Friday, September 30, 2011

Repurposing The Rouse Building

The former Rouse Company headquarters building in Town Center is not likely to remain an office building. Repurposing the Gehry designed “elegant warehouse” for retail is the only scenario that really makes economic sense. At thirty seven years old, the white building is in need of a complete makeover. Since it ceased being a corporate headquarters in 2004, the building has been in a steady state of decline. The roof leaks, the HVAC system is on life support, and the most of buildings’ electrical systems are no longer in compliance with code. The 127,000 square foot corporate edifice was a high maintenance girl to begin with.

The point is that all this work is not optional. It needs to be done no matter what use is put inside. It’s also expensive. Very expensive, almost on the order of what it would cost to build a similar new building from scratch.

That means the rent needs to be higher than the current going rate for office space. That leaves retail or residential. The physical structure is more accommodating for retail than residential. It’s a building of large open spaces. The close proximity to a highly successful 1.2 million square foot super regional mall helps this argument too.

It would make an awesome retail store.

But what retailer would go there?

A big one, a national chain or regional chain, someone who can handle spending over a million bucks fitting out the space for their individual requirements, you know, to make it sexy. It could be a home furnishings store like a Crate & Barrel or even a discounter like Target.

Or maybe a grocery store, like Whole Foods or Fresh Market. After all, Town Center is the only village in Columbia that has never had a grocery store. The addition of over 500 new apartment units within walking distance could be very enticing to a specialty grocer.

It just might be far enough away from Wegmans to make that work. 

Texting While Driving Fix

When Jim Robey’s bill banning texting while driving became law three years ago it had one major flaw. A driver could only be cited as a secondary offense meaning that the police had to have another primary reason for puling over a texting offender.

That has now been fixed.  As of tomorrow, texting while driving will become a primary offense in Maryland. According to this story by Ashley Halsey III in The Washington Post, “those caught texting can be fined $70 and receive one point toward suspension of a driver’s license. But if the action is judged to have caused an accident, the fine increases to $110 and the number of points to three.”

There is still a loophole however.

“Drivers who are using the Global Positioning System function in their mobile devices or who are sending a text message to the emergency 911 system are exempted from prosecution.”

I understand the 911 exemption but I’m not so sure I get the GPS exemption

Thursday, September 29, 2011

School Board Change is a Lock

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who completely agrees the recommendations of the HoCo School Board Advisory Commission. Some like the idea of electing board members by council district but dislike the thought of having two members appointed by the county executive. Some, including at least one member of the commission, think that the recommendations, for what amounts to a wholesale restructuring of the board, were made in haste. The commission was empanelled on August 9th and issued their final report last week.

However you feel, you best get comfortable with it. This is going to happen.

Of course it will first need to be approved by the General Assembly but that will be a lot easier than if it had to be approved by HoCo voters. Delegate Frank Turner is drafting the necessary legislation in hopes that it will be considered during the upcoming special session. The HoCo Delegation will need to get behind it as well but that doesn’t seem too much of a hurdle. The delegation is led by Guy Guzzone, a longtime Ulman ally. Guy was also an ex officio member of the commission along with Senator Jim Robey.

The question really is more of when these changes will be implemented not if. Senator Ed Kasemyer believes that the special session will limit itself to redistricting. If that holds true the school board changes would have to wait until the 2014 election cycle as opposed to 2012.

On the other hand this initiative started with a full head of steam and has only gatherered momentum as it progressed. According to this story by Lindsey McPherson in Explore Howard, the exec “is hoping the General Assembly will consider any changes during its special session in October so that changes can take effect in time for the 2012 election.”

“Ulman said communication between the leadership and the delegation "indicates that there is an openness to consider bills having nexus with the upcoming election.”

Ken doesn't want any moss to grow on this bill.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Seeing Triple

Earlier in the year Mama Wordbones and I stopped by a 3D television display in an electronics store. After watching a few minutes of sample videos wearing the requisite 3D glasses we both concluded that this was not for us. In addition to feeling that we’d soon grow tired of always wearing the glasses to watch movies, we also considered that these glasses would just be another thing to break or get misplaced. We have a hard enough time with remotes.

It just didn’t seem worth it.

That’s why I was intrigued when I heard about new smart phones that can screen 3D videos without wearing 3D goggles. LG now has an Android phone that produces 3D images that you can watch sans specialized spectacles. When I saw this video today I thought that LG might really be on to something.

It is a pretty cool demonstration of the technology but perhaps not truly representative of the actual mobile phone experience. As Amar Toor concluded in this review on Engadget “it's hard for us to call LG's 3D technology anything other than a gimmick, but it's still a fun gimmick…”

Out With BRAC, In With Base

At this mornings meeting of the BRAC Business Initiative, Kent Menser, the HoCo BRAC coordinator, announced that henceforth the initiative will be re-branded as the Base Business Initiative. This reflects the fact that, although BRAC at Fort Meade is now complete, there are still plenty of opportunities for HoCo businesses to connect with the various agencies now located at the fort.

This isn’t just theoretical either. Kate Hetherington, the president of HCC shared a story about two former students Sean Keyman and Jonathan DeWald. Sean and Jonathan, two Iraqi war vets, met in a class at HCC and went on to start Trifecta Industries in Annapolis Junction. The new company has already tapped into the forts growth.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Apartment Boom

In the commercial real estate world, the easiest development to finance these days is an apartment project. Right now lenders are almost falling over each other to fund multi family housing projects in good locations.

