30 September 2007


The title of this blog post came to me last night as my family was grocery shopping. My son and I were at one end of the store, and we caught site of my wife halfway towards the other end. Being four, my son was proud to be pushing the shopping cart (with a little guidance from his dad) through the store. When he saw my wife, he took off with the shopping cart and started shouting “mommy, espera!” It took hearing it a second time for it to register, but yes, my son was shouting in Spanish for his mom to wait for us. It brought a HUGE smile to my face.

With that thought logged fresh in my mind this morning, I began the review of the local papers. Susan DeFord writes in the Washington Post Metro section (Council Member Tables Legislation in Push to Compromise):

The Howard County Council member who sought height restrictions for a controversial high-rise project in Columbia said she'll table her legislation in the hopes of forging a compromise.
The announcement from Mary Kay Sigaty (D-West Columbia) came after a closed Friday session attended by county leaders, community activists and representatives of the developer that plans to build the Plaza Residences, a 22-story condominium tower that would rise 275 feet along Little Patuxent Parkway.

[A]fter Friday's discussion, Sigaty said that "people wanted to come back to the table and keep talking. I was always in support of a compromise.
"I will be tabling my legislation for a month to allow the conversation to continue," she said.
Details of Friday's meeting, according to participants and those following the matter, dealt with lowering the height of the tower and possibly offering additional incentives, such as money for affordable housing.

Over at the Baltimore Sun (Talks on tower advance), reporter June Arney writes today:

The sponsor of legislation intended to block construction of a 23-story tower in downtown Columbia plans to ask the County Council to table her bills for 30 days in hopes that a compromise can be reached, after a lengthy, closed-door meeting of interested parties.
"There was agreement in the room that it had been a productive day and we needed to talk some more," Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty said after Friday's meeting. Sigaty represents the district where the 160-unit Plaza Residences is being built and is the sponsor of the two bills.
Another meeting of all parties is planned for Friday, she said.

[C]ouncilwoman Courtney Watson, who did not attend the meeting, said Friday that she had reservations about delaying a decision.
"I would be opposed to tabling it without some reassurance that there was a serious effort on the part of the parties to reach a compromise," she said. Watson said she planned to talk with people over the weekend to determine how close a compromise might be.
Among the key players not at the table Friday were four plaintiffs who had filed a court action trying to stop the project. But their attorney was able to attend the latter part of the meeting.
In a letter sent to Ulman, E. Alexander Adams, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said he could not be at the meeting because of a court commitment and that he had recommended his clients not attend without counsel.
"My clients, as always, have been receptive to a resolution that addresses this problem of the illegal land use classification, while being cognizant of the overall community interest in the long overdue re-zoning of Town Center," Adams wrote in his letter. "There are important issues in this case and important processes critical to the future of New Town realizing its rightful integral place in this County's social, cultural, community and economic mosaic."

I have to say, I believe Mr. Adams statement “My clients, as always, have been receptive to a resolution that addresses this problem of the illegal land use classification…” missed the point. The zoning amendments before the County Council deal specifically with building height, not the construction of apartments. The legislation makes no distinction between residential (i.e. apartments) or commercial buildings. In fact, it has been stated that the arbitrary limit of 150 feet is derived from a commercial building that contains no apartments. If Mr. Adams is at the table to discuss a compromise, he should be focused on the issue of building height.

So it appears with respect to zoning amendments restricting building heights in downtown, we will all have to wait. Espera. But there is something more to this wonderful Spanish verb, esperar. The verb not only means “to wait,” but it equally means “to hope for.” Through one of those idiomatic quirks, both meanings of Espera can be applied to our current situation.

Hasta Noviembre!

29 September 2007

On First Blush

As the days of this abnormally dry (but otherwise pleasant) September have ticked away, the back of my mind has been politely reminding me that the County had promised to release to the public a downtown Columbia traffic study and draft master plan. That promise became a reality yesterday. The draft master plan, traffic study, a comment/feedback form and a calendar of events can all be viewed here.

The past two presidential administrations have conditioned me to be a bit sour and cynical of press releases that occur on Fridays. It seems at the Federal level, a Friday dump is tantamount to releasing information that does not get covered extensively in the press. Happily, my cynicism dissolved after downloading and reading the five part draft master plan. Moreover, coverage has been pretty quick. Both Hayduke and Columbia Council Representative Evan Coren have already put up blog posts on the subject, and the Baltimore Sun Howard section has a story in today’s paper.

