Friday, February 27, 2009

Symphony Woods Big Moment

The one time of year that Symphony Woods is enjoyed by more than an occasional picnicker or squirrel is the annual Wine in the Woods festival. It is by far the biggest event in the park, that the CA Board suddenly cares so deeply about, and CA isn't even the main sponsor. Wine in the Woods is put on by the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks. I believe HCDRP pays a hefty fee to CA for the use of the park for this immensely popular event.

Some have even speculated that when Blandair Park is developed the wine festival will move there and save forking over a fee to CA. Though it is more of a geographically central park for Columbia than Symphony Woods, Blandair is not CPRA land. It is a county park.

This week we received a post card in the mail with the dates for the 2009 Wine in the Woods. Mark your calendars for the weekend of May 16th and 17th from noon to 6 PM and pray for nice weather.


Score One for Anonymous Commenter’s

In this story in The Sun, Tricia Bishop reports that the Maryland courts have afforded new protection for anonymous posters on the Internet.

“Maryland's Court of Appeals today issued a decision protecting the identity of three anonymous Internet posters and, for the first time, offering guidelines for state courts to follow in libel cases before unmasking online commenters.”

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Council Approves Town Center Plan

“A new network of streets, “two distinctive mixed-use activity centers” and tree-lined transit corridors anchor the plan and environmental and economic sustainability are the themes throughout.”

Those are the elements of an urban development plan that was adopted by the Alexandria City Council last Saturday. According to this story by David Sachs in the Alexandria Times today, the plan would add about a million square feet of office space and 6,400 new residential units to the area surrounding and including Landmark Mall. Landmark Mall is owned by General Growth Properties.

In Alexandria, it just so happens that our own Greg Hamm is also representing GGP’s interest. This time however, GGP is not driving the process but it does hold the “crux of the plan” with its mall.

Not so fast says Greg.

“Hamm said the company was in favor of the city’s efforts but could not offer an exact timetable on when the city could utilize the “underperforming” mall’s space, but said redevelopment is “probably imminent.”

Poor guy. In Columbia they tell him he’s moving too fast. In Alexandria they tell him he’s moving too slow.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

And the Winner Is…

Phil Nelson, the soon to be former City Manager of Troy, Michigan has won the three way race and has been selected to become the next president of the Columbia Association according to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun.

Presumably he'll move here.

Phil will become the fourth president of the association and will replace Maggie Brown on May 1st.

The question now is whether Rob Goldman will stay on as Vice President of Sports and Fitness of CA after twice now being passed over for the top job.

Liz Speaks and Mr. Ed’s Lips Move

I don’t know how I missed this before but I just came across a letter that Ed Kasemeyer wrote in The Columbia Flier back on January 15th on behalf of Liz Bobo and CoFoCoDo.

“Recently I attended a meeting at Slayton House convened by the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown. A presentation was made by Cy Paumier, one of the early Columbia partners, a longtime resident and an internationally renowned urban park planner. Among other thoughts, Cy presented his ideas for developing Symphony Woods as, if you will, Columbia's "central park."

If you haven't already seen his presentation, I hope you have the opportunity to do so soon. His proposal is very impressive, not too difficult to achieve and would maintain and enhance the park-like environment we all treasure in Symphony Woods.

I want to put my support behind this proposal and look forward to working with Del. Liz Bobo, our other colleagues in the Howard County delegation and all of you in providing whatever help I can to make Cy's proposal a reality.

This would be an invaluable addition to the quality of life not only for Columbia but for all of Howard County.

Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer"

If there ever was a case of political back slapping this is surely one. What is it, I wonder, about Cy Paumiers plan for Symphony Woods that Senator Ed likes so much compared to the one put forth by General Growth Properties?

Has Cy Paumier even finished his plan yet?

Is Senator Ed opposed to a world class public library in Symphony Woods?

Maybe he should stay in Arbutus where they actually may care about his opinion.

BRAC Facts #1

Thanks to the Fort George G. Meade Regional Growth Management Committee, of which Howard County is a member, I can share some good news about the jobs that are coming to Fort Meade and when they will actually arrive.

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) will employ 4,272 people at Fort Meade when it completes the construction of its new buildings on the base in February, 2011. The phasing in of those jobs will begin in October, 2010.

The Defense Media Activity (DMA) will employ 663 people at the base with a “beneficial occupancy” of April 2011.

Defense/Military Adjudication Activities will employ 759 people also with a beneficial occupancy of April 2011.

