Friday, April 30, 2010

Forty West Fix and Starts

Unbeknownst to me when I banged out this post was that Courtney Watson was already all over this. Last night I received an email from the current council chair in response to my lament about the sorry state of the Route 40 corridor. It’s pathetic that this primary gateway artery in the third or seventh best and richest place in the country, looks a lot like the Ritchie Highway corridor in Glen Burnie. Don’t even get me started on how difficult it is to cross from one side to the other, in a car. To cross on foot is, well let’s just say unwise.

Though I kvetched about the lack of any visible improvement since the Route 40 Enhancement Study was completed in 2004, things have apparently progressed, to a degree. Courtney writes that “There is a streetscape master plan already designed and that will be implemented starting in July. The design manual is still within the committee, but should be released shortly. “

Today she told me that the streetscape improvements will occur over about a one year time frame. That makes sense. This is not a good time of year to plant trees for instance.

Still, real progress will take time. The property in the most congested areas is largely private and it will take a voluntary effort on those property owners part to implement significant changes. As a carrot the county holds out the possibility of redeveloping a commercial property under TNC (Traditional Neighborhood Center) zone in exchange for adhering to the Design Manual standards.

From the Howard County Zoning Regulations:

“This district is intended to provide for the development of pedestrian-oriented, urban activity centers with a mix of retail, service, office and residential uses. These centers should be located near Route 40 and close to residential communities that will benefit from a pedestrian-oriented local business area.”

So there you go. There is some movement to a better day on forty freaking west but it’s gonna take some time.

Cathedrals Can Take That Long Too

The St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague took almost 600 years to complete. The First Bapist Church of Guilford may be the HoCo equivalent of the St. Vitus job. For what I believe to be over five years now the expansion project of this church at the corner of Guilford Road and Oakland Mills Road in Columbia has gone through a continuous series of fits and starts. Right now it’s in a fit again.

Yesterday as I drove by I saw three gentlemen speaking across a newly erected chain link fence surrounding the site.

“What’s up with the building?” I inquired.

“That’s what we’d like to know,” one of the guys inside the fence told me.

According to this fence trio the general contractor had declared bankruptcy. They were hopeful that a new contractor would take over the job next week.

This is actually a sad story. The longtime pastor who started this project, the Reverend Dr. John L. Wright, passed away in January. He never got to see his church completed.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Silencing of the Bells

The iconic bell tower on the lakefront pier in Columbia Town Center is coming down. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun the wooden tower “will be dismantled sometime in late May or early June, according to CA officials.”

Last month I took this photo of the scaffolding that had been erected around the tower. I mistakenly assumed that the tower was being renovated. Apparently it is a lost cause.

“a recent examination by Century Engineering showed what were called "major deficiencies" in the structure, though it is not thought to pose any imminent danger. The four flag poles that sat around the bell were removed immediately after completion of the engineering report.”

Anyone want to place a bet as when the bells will toll again?

I’m thinking three years…at least.

Dream Car

When I was a young lad the car of my dreams was the Jaguar XKE. There was just something intoxicating about that long sleek hood and that tapered cockpit.

Yesterday, when I stopped by the Safeway in the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center I spotted this well preserved beauty in the parking lot.
This morning I told my colleague Bill Harrison about this. He’s a big car guy. Bill shared a story about a neighbor of his who actually owned one. The neighbor laughed when Bill told him how he too always loved that car and then told Bill that “the only problem was that I could never take it out in the rain. When the ignition system got wet it wouldn’t start.”

That reminded me of an old joke I heard from a mechanic who worked exclusively on British cars. Why don’t the British make televisions?

They can’t figure out how to make them leak.

Forty Freaking West

The stretch of Route 40 between Rogers Avenue and Plum Tree Drive is a mess. In fact it has been a mess for as long as I’ve been around here and I’m no spring chicken. The fate of forty west was sealed long before planning and zoning caught up with the “miracle mile” sprawl of suburban retail. Its dysfunction predates the development of Columbia.

The Route 40 Enhancement Study that was published in December 2004 acknowledged that “Commercial uses have been built at different times creating awkward or nonexistent pedestrian and vehicular linkages between uses. Setbacks, landscaping and building types have also varied over time creating a hodge-podge appearance. Pedestrian linkages between the residential neighborhoods, shopping centers and services were rarely considered.”

Though the report called for a variety of measures to be completed in six years very little appears to have occurred. It’s still a mess. In an editorial last year in The Howard County Times observed that “the county government has checked off a few items on the to-do list, but the bulk of the rezoning and the design manual needed to realize the big-picture aspect of the panel's recommendations remain unfinished, without any timetable for completion.”

While there has been much discussion in District 1 about the development plans for Doughoregan Manor, it’s been awhile since I’ve heard anyone talking about forty freaking west.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Case Closed for COG

Marc Norman and his Citizens for Open Government group were dealt yet another legal defeat their effort to stop Harris Teeter from opening a store in Turf Valley. After considering their argument for almost six months, this past Monday Judge Timothy J. McCrone ruled that the Howard County Board of Elections acted “in accordance with the law” when they retroactively disqualified over 80% of the signatures collected in his petition drive to subject the Turf Valley zoning amendment to countywide referendum. According to this article by Sara Breitenbach in The Howard County Times, “McCrone ruled the elections board properly applied Maryland standards, set forth by the state’s high court, in reviewing and rejecting a citizen referendum petition.”

The Court of Appeals left no doubt but that ‘the provisions are mandatory, not suggestive,’ ” McCrone wrote. “The required standard is designed to ‘provide additional means by which fraudulent or otherwise improper signatures upon a referendum petition may be detected.’ ”

I can’t say that I am disappointed with this decision. COG’s petition effort had a bad smell to it. The majority of the approximately 9,000 signatures submitted to the BOE were gathered by food worker union employees who parachuted into HoCo from as far away as Delaware in order to stop the non union grocer from expanding into their turf.

Predictably, Marc Norman is full of righteous indignation.

“We don’t know if we’re going to be able to get justice in the state of Maryland,” Norman said.

“It’s extremely frustrating. “Maryland is the only state in the Union that has this triple-match qualification. We believe it’s an undue burden on a citizen’s right to vote.”

The judge didn’t think so.

“In his written opinion, McCrone said the citizen’s group “failed to demonstrate a violation of the right to vote.”

I still rather doubt that we’ve heard the end of this.

April Shivers

I should’ve checked out Foots Forecast before heading out today. Instead I relied on the Weather Channel which forecast a high in the mid sixties for the day. Accordingly I wore a short sleeve shirt and a light windbreaker.

