Monday, September 29, 2008

The Subprime Primer

Aside from Treasury Secretary Hank Paulsen getting on bended knee to implore House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to keep pushing for a bailout deal, there hasn't been much levity in the current financial crisis on Wall Street.

I happen think Mondays require levity.

This "Subprime Primer" has actually been circulating around the Internet for almost a year as a power point file. It's primitive stick figure drawings actually work for me.

I will caution that the language gets a little earthy so blog reader discretion is advised.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

And Now a Word from Chicago…

If you only read this article from The Sun or this one from The Daily Record, you might think that GGP was in some really deep doo-doo.

No doubt there are challenging days ahead for the company but it may not be as dire as those stories seem to indicate. A friend of mine sent me the GGP press release that resulted in these gloom and doom stories.

The exact text of that release is as follows:

CHICAGO – September 22, 2008 – General Growth Properties, Inc. (NYSE: GGP) today announced that the Company’s Board of Directors and management team is pursuing a comprehensive evaluation of its alternatives, both financial and strategic, in an effort to align the market value of the Company’s common stock more closely with the intrinsic value of the Company’s stable, high quality portfolio of real estate assets in good locations with significant barriers to entry. Occupancy reached a record high of 93.2% in the second quarter of 2008 and comparable net operating income continued to increase, even in a challenging consumer sales environment.

The Company currently anticipates that it will be in a position to offer a long-term fixed-rate portfolio mortgage financing to lenders in mid to late November, and in the interim will actively pursue several sources of financing for the Company’s near term maturing obligations. The Company and its advisors are also developing a comprehensive, strategic plan to generate capital from a variety of potential sources including, but not limited to, both core and non-core asset sales, the sale of joint venture or preferred equity in selected pools of its assets, a corporate level capital infusion, and/or strategic business combinations.

General Growth is one of the largest U.S.-based publicly traded Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT) based upon market capitalization. The Company currently has ownership interest in, or management responsibility for, a portfolio of more than 200 regional shopping malls in 44 states, as well as ownership in master planned community developments and commercial office buildings. The Company's portfolio totals approximately 200 million square feet and includes over 24,000 retail stores nationwide. The Company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol GGP.

So there you have it.

Wordbones Weekend Words

Visits to this blog drop in half over the weekends. It has pretty much been that way since I started paying attention. Two months or so ago I started making a conscious effort to do at least one post per weekend to see if I could effect that.

I am happy to report that it does make a difference when I post on a weekend. It’s marginal but noticeable. I just thought I’d share that.

I also figured it was a good way to begin a weekend post. Maybe it will become a regular feature, Wordbones Weekend Words!

Last night, I had the rare solo Friday night. Mama Wordbones was off at Parents Weekend at Washington College and Peanut was with her mom. It was just me and our two aging dogs, Mars (black lab) 11 and Lucky (golden) 12. At this point in their lives they really need somebody staying in the house with them all the time. The drop by three times a day dog care services won’t cut it with them anymore.

So anyway, Friday night it was just me and the dogs. Once I fed and played around with them a bit, I hopped in the car and drove over to Clyde’s. I ran into Dennis Dunn. He was the first GGP guy I’d seen since that certain newspaper article came out this past Thursday (more about that in a future post). As promised, I bought him a drink.
Clyde’s was having its Oktoberfest and some of the waiters were walking around in lederhosen. They aren’t letting the rain deter them. They have a tent. The Oktoberfest is on tonight and tomorrow too.

From Clyde’s I swung over to Victoria. It was a happening place. They were standing two deep at the bar. I ran into Randy Marriner, the proprietor of the gastro pub. We spoke a bit about the nasty review in the Post by Tom Sietsema. I told him about my blog post and the some of the positive comments it received defending his establishment. In any event, the review didn’t seem to be affecting business. Randy seemed generally happy.

After that it was back home to the dogs and the debate…in that order.

Today Peanut and I ventured down to the Fall Festival in Downtown Ellicott City. When we parked the car it wasn’t raining. By the time we were at the intersection of Old Columbia Pike and Main Street it was drizzling. By the time we got down to the corner of Main Street and Maryland Avenue it was pouring.

