It's time for action, not another task force
During the past week in public meetings, I heard both County Executive candidate Courtney Watson and DPZ Director Marsha McLaughlin state that New Town zoning (the special zoning applicable to Columbia) and the role of "gatekeeper" are major issues that need to be addressed very soon. I agree.
Each of them also stated that the first thing to do is to create a task force to study the issues and present recommendations to the CA and county administration. This is where I have serious misgivings.
There are already two reports on New Town zoning and the gatekeeper role — a New Town task force report from 2007 that recommends keeping New Town zoning and creating a new "gatekeeper," and a recently released report from the Howard County Citizens Association (HCCA) that recommends a Columbia Planning Board. The 2007 New Town task force report was the result of a two-year effort. Did anybody do anything based on that task force report?
My concern is that another task force to cover the same ground will continue to delay the process. This delay is a problem; the longer it takes to come up with revised zoning regulations, the more opportunities there are for the county to allow development without public participation, often through abuse of a process called "red lining."
Rather than commit to a task force, I'd like to see a commitment from our elected officials and administrative appointees, whoever they may be in seven weeks, to have a new plan finished and a new gatekeeping entity for Columbia implemented by a date certain.
I also request that until that date, the county ceases to use red lines to approve new development. Task force efforts and reports often take the place of action. It's way past time for action.
(Full disclosure: I am on the HCCA board of directors, but I am writing now as a Columbia resident. I do not represent the board here.)
Kittleman's record not in line with Howard values
Providing the facts for voters so that they can make informed decisions should never be perceived as negative or insulting. Candidates should run on their record. Allan Kittleman is running away from his record and misleading voters by saying that his views on key issues, like denying a woman's right to reproductive choice and supporting assault weapons don't matter in Howard County. In fact, they matter very much.
I did some checking. When it comes to teacher's support, reproductive choice, and gun issues — Kittleman's record demonstrates conservative values, not Independent values.
The Maryland State Education Association gives Kittleman a 22 percent average rating over the past eight years.
A candidate's stand on reproductive freedom also matters at the county level, since a county executive can choose to restore or not restore cuts in state funding for reproductive health care services.
Kittleman's NRA "A" rating and his efforts to keep the sale of assault weapons legal in Maryland also are indicators for how he might handle gun issues at a local level. Howard County code, local laws regulating guns and the Federal and State laws enable counties to make decisions about guns. Gun issues are local and a candidate's position does matter.
I want a leader who practices what she preaches and is forthcoming about her record. I want a candidate who believes in strong education, women's choice and common sense gun control. Courtney Watson is that candidate.
Respect the hard work on park by CA staff
In April of 2014, the Columbia architects joined with community leaders to encourage the Columbia Association to sponsor several public meetings to review and evaluate the alternative plans for Symphony Woods Park. We also recommended that the Columbia Association retain a small team of park consultants to assist. The CA board did not respond to either of these recommendations. Many people in Columbia believe CA has a responsibility to support an open planning process for this important community gathering place.
The Rouse Co. architects and planners who participated in planning the Town Center between 1963 and 2004 have an in-depth understanding of the goals and objectives of the Rouse Co. team that dedicated 50 acres of land for Columbia's "Central Park."
This team invested over 80 years of professional time on the development of the Town Center and Columbia's villages. The CA staff collaborated with four members of this team for five years. The CA staff and their park consultants prepared a plan that the community supported and CA and the Howard County Planning Board approved in 2012. The CA Board members who represented the community between 2008 and 2012 were unanimous in their support of the 2008 "Central Park" plan.
We believe the current CA Board should respect and honor the work of the CA staff, their consulting team and the CA Board members who authorized spending $1.6 million to develop the park walkways, lighting and pedestrian amenities and to provide a meaningful pedestrian connection between Town Center and the Pavilion.
The Columbia architects have invited five internationally recognized architects and park planners to review and evaluate the alternative plans for Symphony Woods Park. Their professional evaluations will be presented to the CA Board and the community in October.
