Monday, May 31, 2010

Pathway Police

Little did we know that taking the puppy out for her early morning constitutional made us a lawbreaker!

HoCo PD and the CA are co-sponsoring a new site on safety and May's tip no. 1 surprised us:

Pathways are closed from dusk until dawn. Do not use pathways after dark – it is against the law.

...soooo, no more moonlight strolls after a quiet dinner at Clyde's, we guess. Or how about all those kids who use the paths to get to high school before dawn? And it'll be interesting to see how this is enforced July 4th.

Of course, pathway safety is a concern. But is the answer to make sure no one uses them?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Who Say WL Needs A Grocery?

One of the more provocative bloggers around these parts, Frank Hecker, serves up some food for thought on Wilde Lake's lack of a traditional grocery:

I’m just a na├»ve outsider from Ellicott City, but this is something I’ve never understood. I go to Wilde Lake Village Center all the time, and it doesn’t exactly strike me as a "food desert". In particular, I regularly go to shop at David’s Natural Market, which certainly has food for the table, has milk for the kids, and may even have diapers for all I know (I’ve never checked).

So why exactly doesn’t David’s qualify as a grocery store according to [county council candidate Alan Klein] and others? Is it because it isn’t a real grocery store (doesn’t have national brands, has a limited selection)? Because it’s not the right kind of grocery store (patronized primarily by "outsiders", too "crunchy" for the people of Wilde Lake)? Because it’s not a basic grocery store (which I presume is a code word for "cheap")? I don’t mean to be snarky here, I’m genuinely interested in what’s going on here (beyond just nostalgia for the Giant that was and is no more).

I’m not an expert on the economics of retail development, but I presume that if the economics were favorable for a traditional supermarket at Wilde Lake then the Giant would still be there.

Hecker goes on to do some rough math on how much it would cost to subsidize David's prices to make them more affordable to people who cannot easily travel to cheaper options -- and calculates it would be less than Howard's Healthy Howard initiative.

Now, I’ll fess up: I’m writing here partly with tongue in cheek. ("What, you’re going to tax us more so that people in Wilde Lake can buy tofurkey at David’s! The very idea!") But I’m also trying to make a serious point: If the county can’t simply wave a magic wand and make a grocery appear in Wilde Lake (as I and others believe), and if there’s really a serious question of social justice here (as Alan Klein claims), then Klein and other who agree with him owe it to the taxpayers of Howard County to actually put a price tag on solving the problem that they claim exists, and make the case to the voters that paying that price is worth it in order to make Columbia and Howard County the sort of place we all want it to be.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Yield To Triathletes

From HoCo PD:

Major traffic delays are expected on Sunday, May 23, on Md. 108 from Columbia Road to Harper’s Farm Road due to the Columbia Triathlon. Motorists are advised to use caution when sharing the roads with an anticipated 2,000 participants.

From 6:45 a.m. to noon, Md. 108 will be closed to eastbound traffic from Harper’s Farm Road to Ten Mills Road.

Delays are anticipated along the following roadways, where participants will be given the right of way:

Running route (6.2 miles)
• Old Annapolis Road
• Carillon Drive
• Cross Country Drive
• Century Drive
• Colonial Drive
Cycling route (25.2 miles)
• Homewood Road
• Folly Quarter Road
• Triadelphia Road
• Triadelphia Mill Road
• Green Bridge Road
• Howard Road
• Linthicum Road
Howard County police officers will direct traffic at all major intersections.

Motorists are advised that race participants have the right of way.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Budget Bits

The County Council passed $824 million operating budget on a 4-1 vote, with Republican Greg Fox the lone nay, according to the ExploreHoward blog.

Amid talk of a weak economy and the need for fiscal responsibility, the Howard County Council passed an $824 million operating budget Wednesday, guaranteeing unpaid furlough days for county employees and cuts to local bus routes while boosting a community services emergency fund.

Council member Calvin Ball sent in his District 2 highlights, which include money to move forward with Blandair Park:

US Route 1 Corridor Revitalization (C0285) $2,000,000

A project to plan, design and implement a series of streetscape, pedestrian, bicycle and public green space improvements on public property. Revitalization of the US1 Corridor is a priority under the General Plan 2000. The purpose is to invest public funds in community enhancement projects that will spur revitalization by the private sector, promote economic development, improve public safety and enhance the quality of life in existing older neighborhoods.

