Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spring Rush

Is it just me?

It seems like spring is going by a little faster this year. Already it seem, all varieties of cherry trees have done their thing and now the Dogwoods are peaking . Daffodils, and Bradford Pears in bloom are but a distant memory.

You have to admit though, in spite of the pollen thing, Mama Nature Maryland puts on a pretty awesome show in the spring. Bing bang boom, colors pop out all over from gray slate of winter. It's like the fourth of July in slow motion, albeit very slow motion. I generally prefer to savor these days, not to gulp them.

It could be just that my own life is sort of on fast forward right now. CG graduates from college next month which pretty much means any free, unscheduled moments for the next four weeks will be like water in the desert. There won’t be any respite at work either, which is a good thing , just with sucky timing.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Another Elkridge Perspective

Yesterday I was having a casual doorstep conversation with a Teamsters union guy. We were discussing union benefits, specifically those dealing with healthcare when he happened to mention that he lives in HoCo. I asked where in HoCo he lived.

“Elkridge,” he replied, “or more specifically, Hanover.”

It seems this intermodal issue finds me even when I’m not looking for it. I asked what he thought about it.

“I live about a third of mile from the site they’ve been talking about. I really don’t have a problem with it.”

I honestly did not prompt him one way or the other. He didn’t know about my blog or my position on the matter. For obvious reasons I’m not using his name here.

“I tell you what I would like to see happen though,” he went on. “I’d like to see them close off Hanover Road at the rail crossing.”

He told me that Hanover Road has become more congested since Verizon opened their new call center on Coca Cola Drive a few years ago. “They drive way too fast too.”

As far as he was concerned, if CSX / MDOT selects the Elkridge site and it results in Hanover Road being closed, he was all in favor of it.

“But what about the people who live closer to the proposed site,” I asked. “They seem adamantly opposed to this.”

“Well they did buy homes next to a major rail line,” he answered.

After we parted ways I thought a little more about our conversation. Elkridge is a community of approximately 35,000 people. As of this writing, there are 144 members of the No Elkridge Intermodal Facebook page. Approximately 200 people showed up for a community meeting to urge politicians to stop it, That works out to less than one half of one percent of the residents. I point this out because some have suggested that the political activism in Elkridge is putting Columbia and its village elections to shame. In reality, the political apathy is about the same in both communities, even with a high profile issue such as this.

The other point is that not all residents of the Elkridge / Hanover area are "adamantly opposed" to having an intermodal terminal along Race Road, just as long as they can get something back in return...say perhaps a road closing.

Royal Awakening

Like many others in HoCo this morning, I awoke at 4:00 AM. Unlike many, I did not do this watch a wedding of our former colonial masters across the pond. Peanuts 7th grade class at Ellicott Mills Middle School is taking a field trip to the North Bay adventure camp Center at Elk Neck in Harford County this morning. The Students were to be at school by 6:00 AM.

Parenting is often a thankless job. Getting Peanut up at 4:45 AM was a perfect example of this. She was not at all happy about getting up before the sun and was somewhat less than cooperative with my efforts to move her along. Of course it never even occurs to the kids that the parents could have slept later if they hadn't had to get them up, fix breakfast and chauffeur them off to school.

We made it though and it looks like they’ll have a perfect day for a Chesapeake Bay experience. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Not Going There

Earlier this week, an unhappy subject of a post on Tales of Two Cities sent me a text message saying that they plan to sue me. This message was sent after I hung up on the person when they began cursing at me. My first instinct was to share that conversation here but I subsequently decided that discretion was the better part of valor and chose not to go there.

I mention this now because yesterday, in the mail, I received a letter from an attorney. My first thought was that this was related to the aforementioned text message.

I was surprised to find that, while it still had to do with this blog, it was actually about a different post.

It seems that my presence has been requested at a meeting of the Howard County Public School System Ethics Panel next week. The panel wants to ask me about the source for this post about the ethics complaint filed against school board member Allen Dyer.

“The Panel is seeking information regarding such disclosure and it is the understanding of the Panel that you are the individual who posts as “Wordbones” at the “Tales of Two Cities” Blog.”

Yep, that’s me but since I have no intention of telling the Panel who my source was I have respectfully declined their invitation.

I’m not going there either.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Hot Time in Elkridge

CSX and MDOT held an intermodal workshop at Elkridge Middle School tonight. I decided to drop by and catch some of the action. This is very contentious issue in some parts of Elkridge, particularly those parts around Hanover, closest to one of the final four sites for this new terminal. The opposition has a Facebook page and an online petition. They have even had red signs made demanding that the terminal be located anywhere but Elkridge.

I happen to see this a bit differently. If CSX / MDOT decides that the Elkridge site best fits their needs than they have every right to put it there. Period. End of discussion. The zoning already permits it and in fact this is the type of use that has always been envisioned for this land (more about that in another post about permiited uses in an M2 zone,as a matter of right). As far as I’m concerned, this is an important asset to have in the county, it will benefit all of the surrounding warehouse business parks and that means jobs and a solid commercial tax base. It’s also important to remember that not all residents in the county can get cyber security jobs.