From a broad prospective, the draft master plan looks great. The inclusion of artwork by Bob Tennenbaum, original renderings from early Columbia promotional material, and current day photographs are pleasing to the eye.

With respect to content, I have only had a chance for a quick read through, but a few things stand out:

The document lays out a three step process. The first step of this process is the release of the Draft Master Plan. From page 4 of the Draft Master Plan:

As part of the first step, the Department of Planning and Zoning offers this thematic document, which serves two purposes: (1) to describe a vision for Downtown Columbia, highlighting the themes that have emerged through public dialogue over the course of the past two years and (2) to establish a framework that will provide guidance for General Growth Properties (GGP), the major property owner in Downtown, as they prepare a downtown development master plan for public review and approval.

The second step will be the General Growth Properties plan.

The third step will be codifying the master plan through a legislative process. The legislative process is intended to involve two pieces of legislation: an amendment to the Howard County General Plan (GP) and amendments to the Howard County Zoning Regulations (ZRA). As stated in the Draft Master Plan Appendix:

The County Administration is proposing to utilize these two amendment processes, GP and ZRA, as the recommended approach for Downtown, because they are legislative processes. Legislative processes afford the public the maximum opportunity to interact with their elected officials. The other processes that could be utilized such as amendment to the Preliminary Development Plan or a rezoning case would be a quasi-judicial process, requiring that elected officials cannot speak with the public or anyone else about the case. With this [GP and ZRA amendment] legislative approach, elected officials are free to meet with the public and to discuss the amendments as much as they may find helpful.

The Draft Master Plan does expand on the framework in which General Growth Properties is to hang their master plan on. The framework focuses on five themes, three vision-based and two process-based:

This framework is organized around five themes that emerged from the extensive input by the public during the charrette, the Downtown Columbia Focus Group meetings and from independent groups and individual citizens who have contributed to the planning process. These groups include Howard County Citizens’ Association, Columbia Association, Town Center village board, Wilde Lake village board, Oakland Mills village board, Harper’s Choice village board, the Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown (CCD), Bring Back the Vision, Howard County Tomorrow and others.

Just a quick note here. I think it would have been appropriate to list the blogs in Howard County (as a general category) as a source of input. Although rarely unanimous, the blogs have been a source of research, opinion, and discussion related to downtown.

The themes are organized around two broad categories: Vision and Process. The first three serve as extensions of Jim Rouse’s original goals for Columbia – a reaffirmation of the community’s founding principles and shared values. The last two - the Process themes - outline a planning and development process necessary to achieving the vision for Downtown Columbia.

Making a Special Place [page 6]

Downtown Columbia will be a diverse, mixed-use, livable, physically distinctive and human-scaled place with a range of hous-ing choices and recreational, civic and cultural amenities.

Moving and Connecting People [page 6]

Downtown Columbia will enhance multimodal connectivity through a variety of safe, convenient and innovative transportation alternatives.

Sustaining the Environment [page 7]

Downtown Columbia’s natural resources will be protected and enhanced; a network of public spaces will provide places for individual contemplation and social gathering.

Balancing and Phasing Growth [page 7]

The development of Downtown Columbia will be served by public facilities provided in a timely manner.

Involving Everyone [page 8]

The community will be actively engaged in decisions concerning the evolution of Downtown.

The balance of the draft expands on these five themes.

Traffic Study

Once again, only a first impression, but there is a lot to digest here. The traffic study is well written, and goes to some length to explain the terms involved. The traffic study breaks up traffic improvements into near term (present to 2014) and long term traffic flow (2014-2037). In the near term, few traffic modifications are recommended to kep traffic flowing and adding development. Beyond 2014, three scenarios are considered: no development, with a 1% yearly increase in traffic flow (based conservatively on traffic data collected over the last few years), a low development increase, and the projected development that was presented in the initial draft development plan. In all three cases, intersections downtown are predicted to fail.

