” and therefore the restaurant was compelled by the Liquor Board to move this operation to the gazebo space where they still had an active license.

The move is temporary. According to Billy, one of the restaurant managers, the tables will return around August 12th…if all goes well that is.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

No Income Housing

According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun today, five tenants of the Hilltop Housing in Ellicott report having no income.

The apartment complex, which is owned by the Howard County Housing Commission, charges rents “which require residents to pay no more than thirty percent of household income, are encouraging dependence in some residents.”

So what’s 30% of nothing?

Rocky Gap Road Trip Part Two

Now that we are back home in Howard County I thought I share my thoughts and observations about Rocky Gap.
First of all, Rocky Gap State Park is a true gem. The unspoiled mountain vistas are good for the soul and the park offers lots of hiking trials for both novice and expert hikers. There is even a specially designed trail for the disabled.

Staying at the lodge is not cheap. Room rates this time of year range from $219 to $240 per night. For that you get a room comparable to a mid priced hotel with a very small bathroom. On the plus side, the windows in the rooms open so you can turn off the a/c and enjoy the cool mountain air in the evenings.

Forget about newspapers. On the weekends, none are delivered to the hotel, not even to the small gift shop. On weekdays you can get a copy of USA Today. Oddly, you can’t even get a copy of the Cumberland Times News which is published just seven miles down the road. Internet access is provided at $6 a day.

There are plenty of things to do, golf, tennis, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, and fishing are all available in the park. Nearby Cumberland even offers some nightlife, on Friday nights in particular. Before we left this morning Mama Wordbones and I biked around the town an even took in a portion of the C&O Canal towpath. That was where I spotted this nice memorial to the Irish laborers who perished during the building of the canal.

Will we go back?

Absolutely. It is a nice getaway about two hours and less than three quarters of a tank of gas (in an SUV) from here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rocky Gap Road Trip Part One

Yesterday Mama Wordbones and I loaded up the bikes and headed out to western Maryland for a getaway weekend at Rocky Gap. Ever since our state tax dollars built this mountain lodge resort in 1998 I’ve wanted to check it out.

We arrived yesterday afternoon and soon after we headed out on our bikes for the Lakeside Loop Trail, a 4.7 mile trail around the 243 acre Lake Habeeb. We figured it would make a nice leisurely ride before cocktail hour.

We figured wrong. When we arrived back at the lodge an hour later we were exhausted.

This morning we learned that the Lakeside Loop trail is rated moderate to difficult for mountain biking.

It was really quite pretty though.

Friday, July 24, 2009

One of 31,000

According to this story by Derek Simmonsen in the Howard County Times, John Bailey, “a high school social studies teacher” has filed to run as a Republican against Delegate Liz Bobo in the 2010 statewide elections. No one will argue that Mr. Bailey faces an uphill battle against Bobo but at least he’s putting himself out there. Last time around Liz ran unopposed.

The bigger story to me though is the increasing number of registered voters in Howard County who list no party affiliation.

“The numbers are definitely in the Democrats' favor -- Barack Obama won Howard County with roughly 87,000 votes to John McCain's 55,000 last November. Both parties have lost about 1,000 registered voters since November, but the imbalance remains.

As of June, there were roughly 84,000 registered Democrats in Howard County compared to about 54,000 Republicans. Nearly 31,000 voters list no party affiliation, making them open game for both parties.”

That would include this old dog.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Scene This Week In...

On my way to the county council public hearing on Monday evening I spotted three young bucks grazing on the hill by the new Glen Mar Church in Ellicott City. Fortunately there was no other traffic on the road so I was able to stop and snap a few photos. The deer in our midst have become highly adapted to suburban life and are in fact thriving in the absence of their natural predators. They really seem to enjoy the new day lilies that Mama Wordbones planted this spring.

