Proactive Engagement in Land Development Needed (The Villager 2018-11)

Council Corner:

Proactive Engagement in Land Development Needed

 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.

The letter will be published on Nov 2018 issue of “The Villager” of River Hill Community Association.

The Patuxent Storage Facility under construction near Guilford Road at the entrance to the Patuxent Branch Trail in the Village of Kings Contrivance has recently been the focus of the Columbia Association’s (CA) board of directors and many residents. The issue is the location of the access to the storage facility. Rather than entering from Guilford Road or through adjoining CA open space, the developer chose to locate the entrance using a road which for many years has been used by the public to access the Patuxent Branch Trail. This decision resulted in many residents feeling unhappy about the developer’s choice. After numerous meetings, the county has agreed to pay at least $200K to build a new pathway connector to the Patuxent Branch Trail. This new connector will run through CA open space to replace the old, nearly 200-meter pathway that will be used by the developer to access the storage facility The CA board eventually approved a land easement so the county can build this separate and new pathway to ensure public access to the trail, pedestrian safety, and minimize the environmental impact of the project.

What was missing in this project was a quick and direct communication between stakeholders. The community needs a coordinated effort from our county council (zoning approval agency), the county government and developers.  The community needs to be informed early in the process. In some cases, the community does not necessarily oppose the development, but would like to provide input to make the development better. Columbia has been a planned community from the start and residents expect future growth to be planned with community input.

In the Village of River Hill, the association’s board of directors has been actively engaging in the process as development occurs around the village. Even on issues as small as the right turn exit by the McDonald’s, the association has coordinated with Kimco Realty several times to improve safety because some drivers make illegal left turns there. Current projects the association is reviewing and providing input on are:  the Erickson Living Continuing Care Retirement community with a capacity of more than 1200 residences; the redevelopment of the garden center as the River Hill Square commercial project, Cedar Creek (formerly the Simpson Oaks) residential development with 184 units; and most recently the Robinson Overlook 48-unit affordable housing development proposed on Grace Drive.

The board seeks to bring our residents’ concerns to the developers, zoning board, county government, and even the State Highway Administration to make sure that proper consideration is given to the impacts on traffic and safety and residents’ quality of life. The community association welcomes residents’ participation in various committees established by the village board so that we proactively engage with stakeholders as development projects arise. To find out more about the Traffic and Safety and Development Committees visit

Finally, please don’t forget to vote in the Primary Election on Tuesday, November 6. It is our civic duty and a perfect opportunity to begin to engage with the development process.

Chao Wu, Ph.D.

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

Email:  Website:



Columbia Association FY 18 Annual Report( The Village 2018-07)

Columbia Association’s FY 18 Annual Report

By Chao Wu
This is a simple version of the annual report. You can find CA’s official annual report at shortly.
This article will be published on The Village, July 2018 issue.

During fiscal year 2018 (May 2017 to April 2018), Columbia Association (CA) accomplished many of the goals that were set by the board in 2017. This article recaps the report written by CA board chair Andy Stack.

Inside Columbia Association

I always want to make sure CA has a well-balanced budget, maintaining the fiscal health of the organization while making the necessary expenditures. During fiscal year 2018, the CA board approved the annual charge rate without any increase and maintained limited borrowing. The board has built a long-term plan by allocating $20 million yearly in capital funds for several years to help deal with overdue and necessary repairs and improvements required for CA’s facilities.

We are continuing to maintain and improve our facilities and environment. In FY18, there was a large amount of funding allocated to the Swim Center, Ice Rink, and Athletic Club. We continue to clean our lakes and ponds, reduce stream erosion with watershed improvement projects, and improve pathways and bridges.

CA opened a new indoor tennis facility in Long Reach and converted the old Tennis Bubble in Owen Brown for outdoor tennis and pickle-ball. A major renovation at the Athletic Club is currently underway.

The board and CA staff actively reviewed and discussed options for assuming responsibility for handling commercial covenants in Columbia . We reviewed and discussed potential enhancements to the Lakefront Plaza. The Board wants to ensure that our master plan takes into account Howard Hughes’ proposal for the redevelopment of the Lakefront Core area.

Within Howard County

The board worked with the developer and with Howard County on the redevelopment of the Long Reach Village Center. CA presented testimony before the Planning Board and the Zoning Board in support of this crucial effort to enhance a village center.

CA participated in Howard County’s Phase 1 land use/development regulations review process. Phase 1 set the stage for Phase 2 which will focus on rewriting the actual land use regulations. This will have a major impact on the future redevelopment of Columbia. We want to make sure Columbia continues to be a planned community.

The board followed developments regarding the new Cultural Center in Downtown Columbia, the Crescent area in Downtown Columbia, the Hickory Ridge Village Center, the Lakefront Core area, and other proposed developments in and around Columbia.

Bigger Community

The board established a new Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee. The committee recruited environmental experts across the county and just held its first meeting. With their help, we want to make sure Columbia continues to be conscious about reducing energy waste and improving the environment.

