Monday, January 30, 2012

Missed Signals

One of my pet peeves is people who don’t use their turn signals. That would seem to be most people. I theorize that this bad habit started becoming more prevalent as cars got easier to drive. In the sixties and early seventies, power steering and air conditioning were still optional items, not to mention power windows. Back then a person really had to be involved in driving a car so using turn signals was just part of the deal. Nowadays our cars are so automated they practically drive themselves

It almost as if today's drivers are annoyed by the fact that the turn signal function is still basically manual.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed this decline in driver etiquette either. On NPR's Morning Edition today, Steve Inskeep spoke with Ron Sowder. Ron has driven a delivery truck for UPS for over fifty years “without being blamed for an accident.”

“He has managed to stay safe while climbing into the cab more than 12,000 times and traveling more than four million miles.”

He was recently honored by UPS for this extraordinary achievement. In the interview, Steve asks Ron what changes he’s noticed in peoples driving habits over all his years on the road.

“Well, the old saying used to be courtesy is contagious - not so much any more. You let people in, and that's that. Only about one out of 50 can bring themselves to throw their hand up, thanks. And they don't use turn signals. You know, if you hit them, you knock them into next week. But I think some of these people need some additional training or something.”

You tell ‘em Ron! 

Scene This Week In…

Last September, when the flash food ripped through Ellicott City, well above the high water mark, a 19th century stone wall collapsed onto six cars in Parking Lot C. Those cars may have prevented a bigger catastrophe by halting further erosion and undermining the foundation of St.Pauls Dohony Hall.

Contrary to loco rumor, the cars are no longer buried under the pile of rock. According to this story by Brandi Jefferson in Ellicott City Patch, the six cars were removed about a week later when more stone was added.

This is the way it looks five months later. I understand that the complete restoration of the wall won’t be started until the spring and will likely take awhile. Replacing old stone walls in the historic district can be a little involved.
Better get used to seeing signs like this popping up in Town Center. There are going to be around for the next thirty years or so. Now that the long anticipated redevelopment of Columbia Town has begun in earnest that means more meetings.

We’ve actually enjoyed a brief Town Center meeting hiatus since the Town Center legistlation was passed. It was two years ago this week. That is about to change. In no time at all the familiar faces and arguments will return to the public arena to be endlessly debated at every single step of the process. Count on it.

And if the antics displayed at the recent Pre Submission meeting by GGP are any indication of what we are in for, it should at least be fun to watch.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cool Feature

One of the first things I noticed about the iPad is that it doesn't come with an instruction book. Not that any self respecting guy ever actually reads an instruction book but the presence of one is always a bit reassuring, you know, just in case.

To be fair, Apple does allow me to visit their website and download instructions but the underlying message is pretty clear, you don’t need it. The little card that comes with the tablet tells you how to turn it on. After that you’re on your own.

Consequently, this weekend I’ve spent some quality time getting to know my new iPad and I’ve discovered things about it that I didn’t know before.

Like the “Find My iPad” feature for instance that allows me to locate the device on a map, lock it, display a message, play a sound, or remotely wipe out the data.

The new iPhones have this too and it really works. According to this story by C. J. Hughes in The New York Times, this feature proved to be “quite useful in helping police officers track down a robber on Thursday in Manhattan.”

The robber had stolen an iPhone.

“Punching in the victim’s Apple ID, which is the log-on people use to buy, say, songs from iTunes, he quickly determined by the location of a small gray phone icon on a digital map that the robber was near Eighth Avenue and 51st Street.”

The thief was apprehended and the phone returned to its owner in less than an hour.

Pretty cool.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

HoCo Loco Politico Games

One school board member, all five county council members, the county executive, two  state delegates, a state senator, states attorney, the governor and lieutenant governor, two bloggers, a reporter and the president of the United States all got a little air time on our latest podcast. When Paul mentioned that loco political activist Chris (“Ox”) Oxenham might make a good guest for a partisan take on the loco politico scene I suggested that it would be even more interesting if we could get someone from the opposite side of the political spectrum to be on with him. After spending some time with him at Guy Guzzones fundraiser earlier this month, I thought Roger (“the Rog”) Caplan would be the right match.

It worked out even better than I expected.

Despite the strong convictions of both guests, there was no yelling or overt nastiness. Instead we had a spirited exchange about the people and politics in HoCo with more than a few laughs. Nothing was held back.

I suspect some loco politicos may not find our sometimes brutally frank analysis all that amusing though. On the other hand, I also suspect that some others may take offense that they weren’t even mentioned.

The bottom line is that this was a very fun show and we will likely have these guys on again. They were that good.

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

Friday, January 27, 2012

Yelp No Help

I locked myself out of the house on Wednesday. I was getting ready to leave the house when I received a phone call about work. As I talked, I also walked around the house getting my stuff ready to leave. I was a little behind schedule. I was the last one to leave the house.

As I walked out the door to put a few items in the car, still talking on the phone, I inadvertently locked the door behind me.

I realized what I did as soon as I did it.

