Thursday, December 18, 2008

Down But Not Out

Pardon the absence. A member of the Talk team decided he didn't want his appendix anymore so we'll going to feed him ice chips for a while. The blog will resume when we return, or can figure out how to get a decent connection at HoCo General.

Monday, December 15, 2008

IMAX Comes to Columbia

Now showing at AMC Columbia Mall 14: Not the super, big screen version but IMAX nonetheless, according to the ExploreHoward blog.

The first IMAX-formatted offering was the thriller “Eagle Eye,” followed by the animated feature “Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa.”

Unlike IMAX films of years past, today’s offerings do not have to be shot with special, large-format IMAX cameras. Film technicians can transform conventional motion pictures into a digital file that conforms to the higher IMAX standards.


Sound from the dispersed speakers seemed omni-directional and robust, and the picture — while not totally filling the IMAX screen from top to bottom — displayed optimum contrasts that ranged from the brightest searchlight glares to the deepest black cloaks of midnight. There were no digital artifacts or dropouts and little film grain to distract from the crisp clarity of the images.

Future bookings at the Columbia IMAX Theatre include “Under the Sea 3-D” in February and “Monsters vs. Aliens” in March.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ulman To Hunters: Keep Your Distance

From HoCo PR:

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Howard County Executive Ken Ulman announced today that in response to yesterday’s accidental shooting in which a hunter’s bullet shattered the front window of a daycare facility in Clarksville, he will be filing legislation to change the distance a gun can be discharged in proximity to a building designed for occupancy by human beings. Executive Ulman seeks to change the distance from 150 yards to a much safer distance. The Administration is presently researching the appropriate yardage to recommend for this legislation.

“I realize no one was injured in this incident, but that’s because luck was on our side--this time,” said Ulman. “It is clear to me that if these bullets can travel far more than 150 yards, then we must change the County Code to establish a safety zone which would exceed that distance. I know County Council members share my concerns, and I look forward to working with them to improve public safety in the County.”

In yesterday’s incident, six children and three adults were inside the facility at the time of the shooting. Howard County Police are not filing charges against the hunter whose bullet entered the daycare because the investigation indicates he did nothing illegal; police believe the shot was fired from 277 yards away.

At present Howard County Code Section 8.401 states:

“It shall be unlawful for any person to discharge a gun from, onto, across or within one hundred (100) yards of the right-of-way of any public highway in the county and shall be unlawful at any time for any person other than the owner and/or occupant to shoot or discharge any gun within one hundred fifty (150) yards of any dwelling, house, residence or other building or camp designed for occupancy by human beings, the area within that distance being hereby defined as a safety zone, or to shoot on, from, onto or across any safety zone or any public or private land for any purpose, without the express prior written consent of the owner thereof.”

General Growth Refinances Loans

Finally, some good news for the owner of the mall and oher properties in Columbia.

Chicago, Illinois, December 12, 2008-General Growth Properties, Inc. (NYSE:GGP) announced today the completion of approximately $896 million of mortgage loans. The maturity dates of these mortgage loans range from five to seven years. The proceeds were fully used to retire a $58 million bond issued by The Rouse Company LP maturing December 11, 2008, as well as to refinance approximately $814 million of mortgage indebtedness scheduled to mature in 2009. These refinanced loans are separate from the Fashion Show and Palazzo mortgage loans currently scheduled to mature on December 12, 2008. The Company is continuing discussions with its syndicate of lenders for a further extension of these two mortgage loans. There can be no assurance that the Company will obtain these further extensions.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Stray Shot Hits Daycare Center

From HoCo PD:

Stray Bullet from Hunters Shatters Glass at Daycare Facility

The Howard County Police Department is investigating an incident where the front window of a daycare facility was accidentally shot out by hunters in Clarksville earlier today.

Police received the call from a worker at Kids Time Out daycare center in the 5800 block of Clarksville Square Drive at 1:30 p.m. Employees had heard gunshots and glass shattering and took the children into a bathroom inside the facility before calling police.

Police arrived on scene and did a search of the immediate area but were unable to locate anything suspicious. Patrol officers located a shattered window and a projectile on the window ledge.

A search by patrol of the area behind the facility revealed that two hunters had shot a deer several hundred yards away, and that a bullet shot at the deer traveled on and struck the window. The hunters were hunting with shotguns and were further away than the required 150 yards from an occupied dwelling.

There were six children, two workers and one parent in the facility at the time of the shooting. No one was injured. Parents were notified of the incident by the facility.

The incident is still under investigation.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

For Rent: One Historic Basement

With projections of 4 million visitors and 10,000 charter buses descending on Washington for the Obama inauguration, we're thinking we might want to rent out the basement of Columbia Talk headquarters....

The folks at the Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge are already ahead of us, according to this circular spotted by a member of the Talk Team:

A Historic Inn For A Historic Occasion

Here's your package information.....

Rooms are still available for this historic inauguration event at Belmont Conference Center, located in Elkridge, Maryland, just 25 miles north of Washington, and just off I95. Located 8 miles from BWI Airport, Amtrak and MARC train stations.

Belmont has three buildings:

The Manor House - 15 Guest Rooms
The Cottage - 4 Guest Rooms
Dobbin House - 5 Guest Rooms

Continental Breakfast is included each morning. Dinners are available with advanced reservations.

Prices are as follows:

Manor House - prices vary depending on size of room - $230 - $280
Dobbin House - $255 ea.
Cottage - $280.00 ea.

All room prices are per night and have a 3 night minimum. Add 6% MD State tax.

Please visit our website

or call today at (410) 773-4300 for reservations!

Civility Wins!

Ho ho. The natterers of negativity have shut down the Embrace Hostility blog. Picking on the decent minded was just too easy. The harder work comes in building things up. But we'll let the author of the blog, Ryan Ballengee, explain:

I must admit, I've had fun poking at the Choose Civility in Howard County campaign. It was an easy target and I cracked some people up during their day. That's pretty rewarding. But, I think I have more to offer to the discourse of Columbia than just easy jokes that anyone can make. That's why I'll be moving this blog into archive status starting today.

Yeah, occasionally, I'll probably go ahead and make a post over here to observate on the ridiculous or the sublime. It's time, though, to start talking in detail about that higher standard to which I think Columbia and Howard County should be held. It's way bigger than civility.

That said, I hope that you'll join me over at my new blog called Columbia Now. We'll be talking Columbia news and issues. It'll have a political slant to it, but I hope to keep the conversation there - for lack of a better term - civil. I think that civic discourse is extremely important. Now that I have been here for a year, I find it high time that I get into it.

Welcome Columbia Now.

Is Howard Too Healthy?

Remember those TV images and stories about the crowds of people eager to sign up for Howard County's innovative new low-cost health care program?

Turns out most of them already qualified for state and federal services, according to this item on the ExploreHoward blog.

Since the program began taking applications Oct. 1, about 1,100 people have applied for Healthy Howard, said Dr. Peter Beilenson, county health officer.

However, only 45 people have qualified, he said.

Council member Greg Fox questioned whether the county did enough homework before launching the program.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Don't Leave Without Those Coupons

That's the rallying cry around the Columbia Talk command center these days. There's a lot of money to be saved by just being a little organized. Our e-mail is full of really good discounts, and many stores post their coupons on the Web.

We like to avoid the mall this time of year but if you have to go, take a gander at these deals.

A Note From Sun's Publisher

It'll be business as usual at the local newspaper while the parent Tribune Co. works through bankruptcy proceedings to reoganize operations, according this note to readers from publisher Timothy Ryan.

Tribune is continuing to operate its media businesses, including its newspapers, television stations and Web sites. While this financial restructuring occurs at Tribune, The Baltimore Sun remains dedicated to providing you with the level of service and news coverage you've come to expect from us every day.

Could the paper be sold? This story suggests the possibility.

One local investment group led by Theodore G. Venetoulis, a publisher and former Baltimore County executive, has expressed interest in the paper.

"We have to ... let this thing sort itself out," Venetoulis said yesterday.

Ryan didn't specifically address the fate of the weekly newspapers, and the company's local ExploreHoward Flier/HoCo Times site is so far silent on the whole mess.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tribune Files For Bankruptcy

The Tribune Co., the parent company of the Sun, HoCo Times and Columbia Flier, has filed for bankruptcy protection. Here's a link to a wire service account on the Sun's Web site.

The paper itself has yet to address what the action might mean for local coverage.

The Village Ecosystem

Speaking of village centers, there's been glimmers of life at Oakland Mills where a new barbershop and a new Second Chance Saloon seem to be off to good starts.

But then we happened to be standing in the grocery line at Food Lion, where the staff was complaining about moves to cut back on their hours.

It was a reminder to us of just how fragile these village center ecosystems can be.

Eliminating The Middleman

Members of the County Council, sitting as the planning board, are considering a proposal to give people more say in how Columbia's village centers are redeveloped, according to this story in the Sun.

At stake at a county Planning Board public hearing Thursday night was Zoning Regulation Amendment 102, a measure that would do away with a peculiar wrinkle in zoning law that has helped shape Columbia since its founding.

The so-called "gatekeeper provision" says that only Columbia's main developer can officially petition for zoning changes within the city limits - an area Howard County also calls the New Town district.

