Thursday, January 31, 2013

High Water

It was the storm with no name. Despite the fact that yesterdays weather event included 13 tornadoes in eight states, no one has given it a name, not yet anyway. It was certainly worthy of a name. According to this story by Becky Kellogg on The Weather Channel, over “a hundred homes and businesses in Laurel, Md. were evacuated Thursday afternoon after heavy rains prompted the opening of nearby dams. A commuter rail station in Laurel was also closed because of floodwaters.  Roads in Montgomery County, Md. are closed, and some are even buckling, due to the heavy rain and high water."Wind gusts up to 81 mph were clocked in southern New England early Thursday, including gusts over 60 mph at New York's LaGuardia Airport and Boston's Logan Airport," says Senior Meteorologist Jon Erdman.”
In HoCo it appears that Ellicott dodged the flood bullet this time around. The bridge crossing the Patapsco River was closed as a precaution but this morning the river was still running under the bridge instead of over it.

It was right at the deck though. Walking across from the Baltimore County side this morning, Dave Carney remarked that crossing over with the river so high made him feel a little nervous.

 It didn't seem to bother Chloe.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hail to the Ravens!

Okay, so now even the BSO is getting into the spirit of things.

Nicely done. Go Ravens!

Sunday Seminar

Last Sunday we decided to take the historical tour of the Shrine of St. Anthony. It is something we’d often discussed but the timing never seemed to work out. The tours are only held on the last Sunday of every month.

It’s a pretty interesting place in that it was once part of the original Carroll estate and in 1832, the Manor House was completed on the farm that was then known as Folly Quarter. Today the house remains true to its original form.

At least what little we saw of it.

The tour begins in the Manor House but does take visitors past the main hall. On Sunday we stood in that hall while our guide embarked on lecture about the history of the Catholic church in Maryland, beginning with George Calvert, the First Lord of Baltimore, in 1627. He continued on for about forty-five minutes before getting to the present day. If you are interested in Maryland history, you would probably have enjoyed it. If you were one of the younger members of the audience, not so much.

Though the website says the tours are open to families, I wouldn't recommend bringing the little ones. They’ll be bored to distraction. In fact we noted that a few families began to peel off towards their cars as we moved from the Manor House and headed to the shrine building.

Even adults started getting fidgety as the tour moved into the second hour and we had only moved through five rooms in the shrine. The tour guide over shared just a bit. For example, in the dining room the walls are lined with portraits of former popes. Our guide told stories about almost all of them. 

The next tour will be given on Sunday, February 24th at 2:00 PM.

Toby’s Rocks Helen Hayes

Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia received eight nominations for musicals in the 29th Annual Helen Hayes Awards, more than any other theatre in the metro area, dinner or otherwise. According to this story by Nelson Pressley in The Washington Post, the “production of “The Color Purple” scraped the buffet clean with eight nominations, followed by seven for “Dreamgirls” at Signature Theatre.”

In addition to the nod for Outstanding Resident Musical, Toby Orenstein was also nominated for Outstanding Director. The other nominations were Dayne Quincy for Outstanding Lead Actress, David Little for Outstanding Supporting Actor, Theresa Cunningham for Outstanding Supporting Actress, Anwar Thomas for Outstanding Choreography, Lawrence B. Munsy for Outstanding Costume Design and Christopher Youstra for Outstanding Musical Direction.

“The nominations, announced during a low-key, brightly lighted event (it was live-streamed online) in the National Theatre’s Helen Hayes Gallery, were compiled by a floating panel of 48 judges who evaluated 201 eligible productions during 2012. All shows are now closed, making the affair ceremonial and celebratory — not a Tony Awards-style rush for box-office gold. The 29th annual awards, administered and presented by the service organization theatreWashington, will be April 8 at the Warner Theatre.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Dividing Line

Until today I wasn't aware that Harris Teeter can’t use the Redskins logo in HoCo. According to this story by Dan Steinberg in The Washington Post, the Ravens have exclusive marketing to all of Maryland except Montgomery and Prince Georges counties.

“According to NFL rules, the Redskins have exclusive marketing rights in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, meaning M&T Bank — a large Ravens sponsor — cannot display the Ravens logo in those D.C. suburbs. The Ravens, meanwhile, have exclusive marketing rights in the rest of Maryland, meaning Harris Teeter — a large Redskins sponsor — cannot use the Redskins logo in its North Laurel location, barely 10 miles from the Washington Beltway.”

Dan suggests that the true dividing line between the two franchises is Md Route 216, or more specifically, Reservoir High School and Maple Lawn.