Tonight of course I was one of the few people who saw things that way. On my way into the building I passed Senator Ed Kasemeyer. He counts himself amongst the opposition and was even wearing a red Cincinnati Reds t-shirt to show solidarity. The opponents had urged all supporters to wear red to the workshop.

 Paul and I had hoped to have Ed as a guest on our podcast for our next General Assembly wrap up show but we could never seem to get the date coordinated with his office. We ended up booking Senator Allan Kittleman instead. He did tell me tonight that he'd like to come on though so I told him we’d shoot for the Fall prior to the Special Session on congressional redistricting. He seemed amenable to that.

No sooner had I walked in the door than I ran into Larry Carson as he was leaving. Larry asked me why I wasn’t wearing a t-shirt that read “I Support Intermodal.”

I don’t really do message t-shirts anymore.

Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty was leaving too. I didn’t get to talk to her before she left. I soon understood why she and Larry were leaving so early in the workshop. It was bloody humid in the non air conditioned gymnasium.

The first person I encountered inside was Jeff Robinson, the President of the HoCo Repub Club. Jeff asked me about my post about Herman Cain. He wondered if I was being sarcastic when I said that Cain would be entertaining. I wasn’t. I’d actually like to hear him speak but I’m reluctant to be around that many of the Repub party faithful all in one place for an entire evening. I feel the same way about the Dems.

I also spoke with Council President Dr. Calvin Ball. I asked Calvin why the Democrats hate business. All the Dems who represent Elkridge have come out in opposition of an Elkridge terminal. Senator Kasemeyer went so far as to call it goofy.

Calvin of course said, in his trademark calm and reassuring manner, that the Dems don’t hate business. They just want to help business be better.

Yeah, sure, it's the old "we're from the government and we're here to help" line. Though I find him to be a little left of center in his politics, I still like Calvin. It’s hard not to.

I also saw Councilwoman Courtney Watson. We didn’t get a chance to talk but I did notice that she was wearing pink, not red.

The funniest line of the night came from Lisa Filar. She said she’d prefer CSEX over CSX any day.

Now that's my kind of heat.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

HoCo Buys Another Columbia Building

As expected, Howard County has purchased another building in Columbia, once again taking advantage of a soft market for commercial real estate. This month the county settled on the purchase of 8930 Stanford Boulevard in Columbia near Dobbin Road. The county paid $26 million for the160,000 square foot two story office building or just $162.50 per square foot, a little over 50% below the going rate just three years ago.

The county now owns four large former commercial buildings in Columbia in addition to schools and firehouses. Two were bought by Democratic county executives and two were purchased during Republican Chuck Ecker's reign. In 1990 Liz Bobo’s administration purchased a former Ryland Homes panel factory on Oakland Mills Road for just under $2 million. The 8 acre property is now the headquarters of the Recreation and Parks Department. Two years later the Ecker administration purchased the five story 93,540 square foot office building at 6751 Columbia Gateway Drive for just under $4 million and in 1997 the 200,000 square foot Dorsey Building and 29 acres of land for $7.5 million.

The Dorsey Building purchase was actually part of an incentive package offered to keep the buildings original occupant, Allied Signal (formerly Bendix), from moving out of the county, so the county sort of got a twofer on that deal.

The Howard Dragoons

Not all HoCo Civil War history is centered around Ellicott City and Elkridge. Citizen soldiers once drilled around Oakland Manor in Columbia Town Center before they headed south to join the Confederacy. They called themselves the Howard Dragoons and were led by the owner of the manor, George Riggs Gaither, Jr.

They actually served the Union side before later casting their lot with the secessionists. Captain Gaither and his Howard Dragoons helped keep the peace in Baltimore in the aftermath of the Baltimore Riot of 1861.

The marker at Oakland also tells the story of HoCo’s slavery history. Three Shipley brothers, William, Moses and Joseph who at the beginning of the conflict were slaves at Oakland, went on to fight for the Union. In 1863 they enlisted in the 9th U.S. Colored Troops and saw action in Virginia. William Shipley was killed in battle at Deep Bottom near Richmond in 1864.

Captain Gaithers own wartime exploits were somewhat inglorious. He was hospitalized in Richmond in 1864 with a bad case of Hemorrhoids thereby ending his service in “K” Company, 1st Virginia Cavalry.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

The HoCo Repubs have invited Herman Cain to be the keynote speaker at this years Lincoln Day dinner on June 3rd at Turf Valley.

Whether or not you’re aligned with his politics he's likely be a lot more entertaining than Steny Hoyer will be with the Dems.

Madison Avenue on Main Street

Some of the most creative advertising in HoCo these days is coming out of Main Street in Ellicott City. 

The other day, while waiting for my coffee at the Little French Market, I was thumbing through the 2010-2011 Ellicott City Visitors Guide. When I came across the double truck ad in the middle of the publication my first thought was that the publication had made a printing error.

Then I got it.

The Obladi, of course, is the new inn on Main Street with The Beatles theme. The four rooms are identified as John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The ad is a take-off from their infamous white album.

