Monday, October 31, 2005

You say lazy. I say busy with other stuff

Yeah, busy with other stuff. That's it.

Anyway, in light of the Ravens game starting in a couple of minutes, the daylight savings time adjustment period messing with my sleep schedule, and the lack of any new HoCo news today or tomorrow, I'm going to save all of the really good posts for tomorrow night's (alright, maybe Wednesday) edition. Here are a couple of the highlights:

• Why Giant Food Hates Suburbia
• Charrette: A Closer Look
• Howard County’s Deadliest Jobs
• Another Trailer Park in the Bull's-eye

(I'm trying to add some Fox News-style sensationalism to the blog.)

Teeing it up...

Sometimes, these posts write themselves (figuratively, of course, otherwise this damn blog wouldn't be so infrequently updated--but that's beside the point).

Today's self-writing blog post comes to us from the Sun's indefatigable Howard County political correspondent, Larry Carson. His article in Sunday's edition is a cornucopia of juicy quotes, like this:

County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, who with fellow Democrat Ken Ulman also endorsed O'Malley, said they plan to recruit volunteers and post signs at locations identified last year in the presidential run of U.S. Sen. John Kerry.

Yes, that's right, learning from Kerry's campaign last year, because we all know how well that worked. What, you think I'm being too sarcastic? Tough patooties! Here's more:

Speculation that Republican state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader could take Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele's place on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s ticket next year is just that and nothing more, Schrader said.

"No one has approached me. It's all speculation now," she said, noting that she raised $75,000 for her re-election campaign at a fundraiser in Clarksville on Oct. 18. That's part of the $140,000 she has collected so far.

Ehrlich, along with former Gov. Marvin Mandel, attended her fundraiser, hosted by businessman J.P. Bolduc at his home - even though it was the same day a purported terrorist threat forced near-total closure of Baltimore's two harbor tunnels.

Those who attended said Ehrlich warmly praised Schrader, whose husband, Dennis, is Maryland's Homeland Security director, but never mentioned statewide office.

Good going, fellas (Bobby Gov and Dennis Schrader). Don't let something silly like a potential threat to the security of the state and its most heavily used tunnels get in the way of a $75,000 fundraiser.

Keep tossing me the softballs, Larry.

So, is this too much sarcasm? Perhaps. But I'm riding a sugar rush right now (I had no trick-or-treaters, so all the candy's mine) and am in no shape to think about supposedly serious things, like campaigns. As I've said before, I make no promises on political writing and speculation until the calendar year of the election.

Also as I've said before, I usually can't resist. So, here's my (mostly) serious take on the above items.

1. It doesn't matter who endorses whom in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. As long as a Democrat wins, the state's majority party will be fat and happy again next November.

2. I like Sandy Schrader, and I think it would be nice to see her as Bobby's running mate. Certainly, he could pick somebody much worse. I'm still not voting for him even if he picks her (or me, for that matter). Ever since Bobby Gov took office, he's had a personal vendetta against me, or so it seems, as he managed to slash state-funded programs on numerous occasions that had a direct impact on my well-being. Is this a somewhat irrational, nay paranoid, position? Maybe. Does the rational side of me care? Um, not so much. If you're really interested to know the ways in which Bobby Gov made my life miserable over the last three years, shoot me an e-mail.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Charrette done

Since I was unable to attend the final session of the Charrette, the only information I have is what is included in this article from the Baltimore Sun on Sunday. The story offers few details (and the county Charrette website, which has failed to live up to it's promise of frequent updates, continues the trend), but the details are not necessarily important now. There will be plenty of time to sort out these issues in the coming months.

What is important is that we remember that the process is not over. Indeed, the long hours of the last week are just the beginning. County planning director Marsha McLaughlin understands:

Marsha S. McLaughlin, director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, said that yesterday was not the end of the process. Public input is still welcome before the Howard County Council approves the final plan, which McLaughlin said will likely not be exactly as presented yesterday.

She said the weeklong process was not long enough to sort out all the details -- such as zoning and infrastructure needs -- but those aspects will be addressed next.