Poor Ellicott City, things don’t look so good on Main Street right now. I counted at least six vacant storefronts right on Main Street. Two restaurants have closed down this year, Annabel’s and the Tiber River Tavern. The weather gods certainly weren’t in its favor today either.

Eventually the rain drove us home.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Down on Main Street

It’s hard to focus today. Last night our president spoke of the economy in grave terms. The early morning television pundits said it is hard for Main Street America to fathom the severity of the credit constriction in the capital markets. I don’t think that’s true with our Main Street.

The lead story of today’s Sun is entitled “Next Crunch?” Below the headline is a large color photo of the Village of Cross Keys in Baltimore. The caption reads “Because of debt, General Growth Properties is trying to sell its Village of Cross Keys and, possibly, other malls in the Baltimore area.”

The Village of Cross Keys commercial center has actually been for sale for several months now. It is a little difficult to get funding for large purchases these days.

It gets worse.

According to the story, GGP’s debt obligations are forcing it to “sell assets or even the whole company.”

That would certainly change the Town Center redevelopment dynamic a bit. The big question right now is, will GGP go ahead and submit its NT rezoning request to the county this month?

…or next month?

…or before Christmas?

There is certainly an argument to be made for doing so, even if they end up “selling the whole company.” An undeveloped property is always worth more with entitlements in place.

Forget at that for moment though. What about the folks who work at GGP?

What about our neighbors, colleagues and friends who work there?

I happen to know more than a few colleagues and friends who work for GGP. A few of them I’ve known since The Rouse Company days. They’ve been through corporate turmoil once before. I’ll bet the prospect of going through it again is not a happy thought.

I’m sure they’ve had better days at work on Columbia’s Main Street.

If I see any of you at the C20 event tonight, I’m buying.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lipstick on a Pig

I realize this is old news but I just couldn’t help myself. In a happier time this month, before Wall Street melted down, I was driving home listening to All Things Considered on NPR. When I heard this story I laughed so hard I almost ran off the road.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Kimco Seeks to End GGP’s Role as Columbia Gatekeeper

Kimco, the owner of Wilde Lake Village Shopping Center, has submitted a petition to amend the New Town Zoning in Columbia (ZRA-102). Kimco is seeking to end the “gatekeeper” role of Columbia’s developer in approving any redevelopment plans for the village centers. As it now stands, Kimco must first get General Growths approval for their redevelopment plans before they can submit them to the county. In their petition, Kimco claims that the “existing regulations do not permit the redevelopment of the Village Centers to respond to changing market conditions. As a result of the current regulations, the Village Centers can not be redeveloped and reinvestment is therefore discouraged.”

That’s a bit of a stretch.

Back in March, when Ken Ulman announced his legislative initiative to support this type of change in Columbia I was generally supportive of the notion.

I’ve since changed my mind. The more I studied Kimco’s plans for Wilde Lake and their track record with the eight village centers they acquired from The Rouse Company, the more convinced I am that they are somewhat lacking in the whole Columbia vision thing. Once they gained control of the eight centers, they sold off Oakland Mills and Long Reach and kept Hickory Ridge, River Hill, Dorsey’s Search, Harpers Choice, Kings Contrivance and Wilde Lake. While I generally applaud their efforts to reinvest in Wilde Lake, I have now come around to conclude that their plans for 500 apartment units in that center are a little out of whack with the village center concept, even an evolved village center concept.

GGP on the other hand, has a pretty strong interest in maintaining the Columbia franchise. In addition to Town Center they also have significant land holdings in Columbia Gateway. It is in GGP’s best interest to see that the Columbia “brand” stays strong and that means relatively healthy village centers. I suspect that GGP has been a little disappointed in Kimco’s stewardship of the village centers so far so it is no surprise that Kimco would prefer to have them removed from the approval process.

I think I’d rather see a private developer who has “skin in the game” in the role of gatekeeper for the Columbia concept than to leave that function entirely in the hands of local government.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Wegmans Saga Part Seven

click to enlarge

Today I learned that Wegmans has now received the critical Site Development Plan approval for their planned store at the intersection of Snowden River Parkway and McGaw Road in Columbia. They need this approval before they can apply for a building permit.

