Thursday, June 30, 2011

Apples and Oranges

I’ve been out of pocket today. I spent a little over half the day in Elkridge, at the golf course. It wasn’t a business outing either. It was just three guys who all grew up in Columbia in the early seventies deciding that it was as good time as any to take a  mental health day.

Since I was out I missed the earlier action on this post. I saw the messages on my phone but I didn't read any. The controversy still found me though, Mary Kay called when we were on the 7th hole. She was concerned that perhaps I didn't have complete information on the Columbia pools.

I rarely have complete information. It always seems that no matter what, there is always something I didn't know. I suggested to her that we talk later. Talking to a politician while golfing with guys who readily seize any opportunity to bust balls is not a good idea.

The only time the three of us talked about pools was on the green at the 13th hole. The last time we played here none of us knew what swim club that was just behind the green through a buffer of trees.

Now I know that's the Watermont Swim Club. The president of the Board of Directors of the Watermont Swim Club got used by Council Chair Calvin Ball at the legislative work session on CB30-2011, best known as the pools bill.

Since then there has been a good deal of chatter in HoCo about what is fair. I’ve now come to the conclusion that comparing the way private HoCo swim clubs are assessed for property taxes to the way Columbia Association pools are taxed is like trying to compare apples and oranges. Like those two fruit items, the only common variable here is water.

The other thing that amazingly almost everyone agrees with is that this tax credit will not solve the pools real crisis issue, aging infrastructure. The tax credit would be little more than a financial band aid.

What is really needed here is some sort of public private partnership to establish a low interest loan fund, exclusively dedicated to any private swim club or HOA pool in HoCo, for repairs and replacements of their physical plants. That would address the real need.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A True Suburban Hero

George Ballas died last week. He was eighty five. Every suburbanite who has ever taken care of yard should mourn his passing.

George Ballas invented the Weed Eater in 1971. It made him a rich man.

In my home we lovingly refer to it as the weed wacker.

Turns out that he was also a great dancer.

Pool Parity

It is somewhat unfortunate that the discussion over property tax relief for private pools has reignited the old animosity between Columbia and the rest of the county.

As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

As originally presented by Councilpersons Courtney Watson and Greg Fox , the bill would have given six private HoCo swim clubs a free pass on HoCo property taxes. It didn’t take long for the Columbians to cry fowl. CA rightfully argued that they should get the same treatment for the 23 pools they operate.

Of course nothing is ever as simple as it seems. There is some question as to whether a behemoth HOA like CA can receive the same treatment under state law as these non profit neighborhood swim clubs.

On the other hand, CA already benefits from lower than market assessment on their pool properties negotiated years ago. Apparently that rate is also fixed and therefore immune from escalations in value.

That doesn’t seem fair to the non Columbia pools. They are still assessed at a regular property tax rates. Rather than giving them a free pass on all their HoCo loco property taxes the right thing to do here is to afford them the same tax treatment as Columbia pools.

It seems simple enough anyway.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

When The Pool Bill Sank

Councilperson Courtney Watsons initiative to provide property tax relief to some HoCo private swim clubs is faltering. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, after a council  legistlative work session on Monday the proposed bill “might be in trouble.”

“Council Chairman Calvin Ball, an East Columbia Democrat, repeatedly asked a spokesman for one of the private pools why the county should grant a tax break when the pool has not challenged its property assessments, raised membership fees in three years or operated at a loss. "You haven't exhausted all the other options," Ball said.”

For me the defining moment came in this video clip where Conrad Katulski, president of the Watermont Swim Club Board of Directors was grilled by Dr. Ball. Conrads defense of his dues policy was noble but ultimately ineffective.

As an added bonus this clip includes a cameo of Larry Carson working on what was probably his last story for The Sun.

Larry Exits the Stage

Dr. Ball and the Council said it better than I ever could. He's had quite a HoCo loco politico career.

Good luck Larry, enjoy your retirement!

Scene This Week In…

After erroneously reporting that the Wecker boys were involved in the reincarnation of the Friendly Inn in Ellicott City, I decided to take a drive out to shuttered roadhouse.

There’s not much to see. There didn’t appear to be any renovation work going on and according to this story by Kellie Woodhouse in Explore Howard there won't be any for awhile at least. The owner, Jason Cooke has experienced an “unexpected hiccup in his plans to renovate the building before opening a new restaurant.”

“In order to renovate, Cooke needs a building permit. But if he gets a permit, Cooke said, the building would lose its "grandfathered" status and need major upgrades to comply with the county's building code.”

It’s a bit tricky to renovate these old roadhouses. For example, the Friendly Inn is much closer to the road than current codes allow. The parking lot and storm water management would likely need upgrades as well.

Still, it’s been done before in HoCo. Maybe Jason should talk to those guys.

In Columbia the highly contested Walgreens in Oakland Mills has finally opened. Well, it was contested by some people anyway.

It looks a helluva lot nicer than an abandoned bank building.

My one critigue is that there is no straight in pedestrian path at the corner of Twin Knolls Road and Thunder Hill Road. The sidewalk takes you all the way down to the vehicle entrance on Twin Knolls, away from the building entrance. That doesn’t make sense to me.

