Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Everyday…Just Not Today

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been hoping to run into a TAG petition gatherer in my daily travels around Columbia. An anonymous commenter in this post wrote that TAG would be gathering signatures at the Rita’s in the Harper’s Choice Village Center “2-6 PM every day starting tomorrow through Wednesday March 31st.”

Yesterday, around 2:30 PM, I found myself on that side of town so I decided to drop by and check it out.

There was nobody there.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Numbers Game

The deadline for the first batch of signatures for the Taxpayers Against Giveaways referendum effort to place the Columbia Town Center redevelopment legislation on the November ballot is just three days away. There is a good deal of speculation as to whether they will meet the initial threshold of 2,500 signatures of registered voters in Howard County.

Last week the group circulated an email about the responses they have received during their signature gathering. Tag claims that about,

“65% do not want that much density and sign the petition.
20% are too busy to talk about it.
8% are comfortable with CB-59 as written.
6% are undecided on CB-59, but think the people should have a chance to vote on it in November, and they sign the petition.
1% want to sign, but have a condition (e.g. severe hand tremors) preventing them from giving a valid signature.”

The key word here is “about.” What is missing is the number that these percentages were derived from. Is this 100, 1,000 or more?

The email goes on to claim that “The people want CB-59 on the November ballot, but TAG needs help to collect the required number of signatures.”

I can’t help but wonder if the people want this on the ballot so badly why aren’t there more canvassers out there?

For all of my daily travels in and around Columbia I have yet to see anyone gathering signatures for this petition and believe me I’ve been looking for them.

New Satellite Shop for JHU-APL

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Fulton will begin construction this summer on a new $30 million lab building to assemble and test satellites and other spacecraft. According to this story in The Sun, the “one-level building will supplement a 1970s-era facility and enable the APL's Space Department to test and assemble larger satellites and other spacecraft than it can now.”

JHU-APL, one of the largest employers in the county, has been going through a building boom over the past few years. In 2007 the lab completed construction of 243,000 square foot office building in the Montpelier Business Park adjacent to the lab’s north campus and last summer the lab started construction on the new south campus with a 200,000 square foot office building slated for completion early next year.

The former rural farming crossroads of Fulton is now an important earth station for the final frontier.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The End of iPhone Envy?

I’ve never been happy with my phone. Not long after I purchased it a little over a year ago, I began having a bad case of iPhone envy. By then the game changing Apple phone had already been on the street for a couple of years. It sometimes seemed as if I was the only person who didn’t have one.

Last October I posted about a report that said that there would likely be a Verizon iPhone by June of this year. Tonight I read this story on MSNBC that seems to confirm that earlier report.

It’s not so easy now though. The iPhone is no longer the only pretty girl in the room. The Droid now offers a tempting alternative.

One thing is for certain though; the days of my LG Voyager are numbered.

Federal Lawsuit Update 9

After their last defeat in the state courts, Susan Gray and her merry band of plaintiffs went to back to the federal courts with their attempt to overturn fifteen years of land use decisions in Howard County including the Wegmans store in Columbia. Followers of this legal action may recall that when this case was first filed in the federal courts, U.S. District Judge J. FredericK Motz dismissed the case by ruling that this was a matter for the state courts to decide. The state court subsequently dismissed the case, ruling that the plaintiffs did not have standing.

Now Ms Gray is arguing that since the state court has ruled that they have no standing the federal courts are the only venue left to them to seek redress. The latest news is that Ms Gray has now filed a motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals give them more time for “filing opening brief and to supplement the record.”

The defendants in this case, the county government, have objected to any extension. In an email to Susan Gray, county attorney Lou Ruzzi informed Ms Gray that “we can’t agree to further postponing the briefing schedule for the preparation of a transcript that has little or no value to the appeal.”

I should note that Ms Gray is also appealing the dismissal in the state courts.

This will apparently continue on so long as the union continues to support it. It may be one of the reasons that Wegmans has now delayed their opening until 2012. The union may feel that any delay is a victory for them.

Thanks to Tales of Two Cities netizen Lotsabogeys for continuing to track this legal action.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Just Passing Thru

Last night Mama Wordbones and I checked out the new Union Jacks pub in Columbia Town Center. The restaurant bills itself as a “comfortable place where the food is just as important as the drink.”

That fit the bill perfectly for us after a day of yard work.

We quickly settled into a couple of the comfy lounge chairs in the “comfy” lounge by the fireplace which also features an oversized ottoman covered in the British flag. That brought a certain smile to my Irish eyes as I sipped on a pint of the Guinness and propped up my boots on the British flag.

Soon we were joined by a young man who appeared to be in either his late twenties or early thirties. He told us he was meeting a young lady for a first date.

“Are you from around here?” I asked.

“Tysons Corner,” he replied.

It turns out that his date wasn’t from Howard County either. She lives in Hagerstown but just happened to be in Ellicott City this weekend visiting her parents. She had suggested the two week old restaurant for their initial meet up.

This got me thinking about traffic. The remaining opponents of the Columbia Town Center redevelopment plans like to talk about all the additional traffic that 5,500 new residences will bring to Town Center. In our recent podcast with Dick Story he pointed out that most of our current traffic congestion can be attributed to “pass through traffic.”

This young couple was a perfect example of that phenomenon. Regardless of what we do in Town Center specifically and Howard County in general, all around us, growth will continue apace.

And those people will continue to pass through our county in ever increasing numbers.

Folding up the tent on Google Howard County

Back in February, I started a Facebook page called Google Howard County to promote Howard County as a site for the much ballyhooed super fast Google fiber test project. On February 10th, Google invited communities to submit expressions of interest in hosting this trial. Since then communities across the country having been doing back flips to woo the company and their billion dollar broadband pilot project.

According to this article by Miguel Helft in The New York Times, “that offer has become catnip for city leaders, civic boosters and economic development types across the nation.”

“The mayor of Duluth, Minn., threw himself into the ice-ringed waters of Lake Superior. The mayor of Sarasota, Fla., immersed himself in a tank filled with bonnethead sharks, simply to one-up him. The mayor of Wilmington, N.C., said that he would even jump out of an airplane — with a parachute, of course.”

I have to admit that the Google Howard County effort looks pretty lame in comparison. On the other hand, the city of Baltimore has made a much more compelling argument for why Charm City should be the choice.

