Monday, October 31, 2011

Odenton Development

Recently the proposed rezoning of the Brumwell lot has dominated the local news. Meanwhile, citizens in other parts of the county face similar dilemmas. And while some hope to get a final answer on these proposals in the coming weeks, the residents of Odenton have waited four years to find out whether they will see a mixed use development near the MARC station.

Now, it’s important to note that this project doesn’t involve a zoning fight. Instead, the state of Maryland fought for this transit-oriented development four years ago. In turn, the county agreed, pending completion of a new sewer line. Of course, the taxpayers of Anne Arundel will foot the bill for that aspect of this project. Nonetheless, that’s likely several years away from coming to fruition.

Meanwhile, the Odenton Patch reports that developers, state and local officials now seek $10 million from the federal government to build parking garages near the proposed site. This represents approximately half the amount required to finance the parking facilities. Without the money, the likelihood of the project decreases significantly.

According to the Maryland Department of Transportation, the plan calls for :

One hotel with 90 to 120 rooms,
74,000 square feet of retail space,
572 apartment and condominiums, including 60 units dedicated to affordable housing for seniors,
250 townhouses,
5 single family homes, and
two or more parking garages for MARC Commuters with a total of 3,500 parking spaces and 1,245 additional parking spaces for the development. Total parking on the site will increase from 2,000 spaces to almost 5,000 (4,745) spaces

Keep in mind, the residents of Odenton already have multiple shopping stores and restaurants within their confines. Likewise, visitors don’t need to travel far to have a selection of quality hotels to chose from. Thus, one must question the necessity of such an idea, especially when millions of tax dollars will help finance its existence.

Regardless, Anne Arundel County needs to discourage large scale development. After all, our infrastructure (roads, schools etc.) cannot accommodate these luxuries. As mentioned before, impact fees alone don’t nearly compensate enough for the long term costs and headaches.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Incumbent Edwards an Underdog?

As it stands now, two prominent opponents have announced they will consider challenging Congresswoman Donna Edwards in the April 3rd Democratic primary. Anne Arundel County Councilman Jamie Benoit and Prince Georges County States Attorney Glenn Ivey both have their eye on knocking off the suddenly vulnerable incumbent.

When the new lines got announced, Rep. Edwards loudly voiced her concerns. In particular, she condemned the new boundaries as an affront to her constituents and herself. Instead of serving the citizens of Montgomery County , Ms. Edwards will now acquire a sizable portion of Anne Arundel County . And though her district remains safely Democratic, she still maintains her opposition.

Perhaps Ms. Edwards realizes that her career in Congress may soon come to an end. After all, Glenn Ivey has won countywide in Prince Georges for the last three election cycles. Thus, it’s likely the two share some of the same supporters. As a result, voters will now have to choose which one they prefer as their Representative in Washington.

Meanwhile, Ms. Edwards has alienated much of the Anne Arundel County electorate by appearing unhappy about serving this area. In the same way, Glenn Ivey has limited name recognition outside of his home county. Therefore, this scenario plays out well for Jamie Benoit.

Mr. Benoit, a term limited councilman, enjoys widespread popularity, especially in the western suburbs of Anne Arundel County . In fact, he easily defeated his opponents in the past two elections. And, unlike the other aforementioned candidates, Mr. Benoit can focus his efforts mostly on this county. After all, while Edwards and Ivey battle it out in Prince Georges, Benoit can secure his standing among the large bloc of Anne Arundel County voters.

Really, I do not see race overshadowing this election. Instead, I see the candidate who can secure his or her backyard as the ultimate victor. As of right now, this sets up as a nice advantage to Jamie Benoit.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Andy Harris seems content with new Congressional lines

When the new Congressional maps got adopted last week, many Republicans justifiably voiced their concerns. After all, it’s apparent that they will likely lose a seat in Washington . While many have publicly denounced the gerrymandered boundary lines, one elected Republican has only offered scant criticism.

First District Congressman Andy Harris initially lost to Frank Kratovil in 2008. Two years later, the voters overturned themselves by electing Harris. Regardless, many presumed the First District would get drawn more favorably to Democrats through redistricting. In a surprise though, Sixth District Representative Roscoe Bartlett emerged as the vulnerable GOP incumbent. In the process, Harris gained more Republican constituents in his district.