I was cold all day. It never got over 55 according to the occasionally accurate thermometer in my car. Mr. Foot and his fine forecasters suggested that 50 to 60 was the better range.

It could’ve been worse though. At least I wasn’t this guy.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Maple Lawn Marches On

This afternoon St. John Properties held a luncheon for commercial real estate brokers at their new development in Maple Lawn. In addition to crab cakes, the developer served up some good news on the economic development front.

First up at the podium was Stewart Greenebaum, the founding partner of Greenebaum & Rose and the master developer of Maple Lawn. Stewart reminded everyone that only six years ago Maple Lawn was just cornfields. Today the new community is rocking along with a new Harris Teeter, a new retail building under construction, a new 30,000 square foot conference center for the Baltimore Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, and now the first of five buildings in the Maple Lawn Corporate Center being developed by St. John Properties. Stewart also said that there are currently 121 homes under construction all of which are under contract.

Rick Williamson, a Senior Vice President with SJP, also announced that one of the five buildings in the project has just been pre leased to Kaiser Permanente.

Ken Ulman was also in attendance. He spoke about a recent trip he made to Austin, Texas with Ed St. John that was sponsored by the Greater Baltimore Alliance. The objective was to recruit Austin companies in the cyber security business to expand to Howard County.

Good call.

Begging for Votes

The turnout for the Wilde Lake village elections may have been light but it wasn’t as bad as Hickory Ridge. According to this report by Jennifer Broadwater in The Columbia Flier, last Saturday’s village elections “failed to reach quorum.”

This is not all that unusual in Columbia village elections. A few years ago, when I lived in Town Center, volunteers went around on Election Day trying to round up enough votes to make a quorum after turn out at the polls was anemic. We went begging for votes.

I’ve heard some people say that this only proves that people are generally happy with the way the Columbia Association runs things. They tend to think that the majority of people see no great need to participate in the process because of this. I think it’s something else. I think the whole village election process has become outmoded.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Northrop to NoVa

It looks like the governor has lost the latest corporate HQ contest. Despite a personal sales pitch from Martin O’Malley to the company CEO, Northrop Grumman today announced that it has chosen Northern Virginia as the new home for it’s corporate headquarters. According to this story by Sarah Krouse in the Washington Business Journal, the announcement “comes as no surprise to many observers, who felt the inclusion of Maryland on the short list was simply to serve as leverage in the economic development game.”

In other words, we was used.

On the other hand, we really shouldn’t feel very bad about all that. The company still maintains a sizable presence in the Free State and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. In fact, the company just finished construction of a new 150,000 square office building (picture) by the airport.

Anti-trust and the Simon GGP Bid

Last week the Simon Property Group revised their offer to General Growth Properties board. According to this story in Reuters, the owner of the Arundel Mills mall is now “asking for two General Growth board seats as part of the deal, down from three earlier, sources familiar with the situation said.”

“Under General Growth's current plan, it would see a $6.55 billion cash infusion from Brookfield and investors Fairholme Capital Management and William Ackman's Pershing Square Capital.

That offer includes the three capital sources receiving warrants to buy 120 million shares, with Brookfield getting half of them.

Simon, whose initial offer to take over all of General Growth was rebuffed, has countered with an offer to replace all these investors without any warrants. It has not abandoned its plans to make a new run for the entire company either.”

The notion of a General Growth/Simon merger is not sitting well with retailers. If Simon prevails it could end up owning or controlling half of the Class A shopping malls in the country. That would give the company an incredible amount of leverage in negotiating leases.

According to this article by Todd Sullivan in Seeking Alpha, “Fewer options and a consolidation of ownership in Class A malls would place retailers at a competitive disadvantage.”

Judge Allan Gropper is expected to rule on GGP’s plans to exit bankruptcy this Thursday.

The Influence of Blogs…or Not

Occasionally a commenter on Tales of Two Cities will feel compelled to share their opinion that local blogs such as this have little to no influence on local politics. They’ll point to something like Linda Odums defeat in last weekends Columbia Council race to make their point since I openly supported Linda in her challenge to unseat Phil Kirsch. That view tends to miss the point.

I really don’t believe or expect that the people who visit here will accept every viewpoint or position I espouse. That’s really not the mission of this blog, my column in The Business Monthly, or my podcast on HoCoMoJo. My mission is simply to raise awareness of the local issues. I believe that local politics impact our daily lives as much as, if not more than, national politics yet when I talk to folks I am often surprised about how little they know about the actual community they live in. Even the Wilde Lake election, which was described in the press as “hotly contested,” attracted only around 10% of the eligible voters in that village.

Anytime local bloggers succeed in getting more people involved in the conversation about the issues of our community we have influenced the outcome in some way and that, I believe, is a very good thing.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Postcard from Chestertown

Late Saturday morning we headed off for the eastern shore to visit with CG and catch her spring dance concert at Washington College in Chestertown. The weather gods blessed us with a partly sunny day which made for a bucolic drive through the countryside up the Delmarva Peninsula to Chestertown.

I like this trip. Chestertown is a historic colonial town situated along the banks of the Chester River. It’s about a two hour drive from HoCo. It’s also a prototypical college town thanks to the presence of Washington College. Think Faber College.

It’s a fun place to visit. The downtown is sort of like Ellicott City without the hills. It’s also a trip to walk across the campus on a spring Saturday afternoon as the students gear up for Saturday night.

This morning as we were checking out of the hotel I chatted up a local named Bill Hines.

“You should be here for the Tea Party,” he told me.

I’m thinking he’s referring to some kind of Kent County version of the recently popular political rallies. He wasn’t.
Chestertown has been holding a tea party in May since 1774 but their beef is with the government in London not Washington. The festivities even include something called Toss the Tory.

“You can’t get a hotel room within 50 miles of town that weekend,” Bill tells me.

Who knew?

Bridging the Gap

Friday night Mama Wordbones and I hit Town Center for date night, literally. I purchased a couple of tickets for the 7:50 show then we walked over to Clyde’s to grab a bite to eat.

As we passed by the plaza in front of L.L. Bean, I noticed this new alteration to the undressed stone fountain. The channel that runs from the rock waterfall in front of the store down to the circular basin in the plaza has been bridged. While this was usually done only in the winter when the fountain was drained, this new addition appears to be a bit more permanent.

It’s a shame, though I’m not all that surprised. Jumping over this water channel was an activity enjoyed by many a visitor to the plaza in the warmer months. It wasn’t as easy as looks either and so I imagine more than a few attempts resulted in soaked shoes and twisted ankles…or worse.

It’s a risk manager’s nightmare.