About a year ago, The Wine Bin, also on Main Street, began adding seasonal videos to their website. These aren’t dry ads that simply push a sale or a featured wine. These videos reflect the joy of wine and friends. In addition to offering to seasonal selections, they are all fairly entertaining. Dave Carney told me that they typically film the videos at 10 AM on Sundays and, though it may be a little early in the day for some, the wine flows freely during the production. You can kind of tell. Even Chloe gets in the picture.

It turns out that their Easter Bunny was also a recent guest on our podcast.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Friendly Fire

Oftentimes our podcast guests will join us for lunch. Since we tape the show at 1:30 PM in The Mall, we’ve developed a habit of meeting for lunch beforehand. Typically we use this time to discuss which HoCo loco news stories to use that day. When the guest joins us we use the time to try and get to know them a little better before we stick a microphone in front of their face.

That wasn’t really necessary for Paul with this week’s guest. Rich Ruehl, the president of the HoCo professional firefighters union IAFF Local 2000, went to high school at Mount Hebron with Paul. They’ve remained friends since. This creates a different dynamic then you’d normally get with a guy who describes himself as being “right of center” and a guy who heads up a public service union. Though they have strong philosophical differences about unions and benefits, the discussion and banter on the podcast was respectful and civil.

That’s the way it often goes in HoCo. We are a small county so there is always the likelihood that the person on the opposing side of a debate is also an acquaintance or a neighbor.

Or, in my case, future neighbor.

As we were talking over lunch, Rich happened to mention that he was building a new home in HoCo. I asked him where.

“Worthington Fields,” he replied.

As it turns out his new home is two neighborhoods over from mine. I walk past his new home site as part of my regular neighborhoods walk

You can listen to the latest episode of “and then there’s that…” here

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Federal Lawsuit Update 13

The long drawn out legal battle by Paul Kendall, Frank Martin, and Phillip Rousseau against HoCo is settled. Last month their effort to overturn the HoCo Board of Elections decision on the Turf Valley petition was dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond. This week their effort to stop Wegmans and overturn 15 years of HoCo zoning decisions was similarly dismissed by the court. They asserted that their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution had been denied by HoCo government.

The court was unimpressed with their legal arguments. They actually said that the case should have never even gotten this far. They wrote that the case should have been dismissed at the district court level.

“In this case, the Residents purport to state claims, which are possessed by every citizen of Howard County, to require that the County government “be administered according to law.” Their grievances are accordingly simply too generalized to provide them with standing to support federal jurisdiction. We therefore vacate the district court’s Burford order and remand with instructions to dismiss this action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.”

For the past two years Kendall and his attorney Susan Gray, have lost in every court battle they’ve argued in. During this period I have been assisted in covering their legal shenanigans by a long time Tales of Two Cities netizen, Lotsabogeys. That of course is not his real name but I can assure you he’s a real person. We met for beers once at Victoria.

I am always appreciative when I get to have this kind of collaboration with a reader. It’s probably time to buy him another beer.

The Strobist National Tour

HoCo’s rock star blogger David Hobby, aka The Strobist,  has recently concluded a national tour that sold out across the country. According to this article by Steven I. Weiss in Slate over $1 million in tickets were sold “for the privilege of hearing Hobby and famed magazine photographer Joe McNally speak about their craft.”

“Hobby's blog, Strobist, on which he teaches amateurs the lighting techniques used by professionals, welcomed 2 million unique visitors last year. (The largest professional photography association has a membership 1 percent of that size.) Manufacturers have named lines of equipment after him, an unheard-of honor.”

The article describes Davids transition from being a photographer for The Sun to blogging fame and fortune.

“How Hobby went from being a workaday newspaper photographer to an internationally recognized guru is a story tied up with seismic changes in the photography profession. By teaching a horde of novices the skills necessary to shoot photographs of a quality that was until very recently only within the grasp of an elite few, Hobby has played a significant role in the transformation of the profession.”

David is a great guy who has freely shared his blogging insights with the the HoCo loco blogging community. I credit him with helping me see my own blog in a new light (pun intended).

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ken Gets Kudos

In an editorial entitled “Seeds of Optimism” in The Sun today, County Executive Ken Ulman is lauded for his county budget proposal calling it “arguably the most optimistic government budget to be offered by any Maryland county this year. In this, Howard may prove to be a reverse of a canary in a coal mine, finding oxygen where others are still holding their breath.”

That kind of recognition will certainly help raise his statewide profile.

Seeing Red in Elkridge

Last night the Greater Elkridge Community Association held a meeting at the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department to present their case against the proposed intermodal terminal to loco politicos. Opponents of the Hanover site wore red to show their solidarity.

The loco politicos in attendance were Senator Ed Kasemeyer, Delegates Jimmy Malone and Stephen DeBoy, and Councilwoman Courtney Watson whose district includes the reportedly preferred Hanover site. Despite their professed support of the opponents, none of the elected officials wore red. I thought Courtney liked red.

School Board member Allen Dyer also attended. In a bizarre twist of fate he actually sat down two seats away from me while a stream of comments to this post kept popping up on my phone. HoCo can be very small sometimes. Allen wore a dark suit. I don’t think he even wore a red tie.

