Numero Uno

Yesterday, Columbia was ranked #1 in Money’s “Best Places to Live in America” for 2016. We’ve made the list before, but this is the first time we’ve actually topped it.

As someone who grew up here and is now raising my family here, I couldn’t be more proud of my hometown. It was fun scrolling through my Facebook feed yesterday, as I read countless posts from old friends expressing similar feelings of pride over the ranking.

Of course, we Columbians have always known our town is the best, but it’s nice to have it official, if only for the next year!



2 Hours to go

Late notice, but if you’re from around here, you probably already know that there’s a blog party at Union Jacks tonight from 5:30 to 7:30. Click here for more info. See ya’ll there.


I Support CA’s Inner Arbor Plan. Do you?

If so, please sign this petition. The goal was to get at least 300 signatures by this Thursday, when the CA Board is scheduled to discuss and vote on the plan. I think there’s something like 226 right now. Please click the link, sign the petition and encourage your friends to do the same. This is too important to our future to delay.


p.s. Here’s what we can continue to expect of Symphony Woods if we don’t act:

A World Class Plan for Symphony Woods

By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard about CA’s bold and innovative, “Inner Arbor” plan for Symphony Woods. If not, please read about it here.

First, let me say that I think Michael McCall has hit a home run with this plan, and I hope we can see his vision come to fruition as soon as possible. I’m glad CA realized that this was their chance to give Columbia something truly special, something that could be enjoyed by everyone in our community for generations to come.

The Inner Arbor plan masterfully incorporates art, music, theater, food and culture into the natural setting of the woods. It provides a place where people can gather to enjoy the myriad of events that will take place there. It will not only be a regional and national  attraction, but I predict it will be an international one as well.

I really have a hard time believing anyone could find fault in this plan, but we all know there is a small group of people amongst us who have vowed to do whatever it takes to sabotage real progress in Columbia. Some of them showed up last night and expressed anger at the process and their perceived notion that the plan was hatched in secrecy.

Former Boardmember Russ Swatek even went so far as to submit what has now become known as “The Swatek Memo”, which is a rambling 19 point document, “related to Symphony Woods development spanning the direction of CA, the process being employed, and the plan itself.”

If Russ and Company continue to rally against this plan, they will once again be showing their true no growth colors. Last night I testified in favor of the plan to the CA Board, and I encourage you to do the same. You can write to the entire CA Board here.  Let them know you support moving forward on the Inner Arbor plan!


Terps to the Big Ten?

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling gobsmacked by the University of Maryland’s seemingly sudden decision to bail on the conference it helped found and emigrate over to the Big Ten.  It all happened so fast.

As I was a student athlete at Maryland in the 90’s, it hit especially close to home.  It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here, but I couldn’t hold it in on this news.  I’m doing my best to keep an open mind about it as things develop.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know how good or bad of a move this is.  We have no idea what the real state of our athletic program is, what other factors were involved, or what the future holds.  We can speculate and we can gnash our teeth, but it doesn’t really do any good, does it?  What’s done is done.

I have heard that the only sports programs that are making money are football and basketball; the rest are losing money.  That equation doesn’t work long-term.

I gained some respect for President Walt Loh after hearing him speak at the press conference yesterday (some great sound bytes here).  That’s as natural and earnest as I’ve ever seen him.  He didn’t use the P.R.-speak that we’ve come to expect at press conferences.  He didn’t say this was the best thing that’s ever happened and that God had blessed this union.  He didn’t pretend that everything was great and there was no uncertainty about anything.

He pretty much came out and said that they’d done what they had to do because, for one, their financial situation was so dire.  And, notably, he said that he his responsibility is to the school, not to “any conference.”  He’s right, and sometimes we forget that the sports program, while it may be a defining part of the school, is just that: a part of the school—it’s one piece of a larger institution that has its own priorities and concerns.

I got the feeling that Loh saw this as “taking one for the team” (pun intended) because he knew this was the only thing to do.  I give the guy a lot of credit for making and owning decision that he had to know would be unpopular, even upsetting, for a lot of people.

