31 July 2007

Good Eats

I have been following with great interest the discussion over on Worbones’ recent post. In addition, I have been perusing Jesse Newburn’s dining blog HoCo Loco Girl blog. Jesse, you continue to be a fountain of creativity.

Anyway, I have been concerned about the prevalence of chains in our community, and would like to see a greater local entrepreneur presence. This yearning brings to mind two questions: Do entrepenuers want to do business in Columbia/Howard County? And, How can we facilitate local business people?

I believe the answer to first question is unequivocally, YES. Local business people have quite a bit of success here in Columbia. From Mrs. Z’s to JK’s Pub and on through Jessie Wongs, Hickory Grille, Frisco Grille and Cantina, and Sushi Sono (owned by a fellow Running Brook resident, YAY!).

But how to foster this spirit. A few months ago, I discussed the work being done in Clarendon, VA. One aspect of the development in Clarendon was the local governments effort to keep local businesses in play. The solution reached in Clarendon was to allow developers a couple of more floors in exchange for leasing to local businesses on the ground floor. I am unsure if this could work in Columbia, given the current round of alto-flu going around, but I have hope that we will all recover. In my opinion, forty feet of height is not a bad trade-off for local flavor. I also believe the opposite case, forty less feet of building and more TGI Tuesday-bees is a recipe for blah, blah, blah.

Going beyond the Clarendon model, I have found another idea that may be appealing to my fellow Howard County Zoning Wonks out there (isn’t it time we had a name to rally around?). A recent post on the Cool Town Studios blog “How can I keep chains out of my neighborhood?” recalls a movement to limit chains through zoning mechanisms. (In a quick aside, please check out the Cool Town Studios environment. There are lots of great articles on beta communities, triple bottom lines, cool towns, the creative class, and many other topics. It is truly a great, innovative place.) The zoning is known as Formula Business Restrictions.

There is also a link to the following website:

This website contains many examples of local communities that have employed Formula Business Restrictions. The City of Coronado, CA is a representative example.

This city of 24,000 in southern California has two zoning ordinances that limit formula businesses. A formula business is one that is required by contractual or other arrangement to maintain a standardized array of services or merchandise, and standardized architecture, uniforms, logos, decor, etc.
The Formula Restaurant Ordinance provides that the city shall allow no more than 10 formula restaurants. New formula restaurants must obtain a special use permit, may not locate on a corner, and must meet design standards.
In December 2000, Coronado adopted a Formula Retail Ordinance. The ordinance notes that the unregulated proliferation of formula retail stores would frustrate the city's goal of maintaining a unique and diverse retail base, and limit opportunities for small, local retailers. The ordinance requires that formula retail businesses obtain a special use permit from the city. Approval hinges on demonstrating that the store will contribute to an appropriate balance of local, regional, or national-based businesses and an appropriate balance of small, medium, and large-sized businesses. Formula businesses must be compatible with surrounding uses and occupy no more than 50 linear feet of street frontage.
A group of property owners challenged Coronado's formula retail ordinance shortly after it was enacted, but a California Appeals Court upheld the law in June 2003. In its decision, the court stated that the ordinance does not violate the US Constitution's commerce and equal protection clauses, and is a valid use of municipal authority under California state law.

Now, I am not advocating that Howard County just use the Coronado, CA ordinance verbatim. We should have a discussion, and find our own level of comfort when balancing small, medium, and large retailers and trying to find the right mix of local, regional, and national chains. In fact, if done right, this type of ordinance may help direct businesses toward our village centers.

30 July 2007

Poll Time

If you take a look to the right, I think it's time we had a new poll. Please vote and we can discuss next week. In the meantime, please feel free to comment.

13 July 2007

Letters Place Political Spin above Community

By all accounts, the Columbia 40 celebration and city fair were a great success. It was a time and place to celebrate this special community; good food, great entertainment, a chance to reminisce with old friends and share experiences with new friends. Most of all, I believe it was a chance to put aside differences and enjoy each others company. As I began reading the Letters to the Editor in the Columbia Flier this week, I thought Lloyd Knowles had a similar remembrance:

For the past month or so the Columbia downtown has been jumping. The arts festival, the extraordinarily revived City Fair, Clyde's Thursdays, Mr. B's movies, bluegrass music, the fireworks! Hundreds of thousands of souls roaming around having fun, day after day.