“The Route 216 corridor in southeastern Howard County, though, seems unusual in the apparent exactness of its divide. A half-mile from the 10-year-old high school, the sports bar Looney’s has dueling Redskins and Ravens menu cards and segmented viewing areas — Redskins fans use the big screen upstairs and to the right, and Ravens fans head for the big screen downstairs and to the left.”

Go Ravens!

Monday, January 28, 2013

EC Parking System Debuts Next Week

It’s official. The black covers will finally come off of the new parking meter kiosks in Ellicott City. As of next Monday, February 4th , parking in the historic district will cost a buck an hour on Main Street and Maryland Avenue and a half a buck an hour in the metered lots. Residents and visitors will also be able to use the Parker app for smart phones and tablets to locate available spaces.

Historic district residents have also been given a break from the county. They apply for a residential parking pass that will allow them to park free at any time in all the public parking lots and between the hours of 5 PM and 10 AM on Main Street. You can find residential permit info here.

All Spur and No Sparkle

More than a few people have asked me what we are doing for the Evening In the Stacks party this year. The theme for this year’s library fundraiser is Sparkles and Spurs which pretty much tells you it’s a Texas theme. I think it’s the sparkle thing that throws folks off.

It may be a case of taking the whole sparkle theme too literally. It’s a black tie optional event which generally indicates that the ladies will be getting all gussied up and in my experience that usually includes accessorizing with jewelry. That would seem to cover the sparkle angle adequately enough.

I’m hoping people don’t take the spurs thing too literally as well. One can only imagine the fallout on the dance floor when you combine spurs with alcohol. I’m suggesting that perhaps a cowboy hat would satisfy the western theme without endangering fellow dancers.

What’s that?

You haven’t purchased your tickets yet?

Come on. What else are you going to do on a cold Saturday night in February?

For those guys who are tired of scrambling to find something thoughtful for a Valentines Day gift, Sparkles and Spurs could be just the ticket. Instead of flowers that only she can really enjoy, you get to spend a night out together drinking and dancing in the library. This year the party will include an Antler Bar with beers from the Ale House Columbia and a Cactus Bar with margaritas prepared by the folks at The Wine Bin.

You can still get tickets at the discounted price too. After this Thursday the ticket price goes up to $125 as opposed to a hundred bucks right now. I wouldn't wait too long either. Only 600 tickets are available and as of this past weekend over 300 had already been accounted for.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Moshin Man

The Wine Bin in Ellicott City regularly offers tastings of their wines for customers. Usually the pours are handled by the staff but yesterday they had a celebrity bartender. Rick Moshin, owner of Moshin Vineyards, was on hand to pour samples and answer questions about his wines. He also shared a few stories that you won’t see on the labels or his website like the fact that his 2009 Pinot Noir, Lost Ranch is named for the grapes from a ranch that a friend lost in a divorce. For me, a good story often makes a good wine taste even better. I bought a bottle of Lost Ranch.
The Wine Bin was also rolling out its new growler service and like the wines, they were offering tastes of their growler beers too. Though I've become a fan of the craft beer movement, I’m not certain the growler thing will work for me. The smallest size is 32 ounces and once you open it, you better plan on finishing it. I enjoy having a glass or two of beer at home but with the higher alcohol craft beers, I tend to drink them much slower than the lighter brews. I am concerned that the beer in the growler will have become flat by the time I get to that second or third glass.

But I am the adventurous sort, particularly when it comes to adult libations, so I purchased a 32 ounce growler for six bucks and filled it with the Lagunitas IPA. Right now it is awaiting its debut in my naturally cooled garage.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Quiet Day at the Dump

“It seems pretty quiet today.”

I had just pulled up the weigh station at the Alpha Ridge Landfill. It was around ten on a Saturday morning, normally prime time for dump visits.

“It’s real slow for a Saturday,” the attendant observed.

Last weekend we had finally gotten around to trimming our ornamental grasses, just in time to miss the last day of curbside yard waste collection. I told Mama Wordbones I’d haul the clippings to the dump.

It turns out today was the perfect day. There were no crowds and the yard waste area of the landfill was beautiful with a fresh coat of snow.

On this January morning, there were more deer tracks than tire tracks.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Question of Legitimacy

Tonight, at the resident speak out portion of the CA Board of Directors meeting, Alan Klein testified as the spokesperson for the Coalition for Columbia’sDowntown (CoFoCoDo). He continually used the collective “we” as he leveled attacks at the CA Board and staff for the new proposed plans for Symphony Woods. “Nothing we've seen or heard…as far as we can tell…we know…we do not agree…we oppose this plan,” and so on.