Columbia is considered a good location. It comes as no surprise then, that one of the  first projects of Columbia Town Centers redevelopment will be an apartment project. Though it was widely anticipated that an announcement would be made in August, it will now likely be sometime before the end of the year. The new development will consist of approximately 500 residential units with street level retail. I suspect that street will be the The Mall ring road, probably in the area that once served as holiday overflow parking near the Cheesecake Factory.

Another apartment project is expected to be announced soon for the redeveloped Wilde Lake Village Center. According to the Howard/Arundel newsletter, Kimco has entered into a contract with a yet undisclosed multi family developer for 225 units with a construction start as early as 2012.

Together with the recent announcement by Chesapeake Realty Partners of plans to develop 320 units in the Gateway Crossing shopping center, Columbia could soon have over a thousand new apartments.

If, as they say, the past is prologue, by the time these three apartment projects come online, financing for multi family housing will have retreated back to normal levels. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Baltimore Sun Blues

Up until now, The Sun has been pretty blog friendly for a mainstream media group. They host The Mobbies, an annual reader competition for the best (or most popular) of the Baltimore blogosphere. They provide feeds to some local blogs with their HoCo loco coverage. In August they even sponsored a HoCo Blogtail party.

That’s making a real statement to bloggers.

It’s noticed too, at least by me anyway. Two years ago, The Sun wasn't in the top five of referring sites to Tales of Two Cities. Last year they were the  number three referring site after Google and HoCo Rising. Right now they are number two, second only to Google and the gap is closing.

It is a relationship I respect. Whenever I link to their content I always provide attribution to both the company and the writer. On occasion they have even returned the favor.

That’s why I’m troubled by their digital plans. The announcement by Timothy Ryan, in Sundays edition that the media group would soon be charging for online content took me somewhat aback.

I don’t really have a problem with paying for content. In addition to The Sun I also subscrbe to The Washington Post and The New York Times. Earlier this year, The NYT also moved to charging for its online content. If you are already an NYT subscriber there isn’t any additional charge though. That seemed fair.

The Sun doesn’t give its print subscribers the same courtesy. Instead they offered their loyal print subscribers a 75% discount off the regular online charge.

It’s almost as if they want me to drop the print subscription altogether. A years subscription to the print edition comes out to about three hundred bucks. They plan to charge a little over a hundred bucks for the online edition.

I think I get that. I’m not sure I like it but I get it.

Harbins Farm Stand Wins Reprieve

It’s taken over two years but it now appears that the Harbins Farm Stand in Ellicott City has finally won the zoning exemption they needed to stay in business. The issue arose when the farm that was once attached to the stand was sold to a developer. Without a farm, the farm stand became a zoning violation.

According to this story by Jessica Anderson in The Sun, this exemption “could have implications for future farm stand zoning decisions.”

In other words, a farm stand in HoCo may no longer need to be part of a farm.

“Before, produce stands were "only an accessory to farming," said Cindy Hamilton, chief, public service and zoning administration division in Howard. But now, she said the county might see more similar applications for conditional use as farmers become more enticed to sell off their land.”

As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Elkridge Gets a Grocery

The space recently vacated by Super Fresh in the Elkridge Corners shopping center will be filled by Green Valley Markets, a new grocery concept by Baltimore based food wholesaler B. Green & Company. The company currently operates two Food Depot grocery stores in Bel Air and Baltimore as well as two Cash & Carry stores.

Though no opening date has been announced, construction on the stores interior is expected to start soon.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Out of Sync

It was bound to happen. After forty eight shows we were probably way overdo for a serious guest problem. Two weeks ago, we had hoped to have Laura Neuman, the new HoCo Economic Development Chief as our guest for this weeks podcast. It turns out that the earliest she was available was sometime in 2013.

Just kidding of course.

Our next invitee was William McMahon, the HoCo Chief of Police. We thought it would be interesting to get the chiefs perspective on the two recent murders in HoCo and perhaps some insight into the loco police role with DHS. The chief readily agreed to join us until Tuesday when he informed us he had to cancel. He apparently got called away on police business.

That happens.

No problem. We had also planned to split the show with Councilperson Greg Fox. After the councils legislative public hearing this past Monday we felt we could build a whole show around Greg.

Friday morning, about seven hours before the show, Greg called. He contracted food poisoning the night before and spent the better part of the evening in the emergency room. Obviously he wouldn’t be joining us in the The Mall that afternoon.

We were grateful that Jan Hines, the Director of Development for the Howard Hospital Foundation, was willing to fill in at the last minute. Jan was a delightful guest but I don’t think we did a very good job as hosts. I felt this show was generally pretty flat. We were simply out of sync.

It was bound to happen,

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

Friday, September 23, 2011

Not So Candid Camera

Back in August I snapped this picture of a HoCo police cruiser parked at the The Mall. It was the twin cameras mounted on the trunk that grabbed my attention. Surveillance cameras have now gone mobile.

This technology has been bought to HoCo by those paranoid folks at the Department of Homeland Security. In a recent program on Frontline, Dana Priest reported that “what DHS wants to do is to turn all the state and local law enforcement personnel into the tipsters for the FBI, into the frontline foot soldiers looking for possible terrorists.”