One point that the slow growth/no growth contingent may latch onto is the middle growth scenario will produce 40% less traffic than the full growth scenario. However, as the report shows, both development scenarios would result in about the same amount of failing intersections. This indicates that there is not a statistically significant correlation between development and traffic. There are many recommendations, but we will save them for another post.

Looking at the calendar, the following draft master plan events are scheduled:

10OCT07 - Downtown Focus Group Meeting 4-6 pm
Oakland Mills, Other Barn
(they’re getting the band back together! And, as typical, during normal working hours to keep us work-a-day people away)

11OCT07 – Traffic Study Report 7-9 pm
Harpers Choice, Kahler Hall

20OCT07 – CA and Village Boards 10-12 noon
Howard Building

20OCT07 – DPZ Open House 1-3 pm
Howard Building

25OCT07 – DPZ Open House 7-9 pm
Wilde Lake High School

30OCT07 – Public Forum 7-9 pm
Oakland Mills High School

23 September 2007

The Tower of Babble

Well its been one Plaza-riffic week! I will save my impression of the whole thing until the end, but first, lets take a look at how the two days of testimony was reported. Dave Wissing at the Hedgehog Report was first out the gate with some great impressions of Monday night. The Baltimore Sun led off with a report by Larry Carson on September 19, 2007 (Tower fans, critics heard). Mr. Carson’s leadoff paragraph pretty much set the stage:

Like practiced players in a long-running drama, scores of people trying to block or defend a proposed 23-story condominium tower in Columbia descended on a Howard County Council public hearing Monday night for what turned out to be two days of testimony about two bills that could derail the project.

The report in the Baltimore Sun was followed by articles published in the Washington Post, Baltimore Examiner and Columbia Flier on September 20, 2007. Both the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun quoted testimony from CoFoCoDo’s Alan Klein.

The Washington Post reported:

Community activist Alan Klein said he wouldn't respond to comments from "special interests," but, his voice rising, he called to task each of the five council members.
"The council candidates announced their support for height limits. You said so publicly," he said, reciting statements attributed to members during their election campaigns. "You know why you should pass these bills."

And the Baltimore Sun:

But Alan Klein of the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown, a group trying to block the tower, which they see as large building that will dwarf the rest of Town Center, said his group has "almost 400 supporters" who "have no vested interest in the decision other than the quality of life."
He urged the council members to "protect the human scale of Columbia" and not "bow to special interests." He quoted each council member expressing doubt or opposition to the tower's height during last year's election campaigns.

In my opinion, I thought Alan’s testimony was particularly damaging to his cause. I was in the audience, sitting about fifty feet from Alan when he gave his testimony, and I was shocked. As stated by both the Sun and the Post, Alan did provide quotes from each of the council members and read them back to them. It seemed that with each quote, Alan’s voice got louder and more shrill. Alan’s verbal escalation peaked as he stated that many of the Council were in fact members of CoFoCoDo and quoted from their white paper regarding building height. After which, and I’m paraphrasing here, it appeared he commanded the council to adhere to the CoFoCoDo white paper and pass the building height bills. The room got noticeably quiet after Alan completed his testimony.

I suppose a lesson learned here is that if you are a supporter of CoFoCoDo, keep in mind your signing on may be viewed more as an oath, rather than an affirmation of their broad recommendations.

From the side opposing the legislation, Attorney Richard Talkin was widely quoted:

From the Baltimore Examiner:

“There is a rift in the community, and it’s getting wider. We need to resolve this case,” said Richard Talkin, attorney representing the developer of the Plaza Residences, WCI Communities Inc. “We have been willing to compromise.”

From the Columbia Flier:

Richard Talkin, an attorney representing Florida-based WCI Communities Inc., the developer of the planned 22-story condominium on Wincopin Circle, said the company is willing to compromise on the building's height and make other concessions to speed the project along.

[T]here is a rift in the community (over the project) and it's getting wider as the case goes on ... we have to move forward together," Talkin told the County Council at a Sept. 18 hearing on a pair of zoning amendments introduced by Council member Mary Kay Sigaty, a Columbia Democrat.

In contrast to Alan Klein, Mr. Talkin appeared calm both during his testimony and during a short Q&A with Council members.