Who is this “we?”

Alan claims CoFoCoDo has "almost 500 supporters" yet when Dorsey’s Search board member Tom Coale asked if there was an actual list of these supporters, Alan admitted that the only public list was “a little old” and numbered closer to 400.

That’s an understatement. The list of supporters is over five years old, going back to the fall of 2006. It’s never been updated. There is no way of knowing whether any of these original supporters support the current statements and positions put forth by its spokesperson.

But that’s not the worst of it. Alan makes a big deal about what he perceives as a lack of transparency on behalf of CA but his own organization is downright opaque. The website lists no officers or board members. There are no minutes of meetings where the organizations positions are discussed and consensus reached. While Alan claims CoFoCoDo supporters oppose the Symphony Woods plan there is no evidence that the organization even met to discuss it or that these 500 supporters were polled.

In other words, the Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown does not have any attributes of a legitimate community organization. It’s a sham, nothing more than a hollow shell. Any positions put forth by such a group should be considered in this context.

Two Hour Delay

A ripple effect is inevitable. When the school system declares a two hour retreat from the regular start time, the weekday rhythm for homes with school children is upended. At 10:30 this morning there was still a back up on Route 29.

For high school students it always welcome reprieve. Instead of rising before the sun on a cold winter day they get to linger in bed a bit longer, something that most teenagers I know seem to relish as much as anything.

For the rest of us it’s a scramble of rescheduling morning meetings and clearing off cars and driveways. A two hour delay is not a snow day where events are canceled and the there is a real possibility of working from home. A two hour delay day means arriving at work and already being two hours behind.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tortured Rabbits

On most occasions, watching a county council legislative hearing is akin to watching paint dry. Every once in awhile however there is a bit of political theater that causes the paint to jump right off the wall.  Last night, in his testimony in support of  the latest attempt at a growth tiers fix, Council Bill 1-2013, Lambett Cissel provided one of those moments.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Coalition of the Unwilling

Alan Klein is energized. The proposal to transform Symphony Woods into an Arts Village has awakened his anti downtown Columbia redevelopment activism. Once again he is attaching “Coalition for Downtown Columbia” to his byline, insinuating that he represents something real and vital to the interests of the citizens when he mounts his soapbox in opposition.

In a bellicose email sent out yesterday, purportedly on behalf of this coalition, Alan claims the proposed "Inner Arbor" plan would destroy “the serene, park-like environment which we all supported and which was brought to fruition by Cy Paumier's design and which was already approved by the Planning Board.”

This is intentionally misleading. The Cy Paumier plan he refers to may have been approved by the CA board but the Design Advisory Panel, charged with overseeing the cohesion of the downtown redevelopment process, found it inadequate. They directed CA to go back to the drawing board.

It really wasn't much of a plan, particularly when compared to what is now being considered. The key elements were a fountain and a café. There weren't even any restrooms in the plan. The whole café concept was somewhat suspect too. Cy told me that initially it likely would be a  mobile café, something that would be wheeled into the park during the warmer months and then parked away during winter. In any other place this would be known as a food truck.

The fountain was a nice design element but it’s not a destination, even if it is interactive. How many times would a family spend an afternoon there?

So who exactly is this coalition that Alan claims to speak for?

He claims that CoFoCoDo is made up over 400 members yet it has no regularly elected board of directors or officers. The membership (or supporters) list is at least five years old. Many of those who initially signed on are no longer supporters. County executive Ken Ulman is listed as a member yet he has wholeheartedly endorsed the new plan for Symphony Woods.  I doubt he would have ever signed up if he knew doing so would mean committing to a lifetime of having Alan claim to represent him on issues pertaining to Columbia's downtown.

Alan and his small but vocal band of aging activists are predictably opposed to anything that disturbs their own belief of what Columbia should be. They are truly the coalition of the unwilling. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Plaza Tower Redux

Five years ago I wrote this post lamenting the demise of the Plaza Residences condominium project in downtown Columbia. The 23 story luxury high rise fell victim to the housing recession and delays caused by lawsuits seeking stop it. WCI Communities had started the project in 2006 but two years of legal challenges cost the company dearly. WCI declared bankruptcy in 2008 and put the project, including a building permit, on the market. The hope was that someone else would be willing to take that permit and  finish the project.

In August of 2011, Jessica Anderson reported in The Sun that WCI “lost its legal bid to keep plans for the tower alive.”

Or did it?

Last year David Costello and a group of investors purchased the property, along with the completed construction drawings for the Plaza Residences tower. It turns out that he also acquired a valid building permit, a permit that was originally issued over five years ago.