Courtney Watson has a record of listening and acting
Courtney Watson listens. Courtney advised my leadership when I developed a community-wide solution in 2001 to replace a Lowe's Home Improvement with an elementary school solution in Ellicott City. Previously, as a community member, she led the team that created and opened the 12th high school. Her example helped me create a solution to alleviate school crowding in the northeast region, create 55+ housing along Montgomery Road and resulted in the Veterans Elementary School opening in 2007.
Her ability to listen and ask questions created a more comprehensive answer that served all students and the surrounding community including supporting the YMCA's desire to expand along Montgomery Road.
Fast forward to 2012. Courtney Watson acts. During the derecho in June, I met an elderly couple from Elkridge, who were struggling without power, and I encouraged them to call Courtney Watson. Their electricity was quickly restored and to this day they credit Courtney Watson for "saving their lives."
That is why I'm a member of the #Women4Watson team. As an independent, I've worked with Courtney for over a decade creating impactful community change. Courtney comes through — with clear thinking, thoughtful action and strong leadership and she makes our community more efficient, stronger and smarter.
Appalled and embarrassed by Courtney Watson's mailers
There's an old saying that "all's fair in love, war and politics," but it really shouldn't be in a local election in a civilized place like Howard County.
Courtney Watson has sunk below any acceptable threshold of distortion and misdirection in her unfounded attacks on her opponent in the race for county executive. As a long-time resident of our fortunate community and a registered Democrat, I'm appalled and embarrassed by her outrageous mailers, and I have to suppose other Democrats and supporters are embarrassed too.
Tell us what's good about you, Courtney, and what you can and want to do for our county, or I'm voting for Allan Kittleman.
Poor highway maintenance has become noticeable
I've always been proud of the way highways in Maryland are maintained, but that's changed dramatically in recent years.
My husband and I are retired, and as we travel around the state, the lack of maintenance is especially noticeable in Howard County.
I'm dismayed at the way the grassy areas along Route 29 and Route 32 are being maintained.
The berms and medians plus many of the entrance and exit ramps have been mowed only once this summer, and litter has been left untouched.
Crews from volunteer groups and various work programs used to pick up litter on a regular basis.
I understand the goal of Maryland's 2011 "Turfgrass Management Program" that limits mowing to three times a year, but the end result is unsightly highways, especially here in Howard County.
Model community for seniors part of Watson's vision
As long time community advocates we were impressed with Courtney Watson's vision for creating a model community for aging successfully in Howard County. Her platform recognizes that while many Howard County seniors hope to remain in Howard County there is more that we need to do to improve critical resources.
While providing free access to public transportation, creating volunteer and job hubs that leverage the experience and expertise of our seniors, and ensuring that moderately priced housing opportunities are available are exciting, concrete ideas, the broader overreaching concept of connecting Howard County policy makers with regional experts to create a model community is visionary thinking.
Within a decade or so, one in five of us will be over the age of 65. We are glad that Courtney Watson recognizes this impending demographic shift and is planning for that day.
Chuck and Virginia Thomas
County's self-promoting banners are shameless
The headline "Howard County applauds Howard County" on Sept.18 is perfect for this tall tale of shameless self-promotion. Hanging 242 banners is being spun as a way of attracting tourism. Do you choose your tourist destination based on the locale's libraries, schools or digital prowess?
One just can't suspend reality enough to buy into this excuse for spending $28,000 taxpayer dollars. This project is offensive on so many levels it may backfire on accolade-obsessed Ken Ulman and candidates Ball and Watson.
Is this election year timing a coincidence? Does the price tag include public works costs to put up-and eventually take down-the banners? When removed, will the banners somehow be recycled or reside in a landfill for 100 years? Columbia residents may wonder: Isn't this the antithesis of our minimal signage tradition? Does the lack of banners along the Route One Corridor mean there is nothing to "love" here?
Ulman said "There were a lot of thoughts about …how we do it in a way that is appropriate and makes sense." I would suggest he recall the adage "Just because you can do something, doesn't mean youshould."