Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Dream of James W. Rouse Is Alive and Well

Ah, this may be my favorite post to date. Columbia will not have come to fruition if it weren't for the vision, leadership, and business sense of James W. Rouse, Frazier Wilde, and the Work Group. All of these men are my personal heroes and all once and future Columbia residents owe them a debt of gratitude for the community they live in. If I could travel back in time I would go to the weekly work group sessions of the mid 1960s in the then Saratoga Street headquarters of the Rouse Company not to put in my two cents but just to listen and watch history being made.
In 2007 many are questioning the longevity of Rouse's vision. Sprinkled throughout Columbia's history have been periods of violent crime, the redevelopment of Town Center has everyone on both sides of the issue claiming to know the dream of Rouse better than their opponent, Older village centers have lost anchor supermarket tenants due to increased competition from big box centers, CA facilities struggle with debt as national super gyms with deep pockets show up next door and the ever present question of incorporation. What follows are answers to some of the issues and how Rouse may deal with them and I took the camera Downtown to capture some long standing values of Rouse.
As I mentioned in the previous post Columbia has had crime in its past. This is not surprising considering that Columbia was and is meant to be a mixed income community and when the poor and downtrodden are brought into the equation the probability of crime becomes more likely. I don't however think that Columbia should get rid of its section 8 housing complexes and other rental complexes that accept section 8 vouchers, this is just a pill that Columbians have to and for the most part have swallowed. I think that these communities need a lot of attention so they can continue to offer the full Columbia Experience even if they can't afford it.
The Town Center issue seems to be what's dominating the local headlines lately. Every tom dick and harry seems to know Rouse's answer to the question of Town Center. Fact of the matter is no one's gotten it 100%. The building progress has been much slower than originally anticipated but outside market forces have rendered the 1980 110,000 population estimate impossible. Once the villages have reached build out Town Center was supposed to be redeveloped at that point. We are at that point today and one would think that the old Columbia pioneers would be happy that the crown and jewel of Mr. Rouse's dream is being fulfilled. Of course that's not the case they're as whiny and self righteous as always thinking that the way Town Center was before 1997 was how it was supposed to be. Rouse envisioned a vibrant pedestrian oriented downtown with sky scrapers 30 to 50 stories high where one could see Baltimore and DC on a clear day. Any book about the planning of Columbia will support this including the biography of Jim Rouse. The tallest building proposed as of right now is only 22 stories high.
The Village Centers now face more competition than ever with big box shopping centers now throwing grocery stores in the mix. When the first big box shopping centers came they coexisted nicely with the village centers but now look out. Trader Joes, Costco, Wegmans, have either committed or are making proposals to come to Columbia. King's Contrivance is fighting back with the areas first Harris Teeter. Oakland Mills appears to be a cat with multiple lives. It has lost many grocery anchors but the community hasn't given up on it. Despite not being near major intersections Kimco was able to lure in a Food Lion after the closed metro was vacant for 3 and a half years. I do fear for the future of Food Lion because there are many residents who still shop at Dorsey's Search or Owen Brown Giant instead of the Food Lion. The other merchants, God Bless 'em they've held on through thick and thin. Wilde Lake Village Center also has lost its grocery anchor. After nearly 40 years and just one modest expansion Giant closed its doors for good. Whether anyone knows it or not Wilde Lake has been without an anchor for many years now. Giant lost its drawing power when larger stores in Dorsey's Search, Hickory Ridge, and River Hill and the opening of the Safeway in Harpers Choice. David's Natural Market and Produce Galore are now the center's anchors with county wide drawing power. I'm confident that Kimco will find a new full service grocery anchor for Wilde Lake and redevelop the center as a whole.
Another question is Columbia Association (CA). CA has amassed tens of millions in debt and a complete pay off of it doesn't seem feasible. Increased competition for mega gyms, non profitable properties, and aging properties have put CA in a bind. Instead of facing these issues head on they have reduced to petty squabbles on relatively small issues. Only recently has CA started to look at the bigger picture but I still think they should do more. Off of Robert Fulton Drive a mega Gym called "Life Time Fitness" has been built a mere half mile away from the Supreme Sports Club and the Hopewell Pool. CA did fight back with a renovation of both the Supreme Sports Club and the Hopewell Pool. Although not near Life Time Fitness CA just finished renovating the Athletic Club in Harpers Choice which has always been a money maker for CA. Not all CA facilities are as lucky as the Athletic Club as far as bringing home the bacon. The two in question are the CA Horse Center and the Fairway Hills Golf Club. i think both should be closed down and doing so can help wipe out CA's debt, I'll save the details for future posts. As far as renovating older facilities CA should continue what its doing in renovating them but investing more and making them more like newer ones.For the record I don't think that Columbia should be incorporated as a City. I think it will distance itself from Howard County and I think CA and Howard County should be partners in Columbia's Future and incorporation might put that in Jeopardy.
Despite all the problems and challenges I've mentioned I still think the dream of Rouse is alive and well. I think he would be proud of Ken Ulman and all he's done and will continue to do for Columbia and Howard County. I think he will encourage redevelopment when needed and will turn CA into a money maker. Just look at all the pictures of I've taken and you will see the evidence of the dream.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Some Homes Just Need a Little TLC

Not all old Columbia homes need to be completely renovated or torn down and rebuilt. In many cases just a fresh coat of paint, tidier siding, some new shutters, power washed bricks, or just new landscaping will make homes appear much better and updated than one would think.

