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.