Last week, at the wall breaking ceremony for The Mall expansion, I asked Marsha McLaughlin if that permit was still valid. “Yes,” she replied.

In other words, it’s not dead yet. Costello may ultimately decide not to build the Plaza Residences building. If he felt the market could not support a luxury condo project in downtown Columbia, he could always take a different direction with the property. On the other hand, if he wants to build the 23 story tower it looks like he could.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

No Little Plan

Click to enlarge

Columbia founder Jim Rouse often cited Chicago architect Daniel Burnham for one of his favorite quotes: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized.”

This quotation was called to mind as CA Board member Tom Coale and Michael McCall from Strategic Leisure laid out the new vision for Symphony Woods last week in Phil Nelsons office. After putting their fountain in the park plan on hold last August, the Columbia Association has come back with a bold vision for Columbia’s central park. This is much more than a café in the woods or an interactive fountain, it is a strategic plan that leverages an assortment of existing community assets to benefit the whole.

The key elements of the plan are the CA headquarters building and Toby’s Theater.  CA, which has been engaged in a headquarters search for the past year, would build a new 30,000 square foot office building on top of a subterranean theater for Toby’s . Additionally, the Columbia Centerfor Theatrical Arts will finally have a permanent home for its children’s theater and the community will get a new function space to replace the now shuttered Spear Center.

To make it all work, a new trust with an independent board will be established to oversee Symphony Woods. That is probably the biggest idea of all. The trust will operate outside of the sometimes dysfunctional politics of the CA board and will be able to apply for grants from outside organizations for programs and installations.

The plan, which is being called the Inner Arbor, is long range and will take years before being fully realized but certain elements such as the CA headquarters and Toby’s theater will likely come sooner rather than later. CA is facing a lease expiration on its current space and right now Toby’s is in a position to leverage its present building and land as part of the overall Columbia downtown redevelopment plan.

Nicely done CA. This plan stirred my blood.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mr. Easy

Doug Gansler comes across as an easy going guy, belying his Ivy League background. Within minutes of him sitting with us yesterday it felt more like we were meeting for beers with a buddy than preparing to have a far reaching conversation with one of the most powerful politicians in Maryland. Then again, he is a former college lacrosse player.

We covered a wide range of topics with the attorney general from chicken waste to gun control before we even touched on his future political plans. Perhaps indicative of his front runner status, that is the subject he seemed least interested in exploring. “I love being attorney general,” he told us, “and I’m not term limited.”

“Does that mean you will run for reelection?”

Though he was forthright in answering all the other questions we asked, that particular question he deflected with the ease of a lift check. That being said, he twice reminded us that he considers himself to be a “moderate pro-business centrist Democrat.”

That would seem to be more campaign slogan for governor than another term as AG.

At the end of the show we were also joined by Michelle Jose, the marketing manager for The Mall to discuss the “wall breaking” for the malls expansion that was held earlier this week.

As we were packing up to leave, Korva Coleman, dropped by to say hello. She didn't realize that the middle of The Mall was our regular studio. "You're brave," she told us.

Not so much. Unlike a well known broadcaster like her, most folks who pass by us during our show have no idea who we are or what we're doing there. There is a certain safety in being unknown

You can listen to the 82nd episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Friday, January 18, 2013


Talking about mental illness is never easy, especially when you are talking about yourself. Once you openly acknowledge a mental affliction you will henceforth be viewed by everyone through that filter. That’s why I found this post by Alice on her blog HoCoHouseHon, to be nothing short of courageous.

And enlightening. Alice shares how she has learned to live with her own illness in a starkly forthright manner by simply stating “I am mentally ill.”

“I'm a real person. Some of you know me only through this blog, though most others I think are friends and family members. And being a real person, disregarding any online persona, I have to face the every day life of being a young woman with a chemical imbalance which makes me cry like Van Gogh and smile like the Mona Lisa. It makes me play the piano with the wet cough of Chopin; it makes me immobile, sometimes, with perfectionism and fear. These are my mornings and evenings, my afternoon teas, the way I fall asleep and the way I wake up at 7:23 craving a cup of coffee.”

That is just a small taste what she shares. Read it yourself and I think you’ll agree, Alice is one brave blogger. In this simple post entitled "Shame" she helps open up the often suppressed dialogue of coping, understanding and dealing with mental illness.

Thank you Alice.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Transformation (Gentrification?) of Route 1

It is most evident in the stretch of Route 1 between Route 175 and Route 100. Icons of the past have been replaced with shiny new projects. The Copper Stallion Motel has been demolished to make way for a medical office building and the former Aladdin Mobile Home Park is now a mixed use development called Howard Square. The workingman’s roadhouse, Three Nines Tavern has been razed and is now a development opportunity. Next to what once was a thriving flea market, the 85 acre Blue Stream development (pictured above) is well underway.

