Friday, December 30, 2005

Ringing in the New Year

Looking for a cool way to spend New Year's Eve nearby? Consider First Night Annapolis.


Firefighters Needed

Twice in this week's Capital pieces appeared on the problems with overtime overruns by the County Fire Department, first, in a story on Sunday, and then in an editorial on Thursday. The Fire Department has spent $3.54 million on overtime in 5 months, when the overtime budget for the entire year consists of only $2.77 million. The Department is on a pace, by my count, to spend about $8.5 million on overtime by the end of the fiscal year.

The Fire Chief, Ronald Blackwell, blamed the overruns on "the high cost of training dozens of firefighters to become paramedics and specially trained medics." Again, by my calculations, that would work out to something like $41,824 per trainee, for each of the 137 extra shift members the Department is bringing on the force [$5,730,000/137]. Could that possibly be correct? Even spending this princely sum, the Department apparently hasn't been able to attract additional expert paramedics, according to the Chief.

Any chance we might get someone to call for an audit of how all these funds are being spent? It seems like it would just be cheaper to pay these folks better in the first place, so we could attract more of them, and stop having to pay the rest overtime, which can't be particularly good for their readiness or public safety. If you have any ideas about what's going on, or how to improve the situation, please drop me a line.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Recycling Your Tree

Wondering what to do with your pine tree now that Christmas has passed. If you didn't buy a live tree, which can be planted in the yard (and shouldn't spend more than a week indoors), strip the ornaments and tinsel and consider one of these options.
  • Sinking it in a local waterway, or off your pier, if you have one, to serve as a habitat for subaquatic life. Fish love to gather in the branches, and use the structure of the tree for protection from predators, and the tree breaks down fairly quickly. [A reader makes a good point about this option, take special care that any submerged trees are not a hazard to navigation. And, actually, the choices below are probably far superior environmental options, for a variety of reasons.]

  • Place it in your yard, near a treeline or wooded area, if you have one. It can serve roughly the same purpose for birds and small mammals that the submerged tree does for fish. It can provide protection, and a place for creatures to make nests for the winter.

  • Chip or shred the tree and use it for mulch or in the compost pile in your own yard. Certain plants, such as azaleas, magnolias, and laurel like the acidity of soil created by amending it with pine needles.

  • Leave it out for the County to compost. Trees must be free of all ornamentation and tree bags. Only natural trees will be collected and trees over 4 feet tall must be cut in half.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Horton Bids Adieu

For years, columnist Tom Horton has written about the Bay and the environment, serving as one of its foremost advocates in the pages of the Baltimore Sun, and the numerous books he has written. He's decided to hang up his column, and take on other pursuits.

Horton's been writing his incisive, heartfelt column for 13 years, and has written several acclaimed books on the Chesapeake, including: Turning the Tide, Bay Country, Water's Way, and An Island Out of Time. This past fall, he and a colleague paddled 445 miles around the Delmarva, to complete the first recorded circumnavigation of the peninsula by kayak. [pictures and photos are available here].

In his closing column, he points out a number of the ridiculous paradoxes that endure, despite near universal support for trying to "Save the Bay", including: " Prattling about "planned" growth while zoning most of the landscape for development; Promoting oysters as the great filterers and cleansers of the bay while expanding techniques such as power dredging to catch the last that remain; and, Staffing the leadership of Maryland's Department of the Environment, whose mission is "protect and preserve the state's environmental resources," with former businesspeople and industry lobbyists." He then slips in a few suggestions on how each of us might lighten our strain on the Bay, and ends with a farewell.

So long, Mr. Horton. Though your column is in its twilight, we know you won't rest as the sun continues to set on the Bay.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Odenton Loosens the Floodgates

Monday's Capital tells us that a plan to build more than 2,000 homes "earns praise", giving the sense that support for the project in the community is near unanimous. "Wouldn't you rather have an active senior community as opposed to a landfill or a jail?," offered a resident whose property borders proposed development, a gated golf community for affluent seniors.

The developer, John Stamato (along with Gary Koch), certainly deserves some credit for actively working with the neighboring community. He has been communicating with residents for the past 3 or 4 years, including shuttling about 30 of them up to Lakewood, NJ to see a senior community there. None of the homes will be built closer than a 1/4 mile from the Patuxent River, and the developer intends to set 400 of the 1,471.5 acres aside for open space. But, any way you slice it 2,000 new homes are going to be a huge drain on the County's infrastructure and resources.

