18 December 2008

GGP Gains Breathing Room

Reports today indicate GGP has reached an agreement with lenders on an extension of thier $900M loan that was due last month. The agreement, termed a "forbearance and waiver" agreement gives GGP until February 12, 2009 to pay the loan.

10 November 2008

CoFoCoDo Advocates Agenda that is Counter to Rouse

The kind, well-intentioned, leaderless organization has been railing against the GGP downtown plan. One of the primary criticisms has been what CoFoCoDo “spokesman” Alan Klein calls phasing. “Spokesman” Klein was quoted recently on the Explore Howard blog (Groups weigh in on plan for downtown Columbia):

Klein said his group would like to see GGP’s plan broken into five-year phases rather than 10-year phases, which he said would ensure that each development stage is not approved unless certain goals are met.

A few days later, Alan Klein expanded on this theme via the HCCA Yahoo-Group:

In addition, it is vital that the additional density which GGP is asking for be phased in, through separate votes by the Council over time, rather than being granted up front, as they are asking for now.

What is intriguing about this stance by the “leaders” of CoFoCoDo is its hypocrisy. On the CoFoCoDo website, the “organization” states:

CCD wants to ensure that a vibrant Downtown Columbia emerges from the redevelopment planning process and that the plan remains true to the founder's vision for Columbia.

But let’s go back and look at the beginning. When Rouse first proposed Columbia, there was opposition to the project:

Still worse from Rouse’s standpoint, the [Howard County] commissioners issued a set of “guidelines” to the Howard County planning commission that sounded like flat rejection of several indispensable ingredients of the new city. The commissioners declared themselves opposed to row-house development. They warned that they would not “in any case” rezone the entire site for the city at one time. The commissioners were, they reiterated, committed to low-density development of Howard County.
Columbia and the New Cities, Gurney Brekenfeld, pp. 267-268, Ives Washburn Inc, New York, 1971

Sounds familiar?

Another interesting passage relating to the same discussion appears in “Creating a New City- Columbia, Maryland,” edited by Robert Tennenbaum:

[R]ouse contended that it was necessary for all of the property to be rezoned in order to obtain the financing for the project.

When the Commissioners began to deliberate after the close of the hearing, there were strong inclinations by Commissioners Force and Miller to rezone only the Town Center and the first village in order to provide a basis for a trail period.
Creating a New City – Columbia, Maryland, Robert Tennenbaum, p. 101, Perry Publishing, Columbia, 1996.

CoFoCoDo – 1965 is calling…

As Rouse insisted it was essential, the [Howard County] commissioners voted to rezone the entire property at once. [Attorney for the Howard County Commissioners Lewis] Nippard explained to me why, “We’ve had extremely good relations with these [Rouse] people, even though we’ve had differences. If we zoned less than the entire tract at once, they being practical people could take the stand that the county had hedged its bet and ‘we would have to do the same.’ We decided to indicate complete faith and let them develop at the pace the market will allow. Besides, wherever we drew a line, it wouldn’t be the right place.”
Columbia and the New Cities, Gurney Brekenfeld, p. 272, Ives Washburn Inc, New York, 1971

So on one hand, CoFoCoDo declares their intention “that the plan remains true to the founder's vision for Columbia,” while taking a position that was flatly rejected by Rouse.

Hopefully the CoFoCoDo “leadership” will reconsider their position and have “spokesman” Alan Klein re-issue a statement that CoFoCoDo supports the vision and actions of James Rouse.

30 October 2008

Columbia’s Chief Planner Publishes Book

William E. Finley, the Chief Planner of Columbia, Maryland recently published the book “Curing Urbanitis.”

An overview of the book can be found on the Planetizen website.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with big cities. They love the vibrancy, diversity, the sophisticated shops and restaurants, the preserved neighborhoods and the museums and shiny towers that justify and state their importance. They dislike, but put up with, high costs, traffic, crime, rudeness, long commutes, too few taxis, erratic transit and many annoying inconveniences.

I [Finley] propose that Congress charter a nationwide non-profit corporation, in the public interest, to be the forceful catalyst in both administering the incentive grants to existing local governments and undertaking the planning and building of new metropolitan areas.

In order to give the new entity leverage with the budgeting functions of the Administration and the spending powers of Congress, the new non-profit will be able to float its own revenue bonds. Those indentures will be backed partially by a Federal guarantee and the net proceeds of the community development activities in building eight to ten new metropolitan cities of at least 500,000 population each. The details on how to achieve this dramatic goal are covered in Curing Urbanitis.

The proposed National Partnership for MetroCities would utilize its funds to match Congressional appropriations on a one-to-two basis; that is, it would match each $2 of regular Federal funds with $1 of its own financial resources. This, conceptually, would both give the new corporation the freedom to be creative in its grants program and give Congress an incentive to help it on its way.

No doubt this innovative methodology will be caught up in a myriad of politics but this approach to turning the metropolitan ship around is the only approach likely to succeed. Money talks!

Eventually, when the policies are in place, many subsidy programs affecting local governments, and they are many, could well be tied into the incentive-based grants program. Dealing with Congressional processes will be a challenging task.

I have ordered the book, and am anxiously awaiting its arrival.

06 October 2008

Forward Moving

Last Wednesday, the folks from General Growth Properties arrived at the CA boardroom to discuss downtown Columbia. Based on an agenda posted on the Columbia Association website, the topic of discussion was to be Symphony Woods. Upon arriving in the boardroom, it was clear that much more was going on. Easels were erected, festooned with large placards depicting Symphony Woods and other parts of downtown Columbia. A table had been placed in front of the CA Board of Directors “U-Shaped” dias, and chairs in the front row we reserved.

Minutes after the meeting began, it was clear that the 45 people in the audience were in for much more than a discussion of Symphony Woods. That afternoon, the ZRA for downtown Columbia had been submitted to the Howard County Government. Not only was Greg Hamm of GGP in attendance, but also Alan Ward (Sasaki and Associates) and Keith Bowers (Biohabitats).

Greg Hamm put out the larger points regarding the downtown plan, followed up by short presentations by Mr. Ward and Mr. Bowers. In the end, much of the evening did focus on Symphony Woods, but the announcement brought other aspects of downtown development in the discussion.

Much of this has been captured over on Wordbones blog.

A few points of which I would like to expand upon.

CA Board member Evan Coren (KC) and his mother, Ann Coren (OB Village Board member, but speaking as a resident) both displayed a passion for wildlife (both flora and fauna) and asked very good questions. In my opinion, Keith Bowers demonstrated a deep understanding of the issues and provided quality responses to their questions. It is clear that GGP and Biohabitats have clearly done their homework on issues regarding Symphony Woods.

A concern regarding the Lake Kittamaquandi lakefront area, first brought up by CA Board member Cindy Coyle (HC), was raised a few times.

Oakland Mills resident Barbara Russell spoke during resident speakout, which (for a change) was done after the presentation. Barbara informed the board that if Columbia had been built as first proposed, two current members of the CA Board members from Dorsey Search and River Hill would not be sitting at the table. I suppose Barbara should take solace in the fact that Dorsey Search and River Hill were there because without their residents (and also the residents of the Kendall Ridge section of Long Reach), Columbia would need downtown residents to get to the proposed population of 100,000.

Liz Bobo was in the audience, and apparently left before the meeting ended.

Joel Yesley, speaking for the Alliance for a Better Columbia, indicated that the County has insisted that Symphony Woods be maintained in its current, pristine state. I need to take exception to this charge.

Howard County’s 2000 General Plan discusses downtown Columbia on pages 177-178. On these pages, you will find the following references to Symphony Woods:

Open Space. Enhance Downtown open space, such as the edges of Lake Kittamaqundi and Symphony Woods, to promote enjoyment by the growing numbers of Downtown residents and visitors.

Symphony Woods. Encourage measures that enhance Symphony Woods as an attractive, inviting open space resource for families and individuals to enjoy natural beauty within the urban setting.

It appears that the actual text calls for enhancing Symphony Woods, not maintaining a pristine state. As far as pristine is concerned, the GGP report on Symphony Woods and adjacent properties shows that invasive species have degraded the area.

02 October 2008

GGP Sells Office Park

Based on a report from Costar, GGP has sold the Rivers I and Rivers II industrial parks for $42 million, or approximately $137/sq ft. These parks are located off Guilford Road, between Murray Hill Road and the Rt. 32 overpass.

View Larger Map

01 October 2008

Downtown Zoning Change Submitted

This afternoon, Councilperson Mary Kay Sigaty filed a zoning regulation amendment that has been proposed by General Growth Properties. The proposal calls for 5,500 additional dwelling units, 5 million square feet of office space, 1.25 million square feet of retail space and 1,000 hotel rooms.