According to this story by Gus G. Sentementes in The Sun today, “many rural and some urban communities, such as Baltimore, are worried that they're being left behind as commerce, innovation and prosperity are increasingly intertwined with the Internet.”

“In comparison with other large U.S. cities, Baltimore trails in broadband adoption among its residents, according to FCC statistics. And there are wide disparities across Maryland, with the most affluent counties of Howard and Montgomery having the best Internet connections, while Baltimore and rural counties lag, according to the data from the end of 2008.”

Howard County, by comparison is one of the most connected communities in the country.

Baltimore is one the key economic engines of our region. A prosperous and connected Baltimore is actually good for Howard County. If Google selects Baltimore as a test site, some benefits will likely to accrue to HoCo, certainly much more so than would if the company picked some god forsaken place like Duluth instead.

So I’ve decided to fold up the Google Howard County effort and in doing so I ask that those who 160 people who signed on to the Facebook effort consider throwing their support behind the Baltimore effort.

It just seems like the right thing to do.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sixteen Bags of Mulch

And that still wasn’t enough to finish the job.

It was mulching day at our home. This morning we headed over to Lowes where they had two cubic yard bags of mulch for a buck ninety nine. I realize that it is probably cheaper and more ecologically responsible to buy mulch in bulk but we simply do not have a driveway big enough for a load of mulch.

Lowes was a busy place today. People were loading up with mulch, paving stones, potting soil and all things yard and garden. There were also lots of guys in shorts. I don’t get that. It was less than 40 degrees this morning. They had to be cold.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon usually occurs after the first day of spring as if it is somehow by wearing shorts they’ll at least feel like its spring no matter how cold it really is. It’s the same thing with some guys and socks.

A recent commenter on this post suggested that the tone of this blog is more like a wine bar than a pub. I’m a big fan of wine bars but I’m not about to change the WB’s Pub category to Wordbones Wine Bar.

There was a train derailment along the Grist Mill Trail on Friday. It occurred right around the spot I referred to in this post.

I have a few more items to post about but they’ll have to wait. After sixteen bags of mulch I’m ready for a beer.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ellicott City District Court Goes Solar

The District Court Multi Service Center in Ellicott City will soon be powered by (at least partially) by solar panels provided by Beltsville based SunEdison. According to this article in The Daily Record, the Maryland Department of General Services signed a 20 year agreement with the company “that will lead to the installation of rooftop solar systems on five state-owned building sites.”

The other four state owned properties are in Annapolis, Elkton, Glen Burnie and Baltimore.

I called my favorite energy guru, Bert Wilson, to ask him how the economics of this work. I couldn’t quite figure out why a private company would want to invest this much money on a relatively small solar installation.

“With the 30% investment tax credit for installing the solar panels and the renewal energy credits the operator of the solar system can realize about a 20% return.”

Not bad.

Bert went on to point out that one of the best attributes of solar systems is that they produce power at times of peak demand, like when the sun is shining on a summer day and the a/c systems are blowing full blast.

Thanks Bert for shedding some light on this for me and the readers of Tales of Two Cities.

How Howard Stacks Up Statewide

The blog Maryland Politics Watch recently published a five part series of posts entitled “How the Counties Spend Your Money. It provides an interesting perspective on how our local spending compares to the other counties in the state. In Part One, Adam Pagnucco examines the total operating budgets of the counties.

“But the biggest spender in per-capita terms is Howard County ($4,298), which is very wealthy but is also competitive between the two parties.”

I know some folks might take issue with Adams statement that our county is competitive between the two parties but Adam is based in heavily Democratic Montgomery County which probably makes us look downright bipartisan from his perspective.

In Part Two he takes a look at the spending on the counties executive and legislative functions. Howard County spends $3.79 per capita on the executive branch and $12.08 per capita on the legislative branch. We are below the statewide average on the executive ($6.59 per capita) but over the statewide average on the legislative ($8.02 per capita).

“Among counties with elected Executives, the biggest per capita spenders on that function are Anne Arundel ($11.08) and Harford ($8.41). Both of their County Executives are Republicans.”

In Part Three he gets into law enforcement, fire and rescue and health and human services. HoCo leads the state in spending per capita on fire and rescue.

“In per capita terms, the leaders on fire and rescue are Howard County ($299.28), Baltimore City ($245.94) and Queen Anne’s County ($212.44). The lowest-spending counties are St. Mary’s ($51.50) and Allegany ($58.06). Does it really cost six times as much to provide fire and rescue service in Howard as it does in St. Mary’s?”

Despite the controversy over the spending on Healthy Howard, we spend $130.84 per capita on health and human services which is less than the statewide average of $148.35 per capita.

Part Four in the series deals with spending on libraries, economic development and debt service. It will come of no surprise to some that we are amongst the biggest spenders in the libraries category.

“The leaders are Harford County ($69.35) - which is run primarily by Republicans – and Howard County ($62.13).”

On the other hand our per capita spending on economic development and debt service are below the statewide average.

Part Five of the series tackles the biggest single county budget item, the schools. Having one of the best public school systems in the country comes at a price. Howard County spends more per capita on schools than any other county in the state and we do it largely on our own. Howard County receives less federal aid ($58.32 per capita) than the statewide average of $93.85 per capita and less state aid ($867.69 per capita) than the statewide average of $942.91.

“On one hand some jurisdictions have overwhelming percentages of their school budgets covered by the state and federal governments, including Baltimore City (83%), Caroline County (80%), Allegany County (78%), Somerset County (76%) and Wicomico County (72%). All of these jurisdictions contribute much less than the state per capita average in local funding to their schools. On the other hand, other jurisdictions largely go it alone, such as Worcester County (28%), Montgomery County (28%), Talbot County (31%) and Howard County (36%). Taxpayers in Worcester, Montgomery and Howard pay very large amounts to maintain their own schools as well as the schools everywhere else in the state.”

Nice job Adam.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Three Things about Food

I ran into Chris Alleva in Town Center today. The first thing he said to me was that he thought my writing didn’t suck as much as it used to.

“You’ve gotten much better,” he said.

Thanks, I think.

After we got through a brief but brutal dissection of my written words (he did say that he liked my latest column in The Business Monthly), Chris told me about his newest venture.

“I’m one of those creators. I’m opening a restaurant in Town Center”

Chris and his partners are getting ready to open Cazbar Kabob in the Columbia Professional Center on Little Patuxent Parkway near Howard Community College.

“We’re just waiting for our Use and Occupancy permit,” he said.