Other than that I like it just fine.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fertile Ground for Blog Posts

As a self acknowledged HoCo loco politico junkie, I love being able to watch the proceedings of our county council and school board online. Since October of 2009, a new video system started recording all of the council proceedings. I believe the school board started doing the same soon thereafter.  It’s not as good as being there but its pretty close and lot more convenient. 

The part I like best part is that the Granicus system allows me to embed video portions of the meetings. In other words, I can do a sort of “greatest hits” for the readers of Tales of Two Cities so you don’t have to sit through the boring stuff.

This could be a never ending source of posts.

Right now private pools are a hot loco topic. I found this exchange between Courtney Watson and Cecilia Januszkiewicz to be particularly entertaining.
There was also an interesting exchange between Calvin Ball and the officers of the Watermont Swim Club at today’s legislative work session on the same bill (CB30-2011). They haven’t put up the link to that meeting yet but as soon as they do I’ll post it.

I hope this trend gets picked up by CA. I'm counting on Tom Coale to get them hooked up with Granicus too. Maybe their Community Engagement Strategist can help him out with that!

Energy Sucking Monsters

Recently I had to replace my FiOS set top box. It was overheating so much it had disabled the DVR function. I love my DVR function.

It took a couple of days and about three hours on the phone with tech support somewhere in Indiana but I finally got the replacement box up and running. I was happy again until I read this story by Eisabeth Rosenthal in The New York Times and realized that my little set top box is robbing me blind. Apparently these seemingly benign black boxes are the “single largest electricity drain in many American homes, with some typical home entertainment configurations eating more power than a new refrigerator and even some central air-conditioning systems.”

“These set-top boxes are energy hogs mostly because their drives, tuners and other components are generally running full tilt, or nearly so, 24 hours a day, even when not in active use. The recent study, by the Natural Resources Defense Council, concluded that the boxes consumed $3 billion in electricity per year in the United States — and that 66 percent of that power is wasted when no one is watching and shows are not being recorded. That is more power than the state of Maryland uses over 12 months.”


That’s a real problem. I'm beginning to rethink my DVR relationship. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Three Things about Elkridge

I dropped by the Timbers at Troy golf club today. I was in the neighborhood so I decided to check out the new Shady Oaks Grill Room that supposedly opened this past Thursday. I figured it was a good opportunity to drop in and give the place a test beer.

I’m going to have to wait a little longer for that. Though the new bar did in fact open last Thursday it soon closed again. “We’ve got a few bugs to work out,” I was told. The clubhouse bar is now expected to open, for regular business, this coming Wednesday.

Though I called it back in April, it now appears to be official, the county is buying Belmont. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, “the county is exercising its right of first refusal to make the purchase, though plans for the property are uncertain.”

There has been some discussion about having the HoCo Conservancy run the 18th century historic estate but apparently that deal has not been worked out, at least not yet anyway.

Still, it’s probably a good real estate play even it the county simply warehouses the property. The $2.7 million dollar price tag is almost half of what Howard Community College paid for it back in 2004. They could conceivably resell it when the housing market improves for a substantial profit. For now, it is somewhat comforting to know that the county is in control of its destiny. This is a rare gem in HoCo and it would be a shame if the public loses access.

This past week many parents in Elkridge were heartened by the news that the school system has identified a new elementary school site to help alleviate overcrowding at Bellows Spring Elementary and to a certain degee, Elkridge Elementary School. According to this story by Joe Burris in The Sun, the new school would be located “on Ducketts Lane adjacent to U.S. 1, is 10.1 acres and will include space for a ball field and multipurpose field.”

Meanwhile, just across Route 1 from this new school site, The Norbel School may be closing. Norbel purchased and renovated the former eight acre Elkridge High School property from the county back in 2001. In this message posted on howardpubliced discussion forum, Robert Rhodes wrote “Norbel School just announced this week that they will be closing their school immediately. Area public schools are scrambling to find non-public placements for their students before the start of the 2011/12 school year.”

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Seagull Steals the Show…literally

I just had to share this one…too funny.

Maryland Leads in LEED

In 1998 the US Green Building Council established a rating and certification protocol for new commercial construction known as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Since then the program has expanded to include existing buiding retrofits and residential development. Today there is over 1.4 billion square feet of LEED space in over 20,000 projects in the US and Maryland leads the way.

According to this article by Stuart Kaplow, Maryland, relative to its population, “has more LEED® projects than any other state. The first certified LEED Platinum building was in Maryland. Maryland was one of the first states to offer a green building tax credit in 2001. Today, 14 local governments in Maryland have enacted a LEED based green building initiative, including several that have mandatory green building laws imposed on private building.”

HoCo is one of those 14 local governments. Property tax incentives are offered to developers that achieve Silver status or higher in their buildings. Those incentives work. Our new building in Emerson is on track to receive a LEED Gold rating when its review is completed in the next week or so.

Maryland has also taken the lead with the International Green Construction Code. This year the General Assembly passed legislation that authorizes counties to use the IgCC code for public and private construction. It is the first state in the country to do so.

It certainly won’t be the last.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Bay and the Economist

The Maryland Chapter of NAIOP sponsored a legistlative update at this morning at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum. Much of the three hour seminar was devoted with the EPA mandated clean up of the Chesapeake Bay which is expected to cost over $10 billion over the next ten years. This will guide new regulations for wastewater treatment plants, stormwater management, erosion and sediment control among other things. It will also introduce a free market in nutrient trading with Maryland farmers.

