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Wegmans must be one amazing store or somebody may be exaggerating.

Posted by Ed C on Monday, October 8, 2007

I have never been to a Wegmans (I grew up with Giant Eagle and Thorofare.) So when I heard that Wegmans was looking to come to Columbia along Snowden River, my first reaction was “a what”, followed quickly by the general traffic concerns. However, the more that I read about the store and the reaction of the labor unions that are opposing it, the more I’m looking forward to it opening.

My goal when shopping is usually to get in and out as quickly as possible. I even try to gage the length of the lines when I walk in to decide if I need to keep below 15 items. And it really does not matter if its a Giant or a Safeway, whatever happens to be closest. So, the idea of a 160,000 sq. ft., multiple floor grocery store probably will not fit into my general shopping pattern.

The Baltimore Sun story Panel decision on Wegmans is appealed got me thinking how wonderful can this store really be? Well, according to Ellicott City resident and union leader Buddy Mays, it must be some store:

“What happens with these size stores, they draw from as much as a 25-mile radius. They can destroy any store in that path,” said Mays, president of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 27, which represents grocery workers.

Really? That good? A 25 mile radius – in this area?

According to the Maryland Department of Planning, in 2000 the population density of Howard county was 983.4 per square mile (Anne Arundel – 1177.2, Baltimore county 1,260.1, Montgomery – 1,762.5 and Prince George’s – 1,651.1), so being conservative, let’s just use the numbers for Howard county. The area of a circle with a 25 mile radius is ~1963 square miles. That’s a population of ~1,930,414!

With nearly 2 million people that would be ~605,145 families (MD average family size in 2000 was 3.19). And a single Wegmans can destroy any store within that path? That is either (a) a really great store, (b) the other stores really stink, or (c) someone is over-stating things a little.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Ed C, Howard County, Zoning | 35 Comments »

HoCo Council Public Hearing, Monday Sept 17th @ 6:30 PM

Posted by Ed C on Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Howard County Council hearing will begin an hour early, starting at 6:30 PM to accommodate a full schedule. The full agenda can be seen here. Excluding a slew of appointments, the are 15 items on the agenda including:

  • Green neighborhood requirements. (116-2007)
  • New Town Zoning – Height limits (ZRA-79, ZRA-83) – Mary Kay Sigaty’s bills to retroactively apply height limits to the 23-story Plaza Tower.
  • Horse Park Task Force (114-2007) – Introduced by Greg Fox and Courtney Watson to create a 90 day task force to study the issues with creating a horse park in HoCo.
  • Full-time firearms investigator (No. 3- Fiscal 2008)
  • Soil and Water testing for golf course development (60-2007)

The council is prepared to continue testimony the next afternoon, but don’t worry according to Chairman Calvin Ball (from the Baltimore Sun):

“We’ve done an exercise in planning and forethought that will facilitate an open process,”

So, even making allowances for Chairman Ball to withdraw any of the three bills that he has introduced, you may want to plan for a long night and set aside Tuesday afternoon to boot.

The list of appointments is below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in County Council, Ed C, Howard County, Zoning | 1 Comment »

Downtown Columbia Plan Should Include Village Center.

Posted by Ed C on Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Baltimore Sun has an article, Wider scope urged in downtown plan on Sunday that focuses on presentations by Robert W. Burchell. Burchell is a professor and co-director of the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University and he wrote his 1971 doctoral dissertation on Columbia.

“There should never be a situation where downtown is being planned that the ripple affects of that plan is not being looked at at the village level,”

Burchell said the roles and futures of both are intertwined and should be planned for simultaneously.

I’m not sure if I agree with him all aspects, but I do agree that the impacts to Village Centers (and their neighborhoods) need to be considered. I not sure if I’m disagreeing with HoCo Hayduke on this one:

I’m a firm beleiver in keeping local planning local. That is, conducting it at the most appropriate level, which, for a village center, is the surrounding village. Meanwhile, Town Center, whether for good or bad, is the center of our county — or, at least, the eastern half — and planning for it should therefore involve a county-wide constituency.

Planning for Town Center should involve a county-wide constituency, but the planning should extend to the Villages and beyond.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Ed C, Zoning | 1 Comment »

Red-Headed Eskimo Zoning

Posted by Jim Walsh on Wednesday, December 13, 2006

For those not familiar with the term, in Annapolis a bill specifically aimed at one particular person is sometimes called a red-headed Eskimo bill, because the details in the legislation eliminate all but one person from its application.

Earlier this year, with very little publicity, section 131 of the Howard County zoning regulations, dealing with conditional uses in B-1 and B-2 (commercial) zones, was amended to allow age-restricted adult housing outside the Planned Service Area (i.e., outside the Eastern area served by water and sewer lines) if that development adjoins, or is within 200 yards of, a community shopping center with a food store greater than 15,000 square feet.