“I gotta go,” I told the caller. I assessed the situation. I was locked out, without a coat. The car was unlocked but the key was back on the kitchen counter. I had my phone. I needed a locksmith, soon.

A commenter to a recent post made reference to Yelp, the smartphone app that bills itself as the “fun and easy way to find and talk about great (and not so great) local businesses.” I decided that this was as good a time as any to put it to the test.

I typed “locksmith” into the search window and Yelp gave me two options that were close by and offered service within 15 to 20 minutes. Recall that I didn't have a coat.

I called the first and got an answering machine. That immediately disqualified them. The second was a disconnected number.

I was getting cold. I then thought of a locksmith I used years ago in Columbia, Village Lock & Key. At one time they even had a store in The Mall. The name actually originated from their first store in the Wilde Lake Village Center. I met the owner once, a big guy named Sonny Crosun. They were my third call. They were also my last call. 

Within fifteen minutes a locksmith named Tim pulled up in his Village Lock & Key van and got to work on getting me in. Quick and professional. 

Curiously, they weren’t even listed in the top sixteen on Yelp.

Being good at loco info is not so easy to do on a national scale. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

New Toy

I got an iPad today. It feels like Christmas.

It came this morning by FedEx but I really haven’t done much more than open the box and hold it in my hands so far. It felt cool.

Today's schedule allowed for approximately thirty minutes of discretionary time between 7:00 AM and 4:00 PM. That was nowhere near enough time to savor the joy of a new tech toy. Play time would have to wait.

But I could at least get it wired up while I was running between appointments. Around 12:30 this afternoon I dropped into the Verizon store on Snowden River Parkway. I'd just pop in and get the new toy connected to my wireless account.

As I approached the store, no less than two people held open the doors for me, one to my left and one to my right. How could they help me they asked. After explaining the simple transaction that I wanted to conduct, the one on the right took my name and told me to have a seat. No one else was sitting on the little brown bench.

There were also very few people in the store. More than one lanyard wearing Verizon guy looked “available.” This shouldn’t take long I thought.

I thought wrong. Fifteen minutes later I was still second on the list. I walked out. Any discretionary time I had in my afternoon just got cut in half.

Anyway, I now have an unscheduled window of an hour and a half. There are many things that I should use that time for that are more important than playing with my new toy.

But those things are just going to have to wait.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ring Around the Fountain

Tomorrow, the Columbia Association Board of Directors will consider two fountain designs for Symphony Woods Park prepared by Wesco Fountains on behalf of CA, their engineers and architects. Wesco builds and designs interactive fountains such as the one in downtown Silver Spring and at the Gaylord National Hotel in National Harbor.

This the “Argyle” design.
This is the “Rings” design.
The Rings design apparently accommodates dry uses too.
Whichever concept the board chooses, they’ll first have to seek a variance from the HoCo Health Department, which, according to the drawings, classifies interactive fountains as pools and therefore requires them to be fenced.

That particular fence is noticeably absent in these concept drawings.

Some will likely criticize CA for moving ahead with fountain designs before the nascent corroboration with Howard Hughes is totally fleshed out but that would be a little unfair, to the present CA team. This design contract was likely awarded before the new working relationship with HHC got started.

Sure, CA should have established this cooperation with HHC long before this. That is now water over the dam. If you want to thank anyone for the convoluted path CA took to get where it should have been years ago, see Liz BoboCynthia CoyleAlan Klein,... for starters.


The mayor of Baltimore weighed in today on the importance of an intermodal rail transfer facility in the Baltimore/Washington corridor calling it an economic imperative for keeping the Port of Baltimore competitive. In this op-ed piece in The Sun, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wrote that the completion of the widening of the Panama Canal to accommodate larger ships will create a “new surge in imports and exports is projected to result in thousands of new jobs and millions in new economic activity — not just for Baltimore, but across the metro region. We must act swiftly to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity.”

“The truth is, our port makes Baltimore relevant in the global economy and is an economic engine that serves as a pillar of growth for our city. Moving forward with an intermodal facility — in a way that makes sense for our state, our port, and the private sector — is critical to keeping that engine humming. As an additional benefit for everyone who commutes in our region each day, driving more freight traffic onto rail reduces emissions, costs and wear and tear on our roads.”

Of course the sticky question is still where to put it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mutiny on the Blog

I’m having a birthday. It’s not a joyous moment for me this year but I can’t escape it. My actual birthday isn’t until Sunday yet I’ve already received a half dozen or so birthday greetings on facebook. Yesterday the usually celebrated birthday box from my sister arrived on my doorstep. I haven't opened it yet.

I'm trying hard to be grateful. It's better than not having a birthday after all.

Last week I received a postcard from Iron Bridge Wine Company telling me to come in for a free entrée for my birthday. It was good for something like a month. We went Saturday night. I drank more than I ate.

Today I got this postcard from Mutiny, the new pirate bar concept from the boys at the bridge. It’s basically the same birthday deal only I'd have to drive much farther to use it. I think I’ll pass, for this year anyway. I seem to recall Steve Wecker telling me Saturday night that they are looking for a spot in HoCo to do their next one. We talked a bit about the Friendly Inn but by then it was the second glass of wine and the only thing I can definitely recall him saying was that the place was going to need a lot of work before it could reopen. He didn't come right out and say that it was out of the question so I suspect that it would really just be a matter of getting the right business terms. 

