Sunday, March 31, 2013

Buzzard Rock March 2013

One of our favorite loco trails is the hike up to Buzzard Rock from Bloede Dam in the Patapsco State Park. Yesterday, at the trail head on Ilchester Road, the road was lined with cars as locos streamed into the park for the best day of the weekend.

It was a perfect day for a hike, not too cold, not hot.

Buzzards Rock sits atop the Simpkins Mill side of the Ilchester Tunnel and rewards your climb with a nice view of the valley below. It’s also a hangout. Though I don’t particularly care for those who introduce spray paint into an otherwise bucolic setting, I do find some of the art to be oddly compelling.
Perhaps of more concern was the number of people we could see milling about on the CSX rail tracks below. I immediately thought of this video my friend Mickey Gomez shared on Facebook earlier this week.
Train tracks are dangerous places.

On the descent to Bloede Dam, a cyclist passed us on the way up and greeted me by name, breathing hard as he attacked the steep incline. I acknowledged the greeting but I have to admit I did not immediately recognize him in the brief moment we passed. I felt bad but he was wearing a helmet and I was sporting non prescription sunglasses, a bad combination for me on a good day. As I continued down the trail trying to figure out who I just said hello to I turned back and saw him taking a break next to a tree. It’s a very long hill and he was about three quarters of the way up. Who was that guy?
Arriving back at the Grist Mill Trail was like merging on to a pedestrian freeway. Runners, bikers, dog walkers, and all walks in between were out in large numbers getting a much needed dose of medicine for cabin fever.

You can find more Buzzard Rock Trail pictures here

Pure Wine Gets a Patio

Last night when PJ Strain told me that he was adding a patio to his Pure Wine Café in Ellicott City my first thought was where. Sitting inside the small cafe I thought the place was boxed in on three sides, with no room in front for outside tables.

I was wrong. PJ walked me out front and showed me the empty lot next to his building that will soon provide outdoor seating for about twenty Pure Wine patrons. The patio is actually perched about ten feet above Main Street.
In addition to the patio, PJ is also adding another dining room, next to the existing bar area that will fill the space between the bar and the new patio.

Work is expected to be completed this spring.

Friday, March 29, 2013


Those of us who aren't actively religious still acknowledge certain traditions at this time of year, just like humans have done since mankind began. Certain religious rituals are harmonious with the notion of renewal that comes with spring. I know fellow Catholics who haven’t seen the inside of church in years, yet still give something up for Lent, sincere or otherwise. I actually gave up beer for about ten days, well short of the required forty, a damnable offense I’m sure.

Today I bought a traditional ham, as well as some secular Easter stuff; hollow chocolate bunnies, three dollar cupcakes, cards, and some tulips. A couple of weeks ago I bought home tulips from Wegmans for the first time and was pleasantly surprised by the quality. Under Mama Wordbones practiced hands, they lasted twelve days, which is not too shabby for grocery store tulips.

I didn't buy a Wegmans ham. I would have but I only needed a small one, just like the ones they sell at the ham store in Dorseys Search. It used to be called Heavenly Ham but that company was bought by Honeybaked. I don't care what they call the place as long as the ham is the still the same .

At the ham store they were rigged up with stanchions and rope to handle Christmas sized crowds but I breezed right through. The cashier told me that this was just an abnormal break between storms. I was just lucky. Then again it was the middle of the work day.

It was a very quiet day at our office. It’s Good Friday and good Catholics don’t work on Good Friday. I figure there must be an awful lot of good Catholics because all the office parking lots in Columbia were empty but the retail parking lots around town were buzzing. I forgot to check the church parking lots.

There was one other thing I couldn't get at Wegmans, an iTunes gift card in a denomination below fifty bucks that didn't say Happy Birthday. Their stock had been depleted so from the ham store I headed to the Giant where I spotted this impressive display of spring flowers. I decided that for a non religious guy like me, today was more like pre-Easter than Good Friday, or Preaster for short. A Friday in spring when work slows down and people buy flowers in grocery stores.

Happy Preaster!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Musical Chairs

I blame it on the beer. Shortly after this post I received an email from one the participants taking exception to my comment about the lack of Repub candidates for the D1 council seat in 2014. The email pointed out that “Chris Merdon is a strong candidate for District 1 and that was seconded by another member of the group.”

"I really think this needs to be corrected because your portrayal of the GOP is not fair based on the discussion we had."

My bad. I should probably take more notes and drink less beer at our next gathering.

A Merdon candidacy would add an interesting dynamic to that race. Chris held the seat from 1998 until 2006 when he ran for county exec against Ken Ulman. Chris endorsed Bob Flanagan in 2010 when he sought to retake the seat for the Repubs from Courtney Watson, saying that “nobody knows this district better than Bob.”