Earlier that same day I dropped into the Lakeside Coffee Shop in Town Center for what I thought would be a quick cup of coffee. As soon as I walked in the door I ran into Jud Malone, who heads up Columbia Tomorrow. I took the opportunity to trade notes with Jud on the local political scene. As I was getting ready to leave, Mike Davis and Jeff Agnor, partners in the local law firm of Davis Agnor Rapaport & Skalny, came into the café with two other attorneys from their office and this lead to even more discussion about local politics.

This seems to happen all the time at Lakeside. No matter which side of the political spectrum you lean towards, the chances are pretty good that, on any given day, more local politics will be discussed and debated in this little coffee shop than anywhere else in Howard County.

Scenes from Artscape 09

Even though Artscape was last weekend, I wanted to share two things I saw at the Baltimore arts festival that I thought were pretty neat.


The first was the human foosball table. They put six people in this big box and connected them with harnesses to PVC pipes and then dropped a large soft fluffy ball in the middle of them. It was a riot to watch and it looked like fun to play as well. Perhaps someone could steal this idea for the 2010 Columbia Festival of the Arts.

The other thing that caught my attention was the Wheely Good smoothie vendor. These smoothies are healthy in more ways than one…

video

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Piling On

It’s almost as bad as congressional earmarks. Monday night, at the public hearing on CB 29, the usual suspects lined up to demand that any village center redevelopment include affordable housing if redevelopment plans include a residential component.

Under the banner of “full spectrum of housing” the housing activists want any new residential component to set aside 30% of the units for affordable housing. The 30% allocation would be broken down by 10% for families making between $60K and $80K annually, 10% for families making between $40K and $60K annually and 10% for families making less than $40K annually.

To be fair, these advocates recognize that some villages like Wilde Lake already have a disproportionate share of affordable housing. According to Tim Sosinski, the idea is to apply this 30% formula to those villages that have not done “their share” for affordable housing like River Hill. A developer like Kimco in Wilde Lake would be able to bypass the 30% allocation by making a contribution to a newly established “housing trust” instead.

While this is certainly a laudable effort to provide housing for those “police officers, firemen, teachers and waiters” who are currently priced out of this market, putting up additional hurdles for developers to jump through won’t help save the village centers.

I thought the whole idea of CB 29 was to actually make it easier to redevelop the ailing village centers.

The Liz and Alan Show

Reliable sources have informed me that Liz Bobo has convinced Alan Klein to challenge Mary Kay Sigaty for her District 4 council seat in the 2010 Democratic primary elections. As previously reported here, Liz has abandoned her former ally over differences on Town Center redevelopment.

This really comes as no surprise to this old dog. Alan has been Liz Bobo’s hand puppet ever since he came on the local political scene as the “spokesperson” for CoFoCoDo a little over two years ago. As near as I can tell, this appears to be his only community service credential, an unelected mouthpiece.

Mary Kay on the other hand has a long history of community service including tenure on the Harpers Choice Village Board and the Board of Education.

Jeez Liz, is this the best you can do?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

New Signal for the Newest New Cut

Last night at the county council meeting, Councilperson Courtney Watson announced that the State Highway Administration had approved a new traffic signal for the intersection of the new alignment of New Cut Road and Montgomery Road (Route 103) in Ellicott City.

New Cut Road was realigned with the construction of the new Glen Mar United Methodist church. The old New Cut Road has been renamed Baugher Farm Road and is now restricted to right turns only from Route 103.

The new signal is expected to operational next spring.

While many will applaud this new traffic control device there will undoubtedly be some grousing about yet another traffic light on Montgomery Road.

Monday, July 20, 2009

General Growth Bankruptcy Update Two

Judging from this post by Brian McMorris on Seeking Alpha, things are looking up for General Growth Properties as it works its way through the bankruptcy restructuring.

“After a brief run to $3 per share, the stock has pulled back down to $1.65. This is not due to any fundamental change, but just the fact the buzz wore off the stock, temporarily. If anything, the recent court rulings and general improvement in the economy and banking sector bode well for General Growth.”