I’d say keep your eye on that one.

That night I also had a moment of HoCo loco blog brotherhood. Mama Wordbones and I were joined by Tom Coale and Indiana Jane. Upon our arrival, there were no seats at the bar and the hostess was giving us that sad faced look when Tom waved us over. The gentleman of proper upbringing that he is, he offered his seat to Mama Wordbones. This naturally had the secretly desired effect of separating them from our conversation. They didn't seem to mind.  In no time TC and I pored ourselves into a glass of wine and proceeded to have a lively exchange over the HoCo loco politico scene.

And that my friends, beats a free entrée any day. 

Three Things about Food

One, Burger King is testing home delivery in Maryland and so far it is being well received. According to this review by Mike Rosenwald in The Washington Post, ordering burgers and fries online was “as easy and quick as ordering diapers from”

That’s the bad news.

The good news, for that 2012 New Years resolution of yours, is that delivery service is not yet available in HoCo. The closest participating restaurant is in Burtonsville and I don’t think they cross the border...yet

Two, knowledgeable sources inside the hospitality industry inform me that rockstar restaurateurs, Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman are behind a new concept restaurant planned for Turf Valley Town Square.

Three, just down the pike from Turf Valley, the venerable Crab Shanty has undergone a major makeover. Momma Wordbones and I checked out the new menu at the recently rechristened Shanty Grill a couple of weeks ago and give it enthusiastic thumbs up. We both highly recommend their Shanty Maki Roll appetizer.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Bag of Books

I've been thinning my inventory of tree books this month. It’s not a dramatic reduction in stock, more like managing the herd. Unlike e-books, storage of tree books is an issue, limited by shelf space which is not easily expanded.

The problem is that the inflow of books is always greater than the outflow and eventually this results in books piling up on desks and cabinets awaiting an opening on the shelves.

Today I purged.

Picking the books that would get the hook was interesting exercise. For some it was easy. I had two copies of “Tis” by Frank McCourt for example. In Diplomacy by Henry Kissinger I found a copy of a Las Vegas hotel bill from 1994. So that’s where I put that.

I must’ve read that book on the plane. It was a good way to fall asleep.

In all I bagged up twelve books and took them to the library. The shelves in my library are breathing a little easier now.

Go Ravens!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

First Snow…For Some

By the time we ventured down the hill to Main Street this morning, the HoCo roads were relatively clear. Last night one of CG friends left their car downtown so this morning around ten we set out to retrieve it. At closing time last night the roads were a decidedly different proposition, especially for someone who had to drive to Mount Airy, so we ended up with an extra overnight guest.

On the way downtown we passed a family out shoveling their driveway. Mount Airy Girl (henceforth Mag) commented that it hardly seemed necessary to shovel. Before long it would all melt away on its own. I suggested that it was the novelty of the first snow to which she pointed out that it wasn’t the first. The first snow was in October.

It was more like a dusting around here than a snow. In Mount Airy apparently it was a different story.

Cleaning the cars off wasn’t as bad as it looked either. Fortunately the snow came before the ice, providing a buffer of sorts between the ice and the windshield. We had Mag on her way in no time.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Top Tier

The county execs recent fundraising prowess has significantly raised his stature in the nascent gubernatorial race . Today, Lt. Governor Anthony Brown was a guest on the Kojo Nnamdi Show and was asked about his future political ambitions. Kojo noted that the lieutenant guv had over $800,000 in the bank and then went on to comment that States Attorney Doug Gansler had over four million and that “former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman” had a million three. He then corrected the “former” comment.

Notably, the State Comptroller Peter Franchot wasn't even mentioned even though he had more cash on hand than Brown.

The point is, Ken was mentioned in the top three. That’s a long way from where he was last August.

In answering the question the lieut guv said he is "humbled" by the generosity of his supporters and that he see's himself still "working in the state" after 2014.

Thick as a Brick

I attempted to buy a brick today. It’s been over twenty years since I bought the last one. In 1990 the Columbia Association first sold bricks around the People Tree to help defray the costs of renovating and restoring the sculpture. At the time my office was on the top floor of the Teachers Building with a window overlooking the icon of Columbia.

Back then it was a fairly common sight to see a pair of shoes hanging from one of the outstretched gold leaf arms. I didn't know then what I know now.

Anyway, we had a company called Noel-Lane so we purchased a company brick in the plaza below. I thought about that brick when I heard that CA was selling bricks again. I like this. It is a way of placing your own personal marker on Columbia’s timeline.

I had been thinking about what marker I would lay down this time so when I arrived at the CA offices this afternoon I was ready to complete the transaction. I had the copy, cash and credit cards.

“We only take checks,” the attendant at the Maggie J. Brown Welcome Center desk (and yes, it is actually called that) informed me.

Of course that was the one thing I didn’t have. I mean really, a check?

That is so nineties.

I took the forms back to the office.

