Tag Archives: Baltimore County

Smart Growth, Dumb State (Guess Which One)

owings mills metro centreBy Barry Rascovar / June 19, 2013

THE STATE OF Maryland boasts mightily about its Transit Oriented Development (TOD) programs. Just don’t bother looking for much in the way of tangible results.

“Maryland has great TOD potential” brags the state on its transportation website. Dig a little deeper, though, and it turns into wishful thinking, not boots-on-the-ground achievements.

TODs are the ultimate in Smart Growth.

They turn transit stations into job-centered areas of dense, walkable neighborhoods in both cities and suburbs. Other towns, like Seattle and Denver, offer examples of how to do it. (For more on the potential of “transit villages” in Maryland, see my 2006 Goldseker Foundation report – “Five Years, Fifty Thousand Jobs,” page 13.)

The Baltimore-Washington region, unfortunately, offers examples of how to draw up great plans and watch them fall apart or gather dust.

That thought came to mind at a ribbon-cutting Monday for the state’s one true TOD – Owings Mills Metro Centre.

Brand New Neighborhood

What you see along Grand Central Avenue (see photo above) is a long row of apartment buildings on one side of a broad boulevard and a six-story, library-community college building on the other side flanked by a massive garage — soon to be doubled in size — and an office high-rise under construction.

All of this sits beside the Metro station that connects to downtown Baltimore and Johns Hopkins Hospital. On the east side of the tracks is a huge parking lot. This eventually will become part of the mixed-use TOD.

A brand-new neighborhood is being created where none existed before.

The rail station, library and community college are the draws. A short walk up the hill is a multiplex cinema, townhouses and an aging mall that, if reimagined properly, could extend the scope of this TOD. Just down the road is a large retail development in progress, centered around a Wegmans supermarket.

This TOD will boast a residential population of 2,500 with many more office workers populating the area during the work week. Shops and restaurants will occupy ground floor space. Over 11,000 community college students a year are expected to take day and night courses at the new Community College of Baltimore County campus, sharing facilities with the already popular library branch (the largest in the county at 54,000 square feet).

Persistence Pays Off

What made this a reality was the unwavering commitment of county officials, from Dutch Ruppersberger to Jim Smith to Kevin Kamenetz. They not only funded key infrastructure, they stuck to the vision of making the Owings Mills TOD primarily a residential community.

Instead of transplanting a state agency to a transit station – the state’s feeble stab at the New Carrollton TOD in Prince George’s County – Baltimore County insisted on a library and a community college. These are the sort of amenities people want to live near.

(Had officials taken the same approach at the stalled and deeply flawed State Center TOD in Baltimore – by turning the property into a large mid-town residential neighborhood with appealing attractions – there might have been only token opposition.)

The path to the Owings Mills ribbon cutting wasn’t easy. It proved long (well over a decade) and arduous, especially during the dark days of the Great Recession.

But the county persisted. Officials continued their dialogue with developer Howard Brown until the economics worked.

You can see the future emerging at the Owings Mills Metro. It’s what every TOD should look like.

It’s just a shame Maryland has been so slow catching on to what works, and doesn’t work, in making this valuable Smart Growth tool a success.

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Political Dimensions of Jim Smith’s New Job

Jim Smith

By Barry Rascovar / June 2, 2013

BY CHOOSING former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith as Maryland’s new transportation secretary, Gov. Martin O’Malley solved multiple problems, especially for his governor-in-waiting, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

O’Malley left the top MDOT post vacant for nearly a year. Smith, apparently, had been the governor’s choice but never accepted until after the governor did the heavy lifting in pushing a multi-year gas tax increase through the General Assembly, After all, what fun would it be to serve as MDOT secretary without $$$ to upgrade Maryland’s transportation network?

Smith has modest experience dealing with state legislative issues outside of Baltimore County delegation matters. He has minimal background in the inner workings of the statewide transportation program and its political underpinnings. He would have been of little use to O’Malley in lining up votes for a hefty gas tax increase.