"We want to turn this into a living, breathing master plan," she said.

By Tuesday, it became apparent to me, and others I talked to, that one week, regardless of how hard the planners and citizens worked, was not enough time to address all of the issues involved with Town Center (re)development. Historically, charrettes have been used to address smaller-scale projects, controversial local issues dealing with only one or a handful of properties, not the entire downtown (570 acres) of a medium-sized city (population: 100,000ish).

We asked a lot of the Charrette and it asked a lot of us. And, in total, I think both the process, the planners, and the citizens rose to the challenge. However, given the type of community we live in, anything less would have been shocking. From the details I gathered from the above story and from my experiences at the meetings during the last week, I think twenty years from now we'll be able to look back and say we did it the right way.

Of course, I haven't seen the plan yet.

New Feature: News Roundup

If you think this is an easy way for me to pontificate on a range of issues without much contemplation or writing, you're right. Here it is, the first installment of Hayduke's News Roundup (insert sound of whip cracking).

Several interesting responses to the question of what the county should do with its $20 million surplus. I am especially in favor of #4, as it seems the only one not motivated by political ideology.

The perfect storm of cynicism. Two different views in letters to the editor on whether the county council should have it's pay increased. Both the product of the cynical stance that councilmen only do their job for personal gain (which may be true).

How well is the county integrating immigrant families into our community? Tell the Sun here.

Paying homage to the FDR and the New Deal, the Columbia Association begins to look more and more like the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority). I actually like this. I think our waterways are in pretty bad shape and any attempt to restore them to functioning ecosystems, rather than natural stormwater runoff channels, is A-OK by me.

Surely there's room enough in Howard County for the both of them. After all, fried food is fried food, right? Wrong. Champps is none too happy with the new Cheesecake Factory going in just down the parking lot from them. So, they're suing. And good for them.


He fits the suit...

I often think "The Brady Bunch" was well ahead of its time. There was one episode in particular that I thought about as I read this article in the Sun yesterday.

The episode I'm thinking of was the one where Greg, the oldest, was placed on the road to rock stardom because, in the words of some sleazy music producers, he "fit the suit." The suit, of course, was some glitzy, matadore-esque get-up that would turn suburban Greg into ultra-hip Johnny Bravo. True to form, Greg realized this was all about soulless commercialism and exploitation of his body measurements, and he backed out before he sold out. This show, I think, is more pertinent today than it was back then. But I'm not bringing it up to discuss the state of pop music. Instead, it seems fitting in light of the story mentioned above. To wit:

Del. Neil F. Quinter apparently never learned during his Harvard University Law School education one of the golden rules of childhood: No takebacks!

The Howard County Democrat has changed his mind about running for the congressional 3rd District and instead will seek re-election to the House of Delegates.

And he wants Howard County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone - who is running for what he thought was Quinter's vacant seat - to get out of his way.

...Quinter announced Tuesday that he is bowing out of the congressional race to fill the post being vacated by Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who is running for the Senate. He explained one reason he decided not to seek the seat is because John P. Sarbanes, eldest son of Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, entered the race.

...But Quinter is running without the support of his fellow district Democratic delegates.

Guzzone and Dels. Shane E. Pendergrass and Frank S. Turner proclaimed at a fundraiser Wednesday night they were running as a Democratic ticket in House District 13, sporting red baseball caps embroidered with their last names.

Pendergrass, who suggested that Guzzone run for Quinter's seat, called the Democratic primary situation "awkward."

"I'm happy to have Guy on the ticket," she said. "And I'm certainly not going to change my word on that."

And Guzzone is not about to let Quinter put his name on those red baseball caps.

"It's the Guzzone, Pendergrass, Turner ticket," he said. "We got our little embroidered hats."

Sorry, Neil, the suit (rather, hat) don't fit.

Did you honestly expect a serious take on a political issue when I started this post with a reference to "The Brady Bunch?" Come on now.