Since then, individuals or businesses seeking changes in Columbia's zoning regulations have had to go through the Rouse Co. - or, more recently, through General Growth Properties Inc., the mall company that bought Rouse out in 2004 and owns much of Columbia.

Some people have liked that particular check on the process, reasoning that Rouse-General Growth would want to protect its investment in the new-old town. Except that hasn't stopped several of the centers from languishing of late.

Judging from some of the comments in the story, some folks seem uneasy with the idea of opening up the process to the whims of developers and public sentiment -- which certainly can be a messy process. Democracy can be like that.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

River Hill Repeats!

From WaPo:

By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer

BALTIMORE, Dec. 6 -- This game ended just like any other on River Hill's schedule during the past two seasons, with triumphant smiles all around. What made the Hawks' 31-6 victory over Eastern Tech in Saturday's Maryland 2A championship a bit more impressive, however, was how it was accomplished: With All-Met senior Michael Campanaro limited to playing only on defense and often getting massages on the sideline to keep an injured right hamstring loose while the offense was on the field.

Leron Eaddy rushed for a touchdown and quarterback Luke Hostetler passed for two more scores, leading No. 2 River Hill to an easy victory as it won its second consecutive state title and increased its winning streak to 28 games before 5,606 at M&T Bank Stadium.

"What you saw tonight was probably one of our best games," River Hill Coach Brian Van Deusen said. "It says a lot about the kids. A lot of teams, if they lose their star player -- a player a lot of people consider the best in the state -- most teams are going to feel a big effect."

Not that Campanaro didn't contribute. While he "tweaked" his hamstring when practicing for the first time this week on Friday, he and Van Deusen made the decision to try playing safety because that would be easier on his leg. Instead of constantly going all out on each snap, Campanaro generally plays deep on defense and only accelerates when he needs to make a play. And there were plenty of opportunities for that.

Campanaro made several tackles and intercepted two passes. The first, when he pulled up easy after a 27-yard return late in the third quarter, set up Hostetler's 12-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Johnson that made it 24-0. On Eastern Tech's next offensive play, Campanaro made his eighth interception of the season and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown that all but ensured victory.

"I was nervous [about being able to play] coming into the game, but I knew it was going to be loose, with the adrenaline because it was a big game," Campanaro said. "I was surprised it held up well. It bothered me sometimes, but it was okay."

River Hill (14-0) again was dominant, completing a season in which it never trailed. Eastern Tech (13-1) avoided a shutout by scoring on the game's final play.

Malek Redd got much of Campanaro's work and finished with 62 yards on 19 carries and added two catches for 65 yards. Redd's 50-yard touchdown catch down the middle gave the Hawks a 17-0 lead early in the third quarter. Eaddy, who had played sparingly on offense in recent weeks because of a fractured rib and sprained ankle, rushed five times for 31 yards and caught two passes for 33 yards. Hostetler completed 5 of 9 passes for 110 yards. Senior Ryan Griffin rushed for 77 yards on 10 carries.

"Obviously Mike is a key player, but it was something we had to block out -- with or without Mike we had to play," Eaddy said. "I think that made the team more fired up and focused to play."

Over the past three seasons, River Hill is 41-1, the lone loss coming in the 2006 state final to Friendly. Van Deusen noted that the members of his senior class who played two seasons on the junior varsity and two seasons on the varsity never lost a game, going 48-0.

"No doubt this is the best team win we've had the past two years," Hostetler said. "We definitely came together as a team. That's huge."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Bus Routes Win Reprieve

Maybe there is something to this state-capital-for-a-day thing. Gov. O'Malley announced he is rescinding some proposed bus route cuts, though the state will reduce the number of trips on those lines beginning Jan 12, according to this story in the Sun.

The deal, announced by Gov. Martin O'Malley as he declared Ellicott City "Capital for a Day," would keep six trips each way for routes 310 and 311 serving Columbia, instead of eight trips northbound and nine southbound. The 320 line to Laurel along U.S. 1 will offer three trips in each direction, instead of five northbound and six southbound. In addition, the 150 route that serves Long Gate Shopping Center in Ellicott City will extend to Columbia's Town Center. The changes will save the state an estimated $634,000 a year, plus the money Howard Executive Ken Ulman agreed to pay.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Blow The Whistle On 'Em

The HoCo auditor has set up a hotline to report allegations of waste, fraud and abuse.

All submittals are encrypted and password protected for security. We treat all allegations in a confidential manner and we'll do our very best to safeguard your identity. However, if you do not wish to disclose your identity, you may remain anonymous by leaving blank those fields requesting personal information. You should be aware that remaining anonymous may preclude a thorough investigation of your allegation due to insufficient information.

The County's whistle blower provisions of law protects employees against reprisal for the lawful disclosure of information which the employee reasonably believes evidences:

* a violation of law which prohibits bribery, theft or embezzlement;
* an unauthorized use of county funds; or,
* a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

DuVall And WL Fall In State Championship

It was a great run for the popular WL football coach, who retires after 36 years as head coach, his team losing 13-0 to Westlake in the 3A state title game...

Here's the ExploreHoward account...

Doug DuVall is a football coach. He has won more than 300 games in the past 36 years. But he's lost some, too -- 65, to be exact. After Thursday's 13-0 defeat at the hands of Westlake in the Class 3A state championship game at M&T Bank Stadium, this old coach knows that the best lessons are learned after losses.

"It's tough when you lose to come in and have to face the cameras. It's easy when you win. They've had their share of wins and I hope they take that into life," DuVall said. "I wish for them more than anything that we had won it, but you know what, in life you don't win everytime you go out."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Hard Times

Happened to see this ad for a going out of business sale by the Ellicott City jeweler Chip Smyth, which is the same fate to befall my DC-by-way-of-Columbia connection, a family-run operation called Lynn Jewelers.

We're afraid this is just the beginning.

WaPo is full of stories about state furloughs, layoffs at rich private equity companies, school system pay givebacks, and local bank takeovers.

Man, it's getting hard to earn a living anymore.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

State Capital For A Day

Gov. O'Malley is bringing a little piece of the state government to Ellicott City Friday as part of a series of series of stops around the state, according to the Sun/Flier/Times ExploreHoward blog. Ok, it sounds a little hokey, but it's the thought that counts, right?

At 10:15 a.m., O’Malley will hold a cabinet meeting at the Ellicott City Volunteer Fire Station at 4150 Montgomery Road, according to a county spokeswoman. County Executive Kenneth Ulman will address the cabinet meeting, which will be open to the public.

At 11:30 a.m. O’Malley will take a bus tour from Ellicott City to downtown Columbia, followed by lunch at the Shrine of St. Anthony on Folly Quarter Road.

In the afternoon, O’Malley will tour the James N. Robey Public Safety Training Center in Marriottsville and at 6 p.m., he will attend the kick-off of Ellicott City’s “Midnight Madness” shopping night.

Do Village Centers Have a Future?

Reminder from the Town Center listserv:

We wanted to remind you that ZRA 102 – Village Center Redevelopment is on the agenda for the Planning Board on Thursday, December 4, 2008 beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Cafeteria of Wilde Lake Middle School, 10481 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD 21044. Information about the ZRA and the Technical Staff Report can be found here.

Public comment will be heard at this meeting.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Midnight Madness And Free Parking

Midnight Madness in Ellicott City returns this Friday, and we plan to be there, settling in for a leisurely dinner at Tersiguels and then shopping until the wee hours.

In the meantime, we spotted this early holiday gift.

County Executive Ulman announced that beginning on Friday, November 28th, in support of local small businesses durning the holiday season, metered parking in downtown Ellicott City will be free until the end of the year. There are four metered parking areas in the historic area that offer more than 140 spaces. Parking on Main Street, which is not metered, is still limited to two hours.

So Long Hayduke

Is blogging dead? It sometimes seems that way. Our little corner of the Interwebs lost a lively voice over Thanksgiving. HoCo Hayduke is giving up the keyboard.

Any close reader probably saw it coming, when he announced he was going to cut back on his public musings after taking a job in the HoCo guvment. But the real impetus for calling it quits is a new addition to the family, he reports.

Just as I ran out of room in my life for blogging, my house ran out of room for the desk. There's a baby on the way, and when you only have 844 square feet and two bedrooms' worth of house, a large desk and an office become a luxury you can no longer afford. Which is perfectly fine by me. I'm happier than a pig in poop about the baby.

And we're happy for you.

We'll hang onto the link for a bit just in case you change your mind.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Arrest In River Hill Pizza Robbery

From HoCoPo PR:

Howard County Police have charged five Ellicott City men with robbing a Clarksville Pizza Hut last night.

Hugo Ernesto Perez, 30; Pablo Perez Ramos, 30; Adan Perez Ramos, 27; and Tulio Enrique Canas Sandoval, 19, all of 6139 Waterloo Road, each were charged with armed robbery, assault, reckless endangerment, theft and handgun violations.

An arrest warrant was issued for a fifth man, Jose Fidel Lopez, 33, also of 6139 Waterloo Road, who was taken to Shock Trauma with a non-life-threatening leg injury after his own handgun discharged inside the vehicle. He is expected to be released from the hospital and formally charged today.