The situation sounds remarkably like some of the previous dealings that have taken place in Crofton, with citizens between a rock and a hard place, eventually choosing the hard place. It doesn't have to be that way. We are in a position to elect a Council and Executive that will be responsive to our quality of life issues.

I would like to hear from some other Odenton residents, if they have opinions on the project.


Monday, December 26, 2005

Supporting Our Students

I was recently passed along a note from a reader, Jennifer Reed, who is organizing what promises to be a very special event. Ms. Reed, who doesn't have school-aged children of her own, is organizing an "Annapolis Cheers" event to welcome the 500+ students at Annapolis Middle School back for the new year. Why is she doing this? To show the kids that adults in the community support them, want them to succeed, and care about the hard work they do in school.

I really like the idea, and I like the fact that people in the community are thinking creatively about ways that we can encourage our school kids to perform better, rather than just lamenting or fearing them.

The event is scheduled for Tuesday, January 3 from 7:40am-8:05am at Annapolis Middle (off of Forest Drive). Attendees are asked to park at the Clock Tower Plaza, across the street and cross at the light. Organizers hope to have at least 100 adults not connected with the school attend (though parents of students are encouraged as well).

For more information, email Ms. Reed at or call 410-279-6688. If you'd like to organize something similar in your community, drop me a line.


Friday, December 23, 2005

Sailing to the Hall

I can't believe I never thought of it. I've had some harsh words for Governor Ehrlich on a number of issues in the past, but the Guv definitely deserves credit on the Sailing Hall of Fame idea. It's a no-brainer. Annapolis is, depending on whom you ask, "the sailing capital of the country" or "the sailing capital of the world." There's no question it's one of the top sailing cities in the US, and that much of the city's commerce has in the past, and to an extent still does, revolve around the maritime industries.

Establishing the Hall in Annapolis really has almost no downside. It's going to attract even more tourist dollars to the area, it will celebrate one of Annapolis' most recognizable assets, and it will hopefully help make sailing, one of the truly great activities to enjoy on the Bay, more accessible to folks who think it's only for the Ralph Lauren set.

Currently, Hall backers have their sites on the DNR building at the end of City Dock, next to Phillips and behind the Naval Academy gym. I suspect the location will have beautiful views of the Bay and Severn River, and vistas of sails as far as the eye can see.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

Governor Wilts on Greenhouse Gases

Staying true to his anti-science base, but letting the rest of us down, Governor Bobby has decided against joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a pact between seven east coast states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermont) to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Apparently sea level rise, global climate change, and its accompanying impacts are only the concern of the "fringe left" in the Governor's parlance.

Maryland, along with Pennsylvania and DC will be "observers" in the process (as will, presumably anyone who pays attention to the effects of the pact). Ehrlich, DC Mayor Anthony Williams, and Governor Rendell of PA amply demonstrate the free rider problem, doing nothing themselves, while hoping to benefit from the actions of others.

The good news is that several local cities, including Annapolis, Alexandria, and Philadelphia have joined the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, and will be taking steps to reduce their carbon emissions, even if their governors have chosen to shirk their responsibility on the matter.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Sign of the Times

At Monday's meeting, the County Council voted unanimously to allows the county to remove temporary advertising signs illegally placed in the county right-of-way and charge their owners for the removal costs. You've seen the signs they're talking about: "Sell your house for pennies on the dollar!"; "Jim Bob's Junque Mart, Next Left"; and, "Going Out of Business Fire Sale!" Getting the entire Council to agree on anything is rare, but apparently they were feeling a groundswell of support to reduce roadside eyesores. Not surprisingly, some of those posting the signs claim they are "an effective form of advertising." Of course, that has no bearing on its legality.

Oddly, an associated impact of the bill's hasty preparation is that it bans horse and boat trailers from residential properties. Councilwoman Vitale (R-Severna Park) who crafted the amendment is working to eliminate that provision. [UPDATE: Executive Owens vetoed the provision in the bill]

The Council also voted to pass changes to the subdivision code that add public meeting requirements for developers and allow "property owners with small forest conservation easements on their land to abandon the easements under certain conditions." As I understand it, residents are allowed to clear conservation easements of up to 1750 sq/ft outside of the critical area, a significant reduction from the amount originally suggested. [UPDATE: I was incorrect, the amendment to lower the size of conservation areas that could be abandoned did not pass. The law allows up to a 1/2 acre to be bought out for $.75 sq/ft.] Councilwoman Samorajczyk (D-Annapolis Roads) was the lone no vote against the changes, concerned that the bill allowed the developers of the Parole Plaza site to get around zoning rules without public input.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Now We're Cooking with....

