Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saved By A Flood

There was a nice article about Ellicott City in todays Washington Post.


Holiday Movie Night: Part One

My lady and I were out for movie last night.

Our theatre of choice was the Regal Cinemas at Snowden Square . We went there even though:
1. It's in the back of a Home Depot.
2. You can't buy tickets online.
3. The soda machine stinks.
4. There are no paper towels in the men's room.
We chose it because it is relatively easy to get in and out of the parking lot and the theatres are less crowded. I like the AMC theatres in Town Center but the mere thought of battling post holiday shoppers and the holiday movie crowd was enough to steer us to the back of a home improvement store.

As I maneuvered into a fairly convenient parking spot, adjacent to the handicap spaces, I mused to my green eyed lady that what we need in this town are special reserved parking spaces for SUV's. I reasoned that since these cars are bigger and, theoretically at least, they are capable of carrying multiple passengers, SUV's should be accorded some select close in spaces. Of course these spaces would need to be larger too. It is nice to have lots of room to open our big SUV doors without bumping into a Camry.

We could make up for this added space by creating some smaller than normal parking spaces for little cars like the Mini. These spaces could be added to the fringes of the parking lots. The reasoning here is that since these cars tend to be most popular with young people they are much more capable of handling the long hike to the theatre.

We saw The Good Shepherd. It's long but good.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Maggie Browns Contract

Jud Malone, former Columbia Council Representative from Town Center gave the following testimony at Tuesdays meeting of the Columbia Council Committee charged with exploring Maggie Browns contract extension.

My name is Jud Malone; I live on CA assessed property at 5651 Vantage Point Road. I wish to speak tonight on the subject of renewing President Maggie Brown’s employment contract. I am not sure to whom I should address my comments since five of the CA board members in a public statement announced that “we oppose, and as members of the Board will not vote for, any new contract that is for a term of more than one year.” They have also stated that “now is the time for CA to move on to modern, measurements-based proactive management in a technology-driven era”, whatever that might mean.

In any case, for the benefit of the remaining board members still wanting to hear from the community, I would strongly advise that Maggie Brown’s contract be renewed for three years, the same term as her current contract.

Maggie Brown has been an excellent president. She is a well respected ambassador to the community, she has effectively led a highly qualified staff and she has achieved all the objectives set out for her by the CA board in all of her five years of service.

Under her leadership, the quality of CA's programs have improved year after year, consistent with the objectives set by the board of directors and CA is in the midst of a major migration to the very latest technology for its information technology system, again at the direction of the board of directors.

At some point it will become necessary to think about a transition of leadership in the organization but it cannot be accomplished in only one year and certainly not under a freelance decision making process.

The next three years should be devoted to:

1) Working on the board’s own ability to function responsibly. This is the most immediate concern for the community – not the performance of the president.
2) Working towards a more effective relationship where the Board understands that its role is to govern and the President role is to manage the organization.
3) Implementing a rigorous professional process for the selection a new president that all board members will respect and abide by.

I would urge the board - don’t mess up this important responsibility of selecting a new president. CA has an unfortunate history of doing it wrong – learn from the past and take the time to do it right

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Mailbox Locator

The other day I was in the Mall in Columbia and went looking for a mailbox. I asked several merchants and though they all seemed to know about the mailbox in front of the American City Building, no one knew of any in the mall.

I don't believe there is one. If there is, I certainly couldn't find it. The closest I came was stamp machine by the entrance near LL Bean. How come the mall has a stamp machine but no mailbox?

Anyway, my search led to the discovery of a cool little website. The mailbox locator lets you simply input your zipcode and it will identify all of the mailboxes in that zipcode. Click on any of the locations and it will tell you the pick up times. It also has a Google map to help you find it.

Very cool.

And, incidently, mailbox locator shows no mailboxes in the mall but there is one at One Mall North.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Out of Touch

Judging from the letters to editor in yesterdays Sun, the members of the CA Board of Directors who met as a "caucus" and decided to oppose a three year extension to Maggie Browns contract, are seriously out of touch with the community.