It is our new reality and the numbers alone are enough to make your head spin.

According to a presentation by John Rhoderick, with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the state is projected to add 263,225 additional households by 2020. 29% of those households will be served by septic systems and the other 71% will be served by Enhanced Nutrient Removal wastewater treatment plants.

ENR wastewater plants are the newest thing in wastewater. As of January, only 19 of the 67 wastewater facilities in Maryland had completed this upgrade. The Little Patuxent Wastewater Treatment Plant in Savage is undergoing its upgrade right now. It is projected to cost $92 million when completed next spring.  

This massive capital outlay has created a ripple effect on the states economy. Anirban Basu presented a recently completed study that found that the economic costs of this first phase of compliance will be “66,000 fewer jobs, leading to a $2.8 billion loss in wage/salary income.”

He argues that “Maryland’s contributions to Bay restoration should be commensurate with the contributions of other states.”

Good luck with that.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Anatomy of the Stuxnet Virus

I ran across this video about the Stuxnet computer virus that shut down (temporarily at least) Iran’s nuclear research. This is one of the reasons why cyber security is such a big deal and the work that is being done around here so important.

Stuxnet: Anatomy of a Computer Virus from Patrick Clair on Vimeo.

Corner Stable Coming to HoCo?

Earlier this week I received a call from Darrell Nevin, a HoCo loco commercial real estate colleague. Darrel wanted to know if I had heard the rumor about The Corner Stable opening a second location in Columbia. His information was that they were looking at the space formerly occupied by Michael's Pub in the Kings Contrivance Village Center in Columbia.

Not only had I not heard that, I had also never heard of The Corner Stable, but then again I’m not a northern Baltimore guy. The Corner Stable has been a mainstay in Cockeysville since 1972. Their crab cakes were singled out for praise in this review by Karen Nitkin in The Sun six years ago.

“At 8 ounces, they're larger than hockey pucks and made with nothing but jumbo lumps of meat. The moist interior, gently tweaked with just a few spices to bring out the sweetness of the crab, is held together with a tender golden crust.”

I attempted to reach the owners through their Facebook page but have yet to get a response to my inquiry about Columbia. A representative of Kimco, the owners of the Kings Contrivance Village Center told me that though there is no lease yet, I did get the impression that the two parties are talking. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sheila and Me

This morning Sheila Kast had a segment about the proposed CSX intermodal terminal on her Maryland Morning program. Her guest was Louis Renjel, CSX Vice President for Strategic Infrastructure Initiatives. She also had recorded comments from Robyn Winder and Kurt Schneckenburger, two HoCo residents who oppose locating the facility at the Hanover site.

After the opponents said their piece Sheila then told Louis that he had "at least some supporters" in HoCo, namely yours truly. I welcomed the opportunity to share my perspective.

I happen to think that having the intermodal terminal located in one of the two HoCo sites would be beneficial to our local economy. With over 42 million square feet of distribution space located within HoCo, having an intermodal terminal here would help keep those businesses and their jobs in HoCo. Currently over 7 million square feet of that space is vacant. 

If increased freight traffic associated with this project is going to be traveling through HoCo, we should at least be able to reap some direct benefit.

You can listen to the ten minute segment here.

Last Day of School

Though for some it may seem like we are already well into the dog days of summer, for HoCo public school kids it’s just getting started. Today is finally the last day of the 2010-2011 school year.

For those regular readers around here, you know what's next...ready...all together now...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Smashing Stink Bugs

I haven’t seen many stink bugs around lately. Though I didn’t really believe they were on the decline I thought that perhaps they had moved on to more greener pastures than suburbia.

This of course was nothing more than wishful thinking on my part. They are still very much around. They’ve just been a little preoccupied with making baby stink bugs. In this editorial in The Sun today, I found out that “the two prime times for stink bug activity in Maryland are from late June to mid-July and from mid- to late August.”

“Now the females are laying eggs, a clutch of 20 to 30 eggs in a cluster, under the leaves of crops that they like to eat. The stink bugs are far from picky eaters, so there a lot leaves to examine.”

And why would we want to examine the leaves?

Because it appears to be only hope we have of slowing down the proliferation of these stinky buggers is to get at these eggs before they hatch.

Outside of a massive planting of Purple Pitchers, there is really no other way to stop them. There is no known effective insecticide and the stink bug has no native predator.

“In the meantime, a small, simple stink bug fighting strategy is go out in the garden, turn up the leaves of the plants, and squash the egg clusters, which resemble white to yellow grains of rice.”

Sounds like a good summer activity for the kids. Don't expect much help from the dog though.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Touch of HoCo Envy in MoCo

Over the years, many MoCo residents have considered HoCo to be a somewhat lesser county when it comes to quality of life. That may be changing, in this post on the Greater Greater Washington blog, Dan Reed writes that “Howard County has out-suburb'd Montgomery.”

Dan tells the story of three of his MoCo high school friends who recently married and moved out of the county because MoCo “no longer provides the lifestyle they want.”

One couple moved to HoCo, not only to be close to work but also to be closer to Korean BBQ!

