Magic Surrounds Her – Baltimore magazine

Source: Magic Surrounds Her – Baltimore magazine

I thought I would share this article about the daughter of our Hawthorn neighbors George & Cathy Sarkis. It’s a very moving story of triumph over tragedy.


Columbia Flier Confusion!!!

UPDATE: I recently received new information from the Baltimore Sun about the phasing out of free delivery. 

“Currently the plan for Columbia Flier is a mix of free distribution and paid subscription.  The ratio will change over time.  In first quarter 2016, we will be stopping approximately 2,450 deliveries in 21044.   The majority (77%) are bulk-drop to apartments.”

From this I glean that they will slowly stop delivering free copies of the Columbia Flier throughout Columbia, eventually only delivering to paid subscribers. If you are no longer receiving the Flier for free, you should now consider whether you want to pay to receive this newspaper.


You probably received something in the mail recently from the Columbia Flier about their change (again!) to a subscription newspaper. There was probably a bill for $19.54, and it was probably addressed to an incorrect first name with the correct last name at your address. Sound familiar?

It’s like a bad flashback to August 2012 when the Flier did the same thing to Columbia residents (but I think they got the names right that time). It’s confusing, sounds like a scam, and prompts many questions.

  • What will happen if I don’t pay? Will I still get a paper?
  • Is this legal?
  • Is this a scam of some kind?
  • Didn’t they try this a few years ago?

As you may recall, they kept delivering the Flier to everyone back in 2012. However, they are now actually phasing out FREE delivery of the Columbia Flier to every home in Columbia. If you are still getting a free paper every Thursday, great! You don’t need to subscribe… yet. Eventually, sometime during the next year or so, they will stop dropping free papers at your house. At that point, you will need to decide if the Columbia Flier is worth $20/year to you. Start thinking about it….

Ask Covenant Cat: Tree Trimming Woes

This periodic “advice column” addresses common questions about the Hickory Ridge village covenants and other property maintenance concerns. To keep it interesting, your questions are answered by a local feline who is surprisingly well-versed in covenant issues. This cat may or may not be an overweight orange tabby named Boo Boo that lives with the Village Manager. Send your burning questions to

This is a repost of a Covenant Cat question from June of 2014.


Dear Covenant Cat:

What can I do about my neighbor’s overgrown tree? It’s growing over the fence into my yard, and my neighbor won’t trim the branches.

-Frustrated on Frostwork

Covenant Cat

Covenant Cat does some yoga stretches before tackling tough covenant questions.

Dear Frustrated:

I hear about issues like these regularly. Luckily, there is an easy solution to this problem! If your neighbor is unwilling to trim the tree branches that hang over your yard, it is purrfectly acceptable for you to do it yourself. Maryland follows the “Massachusetts Self-Help Rule,” which is based on the outcome of a Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts case [Michalson v. Nutting, 275 Mass. 232, 175 N.E. 490 (1931)]. This court ruling states that a property owner can cut off branches which are intruding over his property as long as he doesn’t kill the tree. You do not need to apply to the Resident Architectural Committee before you trim trees, so you can get to work right meow!  Good luck!

And don’t come inside until you’ve met someone new!

[In the interest of recycling, this is an edited version of a post written last summer in honor of National Night Out. The 2014 NNO is TONIGHT!]

Remember the good old days of summer? When our parents kicked us outside and told us we couldn’t come in until dinnertime? Or better yet, the long lazy days of summer when we went BACK outside after dinner and stayed out playing flashlight tag and catching fireflies until our parents hollered for us (using our middle names) to come in and take a bath?

These days, our lives are so busy and we are so “plugged in” to phones, computers, TVs, and the like that the idea of going outside at night seems strange. Plus, it could be dangerous. Who else might be out there? Creepy people? Criminals?

Guess what — the creeps won’t hang around if you and your neighbors are outside. If neighbors are talking regularly, looking out for each other, and making it clear that they care about their street, crime drops. That’s the idea behind National Night Out. National Night Out (NNO) is designed to promote involvement in crime prevention activities, police-community partnerships, neighborhood camaraderie and send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.

This year, National Night Out is TONIGHT, Tuesday, August 5. It may be too late to plan a full-on block party for tonight, but don’t let that stop you from getting outside with your neighbors.

NNO events can be as simple as everyone sitting in lawn chairs at the cul-de-sac (use the KISS principle), or could include an ice cream social or even a cookout (if you’re the Martha Stewart type). If you’re already using, it’s as easy as a quick post announcing a BYOP (Bring your own popsicle) gathering at the playground! It’s up to you – the important thing is that neighbors get outside and talk to each other on August 5! And don’t come back inside until you’ve met someone new!

Clearing up Misconceptions about the Inner Arbor Trust

I recently received a letter from Michael McCall of the Inner Arbor Trust. He sent me this letter in response to my inquiry (on behalf of the Village Board) asking for some details that would help the Village Board understand the long and complicated County approval process that the Inner Arbor Plan is currently undertaking, and where the Plan is in that process.

It’s a long, thorough letter that details the history of how the Inner Arbor Plan became the plan of choice for developing Symphony Woods, and the progress that has been made during the last six months. It’s worth a read if you have heard people speak in favor of an alternate plan for Symphony Woods, or have read article about people protesting the current design.