Not a single letter was written in support of their position.

The Board Members calling for Maggie's removal are Phil Marcus (Kings Contrivance), Gail Broida (Town Center), Cynthia Coyle (Harpers Choice), Philip Kirsch (Wilde Lake), and no surprise, Barbara Russell (Oakland Mills).

Though I have often been a critic of CA, I firmly believe that Maggie has bought stability and leadership to that organization. The present Board is split and dysfunctional. It is hard to fathom how they will be able to find and agree on someone who is more capable than Maggie.

It's time for the voting lien payers in Columbia to say enough of this nonsense.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The North Pole In Ellicott City

If you have never visited Mumbles & Squeaks Toy Shoppe in Ellicott City, you are missing one of the best toy stores around.

Two years ago The Washington Post even did a story on the place in their "You Haven't Lived Here If You Haven't..." series.

If Santa is looking for something beyond the standard fare found in the national chains, this is the place to go.

Places like this make toy shopping fun.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Task Force Sham

I have just learned that in a meeting last night of the CA External Relations Committee, Barbara Russell reported that her 40th Birthday Celebration Task Force had decided to hold a City Fair on the weekend of June 29th through July 1st.

Nothing could be further from the truth. No consensus on what the birthday celebration might include was reached by the Task Force and certainly no dates were set.

I attended that initial Task Force meeting. There were many ideas bantered around, some good, some not so good. After everyone gave their input Barbara Russell pretty much told everyone at the meeting that none of this discussion really mattered because she was going to go ahead and do what she wants to do which is to hold a City Fair.

For those readers who were not around twenty years ago when the last City Fair was held, I can only tell you that it wasn't pretty. It was as if all of Glen Burnie descended on the lakefront.

The thing is, it wasn't always so. In the beginning, the City Fairs were truly community events. It was more like a Village Fair. Everyone in Columbia went. There was even a "Ball in the Mall."

Back in those early days, Columbia was a town of with a population of about 15,000 people. It is much different now with a population of over 100,000 but some folks like Ms. Russell haven't come to grips with that.

It is irksome that she created a "Task Force" only for window dressing. It wasted a lot of peoples time. Make no mistake. The entire celebration of Columbia's 4oth birthday is being soley orchestrated by someone who is living in the past and who does not want to listen to anyone who disagrees with her.

On top of it all, she thinks she can pull together an event of this scale in just six months!

Having planned and executed large scale events in the past I can tell you that it takes a full year to do it right, not to mention a fair amount of money.

There is a viable and well proven alternative. For the past twenty years, The Columbia Festival of the Arts has hosted a LakeFest celebration which included the birthday celebration. The Festival has a full time year round staff and they have been working on the 40th birthday LakeFest for a year and a half now. They have been raising mpney through corporate sponsorships and individual donations. They have over 200 volunteers committed and ready to work.

Apparrently Ms Russell is not even listening to Maggie Brown on this. Aside from being the President of the Columbia Association, Maggie served for several years as the chairperson of the old City Fair. Her advice and counsel is being totally ignored.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

We Got It Good

I realize that many are worried about the ramifications of growth but the bottom line is that most communities would love to have the problems that we are dealing with. The front page article in today's Sun outlines the opportunities and challenges that BRAC presents us. Personally I think we are up for the challenge. If we can tone down the rhetoric and work together to find that ever elusive middle ground between those who want to stop all growth and those who want to "pave paradise and put up a parking lot" we will become the envy of the nation.

And...given that we are are also facing a budget shortfall, this projected growth in employment is very good news indeed.

Think about it. We have a state that is growing with "knowledge workers" instead of a state that is bleeding from the drain of an aging population coupled with the loss of manufacturing jobs.

We got it good.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Fair Play

Now this is interesting!
Perhaps our "silent majority" is finding its voice. That would be nice.

Check out

Monday, December 04, 2006

Holiday Weekend Observations

This past Friday was Ellicott City's Holiday Midnight Madness celebration. Fortunately for the restaurants and shops the weather was very cooperative, albeit a bit windy.