If you want to see some interesting computer generated renderings of the building and the parking structure, check out the SDP application on the county website. I liked this elevation because it gives you some idea how the redeveloped property will look when you are actually driving by it. You can find the SDP application, with exhibits, here. It’s a big file though so it may require a little patience.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Laptop Warranty Blues

Three years ago, when I purchased my Toshiba Tecra A4 laptop, I also purchased the extended three year “drop kick” warranty for an additional $254.15. It was my understanding that this would cover any problem I had with the machine for three years.

I should note here that I seldom buy extended warranties.

The laptop though is another issue entirely. I lug my laptop around everywhere. It goes traveling with me, it goes out on the patio, into the mall and god knows where else. I should also note that I am not exactly what you might describe as a gentle person. The point being that I am a little rough on my equipment. Buying a “drop kick” warranty seemed to be a prudent thing to do.

As it turns out, my little laptop has proven to be a fairly tough little machine. With the extended warranty period coming to an end next month, I never needed to use it, until a few weeks ago that is. It wasn’t the computer itself that encountered problems. It was the AC adapter that gave up the ghost. Of course a laptop without an AC adapter is a laptop on limited life support. I dug out my extended warranty papers and called the 800 number. No problem, I was told. They would ship a new AC adapter out to me in 7 to 10 business days.

That’s a problem. My laptop battery life is around four hours. In the past I have given thought to having two AC adapters, one for my office and one for home. I decided that this was the opportunity to do just that so I bought a universal AC adapter. When Toshiba sent me my replacement I’d have two. It’s a plan. So far so good.

After waiting ten days and not receiving my replacement adapter I called Toshiba again to find out what was up. Of course I doubt I was actually calling Toshiba but rather some call center in India. This time the representative informed me that it often takes 10 to 15 business days for these parts to arrive. What happened to the 7 to 10 days I was told previously?

The guy didn’t have an answer for that except to say that the guy who promised a quicker delivery was misinformed.

“Can you at least tell me that it was shipped?”

“It was shipped,” he told me. He couldn’t tell me when though.

I began to suspect that they might be dragging this out. Recall that I only had a little over a month left on my warranty period. I began to envision a month and half of chasing a hundred dollar AC adapter. They were going to try and grind me down.

Taking his word, I waited the requisite 15 business days for AC adapter. It never arrived. I called again. This time, when the representative got on the phone I started right in on him.

“Let me begin by saying that I know this isn’t your fault and I am not angry at you.” I then proceeded to give him my name, address, the serial number of my laptop, the service order that the first guy gave me and the date and time of my last call when I was told the item had been shipped.

After that I simply said, “I'd like to speak with a supervisor please.”

Without any argument he asked me to hold while he got a supervisor.

As it turns out, all the supervisors were busy. He then gave me a different 800 number to call. He told me that this was a Customer Relations number. He suggested that this might be a better approach for me at this point. He also gave me a new “case number.” I imagined my little file at Toshiba was getting bigger and bigger. I thanked him and hung up.

The next morning I called the new 800 number. This time the woman I spoke with politely informed me that the AC adapter wasn’t covered by my warranty.

“Wait a minute, I already have a service number.” This time the fact that I already had a case number meant she couldn’t help. It wasn't her area. She gave me yet another 800 number.

The next live person I got on the phone was immediately subjected the whole litany of my Toshiba travails complete with serial numbers, order numbers, and bad 800 numbers. Once again I told the person that I was certain he was nice fellow and that he personally had nothing to do with my little drama but, despite all that, he wasn’t likely to be able to make me happy at this point either. I asked him to connect me with his supervisor. He readily complied.

I waited no more than five minutes on hold when Betty came on the phone. I immediately took a liking to Betty. She was all business. She had already reviewed my case before she even got on the line.

“Somebody messed up,” she offered.

I told I appreciated her candor.

“The order was booked but never sent,” she explained. In very short order, Betty confirmed that the item was in stock and with a few keystrokes sent it down into the system and to my front door.