Well, really I can't resist. Here's my truncated serious take (I will reserve full speculation for the 2006 calendar year). We've got more Democratic butts than we have seats for many races in 2006. Primaries are likely, while the Republicans seem to be organizing their campaigns much more effectively. But it is still early. So, I expect the Democrats to get their house in order and channel their energy into beating Republicans and not each other.

Friday, October 21, 2005

A cop-out?

I know I've fallen behind on my duties to provide incisive commentary to you, dear readers, on the issues of the day facing beautiful Howard County, Maryland. And though I'd like to admit to being sorry about this, I'm not really. It's all about priorities. Well, really it's about food, shelter, and the other necessities of life that gainful employment makes possible for me, and blogging simply does not. I promise I'll catch up eventually, but not this weekend, as I'm headed over the river (Potomac) and through the woods (um...) to the Grandparents' house. Next week, however, I'm all yours, except for all the other stuff I've got to do. I'm not losing faith and neither should you. Enjoy life away from the computer for a while. I hear it's nice.

Before I head south to the land of pleasant (colonial) living, Williamsburg, VA, I'd like to direct your attention to this article in today's Sun. If you live in King's Contrivance, as I do (that's a hint if you don't know who I really am), you probably hate the Safeway as much as me. Interestingly, I visited this woeful establishment a couple of weeks ago on my way home from somewhere needing only milk. I'm not particularly picky about milk, especially when I go to this Safeway. Much to my chagrin, the store was out of EVERY FREAKING VARIETY OF MILK. No whole. No 2 percent. No 1 percent. No skim. No lactose-free. No soy. NOTHING--well, they did have a pint of buttermilk. Incensed, I left the store and wrote a letter to Safeway and Kimco, owners of the village center. I would include the letter here, but it is not really appropriate for a family blog such as this. Needless to say, despite my stern warning to not bother writing me back with meaningless corporate platitudes--thank-you-for-writing BS--I got the following letter back from Safeway.

Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding the unpleasant experience you had at your local Safeway. We are sorry to hear that we are not meeting your expectations.

You stated that the store was out of stock of milk and other items. We apologize for the inconvenience caused. Please provide us with the names of specific products that you were unable to locate and we will work hard to correct the problem.

We also sincerely apologize for the inconvenience you have encountered due to the customer service provided to you by our employees. Safeway continually strives for the highest quality customer service.

Your feedback is valuable and will be forwarded to the Store Manager for further review. Please be assured that your concerns will be addressed.

I would prefer a vacant building to what is there now. Actually, I think I said the same thing to them in my letter.

Kimco didn't even bother writing back. Oh well.

I'm leaving the county in your hands for the weekend. Just make sure it's in bed by midnight.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

More photos from the Charrette

Here is the county's website with pictures from Saturday.

And here is the main page with links to other daily updates, though no additional days have been posted yet.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Charrette recap

Here it is, my recap of my charrette experience on Saturday. If you haven't done so, you can look at some pictures here.

County Executive Jim Robey started the day off with some introductory remarks, followed by Marsha McLaughlin from the county Department of Planning and Zoning and Matt D'Amico from Design Collective. The speakers all stressed the need to think about the history of Columbia and what it can/should be in 30 years. D'Amico, in particular, offered some inspiring words about why Columbia is special and why this Charrette is special as well.

Before we got started at our tables, D'Amico showed several slides comparing walkable streets to non-walkable streets, open space quality versus quantity, and livable streets versus...well, what we have now in Town Center. He finished the pep talk portion of the day by quoting Jim Rouse. Unfortunately, I don't have the exact quote (it's not my job to be the reporter), but it was one I have heard before and it is basically about not being constrained by feasibility. Think big.

And with that, we were off.

Several tables around mine seemed to really take the words to heart and started drafting "big" plans. Meanwhile, the tables fell off at my table almost immediately. It became clear that there were two irreconcilable positions: No Growth and Some Growth. The No Growth contingent, just one guy really, would not budge from its position, even while the Some Growth folks would try to offer compromises. Despite having a "trained" facilitator, there was no coming to mutually agreeable terms; we were stuck, and by the time we started to draw on our map, the Charrette was being called to order and individual groups were being asked to put the finishing touches on their work. So, we scrambled together a few small points that we could agree on and avoided the bigger issues.