Two years from now there will be 5,694 new people working in Annapolis Junction. These are the actual jobs that are directly related to BRAC. In addition, 14,000 more new jobs are expected at Fort Meade over the next ten years resulting from the growth of the existing tenants on the base which include the National Security Agency.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Homebuilder Blues

Surprisingly, one of the most popular posts on this blog is “Altieri Homeless.” I wrote this post last July and it is still generating comments, including one today.

Over on realtor Pat Hibans blog there is a spirited discussion taking place as to whether Dale Thompson Builders is out of business or not.

Clearly these are trying times for some local homebuilders. Banks are tightening and, in some cases, revoking builders credit lines. Some of this was obviously necessary. Lax lending standards and the story of Samuel Burrows, Jr. and his home building project in Ellicott City were the subject of this piece about Suburban Federal Savings by Robert Little and Andrea K. Walker from the front page of The Sun yesterday.

“Court papers say that in April 2005, Burrow was constructing "a palatial, seven bedroom residential home on over five acres of property with amenities including a movie theater, recording studio, gym, and media room." Suburban agreed to refinance his existing $872,000 mortgage and give him $389,000 more to finish building.”

He listed his occupation as “minister” with a monthly income of $30,000 in the loan application. I don’t know about you but that seems like a pretty big house for a minister, except perhaps a pope. He never made a payment to Suburban.

So while many are directing their vitriol at the builders, it appears that, in some cases at least their bankers may be just as culpable for throwing money at them.

A Visit with Vernon

The new Starbucks at Shipley’s Grant has become a regular workday stop for me. It is perfectly positioned on my commute route between Ellicott City and Columbia. Lately, it seems as if every morning I run into someone I know there. Last week one of those someone’s was Vernon Gray.

C. Vernon Gray is, among other things, a former five term county councilman (District 2), a past president of the Maryland Association of Counties, a past president of the National Association of Counties and a resident of the Village of Long Reach. After serving on the council he ran for the District 13 State Senate and lost in close race to Sandy Schrader. That seat is now held by Jim Robey.

These days he is the administrator of the Howard County Office of Human Rights. He said he misses some of his former life in politics. “I like to get things done,” he told me. Vernon was very instrumental in the early development approvals for Maple Lawn.

He lamented about the vocal few who seem to dominate the discussion on local issues like the governance of CA and the redevelopment of Town Center. He generally supports the plan that General Growth Properties has put forward and believes that it is in the best interest of Columbia and the county to see this come to fruition.

And though he has retired as a professor of political science at Morgan State University he shows no sign of slowing down. The coffee is probably helping that.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

He Writes Good

As has already been reported, a new blogger has entered the orbit of the local blogosphere. The academically titled “Columbia Blog Project” is the work of Jack Cole. Jack is a local boy, an Owen Brown villager.

He’s written some nice profile posts about a few local personalities including bloggers JessieX and John Boyle (Owen Brown News).

Check out Jack. He writes real good.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Scene This Week In…

“No Free Papers.” When I first spotted this little sign at the end of a driveway on Montgomery Road in Ellicott City I was immediately struck by the double meaning. Undoubtedly the homeowner was merely signaling to delivery people that they did not want free papers dropped in their driveway. I got a different message. I saw it as a commentary on the decline of newspapers.

You see, there are truly “no free papers.” While there may be papers that are circulated for free, somewhere, somebody is paying for that paper. Someone is paying for the writers to write the stories and the paper to be printed and circulated. Most often that someone is the advertiser. Declining paid ad pages are bringing down the newspaper industry.

This is not healthy for our democracy. The fourth estate has long been the watchdog of government and the rights of citizens. When a papers ability to report and investigate the news is diminished everyone pays the price. There are no free papers and our own freedom is jeopardized when the papers go away.

Over in Columbia it was this line up of shiny new snow blowers that caught my attention. Inside the Lowes store in Gateway Exchange there were displays of grills and lawn furniture, harbingers of the impending approach of warmer weather. Outside, in the cold afternoon, these items reminded me that winter is far from over.

Last year, I purchased an electric snow blower for our short driveway. I reasoned that this small snow appliance was all that I needed. Mama Wordbones snickered when she saw it. When she lived out in Glenwood she had a driveway that was almost a quarter mile long. To keep that drive cleared of snow she had a heavy duty self propelled snow blower that should have required a Class A drivers license to operate. It was bigger than any of the ones that Lowes was selling. It was a real mans snow blower.