By the way, the People Tree was commissioned by The Rouse Company and designed and built in 1967 by Pierre du Fayet. He actually called it “Tree of Life.” Another of du Fayets sculptures can be found in the Wilde Lake Village Center, also commissioned by The Rouse Company. The Wilde Lake sculpture, called “Family” was originally a fountain but was later transformed into a planter as a way to trim maintenance costs.

And finally, if you've bought a brick over the years and forgotten where it is, there is this handy little online app.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bleeding Burgundy

In keeping with the spirit of ecumenical regionalism, is it appropriate for a Redskins fan to cast aside regular season loyalties and embrace the Ravens in their march to the Super Bowl?

In other words, is it okay for a Redskin fan to root for the Ravens on Sunday?

That is the question posed by Robert McCartney in this column in The Washington Post today. It’s a particularly poignant question here in HoCo, a county pretty evenly divided between Redskin fans and Ravens fans.

The short answer is no.

“A real fan only has one team,” Jerroyd Goode, 37, explained at Jilly’s in Ellicott City. “I grew up with the Redskins, and I’m not going to change.”

McCartney agrees.

“No, being a fan satisfies some deep need, embedded in our nature, to be part of something bigger. In caveman days — and I pick that comparison deliberately — it was belonging to an extended family or clan. Today, it’s Redskins Nation. We wear the colors. We sing the song. Whether we’re celebrating (occasionally) or despairing (usually), we do it as one.

Given all that, I cannot bring myself to endorse rooting for the Ravens. It would betray my kin.”

It’s okay Bob. I feel your pain. Last year, with the Steelers in the Super Bowl, I decided to try and be supportive of another AFC team. After half heartedly rooting for them through the game, I went immediately home and took a shower. I didn’t even feel totally clean again until November 6th.


Some time last year my exercise regime was overthrown. My eating and drinking regime was not. The result of course is that I have put on weight. I know in my heart of heart that its time to return to a daily regimen of exercise yet I delay.

I really can’t ignore it either. Every morning my bathroom mirror reflects an image of an overweight old white haired guy. I may not be able to fix the white hair and the old part but the weight thing is well within my control. I know what I need to do I’m just having trouble getting started again.

That’s why I empathize with the county exec. This morning, Tom Coale took a little shot at Ken for being pictured eating a donut in this story. He quipped that Ken’s health coach would probably be “disappointed in him.”

No doubt. Don’t get me wrong here, but the county exec today is not exactly in the same fighting trim that he was when he came into the office. Back then I used to see him regularly at the Colosseum Gym. Not anymore, though I will concede that it is highly likely that he goes to another gym now.

Wherever that is, it looks like he’s going to his gym about as much as I'm going to mine.

I tell you a loco politico that is looking good these days, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake. A colleague of mine was in the skybox next to the city skybox at the Ravens game on Sunday. At the end of the game he hung around for a bit while waiting for the traffic to clear.  It was then that he noticed the mayor with a trash bag cleaning up the balcony section of the box next door. A couple of others saw her as well and asked if they could get a picture with her. She cheerfully agreed to, once she finished cleaning up.

I really like that image.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Not Getting It Right

“None of what’s been written in the blogs is right.”

That’s how the representatives from GGP responded to certain speculations made about their plans for The Mall last night according to Darrell Nevin. Darrell called me this morning and provided me a bleacher report from the Pre Submission Meeting for the first new development at The Mall since 2002. I couldn't attend because of a prior commitment.

I think they might have been referring to me when they mentioned "the blogs." Particularly this post, where I suggest that a new building would be constructed at the entrance of Little Patuxent Parkway and Sterrett Place. Can I take that back?

To be fair though, I think I may have been the first to report that the L.L. Bean store was coming down and that turned out to be true. That’s something, right?

I still think that the eventual reopening of the old main entrance is in the cards too.

Predictably, there were the usual HoCo loco community activists in attendance and many of the old guard were highly agitiated at the lack of detail and specifics in this pre submission meeting.

What part of "pre" don’t they understand?

This is the first step in a long process that basically says “we want to get something started so start lining up the hoops we’re going to have to jump through.”  It’s intended to be a very general announcement meant simply to convey to the community that they are preparing plans.

According to this story by Kevin Rector in Explore Howard, that simply wasn’t acceptable to some HoCo locos.

"Cynthia Coyle, of Harper's Choice and a member of the Columbia Association's board of directors, said she came to the meeting "with the greatest hopes" for the mall, but felt the planners' presentation was weak."

"Don't take away that we mistrust you," she said to the planners. "Take away that it's a bad presentation."

Well, I guess I shouldn't expect much more from Cindy. She just doesn't know any better, even though she likes to think she does. On the other hand, you would at least think that the development professionals in the room would know better. Apparently not.

"Cy Paumier, an urban design consultant who used to work for the Rouse Company, said he was underwhelmed.

"It's boring," he said. "It's very repetitive. We've heard most of this before."

Architect Bob Tennenbaum, who welcomed Paumier at Rouse in the late 1960s, agreed, questioning why the planners wouldn't provide more details.