It is unknown at this time if any of the suspects are members of the same family.

The incident began around 10 p.m. Nov. 30 when four masked men armed with handguns and rifles entered the Pizza Hut located in the 12200 block of Clarksville Pike. A fifth suspect waited inside a white SUV parked outside the restaurant.

The suspects forced the employees into a back area while they obtained money from the safe and registers. The suspects then forced all five employees into a freezer and told them to wait inside while they fled in the waiting vehicle. There were no customers in the restaurant at the time of the robbery and no one was injured.

One of the employees called 911 from the freezer and provided police with suspect and vehicle descriptions. A patrol officer on Route 32 observed a vehicle matching the description and followed it until officers could make a traffic stop in the 7100 block of Minstrel Way in Columbia. Police determined that the men in the vehicle were the suspects from the robbery and placed them into custody. Several weapons and money were recovered.

Inaugural Holiday

Local schools are expecting lots of students to miss classes Jan. 20 for Obama's big day. To avoid getting marked absent, administrators have offered this guidance:

Schools are already getting questions about possible absences on inauguration day. As a result, Chief Academic Officer Linda Wise issued the following direction to principals last week.

For consistency across the county, Wise recommended that principals allow parents to use one of the three discretionary days of absence provided for each child if they wish to attend the inauguration. This applies to high school students as well, even though Policy 9010, Attendance, says that parents are not to request the use of discretionary days on an exam day without the authorization of the principal. If the discretionary day is arranged with the principal in advance, participation in inaugural activities will be an excused absence for students at all levels.

The schedule for ending the second quarter and for completing report cards prevents the HCPSS from making major changes to accommodate students and families wanting to participate in the activities of the inauguration. Additionally, the HCPSS cannot eliminate the high school mid-term exam scheduled for that day. High school students who miss a mid-year exam will be expected to make up the exam at the teacher's convenience by the end of the mid-term exam week.

General Growth Wins Temporary Reprieve

The Mall in Columbia's corporate parent negotiated an extension to a couple big loans hanging over its head, according to this release:

General Growth Properties, Inc. (NYSE:GGP) announced that it has reached an agreement with its syndicate of lenders for an interim extension of two weeks for the November 28 maturity date on its Fashion Show and Palazzo mortgage loans totaling $900 million. The parties are continuing their discussions on a longer term extension.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hope For General Growth?

The owner of the mall saw its stock tick up today after disclosing that it had received a sizeable investment from hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management, according to the Washington Business Journal.

New York-based Pershing Square Capital bought 20.1 million shares of General Growth Properties stock this month, giving it a 7.5 percent stake in the company. It also has options on an additional 33.4 million shares for a total of a nearly 20 percent stake.

Light 'Em Up

The Columbia Talk team spent a lovely evening on Sunday walking among the hospital's Symphony of Lights show, now in its 15th year.

It's become a little tradition of ours and it's for a good cause.

After all these years, it's surprising how little the display changes.

What's your Christmas light tradition?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Excessive Force?

The television stations have been all over this one. A man who led police on a wild car chase last week is roughed up by officers once he's stopped (after authorities managed to lay down spikes to flatten his tires). The man was wanted on theft charges. Here's WJZ's report:

One officer has been placed on administrative duty and no one involved has been suspended.

Detectives from the Internal Affairs Division are investigating the beating.

The stop was caught on video...

"There are certain actions that are captured in that video during the arrest that cause me concern, to make me want to make sure that what I saw in the video is consistent with how we train our officers. The policy that guides our officers is frankly what we expect from our officers," said Chief William McMahon, Howard County Police.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Teller Shot In River Hill Bank Robbery

Scary. A teller is shot in the hand when three men was in to rob a Bank of America branch on Ten Oaks Road. After a chase, police exchange fire with one gunman, killing him in MoCo, according to this Sun account. The other two elude police for a bit. WaPo says police caught one; the other is still on the loose.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Can Do By The HoCoPo

Stephanie Wall, a Southern District community resource officer, is rallying folks to help clean up the graffitti that's become such a scourge of late. (We saw this on our local OM listserv)








Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pacing Downtown Development

Here's the HoCo planning staff's recommendations for phasing in development downtown:

1. The phasing plan shall consist of six increments that set maximum levels of new development for each land use category: residential, retail, office and hotel. The phasing plan shall also require minimum levels of development that shall be completed for each land use category before the next phase commences.
2. Each phase shall include a list of infrastructure, restoration and amenity projects to be completed before the next phase can commence. Each project shall be funded, in part or in its entirety, by a financial contribution from the original petitioner. Each phase shall include at least one project from each the following categories:
- Transit and major transportation improvements not currently required by APF (such as additional lanes or interchange improvements, etc.)
• First phase shall include completion of feasibility studies for all needed major transportation improvements
- Environmental restoration projects for those watersheds that include the Downtown area
- Downtown Neighborhood Community Gathering Space (to be included within the first five phases)
- Arts, Cultural and Community or public/civic facility (Schools, Fire Station, Police sub-station, Library)
• First Phase shall include renovations to Merriweather Post Pavilion as described in the GPA and identification of a location for a new Downtown Fire Station.
3. The Plan shall require each FDP amendment to include tracking of all previous and current phases, to ensure completion of required projects, to provide a comparison of currently completed projects with phasing plan, and provide strategies on how a proposed FDP amendment will implement and comply with current phase.
4. The Plan should include project monitoring in five-year increments with developer reporting, association reporting, and GGP cumulative reporting including the regular five-year re-assessment of traffic analyses.

Women Shot By Police Is Committed

The Sun reports that the 63-year-old Columbia woman who was shot by a HoCo police officer after she threatened his partner with a knife has been committed to a state mental health facility indefinitely.

Pearl Wardell Harris pleaded guilty but not criminally responsible for the incident.

Since her arrest, Harris has been at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, a maximum-security psychiatric hospital in Jessup. Harris' attorney said that at the time of the incident her client suffered from paranoia and felt threatened by nearly everyone with whom she came in contact.

Monday, November 17, 2008

About Those Car Break-ins

From HoCoPo PR:

Howard County Police have made 10 arrests over the last few weeks of people involved in a series of car break-ins throughout the county.

Since the beginning of the year, thefts from vehicles have increased 43 percent for a total of 3,013, compared to 2,105 during the same time frame in 2007. Howard County Police dedicated a number of resources to fight the increasing problem, assigning special undercover squads and uniformed police details, as well as conducting crime prevention meetings and notifications by phone through the county’s automated Community Notification System.

“We recognize the problems these crimes create for our communities,” said Police Chief William McMahon. “These arrests are the result of hard work by our patrol officers and detectives, as well as cooperation from our citizens. Community partnerships with police are critical in combating crime.”

As a result of the efforts to address these crimes, the following people have been charged:

Patrol units arrested CHRISTOPHER MCGOWENS, 20, of Catonsville, MATTHEW SHAFFER, 18, of Baltimore, and a 16-year-old male from Baltimore after receiving a call for suspicious subjects at Macalpine Rd. and Crescent Rd. in Ellicott City Sept. 29.

Upon locating the vehicle, officers found two stolen cell phones and three stolen GPS units inside the car, along with various electronics chargers, credit cards, gift cards and cash from six victims. The subjects also were charged with possession of drugs.

Police were called Oct. 10 to Saint Paul St. in Ellicott City after a woman interrupted a theft from her vehicle. Patrol units located and arrested ROBERT SCHMITT, 28, of Catonsville.

Officers stopped and arrested JUSTIN BARNABAE, 20, and ADAM JEPPI, 19, both of Catonsville Oct. 15 for possession of drugs. Inside the vehicle officers located stolen items from five separate thefts that took place earlier that day, including two stolen GPS units, a stolen checkbook and credit card, and various stolen property. Both were charged with crimes related to the thefts.

While conducting the above investigation, police further determined that STEPHANIE BARNABAE had used a stolen check from the property found in Justin Barnabae’s vehicle at the 999 Tavern in Jessup. Stephanie Barnabae was charged with theft and fraud.

KEVIN FEUERSTEIN, 18, of Catonsville, was charged Oct. 22 with the theft of a GPS unit that was stolen Sept. 16, after police were alerted that he pawned the unit in Anne Arundel County.

PHILIP ROSENBLATT, 22, of Pikesville, and SETH KLIMEN, 23, of Reisterstown, were charged Oct. 31 with breaking into two vehicles on June 22 and stealing credit cards and electronics after Arlington, Va., police investigating a credit card fraud alerted Howard County Police that the credit card being used belonged to a Howard County resident.

Police are continuing to investigate car break-ins throughout Howard County. Anyone with information should call 410-313-STOP.