Obviously that machine was too big for our new home but I may have gone too far in the opposite direction when I purchased my little electric number. I almost feel as if I should wear a skirt when I use it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

More Pennies from Heaven

According to The Kiplinger Letter, The State of Maryland is likely to receive “nearly a half a billion” for infrastructure from the economic stimulus package signed into law this week by President Obama.

The federal infrastructure largess will be “divvied up three ways: 30% each for repairs to roads and bridges. The other 40% will go for intersection and safety improvements.”

But that’s just the infrastructure portion of the bill.

Julekha Dash and Daniel Sernovitz reported in this story in the Baltimore Business Journal that the big money winner in the state is Johns Hopkins.

“One of the biggest surprises in the stimulus package — even to some Hopkins staff — is the additional $10 billion increase in NIH funding, from $29 billion to $39 billion. That is a 34 percent increase for the agency whose funding had been flat for years.

The top recipient of NIH grants, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, receives about $580 million a year in grants that support cancer research, patient safety and treatments for neurological diseases.”

Money that flows into JHU also flows indirectly into Howard County. Dr. Chi Dang, vice dean of research for JHU School of Medicine predicts “There will be a lot of jobs: I can tell you that.”

Like Pennies from Heaven

According to this story by Ryan Sharrow in the Baltimore Business Journal, Howard Bank has been approved for $5.98 million in TARP funds from the US Treasury Department.

Does this mean that Howard Bank CEO Mary Ann Scully will now be limited to $500,000 in annual compensation?

In the fourth quarter of last year the banks earnings fell by two thirds but all indications are that the bank is relatively healthy. Mary Ann issued this statement about participating in TARP:

“While we do not require additional capital at this time, we are considering how we could effectively use this capital to positively impact our community through a further increase in our capacity to lend, as well as enhance the long-term interests of our shareholders.”

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Five Hours Later…

No wonder 47 degrees felt balmy. The temperature dropped twelve degrees in the five hours since my last post. The wind picked up too. Around two o’clock this afternoon we were driving west on Rouse Parkway by Snowden River Parkway and noticed the guys working up in the steel erection at Baxley Realty Advisors office condominium project next to the old Lone Star.

“That looks cold,” TW noted dryly.

I had to agree. On the other hand, they are probably happy just to be working in construction these days.

The cold is really starting to get to me. In better times, last February, Mama Wordbones and I were able to get out of town to a warm place for a week. That helped to take the edge off the cold a bit. It was 77 degrees and cloudy today on Virgin Gorda.


This year we are taking care of our two aging dogs. Lucky has been having a particularly rough time this winter.

Here’s a happy thought though, it’s only 30 days til spring.

Bike Happy

I know it sounds weird but today actually feels like spring. 47 degrees isn’t what I would normally refer to as “balmy” weather but compared to yesterday it feels simply glorious.

That got me thinking about getting out my bicycle and going for a ride with my daughter. Two months ago I took her shopping for a new bike. She had finally outgrown her old one so we took a trip over to Race Pace Bicycles in Columbia. I have now purchased three bikes from this store (one from the Ellicott City store and two from the Columbia store). There is a reason I keep coming back. They’re good, very good.

I don’t doubt that I could have gotten a better price on a bicycle elsewhere but I seriously doubt I could get better service. They took care of Peanut like she was the most important customer in the world, which of course, she was.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Who Is Buying GGP Stock These Days?

Columbia developer General Growth Properties has lost its listing in the Standard & Poors 500 index. This morning the stock was trading at $0.51 a share. There is wide speculation that a bankruptcy filing by the firm is imminent.

Who would want to buy this stock?

William Ackman. Bill Ackman and his private hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management, have been busy buying up shares of GGP since last fall when all of the news about GGP’s financial position was bad. The fund is now the largest individual shareholder in the company.

What is Mr. Ackman up to?

Basically he believes that the underlying real estate assets of the company are worth more than the stock. According to this story by Todd Sullivan on the blog Seeking Alpha,

“Bankruptcy usually leaves stock investors with plenty of nothing, but General Growth is an unusual case. It has almost $30 billion of assets on its books, and just about $27 billion of debt. But most of the company's real estate assets are recorded on its books at their historical value, and many were bought years ago, meaning their value now is likely substantially higher. The company's problems are not with its assets, but with refinancing maturing debt in frozen markets.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

And The Beat Goes On

Looking at Howard County did a nice job with this table of the current campaign war chests of our local politicos. It is readily apparent that our county executive is the big money leader with $303,616.00 bucks in the bank. That should scare off some potential contenders to his reelection bid in 2010.