One of the central arguments of the opponents is that, if the intermodal facility is located in Hanover, the homes within a quarter mile of the site would be devalued. One of the GECA presenters argued that since the combined assessed value of these homes was $150 million their loss would equal the total cost of the facility which is also projected to be $150 million. That assumes of course that the values would all drop to zero which is highly unlikely under any circumstances.

At another moment in the presentation, before and after slides were shown of the view from the adjacent community towards the proposed site. In the before slide we saw trees and heard birds chirping. There was no sign of freight trains on the double set of rail tracks in the picture. The after slide of course showed a hulking crane with an incessant beeping noise.

The GECA folks could also take heart that the media was on their side in this battle. Larry Carson, The Sun reporter who covers HoCo wore his bright red sweater to the meeting.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Allen Dyers Issue

School board member Allen Dyer is all about open meetings. He is so passionate about open meetings that he has sued the school board multiple times costing the school system in excess of $400,000 in legal costs. He hasn’t won yet but that doesn’t deter him. Recently he filed suit again.

Allen believes that the only way for the school system to be truly transparent is for all meetings and deliberations of the board to be open to the public and press. The irony is that the participants in open meetings are often less than honest. Open meetings are great for public posturing but lousy for getting consensus on difficult issues.

I should note that I am not opposed to open meetings. I am simply opposed to having all meetings open. That does not serve the greater good. There are times for open meetings and there are times when the organization is better served by having the board members meet privately. In a private meeting, participants tend to be more candid and, ironically, more open.

Allen Dyer doesn’t see it that way. He likes to have all discussions and deliberations right out in the open where he can posture and pontificate. He seems more interested in promoting himself as the great defender of openness and transparency to the exclusion of all other matters. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The War Came By Train

As somewhat of a recreational history buff of the Civil War, I feel fortunate to be able to live in place that was in the thick of that conflict. The history literally surrounds us. Yesterday the commencement of the loco sesquicentennial commemoration was marked by the anniversary of the Baltimore Riot of 1861. The union soldiers escaped the mobs that day by boarding a train in Baltimore for Washington, DC. That train crossed over into HoCo via the Thomas Viaduct in Elkridge. I imagine they had pretty much stopped hyperventilating by then.

Later in the war, union troops occupied Ellicott City, at one time encamped on the grounds of the Patapsco Female Institute. It has also been reported that Confederate General Robert E. Lee was a house guest at Lilburn.

For the next five years, the B&O Railroad Museum in Ellicott City will host a satellite exhibit called "The War Came By Train." The main exhibit will be at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore. As described on the museums website, “The National Landmark Roundhouse will exhibit the largest assemblage of Civil War railroad equipment in the world featuring locomotives and rail cars that served during the war, significant military and personal artifacts that will change annually to portray each year of the war (some artifacts never before on public display), and a narrated train ride to the original site of Camp Carroll, the largest Union encampment in Baltimore.”

The Ellicott City Museum is open Wednesday thru Sunday from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spring Broken

I went to a foreclosure auction a couple of weeks ago. It was appropriately cold and rainy that morning in front of the courthouse in Ellicott City. There were only a handful of people there; the auctioneer, an attorney, three bidders and me. The property being auctioned was all teed up to be an age restricted community with literary street names like John Galt Way. On auction day it was just another wooded lot with some entitlements.

The real estate project fell victim to the recession. The age restricted market in HoCo today is a far cry from what it was three years ago. The development process for this property was likely well underway when the market started tanking and capital dried up. The developer ended up with land dropping in value like a stone and a community that there was no longer a market for. Treading water becomes the only option when this occurs and one can only tread water for so long.

Last week I stopped in the offices of a large homebuilder headquartered in Anne Arundel county. I walked through the front door of their offices into a nicely appointed reception area. The reception desk was unmanned but there was a desk bell on the counter. I gave it a tap.


No response. I waited an awkward moment, unsure of how long to allow for someone to materialize.


Again, nothing. I decided to investigate on my own. I walked down a corridor past empty workstations. In a corner office I met one of the senior executives of the firm. He told me that the firm was now operating  in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The ultimate destiny of his company was now in the hands of others.

Driving back to HoCo I thought about posts I’ve written about how good we have it around here. For some of us though, it’s just not good enough.

The Mayors Vs The Bloggers

The U.S, Conference of Mayors is blaming a recent spike in mayoral recall attempts on bloggers. According to this story by Lesley Clark with McClatchy Newspapers, at a news conference last week the conference director, Tom Cochran, “identified one enemy of the mayors: bloggers who attack elected officials.”

"Today we have the social media," he said. "The bloggers are out there every night and every day."

Cochran said he'd urge mayors to fight back against the blogs and check the laws that regulated recall elections. He said 38 states allowed the recall of local officials, though some required specific reasons such as malfeasance or corruption.”

The mayors group has also produced a documentary called “Recall Fever.”