This is indeed good news for the company and its Columbia Town Center redevelopment plan as it moves toward county council deliberations on ZRA 113 this fall.

Twice the Government for Half the People

Actually, it would likely be twice the government for less than half the people if Columbia were to become an incorporated city. It is an idea that has come up in the past only to fade away due to lack of support. Most residents simply feel that that the county government is perfectly capable of handling the governance of Columbia issues as well the county. Howard is one of the smallest counties in the state encompassing only 254 square miles (the smallest is Calvert with 213 square miles).

Despite the past failed attempts to incorporate, the current push by the Columbia Association to have a greater role in Columbia zoning issues could simply be a back door attempt to circumvent the popular will. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun yesterday, Paul Johnson, the deputy county solicitor, “feels incorporation would be the only way for the town's residents to get zoning authority, an opinion shared by the Maryland attorney general's office, said spokeswoman Raquel Guillory.”

This is all the more reason to resist the efforts to create a new community based “gatekeeper” for Columbia to replace General Growth Properties. Gatekeeper is simply another euphemism for mayor.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Twelfth Night

The last time I sat through a Shakespeare play was many moons ago when I was back in college. Last night I ended that cultural drought by attending a performance of Twelfth Night at the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park in Ellicott City.

It was a great evening. Mama Wordbones packed us a picnic dinner with a bottle of wine and we dined on the grounds before the performance. The weather was unseasonably cool and the performance in the park under the stars was a perfect way to enjoy a summer evening.

We will definitely return. Tonight is the last performance of Twelfth Night but the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company will return to the ruins on October 8th for a three week run of Julius Caesar.
"God give them wisdom that have it; and those that are fools, let them use their talents. "

I can relate to that.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hard Time

Last week, while sitting at the traffic light at McGaw Road and Snowden River Parkway, I spotted this guy holding a sign for some big sale at Sofas Ect. As I waited for the light to turn green I thought to myself that this has to be a horrible job. I could only imagine how slowly the hours must pass as you stand there, alone, in the hot sun, just holding a sign. I’d be bored right out of my mind.

I wondered how much they pay these guys.

Today, I was driving though the same intersection and there was yet another fellow standing there holding a sign. I parked the car and walked back to talk to him.

He told me his name is Clarence and he volunteered that he’s homeless. He said it was pretty tough to stand there all day in the sun. He told me that they pay him forty bucks for seven hours.

That’s pretty hard time for forty bucks but I guess its better than nothing...

Friday, July 17, 2009

120,000 Jobs

According to this story by V. Dion Haynes in The Washington Post today, the Partnership for Public Service “estimates that that the government will hire about 600,000 people over the next four years, as many as 120,000 of whom would work in the Washington region”

“From May 2008 to May 2009, the region lost 55,000 jobs. But during that same period, nearly 20,000 jobs were created, mainly in the federal government and federal contracting sector. Some analysts say they expect the net job losses by the end of the year to disappear, becoming a net gain of 10,000 jobs.”

This region may not exactly be recession-proof but thanks to Uncle Sam we’re much better off than most areas of the country.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harris Teeter in Maple Lawn

Brent from the HowChow blog emailed me yesterday asking if I knew what was going on with the Harris Teeter store in Maple Lawn. “Someone is writing comments on HowChow and elsewhere that Harris Teeter has decided not to open the store in Maple Lawn.”

I called my main Maple Lawn man, Chuck Breitenother at KLNB to see if he could shed some light on the situation.

“They just decided to push the opening back to the fourth quarter of this year,” he told me.

The store is essentially ready to go. All of the store fixtures are installed, the parking lot lighting is in and the spaces are striped. The physical plant is fully operational. All the store needs is food and employees. It now appears that those will be added just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Who Are These Guys

These are some pretty well organized panhandlers. They fan out over all four points of the intersection of Dobbin Road and the Rouse Parkway in Columbia on a regular basis with their reflective vests and plastic pails. It appears that they are affiliated with some religious group but I wasn’t clear who they actually represent

Yesterday I donated fifty cents to find out.