Needless to say, I was disappointed with this outcome, for many reasons. While I understand why someone would fall into the No Growth group, one does not arrive at this position with the use of logic and rational thought. It is a position of emotion and fear. Our No Growth guy was scared that development would bring crime and that, god forbid, Columbia would actually look like a city. No body wants crime, but we're not proposing to build West Baltimore. Saying that more growth in Columbia will cause a large upswing in crime is also insulting to the strength of this community. But, my biggest beef with the No Growth position is that those who hold it offer no chance for compromise, which it seems the Charrette was all about. No Growth folks are anchored to one end of the spectrum, while the rest of us are somewhat in the middle (I don't think anyone is all the way pro-Growth, except for perhaps Julian Simon). The No Growth position is horribly weak, short-sighted, and offers no solutions, other than Not-in-my-backyard. Thank god the folks who lived in Howard County in the mid-1960s weren't so foolish.

Despite the problems I had with my table, I was pleasantly surprised to see the outcomes from the other tables. Clearly, these people had not become bogged down in the pettiness that my table experienced. All of the important things that turn Anywhere, USA into somewhere were listed as amenities the new Town Center needs to offer: walkability, mixed uses, cultural spaces, good transportation, interesting design/architecture, a mix of housing (affordable and otherwise), public spaces, signage, great streets, and so on. In short, all of the things that Rouse envisioned but were never built for myriad reasons.

I left feeling hopeful about the outcome, but still somewhat reserved. I don't know, there's something about the best laid plans that keeps coming to mind.

Anyway, I don't have time to get into what happened at the Monday meeting. Basically, we looked a bunch of maps and rough sketches, and a lot of people asked questions. The beginning of something good, however, is in there. We just need to whittle away the junk first. For updates on the Charrette, visit the county's Charrette website here. If you'd like to send in comments during the week, send them to this address.

More to come...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Ugh...sunday morning blogging

I was fully intending to sleep right up until football started today, but for some reason, my body--exhausted from a long week at work and a busy day yesterday--decided 5 hours was enough sleep. Ugh.

Anyway, I don't think I've got my thoughts arranged on the Charrette yet, and I don't want to even try writing about it. But there are some interesting items worthy of comment in the Sun. So, away we go...


At the bottom of this article, Sun reporter Larry Carson gets some real responses from potential candidates for various offices.

After more than a week of study, Democratic Del. Frank S. Turner has decided not to run for county executive, he said.

Melissa Berger, a county teacher and activist who had begun campaigning for a House of Delegates seat in District 13, has changed her plans, too, she said, now that Guzzone has declared he will run in that race.

"There's three people in my district I did not want to go up against, and he was one of them," she said. "I will be running for something," she added.

So, Turner's out of the race for executive, meaning he'll probably run again for his House of Delegates seat. Berger, on the other hand, doesn't want to mess with Guzzone and declares she'll be running for something. But what? Since she's state District 13, chances are she lives in County Council District 3. Perhaps she has eyes on Guzzone's old seat. She wouldn't be the only one.

Of course, this is all speculation, but there might be a primary for the District 3 council race, which would surely make things interesting (and give me lots to write about).

As much as I try to not write about campaigns before they even start, I just can't help myself. I'll stop now.

Don't fault him for trying...

Even if his ideas are absolutely crazy.

Enter Harry M. Dunbar, 61, of Owen Brown, a community activist and political outsider who declared recently that he is seeking the Democratic nomination for Howard County executive in 2006. Dunbar, the first African-American candidate to run, is not only opposed to suburban sprawl - he's even opposed to allowing hundreds of new homes and businesses in central Columbia, where they've been planned for years, he said.

...Instead of a vibrant, more urban-style downtown with high-rise buildings, and more expensive homes and businesses on the parking lots behind Merriweather Post Pavilion, Dunbar, a maverick who has worked on both Democratic and Republican campaigns, said he'd prefer a public park there.