HoCo electeds don’t need to worry though. Everyone knows its dam near impossible to get a valid petition approved in HoCo. Just ask Marc Norman.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Wi-Fi Now Free in DC Airports

Passengers traveling through Reagan National and Dulles International airports can now avail themselves of free wi-fi service. According to this story by Jeff Clabaugh in the Baltimore Business Journal, the Washington Metro Airports Authority said “the decision to stop charging for access to the Wi-Fi networks at the airports was based on traveler feedback.”

I think it’s time we give BWI Thurgood Marshall some of that feedback too.

How Big is a Neighborhood?

Part of my regular routine is taking a four and a half mile walk beginning and ending in my neighborhood. I do this primarily because I’ve been told that if I don’t, I’ll likely die sooner rather later. That works for me.


I used to go for a run though the neighborhoods surrounding my home. I don’t recall paying much attention to these neighborhoods I ran through. I never really enjoy running, my thoughts were most often focused on just finishing.

Walking is different though. Even at a brisk pace I still find myself paying closer attention to my surroundings. After three months of walking the same route, I’ve become more attuned to what constitutes a neighborhood. So far I’ve determined that my Ellicott City hike takes me through at least six other neighborhoods besides my own. I say at least because I suspect that the larger neighborhoods have sub neighborhoods, like a cul-de-sac subset.

Some boundaries are easily defined. As I leave the street I live on I cross into an age restricted community. This is clearly a different neighborhood than mine. It contains about 50 homes and though I've met a few people who live in this neighborhood, I’ve never been in any of their houses.

Geographical features can play a role in defining a neighborhood too. Power transmission lines cut a wide swath through part of my trek. I suspect in some parts this no mans land separates one neighborhood from another.

Other neighborhoods take a little longer to define. The age of the housing stock helps with that somewhat. In parts of my walk the housing stock is around twenty years old, in others it’s over forty. That creates a psychological boundary between the new people and the old people. Even if new people move into the old people section they usually get assimilated in the old people neighborhood. A neighborhood, after all, is all about proximity.

But how far does proximity stretch?

In the cities, neighborhoods are compact, made up of a few blocks. In the suburbs, neighborhoods like the old people section can easily cover a square mile and include only about forty homes. On the other hand, the age restricted community has the same number of home in less than a quarter mile.

Which is the dominant factor?

Is it the number of people or the distance apart?

Having grown up in Columbia I once thought I knew. Jim Rouse told me what a neighborhood was. Outside of Columbia, I’m not so sure.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Stormy Weather

Yesterday’s storm knocked out power to approximately 40,000 homes in the BGE service area. According to this story by Erica Green in The Sun, over “36,000 customers had power restored since BGE began responding to the storm around 1:30 p.m. Saturday.”

We were among those who lost power yesterday afternoon around 4:00 PM. I decided to let Bare Bones cook dinner and by the time we got back home with dinner at little after six, the power had been restored.

The folks living along Church Road in Ellicott City have had to wait a little longer though. When Peanut and I passed by today around 3:00 PM, they hadn’t even started working on these downed lines. I'm sure the crews have been a little busy.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Now that’s a Truck

Mama Wordbones and CG are west county girls. Until we combined families five years ago, they were proud county girls. Mama Wordbones even grew a little corn on their three acre plot of land in Glenwood.

I mention this because they enjoy teasing me about my “city” ways. The most frequent target of their countrified derision is my SUV. I refer to it as my truck.

“That’s no truck!” they’ll equally exclaim. To this I always counter that, according to the MVA, my Ford Explorer is a “TRK”.

Of course there is no winning this argument, no matter what the State of Maryland thinks. There is no way these country girls will ever call an SUV a truck. It goes against their very rural roots. A truck, at the bare minimum, has an open bed for hauling stuff. Preferably it’s a little beat up too. You take a truck to the dump not to dinner.
Yesterday when I spotted this Deuce and a half for sale in Ellicott City, I asked Mama Wordbones if I would gain any country cred if I picked this baby up.

It’s a monster. This 1993 M35 A3 two and a half ton truck has six forty-two inch wheels, 170 horsepower CAT 3116 Diesel engine, a 15,000 lb winch, ether cold start, and an in-cab adjusting air tire inflation system.


The best part is that no special license is required to pilot this beast. I'm not sure it would fit in my driveway though.

Tales of Two Runs

Tomorrow morning is the 33rd annual Clyde’s American 10 K race in Columbia. Approximately 1,500 runners and their friends will gather in Town Center early Sunday morning for this annual rite of a HoCo spring. The forecast for race time calls for 50 degrees and wind, but for now at least, no rain.

This is a great run. The course winds around The Mall, up past Fairway Hills golf course, onto to Route 108 and then heads back towards Town Center through Running Brook. At the finish both participants and their early morning spectators are treated to a bountiful Sunday brunch provided by Clyde’s.

I won’t be running this year. I had originally planned to but life and allergies interrupted my training regimen. It’s takes me a little more time to train now that I’m in my mid fifties.
I am ready for the shorter Ellicott City 5 K though. The 2nd Annual Hills of Milltown 5 K will be held in two weeks on Saturday, April 30th. This is another hilly course but that’s pretty much what you get anywhere you run in HoCo.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Waterless Urinals

The newly renovated George Howard building in Ellicott City is a very green building. One of the greener innovations in the building is the waterless urinals.

