Monday, November 30, 2009

River Hill Tragedy

This is so sad.

From WaPo:

By Allison Klein and Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 30, 2009

The 17-year-olds were best friends and senior football stars at Howard County's River Hill High. Steven Dankos started every game at offensive right guard, and team captain Thomas Erdman was a couple of spots away at left guard.

Their team lost an important playoff game Friday, ending its 40-game winning streak. The next night, Dankos and Erdman, who were rarely apart, went partying. About 3 a.m. Sunday, while still out, Erdman climbed into the passenger side of his older brother's pickup, and Dankos jumped into the truck bed. Neither stopped David Erdman, 22, from getting behind the wheel, although he had been drinking, police said.

The truck veered off the roadway and slammed into three stone pillars on Folly Quarter Road near Buckskin Lake Drive, killing Dankos immediately, according to police. The Erdman brothers were injured and were treated at hospitals and released, authorities said. David Erdman was charged with drunken driving, homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated and manslaughter by motor vehicle, police said. He was taken to jail, and bond was set at $10,000, according to police.

Dankos, who was 6 feet tall and weighed 185 pounds, was an outgoing kid with a wide circle of friends, those who knew him said. Coach Brian Van Deusen and nearly the entire team visited Dankos's home Sunday.

"We were all just trying to be there and help his mom and his family cope with the situation," Van Deusen said. "You spend so much time with these kids, and they spend so much time together that they become their own family, and they're all trying to pull together."

Many on the team were seemingly stunned Friday when the winning streak ended. River Hill had been the two-time defending Maryland 2A champion. But Sunday, Van Deusen said, the loss of a game seemed less significant.

"This puts everything in perspective. The two things aren't even comparable," Van Deusen said. "Right now, we're all just trying to be there for each other."

He said Thomas Erdman was struggling as he grappled with the horrible turn of events.

"Thomas is having a tough time. He lost one of his best friends," Van Deusen said.

No other vehicle was involved in the accident on the rural, winding road. At the scene Sunday, someone fashioned a cross out of fence parts that were broken in the accident. Well-wishers have been writing messages on it and leaving flowers.

Senior running back and linebacker Kevin Moore, who lives in Ellicott City, said he was stunned to lose such a close friend senselessly.

"I couldn't believe it when I heard. Steve is a really good friend, and it's just unreal that this happened," Moore said. "It's real, real tough, because he was such a great friend to everyone. I don't know what the situation was, but I wish someone could have been there to tell him, 'No, don't get in the car. Don't do that.' "

As for Friday's game, an emotional 10-7 loss to Huntingtown in the Maryland 3A semifinals, Moore said, "Friday seems like so long ago now."

River Hill Principal Bill Ryan said administrators were planning a "crisis team meeting" to devise a plan to help students and staff members deal with Dankos's death.

"We're all very saddened by the news," Ryan said. "We have an incredible community and, as in the past, we will pull together and get through this. Our thoughts and prayers really do go out to the families and all of our students."

Standard procedure for Howard schools is to make extra counselors available for faculty and students.

"This is going to take some time for everyone. Our principal has helped put things in place for tomorrow, and we're going to do everything we can to help the kids," Van Deusen said. "Our team is really close this year, and we're going to get through this together."

Van Deusen said that the funeral arrangements weren't complete but that the family was planning a service for this week.

The River Hill community dealt with a similar situation five years ago when alumnus and star football player Adrian Cmerek, 20, suffered fatal injuries in a car crash in Howard County.

He was a Virginia Military Institute student and was home for Christmas at the time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Columbian's Adventure

Our friend Tom Heath recently wrote a nice profile of Columbia entrepreneur Matt Baker and his Terrapin Adventures in his "Value Added" column.

From WaPo:

Entrepreneur Matt Baker's outdoor Terrapin Adventures in Howard County has a 43-foot climbing tower, a 2-G-force giant swing and an adrenaline-pumping, 330-foot-long cable "zip line" that slings you along at 20 mph, 30 feet above the forest floor.

But Baker said the key to making his outdoor dream into a success will ultimately depend on the personalities of his guides and not on the $250,000 worth of wooden poles and steel cables he has planted near the Little Patuxent River.

"The guides make the difference," said Baker, 52. "You can always be trumped by someone who has something taller, faster and maybe a more beautiful location. But if you have engaging staff and are creating memories, that's going to be something that they can't trump you with."

I never tire of hearing business people talk about their special something. As with Disneyland and its expertise at moving people through lines, the secret is not always obvious.

Baker is still trying to reach his ambitious revenue targets. But the challenge has not dimmed his enthusiasm. The former medical consultant from Columbia has had the entrepreneurial bug since the days when he was drafting white papers on solar energy for the Carter administration. His bug-eyed dreams have included a "Moon Over Baltimore" gondola ride near Baltimore's Inner Harbor, which proved too costly.