All in good time Cy and Bob, all in good time.

It was a bad night for another perennial Columbia development naysayer, Alan Klein. Darrell told me Alan spoke for fifteen minutes during the Q&A yet he wasn’t even mentioned in Kevin Rectors story.

I'll bet he misses Larry

The Bookshelf Shuffle

You can't do this with e-books!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


The last time I went ice skating with rented skates was the last time I’m going ice skating with rented skates. That was two weeks ago.

Today, I bought a new pair of hockey skates.

I hadn’t planned to buy new. It’s not like I’m going to start playing hockey again. I just want to throw on a pair of skates once in awhile and skate around a bit; used skates would already be a huge improvement over the rentals.

This afternoon I drove over to Play It Again Sports in Ellicott City. It was the first time I’d ever been in the place. At 2:30 it was rocking with activity but the staff was clicking along like a well oiled machine. In no time I was trying on a pair of used skates.

As it turns out, they really didn’t have my size in used hockey skates but they did have it in new ones. I sucked it up and bought them.

I figured that, at my age, these would likely be the last pair of ice skates I’ll ever buy...for me anyway...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Back to Center

Although the focus of tomorrow nights Pre Submission Community Meeting by GGP will be what is proposed to be built at The Mall, the more interesting development to me is what is coming down.

From what I have been able to ascertain, L.L. Bean is interested in a smaller store and GGP is interested in opening the Mall up and establishing a direct connection to the lakefront. L.L. Bean moves into the new lifestyle center and GGP gets back prime real estate right in the middle of the action. The Warfield Neighborhood Plan identifies the area directly in front of the existing store as an amenity area called Warfield Plaza. According to the Downtown Columbia Design Guidelines, this area is envisioned accommodating “intense and planned public events such as frequent markets, small concerts, festivals, fairs and similar.”
“Additionally, the plaza should function equally well for outdoor dining, shopping, walking and informal activities.”

Presumably GGP would want to build on that by reopening the old main entry.
The mall center court would regain its true center court status. The original mall was your basic dumbbell design with an anchor on each end. The department stores had their own entrances and The Mall had its own as well in the middle. Over the years, through various expansions and renovations, two out of three of these original points of entry were closed off.

It is still easy to see where they were if you look close enough.
At the end of the corridor that is now part of a Chicos store, there was a pinball arcade called The Boardwalk. The entrance led out to the top of a two level parking deck.
The space where J. Crew now sits was once the busiest entrance. The Columbia Association staffed a Member Services Center there.

With the L.L. Bean building out of the way, this space opens up again with lots of possibilities. Think of a corridor of restaurants and shops leading right down to the lakefront.

It will take awhile for this to come to fruition though. I suspect that the earliest we’d see anything happen in the physical space would be sometime in 2014. First they have to build the new building and that could take up to eighteen months from now, if all goes well.

From One List to Another

I didn’t waste any time removing my name from the HoCo library waiting list for Nooks. After receiving my very own e-reader for Christmas, my wait for the e-book experience was finally over.

Well sort of anyway. I still haven’t actually read a book on my new Nook yet. Just before Christmas, my sister loaned me “Unbroken” in regular old hardback book form. I’m just finishing it now. My next book will be my first e-book but its not likely to come from the library. As Christian Davenport reports in this story in The Washington Post borrowing an e-book from the library “is often far from the on-demand satisfaction people have come to expect from their laptops, tablets and smartphones.”

“Want to take out the new John Grisham? Get in line. As of Friday morning, 288 people were ahead of you in the Fairfax County Public Library system, waiting for one of 43 copies. You’d be the 268th person waiting for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” with 47 copies. And the Steve Jobs biography? Forget it. The publisher, Simon & Schuster, doesn’t make any of its digital titles available to libraries.”

Book publshers are experiencing the same angst that racked the music industry when computers made sharing music files easy.

“In November, when it announced that it was withholding its new e-books from libraries, Penguin said it has “always placed a high value on the role that libraries can play in connecting our authors with our readers. However, due to new concerns about the security of our digital editions, we find it necessary to delay the availability of our new titles in the digital format while we resolve these concerns with our business partners.”

No doubt this will be resolved over time but, for now at least, public library e-book lending has to seen as a work in progress.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Captain of the Dream Team

In the sixties, as Columbia began to take form in the farm fields of HoCo, Cy Paumier joined The Rouse Company as part of the Columbia design team. He was hired to master plan Symphony Woods but soon found himself working on The Mall instead. Forty some years later, he’s getting the chance to finish what he never really got started. The Columbia Association has engaged him and his former Rouse colleagues, Bob Tennenbaum, Jervis Dorton, Mike Reimer and Monk Askew, to remake Columbia’s central park.

Some have called this the “dream team” of planners. Some have criticized CA for not bringing in new blood.

It’s a moot point. The Dream Team is “weeks away” from unveiling their master plan for Symphony Woods. What many don’t know is that Howard Hughes has also been busy with Merriweather Post Pavilion. HHC has retained Sasaki & Associates to develop a new master plan for the outdoor theatre. They have been working closely with CA to make sure both efforts are complimentary and the two parties may have found the formula to make the café in the woods concept work.