Monday's Capital had a story describing how many local pellet stove owners are having difficulty finding fuel this winter. Turns out quite a few people starting hoarding bags of pellets after the hurricanes hit, and the supply has yet to rebound. Pellet stoves are nice because they provide the usual benefits of a wood burning stove using a product for fuel that would generally just go into the waste stream, compressed saw dust. Problem is, there has to be someone compressing the pellets, and as has been evidenced by this situation, that can sometimes be a bottleneck in the process.

A better alternative, I think, is the corn burning stove. These stoves work in much the same way as the pellet burning stoves (in fact, some stoves burn both), except that they burn kernels of corn as fuel. Corn, like wood, is a renewable resource, and it is easily available locally. Some jurisdictions, like Takoma Park, MD have even put up corn silos so that local residents can have easy access to fuel for their stoves.

Perhaps communities in Anne Arundel County could consider something similar. What a great way to support local farmers, kick the fossil fuel habit, and heat your home.


Monday, December 19, 2005

More Eco-Friendly Gifts

Today the Capital ran a piece on eco-friendly gifts. There are quite a few good ideas.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Sewage Leak in Severna Park

A crack in a sewer pipe feeding the Mill Creek Pumping Station, located at Jones Station Road and College Parkway, collapsed yesterday, dumping 100,000 gallons of raw sewage into Mill Creek, which feeds into the Magothy River. Authorities are asking that residents in Arnold, Severna Park, and Millersville limit their use of public water until noon today, so as to avoid added strain on the system.

[UPDATE: Turns out the spill was 3 million gallons]


Friday, December 16, 2005

A Few More Hits of the Snooze

On Wednesday evening, School Board President Konrad Wayson declared that high school start times will probably be 30 minutes later next year. Currently, County High Schools start at 7:17am. According to the Board, this change would be the least costly of several options they are considering. A "radical" shift to 8am would apparently cost the County up to $4.6 million a year in extra transportation costs.

Research shows that later start times for high schoolers can result in students feeling less depressed, missing less school, and earning higher grades than students who have to get up earlier. Ideally, these students should be getting up around 9am, rather than an hour or two earlier.

Given the research, this certainly seems like a step in the right direction, though the Board should leave the option of pushing the starting time back further, later on, if a workable plan can be devised.

First Longitudinal Study of Later High School Start Times. Wahlstrom, K. (2002) [pdf]


Thursday, December 15, 2005

George Johnson Picks Up Endorsements

County Executive candidate Sherriff George Johnson picked up a number of endorsements this week. Those endorsing him include: "state senators Philip C. Jimeno and James E. " Ed" DeGrange Sr. and former senator Al Lippin; delegates Mary Ann Love, Ted Sophocleus and Joan Cadden; County Council member Pamela G. Beidle and former council members Shirley Murphy, George Bachman and Dan Klosterman; and State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee."

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Blazing Saddles

Wow, I'll confess, it's been some time since I've seen action this quick from state and local government. On Monday, December 5, the County Council approved the money to carry out the study of a horse stadium in Gambrills, and Tuesday, December 13th, just over a week later, the Maryland Stadium Authority (MDSTAD) released the first drawing of the proposed stadium there. Do you think MDSTAD officials had a pretty good idea that the County Council was going to part with the $75,000 for the feasibility study?

The project executive for the park, Gary McGuigan, told the Senate Finance Committee, "The idea is, once you get on the site, it appears rural and beautiful." Well what do you know, go visit the site right now, and it's "rural and beautiful." We could save the state $100 million and ensure it stays that way. The good news for opponents of the horse stadium is that at least a few of Committee members seem to have their critical faculties in tact. Senator J. Robert Hooper (R-Harford) offered, "As a business person, I hate to look at something that starts off as a loss to begin with," and Sen. Mac Middleton (D - Charles) has fresh memories of the botched Hughesville Stadium deal dancing in his head.