“The first couple just married in March and are already expecting a child. She works in Baltimore; he works at Fort Meade. Currently, they're living with her parents in Calverton, but they're looking for a house in Howard County. Why? It's closer to their jobs, closer to shopping in Columbia, closer to Korean BBQ in Ellicott City.”

I heard that the Korean barbeque was good but I didn’t realize it was THAT good!

Predictably, in the comments to the post, a HoCo expat came to the defense of his newly adopted home in MoCo.

“As for comparing Howard County to Montgomery County, they seem to be completely different animals. I grew up in Howard and now live in Montgomery. Howard was and is a very boring place to live, with very little going on. And Columbia? When downtown is basically a mall, you know something's wrong. There are very few transit options in Howard County and it's far from the amenities of DC.”


I usually try to post a link and recap to our latest podcast within a day of the podcast. That generally means sometime on Saturday, or Sunday at the latest.

That didn’t happen this week. It is somewhat appropriate that our guest this time was Rachelina Bonacci, the Executive Director of Howard County Tourism. We invited Rachelina back to tell us about all of the great things to do in HoCo this summer. In fact I was so busy this weekend with loco things to that I didn’t have to write a post about it!

Admittedly, I was once one of those who ridiculed the idea of a HoCo Tourism office. I mean HoCo is certainly nice and all but it isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind when making plans for the summer.

Then again, maybe I just take too much for granted.

Consider that Wine in The Woods is the most popular wine festival in the state or that sporting events like the Columbia Triathlon attract people to HoCo from as far away as New Zealand.

Their promotion efforts are paying off too. On Saturday night Mama Wordbones decided to catch the production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Ellicott City at the Patapsco Female Institute. We were lucky we got in. Shortly after we arrived the event sold out.

There is much more of course so if you have thirty nine minutes to spare, check out the the 43rd episode of “and then there’s that…” and find out what is happening in your own backyard this summer. You can listen to the podcast here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Good Model

Friday night Mama Wordbones and I took a road trip to check out Black Ankle vineyards in Taylorsville. Since first tasting one of their wines back in March I’ve become a big fan. I also heard from friends that a trip to the winery was well worth the half hour drive from HoCo.

They were right.

Though the vineyard is relatively close by it feels like a world away. Turning into the vineyard after traveling down a tree shaded country road the first thing you see are rows of vines along rolling hills. The Tasting Room itself is a model of sustainability. From the living roof to the straw bale insulated walls it is arguably one of the coolest tasting rooms I’ve ever been in and I’ve been in few including several in Napa and Sonoma valleys.

For those considering setting up wineries under HoCo’s newly established wineries legislation, Black Ankle provides a pretty nice model to emulate.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"The Maple Flavored Kind?"

CG just showed me this video and I about fell off my chair...

Misinformed Source

Last Thursday I had a conversation with a commercial real estate colleague whose firm specializes in retail. This particular colleague is primarily focused on HoCo loco retail real estate. I mention this because this person was the “informed source” I referenced in this post about the Friendly Inn.

It turns out that my colleague was not as informed as they led me to believe. Since I will likely have future business dealings with this person I will refrain from revealing their identity. For now let’s just call this individual Minus.

Minus told me that the Wecker brothers were involved in the reincarnation of the Friendly Inn to a wine bar. This information seemed plausible. The operators of the Iron Bridge Wine Company have already exported their wine bar expertise to Warrenton, Virginia and is widely believed that they have been scouting out a second location in HoCo as well.

That may be true but it that second location is not the Friendly Inn. Rob contacted me yesterday to clear this up after a reporter from the Howard County Times alerted him to the blog post. I immediately posted the correction on the blog.

I should have contacted Rob myself before putting up the post. That was simply bad form on my part. To make matters worse I actually know Rob and his brother Steve. They are great guys. In fact, I know them a lot better than Minus which makes my not following up with them all the more egregious.

After Rob contacted me I apologized to him. Please consider this post an apology to the readers of Tales of Two Cities. I screwed up. Lesson learned.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Clueless in Columbia

Once again, Barbara Russell, former Columbia Council member and self proclaimed first mother of Columbia, has demonstrated that she is clueless about the economics of development and Jim Rouse. In this “open letter” to John DeWolf in Explore Howard she suggests that Howard Hughes new development director “redevelop downtown Columbia with a more reasonable number of residences and a more reasonable amount of commercial and office space (much less than in the current plan) and include amenities throughout the downtown area attractive to all ages and different interests, the redevelopment of downtown Columbia would be a complete success story.”

In other words, she wants more amenities with less development.

Babs also tells John that she “knew Jim Rouse, and you are not Jim Rouse. But you could be.”

Is she suggesting that she knew Rouse better than Brookings Institute fellow John Lienberger?

I don't think so.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

From Roadhouse to Wine Bar

This evening an informed source told me that the owners of the Friendly Inn have reached an agreement with Rob and Steve Wecker to operate the renovated Friendly Inn on Frederick Road in Ellicott City. Rob and Steve are the proprietors of the popular Iron Bridge Wine Company on Route 108 in Columbia.

The country roadhouse, that once hosted live bluegrass music, closed in late February with plans to reopen as a more family friendly venue.  According to this story by Mary T. Robbins Phelan in Maryland Family Magazine, the owner Jason Cooke “said “the decision to revamp the former roadhouse comes in large part because of feedback from families in the surrounding neighborhoods.”

