24 April 2007

Responding to Delegate Liz Bobo

In her Friday, April 20, 2007 email, Delegate Bobo states:

I am not aware of Phil's opponent's having contributed in any positive way to the efforts to make sure that further Downtown development enhances our community.

It appears that there are three criteria to refute Delegate Bobo’s above claim:

  • I must have contributed to downtown development
  • That contribution must have been positive
  • Delegate Bobo would have to be aware of the positive contribution.

Although only Delegate Bobo can provide with any certainty whether the above criteria has been met, it must also be considered that the statement is somewhat open to consideration to the reader, a Wilde Lake resident. Delegate Bobo does hint at the criteria for “contribution” in her previous statement in her email. She alludes to Phil Kirsch’s attendance at the Charrette and his attendance at the Focus Group meetings.

Contributing to downtown development (that further enhances our community) can take several forms. The simplest form of contribution is to show up. To attend meetings, witness, and provide support. Beyond showing up, contributions can also include speaking out, signing petitions, and in more formal settings, providing oral testimony. Beyond attending meetings and rallies, contribution can be performed through writing to organizations, letters to the editor, and blogging. Please find below a brief synopsis of my contributions to downtown development to date:

Fall 2002 – I attended a Wilde Lake Village Board meeting regarding the proposed construction of the Evergreen apartments. I voiced concerns about traffic congestion, pedestrian access to and from the Mall, and concerns about new neighbors in close proximity to Merriweather Post Pavillion.

Spring 2003 – As a Wilde Lake Village Board member, I participated in a discussion on whether to support the Rouse Company petition to increase the density of Columbia from 2.35 residential units (ru)/acre to 2.5 ru/acre. I (as did the other board members) voted in opposition to the density increase.

Spring/Summer 2003 – As a Columbia resident, I participated in the Zoning Board hearing regarding the Rouse Company petition to increase the density of Columbia from 2.35 ru/acre to 2.5 ru/acre. I presented testimony to the Zoning Board in opposition to the proposal. I also cross-examined supporters of the proposal, including then Rouse Company Vice-President Dennis Miller.

Spring/Summer 2003 – I also became a supporter of Save Merriweather. I still wear my T-shirt to this day with pride.

Spring 2005 – I attended the General Growth Properties Downtown Columbia Town Meetings (1 and 2). I submitted several questions to the presenters and was singled out by then General Growth Properties Vice-President Dennis Miller for repeatedly asking about water and sewer infrastructure, and the specific plans for the increased demand.

Fall 2005 – I attended all Charrette meetings and participated to the fullest extent possible. On the 2nd night, during resident input, I spoke out regarding the so-called “secondary study area,” the piece of land that is bounded by Little Patuxent Parkway, Harpers Farm Road, Twin Rivers Road, and Governor Warfield Parkway. This area contains the Wilde Lake Village Center, condominiums, and affordable housing complexes. I was concerned that the “secondary study area” was, according to Charrette event organizers, slated for development on a much shorter time horizon (10 years) than downtown development and no resources had been committed or discussed.

January 2006 – I attended Delegate Liz Bobo’s Town Hall meeting regarding downtown development. Because of a shortage of seating, I literally sat at her feet. I signed her petition calling for:

specific, hard data relating to housing, schools, traffic, roads, water and sewer, environment, fiscal responsibility, as well as phasing and monitoring of the proposed development be studied and made available to the public BEFORE the Draft Master Plan for Downtown Columbia is presented to the Planning Board and the County Council.

February 2006 – I attended the Post Charrette Town Hall Meeting. During the resident statement section of the program, I spoke out for the need to change the Howard County Board of Education site in Faulkner Ridge back to an elementary school site to support children that may potentially live in the downtown area in the future. I also proposed that if any new streets are to placed in downtown Columbia, the streets should have their names taken from the works of Michael Chabon, a Pulizer Prize winning author that grew up in Columbia.

March 2006 – I attended Delegate Liz Bobo’s small group workshop on downtown Columbia at Kahler Hall. I listened, asked questions (specifically about traffic) and discussed the issues with people after the meeting.

Spring/Summer 2006 – I became a member of the Wilde Lake Downtown Task Force. I participated in discussions about public safety, making Governor Warfield Parkway a scenic road, traffic and schools. I provided meaningful input for a survey created by the task force. It should be noted that the Wilde Lake Downtown Task Force is one of two groups that takes credit for getting the Governor Warfield Parkway/Scenic Road question asked at the Kahler Hall 2006 Candidates Night for County Executive/County Council.