One thing that keeps popping up in this discussion from the proponents of horse stadium is that they have to go to Pennsylvania or some other far off locale to exercise their horses. It stretches credulity to suggest there aren't other locations in the rural portions of Anne Arundel County or at the county-owned Andy Smith Equestrian Center where horses can "exercise." The claim rings even more hollow given that the Show Place Arena, the Prince George's County's equestrian center is right over the Anne Arundel County line, in Upper Marlboro, about 30 minutes from Annapolis. Why does the state need two huge, public equestrian centers located within a short drive of one another?


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Oyster Delay

State officials have put off their decision on whether or not to bring the Asian oyster, Crassostrea ariakensis, to the Chesapeake Bay. The deadline on the decision has been pushed to June 2006, at the earliest, so that research on the non-native oyster can continue. The Ehrlich administration adamantly asserts that the final decision will be based solely on science. Let's hope that it is.

The controversy has been covered here previously.


Balking at Another Bay Bridge

Tuesday's Capital reported on the ongoing discussion about whether or not to build another Bay crossing. On the table is a potential new span from one of four locations [pdf]:
  • Another span at the existing RT 50 location.
  • Southern Anne Arundel County/Calvert County to Talbot County.
  • Baltimore County to Kent County.
  • Southern Calvert County to Dorchester County.

The truth of the matter is, I don't think there's a decision before state residents right now that has the potential to wreak more environmental havoc and create more sprawl than this one. Perhaps not even the infamous inter-county connector. Already, the eastern shore is saddled with more growth, faster than its existing residents seem to want it. Opening another bridge, particularly one that crosses the Bay at a different point would cause overnight growth explosions in Kent, Talbot or Dorchester County.

Dire predictions about traffic are given by the MTA, should nothing be done: More than 230,000 cars will drive past Annapolis daily by 2025; backups lasting 12 hours on the weekends and regularly backing up even on non-summer weekdays by 2015. But, we all know, or should know, that building another bridge is just going to draw more people to cross, and that we'll be facing the exact same problem 20 years down the road.

So, do we continue to build more bridges, creating more congestion, and the need for more bridges, feed the eastern shore to the development wolves, and create future generations of Dorchester to DC commuters, or do we just leave things as they are? Two thousand residents of Kent County, Worcester County Commissioner Sonny Bloxom, and Walter C. Thompson, former president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association, have all made their opinions on the matter clear. You can submit your comments to the Task Force here.

Check out the information for yourself at the Bay Crossing Task Force home page.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Judges Tougher than He Is?

Paul Goetzke was originally elected Circuit Court Judge in Anne Arundel County on a platform (actually more of a yard sign) declaring that he was: "A judge as tough as you are." Tapping nicely into the demographic who thought that past sentencing by the sitting judges had been too lenient, and likely didn't have the faintest clue about what past sentencing patterns had been, Goetzke swept to victory.

It's taken less than a year for the rhetoric over track-record approach to campaigning to bear rotten fruit. The Sunday Sun reported on the rebuking of Goetzke by a panel of Anne Arundel County judges for his unilateral increase of penalties in a teenager's plea agreement and illegally fining the teen and his lawyer.

The case involved a juvenile who had vandalized a car by shooting it with marbles. The initial agreement required the perp to pay $500 for the repair and undertake 64 hours of community service. That, apparently, was not enough for Goetzke, who tried to tack on an additional $250 for the victim's "inconvenience" for having to show up for court, a provision not covered in the law (Later, the victim wanted to be reimbursed for lost wages, but lacked documentation of the claim). No, no, no, said the three-judge panel.

With all this hue and cry about activist judges, could it be that we have one here, in our very midst?


Monday, December 12, 2005

Realtors on the March

The head of the County Association of Realtors, David Wright, urged his colleagues to get more involved in politics last week. Among the items Mr. Wright wants the realtors to take up:

  • Continue the fight with the Justice Department over being able to consolidate its 900 multiple listing services (MLS). The DOJ argues that the consolidation constitutes an anti-trust violation, and would hamper competition. The realtors know that the MLS is their golden calf, and any effort to democratize its access could ultimately be the death of the profession.

  • They want to oppose state laws that would require brokers provide a certain minimum level of service.

  • Opposition to federal efforts to water down mortgage deductions.

  • "Killing a plan that would allow banks to enter the real estate business on the premise that they could offer more choices at lower costs and would be subject to federal oversight."

