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Downtown Drama

Last night, I attended the pre-submission community meeting for GGP’s proposed new development at the mall. I’ll let you read about the drama that ensued here.

One of the things that kept coming up during the question and answer portion of the evening was the fact that the documents and renderings displayed around the room were hard to understand.

Really?

Let me get this straight. You’re not an architect, planner or engineer, but you expect have a good understanding what’s going on in complicated site drawings? Really?

I heard a lot of negative comments, but one in particular really made me angry.  A woman named Ursula Kondo, who I remember from her LTE’s opposing the beautiful new Walgreens at the corner of 175 and Thunder Hill Rd said, “This is a waste of time.”

Really?

Let me get this straight. You’re seeing these documents before they are submitted to the county, yet you think this is a waste of time?  Really? Isn’t MORE community involvement one of your mantras?

Look, it is clear to me that the same tired old voices are trying to remain relevant and will stop at nothing to derail or delay the progress we need downtown. If we thought the opponents of change that tried so desperately to stop the plan before would magically disappear, last night’s drama at HCC is proof that they were just laying low for a while.

Those of us who fought so hard to get the plan passed cannot just sit by and let these people dictate the terms of this process. Stay tuned….

-Brian

Panama, the Port and the Intermodal: A Pretty Big Deal

There was a neat op ed in the Baltimore Sun (“Cargo transfer facility well worth state’s investment“) yesterday by MTC Logistics president Harry Halpert.  MTC Logistics, now a huge warehousing and storage operation that “links Baltimore to the world,” grew from a local cold storage company based in Charm City that has been owned by the same family for the last 100 years.

Mr. Halpert wrote about the importance of readying our state and our Port for the opportunities brought by the Panama Canal expansion over two thousand miles away.  This expansion, which we’ve talked about before, means huge (literally) new business through the Port of Baltimore, which is now being deepened for significantly larger ships to come through Panama.

And, somewhere between Baltimore and Washington, a new “intermodal” facility will be located along the CSX rail line to enable freight to be trucked from the Port and placed onto double-stacked trains, sending it out efficiently across the East Coast and – more significantly – opening up new markets throughout the Midwest.

A decision has yet to be made on where that new facility will be built: a long and deliberate federal process has narrowed the list down to just four candidates in the state, two of which are right here in Howard County.  To come from that facility, Mr. Halpert lists “more than 200 new jobs during construction and approximately 7,200 jobs during the first 20 years of the facility’s operation” and “approximately $8.8 billion in cumulative economic benefits by 2034, and nearly $400 million in tax revenues for state and local government.”

According to Mr. Halpert – and news to me – are the environmental benefits to the state: that “the expanded use of rail transportation will reduce long-haul truck traffic and cut the emission of greenhouse gases” for “cleaner and less congested roads” and that “the facility itself will operate in a clean fashion, relying on electric, zero-emission cranes and technology designed to reduce truck idling time.”

This is a pretty big deal.  With the Port of Baltimore expansion to be finished next year, and the Panama Canal widening in 2014, we are approaching what looks to be a new era of transport for the state of Maryland.

I wrote the other day about how I hope Howard County can lead the way here. This is an opportunity – if we take advantage of it – that will have huge impacts for generations to come.  We should all be ready to get involved in this process, if we don’t want to be left behind.

-Brian

Getting Closer to Shovels in the Ground

We fought long and hard for the changes that will be coming to Downtown, and now we’ll finally get to see the plans for the first project! Tonight at 6:30, Howard Hughes Corp. will present its plans for 817 residential units and more than 76,000 square feet of retail space. The meeting will be held in room 400 of The Rouse Co. Foundation Student Services Hall at Howard Community College. Hope to see you there!

-Brian

EDA on Economic Development?

Interesting post by Wordbones Friday about the Howard County Economic Development Authority‘s silence on the intermodal issue.  It sounds like our blogger friend asked some tough questions of the new-ish head of the EDA, Laura Neuman.

Now, before I go any further, let me say that the Economic Development Authority is probably right to stay out of this specific neighborhood fight. That’s not their role. There is an established federal review process for site selection and acquisition, with CSX and the Maryland Department of Transportation working with the potential affected communities.