And oh yeah, the movie was a pretty good laugh and the Tuna Summer Rolls at Clyde’s are now my new favorite appetizer.

While ours may not have been as adventurous as the movie, it still was a pretty good date night all things considered.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Big Day in Wilde Lake

The Village of Wilde Lake is very much in the news this weekend. In addition to hosting the only contested race this spring for a seat on the Columbia Council, the village was highlighted in the Where We Live section of The Washington Post today. In an article by Amy Reinke entitled “Wilde Lake, on the cusp of transition,” she writes about the changes occurring both within Columbia’s first village and in its neighbor, Town Center.

“The village center redevelopment isn't the only project Wilde Lake stands to benefit from. Earlier this year, the Howard County Council approved a plan to redevelop downtown Columbia that would bring as much as 13 million square feet of retail, commercial, residential, hotel and cultural development within walking distance of Wilde Lake. “

Local blogger and village board member Bill Santos was also featured. Bill particularly lamented the absence of a village pub as a community gathering place.

"We used to have a local pub where people could sit down and discuss the issues of the day," said Wilde Lake Community Association board member Bill Santos, 43, a mechanical engineer with the National Archives in College Park. "It really served as a place where neighbors could gather and interact socially in an informal setting, and I would hope the redevelopment would bring the neighborhood back together in that way."

The village election today has been characterized by another local blogger as a bellwether of sorts for the race for the House of Delegates in District 12B. The incumbent, Liz Bobo is a supporter of the incumbent Phil Kirsch and the challenger, Linda Odum is widely supported by those who’d like to retire Liz from her Annapolis job.

More news later.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Scene This Week In…

The sixth graders at Ellicott Mills Middle School held an Earth Day Celebration for the second graders at Veterans Elementary School today. They couldn’t have picked a nicer day.

Along with the educational exhibits and games like basketball, bowling and croquet using recycled materials, there was a table set up by LL Bean. Dennis Large was also there explaining to the kids how to enjoy the great outdoors without leaving a messy footprint behind.

Dennis is actually an attorney who normally works at the Pentagon but today he was working his part time job as an outdoor program director of sorts for the store. He lives in Columbia and based on his enthusiasm for the great outdoors I got the idea that he’d probably do this job even if they didn’t pay him.
When I was leaving the office yesterday I couldn't help but notice this blanket of cherry blossoms from the grove of cherry trees in our office complex on Dobbin Road. It’s always a little sad when the cherry trees wind up their spring show but at least they provide a nice finale.

It wasn’t that long ago that this scene was white instead of pink.

Big Prick on Campus

Okay, I admit to having a little fun thinking up a heading for this post but sometimes I just can’t help myself. When I read this story by Pete Pichaske in the Laurel Leader about the plans for the TAI Sophia Institute to morph into a full blown university I immediately thought back to my first acupuncture treatment.

Once you get over the idea of being pricked with tiny needles it’s actually pretty awesome.

Bob Duggan and Dianne Connelly started the Center for Traditional Acupuncture in Columbia in 1975 in the American City Building in Town Center. For awhile they also operated a coffee shop and bookstore in the space that is now the Lakeside Café.

“In 1980, the couple began teaching acupuncture, and six years later was accredited to bestow Master of Acupuncture degrees. New clinics were added, enrollment grew and offerings were further expanded to include master’s programs in Herbal Medicine and Applied Healing Arts.”

In 2000 they changed their name to the TAI Sophia Institute.

In fact my acupuncture treatment was with one of their graduates, Karen Johnson, who operates The Acupuncture Alternative out her home in Columbia in the Village of Kings Contrivance.

In 2002 they moved out of Town Center to a new 32,000 square foot facility in the Montpelier Business Park near Maple Lawn.

“Tai Sophia now has its own library, herb dispensary, meditation garden and herb garden. It has 20 treatment rooms for patients seeking acupuncture, massage, nutritional counseling and craniosacral therapy (manipulation of the spine and skull). It has a network of clinics, including locations in Silver Spring and Baltimore, and, like any budding university, financial aid and admissions offices.”

They are now planning to “become the first university based in Howard County — and the first “wellness university” in the country.”

I wonder if they’ll field any sports teams.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

HoCo in Earth Day News

Two HoCo business people were featured in this article by Meredith Cohn in The Sun today. Brian Hughes who runs Shaw Farm CSA, a community supported agriculture farm in Columbia near Atholton High School, and Stan Sersen who runs the Green Building Institute were both profiled in the story about the 4oth anniversary of Earth Day.

Shaw Farms is not as large at the 100 acre Buckland Farm CSA in Pennsylvania that was recently featured in HowChow but it is a lot closer and apparently fairly popular as well. HowChow reports that it is sold out of its memberships for this year but adds that you can still get on their mailing list.

Stan Sersen, who was our guest on “and then there’s that…” last week, heads up the Green Building Institute which is housed in a converted farmhouse in Jessup called the Enviro Center. The building was hailed as “an example of sustainability.”

“Rain water is captured and reused, and construction materials are all reused or repurposed. Energy for lighting and air conditioning mostly comes from the sun through solar panels or tubes and the rest comes from the wind.”

These budding green initiatives by private businesses in HoCo add a good deal to the county’s growing green cred in the state.

Happy Earth Day

Last night I went trolling around to try and find something on the lighter side to post for Earth Day and I found this.

Happy Earth Day!

Give your planet a hug today.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Heroes of Columbia Town Center

Now that the dust has officially settled on the Town Center redevelopment legislation, it’s time to look back and acknowledge those most responsible for saving Columbia’s core from piecemeal development. While Taxpayers against Giveaways garnered press attention with their failed attempt to rally any meaningful support for a referendum, not enough has been written about those who fought hard to reverse the course of Town Center development that was being followed by The Rouse Company before they were acquired by General Growth Properties.

First and foremost, a big wag of the wordbones tail goes out to Ken Ulman. Before Ken became county executive he was the county council representative for District 4 which includes Columbia Town Center. Ken fought against The Rouse Company’s plans to develop the Crescent property behind Merriweather Post Pavilion with a mix of housing and retail. They also proposed enclosing the outdoor music venue. Ken believed that Town Center needed a new master plan instead of continued piecemeal development.

Of course it wasn’t all Ken either. He and Columbia benefited from a fortuitous series of events beginning with GGP’s acquisition of The Rouse Company in 2005. The premium price GGP paid for the undeveloped land in Columbia meant that they needed to rethink the Town Center development program. Though the company got off to a bit of a rocky start with their first Columbia General Manager, Doug Godine, they recovered their footing nicely when they bought in Greg Hamm to replace him.