CA helped to celebrate Columbia’s 50th birthday with great success. More than 85 great events were held and many community members were highly engaged. I attended many events with my family and I am glad Columbia continues to be a diverse and vibrant community.

We established a new sister city, Liyang, China for Columbia after three-year’s planning work. I believe connecting people and building friendship will provide a better vision and network for Columbia and Howard County residents.

I am looking forward to your feedback and please enjoy your summer.

Chao Wu, PhD

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.

Columbia Association Board Is More Active Than Ever (The Villager 2018-06)

By Dr. Chao Wu
This article is published on June 2018 issue of “The Villager” of River Hill Community Association.

Columbia Association board starts a new fiscal year without little change. We have the same board chair and vice chair. However, CA board is more active than ever.

Internally, CA board members had some unofficial, offside board meetings which never happened before. We discussed how we could improve the board meeting process. We will not restrict the topics in resident speakout. We will disclose closed meeting minutes in a timely manner with more transparency. We will push for our staff more responsive to both board questions and residents’ concerns. We will consistently evaluate the membership structure and we continue to improve the energy efficiency.

Externally, CA board will be more outspoken in the development around Columbia. The board is against the current Royal Farm Gas Station along Snowden Parkway because it does not fit Columbia vision. The board will take classes on land use and zoning. We will provide valuable feedback to the county council on the undergoing zoning regulation changes. We want to make sure Columbia, as a planned community, will stay as planned with a good future to come. We will enforce our commercial covenant with stronger will. Unregulated development will destroy the quality of life many of us are enjoying now.

We need our residents get engaged too. Recently, I got tagged on Facebook for some lawn mowing issues in a non-CA property. I immediately forwarded that to our open space director and he immediately contacted the relevant parties to address the issue. Eventually the lawn was mowed although it took a few days. I would say as long as you express your concerns with me or the board, I will try my best to help you get the problems to the right hand in CA. It may not result in the way you want, but we listen to you and value your feedback.

The worst part is indifference from our resident. We need hear from you and need help from you too.

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

CA Board Identifies Possible Focus Areas For FY19 (The Villager 2018-04)

Columbia Association Board Identifies Possible Focus Areas for FY19

This article was published at The Villager of River Hill Village Association, April 2018 Issue.

The Columbia Association’s Board of Directors has been considering what to focus on in the upcoming fiscal year. The Board brainstormed at their March work session and identified topics they believe are most importance to the Columbia Association and Columbia Residents. The topics are varied:

  1. The annual charge rate and revenue,
  2. Declining shares of membership numbers,
  3. Membership types and price, service quality,
  4. Commercial property covenant enforcement,
  5. CA’s role in the downtown development and lakefront design,
  6. Ever increasing maintenance cost on bridges, ponds and open maintenance,
  7. CA’s relationship with each individual village,
  8. CA’s role in the county land development regulations,
  9. How CA is responding to changes and competition from other vendors,
  10. Assessment of what services and programs should be offered by CA versus other entities, and
  11. How CA can better serve younger adults, particularly in their late teens to age 35.

The Board will pick two to three topics within the next month and ask CA staff to focus on them over the next 12 months.

Based on the list above, what issues are most important you? Are there CA-related issues that you believe the Board should consider that are not listed? I look forward to hearing your feedback.

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.


Overview of Approved CA FY2019-2020 Budget (The Villager 2018-03)

Overview of Approved CA FY2019-2020 Budget

The article is published on The Villager of River Hill Community Association, 2018-03 issue.

On Thursday, February 22, the Columbia Association’s (CA) Board of Directors approved the FY2019 and Conditional FY2020 Budget. In FY 2019-2020, the annual charge rate will be $0.68 of every 100 dollars of the assessed value of the property with a 3.5% cap. I made a motion to bring down the annual charge rate to $0.65 (around 4.4% decrease) which failed. I will continue advocating for a lower annual charge rate in the future. I believe many residents are negatively impacted by this high annual charge fee due to the cap being increase from 2.5% to 3.5% and the continued rise of property values in our community. The membership fee also keeps climbing up each year. I believe that by lowering the cap, Columbia residents will have more disposable income to purchase CA fitness memberships that will offset the loss of assessment share income.

I made a motion to remove approximately $200,000 dollars in funding for village sign replacement since a majority of villages do not like the new sign design. This motion passed. During the budget process, the Board had a lot of discussion on the membership fee, construction of modular houses for Columbia Horse Center, maintenance of CA bridges and tunnels, the outlook for Haven on the Lake, and funding to the Inner Arbor Trust for pathway construction in Symphony Woods. An overview of the approved budget is given below.