“We are Deeper Life Christian Church and we are helping the poor,” I was told by a gentleman wearing a Ravens baseball cap.

“I’ve never heard of your church. Are you located around here?”

“Our nearest church is in Roanoke, Virginia.”

That set off some alarm bells in my head but by then the light turned green. He handed me a small slip of paper with the church name and website on it.

It turns out that the church is actually located in Tampa and has been the subject of some investigative reporting by the Tampa Tribune. They operate much like a cult.

"Yet while their followers live in poverty and beg for donations from those who would “help feed needy women and children,” the Jeffersons live in a 10,000-square-foot home in Brandon. Bishop Jefferson drives a Bentley Arnage, worth as much as $150,000. The couple wear tailor-made clothing and travel in a private jet.

Moreover, records show the bishop has bought a substantial amount of land for the church, spending $2 million on properties in Hillsborough County since 1992. Yet the church has a history of leaving debts unpaid."

Now I’m sorry I gave them fifty cents.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cynthia Coyle’s Voice

Cynthia Coyle is not happy with the way CB 29 is being handled. In a posting on the HCCA listserv, she asks Councilperson Mary Kay Sigaty “How does the County Council expect for the Columbia residents and organizations such as CA and the Village Boards to actually accomplish due diligence when amendments are being disseminated almost up until the date of testimony”

Since when does the council need to wait for special interest groups to conduct their own due diligence?

Cindy would be advised to remember that the Columbia Association is private homeowners association that is primarily charged with maintaining the open space and recreational facilities in Columbia, not setting zoning policy for the town. Its representatives, such as Cindy, are barely able to achieve any kind of legitimacy due to low voter turnout in the homeowner association elections.

Cindy goes on to complain that “It appears rushed and very disrespectful of the people of Columbia who simply are not getting a voice. “

Is Cindy insinuating that the duly elected members of the county council are not the voice of the people who elected them?

Who does she think they represent?

I think Cindy honestly believes that she represents the “people of Columbia” more than Mary Kay Sigaty. In her last election she received 315 votes out of a total of 500 cast. In her last election Mary Kay Sigaty received 13,798 votes of a total of 21,402 cast.

Based on these numbers Cindy Coyle’s voice is about as significant as this blog.

Officially Dead?

Driving through Town Center today I noticed that the silt fences have been removed from the site of the former proposed WCI Plaza Residences tower. The site sign inviting all to “Live Beautifully” has also vanished though the now closed sales center is still set up in the former Exhibit Building. I suspect that this only because it is still under lease.

There is no mention of the project on the WCI Communities website either. The company filed its bankruptcy reorganization plan last month and expects to emerge from bankruptcy in the third quarter of this year.

I further suspect this prime piece of Town Center real estate will soon be available for sale.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Governor Ulman?

In his op-ed piece in today’s Sun, Thomas F. Schaller looks past the 2010 gubernatorial race to 2014 when Martin O’Malley would presumably be finishing his second term. Since the Governor would be prohibited by term limits for running for a third term, the Democratic field would be wide open in 2014. He mentions our own county executive as one of the leading political thoroughbreds in that race.

“Barring some cataclysm, Mr. O'Malley will be the party's gubernatorial nominee in 2010, of course. But there are rumblings already about who will be best positioned to be the 2014 nominee.

Along with Messrs. Smith, Franchot and Gansler, that not-so-small list includes Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman. Perhaps former congressman and NAACP president Kweisi Mfume will try to build upon his solid 2006 Senate primary effort.”

At least at that point he’ll be over forty!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Nice Day for a Ride

This afternoon Mama Wordbones and I loaded up the bikes and headed over to the Patuxent Branch trailhead on Guilford Road in the Rivers Corporate Park in Columbia. It was nice and cool down along the river as we cruised down to Savage. Our plan was to bike over to Savage Mill for a few beers on the outside deck at the Rams Head Tavern. As we pedaled into the parking lot at the mill we heard the sounds of happy screaming kids coming from the woods around the perimeter at Terrapin Adventures.