But then he shows his true intent:

And all this vibrancy without a single dwelling unit having been added to Town Center. I believe this experience shows that a vital, exciting downtown can be achieved with events and destinations mixed in with a moderate residential expansion. If you give people reasons to come downtown, they will.

I think it is shameful to use the celebration downtown to further a political agenda. Beyond the politicizing of the downtown festivities, there are other problems with Lloyd’s letter. His assertion that “hundreds of thousands of souls roaming around having fun, day after day,” is wildly inaccurate. Just last week, Cynthia Coyle, a CA Board member, stated that the attendance over the city fair weekend was on the order of 50,000 – 60,000 people. Moreover the group-think eschewed by Lloyd and fellow CoFoCoDo member Alan Klein (scroll down) that the festivals are evident of a vibrant (vital, exciting) downtown is false. The Festival of the Arts and the City Fair were products of hundreds of thousands of dollars donated and hundreds of hours put in by scores of volunteers. Without that infrastructure, the “vibrancy” would melt away into the July humidity.

Another Celebration Marred

Just a few inches away from Lloyd’s letter, fellow CoFoCoDo member Rebecca Johnson weighed in on the Longfellow 4th of July parade:

Once again this year I attended the Longfellow Fourth of July parade, now in its 37th year. The charm and joy of a true neighborhood parade were everywhere. Families -- on bikes, pulling wagons, walking dogs decked out in red, white and blue -- all paraded by as I watched from the curbside.

After the setup, Rebecca lets loose:

The parade is well known for its tradition of addressing local community issues, and this year was no exception. All along the route, dozens of neighbors lifted homemade signs to County Executive Ken Ulman as he rode by. The signs carried statements such as "150 feet - YES! Tower - NO!," "We're with you, Ken!" and "Go Ken Go -- Block the Tower!" Neighborhood residents clearly wanted to take this opportunity to remind Mr. Ulman of his pre-election promise to enact height limits in Columbia and block (his words) the proposed high-rise Plaza Residences.

What these letters have in common is the use of an event intended to bring the community together by CoFoCoDo members to further their agenda. Thousands visited downtown Columbia to share in what is great about this community. Days later, we all celebrated what is great about this country. Apparently Lloyd and Rebecca chose not to join us.

11 July 2007

Some People

  • I have been struggling with an article published in the July 10, 2007 edition of the Baltimore Sun Howard Section and written by Rona Marech (It's perfect, now change, Columbia residents say). Now I don’t want to get into a huge journalistic integrity snit here. The attributed quotes in the article do provoke thought. In addition, this blog (and others) is not the gold standard for journalism, but I believe this particular newspaper article is troubling.

    What I struggle with is (at least to me) the large number of unattributed comments. A few examples (added emphasis mine):

    "Here, people talk in worshipful tones of the Howard County town's developer and founder James W. Rouse..."

    "He was the ultimate visionary, residents say with enormous

    "To many devotees, Columbia isn't just a place, it's a set of values."

    "The unincorporated town of about 100,000 is all about creativity, tolerance, respect for families and nature, they say."

    "Many moved here because they bought into the whole package, not just good schools, green backyards and miles of bicycle paths..."

    "even the most hard-core boosters will admit it's time to update the founder's vision."

    "Residents are heatedly debating which of the town's features work and which ones - despite Rouses' best intentions - simply don't."

    "Just about everyone agrees there should be better pedestrian access

    "To really understand what's at stake, it is essential to know about the city's past, say villagers..."

    "Many can - and will - recite Columbia's story, which began in

    "Some critics complain the town is so successful that settling there has become a financial impossibility for many people."

    "Furthermore, Columbia's downtown is a car-dependent flop
    void of charm, some say."

    "Some residents, who consider the proposed building unmanageably tall, were furious."

    "As they slog through plans and seemingly endless meetings, some residents find consolation in Rouse's belief that thriving cities are never finished."

    To me, this writing style should be rarely used in the newspaper; and if it is used, not in such volume within one article. The vagaries of the words "some" and "many" distort and/or hide the actual number of people with such viewpoints. The construct is subjective and rather than informing the reader of the number of people, it encourages the reader to assume a number based on little or no information.