A Green Downtown

Here's some of the HoCo planning staff's recommendations for sustaining the environment downtown:

1. The Plan should include strategies for exceeding the County’s required standards related to green construction and operations.
2. The Plan should provide a timetable for implementing environmental restoration and storm water management projects described in the Supplemental Documents. Environmental restoration and storm water management projects should be specifically described in the phasing plan and should include formal agreements for ongoing maintenance prior to completion of the phase.
3. The Plan should provide for an acre-to-acre replacement plan of parkland for each acre of Symphony Woods where new buildings are planned; or, the plan should suggest other locations for proposed arts, cultural and community facilities if the Columbia Association does not authorize such facilities on their land.
4. The Plan should discuss distinct (mutually exclusive) definitions and separate requirements for accounting of existing designated open space, new amenity areas and new arts, cultural and community uses and facilities.
5. The Plan should indicate a minimum required amount of total new amenity areas in acres per neighborhood.
6. The Plan should coordinate proposed Design Guidelines and proposed Sustainability Framework to provide for general Green Design Guidelines for all of Downtown Columbia for adoption by the County Council. These Green Design Guidelines could then be used as the basis for devising unique Green Design Guidelines for each neighborhood that could be included in each neighborhood-specific FDP amendment.
7. As the proposed master plan is refined, alternate designs should be pursued to minimize impacts on highquality forest areas identified in Supplemental Documents.

HoCo's Best

We just discover this new-ish blog: Live In Howard County aspires to review and comment on the best of Howard County, Maryland for residents and newcomers.

For instance, we didn't know that several local restaurants including Clyde's and Tersiguels have joined OpenTable's online reservation network.

And check out this post for some eating out deals:

From November 17-21, three Howard County restaurants (Aida Bistro, Iron Bridge Wine Company, and The Melting Pot) are participating in OpenTable's Appetite Stimulus Plan. They will offer specially priced three course menus for lunch ($24) and dinner ($35). You also get 200 OpenTable points for every reservation you honor.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cedar Lane Construction Begins

From the Town Center listserv:

Cedar Lane Water Main Extension to Begin

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – A Howard County construction project along Cedar Lane between Freetown Road and Harriet Tubman Lane in Columbia, is scheduled to begin on or about Monday, December 1. The project will consist of the extension of a 12-inch diameter PVC water main, approximately 5,000 linear feet, to serve the new Robinson Nature Center, which is currently under design. Weather permitting, the project should be completed by mid-March 2009. Most of the construction will take place on the northbound lane of Cedar Lane. The impact on residents in the surrounding area should be minimal; however, there may be slight delays between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. during the week as a result of slow moving traffic. Flagging operations will be in place to direct traffic as needed, and signs will be posted to advise motorists of the construction. For questions or concerns about Capital Project W-8273, contact Lisa Brightwell,Public Works Customer Service, at 410-313-3440, or by e-mail to .

Getting People Around Downtown

Here's some of the HoCo planning staff's recommendations for moving people around downtown:

1. The Plan should provide for more fully developed bicycle accommodations for a complete streets approach.
2. The Plan should cross-reference street types described in the General Plan amendment, design guidelines and roadway classifications in County’s Roads Design Manual on Exhibit H: Street Framework Diagram.
3. The Plan should include a timetable for feasibility studies of transit and major transportation improvements.
4. The Plan should address requiring provisions in the Adequate Public Facilities Act for regular, five-year reassessments of transportation strategies, their successes or failures, and requiring further mitigation and adjustment of future projections as needed.
5. The Plan should recommend review (at the FDP stage) of proposals for design and funding of pedestrian, bicycle and transit improvements across the existing grade-separated pedestrian overpass at Route 29 and connecting to Oakland Mills Village Center.
6. The Plan should identify a strategy for locating the transit hub and potential transit corridors.
7. The Plan should include alternative strategies to address parking systems in Downtown.
8. The Plan should include specific Design Guidelines for the treatment of garages to include retail in the ground floor levels in order to support a successful park-once approach and improve the pedestrian experience.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

School Board Results Are Final

From the Sun's InsideEd blog:

More than a week after the general election, the Howard County Board of Elections has announced the top three vote-getters in the race for the Howard County school board. The winners are current members Janet Siddiqui and Ellen Flynn Giles and newcomer Allen Dyer.

Making Downtown A Special Place

Here's some of the HoCo's planning staff's recommendations for making downtown a special place:

1. The Plan should address a strategy to preserve the former Rouse Company hadquarters.
2. The Plan should coordinate the proposed development program including heights, densities and number of hotel rooms in the General Plan amendment, Zoning Regulation amendment and Supplemental Documents.
3. The Illustrative Plans provided as exhibits should include all of the area covered by the Final Development Plans listed in the Zoning Regulation Amendment.
4. The Plan should provide for design guidelines for the Columbia Mall as part of one or more neighborhoods.
5. The Plan should delineate boundaries for the Lakefront core.
6. The Plan should provide for design guidelines to address how the Warfield neighborhood would provide pedestrian and multi-modal connections and design relationships with the existing residential communities.
7. The Plan should identify strategies to attract and support local merchants within the Downtown and to complement neighborhood retail uses in the nearby, neighboring village centers.
8. The Plan should include a 15-percent MIHU requirement consistent with other comparable zoning districts as well as the proposed 10-percent middle income housing requirement. These requirements should also be included within the Zoning Regulation Amendment and address concerns about external appearance.
9. The Plan should identify a suitable location for a new fire station so that construction may begin as soon as possible.
10. The Plan should include a revised phasing plan that ensures Merriweather Post Pavilion is renovated in the
first phase of development in accordance with the General Plan Amendment.
11. The Plan should include a “percent for art” program for private development based on construction costs or an alternative commitment to support public art.
12. The Plan should include a strategy for County Council’s adoption of Downtown-wide design guidelines and review by the County’s Design Advisory Panel (DAP). DAP review and a strategy for the inclusion of more detailed neighborhood design guidelines at the Final Development Plan stage should be described in the Zoning Regulation Amendment.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Planting Trees Instead Of Breaking Rocks

From HoCo exec PR:

ELLICOTT CITY-- Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and Governor Martin O’Malley today announced a unique partnership between the County and the State in which inmates from the state-run Patuxent Institution will plant and care for 1,000 trees until they are mature enough to be transplanted to Howard County parks. This partnership falls under Governor O’Malley’s newest program: Maryland: Smart, Green & Growing, a multi-agency, statewide initiative to help Maryland achieve a more sustainable future by linking community revitalization, transportation improvements, economic development, smart growth and environmental restoration efforts.

“In these tough economic times, government must work smarter and more efficiently than ever. This program does just that: state and local governments are working together, using existing resources, to protect the environment,” said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.

Phase It In

HoCo's planning staff issued a technical report on the proposal to remake downtown. It recommends that General Growth meet certain benchmarks for development in order to proceed from one phase to the next.

There is widespread agreement that phased development with clear benchmarks is necessary to ensure orderly development that enhances rather than overwhelms Downtown and the broader community. Therefore, this report recommends a phased approach to approval of development rights based on clear, enforceable standards and benchmarks. This approach would allow as a possibility the proposed 30-year development program, but since this timeframe presents many unknowns, it is unclear at present if such development levels actually can be accomplished in Downtown. Accordingly, this report recommends dividing the development program into several shorter-term phases that would restrict additional development unless specified benchmarks for a particular phase are achieved. Among the recommended benchmarks are the timely delivery of cultural and other community amenities, fulfillment of environmental, affordable housing and traffic mitigation goals, and completion of designated infrastructure improvements. Critical oversight of the Downtown development process over the coming decades with identifiable goals and standards is essential to achieving the community's complete vision for Downtown Columbia.

Some other highlights:

How are things going to be financed?

The proposal does not explain how the new development relates financially to amenities and infrastructure that may be needed. Funding concepts are introduced without demonstrating whether they are sufficient to provide for the kinds of physical improvements illustrated in the GPA. Downtown levels of development program, amenities and infrastructure require sophisticated management. A series of private associations are proposed to oversee and manage specific processes, but they are not analyzed to determine if revenues from proposed funding mechanisms are adequate to support these organizations. It may also be preferable to develop an alternate proposal with fewer new groups or to utilize existing community resources.

The plans needs more teeth to ensure accountability:

GG described a phasing plan which would include specific projects, their timing, responsible parties andfunding sources. The proposal does include a phasing plan, but it is not specific enough to be measurable and enforceable.

The plan proposes an innovative affordable housing financing strategy. However, the affordable housing strategy seems insufficiently empowered to require compliance with targets and goals. Affordable housing strategies must be enforceable; therefore, minimum standards are recommended in the zoning regulations.

Overall a bold start:

Howard County has a unique opportunity to weave together all the essential elements of a downtown that it has long deserved. GGP’s proposal is a bold and ambitious attempt to implement the vision described in the DCC. Although there are areas where the proposal should be strengthened, it clearly reflects the substantial investment
of time, effort and resources which GGP has already committed to preparing for Downtown Columbia’s future.

The process going forward:

This staff report will be presented to the Planning Board and the public at a public hearing that begins at 7 p.m. on December 11, 2008 at The Bain Center, 5470 Ruth Keeton Way, Columbia, Maryland. The Planning Board will also hear a presentation by GGP that evening.

Public testimony will begin on January 8, 2009, at 6 p.m. at The Bain Center, 5470 Ruth Keeton Way, Columbia, Maryland. Additional nights will be scheduled as needed. Citizens may also submit written testimony to the Planning Board by email ( or mail (c/o the Department of Planning and Zoning, 3430 Courthouse Drive, Ellicott City, MD 21043).