"I had been looking for something entrepreneurial for quite awhile now," said the soft-spoken Baker, whose love of outdoors stretches back to riding his Raleigh three-speed through the Massachusetts woods. "I wanted to do something that made my heart sing."

He decided on adventure tours following a 2004 family trip to Costa Rica, which is mecca for the zip-line crowd. Zip lines are the Swiss Family Robinson version of a roller coaster. Instead of riding in a car on a circuitous track, you strap yourself to a pulley and speed across a cable strung high up between trees.

Internet searches led him across North America, where he learned the technical aspects of the business, including the feasibility of building a park, how to get financing and insurance, where to locate it and how to find an audience.

"If I was going to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars, I wanted to make sure it was the right business, the right investment," he said. "Part of the entrepreneurial thing is, 'If not now, when?' "

His epiphany about employees came in a fact-finding visit to Whistler, British Columbia. There were two zip-line companies eight miles apart.

"I went to one where I am going 60 miles an hour on a 2,000-foot zip and it's hundreds of feet in the air, eyes watering, heart pounding. The guides were technically proficient, but they weren't engaging."

The next day, Baker went to the oldest zip line in North America. The second zip line was older and slower, but the chatty guides and their store of knowledge made it more fun.

"It was almost an eco-tour, where they talked about the trees, the river, the seasons, birds," said Baker. "It was more of a memory for me."
Defining the dream

Digging into his savings, Baker spent the next three years traveling around the United States and mid-Atlantic, working with state and local governments, parks and land agencies, developers and financiers on places to locate his enterprise. He visited Deep Creek Lake and Wisp Resort in Western Maryland; Steamboat Springs, Colo.; Texas; and an old golf resort in Pennsylvania. He even talked to the National Zoo in the District.

He tweaked his proposal, revising the park size and scope. Most adventure tours cater to "team-building" corporate business, built around climbing wooden structures and balancing on ropes. Baker figured by adding the sexy zip lines, he could also go after the weekend warrior and thrill-seeker niche.

He settled on some parkland abutting Savage Mill, an old Howard County textile mill that was turned into a mix of retail, office and restaurants on the banks of Little Patuxent. He even paid a Maryland landowner $25,000 to preserve some trees that would offset the ones Baker was cutting down at Savage Mill.

The business would require around $500,000 in capital, including $250,000 to build the park and outfit it with a dozen kayaks, 14 bikes, 70 helmets, a Honda sport-utility vehicle and two trailers. Baker used savings to fund half of the capital investment, while he borrowed the rest from a local bank and from the Jim Rouse Entrepreneurial Fund, a nonprofit that provides funding for Howard County start-ups.
Running the numbers

Baker found a construction company online that specialized in building zip-line adventure tours, and Terrapin opened for business in April. His business plan called for $1 million in revenue the first year, but he will achieve about half of that. The hoped-for 13 to 14 percent return on capital is on hold -- as is Baker's salary -- until the company is profitable.

Baker said his payroll (full-time guides make more than $20,000 a year each), rent and debt is running about $50,000 a month. That wasn't bad during the summer, when he was grossing $80,000 a month, but revenues have dropped with the change in seasons.

"It took awhile for awareness in the marketplace to find out about me," he said. After burning through two marketers, Baker took it upon himself. He had 150,000 brochures made for about 5 cents each, peddling them to tourism bureaus, businesses and concierges throughout the region. He gives speeches to business and hotel groups, and bought signs on Interstate 95 for $800 a year.

Microsoft, Marriott International, Hyatt and Oracle have sent management groups to "team-build" at Terrapin Adventures. Groups make up the majority of his business, and Baker is trying to further expand into birthdays and bachelor/bachelorette parties.

Baker charges $80 per person for the full-blown, four-hour Terrapin Challenge, but customers can select a la carte adventures such as the giant swing at $10 per person or the zip line for $15 each.

As for the all-important guides, Baker interviews them personally. Most of them he finds on Craigslist.

"I am looking for people with engaging personalities, who . . . really want to be here."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Urgent! The CA Alert

As someone who has shown up at the club early in the morning only to find the doors closed because of power outage or weather issue, this might come in handy.

From CA:

The Columbia Association (CA) is launching its new Urgent Notification messaging alert – notifying users first with up-to-the-minute information via cell phone text message or e-mail regarding urgent CA facility and program closings or delays. Just in time for the onset of winter weather, CA residents and members have the opportunity to sign up for this free service by visiting
www.ColumbiaAssociation.org/notify.

While CA provides this alert service free of charge, users may be responsible for fees from their cell phone carrier associated with receiving text messages contingent on their calling plan. Participation in this system is voluntary and users may choose to be removed from it at any time.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hammond High Seeks Help On Fires

We saw this on a school note to parents:

Message From The Principal…

The purpose of this message is to make you aware of a sequence of incidents which have occurred at Hammond High School and have potentially compromised the safety of our children and staff. Since November 5th, there have been four incidents where fires have been started in trash cans in our school. These incidents have been categorized as malicious burning. Two incidents of malicious burning happened yesterday within a very short time frame. In each of the four cases, prompt action by various staff members resulted in a safe resolution to the situation. No student or staff member was harmed.