My brand new AC adapter arrived two days later.

Before Betty and I parted I asked how I could ever find the real Toshiba customer relations again. I still have six weeks left on my warranty after all.

I wanted Betty’s number.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Freshly Dug Holes

Earlier this week, I was talking with my sister Pat about the turmoil on Wall Street. She told me that she had a conversation with a financial adviser in Birmingham who advised one of his wealthy clients to take all of his money out of the market and bury it in a hole in Montana.

“I’m not wealthy,” she told him, “What should I do?”

“Go to Montana and look for freshly dug holes” he advised.

Scene This Week In...

Driving through Ellicott City the other day I witnessed a sight you seldom see these days. A store owner was actually sweeping the curb in front of his store on Main Street. I believe the man in the ball cap is Tom Shoemaker, the proprietor of Shoemaker Country.

There was a time when this type of thing wouldn’t cause a second glance. Nowadays, it seems that many store operators often can’t see beyond their front doors.

When I was fresh out of college working for The Rouse Company, I was given a valuable lesson by Jim Rouse himself. Jim believed that whenever you were on a company property and you saw trash you should bend over and pick it up. No one was too good to do this simple task and the Chairman himself led by example.

My hat goes off to Tom Shoemaker. He is this weeks Scene in Ellicott City.

Over in Columbia I had the occasion to drop by the Howard County Central Library in Town Center. It was Monday afternoon around 1:30 and the parking lot was packed.
This is a very popular library.

Part of General Growth’s proposed redevelopment of Town Center includes replacing the existing library with a larger and expanded scope facility similar to the one in Cerritos, California. Apparently Valerie Gross the Executive Director & CEO of the Howard County library system is completely on board with this plan. GGP sees the new library as an intregal part of a new group of cultural amenities in Symphony Woods that would include a completely refurbished Merriweather Post Pavilion and a new Children’s Theatre run by Toby Orenstein in one of the existing barns.

The best part about these plans is the prospect that many more people will be encouraged to walk to these facilities rather than driving as they do now.

The existing library is this weeks Scene in Columbia

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Looney’s Pub Coming to Columbia?

This morning I received an email from a broker representing Looney’s Pub in Canton. The Irish pub is looking for a new location in Columbia. They are looking for locations of 7,000 to 10,000 square feet that offer “strong daytime and evening populations.”

The former Rocky Run location immediately comes to mind.

It won’t be the first time a Baltimore pub has tapped into the Columbia scene. Last year the Dog Pub in Federal Hill took over the former Hard Times Café location on Dobbin Road and opened Pub Dog.

I wonder if these establishments are simply following their young clientele as they move from urban singles to young families seeking good schools.

UPDATE March 16, 2009: Well they didn't exactly land in Columbia but Looney's Pub is now open in the space formerly occupied by Trapeze in Maple Lawn, just in time for this years St. Patricks Day celebrations!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Another CA Board Meltdown

Last night at a seemingly mundane CA Board Operations Committee meeting, a group of approximately 25 residents showed up to let their voices be heard.

Why such a large turnout for a simple committee meeting?

CA staff had prepared a confidential memo for the board regarding their recent discussions with GGP about Town Center redevelopment plans. Rob Goldman, who was serving as Acting CA president in Maggie Browns place, suggested that the board convene a closed session to discuss the issues raised in the memo before airing it in public.

It appears that CoFoDoCo had been given a heads up about this supposedly “confidential” memo. The larger than usual turnout was a result of them mobilizing their members. They came loaded for bear.

It is not difficult to figure out where CoFoDoCo got its “heads up.” Council members Cindy Coyle (Harpers Choice), Alex Hekimian (Oakland Mills), Evan Coren (Kings Contrivance) and Phil Kirsch (Wilde Lake) were all pushing for an open discussion of the staff memo clearly pandering to their assembled supporters.

Council members Miles Coffman (Hickory Ridge), Tom O’Connor (Dorsey’s Search), Pearl Atkinson (Owen Brown) and Suzanne Waller (Town Center) wanted to have a closed session first. There is actually a legal question as to whether they were required to hold a private session first. This was a “confidential” staff memo after all.

