Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ethics Complaint Against Bobo Dismissed

Freemarket has the exclusive on the news that the Jud Malone ethics complaint against Delegate Elizabeth Bobo has been dismissed. Basically, the Ethics Committee supported Bobo's excuse:
CA is considered a private homeowner’s association by the committee, so according to the committee there is no ethical problem with Bobo using a taxpayer provided resource (her official delegate e-mail address) to stump for whoever she wants for the CA board.
Of course, the Committee doesn't recognize the influence that said "private homeowner's association" has on Columbia and its politics. Quite a bogus decision from the House of Delegates. Then again, they convened in a special session to hike state income taxes, recently approved speed cameras statewide, and are a generally corrupt body. Did you expect anything different?

County Will Not Reconfigure Timbers at Troy Golf Hole

Jen Broadwater has the story that the County has declined to reroute the 13th hole at Timbers at Troy golf course to stop the flow of golf balls into the backyards and windows of homes that line that hole.
Covenants tied to the course and the surrounding Lyndwood property state that homeowners “assumed the risk of injury to or death of persons and of damage to property resulting from the use of the golf course by other persons in a reasonable manner.”

In the letter, Arthur added that if the residents decided to put up nets or plant trees as a barrier between their houses and the course, the county would not pay for the changes but could refer the residents to companies and landscaping contractors.

“As I indicated to you at the meeting, we will continue our outreach to golfers publicizing on our receipts and with outside signage that they are responsible for their golf shots,” Arthur’s letter states.
As a golfer and golf writer, I know that playing on a course lined with houses is a dangerous proposition for the player. I am responsible for any damage that I do to a house on the course. If I do damage and am not contacted or know it happened, then it is up to the homeowner. They bought into that when they bought their home. It is not up to the County to provide netting or reroute the hole to protect people who did not read the covenant.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

County Council Member Shows Arrogance

I was catching up on HoCo news this morning at the Baltimore Sun and saw a story about the supposed success of the texting and speed camera legislation passed by the Maryland legislature. The legislative value of those laws aside - they are ridiculous and thinly-veiled taxes - there was a second part of Larry Carson's piece about efforts of Republicans to challenge Democratic domination of the eastern County.
Anthony C. Jordan, 29, a five-year resident of New Colony Village in Elkridge, said he's planning a run for the District 2 County Council seat now held by Democrat Calvin Ball, who was appointed in April 2006 to succeed David A. Rakes.

A former Air Force staff sergeant and married father of two preschool girls, Jordan said he has a fundraiser planned for May 2 at Houlihan's restaurant in Gateway shopping center and plans a vigorous door-to-door effort. County GOP Chairwoman Joan Becker said Jordan has been active for about six months and is a welcome addition to the Republican candidate ranks.
Not knowing Mr. Jordan, it's pretty cool to me that he is deciding to take the plunge. He wants to represent his community in a different fashion than how he defended it as a member of the military. Meanwhile, Councilman Ball shows his arrogance in response to Mr. Jordan's potential challenge.
"I think it would be challenging for someone with limited experience and who may not really have done a great deal in the community to be successful," said Ball, 33.
Let me get this right. Calvin Ball is 33. A solid four years older than Jordan. Ball basically has one full term in office under his belt. And, he is criticizing a man who served in our military as having little community experience? You gotta be kidding me.

It would seem that Mr. Ball is out of touch with this comment. Playing the experience card is hilariously wrong in this situation for several reasons. One, Mr. Ball has less than one full term of experience as an elected official. Second, in order to gain experience in the community and as a legislator, someone has to win an election first. Third, having experience doesn't necessarily work out to be a benefit. If the person with experience does a poor job, is ineffective, or has lousy ideas, then experience is a curse - not a blessing.

As someone who is yet to be elected to the position for a full term, it would seem that Mr. Ball should be more careful in his remarks.

Friday, April 17, 2009

GGP Files for Bankruptcy Protection

It was official yesterday, but never unexpected. GGP filed for bankruptcy protection in federal court. Derek Simmonsen and Jennifer Broadwater have the details of the local connection of the filing. Largely, Columbia goes unaffected by the filing.

The Mall in Columbia, the master-planned community of Columbia, and the development in Columbia Town Center are not involved in the bankruptcy filings, according to information posted on the company’s Web site.

Other local GGP properties not involved in the filings are the American City Building in downtown Columbia, the Columbia Association building, Towson Town Center, Laurel Commons and Mondawmin Mall.

Some local properties owned by or affiliated with General Growth that are part of the bankruptcy filing include Gateway Overlook shopping center, on the eastern edge of Columbia, and the Hickory Ridge Village Center, in west Columbia.
GGP has said that it plans to continue with its ZRA 113 and General Plan Amendment submissions.
“As we have said many times, a good general plan and zoning will run with the land,” Hamm said. “Regardless of who owns it or what the circumstances are, a quality plan and all that comes with it survives transfers, survives economic ups and downs.”
County Executive Ken Ulman and the County Council were not surprised by the filing and are figuring out what to do about it.

As I said in my testimony to the Planning Board, this filing should continue regardless of GGP's health. If GGP does wind up having to include Columbia Town Center in its filings, then it will likely go to new ownership. That ownership may or may not consist of one company, continuing in the tradition of Rouse Company. Therefore, it is critical to devise a plan that will be (a) enforceable and (b) forward-looking.

At the same time, this gives the Planning Board some more serious considersations in their deliberations. Also, it gives our government officials more responsibility for developing a plan that will stand up regardless of ownership. This plan should be reviewed as though we, the taxpayers, would be on the hook for infrastructure change and development. It should be reviewed under a what-if scenario that we will not have an owner/developer like GGP, with whom we have a decent relationship.