If you have never experienced this event, you should really check it out next year. Most, if not all stores are open until midnight and there are activities such as carolers along the streets. We breezed down around 8:00 PM and we were able to snag a parking space that wasn't too far from the action.

We enjoyed a pre dinner glass of wine at Annabell's and then ventured down to Jordan's for dinner. As we passed Taylor's antique mall we spied the Red Hat ladies in their fine holiday regalia sitting in the storefront window sipping tea and greeting passersby.

This is exactly what a "vibrant" downtown looks like.

Saturday evening found us at the Columbia lakefront. While not as active as downtown EC on Friday it was nonetheless festive with the white lights strung along the awnings over the lakefront restaurants. There were plenty of folks in the restaurants (with the notable exception of Jesse Wongs Hong Kong) but not much "street life." More stores and cafes would help that.

Since the Ravens played on Thursday night this past week I forfeited my usual Sunday of watching football and agreed to go to The Mall In Columbia on Sunday. I gained major points by agreeing to a shopping trip. I'll need those once the playoffs start.

The mall felt lacking in the holiday spirit to me. Maybe I am just a cranky old guy but I can't help myself. You see, in one of my former lives I worked in mall marketing for The Rouse Company. In those days we took great pains to insure that our malls were classiest act in all of malldom. The holiday decor was extensive and choirs performed continually in the center court by the Poinsettia tree. The Poinsettia tree itself was framed by hanging baskets overflowing with Poinsettia's.

This year the poinsettia tree shares a stage with cars from Jim Coleman Jaguar Land Rover. The hanging baskets have been replaced by green and white banners advertising the car dealership.

It just didn't seem right.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Enough Already

I took a brief hiatus from blogging to enjoy the Thanksgiving holidays. I also did not feel the need to add to the dialogue on any of our local news items. The other Howard County bloggers were doing just fine.

Until now...

I have recently had the opportunity to speak with Barbara Russell, the Columbia Council representative from Oakland Mills and I have come to the conclusion that she is clueless. I happened to mentioned to her that the commercial property owners do not have any vote in Columbia elections, even though they contribute over a quarter of the CA assessment income.

She said that wasn't true.

I told that it was and to prove the point I asked her what village Columbia Gateway Corporate Park was in.

She didn't know.

I do. It isn't in one.

This is no small issue. To not understand that a significant source of your assessment income comes from disenfranchised property owners is inexcusable, particularly for someone who has been on the board as long she has. In other words, I believe she's clueless.

Ms Russell is also beginning to flex her seniority muscles more and more on the council. The latest example is her participation in the group that does not want to extend Maggie Browns contract. Maggie Brown is the president of The Columbia Association. She has served in this role for five years. She has admirably guided an organization with a $50 million dollar annual operating budget while dealing with a Board of Directors that can best be called dysfunctional.

I find Cynthia Coyle, the Harpers Choice Columbia Council representative, to be worrisome as well. While I have not had the opportunity to speak with her directly I have recently attended a meeting and watched her in action. The people in Columbia should be concerned. Very concerned.

It is interesting to note that the CA website does not contain any information on the backgrounds or qualifications of the board members. These are the people making policy decisions for a large organization that touches the lives of everyone in Columbia. They are often elected by fewer than 300 votes!

What will it take to change this?

I spoke with Guy Guzzone at a cocktail party about this very issue. The majority of the assessment paying population of Columbia simply does not have the Columbia Council on their radar screens. It is amazing that such an educated and informed populace can be so out of touch with what is happening in their own community. Until that changes The Columbia Association is destined to be run by some people who ordinarily would never be entrusted with much more responsibility than dogcatcher.

In my not so humble opinion that is!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Foot Traffic

The Howard County Department of Planning & Zoning has published the Howard County Pedestrian Master Plan - Final Draft outlining priorities for pedestrian improvements throughout the county.

