Developers start to dig the way of the NIMBY

October 19, 2008|By LAURA VOZZELLA | LAURA VOZZELLA,laura.vozzella@baltsun.com

So this is what it feels like to be on the other side of the bulldozer.

Some of those fighting plans to build a huge senior citizens complex on prized Roland Park open space are developers who live in the neighborhood and who, on occasion, have built or torn down buildings over fierce community opposition. One of them could fairly be accused of subverting democracy the old-fashioned way, by stuffing the ballot box, though it must be noted the "democracy" in question was Columbia, so big wup.

Among the developers who suddenly find themselves on the NIMBY team:

* Martin Millspaugh, who led the agency that organized the Charles Center and Inner Harbor renewal projects. Widely lauded for overseeing the city's downtown renaissance, he's also criticized for popularizing the use the ultimate my-way-or-the-highway redevelopment tool: eminent domain.

* Ian McFarlane, president of EA Engineering, Science and Technology. His engineering firm was involved in a controversial plan to build a high school on a Superfund site in Providence, R.I., the Providence Journal reported in 2005.

* Jerome Trout of developer Trout, Segall & Doyle. In 1999, his firm demolished 10 rowhouses on Charles Village's "book block" - home to several used bookstores - to build a CVS.

* David Tufaro, developer with Terra Nova Ventures and former executive with Summit Properties. Taking advantage of Columbia's oddball voting system, which in some parts of town allocates votes by property ownership, the owner of Ashton Meadows apartments cast 176 votes for Columbia Councilwoman Gail Bailey in 1993, The Washington Post reported at the time. Another apartment owner cast 100 votes for Bailey. Together, they cast more votes than people who actually lived in the community.

Of that group, I was only able to reach Millspaugh and Tufaro. Millspaugh confirmed that he'd been "a resource" to the anti-Keswick Multi-Care folks but declined to comment further. Tufaro, who said he was "sort of chairman" of the Roland Park Civic League's land use committee, was at least willing to chat.

Before Tufaro left Summit in 1999 to run as a Republican for Baltimore mayor, the company waged lengthy battles with residents in Georgia, Virginia and Florida over plans to build apartments and clear trees. But Tufaro said he was not involved.

"My job is to try to persuade the community of the merits of my proposal," he said. "I would try my art of persuasion. But if I couldn't, I would not try to impose my view on the community."

So how about stuffing that Columbia ballot box? He was legally entitled to do that as the owner of multiple housing units, but the move shocked local officials, The Post reported.

Tufaro made no apologies for voting like an Ironman. Columbia is run by a homeowners association, he notes, not a municipal government.

"Columbia is not a democracy," he said. "They chose not to be incorporated as a village or a city or anything else. In that case, I was simply casting my vote."

Rescued from reality!

So you drag the kiddos away from the TV, buckle them in the car where they can tune in to videos, only to arrive at the store where there's nothing for them to watch. Awkward!

At last someone has addressed this video-input deficit by outfitting supermarket carts with TV screens.

They're trying them out at the Safeway in the Long Gate Shopping Center in Ellicott City, as well as other Safeways and K-Marts around Baltimore. Cabco, the Chicago-area cart maker, hopes to be in 300 stores nationwide by the end of the year.

The Cabco TV Kart looks a lot like those regular kiddie car carts. But down where the pint-sized driver sits, there's a TV screen that plays Bob the Builder, Barney and Thomas the Tank Engine.

Up top where the cart-pusher can see, there's a second screen that plays ads and parenting messages. The ads, which are not played on the child's screen, are triggered by little infrared gizmos around the store, so the pitch for OxiClean pops up as you're in the cleaning products aisle.

"The whole idea is that maybe Mom gets a little bit of a break and the child is in a safe, comfortable environment," said Patrick Burke, a Cabco vice president.

He notes that the carts keep the kids lower to the ground than traditional carts, as is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which keeps some alarming stats about cart-related head injuries.

Of course, the American Academy of Pediatrics also takes a dim view of TV for youngsters. (It recommends that children under 2 see none of it, and that for older kids, all screen time - computers, TV, videos - be limited to less than two hours a day.) What do they think of the TV carts?

"That is unbelievable," said Dr. Vic Strasburger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico who is on the academy's Council on Communications and Media. (If those credentials don't do it for you, he's a City College grad, Class of '67.)

"This is out of control," he said. "There's no reason to interrupt cartoon viewing by going to a supermarket. Let's have a strap-on video recorder that can be attached to their heads and they can watch TV and videos all the time."

Burke said he's heard that criticism and respects it. But the biggest complaint he gets is from parents, who wish they could rejigger the programming on their screens.

"I was just at a trade show," Burke said. "The number of guys who came up to me and said, 'Can I put on ESPN?' - it must have been 10."

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