Both the Baltimore Examiner and the Columbia Flier touched on the issue of a possible compromise. I think all parties involved would like to see some compromise worked out rather than continuing with the high stakes rhetoric. However, as I see it, hope on this front is somewhat bleak. It appears that WCI is willing to talk about at least changing the building height as part of a compromise, and may even be willing to do other things. However, they are committed to building on the site in downtown. In some respects, I can’t blame them for holding to their particular site. They received Planning Board approval for their site plan and also received building permits for that particular site. They played by all the rules and met all the requirements. Now they are talking about compromising even further. They may want to drop the height to 150 feet, but they are at least talking about some reduction in height.

On the other side, State Delegate Liz Bobo believes the first step in compromise is to build no building at all. The honorable former County Executive believes WCI should be compensated, and no building erected. Depending on who you are, this might appear to be a buyout or a property taking.

From my point of view, I believe that a buyout of WCI is a non-starter. By analogy, my neighbor and I have been talking about how to reduce our carbon footprints. One of the topics we have discussed is our vehicles. We both recognize that there are more fuel efficient vehicles on the market, and we are each considering purchasing one in the future. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that my neighbor decides that to reduce his carbon footprint, he decides to buy a motorcycle. I talk to my neighbor and say that the motorcycle will be loud and disruptive in the neighborhood. He states that the motorcycle is on order and offers to not start the motorcycle early in the morning, or drive at low throttle to minimize the noise (ostensibly the WCI position). I reply to him that I believe the motorcycle dealership should buy the motorcycle from him (after all, the dealership can afford to do that, right?), and he explore another, fuel efficient means of getting around town.

Does that make sense?

My Two Cents

With regard to the building height legislation, I am in opposition to both bills. Generally stated, Council Bill 64 is the one that applies building height legislation to those projects under appeal. I believe that the County would be in legal jeopardy if this bill is passed. Primarily because, as stated in the May 2007 Howard Business Monthly (Planning Board Hearing on Plaza Residences Tower Sparks Debate),

Two zoning regulation amendments targeting a controversial 23-story mixed-use high-rise approved for Columbia Town Center sparked a large turnout and lively debate at the Howard County Planning Board's late April hearing.
County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty (D-Dist. 4), who introduced the amendments, said she did so to respond to significant community concern about height limits triggered by the board's approval of The Plaza Residences at Columbia Town Center, a 275-foot-tall tower planned by Florida developer WCI Communities. The project would include ground level retail shops and 160 luxury condominiums.
"As the planning process went forward there was a real concern [in the community] that other buildings might slip in during the planning process," Sigaty told the board. "There was concern that this building would set a precedent that would be a negative precedent. ... In addition, though, there is also a very strong desire for real change in downtown."
According to a review of county regulations, Sigaty said, all districts have height limits except for New Town and those with MXT zoning. "I feel it is in the community's best interest for us to introduce an interim height limit of 150 feet [in New Town]," she said, noting that the limit reflects the height of the Merrill Lynch building, the county's tallest.
Her intent, Sigaty added, is to "calm fears about what could happen ... and hopefully engage people in the appropriate conversation necessary to help create a vibrant, exciting downtown."

So Councilperson Sigaty’s own words clearly place the zoning amendments (now Council Bills) as a response to one project. In addition, both the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning and the Howard County Planning Board have recommended against the retroactive nature of CB 64. So to enact legislation against a single project and willfully ignore both the recommendations of DPZ and the Planning Board puts the Council, and the County, in a bad position.

With respect to CB 63, which sets a 150 foot height limit in New Town I have two concerns with this bill. First, passing this bill elevates (pardon the pun) 150 feet above any other height to be considered in the future. As the discussion and debate about downtown Columbia evolves, if 150 feet is passed by the County Council, someone will most likely defend the 150 feet by stating that the Council must have passed it for some reason. Passage of CB 63 sets an arbitrary standard. Moreover, by passing a height limit now, limits further creativity as we discuss downtown. In my opinion, what should be held constant at the outset is the amount of developable square footage in downtown. From that constant value, a robust discussion of traffic volumes, building heights, and density can occur. To the County’s credit, this is precisely what they have done since the charrette.


As we move into the final week before these bills are decided, there need to be some solutions offered. I only have a few, but would welcome any that are pinging around the blogosphere.