The following actions have been taken:
· Kevin Burnett, Coordinator of School Security for the HCPSS, was made aware of the incidents.
· David Bruzga, Director of Secondary Schools/ HCPSS, was consulted on the issue on Thursday, November 19th. Mr. Bruzga also personally visited Hammond High School today to walk the building and debrief on the incidents.
· Lt. Scott Chapman, Fire Marshall, was contacted by phone. Lt. Chapman came to Hammond High School on Thursday, November 19th to conduct an investigation. He walked the building and provided SRO Glen Weir and me with his assessment and recommendations.
· PTSA President, Mrs. Borowski, was informed of the incidents of malicious burning.
· A stand-up faculty meeting was held immediately after school Thursday to inform the staff of the incidents of malicious burning, and to provide them with information about next steps.
· This morning, a public address announcement was made to the school population, requesting information from the staff and students about any clue they may have relative to the incidents of malicious burning.

We will continue our investigation and move forward to keep our school safe. If any community member hears any information that might help us in our efforts, please contact Hammond High School at 410-313-7615. Please let the secretary know that you have information to share about the malicious burnings and that you need to speak with an administrator. Although these incidents are cause for concern, be assured that the entire staff of Hammond High school is being vigilant and working hard to maintain a safe learning environment for all students.

Friday, November 20, 2009

HCC Ponders Tuition Hike

The Sun says community college officials are talking about raising the $114 per credit tuition charge perhaps as much as $5 a credit, in part to cover pay raises for staff.

College board chairman T. James Truby noted the school "sustained state budget cuts each of the last three fiscal years," the Sun reported.

Although Truby did not specify an amount for a possible pay raise, an internal college staff committee has recommended a 6.5 percent increase, plus free tuition at the school for the dependents, spouses and domestic partners of staff members. [College president Kate] Hetherington noted, however, that the same committee recommended 9.5 percent more for this fiscal year, when no raise was granted.

Howard Community College's tuition is among the highest in Maryland, and $17 per credit of it goes to pay for interest on capital building projects and for financial aid to needy students. Requests for aid are up 40 percent, Truby said, and enrollment is also rising, as students realize community college is cheaper than a four-year institution.

New Water Meters Coming Our Way

From HoCo gov:

Howard County is getting ready to begin a long-term program to replace the radio transmitters on residential water meters. These transmitters transmit water usage data used to compute water bills. Current units are powered by batteries with a 10-year life span; the replacement units are expected to last 20 years.

While replacement of the oldest radio transmitters will begin immediately, others will not be scheduled until the batteries are due to wear out. Replacement of the entire residential system will take approximately eight years.

The Bureau of Utilities will contact residents and arrange for property access if the water meters are located inside the residence; the entire process should take no longer than 20 minutes and should not require service interruption. If water meters are located outdoors and property access is not required, no notification will be necessary.

As always, any county employee entering a home should always display official county government identification and arrive in a clearly marked county vehicle. For more information or if you have questions, visit the Bureau of Utilities website or call 410-313-4900.

General Growth Secures Financing

From WaPo via AP:

Mall operator General Growth Properties, which filed the largest U.S. real estate bankruptcy case in history earlier this year, said Thursday that its lenders have agreed to restructure some $8.9 billion in shopping mall mortgage loans.

The agreements, which cover loans on more than 70 malls, could enable some of the shopping centers to exit bankruptcy before the end of this year, the company said.

Thomas Nolan Jr., General Growth's president and chief operating officer, said he hoped the deals would lay the groundwork for restructuring another $6 billion in mortgage loans on other shopping malls.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Those Unburied TV Cables



The HoCo Council is considering whether to crack down on Comcast and Verizon for leaving cable and fiber optic lines out in the open, unburied for long periods of time.

Lori Sherwood, HoCo's cable administrator, said the county has received 75 complaints about unburied lines since the beginning of the year, more complaints than it has received for any other issue. There apparently have been reports that it has taken more than a year in some cases to deal with the lines. The Hickory Ridge Village Association, for instance, testified in favor of the bill, citing lines strung in trees and shrubs and run over streets.

"Despite the best efforts of Cable Administration to resolve these complaints, at times it takes 2-4
weeks to 2-4 months to resolve an unburied drop complaint," Sherwood said in her prepared testimony, which includes pics.

The proposed legislation would require temporary lines to be buried within 15 days. The company would have to notify the homeowners affected and the lines could not be "strung through trees, on top of equipment or shrubbery, across doors, and over structures."

The legislation would also allow companies to seek a 15-day extension after notifying the affected homeowners

We've personally had problems with Verizon -- it once took several weeks to get a line buried, even after we complained that neighborhood kids were using it to play tug of war. After many, many calls, the line was eventually removed. (As the picture above attests, a new temporary line has recently appeared in our backyards -- four days and counting).

