Friday, October 16, 2015

Notes: Howard County Officials Talk About Route 1 Revitalization

HCEDA CEO Larry Twele
[from HCEDA's web site]
Larry Twele, the CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA) was the featured guest at the October 6, 2015 monthly meeting of the Southern Howard County Civic Association (SHCCA).

Other officials included Mark Thompson of HCEDA as well as Erik Gillenwater, who is the Howard County Police Department (HCPD) Community Resource Officer for our area.

The focus of the meeting was upon redevelopment in Southeastern Howard County (in particular, the Route 1 Corridor), with Officer Gillenwater answering questions about crime as well. 

Southern Howard County Civic Association (SHCCA)

SHCCA meets on the first Tuesday of each month in the North Laurel Community Center, hosting Howard County officials in an open forum discussion with residents and business owners.

Upcoming events:
  • Tuesday, November 3, 2015 @ 6:30 PM: SHCCA Meeting, Howard County Executive Alan Kittleman 
  • Tuesday, December 1, 2015 @ 6:30 PM: SHCCA Meeting, Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) Director Valdis Lazdins 
  • Saturday, December 5 @ c. 5:30 PM: Savage Holiday Bridge and Tree Lighting (with cider, Santa, and caroling) 

North Laurel Community Center (NLCC)


Mr. Twele talked about the tools available to Howard County and HCEDA to promote development, as well as the constraints the County faces in redeveloping Route 1.
  • Howard County has two primary tools: zoning and tax policy 
  • Need for a long-term plan for the entire area 
  • Responded to concerns about the impact of the Coastal Sunbelt facility being built on Whiskey Bottom (especially on traffic) 

Mr. Twele encouraged the audience to return on December 1st when DPZ will be able to address the long-term vision more directly. HCEDA will also return at that time.

Officer Gillenwater answered questions about crime in the area, and talked about HCPD initiatives to address muggings in Columbia and Laurel with the increased use of plainclothes officers on footpaths and on bikes.

HCEDA’s Mission 

According to Mr. Twele, HCEDA’s mission is to promote business in Howard County. To that end he has a small staff of 17 that administers small business loans and tax credits, helps with marketing, and has a business development team that just increased from 2 to 4 staff members.

They also sponsor the Center for Entrepreneurship which is an incubator for start-up companies in the County.

Mark Thompson has a long history in retail and real estate and most recently was the Director of Downtown Redevelopment for HCEDA, but will be focusing more upon the Route 1 Corridor.

Mr. Thompson feels there will an increased emphasis on Route 1 and Route 40 because Columbia and especially Snowden River Parkway is full, and there’s nowhere else to go since Howard County is trying to preserve its agricultural heritage in the western part of the county.

Mr. Twele added that new Director of Howard County DPZ Valdis Lazdins has a background in revitalization and he expects him to take a strong interest in this topic. HCEDA will return on December 1st when Mr. Lazdins will meet with SHCCA. 

Challenges for Route 1 

With that said, there are some serious challenges in the redevelopment of Route 1.

The County has two primary tools to encourage development — zoning and tax policy — and otherwise must largely rely upon the initiatives of private business owners and developers.

Route 1 is an important part of Howard County’s economy, with 4000 establishments employing 40,000 (12,000 in the Savage area).

However, it is very difficult to acquire parcels along Route 1 large enough to develop any significant projects, with the need to string together two or three 1/4 and 1/2 acre parcels. Mark Thompson is trying to help match private owners in efforts like these, and noted that forces are going in a positive direction on this stretch of Route 1.

He also mentioned that another obstacle is that Route 1 is a state highway controlled by the State of Maryland, which adds another complication to do even simple things like put up a traffic light, which he is working on now.

One of the business owners in the audience suggested that if Howard County were to bundle the two sets of parcels it acquired near Whiskey Bottom Road with the site of the former Randy’s California Inn, that this would create an 11 acre parcel.

Mr. Twele responded that on the previous night (October 5) the Howard County Council had just voted to sell the Hurst property owned by the Department of Housing, but it was still too early to say what the criteria will be for the sale.

This is outside of HCEDA’s jurisdiction, but Mr. Twele expects the County will put together a Request for Proposals (RFP) once that has been decided.

Coastal Sunbelt 

Mr. Twele also talked about how the County fought to keep the Coastal Sunbelt facility in Howard County, generating considerable discussion.

Coastal is one of the biggest produce companies in the country, and is building a huge center along Whiskey Bottom Road east of Route 1, slated to open in May 2016.

Several people expressed concern that trucks from the plant are using Whiskey Bottom Road despite restrictions against vehicles over 5 tons, and that this is both dangerous and not compatible with the traffic circles on Whiskey Bottom. Officer Gillenwater indicated that HCPD is aware of the issue and plans heightened enforcement.

Some in the audience also asked about the approval process for projects like Coastal, and HCEDA said that an impact study is reviewed by Howard County’s engineers who assess whether improvements are required.

Regional Development 

A local business owner whose family has been in the area for 100 years voiced the opinion that the main thing that is needed is certainty about the long-term plan and vision for the area.

He stated that property owners are holding off on investment because no one is certain whether the historical business district will get zoned up for residential housing, so he believes everyone is only looking for quick sales.

Others also expressed a desire to see higher quality businesses as part of the plan, such as restaurants and grocery stores.

Mr. Twele agreed that a long-term comprehensive plan is exactly what is needed and said DPZ has been trying to solve that problem for a long time through zoning policy. But it’s not easy balancing the needs of the entire County, to include Route 1, agriculture, the need for residential housing, and public facilities, traffic, and schools.

On another note, he said that unfortunately it is hard to get multiple jurisdictions to act in a coordinated regional fashion, which would help this area at the juncture of Howard, Anne Arundel, and Prince George’s Counties.


In the last part of the meeting, crime and safety questions were primarily answered by Officer Gillenwater.

He hasn’t seen a noticeable change in the frequency and nature of crimes, though not all cases have been solved yet.

  • HCPD will be adding plainclothes officers to footpaths and bike trails in Columbia/Savage/Laurel. 
  • He encouraged residents when exercising to go out with friends, to stay aware of their surroundings, and not to carry a lot of valuables and cash. 
  • Residents should communicate with neighbors about travel plans as well as when you’re expecting contractors at your home, especially as we enter the holiday season. Leave lights on and stop mail. 
  • In response to a business owner concerned about repeat shoplifting offenders: 
    • Supply identifying information and license plates to police, call supervising officer if necessary 
    • If it’s someone who has been banned, can get a court order 
    • Employees should not feel afraid. If you don’t know the offender address, call 911. The call will be placed in the queue if there is a higher priority emergency going on. 
  • Unwanted solicitors who won’t go away: take down information and file a complaint, should be licensed 
  • Safety issues on Route 1 where it narrows: easier to address if citizens can provide specific information about the issue, especially since Route 1 requires coordination with the State 
  • Howard County is starting an anti-trafficking effort

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