The next big money playa is Delegate Guy Guzzone with $94,677.00 in cash on hand.
Ken’s not sitting on his fundraising laurels either. We just received this invite for a little gathering he’s hosting just after St. Patrick’s Day.

At least they are serving drinks.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Three Out of Four Corners Covered

Today as I was sitting at the light at Rouse Parkway (MD 175) and Dobbin Road I noticed that at three out of the corners of the intersection there were guys holding “going out of business” signs.
Each of them was holding a sign for a different business. One was for Champion Billiards and Bar Stools, another for Expo Design Center and the third for a store called International Furniture.

A pessimist might say it is another startling reminder of just how bad things are even here in Howard County.I’m no pessimist. Each of these businesses failed for different reasons. The current economy may have hastened their demise but these stores had other issues too. Home Depot stopped opening new Expo Design stores over five years ago because the concept wasn’t meeting expectations. International Furniture popped up overnight in the vacated Scan store. A closer look at their sign reveals that they are actually “going out FOR business" so that one doesn’t count. As for Champion Billiards and Bar Stools, Mama Wordbones and I went in there looking for bar stools once. We were unimpressed. We purchased our bar stools elsewhere.

Back to the Future

I have a good deal of respect for Bob Tennenbaum and Cy Paumier. Both of these gentlemen have long and distinguished careers in planning. They were both involved in the early planning of Columbia.

Now CA has brought them back to participate once again in the planning of the Symphony Woods park that they never got to finish forty two years ago. In an article entitled “CA devising alternative plan for Symphony Woods” by Derek Simmonsen in The Columbia Flier, Cy recalled those early years:

“We had this absolutely great vision for what this Town Center park was going to look like," Paumier said of his original work in the 1960s. "But because of the pressure on other things we never got to it."

Cy and Bob are both Columbia residents and they are volunteering their time to help CA devise an alternate strategy to the one proposed by General Growth Properties for the park. The GGP plan was developed by a team that includes Jaque Robertson of Cooper, Robertson & Partners, Alan Ward from Sasaki Associates and Keith Bowers of BioHabitats.

On the one hand, Columbia is fortunate to have the input of such a wide range of experts in shaping the future of Symphony Woods. On the other hand, I feel like Bob and Cy represent old school thinking on community planning while the GGP team represents a fresh approach. Cooper Robertson designed some of the most innovative and award winning new communities such as WaterColor and Celebration in Florida and The Woodlands in Texas.

Columbia has been given the unique opportunity once again to lead the nation in excellence in community planning. Forty years ago Cy Paumier and Bob Tennenbaum had a shot at it. For forty years nothing much besides Wine in the Woods happened in Symphony Woods. For forty years Symphony Woods was largely an afterthought for CA.

It’s now time for fresh thinking and a new perspective for Symphony Woods for the next forty years.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ruewer Rattling Retirees in Taylor Village

Villa sales in the Village Crest neighborhood in Taylor Village have bottomed out. Pulte has pulled out of the Cloisters at Village Crest and Ryland is reeling from a lack of sales for their new villas that were supposed to replace them. These are the very same “55 or better” villas that were selling like hot cakes three years ago.

What’s a developer to do?

If you’re Don Reuwer you drop back and punt.

Reuwer has decided that it would be easier to sell 140 “garden style” condominiums than the 45 villas currently approved for the site on White Jasmine Court. He is considering requesting a change in the development program for the site from the Department of Planning and Zoning.

Many seniors in both the adjacent Village Crest villas and the adjacent Legacy at Village Crest garden style condos are not pleased. According to this story by Jennifer Choi in The Howard County Times,

“the overwhelming majority of residents were against the changes, voicing concerns about increased traffic, especially on the two main roads leading into the development, New Cut Road and College Avenue, both of which are narrow and winding.

They also are worried about lower housing values, exacerbated parking problems, a possible shortage of electrical power on a grid they say is already too weak, and the loss of scenic views because of the proposed four-story condominium complex.”

Weak electric grid?

Maybe that explains why the power goes out all the time at my house.

The Final Three

The Sun reported today that there are three finalists for replacing Maggie Brown as the president of The Columbia Association. The final choice will be announced on May 1st.

Milton Matthews is the executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Reston Association. According to this story from the Washington Post, he took over that job in October 2004 after the association considered over 150 candidates. Milton has been through this type of drill so handicappers should take that into consideration when sizing up the race.

