Thursday, June 07, 2007

Before you can rise from the ashes, you've got to burn, baby, burn...

This time, it’s for real.

We haven’t had a Round Up around here in a while, and with summer’s onset slowing things down a bit, now seems like a perfect time to lasso some news.

More Wegmans: The Sun describes the thinking of county zoning and legal officials that opened the door for the mega-grocer to locate in Columbia’s sought-after Snobbin Shopping District. It’s interesting, if a bit wonky. What’s of more interest to me are the quotes from County Executive Ken Ulman and others about the future of our village centers.

County Executive Ken Ulman said, "Even without Wegmans, I have concerns about the future of some of the village centers. The problem is more about people's changed shopping habits."

Ulman said the county "needs to create zoning that allows the village centers to evolve. They may be different, with more residential, recreation, convenience retail."

The Giant Food store in Wilde Lake closed last year without a Wegmans on the scene, McLaughlin pointed out. "Ignoring the market doesn't make things any better," she said.

At the same time, she said, she is concerned about Columbia's village centers. "There are a variety of new players in the grocery market. Recognizing current realities is more realistic than acting like the world is the same as when the village centers were first built."
I got into some of this in Monday’s post about Wegmans, while the no-longer-anonymous-but-still-pseudonymous Wordbones tackled the subject in April with much greater acumen.

Going home again: I’ll leave aside my griping about the county's affordable housing lottery system and just say that this is a great story:
As Howard County officials prepare to choose buyers for two heavily discounted new garage townhouses today, Patricia Tolson still is trying to get used to her good fortune.

Tolson's name was chosen at random from among 28 qualified applicants for the right to pay $200,000 for a 42 percent share of a large, renovated home on Columbia's Pamplona Road -- the same street where she grew up and where she and her 14-year old son, Anthony, have been living with her parents.

"Is it for real then?" the 35-year-old former soldier said Monday, describing her reaction to winning the housing lottery.

"I wake up every day and say, 'Mom, was it a dream?' I'm trying to explain to my son that it's not free. I have to pay for it."

Wow! And not only do her parents live there, two of her brothers also own houses on the same street. Occurrences like this make it impossible for me to not believe in some great big cosmic something or other (yeah, that’s a vague, cumbersome sentence, but it’s as much as you’ll get from me on matters of faith).

My house backs (sort of) to Pamplona and I’ve seen Anthony around a bunch. He stops by on occasion to play with the Mutt and was a regular – along with myself – on the local sledding hill. I’m glad to see he and his mom will be able to stay in Columbia.

Where's the party at: The 40-day Columbia party really gets kicking this weekend, with a lot of free music, entertainment and other activities beginning tomorrow night as part of the Festival of the Arts’ Lakefest. Pyromaniacs can also join the fun as fireworks are scheduled for both Friday and Saturday nights (woo-hoo!). See here for more information on Lakefest and here for a schedule of Festival of the Arts events.

And for those of you with Columbia stories to share, the Archives and Library are collecting oral histories from residents on both Saturday and Sunday.

Finally, while organizers seem upbeat, there is a wrinkle that might prevent the City Fair from going off as planned. Apparently, the carnies amusement technicians are without a place to park their trailers and rest their head during the weekend of the fair, June 29 to July 1. Organizers and county officials are working on it and a solution seems likely, but if a suitable site isn’t found, we could be looking at the biggest birthday let-down since 1980, when I was to receive a puppy from Grandpa but Mom put the kibosh on it, thereby leaving me incomplete until late 1999 with the arrival of the Mutt (an early Christmas present from, of all people, Mom, who had no qualms about me raising a puppy outside of her house).

That's it for now. Let's hope my shed (PDF) gets approved tonight! Also, don't forget, every Thursday is comedy night at the Fire Rock Grill. Assuming it doesn't take all night to approve the shed, I'll be there for at least a little while.


FreeMarket said...

Budda knows I am no zoning expert, but I find this statement ironic:

‘Ulman said the county "needs to create zoning that allows the village centers to evolve. They may be different, with more residential, recreation, convenience retail."’

Couldn’t the VCs evolve more effectively with fewer zoning laws? After all, the need to evolve has arisen from changing market conditions. Why do we need more static laws?

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure that Buddha knows you can't spell his name either.

FreeMarket said...

Ooops. So much for Howard County public schools!

Columbia Talk said...

I've got lots of questions about the plight of the village centers.

What are the zoning laws that stand in the way?

Do they all have to fit a cookie cutter mold with a grocery store, dry cleaners, liquor store etc.?

Could a village center be focused on ethnic shops?

Or how about art galleries and coffee shops?

Holistic healing dens and tea emporiums?

Night life?

What would stand in the way of such alternatives? Is it zoning? A lack of vision by the property managers? Economic development priorities? Neighborhoods?

Karen Gray said...

Columbia Talk:

I hardly know where to begin. The Oakland Mills Village Center Master Plan committee has spent about the last 2 years trying to answer these questions and come up with a plan. Our final plan should be ready next week. This plan was put together by residents, with guidance from DPZ and HCD.

(There is an old PowerPoint presentation that I did on the draft master plan on the OM website. The final master plan document should be up in a week or so.)