The amendment will first be reviewed by the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning.

This topic was discussed at length at tonight's CA Board meeting. I will have a recap of the meeting, and some discussion of the zoning in the next day or two, but right now I have some reading to do. In the meantime, here are two quick links:

Wordbones encouraged people that attended the CA Board meeting to email him thier take on the meeting, check his blog for comments.

GGP's Town Center Webpage has info on the zoning.

22 September 2008

The 5500

5500. Sometimes, it’s a hard number to comprehend. I do not believe I have 5500 of anything in my house. (Blades of grass? Perhaps). My son has about 150 Lincoln Logs. Given how they look when spread out on the family room floor, I would loathe the thought of 5500 logs.

On the other hand, 5500 can, at times be put into perspective. Anyone who possesses a valid drivers license has certainly lived more than 5500 days. 5500 seconds passes by in just over 90 minutes. Most people will put 5500 miles on their car odometer in about six months.

The point here is that the number 5500 can seen as both a large or small number. In the recent past, we have heard some make outlandish claims about the perceived impact of 5500 units. Four times the size of Wilde Lake (uh, incorrect), more residential units than Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills combined (er, not quite). The largest project in Howard County since the approval of Columbia. Well, I’m not so sure.

Of the examples I have provided above, the odometer example is most telling. The 5500 miles could be characterized as driving approximately 20% around the equator. Or it could be characterized as six month of normal driving in this area. Both are valid, but each paints a different picture. What I believe is crucial in the odometer analogy (and the proposed housing units) is that both are described in terms of a magnitude and a time.

Moreover, if a temporal aspect is placed into the examples stated above, the 5500 pales in comparison; given that Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills were both 95% completed within ten years, and that combined both Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake are slightly more residential units than the proposed 5500. As stated, the 5500 time line is 30 years. So downtown development will create less units than Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake combined, and the proposed development will occur at a pace three times slower than that of Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake.

With respect to the largest project, this theory is on fairly shaky ground. Census data reveals that over 90% (92.43%) of the 92,818 housing units built in Howard County were built after 1960. So let’s compare. In the last 48 years, 85,790 housing units were built in Howard County (of which approximately 30,000 units are in Columbia). GGP proposes building 5500 units over the next 30 years.

Breaking this down by decade:

The entire downtown development proposal could have easily been accomplished during the 1960’s. Three downtowns could have been accommodated during the 1970’s, four downtowns in the 1990’s and five downtowns in the 1980’s.

Another way of looking at historical development in Howard County is by housing permits issued. I have charted data obtained from the Baltimore Metropolitan Council of Governments (Economic Outlook 2006) below:

To provide context, here are the terms of office of each of the Howard County Executives.

1969-1973 Omar J. Jones
1974-1978 Edward L. Cochran
1978-1986 J. Hugh Nichols
1986-1990 Elizabeth Bobo
1990-1998 Charles I. Ecker
1998-2006 James N. Robey

Certainly, each administration, since the creation of the Howard County Executive, issued enough permits during his/her tenure to allow for a downtown Columbia to be built.

In conclusion, 5500 as a number can appear to be very large. However, given its application over time, 5500 is not as big a number as some may perceive. Given the prolific construction of over 80,000 units in the last forty years, 5500 units in the next thirty is small by comparison. Moreover, each past administration has seen fit to approve housing permits well beyond the scale of the proposed downtown development.

16 August 2008

Rocky Run


Rocky Run was one of my favorite places. It was a place to have a beer with friends, a place to chat, and a place to eat a simple (but satisfying) meal. I am certainly not the first to blog about this (Columbia Talk, Howard County Maryland Blog). I first walked into Rock Run in 1996, and I kept coming back. Here are a few reasons why:


When you walked into Rocky Run, you knew this was not a national chain. It never took itself too seriously, and this was reflected in the décor. One of the few restaurants in Columbia that had its own brewery, there was a quirkyness about the place. The enormous hot sauce collection, the Elvis booth, the Beatles room, the Buffett room. The peanuts on the floor in the bar (great when fashionable, even better that they stuck with it when it fell out of fashion). The foreign language tapes on continuous loop in the bathrooms. The Rocky Cocktails (I confess, I had a Jamaican Bobsled just last week!) The endless trivia games.

The Food

Since it opened, Rocky Run’s menu has always been full of offerings. Standouts in my mind where the chicken wings, which always seemed larger than the wings served at other restaurants in town. Crab Pretzels on Fridays during lent. The salads (the cobb salad was a personal favorite), of course the burgers, and the impossibly large “loaded” baked potatoes. The Cuban pannini was a late, but welcomed arrival on the menu.

If people asked me about the food at Rocky Run, I would always respond “It’s the best comfort food in Columbia.” I think that said it all.

The Staff

Over the years, I have gotten to know many of the people behind the bar and waiting tables. It all started with Alex, who on that first day I walked into the bar, shook my hand, introduced himself and asked me what I would like to drink. I quickly came to know him and many others. The always bubbly Liz, Adam, who insisted on being called Fish. Mary Ellen, who was in training to become an EMT before she trashed her knee. The always nice Amy. Ruthie, who had issues, still managed to have a good time and smile.

During the late 1990’s Heidi and Sean tended bar on Friday nights, and they always managed to serve an impossibly large crowd. At that time, Margarita Maggies was still open, but not doing well, and people would park in the Maggies lot to go to Rocky Run. Heidi and Sean performed their craft well. They were fast, charming, and seemed to enjoy themselves.

As time passed, some interesting bartenders made their way through. Art was always fun with his libertarian views and his dislike of public displays of affection. Jeff was a master of many subjects. Henri, was just an all-around good guy; smart, witty, and a die-hard Wizards/Bullets fan.

There were a few that found love at Rocky Run. Caleb and Christy are still together and Tommy and Jenny were an item.

But, over the years, three stand out. Jason, who started as a busboy, became a waiter, host, bartender, bar manager, store manager, and I’m sure is still doing well. Jason, I have seen you grow so much over the last twelve years. I am honored to call you friend, and wish you well. Christy (as mentioned above), you have been part of my nights out for so long that I will miss you. Dave, you are a great man and I am sure good things will happen for you.

I know that I have missed so many (oh, I remember another, Wendy!) who wore the bright orange “Rocky Rookie” shirts on their first day, I will miss you too, as well as everyone in the kitchen.

The Smartest Patrons Ever Known

I am serious about this point. Since the day it opened, Rocky Run always ran the NTN/Buzztime trivia games; Half hour trivia contests that linked thousands of restaurants across the United States. Rocky Run attracted a clientele that was adept at these games (and for a long time, I was one of them) and often times Rocky Run would be ranked in the top 20 in the nation. Occasionally, a person would arrive at Rocky Run just based on seeing the restaurant on the trivia boards at other restaurants. During the late 1990’s, Rocky Run and Nottingham’s were engaged in a battle of trivia supremacy. Trivia players were courted. Scores were displayed; cell phone calls were exchanged after games.

What gave this rivalry depth was that at Nottingham’s, it was known that the trivia players typically shared answers. At Rocky Run, the unwritten rule was that you played your game. Shouting out answers was considered bad form. That is not to say that the trivia players were stoic and silent. After playing for a while, players got to know each other. Most were witty, some were outright funny, and all liked passing time together.

So Moron, Phlegm, Farkle, Redgirl, Karl, and all the many people who got the trivia bug, I will find a place to play, and I hope to see you on the board too. I will miss you all.

Beyond the trivia, the folks at the bar were generally well versed in the topics of the day. You could always have a good conversation about national or local news. Just smart, wonderful people.

Where do we go from here?

I was at Rocky Run just last Friday. A friend of mine had just accepted an offer for a new job, and we went out to celebrate. We had dinner, discussed the job, what’s new in our families (my son wears a Size 1 shoe, and he starts kindergarten this month), sports, and the local politics scene. We had arrived at 6 o’clock, and the bar was busy. When we left at 9:30, the place was nearly empty. Christy, Dave and Jason were there. We said hello and things seemed all right.

I guess all we have are memories now. I can still see Joe and Ellis sitting at the end of the bar. Bobby holding court at one of the short tables. Don and Deanna discussing their latest travel plans. Bill and the trivia faithful playing trivia and chatting up each other. Jason and Terry stopping by for dinner. Some stranger saying out loud “Oh, I LOVE this song,” and me saying to myself “I love this song too.”

