Monday, November 30, 2009

Top Dog

A wag of the wordbones tail goes out to Dave Bittner for this one.

Our Howard Brethren

Today, as I was listening to some talk radio program talking about Michaele and Tareq Salahi, I wondered whether this story was getting any play in the middle of the country. The whole party crashing affair and the resultant avalanche of news coverage seems so East Coast.

That got me wondering if there might be a sort of Bizarro World Howard County out there, in the middle of the country somewhere, where this sort of thing wouldn’t even get play on the front page, much less above the fold.

It turns out that there is another Howard County, in Indiana. And here’s the first “bizarro” part. Their county seal is almost identical to ours.

And the Salahi’s are nowhere to be found. Not on the front page at least.

As HoCo Goes so Goes The State?

Apparently Larry Hogan thinks so. Larry is contemplating a run for governor against incumbent Martin O’Malley next year. Of course “contemplating” is a bit of an understatement since he is already raising money and has the requisite website up and running. He set up an “exploratory” committee in September.

Earlier this month he gave his first stump speech to the Howard County Republican Club as part of what he referred to as his “listening” tour. According to this story by Laura Smitherman in the The Sun, Hogan considers Howard County a “swing county.”

So goes Howard County, so goes the state?

That’s what Bob Ehrlich believes. According to this story by Len Lazerick in Maryland Reporter when Bob spoke to the same club back in October he told the party faithful that “As Howard County goes, so goes the state of Maryland.”

So what about Bob?

He is in the “listening” and contemplating mode too. This may be his last chance to hold a major political office. According to this analysis by Todd Eberly in the Gazette, the future beyond 2010 looks pretty bleak for Bob.

“Ehrlich will likely never have a better opportunity. A Republican presidential victory in 2012 would make 2014 a less hospitable year. An Obama re-election may make 2014 a good year for the GOP, but after eight years out of public office, would Ehrlich still be viable? Ehrlich could consider a run for the Senate, but Sen. Barbara Mikulski seems invincible. That would leave 2012 and Sen. Ben Cardin's seat, but Obama carried Maryland 62 percent to 37 percent in 2008 and would share the ballot in 2012; I would expect down-ballot coattails. For all the challenges, 2010 presents Ehrlich with his best chance for reclaiming the governorship. That's the reality that he must grapple with.”

Whoever ends up as the Republican nominee it looks like we can expect to see more of them in Howard County in the coming year.

No One Objected

It looks as if the bipartisan effort of Delegate Guy Guzzone and Delegate Warren Miller to limit the number of liquor licenses in Howard County is moving forward. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun this weekend, “The 11 state legislators heard no discouragement at Tuesday night's annual hearing at school board headquarters for bills that would apply only to Howard County.”

They heard plenty of encouragement from liquor store owners. Corinne Gorzo of Glenwood Liquors, Eric Kaufman of Village Green Spirit Shop, and Bill Boarman all testified in favor of keeping out any new competitors. Boarman even went so far as to predict that this bill “would also help cap the rising number of drunken-driving arrests in the county.”

That’s a stretch.

What these liquor store owners really want is protection from competition and it looks like Guzzone and Miller are going to help them out.

On the other hand, if you think competition is actually good for consumers you could always drop a note to Warren or Guy letting them know that you think this is not good lawmaking. Guy Guzzone’s email address is and Warren Millers is

You might also consider letting these liquor store owners know you don’t appreciate their lack of respect for the free market.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Vanishing Icon

I know this has been going on for quite some time now but when I saw this decommissioned “double wide” phone cluster at a gas station in Columbia today it really hit home.

Public phones used to be all over the place. Now they are a vanishing icon of the pre cell phone period. It won’t be long until the antique dealers in Ellicott City will be offering vintage coin operated phones.

It really hasn’t been all that long since they dotted local landscape either. I can remember when the main entrance to The Mall, just inside the doors, was flanked by two futuristic pay phone pods. Of course that entrance is long gone too. It’s now a J. Crew store.

Here’s to the pay phone. It was nice knowing ya.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Lets Get this Guy

This is a police composite sketch of the guy who is suspected of molesting a 14 year old girl at the Kohl’s store in the Long Gate Shopping Center in Ellicott City.

According to this story from Explore Howard, the suspect is described as a Hispanic male “in his late 30s or early 40s with a mustache. He was wearing dark sweat pants, a dark-hooded sweatshirt, a ball cap and muddy shoes, possibly boots. The girl reported that he had brown hair that stuck out from under his hat.”

This guys a real pig.

“The girl, 14, told police that she was shopping in the Kohl’s store on Montgomery Road, in Ellicott City, when she was approached by a man she didn’t know, police said. The man, who police say spoke only Spanish, kissed her hand, fondled her and exposed himself, police said. As the girl’s grandmother approached, the man fled from the store, police said. A witness outside the store told police he saw the man running away.”

If you have any information about anyone who matches this description you are urged to contact the Howard County Police by calling 410-313-STOP.

Bridging the Gap

The local press and blogs have been all over the story about Bridge Columbia, the grassroots effort to create a “transit” bridge connecting Town Center and Columbia points west to the Village of Oakland Mills and Columbia points eastt. The new bridge would theoretically replace the existing pedestrian with a widened version to accommodate mass transit vehicles along with pedestrians, cyclists, and perhaps others. The key distinction of this proposed bridge is that it would not permit regular automobile traffic.

Of course this is a good idea long overdue.

One of the founders of Bridge Columbia is Fred Gottemoeller. Fred is an architect and engineer specializing in bridge design. He is the president of Bridgescapes, LLC which is based in Rivers Corporate Park in Columbia. He is also my old neighbor from Town Center. Fred and his wife are quintessential Columbians. Pat tends the flowers surrounding the community sign and Fred helps out with other homeowners association tasks. I mention all this because I think it’s important to understand that Fred and the two others behind this effort really “get” Columbia.