There is a clip in the program of a similarly equipped Maryland State police cruiser demonstrating how these license plate cameras work.

A more thorough demonstration of the capability of these cameras is shown in this You Tube video.

I don't know about you but as for me, I'll never be late with a parking ticket fine again!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ellicott City Fall Festival

The good news is that, with temperatures predicted to be in the seventies on Saturday, it will be warm enough to enjoy a beer in the Tiber Alley beer garden at the annual Ellicott City Fall Festival. The bad news is that you might want to bring an umbrella. There is a 40% percent chance of showers on Saturday.

So what else is new? It seems as if we’ve had rain in the forecast every day since the rain train blew through HoCo almost two weeks ago.

At least you won’t have to worry about getting hit by a falling satellite. The latest prediction is for the tumbling space junk to fall to earth sometime late Friday night. Fox News has a nifty little tracking widget if you want to follow its progress. As I write this post it is somewhere over Brazil.

But I digress…

The Fall Festival will feature the aforementioned beer garden in Tiber Alley plus wine and beer gardens on Tongue Row and the Wine Bin parking lot. It will be a good day for beer lovers. Beginning today, The Phoenix Emporium is also beginning its roll out of Oktoberfest offerings.

And if you happen to see Stars Wars characters roaming the streets of the old mill town, don’t worry, it won’t necessarily mean that you’ve had too much. It’s just part of the festival.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ken vs. Clarksville

When GreenStone Ventures failed to negotiate an easement with their neighbors in Clarksville for their development project, the county executive took sides. According to this story by Lindsey McPherson in Explore Howard, Ken Ulman said “a huge discrepancy, almost a laughable discrepancy" between what the Kendalls believe the easement is worth and what the county believes it is worth.”

He directed the Department of Public Works to study the access issues in a thinly veiled attempt to give GreenStone what they couldn’t get themselves. GreenStone, after all, was the development team that he had chosen to redevelop the 7.8 acre site of the former Clarksville Middle School. Ken has lauded their mixed use proposal as “unlike any other.”

The plan that DPW wants to “study” involves an extension of Great Star Drive that would cut through the adjacent properties of Pizza Hut and Kendalls Hardware and link up with Auto Drive. The owners of Pizza Hut and Kendalls are opposed to this because it would take their land and adversely affect their business.

In order to fund this study, DPW is proposing to move $600,000 from the budget for the completion of Dorsey Run Road. The Dorsey Run Road is currently on hold as long the Montevideo Road site is still under consideration for the CSX Intermodal terminal. In order to move this money around, DPW needs council approval. Ordinarily this would not be a big deal but since Councilperson Greg Fox introduced legislation to prohibit the county from using the power of eminent domain for private development projects, this simple budget item got a full public hearing on Monday night.

The council got an earful. Of the eighteen people to testify, none spoke in favor of Ken and his road. I thought Senator Allan Kittleman summed the issue up rather succinctly.
That being said, this is far from over. Though Emily Kendall told the council that the county is still trying to work out a compromise on the easement issue, she has good reason to be concerned. So far Ken has demonstrated an ability to pretty much get what he wants out of the Dem controlled council.

This battle of Clarksville is far from over.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

HoCo’s Inland Port

The Port of Baltimore surpassed New York in auto shipping tonnage for the first half of 2011 making it the top auto port in the nation. According to this story by Michael Dresser in The Sun, “exports of American autos through Baltimore were up 38 percent during the first half, compared with a 25 percent increase for New York.”

HoCo is a direct beneficiary of this growth at the port. In a 150 acre yard in Jessup, TDSI, a CSX subsidiary, operates the largest auto distribution center in the CSX system. With parking for approximately 9,000 vehicles, the TDSI facility handles up to 450,000 cars annually.

According to a CSX company newsletter, the “subsidiary offers additional vehicle handling services through a network of automobile distribution facilities, storage locations, and facilities providing service to Eastern, Gulf and Southeastern ports.” 

Diversity Diversion

The commission created to address the lack of diversity on the HoCo school board is recommending that county move from seven members elected at large to five members elected by council district and two appointed members. According to this story by Joe Burris in The Sun, “It was unclear who would appoint the two members under the commission's proposal.”

Presumably that would be the county exec.

I happen to think that all seven members should be appointed. The level of scrutiny given to school board candidates is generally low. The average HoCo citizen would be hard pressed to name any of the existing board members, with the possible exception of those who are constantly in the news for dubious reasons. We are lucky that we get five who are actually worthy of the job. The running of our public school system is too important to be left to luck. A board member appointed by the exec and confirmed by the council would at least be subjected to more vetting than currently exists.

But I digress.

I fail to see how electing school board members by council district will create a more diverse board. If anything, it will shrink the available talent pool for each seat. That can't be a good thing.

Of course I never really believed that this commission was all that concerned with creating diversity anyway.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Jasons Deli Si, Pupuseria Las Delicias #2 No!

After reading this review on HowChow I was anxious to check out this food truck in the Guilford Industrial Park in Columbia. On the few occasions I’ve found myself in that neighborhood its either been too early or too late. This past Friday the timing was perfect. I parked my car along Gerwig Lane and joined the painters and landscapers in the cue for lunch.