Greg Hamm bought an energy and vision to Columbia that had not been seen since the mid seventies. He worked tirelessly to with the community to fine tune the plans. He never lost sight of the goal even when his company declared bankruptcy in the middle of the process. He fought hard for precious resources to keep the Columbia project moving forward while other GGP development projects around the country were mothballed.

When Mary Kay Sigaty won the council seat vacated by Ken, I believed her to be both anti development and anti business based on her effort to stop the Plaza Residences condominium project. I was wrong. Mary Kay saw GGP’s effort as an opportunity to fix what was wrong with Town Center. Her sponsorship of the CB58 and CB59 was an act of political courage in the face of the vocal opponents led by Delegate Liz Bobo.

And finally, Jessica Feldmark deserves special kudos for her tireless behind the scenes work to keep the process on track. While some may say she was just doing her job as Ken’s chief of staff, the fact of the matter is that she went above and beyond what could normally be expected.

Certainly many others played an important role and probably deserve mention but it was these four people who really made it happen and spent endless nights in meetings and public hearings to see it through.

This Is Only a Test

Yesterday I received an email the Howard County Public System with the subject line “Testing Comcast Delivery.” The message was short and succinct “Testing - We are testing Comcast delivery services. Please ignore this message. Thank you.”

Today I received yet another email from the school system on the same subject. This time the message read “Still testing Comcast delivery. Thank you for your patience.”

My question is, how many times does Comcast get to take the test before they get a non passing grade?

A Good Session for Liquor Lobby

As most already know, Maryland will remain one of the few states in the union that does not allow direct shipping of wine thanks to the states powerful liquor lobby. Ironically, thanks to the same lobby, the effort to make ignition interlock devices mandatory for drunk drivers also failed. Maryland is one of nineteen states without such a law. According to this editorial in The Washington Post, the liquor lobby’s best friends in Annapolis are Senate President Mike Miller and Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Delegate Joseph F. Vallario.

“But it is mainly in Annapolis that the liquor lobby's winning percentage over the decades is unsurpassed. This year, the liquor lobby also managed to safeguard the absurd ban on the direct shipment of wine to Maryland homes and to kill a proposed increase in the tax on spirits, which the state last raised in 1955. The liquor lobby relies heavily on old-guard lawmakers like Mr. Vallario and the Senate president, Thomas V. "Mike" Miller.”

We were a bit luckier in HoCo. Despite the efforts of Guy Guzzone and Warren Miller, the initiative to limit the number of liquor stores in the county was defeated making it one of the few setbacks for the licensed beverage dealers in this year.

There is still hope.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Courtney’s Coming Out Party

This Friday Courtney Watson will officially announce her intention to run for a second term. The District 1 councilperson has scheduled a fundraising event at the Hilton Garden Inn on Snowden River Parkway (near Victoria) from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM where she plans to make official what everyone already knows.

This is all so much silliness but Courtney is no different from any other local politician in that regard. Her Republican opponent, Bob Flanagan, has been campaigning since last September but I don’t believe he has “formally” announced his intentions yet.

Then again there is plenty of time before any candidate is required to formalize their candidacy. They have until July 7th to “officially” fill out the forms and fork over twenty five bucks in order to run.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Cyber War

As I was driving back from North Laurel this afternoon I happened to catch the latest episode of Fresh Air with Terry Gross on NPR. Her guest today was Richard Clarke, the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism in both the Clinton and Bush administrations. He has written a book entitled “Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to do About It.”

At the top of the program Terry mentioned the creation of the new Cyber Command and mentioned Lt. General Keith Alexander’s comment last Thursday that “computer networks essential to the Pentagon and military are attacked by individual hackers, criminal groups and nations hundreds of thousands of times every day.”

Clarke warns that while the military is gearing up for this threat, private industry remains vulnerable.

"The Pentagon is all over this," he says. "The Pentagon has created a four-star general command called Cyber Command, which is a military organization with thousands of people in it to go to war using these [cyber]weapons. And also, Cyber Command's job is to defend the Pentagon. Now, who's defending us? Who's defending those pipelines and the railroads and the banks? The Obama administration's answer is pretty much, 'You're on your own,' that Cyber Command will defend our military, Homeland Security will someday have the capability to defend the rest of the civilian government -- it doesn't today -- but everybody else will have to do their own defense. That is a formula that will not work in the face of sophisticated threats."

He offered that this akin to telling the steel factories during World II that they’d have to defend themselves.

It may not have been as entertaining as the last Fresh Air program I wrote about but it certainly was more informative and timely.

You can listen to the complete show here

What Are You Up To These Days?

Every once in awhile a commenter (usually anonymous) on a blog post will make some assumption about blog readership like “…, these blogs are only read by a few hundred people very few of whom are regular voters.”

I’m not so sure about that. While I can’t claim to know for certain how large the readership of this blog is or whether or not they are registered voters, I have employed three different measuring devices to help get a better picture of who you are.

The most public measuring device I use is Site Meter. This device is also used by The Hedgehog Report and HoCo Rising. By simply clicking on the Site Meter icon at the bottom of this page anyone can see how many visits a blog gets on an hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Based on this measurement tool Tales of Two Cities currently receives around 490 visits a day.

But what is a visit and how does that relate to actual people?

In an attempt to figure that out I added the Quantcast tool to the blog last year. Quantcast refines raw visit data with some sort of algorithm and determines how many people those 490 visits equate to. For Tales of Two Cities it currently works out to an average of about 143 people per day.

The third measurement device is Google Analytics. Among other things Google Analytics provides data on what cities the visitors come from, which individual posts are the most popular, and where the visitors to Tales of Two Cities originate from. The top five cities that visitors come from are Columbia, Ellicott City, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Laurel (in that order). I do know that at least one comes from Sykesville.

The top five blog posts are Three Things about Food, Top Dog, Marc Fishers Last Column, the most recent Scene This Week In…, and Another Day in Paradise. It seems to reinforce the observation made by HoCo Rising that food is the most popular local blog topic.

The top five referring sites are hocoblogs, HowChow, Free Market, HoCo Rising and Columbia Talk. This seems to say that if you like reading one local blog you are likely to read others as well.

I think I can say with relative certainty that local blog readership is growing and with the addition of relatively new voices like HoCo Rising it is likely to continue to do so.

Thank you to all who visit and comment here. If you keep reading, I’ll keep posting.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

SHA Goes Out on a Limb for HoCo

The State Highway Administration is planting more than 6,300 trees along state highways in Howard County this spring. According to this story on, “SHA crews prepared planting sites along I-95, I-70, MD 100, MD 216 and MD 32 for upcoming tree plantings.”

