Friday, June 19, 2015

Successful First Emerson Town Hall!

The first Emerson Town Hall held on Wednesday, June 17 was a success, with approximately 40 residents engaging in a lively and informative session with three Emerson Board Members and CMC Management.

The meeting answered many questions and allowed residents to not only voice concerns, but also offer ideas for enhancing the community. Several audience members volunteered to help with community initiatives.

The next Town Hall is scheduled for August, with the precise date and time to be announced.

Alternate times (besides 7 PM on weeknights) will be considered to allow more residents to attend, especially since many have long commutes.

These notes are not in strictly chronological order because in some cases grouping topics made them more understandable.


  • Many questions answered about Emerson budget, Pool, capital expenses (major improvements), revised Architectural Guidelines, parking, traffic, Maintenance/Landscaping, dog waste stations, and safety
    • Board wants to create FAQs because many of the same questions come up at every meeting
  • List of the priorities of the Emerson Board of Directors handed out to attendees (reproduced below)
  • Much discussion with all attendees about how to engage the community and involve them in both attending and helping organize committees and events
    • Many are eager to help
    • Attendees want a community where people know each other, not just a collection of homeowners


  1. Attending
    1. Board: Jack Jurgensen, Narsimha Doma, Erica Root-Cikanek
    2. CMC: Channel Sanders, Emerson Community Manager
  2. Purpose of the Meeting
    1. Purpose of the town halls are to get feedback from community
      1. Emerson's mission is to both maintain/increase property values, and also make it a desirable community to live
      2. Board also wants to convey that there is a real implementation strategy, not just a vague goal
      3. Handout (see below) shows 7 major Board strategic areas with many initiatives  
    2. During regular Board meetings (held in alternating months) this is difficult because there is so much business to get through
    3. Jack plans to create a FAQ page for the web site because certain questions come up frequently (e.g., parking, dog waste)
    4. Next Town Hall will be in August
      1. Q: Resident suggests that some alternate times be offered (e.g., weekends), since like many she works in DC and cannot make typical 7 PM weeknight meetings (had to leave work early on this occasion).
        1. Board will look at this
  3. Extended discussion on communication and engagement
    1. Call for volunteers
      1. Only a very small group of volunteers who are trying to do everything
      2. Need participation on committees and initiatives in general
      3. Some attendees volunteered
    2. Communications
      1. Please join Communications Committee if you have better ideas
      2. Plan to roll out a Facebook page, trying to work though issues of logistics, security, who can update, etc.
      3. Also want to clean up web site
        1. Provide more info, make it more clear
        2. But have limited resources and want to limit cost
      4. CMC
        1. Sending out news via emails on weekly basis
        2. Monthly newsletter
      5. Q: Resident says she prefers text, doesn't use Facebook
        1. Emerson using VOLO Village, still hasn't completely rolled out
        2. Only can send limited number of characters; using it for emergency warnings and notification of office closures
        3. Suggestion that it can point to the web site for more info
    3. Activities
      1. Narsimha is trying to revive this committee
      2. Discusses current ideas including tennis tournament (approved), book club
      3. Also ideas for Middle School engagement
        1. Idea to have Middle Schoolers research a topic of interest to Emerson and present possible solutions to community
          1. Build friendships and skills outside of school
        2. Q: Suggestion that it include both Forest Ridge and Murray Hill to build friendships between the two parts of Emerson
      4. Trying to identify leaders
        1. Q: How are they trying to identify leaders?
        2. Presently by word of mouth, but will roll out in newsletter etc.
    4. Yard Sale
      1. Q: Is it required to do Yard Sale at Clubhouse? Can it be throughout community so we don't have to haul items there?
        1. No, not required - please suggest this to resident volunteer who is coordinator (Robyn)
        2. From floor - had a very successful Yard Sale on one street recently, advertised on Craig's List etc. as well as signs
    5. Sub-HOAs/Neighborhoods
      1. Suggestion that each neighborhood or sub-HOA engage with Emerson with a rep
      2. Much discussion of how to build Emerson as a community and not just a collection of homeowners
      3. Perhaps also build upon the diversity of the community
        1. E.g., some foreign-born residents suggest having an "International Day" to make the many foreign-born residents feel part of the community and get them involved
        2. Can ask them to showcase their cultures
      4. Ideas for making some events potluck (e.g., Pool Party)
      5. Also introductions of residents at next Town Hall
  4. Parking
    1. Board is working with Howard County to get parking for all streets properly marked throughout Emerson to ensure emergency vehicles can get through
      1. Local firehouse said Howard County regulations are clear: streets 22 feet wide, can only park on one side of street, 33 feet wide can park on both sides
      2. Looking into marking all curbs by fire hydrants red as well to emphasize no parking
        1. Violations can already be called in
        2. Initial estimate received by CMC is ~$5K
        3. Q: Resident suggests saving money by only doing some as a test case
      3. Voluntary compliance has not worked, especially when guests come for parties
    2. In recent fires this was essential
      1. In one townhouse community it meant the difference for the fire trucks to get through with no loss of life and minimal damage
      2. Comment that Howard County responds aggressively to townhouse fires
        1. These are multifamily dwellings and they want to ensure that the fire is contained quickly
        2. In another recent fire there were 5 fire trucks plus other police and emergency vehicles
    3. Board is focused on solving the problem broadly and permanently by getting Howard County signs in place that will allow enforcement 
      1. Specific cases should be called in to Howard County by the homeowners
      2. Homeowners should also call when the trash/recycle trucks are blocked from making their runs, so there is a record of the issue
  5. Dog Waste Stations
    1. Q: Is there a map of the stations? And will there be one on Palace Hall?
      1. Location on Palace Hall identified, but Emerson does not own any of the sites and needs permission to install a station there
      2. Summer's Choice HOA suggests that they would probably be willing to host one as many of their residents walk their dogs along Palace Hall
  6. Architectural Guidelines
    1. Jack has spent a lot of timing reorganizing and updating them and converting to electronic form
      1. Now much more readable and all in one place
      2. Also have links that can be clicked