It appears that there is very little in the plan for the old town area of Ellicott City. In fact most of the improvements slated for this area are slated for either mid term or long term time frames. It is a shame that more thought wasn't given to creating better connections with the old town and the adjoining areas of Patapsco State Park. With the opening of the new Grist Mill Trail, it would be nice if we could have some better connections here.

On the other hand, there seem to many improvements planned in the short term in the area surrounding The Mall in Columbia. That makes sense. Right now walking around the mall is not for the meek of heart.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Roaring Mice

The publisher of the Business Monthly wrote a great letter in this months issue.

I couldn't agree with her more!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Wednesday Morning Hangover

It looks like Ken will enjoy his trip to California this weekend. Congratulations Ken! I hope you and your bride enjoy a much needed rest.

I hope Chris has a getaway planned as well. He too deserves a break after running a very spirited and intense campaign.

What messages do I get from the election results?

1) COPE was a big NOPE. Angela Beltram and her minions were less than advertised in influencing voters. Cooler heads prevailed.

2) Democrats for Merdon were a very small group. The only ones behind those individuals who stood beneath the people tree pledging their support to Chris were the gold plated figures on the people tree.

3) We may not know who represents District One until Thursday. Tony did better than many expected him to. This is the one race besides the Governors that could be decided by absentee ballots.

4) Being a member of the Colloseum Gym on Red Branch Road in Columbia continues to be good luck for county exec candidates. Chuck Ecker is a member, Jim Robey is a member and Ken Ulman is a member. Chris Merdon is not a member.

5) The people in Howard County are more informed than I thought. The strongest evidence of that was Allen Dyer failing to win a seat on the school board.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Some Random Musings...

What will the various Howard County blogs (Ho Co Hayduke, Howard County Maryland Blog, Columbia Compass, Fineline, et al) occupy themselves with after next Tuesday?

Post election analysis and general bellyaching can only last so long.

Does anyone else find the traffic patterns at Columbia Crossing (Target, Dick's, etc..) maddening?

It is extremely frustrating trying to navigate around those various stores and parking lots on a weekend. It is only going to get worse as we approach the holidays. Forget Town Center planning, we need a charette for Columbia's suburbs!

And speaking of bad shopping center layouts, the Long Gate Shopping Center (Target, Safeway, Kohls, etc.) in Ellicott City is another one. I think the land planner who laid that one out should be made to direct traffic there on weekends.

If you ever want to make a point to your kids as to why they should stay in school, take them by those guys who stand on the corners around the Columbia Crossing shopping area swinging those Ryland Homes signs. That's their future without an education.

I happen to think that the Home Depot in Columbia is the worst one on the planet. Just my opinion. I cannot wait for Lowes to open.

Last week, on our way back from the eastern shore, my partners and I decided to stop into the Rams Head Tavern on West Street in Annapolis. Within five minutes we realized that Anne Arundel County still hasn't "gotten it" with the smoking thing. We Howard Countians have become spoiled. Next time we'll wait till we cross the Ho Co border.

Best places to meet for beers in Howard County?

Clyde's, Kelseys, Green Turtle, Ellicott Mills Brewing Company...

Anyone I missed?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I'm A Little Confused...

I was just reading the Executive Summary of the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown.

It calls for 20% "of the lot area of each individual parcel be devoted to public open space."

Existing New Town zoning requires that 36% of the land be dedicated to open space. Are they suggesting that the amount of open space in Town Center be reduced?

Or are they suggesting that an additional 20% on top of the 36% be set aside for open space in Town Center?

Or is this simply evidence that they are clueless?

Monday, October 30, 2006

And Speaking Of Downtown Plans...

Okay, I have to admit I got energized by two letters to the editor in the Howard section of The Sun Yesterday. One was by Marylou Semones in support of The Plaza residences in Town Center and the other was by Robert Tennenbaum urging his fellow downtown task force members to get off the dime and move the Town Center planning process forward.

Amen to Ms. Semones and Mr. Tennenbaum.

