Friday, November 30, 2007

Profit Motives

If you haven't already done so, please visit the Hometown Columbia blog and read Jessie's post entitled "Jim Rouse as *ALL* about the money."

Jessie nails it perfectly and I have to say that I couldn't have said it better myself!

Wildlife in EC

A coyote has apparrently been spotted in the vicinity of the historic district. And you thought the wildlife was only in the bars!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Store Window Contest

This Saturday the Ellicott City Restoration Foundation is sponsoring a holiday store window decorating contest for the merchants in the old town. Shoppers will be able to vote for their favorite window by picking up a ballot in one of the participating stores or at the Howard County Tourism office located on the lower level of the old Ellicott City Post Office on Main Street.

It's a fun activity for the family and a great way to explore Ellicott City.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Scene This Week In...

Is it just me or does anyone else find the display of the poinsettia tree skeleton tragic?

The once elegant fixture of the Columbia holiday scene now sits stripped of its red flowers in a Merriweather Post Pavilion parking lot. I’m sorry but it comes off to me as a cheap sideshow in the already borderline tacky Symphony of Lights.

It is worse of course during the day when the colored lights that it has been festooned with have no effect. Fortunately the general public can’t see it as the exhibit is closed during the daytime. The poinsettia tree I knew and loved was beautiful day in and night without any artificial lighting.

And viewing it was free, now it will cost you twenty bucks a car just to see it in this sadly diminished form.

Thus I have dubbed it “The Ghost of Christmas Past.” You can read more about it in my column the December issue of the Business Monthly. I’ll post the link here under “The Way I See It” after the paper hits the streets next week.

On a lighter note, this fire hydrant in Ellicott City cracked me up. Those are pieces of chewing gum plastered around it. This particular fireplug sits on the corner of Winding Ross Way and Edgehill Court in Taylor Village in Ellicott City. It happens to be on the main walking route to the bus stop for a large number of elementary and middle school kids.

A true work of people’s art.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Is That What You Think?

The Columbia Association Board of Directors has placed full page advertisements in several local publications featuring this letter to County Executive Ken Ulman outlining their position on any redevelopment of Town Center.

For the most part the document is fairly innocuous, restating themes that all parties generally agree upon, such as respect the land; create a livable community, more restaurants and businesses and so on.

What struck me was the misleading statement about open space. The letter calls for preserving the “open space” around the Hug statue. That land is not open space. It is private property. CA has plenty of open space under its exclusive control in Town Center. From the looks of things they do a pretty lousy job of maintaining it too.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if the CA board instead spent the same amount of energy looking at how their own organization might adapt to a new downtown.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Scene This Week In...

The big man himself is the subject of this weeks scenes. Thanksgiving is the official kick off of the holiday season. From now until December 25th it will be difficult to keep the kids focused on anything but the big guy in the red suit.

In Ellicott City, Frank DiPietro must surely be one of Santa’s elves. Along with Ed Williams they own Mumbles & Squeaks Toy Shoppe on Main Street. If you want something different from a Toys R Us experience, you will find it in their store. I love this place.

In Columbia you get the real thing. At least you get a guy who looks like the real thing. This authentic looking Santa is all wrapped up in the Santastic experience brought to you by Creig Northrop, Comcast, Build A Bear and other sponsors with ads prominently displayed.

I usually update my Scenes This Week on Wednesdays but tomorrow my daughter and I will be amongst the millions of people schlepping through an airport on our way to a Thanksgiving reunion. Our destination is Birmingham Alabama and the home of my sister Pat. There is a true Columbia connection here as well. Pat worked in Columbia back in the early years (67-69) as an aide to Gary Clark, Zeeger DeWilde and Art Caplan. If you recognize any of those names you more than qualify as a Columbia old timer.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Santastic In Poinsettia Tree Out

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With all of the hoopla surrounding the new “Santastic” attraction at The Mall In Columbia you may not have noticed that something is conspicuously missing this year, the poinsettia tree. The 22 foot poinsettia tree graced the center court fountain of the mall every year since the mall opened in 1971. My favorite columnist wrote this about it five years ago.

After a thirty six year run, the poinsettia tree has now been replaced by trucks parked in the fountain. I for one, lament this loss of a Columbia holiday tradition.