I wasn’t sure how I thought of these when I first heard of them. I recall when Manekin installed waterless urinals in their Columbia headquarters in 2007. I remember being told by a Manekin employee at that time that the company still stubbed in plumbing behind these waterless urinals just in case the technology proved to be flawed.

The concern of course, is the smell.

As it turns out, some plumbers are concerned as well. According to this story by Joshua Davis in Wired Magazine a group of plumbers unions in California hired an environmental engineer to dive into this issue. Ironically, the engineer they hired was a woman named Phyllis Fox.

“She conducted her own analysis, which involved visiting men’s rooms to acquaint herself with the subject matter. Fox didn’t perform any tests, but by examining the designs of the Falcon and other waterless urinals, she concluded that hydrogen sulfide gases in the sewer lines could escape when the cartridges were replaced, resulting in “unconsciousness, respiratory paralysis, and death.” In other words, the waterless urinal could kill.”

Killer urinals?

To be fair, the article goes on to explain that the waterless urinal manufacturers have fought back. They insist that when proper maintenance procedures are followed the waterless urinals shouldn’t kill anyone.

Still, I did notice a certain smell in the George Howard men’s room this morning.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Oregonian Hot Link Hi Jinks

When I heard this story by Eyder Peralta on All Things Considered the other day I immediately wondered if our own General Assembly could ever pull off such a cool bipartisan political prank. In their own version of the rickrolling prank, a bipartisan collection of Oregonian legislators agreed to work a single line from Rick Astleys 1987 hit, “Never Gonna Give You Up” into a speech from the House floor. They agreed “that the lawmaker on the floor could not ask for extra time and had to work in the phrase assigned to them in a way that was germaine to what they were talking about.”

They pulled it off on April 1st.  

HoCo Bags Big Bond Bucks

The HoCo state delegation bought back almost a million bucks in bond money for HoCo from the recently concluded General Assembly session. Among the big winners were the Linwood Center in Ellicott City and the former Post Office on Main Street in Ellicott City.

Linwood, which provides programs and services for individuals with autism and related developmental disabilities, will receive $500,000 towards a new school building.

The former post office received $175,000 to go towards the renovation of the building for HoCo Tourism. Last year, the existing tourism office in the basement of the building, helped over 20,000 HoCo visitors from 39 states, 18 countries and 3 territories.

Arc of Howard County received $145,000 towards the renovation of the Graeloch group home in North Laurel and the Howard County Conservancy received $125,000 to upgrade the heating and cooling at the the Mount Pleasant farmhouse in Woodstock.

Alas, the delegation did not get everything they asked for. Requests for money to develop Blandair and Troy Hill parks went unfulfilled. Last year the privately owned Symphony Woods park in Columbia received $250,000.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Other HoCo Site

HoCo has two sites out of the four being considered for a new intermodal transfer terminal by CSX and the Maryland Department of Transportation; one in Hanover and the other in Jessup.

Yesterday I walked the Jessup site. It is located just off Montevideo Road next to the former Baltimore Air Coil headquarters. I was curious to see if this site would have any other industrial development potential should CSX/MDOT decide to take a pass on it.

I don’t think our firm will be pursuing this any further. Though the site shows some promise from the aerial, the conditions on the ground tell a different story. For one, there is a stream running through the property, for another, there is a fairly significant gully right around the middle. As if this wasn’t enough to spoil any hopes of carving out a developable site, the property is also bisected by the future path of Dorsey Run Road.

For CSX/MDOT these issues could prove insurmountable, particularly given that part of the stream runs right along the railroad tracks.

Good for Liquor, Bad for Gambling

In the latest General Assembly session, Delegate Warren Miller proved to be a friend of vice. The west county Republican pushed for legislation allowing HoCo’s licensed beverage retailers to offer tastings of hard liquor in addition to beer and wine and for allowing veterans and firefighters to hold casino nights for fundraising purposes.

He was successful on behalf of the liquor lobby but not so much for the loco veterans and firefighters. According to this story by Lindsey McPherson in The Columbia Flier, the fundraising initiative “never made it out of the House Ways and Means Committee.”

The state politico’s tried to insure that the liquor tasting doesn’t get out of hand though. The new law “specifies that a single person may not receive more than a total of one ounce of liquor — one quarter of an ounce per brand sampled — in a single day.”

I wonder how they expect that to be enforced. Let’s say that I attend a liquor tasting at Kelly’s in Ellicott City and then, later in the day, attend another one at I.M. Wine in Maple Lawn. While this would be a very good day for me, it would clearly be a violation of the laws intent. Is this law relying on the honor system?

Still, one out of two isn’t bad and Warren is now my favorite HoCo advocate for vice.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Scene This Week In…

A little over a year ago, I wrote a STW post  that included what was then new signs warning people to stay off the big boulders that line Main Street across from Johnny’s Bistro. Up until that point, particularly on warm days, people would routinely climb the rocks and sometimes find a place to sit and watch the world below. This was one of Peanuts favorite activities whenever we walked down Main Street together.