Council members Hank Dagenais (Long Reach) and Michael Cornell (River Hill) were absent.

With four members wanting a premature open meeting and four members wanting a closed meeting, the issue hit an impasse. Chaos apparently then ruled the night.

I say apparently because, in the interest of full disclosure here, I was not in attendance. I received a report on the proceedings this morning from someone who was. Judging from the report I got it was another highly charged evening on Wincopin Circle. If anyone who attended had a different take, please feel free to comment.

In the end, the memo was not discussed in open session last night.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sidewalk To Nowhere

Sarah Palin may have her bridge to nowhere but Columbia now has a sidewalk to nowhere.

I suppose you could technically claim that the sidewalk connects the Dobbin Square shopping center to the Columbia Crossing shopping center on the opposite side of Rouse Parkway (MD Route 175). The only problem is that on the Columbia Crossing side the sidewalk just comes to a dead end.

What are pedestrians supposed to do at this point?
Their options at this point are to walk on the grass or walk in the street. The truly adventurous can try climbing the steep grassy hill. This will land them smack dab in the loading dock area for Dicks and Staples.

Whoever planned this apparrently did not think it all the way through. Perhaps they ran out of money?

This is not exactly a pedestrian friendly intersection to begin with. The new crosswalk makes crossing here only marginally safer.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Firehouse to House Wine Bar?

I first heard about this from Mike Johnson at the Judges Bench Pub in Ellicott City. He told me he spoke with the person who was planning on leasing the old firehouse building across from his place on Main Street. She told him she was planning on opening a wine bar.

The Main Street firehouse went out of commission as an active firehouse when a new home for Ellicott City Fire Company #2 was completed at the intersection of Montgomery Road and US Route 29. The old firehouse was sold by the county to local attorney, Richard B. Talkin. The sale upset some of the other restaurateurs’ in the old town. They didn’t want the new owner to lease the building to another restaurant.

I’ve never really understood that logic. More restaurants have generally been proven to generate more traffic. On the other hand, they also raise the level of everyone’s game and those who do not meet that challenge could get hurt by the new competition.

Anyway, in order to placate the locals and get the deal done, Richard agreed not to lease to a restaurant for a fixed period of time. I seem to recall that it was around two years. Keeping to his word, he then leased the building to an arts and antiques dealer.

The arts and antiques dealer closed up shop this summer. The self imposed prohibition against restaurants is now over so there is no keeping Mr. Talkin from leasing to someone who wants to open a wine bar.

When I called him the other day on another matter, I asked him about the rumor of a wine bar in his building.

“We are talking with some people,” he responded coyly. I certainly can’t fault him for that. A deal isn’t a deal until the deal is done and the check has cleared. This transaction apparently isn’t quite there yet.

He did let on though, that he thought a wine bar would be a good fit.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Wegmans Saga Part Six

Today, in a comment to this blog, HowChow asked “Any other news on Wegmans? I drive by looking for construction, but I haven't seen anything.”

I thought that was a pretty good question too. So do many readers here I suspect. According to Google Analytics, my last post on Wegmans, on July 31st is still the 13th most popular post on this blog (out of 290) and the keywords “wegman’s howard traffic” are the fifth most popular keywords (out of 388) over the past thirty days.

So there you are. People want to know what’s up with Wegmans.

When I want to know what’s up with Wegmans I call Richard Talkin, arguably the best real estate attorney in Howard County and, just so coincidentally, he happens to represent Wegmans in Howard County.

“They’re moving forward,” he told me today. The company is currently working their way through the county planning and development approval process. They’ll likely need a developer’s agreement, a site development plan approval, a grading permit and a building permit before they can proceed. That all takes time. Lots of time.

“They could conceivably open in 2009,” he told me but admitted that it’s more likely to be early 2010.

There still is that pesky lawsuit to deal with. Dick insists that Wegmans is proceeding to work their way through the approvals process in anticipation that this will be resolved in their favor.

Now you know what I know.

Ulman Abandons County Seat…Moves To Columbia!