After eleven years of preparation, the Route 1 Revitalization effort has finally begun, changing the face and character of one of HoCo’s more colorful corridors.

There’s much more to come too.

In this two mile section of Route 1 alone there are at least twenty pink signs marking proposed changes for the comprehensive zoning process, making it one the highest concentrations of  zoning amendments in the county. In all, there are over 40 proposed changes within the HoCo borders of the 2,377 mile highway that begins at the Canadian border in Fort Kent and ends in Key West.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Stretching the Zone

The speed cam van parked along Doncaster Road in Ellicott City seemed out of place. These vans were sold to the council as a deterrent to speeding in school zones yet there are no schools on Doncaster. Where this van was sitting, there aren't even sidewalks, on either side of the road.
There is a school within a half mile of where the vans location so I am assuming that this was the justification for the its placement. Still, this seems to be stretching the intent of the enabling legislation.  I wonder if there are any other locations in HoCo where the speed cam vans are taking liberty with school zones.

Stay Home

Last night at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore, as the lights went down and people took their seats, the cacophony of conversation was replaced by a wave of coughing and sneezing.

I glanced over at Mama Wordbones and she just rolled her eyes. She’s a health professional and knows all to well that people with the flu should stay home and keep their health misfortune to themselves. There are times when sharing is not a good thing, particularly in times of a flu epidemic.

Last nights speaker was P.W. Singer and his topic was 21st Century Warfare, which focused on electronic warfare, not biological. It's a shame. It could have been one of those great ironic moments.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

“Tear Down This Wall”

Instead of a groundbreaking, this morning GGP held a wall bashing ceremony for the newest addition to the The Mall in Columbia.  Participants were invited to sling a sledgehammer at a drywall partition inside the former J. Crew store just off the center court to mark the beginning of the malls next phase. As the first sledgehammers hit the wall, Joan Lancos quipped “tear down this wall,” recalling Ronald Reagan's famous line from his speech at the Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987.
 In a matter of days work will commence in earnest to reopen what was originally the main entrance.
Just outside the entrance GGP will construct 70,000 square feet of new retail space along a promenade leading out to the existing fountain. Though no tenant announcements were made this morning it was disclosed that there are leases out on some of the spaces. It's never a good idea to announce a deal until everyone has signed along the dotted line.

Most of the construction will not be visible until May when the existing LL Bean store is demolished. Katie Essing, the mall manager, told me that the demolition will begin in May, shortly after the store closes.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Pink Sign Marks the Spot

The applications for changes to the current zoning regulations are in and the comprehensive zoning process is now well underway in HoCo. Properties that have applied for zoning map and regulation changes are sporting these snappy pink and black signs.

Am I the only one that finds the placement of these signs problematic?

In most cases the signs are planted along the road where there is no place to pull over and read them. The same is true with most zoning notice signs. You would not be faulted for thinking that this is at least somewhat intentional.

In any event, this countywide land use makeover is likely to dominate the councils agenda this spring. This isn't comp lite. This is comp heavy and some property owners are likely to test the limits of the spirit and intent of Plan Howard 2030. According to the county website it is expected “to be complete prior to the Council’s 2013 summer recess.”

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Java Walk

Yesterday, when the weather professionals told us to expect an unseasonably warm and sunny day today, I promised Mama Wordbones I’d take a respite from watching football to venture out for a hike.

By noon today it was clear that this would be another case of Maryland mistaken meteorological prognostication. The dreary day worked to dampen her enthusiasm for an outdoor activity.

It did not have the same effect on me. Count me among those who enjoy the ethereal beauty of days when the grey mist blankets the landscape.
“How about a walk for coffee?” I suggested. That seemed to be enough of an incentive to compensate for the lack of sunshine. We headed up the Trolley #9 Trail to the Breadery and a cup of Zeke's coffee.

It wasn't a long hike but at least it got us off the couch.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Parking Paradox

The signs tells drivers to pay at the meters but the meters are covered up. Does that mean that parking is still free on Main Street in Ellicott City?

Yes and no.

The old two hour limit is still being enforced even though the new meters are not yet operational. If you park on Main Street for over two hours between 10 AM and 6 PM, you are likely to get a ticket.