The EDA’s #1 priority is to promote economic growth here in the county. So while I understand why she chose to remain neutral, it would have been nice to hear Ms. Neuman speak to the economic benefits of the project, particularly if a Howard County location was to be picked (in terms of keeping and creating jobs here at home). After all, there’s a much bigger issue at stake in terms of a modern investment to our county’s infrastructure.

And, as Wordbones alluded to, the direct and indirect local benefits from an investment this size would be huge. I would think that the Economic Development Authority’s role should include promoting those benefits —  an opportunity to become a critical link in the global supply chain, while reclaiming our county’s history as a rail and transport giant.

In the end, it seems to me that our two goals here as a county should be to maximize community input as part of the federal site selection process, and then do everything we can help make a decision as quickly as possible. After all, we need to get moving on jobs and investment here in Maryland, and it would be nice for Howard County to be leading the way.

-Brian

 

 

The Right Side of the Digital Divide

Last week, The Columbia Patch published a letter to the Editor that I wrote regarding the Inter-County Broadband Network. This initiative is a game changer and will ensure that every Maryland jurisdiction is wired with high-speed cables by September 2013.

According to Governor O’Malley, “we’re going to connect 475 schools, 248 police and emergency centers, 52 libraries, 60 community colleges, six universities and countless numbers of businesses.”

It makes me proud to be a resident of this great state when I hear our leaders taking charge and improving the quality of life of all their citizens.

-Brian Dunn

 

 

It Is Happening Here

On September 26, 1963, Jim Rouse gave a speech entitled, “It Can Happen Here” in which he outlined the goals he had for Columbia. Monday night at The Columbia Art Center, Barbara Kellner spoke about how his speeches moved people to act.

His ideas were, without a doubt, ahead of their time. Note the passage where he says, “that the ultimate test of civilization is whether or not it contributes to the growth— improvement of mankind. Does it uplift, inspire, stimulate, and develop the best in man? There really can be no other right purpose of community except to provide an environment and an opportunity to develop better people.”

That’s some heavy stuff for the early 60’s. So are we there? I’ll leave that up to you to discuss, but I think we’re a lot closer than most. Just look at all the good stuff happening all around us.

It hasn’t always been easy. Just like any community, Columbia has had her ups and downs. But I am very optimistic about where we are today. We continue to move forward armed with with the confidence Rouse had in us. In our ability to live the Columbia Dream of developing better people.

We’re still here and still going strong, 47 and a half years after he gave this timeless speech:

-Brian Dunn

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Howard County Gets a “AAA” Rating – Again

For the 14th year in a row, Howard County has received a AAA credit rating from all three national bond rating agencies.

Howard is one of fewer than 30 counties in the country to receive a AAA rating, the highest rating available, from Fitch Ratings, Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s Investor Services.

“Howard County has a history of managing through difficult economic downturns; while this is the 14th consecutive year we have received the highest possible rating from all three agencies and it is gratifying, we never take that rating for granted,” County Executive Kenneth Ulman said in a statement Monday. “As we have for the past four years, we will continue to make tough financial decisions, remain conservative in our spending and find efficiencies throughout government.”

Full story here.


One Year Ago

This week marks the anniversary of the historic passage of CB 58 & 59. After 5 years of charettes, meetings, hearings, work sessions and discussions, our County council voted unanimously to approve the bills that are now providing the framework for the development of Downtown.

At times, it seemed like it would never get done. But we, as a community, believed in a bold future for Columbia. So we pressed on and we are beginning to see real progress.

It’s been an interesting 12 months to say the least. The opponents of the plan continued to try to derail things, but they failed. The county executive and county council who worked so hard on the plan were unanimously re-elected; supporters of the plan continued to turn out in overwhelming numbers to public hearings on the conforming legislation; the Adequate Public Facilities provisions were passed; and now we’re knee-deep into finalizing the guidelines for design and signage.

We’ve come a long way, but there is still important work to be done.  Let’s keep it moving, Columbia!

“If you don’t create change, change will create you”

 

Yesterday, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman gave his annual State of the County speech.  He talked about managing well, partnering well, and investing well – the “principles that have guided this administration from Day One.”

The two things that stood out to us were his comments on downtown (of course!):

I am extremely proud of the community effort that we went through for downtown Columbia. The master plan we passed last year embodies the vision and values of the community, respects our history and establishes downtown Columbia as a dynamic, attractive place to live, work and play.