The chances of the Repubs reclaiming this seat would improve significantly if, as rumored, there is a primary fight on the Dem side of the ticket. Dave Grabowski, current chair of the HoCo Planning Board formed a campaign committee in January, presumably to take a run at the D1 seat. Another Dem, Jon Weinstein, is also expected to announce for that seat.

At our gathering Monday night our Elkridge group member posited that Jon would have trouble getting much traction in Elkridge, at least in east of 95 Elkridge. A primary challenge from a candidate who lives in that part of town wouldn't help Jon's situation.

It will be interesting to see if Courtney makes a primary endorsement or opts instead to sit out that fight and save her blessings for the general election.

And speaking of Courtney…the current council person for D1 held a fundraiser last night at Union Jacks Pub in Columbia. Astute loco politico observers will note that Union Jacks is actually in District 4, Mary Kay Sigaty’s council district, though I didn't see Mary Kay at the party. Courtney spoke about wanting to continue to serve the county but stopped short of an actual announcement about running for exec.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pints & Politics, Spring Snow Edition

Ten loco politico wonks gathered together again last night in a public house to eat, drink and speculate about HoCo politics. It was the largest gathering of the group ever, the first time that everyone could make it on the same night, at the same time. Anyone who has ever tried to organize a gathering of friends, sans spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, et al, can attest to the difficulty of achieving 100%. Last night we pulled it off.

The opening topic was the 2014 county exec race. Without much disagreement the overwhelming consensus was that it will be a race between Courtney Watson and Allan Kittleman. Courtney gets the edge right now largely because of party. Most all agreed that Allan could win, but it will be an uphill battle all the way. He needs to get independents and unaffiliated in big numbers in order to do so…no small task in an off year election when the primaries generally determine the victors.

One thing certain, a contest between Allan and Courtney would be uncomfortable for many, particularly some of those Republicans for Watson.

One of the group announced, with certainty, that Maryann Maher is not going to take another shot at the House of Delegates. I’m glad that’s settled. Meanwhile Clarence Lam made some loco waves in District 12 by attacking fellow Dems Delegates Steve DeBoy and Jimmy Malone, along with Senator Ed Kasemeyer for voting against the repeal of the death penalty. District 12 is a new animal with a split personality. Clarence just staked out his side.

The Repubs in the group acknowledged that the loco party has a pretty thin bench for 2014. None could name a potential candidate for the District 1 council seat, usually considered a winnable seat for Repubs. It’s an accepted fact that Jon Weinstein will be the Dem candidate but he can’t announce until Courtney makes her announcement.


Maybe she’ll do that tomorrow night at her fundraiser in Columbia. At least three members of the group said they planned to attend, at least one other had a sent a check.

Last night, since we were all together for the first time, I decided to take a quick poll of everyone’s political affiliations. The results were three Repubs, four Dems and three Independents. The tenth member actually arrived late, after the tally had been taken but with this individual it was never even a question.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Any Port in a Storm?

Contested elections are usually signs of a healthy democracy except when they’re not. A case in point is the upcoming Columbia Council election in the Village of River Hill. The incumbent, Michael Cornell, is being challenged by a relative newcomer to the HoCo politico scene, Clayborne Chavers. Sources have informed me that Russ Swatek recruited Mr. Chavers to challenge Michael because of his support for the Inner Arbor plan.

I haven’t always agreed with Michael Cornell, his politics tend to be a little too far to the left of my personal comfort zone. That being said I have always found him to be a thoughtful member of the CA board and one who is capable of reaching consensus with his fellow board members, acting in the best interests of the Columbia lien payers.

I can’t say that I feel the same way about Russ. Russ is one of those HoCo loco activists who seem to be against things much more than for them. He does of good job of articulating what he doesn't like, even if it means bending reality to fit his views. Nothing would please him more than to stack the CA board with fellow travelers. I believe that as long as someone agrees with him, Russ is willing to overlook other shortcomings in his political allies.

It appears that Clayborne Chavers has a few red flags around him. A search of the Maryland Judiciary website reveals that he was once charged with domestic violence (later dropped) and has an outstanding judgment in excess of $60,000. He was also recently reprimanded by the Attorney Grievance Commission “for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law on several occasions by entering his appearance in Maryland courts where he was not admitted to practice law.”

If I were a resident of River Hill, I think I’d stick with Mike.

Columbia Gets Some Respect

The Baltimore metro area has been given a new label by the White House Office of Management and Budget. It is now known as the Baltimore-Columbia-Towson MD Metropolitan Statistical Area. To2C netizen, Mike Ratcliffe noted that “Columbia (is) finally getting the recognition it deserves given that it is the second largest place in Maryland and a key economic center.”

“Metropolitan Statistical Areas have at least one urbanized area of 50,000 or more population, plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties.”