Total FY19 budgeted revenue and annual borrowings are $81,798,000. The breakdown by source is provided below ($000’s):

Interest and other $972 (1.2%)
Borrowing $7,316 (8.9%)
Commercial Annual Charge $14,160 (17.3%)
Residential Annual Charge $26,296 (32.2%)
Community Services Programs, $4,775 (5.8%)
Sport and Fitness Income, $28,279(34.6%)

In FY19, the $81,798,000 will be used in the following ways (000’s):

Sport and Fitness Programs and Facilities: $29,371 (35.9%)
Contingencies/other $506 (0.6%)
Administrative Services $2,289 (2.8%)
Village Community Associations $5,411 (6.6%)
Community Services Programs $7,827 (9.6%)
Capital Expenditures $20,000 (24.5%)
Debt Repayment $1,895 (2.3%)
Board of Directors $1,002 (1.2%)
Open Space Management $13,497 (16.5%)

Major capital projects (greater than $500,000) approved for FY19 and FY 20 include:

Columbia Swim Center – Phase III Renovations $1,225,000
Watershed improvement projects $710,000
Athletic Club – Phase II Renovations $5,000,000
Columbia Gym – HVAC $600,000
Horse Center – Facility Assessment Survey Items $655,000
Supreme Sports Club Renovation $4,700,000
Haven on the Lake – Site Renovation $1,000,000
Slayton House-Theater Renovations $515,000
Columbia-Wide HVAC Systems $600,000
Columbia-Wide Watershed Stabilization $850,000
Columbia Wide Ponds Dredging and Repairs $846,000
Lake Elkhorn Planning and Dredging $1,090,000
Equipment and Vehicles $800,000
Sport and Fitness Facilities and Equipment Upgrades $550,000
Columbia-Wide Bridge Replacement $615,000
Columbia-Wide Pathway Renovations $1,000,000
Aquatics- Hawthorn ADA-Complaint Wading Pool $500,000
Headquarters Building –Reserve for Deposit $1,100,000
Stonehouse – Full Building Renovation $750,000

To view more information on CA’s FY19/20 budget, visit:

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.

2018 CA Budget Public Hearing (The Villager, 2018-02)

2018 Columbia Association Budget Public Hearing Summary and Other News

The article will be published in the River Hill “The Villager”, 2018 February Issue.

Columbia Association News

The Columbia Association’s (CA) board of directors has been discussing the 2019-2020 budget for several months and held a budget public forum on January 18.

During the public forum, the CA board heard the following testimonies:

  1. One village association asked for specific facility upgrades and funding for special programs. They also expressed dissatisfaction with the assessment share and contingency fund decisions made by the CA board earlier in the budget process.
  2. Several organizations asked for continued support of the Columbia Council of Arts and the Columbia Downtown Partnership.
  3. The Howard County Pickleball Association asked for support of pickleball activities by sharing courts with tennis court or building a dedicated indoor pickleball court.
  4. The CA Aquatics Advisory Committee requested a new 25-yard indoor swimming pool. In 2017, CA and Howard County conducted a joint study for 50-meter pool and could not find an appropriate location.
  5. Several people and organizations, either supported or opposed CA giving more than $500,000 to Inner Arbor Trust for pathway construction in Symphony Woods. A playground in Symphony Woods was also discussed. For information purposes, a 1-acre playground costs around one million dollars.

The CA board is expected to vote on the budget at the February 22 board meeting. The board would still like to hear your input. Send your comments to:

River Hill News

Dalia Shlash, the River Hill board’s open space liaison, held a community meeting on January 18 to discuss site selection and upgrades for two tot lots in River Hill. Based on feedback from residents and CA, the Indian Summer Drive tot lot (RH25) and the River Run tot lot (RH4) are the locations that the association will likely recommend to CA for upgrades. The Association did hear from residents requesting upgrades to the South Wind Circle tot lot (RH22). The Association will consider requesting upgrades to this tot lot in a future phase.

The River Hill community association continues to actively share its views on the River Hill Square and Erickson Senior Living developments near the village.

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.

Where Does CA’s Money Go

Where Does CA’s Money Go?

This article is published on the January 2018 issue of  “The Villager”.

In this issue, I am writing to show how costly it is for the Columbia Association (CA) to maintain and fix its current facilities.  This article partially responds to the question I heard during the holidays, “Where does CA’s money go?” Many residents see their annual charge continuing to increase and the gym membership is more expensive than ever.

As a CA board member, I want to make sure the association is spending its money wisely. CA has an annual budget of approximately $70 Million. Besides our human resource costs (the organization has around 270 full-time employees and 700 part-time employees), the Association must continually make capital improvements that come at a cost.

In June 2016, the CA board was presented with a 5-year capital improvement plan. Based on recently conducted facility assessments, the plan estimated the following replacement costs (in 2016 dollars) for 7 buildings:

Athletic Club replacement                  $24M

Ice Rink replacement                          $16.5M

Art Center replacement                      $3.3M

Stonehouse replacement                     $6.5M

The Other Barn replacement              $4.5M

Teen Center replacement                    $3.5M

Maintenance Facility replacement     $11.5M

As an alternative to full replacement, the report also identified needed improvements, upgrades, and repairs for each of these buildings. Ultimately, the CA board only approved funds for improvements to the Ice Rink (FY18) and the Athletic Club in (FY18-19). The proposed FY19/20 budget finishes this work and starts improvements for the Art Center and Stonehouse. In addition to these facilities, CA still has the Supreme Sports Club, Slayton House, Kahler Hall and many other facilities which need upgrades and repairs.