Verizon, as it happens, claims the legislation would not apply to it because of the way the county crafted its franchise agreement. This, even as Tara Potter, Verizon Maryland's assistant vice president for external affairs, told the council Monday that unburied lines "could, if ignored, create a safety hazard."

Potter said the company is studying what it can do on its own. She said the new legislation is like putting a "cast on the arm when a Band-Aid would work."

The Ulman administration contends Verizon's legal interpretation is incorrect.

Comcast also opposes the legislation. It says the changes could create "unforeseen complications," possibly leaving people without service for long periods of time if construction to bury the lines can't be done in a timely manner, because of weather or because Miss Utility has not yet marked the site.

A representative said the company "dropped" 3,362 lines in 2008 and 2,910 so far this year -- the implication being that 75 complaints ain't that many.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stimulus And Playing Under The Lights

Our stimulus money at work: The U.S. Department of Energy is processing a $2.6 million grant that would, among other things, allow HoCo to swap out the lights at Cedar Lane Park with more energy efficient fixtures and bulbs (estimated to be 27 percent more efficient, saving $430,000 over the life of the lights).

The money would also be used to hire a energy management consultant for two years and, according to the Ulman administration, allow the county to buy an electric pick-up truck and new heating equipment for the county dump, buy special meters for county buildings, new indoor light fixtures for parks and rec, and purchase a diesel hybrid truck. The county would also hire and energy management consultant for two years. Oh, and HoCo would also establish a home-energy audit program for us, the taxpayers.

The lights are the big ticket item, costing about $1 million to install, according to testimony (about six minutes in) by Ira Levy, director technology and communications.

HoCo would decide whether to make the energy manager a permanent position after the two years, if he or she can save taxpayers at least as much money as a salary would pay.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Transit-inspired Development

We don't know what surprised us more about this story in the Sun-- that Coca-Cola never built a bottling plant off Coca-Cola Drive (didn't the county give them a sweetheart tax break and low-interest loans to do just that?) or that county officials claim they never considered the possibility that land near a commuter rail station might be ripe for development.

No matter, county planning director Marsha McLaughlin told the paper she welcomes a proposal by a developer to build a residential-office-retail complex near the MARC rail station in Elkridge. It would be the third such mixed-use proposal near an area MARC station, the others being by Savage and Laurel.

The Oxford Square project would be built off Coca-Cola Drive, near the Anne Arundel County line, and would include an unusual twist. The development would be situated just north of Route 100, while the Dorsey MARC station is south of the freeway. To bridge the gap, Lutherville-based developer Preston Partners Inc. has proposed a 1,400-foot-long walkway and bicycle path along the CSX railroad tracks on an existing street that goes under the highway. A transit stop inside the development would also feature shuttle service to the station.

A change to the land's industrial zoning wasn't considered during comprehensive rezoning in 2003 because Coca-Cola was still considering the bottling plant, though more than a decade had passed since it was proposed. Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Enterprises purchased the property for $15.1 million in 1992, when it planned a state-of-the-art bottling facility. The company never built a plant, in part because of shifting consumer tastes and the rising popularity of brands of water, juices and teas, a Coca-Cola spokesman said.

"We just never even looked at it, because it was on the other side of the tracks," McLaughlin said. "It wasn't high on the radar."

Monday, November 16, 2009

What Town Center Wants

Here's the testimony offered up by the people who currently live downtown.

(Or at least those who sit on the board of the Town Center Community Association)

Some highlights:

We are the people who now number 4,622 in 2,047 households, and we cannot conceive of or easily accept almost tripling our population by adding 5,500 new residential units requiring 8,250 parking spaces...

We believe the new Route 29 interchange at South entrance Road is imperative...

...bicycle lanes should be required on all major streets and roads...

We are the people, who being most affected by Downtown would like a meaningful voice as development proceeds...

We are the people who want a Downtown that is human-scale, and who thought that Columbians had arrived at a consensus that the height limit for Downtown would be 14 stories...

The Town Center Village Board has concerns about the appropriateness of naming a specific private entity in the county's General Plan...



Downtown Opportunity

It'll be interesting to see how far, if at all, the County Council veers off the script General Growth has drafted for downtown Columbia. At a hearing Saturday on the plan, we heard lots of pleas for amendments.

Many dealt with the proposal for 5,500 homes. Do we need that many? Could the increase be staged, with approval for some now, and the rest left for later? The financial impact studies made clear that revenue estimates are tied closely to whatever decision is made.

One idea that caught our attention was a proposal to turn the current pedestrian overpass on Route 29 into a transit bridge. This would serve a (bike?) and bus-only thoroughfare connecting HoCo General Hospital and the Community College to the new regional park envisioned for the old Smith Farm. In fact, one of the early Rouse plans envisioned a very similar circuit and set aside right-of-way for the purpose.