Mike also shared a link to an interactive map from the Census Bureau that shows net gains and losses of HoCo population migration. For example, the map shows that HoCo has had a net gain of population from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties but a net loss to Carroll, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Paring the Pear

We took the best day of the weekend to attend to a couple of spring arbor maintenance items, paring the Bradford Pear and shoring up a cypress.

As I've posted before, the Bradford pear is both a blessing and a curse of the suburbs. On the one hand the mass proliferation of the tree provides an early spring splash of white blooms that cuts through the muted background of winter. On the other hand, they are brittle, prone to splitting.

We’re trying to be proactive in this regard. Since planting the tree six years ago, this is the second time we've given it a serious early spring trim. Mama Wordbones says we need to do this before the forsythia bloom. We may be too late already. The forsythia branches right next to the transformer box have already bloomed…
Anyway, we removed branches that cross over other branches and other potential trouble spots. She also snipped off all the suckers she could reach while I held the ladder. 

This will likely be the last trim, for us anyway. Bradford’s grow fast and trimming will soon be out of the hands of amateurs.

During the Frankenstorm, one of our Leland Cypress trees was partially uprooted and leaning towards our neighbors yard. Instead of calling in professionals, we opted to try and fix it ourselves, using a stake and come along rig to bring the tree back upright. We left everything in place through the winter in hopes that it would settle in and reestablish its roots.

It worked too well. The tree is now leaning the other way so we re-positioned and reset the rig and I now have scratches on my nose from wrestling with a fifteen foot evergreen.

Short Walk on a Short Trail

A couple of weeks ago, while driving through Catonsville, I spotted this sign for the Short Line Trail. Yesterday, Mama Wordbones and I decided to check it out.
I lived in this neighborhood until I was around ten years old. I can recall when the trains still used this line, servicing what once was the John S. Wilson Lumber Company on Frederick Road (now Bill’s Music House). The line was abandoned in the early seventies and since 1998 Catonsville Rails to Trails has labored to restore the former right of way to a 2.5 mile rail trail.
We picked the wrong spot to check it out. After walking only a short distance we discovered that the rail tunnel that used to run under Bloomsbury Avenue no longer existed. The most complete part of the trail is found further down the line at Maiden Choice Lane. The section we explored is still a work in progress.
Standing above the trail on Bloomsbury Avenue we decided to go and explore the Lurman Woodland Theater instead. This outdoor theater, tucked in the woods adjacent to Catonsville High School, hosts free music concerts on Saturday and Sunday evenings during the summer months. Yesterday it played host to an Easter egg hunt sponsored by the Catonsville Men’s Civic Association.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bright Idea

I've actually met a few people who've told me they are beginning to hoard incandescent light bulbs in face the impending ban on sales.

I happen to believe that is a very stupid idea, akin to hoarding buggy whips.

I admit that I once briefly flirted with this notion, particularly considering the fact that the economics of a simple light bulb were changing, dramatically. I can buy an incandescent light bulb for fifty cents. The cheapest LED bulb runs about ten bucks, a ninety five percent increase.

That ten dollar price is actually the good news. Until recently, most LED bulbs sold in the thirty dollar range...some still do, for that and more. A 75 watt LED, for example, will run you somewhere from the mid thirties to the mid forties.

Think of it as a long term investment. In this column in The New York Times, David Pogue writes that “LEDs last about 25 times as long as incandescents and three times as long as CFLs; we’re talking maybe 25,000 hours of light. Install one today, and you may not own your house, or even live, long enough to see it burn out.”

“Yet despite all of these advantages, few people install LED lights. They never get farther than: “$30 for a light bulb? That’s nuts!” Never mind that they will save about $200 in replacement bulbs and electricity over 25 years. (More, if your electric company offers LED-lighting rebates.)”

A LED start up is even making smart light bulbs, opening a new frontier in home lighting...

Yet I imagine that some will still build stockpiles of the incandescents. In a reader’s response column to his first piece, David was asked if it was really necessary “to plug a light bulb into the Internet,” to which he responded “I understand that both incandescent light bulbs and candles are still available at many fine housewares retailers.”

Friday, March 22, 2013

Where’s the Lamb?

This morning a colleague commented on winter’s stubborn refusal to exit the scene by wondering “Where’s the lamb?”

The age old adage about March, “in like a lion out like a lamb,” doesn't seem to be holding true this year. According to this report in The Sun, “The National Weather Service is forecasting a 30 percent chance of rain and snow Sunday night and a 50 percent chance of rain and snow on Monday.”

That’s lion behavior.

Since I first stepped out the door in the the morning chill today, I've had this Little Feat song playing in the back of my head.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Former Prez Pushes Pot

Last night at the Baltimore Speaker Series, Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, called for the legalization of marijuana. He said that the best way to marginalize the drug cartels that are wreaking havoc in his country is to remove the $50 billion market for their products.