Chris told me that he and his partners had “licensed” the menu from Cazbar in Baltimore. Unfortunately the Columbia version of Cazbar will be a much scaled down version of the big city mother ship. It will only have about 20 seats so that likely rules out the belly dancers.

That’s one.

That was the second time today I had an encounter with Turkish cuisine. This morning I received an email from HowChow commiserating about high octane comments on our blogs. A recent post he wrote about the new Nazar Produce Market in Columbia generated a couple of comments that fanned the flames of some nationalist passions.

Who’d have thought that baklava could be that contentious?

That’s two.

Demolition work started on the old Rocky Run restaurant on Dobbin Road in Columbia this week. As previously rumored here, the new occupant will be Buffalo Wild Wings.

No word yet on when they expect to open.

That’s three.

Two Years Later

Two years ago this month, fellow blogger Bill Santos wrote a post entitled “Ignorance” about the deterioration of the CA managed portion of the Town Center lakefront. As anyone who has visited the lakefront in recent years knows all too well, the condition of the walkways, piers, and flag tower had become an embarrassment to the entire community.

Two years later the homeowners association has finally gotten around to doing something about it. From the looks of things a major restoration effort is finally underway.

The sad thing is that the CA board had to be shamed into doing something about this instead of taking the initiative themselves. I’m not surprised though, this is exactly what happened with Symphony Woods too.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Blog Reading 101

I received a call today from a relatively new blog reader. This person had reached out to me via email yesterday and today we connected on the phone. I’ll call them Lamb.

“I’m new to blog reading,” Lamb told me.

Lamb is a long time Howard Countian, a little younger than me and certainly much more refined. Lamb was a little taken aback by the hostile tone of some anonymous comments in recent posts.

“Don’t some blogs disallow anonymous comments?” Lamb asked.

Yes, some do, but not this one. I went on to explain to Lamb that not all anonymous commenter’s are bad. I know for certain that a few well known locals have posted here anonymously that would not have commented otherwise. For the most part I think that it’s added to richness of the dialogue. Not allowing anonymous comments because of the poor manners of some would be akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water.

As I’ve said before, I tend to see this blog as the corner pub. It’s probably not the kind of joint the more genteel folk are used to frequenting but if they hang around a bit they’ll find this blog to be occasionally colorful but ultimately harmless.

Lamb seemed to understand this.

I hope Lamb continues to be a reader of Tales of Cities and even hope that someday Lamb may feel comfortable enough to enter the conversation.

Perhaps under they could even comment as “Lamb.”

Now that would be pretty cool.

Solar Powered Trash Compactor

When researching my previous post about the White Flint master plan I ran across a website for a new residential/retail project called The Alaire. The project boasts green features like a saline swimming pool and green roofs but what really caught my eye was the solar powered trash compactor, “the first by a private developer in the Washington Metropolitan Area.”

It may be the first by a developer but Chick fil A has had one at their store on Route 100 in Ellicott City for awhile now.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Another Unanimous Vote for New Urbanism

Last night the nine member Montgomery County Council unanimously approved a new master plan for 430 acres in White Flint surrounding the Twinbrook Metrorail Station. According to this story by Miranda S. Spivak in The Washington Post today, the development “would be among the largest redevelopments of post-World War II suburbia in the Washington region. It is aimed at bringing smarter growth to a county with little undeveloped land seeking ways to accommodate a growing population already nearing 1 million, larger than the District of Columbia.”

The process that MoCo folks went through to get to their vote last night will sound very familiar to HoCo folks.

“The approval of the White Flint master plan caps more than three years of often contentious debate about many issues, including the number of cars that should be allowed to back up at a traffic light to where a new public school should be built, whether bus lanes should be at curbside or down the middle of the Pike, and how many parking spaces should be allowed. “

The opposition arguments were equally familiar.

“"The basic concern we have is traffic," said Natalie Goldberg, a resident of Garrett Park Estates, who has been intensely involved with the county's redevelopment efforts. "Particularly in the short term, the infrastructure does not balance out the development," she said.”

Natalie must be the MoCo counterpart to our Alan Klein.

On the pro master plan side a group developers and property owners joined forces and harnessed the power of social media to convey their vision to the public.

“The smooth approval of White Flint redevelopment Tuesday stemmed from an intense, grass-roots organizing effort by a consortium of developers, who turned to social networking on the Internet in addition to traditional face-to-face lobbying and community meetings.”

Back in November, Bring Back the Vision hosted a lecture in Columbia by Rollin Stanley, the Planning Director for Montgomery County. At that time he spoke about the growth challenges facing MoCo like the fact that there are 8,000 acres of surface parking in the county and that there are more cars than people. He made the case for walkable communities that have multimodal transit options and are less dependent on the car.

Last night MoCo, like HoCo last month, took a big step in that direction.

Done Deal for Doughoregan?

Last night the County Council held a work session on the proposed Doughoregan Manor development program. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, the Carroll family appears to have the support of every key county department.

Department of Public Works:

“County public works director James Irvin said the county's wastewater treatment plant at Savage will have enough capacity to handle sewage from Doughoregan and other nearby homes that would share the utility pipes, but that's not good enough given tightening state and federal regulations for protecting the Chesapeake Bay from nitrogen and pollution."

We don't have a margin for error," he said. "It takes away from our cushion. We don't have a lot of excess capacity to play with," he said, despite a $100 million plant expansion now underway. Still, Irvin said the homes planned would produce far less waste than the 2,000 units once proposed on the same land as an Erickson Retirement Community.”

Board of Education:

“School planner Joel Gallihue said new students from Doughoregan would be placed in schools to the west that have capacity, not Centennial Lane Elementary, and the county owns a site for a possible new middle school if one is needed. Room is available at Marriott's Ridge High School for older students, though no new homes will likely be ready until 2014.”

Fire Department:

“Fire Chief William Goddard said recent council approval of a bill requiring residential sprinklers for all new homes eased his worries about fire protection. Ambulances would have no problem getting to the homes, he said."I am very comfortable with this project," he said.”


“Ned Tillman, the citizen chairman of the county's Sustainability Commission said clustering homes in one area is sound environmentally, and would not harm streams in the northeastern area of Doughoregan.”

Parks and Recreation:

County parks director John Byrd said more playing fields would be welcome at Kiwanis-Wallas Park…”

At this point I’d have to say that approval of the Carroll’s plans is a done deal.