Rob Goldman is the inside man. Rob has served as the vice president of sports and fitness for CA for the past 19 years. If you like the job he’s done running CA’s sports and fitness facilities you will probably think he’d make a good president. I happen to think they could do much better.

Philip Nelson is currently the City Manager for the City of Troy, Michigan and has served in that capacity since July of 2007. Prior to that he was the city manager in Northglenn, Colorado for five years so he has proven he can stay in a job longer than two years.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Next Campaign for Columbia’s Soul

This spring, elections will be held in eight of the ten villages in Columbia for seats on the Columbia Association Board of Directors. Already, the jockeying has begun for what could potentially be the biggest single change in the makeup of the board in recent memory.

The implications for Columbia are huge. By May 1st, CA will have a new president. The new board will also be charged with resolving the impasse of the future of Symphony Woods and CA’s other holdings in Town Center.

The seats in play this year are in Oakland Mills, Long Reach. Wilde Lake, Owen Brown, Kings Contrivance, River Hill, Hickory Ridge, and Dorsey’s Search. In Oakland Mills, it widely expected that Alex Hekimian will run for reelection. Alex is closely aligned with the Alliance for a Better Columbia. Their idea of a better Columbia is at odds with my idea of a better Columbia.

In Long Reach, Henry Dagenais is planning on stepping down leaving an open seat. Henry was often a voice of moderation on the board but otherwise his tenure has been unremarkable.

In Wilde Lake, Phil Kirsch is expected to run for reelection. Phil is closely associated with Alex Hekimian and Harpers Choice representative, Cindy Coyle. In the last election Phil received the backing of Delegate Liz Bobo who allegedly used her House of Delegates email to campaign on his behalf against Linda Odum.

Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, representing Owen Brown, is the longest serving member on the board. According to my sources Pearl may finally be ready to step down this year depriving the board of its only institutional memory.

In Kings Contrivance, Evan Coren has proven to be a disappointment to some who expected him to bring a fresh perspective to the board. In his first term on the board he allied himself with Coyle, Kirsch and Hekimian. Evan is not expected to run for reelection.

Board Chair Tom O’Connor from Dorsey’s Search is also not expected to run for reelection. Tom has been another moderate and reasoned voice on the board.

Another moderate is board vice chair from River Hill, Michael Cornell. Michael is also expected to give up his seat this year.

And finally there is Miles Coffman from Hickory Ridge. Miles reluctantly agreed to stand for reelection last time around and he is apparently on the fence about running again this year. Miles has consistently been a voice of reason on the board and he would be sorely missed if he decides not to return.

Of course none of this is certain. The incumbents don’t need to declare their intentions yet but it won’t be long before they will.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

High Marks for HCGH

Howard County General Hospital has been named to the 2009 Distinguished Hospitals for Clinical Excellence List by HCGH was one of only 270 hospitals recognized nationally putting it in the top 5% of all hospitals in the country.

According to an article in, “patients admitted to a hospital receiving this designation are, on average, 27% less likely to die and 8% less likely to suffer from a major complication.”

While I heartily congratulate Vic Broccolino and all the staff at HCGH, the real winners are the citizens of Howard County.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I Do Better Off Leash Too

In today’s Washington Post, Metro columnist John Kelly wrote a piece called “I'm Okay, You're Okay and Your Dog's Okay, Too”. It was written in response to another column he wrote about dogs and their owners last week called, “Depends on What the Definition of 'Friendly' Is” in which he dissected the familiar dog walkers greeting “Is your dog friendly?”

“How am I supposed to answer that? Yes, Charlie is friendly -- really, he's a very sweet dog -- but how can I know your interpretation of the word "friendly"? Some people might construe energetic humping as extremelyfriendly. Others might be horrified. Charlie is a dog who likes pushing his butt into your knees in the hopes that you'll scratch it. Is that unfriendly?”

John concludes that it is best to let the dogs figure this out for themselves. That’s part of what being a dog is all about he argues, “It's really his only hobby, you see. His nose is his instrument, the world is a symphony and your dog is a violin solo -- or, ideally, a duet.”

Of course not all dog owners ascribe to his open tail philosophy and that led to today’s column with feedback from his readers. Most urged caution when encountering other canines on a walk but one had a better suggestion.

