28 April 2007

Responding to Delegate Liz Bobo

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

In sharp contrast to his opponent, Phil has been strong in his support for Mary Kay Sigaty's proposals for a 150 foot height limitation in Columbia. His opponent is on record as favoring unlimited building heights.

Unlimited building heights? In my opinion, that is a pretty dramatic statement. The only problem is, I never said it. Not in public, not in private. I have never written it. I have never text messaged it, I have never IM’ed it. The statement is not mine.

Since Delegate Bobo sent out her pre-election email, she has been quoted in the Columbia Flier as follows:

Bobo said April 24 that she saw Santos' name on a petition from the group Bring Back the Vision, which advocates no height limits on downtown development, and based her comments on that document.

An interesting thing about the petition, it does not mention “unlimited” building heights. What the petition does state is an opposition to the proposed zoning amendments, and also provides supporting arguments as to why the proposed zoning amendments would be detrimental. It is this language that led me put my name on the petition. To come to the conclusion of “unlimited” building heights based on the petition implies that Delegate Liz Bobo erroneously read something into the document that does not exist on the paper.

Moreover, even basic research concerning my position on building height is readily available. As an example, Google the following search terms:

Santos building height

My blog posts on building height comes up as the second term listed. These posts have been on this blog for months, and clearly state my position.

Lastly, has this town become too big for neighborly discussion? I know that Delegate Liz Bobo has my contact information. I received her legislative update via email the other day. If Delegate Liz Bobo wanted to know my position on building height, why not just contact me directly? I believe it would have been quicker and would have provided her with primary source information.

26 April 2007

In Memoriam

Due to the loss of life in Running Brook today, I will not post today. Let us take a moment for reflection.

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?

Delegate Liz Bobo

As a former candidate, I understand that negative campaigning is part of the deal; however, I believe the misrepresentation of my positions and mischaracterization of my actions by Delegate Liz Bobo leaves a decidedly false impression with the residents of Wilde Lake. I feel it is necessary to post her email and provide the community with my actual positions and actions to restore my name.

In a message dated 4/20/2007 2:23:32 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, Delegate.E.Bobo@house.state.md.us writes:

Dear Friends,

I have given a lot of thought to whether to send this message to people I know who live in Wilde Lake. My conclusion is that there is too much at stake not to send it.

Lloyd and I own property in Wilde Lake, and we are voting for Phil Kirsch to be re-elected to the Columbia Association Board of Directors. Voting is a personal action, I realize, and I want to share our reasoning with you.

The future development of Downtown Columbia is by far the most important issue facing us. Phil Kirsch has been involved in the process from the beginning, attending the Charrette and then serving with me as a member of the County's Focus Group. He has made it clear that further development should benefit those of us who are already here, not just the developers.

Phil advocated with me in insisting that the county have a thorough traffic study performed before moving forward with its plans for 5500 new residential units in Downtown. That traffic study revealed that such a plan would result in gridlock. Phil played a key role in advocating for the county to designate Governor Warfield Parkway as a scenic road to protect its beautiful trees and median. As a result, the county can no longer make this road the main through way to handle Downtown traffic.

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.

In sharp contrast to his opponent, Phil has been strong in his support for Mary Kay Sigaty's proposals for a 150 foot height limitation in Columbia. His opponent is on record as favoring unlimited building heights.

During this development process it will be more important than ever for the Columbia Association Board to do the people's work in an open manner. They have held too many closed meetings in recent years. More than any other member, Phil Kirsch has voted to keep CA meetings open.

As an elected representative myself, I found it quite disturbing that Phil's opponent recently publicly called for the removal of two CA Board members who had come out in support of a candidate in last fall's election. Though that candidate was of a different political party than mine, I fully support the right of all individuals to engage in the political process and to support the candidates of their choice. The two CA Board members were completely exonerated, and should never have been castigated in that way.

Phil Kirsch has demonstrated that he is a hard working, independent representative who does not seek the limelight. He has the courage of his convictions and puts the people's interest over those of the CA corporation. We need Phil to continue his fine work.