Baugher Fire

Yesterday, around noon, I saw a farmhouse engulfed by flames just off Montgomery Road in Ellicott City. By the time I pulled into the parking lot of the Glen Mar United Methodist Church on New Cut Road, it had been reduced to rubble. It was pouring rain and I was on my way to a meeting so I didn’t have time to find out if anyone had been hurt or how the fire started. I figured that I could check it out later on the Howard Fire blog but alas there isn’t anything posted about it…yet.

I sure hope everyone is alright. The Baugher family has run a farm stand just down the hill from this house since 1922.

Later in the day a home in the Village of Owen Brown was struck by lightning. According to this story by Luke Broadwater in the Columbia Flier “lightning struck the structure’s roof, but said the building did not catch flames.”

If I was that family I think I’d buy a lottery ticket this week.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sweet 15

The Terps may not have made it to the Sweet 16 but I got a Sweet 15 card in the mail today so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

I am referring to the Starbucks rewards program where they send you a free drink card after you buy 15 drinks at any one of their stores. This program works for me.

I love a good cup of coffee. My real job takes me all over the Baltimore Washington corridor and there is high probability that, wherever I go, there will be a Starbucks nearby. This is a good thing. I realize that there are probably many very good coffee shops out and about, much like my favorite place in Ellicott City, but one thing you can say about a Starbucks: it’s a known entity. There are no surprises at a Starbucks. No thinking is required over what to order. When you are working you don’t have the luxury of exploration and discovery for your caffeine fix. You get in. You get out. Nobody gets hurt. You move on.

The Starbucks rewards program fits the itinerant worker like a glove. It doesn’t require you to always frequent the same joint in order to get a comped a free brew once in awhile. A coffee in Crofton or a coffee in Columbia, it is all the same to Starbucks.

It was the best piece of snail mail I got today.

Open to Receiving Information

Yesterday I sent an email to Bob Flanagan asking if he’d taken a position on the proposed Doughoregan Manor development. Bob is challenging Courtney Watson for the District 1 council seat and this is arguably the hottest issue in that district right now.

I am interested in seeing how challengers deal with the development issues in the county. It may be tempting for them to play to the anti development activists in order to differentiate themselves from the incumbents. It’s a tricky strategy though, particularly in the case of Doughoregan Manor where some development is inevitable whether it is ultimately this plan or not.

Bob is a seasoned politician. To his credit he replied to my inquiry the same day. Unfortunately, his answer offered no real insight to his thinking. He responded that he hasn’t taken a position on Doughoregan “but I am open to receiving information about the proposal.”

And then there’s that…

Vitamin D Therapy

This past winter was a little rough on the old dogs in our household. One of ours didn’t even it make it all the way through. For the other, the month of February was particularly tough. With everything is covered in snow, the dog didn’t know where to go.

This weekend it was hard to believe that The Big Kahuna snow event was just a little over a month ago.

The return of the sun and warmth is good for human health too. In this interview with Dr. Michael Holick by Deborah Solomon in The New York Times Magazine yesterday, the author of “The Vitamin D Solution” advises that is it beneficial to occasionally eschew the sunscreen.

“In the spring, I recommend about 15 to 30 minutes on your arms and legs two to three times a week.”

The black dog and I are on board with that program.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Doughoregan Dooty

One of the major bones of contention over the proposed Doughoregan Manor development plans is the possible inclusion of pretreatment facility for the sewage generated by the new homes. Though the plans call for the 325 new single family homes to be connected to the county’s public water and sewer system, new environmental regulations may require some pretreatment before the effluent is sent down the pipe to the county waste treatment facility in Savage.

This is not at all comparable to the problem plagued private sewage system at the Villas at Cattail Creek, though opponents have often pointed to that situation as a reason why this development should not move forward.

In fact, in testimony at last weeks public hearing on this issue, Marsha McLaughlin, the Director of Planning and Zoning, stated in her testimony that the current facility has adequate capacity to handle these new homes and that the “county is interested in exploring the pretreatment option because federal and state standards are changing.”

TAGS Hail Mary Pass

I received an email from Russ Swatek late Friday. It wasn’t exactly a personal note; it didn’t even have a greeting. It simply started with “Taxpayers Against Giveaways” and went on to explain that “TAG is helping the citizens of Howard County get a responsible plan to revitalize downtown Columbia without massive burdens on taxpayers and on downtown roads and interchanges.”

The email goes to promote a DIY approach to supporting their anti Town Center agenda:

“Latest News: It is now possible for those who want to sign the petition to Referendum of Council Bill 59-2009 to:
1. Print the Petition to Referendum form yourself.
2. Sign the form (you can be your own witness).
3. Optionally solicit the signatures of family, friends and neighbors. Registered voter data is available for your street or neighborhood so you know how many voters are at each address and their registered names.
4. U.S. Mail the signed form back to TAG.”

I am guessing from this email that TAG is a little under the gun to get the first batch of qualified signatures in before the deadline. Why else would they be emailing this to me?

I suspect it was sent to every email address they could muster up. It’s a Hail Mary pass to the end zone.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Inevitability of Growth

“The growth pressures are here and we will grow and you need to grow.”

That is how Dick Story started off our conversation yesterday afternoon on the latest episode of our podcast “and then there’s that…”. Dick is the President and CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority. He went to say that though the housing market had slowed down considerably over the past two years it is about to experience a growth spurt “starting as early as late this spring, as those DISA and BRAC families are positioning themselves in the marketplace to be in school this September, they’ll move in this summer. Those people are kicking tires right now.”

Dick shared other insights on the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, a success story of the county’s Neotech Incubator, and the potential impact of the arrival of the Cyber Command headquarters at Fort Meade.

We also had a little fun with the census forms that began popping up in local mailboxes this week.

In past shows at the Lakeside Café we’ve actually had a few folks drop by to listen to the show live. The only problem was that, up until yesterday, the audience couldn’t actually hear what’s going on. We’ve now fixed that with a remote speaker that will allow anyone in the café to listen in.

Our next show will be on April 2nd and our guest will be Stacy Hunt, the President and CEO of Leadership Howard County.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Rhee Tahs!

“Ya wanta Slurpee?” I asked Peanut after picking her up at school today.

“How about Ritas?” she replied.

“Great idea!”

When we pulled into the Rita’s at the corner of St. Johns Lane and Frederick Road in Ellicott City this afternoon at 3:15 PM the place was rocking. The line stretched well out into the parking lot.