I can only speak for OM, but part of our problem is that our village center is owned by 8 different property owners, who had never even spoken to each other until we brought most of them together. Hard to come up with a cohesive plan under those conditions. The out-of-the-way location is also a concern for the OMVC.

The village centers are all zoned New Town Zoning, which is flexible but requires GGP to request any changes. I don't think zoning is the biggest obstacle, although it is a consideration.

Of course, many people do not want to give up on the traditional village center concept.

Our Master Plan committee is attempting to redefine the village center concept for OM. The Plan proposes the creation of an international center. Our hope would be to attract shops and restaurants from lots of different ethnic backgrounds, perhaps even an international market. That seems like a good fit for OM. We would also like to have some artist live/work or work/retail space. We are also looking at the idea of mixed use development, e.g., housing and offices over storefronts.

We would also like to enhance our connection to Town Center and Blandair Park. It's only about a mile from the lakefront to Blandair Park, and the OM village center is right smack in the middle.

I think Columbia is in the process of redesigning its village centers. We really do need to rethink what kind of model will work in a society that is far different than it was 40 years ago.

Karen Gray
(Oakland Mills Village Board Vice-chair)

hayduke said...

What would stand in the way of such alternatives? Is it zoning? A lack of vision by the property managers? Economic development priorities? Neighborhoods?

All of the above, and then some. But all of these can also become the agents of change.

The villages' New Town Zoning Task Force (PDF), which I served on, proposed some changes to zoning that would make redevelopment easier and more citizen-driven.

The Oakland Mills Revitalization Plan can also serve as an example of the thinking necessary to ensure our village centers remain viable. It may not hold all the answers, but it's a pretty good start.

hayduke said...

Whoops! Looks like Karen and I were writing at the same time. For those who don't know, Karen is one of the main driving forces behind the great work being done in OM. I don't know where we'd be without her tireless commitment to OM and to the revitalization effort.

Anonymous said...

Each village center should have the amenities that any family or person, choosing to lead a pedestrian lifestyle due to either modest means or considerately-green frame of mind, could live nearby and have their basic needs met: grocery store/produce store/bakery/dessert shop, bus stop, healthy restaurant/coffee shop, hair salon/barber, nightlife, and perhaps stores of cultural or community value. Part of the problem is so many grocery chains want to be the grocery store and the produce store and the bakery and the dessert shop and the coffee shop, taking a very BigBox bite out of the Mom-and-Pop shops that met those basic needs of life for decades in Columbia.

The village centers don't need to become additional housing since, for pretty much every village, modest-income, more dense housing was placed nearby in venues far more appropriate for life. Putting housing in the village centers would subject those residents to far less hospitable environs, surrounded by parking lots, parking lot lights, business noise until the late hours, etc. Such housing would undoubtedly be subject to far more transience, a poor attribute for village centers seeking permanence.

The only thing needed to cure any village centers that might be lacking is patronage. I plan to continue shopping and recreating at local village centers and skipping the old, new, or soon-to-be BigBox clutter on the periphery.

Mom said...

Off the serious topics here, I just want to point out a few salient facts to Hayduke. In 1980, when he states he was to receive the puppy from Grandpa, he was 3 years old. In 1999, when he did receive the puppy from Mom, ahem, do the math, he was 22. Now who was it who was going to raise that puppy?

hayduke said...

I like to think that my superiour dog raising abilities are genetic and not the product of learning on the fly. Therefore, I maintain that even as a three-year-old I would have been an exceptional caretaker. I mean, look at how good the Mutt turned out and surely I was only slightly more mature then.

As for the serious topic, I don't know exactly where I stand on the question of whether we should allow more housing in order to redevelop village centers. But, coming from someone who lived in an apartment across from a village center for many years, I think better incorporating existing housing into redesigned village centers is essential (perhaps aging apartments can be rebuilt at the same time as aging centers and the projects can be joined, creating a more cohesive center to the villages). A flaw in most village cetners is the moat of roads and parking surrounding the complexes, which distances even the closest residential units and fails to truly integrate the VC into the village.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the plug on our comedy night in Columbia at the Fire Rock Grill Every thursday. We have a great line up this week. More info at

Anonymous said...

"...whether we should allow more housing in order to redevelop village centers."

That makes it sound like village centers can't be redeveloped without more housing. They can be and have been.

Regarding bringing existing housing closer to village centers, the existing distances (moats) weren't accidental. Where distance exists, it provides buffer so residents don't suffer round-the-clock light baths, late night serenades from the drive-thru window speaker or local nightspot's 9-1 jazz/emo/open mic night or trash truck backup beeping/banging, and have a decent chance at not being constantly coresident with the overwhelmingly putrid aromas of pavement-cooked restaurant dumpster spoils.

And then there's the parking. Residents only. Customers of xyz only. 15 minute parking only. Loading zone only. Do this, don't do that. Can't you read the sign?

John B. said...

I'm cross-posting, but in case anyone here is a WAMU listener, there's going to be a segment on Columbia's 40th on The Kojo Nnamdi Show on Thursday. If you're listening, call in and share your thoughts/memories!