Please join us in voting for Phil at Slayton House tomorrow, Saturday, April 21, between 9am and 3pm. Please encourage your neighbors to do likewise, as turnout will be crucial in this election.

I look forward to continuing to work with you to make Columbia an even better community.


23 April 2007

Election recap

As most in the Columbia, Maryland vicinity already know, I lost the Wilde Lake Columbia Council Representative election on Saturday. I would like to thank the residents of Wilde Lake for inviting me into their homes over the last month to talk about the issues. I would like to thank the Wilde Lake Election Committee for conducting the elections well. Lastly, I would like to thank Phil Kirsch for conducting himself well during this campaign season. Regrettably, one of his supporters mounted a (relatively) large negative campaign at the last minute and misrepresented both my experience and my position on issues (more on this later).

So with the one exception, let us all move forward as a Village, community, and city to make Columbia a great place to live now and in the future.

17 April 2007

An Eleventh Hour Suggestion

Just wondering. It is not normal protocol, but perhaps the County would see its way to televise the Planning Board hearing tonight. Considering (even with carpooling) that parking will be a premium tonight, using television would make the hearing available to an audience beyond the capacity of the Banneker Room.

In other news, the Wilde Lake Village Board and Columbia Council Representative candidate's night is tonight at Slayton House.

02 April 2007

The Current Alternative to Downtown Development

Ok, we are almost into Tuesday of this week, but there was and article in last week’s Columbia Flier (Restaurant park open for business, Plaza offers wide variety of fare) by reporter Mike Santa Rita that has been bugging me.

The article relates the new food offerings at a strip mall development (the “MaGaw Plaza”) tucked between Apple Ford and Gramaphone on MaGaw Road. This collection of eateries (and a JHUAPL Credit Union) is billed as:

The site is designed to attract a lunch crowd from nearby office buildings and evening diners from surrounding residential neighborhoods, as well as patrons of the United Artists movie theater on nearby Robert Fulton Drive, according to [Manekin Senior Developer David] Meiners.

"We tried to get a mix of variety so there are different types of food to suit different tastes," Meiners said. "We're pretty comfortable that somebody could go to dinner at Greene Turtle and get a coffee at Orinoco and a dessert at Smoothie King."

My primary concern is the lack of connectivity. Yes, there are some sidewalks nearby, but most just end and do not easily link the nearby office buildings. The result is that most patrons, either lunch or dinner crowd, will be driving to the strip mall and driving away after. It seems that is the only way to use the center.

Secondly, the variety of fare offered is a little disappointing. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been to Greene Turtle and Orinoco (once, each, not in the same day), but an auto-dependent retail center that traffics in hamburgers, pizza, and burritos seems to be two wrongs that don’t make a right. (OK, yes, Greene Turtle has some salads, Atlanta Bread is not a really not a den of cholesterol)

Moreover, with very similar establishments nearby, we have to be near saturation in the fast-casual market. With respect to hamburgers, we already have a Ruby Tuesdays, Red Robin, Rocky Run, and Fuddruckers; all which have extensive hamburger menus. In the world of burritos, the Snowden Corridor already has Chipotle’s, Qdobas, Baja Fresh, Frisco Grille and Cantina (really, the only choice for burritos in Columbia), and now California Tortilla.

Lastly, the strip mall sits on land that was once designated the “Owen Brown Industrial Park.” This area was supposed to contain light manufacturing concerns and warehouses. Where people would be paid a wage that would allow some to live reasonably nearby. Now this piece of land contains many jobs that pay the minimum wage (or less for waiters).

As I said before, I have visited the establishments there, and will one day return. I’m just not feeling too good about it. Save me a parking space.

Destination: Consumption

Now that it is April, we can look forward to Downtown Columbia Plan Season. As noted here, General Growth Properties plans to unveil its plans for downtown during April, May, or June. Howard County is also expected to put forth its plan during the same timeframe. So what can we expect? Clearly, all theories are pure speculation at this point; however, there are some guideposts that will allow some educated tea-leaf reading.