Those signs read “No Trespassing or Climbing Rocks.”

They've been replaced. The new signs attempt to convey a more civil tone, asking people to “respect the rock.”

In Columbia, I've been driving past this simple message on Old Dobbin Road for at least a month now. Each time it makes me smile.

I mean, who really knows what’s ahead anyway?

Rain Relief

I love spring. It is by far my favorite season of the year. Unfortunately, spring doesn’t always show me the love back, thanks to my allergies. I sneezed and coughed so much yesterday that by the end of the day I was exhausted.

I needed a better plan for today.

I first considered taking the holistic approach which was outlined in this story by Carolyn Butler in The Washington Post.  Deirdre Orceyre, a naturopathic physician claims that there are “non-pharmaceutical options, from preventative measures to acute symptom relief: You definitely don’t have to be limited to your Claritin or Zyrtec.”

Some of the suggestions were to shower and change clothes every time you enter your house, postpone outdoor activity until after noon, wash bed linens at least once a week in 130 water, wear a mask, reduce stress and so on. You get the idea.

I decided to go with Zyrtec and a nasal spray. I refuse to hole myself up inside and wait for the pollen count to drop. I will not surrender to the season.

Fortunately, this mornings rain washed some of the pollen away. I'm thankful for these April showers

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sharkey’s Last Call

Sharkey’s, the eclectic little bar above Johnny’s Bistro on Main Street in Ellicott City, is closing. When he locks up this Friday night, Sharkey's will cease to be and one of HoCo’s smallest bars will pass on into HoCo loco lure.

This afternoon Sharkey told me that he initially plans to head off to Chicago to see some friends but after that, he really doesn’t have a plan.  He just needs to take an extended time out from bar tending

Over the past the few years Sharkey has also been taking care of his mom. She passed away last July. 

He told me that the business had been okay but that he was also growing tired with the antics of some of the younger crowd that now frequents Main Street on weekends. He said he oftentimes yells out the second floor windows at the kids urinating in the bushes across the street. “The older crowd doesn’t come down here at night anymore,” he lamented.

The bar goes with Sharkey too. He told me that a church will be taking over the space after he’s gone. I hate it when that happens to a perfectly good bar.

Mother’s Following You

First it was Pub Dog, then came Looney’s. Now, Mother’s Federal Hill Grille is the latest popular Baltimore watering hole to scout out potential sites in HoCo. According to this story by Alexander Jackson in the Baltimore Business Journal the owner, Dave Rather, “is looking to buy existing restaurant locations in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties to create more company stores before eventually embarking on franchising the Mother’s brand.”

The city bars are trying to hold onto their customers as they leave the freewheeling days of single city life and settle down in the burbs.

Since the Buffalo Wild Wings deal seems to be dead, perhaps the old Rocky Run on Dobbin could be good fit.

Home Builders Moving to HoCo

The Home Builders Association of Maryland will soon be calling HoCo home. The industry association for home builders and related trades is moving from BaltCo to a new headquarters building in Maple Lawn. According to the April 8th issue of the Howard / Arundel Report, HBAM will occupy a new 9,976 square foot building in the West Market Place.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The March of the Tulips

We loaded up the bikes and headed down Columbia Pike to DC today. We just wanted to bike around the White House and Tidal Basin and take in the spring day with the rest of humanity who had the same Sunday plan.
The cherry blossoms were toast by now but the tulips were in prime form. We spotted this lovely carpet of red near The Elipse.
We also crossed paths with two protest marches. The first one was right in front of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. These folks were trying to draw attention to a massacre they claim occurred at Camp Ashraf in Iraq just a couple of days ago.

The second group we encountered was marching down 17th Street by Farragut Square. This group was calling for the closure of the School of the Americas at Fort Benning. The protesters were calling it a training center for terrorism.

The funny thing is that, judging from what we witnessed at both marches, the majority of bystanders didn’t have a clue as to what these protests were all about. I overheard things like “What flag is that?” and “What’s SOA?”

I also heard a couple of  excitedly exclaim “Hey cool, a protest!”

That being said, I suspect that these marches will reach a much larger and more empathetic audience later thanks to You Tube

A HoCo Bloggers Spring

Up until recently, I used to write a welcoming post to every new HoCo blogger. That was easy to do when a new a loco blog only came around every few months or so.

Not so much anymore.

Over the past six months the HoCo loco blogosphere has seemingly exploded with so many new voices that I sometimes find it difficult to keep up.

Two of the newcomers I’ve enjoyed reading are HoCo Connect and The Rocket Powered Butterfly. HoCo Connect is written by Duane St. Clair who also was instrumental in establishing Freecycle in HoCo.

The Rocket Powered Butterfly is authored by TJ Mayotte who also writes occasionally for Elkridge Patch. Despite the fact that he recently took me to task for my postings on the intermodal terminal controversy, I do think he brings a thoughtful perspective to discussions on living in HoCo. 