Joining Fred in Bridge Columbia is John Slater. John has been a landscape architect in Columbia for almost as long as there has been a Columbia. After leaving The Rouse Company in 1974 he started Slater Associates, Inc.. After years of running his business out of suite of offices above the stores at Wilde Lake Village Green he moved his team to Town Center. This is another guy firmly rooted in Columbia.

Rounding out the group is Dave Bittner. Dave and his wife Ilana run Pixel Workshop, a Columbia multi media production firm. Dave grew up in Columbia and ended up purchasing his childhood childhood home on Lake Elkhorn. I don’t think Columbia roots can go much deeper than that.
Bridge Columbia is not just about a bridge either. Its really about intelligent transit planning to weave a redeveloped Town Center into the very fabric of Columbia.The group made three specific recommendations in their public testimony to the county council on CB 58 and CB 59.

1) Start all transit feasibility studies 60 days after legislative approvals of the GPA, ZRA and APF changes, before the First Final Development Plan.

2) Include a test for transit capacity in the APF ordinance and give APF credit for the necessary transit improvements.

3) CEPPA # 3 should be revised to test the need for a third interchange against improvements at the existing interchanges and proposed and required transit improvements.

Scene This Week In…

Yesterday the Main Street of Ellicott City was peacefully quiet in the morning fog. It also marked the first day of free parking for the Thanksgiving weekend. Free parking will also return on the weekend of December 4th through 6th to coincide with the 32nd annual Midnight Madness celebration when most of the stores will stay open until midnight on that Friday night. Santa arrives on Main Street with a parade the following day at noon.

The return of the poinsettia tree to The Mall in Columbia is always a cause for celebration. After its one year exile to the Symphony of Lights display in 2007, the Columbia tradition returned last year. I’m still not crazy about the car dealer advertising that surrounds the tree.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Eat, drink, indulge, converse and get home safely.

More Troubling News about Newsgathering

The continuing decline of the newspaper business has claimed another victim. According to this story by Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post yesterday, the paper has decided to close its remaining national bureaus in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

“The money-saving moves, coming on the heels of four rounds of early-retirement buyouts and the closing or merging of several sections, are the clearest sign yet of the newspaper's shrinking horizons in an era of diminished resources.”

In an attempt to put a positive spin on this development, Executive Editor Marcus W. Brauchli, claimed that the paper can still effectively cover these major US cities with reporters sent out from Washington, DC.

Perhaps it can. There is no doubt that technology has made it easier to gather information and file stories. Still, there is something to be said for having local reporters who possess a deeper understanding of local issues.

Then again, perhaps the paradigm for local news gathering is changing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

You Can Get Anything You Want…

My sister Kelly and I believe that Thanksgiving is not complete unless we hear Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie. As I was searching for the song on the Internet tonight I ran across this NPR interview with Arlo from four years ago. Enjoy.

On The Road

Many of our friends and neighbors are hitting the road today to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday in other locales. The rain today will not make that journey any easier.

This year I’m staying put. After enduring a slog through Atlanta’s airport on my way to Magnolia Springs, Alabama last year I am looking forward to keeping it local this time around.

For those Tales of Two Cities visitors hitting the road today, be safe. We’ll keep an eye on things while you’re gone.

Update for Road Warriors 11:22 AM:

In the event that you are one of those trying navigate the nations highways over the next couple of days, here are some useful links from Michael Dresser in The Sun for helping you get around.

Of course you would also need a better phone than mine

Alan’s Army

In his testimony during the public hearings on CB58 and CB59, CoFoCoDo spokesperson Alan Klein asked the members of the county council to “envision” all 450 purported supporters of the CoFoCoDo “lined up behind me” when he called on the council to reject this legistlation.

I imagine the council had a little difficulty doing that. The supporters Alan was referring to were people who signed on to a CoFoCoDo mission statement over three years ago, long before General Growth Properties even unveiled their plans for Columbia Town Center.

It’s hard to imagine this group of people, which includes three of the five current council members, lined up squarely behind Alan today.

Memo to CoFoCoDo: Time to update that supporters list.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Molasses in January

This winter, icy roads in Howard County will be treated with a new product called Ice Bite which is a combination of salt brine and molasses. According to this story by Michael Dresser in The Sun today, this product “will be used in a pilot project in Frederick and Howard counties to test its effectiveness in pre-treating highways before spraying salt.”

It is apparently better for the environment too.

“Christopher P. Swan, an ecologist and associate professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has studied the impact of rising salt levels in streams - frequently attributed to heavy road salt application. He said he's found subtle but potentially significant changes in the development of grey tree frogs, aquatic insects and zooplankton, the microscopic animals in water that feed on algae.

Swan says he thinks using the molasses-based product as a supplement to rock salt would probably help reduce the amount of salt that is getting into area streams.”

I guess it’s not just for baking anymore….

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pulling Columbia Together

I won’t say how I came across this plan but perhaps some folks think it’s important for everyone to see the possible. This plan shows how a revitalized and expanded path system, as part of the proposed Columbia Town Center redevelopment program, could actually pull the community together.

Speaking for myself, Mama Wordbones, and Peanut, we’d love to ride our bikes on this trail system.

Stepping off the Porch

One of our old dogs, Lucky, has gotten a little wobbly these days. Even though it is only two steps down from the platform out our back door to the yard, nowadays she often just stands there trying to ascertain if it’s worth the trip.

In a way she is like the opponents of the CB 58 and CB 59 who believe the county council should reject this legislation and study the issue some more. It is far easier to defer action than to take it.