    For resources on source attribution, please consult the following:

  • Society of Professional Journalists
  • ASNE Statement of Principles (formerly the Canons of Journalism)
  • Pressure Points: An FAQ about Ethics Guidelines for Poynter Publishing

06 July 2007

Taking GGP’s Pulse

Things have been rather quiet at the GGP news radar. Most has been quarterly reports and such. In the past, I posted blogs on GGP’s activities at the Natick Collection (and the associated Nouvelle at Natick condos), located in Natick, MA, and the GGP presentation at the mixed use hotel conference back in March 2007 (highlighting the success of the Woodlands Town Center).

In the last two weeks, things have started to pick up. Just today, reports from Salt Lake City show GGP’s intentions to (I guess) raze the Cottonwood Mall (1962 vintage) and develop a mixed use community on the 57 acres. In contrast to the work at Natick, I believe there is some good things happening at Cottonwood (and more importantly, good things that could be translated back here to Columbia). As reported by Mike Gorrell in the Salt Lake Tribune:

General Growth Properties hired the architectural firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. to design the project, citing its urban planning experience in developing 300 new and existing communities in the United States and overseas. The architectural firm, which has offices in Miami, Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, N.C., has been working with authorities in Louisiana and Mississippi to help communities rebuild after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk said the mall is envisioned to be a community whose internal streets will feature retail at the ground level, and will be oriented to afford pedestrians striking views of Mount Olympus and Twin Peaks.

Retail space will be topped by commercial offices and some higher-density housing units in the center of the new development, with various types of housing - from a few single-family dwellings to town houses and condominiums - flanking existing neighborhoods to the east and south.

More green space around Big Cottonwood Creek will create a parklike atmosphere, she added.

"The creek can be much more than it has been," said Plater-Zyberk, characterizing the project as "retail areas of a past age being revitalized as part of the neighborhood that grew up around them."

Anyone following the planning world knows that Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co is one of the premier new urban planning firms. They are best known locally for their work at the Kentlands in Montgomery County.

Secondly, initial renderings shown on TV-station KSL’s website give the perception of a site in which the pedestrian has priority over the automobile.

As per usual, all in life is not perfect. GGP has no specifics to offer on the proposed project. Again from the Salt Lake Tribune:

General Growth Properties, Inc., the Chicago-based owner of the aging mall on the southeast corner of 4800 South and Highland Drive, on Thursday unveiled long-awaited - but still quite nebulous - plans for Cottonwood Mall that combine retail space, offices and residential units.
The envisioned cost of the project, for instance, was not disclosed. "A lot of money" was as far as Kris Longson, General Growth Properties vice president of development, was willing to go.

Nor did he say whether the new mall would have as much space dedicated to retail as the existing, 45-year-old mall - roughly 730,000 square feet of leasable space. "Retail [space] may be a little less," he offered.

And how much housing will there be? Longson was not certain about that either. "The residential count right now is 500 units," he said, but that could change as artists' renditions are turned into detailed architectural drawings and the company's plan goes through Holladay City's administrative process.

Randy Fitts, Holladay city manager, said General Growth Properties has not submitted any applications for the project, which Longson indicated could begin next year and apparently would involve the demolition of all of the existing mall, except perhaps the Macy's department store on the north end.

There is also no pledge for affordable housing or to incorporate local businesses into the retail scheme, but as an initial offering, its not a bad start at all. In my opinion, it does have the potential to become, at least for some Salt Lake City residents, a much sought after “third place.”

Columbia, Once Again the Prototype (Precursor, Progenitor)

In an interview with New Urban News, GGP vice-president Thomas D’Alesandro IV spoke about downtown Columbia (it has been a while, n’est pas?) I came across his comments via the Planetizen website link “A New Species of Mall Rat Evolving?”

Despite the (what some would think is a) disparaging link title, the actual article provides some insight into the soon to be released plans in downtown Columbia:

Thomas D’Alesandro IV, senior vice president of the Chicago-based company, told a session at CNU in Philadelphia that he foresees “the reinvention of existing malls into mixed-use centers.”

The firm has quietly had Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. work on a plan for redeveloping Utah’s first enclosed shopping mall — the Cottonwood Mall in Holladay, just south of Salt Lake City — into a mixed-use development. That project, whose design has not yet been made public, joins mixed-use redevelopment projects that the company is pursuing in Columbia, Maryland, Natick, Massachusetts, Rock Springs, Wyoming, and elsewhere.

