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 publicworks@howardcountymd.gov .

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 (PlanningBoard@howardcountymd.gov) 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 rhevents@columbiavillages.org 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 www.howardtransit.com.

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