You can’t get hurt that way.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Walking Around Town Center

This afternoon Mama Wordbones dropped me off at Champps at the Mall. She continued on over to Merriweather to pick up our registration packet for the Dazzle Dash while I watched the end of the Ravens loss to Indianapolis.
Chammps is a fun place to be on a Sunday in the middle of football season. There were Ravens fans, Steeler fans, Redskin fans, Giant fans amongst others. At any given moment a cheer erupts somewhere in room.

After the game we walked over to see the poinsettia tree. It looked particularly beautiful in the later afternoon sun. I said a quiet word of thanks to Claire, Sandy and Janet.

It wasn’t a very busy night at the Santastic experience.

As the sun went down we worked our way over to Dazzle Dash. For part of the walk she shared the street with the cars since the sidewalk suddenly just ended at a crosswalk on the mall ring road.
Fortunately, we safely made it to the Dazzle Dash along with about 4,000 of our fellow countians.

Referendum Rights and Wrongs

Much has been made about the rights of citizens being marginalized in recent attempts to overturn local zoning decisions through referendum. The last straw for many activists occurred when the Howard County Board of Elections reversed an earlier decision and threw out over 80% of the petition signatures they had originally certified in the petition to stop Harris Teeter from building a new store in Turf Valley. This effectively killed the referendum.

The first point I’d like to make that is that the right to referendum is not a federal right. There is no federal right to referendum. The United States Constitution does not provide for referendums at the federal level. Rights to referendum are only granted by the states. This fact did not stop Paul Kendall, Frank Martin and others from seeking redress in the federal courts. US District Judge, J. Frederick Motz has now dismissed these efforts twice.

I should also make it clear that I am not against referendums. I am against misrepresentation. The petition drive against Harris Teeter was handled very poorly by its organizers. When I was approached by someone who claimed to be representing the Howard County Citizens Association (doubtful) outside of a Safeway store in Ellicott City, I was asked if I would sign a petition against “more big box stores in Howard County.” No mention was made of either Turf Valley or Harris Teeter.

The threshold for getting an issue on the ballot in Howard County is too low. Only 5,000 signatures are required which has not changed even as the county’s population has mushroomed over the past forty years. It shouldn’t be impossible to petition for referendum but it shouldn’t be easy either.

And finally, if Paul Kendall, Frank Martin and Susan Baker Gray truly believe that our rights are being trampled on, why did they initially sue the county for $10 million instead of working to fix the problem through legislation?

Close Call

There was a close call over in the Village of Long Reach yesterday. According to a neighbor, someone left a gas burner on the stove in a vacant townhouse at 5804 Alderleaf Place in the Heritage Walk community. It may have been on for some time. You could easily smell the gas out on the street and around the neighborhood. This could have ended very badly. According to one bystander the home had been empty for a month.
Thankfully, the Howard County Fire and Rescue folks were on the scene in time.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

And Then There’s That…

Yesterday, we taped our second show of “And Then There’s That” at the Lakeside Café in Columbia Town Center. We called this one our Thanksgiving show and included a little bit about sauerkraut at the end.

Our guest this time around was Dennis Schrader, former county councilperson for District 3. Dennis is complementing a run to recapture this seat which is currently held by Jen Terrasa.

We also had a little fun with the top news stories on Explore Howard this week. I gave a shout out to fellow local blogger freemarket for being one of the first to point out the graffiti problems at the skateboard area in Centennial Park.

Our next show will be on December 4th and our guest will be Councilperson Mary Kay Sigaty.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Federal Lawsuit Update 6

Paul Kendall and his merry band of plaintiffs were dealt another defeat yesterday when their second suit seeking to derail the proposed Harris Teeter store in Turf Valley and the Wegmans store in Columbia was dismissed by United States District Judge J. Frederick Motz was dismissed.

According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, Judge Motz “agreed with county lawyers that the suit, filed by Frank Martin, Carvel Mays, Phillip Rousseau and Paul F. Kendall, was basically a repeat of an earlier one he dismissed in July that is now on appeal.”

The plaintiffs and their attorney, Susan Baker Gray, were also seeking to derail 15 years of county zoning decisions that they felt were made illegally.

The first case which was also dismissed is being appealed. I guess they figure that as long as the union is willing to foot the legal bills, they’ll just keep going.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

GGP Reaches Deal with Lenders

According to this story by Daniel Sernovitz in the Baltimore Business Journal, General Growth Properties may emerge from bankruptcy protection much sooner than expected.

“The Chicago mall owner told U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York its reached deals to extend its average loan terms on that debt by an average of 6.4 years and will not have any maturing debt until 2014.”

This is huge. GGP wasn’t expected to have these agreements in place until early spring of 2010. It is now actually feasible for the company to emerge from bankruptcy by the end of the year.

I said all along that this is a company with real solid honest to god assets. All they needed were extensions on their loans.

Now it looks like they got ‘em.

Good Thing Nobody Took the Bet

Last month, at the end of this post about Paul Kendall and his lawsuit against the county and the Board of Elections, I wrote: “Anyone wanna bet they’ll file another motion to reconsider?”

Yesterday Paul Kendall and his legal beagle Susan Baker Gray filed an appeal.

Good Coffee…Slow Service

As an acknowledged coffee addict, I always look forward to checking out a new coffee shop. Yesterday, after attending a construction progress meeting on our building in Emerson, I buzzed across Route 216 to Maple Lawn and the new Sidamo coffee shop.
Though it was around two thirty in the afternoon and there was only one other customer in the shop, it took almost fifteen minutes to get a regular cup of coffee.

I did get a chance to chat with the manager, Kenfe, while I waited. He told me that the beans are roasted daily at the shop in DC and brought out to Maple Lawn the next day. He ground the beans for my individual cup of coffee and then poured it in this contraption.