GGP’s acquisitions, and an awareness of changing living patterns and widespread opposition to sprawl, have given the company a growing appreciation of mixed-use development. “We’re looking, going forward, at being a different company,” D’Alesandro told a CNU audience May 19.

D’Alesandro pointed out the significance of his own history and position. “I head development at General Growth,” he said, and “I have never built a mall.” What he has done over the years is orchestrate development of Virginia’s Reston Town Center during a formative period of that project and work as an executive at The Woodlands, a “new town” begun in the 1970s north of Dallas.


In Columbia, where zoning approvals for redevelopment are yet to be secured, “the big idea is to integrate the mall into a larger urban fabric, kind of like the 19th-century urban arcaded streets were in Europe,” D’Alesandro told New Urban News. “The tactics would include walkways and streets connecting the mall to Columbia Town Center’s lakefront district, which abut one another but have never been connected from a pedestrian point of view…. Other sides of the mall would have their own connections to streetscapes.” Parking lots would be replaced by structured parking. Residential, office, and retail space would be added. A hotel may be built, too. The Howard County government had Design Collective, a new urbanist firm in Baltimore, devise a 30-year plan through a public charrette process (Dec. 2005 New Urban News). GGP has since retained Cooper, Robertson & Partners, another new urbanist firm, to create a plan.

“I think Columbia presents an excellent opportunity to develop a protocol for mall conversion into mixed-use town centers that we will be able to study and extend to other properties across our portfolio,” D’Alesandro said. “My belief is that this is going to be a long-term trend extending over at least the next twenty years, so much so that people will become as familiar with a mall conversion protocol as they are with a prototypical new urbanist residential neighborhood…. It will start out slow as people learn the new ‘formulas’ and pick up speed once they have got them down.”

Blast from the Past

So I was rolling through Columbia today and came across this:


03 July 2007

Observations of an Event-Packed Weekend

City Fair – Hooray!
Looking back over the past weekend, I have to say the return of the City Fair was, for the most part, just what this town needed. Late last week, I had some reservations about how well things would go. That all changed when I made it to Lake Kittamaquandi. When I arrived at the lakefront early Saturday morning and saw the carnival rides, the food stands, and the tents set up for community organizations, I immediately felt that the we were going to have a great weekend.

Walking through the crowds and running into people that I had not seen in a long time was a particular treat. It was great to catch up with so many people in a festival atmosphere. I soon noticed that I was not the only one running into friends. It was as if this was one huge family reunion. All around me there were people hugging and laughter erupting; the hearty kind of laughter from deep in the belly, shared only with people that have a close relationship.

As always, the cake cutting was (for me) the must attend event. I was a little concerned that the crowds on Sunday were noticeably light. My family and I arrived on Sunday at about 12:30 PM, and we easily found a parking spot on the ground floor of the Sheraton Hotel parking garage. During the cake cutting ceremony, the grass amphitheater had lots of people, but it was by no means crowded. In spite of the light attendance, the singing of happy birthday was loud and strong, and the cupcakes were great.

I also want to recognize the City Fair volunteers. It seemed to me that they were everywhere. They were courteous, helpful, and full of the City Fair spirit. Two volunteers of note were Marvin Lawson and Mary Pivar. When I came across Marvin, he was in the information booth next to pavilion. His broad smile and enthusiasm were contagious. Mary was one of the volunteers handing out cupcakes, and as she navigated the uneven terrain with a somewhat cumbersome box of cupcakes, she seemed to move as if walking on air.

Regrettably, there were two aspects of the City Fair that I found offensive. The first is not so much City Fair specific, but has been bugging me during the whole “40 Day” celebration. It has to do with the “Columbia 40” flag flying from the bell tower. I have a personal attachment to the flags that fly over the bell tower. Back in the 1980’s, I was a lifeguard at the Town Center Boat Docks. One of the secondary responsibilities of people working at the Boat Docks was to raise the flags on the bell tower each morning, and lower the flags at sunset. The flags were: the United States flag, the Maryland State flag, the Howard County flag, and the Columbia flag. To me, the flags that flew over the bell tower represented who we are: we are Americans, we are Marylanders, we are Howard Countians, we are Columbians.