“It’s confusing to our customers,” Dave Carney told me. Dave is the owner of The Wine Bin and president of the Ellicott City Business Association. “People are getting tickets because they don’t know what’s going on.”
The new metered parking system was supposed to be operational on the first of the year. Two weeks later the pay stations remain covered up and none of the business owners I spoke with seemed to know when they will be working.

“ I've heard that they are still working out some bugs,” Dave shared.

He also suggested that anyone who gets a ticket in this interim period should challenge it. He knows that the county has waived these fines for some who take the trouble to do so.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Pot Etiquette

What does one do when a guest decides to toke up at your cocktail party?

The fact that this issue is now being openly discussed is as sure sign as any that societal attitudes towards marijuana have dramatically changed. In this article by Kyle Spencer in The Washington Post the reporter explores how locals are learning “to navigate dinners, cocktail parties, barbecues and cross-generational family get-togethers as more people liken puffing on a joint to sipping a glass of wine, while others still consider it a malodorous habit that’s best done not at all, or at least far from our house.”

“Here in D.C., it is far from a partisan debate, something that both Republicans and Democrats struggle with. “It’s a cross-party issue,” said a 27-year-old aide to a GOP congressman who, like many interviewed for this story, preferred not to give her name, further highlighting people’s discomfort with this subject. She says she smokes often at home, but does so without telling her ultraconservative, 50-something boss, her co-workers, or even many of her friends. “It’s really hard to know how people stand on it.”

I found particularly amusing the quote from Andrea Khoury who suggested that any such accommodation would be a non-starter in her idealized world. “My neighborhood is prim and proper,” she said.”

I think Andrea might be surprised to discover what goes on behind closed doors in most neighborhoods. Even otherwise prim and proper folks have been known to inhale on occasion.

The times they are a-changin

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Good Store, Bad Store

This afternoon, while in downtown Columbia, I stopped in the Apple store to check out the iPhones. After a little over two years, my Droid X is showing signs of age; the battery doesn't hold up as long and the touch screen sometimes seems to have a mind of its own. I also think it would be nice if my phone and my iPad worked well together, something that has eluded me with the Droid.

Within five minutes of entering the store, an employee named Erica was helping me. I asked what the difference was between a buying an iPhone at the Apple Store and buying one at the Verizon store. The biggest difference she could think of was that Verizon would try to sell me their extended warranty while Apple pushed their own.

“What about my upgrade credit?” I asked. Verizon had informed that I was eligible for an upgrade credit.

“You’d have to get that from the Verizon store,” she said. Since I had to be over by the Verizon store on Snowden River Parkway later in the afternoon anyway I decided to wait and see if I could get a better deal. I thanked Erica for her time.

That was a mistake.

When I arrived the Verizon store an employee took my name and told me someone would be with me shortly. As I waited, another gentleman approached me and asked if I wanted him to do an analysis of my FiOS account while I was waiting. He said he could probably save me some money. “Sure,” I said.

After pulling up my account on his computer he told me that the plan I currently had was no longer available. He then handed me a brochure with about four new program options, all of which were more expensive than I what I currently had. The cheapest had fewer channels than my existing plan.

“I thought you said you could save me money” I reminded him.

“I can, depending on which bundle you choose and your discounts, the final rate you pay will be about what you’re paying now." 

With some prodding he admitted that this lower rate was only promotional and that it revert to the non discount rate in a couple of years.

I wondered if I really looked that stupid. I told him no thanks. By now I realized that customers who had come into the store after me were being waited on. I walked up to the guy with the tablet who originally took my name.

“It’s showing that we are already helping you,” he said checking his tablet. He seemed genuinely surprised that I wasn't being helped. Perhaps he thought the guy with the bait and switch FiOS scheme was supposedly helping me.

I told him he could just go ahead take my name off the list. I turned around and walked out the door.

I’m going back to see Erica tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Flu Takes a Shot

The first call came around seven this morning from a client. We were scheduled to tour a group of properties beginning at nine.

“I have to reschedule our appointment today,” she said, “ I've got a stomach flu.”

The second call came a little after noon from the high school. “Your daughter is in the nurses office with a bad cough and nausea. Can you come get her?”

No problem, since my morning appointment cancelled I found myself with more flexibility that I thought I’d have.

When I arrived at Mt. Hebron the school nurse bought Peanut to the office. “It looks like the flu,” she told me.

“I’m glad I got my flu shot this year,” I replied with just a hint of self righteousness.

“That’s no guarantee,” the health professional cautioned. “It’s only about a sixty percent chance you’re covered for this particular flu.”