Of course, we can likely expect that they will also lead the charge to open more land up to development. More homes = more potential commissions. Which may not actually improve things for any given realtor.


The Road to Perdition

I would guess it's fairly uniform opinion that for both sheer length, and ugliness of that length, Route 2 walks away with Anne Arundel County's most blighted road award. Stretches of the enveloping Route 3 and commercial Crain Highway are competitive, but ultimately, I think, Route 2 triumphs.

It runs the full height of the county, from Brooklyn Park in the north, through Glen Burnie, Pasadena, Severna Park, past Annapolis, into Edgewater and points south, eventually exiting into Calvert County. The commercial creep apparently exited off Aris T. Allen Blvd and headed south.

The Sunday Capital ran the first of a two-part piece on the explosion of commercial growth along the segment of Route 2 south of the South River bridge. The stretch that has boomed, located in the short distance between the River and Route 214 has added something like 3 new gas stations, several convenience stores, a CVS, Wal-Greens, and a several store strip mall. And that's all before the 150,000 sq/ft of commercial space goes in at the Village at Lee Airpark.

Good thing the state just poured $25 million into widening the road, which now backs up with recent arrivals. One local resident summed it up well, "Initially it freed up traffic....Now that it's up and running, it's beginning to look like it was when it was (just) two lanes."

Perhaps the SHA needs a new motto: If you build it, they will come....and clog it.

Anne Arundel Economic Development Director, Bill Badger, has in the past cited Edgewater as a model of "smart growth." If that's the case, Mr. Badger, why is Edgewater now bedecked with the same garish crap that every other slightly inhabited nook of the county is blighted with, or are we to assume Anne Arundel County is a "smart growth" paradise?


Friday, December 09, 2005

Reilly Plays Games to Avoid Citizen Input

Rather than allow the public to sit in on meetings between members of the County Council and the County Executive's aides as they discuss the Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole project, the Council Chairman Ed Reilly has decided to violate the spirit of the law by adhering to its letter.

To get around the state's open meetings laws, which require that the public be allowed to attend meetings at which a Council quorum is present, Reilly intends to use his new chairmanship to ensure that no more than 3 of the 7 Councilmembers attend any given meeting. A strategy, he was apparently led to by the Executive. According to Matt Diehl, County spokesman, "The county executive told Councilman Reilly that the council's more than welcome to schedule meetings and, from what I can gather, suggested they do it in groups of twos and threes so it won't constitute a quorum."

"We're going to have a candid, open, long discussion, as opposed to the burning hours at the council meetings," remarked Reilly, raising some doubt as to the "candidness" and "openness" of the meetings that have been held on the topic to this point.

Predictably, and rightly, long-time critic of the project, Councilwoman Samorajczyk, was displeased with the measure. "The more I think about it, I'm not going to participate," she said. "My purpose was to have a public presentation so people would know what's happening."

One can't help but get the feeling that the County has given up the farm on this deal, and is likely to get very little, proportionally, like a proper stormwater management system, in return. Of course, with these back door dealings, we may never know until we see it completed.

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Some Creative Holiday Gift Ideas

The following is a collection of local/environmental/socially responsible gift ideas for the season of giving:

Tickets to an Event at Maryland Hall - Whether it's the Annapolis Chorale, the Annapolis Opera, Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, or Ballet Theatre of Maryland, you can't lose by supporting the arts locally and enjoying an evening out on the town.

A gift certificate to Homestead Gardens or other local nurseries - During December, Homestead Gardens, in Davidsonville, decorates the entire facility in a Christmas theme, and has a great toy train set-up. And remember, it's never too early to stock up on native plants for the spring.

Support Art in Annapolis - From pottery, to paintings, to photographs, and fine wood products the galleries and shops in Annapolis have a selection to please almost any preference.

Make someone a Friend of Jug Bay or a member of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation - Any number of local environmental organizations could use your support.

The ECOlogical Calendar - "The first calendar to focus on the natural structure of the year. The ECOlogical Calendar highlights the often-overlooked primary division of the year, the 4 astronomical seasons. Our ECOlogical Calendar is the first calendar to be divided into four seasons, each beginning with either a solstice or equinox. It also illustrates a multitude of other natural annual phenomenon - moon phases, variation between tides, meteor showers, seasonal constellations and much more."