He also was quick to point out that Brazil actually has a higher murder rate than Mexico. He wants everyone to know that it’s really okay to visit his country.

This news comes on top of the news that the Maryland Senate has just passed a bill to decriminalize pot in the state. According to this story by John Wagner in The Washington Post, under the senate bill (SB 297) getting caught with about two joints will only cost you a hundred bucks. No arrest, just a fine for the state’s coffers. A tax on joints is another way to look at it..

Further demonstrating his progressive libertarian credentials HoCo Senator Allan Kittleman co-sponsored the bill.

It’s still not a sure thing to pass this year, or at all. According to this story by Erin Cox in The Sun the bill “now moves to the House of Delegates, where proponents said it will be a tougher sell.”

“House Speaker Michael E. Busch said he doesn't like the idea of diminishing the consequences for possessing pot.”

Even if its for only two joint...he's a hard man.

Last night was the second to last night of this year’s speaker series and Sheila Kast took the occasion to announce the line up for next year. The 2013/2014 speakers will be Bill Bryson, George Papandreou, Robert Gates, Steve Wozniak, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. and DaveBarry.

Sounded good to us, we’re re-upping. 

Loco Blogs Out of Touch?

The Sun has launched a new mobile version of its digital content called touch. The software automatically detects the mobile device being used and presents the optimal format for that device. It’s clean and simple but the content differs slightly from their desktop version. Notably, there are no links to loco blogs, at least not so far.

I hope this is only temporary. The Sun always has been blog friendly with its daily digest of links to select posts and its annual Mobbie awards for loco bloggers. As a result the Baltimore media giant has become the top referral site for To2C, accounting for over 1,000 visits a month. I suspect this may also be true for other loco blogs they frequently highlight as well, such as HowChow, HoCo Rising and Well and Wise. I'll bet a good deal of traffic goes the other way too from loco blog posts with links to stories in The Sun.

The number of readers accessing digital content from mobile devices has been steadily increasing with the proliferation of smart phones and tablets. Out of 10,000 visits to To2C in the last 30 days, 1,100 were from mobile devices, one thousand of which were made using an iPad.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

HoCo Economic Snapshot / March 2013

It’s still good to be a farmer in HoCo. According to latest HoCo Economic Indicators report, “sequestration is expected to have little or no effect on local agriculture.”

I was also surprised to learn that 28% of our HoCo farms are run by women. The HoCo EDA is sponsoring a Central MD Women in Agriculture Forum at the fairgrounds this Thursday.

Farmers are one of the few groups in the loco business community that aren't chewing their fingernails these days. Overall HoCo businesses reported being cautious in spending and hiring, generally having “a lack of confidence about the future.”

“Owners are keeping tights rein on spending. Wages are not rising and efficiencies captured from technological gains will limit new hires.”

HoCo still has the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 4.7%. The statewide average is 6.7%.

There are other bright spots too. Reported fees for Planning and Zoning are 126% higher for January 2013 than January 2012. The total fiscal year to date value of non residential construction is $63,288,495, a 257% increase over the same period last year. This level of activity is evidenced by new development projects in downtown Columbia, Turf Valley, Wilde Lake and Maple Lawn.

Retailers reported doing okay too with “moderate increases across the board.”

“Small appliances and hardware have improved but tend to item driven. One such example is the popularity of K-cup coffee products.”

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bonnie Branch Blockage

HoCo residents living in the Ellicott City Elkridge border area are acutely aware that Bonnie Branch Road has been closed to through traffic since mid February. As in most cases, you don’t really appreciate something until you can’t have it.

We won’t have our Bonnie back until sometime in July.
Big chunks of it are missing right now as the county tries to keep certain portions of the winding road from falling into its namesake water body. Yesterday, Mama Wordbones and I walked up to take a first hand look. It was a rare pleasure to walk along Bonnie Branch Road without having to watch for cars.
And now I can’t get that song out of my head.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St Patrick’s Day in Ellicott City…Mid Day Report