Storm Drainage Project, Lincoln Drive at Cedar Village Park (D1155) $340,000

A project to eliminate the freezing of runoff on Lincoln Drive and Cedar Avenue. There is an inadequate drainage system to carry the runoff from the park side of the road to the outfall side of the road. I have advocated for this funding as a means to address this issue.

Bellows Spring Elementary Addition (E1018) $4,850,000

A plan to provide additional classroom space and additional core infrastructure space. Additional space is likely to include space for 100 students (4 classrooms) above existing capacity (Grade 1-5), an art room, a music room, a gym activity room and a cafetorium expansion. I was driven to have this funding included because it is expected that by 2011, the number of students in Grades 1-5 will exceed capacity by 275.

Snowden River Parkway Widening (J4222) $985,000

A project to design and construct a widening of Snowden River Parkway by adding a third lane and sidewalks on the eastbound roadway from Broken Land Parkway to Oakland Mills Road. This project will develop the third lane and increase the capacity of the roadway and provide an improved level of service. It was important for me to have this project funded as I have received numerous concerns from my constituents to install sidewalks in this area to create a more walkable environment along Snowden River Parkway.

US1 Projects (J4233) $500,000

A project to design and construct transportation improvements along the US1 corridor. The US1 revitalization program intends that the entire length of the road be changed over time to reflect the approved streetscape design. Each year, I vigorously advocate for funding towards Route 1 revitalization projects as these are necessary enhancements for those who live, work or travel along this area.

Oakland Mills Road/ MD175 Interchange (J4237) $1,500,000

A project to design and construct a new MD175/Oakland Mills Road interchange and the re-alignment of Oakland Mills through the proposed Blandair Park. The project will provide access to the proposed Blandair Park as shown on the approved master plan for the park. The improvements will also provide vicinity roadway network connectivity and capacity for the area bordering the southside of the park.

Route 1, Route 175 to Port Capital Drive (J4241) $750,000

A project to design and reconstruct approximately 2300 feet of US Rte 1 from MD Rte 175 and Port Capital. These improvements will be the first County capital project to implement the Route 1 Corridor Improvement Strategy which includes a new roadway typical section.

Troy Park & Historic Rehabilitation (N3957) $1,944,000

A project to acquire an additional 5 acres, rehabilitate an 1820 historic house, and design and construct a 106-acre Regional Park at MD100 and US 1. This project conforms to the goals and objectives of the 1999 Comprehensive Recreation, Parks and Open Space Plan, and the 2005 Land Preservation, Recreation and Parks Plan. It was necessary to fight for funding towards this project as this park will provide needed recreation facilities for our Elkridge residents and those in surrounding areas. This project is a key component to the US1 Corridor Revitalization effort.

US29/ Broken Land Parkway 30” Water Main (W8265) $410,000

Project for replacement of 1,000 LF of 30” diameter water main in the vicinity of US29 and Broken Land Parkway(Phase 2) and construction of 2,400 LF of 36” water main to parallel the existing main (Phase 1). The 30 inch diameter transmission main is the major water supply serving this area of Howard County. An acoustic monitoring of the transmission main revealed premature failures of the prestressing wires in the reinforced concrete cylinder pipe. The failures are attributed to stray electrical currents in the area. This capital project will replace the affected portions of the pipeline and provide protective measures against future failures. The parallel main is needed to meet the increased demands as outlined in the Master Plan and I was pleased to advocate for funding towards this maintenance project.

Blandair Regional Park (N3102) $1,461,000

A project to master plan, design and construct a 298 acre regional park, and restore the 19th century Blandair Mansion and out buildings located off MD 175 in Columbia. This project has been identified in the 2005 Land Preservation, Recreation and Parks Plan and is endorsed by the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board, and the Blandair Planning Committee.

Parkland Acquisition Program (Blandair, N3103) $1,766,000

This project establishes a fund for County-wide park land acquisition and related expenses. This project allows the County to move quickly to acquire land which becomes available, and satisfies one or more of the following objectives: addresses State and County Greenway objectives, protects sensitive natural resources threatened by development, acquire additions to existing parks, and/or satisfies park and open space needs as identified in the 2005 Land Preservation, Recreation and Parks Plan.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Curious Contribution

Call us nosy.

We're all for getting something for nothing, and all for remaking Symphony Woods. But it strikes us as odd that an anonymous nonprofit that does not hail from Howard County wants to donate $250,000 to CA to remake the downtown park (to be matched by public funds that a great number of politicians are taking credit for). Is anyone else just a little curious about what might motivate a group to do that?