Since reading this post on HoCo Connect I’ve been thinking about ribs. Once I caught a whiff of the ribs on the big black grill I knew what I was going to order. For eight bucks I got a half slab of pork ribs, a generous portion of rice, some beans, a small serving of pico de gallo and a warm corn tortilla.

It was awful. The ribs were overcooked, almost to the point of being inedible. The corn tortilla was dry and tasteless and I’ve had better beans out a can. Maybe I just caught her on a bad day but I doubt I’ll give it another shot. I almost chipped a tooth on those burnt ribs. The rice was good though.

Jason’s Deli opened today in the space formerly occupied by the Atlanta Bread Company in Columbia and the place was hopping at lunchtime. For seven bucks I got a Chicago Club sandwich on focaccia with chips. The sandwich was a little on the small side but delicious nonetheless. We’ll definitely be back.

The Sky is Falling!

It might be a good idea to start wearing a hard hat after Wednesday. According to this story by Joel Achenbach in The Washington Post, a satellite the size of a school bus is “tumbling in orbit and succumbing to Earth’s gravity.”

It is expected to fall from the sky sometime between Thursday and Saturday. The question is where.

“Out-of-control crashing satellites don’t lend themselves to exact estimates even for the precision-minded folks at NASA. The uncertainty about the “when” makes the “where” all the trickier, because a small change in the timing of the reentry translates into thousands of miles of difference in the crash site.”

The doomed satellite is expected to break up on reentry into a hundred pieces spread over 500 miles. The largest of these pieces could be three hundred pounds.

On second thought that hard hat won’t be much help. Then again, the chance of getting hit by a piece of space debris are about the same as your chance of winning the lottery.

“NASA did a calculation of the odds that someone would be struck by UARS debris. It’s very unlikely: about a 1-in-3,200 chance that one person somewhere in the world would be hit. That’s not the odds for any specific person (say, a reader of this story), but for the entire human population, which is about 7 billion.”

Sunday, September 18, 2011

HoCo under Federal Quarantine

HoCo, along with every other Maryland county west of the Chesapeake Bay, is under a federal quarantine from the USDA as part of the effort to arrest the spread of the evil emerald ash borer. Back in June the state imposed quarantine on HoCo. Last month the feds did the same.

Unless you are planning to sell firewood across state lines this probably won’t effect you much. Perhaps this export ban will create a n oversupply locally and keep prices for firewood low this winter.

Then again, I wonder how much they can really do to stop cross border firewood sales.

Still, it is worth the effort to try. This little beetle is decimating the ash trees. Once it lays its eggs in a tree, that tree is toast.

As Martin Weil reported in The Washington Post today, the ash tree plays an integral role in sports too.

“Valued for may reasons, ash trees are well known among sports fans as the source of wood for oars, hockey sticks and baseball bats…”

I sure hope this quarantine will help save our ash.

Note: I would have provided a link to Martin Weil's article in the Post but I couldn't find it online. This time the printed paper paid off!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Once in a Thousand Years

The rain train that barreled through central Maryland last week was a once in a thousand year rainfall. According to this story by Martin Weil in The Washington Post the deluge from Tropical Storm Lee “came down so fast for so long that it might have been a once-in-a-millennium event, according to a report from the National Weather Service.”

The September 8th rain storm dumped over six inches of rain over the area in a span of three hours.

“That, the weather service said Wednesday, “has less than a 0.1 per cent chance of occurring in any given year.” The extremely unlikely event, the service said, is “sometimes called a 1,000-year rainfall.”
Longtime residents of Ellicott City told me that this was the first time they can recall that the flooding was worse on upper Main Street than the lower portion of the street by the Patapsco River. This was precipitated by the overflow of the Tiber Branch channel that runs down the hill and under several buildings along the street. Right before the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company the river channel takes a ninety degree turn as it crosses under Main Street before continuing down to the river on the opposite side of the road. The volume of water in such short period of time was more than the channel could handle.

Friday, September 16, 2011

In Memoriam…Frederic W. Glassberg

Photo Credit:
When I was in college and working part time for The Rouse Company, Fred Glassberg was hired as the Vice President of Howard Research and Development (HRD), the company subsidiary that was charged with developing Columbia. Fred was second in command to Doug MacGregor, who was then General Manager of Columbia.

Back in those days, HRD owned 90% of the office and retail space in Columbia as well as most of the apartments and Fred was known as “the landlord of Columbia.” As you might imagine, this moniker was not always a term of endearment. It was not an easy time for Columbia, or even the Rouse Company for that matter. He oversaw turbulent years at Merriweather Post Pavilion when riots after a concert in the summer of 1975 threatened to shut the facility down for good. The next summer, when another real estate recession almost bought down The Rouse Company, he orchestrated the largest commercial real estate refinancing in the country that year for the company.

After leaving The Rouse Company in the early eighties, Fred started his own development company, Crystal Hill Investments. Shortly thereafter he hired me as a leasing agent for his new buildings. I remember telling him in the interview that I didn’t know anything about office leasing and he told me that I could learn. That was typical Fred. If he believed in you he would help you succeed.

Yet another real estate recession in the late eighties bought down Crystal Hill but not Fred. He simply changed his focus to helping communities develop economic development strategies.

