24 October 2007

Corporate Boulevard, Now Under New Management

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A report filed yesterday afternoon on the Globe Street real estate website indicates that GGP has handed over the management of the buildings along Little Patuxent Parkway to NAI KLNB. From the article:

The class A portfolio, called Columbia Town Center portfolio, is based in this submarket and has a 25% vacancy rate--or 250,000 sf of space available to lease. Asking rates for the portfolio range from $24 per sf, full service up to $27.50 per sf, full service.

[T]he buildings are 10400, 10420, 10440, 10480, 10490 and 10500 Little Patuxent Pkwy and 11000 Broken Land Pkwy. They are situated just off MD Route 175. Existing tenants include Miles & Stockbridge; Ferris, Baker, Watts; BusinesSuites; and American Express. These buildings were part of General Growth’s $12.6-billion acquisition of the Rouse Co. in 2004. Since then, the company handled the leasing internally, Fritz says. “This is the first time this portfolio has been outsourced since its acquisition.” Most of General Growth’s offices are leased and managed by third parties, he adds.

23 October 2007

The People of Maryland are at odds with the CA Board Chair

Two stories in last week’s Baltimore Sun demonstrate how out of touch CA Board Chairwoman Barbara Russell is with residents in the State of Maryland. To be fair, Chair Russell’s heart is in the right place.

In an October 14, 2007 article published in the Baltimore Sun (Village says it's tired of subsidized housing) Barbara Russell is quoted as follows:

Russell is advocating what until now has been political heresy in Howard: allowing public water and sewer lines west of the current boundary to permit more townhouses and apartments to be built farther west. The ban on public utilities in the western county was meant to preserve farmland, she said, but instead of doing that, it has merely allowed hundreds of large homes on 3-acre lots.

"I think we should look at where else in the county we can develop housing of any kind," she said.

It is important to know that the last time Barbara Russell spoke about this publicly was while she was campaigning and just prior to her extended vacation in the Hawaiian Islands (I often wonder how many votes she would have gotten if she was upfront with the residents of Oakland Mills and disclosed that she would miss two months of service while on vacation).

On October 18, 2007, the Baltimore Sun published an article that featured a poll conducted by the 1000 Friends of Maryland (Sprawl too much, too fast, poll finds). The poll shows that Marylanders are concerned about the pace of growth in the Freestate:

Overall, respondents said they consider traffic, housing costs, loss of farmland and poorly planned growth as some of the most serious problems facing Maryland.
Traffic ranked near the top of respondents' concerns, with 66 percent calling it an "extremely" or "very serious" problem.

More voters rated traffic as a "very serious" problem than said the same for public education, the cost of health insurance, or taxes. Fifty-six percent rated loss of farmland and poorly planned growth and development as "extremely" or "very serious" problems.

Now, inspection of the survey results shows the remarks of Barbara Russell are in close agreement with those responding to the survey. All parties are concerned about the pace, quality, and effects of growth. It is Russell’s proposed solutions that are at odds.

While Russell would like to see the water and sewer service expanded into the rural western part of Howard County (to allow for construction of townhouses and apartment complexes), 80% of respondents to the 1000 Friends survey stated that the loss of farmland was at least a “somewhat serious” concern.

Moreover, because there are not many jobs or basic shopping needs in the west, nearly all residents of the Russell townhouses and apartments would need a car to meet basic daily needs. This would increase the traffic on the roads. Conversely, 89% of survey respondents felt that traffic congestion is at least a “somewhat serious” problem. It is also important to note that Howard County’s population, with approximately 1/3 the population of Baltimore, logs more vehicle miles on the road annually than the population of Charm City.

Lastly, diverting projects to the west will not, in the long run, solve the problems that face the county today. A westward expansion would just extend a low intensity use of land. Traffic will not abate and the low density settlements will preclude any investment in mass transit. Nothing in the eastern section of the county will change, and because of additional development in the west, the amount of impervious surface will increase, thereby increasing the detrimental effects of stormwater runoff in the Patuxent Watershed. This is in effect poor planning. 83% of survey respondents indicated that poorly planned growth and development was a problem in Maryland.

In closing, page 5 of the poll summary document indicates the amount of support for possible policies to mitigate the problems associated with growth. One policy, the “steering of new development to towns and cities rather than outlying suburbs” received 72% support by respondents.

It is my hope that Chairperson Russell will rethink her position.