“As you look at the demographics, it’s 40-somethings with a couple of kids. I have been very in tune over the last three years in trying to win over their support for the Friendly and to listen to their reservations. And the fact that we have operated in the past as a bluegrass bar, a biker bar — it has been a turn off.”

Turning a former roadhouse into an upscale wine bar is right up the Wecker brothers alley. Before they took it over the Iron Bridge Wine Company was also a roadhouse bar called the Crown Pub.

The new restaurant is expected to open soon. No word yet as to what it will be called.

UPDATE 5:08 PM Friday: I just heard from Rob Wecker at the Iron Bridge Wine Company. As he puts it, "Steve and I are not involved with the Friendly Inn project."

He asked that I update the blog. Done, with apologies for the bad info.

So much for my "informed source." Suffice it say that I will not rely on that source anymore. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa....

Better Watch Your Ash

A year ago I posted about a billboard I spotted in Ellicott City warning residents about a beetle that is killing the states ash trees. At the time I dismissed this threat to HoCo trees since a year ago the ash trees nemesis had only been detected in Southern. The bigger concern for HoCo was the pine shoot beetle.

In this battle against the beetle the bug is winning. The battleground against the emerald ash borer has now officially moved to HoCo. According to this story by Frank D. Roylance in The Sun, the ash tree destroying beetle “has turned up in trees and traps in three locations in Howard County, accelerating the threat to hundreds of thousands of valuable shade trees in Baltimore and its suburbs.”

“After the discovery last week, the Maryland Department of Agriculture immediately expanded its ash wood quarantine zone, which now bars the transport of all ash wood, ash nursery stock or any hardwood firewood out of Howard, Charles or Prince George's counties.”

This is pretty serious stuff. Once the emerald ash borer lays its eggs in a an ash tree, the tree is toast. The Maryland Department of Agriculture is spearheading efforts to save the states ash trees.

“Residents who suspect they have an ash borer infestation, are asked to call the state Department of Agriculture at 410-841-5920.”

In other words, you better watch your ash.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Conflicting Interests

Back in January of 2010, George and Holly Stone beat out five other development teams to win the right to redevelop the site of the former Gateway School in Clarksville. In this article by Larry Carson in The Sun, the Stones plan for a mixed used development centered around an environmentally friendly “green” hotel was hailed by county executive Ken Ulman as an “exciting, visionary, inspirational" mix.”

Seventeen months later, the only thing the project has generated so far is animosity. The Stones and the county are frustrated with two neighboring businesses over allowing access to the proposed development through their properties.

According to this latest update on the development, the county exec is frustrated by the impasse in negotiations and may resort to using strong arm tactics to move the project forward.

“The bottom line, Ulman said, is that "the county has to protect its interest in full access to this property. What I'm hoping happens next is that people have to work together and provide access."

If the county forces the neighboring businesses to accept a deal they believe to be detrimental to their business, the next step will likely be litigation.

If that happens the only green in this project for the foreseeable future will be the lawyers fees.

Salugen Sinking

School board member Brian Meshkin is also the President and CEO of Salugen, a dietary supplement company. On his website he openly boasts about his “success as a biotechnology entrepreneur,” noting also that he was recognized by San Diego Magazine in 2008 as “A Power To Be” in biotechnology.

Actually he only received an honorable mention.

Though his company was acquired by Sherbrooke Equity in October of 2008, Brian continued to lead the firm. A press release issued at that time gave the impression of a bright future for Salugen.

"We believe that Salugen is the company of our future, as addiction along with other issues run rampant in our communities, both here and abroad. They can help to shed light on the problem and create solutions to these issues in our lives," said Lee Leblanc, Managing Director of Sherbrooke Equity AG. Specific terms of the transaction were not announced but the Company announced that the transaction would be accretive to Salugen shareholders and would address debt holders of the company as well.”

The company of the future appears to be struggling to stay in the present. Earlier this year, Salugen closed its office on Berger Road in Columbia though the company website still lists it as the corporate headquarters. The company stock, which trades on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange under the symbol SQZ.F, is trading at €0.20 per share, down over 59% from the previous close.

If that's his idea of success I'd hate to see what he regards as failure.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

HoCo Builds a Bar

Instead of going to the office today I hooked up with a couple of buddies to play golf at The Timbers of Troy. We couldn’t have picked a better day.

Before we completed the turn for the back nine, we decided to grab some quick snacks in the clubhouse. That’s when I noticed the construction. The room in the clubhouse that was formerly used for private functions is being transformed into The Shady Oaks Grill Room by county workers.

Timbers is the only HoCo public golf course that is owned by the county so I guess it is only logical that any improvements to the building would be made by county workers. Still, it stuck me as somewhat strange to see the county building a bar instead of a private contractor. The course and clubhouse are operated under a management contract with Kemper Sports.

Not that I’m complaining mind you. This bar will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. We were told that it is expected to open on June 23rd.

I'll give a full review of the county's bar building venture after it opens. Stay tuned.

A Policy Long Overdue

On a September night in 2005, Maricela Knight and her husband Andrew were driving home to Long Reach after an evening at Clydes. Maricela was driving. According to this story by Melissa Harris in The Sun, at 2:20 AM, near the intersection of Route 175 and Tamar Drive, she drove through a guardrail, “hit several trees and overturned on an embankment.”