    2. Plan is to ask community for feedback and then vote on adoption [ed. note: at last Board meeting goal was to have them take effect in 2016]
    3. Highlighted two proposed changes:
      1. New decks would be required to also add landscaping (existing decks would not be affected)
      2. New runway lighting (lights going up a driveway) would also need to add landscaping to make them more attractive (again, existing installations would not be affected)
  7. Maintenance/Landscaping
    1. Q: Residents in the Landing at Emerson (sub-HOA) asked about trees in common area being eaten by deer
      1. CMC asks for them to provide location; depends on where it is located whether they can do anything 
        1. [ed. note: This is probably either sub-HOA property or in the forest conservation area and may not be within Emerson's jurisdiction]
      2. CMC notes that they are replacing some flowers at an entrance that are being eaten by deer
    2. Q: Haddon Hall playground upgrade?
      1. Emerson inspects yearly and determines condition of playgrounds
        1. Sterling Park was delayed a couple of years, but Bradwell Park was just finished much more quickly
      2. CMC has examined Haddon Hall, knows of some issues, trying to get professional inspection scheduled within next week (inspectors are backlogged)
      3. Inspector will assess thoroughly (structural integrity, depth of mulch, etc.) and provide recommendations
  8. Traffic
    1. Q: What is the work being done on the commercial lot next to Haddon Hall?
      1. This is prep work of the commercial site being done by Knott Realty, but there are no immediate plans for building there
        1. Emerson has heard that this is a stream crossing
      2. Eternal Rings Road will be built out per original plan as shown by dotted lines on map
        1. Q: Residents are concerned about added traffic
          1. Traffic to any new commercial properties will come via Eternal Rings Road
        2. Q: Residents already feel like there is a problem with cars using Eternal Rings as a cut-through to get to Stephens Road/I-95
          1. Q: Suggestion that a right turn lane on Gorman-Stephens intersection could help, might require Emerson to cede some land to County
        3. Emerson will include these issues in discussions with County, but County has not followed through with traffic studies
          1. Also residents need to understand impact of potential options: speed bumps, traffic cameras
      3. Q: Will Emerson be informed of the plans for the commercial property when known? 
        1. Yes, likely will hear from Knott rep who is on the Board; will ask for clarification
        2. But, Emerson does not have approval authority
        3. Comment that the commercial properties are big financial benefit to Emerson as they pay significant HOA fees
      4. Q: Connecting Emerson to Columbia Bike Path system?
        1. Bike Howard Plan only expects to do this opportunistically along Gorman road (e.g., will have a 3 foot lane next to Wincopia Farms)
          1. Probably only able to get them to address more if there are safety issues
          2. Jack would like to them put in along Murray Hill as well
      5. Q: What is trail from Haddon Hall to Wellington?
        1. To connect two communities in east Emerson (east of I-95)
      6. Q: What is plan for connecting Skylark to 216? (Residents are not in favor of it, just want to know status)
        1. Must be done if Developer ever touches commercial parcel at end of Skylark
        2. But per Developer rep on Board, no imminent plans (years away)
  9. Pool
    1. Suggestions for mitigating overcrowding:
      1. Expand pool (would require a capital expense)
      2. Add a second swim lane (almost impossible to swim laps today)
      3. Enforce adult swim consistently
      4. Move basketball hoop to one end versus center (timing is convenient: hoop has rusted and needs to be replaced)
      5. Ask pool management company if they know of other solutions
    2. Fees
      1. Q: Why have have fees not gone down despite additional users?
      2. Expenses have risen, and memberships (and hence revenue) have actually declined the past two years. Goal is for Pool to pay for itself, but Emerson actually subsidizes half of cost.
        1. This is in the posted budget, though not broken out further
        2. Did see a surge in memberships last week after Pool Party (start of summer)
      3. Q: Use of pool by apartment buildings?
        1. They pay the exact same fees as Emerson homeowners, but via the apartment complexes (one complex pays for all their units, the other has them pay individually)
    3. Q: Pool Party had huge crowd - were there capacity issues?
      1. No, anticipated a large crowd and had extra lifeguards
    4. Q: Could things be added to make pool better for older kids, e.g. diving board?
      1. Can look at under capital improvements
      2. Comments from the floor that for a diving board need to examine safety issues, required depth, and could expect insurance rates to triple
    5. Suggestion for a sand volleyball court such as what used to exist 
  10. Clubhouse Renovation/Financial
    1. Surveyed community about 2 years ago
      1. Fitness center and banquet space topped list
    2. Did an engineering study, could add second floor to clubhouse
    3. Presently Finance Committee looking at how much to pay or finance
    4. Q: Approved already?
      1. Renovation Committee needs a budget
      2. Emerson has large current loan from Developer (Howard Hughes), much of it has been paid down and it was also renegotiated down in land exchange with Howard Hughes/Knott (state regulations changed regarding need for stormwater management pond for commercial parcel)
      3. Emerson has been building reserves for 13 years anticipating paying off loan when it came due (now Fall 2017)
      4. Erica feels we need to put the options before the community
        1. What is capital expense, what do we want, tradeoffs
          1. Previous survey was just a wishlist, now there are costs associated
        2. Include paying off loan; getting new capital improvements; reducing fees; etc.
    5. Finance Committee has new members 
      1. Trying to be conservative and prudent, learn the issues
      2. Q: Documentation (in summary form) to help new members?
        1. Large stack of documents, but no summary
        2. Finance Committee didn't exist 2 years ago
    6. Q: Possible to negotiate sharing agreements with apartments to use their fitness center?
      1. CMC discussed with them, but their facility is too small, only enough for their 200 units (Emerson has 900+ homes)
      2. Q: Resident would like pool tables such as in that center
    7. Discussion of Stephens Manor which is zoned commercial - could this be turned into commercial center with amenities?
      1. Owned by Hughes
      2. No bank would be willing to finance, would need to be a non-profit
  11. Safety
    1. Q: Graffiti incident?
      1. Happened to be a night when security patrol was not on duty
      2. Jack is taking initiative to discuss with HCPD as contract is somewhat vague
      3. Want to further improve our security posture
    2. Q: Resident asks about fixing graffiti at another location - CMC already has it scheduled to be painted
    3. CMC coordinates security with all properties in Emerson, also communicating with Howard County