Now it’s a different story. The gas tax rises by four cents a gallon on July 1 and there’s much more to come in future years. There will be a steady flow of construction announcements and ribbon cuttings. It’s a great time to be Maryland’s transportation boss.

Smith brings administrative skills to the job. He’s also a fiscal conservative, which means projects that bring the biggest bang for the buck will take priority. And he’s a first-rate political operator who knows how to massage egos and quietly seek common ground.

It’s an ideal landing spot for Smith, who sorely missed public service. It’s one of the most important posts in Maryland.

In selecting Smith, O’Malley did a big favor for his lieutenant governor. Smith might have ended up running on Attorney General Doug Gansler’s ticket next year, which would have aided Gansler in the Baltimore suburbs on election day.

But now Smith is locked into the O’Malley-Brown administration. If he wants to keep his job after 2014, Smith knows he’s got to working tirelessly to elect Brown. That could prove pivotal in Baltimore County, which often decides state elections. Smith also has a good chunk of campaign cash lying around, which might help Brown gain name recognition.

O’Malley owed Smith big-time, Without Smith’s hard work and vocal support for the Baltimore mayor, O’Malley might have lost in 2006 to incumbent Gov. Bob Ehrlich. In that election, Smith managed to hold Ehrlich to a draw in his home county, which locked up the race for O’Malley.

The governor has re-paid Smith with perhaps the biggest plum in state government. For at least the next 18 months, Jim Smith will be a big wheel in Annapolis.

 

Towson University leaves teams abandoned

By Barry Rascovar/ The Community Times/ May 1, 2013

If your son excels at baseball or soccer and is looking to play that sport in college, you can forget about sending him to Towson University.

In a comedy of errors, Baltimore County’s largest higher education institution disbanded the two men’s teams, despite the popularity of each sport.

President Maravene Loeschke wielded the ax. She bought the logic of her athletic director that Towson must divert sports revenue to turn its basketball and football programs into regional powers.

Unfortunately, her public explanation also involved the need to bring equity to women’s sports at Towson. She picked an odd way to make that happen.

Especially cruel was the university president’s delivery of the bad news. On short notice she summoned the two teams, showed up with security guards, made her announcement and left without answering questions from the stunned audience.

It was a heartless display of authority. The students were treated more like discarded furniture than confused, emotionally upset individuals. Loeschke shattered their college dreams yet couldn’t take time to show any empathy.

No wonder she ended up in hot water with both the governor and state comptroller. No wonder her actions precipitated vocal protests from some alumni.

Baseball won a two-year reprieve when the governor found $300,000 to rescue the program while supporters try to raise funds to make the reprieve permanent. Soccer, the world’s biggest sport, got no such relief.

Critics have pointed out that shifting resources to the football and basketball programs won’t turn Towson into the UCLA of the East.

Even if every seat in Towson’s new arena and Unitas Stadium is filled, the crowds will be puny next to the College Park teams that join the Big Ten athletic conference next year.

Towson will never be — nor should it be — a training ground for athletes who turn pro after a few years in college. Loeschke is throwing money at a vision that isn’t realistic.

At the same time, complying with federal equal opportunity regulations need not come at the expense of existing sports programs. Wallace Loh, president of the University of Maryland, College Park, roiled that suburban Washington campus when he disbanded eight men and women sports teams last year for lack of funds. But he did so with a great deal of compassion, calling his decision “heart-wrenching.”

In both cases the affected students felt betrayed. Their college lives had been ruined by administrators who couldn’t balance their budgets.

Many are transferring to other schools. But that will be traumatic and expensive.

It is a sad story, which will reverberate for years at Towson University. These student-athletes deserved a better fate.

Barry Rascovar is a Reisterstown writer and communications consultant. He can be reached at brascovar@outlook.com.