Good coffee, albeit a bit pricey. Don’t go if you’re in hurry.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Simon Getting Serious about GGP

Back in September I wrote this post about a possible move by Simon Property Group to acquire some or all of General Growth Property’s assets. Simon has now hired a financial advisor and a law firm to help them do just that.

According to this story in yesterdays ChicagoRealEstateDaily.Com, Simon has hired Lazard, Ltd and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz to “help the company come up with a plan for a possible offer for all or some of General Growth Properties Inc.”

Of course this is still a long way from actually acquiring the company. Simon is the largest owner of malls in the US and GGP is the second largest so there will undoubtedly be anti trust concerns.

The same story also mentions that GGP is “near a deal with lenders to rework $11.5 billion in securitized mortgages,” which would put them in a good position to emerge from bankruptcy next summer intact.

None of this should really affect GGP’s plans for Town Center. If Simon does up end up acquiring GGP they would most likely proceed with the plans with the same development team in place now. The company doesn’t currently have the master plan communities’ expertise that GGP has.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Holiday Gift from Starbucks

Just in time for the holidays, Starbucks has raised the price on most of their beverages. This morning as I went to pay for my usual vente half caf, I came up short. Instead of $2.07 it now cost me $2.23.

This afternoon, when I dropped by the Dobbin Road Starbucks and ordered an Americano half caf, I was charged $3.03 instead of the usual $2.85.

“Did you guys have a price increase,” I asked.

“Yes, it just went into effect today along with the rollout of our decaf Via,” I was told by one of the baristas, “Some drinks went down in price but most went up.”

Nice way to celebrate the rollout of new product. On the other hand, if Starbucks believes they can get a way with a price increase they must think that the economy is improving.

Then again, maybe they need the increased revenue to cover rising healthcare costs.

Affirmation from the Next Generation

The stars of last nights public hearing on the legislation for General Growths redevelopment plans for Columbia Town Center were Karen Berry, Melody Sahar-Khiz, and Sarah Sahar-Khiz. These three young women were testifying on behalf of the Wilde Lake High School Environmental Club. They testified that they believe that the plan put forward by GGP will help restore vital wetlands in Town Center among other “green” benefits. They asked the council to vote for CB 58 and CB 59.

I realize that some cynics will claim that some evil real estate person put them up to this but it is my understanding that they did this on their own initiative. The stated goal of the WLHS Environmental Club is to make their “school community aware of the importance of conserving and preserving our natural resources and environment.”

Pity the Cable Companies

Last night the county council heard public testimony on Council Bill CB 60 that would basically require the cable companies to clean up their act. Not surprisingly, both Verizon and Comcast offered testimony opposing the bill.

The impetus for this bill came from citizen complaints about cable lines that are left unburied for extended periods of time. Often these lines cross yards and driveways and sometimes are even hung over trees and bushes. In my own neighborhood one such line was left hanging out there for over six months.

Of course the companies claim they are very concerned about this problem and are diligently working on improving the time it takes to get these lines buried properly. They pointed to bad weather and slow response time from Miss Utility as the main excuses for delays.


The bill, as it is written, gives the companies 15 days to bury a temporary line. Comcast has requested the council consider making that 15 business days which seems like a reasonable accommodation.

Verizon took a more bellicose approach to the bill. Their representative darkly implied that this bill would be a material change to their franchise agreement with the county and may result in expensive legal action. They said they are concerned about the precedent it might set for other jurisdictions.

Imagine that.

The cable companies are facing an uphill battle on this one. All of the council members have received complaints about this problem and the legislation itself is being sponsored by no less than four of the five council members, Calvin Ball, Mary Kay Sigaty, Jen Terrasa and Courtney Watson.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tinkering Around in the Garage

Picture Credit: The Baltimore Sun
Great innovations have sometimes come from tinkering around in low tech garages by average Joes instead of high tech research laboratories. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, that may have occurred in the county’s vehicle maintenance shop in Cooksville.

Carl Fugate, Nelson Frazier, Chuck Vollmerhausen and Ricky Fleming have come up with a device they call an HHO generator that extracts “hydrogen and oxygen from water and burning the gas in your vehicle engine to boost gas mileage.”

It apparently reduces emissions.

The experts have their doubts though.

“In general, these things are bogus," Jaal Ghandhi, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin Energy Research Center told The Baltimore Sun. Mechanical engineering professor Christopher M. White of the University of New Hampshire also believes their results are not possible."In the laws of thermodynamics, you always get out less energy than you put in," he said. The device could reduce emissions, but it won't boost gas mileage, he said, because the energy required to produce the electricity negates the savings.”

Still, as is typical with any garage tinkerers, these guys have actually installed their contraption on their own vehicles.

"We were naysayers in the beginning also," Fugate said, adding that he gets 8.1 mpg on his big rig, compared to 5.8 mpg before.”

To his credit, Ken Ulman is willing to give these boys a shot at proving it can work on a couple of county vehicles.

"If it cuts fuel use and burns cleaner, Ulman said he's for it. "If it does, I'll put it on every vehicle we can," he said."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I’m So Old School

When I get up on Sunday morning I take a short walk to the end of the driveway with the dogs, grab the newspapers and we all head back to the kitchen to enjoy a good read with my morning coffee. If I had some modicum of tech savvy I could just as easily forgo the outside walk and plop down with my laptop to get my Sunday morning news fix. I doubt the dogs would enjoy this as much though.

It now turns out my old school habit is causing me to miss some good stories.

Earlier today I wrote about Larry Carson’s story in the print version of the paper. I criticized him for not presenting a balanced report on Saturday’s marathon public hearing on the proposed legislation for Columbia Town Center.

It turns out I did Larry wrong. The online version of his story was much better and longer than the print version.

Sorry about that Larry.

By the way, my people on the ground report back that out of the 53 people, who testified on Saturday, 32 were in favor of the proposed legislation, 18 were opposed, 1 was neutral and two were classified as inconclusive.