Priorities of the Emerson Board of Directors 
(Handout Provided to Meeting Attendees)
  1. Promote a Safe Community
    1. Enforce fire lanes where there are parking difficulties today
    2. Maximize use of security patrols
  2. Invest in capital improvements
    1. Improve club house to add usable space
      1. Install second floor for banquet space
      2. Add fitness center to ground floor
    2. Maintain our playgrounds
    3. Increase amount of trails
      1. Connect Palace Hall communities to Bradwell Park
      2. Complete "trail to nowhere" in Haddon Hall (*Do we own that trail?)
      3. Connect Wallington to Haddon Hall
  3. Engage Howard County
    1. Invite our representatives to our events and meetings
    2. Make Gorman Road (Skylark to Leishear) safe for bicyclists and pedestrians
      1. Cede Emerson HOA property to expand shoulder from Skylark to Senior Community adjacent to Wincopia
    3. Endorse the North Laurel Sidewalk Project
    4. Add RTA bus stops to community center and senior center
      1. Ensure linkage to Howard Community College
  4. Invest in Our Schools
    1. Establish partnerships with PTAs
      1. Use Emerson communication means to promote school activities (e.g., Chick-fil-A fundraiser)
    2. Engage principals to identify needs that can be met by community volunteers
    3. Offer students opportunities for service learning that benefits the community and the student
  5. Market Our Community
    1. Develop a 1 page handout to distribute to real estate agents and residents selling their home
    2. Engage local media to promote Emerson Community
  6. Return Value to Residents
    1. Maintain and improve existing annual events
    2. Negotiate deals with vendors leveraging Emerson buying power to provide discounted home services
  7. Improve Communications
    1. Establish a Facebook site to promote community events
    2. Conduct regular surveys to garner resident concerns and feedback
    3. VOLO

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