After closing the public hearings, the Planning Board will prepare and submit its recommendations on both the General Plan and Zoning Regulation Amendments to the County Council. The Council will file separate Council bills for the General Plan and Zoning Regulation Amendments, and will hold public hearings on both prior to taking action on the legislation.

HoCo Soccer Streak Ends

We saw this on the Sun's Varsity Letters high school sports blog.

This is the first time in 30 years a Howard County boys team will not play for a state championship.


The last time we missed?

The year was 1977 when Wilde Lake fell in the state semifinal round, where Marriotts Ridge was eliminated this year by J.M. Bennett, 1-0 to end a 30-year run of state championship appearances.

In those 30 years, Howard County won a whopping 41 state titles and also had eight runner-up finishes. Oakland Mills sets the bar with 12 crowns, River Hill's title last year gave the Hawks eight with Centennial right behind at seven.

When was the county's first state crown?

Wilde Lake claimed it with a penalty-kick win against Sherwood in the fall of 1976. We happen to know because a certain member of the Columbia Talk played on that squad.

Trying to Feel Santastic

General Growth says select GGP malls plan to kick off the traditional start of the holiday shopping season at midnight on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving this year.

Crowds will be treated to early-bird sales, DJs playing live music, shopping spree giveaways and complimentary coffee and hot cocoa.

Alas, our mall is not on the list. But we do get the return of the Santastic experience, starting today.

Prepare To Be Astonished With:
The Magical Mailbox - be sure to have your letter to Santa ready
The Naughty or Nice Meter - you still have to be good
North Pole weather effects - the forecast calls for daily snow showers
...and many more magical surprises!

A schedule of events is here.

They call the day after Thanksgiving Black Friday because that's when sales push many retailers into the black. A pretty tall order in this economy. In fact, it's kind of hard to get excited about shopping these days.

GGP, though, gives it the old Santa try with this piece of advice:

Develop a Shopping Budget and Strategy – First and foremost, determine how much you can afford to spend on your holiday gifts – especially in the wake of current economic challenges. Plan your day around getting those must-haves before they run out. If needed, you can always plan a second trip to the mall for more common gifts that are likely to remain in stock for a longer period of time.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

We Like To Vote

From HoCo Exec's office:

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Howard County Executive Ken Ulman today congratulated and thanked all Howard County citizens who voted in last week’s election; Howard County had the highest voter turnout percentage in the State of Maryland (83.3%), according to figures from the Maryland State Board of Elections.


From HoCo schools:

Parents/Guardians of High School Students,

It has come to the attention of school and law enforcement officials that information has been circulated via the Internet and flyers in schools regarding an event billed as the Ultimate Homecoming Party for All Howard County Schools and scheduled for Friday night, November 14 beginning at 8:30 p.m.

This event is not sponsored by nor endorsed in any way by the Howard County Public School System. We hope you will talk with your teen about making good decisions regarding the type of activities they choose to attend.

Posted by the HCPSS Public Information Office

Spring Break...Up

The Flier/Times/Sun ExploreHoward blog says the school board is thinking about cutting in half the traditional 10-day spring break and plans to hold a public hearing on the topic Dec. 11.

At the board’s Nov. 6 meeting, the calendar committee recommended cutting three school days from spring break.

The proposed spring break for 2010 would begin Thursday, April 1 and extend through Monday, April 5.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Poinsettia Tree Is Back

Or at least the tree's frame, waiting for those distinctive red plants. The Tales of Two Cities blog has the photographic proof.

Now that's a bit of Christmas cheer.

General No-Growth

Investors in the Chicago-based owner of so much of Columbia are clearly betting on the possibility of bankruptcy. General Growth's stock closed at 48 cents on Tuesday, which if it stays there too long will affect its ability to list on the New York Stock Exchange and cause other problems.

What might bankruptcy mean? Not necessarily a lot to you and me. This story says shopping will likely go on as usual at the mall. And as we've mention here recently, WR Grace, the big local chemical company, has spent seven years under bankruptcy protection as it worked out a settlement in a multitude of cases involving asbestos-related claims.

In the real estate world, take a look at WCI Communities, the Florida developer of the ill-fated tower in downtown Columbia. WCI's lux highrise project may have been put on hold but the homebuilder continues to go about its business. In September, it secured financing to run operations while it cleans up its balance sheet. The company has cut its workforce by at least 400 since then, employing about 1,400 people now.

"The willingness of our lenders to continue investing in our business in this difficult economic environment provides a real boost to our restructuring efforts," said interim President and Chief Executive Officer David Fry. "The [financing], combined with our cash on hand, which currently substantially exceeds plan, provides us with adequate financial resources to fund our [post-bankruptcy filing] customer, vendor and employee obligations and other operating requirements pending confirmation of a plan," he continued.

It seems the way of the world these days that if struggling companies are not in bankruptcy their existence will be as one auto industry analyst recently put it "bankruptcy-like."

This economic downturn shows few signs of turning around quickly.

Helping Our Heroes

From the River Hill listserv:

The River Hill Association is sponsoring a collection drive known as “Helping our Heroes” geared towards injured soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan and their families at the Walter Reed Military Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. The Soldier & Family Assistance Agency (SFAC) is an organization within the hospital that focuses on the needs of the wounded soldier and their family who come to the bedside of their injured loved one. These servicemen and women arrive at the hospital with nothing but the clothes on their back and immediate items are needed for them to be comfortable during their rehabilitation. The SFAC’s goal is to provide these items to our heroes while helping facilitate their healing mission.However,they cannot do it alone.

We are asking our residents to help assist this agency by taking our heroes under our wings. The SFAC is looking for donations such as prepaid phone cards for calling friends and family, soft “cushie” pillows to relieve stress in bed, small electronic games, portable CD players, CD’s of any style music, battery powered shavers, skid bottom slipper socks, drawstring pajamas (all sizes, men’s and women’s), tear away pants and long sleeve tees shirts. All items must be new and can be dropped off to Claret Hall during the month of November

Please take the time in this month of giving to donate to those men and women in need who have made the sacrifice to fight for our freedom.

For more information about the drive contact Mary Harris at or 410-531-1749.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Will Downtown Turn To Potterville?

In the business world, there is one no spin zone, one place relatively free of marketing bluster, and that is in the paperwork companies file with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

General Growth, the owner of the mall and so much else in Columbia, is uncharacteristically blunt in its latest SEC filing, painting a bleak picture for the company and the retailers it serves around the country.

And that's probably not good for the wonderful life we so recently enjoyed.

So grab a stiff cup of joe and read on:

The Company has $900 million of property secured debt and $58 million of corporate debt that is scheduled to mature by December 1, 2008. The Company is working with its syndicate of lenders to extend the November 28, 2008 maturity dates for its property secured debt (related to Fashion Show and The Shoppes at The Palazzo, both in Las Vegas, Nevada). In addition, we have undertaken a comprehensive examination of all the financial and strategic alternatives to generate capital from a variety of sources, including, but not limited to, both core and non-core asset sales, the sale of joint venture interests, a corporate level capital infusion, and/or strategic business combinations. Given the continued weakness of the retail and credit markets, there can be no assurance that we can obtain such extensions or refinance our existing debt or obtain the additional capital necessary to satisfy our short term cash needs on satisfactory terms. Even if we are successful in addressing these 2008 maturities, an additional $3.07 billion of property and corporate debt is scheduled to mature in 2009. In the event that we are unable to extend or refinance our debt or obtain additional capital on a timely basis and on acceptable terms, we will be required to take further steps to acquire the funds necessary to satisfy our short term cash needs, including seeking legal protection from our creditors. Our potential inability to address our 2008 or 2009 debt maturities in a satisfactory fashion raises substantial doubts as to our ability to continue as a going concern.

That last sentence usually means the company may have little choice but to file for bankruptcy protection.

The future looks and reads gloomier by the day..Read what General Growth says about its planned communities division, which include our town.

The Company has deferred construction, development or the opening of certain near and intermediate term new development and redevelopment projects and has deferred all future development expenditures other than expenditures for projects that are near completion and projects that have been approved at our jointly owned properties.

It sounds like stores in the mall are also suffering:

The decrease in overage rent is primarily due to declining tenant sales at The Grand Canal Shoppes, The Mall in Columbia and Saint Louis Galleria in the three months ended September 30, 2008 compared to the three months ended September 30, 2007.

More bad times to come?

General and retail economic conditions continue to weaken, and we expect this weakness to continue and worsen in 2009 as the economy enters a recessionary or near recessionary period. Consumer spending recently declined for the first time in 17 years, the unemployment rate is expected to rise, consumer confidence has decreased dramatically and the stock market remains extremely volatile. Given these expected economic conditions, we believe there is a significantly increased risk that the sales of stores operating in our centers will decrease, negatively affecting their ability to make minimum rent payments and increasing the risk of tenant bankruptcies. In addition to the direct adverse effect of tenant failures to pay minimum rents and tenant bankruptcies on our operations, these events also negatively affect our ability to attract and maintain minimum rent levels for new tenants. These circumstances negatively affect our revenues and available cash, and also reduce the value of our properties, reducing the likelihood that we would be able to sell such properties, on attractive terms or at all.

Driver Charged In Fatal Crash

From the Sun: HoCoPo filed manslaughter charges against a man who allegedly lost control of his pickup truck and then fled the scene after this passenger was thrown from the vehicle.