“The plantings are over and above required mitigation and part of the One Million Trees effort which has a goal of planting one million trees by 2011. By July, SHA will have contributed to the planting of more than 404,700 trees toward the initiative. The tree plantings in Howard County are funded through the Transportation Enhancement Program (TEP), which funds non-traditional, community-based transportation-related projects.”

That makes a pretty nice Earth Day gift for HoCo.

A Tough Slog Uphill

Last Thursday I attended John Bailey’s fundraiser at Oakland in Town Center. John is attempting to unseat Liz Bobo for the District 12B House of Delegates seat. Though one may get the impression from reading local blogs that Liz is vulnerable the reality on the street is far different. John Bailey faces a tough uphill slog.

To say the attendance at his event was tepid would be an understatement. I arrived a little around 5:30 PM for the Happy Hour event that started at 5:00 PM. I was the second person there. By the time I left an hour later there were still less than 10 attendees and that included Larry Carson and John’s special guest, former County Executive Chuck Ecker.

I realize that it is still very early in the campaign season but right now John Bailey’s prospects look pretty bleak. John is a nice, sincere guy but unless he is able to somehow ignite more enthusiasm for his candidacy Liz will almost certainly hold onto her seat.

Opponents of Liz’s left leaning anti development politics are faced with two choices; either they coalesce behind Bailey or recruit another candidate to challenge her. Time is running out. The deadline for filing is July 6th.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Left Out

Yesterday, as we were getting ready to do our podcast at the Lakeside Café in Town Center, I ran into fellow HoCo blogger Free Market. After introducing him to my co-host as the local libertarian, he made an interesting observation about a void in the HoCo blogosphere.

“We need a good Democratic blogger.”

More specifically we need a prolific lefty to balance out the local conversation. Given the long history of left leaning political activism in Columbia it is somewhat surprising that no one has really stepped up to the plate yet.

Perhaps Alan Klein could fill that role now that his efforts to waylay the Town Center redevelopment plans have fallen short. Then again, in a comment made on HoCo Rising he did say that “Blogs are the least likely venue for rational discourse of any sort."

That’s not exactly a good place to start

A Most Convenient Target

Liz Bobo thinks that Kimco Realty Corporation, the owner of the Wilde Lake Village Center, should be giving the remaining tenants in the beleaguered shopping center a break on their rent. According to this story by Jennifer Broadwater in the Columbia Flier, Liz told a gathering of merchants that she wonders “if Kimco wants this village center to fail. ... I don’t see any kind of an outstretched hand at all to help you guys.”

A noble and populist gesture to be sure but I’m left to wonder who is offering to help Kimco?

Kimco didn’t cause Giant to close its grocery store at Wilde Lake. The loss of the anchor store has certainly had an adverse effect on the profitability of the retail center as other stores followed suit and left the center. Yet even as the cash flow from rent receipts declined, the landlord has continued to maintain the property as it did when it was fully leased. I doubt that their lender has offered to reduce their mortgage payments during this transitional time and I’m certain that the county has not offered to reduce their property taxes either.

It’s easy to demonize a landlord. Liz is trying to make Kimco look like Snidely Whiplash when the company insists on collecting past due rent. The fact of the matter is that Kimco has been trying for four years to come up with a plan to breathe new life into Columbia’s first village center only to be continually thwarted by the insistence of Liz and others like Wilde Lake’s Columbia Council representative, Phil Kirsch, that any new development includes a grocery store. It should be very obvious to anyone who has followed this retail saga that this is simply not going to happen.

Since Liz recently demonstrated her acumen at getting state earmark money for a private homeowners association perhaps she could the same for the merchants at Wilde Lake instead of berating the company that is actually trying to rectify the problem.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Howard County’s Mr. Green

Our guest today on “and then there’s that…” was Stan Serson, the founder of the Green Building Institute and a host of other enterprises that are headquartered in the Enviro Center, a restored farmhouse he redeveloped in Jessup. Stan brings a business perspective to what he refers to as “regenerative design” and the economic imperative for changing the way we view building and energy consumption.

I’ve known Stan for a long time. I first made his acquaintance back in the eighties when fire retardant plywood used in homebuilding began failing. Stan actually invented and later patented a device that was able to measure the structural integrity of roofs that were constructed with this material. He was an expert witness in one of the largest class action suits against the manufacturers of the product. He has also worked with several homeowners associations in helping them to set up and manage their reserve funds.

We also had a little fun with the subject of taxes. Paul shared a report that determined that only 53% of US households will actually pay taxes for 2009. The other 47% will pay no taxes which means that half of the country is working for the other half. Earlier this week on the same subject was covered on the Diane Rehm Show on WAMU. What is even more disturbing is that about half of those who didn’t pay any tax will actually get money back through a variety of tax credits.

Maybe I should just stop working.

You can hear the latest podcast here.

Dog Day Afternoon

The Wine Bin in Ellicott City will be hosting another Yappy Hour this afternoon from 6 PM to 9 PM. Customers are encouraged to bring their dogs to the parking lot adjacent to the store on Main Street.

“Don't miss this event! We'll raffle off some wonderful prizes (including an EC Ghost Tour for 10 with your dog, a chocolate basket, and some wine) with proceeds to benefit MDSPCA. Photographer Anne Sachs will take photos of your pet, there will be live music, and our gourmet Parfections Chocolates will be available to taste. Bring your well-behaved dog and join the fun.”

Now that’s a good reason not to leave the dog at home on a Friday night.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Pretty Thin Platform

Tom D’Asto would like to unseat Mary Kay Sigaty for the District 4 council seat. He ran unsuccessfully against her four years and now he is prepared to give it another shot.

It would be an understatement to say that he faces an uphill battle. He seems to know that too. In this story by Sarah Breitenbach in the Columbia Flier he acknowledges that the county does a good job “with providing for schools in our area, they did a good job clearing the snow off the streets this winter -- I can't complain about that."

So how does he plan to distinguish himself from the popular incumbent?

“D'Asto, 44, said he is wary of developers and their commitment to uphold agreements with the county.

"I'm just (going to) hold their feet to the fire," he said.

Okay, but I hope he can provide some specifics about where and when the county has failed to hold a developers feet to the fire. The most recent egregious failing of a developer in the county that I know of is the Villas at Cattail Creek waste treatment fiasco with J. Thomas Scrivener and Don Ruewer. In that case the county sued the developer. While that may not exactly match the medieval torture that Tom referred to it’s about as much as the county can do.