Homes that fall in this category are owner occupied single family and town homes that are more traditional colonials rather than contemporary. Single Family Homes include West Running Brook, Phelps Luck Drive, and Tamar Drive in Jeffers Hill. Town homes include scattered sites in Swansfield, Longfellow, Cross Fox, Howard Homes in Hickory Ridge, Owen Brown and Kings Contrivance and lower High Tor Hill in Phelps Luck. The biggest problem with town homes is the lack of landscaping attention. Sometimes the home owner's association is in charge and other times it's the home owner them selves. Both parties need to take a more proactive roll in the landscaping of their property.

*pictured single family homes are in running brook and the town homes are in swansfield

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Message About Crime and Redevelopment

Crime rears its ugly head in different little "hot spots" of Columbia every now and then. The past few years have been fairly quiet. The mid to late 1990s were a different story. There was a lot more violent crime. The more well to do families flocked to River Hill causing white flight not seen since the blockbusting era. The real estate boom priced out a lot of the criminals who were causing a lot of the trouble hence Columbia being quieter lately. In 2003 there was a giant drug ring arrest that captured a couple dozen dealers which contributed to the calmness. A side note I went to Elementary, Middle, and High School with several of these dealers, many of them were years younger than me and I'm only 22. I was 19 in 2003 when these arrests occurred so you do the math.

April and May of 2007 have brought about two homicides in the same neighborhood. I also saw a blurb in the Howard County times about a meeting discussing gang activities in Oakland Mills. Now those of you who are from big cities thus sounds like nothing. Columbia has always and will always have residents who don't take these things lying down. Howard County has a very capable police force who can get all the funding they need to tackle these crime problems unlike other Maryland jurisdictions. There have been three homicides in Howard County in 2007 one was solved and then there are the two that occurred in the Hannibal Grove/711 area. I grew up in Vantage Point area which is just across Little Patuxent Parkway from Hannibal Grove and the 711. I have been robbed, assaulted, mugged, and jumped almost exclusively from residents of that area. They were a part of that drug ring I mentioned above. When it comes to bad areas of Columbia I don't stay away from them. Columbia is my once and future home and I'm not going to let a few rotten apples scare me away. Many hardened Columbia residents share my same sentiment. Columbia is not a "Stop Snitchin' " community.

Those who committed these two homicides will be identified that much I'm sure of. Whether an arrest will be made I'm not sure of. Lack of evidence may not allow an arrest to occur. As for the Hannibal Grove neighborhood I think it's at a crossroads. Many current residents are fed up and are going to move. Like I've said before many older Columbia rental complexes are in the redevelopment stage. I think it's time for Hannibal Grove to be knocked down and rebuilt. The new neighborhood will be garden apartments and town homes just like it is now. However, this time around it will contain a mixture of market rate home ownership, market rate rental, with a small number set aside for subsidized rental and home ownership. Bringing home owners to the area will create a sense of stability. The pedestrian bridge connecting Running Brook Elementary to the community will be torn down too, in its place will be a traffic light at Columbia Road and Brook Way and a crossing guard during school hours. It's a hot bed for crime and deals. I think a brand 711 should also be built. This new store should be next to the Running Brook Neighborhood Center and the current building should be turned into locker rooms for the pool. Running Brook pool will be completely redone to the likes of newer CA pools.

I think a brand new mixed income community will stabilize the community and Columbia as a whole. When it comes to redevelopment proposals in Columbia Hannibal Grove is just the tip of the iceberg.