...He added that he knows people have the right to develop their land but feels that Howard's schools and roads are too crowded and that government should do more to restrict growth.

Ok. Either he has no idea how valuable the land in Town Center is or...I don't even know what to say. The thought that you could take this developable land--in the middle of one of the wealthiest county's in the nation--and turn it into a park is ludicrous, especially when there's a park (Symphony Woods) right next door. Does he think General Growth is going to hand over the parking lots for the good of the county? Or develop the park there on its own?

I am no fan of uncontrolled and unchecked growth. But, unlike some people, I see it as inevitable. Yesterday at the Charrette an economist brought up the fact that Fort Meade is going to be home to an additional 7,000 armed forces personnel and at the same time up to 25 million square feet of office space in northern Virginia is going to be vacated by defense contractors, many of whom are likely to move to places that are benefiting from the military realignment, like here. That is our reality, and its foolish to think this reality won't affect us.

So, what do we do? Do we slow growth even more than we already have? Do we stop it entirely--the short road to complete exculsivity for this county's housing? Or do we try to recognize that it's going to happen and that Columbia and other urbanized areas of the county are better places for development than the rural west?

I certainly understand where Dunbar's coming from, though. Reality is quite messy and often it's best to just turn your back on it.

Another toothless animal

On the heels of the failed committee studying farmland preservation, another county "task force" seems poised to address a big problem--increasingly unaffordable housing--with small solutions.

The task force has made no formal recommendations but is examining initiatives to aid first-time homebuyers and the developers the county is relying on to build the housing.

The inducements include:

  • A deferral of county property taxes for several years, perhaps as many as 10. The taxes would be paid at the end of the grace period or when the residence was resold.
  • Levying property taxes only on the percentage of the home owned by the resident. It is presumed that many of the units built will be partly owned by the Department of Housing and Community Development.
  • Allowing developers to build affordable units immediately, despite county restraints that typically delay construction for several years. The number of units built would not increase, but developers could build lower-priced housing sooner.

Property tax exemptions? When the county council voted against a plan to transfer 100 units of housing from the west to the east to be used for affordable housing, I thought the outcome would be for the best. The 100-unit transfer program was another temporary solution to an endemic problem, and would likely have exacerbated the affordable housing mess by providing politicians with the false belief that they had actually accomplished something when in fact a comprehensive approach to affordable housing and growth is the only way we can make any headway into this problem. The idea that property tax exemptions are going to have any impact on housing affordability is preposterous and doesn't recognize the immense power of the real estate and development market right now.

Granted, there may be a larger plan in the works for affordable housing, but it doesn't say so in the article, which is the only source of news I have. I hope that this post is completely off-base, that the task force dealing with this problem is actually thinking about meaningful solutions, but something in me thinks that they are approaching this as another consensus-building exercise, producing yet more watered-down solutions in a county that's been diluted enough.

Come together...

It is a sad day in politics when a Democrat and a Republican agreeing becomes news. It is even sadder when you find out what they agree on.

Republican County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon and Democratic Councilman Ken Ulman don't often agree, but both think the next County Council should get a hefty pay raise.

Merdon, who represents Ellicott City and Elkridge and is running for county executive next year, told the council-appointed Compensation Review Commission last week that he "wouldn't be opposed to going to the high $40,000s or low $50,000s" from $33,800 a year.

Ulman, who represents west Columbia and might run for re-election or for county executive, said he agrees with "the ballpark of what Chris referred to," but said the raise could be to the mid-$40,000s.
Kidding aside, our council members put in a lot of work and should be paid accordingly. The fact that they can work a regular job at the same time they are on the council is admirable, but extremely demanding and possibly detrimental to their service to the county. Which is why it almost seems like pay raises are not enough. The concept of part-time legislators has become antiquated, a relic from our agrarian past where councilmen were farmers first and legislators second. Is there still a good reason why county council should not be a full-time job? Don't we want people working full time on the needs and issues facing this county?