The bottom line is that Mary Kay has done a pretty good job seeing that the community’s interest is served by the development community. In both the village center redevelopment legislation and the Town Center redevelopment legislation she worked to insure that the commitments made by developers were enforceable.

I’m sure Tom is a nice guy and is fully capable of doing a good job but if he wants to win the District 4 council seat he’ll need to present a much more compelling argument for replacing Mary Kay.

A Tax Day Tribute

For all those out there who will need a drink after filing their taxes today....

just remember they tax that too....

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bobo Bags Botanical Bucks

Delegate Liz Bobo’s initiative to secure a $250,000 state grant for the restoration and redevelopment of Symphony Woods in Columbia Town Center was successful. The bond request survived the bickering between the Maryland State Senate and the House of Delegates and was granted in full at the end of the session.

Bobo brought home the bacon.

While I do have a problem with this type of pork barrel spending, particularly when it goes to a private homeowners association, I’m glad that at least some of the money we send down to Annapolis is coming back to HoCo.

I suppose I should hand out a carrot to Mr. Ed for his efforts on this initiative too.

Simon Says “Not so Fast”

It appears my previous post about Simon abandoning their quest to acquire General Growth Properties was a tad premature. According to this story by Tiernan Ray in Barron’s, David Simon, the CEO of Simon Property Group, “today offered to recapitalize its smaller rival, General Growth Properties (GGP) with $2.5 billion, in partnership with John Paulson’s Paulson & Co.”

“In a letter to General Growth’s CEO, Adam Metz, Simon Property’s CEO David Simon said his offer was better than Brookfield, Fairholme and Ackman’s proposal, given that Brookfield seems not to have the equity commitment necessary to follow-through on its proposal, whereas Simon Property has sufficient capital to move forward.”

Some have dubbed this the battle of the hedge funds.

The real winners in this battle will be those prescient investors who bought GGP stock a year ago for $.40 a share. Today it is trading at just over $16.00.

TAG, You’re Out!

The failure of Taxpayers Against Giveways to rally any significant support to subject the Columbia Town Center redevelopment legislation to referendum is now official. According to this story by Sarah Breitenbach and Jennifer Broadwater in The Columbia Flier the “effort to bring portions of a massive plan to redevelop Columbia to referendum has failed.”

“The official count of the 3,491 signatures submitted by the citizens group Taxpayers Against Giveaways found 2,139 valid signatures — 362 short of the 2,501 required to keep the petition moving toward the November election, according to the Board of Elections Web site April 13.”

Predictably, the petition supporters are claiming that the referendum rules in Howard County were stacked against them. The fact of the matter is that they knew full well what the signature requirements were when they began their effort. Their rejection rate of 39% was a vast improvement over the 80% rejection rate of a previous ill fated referendum drive.

In retrospect, knowing what they knew, their rejection should have been even lower. I suspect they got a little sloppy in the end when it looked like they might not get enough signatures to clear the first hurdle.

I think the main problem was their message. The Town Center redevelopment program is hardly a giveaway. While it is true that the developer was granted an additional 3,000 or so new housing units they didn’t come free. The developer is required to set up a multi million dollar housing trust fund for affordable housing, renovate and improve Merriweather Post Pavilion and a host of other community enhancements, programs and public amenities.

Even the petition supporters like Alan Klein, the spokesmo for CoFoCoDo acknowledged that many signers actually supported the legislation.

“Klein said many signers were in favor of the Columbia redevelopment and believed a ballot question would reaffirm the community’s support for the plan.”

I guess some people just think we should be able to vote on everything instead of letting our elected representatives do the job we elected them to do.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In This Months Business Monthly

In the early seventies rural Howard County began just north of Route 108 and west of Route 29. It didn’t take long for a Columbia teenager to escape the burbs to a quiet country road for extracurricular activities. One of my personal favorites was Manor Lane, both for its relative proximity to the Columbia village I called home and for its almost total isolation. Back then Manor Lane connected Route 108 to Frederick Road by running up through the middle of the Doughoregan Manor farm. About a mile north of Route 108, the road turned from asphalt to dirt. After a couple of sharp turns through a stand of trees the road became a long flat straightaway to Frederick Road. There was nothing but open farm fields on either side of the road.

On some nights my friends and I would just stop the car in the middle of the road and get out and enjoy a few beers on summer nights. Other times I’d pull off into one of the fields for amorous encounters.

These days Manor Lane is no longer a thru road. I suppose that at some point the Carroll family grew tired of the shenanigans of young hooligans on their property and petitioned the county to have the passage through their fields blocked off. I really can’t say as I blame them.

With Doughoregan very much in the news lately my thoughts returned to that time when eastern Howard County was still fairly rural. The Carroll property is one of the last sizable farms east of Route 32. If the Carroll family’s development plan for 200 of the 900 acre farm helps preserve the balance for future generations I’m all for it.

You can read this month’s column here.

Cyber Command Update

The establishment of the Pentagons Cyber Command at Fort Meade is still being held up in Congress as the Senate holds hearings on the nomination of Lt. General Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency to head the command. According to this wire report by Lolita C. Baldor in the Star Tribune his nomination “has given senators leverage to delve into the complex world of cyber warfare. Later this week, a Senate committee will face off with Alexander during a hearing on his nomination.”

“One concern involves Alexander's position as head of the National Security Agency, which oversees electronic intelligence-gathering. Lawmakers and others question whether the secretive spy agency should have control over cyber issues.”

Meanwhile the country remains vulnerable to cyber attacks. According to this story by Tom Gjleten on NPR, “in a major cyberwar scenario, the United States would be uniquely vulnerable. No military is more dependent on data networking. Unmanned aircraft send video feeds back to Earth 24/7, while soldiers on the ground are guided by GPS signals and linked via computers to other units and command posts.”

Although congressional approval of General Alexander’s nomination is widely expected, the current delay could potentially be very costly. The Secretary of Defense had originally planned for the new command to be fully operational by this fall.

The Howard County Base Realignment & Closure Office currently estimates that the Cyber Command could bring an additional 7,000 direct jobs and 13,000 indirect and induced jobs to Fort Meade.

Simon Backing Out of Bid for GGP

It now appears that that Simon Property Group has decided not to pursue an acquisition of General Growth Properties. According to this story by Daniel Taub in Bloomberg, Simon is “unlikely to move ahead with its buyout offer because of antitrust concerns, the REIT Newshound reported last night, citing sources it didn’t identify. Simon has concluded that an attorney for Chicago-based General Growth who deals with antitrust issues wasn’t dealing in “good faith,” the newsletter said, citing one of the sources.”