From the Sun:

Columbia Association President Phil Nelson said the nonprofit is headquartered outside Howard County and insisted on anonymity or would rescind the gift. The CA has budgeted $1.2 million for planning and to begin construction in the year that began May 1 and $1.4 million more next fiscal year. Work should begin next spring, officials said.

Silly Ban

Oh those crazy kids. For the uninitiated, Silly Bandz are these rubber band thingys that take the shape of animals and other objects when they are not stretched.

Apparently they are becoming a nuisance.

From a Clarksville Elementary note to parents:

Silly bands have been a huge distraction to instruction. These are multi-colored rubber bands that students have been wearing around their wrists. With that in mind we are imposing a ban on Silly Bands at school. We have announced to students that Silly Bands should not be worn to school or kept in or on their backpacks. The feedback we have been getting from teachers is that these bands have been a serious distraction to the instructional program. Should you have any questions, feel free to contact Mr. Herling.

We would greatly appreciate your support with this.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Former Home Expo Site Has New Owner

We're told the former Home Expo site is going to be a new home for Toys R Us/Babies R Us combo store.

Acquired in Conjunction with MCB Real Estate to Execute Remerchandising Plan

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 18, 2010) – Madison Marquette announced today that it has acquired a land parcel that includes a 90,000 square foot former Home Expo Design Center in Columbia, Maryland. The acquisition was made in conjunction with MCB Real Estate.

“There is tremendous opportunity to enhance the value of this real estate by bringing in great retail concepts that are needed in the community,” said Jay Lask, Managing Director of Investments of Madison Marquette.

The parcel spans 10 acres and is part of Columbia Center II, a retail center located at the Northwest corner of Snowden River Parkway and Dobbin Road, and approximately two miles west of I-95. The center is part of a retail corridor that includes Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Costco, Panera Bread and other marquee national retail concepts.

“Columbia, Maryland has been a strong market since its inception and there is pent up demand from national retailers to serve this area,” said David Bramble, Managing Partner of MCB Real Estate.

In conjunction with the acquisition, a new lease has been executed for a 63,000 square foot national retail concept. The build-out of the new space has already begun and is expected to open later this year in time for the holiday season. It will occupy a portion of the former Expo Design Center and leave additional retail space available.

“We are very pleased to have this deal in place already and are actively working with a number of other retail concepts to occupy the remaining space,” said Mr. Lask.

The acquisition was made as part of the Madison Marquette Retail Enhancement Fund.

Madison Marquette is a Washington, D.C.-based investor, developer and operator of retail and retail mixed-use real estate throughout the United States. The company specializes in creating unique retail destinations that respond best to consumer preferences. With regional offices in Fort Lauderdale, Philadelphia, New York, Charlotte, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Diego, Madison Marquette seeks investment opportunities in growing markets. The company maintains a sophisticated in-house operating capability and oversees 18 million square feet of retail real estate. This diverse national portfolio includes many properties that Madison Marquette manages and leases on behalf of third-party owners. For more information about the company, please visit

MCB Real Estate, LLC is a Baltimore based real estate investment company specializing in retail, industrial and office acquisitions in East Coast markets. More information on MCB is available on line at

Monday, May 17, 2010

Police Warn Of Man Touching Female Joggers

From HoCo PD:

Howard County police are investigating two incidents in Columbia where a man followed women and touched them inappropriately.

In the first incident, which occurred March 29 around 6 p.m., a 28-year-old Columbia woman reported she was jogging on Vollmerhausen Drive near Dragon Claw when an unknown male suspect approached her from behind and began to follow her.

The victim reported suspect bent down to tie his shoe and touched her inappropriately as she jogged past him. The suspect continued to follow the woman, and when she approached a resident on Polished Stone and called for help, the suspect fled eastbound on Vollmerhausen.

In the second incident, which occurred on May 10 at approximately 5:45 p.m., a 22-year-old Columbia woman reported she was running on Vollmerhausen Drive near Early Spring Way when a man of a similar description bent down to tie his shoe and then began to follow her. She said the man touched her inappropriately before she was able to run away.

In both incidents, police searched the area but were unable to locate the suspect. He is described as a black male; 18 to 30 years old; 5 feet, 6 inches tall; 180 pounds; dark complexion; short hair; round cheeks with acne or razor bumps; and an oval face.

In the first case, he was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt with the hood up, baggy navy blue jeans with the bottoms rolled up and white tennis shoes with blue symbols on them. In the second case, he was wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, baggy navy blue jeans and black high-top sneakers.