Cy says they want to emulate the Pavilion café in the sculpture garden at the Smithsonian.

He also weighed in on Kimcos plans for Wilde Lake Village Center. He's not a fan. He even questions the viability of the new retail they've proposed. 

Actually, Cy doesn't think there is much market for any new retail or office development in Town Center either. He thinks the only thing that can be built right now is housing.

I happen to disagree with him on that score. Apparently GGP does too.

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

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fanstache Friday

Podcast days are usually tight days, they have a certain stepped up rhythm to them. Every other Friday that we tape the show is a delicate balance of real job and play job for all three us. Somehow, we have consistently managed to carve out three hours in the middle of the day to bang out another episode.

We do eat lunch though and it’s not all work either. After two years of eating and planning out shows together we've developed a nice little camaraderie and shared more than a few laughs.

It’s not like we’re doing this for the money after all.

So when CG told me about the Fanstache on Tuesday night, I immediately thought of my podcast pals. I wasn’t sure how we’d work it in but somehow I knew we’d put them on. CG works for Charm City Concierge and they are selling them at their buildings in the city. She agreed to pick up four for me.

Today Paul showed up at lunch sporting a new beard, he already had the Flacco thing going on, albeit the full beard version. He’s going on a boat in the blue waters next week so I guess he’s working on his salty mariner look. Nonetheless, knowing full well that removing the stache would not be painless, he plastered on his purple Fu Manchu  for the photo anyway.

And the fourth one?

That went home with our guest, Cy Paumier. He got out of having to wear his by agreeing to take the picture.

Go Ravens!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Taxes, Jobs, & Deficits

The guv sure got this years General Assembly off to a somber start. The seats of the delegates and senators were barely warm when Martin O’Malley threw a couple three buckets of cold water on them, in the form of new taxes.

There’s the gas tax bucket, a flush tax bucket and a sales tax bucket. I would not be surprised if I missed a few. He says we need the money. We’re in the hole.

And yet, he also wants a $40 million increase in school construction funds. He also wants to increase spending on affordable housing projects to the tune of $15 million. Martin tells us that this is more about jobs than housing.

And that’s the problem.

In a recent presentation to Leadership Howard County, Anirban Basu, rock star regional economist suggested that Maryland relies way too much on government related jobs, more than any other state in the union and at the expense of attracting private sector business. He believes the state could begin to better diversify it’s employment and tax base by eliminating the state corporate tax.

“It’s only 5% of the state budget,” he argued. Eliminating it would attract more firms to locate in Maryland and help raise the states dismal job creation rate.

Some want to fix the budget with more taxes while others see salvation in eliminating them. The honest answer is that it takes a combination of both.

I have no doubt that the guvs initiatives will be heard and forcefully advanced but I wonder if those arguing for balance will be afforded the same courtesy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Leadership Change at Columbia Foundation

Beverly Francis has stepped down as the President and CEO of The Columbia Foundation after almost four years with the organization. In 2007 she replaced Barbara Lawson who held the job for 19 years.

Beverly joined us on “and then there’s that…” a little over a year ago

Sources tell me that board chair Earl Armiger has stepped in as interim CEO until a replacement is found.

This all seems rather abrupt

The HP 12C

When I turned on my trusty old HP 12C Monday, an asterisk was blinking in the small display window. Though this is a pretty rare sight in this uber calculator, I knew what it meant. The batteries were low.

On my way to GG’s fundraiser, I stopped by the Batteries Plus store on Dobbin Road just down from my office. I showed Joseph the gold and black calculator and asked him to fix me up with some new juice.
“How much do you love this calculator?” he asked after a quick look at the batteries.

The question stunned me a bit at first. Was there something wrong with the 12C?

“The batteries are $3.79 each,” he added. “It takes three.”

Oh that's all. That’s a small price to me. I’ve had this calculator for almost twenty years. I think this is the third time I’ve changed the batteries.

Joseph probably couldn’t imagine spending that much on batteries for just a calculator.

This is no ordinary calculator. It debuted in 1981 and was the world’s first horizontal financial calculator. Every commercial real estate broker worth his commission bought one and then had to learn how to use it. Once I learned how to use it, I loved it. It is the only technologic gadget I use everyday that is thirty years old.

I’m not the only one either. My colleague TW, an accountant by training, simply won’t use any other calculator. He even lost the battery cover off his a few years ago and now covers it with tape.
He should really just buy a new one. HP still sells them too. They’re a bargain now compared to twenty years ago, about 30% cheaper today.

The batteries on the other hand, are probably 30% more.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

We Got Ourselves a Contest

Last week it looked as though Allen Dyer had a pretty easy path to reelection. Only five candidates had filed for the three open seats. There would not be a primary and not much of a contest. Interest would be low.

This week it’s a different story. As of now, there are ten candidates for three seats. According to this story by Sara Toth in Explore Howard, this “guarantees an April primary, as it is more than twice the three available seats.

We have ourselves a contest.