Still, I’ll take those odds.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Sucking Wind

On our podcast last week, Allan Kittleman suggested that is already a forgone conclusion that Governor O’Malley will finally get his wind farm initiative through the General Assembly this year. The wind bill failed to get past the Senate Finance Committee last year. This time around it appear that Senate President Mike Miller is putting his considerable political muscle behind the bill to push it through. According to this story by Michael Dresser in The Sun, Miller replaced C. Anthony Muse, one of the Dems on the committee who opposed the legislation, with a more favorable fan of wind.

“Muse was one of three Democrats who joined committee Republicans in firmly opposing O'Malley wind bill last year. Finance Committee Chairman Thomas M. "Mac" Middleton, a Charles County Democrat, said that with Ramirez on the panel, the chances that O'Malley will win approval of his top remaining environmental priority are much improved.”

For the record, fellow HoCo Senator Ed Kasemeyer also voted against the bill in committee last year.

For Maryland ratepayers, this bill is just another hidden tax. According to this story by Aaron C. Davis in The Washington Post, the governor’s wind farm plan would add “a couple of extra dollars to every Marylander’s monthly electric bill for 20 years and thousands onto those of the state’s largest businesses.”

Wind power is also not as environmentally friendly as it seems. According to this story by Robert Bryce in The Wall Street Journal, “the wind energy industry has had a license to kill golden eagles and lots of other migratory birds.”

“Last June, the Los Angeles Times reported that about 70 golden eagles are being killed per year by the wind turbines at Altamont Pass, about 20 miles east of Oakland, Calif. A 2008 study funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency estimated that about 2,400 raptors, including burrowing owls, American kestrels, and red-tailed hawks—as well as about 7,500 other birds, nearly all of which are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act—are being killed every year by the turbines at Altamont.”

I’ll bet you won’t hear as much about that in Annapolis this year as you do about the purported hazards of  fracking.

Can He Win?

Last night approximately 125 people turned out at a fundraiser at Apple Ford to hear Senator Allan Kittleman talk about the upcoming General Assembly and his own future political plans.

Most of the attendees were primarily interested in his political plans. Though he hasn't formally announced his intentions, it is widely understood that Allan would like to be county exec in 2014. On the surface, he would seem to have a pretty good chance. He’s smart, likable, and a political moderate with deep roots in Howard County. There’s just one problem; he’s a Republican.

It’s not so much an ideological problem as it is a numbers problem. There are 90,072 registered Democrats in HoCo and 56,330 registered Republicans. In order to have a shot, he’d need to win over the 38,799 unaffiliated voters and perhaps a few of the 3,567 “others” as well (Green Party, Libertarians, etc.), not to mention a Dem or two.

No doubt he is somewhat heartened by precedent. In 1990 a similar moderate Repub named Chuck Ecker squeezed out a victory over incumbent Dem Liz Bobo in the exec race. He easily won reelection in 1994. Chuck won because Liz had lost the center.

That won’t be the case this time around. There won’t be an incumbent and the presumed Dem candidate, Councilperson Courtney Watson, has played to the center in her six years on the council.

It could come down to the likability factor.

Allan understands all this of course. Last night he quipped that he’s a Republican that doesn't scare Democrats. This is true and it may get a few Dems to take a harder look at him rather than dismiss him out of hand due to his party affiliation. In order to win, however, he’ll need to put forth a vision for the county that gets voters to pay attention. In a county where, on the whole, things are pretty good that may not be so easy to do.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Spurs of the Moment

We had a discussion about spurs this weekend. The theme of this years Evening in the Stacks library fundraiser is “Sparkle & Spurs,” so Mama Wordbones was contemplating how to work spurs into her evening wear.  

I may go an entirely different route.

We have time. The event is a little over a month away so there is still plenty time to get your tickets and find your own spurs. It’s a fun event and a great way to shake off those winter blues. You can find more information here.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Third Times a Charm

As we were packing up after our show yesterday, Dave made a comment that there was less laughter than usual this week. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Some listeners have told me that they think we laugh too much.

That’s not to say the show didn't have its light moments, it’s just that we had a lot of meaty stuff to discuss with Senator Kittleman. With the Maryland General Assembly set to reconvene in Annapolis next week, we wanted to get Allan’s take on things like gun control, marijuana law reforms, school funding, and the transportation trust fund.

This is the third time Allan has been on the show. He was one of our first guests back in 2010 when he was serving as Minority Leader in the Senate, a position he subsequently forfeited when he parted ways with the rank and file on civil unions.

Allan is also the presumptive Republican nominee for county exec in 2014. Before he took over the Senate seat that was previously held by his father, Allan served six years on the county council representing District 5. In a strange twist of fate it was Allan who helped convince Courtney Watson to seek her first elective office on the school board. In 2014 he will likely face Courtney as the Democratic candidate for county exec.

