Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Tuesday Round Up...

Not much to report from last night. Numerous commenters shared their thoughts in yesterday's post, David Keelan, David Wissing and Steve Fine offer reports of their own.

For the most part, I tend to agree that the speeches were all pretty good, some better than others but none stood out as particularly great. If forced to choose, I would give the speech of the night award to Calvin Ball for both content and delivery. The performance of the night award, however, had to go to the Glenelg jazz band.

A couple other housekeeping items before we get to the much-anticipated News Round Up portion of the post.

First, I'm still looking for good places to see Christmas lights in Howard County. There were a few good suggestions following my last post, but not enough to occupy an entire evening. I would include my overly-decorated house on the list, but the ever-private Abbzug is a little concerned about disclosing too much personal information on this interweb thingy. If you really want to see what someone with more time and desire than design sense can do to spread holiday cheer, shoot me an email.

Second, Ken Ulman's transition team is hosting a public forum tomorrow night at 7:30 pm, where residents will have the opportunity to share their thoughts about the future of our county. Input from citizens will be used to help guide the transition teams final report to the county executive. Citizens can also provide feedback before December 22 by sending an email to transitionteam@co.ho.md.us.

And finally, the Round Up.


Speaking of the transition, Ulman wasted no time getting to work on the business of the county. In his first official act as County Executive, he today named Bill McMahon Chief of Police. McMahon had been acting as, er, Acting Police Chief for the last several months and has been with the force for 20 years. I would wager that this appointment is welcome by almost all.


Well, this is getting strange: Now we have a citizen group opposed and a citizen group in favor of the Plaza Residences building slated for Town Center. The opposition group will take their case to the Board of Appeals tonight. One thing is certain, what began as citizen activism has turned into a rather expensive endeavor, with opponents having raised over $20,000 to pay for legal fees.

Now, I support the tower as much as the next unapologetic urbanist/developer apologist, but the thought of citizens having to raise tens of thousands of dollars to have their issues aired is, as Cheese would say, unseemly. I don't wish to destroy the illusion of intelligence I've tried so hard to cultivate, but would this be case represent an instance mediation is warranted?

UPDATE: Via Wordbones, a website for the citizens group supporting the plaza, Fair Play Columbia.


More citizen activism: Some residents in the Centennial area are none to pleased about plans for an affordable housing development in their neck of the woods. This latest development in the story, it seems, stems from a communication breakdown more than anything else. Not having followed the story closely or seen any plans, I'm hesitant to comment. However, certainly, if the project passes legal muster, I see no reason for it not to go forward.


Finally, for those of you who actually like the stuff, here's a story about a new local coffee shop/distributor.


Cenntenial Resident said...

Your comment concerning Centennial Gardens was obviously made without knowing the facts. First, the proposed density is twice that of any allowed apartment complex in Howard County. Second, the seller of the land is the builder and administrator of the property. Third, the law firm handling the transition has a relationship with the Ulmans (Katz of Hoody, Ulman, & Katz; may have spelled one of the names wrong). Finally, the property is able to be used for low income residential through a loophole allowing the Housing Commission to somehow use land designated for heavy industry as residential without being subject to the zoning to which anyone else is subject. There is the appearance that the Ulman Adminisration is starting out as corrupt. If affordable housing were truely the goal, the proposed funding would support 5-10 ranch style homes dispersed throughout the Centennial community.

Sorry inadvertently posted this to yesterday's comments the first time I tried.

Hayduke said...


A couple of points. I agree that the density seems too high. 59 units on 2.5 acres in this area is probably out of whack with its surroundings. I'm not sure about your second point, however.

As for Ulman's relationship with his father's firm and the appearance of corruption, this project has been in the works since well before Ulman was even elected. I would urge caution when throwing around charges of corruption. Such accusations can be irresponsible, hard to prove, detrimental to actual dialogue and damaging to your cause.

Finally, the Housing Commission is able to develop affordable housing on commercial property not because of a loophole, but because of a specific provision in the Howard County code. The problem, therefore, is with the law and not the commission. Changing the law may be appropriate, but such changes must be weighed with the need for more affordable housing, the impetus for the law in the first place.

Personally, I disagree that building 5-10 ranch style homes is a better use of this money than creating 59 units. I don't, however, think Frederick Road is the best place for these houses. But land prices being what they are, I understand the Housing Commission's desire to build where they can.