Fred was also a big runner and he encouraged those around him to run with him. In his fifties he ran a 50 mile ultra marathon in Montana, a feat which amazes me now that I’m in my fifties.

Fred was also a big dog guy, raising a succession of Newfoundland’s. He often quipped that he put a swimming pool in his Clarksville home largely so his dogs could cool themselves off on hot summer days. I remember once telling him that if there was such a thing as an afterlife I’d want to come back as one of his dogs.

Fred was a mentor and a friend and I am grateful I had the opportunity to know him.

Service for Fred will be held this Sunday, Sept. 17 at 12 noon at Sol Levinson's Funeral Home on Reisterstown Road in Pikesville. In lieu of flowers, the family encourages donations to be made in Fred's memory either to the charity of your choice or to the Fifth District Volunteer Fire Department in Clarksville.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Perhaps A Tad Too Hip

The University of Maryland has generated a lot of press for its new football uniforms this season. Some fans have derided them as clownish while others seem to be enjoying all of the attention. Opinions seem to be evenly split.

They certainly are different.

They’ve been getting a lot of national attention too and that seems to be the point. This morning, on NPR’s Morning Edition, Steve Inskeep reported that “Maryland's athletic director says he intended for you to notice.”

How could you not. These outfits are about as subtle as a brick.

Apparently this gridiron fashion statement is expected to convey a “hip” image to potential recruits.

Funny, I never thought of football players as being that fashion forward. Then again I tend to be a little old school.

Crack a Rib, Save a Life

I ran across this video today for Continuous Chest Compression CPR and thought it would be a good thing to share. It only takes six minutes to learn this technique but, considering that it could save a life, it is certainly time well spent.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bike Sharing & the Price of Peanut Butter

The increasing popularity of urban “bike share” programs have come with some unanticipated growing pains. According to this report by Andrea Bernstein on Marketplace, “70,000 tourists and other casual users signed up the first year -- dwarfing the 15,000 yearly members.”

While this is certainly encouraging to bicycle proponents it has exposed a few problems with the system. In July for example, bike stations throughout the city were empty 9,000 times. This of course meant that other bike stations throughout the city had too many bikes and so naturally,“there were 5,000 incidences where stations were completely full, so cyclists couldn't return their bikes.”

There are 1,100 bikes in the DC system spread over 110 stations.

Sometimes a random event exacerbates the situation. During the earthquake last month, when the cars and buses ground to halt and the Metro trains were full, Capital Bikeshare had its biggest day. The bike stations in downtown were emptied almost as fast as the neighborhood bike stations rapidly filled.

“Almost every city that's tried bike share has experienced some version of that phenomenon. In London, suburbanites take the train part way and then bike for the rest of their trips. All the bikes end up in the center of town. In Barcelona cyclists go downhill, but not up.”

Nobody likes peddling uphill except maybe Alberto Contador.

The same program also had some advice for peanut butter lovers. You'd better stock up now. According to this report by Kai Ryssdal, “The USDA says the drought in the south is going to trip the 2011 peanut harvest 13 percent.”

“JM Smucker — which makes Jif and, by itself, accounts for almost half the peanut butter market in this country — says prices will go up 30 percent by the end of the year.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Handicapping the Gubernatorial Race

Labor Day weekend was the sort of official start to the 2014 gubernatorial race. I say sort of because the field of potential candidates has already been forming since last November 3rd.

As early as last January, our own county executive was giving winks and nods about how he enjoys “being an executive” and that he’d like to continue doing so after his term limited term ends in 2014. It is certainly no secret that Ken Ulman is hoping to be the first Howard County executive to become governor.

Though he seems to have positioned himself nicely with flashy loco initiatives like Healthy Howard and regional efforts like the One Maryland Broadband Network , he still faces a pretty formidable field of opponents from bigger jurisdictions with statewide platforms that are just as good as the presidency of MACO, if not better.

He is up against some pretty heavy political firepower too. Lt. Governor Anthony Brown has also shown interest in taking the top job in 2014. Ken and Martin may be buddies but if the guv doesn’t stick with the man he picked to be his second in command it would be more than a little awkward.

Doug Ganlser, the State Attorney General, is another unannounced candidate for guv. Doug is a MoCo county guy which is a huge advantage. MoCo has a population of 971, 777 while HoCo is only 287,085. Expect to see a lot more of Doug in HoCo over the coming months.

Peter Franchot, the State Comptroller and another MoCo guy, wants the top job too. He’s wasted no time spreading himself around the state since the election, reminding people that he helped get them direct shipping of wine.  He’s also in HoCo almost as much as Ken is these days. In fact, he’ll be on our podcast on October 21st. If the election were held tomorrow, my money would be on him.

All of these guys, including Ken, held fundraisers at the recent MACO conference in Ocean City.

That’s just the Dems of course. There could be a wild card Repub out there who captures the moment. The mood of the electorate is volatile and that could spell a big opportunity for someone charismatic enough to tap into that energy. I just haven't seen that person come forward...yet.

That being said, there’s a lot of road between now and November 4, 2014. I, for one, will be enjoying the ride.