Now, you might be scratching your head wondering (1) what a 15,000 square foot food store has to do with age-restricted adult housing, and (2) where in Western Howard County is there such a property. I still haven’t figured out the answer to question (1) myself, but surprise, surprise, surprise, it turns out that there’s a 5.85 acre site just east of the Lisbon Shopping Center. And that shopping center just happens to contain a 15,000+ square foot Food Lion, which I believe is the only food store of such size in Western Howard County. And, in a further amazing coincidence, that property just happens to be owned by Democrat developer Don Reuwer and real estate attorney Dick Talkin.

Even though there’s no water or sewer lines in the area, the developers believe that this would be an appropriate site for five four-plex age-restricted housing units. For those of you who are not good at math, that works out to 20 housing units on a site that normally would be allowed less than 2 homes. Adding to area residents’ concern is that the same partnership owns a separate 7 acre tract just north of the shopping center.

The Lisbon-Woodbine area already has problems with well water quality, the legacy of a leaky underground gasoline tank from a number of years back. A nearby restaurant must have water delivered rather than cook with or serve water from its own well. A similar Reuwer development of age-restricted townhomes at Cattail Creek has been a disaster, with septic tanks that the developer admits must be pumped out three times daily. There are, of course, no fire hydrants in the area. The Lisbon Volunteer Fire Dept. is also concerned about the anticipated extra burden from added emergency medical calls.

I live about 4 miles away from the site and will not be affected significantly by this development, so I don’t really have any dog in this fight. But several of our friends live very close, and even next, to the site. The developers held a second pre-submission community meeting last night (Tues., 12/12/06) in Lisbon. We thank County Councilman Greg Fox for attending that meeting. Now we’re not a bunch of rabid NIMBY villagers with torches and pitchforks, and it could well be that this 20-unit development is the best use for the site, but we are concerned about the water quality in the area and interested in how the developers plan to address those concerns.

Posted in County Council, Fox, Howard County, Jim Walsh, Zoning | 6 Comments »

Comp Lite Update

Posted by David Keelan on Wednesday, December 6, 2006

From the Baltimore Sun

I don’t think I am any closer to the Guinness that Wordbones and I have riding on the outcome of the lawsuit challenging Comp Lite brought by COPE.

The county filed with the Court to dismiss the suit.

In a formal response, the county claims the residents lack legal standing and waited too long to contest the legislation authorizing the Comp Lite process.

Lack legal standing.  This is just ridiculous.  I do agree that they probably waited too long.  I also don’t think Comp-Lite as it is written into the County Code is illegal.  So I disagree with COPE on that point.

The filing, submitted by the Office of Law, also says that the residents challenging Comp Lite “must have an actual, real and justiciable property interest susceptible of protection through litigation. … There is no presumption of special damages for adjoining, confronting or nearby owners.”

Like I said, ridiculous.  The County will not even argue the real heart of the complaint.  The County Council violated the County Code by including additional properties that should not have been included.  That is the crux of the case and the Court should here the case based on that complaint alone.

Posted in County Council, Zoning | 12 Comments »

Community Input to Zoning Issues

Posted by David Keelan on Tuesday, October 31, 2006

From the Baltimore Examiner

I wish they had quoted Ken Ulman and Calvin Ball.

Howard County residents are challenging the housing commission’s authority to move forward with a Frederick Road development.

“We question the whole legality of it,” said Patrick Crowe, a member of the west Ellicott City residents’ group Friends of Font Hill, referring to the Centennial Gardens development.

The group is responding to a killed measure that would have allowed the commission to partner with developers to build affordable housing on commercially zoned land, in particular, Centennial Gardens.

“My understanding is the project is moving forward despite the bill, but there are a lot of questions about whether this project can legally proceed,” said Council Member Chris Merdon, R-District 1, who opposes the planned development.

The project would provide at least 59 residential units on 2 1/2 acres.

“It’s completely incompatible with the existing neighborhood,” Merdon said.

“It’s too dense and too high.”

Merdon said he plans to ask the Department of Housing and the Office of Law about the Housing Commission’s authority to move on this development.

“The land was transferred to the Housing Commission with the expectation by the developer that they would be teamed together on it,” Merdon said, adding that questions remain on whether the commission can partner with the developer, France Property I LLC, in that way.

However, the commission has authority to build housing on commercially zoned land it owns, and the killed bill does not stop them from moving forward on the project, said Neil Gaffney, deputy director of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

France Property sold the property to the commission, and it is no longer involved, Gaffney said.

“The comission now owns that piece of property, so we could in fact go ahead with the development process,” he said.

Crowe said he also was concerned with the timing of the bill in relation to the Centennial Gardens deal.