“Marsha Stanley's yellow Lab, Marcy, has a life that I envy. She and her owners split their time among their home in Oakton, a high-rise apartment in New York and a lakeside home in the Adirondacks. Romping through the woods is fun, but one of Marcy's favorite things is the off-leash time in Central Park. "After 9 p.m. and before 9 a.m., Central Park is one huge off-leash dog park," Marsha wrote. "Marcy spends hours and hours there running from group to group of various breeds of all sizes, giving everyone the smell test. It is interesting that we have never encountered a single aggressive dog during these outings. I think part of the reason that hundreds of dogs can get along so well is that they are off leash. My vet confirms that there is some behavior switch that changes when dogs are off leash."

Both columns are pretty funny. It also made me think that we could probably use another off leash dog park in Howard County. The only existing one, Worthington Dog Park, is always busy.

I think I do better off leash too.

The Blame Game

It’s now official; the proposed Meridian Square office project in Oakland Mills Village Center is kaput. The developer, Metroventures USA, has announced that they were unable to secure an extension to their purchase agreement with the property owner, Exxon Mobil Corporation and was therefore forced to drop the project.

Curiously, the president of Metroventures, Olusola Seriki, is blaming the county for his failure. According to a story by Derek Simmonsen in the The Columbia Flier, Seriki wrote that “that special conditions the county placed on the project delayed the developer’s ability to secure financing and complete the land purchase.”

What a pile of rubbish!

The county went way out on a limb to help this ill conceived project by agreeing to purchase a full floor in the project. The only thing the county asked the developer to do in return was to prove that there was enough demand for the project in the private sector to make it economically feasible. Metroventures was unable to do that. Now they are blaming the county for their own shortcomings.

Metroventures has shown it has no class.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Crash

It is the classic parental nightmare. It’s 4:00 AM and you’ve just awoken from a deep sleep. She’s talking to her mom.

“You need to get up. The cars stuck. I couldn’t get the key out of the ignition but I locked the doors. I cut my forehead.”

Tears follow.

“At least she appears okay” is your first thought. Then the blanks get filled in.

After supposedly locking the car she ran and walked home, two miles away.

Mom gets up and swings into action. I fumble for my robe already devising a plan to go get the car. Do we have any rope or chain in the house?

Mom suggests we wait until first light to attempt to retrieve the car. Before I could get dressed two Howard County police officers were at our front door.

“Don’t worry about going to the car,” one of the officers instructed, “it’s already been towed. It’s totaled.”

Luckily, the only thing damaged besides the car was a street sign. Less than five feet more to the right was a telephone pole. She was lucky. We were lucky.

As I result of this incident, I also learned I could obtain a police report of the accident online. All I needed was the accident report number and the date. Howard County is one of only two municipalities in Maryland to offer this service through PoliceReports.US.

We are still filling in blanks.

Sidewalks for Snowden but not Dobbin

Fellow local blogger Columbia Talk posed the question as to whether Snowden River Parkway is Columbia’s new Main Street. He was reacting to a story by Larry Carson in The Sun this past Sunday entitled “3rd lane wanted for Snowden River Parkway.”

Carson also reported that “So far, $450,000 has been allocated for a third lane and sidewalks on the northbound side of the parkway up to Oakland Mills Road.”

But what about Dobbin Road?

Since moving our offices to Dobbin Road a year ago I’ve noticed that Dobbin has no sidewalks. Everyday I see people walking on the side of the road wearing a path in the grass alongside the road. On the other hand, I rarely see anyone walking along Snowden. Dobbin Road is two lane road lined by a wide variety of offices, services and retail. My office is theoretically within walking distance of the Shoppes at Lakeside but there is no safe way to walk there.

Brilliant planning.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Free Salt

After the last snow storm, the county Bureau of Highways salt truck inadvertently dumped a couple of hundred pounds of road salt in the street in front of my house. In an earlier storm the same thing occurred on another street in our neighborhood. At that time Mama Wordbones quipped that if we cleaned it up we probably wouldn’t need to buy any salt for our driveway for the rest of the year. The rains eventually washed that particular pile away.

This time it was much more convenient. With the nice weather this past Saturday I went out into the street with a shovel and a broom and filled these three containers. We now have enough salt to get us through a couple of winters.

Wegmans Saga Part Ten

I just received information from a very knowledgeable source that the Wegmans store in Columbia will open in the first quarter of 2011. Apparently the folks at Wegmans are sufficiently confident that they will continue prevail in the legal challenges that they are willing to move forward instead of waiting for final resolution in the courts.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Same Meeting, Different Perspective

After reading Larry Carson’s article entitled “Residents divided on Town Center plan” in The Sun today, you might get the impression the hearing attendees were pretty evenly divided between those who support ZRA 113 and those who would like to see major changes to the legislation.

