Common Sense In Policy Making (The Villager, 2016-12)

 Common Sense In Policy Making

(The Villager, 2016-12)

by Dr. Chao Wu

This article is published in The Villager of River Hill Community Association, December 2016 issue.

Finally the presidential election is over and we are back on the normal track. Although there were heated debates over the election, we need come back to discuss local development, education and community issues we are facing right now.

We need common sense during the policy making process. Recently two very relevant local issues caught my eye. One issue is the Merriweather Park Pavillion (MPP) noise and the other is the new Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) school starting time change. At the moment, I do not think common sense has prevailed in either situation

The Columbia Association’s (CA) Board of Directors has been hearing complaints from our residents about the loud noise from Merriweather for more than the 1.5 years I have served. Most complainants are asking MPP to turn down the noise level. One resident said “I can feel my heart jumps faster when I hear that music. I am 75 now and how many more years do I need to endure this in my backyard?” MPP’s operator, Howard Hughes Cooperation, is reacting slowly to this complaint and has said it will take at least another two years to make some modifications and these improvements are dependent of whether funding is available.  The new Columbia Downtown development, which was just approved three weeks ago by the County Council, will build several thousand houses and apartments, 50 meters away from the MPP. I believe MPP cannot operate as it is now after the new buildings are finished in several years. However, since so many senior citizens have been bothered by the noise for such a long time, why not find a workable solution as soon as possible to eliminate the problem?

The second issue is that HCPSS is proposing four models for school starting time at 7:30 a.m. (three proposals) and 7:45 a.m. (the fourth one) for elementary schools. The reasons for this new school starting time is that many high school parents asked for a later high school starting time, which is currently 7:20 a.m.) HCPSS came out with basically switching the starting time for high schools and elementary schools. I wrote a brief introduction on this topic at I am a strong proponent for a later high school starting time; however, the fact that the current proposed solution is coming out, is evidence that HCPSS is lacking common sense on this issue.  These new proposals will have tremendous push-back from elementary school students’ parents which will probably void the hard work done by the Starting School Late committee unfortunately.

The River Hill Board of Directors is consistently engaged with development issues impacting the village, including River Hill Square (the original River Hill Garden Center) and the Simpson Oaks development (on Grace Drive). The Board always tries to bring all stakeholders together and make a common sense decision which can be accepted by a majority of people in our community.

CA is going to work with Horizon Foundation on a Bikeway Concept. This is a 50 miles, networked bicycle and pedestrian route. More than half of county residents, schools and parks are located within 1 mile of the bikeway. 4 MARC stations (Laurel, Savage, Jessup, Dorsey) are within 2.5 miles of the bikeway. The cost is around 3 million dollars.

CA Board approved $200,000 in funding to the Downtown Columbia Partnership (DCP). I voted NO on this decision for a number of reasons. I believe there was not enough discussion on this funding, the administration overhead for DCP is a little high, and they relied too much on CA (around 50% budget) for their operation now and in the future while a majority of their Board is controlled by Howard Hughes Corporation. Yes, CA should play a big role in the new downtown development. How to achieve a better role warrants an ample and better discussion. For example, we probably should put a dedicated person to advocate or work on downtown related issues.

Don’t forget to ask your high school seniors to apply for the 2017 Columbia Association’s Maggie J. Brown Spirit of Columbia Scholarship Award. . Up to six $2,500 awards will be made in recognition of exceptional efforts in providing community service. Check for more information at

I hope you and your family had a great Thanksgiving. Enjoy the holidays and Happy New Year in 2017.

Chao Wu, Ph.D.

River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors

Email:  Website:

Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.