Another interesting moment was when Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney said, “You’re not joining a Midwestern conference. We’re moving here. We’re opening up offices on the East Coast. We’re not asking you to become us – we’re asking you to allow us to partner with you.”  What?!  Can you imagine anything even close to that coming from John Swofford or anyone at the ACC?  (Oh, and I loved Athletic Director Kevin Anderson’s comment on a future relationship with Commissioner Swofford: “I believe there would be some awkwardness.” Yes, Kevin, there would be.)

Who knows how this will turn out?  We can only wait and see.  At the end of the day, though, I’m a Maryland fan no matter what.  I’ll still be watching and supporting and hoping for the best.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.  I know I haven’t written in a while, and I probably won’t once the holidays get started again!  I hope you all have an awesome holiday season.

– Brian

Update: Greenberries New Sign is Up!

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about working with Greenberries to design, fabricate and install a custom LED channel letter sign. Yesterday, we installed it, along with one that we also fabricated for their neighbor, Edible Arrangements. Have a look:

And speaking of Greenberries, check them out getting some love from Fox5 in DC.

Owner Rachel Baliff has really tapped into something special with Greenberries. There was a constant stream of mothers, fathers, grandparents and of course children coming and going all day yesterday. I even signed my almost 5 year old daughter up for a cooking class next week!

I am absolutely thrilled to see a Columbia store doing so well, and I wish Rachel and her delightful staff all the best moving forward. Who knows, maybe they’ll outgrow this space like they did their old space, and I’ll have to help her out with another sign! And if you find yourself over near Oakland Mills or Snowden River Parkway, please be sure to stop in and check out this unique children’s boutique.


Brand New Sign For Greenberries

Exactly one year ago today, Greenberriesan upscale, eco-chic children’s & maternity consignment boutique, relocated from The Kings Contrivance Village Center to it’s new home in the Snowden Center off Oakland Mills Rd. I took notice of the move for a number of reasons, mainly because I live in Kings and noticed right away when they left. I was relieved to hear that it was not because they didn’t make it, but that they had actually outgrown the space. So I was happy for them, but sad to see them leave our village center.

A short time after that, I was driving on Snowden River Parkway heading west toward Oakland Mills Rd when I happened to look over and noticed that there was a small vinyl banner hanging on the facade of the building to my right. I was driving too fast to notice what it said, but the next time I drove by, I was going slower and noticed that it was a Greenberries banner. Now at least I knew exactly where they had relocated.

But I am from Columbia, and I knew about them before I happened to glance over and notice the banner. The point is, it wasn’t so hard for me to find them. But I would wager that it’s almost impossible to find them if you’re not even vaguely familiar with the area. Compounding the problem was the huge new signs for 2 other Snowden-facing tenants immediately to the left of Greenberries.

I understand the importance of visibility for a business such as Greenberries, and with my background being in digital printing and signage, I approached Rachel Baliff, the owner of Greenberries and inquired if she was planning on getting a permanent sign.

Obviously she knows the importance of visibility too, and said that she had already begun planning for it. What came next was a seemingly endless process of waiting for approvals, designs, more approvals and permits, but I am proud to say that my company, CompletelyDunn, is a mere 2 weeks away from installing a custom, state of the art, LED channel letter sign for Greenberries. So when you’re driving on Snowden River Parkway, be sure to be on the lookout for it!

And if you have children, or grandchildren, be sure to get out and support this wonderful store!


Oh Yeah!


Whole Foods is coming to town. My commentary? John DeWolf is the man. On behalf of everybody here in Columbia, I say thank you John!


Getting it Done for the Port

With the widening of the Panama Canal scheduled to be completed in 2015, it’s great to hear Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake advancing the city to take full advantage of this unprecedented opportunity.

President of MTC Logistics, Harry Halpert, has coined the phrase “Global SeaPort” when describing the unique position of the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore in the international maritime community:

Ensuring that Maryland can join this National Gateway project includes moving forward on a key construction project: the development of a “Baltimore-Washington Rail Intermodal Facility” somewhere along the rail corridor between Baltimore and Washington. The new intermodal facility would allow containers to and from ships in the port to be transported to this location and quickly transferred to double-stacked trains, connecting our state to a wide array of new markets in an efficient manner. (Cargo transfer facility well worth state’s investment, Baltimore Sun by Harry Halpert.)