Police offer the following safety tips for residents walking or jogging on sidewalks or pathways:

• Familiarize yourself with the area, and know your route before you travel. • Stay on the designated sidewalks and pathways, and do not venture off into isolated areas.
• When possible, bring a buddy.
• If traveling alone, tell family or friends where you are going and when you expect to return.
• Stay alert, and carry a cell phone.
• Do not wear headphones because they may distract you from your surroundings.
• If a stranger approaches, follows you or makes you feel uncomfortable, turn around, call police and head toward a group of people or a home.

Police have increased patrols in the area on bike, on foot and in cars. Anyone with information is urged to call 410-313-STOP. Callers may remain anonymous. If you notice a suspicious person in the area, call 911.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Giving Up On Cradlerock?

From the ExploreHoward blog:

Howard County school system officials said Tuesday night they are leaning toward returning Cradlerock School, the county’s only kindergarten through eighth-grade program, to two separate schools in the face of complaints from parents and teachers.

“We’re an elementary and middle school organization,” said Linda Wise, the school system’s chief academic officer, at the meeting with parents and teachers at the Columbia school. “We know how to do elementary and middle very well.”

However, Wise said keeping the current configuration or restructuring the administrative team are also still on the table as options.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Prom Scare

Talk about being scared straight. Wilde Lake High School prepared parents for its "Every 15 Minutes" program today and tomorrow, as the school gets ready for prom and graduation season.

During the first day, the "Grim Reaper" calls students who have been selected from a cross-section of the entire student body from class. One senior and one junior will be removed from class every 15 minutes. A designated staff member will immediately enter the classroom to read an obituary which written explaining the circumstances of their classmate's demise and the contributions the student made to the school and the community. A few minutes later, the student will place a tombstone in a mock cemetery and return to class as the "living dead," wearing a black Every 15 Minutes t-shirt. From that point on, "victims" will not speak or interact with other students or staff for the remainder of the school day.

On the second day, the student body will view a video about the dangers of drug and alcohol use and have an opportunity to sign the prom promise. It is our goal that this will be a well-received educational experience for our entire student body and that it will lead to a safe and enjoyable end of the school year for all of our students.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Lesson In Oral Hygiene

This arrangement at Swansfield Elementary caught our eye when we saw it in an e-mail to parents.

Swansfield Elementary school is again working with the Chase Brexton Dental Clinic to provide health education and free oral screenings, fluoride treatments, and sealants to students in grades Kindergarten through Second.

The dates for these services will be Monday, May 10th which will be the educational segment that all students in these grades will receive. The actual screening, fluoride and sealant (if needed) segment will be on Monday, May 17th. A consent form will be sent home with students in these grades soon. You must sign the consent form and return it to the school health room in order for your child to receive the services.

All consent forms need to be returned to school by Wednesday, May 5th. If oral health concerns are identified, Chase Brexton may be able to help in providing follow up dental services as needed. Please call the school health room if you have any questions about this program.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Charity Case

The ExploreHoward blog says Columbia Association leaders want to turn something called Friends of Columbia into a charitable, non-profit organization that can accept grants and donations for CA projects.

At its April 29 meeting, board members asked CA staff to provide them with explicit instructions for moving forward with the Friends of Columbia, which is designed to support CA projects open to the public, such as Symphony Woods Park, pathways, and upgrades and maintenance at the community's three lakes and related watersheds.

CA President Phillip Nelson said moving ahead with the Friends organization is "critical."

"Without a 501(c)(3) status, we can't apply for grants, we can't compete for grants. It all has to come out of our capital budget," he said. "Without it, we're at a disadvantage."

According to Rafia Siddiqui, CA's vice president of administrative services, CA's first attempt to become a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) was denied by the IRS in 1983, as the association itself does not qualify for such status. CA is a 501(c)(4) -- a nonprofit organization that is not eligible to accept donations that are tax-deductible for the donor.

Board member Alex Hekimian, of Oakland Mills, questioned why previous momentum to create the Friends organization seemed to go "off a cliff."

In 2005, CA officially created Friends of Columbia as a separate legal entity by submitting articles of incorporation to the state Department of Assessments and Taxation. The process stalled there, however, as the CA board could not agree on the composition of the "Friends" board.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sniff, Sniff

We just catching up on our e-mail and saw this notice from Oakland Mills:

In a Memorandum of Understanding Between the Howard County Department of Police and the Howard County Public School System Regarding Canine Drug Scans of High School Facilities:

This is to notify you that periodic drug scans will be conducted on school premises by K-9 teams from the Howard County Department of Police.