The real action was last night of course. Revelers were out in force in the pubs and restaurants in Ellicott City and apparently so were the HoCo Police. I say apparently because we opted take our St. Patrick's vigil to the Ale House Columbia last night instead. I received all my info on the historic district revelry second hand.
Today, however is St. Patrick’s Day and no matter what day of the week March 17th falls on, it is a day to put on a bit of green and celebrate the impending arrival of spring. There is also the ACC basketball tournament going on which by itself would be enough of an excuse to sit in pub and enjoy a beer or two. Then again the wind sort of came out of that sail last night too.
Voices for Children hoped to get things going early today by promoting a pub crawl that began at 11:00 AM. Last night, as Mama Wordbones and I discussed this, we agreed that 11:00 AM on a Sunday morning is different than 11:00 AM on a Sunday. Sunday is a day to sleep late and get up slowly, even if it also happens to be St. Patrick’s Day. Consequently t-shirt traffic was a little off from last year when it fell on a Saturday.
The volunteers were out there though, selling t-shirts while quaffing hot chocolate. This also turned out to be one of those cold St. Patrick’s years but it didn't seem to daunt their spirits (one wonders what else was in that hot chocolate?)
Nathan, the River House Pizza Company guy, was out this morning too, selling his popular breakfast pizza. I haven’t tried that yet but the reviews I’m getting are all good. Truthfully, I need to be focusing more on granola and fresh fruit right now than breakfast pizza anyway.
Talk of beers and breakfast pizza were almost drowned out by the chatter about parking. Last Thursday public works crews from Baltimore County swept in and created a no parking zone in front of Wilkins Rogers Mill. This little stretch of non-metered  roadside parking, just over the bridge, had become popular with locos. Within hours the BC police had slapped $52.00 parking fines on several vehicles.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Berry Protein Shakes and Speed Cams

The thing I like best about Roger ("The Rog") Caplan and Chris ("Ox") Oxenham as loco politico pundits is that they are able to find faults in their own political camps. Ox criticizes the HoCo loco Repubs as “not well organized,” while The Rog doesn't pass up any opportunity to take a shot at Delegate Liz Bobo, but then again, those two do have a bit of a history.

What I didn't like about this show was the attitude they both took towards the upcoming Columbia Council elections. They acted as if it didn't matter who was elected. Even my co-host seemed to think it wasn't a topic worthy of much of our time.

They are mistaken. It is very important. If you are reading this and you live in the Village of Oakland Mills, Wilde Lake, River Hill or Long Reach, please take a moment to get informed. This is a good place to start. For that matter, so is this.

But back to our guests…

After we finished talking about speed cams, teacher associations, berry protein shakes and Ox’s impending nuptials, we focused on the 2014 county executive race, specifically the potential candidacies of Allan Kittleman, Courtney Watson, Guy Guzzone and Dr. Calvin Ball.

A couple of my favorite comments:

Ox: "Physical money isn't important right now..."

I like physical money.

The Rog: "If Guy decides to run it's his..."

So why does everyone think he won't?

You can listen to the 86th episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Moving Day

The Rouse Company building ends its original purpose today. The Howard Hughes Corporation is moving out and over to new offices above Clyde’s restaurant and the building will now essentially shut down until the massive redevelopment effort begins in May. Monday morning, for the first time since 1974, no one will report to work in the building.

Before they turned out the lights one last time, I took the opportunity to capture a few final images of its former life, while it still had a third floor. That 33,000 square foot chunk of internal space goes away with the buildings restoration and reincarnation.
Then again, it won't really eliminate the third floor because what is now the fourth floor will become the new third floor. Suffice it to say that the ceiling height on the street level floor will be dramatically higher and this staircase would lead to nowhere.

When this building opened in the mid-seventies it broke the mold for suburban office buildings, particularly in the more conservative Baltimore business community. Frank Gehry created a corporate headquarters that mimicked the ambiance of its malls with clerestory glass and ficus trees. Gehry once described it as an "elegant warehouse."

I just recall that it was a very cool place to work, especially in those heady days of the Malling of America. From the mid seventies to the late eighties the company was opening five or six new malls across the country every year as if it would never end

And then it did.

To see more of the pictures from yesterday, go here.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mulligan’s Wall

After the retaining wall along Mulligan’s Hill Lane in Ellicott City collapsed during Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 the county erected a temporary wall to stabilize the site and keep Dohony Hall from tumbling down the hill. The temporary fix eliminated about seven parking spots in Parking Lot C.
They aren't coming back.

The replacement wall will have much the same footprint of the temporary one but at least it will look a lot better than current conditions.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Electric Stuff

Yesterday, as I was driving out of my neighborhood on the way to work, I noted that a phalanx of hard hatter workers had descended upon my street along with an assortment of “Grid One” vehicles.

Later, when I returned home, there was a note on my door telling us that we now had a new smart meter. It also suggested that we might want to check our clocks since the power was off briefly during the installation.
We’re pretty ambivalent about this meter switch but there are others who suspect BGE of nefarious designs. For those folks the utility offers the option of opting out of the program.

They are scheduled to be finished in HoCo by August.

And keeping on with this electric theme, later in the afternoon I spotted this Chevy Volt in Oella. It is the first time I've seen one of these in the wild.
Nice looking car!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cracker Barrel Rolling Into BWI

Nothing says road trip to me like Cracker Barrel for breakfast. I can’t even imagine what it would mean if there were one close by where I could get an artery clogging fix of sourdough French Toast lathered up with a Marion Blackberry topping and real whip cream anytime I wanted?

They open at 6:00 AM….every day.

Right now, according to their website, the closest Cracker Barrel to me is in Stevensville.

But not for long.