*Just a little update they made an arrest in both cases the person committed both homicides. I knew they'd be caught but I didn't think one person was responsible. The next little problem brewing is possible gang activities in Oakland Mills and Long Reach. I'm confident this will be dealt with swiftly seeing as Columbia has always been able to keep crime under control in the past.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

East Columbia Uglys: Change is Afoot

There is a style of home mainly in East Columbia that is well ugly. They're small contemporary homes built roughly from 1971-1975. They turn up on Kilminjaro Road, Farewell Road, Stevens Forest Road, Thunderhill Road south of Route 175, Tamar Drive, in both Jeffers Hill and Locust Park, and along Martin Road and Freetown Road. Clemens Crossing is the only section of West Columbia that has these homes. The homes have wood siding, car ports rather than garages, usually ranchers or split level foyers, and are often poorly maintained. These are the cheapest Single Family Homes in Columbia and may be bought up by absentee land lords and rented out with little to no work done inside or out.
One thing people need to start realizing about Columbia is that it's no longer a "New Town" as its zoning suggests, its buildings are in some cases 35-40 years old. Buildings that were built that long ago may not have aged well and it could not be more true than in the case of East Columbia Uglys. In order for these homes to remain marketable for years to come intervention is needed. CA (Columbia Association) needs to redraw its guidelines for the neighborhoods that have these houses. This may have already been holding back home owners and investors alike from renovating these homes to a more modern attractive look. If CA redraws its neighborhood's guidelines then the properties when they're put on the market can be marketed as "Build your new dream home in a well established neighborhood." Simply slapping on new siding to these homes actually made them look worse in my opinion, real change needs to come in a full renovation to update these homes.
As new homes become harder to come by in Howard County people will start looking to renovate an existing home in an existing neighborhood and with the relative affordability of these homes, this would be a great place to do such. If CA redraws its guidelines change may finally be afoot for these "East Columbia Uglys"
*all pictures were taken in the village of Oakland Mills' Stevens Forsest Neighborhood on sidestreets of Farewell and Kilminjaro Roads.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Streetscaped Medians: They Serve Dual Purposes

When it comes to streetscaped medians, they're something that can be easily overlooked. At the same time however, they can be very attractive if done right. There are numerous locations throughout Columbia that could use these beatifications. Some areas have medians that are nothing but concrete slaps, but what I'm proposing has grass, flowers beds, and a shaft with street lights on either side of them. Tall trees can be a visual hazard however. Another benefit of these medians is they slow traffic down. Some of Columbia's wider residential streets are plagued with motorists driving 15,20 or even 30 miles above the posted speed limit. Having medians in the roads will no doubt slow them down. If you don't have a clear picture of what I would like this to look like I will give some examples of where they already are. Inner Harbor: Conway Street, Light Street, Eastern Avenue, and President Street. Also in the new Maple Lawn Farms development in Fulton.

Shown here is Dorsey Hall Drive looking away from Columbia Road I would plant more flowers and the road itself needs a pave, maybe throw in some brick crosswalks.

Potential sites for these median are listed on a village by village basis.
*means modification to existing median

Dorsey's Search: Columbia Road*, Grey Rock Drive, Dorsey Hall Drive*
*shown here is cedar lane in the village of harpers choide looking towards route 108

Harper's Choice: Harper's Farm Road, Cedar Lane/Rivendell Lane, Eliot's Oak Road, Hesperus Drive.

Hickory Ridge:Owen Brown Road, Martin Road, Cedar Lane, Quarterstaff Road

Kings Contrivance: Volmerhausen Road, Eden brook Drive, Shaker Drive*, Guilford Road

*shown here is stonecutter road in the village of long reach looking towards heyshed lane

Long Reach: Tamar Drive, Old Dobbin Lane, Majors Lane, Phelps Luck Drive, High Tor Hill, Dobbin Road, Hay shed Lane, Stone cutter Road

Oakland Mills, Thunderhill Road, Stevens Forest Road*, White Acre Road, Kilimanjaro Road, Santiago Road, Farewell Road, Basket Ring Road,

Owen Brown: Cradlerock Way, Homespun Drive, Oakland Mills Road, Carved Stone, Deepage Drive, Rustling Leaf

Wilde Lake: Twin Rivers Road, Columbia Road

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Blandair: Not Meant to be Parkland

Blandair is the huge undeveloped patch of land that separates Oakland Mills from Long Reach. This was always meant for development by the Rouse Company but the property owner simply wouldn't sell. The state had to acquire the land to build Route 175 through the property but still no dice for the Rouse Company. Now that the land owner is dead and the county has ownership of the land the development of the land can finally proceed right? Wrong, some busy body thought it would be a good idea to turn the whole area on both sides of route 175 and both sides of Oakland Mills Road. The idea of turning the area into a park was met lovingly with arms wide open on both sides of the aisle. There was and is one person who wasn't and isn't so keen on the idea of yet another park that drains the county and/or the Columbia Association of its precious resources. That one person is me in case you haven't figured it out yet.
How could the land this land help its surrounding communities rather than take from them? Now we've established that the county owns this land right? Right,now the county just like any other jurisdiction is stretched very thin financially right? Right, the land here is very valuable right? Right, so why doesn't the county just sell the land and make a whole lot of money that could be better invested in Columbia's ever aging schools? Because it makes too much sense that's why. Downtown Columbia is slated to be redeveloped with high density apartments and condos so this piece of land would be better suited for single family detached dwellings. I'm sure you may be asking yourselves how can a huge development of single family homes be beneficial to East Columbia? That's easy, new residents equal more tax dollars and in this case more CA lien dollars. More middle to upper income families (the population of this new development) equals louder voices in when it comes to capital funding for their public schools and fatter PTA banks accounts for the schools this community will serve Talbott Springs Elementary, Oakland Mills Middle and High schools. More residents equals more business for the struggling Oakland Mills Village Center. Also the property values of existing homes will go up giving home owners the opportunity to take out home equity loans to improve the appearance of their homes.