Yesterday I stopped by to take the picture to accompany this post. The owner came out and said hello. We talked for a short while and then I just had to ask: What happened? He told me that business had really dropped off drastically in the last four months. I thanked him and inquired how the staff were doing. He had told me that more than a few had already found jobs. I was relieved to hear that. I just smiled and thanked him again. He smiled back and thanked me, then quietly went inside. I took a minute and sat on the bench outside. As I sat there, four cars pulled up, and each asked the same question: What happened? I told each what I had heard, and they all, hesitantly, walked back to their cars, muttering “This is awful…This was my favorite place…”

I don’t know where or when my friends and I will get together for happy hour, but when we do, we will loudly toast the memory of a place that enriched our lives (better said, provided an atmosphere that allowed us to enrich each others lives).

I hope we can find a place that will have that same feel; that will give us a Second Chance.

09 August 2008

Symphony Woods History

I have been thinking about Symphony Woods lately. Actually, I have been thinking about Symphony Woods A LOT lately. Currently, General Growth Properties has suggested placing a Small Cities Institute, the Columbia Association Headquarters, and a Library on the site. As can be noted in the Letters to the Editor on the Explore Howard website, some are none too pleased about this proposal.

Here in Columbia, nearly everything was something else before it became something. I have heard and read many people (including CA) refer to the “natural” setting in Symphony Woods. I say not so. Before being purchased in the mid 1960’s, the land that is most of town center was owned by a man named Isadore Gudelsky. An account of Mr. Gudelsky can be found in the book Creating a New City, edited by Robert Tennenbaum. The following passage appears in the Chapter Land Acquisition: The Realtor’s Perspective and written by the realtor employed by Rouse, Robert Moxley.

The Gudelsky family was in the sand and gravel business (known as Contee) as well as the concrete and asphalt business. They owned thousands of acres of land between Baltimore and Washington, which they mined for the aggregate existing thereon.

They always bought land, but never sold any. They would, however, develop commercial buildings on it once the sand and gravel had been removed. Isadore Gudelsky was the administrator, so to speak, of all the family businesses while his brother, Homer, was in charge of operations. Another brother, Henry was in the concrete block business. Most of the Guldelsky land was titled in the family name or Contee or Percon, but it was all generally referred to as Contee property.

One of the parcels Contee owned was located on U.S. 29 in the very center of the targeted 15,000 acres being purchased by the Howard Research and Development Corporation (HRD), as the successor to CRD. Further, it was the planned location of the town center of the new city. Of course, Isadore Gudelsky was aware of the buying spree being conducted in Howard County, but he did not know for what purpose or by whom.

Another account of the land owned by Gudelsky can be found in the book Columbia and the New Cities, by Gurney Breckenfeld (1972):

“At last,” says Jack Jones, “we came to the Big Bear, Isidore Gudelsky. He wanted $5 million for his 1000 acres. By this time it was obvious that a big land assembly was going on, and he was a shrewd bargainer.” Moxley saw Gudelsky several times, usually in his auto, in a restaurant, or a drugstore. On Jones’s instructions, Moxley offered $1,750,000 in a property swap. Gudelsky allowed that maybe he’d take $4 million. “Finally,” says Jones, “I told Moxley that this deal had to be done.” It was an understatement. Unbeknown to him, Gudelsky held the key Columbia land: the town center, symphony hall, glade, lake site, and shopping district.

Based on these sources, it appears that the land that was used for Lake Kittamaquandi, the mall, and Symphony Woods was used as a surface mine prior to the purchase by Jim Rouse. Given the state of sand a gravel mines (full disclosure, in college I worked for a contractor at the site of the last remnants of the Contee empire, Laurel Sand and Gravel, off Van Dusen Road in Laurel, MD. I performed soil compaction tests to ensure the land was buildable for the future town of Konterra), there are very few trees or vegetation present. It’s mostly, sand and gravel.

My point here is that people who assume the current state of Symphony Woods as a natural setting is somewhat misplaced. Like much of Columbia, I believe, based on the sources above, that the grading and plant life in Symphony Woods may be an entirely man-made artifact. Some may argue that allowing much of the land to lay fallow for four decades has effectively returned the land to a natural state, but this is most likely not its history.

Moreover, although the Symphony Woods parcel appears large to human eyes, both on the ground and viewed on a map, it is a relatively small parcel in terms of an ecosystem. Because of this, the site must be actively managed to ensure a viable space.

06 August 2008

Explore Howard Editorial Board Should Sit Down on Standing

This weeks editorial on the Explore Howard website focuses on the standing issue associated with the Downtown Columbia Plaza Tower mess. Taken in total, the editorial goes to great lengths to remove large parts of the issue and arrive at its conclusion:

The merits of his argument aside…

However legally sound it might've been…

Leaving aside the notion …

Moreover, the editorial creates a narrative separate from that actual record, and this narrative is (in my opinion) damaging to the future discussion of any development in Howard County.

Let’s start with the 3rd paragraph of the editorial:

However legally sound it might've been, a previous ruling by county Hearing Examiner Thomas Carbo, which the courts have now taken up, defied common sense. It held that the Plaza Residences would not "specially aggrieve" Broida and other Columbia residents seeking to prevent the project's construction, and that therefore the plaintiffs lacked the necessary legal standing to fight it through judicial or quasi-judicial channels.

That first sentence is particularly troubling. In the best of worlds, we would like all decisions rendered to be both legally sound and to make common sense. When the two are not coincident, it is important to review the case specifics. I believe this is where the editors have fallen down.

Referring back to the Hearing Examiner’s decision, it explains in detail the process and evidence presented. As stated in the decision:

Generally, the appellant must provide proof of aggrievement by showing that the impact of the decision on his property is different from the impact upon the general public. It is sufficient if the facts constituting aggrievement appear in the petition for appeal either by express allegation or by necessary implication.4 An exception to this rule applies if the appellant is an adjoining, confronting, or nearby property owner. In this case, the appellant is deemed, primae facie, to be specially damaged and therefore a person aggrieved. Bryniarsky, 230 A.2d at 294. In other words, an appellant is presumed to be aggrieved if he merely shows that he owns property “nearby.” What is “nearby” depends on the circumstances of the case, but it has been held that one who “owns any property located within sight or sound of the subject property is aggrieved.” Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission v. Rockville, 269 Md. 240, 305 A.2d 122, 127 (1973). Intervening topography or roadways, however, may support a finding that a complainant is not aggrieved. DuBay v. Crane, 240 Md. 180, 213 A.2d 487 (1965).

The presumption of standing for adjoining, confronting, or nearby property owners may be rebutted, however, by the opposing party. If the opposing party presents evidence that the appellant is not in fact aggrieved, the burden shifts back to the appellant to present facts to show that he is specially aggrieved by the decision. Bryniarsky, 230 A.2d at 294.

Therefore, standing can, and was, challenged by the opposing party, and then the appellants (Knowles, Stolley, Meskin, Broida) had the opportunity to provide supporting evidence and testimony to refute the rebuttal.

With respect to Mr. Broida:

The Appellants contend that Mr. Broida is specially aggrieved because the proposed building will peculiarly block his view and sunlight, increase noise, increase traffic, reduce parking, and reduce the value of his residence.

Renaissance Centro Columbia (part of WCI Communities) rebutted Mr. Broida’s claim to standing and Mr. Broida presented evidence to challenge the rebuttal.

With respect to traffic and parking, Mr. Broida asserted that the proposed development will exacerbate an already hazardous situation. He claims that traffic is heavy now on Little Patuxent Parkway and Wincopin Circle, and that parking in the town center is hard to find on weekends. He asserted, without supporting evidence, that the proposed building does not provide sufficient parking. Much of the testimony presented by the Appellants on this point amounted only to unsupported opinions and general conclusions that the development will cause traffic and parking problems. Maryland courts instruct that the unsupported conclusions or fears of witnesses to the effect that a proposed use of property will or will not result in harm amount to nothing more than vague and general expressions of opinion which are lacking in probative value. Anderson v. Sawyer, 23 Md. App. 612, 329 A.2d 716 (1974). Because the Appellants’ testimony in this case was unsupported by any evidence that the anticipated harmful effects are likely to occur, I must afford it little weight.

Contrary to Mr. Broida’s assertions, the record indicates that both the proposed building and the Lakeside condominium building provide ample parking for all residents in parking garages within the respective buildings. The plans for the project provide 58 additional parking spaces off-site for patrons of the retail space, and Mr. Gutschick provided a parking analysis that shows that the area will have more than the required parking spaces for all uses (Appellee’s Exhibit 16). The residents’ entrance to the building will be from Little Patuxent Parkway, diverting this traffic away from Mr. Broida’s property. Road improvements and a traffic light are proposed along Wincopin Circle. In short, the preponderance of evidence presented suggests that the proposed development will have minimal adverse impact on traffic and parking for residents of the area.