That doesn’t jibe with the report I got from the meeting. As I understand it, those supporting General Growth Properties proposed plans for Town Center easily outnumbered those opposed. In fact, when long time Columbia resident Mike Davis asked for those in favor of ZRA 113 to stand and be counted, three quarters of the attendees that evening stood.

You certainly wouldn’t get that impression from reading Larry’s piece.

Of course, Alan Klein, the spokesperson for CoFoCoDo, was quoted. He said “his 450 members support the basic concepts of the 30-year plan but criticized specifics like a proposal for 5,500 new homes and allowing cultural buildings in Symphony Woods.”

Come on now. Are we really expected to believe that all “450” supposed members of CoFoCoDo actually voted on this position?

If so, what was the vote?

I sincerely doubt it was anywhere near unanimous.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Scene This Week In...

Driving down Little Patuxent Parkway earlier this week I spotted a flock of geese grazing on the site of the proposed Plaza Residences in Town Center. It has been one year since the projects developer, WCI Communities, announced it was returning the deposits to the buyers who had hoped to be living in the tower by now.

A year ago the developer was saying that the earliest the project could get going again would be mid 2009. Judging from the fact that the project is no longer even shown on the company’s website, any restart in 2009 seems highly unlikely. WCI Communities went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy last August.

It looks like these squatters will get to enjoy this prime Town Center site for awhile longer.

In Ellicott City at least, the steel is rising on a new building. The new indoor sports facility in Meadowbrook Park near the Long Gate Shopping Center is well underway. As I posted back in September, the building will be used for roller hockey, basketball and volleyball. It is expected to complete by this summer.

Friday, February 06, 2009

How Many Were Duped Into Signing?

In this months edition of The Business Monthly, Mark Smith wrote an excellent article about the Turf Valley grocery store controversy and the resultant petition drive to overturn CB58. CB58 amends the Planned Golf Course Community (PGCC) zoning to allow the developer to build a 55,000 square foot grocery store instead an 18,000 square foot grocery store. What many people don’t realize is that this legislation does more than that.

“The legislation limited the size of any other store in the development to 20,000 square feet and added reforestation rules that had not applied to the commercial site.But if the legislation is erased due to the possible referendum (which would allow county residents who live far away from Turf Valley to vote for or against the wishes of local residents), it all goes away, as would the limitation on the other potential uses, such as big box retail.”


The petition gatherer who approached me back in December told me the petition was to keep more big box stores out of Howard County. I wonder how many people would have signed the petition if they had known that it if CB58 were overturned if could actually result in more big box stores in the county.

In This Months Business Monthly

I haven’t posted for the last two days because I’ve been laid up with a cold that really kicked my butt. I was so miserable I didn’t even have the energy to write. I’m feeling a little better today.

Last month I had to replace my mobile phone. It was a decision I did not make lightly. My old phone, a Motorola Razr, was the perfect size. It was a compact little number that fit easily into my pocket. The only drawback of this phone was its battery life. Even when the phone was brand new I was lucky to get more than eight hours of use before it began to peter out. This situation only worsened with time.

For me, a mobile phone just needs to be a good phone. I don’t need a camera in my phone and I don’t really see the need to email or surf the Internet with my phone. Not that I don’t see the convenience of that, it’s just that I have so far been unimpressed with the web surfing on mobile phones. The screen is too small and it’s generally too slow. The only mobile phone I’ve seen that is an exception to this is Apple’s iPhone.

The iPhone is the coolest phone on the market. I would buy one if it was available on the Verizon network. Sadly, you have to be an AT&T customer to get one. As much as I like this gadget, I am just not willing to switch networks to have one.

I also contemplated going the BlackBerry route. I am probably one the few remaining commercial real estate brokers who hasn’t broken down and bought one. Again, I just don’t see the need to email from my phone, at least not yet.

So now I have a new phone. It’s an LG Voyager and it is at least twice the size of my old phone. This phone does not slip easily into my pocket, unless I’m wearing baggy pants.

You can read more about it in this month’s column here.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Signature Destination for Whom?

The spin team at CoFoCoDo has put together this little poster to rally support for their vision of Symphony Woods as “Columbia’s Signature Destination.”

That’s an odd moniker to place on a park that is largely deserted. How many times have you heard someone say, I’ll meet you in Symphony Woods?

Note how many people you see in this poster.