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Your Chance to Buy the Queen

Not content to have her stashed away in an attic for eternity, the feisty group of south county activists known as SACRED (South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development) has put their masterful Janet Owens puppet on the auction block.

Unsurprisingly, the Queen was not amused. "I find it appalling and disgusting," offered the maddened monarch. If only she felt so passionately about the defiling of our wonderful Anne Arundel at the hands of her developer cronies, perhaps folks wouldn't have to resort to such hilarious means to halt her machinations.

The puppet was the centerpiece of the effort to keep an oversized Safeway out of Deale and hounded Owens across the county in 2000. One surely has to think she had the papier mache and foam rubber figure in her mind when she pressed to pave Franklin Point Park. However, it appears that the efforts of local citizens and the Critical Area Commission were enough to stall that ill-conceived idea.

Though only a year left in her reign, there are surely plenty more engagements left to be had with the Queen. Perhaps some savvy activists in Crofton, Odenton, Annapolis, or elsewhere, could pick her up and put her likeness to good use.

Go place your bid at the online auction site.

An effigy of our Empress


Critic of Illegal Island Home Targeted for Harassment

Paul Spadaro, president of the Magothy River Association, has been an outspoken critic of the county's mild response to Daryl Wagner's illegally built home on Little Dobbins Island. For good reason, as the person charged with heading the organization dedicated to conserving the river, the home, and the way it was built are an affront to all of the people living in the watershed who took the appropriate legal steps to built their own dwellings.

Mr. Wagner's mockery of the law, an the ineptitude of those who are supposed to be enforcing it has left it in the hands of citizen volunteers to keep the fight for a just outcome alive.

Now, someone has taken it upon him or herself to wage a campaign of harassment against Mr. Spadaro and his family. Two anonymously filed complaints accuse Mr. Spadaro of running an illegal "commercial boat tour business" from his residence. County inspectors have checked the home from the road and "haven't been able to establish any clear evidence of a zoning or permit violation."

In addition, Spadaro has had his property vandalized a number of times in the past month or so. Let's hope they catch the culprit. But, until they do, stand strong Mr. Spadaro, you're doing the community and the river a huge service by dedicating yourself to this cause.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Rutter's Coup is Put Down

On Monday evening, the County Council, unanimously, did the right thing. The Director of Planning and Zoning, Joe Rutter, backed by the County Executive had supported zoning language that would have effectively neutered the Board of Appeals.

The bill would have required the Board of Appeals to assume that decisions issuing from the Office of Planning and Zoning (part of the Executive branch) were correct, and therefore would have placed the burden of proof onto the appellant at Appeals hearings.

The full Board of Appeals showed up before the Council to testify against the language change, arguing, as Board Chair Tony Lamartina did that, "We fear that, rather than honestly responding to citizen concerns, these (county) agencies may retreat into an arrogant indifference, buffered by the knowledge that only the most well-heeled appellants will possess the resources necessary to challenge county decisions."

The Board of Appeals is an arm of the legislative branch, with its members appointed by individual County Councilpeople. Had this effort succeeded, it would have concentrated even more power in the Executive branch, and that, given the excessive power the Executive has under our current system, would have been a bad move for the county.

Thanks to Councilwoman Samorajczyk for sponsoring the amendment that killed this odious effort.


Cultivating Astroturf Support

Today's Post has a piece on an increasingly familiar phenomenon, developers using fake grassroots support (i.e. "astroturf) to try to win the favor of county governments in the face of increasing citizen mobilization.

We've seen this in Anne Arundel County with John Pantelides' creation of the sham "Alliance for Fair Land Use." Pantelides is, of course, the developer lobbyist who gets paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to help turn Anne Arundel County into whatever paved paradise developers desire.

It's important for citizens to be aware of these fake fronts and expose them wherever they rear their greed-driven mugs.


Proding the Sheriff of Nottingham

I'll readily concede it, I'm an unabashed treehugger. So, when I see stories like the one reported in Monday's Capital where some grade-A idiot "ringed" and killed 20 mature beech trees in Sherwood Forest, it really chaps my hide.

The suspicion is that the person who killed the trees, which are on community property and in the critical area, was trying to achieve a better water view. The "value" of the trees has been determined to be $30,000, and the maximum fine for killing trees in the critical area is $10,000. Even if the perpetrator is caught and assessed a $40,000 fine, the gain in property value would probably render the crime "worth it."