The relatively new outdoor adventure center has climbing towers, zip lines, kayaking and this pretty cool three person swing.
video
We opted to stick with the beer on the deck plan.

Wegmans Saga Part Twelve

According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, site work and demolition has officially begun on the Columbia Wegmans store.

It will still be awhile before it opens though but at least we can now see physical progress.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Silencing Bambi

When I purchased my truck five years ago part of what closed the deal was the built-in DVD player with wireless headphones. Peanut was six at the time and, like many kids that age, she never tired of watching the same DVD over and over again.

Unfortunately, she didn’t take at all to wearing the headphones. They sat unused in the rear utility compartment. Occasionally I’d attempt to reintroduce her to the headphone concept only to be continually rebuffed. I kept the batteries fresh just in case.

Yesterday, as we drove out to run some errands, Peanut pulled out the Bambi DVD and I drew the line. No headphones. No Bambi.

Surprisingly, she acquiesced. Bambi was silenced and I drove in peace thanking the marketing person who thought wireless headphones for car DVD players would be a good idea.

New Passport Office

Tired of standing in line for your passport application and photo at the post office?

You are in luck.

The East Columbia branch of the Howard County library has been officially designated a Passport Acceptance Facility by the U.S. Department of State. Beginning August 10th, the general public will able to apply for passports and purchase passport photos at this branch of the library system.

Why is this better than the post office?

Unlike the post office, if there is a line at the passport desk at the library you will be given a pager so you can browse the library or sit and read a book while you wait. How good is that?

The new library passport desk will officially open on August 10th and the hours will be Monday through Thursday, 3 pm to 7 pm and Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm.

A wag of the wordbones tail goes out to Jessie X for bringing this item to Tales of Two Cities.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Very Bad Idea

According to this story by Derek Simmonsen in The Columbia Flier this week, the Board of Directors of the Columbia Association would like have “some authority over its zoning and planning and give its village boards a strong advisory role.”

I happen to think that this is a very bad idea.

First and foremost is the legacy of the CA Board. This is a group of individuals that has a history of infighting and dysfunction. They have proven time and time again to be challenged in dealing with their own parks and recreation issues much less planning and zoning issues.

Secondly, CA is a private homeowners association that only covers the CPRA lien paying parcels that make up Columbia. Columbia today encompasses several parcels that while physically are inside Columbia, are not subject to the lien and therefore are not represented on the CA Board.

And finally, approximately 25% of CA’s budget comes from lien assessments on commercial properties that are located outside of a village and consequently have no voting rights in the organization. This disenfranchisement contradicts the notion that the CA Board truly “represents” Columbia.

In This Months Business Monthly

In my real job, I have been engaged by the Howard County Food Bank to assist them in their lease renewal. As with any of these types of assignments, over time I learn quite a bit about their operations. Last month, sitting in the client’s office, I was surprised to find out that the summer months are particularly stressful to both the food bank and their clients. For the food bank itself, food donations drop off precipitously during the summer months. There just aren’t that many food drives. For the clients of the food bank, particularly those with school age children, summer means that their kids, who might normally qualify for a free school lunch, are instead raiding the already stressed out home pantry.

Using my own convoluted logic, I was able to link this problem with the debate of the Columbia village center redevelopment legislation, CB 29. I wonder if these some of these community activists, who seem intent to play armchair quarterback on local development, channeled their energies towards the real problems of our community how much better place this might be.

You can read this month’s column here.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Failure to Launch

I have a buddy. Let’s call him Mope. We graduated high school together in Columbia back when there were only five villages and they all had grocery stores. Mope was not what you might call academically inclined but he made it through and matriculated with the rest of his class. As others went off to college Mope hung back, taking a few courses at HCC initially but not for long. He tended bar for awhile and eventually made a career out of selling cars.