Town Center Website

Thanks to fellow blogger Bill Santos at Columbia Compass for giving us the heads up on this. As expected, GGP has launched a website dedicated to Columbia Town Center redevelopment. There isn't much there right now but expect to see more in the coming months. Most importantly, they have a section soliciting input and recommendations from the community at large, so let your voice be heard. I have added a link in the Links of Interest section of this blog.

If you want to see photos of the vision that they are sharing in community meetings you can check here, here and here.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Adam The First!

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As part of my in depth reporting on “Columbicott City, I stopped by the sales trailer for Bozzuto Homes at Shipley’s Grant. Adjacent to the entry road off Waterloo is this historical marker. I figure that most people zip by this sign without stopping to read it. There really is no place to easily pull over for that matter.

But it is an interesting marker. You hear a good deal about the Carrolls and Calverts around here but not so much about the Shipley’s. Sounds like they had a pretty nice spread back in 1687.

Today of course, the landscape is a bit different. This is the development model that sits in the sales trailer. Note that Route 100 and the overhead power lines are conspicuously absent. You have to step outside the trailer to see those features.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Private Meetings

General Growth is holding a series of private meetings with a wide range of community groups to discuss it’s vision for the future of Town Center in Columbia. I happen to think that this is a wise approach. It gives the company a chance to respond directly and appropriately to individual concerns.

I have attended one of these briefings. It was informative and there was healthy dialogue between the developer and the invitees. That is what is required to refine a vision and build it into a plan.

That is what GGP says it wants to do. They emphasized time and time again during the presentation that what they are discussing in these meetings is a vision, not a final plan. That, they insist, will come after absorbing the feedback from the various community stakeholders.

Some folks don’t like this though. In today’s Sun, June Arney reported on these meetings and the reactions of some of these folks. Alex Hekimian is challenging whether any village board members or Columbia Council members can legally attend these meetings since they are not open to the public and the press.


These are GGP’s meetings. They can dam well invite whoever they want. They are not presenting a final plan, they are looking for feedback. Have you ever noticed what happens when a meeting is open to everyone and the press, especially when the topic is a hot one like Town Center?

The big mouths and politicians dominate the dialogue as they vie for being quoted by the press. That’s why some of the politicians don’t like them. They can’t grandstand.

I hope my elected representatives attend one of these meetings. That's what they are supposed to do. Go. Listen. Learn. Form an opinion. Report back.

Then they can grandstand and pontificate all they want.

Scene This Week In...

It was a picture postcard fall day today, a little foggy and damp. The trees were just past their color peak. It reminded me once again of just how beautiful Howard County is.

The Ellicott City scene is the view on New Cut Road leading out of the historic district towards Montgomery Road. This road gets my vote for one of the prettiest roads in HoCo land.

The Columbia scene is the view of Little Patuxent Parkway from the pedestrian bridge looking back towards the Central library. You can see the corner of one of the blue Columbia 40th birthday banners by the entrance to the GGP building.

Isn’t it time to take those down?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Columbicott City

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I missed this story in the Sun last week about the “limited income” apartments planned for Ellicott City.

I was wondering if “limited income” has become the new euphemism for affordable housing.


The 106 unit project being called The Residences at Ellicott Gardens is planned for a site at the intersection of Route 108 and Route 104. While this is technically Ellicott City, it still feels like Columbia because it is on the south side of Route 100. Then again maybe we should call this Waterloo Road Route 100 corridor area Columbicott City.

It is probably politically safe to put affordable housing in Columbicott City because it is sort of neither here nor there.

Also underway in Columbicott City is the Shipley’s Grant development, a 306 unit townhouse development that is about a quarter mile from the Ellicott Gardens project. Shipley’s Grant will be for people who are “limited” to purchasing a townhome in the $450,000 to $600,000 price range. That seems pretty pricey for a community that is bordered by high power transmission lines to the west, Route 100 to the north and Snowden River Parkway to the east.

They seem to selling well enough though.

Shipley’s Grant will also have a “village” retail center that will front Waterloo Road. So far Starbucks and Cold Stone Creamery have committed to leases in this new center on Main Street (Waterloo Road) in Columbicott City.

Monday, November 12, 2007

New Columbia Blogger

I discovered another Columbia blogger today. He left a comment on my The Big Picture post and I looked him up. Brian Dunn is a native Columbian and he started People Tree Films back in September. If you want to hear another generational voice (you will have to ask Jessie if he is a millennial or an Xer) on the future of Columbia you should check out his blog. I have added his blog to my blog links on the right.