Get the facts on what has been approved, when, and by whom. There is a lot of misinformation, rumor, and noise out there about this project.

Read the Letter:

Letter on the Progress and History of the Inner Arbor Trust

Why We Need Family Bingo this Friday – More Than Ever!

Okay, so maybe our community hasn’t been so lucky this Winter. I have lost count of how many days school has been closed in the past two months. In fact, I have lost count of the days. Howard County is running out of road salt, and I am running out of patience with my kids. Can anyone relate?

Thankfully, there will be another Family Bingo Night this Friday night to keep us all sane. What’s so magical about Bingo Night?

1. It’s cheaper than the movies or the mall. Bingo cards are 5 for $1.00. Drinks are $.75 each. Bingo daubers are less than $2. Snacks are FREE. It’s so cheap, you can bring your kids’ friends and look like a hero to their

2. We have new Spring prizes. Besides the standard fare, we will also have a few new Spring and St. Patrick’s Day themed prizes (sorry, no green beer — actually, no beer at all). And there’s always CASH for winners to boot.

3. Your kids will look at you, not a screen. Okay, they might be staring at their bingo card a lot too, but they will at least be forced to interact with you face-to-face to beg for a soda or a dauber. No avatars allowed!

4. Bad jokes make everything better. You’ll laugh! You’ll groan! Our Village Manager always trots out a few horribly corny jokes to spice up the evening — for no extra charge!

5. FREE Cheese Curls. Admit it. You love cheese curls. Your kids love cheese curls. But you don’t buy them because — Eww! What are they made of? And the orange slime they leave on your fingers is just nasty. But everychild deserves a disgustingly delicious cheese curl from time to time, and since we provide them at no cost to you they can indulge (because it’s a SPECIAL OCCASION) and you don’t have to buy any junk food!

See! It’s the best Friday night event in Howard County, and it’s only at The Hawthorn Center. Come join the fun – no reservations required! Just bring your cash and your lucky charms! We will see you then.

Gas Stations and Gatekeepers (A.K.A., What’s up with ZA145?)

By Joan Lancos, Hickory Ridge Community Association’s Land Use Liaison

Recently, the Howard County Independent Gas Station Owners proposed a Zoning Regulation Amendment (ZRA 145) that would change the rules regarding where and how many gas stations can be built in Howard County.  Their concerns are related to the changing model for gasoline stations as well as restrictions placed on previously developed gas stations in Columbia. 

The New Town (NT) zoning classification was approved in the 1960s as a means to allow The Rouse Company/Howard Research and Development (HRD) flexibility in deciding where various aspects of the new city of Columbia would be located.  NT zoning provided a series of steps that allowed HRD as the “gatekeeper” to control where homes were built, village centers were located and what kinds of businesses could be in those centers.  HRD eventually controlled most of the village centers built in Columbia and almost all of the commercial land in Columbia.  This allowed HRD to decide which centers would have a hardware store, or a butcher, or a pharmacy.  HRD spread out the uses so that centers didn’t compete with each other for customers.  The FDP process for each village center listed some allowable uses at each center which provided further control.   As an additional protection, HRD added private covenants to some parcels in the centers which limited or prohibited certain uses such as the sale of chicken at a particular gas station site. 

HRD sold the village centers but retained their role as “gatekeeper” in the NT zone so that the new owners were required to ask HRD for permission to make changes to their centers.  In 2009, the County Council passed legislation which removed HRD as the gatekeeper at the village centers.  However, HRD still retains control over some parcels or entire village centers as a result of private covenants on the properties.  In addition, many other commercial parcels in Columbia still have private covenants with HRD (now Howard Hughes Corporation), that restrict or prohibit certain uses.  As HHC sells off new land, it no longer carefully controls what uses go in what location in order to prevent competitors from opening near existing businesses.  That aspect of the “gatekeeper” role seems to have disappeared.  Outparcels not under the NT zoning classification have never been controlled by the gatekeeper and have developed under the more standard Howard County Zoning Regulations.  The zoning regulations do not have any rules or restrictions regarding competing businesses opening near an existing one.

As part of PlanHoward 2030, Howard County is beginning “a Comprehensive Review of NT Zoning” to “revise the NT zoning Regulations to provide clear criteria for redevelopment of older residential, commercial, or industrial areas outside of Downtown Columbia and the Village Centers.”  The Columbia Association, Howard County Planning and Zoning, and Howard County Office of Economic Development are currently funding a study of the village centers and the Snowden River/Gateway commercial areas as an early step in determining what changes should be made to the zoning classification.  Meanwhile, both DPZ and the Howard County Planning Board have recommended against passage of ZRA 145.  The Staff Report regarding the legislation can be found at

The proposed ZRA 145 calls for new criteria requiring a finding of reasonable public need for new gas stations as well as specific design setbacks and requirements.  The proposed legislation covers all of Howard County and not just Columbia.  The hope is that this legislation will prevent new, larger stations from taking business from smaller stations such as those located in Columbia village centers.  The request for the legislation notes that these small station sites have restrictions on their uses and may be difficult to redevelop.  It should be noted that through existing procedures, it is possible to change an FDP that limits uses on a site.  The more problematic issue is the private covenants that HRD/HHC holds on many of these gas station sites.  Changing the zoning will not change these covenants and therefore some sites may still be limited in what services can be provided or what food can be sold in attached convenience stores.