This filing does not mean the death of ZRA 113 and the GPA. It actually means that this filing carries even more weight than before the filing. The economic future of our town center hinges upon it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Public Testimony on ZRA 113 Shows Clear Split

Derek Simmonsen has a post up on Explore Howard that links to the DPZ report on the public testimony submitted for ZRA 113 and the themes of it. Simmonsen says that the public is basically split down the middle on their opinion of the plan.

Digging a little deeper, 25 community organizations testified on ZRA 113. 32% (so, 8) organizations testified in support, 52% (13) recommended amendments, and the remainder - 4 - requested that GGP resubmit its proposal. Since Planning Board deliberation began in private on Monday, that last part was not going to happen.

Individuals told a more sorted tale. 50% of individuals who testified were in support of the plan as submitted. 24% - of which I was part - submitted testimony requesting modifications to the proposal. 11% asked for a resubmission. 15% were against the proposal altogether.

Derek refers to this as a 50-50 split among individuals. I wouldn't be inclined to call it that, but you couldn't either say that 74% support the proposal. 24% of respondents seem to support aspects of the GGP plan, but have trepidation about one or several key aspects. Given the breadth of this proposal, that should be expected.

Again, this is a small sampling of Columbia. Around 0.1% of Columbia responded with testimony. I'm not sure what that level of apathy says about the support for the plan. It is my hope, though, that the DPZ will provide us with meeting minutes and the like to get a better feel for the Planning Board deliberation and recommendations.

Vandals Attack Iron Bridge for a Second Time

Earlier in March, vandals attacked the Iron Bridge wine bar and restaurant off of Route 108. They smashed windows and left graffiti messages about the restaurant's decision to serve foie gras. Foie gras is the liver of a fattened goose or duck. Animal activists say that the fowl are overfed in order to produce the delicacy, which they say is inhumane.

The folks at Iron Bridge did not remove foie gras from the menu as a result of the vandalism. I guess that spurred the vandals on, because the Columbia Flier reports that they struck again this week with two softball sized rocks through windows.

It appears that the restaurant will not back down.
[Restaurant co-owner Steve] Wecker said that he and his brother Rob, who own the restaurant, are not backing down. Since the last incident, the owners have instituted a Foie Gras Friday in which foie gras is served in three different ways, he said.

The restaurant also has begun selling “Got Foie Gras?” T-shirts and business has been brisk, he said. Staff members are also wearing the T-shirts, he said.

“We’re not giving in to terrorism,” Wecker said “If they think that we’re going to say, 'Well, OK, fine, you win,' they’re incorrect.”
Good for them. I don't care what your feelings are about the dish in question. You may find it inhumane. I wouldn't disagree with you. I'm not enough of a foodie or animal lover to be certain. But that does not make it ok to vandalize private property.

I hope that these vandals are caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. There is no justification for a crime like this.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Council Rejects Plan to Open Age Restricted Communities to Younger Buyers

ZRA 108 went before the County Council last night. It was a proposal from a local developer to allow up to 20% of homes in age-restricted communities to be purchased by people younger than the age threshold. (In most cases, that is 50 or 55.)

The Council unanimously rejected the proposal. Larry Carson in the Sun:
The bill was requested by Brantly Development Group as a way to attract more buyers during the recession, but council members sided with county planners and with scores of older residents who protested that they bought the specially zoned units because they were restricted for seniors. Changing the rules now would be wrong, they argued.

"I just don't think this is the right direction to go," said Fulton Republican Greg Fox.

"I didn't hear any answers to how homeowners' association would enforce this," said Jen Terrasa, a King's Contrivance Democrat.

"I could not find any redeeming qualities in this bill," said Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat.
I'm inclined to agree with the Council's findings. There are much broader implications for this kind of zoning amendment. Since these homes are generally priced below market rate for like-styled homes, these could be susceptible to prospectors and other dangers. Also, people who have already bought in these communities purchased homes under a certain set of assumptions about their neighbors. They are entitled to keep that kind of community.

Perhaps a better approach would be to offer to not charge property taxes on purchases of these homes for up to three years so as to encourage people within the age restriction to take the plunge. Builders, though, should not be bailed out for making bad decisions on construction - particularly when it comes to age-restricted communities.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Resident Files Ethics Complaint Against Del. Bobo

On Explore Howard today, Derek Simmonsen has details about Jud Malone's ethics complaint filed against Delegate Liz Bobo.
Jud Malone, president of Columbia Tomorrow, a local group supportive of General Growth Properties’ downtown redevelopment plan, filed the complaint March 26 with the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. In his complaint, he cited e-mails from 2007 and 2008 in which Bobo, a Columbia Democrat, endorsed candidates in CA elections using her official state e-mail.

In his complaint, Malone cited ethics rules against using the legislature’s e-mail system for non-public purposes and to influence campaigns.
Then, over at Free Market, I saw Bill Santos' post that has a letter that Bobo sent from her state account pertaining to the CA election in question.

Bobo claims ignorance of the ethics rule.

This is the second time in recent memory that Bobo has claimed ignorance as a political excuse for her actions. Earlier in the year, Bobo claimed that she cast a vote for a bill that she thought was a different bill. She then used that as an excuse to revisit the vote and conveniently change it after politics dictated a vote change.

At the same time, there are worse things than this. Sure, this is unethical. But an email is not the end of the world unless it is only the tip of an iceburg that we are yet to know. Honestly, I doubt that is the case.