Historically, Eastern Shore voters have distrusted any politician who resides west of the Bay Bridge . In an attempt to alleviate this conc Harris, a Baltimore County resident, purchased a condo in Dorchester County back in 2008. That said, he maintained his residence in Cockeysville . Nonetheless, he could have claimed either as his home depending on how the new boundary lines played out. In the end, both properties remained in the First Congressional District.

In an interview with Easton ’s Star Democrat, Harris praised the new district by saying "My request was to keep the Eastern Shore whole in the district ... And I was pleased to see the new map do that." Likewise, when asked his opinion of the new limits of the First Congressional District as a whole, Harris offered, "It's just much more consistent with the nature of the Eastern Shore ." In fairness, he did express small reservations about the state map in general.

In reality, Harris cannot dislike this map. At the end of the day, the only job any politician truly values consists of the one voters bestow upon them. Therefore, without a formidable primary opponent stepping up, Harris likely cruises to re-election. Thus, it’s unlikely we’ll hear Andy Harris joining the chorus of Republicans demanding intervention from the courts.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Roadmap to Improving Mountain Rd

Yesterday, Delegate Nic Kipke started soliciting opinions on how to improve conditions along the troubled Mountain Rd. In fact, the dangerous Pasadena thoroughfare averages at least one crash involving emergency response per week. Likewise, 12 people have lost their lives on this highway since 2003. In reality, absence of the state highway administration miraculously coming up with $100 million, local officials will need to rely on more practical solutions.

First, a moratorium should go into place forbidding any more development. This includes all residential and commercial ventures. Regardless of the promise of impact fees, the end cannot justify the means. Building more in hopes of alleviating this problem defies common sense. After all, the primary goal should focus on reducing vehicular traffic.

Next, Chesapeake High School issues parking permits to all juniors and seniors on demand. Before granting this privilege, all applicants should have to produce their MVA records every six months. Anyone with points on his/her license should forfeit their right to drive a vehicle to school. In the same way, anyone with grade point average of 2.0 should also lose their eligibility. Keep in mind, student athletes must maintain their grades. Thus, why not broaden this threshold to participate in other perks?

Automatically, this new rule would reduce the number of travelers on Mountain Rd. At the very least, it would only allow those students who have demonstrated a level of responsibility to enjoy this desirable fringe benefit.

Finally, the police department must step up enforcement on negligent traffic violations. Often, people pull onto Mountain Rd off Woods Rd without coming to a complete stop. Similarly, drivers routinely blow through traffic lights when it's clear they could have stopped prior to the change. If county police focus on this, as opposed to targeting those that go 65mph in a 55mph along Rte. 100, then it will naturally reduce the on-going hazard in Pasadena.

As mentioned, we need realistic solutions to improve the conditions along Mountain Rd. Luckily, the proposals outlined here would only place a minimal strain on scarce resources.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Council has Limited Authority

As the County Council grapples with numerous controversial zoning appeals, some want them to get involved in a dispute plaguing the Light House homeless shelter in Annapolis . Over the last two months some people, including a former employee, have filed formal allegations of discrimination and harassment against the shelter. As of now, it remains unclear what relief the interested parties expect from the Council.

Now, the county did grant over $100,000 for operating costs at the Light House over the past two years. Likewise, the organization received $1.2 million in tax dollars towards a new facility. Thus, the county has some scant interest in the place. Still, it’s doubtful our council has much legal authority to meddle in their affairs. After all, the institution classifies as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and not a government agency.

Make no mistake, I think this situation warrants an investigation. Nonetheless, we have other government entities in place to redress these grievances. So far, the Anne Arundel County Human Relations Commission has yet to issue their findings in this case. If anything, they have sole jurisdiction on a local level. Beyond that, the State Attorney General or the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission could take up the case. Unlike the council, these bodies have clear legal authority to intervene in such matters.

In general, I am skeptical about any party that skips around to multiple venues in hopes of finding a sympathetic ear. Moreover, I am troubled that the complainants disregarded the grievance process at the Light House in favor of involving several different agencies. Often, bypassing this step doesn’t look good in the eyes of a governing authority.