The “Global SeaPort” is a gem for any politician to strengthen and tout. You noticed how every GOP presidential candidate claimed to be the biggest supporter of expanding the Port of Charleston during the GOP primaries in South Carolina. Governor O’Malley certainly underscored the power of the port and its expansion in this ad during his last race for governor.

If Mayor Rawlings-Blake can speed up the process, make the port more immediately competitive and put an old industrial site back to work in this economy, people all around Maryland will see this no nonsense, impatient-for-results leadership as exactly the kind of character that port union Democrats, chamber of commerce Republicans and practical Independent voters want in an elected official- whether a local or a statewide candidate.


Goodbye Emily

Yesterday, I attended the Howard Hughes Corporation’s event that sought to re-imagine what could be done with the Rouse (now Howard Hughes) building. It was a beautiful day, and everybody was in good spirits talking about what the new Downtown might look like.

My mood dimmed when I bumped into a friend who told me that Bring Back the Vision Founder Emily Lincoln had passed away over the weekend. The irony struck me that here we are envisioning the changes that Emily fought so hard for, only to find out she is gone.

I always enjoyed speaking with Emily because her passion to see Columbia become the city it was always meant to be really resonated with me personally. She was passionate about the changes that we’ve all been advocating for and she yearned to actually see them happen. To know that she won’t makes me very sad.

Emily was one of the first people I spoke to about getting involved in the downtown debate. A mutual friend had suggested I give her a call, and after speaking with her, I could tell she was one sharp woman. Her dedication definitely influenced me to learn all I could about the plan that was being shaped for Downtown.

I will miss Emily, and I hope that her family finds peace in this difficult hour.


Her Bio:
Emily Lincoln, long time resident and friend of Columbia, died in her home on February 26, 2012.  The daughter of Genevieve and Roger H. Taylor, she was born in Springfield, Missouri, on March 11, 1939.   Ms Lincoln had one son, John Taylor Lincoln.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she was an honors graduate.   After graduation she joined the staff of Senator Stewart Symington in Washington, DC.   She moved to Howard County in 1969.

Recognized as a tenacious and devoted advocate of Columbia, Emily is best known for organizing Bring Back the Vision, an advocacy group that works to promote the thoughtful redevelopment of downtown Columbia.  The group’s many accomplishments include providing forums for a community conversation about the future of Columbia. These forums included presentations by Roger K. Lewis architect, urban planner and author and Rollin Stanley urban planner, among others.

Emily received her professional license as a Realtor in 1977.  She was instrumental in conceptualizing and founding the Howard County Real Estate Masters Club. She led the organization in a joint project with The Columbia Foundation and The Columbia Bank to supply affordable home purchase opportunities to low income families.  As a Realtor, Emily understood the issues of affordable housing and was a tireless advocate for the development of housing opportunities within Howard County.   She was an Associate Broker and member of the REMAX Hall of Fame.

Emily was a founder and President of the Howard County Economic Forum, Board member of Family and Children’s Services of Central Maryland (FCS) and Chair of the Howard County Advisory Board of FCS.  Emily also served on the Howard County Commission on Aging. She was a graduate of Leadership Howard County.

Emily was a leader in the transition of Columbia’s Family Life Center through its merger with Family and Children’s Services of Central Maryland. While serving as chair of the Howard County Advisory Board of FCS, she led the effort to expand operations and establish a satellite office of FCS in North Laurel. This entity` evolved to become the North Laurel-Savage Multi-Service Center providing a variety of human services to a portion of the county, long under-served.

Emily is survived by her son John, grandsons Braeden and Gavin, of Charlotte, NC, sisters Nancy Graff of Cape Coral, FL and Genevieve Shryer of Springfield, MO and brother Roger H. Taylor II of Liberty, MO.  She was predeceased by her parents and sister Carolyn Burridge of Baltimore, MD.