Fred Gottemoeller, an architect who designed the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Washington, said he is part of a group called Bridge Columbia. The longtime Columbia resident said the transit-way should be built instead of a new interchange near South Entrance Road, where construction could run into environmental permitting issues because of the flood plain. And the project could be done for a fraction of the cost.

Another plea came from the owner of family-owned Princeton Sports, who told the Council something we didn't know. Alan Davis said he owns his store off Little Patuxent Parkway but General Growth apparently controls what can be built on the land, and currently the site is restricted to a sporting goods use. Davis said the restriction limits how much money he can borrow against his property, hurting his flexibility at economic times like this.

He asked the Council to free him from the restriction, and his request made us wonder how many other landowners downtown face similar encumbrances, and what role such use restrictions have played in maintaining the status quo many find so dull.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Shop At The Mall - Get $10

OK, first you have to spend a cool $100. But hey it is the thought that counts.

From The Mall in Columbia:

Hop out of bed and get to the mall early on Friday, November 27 and Saturday, 28 to get your Merry Giving Giveaways!

Spend $100 or more before noon and receive a $10 Shop Etc. mall gift card and a bonus subscription to Martha Stewart Living magazine. To redeem, please bring your mall receipts to the Merry Giving Gift Zone.

Mall opens early; see Holiday Hours for details. Offer valid until noon each day while supplies last. See Terms & Conditions at the Merry Giving Gift Zone or at the Mall Office. Restrictions apply.

LOCATION: Shop throughout the center. Redeem receipts at the Merry Giving Gift Zone, located on the upper level, center court.

TIME: Shop before noon!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

An Elkhorn Walk Interrupted

From CA:

On Friday, November 13, a section of path will be closed from 7 to 11 a.m. The pedestrian bridge below the dam (near Broken Land Parkway) will be closed, as will the path north of the pavilion on the east side of the lake. This means that there is no way for pedestriations [pedestrians?] to complete the circuit on the pathway at Lake Elkhorn during that time. Signs will be posted indicating "Temporary Path Closure" and "DO NOT ENTER" on the path approaching the closed area. If the weather prohibits the scheduled construction activity to occur on Friday, the path closure will occur on Monday, November 16, from 7 to 11 a.m.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We're 1st To Ban Kids From Tanning Beds

HoCo's Health Board becomes first in nation to ban minors from using indoor tanning beds, according to ExploreHoward.

The proposal had the support of HoCo exec Ulman, county health officer Dr. Peter Beilenson and folks concerned about skin cancer. But not everyone is happy:

Bruce Bereano, a lobbyist representing the Indoor Tanning Association, said that in order to create such a regulation under Maryland code, the board needed to prove tanning for minors is a nuisance or causes a disease.

“This record is woefully inaccurate and deficient to support that minors using a tanning salon is a public nuisance or causes disease,” he said.

Bereano promised to challenge the decision. “We’ll see them in court,” he said after the vote.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Give A Gift Card

We saw this on the Town Center e-letter:

KidsKorner TV hosts Kristin and Jalen, from CA’s “Columbia Matters” TV show, are sponsoring a gift card donation drive for Howard County families in need this holiday season. Gift cards from grocery stores, Target and Wal-Mart will be given to Healthy Families Howard County, a free program that assists first-time parents in their new roles. The gift cards will assist local families when purchasing necessary pre-natal and baby items, such as vitamins, diapers and formula. Kristin and Jalen will present the donations to Healthy Families Howard County at their holiday dinner on November 24. The event will be filmed and featured on the December episode of “Columbia Matters.”

Community members can assist Kristin and Jalen by visiting the gift card trees set up at community associations in Dorsey’s Search, Harper’s Choice, Hickory Ridge, Kings Contrivance, Long Reach, Oakland Mills, River Hill, Town Center and Wilde Lake; the Columbia Art Center and Lakeside CafĂ©. They can also drop off or mail gift cards to Columbia Association, Attn. Columbia Matters TV Show/KidsKorner Holiday Campaign, 10221 Wincopin Circle, Columbia, MD 21044. The deadline to submit gift cards is Friday, November 20.

Healthy Families Howard County is part of the Healthy Families America initiative in the U.S. This free, national program identifies first-time parents in the community, aligns them with community resources and offers them support in their new role as parents. Program benefits include prenatal education; information on parenting skills, nutrition and health care; discounts on hospital educational classes; and more. For more information, please call 410-715-3716 or visit www.hcgh.org.

“Columbia Matters” is a monthly television show produced by the Columbia Association that provides fun and educational information to the residents of Columbia and Howard County. KidsKorner is a recurring segment on “Columbia Matters” that is hosted by local kids and highlights topics of interest to Howard County youth. Please visit www.ColumbiaMatters.org to view past segments.