The picture of the green lawn beneath the trees is either a very old photo or someone had fun with Photo Shop. Besides, a green manicured lawn in a forest is hardly a healthy eco system.
This photo is more indicative of how Symphony Woods is doing these days. It was taken after one of our recent windy days.

I also take exception to the statement “We stand to lose our park unless we speak up.” At the very least that is an outright lie. The GGP vision for Symphony Woods is a park that is environmentally healthy, more accessible to the public, has more amenities and adds acres of forested land that will remain undisturbed. After you read about this vision for Symphony Woods you can draw your own conclusion as to whether CoFoCoDo is spreading false information.

A friend once told me that “desperate people do desperate things.” I think CoFoCoDo is getting desperate.

It's amateur hour all over again.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Columbia Company Gets $20 Million

Columbia based Paratek Microwave received $20 million in venture capital according to a chart accompanying this story by Alejandro Lazo in today’s Washington Post. The funding was provided by a consortium of at least seven venture capital investors during the fourth quarter of 2008.

Paratek was the only Columbia company on the list of 41 firms but Howard County had two other firms on the list as well. Jessup based American Dynamics Flight Systems and Clarksville based U.S. Languages and Cultures Net both received $75,000 from Maryland Technology Development Corp during the same period.

The investment into Paratek comes at a time when overall venture capital investment in the Washington region “fell 20 percent in 2008 as the economic downturn and credit crunch left fewer sources of financing available for such deals,”

Paratek, which “designs and manufactures adaptive RF front-end component solutions for mobile wireless applications”, has been in Columbia since 1998.

So far that’s better news than last week.

638 Days to Go

Just when you thought you’d have a chance to recover from the election fatigue bought on by the past presidential election marathon, jockeying for the countywide elections in 2010 has already begun.

Yesterday, in the The Sun, Larry Carson reported in this story that fundraising for next campaign is well underway. “County Executive Ken Ulman, a Democrat, has raised roughly $250,000 each of his first two years in office…His sizable financial head start is also likely to discourage some would-be challengers to his expected re-election bid.”

This got me thinking just who might challenge Ken in 2010. Will Steve Adler take another run at the office? Steve ran against Jim Robey for County Executive when Jim was up reelection in 2002 and did quite well despite Jim’s popularity.

Jim won his state senate seat in close race with Sandy Schrader. Sandy could potentially give Ken a run for his money.

Who else has a shot?

Joan Athen perhaps? Joan has been active in local Republican politics. She recently became unemployed when her politically appointed job in the Bush administration came to an end.

Greg Fox perhaps? Greg is the lone Republican on the County Council.

Republican State Senator Alan Kittleman thinks that “a candidate could run on a fiscal responsibility platform by criticizing the growth in government spending. “

I don’t know about that. Government spending money like a drunken sailor seems to be very popular these days.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Old Dogs Club Part Two

As I have mentioned before, we have a special place in our hearts for old dogs so it came as no surprise when I received this book from my sister Pat last week.

It is a “tribute to old dogs, a celebration of their special virtues. All dogs profiled in this book were at least 10 years old when their portraits were made. If you ask which of them are still alive, our answer is: They all are. May old dogs live forever.”

Amen to that.

The book was written by Washington Post humor columnist, Gene Weingarten and photographed by Washington Post photographer, Michael S. Williamson.

And, before I forget, when I wrote about the old dogs in my neighborhood, I forgot to include Allie. Allie is an aging chocolate lab that lives part time in the house behind us.

Just Skating By

It was just me and three fifth grade girls and a date for the open skating session at the Columbia Ice Rink yesterday. All three are beginners but very determined beginners. I alternated between escorting each one for a lap or two and then taking a lap for myself.

I grew up with ice skating in Columbia. As teenagers we played pick up hockey games on Wilde Lake and Lake Kittamaqundi. Back then, CA actually monitored the ice conditions on Lake Kittamaqundi and flew either a yellow (caution) or red (don’t say we didn’t warn ya) flag to warn all skaters. On Wilde Lake we were more or less on our own so we stayed close to the shallow end near Rivulet Row and Catterskill Court. These were the days before the rink was built. We were all excited when that happened in 1971. I was a sophomore in high school.

Today the old ice rink seems as popular as ever, at least it was on this last day of January. With temperatures in the mid thirties outside, the temperature on the ice felt downright comfortable. There were folks of all ages and skill levels. It sure beat staying inside on a cold winter weekend.

For a brief period of time Columbia also had an outdoor ice rink at The Mall. Before the Bank of America bank branch was built there was a seasonal ice rink on that spot next to LL Bean.