With respect to noise, Mr. Broida again speculated that the proposed project will create additional noise that will affect him personally. The Appellants provided no basis or support for this assertion. Renaissance, however, presented evidence that deliveries and trash collection will take place within the proposed building, limiting the amount of noise they generate. As previously stated, residents will access the building from the west side, away from the Lakeside building. Indeed, the building itself will act as a noise barrier to traffic on Little Patuxent Parkway, potentially improving the noise conditions for Mr. Broida. Again, the preponderance of the evidence indicates Mr. Broida will not be specially damaged by the project with respect to noise.

Mr. Broida also asserts that the proposed building will block the pleasant view he currently enjoys from his living room and bedroom and will reduce the amount of sunlight coming through his windows in the late afternoons. There is little dispute that the erection of the proposed building will have this effect, and that the impact is peculiar to Mr. Broida and his neighbors on the west side of the Lakeside condominium. The mere loss of view and sunlight is not enough, however, to establish aggrievement.

[N]o such testimony or evidence was presented by the Appellants in this case. In fact, the record indicates that Mr. Broida had no reasonable expectation of preserving his view or light when he originally purchased his condominium unit in 2005. At that time, having been previously aware of two separate proposals to build high-rise building on or near the Property, he (twice) signed a purchase contract containing a provision in which he agreed that his right to a view was not guaranteed and that there may be improvements built on adjacent properties that might interfere with his present vista. Cleary, at the time of his purchase, the view from his unit was not a significant part of the value that Mr. Broida ascribed to his property. It is unlikely, therefore, that he can claim a diminution of value as result of the loss of that view.

My reading of the Maryland cases indicates that the Appellants must additionally show some economic impact resulting from the adverse condition–namely, a diminution of the value of the appellant’s property. See e.g., Committee for Responsible Development on 25th Street v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 137 Md. App. at 87 (“He presented no evidence that the pharmacy and its parking lot would cause his property to devaluate”); DuBay v. Crane, 213 A.2d at 490 (“And, which is more important, none of the appellants were able to show that the value of their respective property would be adversely affected”); Wilkinson v. Atkinson, 242 Md. at 234 (“There was no specific testimony as to any adverse effect upon the value of the Siegelhome.”). In Toomey v. Gomeringer, 235 Md. 456, 460 (1964), the Court found protestants to have standing where they presented evidence “that the value of their residential properties would be depreciated by the proposed reclassification .... There was in addition testimony by an experienced real estate broker and developer that, in his opinion, the reclassification of the property in question, at least if followed by the development and use of the property as planned by the applicants' contract purchaser, would eat into the existing residential community and would depreciate and depress the area.

Moreover, Renaissance provided ample contravening evidence that the proposed development would not devalue the nearby residences. Ronald Lipman, a real estate appraiser and consultant, testified that the building would present a slender and attractive design that would be well separated (170 feet) from the Broida unit (see Appellee’s Exhibit 9). The look and use of the development would be compatible to Lakeside and the other developments in the area. Most importantly, the proposed residential units will be larger and more expensive than the adjacent Lakeside units, which fact tends to cause the less expensive units to appreciate in value. Thus, Mr. Lipman offered, the proposed development could actually have a positive effect on Mr. Broida’s property value.

So to review, the Appellants indicated the Plaza Tower would specially aggrieve Mr. Broida because it would “block his view and sunlight, increase noise, increase traffic, reduce parking, and reduce the value of his residence.” The evidence submitted by each party is as follows:

Block View and Sunlight:

NOTE: View and Sunlight are not considered when determining standing.

Broida – Mr. Broida stated that his view and sunlight would be blocked.

Renaissance – Mr. Broida signed a waiver to views and sunlight (twice) when he purchased his home.

Increased Noise:

Broida – Stated his opinion that there would be increased noise from the Plaza Tower.

Renaissance - Presented evidence that deliveries and trash collection will take place within the proposed building, limiting the amount of noise they generate. Also stated that the Plaza Tower would shield and reduce noise generated from Little Patuxent Parkway.

Increased Traffic:

Broida – Stated his opinion that there would be more traffic that would particularly affect him.

Renaissance – Presented plans for a driveway located away from Mr. Broida’s residence and plans to improve Wincopin Circle to mitigate any other traffic.


Broida - Stated his opinion that parking would be problematic.

Renaissance – Presented plans to indicate parking would not be a problem.

Reduce Value of Residence:

Broida – Presented no evidence or testimony.

Renaissance – Presented testimony by a real estate appraiser and consultant.

In short, the Hearing Examiner found that Mr. Broida did not have standing because he presented no evidence of being specially aggrieved to support his claim. He did not come prepared. In the words of the Hearing Examiner:

Mr. Broida lives in the “Lakeside” condominium development located directly across the street to the east side of the Property. His residence is indubitably within “sight and sound” of the proposed development. Renaissance does not contest, however, that Mr. Broida lives within sufficient proximity to the Property to qualify for the presumption of special aggrievement. Nonetheless, I find that Renaissance presented sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption by showing that Mr. Broida is not specially aggrieved. The Appellants failed to meet their countervailing burden.

I suppose now would be a good time to ask the editors, “Would it be common sense to go to a formal hearing without any prepared evidence or testimony to support your case?”

In addition, the editors state:

[o]ne could argue that Broida's partners in the legal fight against the Plaza live too far away from the site to be injured by it.

Well, actually, Renaissance did argue (successfully) that Knowles, Stolley and Meskin did not have standing. Truth be told, Ms. Stolley was found to not have standing because she did not participate in any of the hearings before the appeal to the Hearing Examiner. The large stand of dense woods between Mr. Meskin and the Plaza Tower site were found to mitigate his standing claim. And Mr. Knowles was found to live too far from the site of the Plaza Tower. From the Hearing Examiner decision:

The evidence is undisputed that Mr. Knowles lives 1.8 miles to the west of the Property. Interposed between the Knowles residence and the Property are four major roads and numerous and large residential and commercial developments, including the 1.4 million square foot Columbia Mall. The unrefuted testimony of Carl Gutschick, a professional engineer, established that the proposed building could not be seen from the Knowles property. Clearly, Mr. Knowles’property is within neither sight nor sound of the Property.

However, Mr. Knowles did claim he had standing, siting the following case:

Hikmat v. Howard County, 148 Md. App. 502, 813 A.2d 306 (2002)

The Hearing Examiner addressed the issue of standing under Hikmat:

The Appellants contend, however, that the Bryniarsky standard does not apply in this case; rather, they urge that I apply the lower threshold for standing set forth in the Hikmat case. My examination of that case’s holding indicates, however, that it represents a narrow and unrelated exception to the general “aggrievement” rule. Hikmat involved an appeal by Howard County of a Board of Appeals decision reversing DPZ’s denial of a waiver request. The court first noted that governmental entities like Howard County generally cannot be “specially aggrieved” in the Bryniarsky sense. Based upon a series of cases arising from mandamus or certiorari actions, however, the court found that “the facts necessary to satisfy the aggrieved requirement, when the petitioner is a governmental entity, appear to be that it have an interest in interpreting, administering, and enforcing the laws in question in a given case.” 148 Md. App. at 520 (italics added). The Hikmat court decided to extend this exceptional standard for aggrievement to cases arising under a petition for judicial review. Nonetheless, the standard clearly applies only to governmental entities, and not to private individuals or parties.

I’m not certain (I’m not a lawyer), but if I’m reading this right, Mr. Knowles was arguing he had standing because he is a government entity (Lloydville? Knowlestown?).

In closing, a review of the hearing provides a bit more data, and better picture of the circumstances surrounding this case. Yes common sense is called for, and the best assessment would probably find that better common sense on all sides would have helped move this process immensely.

25 July 2008

Much to talk about, little time to do it

Two issues are on many minds this morning: The CA Board of Directors deliberations on Symphony Woods (I stayed until 10:30 PM last night, and still no decision had been made) and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals decision that Joel Broida has standing in his appeal of the Plaza Tower.

I have a big day today (cooling tower inspections, yea!!), so I will be putting something together on each subject this weekend. In the interim, maybe some of the anonymob can vent on either subject...

21 July 2008

Sometimes, you get what you ask for

As has been noted here and elsewhere, things have been somewhat quiet on the downtown development front. I believe this in part because the people at CoFoCoDo have been quietly popping champagne corks and celebrating a job well done.