For more information on “Columbia Matters” or the KidsKorner Holiday Campaign, please contact “Columbia Matters” Producer Mary Weeks at 443-864-0556.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Getting Stung By Zoning Rules

Apparently some of our local honey bees are not bee-having. They are refusing to obey the county's requirement that their hives bee kept 200 feet from the property line.

And they are ignoring the county's adequate public facility ordinance for roads and schools!

All joking aside, HoCo currently requires beekeepers to maintain the same setbacks as those who run other livestock operations -- to the consternation of backyard honey-makers. It's worse in Columbia, where zoning rules bar "farming."

But that could change. The Council is considering new rules that would ease the requirement for apiaries, and allow hives to remain as close as 10 feet to a lot line.

We first heard the buzz about this change from the Howard County Beekeepers Association.

Last Fall, the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) of Howard County, Maryland interpreted the existing laws resulting in the classification of "livestock" to include bees and beehives.

This interpretation will affect the majority of beekeepers in Howard County, the lone backyard beekeeper who is often considered the backbone of beekeeping, forcing them discontinue this time honored profession.

Since then, Howard County Beekeepers Assn (HCBA) has been working closely with the Howard County Council to insure a viable & vibrant beekeeping community will continue to flourish.

County Council Members Mary Kay Sigaty and Greg Fox have proposed a bill "to allow apiaries to be located within the current 200 foot setback on residential lots under certain conditions....." is ZRA-117.


The association noted that some people expressed reservations about the zoning change. According to the May 18 minutes of the Hickory Ridge Village Association:

Several residents expressed concerns about having hives within proximity of children or people with bee venom allergies.

The county has proposed these rules:

1. THE MINIMUM SETBACK FOR APIARIES SHALL BE 25 FEET FROM THE LOT LINE EXCEPT THAT APIARIES MAY BE LOCATED AT LEAST 10 FEET FROM THE LOT LINE, PROVIDED THAT AN APPROPRIATE BEE FLIGHT PATH IS ESTABLISHED BY:
A. SITUATING APIARIES AT LEAST 6 FEET ABOVE THE GROUND; OR
B. SITUATING APIARIES BEHIND A SOLID FENCE, HEDGE, OR OTHER BARRIER THAT IS AT LEAST 6 FEET IN HEIGHT AND RUNNING PARALLEL TO THE PROPERTY LINE AND DIRECTING APIARY ENTRANCES AWAY FROM NEIGHBORING PROPERTIES: AND
2. THE FOLLOWING ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS FOR ALL ACCESSORY USE APIARIES ARE MET:
A. APIARIES SHALL BE BUFFERED FROM ADJACENT PROPERTIES;
B. APIARIES SHALL BE RESTRICTED TO SIDE AND REAR YARDS;
C. A WATER SUPPLY SHALL BE PROVIDED TO MINIMIZE BEES FROM SEEKING WATER IN NEIGHBORING SWIMMING POOLS, BIRDBATHS, PONDS, OR OTHER COMMUNITY BODIES OF WATER; AND
D. APIARIES SHALL COMPLY WITH MARYLAND DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE REGULATIONS AS THEY PERTAIN TO BEEKEEPING, BE OPERATED TO ADHERE TO BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES AND MAINTAINED IN A CONDITION THAT WILL REASONABLY PREVENT SWARMING AND DEFENSIVE BEHAVIOR.

Sportsmanship

Earlier this week we read with interest a story in WaPo about a new crackdown on endzone celebrations in high school football.

Seems a Northern Virginia player was penalized for chest-bumping his teammate after a touchdown, and he earned a one-game suspension (later overturned) in the playoffs.

Such discipline is becoming more commonplace:

In the Washington area this fall, a wide receiver from 13th-ranked McNamara was flagged for pointing to the sky after a touchdown, and a Gwynn Park defender was penalized for pointing up at the sky after intercepting a pass. The player, who said after the game that the gesture was a tribute to his deceased grandfather, nonetheless cost his team yardage.

"What's happening is in the old days, there was a certain level of celebration that was allowed. Now it's basically no celebration," said Bill McGregor, who is in his 28th year as head coach at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville.

There are some who view the crackdown as necessary -- ridding the high school game of the scripted Sharpie-in-the-sock, cellphone-in-the-goalpost-padding type of touchdown celebrations that first appeared in the NFL a few years ago. Yet, just as the cleanup of those routines earned the NFL a new nickname -- the No Fun League -- so too has the recent emphasis on toning down player celebrations in high school left many coaches, players and spectators asking: How far can you go before you take the joy out of the sport?

It seems some folks at Reservoir High are asking the same question, according to this column by Stan Ber.

School administrators tried to enforce a no-standing rule during the homecoming game.

Years ago, we had an incident where at a high school basketball game, one side would stand and taunt the other side and then the other side would do the same in return.

There was potential for trouble at that game, so the county's interscholastic sports committee decided to institute a rule against standing en masse at athletic events. The purpose was to eliminate potential harassing and to maintain control of the situation.