Her husband was killed. They were less than three miles from home. Andrews parents would not find out what happened until 10 hours later.

As a result of that tragic event, then Senator Sandy Schrader and Delegate Gail Bates introduced legislation in the General Assembly to allow license holders to have up to three people on file with their electronic records to be notified in the event of an accident. On September 23, 2005, only one name was allowed to be listed and that night, Andrews emergency contact was his wife who was incapacitated in the accident.

Though the General Assembly did not act on Schrader and Bates bill, the Motor Vehicle Administration finally adopted the measure. According to this story by Michael Dresser in The Sun, Maryland motorists “can now can store information with their electronic driving records about who law enforcement officials should contact in the event of a traffic crash or similar emergency.”

“Emergency contact information can be submitted online at or at kiosks at MVA offices. According to the agency, the information will be available only to law enforcement.”

A wag of the wordbones tail goes out to Sandy and Gail. It may have taken over five years but at least it did get done.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Robey Staying Put

Some HoCo loco politico prognosticators have speculated that Delegate Guy Guzzone might opt to run for Senator Jim Robey’s seat instead of county executive in 2014. That speculation was based on the assumption that Jim would retire after this term.

Apparently nobody told Jim about this.

According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, Jim told the reporter “he has bad news for anyone thinking he might retire after this term, freeing up his seat.”

"Right now my plans are to run again for the Senate," he said.”

It also appears that another Dem councilmember besides Courtney Watson may have sights on running for executive. In the same article Mary Kay Sigaty said she “might run” as well.

On the Repub side, Senator Allan Kittleman is currently considered to be the frontrunner for the countys top job. I’m sure he’d like nothing more than for the Dems to have a bruising primary battle.

That being said, a lot can happen between now and then...

With Friends Like These…

I found this funny perspective on social networking today.

Ironically, the opera that this video promotes actually has very little to do with social networking. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Defending the Indefensible

Not everyone in HoCo is pleased with the impeachment of Allen Dyer from the school board. Some of his supporters have even gone so far as to suggest that his removal from the board will actually hurt the school system.

That is to be expected. Democracy isn’t always pretty.

What I find interesting though is that even Allen’s allies on the school board used words like “obnoxious” and “jerk” to describe their friend.

In his defense of Allen during the impeachment proceeding, Brian Meshkin, twice referred to Dyer as a “rogue board member.” Cindy Vaillancourt cited his “obnoxious behavior” and even admitted that though she was voting against the impeachment this time she “believes it might come to this at some point.”

She believes!

Brian Meshkin told his fellow board members that he was “torn by this issue” even though “he finds it morally wrong for a sitting board member to have decimated the integrity of the ethics panel process by breaking the confidentiality the process.”

He called Allen’s methods “insanity.”

Yet still, he voted to support him.
Get Microsoft Silverlight

The deliberations make for great HoCo loco political theatre. At one point Allen even stated that student council leaders are “public figures.”


You can watch the entire proceeding here.

It is actually great fun to watch Brian and Cindy squirm in their seats as they attempt to defend the indefensible. I think Brian says “um” about a hundred times.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Who Will Fill Dyers Seat?

Though Allen Dyer has vowed to fight his censure and removal from the school board, there is already speculation as to who will fill his seat. Once Dyer is officially removed, the county executive is tasked with naming someone to the vacancy for the remainder of his term.

Judging from conversations I’ve had with elected officials and other HoCo loco political insiders over the past two days, the early favorite is Larry Walker. Larry was an unsuccessful candidate in the last election and that was most unfortunate. In my opinion he was a much better candidate than either Brian Meshkin or Cindy Vaillancourt and would be a great addition to the board.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Montevideos Revenge

Some of the opponents of the Elkridge / Hanover intermodal site have been promoting the site off of Montevideo road in Jessup as a better alternative. They argue that far fewer residences would be impacted in this location than the Hanover site.

Not so fast say the Montevideoans.

In this story by Elizabeth Janney in Elkridge Patch, the residents who live near the potential Montevideo site, Rusty Bristow, vice president of the Jessup Improvement Association takes issue with that claim.

“Bristow and several others at the June 6 JIA meeting said that they had physically counted more than 200 homes within a quarter mile of the Montevideo Road site. “We’re actually going to end up with more people [affected] than Elkridge,” said Bristow.”

Again, we hear the argument of people complaining about the trains.

“Some said current train traffic has already damaged their quality of life. "I have to listen to the trains all night long," said Cindy Kerr, who lives on Ohio Road. Conductors park on the tracks near her house when they go to sleep at Red Roof Inn, leaving the trains idling overnight, said Kerr. "What's going to happen with these extra trains there?"

What exactly did these people expect when they bought homes adjacent to a major rail corridor lined with industrial parks?

 The railroad and industrial parks existed long before the vast majority of these homes even existed.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

School Board Votes to Remove Allen Dyer

At today's regular meeting of the Howard County School Board, board  member Frank Aquino introduced a resolution to remove fellow member Allen Dyer from the board. Frank noted that, in addition to a long list of transgressions,  Dyer filed yet another lawsuit today against the board. Somewhat predictably, Brian Meshkin and Cindy Vaillancourt came to his defense albeit they did so holding their noses. Brian even went as far as to label Dyer a “jerk.”