Five Year Capital Spending Budget

The 5-year capital improvement plan estimated that the following capital budgets were needed just to maintain, repair, and upgrade existing facilities:

FY2018           $23.2M

FY2019           $19.6M

FY2020           $17.8M

FY2021           $16.5M

FY2022           $17.5M

These budgets do not include things like dredging Lake Elkhorn, the rental of CA’s headquarters building, or construction of any new facilities. Over the next ten years, the organization needs $5M just for pond management. Using this information, a priority list was established and the CA Board budgeted money for the Ice Rink and Athletic Club. In FY19/20, we plan to spend $4.7M on the Supreme Sports Club. Into the foreseeable future, CA will continue to have multi-million-dollar capital requirements to repair/upgrade/maintain our facilities and associated items. Any decision to construct a new facility will require additional capital funding and as well as operating funds.

Renovation or New Construction

Of course, when presented with the costs of fixing/repairing/upgrading a facility, the CA Board should look at whether a replacement would be more cost effective. In fact, when considering how to proceed with the Hobbits Glen Clubhouse and Owen Brown Tennis Bubble, the CA Board decided that replacement made better economic sense. Therefore, a new Hobbit’s Glen Clubhouse was built, and a new indoor tennis facility is under construction in the Village of Long Reach.

Happy New Year and I am looking forward to hearing from you.

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.


2018-1-The Villager Cover

December Community News Update (The Villager 2017-12)

December Community News Update

This article is published on the River Hill Community Association “The Villager” 2017 December issue.

Columbia Association Side

At the request from many community members, the Columbia Association (CA) Board of Directors recently affirmed the Paris Agreement on climate change and remains committed to clean energy. I am glad that CA has been a pioneer for environmental protection and clean energy adoption. I hope this act will encourage individuals in our community to take steps to reduce their personal carbon footprint by doing such things as walking more and maintaining reasonable room temperatures. Walk our walk, not talk our talk.

Other recent CA Board highlights:

  • Held a discussion on New Town Zoning with Howard County DPZ and Consultants;
  • Discussed and approved the new and simpler Assessment Share for the Columbia villages;
  • Discussed the village associations’ contingency fund (around half million dollars) and decided the funds will be distributed among the 10 villages (each village gets 5%) and CA (gets 50%).
  • Discussed and approved a 20% Cap on Cash Reserves for the villages.
  • Discussed major capital projects and new operating initiatives received to-date in the Proposed FY 2019 and Conditional FY 2020 Budgets

School System Side

Many community members have kept an eye on or become involved in the school redistricting process since summer. The Board of Education made the final decision on attendance areas for the 2018-2019 school year on November 16. Here is how the River Hill area is impacted:

  • Pointers Run Elementary will receive Polygon 127 from Clements Crossing Elementary.
  • Clarksville Middle School will receive from Lime Kiln Middle School Polygons 117, 118, 120, 123, 126, 127, 296, 1117, 1120, 1123, 1296.
  • High school overcrowding will be mitigated by the JumpStart Program and Direct Enrollment Program. River Hill High School will receive students from other crowded high schools.

Happy Thanksgiving! Be prepared for the cold winter and enjoy the happiness of the holidays.

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.

Photo: The big tree inside the Mall of Columbia.

We Need to Improve Our System Modeling (The Villager 2017-11)

We Need to Improve Our System Modeling

This article is published in the River Hill “The Villager”, November 2017 Issue.

In this column, I will briefly present information about two system modeling problems that negatively impact the River Hill community from Columbia Association (CA) and Howard County Public School System (HCPSS).

Case I: Columbia Association Assessment Share Formula.

A CA work team has been analyzing the formula that determines the amount of money that is distributed to each village association from the assessments paid by Columbia property owners. This Assessment Share forms the foundation for each village’s income stream, with additional revenue generated by rental of the village-managed buildings, newsletter advertising, and various programs and services. As the River Hill Board of Directors was preparing a response to the CA work team on the revised formula, there was a debate on how to simplify the formula. CA board members hear complaints that the current formula is too complicated and a simpler model is needed.

The fallacy is that simplicity results in a better or more accurate model. During the River Hill Board’s discussion, one example of over simplicity identified was with the computation of the newsletter printing costs that was factored into the formula component . The proposed formula uses a flat rate:

formula 1

where x is the printing rate and N is the number of copies. So, if we print 2000 copies, the cost is 2000 * x dollars. If we print 10000 copies, the cost is 10000 * x dollars.  Based on this, the more copies a village needs (a.k., the larger population the village has), the more beneficial the assessment share formula will be. However, in reality, we know printing rates vary depending on the volume of the copies. A slightly better model will account for varying rates, for example:

formula 2

where we have two different printing rates, , for different printing volumes. Usually,  x1 is larger than x2.

As a result, the over-simplified model in Equation (1) gives unfair advantage to villages printing more newsletters. Villages with smaller populations, such as River Hill, are negatively impacted. Similarly, other over-simplified models were used to compute other cost components of the assessment share formula. As a result, the final recommended formula does not accurately reflect the true expenses of each village.