The first suggestion I have is to add the word “arbitrary” to CB 63. Clearly, most people believe that this height limit was not arrived at by any empirical, historical, or even sentimental means. It is in fact an arbitrary limit, so why not say so in the bill?

Secondly, I have heard some say “since CB 63 is temporary, what would it hurt to pass it?” Well, if this is true, that no harm will come from passing a temporary building height, why not limit the height to ten (10) feet? I mean, it’s only temporary, so what could it hurt? Right?

18 September 2007

Red Rocks!

Columbia blogger Red Writes weighs in on the Wegmans coming to Columbia. It's time well spent so check it out. I put my two cents in. Also take the time to read other posts, Red provides a great first-person perspective on the happenings in the area.

Go Red!

14 September 2007

To-MAY-to, to-MAH-to?

It looks to me that the Plaza Tower and Wegmans are becoming a planning and zoning Scylla and Charybdis visited upon our fine community. The opposition mounted (mostly by labor unions) to the Wegmans is starting to sound awful similar to the path blazed by the friends of the community Knowles/Broida/Meskin/Stolley.

At the heart of both opposition movements is text amendment changes to Final Development Plans (FDPs). In fact, in each case, the FDP change dealt with adding a permitted use. In the case of the Plaza Tower, apartments were permitted on a site zoned for Employment Center/Commercial. In the case of Wegmans, a grocery store (generally considered a commercial use) was permitted on a site zoned as industrial.

It is also of note that both parties have stated the Planning Board decisions are in opposition to the original intent of Columbia, with CoFoCoDo-ists pouring over early pictures of Columbia promotional concept models to count building floors and Wegmans opposers stating that the proposed huge grocery store would threaten the Village Centers as they are currently configured.

Knowles/Broida/Meskin/Stolley appealed to the Board of Appeals, and the Wegmans opposition currently intends to follow the same course. As these cases wind through the appeals and courts, it will certainly be interesting. It may even be possible that both cases could be before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals by this time next year.

And if this zoning situation detaches from reality and falls into the realm of the unbelievable, the Wegmans opposition could put pressure on elected officials to introduce zoning amendments to prohibit construction of a grocery store greater than 60,000 square feet (including those grocery stores undergoing judicial review) until a master plan is developed for the Sieling Industrial Park.

That kind of thing couldn’t happen, could it?

10 September 2007

I found another one

Another Oakland Mills Village Center sign. It is located on Thunder Hill Road, south of Twin Knolls Road. Check it out.

View Larger Map

06 September 2007

The Face of Sprawl

Let us all take a moment and think good thoughts for CA Board member Evan Coren (KC). Evan needs some good thoughts. He needs some good karma. He is in a bad place right now. In his latest post on his blog. Evan states:

Wednesday night at the Kings Contrivance Village Board meeting I saw a
presentation by Wegman's. The Wegman's proposal includes Wegman's paying for
significant road improvements in that area where they are planning on building
at the corner of Snowden River Parkway and McGaw Road. If more developers
demonstrated this willingness to mitigate the traffic problems they create we
would not be having such a problem with downtown Columbia redevelopment.

Evan also provides a link to an earlier post he wrote in which he advocates for placing :”big box” stores (such as Best Buy) in the village centers (and by the way, check out Mike Drakos' comment on the linked post. It is lengthy, but well written. I could not say it any better).

I suppose it is clear now, Evan is in love with big box stores. He advocates shopping at such centers, and now he terms the Wegmans construction responsible because they will build more roads; further enforcing the dominance of the automobile over the pedestrian. Evan Coren is the face of sprawl.

Moreover, it appears that Evan boils development down to a single issue: traffic. I have to wonder, if WCI put a turn lane in front of the Plaza Tower, could we expect Evan to whole-heartedly endorse the building? It is hard to say.

What Evan may not realize is that Wegmans had to provide traffic mitigation measures. The traffic generated for the store will clearly change the level of service (and by that I mean traffic volume) on McGaw Road. The County requires developers to provide traffic mitigation if their development will cause a change in level of service to the road. Another point Evan may not realize is that in downtown Columbia the intersections are designated as “constrained road facilities.” This means that if development causes a change in level of service, the intersections cannot be modified because of their “unique urban character.” (Now clearly, if the downtown intersections get to the point that they fail, the State of Maryland will require mitigation.) So Evan is triumphing something that Wegmans was required to do by law and denigrating other development that is required by law to do nothing.