Alexander Randolph Camorali, 23, of Columbia, was charged with vehicular manslaughter, hit and run, and driving on a suspended license, Howard County police said today.

Just before 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, Camorali lost control of a Ford Ranger pickup truck as he was driving southbound on Harpers Farm Road at Twin Rivers Road, police said. The car went into the median, hit a tree and overturned.

The passenger, Roger Gene Bartrug II, 22, of Columbia, was ejected from the truck and died at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center over the weekend

Monday, November 10, 2008

22-Year-old Dies In Harper's Crash

We hate hearing stories like this.

The Sun reports that Roger Gene Bartug of the 6100 block of Turnabout Lane died of his injuries after he was thrown from a pickup that had hit a tree early Saturday morning at the intersection of Harper's Farm and Twin Rivers roads.

Alexander Randolph Camorali, the driver of the truck, fled the scene after the accident, police said; he was arrested several hours later. Camorali, 23, of the 5400 block of Half Flight Garth in Columbia, will likely face hit-and-run charges, police said.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

WR Grace Puts Land Up For Sale

The chemical giant, moving closer to finally emerging from a prolonged, seven-year bankruptcy slumber, is looking to sell 66 acres surrounding its headquarters, according to this Baltimore Business Journal story.

We used to bound around the property back the in day, when we had a summer job caring for what seemed like billions of sugar cane plants inside an enormous greenhouse. At the time, the company was experimenting with ways to make the plants produce more sugar. What we remember is slowly walking the rows, precisely watering each plant and recording what we did, the summer heat inside that greenhouse just stifling. Once we were finished hitting each plant with a splash, it was time to start all over again for a second watering.

Maybe that's where we lost our enthusiasm for science. :)

Later, at WaPo, we revisited WR Grace after it announced plans to stop mowing much of its broad lawns in an environmental gesture. The reporting excursion was an excuse to tromp around the property again and see all sort of wildlife. The place was a little treasure.

Primo land like that, off Route 32 between River Hill and Hickory Ridge, once would have been snatched up in a jiffy, but does anyone have the finances to grab it anymore?

Stay tuned.

HoCoPo "Crack" The Case

Sorry about the pun.

From the River Hill Village Association:

Dear Residents,

I have good news to report!

Numerous properties in our community were egged on Halloween Night. The Police Department has charged three juveniles with disorderly conduct in these incidents. It was determined that the eggings were random and not targeted. If the victims are unable to remove the egg and there is damage, the charges will also include destruction of property.

On behalf of the community, we thank the Police Department for their responsiveness on this matter. Credit also goes to the residents who promptly reported the incidents and to the River Hill Giant store who provided critical information.

By being proactive and working as a team we can be successful in deterring crime and building a stronger community.


Susan Smith

Susan Smith
River Hill Village Manager

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Downtown Renaissance?

While we wait on the grand plan for a town center to unfold, how about bringing back a bit of downtown's past?

The folks at the Maryland Renaissance Festival are looking for a new home, according to this story in the Sun.

The festival began in 1977 and was held for the first eight years in Howard County near the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia. Its Crownsville site [in Anne Arundel] consists of a 25-acre replica of a 16th-century English village and includes a jousting arena featuring swordsmen on horses, mimes, jugglers and 10 stages. Food vendors and craft merchants abound. Actors dressed as ladies and lords entertain the crowds. The festival, which runs from August to October, drew 23,000 visitors a day at its peak this year..

Thursday, November 6, 2008

HoCo's Straight Talk Express

From HoCo PR:

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) has announced that it will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, November 18, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center, 7246 Cradlerock Way in Columbia, on a proposed reduction in service that may affect Howard County commuters. The MTA’s proposed service reductions include the elimination of commuter bus service from Howard County to Baltimore City on the MTA 310, 311 and 320 Routes; and a reduction in bus service to Washington D.C. and Silver Spring on the MTA 929 and 995 Routes.

"While I understand the State's need to reduce expenses, I am disappointed that they would propose to eliminate bus service at a time when we should be promoting public transit as a way to reduce traffic congestion, improve the environment and help citizens get to work," said County Executive Ken Ulman. "For some commuters, these bus routes are the only means they have to get to and from their jobs."

In an effort to accommodate those who wish to attend the hearing and may need to rely on public transportation to do so, Howard Transit will add a special temporary bus stop at the entrance to the Interfaith Center on the Brown Route with arrival times of 5:30, 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 p.m.

"We are trying to make it as easy as possible for transit riders to come to the public hearing and make their opinions known," said Carl Balser, Chief of Transportation Planning for Howard County.

For more information about MTA’s public hearing or bus service to the meeting, contact Howard Transit’s Customer Information line at 1-800-270-9553 or visit them online at

Not So Fast

Are the school board elections over? Maybe not. The Sun reports that there is still a little matter of counting absentee votes.

The counting of the absentee ballots will begin today and final results are expected to be available Nov. 14, said Betty Nordaas, the county's elections administrator.

In the meantime, the leading candidates said they are viewing the results in tentative terms.

That Warm Feeling

Oakland Mills HS is teaming up with the Howard County PTA Council to collect coats for the needy:

CLEAN, gently used, or new coats can be dropped off in the box at the Oakland Mills High School front office on Thursday, November 6, Friday, November 7, or Monday, November 10. Coats can also be donated at the OMHS PTSA Craft Fair from 10-3 on Saturday, November 8.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

General Growth Delays Future Projects

The national shopping mall operator, whose portfolio includes our very own Mall in Columbia, posted its third quarter financial results and the picture was not pretty. Funds from operations, a key financial metric, fell 11 percent to $185.4 million from a year ago.

GG is really getting hammered by the credit crunch and economic downturn. It must refinance some $900 million in debt by Dec. 1. In the meantime, it's lowering its financial forecasts and says it has decided to defer future projects.

The Company’s Board of Directors and management team, together with their financial and legal advisors, continue to comprehensively examine all financial and strategic alternatives for the Company, including, but not limited to, sales of both core and non-core assets, sales of joint venture interests, corporate level capital infusions and broader strategic business combinations.

The Company has deferred the development, construction or opening of certain near and intermediate term new development and redevelopment projects. As a result, all future development expenditures other than expenditures for projects that are near completion and approved projects at our jointly owned properties have been deferred.

The Voters Speak

Wow. It's Obama by a landslide -- 59.51 percent to 38.62 percent, according to results posted on the Board of Elections Web site. We thought we were seeing Columbia results, not all of HoColand, where tastes used to run a tad more conservative. Remember when this was a Republican county?

See what people told Sun/Flier/ExploreHoward here.

The fourth time is the charm for attorney Allen Dyer, 61, who wins a seat on the school board, joining Janet Siddiqui and Ellen Flynn Giles. We're guessing he'll mix things up, judging from his tussles with the board in the past (he once unsuccessfully sued the board over alleged violations to the state's public meeting laws).

For one Republican's view, see Hedgehog's take on the local elections here.

And, judging by the results, HoCo likes slots by a 57-43 percent margin.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I Voted

Did you?

At our polling place, there was a longer line than usual, but it moved relatively quickly. Casting our computerized ballot was a snap.

The Boy Scouts even were on hand offering breakfast.

We passed several other polling places where the lines seemed even longer so if you are so inclined get out early.

Monday, November 3, 2008

White-Flight No More?

WaPo has an interesting piece about demographic changes in Northern Virginia that suggest a reversal of a "half a century of white-flight suburbanization."

Minorities are now responsible for more growth in the outer suburbs.

This state chart(pdf) suggests the same thing is going on here. If our math is correct, nonwhites made up 16.4 percent of the Howard County population in 1990, and 24.5 percent of the population in 2000. They are projected to make up 31.6 percent in 2010 and 36 percent in 2020.

Not that this should be a surprise to anyone. But it is interesting to observe how much things have changed from the days when Columbia's pursuit of diversity seemed so radical.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

SplashDown Downtime

From CA:

Dear members,

SplashDown at Columbia Swim Center is undergoing renovations and is scheduled to be closed until late December or early January. The Swim Center is closed to the public until the renovations are complete, while the main pool will remain open to members for lap swimming. A schedule is available at the Swim Center. If you would like to be placed on a waiting list for a birthday party or rental, or if you would like to be notified by phone when SplashDown plans to reopen, please call 410-730-7000. CA will notify you by phone (if requested) and/or e-mail when SplashDown plans to reopen. Thank you for your patronage of CA as we continue to improve and upgrade our facilities.

CA Aquatics

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Halloween Shocker

We always appreciate the fine work going on over at the HowChow blog as the busy staff there keeps us up to date on the local culinary culture. So it was with special interest that we read this entry dubbed "Shocked! Shocked!" HowChow was shocked that a certain newspaper's revamped Going Out Guide omitted places to go in our environs.

Happily, HowChow offers some suggestions to plug into the GPS.

There's also recommendations on who has the best pumpkins.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Sun's View On Downtown

The Sun offers its view on efforts to remake downtown Columbia. We would sum it up this way...give General Growth's plan a chance, but modify it to protect the public good. To do nothing is worse because it could allow projects to proceed in an "unplanned, piecemeal" fashion.