The board voted five to two to pass the resolution to impeach. Allen Dyer abstained.

The only surprise is that it took so long.

Sara Toth has the complete story on Explore Howard.

An Artsy Weekend on Tap in HoCo

This will be a good weekend to keep it HoCo loco. Tomorrow, in Columbia, LakeFest kicks off the 2011 Columbia Festival of the Arts in Town Center with a parade followed by an evening of entertainment including the MarchFourth Marching Band. The entire lakefront will be filled with art and food. Lakefest continues on throughout the weekend ending Sunday at 5:30 PM.

In Ellicott City, the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company launches their 2011 season at the ruins of the Patapsco Female Insitute in Ellicott City with a performance of A Midsummer Nights Dream. If you have never attended one of these outdoor performances you owe it to yourself to check it out. Bring a picnic and a bottle of wine and settle in for Shakespeare under the stars.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

In This Months Business Monthly

Last month I had several people tell me that they would no longer patronize Wine in the Woods. This was a first. The annual celebration of Maryland wines held in Columbia’s Symphony Woods park has always been one of the most popular events in HoCo if not the entire Baltimore Washington corridor. I was more than a little surprised to hear so many negative reviews.

 I’m a big fan and so when the event occurs on a weekend that I am out of town I’m bummed.That’s what happened this year we were out of town for the Wine in the Woods weekend attending CG’s college graduation. If we hadn’t been on the eastern shore we would’ve been sipping wines in the woods.

On Monday, when I asked friends how it went, more than half of those I spoke with told me that they did not enjoy themselves. Then I read the comments on Explore Howard where some compared the event to the infield at the Preakness. Then I spoke with the general manager of Clyde's who said that the number of drunks that stumbled into his establishment wearing the purple wristbands was worse than any prior year.

At first I thought they were simply overreacting. This year promised to be the biggest and best Wine in the Woods ever with 29 participating wineries. What could have possibly gone wrong?

I’m not sure. Not having been there I can’t say. What I was told was that the number of attendees who simply went to get drunk, and apparently succeeded, was more than in years past.

I am fairly certain that it wasn’t as bad as some folks said it was, it ever rarely is. That being said it does appear that this is something the organizers need to get on top of before the 20th annual celebration next May.

You can read this months column here.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

iPad In the Classroom

iPads in schools are spreading like an Arizona wildfire. According to this story by Winnie Hu in The New York Times, all across the country universities, high schools, middle schools, elementary schools and even kindergartens “are embracing the iPad as the latest tool to teach Kafka in multimedia, history through “Jeopardy”-like games and math with step-by-step animation of complex problems.”

“It has brought individual technology into the classroom without changing the classroom atmosphere,” said Alex Curtis, headmaster of the private Morristown-Beard School in New Jersey, which bought 60 iPads for $36,000 and is considering providing iPads to all students next fall." 

While there are also many who question the educational benefit of Apples latest hot product, those who have used them seem very enthusiastic. Scott Wolfe, a principal at an elementary school in New Jersey proclaimed the iPad to “be the biggest thing to hit school technology since the overhead projector.”

Closer to home, the Prince Georges County public school system is rolling out a pilot program with four middle schools. In this article by Liz Skalski in The Gazette interviewed James Richardson, the principal of one of the participating schools, Buck Lodge Middle. Richardson expects each  of his 775 students “to have an iPad to use next year.”

In HoCo, a Columbia company, Ease Technologies, is benefitting from integrating the iPad into a number of area school systems. The company already had an established business in working with Apple to set up computers in the schools and quickly seized the iPad initiative as well. They recently established a new 12,000 square foot systems integration center in HoCo to handle the new business.

All I know is that I want one

Pool Pass

If Courtney Watson and Greg Fox have their way, six private swim clubs in HoCo would be granted a free pass on paying property taxes. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, Watson justified this legislation by pointing out that these private clubs are  "providing a service to county residents" that might otherwise be borne by taxpayers for public pools…”

What about the Columbia Association pools?

Using that same argument the pools in the most populous jurisdiction in HoCo have saved the county tons of money too.

Watson said she did not include them in her bill because the “Columbia Association has other ways to raise money, meaning its property tax-like fees on residents.”

Apparently CA doesn’t agree with that logic. “Rob Goldman, chief operating officer and vice president of the Columbia Association, said the giant homeowners association would like the credit too, which would mean an extra $100,000 savings each year.”

He makes a good point.

The fact is that none of these pools should get a tax break. The county simply cannot afford to keep taking properties off of the tax rolls. Just last month the county purchased a 4.5 acre commercial parcel in Daisy because the HoCo locos didn’t want to see it turned into a used car lot. It had been a commercial property for well over a hundred years.

And if they do include Columbias pools in this bill what is to keep CA from seeking a similair tax break on all of their recreational facilities in Columbia?

What about the Soccer Dome in Jessup or the Circle D Farm in Woodbine? 

Monday, June 06, 2011

The End of QWERTY

I've never learned to type. You might think that, for someone who writes, this could be a handicap. It is.

It’s not that I haven’t tried. I took a typing class once in high school but it didn’t take. Like anyone with a handicap I developed my own work around. I may not be fast but I eventually get the job done.