When the “40 Day” celebration started, the Columbia flag was replaced with the “Columbia 40” flag. In my opinion, the “Columbia 40” flag is essentially an advertisement. It smacks of the same commercialism that besieged the National Mall in Washington DC during the 2003 NFL season kickoff festival. This festival included a concert on the mall with large Pepsi billboards erected on the mall for the occasion. Beyond replacing the city flag with the “Columbia 40” flag, the idea of flying an ad next the United States flag is (in my opinion) inappropriate. Even McDonalds flies only their corporate flag next to the United States flag. You don’t see “Shrek 3 happy meal” flags flying next to old glory. Could we at least have the same standards and ethics as McDonalds?

Now, I imagine the “Columbia 40” flag was put up there with the best of intentions. I would think that those who came up with the idea were not trying to disparage anything. I just hope in the future, more thought will be put into this. One suggestion I have is that a city fair flag be flown on the same halyard as the Columbia flag, but at a lower height.

Another aspect of the City Fair that bothered me was the apparent need of some people to politicize the event. Rather than putting their noise machine in the garage for the weekend, Co Fo Co Do staffed a booth to forward their agenda. Would it not have been better for all Columbians to stop with the bickering, emphasize what we share in common, and celebrate? I suppose that may be too much to ask.

On a similar note, CA Board member Evan Coren saw fit to wear his “Elect Evan Coren” t-shirt to the cake cutting ceremony. Does Evan realize that he won the election and is not up for re-election until April 2009? Would someone please take the freshman aside and let him know that the Birthday Celebration is about the community, and not about himself? Poor taste.

Columbia Neighborhood Swim League Reunion

This past Sunday afternoon, I would estimate 50 former Columbia Neighborhood Swim League participants gathered at the Thunder Hill Neighborhood Center. This event was not officially part of the “Columbia 40” celebration, but it did coincide with the City Fair. I think everyone there had a great time. People brought photos, swim team group pictures, trophies, and a few even had Columbia Swimming jackets.

I think everyone experienced a light social tension upon entering the event. Most of us were accustomed to seeing each other in bathing suits, and at least twenty years ago! Age, time, and clothes seemed to obscure peoples identities at the onset. There were a lot of people striking up “you look familiar” conversations. I have to say thank goodness to Karen Emery, whose dry wit I came to appreciate during the mid 80’s. She clearly still has the ability to turn a phrase. Someone came up to her, looking as if to cut through the haze and make a connection, and said “Hey, I know you!” Karen looked the person right in the eye and replied, “Yes, you do.”

I saw friends that I had not seen in a long time. Former neighbor and schoolmate Danny O’Conner was there. I have not seen him since 1974! Jimmy Early was there. Back in 1977, he was the coach of the Owen Brown Barracudas (along with Karen Workman). During that summer, Jimmy drove a dark green AMC Hornet. He would arrive at the Dasher Green Pool each morning at 7:00 AM, decked out in his flip flops and OP shorts to let us pool rats in. To us, Jimmy was a god. I also saw Karla Filipczak, who I swear has not aged a day since I worked with her at the Columbia Swim Center (1986?). My BFF Peter LaGow was on hand, as well as other friends Beth Plummer, Debbie Feddor, and Ellen Medlock.

Swim Team alum and fellow Columbia blogger Jessie Newburn was there, hoopin’ and reminiscing with friends.

One of the most interesting conversations I had occurred in the courtyard outside the neighborhood center. I was talking with my friend Jennifer Terrasa, who swam in the neighborhood swim league during the 1980’s. In addition to working hard for the people of Howard County; she is currently a Swim Team Mom in Kings Contrivance. As we were talking, Mary Lorsung walks up and joined in the conversation. It turns out that Mary was also a Swim Team Mom. So there I was, with two generations of Swim Team Moms. We had a great conversation about who swam where, how things were (back in the day), how things are now, what has changed, what has stayed the same. It was so nice to just be able to talk, and remember, and smile.

If anyone knows if there were pictures taken, please let me know, I would be happy to post them here. I hope the swim league reunions can happen more often; and maybe next time we can play sharks and minnows.

01 July 2007

Development Satire

Courtesy of the people at "the onion." Remember, if the quotes you read in this fictional account sound like what you hear in real life in Columbia, it just isn't funny.

"Shitty Neighborhood Rallies Against Asshole Developer"