Well, okay, maybe not really seriously. The move is temporary. The county will move all employees, including the exec, from the George Howard Building in Ellicott City to 8930 Stanford Boulevard just off Dobbin Road in Columbia. According to this story in The Sun, the move will occur over Columbus Day weekend in October. The county will then commence the $20 million renovation of the Ellicott City building.

The county council chambers will be relocated as well. Courtney and crew will move to the school board headquarters on Route 108.

8930 Stanford Boulevard is the also home to the headquarters of Ascend One Corporation. At one time the company occupied the entire 106,000 square foot building, but apparently these days “most of the firm’s employees work from home.”

The building was built in 1990 for S3 Technologies by Merritt Properties. S3 built mock ups of nuclear plant control rooms.

This property is a good value for the county. The space has been offered for sublease for over two years. It comes with workstations already in place and wired up and ready to go and it even has its own employee cafeteria. The best part though, is that county is not committed to a long term lease.

Still, this change is going to take some getting used to.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Meanwhile, Over in Elkridge…

This past Monday I found myself over by the eastern border of the county near my former office in Hanover. Since we moved the office to Columbia last March I hadn’t traveled back much to my old stomping ground.

When we first located in Hanover about eleven years ago we would often frequent Joe Theisman’s restaurant next to the Best Western Hotel on Dorsey Road in Elkridge. It was the best place in that area for a business lunch and for after work cocktails. A few years back, Joe Theisman’s closed this location and the House of Welch took over the space. The place went steadily downhill and we soon took our clients and our business elsewhere. The restaurant eventually closed.

When I drove by on Monday there was a liquor hearing notice on the door. The new place will be called The Stained Glass Pub. Judging from the progress the construction crews were making I expect that they will open sometime later this fall.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Columbia Tomorrow

Yesterday I attended a press conference in Symphony Woods announcing the formation of new citizen advocacy group for Columbia called Columbia Tomorrow.

I hear you. That’s just what Columbia needs, another citizen’s advocacy group right?

Still, forming a citizens group to promote a particular agenda is a time honored tradition in Columbia going back to the early years of the planned community. These groups have always been part of the social fabric of Columbia.

So now we have Columbia Tomorrow which, according to its president and spokesman Jud Malone, “was established to help create a more sustainable, inclusive and attractive community that strives for excellence.”

One of the other founders is Phil Engelke. Phil is a resident of the Village of Oakland Mills and a Vice President of Environmental Design for RTKL, a global architecture and design firm with offices in Baltimore. Yesterday he commented that he “hasn’t set a foot in Symphony Woods since the Petting Zoo closed.”

That was a very long time ago.

“Columbia is not a museum,” he continued, “The third generation of Columbians is not getting what we got.”

I happen to agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. Columbia risks becoming a living museum piece of 1960’s community planning.

The press conference was attended by a little more than 50 people, which is pretty good considering that it was in the middle of a cloudy and rainy day. Most encouraging however was the make-up of the audience. Unlike like most of these types of events I have attended, this one had a fair amount of members of that third generation of Columbians that Phil spoke about.
I just hope they stay engaged in the conversation.

Local Heroes

Last Friday Mama Wordbones and I attended a special presentation at Howard County General Hospital. The Howard County Hospital Foundation had invited donors and targeted donors to learn more about the new campus plans for the hospital. In case you haven’t been over to that part of town in the past two years, the hospital is in the midst of a 233,656 square foot expansion that includes a new state of the art surgery center, three new floors of inpatient rooms, and something near and dear to my heart, an expanded cardiopulmonary rehab center.

The development program also includes a recently completed 550 car parking garage. The Friday evening wine reception was held in a tent on the top floor of the new garage. Red wine, in moderation anyway, is good for the heart you know.

The campus development plan is projected to cost around $103 million hence the need to attract new donors. The Howard Hospital Foundation hopes to raise $30 million of that from private philanthropy.

This is where the local heroes come in. Last Friday evening, Vic Broccolino, the president and CEO of the hospital for the past twenty years, announced that the foundation had received a $1 million challenge gift from Evelyn and JP Bolduc which was met by Chip and Cathy Lundy.

Nicely done.

Monday, September 08, 2008

They’re Back on the Streets!