The reason? In January 2007, CoFoCoDo set their terms for density.

From their position paper "Framing the Future of Downtown Columbia," page 5 [emphasis mine]:

We favor the continuing development of Downtown, but there are many models of diverse and vibrant downtowns. We offer Georgetown and Annapolis as examples of communities that do not rely on high density to provoke an exciting sense of place. These locations are especially interesting, and they exude excitement...
and on page 13, under the banner "Human Scale,"

We note that there are many models of diverse and vibrant downtowns. We offer Georgetown and Annapolis, not as models to copy – because Columbia does not need to copy anything - but as proof that communities do not need to rely on excessive density to have an exciting sense of place.
Well, a little research demonstrates how well informed the good people of CoFoCoDo are. According to the United States Census, Georgetown would fit nicely into the current downtown plan.


  • Area (acres): 676
  • Dwelling Units: 4976
  • Population: 8524

Columbia Town Center:

  • Area (acres): 570
  • Dwelling Units: 5500
  • Population: 7000 - 10,000 (??)

Data for Georgetown was obtained from the US Census, District of Columbia Census Tracts 1 and 2.02. Columbia Town Center data obtained from the Howard County Government website and the GGP presentation.

Kudos to CoFoCoDo for leading the way on this issue. Sometimes it's so nice to get what you ask for.

16 July 2008

...and Speaking of CoFoCoDo...

Our friends at our favorite coalition have once again put out some poorly researched information. Currently featured on their website under the banner "CCD's Response," is the following:

"We are quite concerned that he [Greg Hamm] is insisting on proposing 5500 new residential units, three to four times the size of Wilde Lake"

Let us look past the "insisting on proposing" construct and move directly to the math. CoFoCoDo states that 5500 residential units is three to four times the size of Wilde Lake. That would put the number of residential units in Wilde Lake somewhere between 1375 and 1834 units.

One problem...it's totally false. According to the Columbia Association's 2007 Public Information Guide (page 18), Wilde Lake currently has 2618 residential units. Given that half the CA Board of Directors (Alex Hekemian (OM), Evan Coren (KC), Cynthia Coyle(HC), Michael Cornell (RH), and Phil Kirsch (WL)) are members of CoFoCoDo, maybe one of them could supply a copy of the Guide to the rest of CoFoCoDo.

Beyond the math error, I wonder what is really going on at CoFoCoDo. When I hear spokesperson Alan Klein make a speech, testify at County hearings, or speak out a community meetings; he sounds so confident, so forthright. Why is it that other parts of the organization succumb to embellishment or exaggeration (Columbia is the 2nd best city east of the Mississippi, 5500 units is four times the size of Wilde Lake) to make a point? It seems if they were right, the truth would suffice.

15 July 2008

What Happened?

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

In 2006, Money magazine put the Columbia/Ellicott City region as number four on their list of best places to live. Many of the CoFoCoDO/HCCA variety loudly proclaimed that Columbia was anointed the best place to live east of the Mississippi River. Although this error was brought to their attention (Naperville, IL is the best place to live east of the Mississippi), many continued to broadcast the fallacy at meetings and around town. Funny, they almost always talked about Columbia and not the Money magazine's marriage of Columbia/Ellicott City.

In 2007, the magazine looked at smaller communities and Elkridge was ranked Number 42 (where was the HCCA love for Elkridge?)

Now in 2008, small cities (Money magazine's nomenclature, not mine) are back in play, and the Ellicott City/Columbia area is ranked 8th. We are now 3rd or 4th best east of the Mississippi (I'm not certain where Plymouth, MN is with regard to the big muddy, but I will look it up later).

Click here for the rankings from 2006.

Click here for the rankings of small towns (including Elkridge) in 2007.

Click here for the rankings from 2008.

Anyone have any ideas why the precipitous drop? Compass eyes and ears would like to know.

07 July 2008

How do You Like Maryland Transportation Planning?

I received an email from the Baltimore Metropolitan Council of Governments (Balto Metro) today. The email detailed a meeting between Balto Metro, the United States Department of Transportation, and the public. The purpose of the meeting was to get public input on the Balto Metro planning process. The meeting was June 24, 2008.

However, there is still time. Email comments will be accepted through July 9, 2008. Follow the link here to reply.

18 June 2008

Columbia BMX Memories

Kuwahara, GT, Diamond Back, Mongoose, chromoly. R.L. Osborne, Bob Haro bunny hops, half pipes. Ashtabula forks, Pro-neck, Snake Belly tires, Vans, Skyway rims, the “uno” seat. Berms, tabletops, dropoffs, whoop-de-doos.

The above stream of consciousness was precipitated by an article that appeared in the Sunday, 15JUN08 edition of the Washington Post (Underdog Claims Place on Olympic BMX Squad). What got the nostalgia regions of my grey matter abuzz was the following passage in the article:

International Olympic officials have added BMX to the 2008 Games in hope of attracting a younger audience. If Saturday's crowd is any gauge, it should do just that.

Every adult, it seemed, had two or three children in tow. Among them were 40-something dads who were part of the first wave of BMXers in the 1970s, when the sport was at the fringe of acceptable athletic endeavors. Now, their children race the tiny, reinforced bikes with knobby tires.

Oh, that takes me back. Twenty years, no make that twenty-five years ago, I was deep into Bicycle Moto-Cross (BMX). Like most that grew up in the 1970’s, I learned to ride a bicycle with a banana seat and a sissy bar. As I grew up, I progressed to a Schwinn Sting-Ray with five-speed gear shifter, front shocks, and a rear disc brake. That thing weighed, I would guess, 70 pounds. During this time, it was commonplace for us Wilde Lake neighbor kids to cobble together cinder blocks and plywood to emulate every young boy’s hero, Evel Knievel. Over time, I graduated to the ten-speed.

Then something happened. I found my way back to the smaller 20” single speed bikes. These bikes were made of stronger, lightweight metals. They could take a pounding. They were highly maneuverable and FUN TO RIDE.

About the same time, things became more organized. Plywood ramps were replaced by dirt. I recall one dirt ramp we built in Dasher Green near Homespun Lane. We buried a discarded tractor tire and could get enormous air. After a few weeks, Open Space brought in a bulldozer, leveled the ramp, and removed the tire.


About the same time, BMX came to town. Two national organizing groups, the American Bicycle Association (ABA) and the National Bike League (NBL) began sanctioning races.

BMX tracks in Maryland were spread out in Rockville, Millersville, Cockeysville, Monroe, and yes, Columbia.

The Columbia BMX course was located behind Joseph Square Village Center. A local bike shop, run out the basement of a townhouse on Hildebrand Court, sponsored a team of racers. As I remember, they had cool red, white and black racing uniforms. Sanctioned races occurred regularly at the Columbia BMX track throughout the 1980’s. I had the joy of participating in a few (that’s me, #60, on the right).


Another interesting aspect that I have read about the BMX Olympic debut is the height of the starting gate at the Beijing course. According to an NBC website, the starting gate is eight meters high. That’s roughly 30 feet. For those who raced back in the 1980’s it must bring back memories of the Millersville BMX track. It was built on a landfill (Dicus Mill Road!) and featured…wait for it…a 30-foot high starting gate:


I always enjoyed the challenge of this track (I'm on the left):


After coming down this hill at warp speed, the course led into a huge 180-degree berm (I'm out in front in this one):


Well, come this August, I will have another reason to watch Olympic coverage.

10 June 2008

Things have been quiet around here...

Compass faithful, I have not had a chance to post here in a while, and I apologize. I have been trying to find some time to put up some posts, but I recently took a new job in College Park, and I'm still tweaking the schedule.

The b.santos family also took a great vacation. We had a lot of fun, and while I was there, I took this picture:

Space Mountain 2008

I thought it looked like a great idea for a new Columbia Association headquarters.

As many local bloggers have posted (really too many to link to, just go to HoCo Blogs and check them all out), it's really hot out there. I wanted to share my own personal heatwave story. After arriving at work this morning, I left an Altoids tin on the dash of my car. The tin sat on my dashboard all afternoon. After work, I got in my car and popped two Altoids in my mouth. It was like putting peppermint flavored hot coals in my mouth.

In the fond memories catagory, one of the coolest fad buys from the early '70s, Wacky Packs, is the subject of a new book. How did I come across this tidbit of info (take the time, have a listen "centimeter-stones," very cool), from only the best NPR show that you can't hear on terrestrial radio in the Baltimore/Washington area. OK, I could have just hyperlinked to the Bryant Park Project, but the show really deserves to be mentioned by typing it out. The BPP currently can only be heard via Sirius satellite radio or online, but it is well worth a listen. For those who are social network minded, they also have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and they have a blog.