A life celebration was held at Emily’s home.  The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Emily Lincoln Family Fund established at The Columbia Foundation at 10630 Little Patuxent Parkway, Century Plaza #315, Columbia, MD 21044

Time to Party

The other day, I got to thinking that there hadn’t been a HoCo Blog party in a while. So I emailed my good friend and Hocoblogs co-founder Jessie Newburn and said, “Hey now. What would you think of me co-hosting a blog party with you?” And she wrote back saying, “You got it. When and where?” And being from Kings Contrivance, I said, “Corner Stable.” She said, “Sounds good. Lemme just take a look at the place.” I said, “Cool.” And just like that, it’s on. Click here for the details. Registration not required, but strongly recommended. Hope to see you there! There might just be one or two surprises in store!


The Right Thing For Symphony Woods….Years Later

Last week, Wordbones had Cy Paumier on his podcast, and wrote a subsequent blog about it titled, “Captain of the Dream Team”.  One passage stood out to me:

Some have called this the “dream team” of planners. Some have criticized CA for not bringing in new blood.

It’s a moot point. The Dream Team is “weeks away” from unveiling their master plan for Symphony Woods. What many don’t know is that Howard Hughes has also been busy with Merriweather Post Pavilion. HHC has retained Sasaki & Associates to develop a new master plan for the outdoor theatre. They have been working closely with CA to make sure both efforts are complimentary and the two parties may have found the formula to make the café in the woods concept work.

And then this past Sunday, HCR released a statement from The CA Board, in the form of a blog post, saying:

In an effort to meet the goals of Howard County’s General Development Plan, CA will be working with the Howard Hughes Corporation to develop a complete neighborhood plan for the Symphony Woods/Merriweather Post “Neighborhood.” The Columbia Association feels that the proposed neighborhood plan will fulfill the General Development Plan’s purpose of providing an exceptional cultural and recreational area in the new Town Center area. Additional details and negotiations with Howard Hughes will begin so that land uses and area amenities will benefit park and pavilion users. CA believes that this venture will meet the goals of the plan and will be a place that can be enjoyed by Columbians and those who will visit both the park and pavilion.

HCR then goes on to write:

“I believe this is the only way to go on this issue and am very happy with the manner in which this partnership has been able to develop.  Respectfully, this was never about “big ideas” for Symphony Woods.  It was about connectivity and congruence.  This approach should meet both objectives and find its way through County vetting. “

I respectfully disagree with HCR when he says, “this was never about “big ideas” for Symphony Woods.” It was about “big ideas” when GGP engaged a world class team (Jaque Robertson of Cooper, Robertson & Partners, Alan Ward from Sasaki Associates and Keith Bowers of BioHabitats) to work on the plan for Downtown, including Symphony Woods. I remember hearing about the possibility of a having library or museum that would have fostered the growth and development of Howard County’s children in the Arts. As CA’s plan stands now, we’ll get a cafe, water feature and years more of underutilization.

I do agree that connectivity and congruence are important, but we could have had that a long time ago. The manner in which this partnership has developed goes back a long way and I can’t help think that it only came about after the County twice rejected CA’s plan for Symphony Woods. It all goes back to when CA first refused to work with GGP on Symphony Woods. They completely rejected their vision for it and decided to develop it on their own, despite the fact that they are not developers. I find it telling what Cy Paumier said about it three years ago in this interview with MIA reporter Jack Cole. In it he (Mr. Paumier) states:

“No one’s ever really cared enough about it to do a plan, CA hasn’t been encouraged, nobody in the community has been saying we ought to create a great park there. So along comes General Growth [Properties], General Growth’s got a couple hundred acres that they’ve got to develop right? They’ve got all the land in the world to develop, why don’t they just focus on what they own. I mean they don’t have to start taking CA’s land . . . its crazy!”

So there you have it. Mr. Paumier was upset that GGP had the gall to include Symphony Woods in their overall vision (“big idea”) for Downtown Columbia. So, fast forward a couple years, and now Mr. Paumier has convinced CA to hire him to come up with the plan that currently exists. You know, the one that’s been twice rejected by the County.

Look, I’m glad CA is finally getting in the game, and I hate to dig up the past. But the fact is, this should have happened years ago. To say that Symphony Woods isn’t about “big ideas” is to sell it short. As the father of young daughter, I want Symphony Woods to become a special place for her to enjoy now, and to hopefully one day bring her children to. After hearing about this partnership between CA and HHC, I am hopeful that, after all these years, it will be.