The People Have Spoken

Well at least some of them have spoken. Yesterday the County Council held an extraordinary all day Saturday public hearing on General Growth’s proposed redevelopment program for Columbia Town Center. When I stopped by around 11:00 AM testimony favoring GGP’s plans outnumbered those opposed by about a two to one margin according to several people I spoke with who had been there since the hearing began.

Last night I ran into Council Chair Mary Kay Sigaty at a function in Columbia. She confirmed that generally, there were more people testifying in favor of GGP than there were opposed.

You probably wouldn’t get that impression from reading this story by Larry Carson in The Sun today. Of all the people who gave thoughtful and intelligent testimony, including Roger K Lewis, professor emeritus at the University Of Maryland School Of Architecture, Larry instead quoted Bridget Mugane, a community activist who represents an aging and increasingly irrelevant constituency. Instead of offering constructive criticism Bridget resorted to name calling by labeling GGP “a bankrupt company.”

While it is certainly true that GGP is currently under the protection of the bankruptcy court, it is also quite likely that GGP will emerge from bankruptcy a stronger company by next summer. The company’s stock which traded as low a $0.30 a share back in the spring has already rebounded to over $4.00 a share.

It should also be noted that GGP has already expended approximately $20 million preparing a new plan for Town Center.

Sarah Breitenbach also covered the hearing for the Columbia Flier. Her piece was a little more balanced and detailed. She included a rebuttal to Bridget from Greg Hamm, the vice president of Master Planned Communities for GGP.

“He said the legislation before the council would create more development standards, such as building height restrictions, than currently exist.

“The bigger risk is that we sell it off piecemeal under the current zoning,” Hamm said.”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

People less Protest

I saw these three signs in the corridor outside of the temporary county council chambers at the Board of Education today. I was struck by the irony of the protest signs with no one holding them. It’s just like Columbia Town Center…no people.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday the 13th

I’ve been all over the place today. After dropping Peanut off at school, I slipped down to my new favorite coffee shop before heading up to the Howard County Circuit Court building. I wanted to see how many folks would turn out for the hearing on the lawsuit by Marc Norman, et al against the Howard County Board of Elections.

The short answer to that question is not many, maybe 10, including plaintiffs. I’ll leave the long answer as to what actually transpired at the hearing in Judge McCrone’s courtroom to Larry Carson. I had to leave before they got around to it. It was scheduled to be heard at 9:00 AM but by 10:00 AM they judge was still hearing testimony on the Michelle Fox sentencing case that was on the docket before the lawsuit.

It certainly was a bad day for Michelle Fox.

Anyway, I couldn’t stick around because I had to get to my real job. I needed to get some work done before heading off to Town Center to tape the inaugural podcast of “And Then There’s That” at 1:00 PM.

As I was getting out of my car in the pouring rain, Brian Dunn pulled up and asked me I was going to the protest.

The protest?

Apparently some foes of GGP’s Town Center redevelopment plans had scheduled a protest somewhere in Town Center. Who knew?

I found out later that it had been postponed because of rain. Now that’s some real passion for you…

After wrapping up the podcast, as I buzzed back over to Ellicott City to pick Peanut up from school, my phone rang.

It was Marc Norman. Yes you heard right, the same Marc Norman I have often criticized on Tales of Two Cities.

We’ve agreed to get together for coffee the week before Thanksgiving.

There is much more could write about but I promised Mama Wordbones that I’d be available for adult beverages at 5:00 PM. Time to go.

Stay tuned.

Bailey’s On Board

John Bailey, the Republican challenger to Liz Bobo for the House of Delegates in District 12B, has come out in support of General Growths proposed redevelopment plans for Columbia Town Center.

"This is a thirty year process. For Howard County residents currently in their 20’s and 30’s, of which I am a member, this means that at completion they will be in their 50’s and 60’s. They will be able to witness the creation of a new Columbia and enjoy all the amenities and opportunities that come along with a vibrant downtown. Improved public transportation, the ability to walk and bike around Columbia, and the cultural and recreational opportunities that will enrich the lives of Howard County residents. This is an exciting time for Columbia. It is the dawn of a new chapter for Howard County, a chapter that will take us into the future as a regional leader in business opportunity and job creation."

I believe Liz’s position on this is closer to Bridgets.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Code Words

Anthony Jordan is challenging Calvin Ball for his District 2 council seat in next year’s countywide elections. He was one of the first Republican candidates in the county to toss his hat into the ring.

Recently, in answering a question ostensibly about safety concerns on his website from someone named “Doug” Anthony wrote that safety is his number priority and then added, “When I say this, I am not only referring to the proper funding and staffing of our fire and police departments but also the proper evaluation of development projects in terms of long term consequences.”

What exactly does he mean by “proper evaluation” and “long term consequences?”

One of the hot button issues in District 2 is the proposed Walgreens at the corner of Route 175 and Thunder Hill Road. Opponents of this development have argued that a pharmacy in this location is unsafe. Is this an example of using slightly veiled code words in an attempt to pander to the anti development crowd?

Just asking.

Meanwhile, over in Montgomery County…

There are approximately 8,000 acres of surface parking in Montgomery County. This is just one of the insights provided by Rollin Stanley in his lecture in Columbia Tuesday night.

To put this into perspective, 8,000 acres is over half the size of Columbia.

Rollin was in Columbia at the invitation of Bring Back the Vision to share his views on the need and desirability of compact development. He is the Planning Director for Montgomery County who was recruited from St. Louis a little over a year ago to help the county manage its growth. According to this story by Sarah Krouse in the Washington Business Journal, Stanley believes the county needs to “eliminate its strip malls, use surface parking lots for high-rise developments and encourage residents to bike and walk to stores. Stanley added that eliminating cul-de-sacs and slowing down traffic on main streets are key to improving an area's walkability.”