There were teenagers sporting Catonsville Lacrosse shirts and middle aged guys in shorts. There were parents in mini vans, and grandparents in sedans. There was a shaggy haired dog named Luna and there were still more teenagers. Much like the swallows returning to the Mission at San Juan Capistrano every spring on St. Josephs Day, we were all flocking back to Rita’s and marking the end of winter.

After I paid I asked for a new Rita’s card to start the season off.

We don’t do that anymore,” the nice young lady informed me, “but we will honor any old ones you have.”
They do have a facebook page now though.

And here’s the Pitch

“Have you heard about the big changes they are making in downtown Columbia?”

That was the opening pitch of Russ Swatek, the spokesperson for Taxpayers Against Giveaways, as he approached a shopper at the Harpers Choice Village Center in Columbia yesterday afternoon. The shopper acknowledged that they had heard something about it.

Russ went on to say that there was going to be 5,500 new housing units built in Town Center. “They don’t have the roads for that. Our traffic studies show they don’t have the roads for that now.”

Of course there are traffic studies that argue otherwise, not to mention the thirty year development timetable and the whole Adequate Public Facilities process.

This particular shopper knew better. They didn’t sign the petition. They did note that Russ was alone and didn’t seem to have many names on petition sheet.

It’s not that hard to get 5,000 registered voters to sign a petition. It’s not that easy either.

I’m beginning to think that Russ and his Tagalongs may not garner enough signatures to get on the ballot. It doesn’t look like they have a very deep bench.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bailey Switching Sides

Most local political watchers already know that John Bailey is going after Liz Bobo for the District 12B House of Delegates seat. Up until now he has been running as a Republican in the heavily Democratic district. I say up until now because today he told me he’s switching sides. John is now planning to give Liz a primary challenge as a Democrat.

“I’m a public school teacher who believes in education and creating jobs,” he said in explaining why he thought he’d make a good Democrat.

It appears that this move won’t cost him all of his Republican supporters either. Former County Executive Chuck Ecker has already previously agreed to attend a fundraiser for John on April 15th at Historic Oakland in Town Center. Chuck is one of my favorite politicians and an all around great guy. According to John, he is still on board to attend.

I wonder if the Republicans will try and replace Bailey or just concede this seat to the opposition.

Scene This Week In…

Our census form arrived in our Ellicott City mailbox this week. Ten years ago when I last filled out the census form I was living in Columbia Town Center.

There are some folks who will not fill out their census form for a variety of reasons. Some believe it to be an invasion of privacy while others has less defensible reasons for dissing the decennial document. The bottom line is that when you fail to fill out the form you cost the government more money. According to this editorial in The Sun today when someone doesn’t fill out their census form “the government will send someone to your door, and that costs an average of $57 for every response. The Census Bureau estimates that each percentage point increase in the mail response rate to the census saves $85 million. In 2000, about 72 percent of Americans (and 73 percent of Marylanders) mailed back their forms; if everyone did it this time, the government would save $1.5 billion.”
While in The Mall earlier this week I noticed that iconic antique clock that has graced the mall promenade since the very beginning was stuck at 9:00. It struck me that this could be a metaphor of sorts for Columbia Town Center.

Columbia Town Center is stuck in time.

Hopefully, in the next several months we will get beyond the rancor, misinformation and false claims of those who are still smarting from the overwhelming support the redevelopment plans received from the community and get the clock moving towards Columbia’s future once more.

“Like Being a Rabbi in Mecca”

David Brooks is a conservative op-ed columnist for The New York Times. Tuesday night he was also the featured speaker at the Baltimore Speaker Series. David described that being a conservative political writer at the generally more liberal newspaper was sort of “like being a rabbi in Mecca.”

It probably isn’t accurate to label David Brooks as an ideologue conservative. His politics tend more towards the center right. For instance, he said he thought that President Obama was “the most reasonable person in Washington right now.”

At the same time he criticized the president for trying to do too much too soon, and for spending too much money. He said Obama is addicted to hitting home runs when he might be better off trying for a few singles and doubles. He said the president is “very perceptive, intelligent and calm”

David feels that the problem with Congress is bourbon. It wasn’t that long ago, he explained, that members of both parties would meet for drinks after work and get to know each other as individuals. That doesn’t happen much anymore. He said they barely know each other now and that the emotional anger and bitterness is at the highest level he’s ever seen. He believes our governing culture has changed a bit for the worse on the past ten years.

After listening to his talk I also became convinced that the current health care reform bill that Obama is trying to ram through Congress is a bad bill that will do little if anything to reign in escalating health care costs.

I’m disappointed in both parties for their inability to deliver comprehensive health care reform. As far as I’m concerned both parties have failed the American people.

Maybe it’s time for them to try and meet for drinks again.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tribal Rituals

For many of us blessed with an Irish heritage, St. Patrick’s Day is a pretty special occasion. It’s a day to gather as a tribe and celebrate life, laughter and the end of winter. Most years finds mid March in Maryland a wee bit on the chilly side but that was certainly not the case today. It was about as good a day as anyone could ask for which made it doubly hard to return to the office after lunch.

TW and I were up in Towson for a meeting that ran until about 1:00 PM. On the way back to Howard County we stopped in Baltimore and paid a visit to J. Patrick’s in South Baltimore. We were going to drop in on my sister Kelly and her friends Joe and Wally who have been going to this particular pub on March 17th as long as anyone can remember.

Joe is a retired mailman who lives in Florida now but still returns every year for the “holiday week.” Wally is a priest.

As Wally explains, the St. Patrick’s celebration for him begins on Pi Day where the tradition is to enjoy pie with the Guinness. The next day is the Ides of March and as Wally puts it “It’s a day to celebrate with our Italian friends because we don’t think they should be left out of the fun.”

The 16th is known as vigil day. It is more or less a day preparation for the feast day. On vigil day you simply make sure you are at the bar at J. Patrick's at midnight to toast in the dawn of feast day with a pint and a shot.

St. Patrick’s Day is of course what he refers to as feast day. Wally, Kelly and Joe have take up residence at their regular place at the bar. The bartender knows to keep at least three ready pints of Guinness in front of them and they maintain their own tab. They hold court here giving out pints, roses for the ladies, chocolate coins and other trinkets including bumper stickers. As soon as TW and I walked in the door we were handed a pint from a priest. How good is that?