Case II: School Population Prediction.

When Renee Kamen, Manager of Office of School Planning of HCPSS, attended a recent redistricting forum sponsored by the River Hill Community Association, she stated the HCPSS student population prediction model is accurate within 1% error, which implied the predictions model is very accurate. However, based on research by River Hill residents, Pointers Run Elementary School (PRES) consistently receives around 10% more students than predicted by the HCPSS model in recent years. So, the overall accuracy of the model masks the populations in some schools. After examining the actual enrollment numbers at PRES during 2002-2012, analysis shows a continuous decline in student population. However, the student population bounces back very quickly after that. In the HCPSS student projection model, student population at PRES decreases continuously into 2018. Obviously, the HCPSS prediction model does not take into account the current enrollment trend at PRES.

In this case, for each individual school, no matter how accurate the overall prediction is, it does not matter. It only matters when the model predicts the right student number at the school. If not, the model fails. The school system needs to find a way to modify, improve and validate the current student population prediction model as it is being used to support school redistricting.

I hope this article gives you some idea of how an over-simplified or inaccurate model can impact our community and the importance of  getting the mathematical modeling correct.


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.

A Bridge to the Future (The Villager 2017-10)

A Bridge to the Future

This article was published in The Villager of River Hill Community Association, October 2017 Issue.

After the first village, Wilde Lake, was built 50 years ago, Columbia has become a very large city with more than 100,000 people, 2000 business and a very vibrant community. The Howard County Citizens Association (HCCA) made a documentary film about the last 50 years and challenged the community to think about how Columbia can continue to be built for a bright future.

To ensure a bright future of Columbia for the next 50 years, we need a planned and visionary development in both education and housing aspects.

First, our educational system must adapt to the changes we anticipate. With fast advancement in automation and artificial intelligence, future life and work will be quite different from today’s. Manual labor and tedious work will be replaced by the computer and robotics. Computer literacy will be a must for many future workers. So, our education system will need to adapt to educate the workforce of the future. We need to ensure our school system is guided by student-focused principles:

  1. motivate all students to achieve their full and diverse potential
  2. expanding learning opportunities to all students by utilizing all available resources

Second, all housing and commercial developments should provide the infrastructure needed to support the uses, especially the need for schools. This can partially be regulated by tightening the Adequate Public Ordinance (APFO) which is currently being debated by the County Council. I testified on behalf of myself at the County Council and made the following points:

Three loopholes should be removed:

  1. Include the high schools in the capacity test. I am not sure why high schools were not included in the test more than 10 years ago.
  2. Remove the waiting time for development. Now, when a development does not pass a capacity test, it will automatically pass after waiting for four years (in reality, three years) without a second test
    . This practice should be abolished.
  3. Include the Medium and Low Income Housing (MLIH) units in the development unit cap. For each new development, it is required that 15% of the units be MLIH. However, this 15% (i.e., around 300 units) is not presently counted in the annual cap of 2000 new residential units.

Two Numbers should be revised:

  1. The school capacity limit should be set at 100%, not 115%.
  2. The developer fee should be raised substantially. For comparable housing units, the developers in Howard County are paying less than 10% of the development fee in Montgomery County. Housing prices in Howard County are not cheaper than those in Montgomery County to justify this huge fee difference.

I support development since only continuous economic, housing and social development and improvement will solve many problems we face today. However, the development should be planned with a long -term vision. Unregulated development will lead to chaos. Tightening APFO now will give our legislators a rare opportunity to address the problems created over the last 15 years.

Some neighborhood news:

County Executive Allan Kittleman proposed a new site for the High School 13 on Landing Road in Elkridge and asked the Howard County Public School System to delay high school redistricting until this high school is built in 2022. Previously the proposed location for High School 13 was on Mission Road in Jessup.

The school redistricting process has created many heated debates, anxiety, and expectations in the county. I encourage everyone to be civil and respect others’ opinions during this difficult time. The superintendent, Dr. Martirano, will provide his final redistricting recommendation to the Board of Education on Oct. 3.

Columbia Association (CA) is developing the FY19 and FY 20 budgets. The CA Board has heard from residents and villages about their funding needs. We will continue work on our budget until early next year.

CA Board Members also looked at the Lakefront Core Design Guidelines during the September board work session and will provide feedback to the Department of Zoning and Planning on the development.

The River Hill Village Board is working with CA and residents to upgrade two existing tot lots to meet residents’ needs. The Village Board will solicit resident feedback on upgrades.

Thanks for reading. I am looking forward to hearing your feedback.

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.

The picture was taken on 10/1/2017 morning at the Centennial Lake while I joined the Centennial Runner Group for Breast Cancer Awareness fund raising event.


Busy Fall Agendas (The Villager 2017-09)

Busy Fall Agendas

By Dr. Chao Wu,  This article is published on The Villager of River Hill, September 2017 issue.