Many already know, Siddiqui, Giles, Dyer and Gordon. We met Leslie Kornreich and Bob Ballinger in the last election. That leaves the new folks, Ann De Lacy, Olga Butler and Kelly Casey Van Horn.

I have never met Kelly Casey Van Horn but I liked what she had to say to Sara.

"From a parent's perspective, I want to be involved in local education," said Van Horn, who previously taught in FairfaxCounty, Va., and has two children, 1 and 3. "The board would have a fresh, young perspective of a person who's been in the classroom recently — I have the teaching aspect and student aspect, and I'm quickly learning the parent aspect. I think those things needs to be represented a bit more."

It’s going to be fun getting to know these folks. It’s good to have a contest.

Working the Plan

I had a pretty interesting afternoon. Leadership Howard County invited me to moderate a panel on the “Drivers of our Local Economy” for this years class. The panelists were Marsha McLaughlin, John DeWolf and Phil Nelson. Marsha gave an overview of the General Plan past and present, John talked about getting shovels in the ground by June, and Phil made it clear that the working relationship between CA and HHC is working.

To make things even more interesting, Katie Essing is in this years class and she joined in the conversation when The Mall came up.

The Mall is in the HoCo loco news week. According to this story by Kevin Rector in Explore Howard, GGP is planning to remove 30,000 square feet of existing retail space and add a 75,000-square-feet "lifestyle center"…”

The plan is to remove the existing L.L. Bean store and, eventually, reopen the old, original main entrance to The Mall. A J. Crew store fills that space now.

L.L. Bean will move into a smaller space in a new 75,000 square foot project being built on the strip of land that separates The Mall from the Fountainhead Title Building. This parcel has already been identified as part of the first phase of the Town Center redevelopment program.
This development will also reconfigure the mall entrance at Little Patuxent and Sterrett Place, creating a new .36 acre amenity area called Warfield Green.

Other highlights were:

Marsha McLaughlin acknowledged that the Route One corridor is not likely to be an office market, continuing instead to be ideal for single story flex buildings and distribution centers.

John DeWolf revealed that Frank Gehry had recently visited Columbia. John said that Gehry had expected to be told that the building was being torn down and was pleased to learn otherwise. He approved of the adaptive reuse that HHC is undertaking and of the overall Town Center plan as well. 

Phil acknowledged that if he had it to do over again, he would have preferred that HHC had taken the lead with the Design Advisory Panel instead of CA.

I’m not sure if this was really a discussion about drivers of the economy as much as it was a HoCo real estate roundup!

Monday, January 09, 2012

Guys Night Out

First of all, the really big news coming out of Delegate Guy Guzzones fundraiser tonight is that Patricia Gordon is running for school board…again. Pat Gordon served on the HoCo School Board for ten years. She decided not to run for reelection in 2010. I did not get a chance to speak to her tonight but her entrance into the race is significant. Since she was only off the board for two years she still has some of the power of incumbency, beginning with the ever crucial name recognition. Her announcement was greeted with applause.

This morning, at Allans breakfast, I heard a couple of folks suggest that Bob Ballinger might be getting in the mix too.

But I digress, this was Guys night and the HoCo loco Dem team was out in force: council members Calvin Ball, Mary Kay Sigaty, Jen Terasa and Courtney Watson, Senator Jim Robey, school board members Ellen Flynn Giles and Sandra French, to name a few. I’m sure I missed somebody. It was crowded and at a hundred bucks a head plus sponsors who were “too numerous to mention” it also appeared to be fruitful for Guys coffers.

I spent some time with Jon Weinstein. I told him that it looked as if the Dem gods were rewarding him for fighting the good fight by designing District 9A just for him. Though he was predictably coy, does he think anyone honestly believes he won't run for it?

Most of the time I sat next to Roger Caplan. It was like having a color man for the loco politico game. Guy’s party was fertile ground for punditry too. Dems are much more animated than Repubs. Then again, this was a cocktail hour reception.

It was short on speeches too. I think Jim Robey spent more time introducing Guy than Guy spent talking. I've noticed this about him before. I’m beginning to think I could like that.

Before leaving I did get a chance to ask him about legistlative scholarships. Somewhat to my surprise he said “I’m against them. I don’t participate. I give the money back and it goes to general, merit based scholarships.”

He said a couple of other HoCo state legislators do the same.

So there is hope.

Minority Report

This morning, at his legislative breakfast in Ellicott City, Senator Allan Kittleman outlined the challenges facing the minority party in this year’s General Assembly. He noted that out of 47 state senators, only 12 are Repubs. That of course means that whenever they hope to advance something on their agenda, they need to find a little love on the other side of the aisle.

Like they did on the guvs wind power initiative last year.

Last year Martin O’Malley tried to get the state legislature to approve a package of subsidies for a proposed wind farm off of Ocean City. According to this story by Aaron C. Davis in The Washington Post, this would have added “a couple of extra dollars to every Marylander’s monthly electric bill for 20 years and thousands onto those of the state’s largest businesses.”

It died in committee thanks to a few Dems who saw this as an unfair burden on the working poor. 

“I definitely could not sign on to support offshore wind so long as ratepayers need to pay more,” said Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County).”