And his emphasis on the impact from the coming expansions at Fort Meade (BRAC and Cyber Command):

… after talking about base realignment for years and seeing jobs trickle in, we’re now poised to see the flood of jobs we’ve heard so much about. Already, 500 positions have been moved on base, and by September, that number will grow to 5,800 -- over 5,000 new jobs in 9 months. That’s staggering.

And by the end of 2012, we are expecting an additional 15,000 private sector jobs to have accompanied this expansion….

Wow.  There is no question: Columbia and Howard County will see some stunning changes in the next few years and decades.  We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: we can look at change as a problem or as an opportunity – but either way, it’s coming.

We choose to embrace change proactively, and we believe Columbia, with our tradition of “creative, forward thinking community planning,” is a great place to do that.

___________________________________________________________________________________

If you’re interested in more of what the county executive had to say, you can read the full text here or watch it on video on Comcast Ch. 99/Verizon Ch. 44:

January 25 – 7 p.m.
January 26 – 1:30 p.m.
January 27 – 11:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m.
January 28 – 1:30 p.m.
January 29 – 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
January 30 – 1:30 p.m.

Congratulations to Ken! County Executive Now Leads MD Assoc. of Counties

I saw this piece in the Maryland Reporter the other day, about our County Executive, Ken Ulman, taking over as president of the Board of Directors for the Maryland Association of Counties.  In this new position, he’ll work with and represent local officials from all around the state, advocating for county issues.  This is especially key right now, with budget cuts already straining local jurisdictions, and more looming on the horizon.  Known for his commitment to fiscal responsibility, he seems like a great fit to represent Maryland’s counties as they deal with these budget issues.

In a December interview, the 36-year-old Ulman said the top issues for counties are “budget, budget, budget. It’s all about future pension shifts and budget. We have some other issues, but that is the real issue.”

Another re-emerging debate surrounds Smart Growth.  We can’t think of a better person to speak to this issue at the state level than trail-blazer Ulman.  His leadership and first-hand experience in areas like this will provide inspiration and knowledge to other elected officials across Maryland.

He’s already gotten a nice endorsement from Governor O’Malley:

“The MACo Board made the right choice by electing County Executive Ulman to lead the organization during these difficult economic times. I look forward to working with Ken and the entire MACo Board as we build on the accomplishments of the last four years and continue to move Maryland forward.”

Congratulations, Ken.

UPDATE: Video of Governor O’Malley announcing Ken as MACo president, and some words from our county executive:

 

 

Architect Magazine Spotlights Columbia and Ellicott City!

November’s Annual Design Review edition of Architect Magazine devotes a page to Howard County, focusing on Columbia and Ellicott City.  How exciting that our area is being recognized!  Part of that recognition is no doubt due to the “upcoming opening of the U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade” bringing thousands and thousands of new government jobs, and all of the growth that flows from that.

The incoming federal workforce will require housing and amenities, while many companies that depend on cyber security will need to relocate or open satellite offices to be close to this defense epicenter. It’s almost impossible to measure the number of private-sector jobs that will follow the public ones, from high-tech support and ancillary industries to service and construction workers.

Time to start preparing, Howard County!

A Bright, Bright Future for Howard County: County Executive Ulman talks about the “transformative” changes coming to our area

The spotlight was on County Executive Ken Ulman on WBAL TV’s Sunday Q & A. Asked about the plan to redevelop Downtown (around minute 1:30), he hit the nail on the head: “We have a great downtown, a great mall, a lakefront, Merriweather Post Pavilion – but you can’t walk from one to another!” He went on to talk about the $26.5 million “rebuilding” of Merriweather “for the next generation.” (Hey, that’s us!!!)

Then, the question is posed: “You guys are on the cutting edge of the cyber security world out there. Are we going to see more jobs coming to Fort Meade because of this?” His response? Absolutely.

See the rest of his comments here, starting around minute 3:00, about the “transformative” impact of BRAC and Cyber Command on the region. Columbia and Howard County are perfectly located for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  If we are going to capture that opportunity, we must start preparing.

County Executive Ulman on WBAL Nov. 28

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