The good news is that technology is finally coming to my rescue in the form of Swype. Swype is the most significant development in typing since spell check. It is basically a form of artificial intelligence that figures about the word you are typing before you finish typing it. It doesn’t even require you to spell it correctly. The Swype website says “the patented technology enables users to input words faster and easier than other data input methods—at over 40 words per minute. The application is designed to work across a variety of devices such as phones, tablets, game consoles, kiosks, televisions, virtual screens and more.”

I first experienced Swype with my Droid X and unlike my attempt to master QWERTY, it took. Unfortunately it is only on my phone. On my laptop I am still stuck in QWERTY land which is why I was encouraged by this column about advances in voice recognition software by Clive Thompson in Wired Magazine. Clive writes that “voice recognition revolutionizes how we capture ideas. We might talk at 200 words a minute, but we can jot notes at only 25 or 30 words a minute (and many people type at that pace, too).”

“Imagine how interesting things will get as dictation tech becomes better, cheaper, and more omnipresent. Your computer or phone could save a rolling text buffer of every conversation and even your idle chatter, so when you realize days later that you need to recover an important thought, it’s there, as a searchable text document.”

Then again, I think that technology is still not ready for prime time.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Groceries and Garages

When Wegmans opens in Columbia next summer it will be the first HoCo grocery store with a parking garage instead of a surface parking lot. It’s not likely to be the last either. If we are going to embrace walkable communities we’re going to need to get more comfortable with parking garages too.

This is no small adjustment for some life long suburbanites accustomed to asphalt pastures. As Katherine Shavers writes in this article in The Washington Post last week “It’s been a rough ride for some.”

“One surefire way to get under suburbanites’ skin is to mess with their parking, and there are few places more sacred, some say, than their wide-open grocery store lots.”

Of course we have already have grown accustomed to garage parking at the Mall but that is somehow seen as being acceptable because you don't need to go to the Mall nearly as frequently as you need to get groceries. Having to use a parking garage for grocery shopping just feels very different.

“For me, parking in a garage for grocery shopping is really weird,” said Bolormaa Baljinnyam, 40, of Rockville as she waited May 24 for an elevator with a baguette in her cart. “It’s kind of not natural.”

Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Last Word on Leinberger?

We really didn’t have any big HoCo loco news stories to dissect this week. That doesn’t mean to say that nothing was worthy of our sometimes irreverent banter. The Chris Leinberger lecture, the county budget, graduations and Wine in the Woods helped provide us with enough fertile ground to till for fifteen minutes or so.

I had not written anything about the lecture yet but many of my HoCo loco blogging brethren have. The first to post about it was Tom Coale with this reflective post that he put up within hours of the lecture itself. He later shared his observations about Alan Klein which I mentioned on the podcast. Trevor also weighed in on the Leinberger lecturing and so did Sarah, Frank, TJ and Duane.

But nobody mentioned Cindy Coyle. Cindy is the Columbia Council Representative for the Village of Harpers Choice. She is also a member of the board of Directors of the Columbia Association. The Columbia Association and the Howard Hughes Corporation were sponsors of the Leinberger lecture. Before opening the floor to questions after his talk, it was suggested that, in the interest of time, questioners refrain from making statements and just ask questions. When Ms Coyle got hold of the microphone, she first acknowledged this request and then proceeded to tell everyone she was going to make a statement anyway.

Does this woman have any manners?

Of course Alan Klein ignored this courtesy as well. These two apparently haven’t figured out yet that most people in HoCo really don’t care what they think.

Our guest was Carole Lehan, the Dean of the Faculty at Glenelg Country School, among other things including a former member of the Young Columbians. We invited Carole to join us to discuss the recently released documentary “The Race to Nowhere.”

I think we’re going to see a Blue Ribbon panel or two about this in the not too distant future. You can listen to the 42nd episode of "and then there's that..." here.

Friday, June 03, 2011

42 Tires...Two and a Half Hours

Of course there were more than just tires. There was all kinds of rusted old stuff. That’s what really caught my eye and compelled me to stop and find out what was going on.
I was taking what I call the back way from Elkridge to Ellicott City this afternoon. This route takes me down Montgomery Road, Landing Road, Illchester Road and River Road. It was on River Road that I spotted the pile.
This afternoon, twenty volunteers spent their afternoon pulling garbage out of the Patapsco River. They pulled out carpets, bicycles, and tires, all anchored down in the heavy silt of the riverbed. It was akin to prospecting for garbage.

So who were these people?

I asked around as to who was in charge and that eventually led me to Dan Kovalsky. He told me that roughly 15 of the volunteers were employees of Constellation Energy and the other were members of the Friends of the Patapsco Valley and  Heritage Greenway. Constellation also contributed $5,000.00 towards cleaning up the river with what they call an “EcoStar Grant.”

One of the Constellation employees also told me that for every ten hours of volunteerism a Constellation employee performs, the company provides a $100 donation to the charity of that employee’s choice.

“I designate my church,” he shared.

Dan also wanted to me to note that the effort was grealtly aided by Brody and Katy Spade. Brody and Katy live along the river not far from the cleanup site. They know that portion of the Patapsco as well as anyone and knew where to direct the cleanup effort for maximum effect.

As an old dog who loves the old river, today’s effort and EcoStar Grant are very much appreciated.