Simon hasn’t been happy with the response of GGP’s management since they first announced their hostile takeover bid back in February. GGP wasn’t exactly happy with Simons offer either.

“General Growth dismissed the bid as too low and instead plans to exit bankruptcy with financing from a group led by Brookfield Asset Management Inc.”

Up to this point it had been widely expected that Simon would revise their bid with new partners.

It now appears that the company will move forward with plans to split itself in two with the new entity, General Growth Opportunities taking over most of the companies’ Master Planned Communities projects like Columbia Town Center.

No word yet on where that new company will be headquartered.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Sisyphus Syndrome

My sister Pat has one of those little wooden artist models on her staircase in her new home. When I visited last week I occasionally rearranged the dolls pose over the course of our stay. Today, as I was going over the pictures from our visit, this particular pose really hit home with me.

This is exactly how it felt to return to work after a week off, sort of like Sisyphus and his rock.

As if the reentry into the world of work wasn’t bad enough, I also had to cut the grass when I got home tonight.

I miss Spring Break.

Political Cowardice

In late March, the Maryland House of Delegates moved to eliminate one of their treasured perks, the state legislative scholarships, in order to help trim the beleaguered state budget. According to this story in The Sun, the delegates “suggested taking an $11.5 million fund for scholarships that legislators dole out on their own, and giving it to the higher education system.”

I thought this was a real act of political courage. Giving away our tax money at their individual discretion is a nice little perk for our elected representatives. It can’t hurt their name recognition at election time. While many voters may be in the dark about their legislators’ positions on the big issues of the day they aren’t likely to forget a giveaway to their kids or grandkids.

Personally, I’ve always had a problem with this perk and I heartily applauded the move to eliminate it.

My applause was a bit premature.

It turns out that our state senators were not pleased with this initiative by their brethren in the House. The senators retaliated by threatening to freeze all new bond issues like the one proposed for Symphony Woods until 2013. This is an even bigger perk and the threat to eliminate it was enough to convince the delegates to back off on the scholarship shenanigans.

“Senators wanted to eliminate a $15 million pool of money for pet projects that they borrow each year through bond issues. Both programs are frequent subjects of criticism. But ultimately, both the scholarship fund and the bond-bill projects stayed in the budget.”

It looks like another year of politics as usual in Annapolis. Nice going boys and girls, you just showed your true stripes.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Postcard from Pittsburgh

I just got back from spending 42 hours in Pittsburgh attending the wedding of Bert and Sandy. I’ve known Bert since our college days in Cleveland in the late seventies. He was the last bachelor in our crowd and fellow alum from all over the country descended on the city to witness the event. It was the first time Mama Wordbones and I had actually visited the City of Bridges and we came away suitably impressed.

The city was safe, clean and very walkable. We walked to restaurants. We walked to the ballpark and last night, we walked about a mile along the Allegheny River back to the hotel from the reception at Heinz Field.

And even though I’ve been known to make fun of their football fans with their silly yellow towels, the local people we encountered were welcoming and friendly.

The only thing that is likely to keep us from returning anytime soon is the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Friday, April 09, 2010

A Big Time in the Old Town

Ellicott City is going to be the happening place in HoCo this weekend. Beginning with the Hills of Milltown 5k road race on Saturday morning and culminating with the season premiere of the Second Sunday Market on Sunday, the old town will have things to do for all ages. There is an all day scavenger hunt planned for the kids and the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company will be previewing a new Spring Blossom Ale for the dads. Later on Saturday night the whole family can enjoy a screening of the Pink Panther in the parking lot of The Wine Bin.

Civil War buffs will enjoy the special exhibit about that period at the B&O Railroad Museum that will include three free outdoor concerts by the Federal City Brass Band on Saturday at 11:30 AM, 1:00 PM and 2:30 PM

It looks like the weather gods will be smiling on HoCo this weekend so it will be a good time to put off the yard work and get out and check out the local scene.

Home and Away

When we touched down yesterday at Bee Wee I was surprised to find that it was warmer here than it was in Florida. I also noticed that the tree pollen had arrived in full force. Thankfully, last nights wind and rain washed some of it off so I my eyeballs aren’t quite as itchy this morning.

Last night as I worked my way through about 200 unanswered emails, I was struck by one I received from a supporter of Jon Weinstein. Jon is running for one of the House of Delegates seats in District 9A that are currently held by Gail Bates and Warren Miller. The supporter sent me a link to this article by Douglas Tallman in The Gazette about the 20 most influential and least influential state representatives in Annapolis. Gail Bates was ranked as the 9th least influential state delegate.

That isn’t what struck me though. What really caught my eye was Shane Pendergrass. Shane was ranked as the 15th most influential state delegate.

That was downright scary. In my not so humble opinion Shane Pendergrass is one of the most anti business representatives in the state. For me, her ranking negated the credibility of the whole list. Then again, the Gazette openly acknowledged that the list was somewhat less than scientific.

“We asked a select group of State House observers who has, and who lacks, influence. Influence, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. Maybe it's the parliamentary prowess to pass a bill, or the legislative legerdemain to kill another. It could mean the brains to master a complex issue, or a good sense of timing — when to stand and when to stand pat.

The result is a highly unscientific poll. The margin of error is plus or minus a whole lot.”

I certainly hope so.

Less than twenty four hours of settling back into HoCo I’m getting back on the road again. This time it’s off to Pittsburgh for the wedding of one of my college knucklehead buddies.

More news later.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Over and Out

The big news on the Town Center petition effort has already been well blogged before I found my way to the St. Augustine Beach Starbucks this morning. The godfather of HoCo blogging, Mr. Hedgehog, broke the news last night in this post. This morning I read this account by Larry Carson in The Sun.

“According to board figures, 3,491 names were submitted on Friday, and 2,343 have been reviewed. Of those, 901 were invalid — a 38 percent rejection rate. With just 1,148 names left to review, 1,058 would need to be valid to qualify for the next step, which would equal an 8 percent rejection rate.”

Let’s just say I am not surprised. If this effort truly had the backing of the majority in HoCo there would have been more people on the streets peddling petitions.

So is it over?

Technically yes. I doubt though that those who refused to accept the results of five years of collaborative community effort will continue to insist that the community interest was somehow hijacked by a developer funded conspiracy.


Columbia is extremely lucky. If General Growth Properties had not come along and acquired The Rouse Company the future of Town Center would have been much different and not necessarily in a good way. There were lots of heroes in this effort and that will be the subject of a later post.