According to this story in City Biz Real Estate, the gastronomic giant of the interstate is building a restaurant in the BWI Business District “adjacent to the intersection of West Nursery Road and MD Route 295..." It "is scheduled to open in the third quarter of this year.”

You've been warned.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Three Things about Food

Sushi Sono is celebrating their fifteenth year in downtown Columbia and right now they are the only restaurant open on the downtown lakefront. The good news is that parking has never been easier the bad news is that right now they are the only restaurant open on the lakefront.

Well maybe not the only one if you include Waterside in the Sheraton and the Lakeside coffee shop. I don’t think hotel restaurants count and the Lakeside coffee is…doomed. Once Whole Foods opens next door with a café, Lakesides days will be numbered.  

But Sushi Sono is doing just fine. I can easily see them hanging around another fifteen years.

That’s one.

When we were having lunch at Sushi Sono on Thursday King mentioned that there would soon be another restaurant in the space next door. It’s been empty since the Red Pearl closed last year.

“Who is it?” I asked.

“I don’t know but I think it’s French,” he said.

I tried getting more out of my sources at Howard Hughes but all I could get was that a deal for a new restaurant was very close to being signed.

That’s two.
 Late yesterday afternoon I dropped by Victoria Gastro Pub and got the chance to chat with Tori. She was all excited. The restaurant has been nominated by the Restaurant Association of Maryland for “Craft Beer Program of the Year.” This is the first year for this particular award and they'll find out if they won on April 15th.

She reminded me that they were also recognized as one of the best  restaurants in Baltimore by Baltimore Magazine, one of only two HoCo restaurants to make the list. Tersiguel's in Ellicott City was the other one. Victorias also won the magazines reader poll for Best Pub Food.

That’s three.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Thawing Out

I suffer no illusions that winter is finished with us just yet. March can be a fickle lover. One day the sun shines and the mercury flirts with sixty only to turn around and find the next day drearily overcast, back in thirties. It’s springs' big tease month.

Today is one of those teaser days. The garden centers are hopping and cars are being washed.

It really wasn't a bad winter. For the second year in a row we've escaped the big snow event. I like a big snow storm but only for the first few days. After a week the beauty of a fresh blanket of white snow is replaced by cinder encrusted mounds of melting snow along the roads.

Hopefully we’re done now. Tomorrow morning we’ll jump our clocks ahead an hour and edge one step closer to the warmer days ahead.

I’m ready.... apparently so are the daffodils.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Collateral Damage

This afternoon the only sound to break the afternoon silence was an aluminum soda can being blown down the street. I was a little surprised that such a small object could be so noisy.

The clanging can provided the perfect backdrop for all the other garbage that was flying around the neighborhood. It seems that the majority of my neighbors did not get the memo that our faux snow day resulted in a slide day scenario for trash pick up. Today was our normal recycling day. Tomorrow is our slide day.
The combination of wind gusts up to 30 mph and stuffed blue bins resulted in an accumulation of trash on lawns that rivaled Wednesdays’ snowfall amounts! 

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Parking and Adaptive Reuse

Two buildings in Columbia are adapting to new uses and dealing with resultant parking challenges. On Dobbin Road, the building that now houses the Frisco Grille and two other retail uses was originally constructed for industrial use. In downtown Columbia, a former office building is being converted to retail. They both have different parking lot issues to deal with as a result of these changes.
On Dobbin Road, the owners of 6695 Dobbin Road want to reduce the setback from Dobbin from the existing 25 feet to the county minimum of 7 feet in order to accommodate 20 new parking spaces. Anyone who has ever tried to get a parking space at the Frisco Grille can attest to the need for more spaces. This is indicative of the changing nature of the Dobbin Road corridor, originally conceived for more industrial type uses which generally required fewer parking spaces.
In downtown Columbia, Howard Hughes is seeking to reduce the number of parking spaces at the former Rouse Company headquarters building. As part of the buildings redevelopment the developer proposes to reconfigure the existing parking lots which will result in a reduction of 98 parking spaces. Part of this reduction is due to mitigation of storm water runoff. The reconfigured parking lot will treat “50% of the existing impervious area for water quality within Micro-bioretention facilities within the parking islands.”

This is a huge improvement over existing conditions that offers no storm water mitigation.

In both instances the parking ratios will remain in compliance with county zoning regulations for the new uses.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Perils of Predictions

Pity the poor weatherman. That’s the gist of this article by Joel Achenbach in The Washington Post today. Joel defends the masters of meteorology by stating simply that “Snow is hard.”

“Snow exposes failure. If the weatherperson botches a rainfall prediction, no one notices, because it’s hard for an ordinary person to judge rainfall totals, and the storm sewers gobble up the excess. But someone can detect a bad snow forecast — too much snow, or too little — just by looking out the window.”