Then came the Oct. 31 homecoming at Reservoir High School. The students were coming off the usual pep rally, spirit days and were filled with all the excitement that homecoming generates. So they tried to stand and cheer -- only to be told to sit down by an administration that wanted to enforce the no-standing policy. That led to "Let us stand" chants and by the second quarter Reservoir parents were standing in support of their kids.


We can see all sides, but hooo-boy what a mess.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The $440,000 Condo

We certainly are no real estate experts. But we were intrigued by one of assumptions used in the county's recent report on the revenues that might be generated by new downtown Columbia development.

General Growth Properties estimated that the average market value for the condo units in their proposed plan to be $440,000. The fiscal impact committee reviewed this value along with some comparables and concluded it was acceptable. It may be a conservative estimate based on the recently constructed comparables shown below, although location plays a big part in values.

Note that $440,000 is an average. And the average might be conservative, planners say.

It turns out the numbers are based on average sales prices recorded from 2005 through 2009, with 2005 arguably being close to peak of the housing boom. So we took a look at one of the projects cited -- the Carleton House in Reston Town Center, built in 2005 so you would assume lots of sales occurred when the place first opened. For the period, sales prices there averaged $402,750 for a unit based on the average size envisioned by GGP.

A random, totally unscientific Google search produced this listing for the Carleton now: $244,900 for a one-bedroom one-bath condo.

OK, so we looked at another, more recent project: The Palladium in Rockville Town Center, built in 2007. The planners said the average price for a GGP-comparable unit was $510,960.

Our random search: $359,000 for a one-bedroom, one-bath beauty, which is under contract.

On the other hand, there is this listing for a two-bedroom, two-bath condo that's been on the market for more than a month: $599,500.

The bottom line is that trying to figure what anything will fetch over the 30-year life of a project like this, given where we are now, is fraught with difficulty. If the world knew how to accurately price real estate, we probably wouldn't be in the fix we're in.

One thing is for sure: GGP is basing its economics on those numbers. And the county, for now, is going along.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

HoCo Turns Attention To Party House

The Sun continues to push on details surrounding the Halloween shooting that left one dead and another young man paralyzed -- and it is turning up some new information about the county's response to another party at the home.

In addition to the alleged shooter and his friend, authorities are investigating the owner of the house that hosted the party, the Sun reported.

A music company apparently promoted Saturday's event on Facebook.

Howard County Police Chief William McMahon said Monday that investigators found wristbands in the house, usually a sign that admission had been charged, and had talked with "the homeowner."

A police spokeswoman said shots apparently were also fired near the house during a previous party, according to the Sun.

According to Sherry Llewellyn, police were called about 3 a.m. June 20 to the 11000 block of Manorstone Lane after complaints from neighbors. Investigators reported that shots were fired "in the air" outside the house by someone driving by. No one was injured, and no arrests were made. "There was some sort of altercation," Llewellyn said.

Earlier the Sun spoke with the grandmother of one of the victims, who told the paper one of the suspects was no stranger.

Nathaniel Quick and Devin Dixon were friends at Mayfield Middle School in Elkridge, but lost touch in high school. After Quick was shot at a Halloween party in Columbia over the weekend, Dixon visited his former friend's grandmother, who said the shooting left the young man paralyzed.

Dixon broke down in tears.

A few hours after the visit, Dixon was arrested by Howard County police and charged with the attempted murder of his former friend, and the murder of a 19-year-old Silver Spring man.


Police have said they don't believe the victims were targeted. They recovered as many as 21 shell casings from a Glock handgun at the scene.

Parents, Teachers Prefer A Later Start

From HoCo schools:

The majority of parents and HCPSS staff who responded to a brief survey concerning next year’s school calendar prefer to have students return on Monday, August 30, 2010. The HCPSS Academic Calendar Committee looked at two options for start dates for next year based on how late Labor Day will fall. But the earlier option of Monday, August 23 was less popular with respondents.

Over 57 percent of the 2289 HCPSS staff members who responded to the question preferred the August 30 start date. Sixty percent of the 2210 parents who responded preferred August 30.

HCPSS Director of Public Relations Patti Caplan, who chairs the Calendar Committee, says the survey results weighed heavily in the committee’s decision to recommend the later date. The survey not only helped the committee gather input but also informed parents and staff that schools will be closed for a primary and a general election next year, which will extend the school year a bit further into June.

“We wanted everyone to know that starting that late in August, coupled with the additional days off for elections, would result in the school year ending on June 16,” Caplan explains. That’s without inclement weather make-up days, she adds.

The proposed 2010-2011 academic calendar will be presented to the Board of Education on Thursday, November 5, and will then be available for review on the school system’s website. The Board will hold a public hearing on the proposed calendar on Thursday, December 10 and take action on January 14.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Planners: New Downtown Makes $$$

The Department of Planning and Zoning's fiscal impact analysis for downtown Columbia is in and it projects that HoCo would net anywhere from $6.9 million to $13.4 million annually on average over the life of the 30-year development.