It hasn’t completely gone away though.

“After last spring’s failure, O’Malley was initially optimistic that he could build support for a second run at a subsidy for offshore wind. But as the landscape has shifted, he has grown more cautious. In a recent roundtable with reporters, O’Malley said only that he would do “something” about offshore wind when lawmakers return.”

Allan also bought up the issue of legislative scholarships. Each member of the General Assembly gets $130,000 every four years to give away for college scholarships to Maryland schools. Each legislator is allowed to exercise their own discretion in seeing who gets this money. The program costs the state $11 million a year. Allan thinks this is a luxury the state can ill afford.

I agree with him but I think its highly doubtful that he’ll find enough Dem’s to help him kill this. People rarely give up perks easily and this is a big perk.

Allan also announced that Diane Wilson has joined his staff.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Pondering the Parking Lot

When you enter a busy parking lot, take the first available spot you see rather than searching for something closer. According to this story by Michael Kimmelman in The New York Times “the journal Transportation Science has shown that drivers who parked at the first available spot and then walked to their destination on average saved considerable time (never mind savings in gasoline and anxiety) over those who cruised around until a “better” spot opened.”

Kimmelmans article was all about parking and parking, has been on my mind lately. For instance, more than a few people have asked me why Wegmans covered up the front of their brand new building with a two level parking deck.

I don’t know.

I do know that parking lots, particularly parking lots in edge city communities like ours, represent some of the best development opportunities over the next twenty years. Take the Sears parking lot for example.

Thankfully, I think HoCo, and Ellicott City in paricular, will largely avoid things like the Pensacola Parking Syndrome, “used to describe a city that tears down its old buildings to create parking spaces to entice more people downtown, until people no longer want to go there because it has become an empty lot.”

“Cities should let the free market handle the construction of new parking spaces. People who buy or rent new homes can pay extra if they want someplace to park a car. Municipalities can instead cap the maximum number of lots or the ratio of spaces to dwellings and offices.”

I could get on board with that notion.

Oh yeah, if you are wondering about the picture, it was taken today at the Columbia Palace Shopping Center near the Dunkin Donuts. Apparently a car jumped the curb in the parking lot and ran into the railing. It’s a very tenuous connection to the subject of this post but I liked the picture so there it is.

It’s dangerous out there. Be careful.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Big Tease

Unseasonably mild. That’s it in a nutshell. If you didn’t get out and enjoy at least part of the day you likely missed the best day of the month.

As Capital Weather Gang member Ian Livingston warned in this post, "Take it in, as this could be the warmest day for quite some time. We do still have a decent stretch of mild -- cooler than today -- temperatures coming up through much of the work week before the next cold shot heading toward the weekend. It certainly could be worse in the heart of winter!"

As I write this the conditions at Weather Station Wordbones are 62.5 degrees, humidity 45% and the barometric pressure is dropping.

Plenty of HoCo locos did take it in today. 

Teenagers in my neighborhood were out playing basketball in shorts. Everywhere I went today I saw people with jackets and sweaters wrapped around their waists. Ordinarily, a ten mile an hour wind on a January day would cause collars to be pulled up tight and hands stuffed in pockets. Not today. The only time I really took notice of the wind was when Peanut and I were out throwing a Frisbee.

It may have been a big tease of warmer days that seem long off from now but it was welcome all the same.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Knight Vision

I started reading The Kiplinger Letter when I was in middle school. Seriously. My father was a loyal subscriber. A household of seven kids allowed for very little downtime to take in the big picture. Once a week, in four pages of short paragraphs, with key thoughts underlined, the Kiplinger editors provided him their take on everything he needed to know about national and global business, politics, and economics in order to be a good salesman.

As a kid, I remember being impressed that Austin Kiplinger himself signed every issue. I also liked that Mr. Kiplinger addressed my dad as “Dear Client.” I imagined that he actually knew my dad.

After my father passed away, my mother continued to subscribe to Kiplingers. She shared the newsletter with me after she’d finished. When I went away to college, she even mailed me her old issues. The news may not have been as fresh but this was in the pre CNN years so fresh was relative.

Needless to say I still subscribe. So do at least two of my sisters. So when Jim Peacock offered me a seat at his table for the Maryland Bankers Association Fifth Annual First Friday Economic Outlook Forum in Baltimore today, I took him up on it. The keynote speaker was Knight Kiplinger, son of Austin Kiplinger and the guy who is signing my newsletter these days.

Readers will mostly acknowledge that The Kiplinger Letter has a tendency to always be upbeat, even when things appear gloomy. As such Knight’s talk, which followed an otherwise downbeat panel of economists, left the audience of bankers and accountants feeling at least a little hopeful. His editors predict a 2.3% growth in the GDP this year.

He also said that Mitt Romney will be the GOP nominee but, unless something really bad happens like a total Euro meltdown, he will not be president.

Knight Kiplinger believes that if the economy stays on this 2.3% growth track through late summer and the unemployment rate does not get any worse, Barack Obama will win a second term. His win will be based on the perception that things are getting better, if only marginally.