I’ve added both of these blogs to my loco blog roll in the right hand column under "Other Local Stuff". A belated welcome to both gentlemen and, for that matter, all of the other new HoCo bloggers as well.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Every Day is Earth Day

When your job is Director of the Office Environmental Sustainability, every day is Earth Day. For the rest of us on the other hand, April is generally the month we celebrate Earth Day. In recognition of this, we invited Josh Feldmark to come on the podcast and to tell us what his office is all about besides giving away free trees.

He really wanted to talk about wine though. Unfortunately for him, Paul and decided to hold off on a discussion about HoCo wineries, for now at least. That may be a better topic for May.

Anyway, the very nature of his job means that Josh has his hands in many pots in HoCo government. Even the problem of deer overpopulation falls somewhat within his purview. I told him that the deer in my neighborhood had taken a liking to the dogwood tree we got from the county last year.

Paul even asked his opinion on the proposed CSX Intermodal terminal in HoCo. Alas, that is not within his area of influence.

In addition to the intermodal controversy, the news stories we recapped were the recent HoCo loco politico fundraisers for Ken, Courtney and Calvin, the recent jewelry heist at The Mall, and Belmont.

Paul also pointed out that HoCo may be the worst place to attempt suicide by self immolation.

You can listen to the latest podcast of “and then there’s that…” here.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Intermodal Insanity Too

Contrary to what some may think, I actually like Elkridge. I’ve been to community plays at the Lawyers Hill community building, jazz concerts at Belmont, played co-ed softball at Rockburn Park and for five years, I drove though the community every day, going to and from work. It was one of nicest commutes I've ever had.

After crossing Route 1 at Montgomery Road, I’d drop in to Dunkin Donuts on the corner and then head on past the firehouse to Hanover Road and on into the Parkway Business Park.

Some mornings my journey would be briefly interrupted by the passing of a freight train. This is one of only two places in HoCo where the CSX Main Line has an at-grade crossing. I enjoyed the interruptions, sipping my coffee, watching the train.

As it happens, I know a little bit about the CSX Main Line. My firm has leased, developed, bought and sold well over 5 million square feet of warehouse and industrial space along the Baltimore Washington corridor portion of the line over the past 10 years. Along with the Port of Baltimore, BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, and an excellent interstate highway network, the railroad makes the area an attractive place for industrial real estate.

That’s good for business. That’s good for jobs. That’s good for HoCo.

Now Elkridge, more specifically, Hanover, is being considered as one of four potential sites for a 70 to 100 acre CSX Intermodal terminal. The Hanover site runs along the rail line at Race Road and Hanover Road. The other sites are in Jessup near Montevideo Road and Dorsey Run, Brock Bridge Road (AA Co.) and Sunnyside Avenue and Powder Mill Road in Beltsville. Some believe that the site in Hanover is the front runner.

Understandably, Hanover residents living nearest to the site are worried about what this means for their community. Some have posted angry comments here after I wrote a post supporting the Hanover location. Some have asked what my agenda is. Some question if I expect to profit somehow from this.

I certainly hope so. That's my business. The thing is, when I am doing my job well it generally means that jobs are being created too.

That being said, I am interested in finding out more and I look forward to the upcoming workshops being conducted by CSX and the Maryland Department of Transportation. Hopefully, everyone participating will do so with an open mind. 

I know both HoCo sites and I can understand some of the reasons why the Hanover site might be preferable to the others. I also believe that a facility can be designed that would not have any more impact on the area than any other use that would normally be permitted in an M2 zone.

And that is really the main point. This site is already zoned for this type of use. It is HoCo’s heaviest industrial land use designation and has always been relegated to land along the CSX Main Line. Yes, it is true that there are 300 some homes within a quarter mile radius of this site. It is also true that the majority of these homes were built long after that zoning was in place. It is also likely that the prices of these homes have long reflected the fact that they sit along a major rail line.

And for those who are new to this blog and don’t know bones about wordbones, my real name is Dennis Lane. My office is now in Columbia. There is a link to our website on the right hand column of this blog under Ryan Commercial Real Estate. There is even more stuff about me here and here.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Dog Day Afternoon

Whenever I drive past the Wine Bin in Ellicott City, I look to see if Chloe is lying by the door. Peanut does the same. It just makes us smile when we see her.

There she was today, a little beyond the doorway, lying on the brick pavers warmed by the sun, an honest picture of contentment.

As passed by and headed down the street it occurred to me to go back and take her picture, besides, I wanted to see if they carried Black Ankle. I circled back and snapped a picture of the dog on the sidewalk in the sun. For a moment I wanted to be her.

As it turns out they do carry Black Ankle. I snatched up a couple bottles of Rolling Hills. Black Ankle is proof positive that Maryland can produce a decent red wine.

This evening I’ll be dropping by Calvin Ball's fundraiser in Shipley’s Grant. I like Calvin and so does just about everybody I know. That kind of broad based type support presents him with some interesting options in the event he has any thoughts of a higher office than councilperson…if ya know what I mean.

And lastly, my Intermodal Insanity post generated quite a bit of heat. I get that. There is a good deal of bad or incomplete information floating around that is fanning fears of the unknown. My motivations have been called to question as well.

That response deserves a post of its own, so stayed tuned if you’re interested.