Regardless, I see no reason for the Anne Arundel County Council to waste valuable time by taking up this case. At the very least, they can postpone their involvement until they debate whether or not to allocate future funds. In the meantime, they can sit back and allow others to ascertain the facts.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Benoit Considers Run For Congress

Now that Maryland ’s Congressional Districts have supposedly taken shape, it’s important to note that primary election voters will hit the polls in little over five months. Critics of the new map often complain that this protects the jobs of Democratic incumbents. Of course, one current member of Congress makes no secret about her disdain for representing part of Anne Arundel County. Still, according to the law, a good part of our county would fall under her domain.

Keep in mind, only Andy Harris has seen his primary residence redistricted into an area that would force him to go against another Maryland Congressmen. That said, it’s widely expected he’ll claim residence at his Dorchester County condo to put him into position for a re-election bid in District 1. Meanwhile, no other Democrat faces a similar dilemma. Therefore, why does Donna Edwards have so much worry about gaining the Democratic areas of Anne Arundel County?

No doubt, Rep. Edwards maintains popularity in Prince Georges County, but remains an unknown around here. As a result, she finds herself susceptible to a prominent primary opponent, especially because no elected official would have to abandon their current seat to mount a challenge in District 4.

Thus, that opens the door for Councilman Jamie Benoit. Although he enjoys tremendous popularity among his constituents, term limits forbid him from seeking another four years on the Council. Naturally, this forces Mr. Benoit to ponder his future options. Would he consider challenging Ms. Edwards? Instead of speculating, I decided to ask him that question directly.

“I am not ruling out a run for Congress in District 4”, said Benoit. He added, “I want to make sure Anne Arundel County has the representation we deserve in Congress…. I don’t want us as some afterthought”. When pressed, Mr. Benoit insists he hasn’t made up his mind, but vows to fight for our county regardless if he enters the race or not.

I am convinced Mr. Benoit has a legitimate shot to take this seat. After all, it’s also rumored that Prince George ’s County State ’s Attorney Glen Ivy may throw his name into the fray. Under that scenario, him and Edwards would likely split the Prince George ’s County vote while Benoit could pick up many votes in his own back yard.

Like many other observers, I am looking forward to watching how this ultimately unfolds.

No Conflict Here

With a vote on the forthcoming about the potential rezoning of the Brumwell property, Councilman Derek Fink asked the county Board of Ethics to determine if he has a conflict of interest in this matter. While Mr. Fink doesn’t believe he faces an ethical dilemma, Bonnie Brumwell Hoyas thinks otherwise. Regardless, the councilman intends to make the ruling public once he receives it in hand. Certainly, this move may not silence some Fink critics, even though I believe he has every right to weigh-in on this matter.

First of all, we elected Derek Fink to represent us in the council. Therefore, it’s important we give him the full authority to do so. Now, just because Fink has a financial interest in the neighboring property, that factor alone shouldn’t render him helpless when it comes to voting on this hot button issue. Really, I can’t follow the logic of those that take a differing view. After all, using their thought process, Mr. Fink would have to recues himself from just about any decision that affects District 3. In other words, his partnership in the Greene Turtle has no correlation with his ability to make legislative decisions.

Once again, the Brumwells apparently want those that disagree with them to have no say about the future of this property. After all, they approached the Council about over-ruling the Department of Planning and Zoning. Now, they want to disqualify the only guy who has direct accountability to the residents affected by this proposal.

For the record, Councilman Fink has not indicated to me his ultimate intentions concerning this decision. Granted, I have a gut feeling about his leanings. Likewise, it’s obvious that the Brumwells don’t have much faith in him embracing their controversial plan for the Mountain Road property. Otherwise, they would not go out of their way to exclude him from this process.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Anne Arundel County in Congress

Well, Governor O’Malley and his colleagues in the General Assembly have officially given their approval to the new boundaries of Maryland ’s eight Congressional Districts. Barring any changes by the court, the Democratic Party should easily pick up at least one seat, most likely in the district currently represented by Roscoe Barlett. Once again however, Anne Arundel County will get split into four distinct subsections.

For the past ten years, Pasadena has divided the boundary lines for the First and Second Congressional Districts. Now, pretty much the same areas will define the confines of the Third and Fourth District, even though Congresswoman Donna Edwards has made it blatantly clear that she wants no parts of representing the mostly conservative area.