If we had a stronger, more comprehensive and better managed approach to housing -- affordable or otherwise -- situations such as yours could be avoided.

David W. Keelan said...

The developer purchased this property years ago for $250K (about that) and now it is worth $1M or more. The Ulman law firm has acted as resident agent for this property and the owner for years (no crime in that) but their is a connection. SO many partners have come in and out of this particular piece of property it is hard to keep straight.

Anyway, the loop hool being discussed here is that Don Rewer (spelling sorry) gave the property to the County to satisfy his obligations to build affordable housing for his other properties. Remember you can move that obligation around. He got of dirt cheap. It cost him $250K and as he brought in partners it got less expensive for him.

This is also the same piece of property that Calvin Ball had in mind when he submitted legislation that would designated a development as "government use" (by passing many zoning regulations) when the development is either wholely owned by or in partnership with Community Development Corp.

The Centential crowd may be nimbys but for all the right reasons.

The way this whole thing developed and is proceeding is growth run amok. We don't need County Council, County Government, or Developers working together this way to the detriment of long term residents/communities.

Anonymous said...

Where is this Centennial property located?

Regarding Columbia citizen groups: This is a solid example of a situation that can benefit from mediation. Too many conflicts are thought to be good mediation candidates, but in this case where power seems to be equally distributed, mediation could work very well.

wordbones said...

Setting aside the specific density issues of this particular case I think it would be safe to say that any "affordable housing" on that site would give heartburn to the existing residents.

We've seen this before.
There seems to be a general feeling in some communities that any new affordable housing should be confined to Columbia and the Route 1 corridor, certainly not in the "nicer" zip codes.

Anonymous said...

Is that the same law firm that allegedly "employed" Ken Ulman while he was campaigning full-time for CE?

Centennial Resident said...

Don't know of any employment for Ulman when he was running, but I appreciate the background info on the Reuwer envolvement. Still sounds as though he can turn a nice profit on this by also building and administering the property. As to the snide remark about putting it on the US 1 corridor, etc. Yes, I probably would not be too excited if it were going there although I believe I would be understanding of the concerns of the citizens impacted. As to "Affordable" housing (this is really section 8 housing) My wife has taught for many years and I am hard pressed to imagine anyone of the teachers she has worked with moving into these "apartments". As to Calvin Bell, from previous posts I get the idea that he has been accused of being a lackey for Ulman. His introduction of the tabled legislation prior to the election only furthers the perception that the Ulmans are somehow in on this.
My daughter went to school with Ken Ulman and his brother and thought that they were nice people. I am sure that the Ulmans have rationalized this, but it in no way accomplishes anything but the distruction of a school district and neighborhood. The funds would be better used distributing the indigent (that's the only people qualified to rent these apartments) across multiple school districts. To pile them up in one school has only downgraded the entire student body. It has been demonstrated that when an individual student is put into an environment he/she will rise to that standard. There is a critical mass beyond which the opposite is true, the rest are brought down to the lower level.

Anonymous said...

"To pile them up in one school has only downgraded the entire student body. "

This could quite possibly be one of the most ignorant and insulting statements ever made. Shame on you.

Anonymous said...

When he was campaigning for County Council, not CE.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:14, the property may be located here.

If that is the lot, it's not near much infrastructure. 1.5 miles walking to Enchanted Village shopping center. It doesn't seem to be on a regular bus route, either.

Did multiple developers aggregate onto this one property their affordable housing obligations from developments elsewhere? If so, why is there a loophole that allows doing that? If such a loophole does exist, is it to allow developers to maximize their developments' profits? Isn't part of the intent of having affordable housing in the County to do so in a manner that doesn't concentrate it?

Hayduke alluding to "land prices being what they are" and David Keelan alluding to this 2.5 acres costing just $250,000 at purchase and now being worth more than a million, it may be worth mentioning another zoning loophole that seems a wee bit out of whack.

Like the aforementioned possible loophole of not having to meet affordable housing obligations onsite at developments, zoning also allows not fully meeting onsite forest retention obligations, both via offsite means and via just paying a fee-in-lieu. This fee-in-lieu is about $23,000 per acre of shortage, provided to the County to purchase forested land elsewhere. (Compare that to this 2.5 acre site estimated at $1 million, or $400,000 per acre.)