Oh, and speaking of books, the book premier of "Oh, You Must Live in Columbia!" is coming up Friday. I encourage anyone who loves Columbia street names to stop by.

Anyhoo, I have a lot of stuff to talk about, but need to find the time soon. Keep checking in, the words should flow shortly.

22 May 2008

Resident? Guess Again

Maybe it’s the monsoon-like rain. Maybe it’s the brilliant sunshine and clear skies. Maybe it’s the ebb and flow of the weather patterns over the last two weeks. The bottom line is, the Columbia Flier got it terribly wrong this week.

Of course, I am referring to the story, “Building Plans Worry Wilde Lake Residents,” that found itself on the front page of the Columbia Flier this week. After reading the story, one might get the impression that all the residents in Wilde Lake are named Lloyd Knowles.

But let’s not get too crazy here. Lloyd does get his name mentioned six times in the article (cha-ching). The reality; however, is that Lloyd does not live in Wilde Lake. He lives in an out-parcel (non-lien assessed property) in the middle of Harper’s Choice. The truth is, Lloyd and his wife (State Delegate Bobo) own a number of condos in Wilde Lake. I suppose the front page headline “Building Plans Worry Wilde Lake Landlords,” isn't as sexy.

The reality here is that Lloyd made a comment (he did not “testify”) that took up about two minutes of a two-hour event. What the Flier has discounted was many of the comments (that were positive with respect to downtown development) of residents that actually lay their heads on pillows in Wilde Lake.

Let’s hope in the future, there will be some balanced reporting, and maybe a correction next week.

02 May 2008

2008-2009 CA Board Leadership Decided

Based on reports from the field, Tom O’Connor (DS) has been elected CA Board Chair for this year and Michael Cornell (RH) has been elected vice-chair. Congratulations to Tom and Mike.

27 April 2008

Village Election Results – Unofficial

Initial reports indicate an elevated turnout for Village Board and CA Board elections. Nine of the ten Columbia Villages had elections for Village Board. Because the election in Owen Brown was not contested, Owen Brown did not have elections this year. Columbia Council Representative (aka CA Board Member) elections were held in Town Center, Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills, Hickory Ridge, and Harpers Choice.

In Oakland Mills, the CA Board contest proved to be quite close. The Alliance for a Better Columbia President Alex Heikmein defeated former Oakland Mills Board Member Phil Engelke by eight (8) votes. Voting in Oakland Mills was up over last year. I have no specific total from OM, but I believe it is in the neighborhood of 535 votes.

Town Center elected Suzanne Waller over Steve Meskin.

In Harper’s Choice, Cindy Coyle bested Lynda Maxwell 315-200, a more than 500 person turnout.

Early results from Hickory Ridge indicate a less than quorum turnout for the Village, and the lowest turnout (at lest in terms of percentage) in Columbia for an election with a CA Board position on the ballot.

In Wilde Lake, the CA Board position was a closely contested race between Linda Odum and Phil Kirsch. Phil took the day 260-225, with 499 people voting. Once again, this contest was overshadowed by Liz Bobo’s machine. Her emails, notes left on resident’s doorsteps, and an election day phone bank operated out of her house shows the level of dedication (or interference) that she holds for a Village that she does not even call home. Bobo asserts that her involvement in the Village elections stems from her ownership of rental property in Wilde Lake. Collectively, Bobo and her husband Lloyd Knowles are one of the largest property owners (in terms of number of units) in the Village of Wilde Lake. Anyhoo, her candidate Phil Kirsch, and the four Village Board members she backed won in the Wilde Lake election this year.

Incidentally, I received enough votes this year (thank you, brave people of Wilde Lake) to win the fifth spot on the Wilde Lake Village Board.

Thanks to everyone who ran and thanks to all that voted in Columbia.

25 April 2008

Columbia Elections - Open Forum

Well, tomorrow is election day (and it has already started in Kings Contrivance). I would like to hear what people are thinking. Is there any juice about this year's election? Any races in your village that are interesting? Is there any particular candidate with new and interesting ideas? Anyone have any predictions?

Some topics to keep in mind on the CA level:

Hiring a new president.
Watershed management.
Downtown development.
Board infighting.

Let's hear what you think!

17 April 2008

If the Wilde Lake Village Center is Discussed, Can the Slate Candidates Hear It?

Last night, I attended the Columbia Association Planning and Strategy Committee meeting to hear Kimco representative Kevin Allen discuss the Columbia Village Centers. For the record, Phil Kirsch, the current CA Board member from Wilde Lake serves on the Planning and Strategy Committee. Other than Phil, no other Wilde Lake slate candidate (Marando, Pivar, Simons, Mikkelsen) attended this informative meeting with Kimco.

Kevin began his discussion with a brief history of the Columbia Village Centers. He stated that the early Village Centers had relatively small grocery stores and as Columbia grew, new Village Centers had larger stores and those Village Centers that renovated saw an increase in the size of their grocery stores. As this happened, the larger grocery stores began to “poach” customers from each other. In addition, the Giant placed outside, but immediately adjacent to Columbia at the former Palace 9 movie theatre site has been problematic for the Village Centers.

Turning to the Wilde Lake Village Center, Mr. Allen stated that due to the uncertainty surrounding Wegmans, the uncertainty of Town Center development, and the relatively close proximity of the Safeway in Harpers Choice and the Giant in Hickory Ridge, potential grocers (both major national retailers and smaller regional establishments) have been reluctant to sign a lease.

Given this persistent response over the last eighteen months, Kevin said that Kimco started looking at other ways of investing in the property. He stated that their concept right now is a mixed use retail component of approximately 50,000 square feet, an office space component, and a residential component.

The meeting then progressed to a question-and-answer phase. Planning and Strategy Committee member Phil Kirsch stated that his wife did not like shopping at Safeway (in Harpers Choice) and Giant (in Dorseys Search) because they were too big. He followed this up with a question about the viability of a small grocery store. Kevin replied that Kimco would consider putting a small grocer in Wilde Lake, but a typical (50,000 square foot) grocery store was more than likely out of the question. He also stated that plans for Wilde Lake are evolving and most ideas are still on the table.

Evan Coren then asked about David’s Natural Market. Kevin replied that he had talked with David earlier in the day (Tuesday) and David did express an interest in having a larger presence in the Village Center. Kevin went on to say that he had seen David’s grow from a 3000 square foot storefront to its current size, and he would work with David’s.

Phil then countered with a question about attracting people to the Village Center, he asked why people would come to the reconfigured Village Center. In response Kevin stated that Giant had pulled out of Wilde Lake because they were not satisfied with sales and that some merchants in Wide Lake today are exceeding the sales of Giant before it left. Looking to the future, Kevin then expressed a desire to have restaurants, and smaller anchor stores in Wilde Lake. Later in the evening, I asked Kevin if the close proximity of Cheesecake Factory, Chammps, and the other restaurants nearby would result in restaurants being shy about signing a lease in Wilde Lake. Kevin said that he would like to see local restaurants in Wilde Lake, not national chains.

Questions were then opened up to the audience. Jay Bonstingl (a Wilde Lake resident) asked if Kimco was really committed to the concept of the Village Center as the “heart and soul” of the community. Jay went on to say that he had viewed renderings from Kimco and in his opinion, he saw upper income housing that did not take into account Slayton House.

Kevin answered by saying that the renderings were only concepts and the design will evolve and change. Kevin went on to say that Kimco is looking for input from the county and the Wilde Lake Village Board, and that Kimco has heard “let’s not lose sight of the core of the village.”

Upon reflection, many topics regarding the Wilde Lake Village Center were discussed. There were plenty of revelations, and at least for me, some new information was brought to light. I just wonder how the Wilde Lake Village Board slate candidates (Marando, Pivar, Mikkelsen, and Simons) are going to “enhance and protect the Village Center” if they continue to miss these types of meetings.

16 April 2008

Columnist Claims Rouse Practiced Discrimination Before Building Columbia

Today columnist Antero Pietila of the Baltimore Examiner details the discrimination practices of several organizations James Rouse either led or was part of during the early 1960's. I would like to hear the comments of the Compass readers.