What I would like to see Wegmans do is go a little above and beyond what is required (and yes, I may sound a little CoFoCoDo-ish in saying this). I think we can all agree that putting Wegmans next to Snowden River Parkway will increase traffic which will result in more greenhouse gases emitted and more pollution. I say why not try to mitigate not only the traffic, but the environmental externality as well. Could we ask Wegmans to build a bus stop at their store (thereby allowing access without the use of a car) and to donate two new hybrid buses to the County (further reducing the carbon footprint). Lastly, have the Wegmans building constructed and certified to at least LEED silver standards (the bus stop construction will go a long way to achieve this goal). It is my hope that this is a modest proposal, and could be used to minimize the effects of Wegmans on the region.

04 September 2007

Baltimore Examiner Declares War on Columbia, Maryland

No, not really; but given the Examiner’s proclivity for misleading headlines, why not join the party? What we have today is poorly constructed editorial from the Baltimore Examiner. It’s headline “Columbia Association milks homeowners” seems to only tangentially enter into the body of their piece. Ostensibly, the topic of the editorial is the recently released salary data for the top positions at the Columbia Association.

“If only government employees were paid as handsomely as Columbia Association
officers. Heck, if mere residents all could make as much, what a happy place
Columbia would be.”

This lead-off sentence promises much to come, but little follows. Yes, if only government employees were paid as much as Columbia Association (CA) officers. But CA is not a government, so why make the comparison? Even more troubling is the second statement, trying to relate senior management salary to all Columbia residents. If all Columbia residents were senior officers of corporations, then yes, there would be a valid comparison, but as we all know, not everyone in Columbia is the President of a Corporation, a CFO, etc…Lord knows I am not. (and by-the-way, I find Columbia, day-in and day-out a pretty happy place to be, regardless of salary.)

Rather than lobbing ill constructed arguments, such as:

"As The Examiner reported last week, five of the seven top officers at the homeowner’s association earned more than $100,000 in fiscal 2007; President
Maggie Brown earned $207,973 with her bonus.

The average adult in Columbia makes about $41,000 a year, according to 2006 Mapinfo/AnySite Demographics. "

The Examiner staff should have done some research (it is, from what I am told, a newspaper) to find out what other executives that live in Columbia make. This would give an apples to apples comparison. Or maybe they could look into what executives at other non-profit organizations, with revenues in the $25M-$50M range make. Or what the salaries of executives at other quasi-governmental organizations make (WSSC comes to mind). Otherwise, to state the average adult makes $41K seems to imply that the President of a corporation should make $41K. Bad idea.

The editorial does mention one salary:

As members of a quasi-governmental group, homeowners have a right to think
salaries would align with those of Howard County government employees.

But they don’t. The chief administrative officer in the county makes $154,000 a

I also find it interesting that the Examiner editorial staff seems to go out of their way to demonstrate how relatively “poor” Columbians are, when just five days ago they were trumpeting the comparative wealth of the State of Maryland and Howard County.

Now, I agree that homeowners “have a right to think salaries would align with those of Howard County government employees,” but how about some supporting evidence? What other organization locks their senior staff's salary to government pay? Anyone? How far should this mimicking of governmental parity go? The Howard County government does see its way to pay council members on the order of $50K/yr. Should CA start paying the board of directors above the average Howard County salary (as sourced by the Examiner editorial board) for their services?

The Examiner then goes on to detail Howard County property taxes and the CA lien/assessment:

"As Howard County residents, Columbia homeowners pay $1.01 in property taxes for every $100 of assessed value. On top of that they must also pay a base “fee” to
the Columbia Association.

That tax is $0.68 per $100 of assessed value on half of the property or about $1,579 on a home valued at $464,294, the average selling price of a home in Howard County in July. If you want more than CA’s basic services you pay more.

With that kind of fee only the wealthy can afford to live in Columbia. "

I find this particularly interesting. The Examiner states that the average annual salary in Columbia is $41K, then states the average home is valued at $464,294, and then comes to the conclusion that the CA fee is the reason folks cannot afford to live in Columbia. Let me first say, if a home costs ten times your salary, it is not the CA fee that is going to stop you from making your payments.