The fall is a busy time for everyone, including the River Hill Community Association (RHCA) and Columbia Association (CA). In September, the River Hill Board of Directors (RHBOD) will host a public forum related to school redistricting. There are two proposals in front of the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) superintendent: One is from the HCPSS 2017 Feasibility Study and the other one has been developed by the Area Attendance Committee. The proposals have different impacts on Clarksville Elementary School, Pointers Run Elementary School, Clarksville Middle School, River Hill High School and Atholton High School. The RHBOD wants to use this public forum to channel residents’ redistricting concerns. The RHBOD is holding another meeting with residents in September to explore the potential for a community playground or updated tot lots in the village. The CA Board Operations Committee has finalized agendas for meetings this fall. Here are some highlights:


1. Community Stakeholders provide input for consideration for the FY 2019 and FY 2020 draft budgets.
2. Analyze Village Financials.
3. Discuss Lakefront core design guidelines.
4. Discuss FY 2018 1st quarter financial report (May, June and July 2017). This report will provide the board members with some understanding of the implementation of the new membership structure and pricing.
5. Discuss assessment share committee final report and recommendations.


1. Work on major capital projects, new initiatives and community stakeholder requests, for the proposed FY 2019 and Conditional FY 2020 budgets.
2. Review CA dashboard.
3. Discuss and vote on the Paris Climate Accord, encouraging other entities and our residents to reduce carbon footprints.


1. Meet with Howard County Department of Zoning to discuss New Town Zoning.
2. Overview of CA Open Space and Facilities Services Department.

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.

We Are In Need Adequate Public Facilities (The Villager, 2017-08)

We Are in Need of Adequate Public Facilities

Dr. Chao Wu

This article will be published on River Hill “The Villager” August 2017 Issue.

We are facing probably one of the largest school redistricting efforts in the Howard County Public School System’s (HCPSS) history. The  current HCPSS redistricting proposal aims to move 8,800 students, the equivalent of 16% of the total student population county-wide, where the River Hill community is greatly impacted as follows:

Elementary Schools: Clarksville sends 42 students to Triadelphia Ridge; Pointers Run sends 160 to Clarksville, 38 to Dayton Oaks and receives 196 from Clemens Crossing.

Middle School: Clarksville Middle sends 28 students to Folly Quarter;  and receives 123 from Lime Kiln Middle and 33 from Wilde Lake Middle;

High Schools: Atholton sends 337 students to Hammond High and 614 to River Hill; Atholton  receives 325 from Hammond High and 420 from Oakland Mills; River Hill sends  227 to Glenelg High.

This redistricting is urgent and needed because of over-capacity issue in some schools. However, such a large-scale redistricting creates unnecessary burdens and pressures on our students, who are the primary focus of our educational system. This over-capacity problem was created by the imbalance between housing development, public facility development, and insufficient funding of our school system. The urgency of school capacity issues could be greatly mitigated in the future if the to-be-revised HoCo Adequate Public Facility Ordinance (APFO) is modified accordingly.

The balance between school capacity and community development is not so difficult to fix. Just as when we see water leaking, the first thing we do is close the faucet. The overcapacity in our schools is caused by over-development. We need to reduce the speed of development first, and reducing the existing over-capacity now . Otherwise, over-capacity in our schools is like a leaking facet.

With the Adequate Public Facility Ordinance (APFO) is currently being reviewed and planned to be updated  by the Howard County Council, we need ask the county council to decrease the ratio for school capacity limits from 120% to 100% and remove the maximum wait times but freeze new project developments when projects fail APFO adequacy tests. Currently when a project fails APFO test first time, it will be automatically pass after three years without another test. When capacity is permitted to be higher than 100%, it means we cannot smooth out the current school over-capacity issue. The result is that we will probably see another large-scale school redistricting in five years.

Adequate means “enough school capacity” to handle the additional students generated by development. Portable classrooms once used become quasi-permanent. A new high school has not been  built in the County for a while. Considering that each year HCPSS gains another 1000 students, we need plan ahead. The average elementary school has around 800 students. The annual increase of total students will fill a new elementary school each year. These students will eventually go to high school.

Adequate means “enough road capacity” to handle the additional vehicles generated by development. With many new houses and other facilities being constructed, I do not see much improvement to the local roads. One very example in our community is the intersection at Ten Oaks Road and Clarksville Pike, in front of commercial development under construction. The traffic is both congested and dangerous during peak traffic times. At least, there should be some work to widen both MD 108 and Ten Oaks Road in this location. Please also notice, there are two schools in the vicinity.

Furthermore, we need to be forward-thinking with our roads which means we need to build roads anticipating higher traffic volumes in the future. One example is Route 29. The State Highway Administration is replacing many intersections with overhead bridges which greatly improves the traffic situation. In fact, they should build those bridges when they first design/widen the roads. Planning ahead on the traffic patterns and traffic volumes while building a road may cost more money, but it is really worth the extra money. This upfront investment could be used to build a bridge, widen access to intersection, better signal control system, etc.

I am looking forward to your thoughts on how we ensure there are adequate public facilities.

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.

