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 CafĂ©, 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.