Monday Night in the Man Cave

It was somewhat comforting to see that I wasn’t the only one who watched the debates and football last night. When Mama Wordbones walked by my office you could almost hear her eyes roll. I had the Dolphins and the Patriots going on the TV and the debate going on my computer. She retreated to the bedroom and her beloved HGTV channel.

Count me as one of those happy at the return of football.

I also enjoy the political gridiron and last nights CNN Tea Party debate was about as entertaining as politics gets. The whooping and hollering of the raucous tea baggers made it feel more like The Price is Right than a presidential debate but it was fun to watch nonetheless.

My favorite performances were those by Herman Cain and Ron Paul. When asked what he would bring to the White House, Cain replied “a sense of humor.”

Amen to that.

When Ron Paul was asked whether Governor Perry should get credit for the job growth in Texas under his watch, Paul replied “no” and then proceeded to point out that “taxes have doubled since he took office. Our debt has gone up nearly triple. So no -- and 170,000 of the jobs were government jobs. So I would put a little damper on this, but I don't want to offend the governor because he might raise my taxes or something."

Later on, when the Texas governor also said he was offended by Michelle Bachmans suggestion that he could be bought for five grand, I couldn’t help but wonder what number would not offend him!

Meanwhile on the television, the Patriots smacked the Dolphins around in Miami in the first game while the Raiders held off the Broncos in a squeaker of a second game. Honestly though I didn’t see much of the second game. A double header on Monday night is even too much for this avid fan.

Monday, September 12, 2011

BRAC Workers in Place

The 4,300 workers that transferred from Northern Virginia to the new DISA campus at Fort Meade are now in place. The bad news is that the lions share of those workers are commuters. According to The Real Estate Wonk blog by Jamie Smith Hopkins in The Sun, many have opted to “commute at first rather than move because it's a tough time to sell a home…”

“That's basically what has happened. “The number of Virginians that have moved is relatively small ... in the overall scheme of things," said David Bullock, DISA’s BRAC executive. "We’re probably looking at less than 1,000 that were actually willing to move."

It’s not all bad though. DISA’s arrival at Fort Meade has been good for Maryland job seekers.

“But about half of DISA's workers now live in Maryland, compared with just 20 percent pre-BRAC. That's because the agency has been doing a lot of hiring the last few years, and a lot of those employees are Marylanders.”

For anyone wanting to know more about BRAC’s impact on the loco economy, there are a couple of upcoming events that you may want to pencil in on your calendar. On Wednesday, September 28th the HoCo BRAC Business Initiative will include presentations by Congressmen Elijah Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger, and John Sarbanes along with County Executive Ken Ulman. The meeting will be held at the Other Barn in the Oakland Mills Village Center beginning at 8:00 AM. This event is free and open to the public.

The next day, September 29th, the 2nd Annual BRAC, Cyber and Fort Meade Summitt will be held at the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore. Brigadier J. Michael Hayes (Ret), the Director of the Office of Military and  Federal Affairs for the State of Maryland will be among the featured speakers. The cost of this event is $44.00 in advance.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It Happened on a Tuesday

Ten years ago today, after making my way home from work and picking my up my daughter from daycare, I headed over to the Red Cross offices in Columbia Town Center to donate blood. I just felt like I had to do something besides sit at home watching endless replays of the attacks on TV.

I wasn’t the only one who felt this inclination. By the time I arrived a line of people snaked all the way down to Little Patuxent Parkway from 10 Corporate Center. Soon after that the Red Cross instituted a sign up sheet so people wouldn't have to stand in line.  It quickly ran to several pages. I recall that my own number was somewhere in the three digits

After that people camped out on the green spaces around the building, patiently waiting to be called. Some newcomers bought food to share, others bought soda and water. No one seemed to want to leave, even though by late afternoon it had become obvious that most were not going to be called to give that day.

Later in the evening, a loco realtor arrived with a television which was then set up just outside the Red Cross offices so the people could watch President Bush address the nation. It wasn’t until after the speech that people began to drift home. Isabella Campolattaro, the Red Cross representative that day, had told everyone that they’d call us if they needed us.

I never got that call.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Middle of the Spectrum Politician

Yesterday, on our podcast, Senator Ed Kasemeyer described himself as a “middle of the spectrum” Democrat. He pointed out that the Baltimore County/Elkridge portion of his district tends to be conservative while the Columbia half of the district is more liberal. Consequently he’s always walking a thin line between the two opposing ideologies.

Ed’s district is rather convoluted.

Ed is a rather understated politician. While he comes off as sort of a good old Baltimore boy he is well aware of the power he wields as chair of the Budget and Taxation committee in the state senate. When I suggested that some believe his committee to be the most powerful committee in the General Assembly he responded that “it is the most powerful.”

I asked Ed how he reconciles his generally pro business approach to governance with his opposition to the proposed intermodal terminal in Elkridge. He said that there are three hundred homes within a couple hundred feet of the site which widely overstates the true situation. There are about three hundred homes within a half mile of the site but only about ten or so within a couple hundred feet. He said he "wasn't sure about" how long the site had been zoned M2 which sort of surprised me. I did note that he seemed to hedge his opposition some saying that he really didn’t know why CSX might prefer one site over another adding that he was "all for having CSX come" to HoCo. He did suggest that, in his opinion, the Montevideo Road site was a better choice.