Mope was always fun to party with and he liked to party. In fact, he liked to party a little too much. Over time, as most of the rest of our class moved on with marriage, jobs and kids, Mope sort of stayed behind and tried to keep the party going. He married once but never had any kids, which is fortunate because Mope is an alcoholic.

I don’t see much of Mope these days. He no longer works, his disease took a bad turn a year ago and it did some serious damage both mentally and physically. He doesn’t drive anymore (again thankfully) and his daily routine is a far cry from mine. Still, every other month or so, we talk on the phone. The other day, out of the blue, Mope called me.

“Did I call you at a bad time,” he asked

“I’m just driving over to Costco to pick up a few things.”

“There you go my brother. You and I are in sync again today.”

“Huh?”

“I was just calling you to tell you about this great salsa I got from Costco. It’s a peach and mango blend. I put some on some salmon the other day and it was da bomb.”

He proceeded to tell me exactly where in Costco I would find this particular salsa. He even gave me the brand name. We hung up when I pulled into the parking lot.

“Check it out,” he suggested as we concluded the call.

Sure enough, it was right where he said it would be. I picked up a jar and then reeled in some salmon from Trader Joe’s.

Mope was right. It was “da bomb.” This stuff on fish makes an easy and very tasty summer meal.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Blowing in the Wind


According to this story by Sarah Krouse in the Washington Business Journal, the new Ellicott Gardens apartment complex in Columbicott City will utilize a windmill to supplement the power requirements for the projects common areas.

"The windmill will contribute to the energy needed for the building's public areas including the corridors, lobby, parking garage, and gym. The windmill will generate about 400 kilowatt hours per month - to offer a little perspective, a compact fluorescent light bulb used all month would equal about 18 kilowatt hours."

While some developers contribute public art to their projects, Old Town Construction gave this project a gift that will keep on giving…as long as the wind blows anyway.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

GGP Seeks Six Month Extension

General Growth Properties has asked Judge Allan Gropper to grant a six month extension to file a plan for exiting from bankruptcy. According to this post from Todd Sullivan’s Value Plays, the company needs more time due to the "complex nature" of its bankruptcy filing.

“This was not unexpected as General Growth had initially said when it filed it had hope to file a plan "by the end of the year". If you follow bankruptcies, you know that those initial deadlines are rarely met due to the complex nature of the process. But, having the clarity is a good thing. It would be shocking were this extension not granted. The only way I can see it done is if Gropper decides to consolidate the filings and just cram down all debt. In that scenario (unlikely), the reorg plan becomes very simple overnight.”

In the meantime, the company is continuing to move forward with its Town Center redevelopment plans.

BRAC Housing Study

Howard County, Anne Arundel County and the City of Laurel have jointly sponsored a study by the Sage Policy Group on the regional housing impact of BRAC. A public briefing on the results of this study will be held on July 23rd from 3:30 to 4:30 PM in Room #6 at the Howard County Gateway Building located at 6751 Columbia Gateway Drive.

The study will “cover a range of issues from determining the adequacy of the existing housing inventory to providing insight into the anticipated demands for new types of housing due to BRAC growth.”

Monday, July 06, 2009

Tossing Rocks

The first time didn’t bother me so much, a zip lock sandwich bag containing an advertisement for Fitness 19 and a few rocks for ballast. When the second one arrived on my drive this afternoon though, I decided to strike back.

Fitness 19 is the latest “fitness” club to appear on the local scene. Their unique shtick is their claim that membership will always cost $19.00 per month. I guess that just doesn’t leave much money for a respectable marketing effort.

I figure that if Fitness 19 can toss rocks at my house I should be able to return the favor. The next time I’m over by their sales center in Lynwood, I think I’ll just toss it back their way.