As far as the Plaza Residences go, enough is truly enough. Let's give WCI communities their building permit and get this beautiful building started. First of all it is in the right place, not on the lake where it might obstruct views but right on by Little Patuxent Parkway. Secondly, yes , it is a tall boy but really, when you consider that is actually downhill from the Mall, it will probably end up (visually anyway) not much taller than Merrill Lynch building.

As for the rest of the Town Center plan, it is time for action, not more study.

The largest landowner in Town Center, General Growth Properties, has shown more patience with this "planning" process than could reasonably be expected. Keep in mind that they still have the right to put big box retail and offices behind Merriweather without a new plan. It was primarily Ken Ullman and Judd Malone (former Town Center Columbia Council rep) who convinced GGP to get on board with the county and comunity to consider a wholistic plan. Now both of these guys are being attacked for doing just that. Judd Malone lost his reelection to the council and now it sounds like Ken's opponent, Chris Merdon, has made a campaign issue out of it.

No good deed goes unpunished they say.

Theodore Roosevelt put it best:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. "

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Downtown Plan...For Ellicott City

While much of the county is focused on the future of Columbia's Town Center, I think there needs to be a hard look at Ellicott City as well.

I am speaking of the historic district not the great amorphous area that makes up the Ellicott City zip codes.

Historic Ellicott City is a rare gem. It makes sense to preserve and protect it. The best way to achieve that is to make it economically strong.

That is not to say that it isn't doing well. In some cases it is doing quite well and in others it is falling short. The main challenge continues to parking. Without adequate parking it will stagnate.

I know there were once plans to float a bond issue in order to fund a parking garage behind the Post Office but I don't know what ever became of that.

With the addition of a parking garage (or two), perhaps on street parking along Main Street could be eliminated (at least on one side) and the sidewalks widened. This would allow restaurants to offer some outdoor seating and reduce the traffic tie ups that occur when people attempt to maneuver into a Main Street parking space. You have to admit that parallel parking skills vary widely.

Wider sidewalks would also provide an opportunity for street trees and benches. Some older and disabled folks might enjoy an occasional bench to rest on as they navigate the hilly topography of the old town.

Any other thoughts or ideas?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Angela Beltram endorses Chris Merdon. Does anyone else find this scary?

Do you really think that she would have even gotten involved in the Comp Lite debate if it had been a Lutheran or Catholic church that wanted to expand instead of a Korean one?

Scarier still are all of the other politicians who want to be seen standing next to her this campaign season. She has become the flavor of the month because the candidates believe she will deliver votes in November.

We'll see...We'll see.

Politicians would do well to consider that the 7,000 people who signed her petition represent a mere 4% of the registered voters in the county.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Decisions, decisions...

I can't make up my mind as to whether I should be Comp Lite legistlation or a real estate developer for Halloween. If you listen to any of the candidates for county offices you'd think these two things were scarier than Frankenstein!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Attack of the Evil Developers

What is the deal with all of this negativity towards developers?

It seems to be fair game in this political season to attack the opponent as being in the developers pocket as if this was akin to dancing with devil himself. Developers (and they come in all shapes and sizes) seem to have become the root of all that is wrong in the county.

I guess they are an easy mark. They are a small constituency, they tear up the land, and they give money to politicians. Bad boys all around.

Yet consider this...Jim Rouse was first and foremost a developer. True he had many altruistic leanings but he understood that you needed to make a profit.

And this...developers not only contribute to political campaigns (and since when did that become a bad thing...didn't Tip O'Neil say that money was the mothers milk of politics?) they also give generously to community causes. In fact I would wager that, as a group, developers support more community events than our local technology companies do.

And what do they get in return?


The development business is a risky proposition. Developers place bets on where the economy will be two years from now. That is the average time it takes from conceiving a project to generating revenue from it. During that time they spend a great deal of money in legal fees, architectural fees, engineering fees, construction loans, permit fees and so on. In the end, if the economy goes sour, they run the risk of losing everything while they try to salvage their investment.

They also subject themselves to more input from the general public than any other private business.

What do you imagine a community would look like without developers?