Some of his other key points were:

-18% of county resident’s household costs are taken up by transportation.

-There are more cars than people in Montgomery County.

-Howard County will never have the density to justify a subway extension, even with the proposed additional residential units in Town Center.

About 60 people attended the evening lecture at the Vantage House in Town Center, among them were Councilperson Mary Kay Sigaty and State Senator Jim Robey.

It’s a too bad more folks didn’t turn out. Rollin Stanley is a dynamic speaker who peppers his talk with humor. He may not have changed any minds about GGP’s proposed plans for Columbia Town Center but at least he provided a compelling argument for giving it serous consideration.

I always feel a little funny about going to meetings in Vantage House. The community room is certainly one of the nicer meeting facilities in Town Center but there is just something that always makes me feel a little uncomfortable about my own mortality when I go into that place.

Perhaps it is because of the signs like this one that I spotted in the elevator.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Veterans Day!

“I’ve been waiting 45 minutes,” I announced abruptly to the woman at the check-in desk. I was a little more than annoyed. I had arrived at Dr. Richard Andorsky’s office at 11:15 PM. It was now noon.

I was led back to his assistant Pat to reschedule the appointment.

“He’s just finishing up with the patient in front of you,” she offered, “if you want to wait just a few more minutes you could probably see him today or I can go ahead and reschedule for you.”

As if on cue Dr. Androsky and the patient were now standing just behind me. I followed the doc back to his office.

“I’m sorry,” he said as we both sat down, “we just got behind today.”

I know this happens. I was past the annoyance now. I was getting done what I had come for and that was far better than having to reschedule and come and do this on another day. This isn’t the type of thing I could say I was really looking forward to anyway.

In short order we wrapped up our business and as I was walking out of his office my eyes were drawn to a framed medal hanging on the wall. I believe it was a Meritorious Service Medal.

He told me that since we took care of our business so quickly he might be able to get a little caught up now. We shook hands and I headed out the door.

It wasn’t until I was back in my car that my thoughts returned to that medal by the door. It was Veterans Day and I had forgotten to thank him for his service.

It’s not too late.

Happy Veterans Day Dr. Andorsky!

Thank you, and all the other veterans out there, for your service.

Banning the Drive Thru

Rollin Stanley, the Montgomery County Planning Director, gave a lecture in Columbia last night entitled “No Density, No Diversity, A Smarter Way of Thinking About Growth.” He laid out his arguments for compact development with humor, insight and a boatload of data.

One of his funnier moments came when he was discussing the seeming obsession some retailers have with drive – thru windows.

“When I was working in Toronto,” he told the audience, “we banned the drive-thru. If you can’t get out of your car you shouldn’t be eating that donut.”

Very funny.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Early Release

Last Saturday I made a quick swing through the Lyndwood Giant. Just inside the store was a large display promoting Starbucks new Via instant coffee. I had already seen similar displays in the various Starbucks retail outlets around town but I noticed this particular display had new a product in the line-up, decaffeinated Via.

I snagged a 12 pack. When this product was introduced a few weeks ago, I was disappointed that there wasn’t a decaf offering. “They are working on it,” I was told by the regular baristas in the Shipley’s Grant Starbucks.

On Monday I noticed that my local Starbucks still didn’t have the decaf Via on display. “We have it,” I was told, “but we’re not supposed to put it out until next week.”

It must be that that someone at the Lynwood Giant didn’t get that memo about the coordinated national roll out. I should have suspected as much when the product didn’t scan on the checkout scanners. I hate it when that happens. I always feel like I did something wrong.

The GOP on GGP

With the county elections just one year away, the line up of Republican challengers to the Democratic majority in Howard County is still in flux. Even Bob Flanagan, who has already launched a website, hasn’t yet formally announced his candidacy.

Last month, in this article by Larry Carson in The Sun, Trent Kittleman indicated that “she's seriously considering running for county executive next year,” while Dennis Schrader who has been eyeing a possible challenge to Jen Terassa in District 3 was quoted in the same article saying “ I've moved into taking a more serious look at it."

You would think these “potential” candidates would be buoyed by the GOP gains in the statewide elections held last week in Virginia and New Jersey. Now would seem like a good time to seize on that momentum and announce their intentions.

Or could it be that they are watching to see how General Growths proposed redevelopment plans for Town Center play out in public over the next few months?

Those opposed to GGP’s plans have made it known that they will actively work for new leadership in the next council elections. If the majority Democratic council ends up approving GGP’s plans will the GOP candidates be tempted to pander to those who feel the county “sold out” to the development community?

My guess is that the “unannounced” GOP candidates will wait to see how the strongly the political winds blow on this hot button issue.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Lost on the Internet

A friend alerted me to this comment made by Barbara Russell on the Howard County Citizens Association listserv:

"Tonight I literally got lost on the Internet. I don't know how I ended up at an entry made by "Wordbones" which criticized my recent comments on this list serve related to the Columbia Medical Pharmacy located in the Village of Oakland Mills. I am told by others that this writer often criticizes me in his blogs or newspaper columns. I don't read them and hearing that he is critical of me doesn't bother me. However, what does bother me is his unwarranted criticism of the Columbia Medical Pharmacy."


I merely pointed out that the Columbia Medical Pharmacy has limited hours of operation and is not accessible by sidewalk or pathway.

No matter, the best part was what Alan Klein wrote in support of Barbara.

"I would actually call Dennis a development booster, not a business booster. I never heard a word from him to help or even sympathize with Produce Galore or Bun Bunny."

He’s right. I’ve never sympathized with Bun Bunny.

I’m also sorry that I don’t bother Barbara. Perhaps I should try harder.