About that point in the interview there was a long “bang bang” in the background. I can assure listeners that it wasn’t some disgruntled Elkronian taking a shot at me. These types of noises come with the territory when you’re podcasting in the middle of The Mall.

You can listen to the 48th episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Friday, September 09, 2011

The Continuing Conflicts of Allen Dyer

Yesterdays Board of Education meeting was barely underway when Janet Siddiqui, the board chair called for a sudden recess after an outburst from fellow board member Allen Dyer. Allen was railing against what he perceived to be a conflict of interest of the boards counsel, Carney Kelehan Bresler Bennett & Scherr.

It should be noted that Allen is the only the board member to perceive this conflict of interest. Even his steadfast allies, Brian Meskin and Cindy Vaillancourt, took issue with his position.

His argument centers around a case from seven years ago when Bruce Venter, the school systems chief business officer, was fired by then superintendent John O’Rourke. According to this story by Hanah Cho in The Sun, Venter was dismissed in 2003 for “not informing the superintendent, senior school administrators and the school board that the construction of Marriotts Ridge High School was off schedule.”

"Venter said he had pointed that out several times and claimed his dismissal was arbitrary and did not comply with state regulations governing the firing of educational professionals. Venter, who now works for the Isle of Wight school system in Virginia, appealed to the Howard County school board.

The school board in December upheld Venter's firing but also chided O'Rourke for his handling of Venter's dismissal."

Venter retained Allen Dyer to contest his dismissal. At that time Allen was not a member of the board. Judith Bresler represented the board in defending the superintendent’s action. Since becoming a board member Dyer has repeatedly attempted to gain access to the notes and minutes of the boards meetings with Bresler regarding Venters dismissal.

Talk about a conflict of interest!

Once again, Allen only sees things his way. He argues that Carney Kelehan should have disclosed this case when they were asked to disclose “existing or potential conflicts of interest” that would interfere with their continued representation of the board. An action from seven years ago hardly qualifies as “existing or potential”

Here is a small sampling of what Frank Aquino accurately described as Allen's  "tortured view" of the issue. 
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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Scene This Week In…

It’s been a pretty wet week in HoCo. Though Lee was only a tropical storm it bought more rain with it than Hurricane Irene last week. For the residents of the historic district in Ellicott City, today was a day of pumping out basements, mopping up floors, and even getting rocks off cars.

The surprising thing was how quickly the county was able to get things back to normal. Last night the bridge over the Patapsco River leading in Baltimore County was closed. This morning it was back in business, though the water level in the river still wasn’t that far below the deck.

Columbia fared a little better in the storm. In Town Center the pier that stretches out into Lake Kittaqundi was under still under water this morning. Over at Wilde Lake the water continued raging over the dam.
Not everyone was bothered by the tropical storm deluge. This heron perched atop the dam seemed content just watching the passing waters.

In This Months Business Monthly

I am certainly not immune to the urge to write about my personal recollections of 9/11 on the tenth anniversary of that September day. That being said I’ll bet I’m the only one to tie 9/11 to Columbia’s tot lots and Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Actually the column is really about the strength of shared memories. As I read the various entries on Sekou Walkers Columbia facebook page it occurred to me that things we experience as a group tend to remain clearer in our memories, be it a terrorist attack or a nighttime adolescent rendezvous in a tot lot.

There is another memory of 9/11 that I didn’t share in the column but remains vivid in my mind. That morning we had been watching the events in New York unfold on a small black and white portable TV in our offices in Hanover. When the first tower fell we decided to head over to Jilly's (now Dave and Busters) at Arundel Mills where we could follow events on their big screens. Many others had the same idea including several pilots and flight attendants from BWI, still in their uniforms.

While eating lunch my cell phone rang. It was my ex wife Luann who had long since moved back to South Dakota. Earlier that year she had told me that she had been diagnosed with cancer. In her call that afternoon she told me that her doctors had just informed her that they could do nothing more for her. She passed away that December.

That will forever be part of my 9/11 memory too.

You can read this month’s column here.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Rain Train Rolls thru Town

My sister Kelly sent me this video from facebook. There is another perspective from further down the street on HoCo Rising. John Collins on WBAL TV dubbed this storm the “rain train.”

I was down at the bottom of Main Street around 4:00 PM after the water receded. A police officer at the barricades told me that the bridge over the Patapsco would remain closed until the engineers checked it out. At that time the water was still licking the deck.

This storm may even earn a place on the marker!

UPDATE: A third angle video of the rain train, with thanks to Jon Weinstein who presumably caught the rain train from his office.

Significant Ponding

The flash flood warning posted for HoCo today warned of “significant ponding” in urban areas.

As these photos attest, significant ponding occurs in suburban areas as well. That being said it appears that some drivers actually enjoy making a big splash.
Be careful out there!

Special Session to Stick to Redistricting

The upcoming special session of the Maryland General Assembly will deal exclusively with congressional redistricting according to an email I received from Ed Kasemeyers office. Senator Kasemeyer is Chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee, widely considered to be one of the most powerful committees in the General Assembly. Some had speculated that the session would take up tax increases to deal with anticipated $1.1 billion budget shortfall.

Though the special session is mandated to deal with redistricting it could also take up any other state business it chose to.

Some folks in Elkridge had hoped the session would address their attempts to keep the proposed CSX intermodal terminal out of Hanover.

