Tuesday, March 31, 2009

County Executive Budgets for Route 40 Design Manual

We have been talking in this space for many months about the need for comprehensive commercial zoning and design planning in Howard County. This has been talked about in the context of Marc Norman's charge to take Council Bill 58 to referendum. The battle over how best to achieve holistic commercial zoning in the County has spilled over to the Letter to the Editor pages of County publications, including a back and forth between myself and former Council member Angela Beltram.

It looks like the discussion is paying dividends. County Executive Ken Ulman is proposing $100,000 in the budget for a consultant to draft a Route 40 Design Manual. Council member Courtney Watson engaged Ulman and the DPZ to compel Ulman to decide that an outside consultant should be brought in to write the manual. This is exactly the kind of thing I have been calling for all along and I'm very pleased to see that it may well make the final cut of the budget.

Monday, March 30, 2009

GGP to Shorter Columbia Mall Hours in May

While I was on vacation in Orlando last week, a lot happened, including an announcement that GGP would be shortening the hours of the Columbia Mall. The new hours seem to be based on when people actually shop, as opposed to when retailers wish people would shop. It doesn't seem to be being received negatively.

In my mind, this highlights that leveraging too much on retail for Columbia's economic development downtown is a problem. This is particularly true given our current economy and its likely continuation into 2010 - maybe even 2011. That doesn't mean that we should just demolish the mall and replace it with a business park and condos. Still, it is an important lesson to heed when considering the future of downtown.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Turf Valley Referendum Halted on Court Ruling

It appears that the drive to take CB 58 to referendum may wind up never making it to the ballot. It isn't for lack of signatures - Marc Norman's group has submitted over 9000 - but rather because of a ruling made in a Maryland court in December.

Derek Simmonsen has the news:
The review by the county Board of Elections was prompted by a recent Maryland Court of Appeals decision that changes how signatures on petition forms are verified.

Board of Elections Director Betty Nordaas said today that the board went back and reviewed the initial batch of signatures in light of a December Maryland Court of Appeals decision.

The review was suggested by the state attorney general’s office on March 11, according to a letter Nordaas gave to Norman the following day.

The court decision placed tighter restrictions on how signatures should be verified, Nordaas said. Voters now must sign their names on the petition form using the exact name that is on their voter registration; variations on a name will no longer be accepted, she said.

After elections workers invalidated more than 1,000 signatures, Nordaas said the referendum failed because there was no way for Norman’s group to get the 2,500 signatures needed as part of the first batch.
Norman, rightfully so, was shocked at the news. It appears that this review happened after counts on the second batch of signatures was halted due to a lawsuit filed by Greenburg Gibbons. Norman argues that this review is unfair because it is a retroactive review of signatures that Norman claims he acquired using guidance provided by the Board of Elections.

Very curious case, particularly since the precedent came from a case involving the Montgomery County BOE and a lawsuit surrounding "gender identity" as a protected voter class. It seems totally unrelated.

That in mind, it seems like the precedent established in this case would not have been apparent to the Howard County BOE. The state AG's office may have found this after the lawsuit was filed and decided to consider this review before taking a look at the Gibbons lawsuit.

I would be surprised, too, if I were Norman. This is a bizarre development.