Given that this seems to be an increasingly common occurrence in water-oriented communities, perhaps we should start designing the punishment to more adequately fit the crime.

So, let's fine the culprit, but let's then use the fine monies to erect a billboard and/or a stand of densely-leaved native plantings to interrupt the view to the water even more completely than the pre-"vandalism" days. Perhaps that will give these larcenous lumberjacks pause.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Anne Arundel on NPR

You think traffic and overdevelopment are a problem now? You haven't seen anything yet. Fort Meade is about to get 5,000+ more people, and the Queen of Sprawl can't get enough of it. Listen online at Morning Edition on the Web.

BONUS: 2,060 Age-restricted homes planned for Odenton.

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Annapolis Election Investigation

On Monday, the Capital reported that the City Election Board is calling two prominent Democratic activists and a Democratic Alderman-elect to appear before it on Wednesday.

Steve Carr and Chuck Weikel, both campaign staffers for Mayor Moyer, and Sam Shropshire, the candidate elected to fill Mike Fox's seat in Ward 7 have been asked to appear before the Board to get their side in election-related complaints that were filed against them.

Debbie McKerrow (D), the losing candidate in Ward 2, complained that Carr had taken part in an absentee ballot drive that overwhelmed city elections officials before the election [UPDATE: According to an e-mail from Ms. McKerrow to the author of the Capital article, she was not the individual who filed the complaint against Mr. Carr]. Laura Townsend (R), the losing candidate in Ward 7, accused Weikel of allegedly leaving a threatening message on her answering machine regarding the placement of a campaign sign. The Board apparently also has questions about Wiekel's involvement in a flier criticizing Gil Renaut's (I) positions on parking during the campaign.

The complaint against Shropshire was filed by a resident who said campaign workers placed yard signs on his property without his permission. Carr has said he won't attend the hearing, Weikel is consulting a lawyer, and Shropshire has declared his intention to attend.

Certainly, it will be interesting to hear what transpires on Wednesday, but incidents like Shropshire's are fairly common occurrences in the waning days of campaigns. Often, overzealous campaign workers will stick signs wherever they think they will be seen, sometimes failing to ask permission. My advice in that situation: Take down the sign and put it in your trash. If it happens again, call the campaign and complain.

The Weikel and Carr complaints are more involved, and I look forward to hearing more about each, particularly the absentee ballot accusation. I'll keep you posted.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Zoning Changes on the Docket

Tonight's County Council meeting will involved discussion about a number of important topics. Foremost among them:

  • A bill that would restrict the ability of the Board of Appeals to override subdivision approvals by the Office of Planning and Zoning.
  • An amendment allowing property owners to abandon forest conservation easements on their property if the easement is less that half an acre.
  • A "resolution authorizing the Maryland Stadium Authority to enter into an agreement with the state Department of Business and Economic Development for a $75,000 feasibility study of the" proposed Horse Stadium in Gambrills.

If these are things you care about, show up and testify. 44 Calvert St., Annapolis at 7pm.


A Bird in the Hand is Worth Several in the Phragmites

It began with a glance at the true cost of Christmas index, a tongue-in-cheek look at the cost of buying all of the items/animals/performers in the 12 Days of Christmas song (it turns out to be $78,608.02 this year).

The one expensive verse that really caught my eye however was the estimated cost of $4,200 for "Seven Swans-a-Swimming." That's $600 per swan. Apparently the avian flu is driving up the price of large birds.

As most Bay-area residents know by now, thanks to five captive mute swans which escaped in 1962, we've got around 4,000 invasive, hungry, large, but admittedly beautiful birds roaming the Bay, munching crucial sub-aquatic vegetation (SAV) and rousting the native bird populations.

Could DNR be convinced to capture, neuter/spay, and sell these birds for a total of $2.4 million? Seems like a solution that the animal rights folks might prefer to the alternative, one that could raise a bit of revenue for the state, and one that could perhaps halt that ever-menacing avian inflation index.

Once that's done, they can start on the geese-a-laying.