Council Member Calvin Ball, D-District 2, introduced the proposal in early September and the deal dated late September. The legislation was withdrawn amidst criticism that the bill was a zoning measure.

“We want someone to explain to us why the community wasn’t involved from the very beginning on this project,” Crowe said.

Posted in Howard County, Zoning | 2 Comments »

Is Comp Lite even legal?

Posted by David Keelan on Friday, September 15, 2006

First some background on comp lite – abbreviated version.

As we know, every ten years the zoning board (County Council) goes through a once-a-decade comprehensive zoning of the county which they most recently did in 2004. Comp Lite is the name given to a rezoning bill the Zoning Board passed in March 2005. The bill was so named because it was an addendum to the larger comprehensive zoning bill.Why do they have “comp-lite”? Well the number of changes that the zoning board is petitioned to make are not always included in the comprehensive zoning process. As Guy Guzzone explained to the Howard County Times in January 2005: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in County Council, Merdon, Ulman, Zoning | 10 Comments »

Baltimore Sun Endorsements

Posted by David Keelan on Friday, September 1, 2006

The article 

We may agree to disagree, but I have something to say about this.  I don’t know if it is a meaningful as the Howard County Times endorsements, but none the less.

First there is a big difference in how the endorsement process is managed by both papers.

The Howard County Times endorsements were derived during an interview with all the candidates in a particular race.  The interview panel was comprised of three members of the editorial board, who are familiar with the County and the race.  The interviews lasted for almost 2 hours in some cases.

The Sun endorsements were derived by interviewing the candidates over the telephone.  The reporter is not from the County and was reviewing a questionnaire over the telephone with the candidates. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in County Council, County Executive, Howard County, Zoning | 3 Comments »

An open letter to Marsha McLaughlin

Posted by David Keelan on Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Marsha,

It is with great concern that I am writing to urgently request that you rescind your recently enacted policy that restricts public access to Turf Valley related DPZ files and advises your staff not to speak with members of the public about DPZ’s processing of the numerous development applications that have been submitted for this project.

I called to speak with members of your staff today and was told that all inquiries to review/discuss Turf Valley files had to be made directly to you in the form of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.  When I tried to leave a message for you to return my call, I was told, that too, had to be submitted through FOIA.

Members of our community are outraged with your new DPZ policy, which we believe is a unilateral and arbitrary position that violates the Howard County Charter (Article IX, Sections 906, 907), which I have quoted below:

HOWARD COUNTY CHARTER

Article IX. General Provisions

Section 906. Copies of books and papers on demand.

The Executive shall, with reasonable promptness, furnish to any resident of the County, on demand, a certified copy of any book, account or paper kept by any board, commission, office or department of the County government, or such part thereof as may be demanded, except criminal investigation reports, and individual personnel records, upon payment in advance by the person demanding the same, of a reasonable fee to be prescribed by resolution of the Council.

Section 907. Inspection of books, accounts and papers.

All books, accounts, bids, contracts, papers and records of any board, commission, office or department, except criminal investigation reports and individual personnel records, shall at all times be open to the inspection of any resident of the County or representative of the press, subject to such reasonable rules and regulations in regard to the time and manner of such inspection as the Executive may make.

While I can appreciate the Office of Law’s concern that the County is involved in litigation over the Turf Valley zoning, this is not the first time that the County’s policies/decisions have been questioned in court.  Restricting public access to important government information is an unprecedented restriction of citizens’ and taxpayers’ rights.  Furthermore, it jeopardizes public trust and endangers the accountability of government.  I believe your actions are leading our County to a “slippery slope” and implore you to reconsider your decision and work to restore public confidence in DPZ.

In the absence of your rescinding this policy, under FOIA and on behalf of the citizens and taxpayers of Howard County, I am formally requesting that your office make available all files and information (both electronic and paper) related to all material that pertains to the development of Turf Valley by Mangione Family Enterprises or Commercial Contractors, Inc.  Please hold this material at the DPZ “counter” for review by any and all Howard County residents or interested parties.

I will look forward to your reply and hopefully having the opportunity to discuss this further with you.

Regards,

Marc

Marc Norman

2617 Golf Island Road

Ellicott City, MD 21042

410-418-8666

Posted in Howard County, Zoning | 9 Comments »

An interesting conversation…

Posted by David Keelan on Sunday, July 30, 2006

is underway at Hayduke’s place.  Take a look here…  Someone who knows what they are talking about regarding HOCO DPZ and has some interesting perspectives on Guzzone and Ulman is sharing their thoughts rather OPENLY and are engaging Hayduke in rhetorical battle over Downtown Columbia zoning, planning, charrette, and the politics surrounding it.  A fun read…

Posted in Howard County Blogs, Ulman, Zoning | Leave a Comment »