This type of argument also hides another reality. Given the data of a selling price of $464,294 in July 2007 seems to imply that most people are paying a lien (and a property tax) on an assessed value of more than $450K. This is not so. As we know in Howard County, the amount of your assessment can only increase by a small percentage each year. So if a homeowner purchased a home 5, 10, 20 or 40 years ago, the value can only increase incrementally year to year. A few years ago, CA implemented a similar regimen (with some involvement from the Maryland General Assembly)

So the home that now sells for $464,294 today may have sold for $190K - $200K a few years ago. That means that people are not paying the $1579 stated in the editorial, they are paying less. It is only the people that purchased in July 2007 that would be paying that rate.

The Examiner editorial then adds:

CA spokesman Steve Sattler said the association uses consultants to determine
salaries. Who cares. Common sense says the pay scale is out of whack with both
equivalent jobs and community values.

I find this conclusion especially dangerous. "Who cares?" I believe a lot of people care. That in fact would be one of the reasons to write an editorial as such. Moreover, boiling down an argument to “common sense” is just another way of saying there is no supporting, credible evidence to support their argument.

As for equivalent jobs, once again, only one job title was cited, that of a government position. CA is not a government, it is a private corporation. Comparables of other private corporations, both for profit and non-profit should be used. The salaries of other large homeowner associations should be used. The salaries of other quasi-governmental organizations (such as WSSC or the NYNJPA) should be used. And, if any can be found, any other organization of similar size that voluntarily uses a local government pay scale should be used. The Examiner provides none of this data.

As far as community values, this comes from a media organization with women in bikinis adorned with “I survived roe v. wade” and "Imagine No Liberals" t-shirts on their website.

The Examiner editorial closes with the following two paragraphs:

"Columbia homeowners should demand pay cuts from Columbia Association officers.
They must also demand that the group post employee salaries and its budget online in an easily accessible portion of the Web site to allow for better oversight of the association.

Transparency is a key way to ensure those charged with supervising Columbia reflect the priorities – and incomes – of the homeowners paying their salaries. "

Interesting. Without making a case that a quasi-governmental organization should be paid at a local government scale, the Examiner puts forth that the population of Columbia should demand paycuts of the executives. It appears that this suggestion separates performance from pay and is an invitation to chaos. Moreover, demanding pay cuts from CA officers demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Columbia Association by the Baltimore Examiner. The CA Board decides the compensation for the CA President directly. Indirectly, the CA Board decides staff compensation by approving the operations budget. The CA President determines senior staff compensation directly. If anyone is to be implicated, the CA Board should be the stating place. Keep in mind, the CA Board recently approved an increase in the CA President’s salary. After awarding the CA President a $7,000 pay increase this year, CA Board member Gail Broida (TC) was quoted in the Columbia Flier saying:

"I feel that Mrs. Brown will do her absolute best under her current contract to
lead the organization forward and the board working with Mrs. Brown will be
successful in advancing our policies," she said.

After the Alliance for a Better Columbia released CA salary data, the following CA Board members were quoted in the local media:

The whole salary issue has always been very difficult," Russell said, because the association is much larger and responsible for more than the typical homeowners' association. It's neither a private, profit-making company nor a full-fledged government. – Barbara Russell (OM)

I feel like the executives are paid a reasonable fee,” she said, adding they don’t receive benefits comparable to government employees. – Cynthia Coyle (HC)

I would also encourage the Examiner to post its local and corporate officer’s salaries and compensation, and their budget, on their website. It certainly would be transparent.

In closing, let us all agree that more research needs to be done. The CA Board is about to embark on its third salary compensation study since 1999. When this data becomes available, we will all be able to see what the market bears for the executive staff. To tie staff pay to local government pay without any substantive argument is foolish. Topics such as executive pay and compensation are a serious subjects and should not be exposed to the whims of “what feels right.”

Taking a long view, reducing pay based without justification will create morale problems and will provide yet another signal to the most talented out there to stay away from Columbia. As the search for a new CA President begins, some of the most talented available will take the time to review the previous year of half the CA Board asking for the CA President to be dismissed. Following that up with unsubstantiated pay reductions will only drive highly qualified candidates farther away.