Stifling Competition

According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun yesterday, Delegates Guy Guzzone and Warren Miller are planning to introduce legislation to restrict the number of licenses for liquor stores in Howard County.

“The bill limiting the number of new licenses for liquor stores, though not for restaurants, was requested by the county's Licensed Beverage Association, whose members are always worried about close competition.”

As freemarket so aptly put it in this post on his blog, “This is a classic example of "do gooders" aligning with business interests to maximize business profits under the guise of saving society from some "evil" product.”

At the intersection of Route 103 and Route 104 in Ellicott City there are four commercial buildings clustered together. Each has a separate owner. Among the tenants are two dry cleaners and two convenience stores and one liquor store. All seem to be doing fine but I imagine that the drycleaners and the convenience stores would be happy if the county limited their competition too.

The only thing that the liquor store has that the drycleaners and convenience stores don’t is an association that works to keep out competition.

This type of legislation only further convinces me that we may be better off without the House of Delegates.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Doughoregan Dilemma

I feel sorry for the Carroll family. For most of their lives Philip and Camilla Carroll have watched as, one by one, neighboring farms became subdivisions. They have witnessed firsthand the dramatic transformation of Howard County over the last forty years. The 892 acre farm surrounding Doughoregan Manor in Ellicott City is all that remains of an estate that once comprised 10,000 acres.

892 acres is pretty small as farms go. It certainly isn’t large enough of an operation to sustain the upkeep of the almost 300 year old manor house and other historic buildings on the property. The end game for the manors farming days is here. Development has now become their most viable option. That must be a hard reality for a family who has been stewards of this land since the founding of the country.

In an effort to preserve as much as the remaining estate for future generations, the family has proposed a modest development program that would put 300 single family homes on 186 acres, give 36 acres to expand Kiwanis Wallas Park, place 500 acres into the county Agriculture Preservation Program and keep 90 acres surrounding the manor house for the family, presumably in some sort of historic trust.

I label this as a modest plan because if they so choose to do so, the Carrolls could spread 400 homes over the entire estate as a matter of right under existing zoning.

Predictably, even this modest program has drawn fire from their neighbors. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun today, The Chateau Ridge Lake Community Association “tried to block or delay consideration of another 500 acres of the historic estate for inclusion in the county's Agricultural Preservation program.”

“Despite that, county officials said the tract was included among those the Agricultural Land Preservation Board deemed desirable in a five-hour meeting Monday at the county fairgrounds.”

Round one goes to the Carrolls but the fight has only just begun.

“Victor A. Illenda, president of the 190-home community association, said his group intends to hire a lawyer and seek allies among residents who live along other borders of the nearly three-century-old estate to stop the clustering plan.”

Ironically, one of their main objections to the Carrolls plan is the single entrance to the proposed new home sites from Frederick Road yet they also oppose providing access through their neighborhood. “The Chateau Ridge residents vehemently oppose any access to the property through their community, however.”

Nice neighbors.

The Numbers Game

An anonymous commenter on this post challenged my assertion that CoFoCoDo “at best represents about 200 people out of a Columbia population of 100,000.” The commenter went on to claim that CoFoCoDo has 450 members and that the census estimates Columbia’s population to be 88,812.

The key word for the Census data being “estimate.”

First, lets look at CoFoCoDo’s published membership list of “over 435 members.” Listed amongst those members are County Executive Ken Ulman, and Councilpersons Courtney Watson, Mary Kay Sigaty, and Jen Terrasa.

Wow, that would seem to indicate that CoFoCoDo has the support of both the county executive and the majority of the council members. If that is true then why was it necessary for them to hold a meeting so the council could, as their spokesperson put it “so that the council members could hear their concerns.”

If these same council members are also truly CoFoCoDo members wouldn’t their concerns be the same?

Or could it be that these people are not really members anymore?

When was the last time CoFoCoDo checked in with their members to see if they are still on board with the organization? The membership list on the CoFoCoDo website is at least three years old.

I think I’ll stick with my 200 member estimate.

By contrast, the New City Alliance is barely a month old and already over 600 people have joined as fans on Facebook.

And finally, “estimates” of Columbia’s population vary from 88,112 to 97,200 . I think I’ll stick with my nice round 100,000 number.

Scene this Week In…

I’m a week late in taking down the Halloween stuff around here. Though some families leave their carved pumpkins on the porch until they start to rot, in our house the pumpkins go into the trash on November 1st.

The last scene this week in Columbia was a nice shot of the autumnal red trees at the entrance to the Kings Contrivance Village Center. I suspect that those leaves have pretty much dropped by now which means that Christmas decorations will soon be popping up all over the county.
Sure enough, over at The Mall in Columbia, the center of holiday commerce, crews were setting up Santastic, the Santa display on steroids.
It could be a tough season for the mall merchants. Even while the malls welcomes new stores like Vans and Pandora, some merchants who have been around for a long time are throwing in the towel.
The trees surrounding the lake at Centennial Park have shed their fall colors. As Mama Wordbones and I were taking a stroll around the lake yesterday we both commented on how quickly this seemed to have occurred this year.

The onset of the cooler weather didn’t deter this group though. We spotted this wedding party posing for pictures with the lake as backdrop.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Deliberate Misrepresentations

Last Sunday, at Kahler Hall in the Village of Harpers Choice, Alan Klein, the spokesperson for CoFoCoDo tried to have it both ways. In his first statement in this video he claimed that CoFoCoDo “represents a large portion of the community” whereas at best they represent about 200 people out of a Columbia population of 100,000.

Later on he complains that his group is being labeled as a “small band of disgruntled citizens afraid of change.” He called this a “deliberate misrepresentation.”