15 April 2008

For Some in Wilde Lake, Diversity Stands in the Way of Getting Things Done

Last night, the Wilde Lake Community Association sponsored a Candidates Night for the upcoming Wilde Lake Village Board and Columbia Council Representative Elections. The event (based on past Wilde Lake Candidates Night standards) was well attended, with about forty residents and property owners in the audience. After opening statements of each of the candidates (including myself), a vigorous question and answer session ensued. Much of the discussion centered around the Wilde Lake Village Center. Other topics of discussion included the Plaza Tower in downtown and the recent Interfaith Center architectural decision.

At the end of the evening, a Wilde Lake resident asked about the mailer sent out to select people in the community that advocated for a “slate” of candidates. The question posed (and I’m paraphrasing here) was “Why should I vote for a particular slate of candidates, rather than vote for people based on their individual merits?” Wilde Lake Village Board Chairperson Vince Marando was first to answer the question and replied as follows (again, paraphrasing here) “I reached out to people of like mind because the only way to get things done is to have people who have the same opinion.”

As a statement of fact, the candidates running as a slate are Vince Marando, Mary Pivar, Lisa Mikkelsen, Phil Kirsch, and Elliott Simons. Lisa Mikkelsen was unable to attend the Candidates Night event. All five are Caucasian, with four of the five (Marando, Mikkelsen, Pivar, Kirsch) living within a few hundred yards of each other. A majority of slate candidates (Simons, Marando, Pivar) have lived in Columbia for more than thirty years. Phil Kirsch has been in Columbia for about twenty years and I believe Lisa Mikkelsen has been in Wilde Lake for a few years. Most are retired.

Given the racial, geographical, tenure and current occupational similarities of this group, it appears that Chairperson Marando has an additional requirement, a similarity between the ears.

In this time of great change in our Interfaith Center appearance, the continued Village Center concerns, and downtown development at Wilde Lake’s doorstep, it appears that Mr. Marando (and by extension, all other candidates that chose to sign on to the slate campaign), through the slate of candidates, seeks to limit ideas and input to the process. Certainly, residents are encouraged to speak out at meetings and contact elected representatives of the Village Board to voice their concerns, but Mr. Marando has implied that a single mindset should control the votes of the board.

I take the opposite view. Wilde Lake needs diversity in order to effectively address the current and future needs of the Village. By excluding differing viewpoints, the tools available to the Village Board will be diminished, and the solutions rendered will not fully address the needs of the community.

12 April 2008

Attention to Detail – Wilde Lake 2008 Election Update

Well, once again, the Wilde Lake Village election machines are out there. One of the most interesting is a coalition of five candidates running (Vince Marando, Mary Pivar, Lisa Mikkelsen, Elliott Simons, and Phil Kirsch) that published a flier and mailed it to people all over the Village.

Figure 1. Mailer Page One

WLVB Slate 2008

Figure 2. Mailer Page Two

WLVB Slate 2008 p2

I have to say, the graphics are pretty impressive. The mailer does have the look and feel of a ballot. They have a great picture of the gazebo on Wilde Lake. It shows a lot of time and effort put into the presentation.

That said, for all the sizzle, there is very little steak here. The “Open the Process” on the exterior of the tri-fold flap has no connection to any of the propaganda on the interior of the flier. What process are they talking about? What specifically needs to be open? Given the flier indicates support for mostly current and former board members, are they currently operating in a “closed” process? I suppose which process, and what needs to be “opened” is ultimately left up to the recipient.

The broad statement that “Together we will enhance & protect our Village Center” does not provide any specifics on how the Village Center is to be enhanced or protected. Given that four of the five candidates listed have been on the Village Board since the Giant closed, I believe a reasonable voter would infer the status quo would be maintained.

One last thing, if you look a little closer at the flier:

Figure 3 Mailer, Detail

WL Slate 2008 error3

C-O-L-U-M-I-B-A? Given that there are five names on this flier, I would have to think that each reviewed the content before allowing their name to be used. So what kind of “community focused leadership” can we expect from those who can’t even identify the correct spelling of the town name? At a minimum, it demonstrates a lack of attention to detail. I encourage all Wilde Lake voters to take this lack of attention to detail, the lack of detail in their platform, and the overemphasis on visuals (as opposed to message) into consideration before voting this year.

10 April 2008

Wilde Lake Village Board Election – 2008

This month, each of the Columbia Villages will hold elections for their Village Boards. I am running for the Wilde Lake Village Board. As I have been talking to people in Wilde Lake, the Wilde Lake Village Center is the biggest issue this election season. The prolonged grocery store vacancy and the recent closing of Produce Galore have heightened the concerns about commercial viability in Wilde Lake.

As a candidate for the Wilde Lake Village Board, I wish to make clear my Village Center position: I want to see a food store in the Wilde Lake Village Center; however, the current “wait and see” policy of the incumbent Village Board can no longer be tolerated. Last August, Wilde Lake Village Board Chairperson Vince Marando was quoted in the Columbia Flier :

Vincent Marando wants a grocery store to open in the Wilde Lake Village Center
as much as everyone else, he says.

But while several business owners are desperate for a new market to open as soon as possible, Marando, the chairman of the village board, thinks a new market should wait until the grocery store and retail picture in Columbia comes more into focus.

Since this article, Produce Galore has closed its doors and Anthony Tringali of the Anthony Richards Barbershop is considering doing the same. I believe the continued loss of retailers in the Wilde Lake Village Center will make the case for a grocery store even harder.

Now is the time for proactive steps to be taken to ensure the Village Center remains commercially viable. If elected, I will do the following:

Work with my fellow elected board members to write a letter to the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning regarding the installation of signs directing people to the Wilde Lake Village Center.

Currently the Harpers Choice Village Center, Owen Brown Village Center, and
Oakland Mills Village Center have several signs that direct people to these Village
. I wrote about the number of signs for each Village Center and their locations last year. I also contacted Mary Kay Sigaty, the County Council member that represents Wilde Lake. She indicated the Village Board needed to write a letter to get the signs put up. I communicated this to the Wilde Lake Village Board last November, and no action was taken. It is unclear whether the signs would have put off the Produce Galore closing, but I believe helping people find the Village Center could only improve merchant sales.

Establish a committee to write commercial architectural guidelines.

The need for commercial architectural guidelines has been known by the incumbent
Village Board for some time. In fact Vince Marando, the current Wilde Lake Village Board Chairperson, has contacted me by phone and during Village Board meetings about forming such a committee.(I cannot confirm, but I believe he has asked me repeated times because I have chaired past committees that rewrote/updated the Wilde Lake residential architectural guidelines and the Wilde Lake Architectural Procedures.) At each turn, I have indicated my willingness to serve on such a committee. The time has come to stop talking about commercial guidelines and to start writing the commercial guidelines.

Establish a protocol for communicating information to residents.

As the Wilde Lake Village Center issue has become more prominent, I have been concerned about the lack of information that Village residents possess. At a recent Wilde Lake Village Board meeting with Kimco representatives, a Wilde Lake resident offered that the Village of Wilde Lake has a population of 15,000 people. United States Census data indicates that Wilde Lake has a population closer to 5,300 people. Other residents have put forth particular grocery chains (Trader Joes, The Fresh Place, Grauls, Eddies, Macgruders…) that they believe (and quite frankly, I believe too) would be a good fit for Wilde Lake. Lamentably, Kimco has spoken to many (if not all) of these grocers (and many more), and each has declined to locate in Wilde Lake.

This information has been communicated to the Wilde Lake Village Board, but it has not been communicated to residents. To minimize repetition and reduce frustration, the Wilde Lake Village Board must adapt a structure to communicate the status of the Village Center to residents. Be it an email list, blog, web page, or printable flier available at Slayton House, there must be a means to update residents. An informed public can help make better choices.

Looking Beyond the Immediate

The three initiatives outlined above constitute what I believe should be enacted as soon as possible. However, I do not believe they will resolve the problems at the Wilde Lake Village Center. Other initiatives will take longer to implement, and need to be clarified. I respectfully submit the following, longer-term initiatives that I believe will help restore the Village Center.

Local Business Zoning

I have written about this idea before (here and here). It originated with towns that were being over-run by food chains like McDonalds. Simply said, zoning was enacted that stated if a business had at least eleven places of businesses that shared the same layout, architecture, menu or uniforms, they would have to undergo an additional round of review before being allowed to build. This allowed local businesses to thrive. I believe that the loss of many local businesses (Produce Galore, Bun Penney, Blue Cow Café, Fire Rock Grill…) in the last few months demonstrates a need to look at the zoning to ensure local entrepreneurs have a chance in the market. I believe a committee should be commissioned to study this type of zoning and make recommendations to the board. If favorable, the board may work with County officials to enact such zoning.