Earlier this year I posted a piece on General Growth Properties expansion of the Natick Mall. This project included an expansion of retail and dining at the Natick Mall and the construction of Condos on the mall property. Given the similarities between Natick and Columbia, I believe it is possible that General Growth may attempt to replicate the Natick project here as part of their stated intent to expand the mall. I believe the tell-tale sign will be if General Growth proposes to change the name of the Mall in Columbia. In Natick, General Growth first attempted to change the name from “Natick Mall” to “Natick.” After experiencing local opposition, General Growth settled on the name “the Natick Collection.”

Another piece of the puzzle may have been revealed at the March 8-9, 2007 Hotel Developers Conference in Rancho Mirage, CA. As reported on HospitalityNet, representatives from General Growth Properties touted the success of hotel/mixed use development.

Hotel mixed-use has emerged as one of the few ways hotel developers may be able to make a new development economically feasible, with skyrocketing construction costs. It has also become one of the hottest things going as developers of other real estate uses (shopping centers, office, retail, residential and entertainment) discover the big “IRR Premiums” that may harvested from well-planned and tightly integrated hotel mixed-use projects.

And that is why General Growth Properties (one of the largest owners of shopping malls in the world) is looking at its 200+ malls and retail centers to see where it can accomplish superior results — and believes that it may have identified 80 opportunities.

The above-linked piece on HospitalityNet.com also includes slides direct from General Growth Properties to describe the magnitude of profit to be made with hotel/mixed use. I strongly encourage all to link and view, but here is a summary (as reported on HospitalityNet.com):

  • General Growth Properties has found that 32% of U.S. domestic leisure travel activities are spent on shopping. This represents a trip volume of 490.1 million trips, with an average of $372 per household spent on each trip (excluding the transportation). An amazing 77% of those trips were overnight, and averaged 2.9 nights at a hotel.
  • Understanding this in the terms of a specific project, like the Dallas Galleria Mall is an interesting exercise. This chart shows how only 32% of the Dallas Galleria’s business came from local shoppers, and 32% of the business came from customers 50 miles away or more.
  • the benefit of hotel mixed-use flows both ways — each component of the mixed-use project enhances and improves the other. So here is GGP’s analysis of the enhanced performance of its office component at The Woodlands, their MPC in Houston.
  • Certainly some of the benefit is attributed to superior product, and to limited supply in a Master Planned Community. Nonetheless, a 1% vacancy factor compared to 12-14% in the immediately surrounding market areas, and average rent premiums of at least 30% are pretty strong evidence for the value of hotel mixed-use. (These figures -- and others --shared by GGP execs at The Hotel Developers Conference® earlier this month created a flurry of interest among participants!)
  • And if the earlier synergies of leisure travelers loving to shop were lost on you, here is a chart showing how GGP figures that its retail sales increased by more than 403% from 1995 to 2006 — at least in significant part because of the hotel mixed-use nature of the project (and also all the usual developer’s points of pride, including superior design, location, and exclusivity created in an MPC[Master Planned Community]).

Once again, I have to stress that any connection between the above mentioned material and Columbia is purely speculation; however, if this was presented with an eye toward the “garden of people,” where would this type of development find itself in Downtown Columbia? If I was using house money, I would say that it would wind up on the Crescent Property.

Taken to the hypothetical end, we need to start asking some serious questions here. Not just questions about height or number of traffic lanes, but deeper, fundamental questions. Would this type of development be complimentary to Columbia in any way? Would a boutique or five-star hotel, with possible condos and surrounded by retail become an island, or could it be integrated into the general pedestrian plan?

Beyond these (and other, unmentioned questions), a broader class of questions should also be addressed. Columbia was founded and has been in my lifetime an experiment that has resided in the alchemist wing of modern planning. Whether it is mixed income housing, interfaith centers, or the village concept; we the population of Columbia expect innovation and typically deride the importation of ideas from elsewhere. At what point would condos at the Mall in Columbia become our own and not be “Natick South?” Where is the dividing line between a hotel/condo/retail complex that is truly Columbian, and not just “the Woodlands on the Little Patuxent?”