We are Neighbors and Friends (The Villager 2017-06)

We are Neighbors and Friends

The article is published at River Hill Villager, 2017-06 issue.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “neighbors nearby are better than relatives faraway”. That is so true in today’s world since more family members are scattered around the globe. Instead, many families have been neighbors for more years than they have live with or near parents and other relatives.  At a difficult time, or for convenience, a friendly neighbor can often offer greater help than a relative not in the area.

I am writing this article  following two of my experiences in the neighborhood. The first  experience is an example of a not so friendly situation. A family sought my help because their neighbor always parked their car along the curb in front of their home. River Hill’s Covenants do not address areas within the public rights-of-way and the location and manner in which the vehicle parks is not illegal and therefore there is no action the police can take  However, the parking of the car did cause difficulty for the family when backing out from their garage and there appears to be enough space in their neighbor’s driveway to park which adds to their frustration. Though the family talked with their neighbor, they were unable to resolve the issue and asked for my assistance. I tried to mediate and have not succeeded yet.  In another example, some neighbors are very friendly and considerate. I know of two neighbors who both have dogs. They set up regular play-dates for their pets. When one neighbor has a vacation, the other neighbor takes care of their dogs and cats, and vice versa. This level of cooperation is a tremendous help to each resident and to their pets.

We are now living in a more compact world and in Howard County, Columbia, and at in the villages we are dedicated to creating a more walkable environment which will lead to more interactions with each other. The most important element of  a good neighborhood is our neighbors and our connections to one another.

This concept can also be extended to land development. Adding a wall to reduce sound disturbance or a fence to avoid light pollution are soft and friendly measures developers can take to give consideration to residential neighbors. Improving traffic conditions around commercial development as early as in the design phase as possible will increase acceptance from the neighborhood as well. Surely, some residents do not want any changes in their neighborhoods and the surrounding area; but, most our residents are reasonable and ask no more than necessary to protect their peaceful existence. Their concerns should be respected and honored.

We are neighbors and have the potential to be friends.  If we cannot be friends, at least, we can be considerate of our neighbors. A greeting, a smile, or offering to help with kids or pets are ways we can assist each other. Let us embrace our neighbors.

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.

How to Engage with Development (The Villager 2017-03)

How to Engage with Development Around our Community

This article is published on the River Hill “The Villager”, March 2017 issue.

By Chao Wu

On February 1, I was invited by Mr. Craig George to attend a cub scout meeting to share with five scouts my experiences on the Columbia Association Board, River Hill Board and other volunteer positions. We discussed how our community is changing and I shared with them the need for residents to engage in the development process to affect change. The cub scouts were very interested in making our community greener, pedestrian friendly and safer.

On February 6, the River Hill Community Association’s Board of Directors met with State Highway Administration staff to have a conversation about the process for making improvements along MD 32 and MD 108 to benefit the community and how residents can weigh in during the development process. We had more than 30 members of the community in attendance that night.

Last year, the Board of Directors invited staff from Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) and they provided an overview of the development approval process. There are numerous opportunities for the community to have input on development projects. Below I have outlined the subdivision and land development review process they shared. We should all realize that most comments and community inputs are taken before Step 5.

Subdivision and Land Development Review Process in Howard County

Step 1: Pre-submission community meeting. Property owner must hold meeting prior to submission of plans to DPZ)for sketch (S), preliminary equivalent sketch (SP), minor final plan and site development plans (SDP).

Step 1A: Design Advisory Panel (DAP). DAP meeting required for Rt. 1 and Rt. 40 projects, Downtown Columbia, New Town Village Centers, MD 108 in Clarksville, sketch, preliminary equivalent sketch, and site development plans. Members of the community may submit written input.

Step 2: Submission to DPZ: S, P, SPF, SDP, Environmental Concept Plan (ECP).

Step 3: Review of plans by Subdivision Review Committee (SRC) and assessment of Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO). SRC meeting or review will be held 3 to 4 weeks after initial application date. If required for revision, 45 days resubmittal deadline, return to Step 2. Members of the community may provide input to the SRC via letter, email, or phone.

Step 4: DPZ determines whether plan is technically complete. May require revised plan submission to specific SRC agencies.

Step 4A. Planning Board. A hearing or meeting is required for projects in some zoning districts, including the New Town zone (Columbia development and re-development projects). Members of the community may provide input via letter, email, or in person.

Step 5: Option A (if applicable): originals are submitted for ECP,S, SP or P for signature, then review process complete for ECP, S, P, and SP stages, proceed for SDP and F stages. Then the process is complete.

Step 5: Option B (if applicable); Final plan or SDP plan.

Step 6: Original final construction drawings submitted to DPZ for signature. Roads, storm water management, water and sewer, landscape, forest conservation (60 day deadline).

Step 7: Payment of surety by land owner. Executes developer’s agreement and payment of fees (120 day deadline for final plan, 180 for SDP).

Step 8: Submission of original final plan or SDP for signature (180 days deadline demo technically complete letter).

Step 9: Plat signed and recorded at land records office (DPZ assigns permanent APF housing unit allocations).  Then the review process is complete for SDP and F stages.