20 October 2007

Micro Multi-Modal

I have been thinking about the recently released downtown Columbia traffic study, and specifically how to mitigate increased traffic. My focus has been on little things; things that can be done for a moderate cost, in a short term time frame, and would provide at least the promise of a reduction in traffic.

That being said, I believe the volume of people coming into and out of downtown will continue to increase. The key here is to move some from cars to other means of transportation. One way that I believe we can get more cars out of downtown is to install bicycle racks (or even possibly bicycle lockers) adjacent to every bus shelter in the county. This would extend the effective range of people that could easily access bus shelters and the Howard Transit bus routes. Even using my tired old Diamond Back mountain bike, I can reduce a half-hour walk to under ten minutes. If a bus line is within ten minutes of any residence, the convenience of the bus system becomes greater. The greater the convenience, the more potential riders.

This is just one small project that can increase mass transportation use. The cost is relatively small and the program can be implemented fairly quickly. Taking these small steps now will help us transition from being the most car dependent locality (see Total Annual Vehicle Miles) in Maryland to a community that provides a variety of means of travel in the County.

Maryland United

Do you remember that concept model of downtown Columbia? The one from the late 1960’s that showed what downtown Columbia could look like? Do you remember the sports stadium tucked away in the upper left corner? Well, we now have a possibility to realize that dream.

According to an October 17, 2007 article in the Washington Post (Md. Comes Courting in D.C. United's Stadium Search), Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, the Maryland Stadium Authority, and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development have all had talks with DC United management about bringing the team to Maryland. These talks all took place within the last year.

What would be a better home for the United than Columbia, Maryland? According to Sports Illustrated magazine, Howard County is Maryland's Sportstown. The Covenant Park soccer complex and the annual Memorial Day soccer tournament certainly add to the groundswell of support the MLS team could expect to receive if it were to come to a 2104X zip code.

Moreover, MLS is no stranger to a suburban setting. Carson, CA (population 93,000) is the home of both the LA Galaxy and the Desportes Chivas US teams. The MLS Colorado rapids play their matches at Dick’s Sporting Goods park, located in Commerce City, CO (population 39,000). And if you want to stretch it, MLS team Real Salt Lake plays in Salt Lake City (population 181,000), which has a geographic footprint (109 sq miles) that is larger than eastern Howard County (82 sq. miles, population 200,000).

So why not Maryland United? We have a demonstrated love for the game, an award winning sports heritage, and the demographics that are consistent with many of the homes of current MLS teams. I believe it is certainly worth having the United and the Maryland Stadium Authority take a look and at least do a study.

10 October 2007

Sound Familiar?


Bad news: Unless the experts are wrong, Howard County suburbs will continue to sprawl beyond the horizon.

The threat of global warming pales next to the allure of a backyard sliver of green. Two-hour commutes are tough, but it's even tougher to persuade an older suburb to allow dense new housing downtown.


Most of the above words are not mine. They are the words of San Francisco Chronicle columnist John King. He writes a column entitled “Place” that appears in the Tuesday Chronicle. If you replace the words “Howard County” with “California,” the quote becomes his. They are taken from his Tuesday, October 9, 2007 piece, “California suburbs will continue to sprawl.”

John King recalls a recent debate at the annual conference of the California chapter of the American Planning Association. At this conference, six planners debated the ability to implement smart growth in front of an audience of 150. I encourage all to read the column, but here are some tidbits:

The debate occurred last week in San Jose during the annual conference of the
California chapter of the American Planning Association. And it truly was a
debate; the two teams jabbed within a tight time frame over the topic:
"Resolved, that California is ready for complex urban development."

[F]or those of you who don't read planning journals for fun, "complex urban development" is a new synonym for "smart growth." The premise is that we need to steer new growth into older areas, mix in mass transit and not be afraid to stack a few floors of housing on top of shops and small offices.

[W]e have no other choice, and we are ready," argued Al Zelinka of RBF Consulting in Irvine. He talked of how Orange County has downtown housing and condo towers taking root. "Green" buildings now are touted by developers and demanded by governments. "We're at the tipping point. ... Suburbanization will continue, but the wave will be in urbanization."

[I]t's spectacular delusional hubris to think that good sense will prevail," proclaimed developer John Anderson of Chico. "People feel entitled to their fantasy."

[B]ut the real world is a local political stew where the loudest voices are the ones who want the status quo preserved at all cost. Statewide planning regulations, meanwhile, look great in press releases but often are disconnected from daily life.

Which puts me on the side of the cons: The small victories for more livable regions seem to be no match for the larger forces that want things the way they are. I sure hope we're wrong.