Commercial Sector Education

I believe it is critical for as many people to know and understand the mechanisms behind how a grocery store (or any other merchant) picks a location. Only with good information can good decisions be made. I believe this is so important that I would champion an initiative to bring in local experts on commercial retail leases, market segmentation, and demographics (and others) to Wilde Lake such that board members (including myself) and residents can understand what is in play when a retailer is deciding whether or not to locate in the Village Center.

I believe that taking these steps will start the process of revitalizing the Village Center. A place where local residents can meet their daily needs and also a destination place that draws from the entire Columbia/Howard County community. Please join me in this endeavor, and vote for me on April 26, 2008.

08 April 2008

Last Night, the Columbia Community Changed

Last night the Wilde Lake Village Board, serving as the Wilde Lake Architectural Committee, reversed an earlier resident committee’s recommendation and approved the architectural style of a 48-foot tall church (that’s almost five floors high) with a 16-foot cross facing Wilde Lake residents and traffic on Twin Rivers Road.

Up until last night, it was the practice in Columbia (for more than 35 years) that Interfaith Centers did not have any religious symbols on the exterior of the buildings on New Town property. Promotional material from the early days of Columbia stated “You will be glad to know that people come before buildings in our Columbia Religious efforts.”

The evening featured a powerpoint presentation demonstrating the prominence of many corporate logos that are visible in the vicinity, to include the Columbia Association logo in downtown, the Exxon gas station at Banneker Road, and the Melting Pot restaurant in the Wilde Lake Village Center. The presentation concluded with the picture zooming in on the Wilde Lake logo on the Slayton House building.

This was followed by many people speaking out, in 3-minute bites, and relating their difficulty in finding the church in the current interfaith center. Some stated it took hours to find the church, others weeks, and one who stated months. Another participant stated that having churches without religious symbols was akin to taking the names of schools off the exterior of the surrounding school buildings.

After the decision was rendered, I heard many people quietly saying, “It’s not an Interfaith Center anymore, it’s a Christian Center,” as they departed the meeting room.

Regardless, in the near future, Columbia will be a different place. The magnitude of this difference will be hard to measure. Is this “new street sign” different? 22-story condo tower different? I believe it probably depends on who you are and what your perception of interfaith was. In the end, it is a difference, and it should be noted.

06 March 2008


TC 21

The CA Board of Directors recently approved the budget for 2008/2009 fiscal year. One of the casualties of the budget was the axing of funds to address maintenance and structural problems along the Kittamaquandi Lakefront. This budget item was removed over the protestation of the CA Open Space Division. Now, I understand that members of the highly influential Alliance for a Better Columbia (ABC) have been wailing for years that the CA Board should not give much weight to CA Staff requests, so I took some time the other day to assess the material condition of the lakefront.

One of the first things I noticed were the pylons at the Town Center Boat Docks and along the warf to the bell tower. Long ago, these pylons were decorated with vertical strips of wood (balusters). Today, not a single pylon has all of the wood intact.

Here is a picture of one that is nearly intact:

TC 9

In addition, many of the pylons have a substantial coating of green mildew on the north side:

TC 16

There are also several pylons that have the tops bored out:

TC 18

TC 14

On a related note, some of the lights attached to the pylons are in disrepair (safety issue?):

TC 12

TC 19

TC 8

Over at the boat docks, mildew has become a prominent feature:

TC 1

TC 2

And it appears that this mud has been around long enough to allow for some of the dock to be reclaimed by nature:

TC 7

Over at the bell tower (which, by the way, when I have the occasion to watch Baltimore TV news, I love the shot of the bell tower and the lakefront during the opening), this ramp looked a little odd to me:

TC 11

Upon closer inspection (another safety issue?):

TC 10

Moving on to the bell tower, I took a look at the wooden cross bracing, and found this:

TC 17

And this:

TC 15

It appears to me that the only thing that is holding this bracing to the tower is paint and hope. I would think that with no money for repairs in the budget for the next two years, there may (and hey, I have not run the wind loading numbers here, but really, look at the pictures) be a good chance that this thing could fall over within the next two years. And wouldn't THAT look good on the Baltimore evening news.

The Howard County Framework document calls the Kittamaquandi Lakefront “the heart of downtown Columbia,” and in my opinion, it is our front porch. It is along these lakefront promenades that Presidential Cabinet Secretaries and Royalty once strolled. Today, it is in a sad state of disrepair, has some serious safety issues associated with it, and has one of our landmarks in danger of falling into the lake. I think it is time for the CA Board of Directors to come down from their ivory tower of a board room and listen to their staff. There is a real need for corrective maintenance and repair now. I think the board should listen to Evan Coren (KC) who stated at a recent board meeting (paraphrasing here) “this isn’t the same thing as providing towels at the athletic club, ignoring these issues will get you voted out of office.”

Hmmm…there is an election coming up next month.

Oh, and I didn’t even mention the trash, I just wish we had a place to put it.

TC 20

03 March 2008

Call to Service 2008

It’s election season again in the Next American City. All Villages will hold elections for Village Board and CA Board elections will be held in Wilde Lake, Town Center, Hickory Ridge, Harpers Choice, Owen Brown and Oakland Mills. I encourage anyone who wants to contribute to their community to get a nominating petition, have your neighbors sign it, and run for office.

Clearly, each Village will have its own issues; the Village Center in Wilde Lake, Wegmans in nearby Owen Brown and Long Reach, revitalization and the recent departure of businesses in Oakland Mills.

The one issue I hope that does not come up this year is downtown Columbia. For the past few years, some candidates have made a career out of stating that downtown Columbia is the NUMBER ONE issue. I for one have not seen any results from any of these single-issue candidates. Years of service, and very little to show for it.

It seems to me that the downtown Columbia issue is a bit like a scary movie. Initially, there is a lot of buzz and excitement, and you go and see the movie (and it scares the crap out of you). People leave the theater genuinely scared, and some have bad dreams. When the sequel comes out, there is another big circus, and you buy the ticket again. But this time, the movie is not so bad, there are some unexpected moments, and you might even jump out of your seat. By the third time the movie comes around, you realize it is really just a sad guy in a hockey mask. So let’s hope this fear-mongering about downtown will subside this year.

Let’s also hope that this election season will be about issues that can be addressed by the elected boards. Some topics might include those mentioned above and the high number of closed meetings at the CA level, the high CA legal fees, and the inability of the current CA board to get along with each other. Addressing these issues will allow Columbia to be better prepared for future.

Back from Vacation

Just a quick mid-day note: The Compass will be back to posting more frequently starting this week. I suppose it was time for a break. Mind you, no big trips to the Caribbean or the American Rockies, just a little mental time out that has now passed.

In neighborhood news, a quick shout-out/howdy to the Tolson family of Oakland Mills. The Tolsons were featured in the Washington Post Magazine yesterday and it is well worth the read. The story includes several quotes from Evan Tolson (blue shirt, hand on head). Evan and my wife were classmates (K-12) in Oakland Mills. After graduating, Evan found his way into the Navy about the same time I enlisted. He and I were in the same Navy schools in Orlando, Florida. Sometimes the world is very small.

13 February 2008

An Unprecedented Victory

Yes, the primaries last night did provide wins for Barak Obama and John McCain, but the big story last night was that Uno, a beagle, won the Westminster Kennel Club Best in Show at Madison Square Garden Last night. This is the first time that a Beagle has won Best in Show in the history of the event. When asked for comment, Boomer, the official beagle of casa de Santos, said ROWRRWWRRRWWRR!


12 February 2008

Primary Observation

My son and I made our usual trek to daycare this morning underneath a subfreezing oatmeal sky. We were both a bit sleepy, so we opted for the Sirius satellite radio kids music channel this morning to ease us into the day. Rolling from west to east, we listened to the Dora the Explorer theme song and the Winnie the Pooh theme song. The commercialism was starting to get to me, but with my finger hovering above the radio button, on came Debi Derryberry’s rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” as we passed Thunder Hill Road on Rt. 108.

I know my son has heard the song before, I started singing, and he quickly picked up on the chorus. The car had warmed by then and we were having fun singing and driving. As we passed Howard High School, I noticed a woman, I would guess in her twenties, leaping, jumping and waving while clutching an Obama sign.

There was something that just hit me and made me smile. The folk music, the diffuse morning light, the woman waving her sign. From my brief observation, this woman was dancing with joy. I did not realize it, but I had stopped singing, leaving my son to carry the tune. As we passed the school, my eyes misted over just a little bit, and I heard from the back seat, “C’mon daddy, ‘this land was made for you and me.’” All I could say was, “Yes it is son.”