Now, some of the Republican proposals called for Anne Arundel County to have its own Congressional District. On the surface, I kind of like the idea. Granted, I am having a difficult time envisioning who would emerge as the winner in this hypothetical scenario. Naturally, I think such a race would attract some of our biggest names. After all, 2012 would allow every Senator or Delegate to run without having to vacate his or her current seat. No doubt, that would increase the pool of candidates. In the same way, it’s likely we’d see prominent private citizens as well as former elected officials entering the fray.

Ultimately, I think Anne Arundel County would come down as a swing district. Sure, recent trends give a slight advantage to the Republicans. Still, an expected large GOP field could have someone with less than 25% of the primary vote emerging as the nominee. Depending on the individual, I think certain Democrats would have a reasonable chance.

Before we get too excited thinking about this possibility, let’s concede it’ll never happen. Without splitting Anne Arundel County , the Maryland Democrats risk losing a seat as opposed to gaining one. And regardless of how the courts may redraw the maps, I still expect the same end result.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reject Rezoning

Recently, someone referred to me as one the main spokespersons against the rezoning of the Brumwell property. Make no mistake, I want no such role and can’t believe some have put so much focus on what comes out of my mouth. Bottom line, I am simply a concerned citizen with serious reservations about the potential impact of development at the Pasadena site.

First of all, I have no ill will toward the Brumwell family. I respect their desire to maximize the profit off the sale of the land. Granted, since I am not in their shoes, I get to look at the broader picture. Face it, the Mountain Road corridor already faces daily traffic nightmares. Depending on who one should believe, it’s projected a big box store would bring thousands of additional cars a day.

Now some have said that impact fees generated from allowing development of the Brumwell property could help alleviate the traffic concerns. To me, that sounds like subtraction by addition. In other words, that assertion makes no sense whatsoever. Moreover, we’ve already witnessed the fallacy of relying on the promise of these aforementioned fees. For instance, the development of Compass Point came with a promise that Ft. Smallwood Rd would connect with MD-100. Clearly, that’s next to impossible now.

Besides the traffic problems, future development would also affect other parts of our infrastructure. Recall, the electricity routinely goes out during most storms in the Pasadena area. Thus, I cannot fathom adding something that would demand a substantial amount of electricity from an already stressed grid.

For the record, I also oppose a condominium project at the site. Unfortunately, some have falsely duped others into believing that if we reject a zoning upgrade, then we’ll automatically see a large housing project. Regardless of how many times certain people repeat this statement, the fact remains that the county would have approve such a venture. In turn, they’re unlikely to deny a big box store and then do an about-face by allowing an even more unpopular residential plan.

In the end, the County Council must reject any attempt to develop the Brumwell property. Certainly, the impact could further exacerbate already out of control problems.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Incarceration Not Warranted

On November 28th, Councilman Daryl Jones will appear in Judge Ellen L. Hollander's court room for sentencing on his failure to file 35 tax returns over a four year period. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I met Daryl Jones in the summer of 2006. I immediately liked the guy and endorsed his candidacy in both the primary and general elections. Today, I still consider him a friend. Thus, I respect the fact some will naturally point out my bias. Regardless, I don't think he belongs in federal prison.

Since I am not a lawyer, I had to rely on others to gauge his chances of receiving a term of incarceration. On average, most people have told me the guidelines call for at least a thirteen month sentence. I am sorry, but the punishment doesn't fit the crime. After all, he's lived on this earth 47 years and only has this brush with the law. A graduate of University of Baltimore Law School in 1992, Daryl Jones has a solid reputation in the legal community. Likewise, he has served the First Council District well since his election in 2006.

Make no mistake, I am not glossing over this clear violation of the law. Obviously, he owes the federal government $108,369. Of course, how can he start to repay this debt if he has to give up a year or so of his life living beside career criminals? To me, secure confinement defies logic in this case.

At times, the federal judicial system likes to make examples of high profile figures. Thus, I fear the recently appointed Judge Hollander will overlook common sense in favor of making a name for herself. Keep in mind, this plea already puts Jones' law license in jeopardy. Now, if we couple that with a year behind bars, that will decrease the chances of Jones' ability to make good on this substantial sum of money.