Allan told us that he likes his chances in that race.

You can listen to the 81st episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Maryland and Marijuana

Proponents of liberalizing marijuana laws in Maryland are likely to be disappointed with this years’ General Assembly. Despite the recent liberalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington, Maryland legislators show little interest in joining in the fun. According to this article by C. Benjamin Ford in The Gazette, Senator Jamie Raskin,  a co-sponsor of last years attempt to liberalize the states marijuana laws, “has not heard of any bills planned for the 2013 session, even though many lawmakers believe more reforms are needed.”

“I have heard a very broad consensus that people consider the war on drugs a failure,” Raskin said. “What we've been doing has not been working in America. This is not a Maryland issue, it’s a nationwide issue.”

Liberalizing marijuana laws could also go a long way to improving the states budget woes. Unlike gambling, which has so far failed to achieve the lofty revenues promised voters, pot legalization could produce an immediate windfall. In addition to projected savings of $27 million in law enforcement and incarceration costs, the state could tax the wild weed. In Washington, where the state will apply a 25% tax on the sale of marijuana, revenues are expected to exceed $22 million annually.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

In This Months Business Monthly

When I sat down to write my column this month I had planned to dive into the controversy over the legislative initiative to change way the Columbia Association is defined under state law. The change would redefine the organization as a “nonprofit community service corporation” as opposed to a homeowners association.

This seemingly innocuous move, intended to better match up with CA’s unique structure (largest HOA in the country), was immediately pounced upon by the Alliance for a Better Columbia as a nefarious attempt to subvert community control. ABC responded to this move with its own legislative initiative which would effectively make governance of CA even more unwieldy than it already is.

It’s a good story with a very small audience that actually pays attention to this sort of thing. After banging out a paragraph or two I found myself struggling to make the subject at least mildly entertaining to those less informed. With an early deadline because of the Christmas holiday, it was more of a challenge than I was prepared to take on, so I dropped back and punted for another topic.

I wrote about movie theaters instead.

This is the time of year when theaters are buzzing with the biggest films of the year. The dreary weather drives us indoors and movies provide a great escape from doldrums of winter. The only problem is the movie theaters themselves.

I've decided I will no longer patronize the movie theaters You can find out why by checking out this months column here.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

HoCo Economic Snapshot / December 2012

Last year was a good year for HoCo farmers, According to the December issue of HoCo Economic Indicators the loco agricultural economy was led by corn which “bought the best prices on record.”

There are concerns going forward.

“This being a healthy year for growth of products, farmers are still seeing very high fuel, fertilizer, and machinery parts costs soar.”

It was also a good year for residential real estate with median sale prices up by 7% compared to a year ago and inventory is 35% lower. “The sale price to list price on average is now 97%. Multiple offers and escalation clauses are helping bring the sale to list price closer together.”

The appraisers, on the other hand, are a bit behind the trend.

“When there are multiple buyers willing to pay over the asking price and appraisers pricing is below the asking price it leads to frustration for all parties involved.”

It wasn't a great year for commercial real estate, according to the report, with new development “virtually non-existent.” The upside is that the lack of new product has helped bring the commercial vacancy rate down to 13.7% from 15.9% a year ago. 

I think they missed the loco leasing activity tied to the Department of Defense. The DoD took down 150,000 square feet of new space in Emerson Corporate Commons in North Laurel and another 140,000 square feet of new construction in the River Corporate Park in Columbia. I wouldn't actually call almost 300,000 square feet "virtually non-existent" though you could make the argument that these buildings were developed outside of the normal market. Neither of these office projects were openly listed for lease even though they were both speculative developments.

As of September, the HoCo unemployment rate stood at 4.9%, down slight from 5.4% for September of 2011. The HoCo population, as of July 2012, stood at 294,477.

You can find the complete December 2012 report here.

Parking Perk

This year we brought in the New Year by spending the night in Annapolis at the Robert Johnson House. Yesterday, as I left the building in search of my first cup of coffee of 2013, I noted that the some of the prime parking spots around State Circle were unoccupied. Even though the state house was locked up for the holiday and the General Assembly doesn't start until next week, Delegates still get reserved parking in the heart of the capital, whether they need it not.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013


By some estimates over 17 million people suffer from triskaidekaphobia, fear of the number thirteen. Those folks could be in for a rough year.

They may actually be right to be paranoid. Considering that we begin the year with Congress taking the country over the fiscal cliff, you've have to admit that we are off to an inauspicious start.

Happy New Year!

Watch your step