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.


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.


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.”


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….


Kelly Casey Van Horn for Board of Education

The race for Board of Education just got a little more exciting for my entire family yesterday when my cousin, Kelly Casey Van Horn threw her hat into the ring. And although I am biased, I think she makes an excellent candidate.

You see, Kelly has a passion for education. She taught 3rd grade for 8 years in the Fairfax county public schools system, so she is familiar with the rewards and challenges of being a classroom teacher. This passion also led Kelly to further her own education, and she holds a masters degree with a concentration in new professional studies. In addition, she was a private tutor for a remediation program for the school for students who did not pass the state standardized test.

As an experienced teacher, she would be an insightful voice for public education. She has a two year old and a one year old, so she has a long term vested interest for hcpss for at least the next 20 years. She believes redistricting/overcrowding is an issue that needs to be resolved and wants do her part to ensure that the Board works for students, parents, and teachers alike.

This is an exciting new chapter in Kelly’s life, and the Board of Education would be lucky to have her. I hope you will consider giving her your vote.


The Next Step

Tonight’s a big night for Wilde Lake, as the drawings of the proposed residential properties in the WLVC will be presented to the Wilde Lake Village Board. The meeting is open to the public, so I encourage you all to attend. There will be a three week comment period following the meeting on the residential design. Hope to see you there!


Ignite Columbia


On Wednesday night, I moderated a panel discussion sponsored by CA that addressed the question of how to get younger and more diverse people interested in serving on the Village and CA Boards. The panel consisted of, Regina Clay (current Wilde Lake Village Board member) Candace Dodsen Reed (Director of Constituent and Community Affairs for Howard County Executive Ken Ulman), Sean Harbaugh (Assistant Director of the Columbia Association’s Open Space Management Division) Summer Romack (former Owen Brown Village Board 2003 through 2011) and Kecia Rome (Vice-Chair of the Owen Brown Village Board).

Fist, I asked them why they serve. I wanted to get a sense of what drove each of them to take that first step to volunteer their time. Each gave their reasons, but the prevailing sense was that we all love this community and want to see it thrive for many generations to come.

Then I wanted to know what they thought CA and the Villages can do to make governance participation and community leadership more attractive to younger and more diverse residents? That really stimulated the discussion and they came up with some great suggestions such as utilizing technology to make it easier for young families to know what’s going on around here, getting to know your neighbors better, and for CA to take their message directly to residents through a, “road show” type campaign.

We only scratched the surface in the 45 minutes we were allotted, but it was really cool to be a part of such a stimulating discussion. Thank you to CA for inviting me. This panel came up with some excellent suggestions that I hope we can implement sooner rather than later.



New Location for Greenberries

As a Kings Contrivance Village Boardmember, I was sad to see Greenberries leaving our Village Center. But when I heard that the eco-chic upscale children’s and maternity consignment boutique was expanding into a new, much bigger location right off Oakland Mills Road, I was very happy for them.

Their new location is in the same shopping center as Ledo’s and they are facing Snowden River Parkway, between Dogs & Co. and Edible Arrangements. I stopped by yesterday, and let me tell you, it is looking great. So the next time you’re in that area, be sure to stop in and support a wonderful local business!


Tonight: A Vintage Affair

Blogger, CA Boardmember and all around nice guy, Tom Coale writes about a cool event taking place tonight. It’s called, “A Vintage Affair”, and it benefits Voices for Children, Howard County’s CASA Program serving abused and neglected children.

So if you’re not doing anything tonight, head on down to The Howard Hughes building at 7 PM to enjoy some fine wines, microbrews, and hors d’oeuvres and participate in a Silent Auction for a a great cause.

Tickets can be purchased at www.voicesforchildren.org


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.


Bigotry Trumps Civility

Last Thursday night, I attended the Zoning Pre-Submission Hearing conducted by the Howard Hughes Corporation. After their presentation, they opened the floor to questions and comments. At one point, Joel Broida, one of the more vocal opponents of the redevelopment grabbed the mic and made a comment that literally left my mouth open wide.

Here’s his quote from The Columbia Patch article: “Renters don’t have pride in the community,” he said. “They aren’t the ones to pick up that piece of paper someone dropped.”

Instead of commenting on just how wrong I believe his statement to be, I will instead ask you to read this post by Bill Santos over at Columbia Compass. He sums it up more succinctly that I could ever hope to.

However, I would like to add one thing. It is obvious that Mr. Broida is so against change that he would violate core values of inclusion and diversity we hold dear here in Columbia, just for the sake of complaining. And that’s just sad.



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!


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.