Welcome People Tree Films. I'll tell Jessie to add you to the blogtail hour list.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Other Voices

The current issue of The Business Monthly is on the street. In the letters section there is a great letter from Caroline Sherman, a longtime Clary's Forest resident and local businesswoman. I generally agree with her views outlined in this letter.

Another letter in the Letters to the Editor section is from Mike Davis. Mike is also a longtime Columbia resident and practicing attorney who currently resides in Bryant Woods. Mike lays out the economic benefits of the Plaza tower condominiums. I don't believe enough enough has been written or said about the salient points he raises.

Of course the November The Business Monthly also features my favorite columnist.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Big Picture

While Mama Wordbones is off having her whipped cocoa bath this morning at the Chocolate spa, I have a moment to share this final photo from the GGP presentation at Oakland this past Tuesday. This photo captures the “vision” in its entirety. Another key feature of this “vision” is a series of “commons” that create important connections. One common would link the Mall to the lakefront. Another would link the Symphony North area to the Mall and Symphony Woods. A third would extend Sterrett Place down through the woods to the lakefront. I believe a fourth one would create a promenade from LL Bean up through to Twin Rivers Road.

I caution that I may not have these exactly accurate. There was a lot of information imparted over a short period of time and I didn’t take notes. The best advice I can give is to attend one of the GGP sessions that are going to be held around town and see for yourself. I believe GGP is also planning an interactive website for this “vision”. As soon as I find out what the URL is I’ll link to it under the Links of Interest.

Now I have to go see how Mama Wordbones is doing.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

More From The GGP Town Center Presentation.

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Yesterday at the GGP presentation on Town Center development I asked Doug Godine if I could take a few pictures of the schematic vision. He said go ahead so here’s another shot. This is the “vision” for the Crescent neighborhood. This would be primarily residences wrapping around Symphony Woods with office buildings lining the outside perimeter.

I’ll post another shot in the next day or so. Right now I’m ensconced at the Hotel Hershey with Mama Wordbones, a fruit and cheese plate and a bottle of red wine (its good for the heart ya know). More news later…

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Coming Soon To A Meeting Near You

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This morning I attended a preview of General Growth Properties much anticipated vision for Columbia’s Town Center. Doug Godine, the General Manager of Columbia for GGP, took great pains to emphasize that this was not the final plan but a working plan that will evolve with input from all the stakeholders; the citizens of Columbia, Howard County Government, Columbia Association and even the State Highway Administration.

One of the key elements of GGP’s vision are two greenways that would eventually connect all the disparate parts of Town Center. Think of it as kind of a super pathway system designed to handle a high volume of pedestrian traffic. The inner ring would consist of a loop around the core of the Town Center. This greenway would be approximately 1.5 miles long. The outer ring would loop around the perimeter of the Town Center area and would be a little over three miles long.

GGP envisions four distinct neighborhoods. They are being identified as Warfield, Symphony North, The Crescent and the Lakefront. Each features a mix of uses but the bulk of the new office space would be in the Crescent while Warfield would be heavier on retail. All four areas would contain housing and all housing would be either condominiums or apartments. No town homes or single family homes are included in this preliminary vision.
A fellow blogger also attended and offered a very interesting suggestion on how to uniquely orient a new pedestrian promenade from the mall to the lakefront. I'll leave it to him to report on that. It was a real audience pleaser.

I really don’t want to steal anymore of GGP’s thunder here. Suffice it to say that I was impressed by the depth and breadth of this “vision”. GGP and it’s planners have developed a very enticing framework for the remaking of Town Center. If you are interested in Columbia you owe it to yourself to attend one of these information sessions that GGP will hosting around town in the coming months.

If you have followed the controversy over the Plaza and the rhetoric of groups like CoFoDoCo, you have heard what armchair planners think should be done. Now it is time to see what the professionals think should be done.

Scene This Week In...

I’ve kind of got this thing going on for clerks in Columbia. You may recall that last week it was Jo and Sheila at Orinico coffee shop. This week it’s Greg and Jessica at Trader Joe’s. I count myself among those who looked forward to the arrival of TJ’s. I for one think our fair town can support two of them. How about a TJ’s at Wilde Lake Village Green?

Anyway, Greg and Jessica were gracious enough to ham it up for my picture and so they now occupy this weeks Scene in Columbia.