He has a point. There is snow on the ground today, but not everywhere. So far at least, the Snowquester has just turned out to be a cold wet mess. The best part is that traffic coming into work this morning was light. The worst part is that the kids are home and the libraries are closed.

In This Months Business Monthly

I’d be lying if I said I wasn't flattered when someone suggests I should run for elected office. I take it as a compliment but that’s about as far as I take it. Though I find the prospect of governing intriguing, the thought of running a campaign and being a public “servant” is far less appealing.

I’m think I’d prefer to be anointed or to slide into office sideways sort of like Laura Neuman did in Anne Arundel County. She only needed four votes to become county exec and now that she’s in she’s not beholden to anyone. Perfect.

That’s not likely to happen in HoCo. I just can’t see our elected officials behaving as badly as John Leopold. We tend vet our bad apples on the school board first, giving them the boot when they act like jerks.

You can read this months column here.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Trying to Turn Back the Clock

In case anyone is under the impression that the battle for Columbia’s future has been won, think again. The forces that attempted to defeat the new plans for Symphony Woods are trying to organize a slate of candidates for the upcoming Columbia Council elections. In a posting on the HCCA listserv today, Alex Hekimian, the Columbia Council representative for the Village of Oakland Mills, hopes to garner enough allies on the council to reverse the decision to move forward on the Inner Arbor plan.

“Russ Swatek is trying to find Columbia Council candidates in other villages as well.  There is an opportunity that with Columbia Council contests in several villages and a new CA Board, the battle for Phase 1 of Symphony Woods can be won.  Otherwise, the chances are dim.”

Alex, along with Cindy Coyle from the Village of Harpers Choice, cast the only votes against the plan.

If there was ever a time to pay attention to your Columbia Council elections, this is it.

Spring Snow…Or Not

I enjoy a significant snowstorm as much as the next guy but, as a native Marylander I've grown skeptical of most snow forecasts. Perhaps it’s just my own warped perspective but it seems to me that the worst storms to hit us are, more often than not, the ones the professionals didn't see coming.

On the other hand, even the ever cautious Foot's Forecasters are suggesting that the approaching storm could be problematic. It’s just hard to imagine it right now with the sun shining and the mercury approaching fifty and the fact that we are already five days into meteorological spring.

Then again there’s that whole in like a lion out like a lamb thing…

The Weather Channel folks are calling this storm Saturn but in the DC area the preferred moniker is Snowquester.

The Bag Tax is a Good Tax

If the General Assembly passes House Bill 1086, Maryland would become the first state in the country to impose a statewide tax on plastic bags. This is one tax I can get behind. According this editorial in The Washington Post today bag taxes “are effective at cutting litter and popularizing the reuse of bags; and industry arguments against such measures are nonsense.”

“The evidence from the District and Montgomery is overwhelming. In the District, plastic bag use has dropped by at least half since the 5-cent tax went into effect in 2010. In Montgomery, the drop was significant — about a third — though not as sharp as in the District; however, the county collected more than $2 million from the tax last year, which will help it pay to remove litter that includes plastic bags.”

I've been a staunch proponent of reusable bags ever since I listened to Jean-Michael Cousteau at the Baltimore Speaker Series a little over three years ago. Since then I've amassed quite a collection.

Plastic bags are a public nuisance. A neighbor once quipped that we should make them the state flag since you can see them flutter in the wind almost everywhere.

“Industry lobbyists even argue that plastic bags don’t contribute much to litter, as if the visible evidence all around — bags in tree limbs, bags blowing down the street, bags clogging sewer drains — is invented. A study by the Maryland Department of the Environment last year confirmed their harmful effects.”

HoCo Delegates Guy Guzzone and Liz Bobo are signed on as sponsors of the bill making this one of those rare moments when I actually support Liz.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Merriweather Neighborhood Taking Form

This year the Howard Hughes Corporation intends to submit a Final Development Plan for 35 acres surrounding Merriweather Post Pavilion and Symphony Woods in downtown Columbia. The company's  annual report, filed last week, included the following statement about downtown Columbia:

“We also own approximately 35 acres, net of road and related infrastructure improvements, on the land around Merriweather Post Pavilion, which is south of the Mall. The acreage currently consists of raw land and subdivided land parcels readily available for new development. We intend to propose an initial Final Development Plan to the Howard County Planning department in 2013. Preliminary plans call for at least four million square feet of development activity, with high-rise buildings surrounding the Central Park-like setting afforded by the Pavilion and its surrounding property.”

Brian the Blogger

It’s been awhile since I've picked on school board member Brian Meshkin. Lest anyone misconstrue this as being due to his threats of legal action, the fact is I've just been waiting for the right opportunity.

My wait is over. Recently Brian joined the HoCo Blogs community with his blog “Big Ideas,” which, written in the third person, describes its mission as reporting “on activities before the Board of Education of Howard County and other civic issues.”