These loopholes allowing developers to appear to meet obligations either by doing so some far place from their project or just by writing a very small check should be found in the code and stricken from it.

Better yet, maybe offsite fulfillment of these obligations could still be allowed. But instead of any of the apparent discounts that seem to exist, laws would require a 1.5x premium for offsite fulfillment ($600,000 per acre of onsite forest retention shortage being met offsite & 1.5 affordable offsite homes built offsite for every 1 affordable home short of meeting onsite requirements).

Otherwise, it's just pretty window dressing zoning and development laws in the store front display with ugly things filling the racks inside.

Tom Berkhouse said...


YOu're at it agian with you "non-speak" backward rationalization of the law and how the government should conduct itself. Just because there is a loophole in the law, that doesn't mean the Housing Commission (a County agency) should jump through it. Should they take the high road when situations like this arise?

The law does allow MIHU requirements for a project to be provided at a different location (you should oppose this Hayduke since it would be better for the MIHU's to dispersed throughout a project instead of being concentrated together like the old section 8 projects), however Don Reuwer should have to build them himself, at his expense. He should not be allowed to sell the land to the County, recoup his money, and then have the County build the units with tax payer funds. WHAT A JOKE!!! If this is the kind of government we can expect from Ulman, Ball, and Leonard Vaughn (the incompetent director of the Housing Commission), then the citizens are getting screwed. And, since there's no real checks and balances in Howard COunty, Ulman has free reign to run afoul of the law and not face any consequences.


Centennial Resident said...

If Anonymous thinks my statement is ignorant i defy him to show me where that hasn't been the caser. I grew up in areas where single parent families sent children to the schools. I've seen both cases were there is a large influx of such students and where there has been only one. My wife taught in that situation many years ago and the child, from NYC, raised her test scores from the 40 percentile to the 80 percentile in one year. I ask Anonymous to go to any school, perhaps Jeffers Hill (I don't know anything about that school currently) It was similar situation where a large influx of section 8 apartments were dropped into a middle class neighborhood back in the early 70s.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the question for centennialresident should be, what happened of a negative nature when section 8 housing families moved to an area?

Anonymous said...

The Commission and Developer claim that they are ready and willing to listen to the Friends of Font Hill and try to come to a compromise. Now comes the compromise- 42 rather than 59 units. This was obvious as it would have been a high rise to build 59 units and 118 parking spaces on 2.5 acres. I'd do the math for everyone but don't want to bore people. Bottom line, the developer "compromise" that is being suggested was already baked in the cake.

Don't get me wrong, our Commission cares about community involvement. They don't want it. We are only three months removed from Calvin Ball submitting legislation CB75-2006 that would have allowed the Commission to act without community input if they owned the land or owned and partnered with a developer. Low and behold, the Commission already owns this property having purchased it from the developer.

Citizens may have specific and legitimate concerns regarding this development. What is most disconcerting to me as a Howard County citizen is that our elected officals are working behind their own consituent's backs to augment their decision making capabilities at the expense of community input all across the county. Yes, I smell something too. The strong suspicion the Friends of Font Hill have over this development is directly correlated to the way the HCHC has handled the situation. As in work or other situations, when you are intentionally excluded from decision making process, normally the resulting decisions are to your detriment.

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with low income housing at the corner of Centennial and Frederick Road in Ellicott City? The intersection already has a poorly operated Arbys franchise, a BGE substation, a gas station, the only two diners in the county located within fifty feet of each other (???), a pay by the hour motel, named after the color of the water in its pool, a soft serve ice cream hut that sells christmas trees when its cold out, a convenience and a propane store. If we could only turn the old Safeway (shuttered Crafts Plus for the newbies) into a used car lot. The colored triangle flags would sever the dual purpose brighten up the neighborhood and helps my kids learn their colors and shapes.

Wait, now that I think of it, maybe someone should be doing something to spruce up that intersection, not contribute to its demise.

p.s Would the 8:54am post up contact Craig Northrup to express interest in relocating to Hideout Heath for all its wonderful neighborhood charms? I will pay for the closing costs.

Ellicott City Resident said...

You forgot the Pizza Hut, the industrial pool store and the motorcycle shop. I grew up in this area, went to Centennial High School, and enjoyed hanging out late causing trouble with the kids shipped in from Columbia Section 8 housing. Welcome to the neighborhood. Kenny Ulman, go work on your jump shot!
Class of 91