The 18th is openly acknowledged as hangover day. A day to sleep late and recover. The holiday week ends on the 19th, the Feast of St. Joseph, when they go back to J. Patrick's and settle up their bill.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Ok, so the song and the band are actually from Newfoundland, it still seemed like a nice way to kick off the Irish holiday.

As my sister Kelly says… “May the tap be open when it rusts.”

Previous St. Patricks Day posts can be found here and here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Martin + Osa Out, Vera Bradley In

Martin + Osa will be closing it’s store in The Mall by July. According to this story by Sylvie Porter on, the men’s and women’s fashion retailer “is planning to close all 28 Martin & Osa stores nationwide including their locations in Towson Town Center, Westfield Annapolis Mall, and the Mall in Columbia.”

The bottom line is, as they say, the bottom line.

“Management for the company determined that the brand was not achieving the level of success they had hoped and that they don’t feel the brand is worth investing more money in.In fiscal year 2009, the Martin & Osa brand generated a loss after taxes of about $44 million.”

On the way in however is Vera Bradley, one of the hottest women’s retail chains in the whole U S of A. According to this story by Joanna Sullivan in the Baltimore Business Journal Vera Bradley, which sells these insanely popular flowery bags and luggage, “is opening its first Maryland store in the Mall in Columbia this spring.”

This adds a good dose of street cred to The Mall’s reputation as a fashion forward mall.

Green Neighborhood for Elkridge

Don Reuwer is expected to receive approval of his preliminary sketch plan for his Locust Chapel development in Elkridge this week. Locust Chapel may end up being the first single family home development in Howard County to meet the county’s newly adopted “Green Neighborhood” criteria.

The 64 lot development on 36.5 acres at the intersection of Ilchester Road and Beechwood Road earned 98 points out of possible 167 points to achieve the green neighborhood designation.

According to the Howard/Arundel Report newsletter, these green credentials will allow the project to “leap-frog out of the moratorium-bound Elkridge planning area” by taking advantage of the 100 housing allocations set aside by the county for green projects.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Another District 4 Rematch

Well at least part of District 4 will see another electoral rematch, the Village of Wilde Lake to be specific. In this story by Larry Carson in The Sun we only heard that Phil Kirsch was running for another term on the Columbia Council. What Larry failed to mention was that Linda Odum is running against him, again.

She lost by ten votes a year ago.

I’d like to see her replace Phil. The legacy of his four year stint on the Council is a continuing decline in the village center and a combative relationship with Greg Hamm and General Growth Properties that has led to missed opportunities for his village and Town Center.

Half Staff

As I drove up to the county offices in Columbia Gateway today I noted that the county and state flags were flying at half staff. When I checked in the guard station I asked what this was all about.

“It’s for the soldiers in Afghanistan,” the guard replied.

“Was a soldier from Howard County recently killed in Afghanistan?”

“Yes,” he replied. “There is information about it on the website.”

When I got back to the office I checked the county website and couldn’t find any mention of why the flags were flying at half staff. I decided to call the public information office.

“Let me check,” said the woman who answered the phone.

It turns out that this tribute has nothing to do with the war in Afghanistan. It is for PFC Thomas P. Jensen, a Prince George’s County police officer who died on March 9th from injuries sustained in the line of duty. According to this story by Scott Wykoff in, Officer Jensen was “badly injured while responding to an emergency call late last month”

“Officer Jensen was critically injured while responding to a call to assist the fire department with a disorderly person reportedly under the influence of PCP. He struck a sheet of black ice on Baltimore Avenue at Greenbelt Road in College Park at 6:55 a.m. on February 27th causing his vehicle to crash into a telephone pole.”

It would be nice if the folks on the front line were a little more informed about this.

Another One for the Record Books

So far the weather this year has been one for the record books. The Big Kahuna snow made this winter one of the snowiest on record. Now it appears that the rain this past weekend ranked right up there as well. According to this report by Frank Roylance in The Sun, “Elkridge and several other communities in Howard and Anne Arundel counties topped the charts for rain totals in Maryland for the 48 hours ending Sunday morning. The two-day total at Elkridge was 4.15 inches.”

Thankfully, all this rain has not caused another catastrophic flood in Ellicott City, at least not yet anyway.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Misery Acquaints a Man with Strange Bedfellows

As we were packing up from our podcast last Friday we started talking about the petition drive to subject the Columbia Town Center redevelopment enabling legislation to referendum.

“Have you seen any petition gatherers out and about?” I asked the boys.

No one had.

“Not even at the grocery stores?”

Dave Bittner said he had heard that the grocery stores weren’t allowing the petition proponents on their property.


Let me make it clear that I do understand that this is nothing more than hearsay. I do not know for a fact whether it is true or not. What I do know is that I haven’t been approached nor have I seen anyone out gathering signatures in my own Ho Co travels. I certainly haven’t seen anyone working the grocery store turf like I did for a previous ill fated petition drive.

If it’s true it would seem to suggest that the Bard of Avon was right in that “misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” The grocery stores, or more specifically the union grocers, perhaps might feel that they don’t have a dog in this fight. The right of citizens to petition for referendum was never really their issue anyway.

The Continuing Transformation of T-Bonz

T-Bonz restaurant on Montgomery Road in Ellicott City is pretty well hidden from plain view. It is tucked below and behind a strip shopping center. The building formerly housed a rib joint called Johnny Stars that featured mouth watering fall off the bone ribs. Those ribs drew quite a following to the off the beaten path location.

Johnny Stars closed eventually and T-Bonz opened in its place. Over time the interior has been completely transformed into a nice neighbor pub with wood floors a new bar. They still serve ribs but alas they are not of the same caliber as the old Johnny Stars.

There are plenty of other choices on the menu though and since I’ve long since abdicated any role of local food critic to How Chow, I’ll just say that the food in general is pretty good, the limited wine selection is above average and it’s selection of draft beers put’s the place right up there in the hierarchy of Howard County pubs.

But that’s not why I decided to write a post about them.

Last night, as Mama Wordbones and I ventured out during a break in the torrential rainfall this weekend, we dropped into T-Bonzs to cure our cabin fever. That’s when we learned of that the restaurant is adding a second bar to their unusual building. This summer, the owners plan to open a bar downstairs from the restaurant in what appears to be the buildings loading dock. On the surface it might seem an unlikely place for a bar but it could be a fun spot if they can pull it off. While it won’t have outside seating initially, on nice days they plan to roll up the overhead door to let the bar patrons enjoy the weather.