Today (5-6-10) a HCPD Canine Drug Scan Unit conducted a scan of the OMHS parking lot. This action is being taken to protect you and to work towards a drug-free school environment.

We thank everyone for their cooperation during the scan.

No word on whether the canines detected anything.

Oh, Canada

Lots of coverage late last week on a bankruptcy court ruling that leaves Canadian real estate investor Brookfield Asset Management first in line to buy General Growth Properties.

Under the latest reorganization plan GGP would be split in two with its extensive collection of malls in one bucket (including own own) and other real estate, like, er, um, its downtown Columbia holdings in another. Brookfield would control the first, and may wind up with the second pending the outcome of a stock sale.

Rival mall owner Simon Group made a lot of noise after the decision suggesting it was done bidding for GGP, but there's some chatter on Wall Street that it might try one more time. The GGP board so far has spurned Simon's offer, citing among other things concerns a deal would be blocked on antitrust grounds because Simon would end up controlling half the malls in America.

Simon has dismissed that argument, saying there's plenty of competition to malls from other forms of retail.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Campaigning in Columbia

One of the themes emerging in the state's gubernatorial candidate is the economy. We saw this on WaPo's Maryland Politics blog:

As Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) continued to tout job gains in Maryland last month, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) on Thursday put a spotlight on a Howard County company that has shed nearly two-thirds of its employees in recent years.

Ehrlich took his comeback campaign to E&G Classics of Columbia, a manufacturer of automotive restyling products, including grilles, vents and trim products.

In 2004 and 2005, when Ehrlich was governor, the company had about 250 employees. Today, that number is down to 86, company officials said.

"That's not progress," Ehrlich said at a brief news conference following a tour of the business. "That's not how we measure progress in the state of Maryland."

In an interview, Lynn Eash, a part owner and general manager of E&G Classics, said state policies -- including a spike in unemployment insurance rates -- have made it more difficult to balance the books. But Eash blamed the loss of employees largely on the national recession, which he said hit his industry before many others.

"I think it's just the general economic problems," he said.

In campaign stops in recent days, O'Malley has cited as evidence of progress under his leadership a report that shows Maryland added 35,800 jobs last month. Economists have said such gains were largely offset by an influx of unemployed people who resumed their job search after having left the labor force.

Ehrlich also used his stop in Columbia to continue chiding O'Malley for Northrop Grumman's decision to relocate its corporate headquarters to Virginia rather than Maryland.

"Maryland was never even in the game," Ehrlich said. "I don't want Maryland to be treated like junior varsity."

O'Malley has said the relocation of the defense giant's headquarters is a victory for the entire region and congratulated Virginia officials.

By John Wagner | April 29, 2010; 11:59 AM ET

Bye-Bye Bell

We saw this on the Town Center listserv:

The Town Center Bell Tower structure at Lake Kittamaqundi has been deemed a safety liability and will be removed in late May or early June depending on permit process. Once demolition has begun, the project will take an estimated one week to complete. Replacement or restructuring of the Bell Tower will be postponed until it can be completed within the context of the new downtown redevelopment master plan.

The Columbia Association (CA) recently commissioned Century Engineering to perform a structural survey to assess the structural integrity of the tower. Major deficiencies in the structure were found. Their recommendation to CA staff was to replace the tower. CA’s Chief Operations Officer Rob Goldman states, “Residents’ safety is our main concern, and the current condition of the Bell Tower creates safety and liability concerns. By removing the structure now and delaying replacement until downtown redevelopment plans have been finalized, we can ensure that we will have a safe lakefront area that enhances the Columbia community.”

After receiving the report from the structural engineer, the immediate removal of the four flag poles mounted near the top of the Bell Tower was ordered and completed. The request for bids to demolish the Bell Tower has been issued and the permit process has begun. The flag poles, the carillon and other reusable parts will be safely stored until further notice.

The Town Center Bell Tower structure has been a concern for some time. Replacement was first proposed by CA staff in 2006. At that time replacement was delayed so that shared funding with The Rouse Company (now General Growth Properties) could be pursued and so that any downtown redevelopment planning could be considered. An initial review of the structure was undertaken in 2007 by KCI Technologies, with subsequent inspections by Century Engineering in 2008, 2009 and most recently in April 2010. Since 2007, approximately $37,000 has been spent to reinforce the Bell Tower. These expenditures have extended the life of the Bell Tower by three years.

For more information, please contact Rob Goldman at 410-715-3121.