If you see this land as a catalyst development for East Columbia please do what I will certainly do, Tell your County Council member and maybe just maybe this be developed into housing just like Rouse Intended it to be.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Rouse Didn't Say Let There Be Light

Well that's not entirely true but his vision of Columbia did not involve an excessive use of street lighting or neon lighting at all. In single family homes the builders and home owners were required to their own outside light on a post in lieu of traditional street lights. This can be seen along Green Mountain Circle.Eventually homes didn't have these lights anymore but still there was little traditional street lighting to be found. The Village Centers also had and still have very little lighting. Usually in retail strip centers the signs for the businesses are lit up for road visibility, not in Columbia. Storefronts originally faced inward to create a European village courtyard theme. This ultimately didn't work because of visibility. Many of the Village Canters have been renovated into more traditional strip centers or are now in the process of doing so.

Today the need for additional lighting is in greater demand than it was back in the 1960s while Columbia was in its planning stages. Village main streets like Tamar Drive, Harpers Farm Road, Twin Rivers Road, and Cradlerock Way have benefited from additional and more adequate lighting. However, one turn off of these streets and you will be in the dark. Here are some neighborhood streets and their cul de sacs that should all have more street and pathway lighting. They include but are not limited to Green Mountain Circle and Windstream Drive in Bryant Woods, Faulkner Ridge Circle in Faulkner Ridge, West Running Brook Road, Ten Mills Road, and Columbia Road in Running Brook, Eliots Oak Road and Hesperous Drive in Longfellow, Cedar Lane in Swansfield, Martin Road, Freetown Road, Cedar Lane, and Quarterstaff Road in Clemens Crossing. Hickory Ridge Road in Clarys Forest and Hawthorn, Columbia Road in Dorseys Search. Cradlerock Way in Dasher Green and Elkhorn. Stevens Forest Road, and Thunderhill Road in Oakland Mills. Phelps Luck Drive and High Tor Hill in Phelps Luck.

Rouse may not have said let there be light then, but he'd say it now.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

River Hill Pedestrian Plan

Now this one is easy. As Columbia's newest village nothing is older than 15 years.
I have watched this grow from birth to its present form. River Hill like Hickory Ridge, Dorsey Search, and Kings Contrivance is not contigious, meaning there are numerous out parcels of land that really isn't a part of the village or Columbia as a whole. This means that residents don't pay the CA lien that Columbia residents do. These parcels could have before the village built around or it was built at either same time or even afterwords. Needless to say the out parcels don't have the Colmbia amenities like shared mail boxes, pathways, or sidewalks. They also have more freedom to make changes to their homes as they please without appealing to their village board. Now in River Hill there are such parcels that need some of these amenities mainly sidewalks and additional lighting. Trotter Road needs sidewalks as does South Trotter Road, Walter Scott outparcel, Pointers Overlook, and Clarks Glen. Guilford Road needs both sidewalks and additional lighting as does the stretch of route 108 that covers River Hill's northern border.

Monday, March 12, 2007


I lived in Columbia for 19 of my almost 23 years of existence. The past 4 years I've lived in Ellicott City and I've learned just how special the Columbia Experience is not just for me but for all the 100,000 who call Columbia home. There are many issues involving the future of Downtown and what Jim Rouse would do. Columbia new comers and pioneers alike say they know the answer to the question "What would Jim Rouse Do?" I am not a Columbia pioneer, I was born in 1984 17 years after the formal dedication of Columbia and 21 years after the first 1039 acres of land was purchased by Robert Moxley for the Rouse company. I have spent countless hours reading and researching the history of how Columbia came to fruition and why. I try not to talk much about my personal life but I feel I must. I'm liberal but I'm also pro development, well pro smart growth. There are many parcels of land in Columbia that should be developed both Downtown and tucked away in the other nine Villages. Columbia was a solution to suburban sprawl and without the densifying of Downtown, Columbia would just have contributed to the sprawl. This blog isn't about Downtown it's about Columbia's villages and neighborhoods that may not have aged as well as some may have liked. What follows are my personal opinions regarding the future of said villages. I have always thought big, while others have squabbled about small little details I was thinking of big projects and coming up with predictions of the future and not settling for the status quo.