Mary Kay Sigaty on CB 29

Howard County’s newest local news source, HoCoMoJo, interviewed Councilperson Mary Kay Sigaty about the village center redevelopment bill, CB 29. It is an excellent synopsis of the village center debate in about twenty minutes.

Find more videos like this on HoCoMoJo

A big wag of the Wordbones tail goes out to Dave Bittner and HoCoMoJo for this in depth look at one of the hottest development topics in Columbia this summer.

Let the River Flow

As noted in my previous post, I spent part of the holiday weekend checking out Simkins Dam on the Patapsco River in Ellicott City. Simkins Dam is part of the closed Simkins Industries paper recycling plant on River Road just across the Howard County border in Baltimore County. According to this story by Timothy B. Wheeler in The Sun last week, the dam is slated to be demolished.

“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday that it has awarded a grant to American Rivers to dismantle Simkins and Union dams, two of four dams obstructing the flow of the Lower Patapsco.”

Union Dam in Daniels is fairly accessible while getting to Simkins is a little more problematic. This old dog parked his truck in the upper loading area of the plant and then climbed down a steep slope to the dam. It was well worth it. The river is beautiful this time of year.

This whole area on the border of Howard and Baltimore counties is pretty awesome. Keeping it that way in the future may prove to be a challenge. On Saturday, at a neighbor’s picnic, I spoke with a guy who lives in Catonsville who told me that Simkins Industries is trying to sell the 55 acre site that includes the old mill worker homes that line Thistle Road.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

On the Border

I pulled off the side of River Road this morning and climbed down a steep slope to the banks of the Patapsco River. I wanted to take some photos of Simkins Dam. On this breezy July 4th morning I came upon this idyllic scene along the border of Howard and Baltimore counties.

video

Before long I heard a faint but familiar rumble of a train in the distance and before I could adjust my camera it was across the river.

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As odd as this may sound, these contrasting scenes seemed to be in perfect harmony this morning.

Happy July 4th!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Scene This Week In...

After grabbing a cup of coffee at the Lakeside coffee shop this morning I walked around the American City Building enjoying a breezy July morning. While it was far from the vibrant downtown envisioned in General Growth Properties redevelopment plan it still has a certain charm.

Standing in front of the mother bear and cubs sculpture, I recalled the observation of Columbia Town Center made by Yves Morard-Lacroix, a visiting French business executive on a similar beautiful day four years ago. When I told Yves that this was the “downtown” he looked at me and said, “but where are the people?”

Fours years later I think he’d ask the same question.

I also noticed the missing mailbox in front of the ACB was still missing. How long does it take to repair a mailbox?

Perhaps it will never be replaced. In the latest issue of The Week, I read that “the volume of U.S. mail plummeted 14.9 percent, thanks to both the recession and electronic communications. The U.S. Postal Service now stands to lose up to $12 billion this fiscal year.”

Driving down Mary Catherine Cochran’s new favorite road, I saw this billboard and it made me smile. It also got me thinking about just how few billboards there are in Howard County. With the notable exceptions of Route 40 and Route 1, you just don’t see that many of them around here.

I wonder if these slices of "Americana” will be on Preservation Howard County endangered sites next year.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

On the old Wagon Trail

Mary Catherine Cochran likes the Forest Diner but not the new Miller Branch library in Ellicott City. Mary Catherine is the president of Preservation Howard County. For the past eight years her small group has been getting attention by publishing a list of Howard County’s Top Ten Endangered Historic Sites. Each year some sites are added while others are removed for a variety of reasons. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun yesterday, this year she has singled out the design of the new Miller Branch library in Ellicott City for some particularly harsh criticism.

"The new library will be a looming post-modern structure completely out of place along what used to be the wagon trail that pioneers traveled during the great westward expansion,"

Huh?

In the same article she lauds the Forest Diner as “a real piece of Americana”

Okay, I sort of get that, but I doubt that those wagon trail pioneers she so fondly recalls would have recognized the Forest Diner any more than they would the new library. If anything, the new library building is a vast improvement over the existing library.