I like places that have character and T-Bonzs has loads of it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Doughoregan Details

The descendents of Charles Carroll of Carrollton have gone digital. The family has created a website detailing their preservation and development and plans for the pre Independence era estate.

I only wish the Conceptual Site Plan did a better job of including adjacent roads, like Burnside Drive for example.

Episode Nine

Our guest this week on “and then there’s that…” was Greg Hamm, the vice president and general manager of Columbia for General Growth Properties. Greg is a pretty personable fellow and he has a long history of new community development including a stint in Reston, Virginia.

We asked Greg about the continuing opposition to the Columbia Town Center redevelopment plans after the council voted unanimously to approve it. Specifically we were curious as to what the opponents are referring to when the say this is a “giveaway”.

“What is the government actually giving you?” I asked

“I’m still waiting to find that out too, I’d like to pass that on to the people in Chicago as soon as I know. It will help me internally a lot” he quipped.

As Freemarket already noted in his blog this morning, GGP will spend approximately $100 million on creating new public spaces, renovating Merriweather Post Pavilion and creating a new housing trust fund for workforce housing.

True, the government did give the company approximately 3,500 additional housing units as part of the redevelopment program but the company already had the right to build more office and retail space. If anything, the additional housing units give the plan more balance.

“The worst of all worlds for the people of Howard County and Columbia would have been for us to have done more office buildings and retail here.”

And then there’s that…

We also had little fun with local new stories on porn, proms, sprinklers and my buddy Allen Dyer.

Our next podcast will be on March 19th and our guest will be Dick Story, the CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Twelve Minutes for a Nickel

I just have time for a quick Friday afternoon post. We just finished taping the latest (9th!) edition of “and then there’s that…”…I’ll post more on that later.

Three things:

One, thanks to Columbia Compass for bringing my attention to this post from Maryland Politics Watch. It seems that Tales of Two Cities was recognized as the third most popular local blog in Maryland. We’re moving up. Last May, MPW had us in fourth place. The number one local blog was Inside Charm City and number two was our neighbor just up the pike, Just Up The Pike.

Two, I don’t think I ever formally welcomed HoCo Rising. This past Tuesday he and I met up at Clyde’s and made a connection. The bottom line is good guy, good writer, and increasingly prolific poster. Ya gotta like that.

Three, the lowest parking rate on the meters in Ellicott City is twelve minutes for a nickel. That’s my five cents.

Gotta run.

Warped Thinking

The Carroll family may be the oldest residents of Howard County. They were here before the county even existed. They built their home, Doughoregan Manor, in Ellicott City back in 1727 when Maryland was still a colony of Great Britain. Almost three hundred years later the estate is still owned by the same family. While development occurred at a breakneck pace all around them they preserved their farm.

And how do we acknowledge almost three centuries of their stewardship of the land?

We threaten to take away their property by an act of Congress.

On a recent posting on the Howard County Citizens Association listserv, Allen Dyer, a member of the Howard County School Board, wrote that “in light of its historic value, the "private property" aspect of Doughoregan is a sham issue.”

He went on to say “howard county local politics is much too small a forum for planning the destruction (or preservation) of Doughoregan manor.”

Picking up on this thread, C. Edward Walter, a resident of Woodstock, wrote that there should be “an act of Congress to preserve the site.”

He has even written to Congressman Elijah Cummings to enlist his support for this.

Who do these people think they are?

I’ll give a pass to Mr. Walter since he is a private citizen and entitled to his opinion but Allen Dyer is an elected official and therefore his words tend to carry a little more weight.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. He’s got to go.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What’s Up with the MAC?

As I drove by the new Meadowbrook Athletic Complex today I noticed that there was a blue mesh fence surrounding the building. I also noted that there were no cars in the parking lot at three o’clock on a Thursday afternoon.

You may recall that the grand opening of the 38,000 square foot multi purpose gym was held back in December. When I went to the front doors they were locked. There was a note saying that the facility is currently limited to program use only, whatever that means.

It turns out that the MAC will hopefully be open for general public use in April, four months after the opening that wasn’t so grand after all. According to the HoCo Recreation and Parks Department, it isn’t fully operational because there are no phones or computers in the building yet.

Once it is truly open for the general public you’ll need a Get Active fitness card to use it. This is a new program from Recs and Parks that sounds a little like a private gym membership. It will cost an adult (18 plus) $79.00 for a three month pass. It’s so new that that there isn’t any information about it on the department website.

What about the blue fence?
It seems as if the Big Kahuna snow event was a little too much for the MAC. The roof suffered some damage and a few of the exterior light fixtures got beat up.

I would expect this type of damage on an older building but the MAC is brand spanking new. If I was Gary Arthur I think I’d have a little meeting with the building contractor about the quality of their work.

The Great State Disconnect

A recent telephone poll conducted by Opinion Works revealed that over half of Maryland voters support a ten cent increase in the state liquor tax. According to this story by Len Lazerick in Maryland Reporter “Legislative leaders have repeatedly pledged to pass no new taxes this election year, but a new poll says half of Maryland voters think they should make an exception for a 10-cent per drink tax on alcohol.”

It’s not likely to pass this year though. Powerful lobbying efforts by the states licensed beverage dealers and the restaurant association are working to keep it bottled up in committee. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, they’ve done a good job working on the Howard County delegation.

“Only one of the county's 11 legislators supports a no-strings-attached alcohol tax increase, while five, including all three Republicans, oppose the idea outright. And four lean toward being against it but are willing to listen, they said.”

It’s pretty much the same story with the state laws that prohibit the direct sale of wine to consumers. According to this story by Julie Bykcowicz in The Sun, “The movement to legalize wine shipping has grown to more than 20,000 supporters, according to Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws, an advocacy organization. Dozens of social media and e-mail groups have sprung up.” And even though a majority of the senators on the health committee considering the measure support it, the committee chair, Senator Joan Carter Conway, doesn’t and has successfully kept it from moving forward.

Why this disconnect between what the voters wants and what our state legislators want?

I’m not exactly sure but it could have something to do with the fact that the liquor lobby isn’t keen about any changes in the status quo of the Free States archaic liquor laws.

“The liquor lobby that protects the system is one of the top campaign contributors, giving to more than 80 percent of the 188 General Assembly members - all of whom are up for election this fall.”