“Anyone who knows Brian understands that Brian believes that Big Ideas can make the world a better place.”

Wordbones thinks that is nobly stated.

The difference with Brian's blog is that, unlike the majority of the other members of the HoCo Blogs community, he does not allow comments to his big idea blog posts. I find this a bit curious for someone who professes to believe in ideas. Not allowing readers to comment gives the impression that Brian only believes in big ideas that he puts forward. That seems to be rather small thinking for a big ideas blog.

On the other hand, commenter’s can be a bit irascible at times, particularly when they disagree with you. Dialogue about ideas isn't always pretty. Still, I believe that nasty comments are the exception rather than the norm and you can always delete any that go too far.

I guess I’m not really all that surprised though. In the past Brian has demonstrated that he doesn't like his notions to be challenged. For example, after commenting on a To2C post  about his business ventures he wrote that he’d be “happy to come on your show” to talk about it and then backed out the day before the podcast.

Then again, he didn't exactly show up at the HoCo Blogs party either.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

HoCo Loco Brewski

Randy Marriner wants to sell you some truly HoCo loco beer. Randy is the proprietor of Victoria Gastro Pub and if the General Assembly approves House Bill 1405, he hopes to sell beer in his restaurant that he brews on his Howard County farm. According to this story by Arthur Hirsch in The Sun, the farm brewery bill would “currently apply only to Victoria Gastro Pub…”

Presumably the Ale House doesn't have its own HoCo farm...yet

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Nonsense about Noise

In a recent posting on the Howard County Citizens Association, perennial naysayer Russ Swatek wrote that “Merriweather Post Pavilion (MPP) was supposed to only serve the community, not be a huge amplified regional attraction.”

He references Columbia’s “original planners” as his source for this blatantly erroneous statement.

Ian Kennedy, who with fellow Columbian Justin Carlson, played a role in keeping Merriweather alive in the dark years, rebutted Russ. He pointed out that that the outdoor theater  named after Majorie Merriweather Post, had originally hoped to be the summer home of the National Symphony Orchestra, not the Columbia Orchestra.

“Furthermore, during the early years of Merriweather -- when the "original" planners still owned the pavilion and ostensibly oversaw its operations -- it hosted such acts as The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and other amplified acts.”

It was those types of performances that kept Merriweather viable when the National Symphony opted to make Wolf Trap Farms their summer home instead.

The proposed noise legislation that the Howard statehouse delegation recently approved is intended to protect and preserve Merriweather for future generations of concert goers. It allows for noise levels up to 95 decibels between 9 AM and 11:30 PM within a quarter mile of the theater. Right now there are no residences within this quarter mile radius but as the downtown Columbia redevelopment progresses, this will change. It is inevitable that some of these new residents will complain about the noise just like those who now live outside that radius do now, even though Merriweather was there, rocking away summer nights, long before they moved in.

Predictably, the only member of the HoCo delegation to vote against this legislation was Liz Bobo

All about the Trees

Michael McCall says that his epiphany on Symphony Woods occurred as he was leaving a concert at Merriweather one night last summer, “For about fifteen seconds I got disoriented” in the dark woods.

“What a wonderful thing that that you can be right next to all this development yet feel like you’ve escaped”

That set Michael on a path that radically changed the future direction of Columbia’s central park.

"The worse thing I think you do is to start drawing straight lines through the woods."

Michael is the president of Strategic Leisure, a Columbia company that has designed the Inner Arbor Plan. He and his wife Barbara are also longtime Columbia residents though he readily admits he knew very little about local politics before deciding to get involved with Symphony Woods. It was his old boss from Enterprise, George Barker, who introduced him to Ken Ulman.

This rest is history.

And speaking of Ken, our county exec was recently honored by Government Technology Magazine for his One Maryland Broadband Initiative. We talked about that in our local news recap along with the new storm water management fees, Wilde Lake Village Center redevelopment, the Merriweather noise legislation  and the political ascension of Laura Neuman.

You can listen to 85th episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Meanwhile on Route 40…

Since Safeway left in the summer of 2009, the once venerable Normandy Shopping Center has been a bit of a ghost town while the owners embarked on a four year process to redevelop the property. Next Tuesday night the developer will unveil their latest plans at public meeting in one of the vacant storefronts in the center.

It’s a major makeover that includes about 200 new apartments on a previously undeveloped parcel of land in the center.
Predictably, there are concerns from some neighbors, particularly those whose homes currently back up to the loading area of the former grocery store. It seems to me that they are actually getting an improvement over current conditions. Instead of facing the unfinished backside of an aging strip center, the new plan opens the space up with separate buildings and includes a new pedestrian plaza.
In any event, this development will be a huge improvement and will help reshape this portion of the highway that in recent years has more notably gained notoriety as the location of the only pornographic video store in HoCo.