As for my Ellicott City scene, most everyone I know refers to this guy as the Bubble Man. He holds court every weekend on the sidewalk in front of the Forget Me Not Factory on Main Street in downtown Ellicott City. On this particular day though he wasn’t waving any bubble wands. He was just greeting and talking to folks looking very Gandalf like and leaning on a thick wooden staff.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Build It And They Will Come...Hopefully

There was a commercial broker reception for the completion of 7021 Columbia Gateway Drive this afternoon. 7021 Columbia Gateway is a 104,000 square foot five story office building in the Columbia Gateway Corporate Community. This is a speculative office project developed by Orix Real Estate Equities in Chicago.

The leasing efforts for this building began in earnest the day the ground was broken in August of 2006. While it is not unusual for a building of this size to not have any leases signed at the time it is completed, it is far from comforting for the developer. Of particular concern is the fact that two more speculative office projects are now underway within sight of this building.

6811 Benjamin Franklin Drive is a 56,000 square foot two story building being developed by Columbia based Abrams Development Group. It is scheduled for completion by the end of the year. Just behind 6811 Benjamin Franklin is 6821 Benjamin Franklin which is also called Franklin Center. Franklin Center is a 200,000 square foot seven story office building being developed by The Trammel Crow Company out of Washington, DC. That works out to 360,000 square feet of new space with no tenants, so far. Of the three buildings, only Franklin Center is going for LEED Silver certification.

It is safe to assume that all three buildings are hoping to capitalize on the demand for space associated with BRAC at Fort Meade. It is too early to tell whether that demand will spread to Columbia Gateway, although there are several DOD contractors already located there.

As far as 7021 Columbia Gateway is concerned, the clock is certainly ticking.

Monday, November 05, 2007

TJ's Has Come To Town...Finally

Trader Joe's opened this past Friday in the Gateway Overlook Shopping Center. I have been a fan of this store since I first discovered one in Monterey California back in 1996. When I used to describe the store to my East Coast friends I called it a poor mans Sutton Place Gourmet. Of course that was back when Sutton Place Gourmet defined the specialty grocery market. Today that is a crowded category and SPG is now part of the Balduccis chain.

But I digress...

A couple of observations from their first weekend: 1) The place was packed but somehow the lines at the cashiers moved pretty fast. The cashiers actually seemed to like their jobs too, despite being jammed. 2) I noticed on my receipt that the store lists their address as Elkridge, even though they are on CPRA assessed land.

Trader Joe's is a fun place with a unique selection of foods and a certain energy that you don't find in your average chain store. The new store in Gateway Overlook does not have a liquor license though so you won't find "Two Buck Chuck" wines there.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

General Blog Note

This is a kind of Saturday blog chore thing, you know, fixing things up and whatnot. From now on, Tales of Two Cities can now be accessed simply by using

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Plaza Tower Saga Continues

This mornings Sun paper contained two stories about the continuing saga of the Plaza condominium tower in Town Center. The first story reported that Councilperson Sigaty's proposed legislation Council Bill 63 and 64 will die after being tabled in the last council session. Apparrently Ms Sigaty counted noses and found she came up short of a majority needed to pass the bills. This speaks well for the wisdom of the other council members. Ms Sigaty's bills were simply an act of ill conceived political pandering to a vocal minority. The planning board saw this when they unanimously voted not to recommend this legislation. You can read their conclusions here and here and here to see for yourself.

The other story concerned the public hearings on the county's master plan for Town Center. While there is not much new news here it is still gratifying to see that the debate isn't being dominated by CoFoDoCo attempting to "speak for the people of Columbia."

I did not make it to last nights CA board of directors public hearing about downtown redevelopment. I got a hung up in the bar downstairs catching up with old friends after our little "blogtail hour." If anyone who did attend would like to share their observations, please do.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Stand Up And Be Counted

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Tonight the Columbia Association Board of Directors will hear testimony about the pro and cons of the Town Center development plans that Bring Back the Vision has supported. The Bring Back the Vision folks are hoping to get some younger residents to come and be recognized. They define young as anyone under 50 (ya gotta love that!).

That makes sense. The Town Center development will have it's greatest impact on those folks and therefore their input bears more weight, or it should anyway.

If you think your voice has not been heard so far in this debate over Columbia's future, please try and attend this evening. You don't have to testify. You can simply stand and be recognized when they ask for a show of support. The meeting will be held at 7:30 PM in the CA board room in the Columbia Association Building (Teachers Building) in Town Center.