I do.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Charrette photos

The Charrette was great. I took a lot of notes, and I'll write something as soon as possible. But for now at least, here are some photos.

"Whatever happened to Tivoli?"


(with apologies to Instapundit).

Exercisin' futility

Stalemate on zoning changes for the rural west.

After months of passionate and often tempestuous debate, it's back to square one as officials wrestle with the future landscape of western Howard County.

What began as a political issue might have to be settled politically, at least temporarily, many say, after a citizens committee's refusal to embrace zoning changes designed to preserve more land and further curb development in the west.

Officials said they haven't decided on their next move, but several people close to the issue said County Executive James N. Robey must take the lead in finding a solution that satisfies state officials, who have been pressing for the curbs, while not ignoring the committee.

It is not very surprising that the committee couldn't reach a consensus. Zoning and property rights issues are always tricky, especially when the stakes (read: property values) are as high as they are in Howard County.

The loser in all this is, unfortunately, county planning director Marsha McLaughlin, who getting immense pressure from the state to enact changes to the agricultural preservation program at the same time she was meeting with tremendous resistance from landowners. Literally stuck between an irresistable force and an immovable object.

Actually, I guess there was more than on loser, as county citizens who are committed to smart growth (little "S") and preserving our agricultural heritage can't be happy with the result (I know I'm not).

However, if there is one good thing to come out of this, it is that a consensus solution probably wouldn't have been very successful anyway--it would almost surely be watered down and toothless. At this point, it looks like it is up to County Executive Jim Robey to step in and take over. To be sure, any effective solution will anger many people, but that is exactly why governing (and politics) is hard. If you're reading, Jim, might I suggest my proposal as a starting point. Remember, it's all about triangulation--take the Republican's ammo (free markets, property rights, etc.) and use it against them.

Unfortunately, Chris Merdon, the Republican candidate for Robey's seat, couldn't resist taking political pot shots, saying, "The administration is the one that raised the issue, so the administration needs to say what its position is."

Well, yes, the "administration" did in fact raise the issue, but not until the state threatened to decertify and defund the county's agricultural program, which I'm sure Merdon wouldn't be too pleased about either. And you can't have it both ways.

Friday, October 14, 2005


The Columbia Town Center Charrette is tomorrow, and if you haven't signed up, I think you can still register at the door. I'm not sure what to expect, but I think it will at least be an interesting way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Here's a story about the charrette from the Sun, and there are similar stories in the Post and Flier as well.

I hope to have a full recap of my experience on Sunday (or Monday), as well as a running diary of the meetings that occur during the week. I will also try to catch up on other local news, but I've been pretty busy over the last few weeks--so I'm not making any promises.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

And in this corner...

Harry Dunbar, a long-time community activist and once a candidate for county council, has thrown his hat in the ring for the Democratic nomination for county executive.

Dunbar is not your run of the mill politician. Indeed, he ran as an independent in 1986 and most recently worked for a Republican candidate in 2002. But at this point, he's the only one to officially announce his candidacy and therefore stands the best chance of winning.

Acting outside the county Democratic establishment, Dunbar's announcement comes as other potential candidates continue to weigh their options. Needless to say, the county's top Democrats weren't singing his praises.

"He almost does things for shock value," said C. Vernon Gray, the five-term former county councilman who defeated Dunbar two decades ago.

"No one knows where he's coming from, ever," said County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat who has said he will not run for county executive. "He runs around with Republican T-shirts on and says he's a Democrat." Said West Columbia Democrat Ken Ulman, a possible candidate for county executive: "I can say confidently that makes absolutely no difference in my decision-making process."

In other nomination news, I'd like to nominate Sun reporter Larry Carson for understatement of the year for prefacing the Democrats' responses with: "Some Democrats were skeptical of Dunbar's chances."

Skeptical? I've tossed around many insults in my day, so I have a pretty good idea of what they look like. And, the above responses are not as much skeptical as they are insulting. And, no, this statement is not meant to insult or portray skepticism. I'm just calling it like I see it.

What's in a name...

The Columbia Association Board of Directors/Columbia Council has voted not to change its name.