Hmm. Is it really possible for development in one of America's original planned communities to proceed in a piecemeal way?

But we digress. Here's how the editorial department kicks off its argument:

Almost everyone in Columbia agrees that settling on a master plan to guide an energizing makeover of the city's 40-year-old town center is an urgent priority. But some residents are concerned that the wrong plan could do serious harm. The Howard County government should proceed cautiously on this matter. The proposed redevelopment may be the biggest project since Columbia's birth, and its impact will be felt for decades to come.

Certainly that's been the conventional thinking. We wonder, though, why the rush? Hasn't the world changed completely since this process kicked off? It's not like if a plan was approved tomorrow the bulldozers would rumble to life. The development industry is largely paralyzed right now -- frozen by a credit crunch and an economic downturn.

Does the downturn really "heighten the urgency" as the Sun quotes our fair county executive?

Or does the downturn buy us a little time to plan a future devoid of some near-term profit opportunity? We wonder if we have one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments when, just like the boys and girls at the original Rouse Co., we can work with a clean sheet of paper.

Perhaps everyone is comfortable that the lengthy process to date, the process that led to the current GG plan on the table, represents the faithful culmination of just that sort of exercise.

Really, we can argue either side.

One thing we know: Whatever the outcome, it'll be our legacy.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Testing The Diploma

The SunFlierTimesExploreHoward blog says 237 HoCo high school seniors still have not met the state's new graduation requirement.

This is the first group of seniors who have to pass exit tests in algebra, English, biology and government to receive their diploma. Either that, or they must achieve a certain minimum combined score or complete authorized alternative work.

Although Howard County schools posted one of the highest success rates on the state High School Assessments, with 93 percent of the 3,583 diploma-seeking students in the class of 2009 in the clear, the county still has 237 seniors working to complete the requirement.

....Howard’s pass rate tied Harford County’s for the fourth highest in the state, trailing Carroll, Calvert and Frederick counties.

Of the 3,329 members of the county’s class of 2009 who had met the requirement as of May, 86 percent did so by passing all four exams, while 7 percent did so by achieving a sufficient combined score.

WaPo reported that one of every six high school seniors in Maryland has not met a new state test-score requirement for receiving a diploma, state officials reported Tuesday, leaving thousands in jeopardy of missing graduation in the spring.

There was an 11th hour attempt by some members of the state school board to delay imposing the new requirement.

On a 7 to 4 vote, the board rejected an effort to delay enforcement of the requirement after an impassioned debate, during which one board member shouted into his microphone and another almost broke into tears.

The tense vote affirming the Maryland High School Assessments kept the state in a national movement to tighten diploma standards. For several years, Virginia has required students to pass a series of Standards of Learning exams to earn a standard diploma. The District does not have high school exit exams.

Statewide results can be found here.

UPDATE: Here's the school by school breakdown in Howard:

* HCPSS (92.9)
* Atholton (97.8)
* Centenial (92.8)
* Glenelg (97.8)
* Hammond (90.2)
* Howard (96.4)
* Long Reach (88.5)
* Marriotts Ridge (96.6)
* Mt. Hebron (93.7)
* Oakland Mills (79.6)
* Reservoir (90.4)
* River Hill (99.0)
* Wilde Lake (89.5)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Trick or ...Cash

Talk about putting your money where your mouth is...Rashmi Parmar is offering to buy back Halloween candy from trick-or-treaters the day after fright night, according to this story on the Sun/Flier/ExploreHoward blog.

The Clarksville dentist is offering children 50 cents per pound of candy — along with, naturally, a toothbrush — and will send the candy to U.S. troops serving overseas.

Here's the particulars:

The candy buyback event will take place between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at Parmar’s office, at 12620 Clarksville Pike.

Because the food will be boxed and shipped to the troops, Parmar said she is accepting only wrapped candy.

For more information about the candy buy-back, call Parmar’s office at 410-531-5639.

Absentees Make The Vote Go Fonder...

...or something like that.

We saw this on our local Oakland Mills listserv:


**Absentee Ballot Requests DUE TOMORROW, October 28, 2008!!! **

Tomorrow is your last day to request an absentee ballot! Make sure your voice is still heard. If you are unable to vote in person, you may obtain an absentee ballot application to request an absentee ballot. To request an absentee ballot you must complete the Absentee Ballot Application. To use this form, enter the required information, print the form, sign it, and send by mail or by fax to the Howard County Board of Elections. Your Absentee Ballot Form must be received by 4:30p.m. on October 28, 2008, if your application is mailed; or by 11:59 p.m. on October 28, 2008, if the application is faxed (410-313-5833).




For more information you may call the Howard County Board of Elections at 410-313-5820

Monday, October 27, 2008

General Growth Shuffles Management

GG said its chief executive and president have stepped aside, and will be replaced by two directors. The giant retail developer also said the president being replaced and a former chief financial officer failed to follow company policy in disclosing certain loans they received to help with stock margin calls.

The company said it is now putting several Las Vegas shopping centers up for sale; its hired Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Eastdil Secured to market the properties. No new info on Columbia.

Some excerpts from its statement:

General Growth Properties, Inc. (NYSE: GGP) today announced that two independent directors of the company will assume senior management positions effective immediately. Adam Metz will serve as interim Chief Executive Officer, and Thomas H. Nolan Jr. will serve as interim President, positions previously held by John Bucksbaum and Robert A. Michaels, respectively. Mr. Bucksbaum will continue to serve as Chairman and Mr. Michaels will continue to serve as Chief Operating Officer and a senior officer of the company. In order to maintain a majority of independent directors, Mr. Michaels has also given up his Board seat.

...The company’s Board of Directors and management team, along with its financial and legal advisors, continue to be fully engaged in a comprehensive evaluation of all financial and strategic alternatives for the company, including but not limited to, asset sales, joint ventures, corporate level capital infusions, and broader strategic business combinations.

...The Company also announced that it has recently come to the attention of the Board that an affiliate of a Bucksbaum family trust advanced unsecured loans to Mr. Michaels and Bernard Freibaum, the company’s former director and CFO, for the purpose of repaying personal margin debt relating to company stock. The loan to Mr. Michaels, which totaled $10 million, has been repaid in full. The loan to Mr. Freibaum, whose employment was terminated prior to the Board’s knowledge of these loans, totaled $90 million and has $80 million presently outstanding.

A review by the Company’s independent directors concluded that, while the failure to disclose the loans to the Company’s Board of Directors did not follow internal company policy, no company assets or resources were involved in the loans and that no laws or Securities and Exchange Commission rules were violated as a result of the loans.

Tell 'Em How To Spend Your Money

From HoCo schools:

The Board of Education of Howard County invites you to participate in the What Counts in Education Community Forum. The forum is sponsored by the Maryland Association of Boards of Education and the Board of Education of Howard County and is open to all interested community members. The purpose of the forum is to discuss and recommend future priorities for the Howard County Public School System's Operating Budget. Participants will:

- Discuss elements of the school system's operating budget
- Identify budget recommendations for the next 1-5 years
- Review and recommend final budget priorities

The forum will be held on:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008
7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Homewood Center (behind the Department of Education)
10914 Route 108
Ellicott City, MD 21042

To confirm your attendance, please e-mail Florence Jackson at or call 410-313-5638 by Monday, November 3.

Free Chocolate

This being Monday, we know we could use a pick-me-up.

On the mall's Web site we found this offer, and others:

Godiva Chocolatier Halloween Specials

Our 2008 Halloween collection is elegantly frisky- with a slinky black cat appearing throughout. It features Halloween gift boxes filled with our classic chocolates, as well as a playful assortment of Halloween novelty items. Chocolate cats, "Stash" the plush bear (holding a box of our chocolate covered pretzels), an embroidered satchel of chocolate medallions, and our famous Pumpkin Spice truffles round out a decadent collection filled with many spooky treats.

Visit our boutique for a complimentary sample of
(while supplies last):

# 10/24 to 10/26: Godiva Biscuits

Friday, October 24, 2008


The Rouse, er General Growth, watch continues. And we thought our 401(k) performance was bad:

General Growth's stock price on March 23, 2007: $67.00

General Growth's stock price on June 5, 2008: $42.22

General Growth's stock price at 12:26p on Friday: $2.36 (down 16 percent so far today)

UPDATE: GG's stock price at the end of the day: $2.17 -- a decline of 96.8 percent since March.

Who Do Ya Like?

The Sun/Flier/Times ExploreHoward media conglomerate surveys the field for school board races. Six contenders are competing for three spots.

There's not a lot in the stories to make judgments, but some clues. Give the full piece a gander; we include highlights here:

Diane Butler

Butler would like to see the addition of the International Baccalaureate program, better identification and support for students who need academic help and more accessible vocational training.

Allen Dyer

"The board has to be proactive in its communication with the public. The board shouldn't assume the citizens know what's in the mind of the board," said Dyer, who has been a critic of the board's operations in the past. He sued the board in 2000 over alleged violations of the state's open meetings law although judges ruled he lacked standing in the case.

Ellen Flynn Giles

The state of the country's economy has spurred Board of Education member Ellen Flynn Giles to ponder ways the schools can be more efficient without sacrificing the quality of education....