After 30 years, when everything is built, the county would net between roughly $17 million and $30 million annually in revenues.

The range is largely dependent on the type of housing that is built downtown,the planners said. A lower-priced mix of units attracting lots of kids would generate less revenue for the county; that's because real estate taxes would be lower and the burden on public schools would be higher. High-priced units that yield fewer kids would potentially produce the most revenue.

General Growth has proposed adding 5,500 condos, apartments and other forms of housing downtown.

Planners applied current per capita expenditures and existing levels of service to the proposed development and threw in future costs such as the need to build new interchanges at Route 29/South Entrance Road and Routes 29/175 to handle increased traffic. They even took a conservative approach to the county's transportation costs. In the past, the county has split 50-50 the cost of building Route 29 interchanges with the state. Under its analysis for downtown, planners assumed the state would only fork over 25 percent of the cost.

The council said it would post the analysis on its Web site (it doesn't appear to be public yet UPDATE: Here's a link to the report. Go here and search for "Downtown Columbia FIA" for the PowerPoint used in the presentation). We gleaned these details from watching the broadcast.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Police: Investigation Not Done

It's sounding like the victims of the Halloween night shooting might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

From an account in the Sun:

"There's a tremendous amount of work left to be done," Police Chief William McMahon said. "We still need the public, which has been very, very critical in getting us to this stage of the investigation. We still need additional information to bring this to a successful conclusion."

McMahon said he does not anticipate any more arrests in the shooting.

According to police, Dixon and Schroyer left the party, and upon exiting, Dixon fired back toward the house, striking Brice. Police said they found 21 casings from a 40 mm Glock. One of the bullets went through a basement window, striking Quick in the spine.

McMahon said investigators had yet to determine exactly why Dixon shot at the house. There were a number of altercations at the house during the party, but police do not believe there was any incident between Dixon and Brice. According to McMahon, issues such as whether people were being charged admission to the party were being investigated.

Police Arrest 2 In Halloween Slaying

From HoCo PD:

Howard County police arrested two men overnight and charged them in the shooting death of a man at a Halloween party in Columbia early Sunday morning.

Devin, a.k.a. “Devon,” O’Brian Dixon, 22, of 8014 Paul Martin Drive in Elkridge, was charged with the murder of Aaron Brice and the attempted murder of Nathaniel Quick, who may be paralyzed as a result of his injury.

Dean Schroyer, 21, also of 8014 Paul Martin Drive in Elkridge, was charged as an accessory to the murder after the fact and a drug violation.

Police received multiple calls from partygoers at a home in the 11500 block of Manorstone Lane around 1:15 a.m. Nov. 1 indicating that shots had been fired at the residence.

Police responded to the scene and found more than 100 people at the house. They located Brice deceased in the driveway and Quick suffering from a gunshot wound in the basement.

Investigators spent hours talking to partygoers and gathering information about the incident. Through investigation, detectives received information that identified Dixon as the shooter and Schroyer as the driver of the car in which Dixon fled from the party after the shooting.

Detectives believe an unknown altercation may have lead to the shooting. Investigators served a search warrant at the suspects’ home and seized a handgun that may have been used in the shooting. Police also seized approximately three pounds of marijuana, leading to a drug possession charge for Schroyer.

Dixon was charged with murder, attempted murder, and assault, and is being held at the Howard County Detention Center on no bond. Schroyer was charged with being an accessory to murder after the fact and drug possession, and is being held at the same detention center on $50,000 bond.

Tires Slashed in Hickory Ridge

We saw this on various news sites. Here's a short in the Sun:

More than four-dozen residents of a Howard County neighborhood awakened Saturday to find tires on their cars slashed or punctured. Howard County police said that the vandalism took place between midnight and 6 a.m. on five streets in the Clemens Crossing neighborhood of Hickory Ridge in Columbia. About 50 residents who live on Blue Arrow Court, Eclipse Way, Fair Oaks, Quarter Staff Road and White Washer Way were affected.

NBC in Washington
said police suspect the vandals may be kids familiar with the neighborhood.

Police said they believe this is an isolated incident and that it was done by youngsters familiar with the neighborhood. They are offering a reward of up to $300 to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest of a suspect.

Police are encouraging anyone with information to call 410-313-3700. Callers may remain anonymous.

Police Investigate Halloween Homicide

ABC Channel 2 says the shooting occurred during a party at a home in Clarksville that drew more than 100 people.

Just after 1 a.m. Sunday, police discovered the body of 19-year-old Aaron Brice, of Silver Spring, in the driveway. Nathaniel Quick, 22, of Columbia, was found in the basement in critical condition. He is expected to survive, but it is likely he will be paralyzed.

Neighbors called police back in June after hearing another loud party at the same house.

"We have been to this residence in the past. It's our understanding that the homeowner was renting out the house for the purposes of having a party," said Howard County Police Spokesman Sherry Llewellyn.