I don’t know about. I think the real deliberate misrepresentation is the claim that CoFoCoDo represents a large portion of the community. On the other hand, if anyone doubts that this is a small group of disgruntled citizens afraid of change all you need do is read their comments on the HCCA listserv.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

And Then There’s That…

If you like this blog, you’ll love the podcast.

Okay, that is probably a tad presumptuous. Let me just say that we hope you’ll like the podcast. Local attorney Paul Skalny and I have teamed up with HoCoMoJo to produce a biweekly podcast called “And Then There’s That.” The thirty minute online radio show will be about “people, politics and punditry” in Howard County.

The taping for the inaugural show will appropriately be held on Friday the 13th at the Lakeside coffee shop in Columbia Town Center at 1:30 PM. There will be a segment for audience participation so if you are in the neighborhood that day, please stop by.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

If Not Now, When?

Some critics of General Growth Properties plans for the redevelopment of downtown Columbia have questioned the urgency of approving the legislation that will enable these plans to proceed. They hang their argument on the company’s bankruptcy darkly suggesting that this will somehow prevent the company from performing.

Let’s look at the facts. GGP has already spent somewhere between $10 to $20 million dollars preparing a comprehensive master plan for Columbia’s downtown. They hired some of the best planners and architects in the country and have spent more time and energy on crafting a vision for the future of Columbia than The Rouse Company did for the last twenty years of its existence. For the last five years they have met with and spoken to virtually every community organization in Howard County as they fine tuned their development program.

And finally, even in bankruptcy, GGP has kept its Columbia development team together despite enormous pressure to simply cut their losses and move on. They have clearly demonstrated a level of patience that is rare in the real estate development business.

To suggest that the county is now somehow rushing this through is ridiculous and quite frankly dishonest. It is also highly insulting to the people who have worked so hard for so long to get to this point.

In This Months Business Monthly

My column this month is actually an expansion of a blog post I wrote last month about standing in the line at the Ellicott City post office. In the blog post I wrote about a casual encounter I had while waiting in line. In the column I explored the unique dynamics of public places like post offices and what they teach us about the place we live. Public places by nature are very egalitarian. There is no social or economic rank. We are all one, standing in line together.

This, I believe, is a very good thing. In public places we get exposed to the true mosaic of our community. You get to see just a wide cross section of the people who live amongst us, young and old, white collar, blue collar, native and foreign born. There aren’t many places where this kind of interaction occurs.

With the trend towards providing more public services online and the decline of snail mail there is a distinct possibility that the post office as we now know it could disappear and along with it the opportunity to experience the richness of the place we live. That would be regrettable.

You can read this month’s column here.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Wired Likes the Droid

With the official rollout just two days away the buzz surrounding the new Motorola Droid phone is ratcheting up. Yesterday I found this review by the editors at Wired.

My colleague, TW is pushing me to be the beta tester in our office since I am constantly griping about the LG Voyager phone I bought in February.

I must admit my resolve to wait for an iPhone on the Verizon network is weakening.

CA Goes Begging

Delegate Liz Bobo and Senator Ed Kasemeyer are proposing to ask the State of Maryland for $250,000.00 “to be used as a grant to the Board of Directors of the Columbia Association, Inc., for the design and construction of the Symphony Woods Park, in Columbia, Md.”

Funny, I don’t recall any discussion about going begging to the state as part of the Columbia Associations plans for Symphony Woods.

The thing is, if CA had played it’s cards right and worked with General Growth instead of dickering for months over when and how they should even talk to them, they probably could have gotten GGP to kick in some funds. Of course CA wouldn’t be doing anything about Symphony Woods if GGP hadn’t focused attention on the boards failed stewardship of the park.

CA is a private homeowners association with an annual budget in excess of $60 million. This request seems wildly inappropriate in a time when the state employees are being forced to take unpaid furloughs.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Texting While Driving & You

Everyone knows it is not safe to drive while texting but do you know how unsafe it is for you?

I just found out how god awful I am thanks to this little game from The New York Times. My reaction time was .63 seconds slower while texting and I missed 49% more gates.

Thankfully, in Maryland texting while driving isn’t only stupid, it’s now illegal too.

Failing Grade for Smart Growth

Smart growth, the innovative government policy to arrest suburban sprawl, “has not made a dent on Maryland’s war on sprawl.”

According to this story by Lisa Rein in The Washington Post today, “three-quarters of the lots consumed by single-family homes in the past decade rose on pastures and woods outside smart-growth areas designated by local governments, about the same number as before the law passed.”

"There is no evidence after ten years that [smart-growth laws] have had any effect on development patterns," concludes the study, which appears in the current issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association.”

While this is yet another argument in favor of supporting General Growths plans for the redevelopment of Columbia Town Center it makes a tougher sell for the development plans at Doughoregan Manor.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Was All This about a Football Game?

There is some speculation that the homicide last night in the Forest Glen neighborhood of the Village of Harpers Choice and the tire slashing incident on Friday night in the Clemons Crossing neighborhood of the Village of Hickory Ridge are somehow related to a high school football game.

Friday night, two undefeated teams, Atholton High School and River Hill High School faced off for the county title at River Hill. River Hill won the game. The two schools draw students from these neighborhoods.

Sorry Owen Brown Villagers, My Bad

Yesterday, I erroneously posted about a string of juvenile vandalism in Columbia. I attributed this incident and this incident to the village of Owen Brown and followed up by posing the question “What’s up?”

Mea culpa. Neither of these occurred in Owen Brown. The first one happened in Long Reach Village and the second occurred in Hickory Ridge.

Last night when an anonymous commenter pointed out my error I immediately deleted the post. I would have posted this retraction last evening but I had my hands full with trick or treaters.

Anyway, as Anon 7:23 AM so aptly pointed out, it is time to “write the wrong.”

The answer to the question, “What’s up?”

I screwed up. Sorry.