It was shortly after six when the front door bell rang. There, on my porch, stood three fifth graders, all girls. They wore green vests and pretty smiles but they were all business. They were pushing cookies.

Not just any cookies either, we’re talkin’ Girl Scout cookies here.

No, I told them gently. I did not care to hear about this years “new” cookie. I have my favorite’s thank you I told them. Give me four boxes of Tags and two boxes of Thin Mints.

Mama Wordbones bought some too.

The order was placed and we were told we could expect our cookies around the end of October. At such time they’d expect payment. No money, no cookie so to speak. We accepted those terms and, thanking us, they moved on.

Two hours later, while walking the dogs, a third grader approached us. She was wearing a brown vest. Resistance was futile. I went down for another box of Tags and another box of Thin Mints.

I only hope I’m stronger when I encounter other similarly attired young girls in brown and green vests and a serious cookie agenda in front of the grocery stores.

You Just Can’t Make Some Folks Happy

I guess it’s true that you just can’t make some people happy. I think Alan Klein falls into that category.

In this story by Larry Carson in yesterdays Sun, Greg Hamm, the General Manager of Columbia for General Growth Properties, unveiled a program that would dedicate a full 20 percent of the proposed 5,500 new residential units in Town Center to limited income families. Ten percent of those units would be set aside for families making less than $80,000 with the other ten percent going to families making less than $120,000. GGP is also proposing that approximately 200 rental units in the redeveloped Town Center “would be designed for shared use by students, hospital workers and retail and commercial workers.”

While many local affordable housing advocates praised the GGP plan, Alan Klein, spokesman for CoFoDoCo, was quoted as saying “The 20 percent…feels way too small.”

Alan further defined families making more $120,000 per year as “the wealthy few.”

What planet does he live on?

I wonder if any typical family in Columbia with a household income of $120,000 sees themselves as being wealthy.

I seriously doubt it.

I suppose Alan is just continuing to play the role of contrarian in the debate over the future of Columbia’s Town Center.

The 20 percent allocation seems pretty generous to me. More important it appears to be achievable thanks to GGP’s innovative funding mechanism. GGP is proposing to create a new non profit housing agency that would be funded by impact fees on new buildings in Town Center as well as surcharges on commercial and retail tenants in Town Center.

Twenty percent of the 5,500 new residential units equates to 1,100 new limited income housing units. This further equates to 220 units in each of the five new proposed Town Center neighborhoods (Symphony Overlook, Warfield, The Crescent, Merriweather, and The Lakefront).

I believe Alan Klein lives in the Hobbits Glen neighborhood in Columbia. How many limited income housing units are there in that neighborhood?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Scene This Week In...

It has been a few weeks since I last updated the “scene” photos on the right. It isn’t always easy to find the right shots in two separate locales. Alas, even I was getting tired of the two that have been up since August 4th, so yesterday I set out to find replacements.

With Tropical Storm Hanna upon us today and flash flood warnings throughout the region, I thought this snapshot of a flood water gauge would be appropriate for the Scene This Week in Columbia. This particular gauge is located by the old Cedar Lane bridge near Route 32. When this portion of Cedar Lane was widened years ago, a new bridge bypassed and replaced the old one lane bridge over the river. The old bridge still stands and can be accessed via Harriet Tubman Drive. I sure hope the waters don’t get anywhere near that 26 foot mark today!

After snapping the flood water gauge I drove over to Ellicott City. In a recent post on his blog, Hayduke posted a picture and asked if anyone could identify the location. When I saw this picture it immediately brought back memories of when I lived on Oak West Drive in Ellicott City. Back then, when my Labrador retriever was just a puppy, I used to take her for long walks into woods that eventually ended up on Park Drive where Hayduke took his picture. On one of our many walks in that area we came across this relic from the 1930’s. The WPA was the abbreviation for the Works Progress Administration, a federal program created to build roads and other infrastructure in rural areas. It is safe to say that in the thirties Ellicott City was pretty much a rural area.