March 2006 – October 2006 – I attended a few Focus Group meetings. For those that do not recall, the meetings were held during normal working hours, and made it difficult for those that work standard hours to attend. Initial meetings did not allow resident input. I also downloaded all Focus Group presentations and documents. I reviewed the documents and participated in the Focus Group by emailing the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning with my comments.

September 2006 – I started the Columbia Compass blog and addressed (among other things) issues related to downtown development and building heights.

In addition, I have used my blog to track the work of General Growth Properties in other areas of the nation. I have also tried to keep abreast of the presentations they have made at national conferences with regard to mixed use development. I believe that their work in other areas may provide insight into their plans for downtown Columbia. I know of no other person doing this type of research.

October 2006 – I attended a Howard County Council meeting and testified in favor of making Governor Warfield Parkway a scenic road.

Winter 2006/2007 –I attended all of the General Growth Properties/HCC sponsored Voices of Vision lecture series. In addition, I submitted written questions to the guest speakers and also posted blog entries based on Ann Forsyth’s and Adam Lerner’s lectures.

What is positive?

Once again, positive is a somewhat subjective criteria. Without any further definition, it is difficult to determine what is absolutely positive and what is not. In an effort to address the charge, I will provide a brief list of at least what I would define as positive aspects of my contributions:

  • Attending meetings at the village, city, and county level with regard to downtown Columbia.
  • Testifying against and cross examining supporters during the 2003 Rouse Company petition to the Zoning Board to increase density without a specific, detailed plan.
  • Signing Delegate Bobo’s petition for data on traffic, housing, water and sewer, etc…
  • Testifying in support of the Governor Warfield Parkway scenic road resolution.
  • Attending the Charrette.
  • Participating in the Focus Group discussion.
  • Asking questions at meetings about key areas, such as density, traffic, water and sewer service, affordable housing, etc…
  • Originating the idea for naming streets from the works of Michael Chabon.
  • Advocating for the return of Faulkner Ridge elementary school to support educating children who may move into downtown.


With respect to Delegate Liz Bob’s awareness of my contribution to the downtown discussion, I am at a loss. Suffice it to say, at almost every meeting listed above, Delegate Bobo and I had the chance to say hello to each other. For more specific data:

At the Wilde Lake Village Board meeting regarding the construction of the Evergreen apartments, I sat directly behind Delegate Bobo and her husband.

I believe Delegate Bobo was in the room when I testified at the Zoning Board in opposition to the Rouse Company density increase. I know she was in the room when former Rouse Company Vice-President Dennis Miller testified and was cross-examined (by myself and others).

During the Charrette, I recall two specific instances in which Delegate Bobo and I had contact: The first was during the speakout portion of the Charrette, I had asked the question about the secondary development area in the following way – “I want to thank the Design Collective for all their hard work over the last two days, but I have some concerns…” After my time at the mike, Delegate Bobo came over to me and said that she really enjoyed the way I ask questions. Secondly, during the third meeting activities, we were broken up into small groups, and I was in a group with Delegate Bobo’s husband. I recall this quite clearly, because it was at that time that I lent him my copy of Ann Forsyth’s book Rebuilding Suburbia, a book that describes (among other cities) Columbia’s development and rates it against New Urbanist development (we do pretty darn well, by the way).

At her January 2006 Town Hall meeting, I not only sat at her feet, but I was the one who gingerly, carefully, carried her Mort Hoppenfeld print to her car. At her March 2006 downtown workshop, I commented that I had seen in the press and heard among people that they were “angry” about downtown development, and asked Delegate Bobo how to reduce this kind of language. She responded that she hoped that she had not used the word angry, and asked that I count the times she used the word. She also asked that I count the times she used the words peace and hope.

I suppose all of this could have been forgotten, but I believe Delegate Bobo is a smart person and has a sharp mind. Given this level of interaction, I would have to believe that she is cognizant of these past interactions.

In summary, I believe that I have presented a wealth of contributions to the downtown discussion, most of it positive in nature, and at least some of it in direct interaction with Delegate Bobo. So I will respectfully ask at this point, why would she write such a statement?

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