Friday, December 02, 2005

Horse Stadium Handouts, Part2

A continuation of yesterday's analysis:

StatementHorse StadiumMcMansionsFarm
Provide a local family-oriented recreational opportunity TrueFalseTrue
Restore all facilities on the property. TrueFalseTrue
Help preserve other farmland around Anne Arundel County and the state of Maryland.A rather odd statement. Destroying 100 acres of farmland will save farmland elsewhere?FalseTrue only in the sense that using the farm as a location to teach farmers how to make farming profitable could help save other farms.
Create increased educational opportunitiesTrueFalseTrue
Reduce the amount of dust production by the facility.I think this is overstated.True?Anne Arundel County has a "right to farm" bill. Some dust is a natural product of farming
Bring attention to the traffic issues in the areaTrue. Thousands of visitors a year to the site would probably do that.TrueThe existing and proposed use would bring relatively little traffic to the site.
Keep the property agricultural in nature in accordance with the federal lawTrue?FalseTrue.
Honor and protect the Naval Academy Dairy Farm and the Hammond Manor Estate.True.FalseTrue.
Have 24-hour security for the historic structures and for Bill, the Goat.True.FalseTrue.
Increase property value of surrounding homeowners.If you were buying a home, would you rather be next to an organic farm or a horse stadium?FalseIf you were buying a home, would you rather be next to an organic farm or a horse stadium?

So, clearly on all of these grounds, except perhaps the generation of tax revenue (which would almost certainly be offset by increased infrastructure and service costs), the McMansions are the least desireable option. Of the other two, on today's "facts", they match up pretty similarly, with the notable exception being that the stadium will generate far more traffic (and the farm, perhaps, a bit more dust). Regarding value to surrounding homeowners, I would much prefer the farm to a stadium, but that's just me.

Going back to yesterday's items, much of the environmental criticism of the farm levied by stadium proponents seems to center around "waste" generation. As I mentioned in the piece, one of the key features of organic farms (and farms generally), is that they re-use their "waste" (e.g., vegetable matter, yard waste, manure) to fertilize their crops. This method of fertilization, as opposed to the application of synthetic fertilizers, allows for a much more gradual (and environmentally benign) release of nitrogen into the soil. Would the proponents of the horse stadium rather that material (and the real waste generated by thousands of cola-guzzling patrons at the steeplechase) go into a landfill somewhere?

The final difference seems to come down to what sort of economic revenue generation each will produce. I will concede, keeping the land an organic farm isn't likely to generate millions for the County, and that to add an agricultural incubator could cost a couple hundred thousand dollars. However, given that it would serve as both a public education center, a small-business incubator, and potentially, a provider of healthy foods to the school system, it's probably a break even enterprise in the end. The horse stadium would require an up-front investment of around $100 million, several million dollars in annual operating expenses, and based on the experience of other similar operations, pricey government subsidies on an annual basis.

The choice seems fairly clear.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Horse Stadium Handouts, Part 1

I was recently sent some information by one of the proponents of the proposed Gambrills horse stadium. The missive contained a press release as well as a handout from Citizens for the Horse Park. The "fact sheet" outlined several alledged benefits of a horse stadium on the site. While reading through, I decided I would examine each of the statements for each of three possible outcomes: Horse Stadium, McMansions, and Organic Farm/Agriculture Incubator. The results for part 1 are below:

StatementHorse StadiumMcMansionsFarm
Guarantee that the farm will remain as open space for the next century.Partially trueFalseCompletely true
Increase community usable open space and assure that the entire community can benefit from this property instead of a select few. TrueFalseTrue
Reduce waste produced at the farm by over 1,300 tons a year!Horses produce waste, but I suspect this means the intention is to nix the farmTrueFalse
Remove waste daily, as opposed to using it a as a fertilizer.Where do they propose to remove it?True, but lots of lawn to fertilizeFalse. Though using composted "waste" is a hallmark of organic farming.
Retain over 800 acres of land as green spaceTrueFalseWould retain around 900 acres as green space
Create proper drainage areas and utilize permeable surfaces for the majority of parking.Perhaps, but I'm somewhat skepticalFalseFarm is a permeable surface
Create jobs on and off site and infuse millions of dollars into the state's economy.Would likely create some jobs, but would cost taxpayers millions.TrueWill create some jobs, but cost taxpayers almost nothing.
Generate millions of dollars in tax revenue for Anne Arundel County and MarylandStill very much in debate.TrueFalse
Keep the Anne Arundel 4-H Dairy Leasing Program in operation and openTrueFalseTrue

More to come tomorrow.