Those are the comments I would be interested in hearing.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Letter To The Editor from Jim Binckley

As a Columbia resident of over 38 years , I have read more than my share of letters to the Columbia Flier. Over the years, most people want to inform us what bugs them about this town, who bugs them in this town , bashing CA, or what's best for their gifted and talented children.

Since the passing of Columbia founder Jim Rouse over a decade ago, a different type of letter has evolved. The themes and thin skinned rants are the same, but now people tell us that Mr. Rouse would have thought the same as them. The letters are fortified with passages like, " What would Jim Rouse think of this?"........." Jim Rouse would not be happy if he knew" ...... " Jim Rouse would roll in his grave if "......... "Jim Rouse would never have endorsed"....... After each Rouse observation , all a person has to do is insert his or her condemnation du jour, and presto, you got yourself a sacred point. That's right folks, all one needs is to stretch and pull each syllable that has ever been uttered by this mythical, Zen-like, yoda of a man , and you have achieved undisputed legitimacy. Who knows, maybe even run for local political office someday!

Master syllable stretcher, and redundantly elected Columbia Association board member Barbara Russell,she of the hot spot (excuse me village) of Oakland Mills, was recently quoted in the September 20th Baltimore Examiner in regards to the height restriction "crisis" in Town Center. Ms. Russell took the Jim Rouse high road to uncharted levels. It was her contention that Jim would be on her side , so she yanked a short passage from a Rouse speech, " It Can Happen Here", made in 1963. That's right ... 46 years ago! In that speech Rouse stated, " that serious problems in society stem from the fact that the city is out of scale with the people". This undoubtedly meant to Ms. Russell that Jim Rouse would never have liked a tall building in Town Center because he used the word "scale". Nice try, but the context of the speech wasn't even close to her smokescreen.

Soon after reading the Russell/Rouse quote, I visited the Columbia Archives and met with the curator to obtain a copy of the speech. The "scale" Rouse was referring to was the overall size of entire cities, not the scale of a building. Rouse further stated," I believe this out-of- scaleness promotes loneliness, irresponsibility, superficial values. I would visualize a series of small communities separated by topography, highways, public institutions, or greenbelts, and united by a center that provided cultural, educational, recreational facilities for many , say 10 to 20 small towns around it"

It is my contention that Jim Rouse may have been conceptually laying the foundation for the village concept of Columbia in the 1963 speech. The "small communities" being the neighborhoods, and the "small towns around it" being the villages. Those are just my thoughts, I don't speak for Jim Rouse. You remember the village concept don't you ? The success and uniqueness of the centers were the core of the Columbia concept. What happened? Kimco Realty, the village landlords, have somehow determined through intense market research, that after 40 years of evolving, Columbia residents like to do three things. Eat bagels..... get our nails done ..... and buy liquor. Good Lord! The Barbara Russell's of this town and the other members of the political junior varsity known as the Columbia Council need to protect the foundation of this town before they lend their Rousian input into it's future.

In closing, I would like to lend some historical perspective in regards to a city that did in fact struggle with height restrictions, and in this case had real ( not imagined ) founding father input . In 1894 the city of Philadelphia erected what was then one of the tallest structures in the world. The City Hall building had a crowning statue atop it of William Penn, that rose 548 feet in the air. It was decreed then and for the better part of the next century that no building in Philadelphia shall ever exceed the statue of Mr. Penn. That was until Willard Rouse II , with substantial monetary, legal, and design input from his uncle , Columbia founder Jim Rouse, decided to build two buildings that topped William Penn's hat by 200 feet.The city fought Rouse long and hard , but gave in to the tireless developer. Willard , head of Rouse & Associates stated in 1984 that," I agree whole-heartedly that this project will probably set a precedent for the future, but people who are afraid of that are afraid of the future." I have no doubt that uncle Jim agreed with Willard .In 1987 One Liberty Place opened and the entire retail square footage of two buildings was leased quite profitably by our own Rouse Company of Columbia, Maryland through a handshake agreement between Willard and Uncle Jim.