Yes, I am well aware that there was more involved in this governance reform than just a name change. But to the casual observer, which I was for this story (hey, I can't immerse myself in all of them!), a name change is all they appeared to be debating.

Don't get me wrong, I stressed caution over this matter. However, I would urge caution to any large organization representing the interests of almost 100,000 people when seeking a change in its structure.

All that said, I still think that at this point it is more important for CA to find a better role for itself in the community. Over the last year, it has been more active in planning and other community issues, and I think it should continue in this direction, albeit under the protection and with the guidance of defined corporate polices.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

I can see clearly now the rain is gone

Wow. Lots of rain in Columbia over the last few days. The National Weather Service estimates that almost nine inches of rain fell in Columbia. I'm sorry if I haven't made it clear until this point, but I'm a bit of a weather nerd. Here's a map of the precipitation.

Anyway, we've got much more to talk about today, and I've only got a few minutes before I'm off to another wedding (on Footballday no less!).

First, a prediction. There has been much speculation about who will be the Democratic nominee for County Executive, but the Sun today puts much of the speculation to rest, though inadvertently. In the Howard Speak Out section, there are four responses to the question posed this week, which was basically "Who should the Democrats run for County Executive." The responses give a clear indication that it will either be Courtney Watson or Ken Ulman.

By asking the question, the Sun activated the two camps, who then sent foot soldiers out to start digging trenches. Since other potential candidates are not even mentioned in the responses, I can only assume that they are not really serious enough to get supporters to write in. Therefore, it will either be Watson or Ulman.

In other news, Guy Guzzone's council seat will go to a woman. I don't expect a primary in this race for either party, and in Larry Carson's political column this week, he notes the two women who will run, although only one has officially declared. The two are Republican Donna Thewes--a PTA and community activist from North Laurel--and Jennifer Terrasa--a member of the Kings Contrivance Village Board and the county Planning Board who is also leading the push to build a fence around the Lake Elkhorn playground following the death of a child there last month. Thewes made her announcement in the midst of several GOP elected officials and Ehrlich cabinet secretaries, thus setting the bar for Terrasa's announcement, which is not official yet but will almost surely be accompanied by luminaries of similar stature.

Also in Carson's column is a mention of Ken Ulman's fundraiser from last week. Not much news from that, however.

Here's a nice letter to the Sun about the Charrette.

And, here's a funny story about a kid making moonshine on the shores of Rocky Gorge Reservoir. Unfortunately for moonshine aficionados, the kid got caught and they took his brew. Alas.

Even though I haven't read it all the way through, this is probably my least favorite post to date. But, I'm already running late for the wedding and there was a lot that needed to be said. There are even some stories I left out. I hope to come back with better writing and more substantive posts early this week, but I figured I owed it to you, my three loyal readers, to get something up today.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Improving shopping center improvement

Despite putting on a pretty good show in May, General Growth clearly has not become an acolyte of the New Urbanism movement. Sure, the Town Center master plan they created--which is soon to be forgotten--had many New Urbanist trappings--notably an expressed desire for pedestrian access, mixed uses, and compact neighborhoods. However, one silly master plan is not enough to change an entire corporate leviathan, as evidenced by a new proposal that is cruising (not-suprisingly) through the county approval process.

General Growth faces little opposition to its plan to build a Lowe's store at Gateway Overlook Shopping Center on the north side of Route 175, just west of Interstate 95.

The Chicago-based mall developer, which purchased Rouse last year, is doing utility work and paving roads there as it awaits approval for the store from the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning.
So, it's back to the standard suburban shopping center development we've grown to know and hate in Columbia. A close look at the Snowden River Parkway Big Box District (SRPBBD) reveals a set of loathsome shopping centers that I characterize as such not because of some elitist dislike of suburban banality, but because of the fact that shopping at Snowden Square, Dobbin Center, or Columbia Crossing I and II is less excruciating than the colonoscopy I was forced to endure this morning. And it's not just me who feels this way. I don't know a single person who actually finds shopping in SRPBBD pleasant, and I've even heard merchants complain about the centers' poor design. Now, it looks like we're getting yet another one to add to the annual Christmas shopping circuit, which might be just enough to finally push me (and many others) over the edge.