That's not going to happen either.

Senator Kasemeyer will be our guest this week on “and then there’s that…

Miller Branch to Close October 1st

The Miller Branch of the HoCo Public Library system in Ellicott City will close on October 1st to begin their transition to the new building next door. For at least a month, Miller branch patrons will have to take their library business elsewhere. The new building is not slated to be complete until December. A sign in the Miller branch lobby gave no specific date for the opening.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Mowers, Blowers, Basement Bars, and Indy Cars

As if the cooler wet weather wasn’t enough of a reminder of summers end, this weekend we spotted snow blowers lined up outside the Lowes store in Columbia, right next to the lawn mowers.

Yesterday afternoon I dropped into T-Bonz for pint. “Are you still planning on adding an outside patio?” I asked the bartender.

“Actually it’s a basement,” she replied. She told that they still plan to open a basement bar that will have a roll top door that can be opened on warm days. She said they were still working things out with the county.

That must be some work out. I first heard about these plans back in March of 2010.

On Sunday Momma Wordbones and I were guests at the St. John Properties Grand Prix party at the Maryland Science Center. While I can certainly empathize with those who experienced the equivalence of commuter hell during the days leading up to the race, I have to say that the turnout was pretty impressive. Even during the race, with the grandstands full, the inner harbor promenade was packed. Judging from what we saw, the downtown restaurants and hotels had to be happy. I suspect many of them are already looking forward to next year.

Vote for Longfellow

This weekend I received an email from a “Mom of two Longfellow students” asking if I could help out their school. Longfellow Elementary is trying to become one of the top five finishers in the Avery Give Back to Schools contest. Though her small school (436 students) got a late start they’ve made an impressive run so far, rising from a ranking 2,200 to 211. The closest HoCo school to Longfellow is Atholton Elementary at 1,430.

This little school actually has an outside chance to make it and you have to admire their spunk. If they make it they win $10,000 in Avery school supplies and other prizes.

Although it doesn’t cost anything to vote, you do need to register at the website. That’s kind of a pain but once you do that you can vote every day until the contest ends on September 16th.

Go Eagles!

Monday, September 05, 2011

How to Beat a Speed Cam Ticket

With the impending arrival of speed cameras in HoCo, I found Gene Weingartens column in The Washington Post Magazine this week to be especially poignant. Gene is no fan of speed cameras.

“I dislike speed cameras to the extent that, were it not for the likelihood of incarceration, I would hunt them all down like snakes and behead them with shovels.”

After accompanying a reader to hearing to protest a speed camera ticket, Gene discovered a way  how to beat the supposedly infallible system. The accused did not deny that he was driving the car nor the fact that he may have been speeding. His defense instead rested on the fallibility of bureaucracy.

“… unlike the other defendants in the room, John has a thick dossier in front of him. It contains records of his attempts, online, to subpoena from the D.C. police arcane documents tangentially related to his case — including a year’s worth of maintenance records on the radar machine that nailed him, a copy of the contract between the city and the company that services the radar, including “all attachments and exhibits thereto,” etc. It’s all nuts, but it’s also his legal right to see this stuff. And the city never responded to his requests.”

Case dismissed.

The HoCo Metro Connection

When Tara Boyle asked me last week to be a “Door to Door” guest on Metro Connection I readily agreed. Tara, the managing producer of Metro Connection, told me that they had a late cancellation with another neighborhood and she was hoping I could fill in for Ellicott City.

After agreeing I had a brief moment of doubt as to whether I was actually qualified to speak for EC. Columbia is really my hometown. I have only been a homeowner in Ellicott City for six years so before the taping I retrieved my copy of “Ellicott City” by Janet Kusterer and Victoria Goeller for a little refresher on the old mill town.

I think it came off okay though I look a little awkward in the picture she used. It looks like I'm holding my hand to keep from slapping myself.

Tara is also a HoCo loco. She lives in the Columbia with her husband John who formerly authored the blog “Tell Your Neighbors.”

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Roll Tide

Yesterday, as we were heading towards the Grist Mill Trail on Ilchester Road, I thought I heard a train approaching. The rail bridge leading from the Ilchester tunnel was just behind us so I naturally assumed that low rumble was an oncoming train.

As the sound grew closer I realized that it was coming down the hill in front of me not the tracks behind me.

Of course it wasn’t a train. It was one of those hulking power company rigs.

As it passed us I noticed that these weren’t our loco power boys. The white truck said Alabama Power, likely one of the out of state crews that came in to lend a hand after Irene.

Roll Tide!

Still in the Dark

According to an email I received last night from Courtney Watson, 572 people in HoCo are still without power, over a week since Irene.

I hope those folks got some of those elusive Nutri Grain bars. For those who didn’t the county has been providing MRE’s.

“At Glenwood Community center today, I talked with a single mom with two teenage sons and an elderly parent at her home in western Howard County. They went to restaurants for the first three nights at about $65 a night. On the fourth night, they started using the county’s supply of MRE. The Mom said the meals weren’t that bad and come with their own heating source.”
In her note Courtney also included this picture of the “bipartisan patrol” that went door to door in the Hollifield and Font Hill neighborhoods providing information on safe generator usage. I wonder if these two also gave tips on generator etiquette too?