For example, rather than hiring a new teacher, students should be able to take Web-based courses at Howard Community College for specialized subjects such as statistics or Chinese.

Betsy Grater

A tight economy likely will require a reevaluation of the schools' budget and Grater said she would "take into consideration the constraints and look at how we can do things better ... and not take away from teachers or the curriculum in doing it."

Janet Siddiqui

One of Siddiqui's priorities is to continue the board's work addressing the achievement gap, she said. Keys to that include strong principal leadership, partnerships with the community and quality after-school programs, she said.

Di Zou

Zou said the county lacks sufficient technology training for its teachers. He also thinks that there should be more laptops available in classrooms for students to use during the school day. Ideally, Zou also would like to see projectors installed in each classroom, but acknowledges the endeavor might be costly.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Boo Bins

Not everyone likes the big new recycling bins arriving in our driveways of late.

The Examiner's business columnist Dan Gainor says they are too big. The 65-gallon giant he received won't fit in his shed. (We'll supply a link when the Examiner sees fit to put one on its Web site where we can find it...Howard? Business? Search box? UPDATE: Ahhh, the link, thanks to an alert reader.).

Here's what we learn from the Fox Business channel contributor:

- Columbia is a "loony enclave."

- Maybe HoCo exec Ken Ulman should be called "Mr. Has Bin."

- And the county has attached tiny radio-frequency identification tags to the bins to track their use.

This last point previously escaped our attention. But it's true; the carts do come with RFID chips, according to the county's FAQ. And there's been some coverage in the trade press. According to this story, the county has discussed whether to send postcards to people who are not recycling. (We don't know if that ever happened.)

Gainor is not a fan of the idea. "Some petty gray-suited functionary is now going to assess my antisocial recycling opposition. It's an intersection between Big Brother and garbage, not that there's much difference between the two."

Ok, we get the feeling he doesn't much care for the county's recycling efforts.

RFID concerns aside, his blast reminds us a bit of a recent episode of "Mad Men," the TV drama centered around the 1960s Madison Avenue advertising culture. In one scene Don Draper and family are winding up an idyllic picnic by the side of the road somewhere. As they pack up, Don heaves his beer can as far as he can throw. Mom shakes the blanket free of lunchtime debris and checks her kids' hands to see that they are clean before the clan happily climbs back into the Cadillac for the ride home.

The camera pans back to show a wide shot of trash scattered on the hillside.

Someone else's problem.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Columbia's YouTube

We often get the feeling there are a lot of cool things going on in Howard's tech community, but everyone is so darn shy about letting the world now.

It was only by accident we came across this release from a local company trying to innovate in the YouTube space.

The Columbia company is called VioSync and its product is dubbed TubeLinx. According to the company, TubeLinx allows users to:

-- View two media streams side-by-side in Multi-Sync mode;
-- Comment on and toggle to a point-in-time or a selected segments of a
given media stream;
-- Attach synchronized comments to media in a wide range of forms,
-- Text, video, as well as audio streams that are instantly recorded
or pre-recorded;
-- Dynamic links to other media segments or other internal or external
-- On-the-media Marking that permits the user to frame the point of
interest within the played media screen.

Pretty clever. But it sounds like Gaith Abdo, the president of VioSync, needs to work on his elevator speech.

"It's almost impossible to explain," Abdo says in a release, "but play it for 10 minutes and you'll get really excited."

Kinda like Tivo, we guess.

Here's how the company explains who it is:

VioSync LLC was established in 2006 to provide the platform and infrastructure for the TubeLinx, said Gaith Abdo who is the president and CEO of Intecorp, which was founded in 1999 headquartered in the NeoTech Center in Howard County, Maryland. The company offers consulting services in network engineering, e-mail systems, Internet and ecommerce, security, application development, data warehousing, help desk support and training. Intecorp has an extensive number of clients, including the FDA, IRS, and U.S. Navy, and recently won a multi-million contract for website support and development from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Word From General Growth

OK, it's a form letter from GG's Columbia chief Greg Hamm, but it's the thought that counts:

Dear Neighbor,

The General Plan Amendment for Columbia Town Center has been submitted! Thank you to everyone who has worked with us throughout the development of the plan, providing ideas and helping shape a plan that truly is "Many Voices: One Vision" for a revitalized Columbia Town Center. We believe the plan that has been submitted has been made stronger through extensive public participation and reflects the best thinking and ideas of all involved while honoring the values of Columbia and holding true to the vision of Jim Rouse.

Many of you have been eager to learn more details about the plan and we would like to highlight a few key elements that might be of particular interest. This is not a comprehensive list, and we encourage you to visit the Web site to view the General Plan Amendment in its entirety.

Highlights from the General Plan Amendment

The plan centers on the construction of five new downtown neighborhoods - Warfield, The Lakefront, The Crescent, Merriweather and Symphony Overlook - each of which, though interconnected, will have its own unique character and serve a specific purpose in making downtown more livable, vibrant and exciting.

Phasing of the Redevelopment

To ensure that redevelopment proceeds in a thoughtful way and that infrastructure, including an improved transportation system, grows apace with new development, the plan will be implemented in phases over 30 years, eventually creating 5,500 new housing units, five million square feet of new office space, and 1.25 million square feet of new retail space, new cultural and recreational amenities.Each phase throughout buildout will be submitted to the County for review and approval.

* Phase One would include the construction of approximately 1,640 residential units, half million square feet of retail space, 1.1 million square feet of office space and 250 hotel rooms.
* Phase Two would include the construction of approximately 2,000 residential units, 350,000 square feet of retail space, 2 million square feet of office space, and 250 hotel rooms.
* Phase Three would include the construction of approximately 1,860 residential units, 160,000 square feet of retail space, and 1.8 million square feet of office space and 140 hotel rooms.

Connecting Columbia Town Center and the Villages

The neighborhoods are designed to better connect the areas comprising Town Center - The Mall in Columbia, Lake Kittamaqundi and its immediate environs, and the area that includes Symphony Woods and Merriweather Post Pavilion. Additionally, the plan encourages less driving, more walking and biking and more convenient access to public transportation. Recommendations to enhance connectivity include:

* Improved pedestrian connections designed to better link downtown Columbia with the villages of Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills.
* A promenade lined with trees, fountains, restaurants and stores, called Market Square, which would link The Mall in Columbia to the cultural area and park.
* A series of landscaped terraces with fountains creating connections from Lake Kittamaqundi.
* A transit center that would serve as a hub for a balanced transportation system designed to discourage the use of automobiles and encourage walking, biking and the use of buses, and the creation of a nonprofit Transportation Management Association to manage transportation demand and implement a new downtown transit system.

Creating Amenities and a Cultural Hub

In addition to providing new housing, offices, shops, restaurants and caf├ęs, the plan creates recreational and cultural amenities including:

* A new cultural area and park anchored by a redeveloped Merriweather Post Pavilion.
* Development of a Downtown Cultural Commission and a Cultural Master Plan to promote Columbia as a focal point for arts and cultural activities in Howard County and the region.
* Creation of an amenity space in each neighborhood.

Encouraging Inclusion and Diversity

In keeping with the Rouse vision of community that is inclusive and diverse, the plan includes a commitment to full-spectrum housing so a mix of people of all incomes can afford to live in downtown Columbia.

* The plan proposes as a goal that 20 percent of the residential development in Town Center be set aside for mixed-income and affordable housing and to be built in step with other housing and distributed across all neighborhoods.
o Ten percent of residential development will be made available to persons earning less than 80 percent of Howard County's median income; today that's about $80,000 per year.
o Ten percent of residential development will be constructed to standards that will help make those units more affordable for people and families making 80-120 percent of Howard County's median income (about $80,000-$120,000)
* A Community Housing Foundation (CHF) is proposed as a community-led nonprofit which would manage an affordable housing fund and provide a housing subsidy to qualified applicants.

Restoring and Preserving our Environment

* Encouraging the use of "green" building standards in future construction and the implementation of practices to decrease storm runoff, thereby decreasing the amount of pollution that enters Lake Kittamaqundi and other downtown waterways;
* A commitment to protect and enhance downtown's natural resources, including its lakes, streams and woodlands;
* Restoring and enhancing Symphony Woods to support a sustainable forest and restoring Symphony Stream and Little Patuxent River watersheds and streambeds to allow them to become rich habitats for wildlife.

Next Steps
What happens next?

The General Plan Amendment has been submitted to Howard County. The Department of Planning and Zoning will now review it and then issue a report. Typically, the planning staff has 30 days to review and comment on a submitted plan.

Once the planning staff has finalized its report, the Amendment then will go to the Howard County Planning Board, which will hold public hearings and work sessions on the document before making a recommendation to the Howard County Council. The Council also will hold hearings and work sessions on the plan before voting on it.

We will keep you posted as the plan moves through this process. We also urge you to follow the actions of the Howard County Planning Board and to participate in public hearings. Citizen input is still critical in shaping and approving a plan, and ultimately for realizing the revitalization of Columbia Town Center, so make sure your voice is heard.

Thank you again for your support and thoughtful participation throughout the development of the General Plan Amendment. We couldn't have done it without you.


Gregory F. Hamm Regional Vice President General Manager, Columbia