I have no doubt that Russ Swatek will claim that the deck was stacked against him and that the referendum process in HoCo is severely flawed and a threat to our democratic institutions. He is wrong of course but that never stopped him and others from claiming otherwise when faced with defeat.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in Novembers election. My hunch right now is that it will fade into irrelevance.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

All Hell Breaks Loose

I don’t know what is with me but whenever I leave town all hell breaks loose back at the office. I have working on a pretty complicated transaction since Thanksgiving that all of the sudden has a new sense of urgency.

I’m thinking I should leave town more often.

Needless to say my discretionary writing time is extremely limited. This is further complicated by the fact that I have to go to the local Starbucks to get online. Thankfully Peanut likes to sleep late so I get up early, hop on a bike and ride about a mile down the road to grab a few minutes to answer emails and check the latest HoCo news.

The best thing I read this morning was this post about the local residential real estate market from the real estate blog of Jamie Smith Hopkins in The Sun.

“If you're trying to buy in Howard County, you might be feeling a bit grumpy. Between the inventory drop and a 20 percent increase in sales, the months of supply there is the lowest in the state -- tied with also-affluent Montgomery. At the rate of sales in February, normally a slow time of year for the market, sellers in both counties would all find buyers within eight months.”

Like I said, I should leave town more often.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

On the Road

This being spring break week for Howard County schools I decided to take Peanut down to see my sister Pat in Florida. We arrived yesterday and, after taking a late afternoon bike ride along the beach, I decided to update the ol’ blog before the big game. Pat and Henry have a wireless router set up in their new home so I settled down with a nice glass of wine and my laptop and proceeded to attempt to get online.

Attempt fail.

For reasons unknown, my laptop was unable to connect to her router. I should note that neither Pat nor I are particularly technologically savvy but this shouldn’t be a big deal. I mean I easily connected with the Boingo network at the airport and right now I’m sitting in a Starbucks down the road from her house where I got online without a hitch.

While some folks were watching basketball others were watching the council pass the legislation enabling the Carroll family to proceed with their development plans for Doughoregan Manor. According to this story by Sara Breitenbach in the Columbia Flier, the council “unanimously passed legislation Monday evening to bring a portion of historic Doughoregan Manor into the county’s public water and sewer area.”

Not surprisingly, the council punted on the issue of pre treating the wastewaster from the new homes. Courtney Watson believes that this is a problem that needs to be addressed “county-wide.”

“Watson said she would not support an on-site treatment plant at Doughoregan and believes wastewater issues need to be addressed county-wide.

“We, as a county, need to develop a more systemic solution and I think we would be better served that way,” she said.”

I wonder if Bob Flanagan had taken a position on this yet or whether he is still “open to receiving information.”

Scene This Week In…

It’s always easy to criticize the big dog media like the Columbia Flier, sometimes just because they are the big dog. I try to avoid throwing bricks at their minor indiscretions and hold my shots for the big stuff.

This week is one of those occasions where I think that hurling a brick at the Flier editorial board is well deserved. In this editorial about the troubled Wilde Lake Village Center last week, the paper giant wrote that “the longer shops sit vacant, the more the center will become a breeding ground for vermin and crime.”

It made me wonder if anyone from the paper had actually been to Wilde Lake Village Center lately.

I happened to be there this past Saturday attending a memorial ceremony for Donni Dingman, who among many other accomplishments was a long time local arts advocate. While it is easy to point out the vacant storefronts and talk of decay the truth of the matter is that the Kimco is still taking very good care of the upkeep and appearance of the shopping center. The center is clean, the flower beds are well maintained and people continue to patronize merchants like The Melting Pot, the fish market and the bank. Yes, it is troubled but it is a long way from succumbing to “vermin and crime.” That type of hyperbole does nothing to help the situation.
Last week Peanut and I had a dinner date in Ellicott City. Afterwards she made her usual request to climb on the rocks along Main Street. She’s been climbing on these rocks as long as she’s been able to climb. This time however we were stopped short by a new sign.

I understand where this restriction comes from. In today’s overly litigious society, property owners run the risk of being sued if someone does something stupid on their property. The rocks on Main Street present a ripe target for this type of action.

Still, it’s a shame.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Happy Easter

It all began innocently enough. My sister Kelly sent out an email to her siblings with the Mary Sue Easter egg jingle attached.

Just about anyone who has grown up in the Baltimore area has heard this jingle. It is as much a part of the Baltimore Easter holiday traditions as hot cross buns. Mary Sue Easter eggs have been made in Baltimore since 1948.

Ever since I listened to it, it has been playing on an endless loop in my brain. For other family members, now scattered across the country, the jingle brought back memories of Easter baskets outside our bedroom doors on Easter Sunday mornings long ago.

Tomorrow, Peanut and I are off to Florida to see my sister Pat. I told her I’d bring her a Mary Sue Easter Egg.

I should’ve have done that. I’ve been unable to find Mary Sue Easter eggs anywhere in Howard County. I’ve looked in the Giant store in Lynwood, the Safeway in Ellicott City, the Target in Ellicott City, the Walmart in Columbia, the CVS in Elkridge and the Rite Aid in Ellicott City. No Mary Sue.

I even went to The Candy Box candy store on Frederick Road in Catonsville and Sweet Cascades on Main Street in Ellicott City. One of the salespeople at The Candy Box told me that Mary Sue sold out a few years back to another company. “It’s not the same candy though,” she informed me, “Mary Sue sold the name but not the recipe.”

The plot thickens.

I emailed the company and got a prompt response. “You can find Mary Sue Products at most retailers in the Baltimore area, including Walmart, Kmart, Giant, CVS and Mars Supermarkets.”

Apparently not in Howard County though.

I finally gave up. I am now taking my sister a dark chocolate vanilla cream egg from Sweet Cascades in Ellicott City that was made by Sue, just not Mary Sue.

Happy Easter.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Director of the Elites

Yesterday our guest on “and then there’s that…” was Stacie Hunt, the CEO of Leadership Howard County. There are some in our community that have criticized LHC as being an elitist organization because it’s main program, Leadership Premiere, is largely populated with business and community leaders. After talking a bit about Leadership U, their highly successful program for high school students, I asked Stacie about this elitist characterization. She readily acknowledged that they were in fact elitist. “We looking for the high level leaders for Leadership Premiere and from that aspect we are elitist.”

Good point. Her programs goal is take folks who have already demonstrated leadership qualities in the community and make them more knowledgeable about the workings of our county. It’s sort of like grad school for local leaders.

In the interest of full disclosure I should note here that not only was I member of the best Leadership class ever (the Class of ’95) I also served on the board back in 1999.

You can catch the podcast of our 11th episode here.