Your friendly neighborhood liquor store is friendlier with the politicians than the consumers.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Three Things

One, the news that Cardinal Gibbons High School is closing really hit home. For years many young men from Howard County have made the trek down I-95 to the campus in Baltimore. I have high school friends who went there and my older brother went to Gibbons back in the sixties when the school first opened.

Among the hierarchy of Catholic high schools in Baltimore, Cardinal Gibbons lacked the same cachet as Loyola Blakefield or Calvert Hall but its proximity and relatively easy access to Howard County made it an attractive private school option for many HoCo parents. A group of parents and alumni are fighting to save the school so perhaps the last chapter for the Crusaders has yet to be written.

Two, the current plan for the proposed Doughoreghan Manor development that calls for a single access point on Frederick Road is just plain nuts. The most logical thing to do is provide a secondary access into the new community from Burnside Drive but no one is even suggesting this. Burnside Drive is one of those roads built about 20 years ago that dead ends into a farm, not a cul-de-sac. The road simply stops as if it was someday intended to continue through the farm if the farm was ever developed, like now. The problem is that the people who live on Burnside Drive have gotten used to the fact that road stops where it does and that has made Burnside Drive the third rail of the proposed development.

Three, it occurred to me that if General Growth Properties spins off the master plan communities into a new company, that new company would presumably need a new home. Considering that the company already owns a pretty nice headquarters building in Columbia, I think Columbia would be the perfect choice.

HoCo Third Richest in U.S.

Once again Forbes magazine has published a list of the twenty five richest counties in the U.S. and Howard County came in at number three.

Howard County, Md., a suburb of Baltimore, has a standout school system with standardized test scores that consistently beat out the national average, and median household incomes of $101,710.”

We’re moving up. This past December, The Huffington Post ranked HoCo as the fifth richest and they used a higher median income number.

Go figure.

According to Forbes the richest county in America is Loudon County in Virginia.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Straight Poop

As a dog owner I am sensitive to the complaints about people who don’t pick up after their dogs. It only takes one recalcitrant dog owner to smear the rest of us who take our dog dooty seriously. When someone sees poop in their yard and they don’t own a dog, they cast a judgmental eye towards every dog owner in the hood.

Not surprisingly, some dog owners actually think its okay not to pick up after their pooch. In his column in The Washington Post today, John Kelly wrote about “an air of defiance among those who responded to my request that they explain why they don't pick up their dog's messes.”

“I never have [picked up poop] and here's why. I live in a D.C. suburb with plenty of woods around. My dog has been trained to go off the trail in the woods to do her business, where rain and bacteria and bugs dispose of this natural product in an ecologically sound manner. Where do people think all those plastic bags go? Into our environment, to virtually never decay.”

Not so fast. John points out that recent testing of Accotink Creek by the U.S. Geological Survey revealed “dog waste accounted for 15 percent of the E. coli in the stream.”

And the plastic bags?

There are biodegradable poop bags a pet owner can purchase for as little as three cents a bag.

No more excuses.

HoCo Broadband in Top 25

Howard County ranks 25 in the list of the 25 fastest broadband counties in the US. According to this story by Rich Karpinski in Connected Planet, “Howard County in Maryland, had speeds of 10.7 megabits down and 2.8 megabits up, according to Craig Settles, a broadband consultant who works with local communities on broadband projects and who is a business partner with ID Insight on the Broadband Scout project”

The top county, Nassau County, NY, had “a median download speed of 15.0 megabits per second and a median upload speed of 4.4 megabits per second.”

Howard County wasn’t the fastest county in Maryland either. Calvert County in Southern Maryland was ranked 15.

This was likely one of the reasons we didn’t make the cut for the federal broadband stimulus grant. It can’t help our chances for attracting Google’s fiber test either.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Whip Smart

I generally try and tune into Fresh Air with Terry Gross on NPR if I’m in my car in the late afternoon. I got in the habit after I started picking Peanut up from school on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The show comes on at 3:00 PM and school lets out about 3:10 PM. We listen in on the way home.

Today, I was thankful that Peanut wasn’t with me. Terry’s guest was Melissa Febo, who has just written a memoir of her four years as a professional dominatrix at a club called The Dungeon in Manhattan. The book is called Whip Smart.

To be fair, WAMU advised listeners that today’s show contained “adult subject matter” and that it “may not be appropriate for all listeners.”

I imagine some regular listeners may have missed that message though and maybe were a bit surprised at finding this type of discussion going on the radio in the after school hours. Volumes are suddenly lowered, channels quickly changed…, “so how was your day honey?” …and so on.

The host and guest weren’t holding much back either. At one point Melissa talks about an interview where she was asked if she had a favorite place to shop for her “accessories”.

“Home Depot,” she quipped.

I just about drove off the road.

Going Gaga for Google

This is starting to get a little “over the top.” Towns are renaming themselves Google, flash mobs are being generated to show support for the broadband effort and now Duluth, Minnesota has decreed that “henceforth all firstborn males in the City of Duluth shall be named Google Fiber.”


Watch CBS News Videos Online

Second Sunday Season Two

The Second Sunday Market in Ellicott City will return for a second season on Sunday April 11th. Actually, the return of the popular outdoor market will be part of a weekend long “Blossoms of Hope” celebration in the historic district that will include the aforementioned 5K race on Saturday, April 10th.

Just mentioning an outdoor event brings a smile to my face. Stay tuned for more details.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Trail Trainspotting

After finishing our science project investigation of Bloede Dam, the girls wanted to go to the tunnel next. The tunnel they were referring to is actually a culvert under the rail tracks just a little further down the trail.

As we got close I could hear the distant rumble of a train. This would be the third train we had seen in less than an hour. A few yards away from me stood a man holding what was presumably his son. They had stopped to listen to the approaching behemoth as well.

Before long the massive blue CSX engines appeared through the trees up on top of an embankment above the trail and the river. It rumbled by slowly pulling a line of tankers, coal cars and freight cars and overpowering the sound of the swollen Patapsco River. Before long the engineer blew his diesel horn as he approached the Ilchester Tunnel below Buzzard Rock. The trains typically move slowly through this winding stretch of track. These rails, known as the old main line subdivision has been in operation since 1830. The keystone on the culvert “tunnel” is stamped with the year 1869.

There sure is a lot stuff going on in this little slice of the Patapsco Valley State Park.