What is more curious than annoying is the fact that there will be a Lowe's in this new shopping center, which is within spitting distance of a Home Depot and Expo Design. It seems to me like the eastern Columbia home improvement market might be over-saturated. But, what do I know? Well, I know I miss Hechinger's (sp?).

Monday, October 03, 2005

Sorry for the lack of posts...

Life, you know, tends to get in the way of what is truly important, like blogging. I put up a few short posts below and hope to have a little more time this week to write. So, stay tuned.

Funny aside. I use Blogger spell check because I don't like spelling (I think it dates back to a horrible experience in the third grade that I'm no longer at liberty to discuss). Anyway, the spell checker doesn't recognize the words "blog," "blogging," or "blogger." With bloggers always screaming about getting no respect from the mainstream world, shouldn't they focus on getting their own house in order first? I'm just saying.

We just lost another one

On Sundays, the Sun runs a feature called Resident Speak Out, where they prompt readers to write in about a certain topic of interest to the county. Last week, the topic dealt with the new high-rise slated for the old Bennigan's (sp?) site in downtown Columbia, which I posted a picture of here.

Apparently, this week they only got one letter worthy of printing, and it only dealt with the tower in a roundabout sort of way. Instead, the letter was similar to ones I've read before (and considered writing myself, to be honest). It was by Karen Mitchell, of Columbia, though not for long. Because I think she explains her position and that of many like her quite well, I'm posting the whole thing here.

I've been a Columbia resident for four years. I'm currently in the process of settling on the purchase of my first home -- in Baltimore County. I love the convenience and green space of Columbia, but I simply cannot afford the house prices.

What does this have to do with the lakefront tower proposal? Simply, it's another chance for developers to ram new housing into the community that the average buyer cannot afford. I read in The Sun (Sept. 23) that these condo units will be retailing for $500,000 and up. I was under the impression that Columbia was always meant to be a diverse community embracing different cultures and economic classes. Apparently, I was wrong.

It's merely a chance for developers to rake in money and the "haves" to buy a home in a "hot" location.

I will miss many things about Columbia when I move, but I will not miss the sheer disregard I've seen for moderate income residents. I suppose that's what happens when you live in a town owned by a corporation. A giant high-rise tower might raise astronomically high property values, but it won't help Columbia with it's main critical problem -- disappearing diversity.
I'm deeply saddened reading this letter, and those that have come before it. How many good people--young professionals, single mothers, wage earners, public servants, etc.--do we have to lose as a county before we decide to do something real about the financial gates we've let surround our community? We're better than this, aren't we?

I'm working on a nice long piece about our ridiculous housing mess. Hopefully, it will be done soon, though unfortunately not soon enough.

Crosstown hard to get through to you

As I've said before, I'm a big fan of the Sun's Traffic Talk column. This week, writer Jody Vilschick has the unenviable task of explaining how to drive in roundabouts.

Roundabouts (or to the non-poetic, traffic circles) have been a theme in her column for a few months, with many writing in to offer negative feedback for these new-fangled (well, really rather old-fangled) traffic contraptions. I think they're great. No more wasted time sitting at lights pondering the futility of my existence. Oh, I'm sorry, did that slip out?

Anyway, if you're one of those who hates traffic circles, it's probably because either you don't understand them, or you're scared of other drivers who don't understand them. If it's the former, print the instructions and tape them to your steering wheel/dashboard. If it's the latter, print the instructions and hand them out to all your neighbors.

The speculation heats up

More potential candidates for county executive discussed here. Because the Ravens won yesterday and I'm in a good mood, I'll withhold comments. If you don't understand why I say this, well, you haven't scrolled down recently.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


I tried to come up with a snappy title for this post, but there's no need to dress it up.

The Orioles are Dreadful.

It is indeed fitting that this miserable season finishes in Tampa, the last outpost of Major League Baseball.