On an identical monument just across the road from the WPA marker is this monument for Sylvan Lane. I'm guessing that a WPA work crew built or rebuilt Sylvan Lane many years ago. With Barak Obama talking about a new federal program to fix the nations aging infrastructure as a way to help bolster the economy, it seemed appropriate to highlight a remnant of a similar effort in another time when the US economy wasn’t so hot either.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Privatizing Park Land?

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According to this story in the Sun, County Executive Ken Ullman is proposing to allow SunEdison to install solar panels on 7 acres of the former county landfill in Ellicott City.

Larry Carson reports that Ullman “envisions a 7-acre solar array that would produce an estimated 548,418 kilowatt hours of electricity the first year. The power would be sold to the Baltimore Regional Cooperative Purchasing Committee, a regional power grid supplier. The county would provide the land, which is next to Worthington Elementary School, and the facility would be built by Sun Edison, a Beltsville company.”

 What the article doesn’t mention is that this land is currently county park land. The former county landfill was turned over to the Recreation and Parks Department years ago and is slated to eventually become Worthington Park.

 Is the county executive now proposing to give away a significant portion of this park land to private solar energy concern?

 Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

In This Months Business Monthly

Inspiration for this month’s column actually came from a post written by fellow Howard County blogger, Freemarket. In this post, Freemarket took aim at Delegate Gail Bates for opposing the slots initiative because of her religious beliefs. Upon reflection I concluded that I am okay with Delegate Bates, and any other elected official for that matter, using their religion as a guide for their legislative decisions as long as these officials make that clear. It is up to the voters then to decide whether that is an appropriate guide or not. That’s the way I see it anyway.

More concerning to me is the legislator that seemingly has no guide outside of the weathervane of political winds. In my mind, Delegate Shane Pendergrass fits that description. In an article last month by Larry Carson in the Sun, Delegate Pendergrass was described as being “not sure how she will vote” in the upcoming referendum.

Shane has served in the Maryland House of Delegates since 1995. The debate over slot machines in the Maryland has been going almost as long. It seems safe to assume that she has been exposed to voluminous amounts of information on this issue, certainly much more than the average citizen. Is it unreasonable to expect her to have reached a conclusion on whether she supports this issue or not?

I don’t think so.

I will be voting against the slots initiative but not because I oppose gambling. I would actually support a measure that allowed full casino gambling. Slot machines have been called the “crack cocaine” of gambling. They don’t require the slots player to do much more than insert a coin and push a button. It is akin to sitting and watching television. No real thinking is required. At least the casino games like blackjack and craps offer some challenge for your mind. If you really want to learn more about the world of slot machines I highly recommend this article from the New York Times Magazine.

I was also inspired by this excellent column by Jay Hancock in the Sun. Jay asserts that slots in the state will “hurt economic growth and the collection of other taxes.”

You can read this month’s column here.

Roller Hockey in Ellicott City

The Howard County Department of Recreation & Parks is planning on constructing an indoor sports facility in Meadowbrook Park at the intersection of US 29 and MD Route 100 in Ellicott City. The new facility will be used for roller hockey, basketball and volleyball.

As designed, the new facility will exceed the height restrictions of the R-20 (Residential Single Family) zone in which the park is located. The height restriction is 34 feet and he new building tops out at 36 feet and 3.5 inches. Apparently the steel has already ordered for the building and the cost to modify it to comply with the height restriction would be in excess of $150,000.00.

The County has requested a variance on for the Meadowbrook Park Indoor Sports Facility. If the variance is granted by the council in October, construction could begin by the end of this year.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


I haven’t posted for the past couple of days because I have been stranded with a limited to non existent internet connection.

Maybe I’m just not trying hard enough. Right now I am sitting on a porch in Avalon, New Jersey enjoying a gentle breeze coming in from the ocean at the end of the street. We are on the Jersey shore for a company strategic retreat. It’s a nice place for a retreat. There are only four of us so we all share a big house. Last night we fried up some nice fresh flounder, steamed a couple dozen clams, threw some skewers of scallops on the grill, and topped it all off with fresh Jersey tomatoes and corn. I don’t know if our planning efforts will bear real fruit but we sure ate good last night.

Today I head back to Ellicott City, a fine broadband connection, the real world and regular postings.