As we can see, the community should get involved as early as possible if we have any concerns about development projects around our neighborhood.

Here is a list of topics, shared by Richard Klein of Community & Environmental Defense Services, that we should be concerned about when development is being planned: Clean Water, Traffic Congestion & Safety, School Overcrowding & Safe Streets, Tree & Forest Preservation, Flooding, Buffering & Views, Property Value, Air Quality & Health, Fire & Emergency Medical Services, Park & Recreation Areas, Water Supply, and Historic-Archeological Resources.

Thanks for reading this.


Chao Wu, Ph.D.

River Hill Representative to Columbia Council

Columbia Association Board of Directors

Email:  Tel: 240-481-9637  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.

River Hill Village Center at night


2016 Year End Review (The Villager 2017-1)

Year End Review (The Villager 2017-1)

The other Columbia Association (CA) board members and I attended the organization’s Year End Celebration party on Dec. 16 2016. I was pleased to learn that so many employees have longevity with the association. We are fortunate to have such dedicated service to the organization and the community.

CA will send a strong letter to our state delegation to discuss lowering the sound level at Merriweather Post Pavilion (MPP). The CA board has been hearing from residents, near and far, young and old, complaining about the excessive noise from MPP since I joined the board. I have been baffled by the notion of “the loudest few and the silent majority” to describe those that protest about the MPP noise issue. The noise may sound trivial to some, but it can be life-threatening for others. Hopefully MPP, under the new leadership team of the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission, will begin to address the issue and reconcile itself with the neighbors.

CA is supporting the Horizon Foundation’s Bikeway initiative. The Horizon Foundation, Bicycling Advocates of Howard County and other community organizations are asking the county to fund a 50 mile, networked bicycle and pedestrian route. More than half of county residents, schools and parks are located within 1 mile of the proposed bikeway. 4 MARC stations (Laurel, Savage, Jessup, Dorsey) are within 2.5 miles of the bikeway. We believe the bikeway’s construction will benefit all county residents.

Finally, the unknown suspect who slashed my tire and another 50 tires on an additional 25 cars, placed graffiti, including swastikas on sidewalks, footpaths, playgrounds, mailboxes, cars, etc., and threw “Molotov Cocktails” onto a field at River Hill School was arrested by the Howard County police. I hope this young man will be penalized, get treatment, and have a chance to turn his life around. At the same time, I wish each family will take the opportunity to talk with kids about our diverse community and shared interest.
In 2017, CA will celebrate Columbia’s 50th birthday and continue to improve customer service and community outreach.

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.

Inside and Outside(The Villager 2017-2)

Inside and Outside

Dr. Chao Wu

Inside Columbia Association

The Columbia Association’s (CA) Board is discussing the 2018 capital budget. As usual, the budget is separated into three categories: Capital I, Capital II and Capital III.

As part of the Capital Budget, we are considering several multi-million dollar projects for improvements at the following facilities: Columbia Swim Center ($2.7 million), Athletic Club ($2.5 million), Ice Rink ($2.0 million). The total budget for capital projects is $17 million. The proposed total income for FY 2018 is $72 million.

The Board is discussing a $75K grant in the 2018 operating budget for the Inner Arbor Trust (IAT). This expense was proposed by CA board chair Andy Stack. The Chrysalis will be ready by the end of March 2017 and IAT is running out of money to operate it.

Implementing a comprehensive pond management plan requires a total of $3.8 million from now on. Because such a large amount of money is required, we need to phase the repair plan over several years based on priority. Some money has been put in FY 2018 budget for high priority project. CA tried to return some ponds back to the county government for maintenance and they would not take them. This pond management needs to occur every 10 years.

The staff is proposing a dashboard to keep track how CA is doing quarterly. The dashboard will indicate how and where operational, programmatic and financial changes need to be made for organizational improvement. This will help the board and our residents understand CA better.

Outside Columbia Association

There are important things happening locally. The County Council is debating a Sanctuary Howard bill (CB9-2017) to declare “sanctuary” status in Howard County. The purpose is to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation. The bill was proposed by council members Dr. Calvin Ball (District 3) and’ Ms. Jen Terrasa (District 2). You can email to reach all council members to express your support or opposition to this bill. The bill is schedule on a vote on Feb. 6, 2017.

There is controversy within the Howard County Public School System, The Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Foose, is suing the Board of Education (BOE) as a whole and the members individually. CA board member Reg Avery was mentioned in the report and he was also the president of Parent Teacher Association Council of Howard County (PTAC of HoCo). I am not sure how this lawsuit will unfold and hope our kids’ education will not be impacted negatively.

I am sitting on the reinstated BOE Operating Budget Review committee. The committee will provide some useful feedback to the BOE on the 2018 operating budget. This time an additional $65 million in HCPSS operating budget was proposed over last year’s last year’s approved budget.

I am looking forward to your feedback on all issues discussed here.

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.

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.

Get Involved With CA (The Villager, 2016-11)

Get Involved With CA

This article is published at The Villager, November 2016 Issue.

Dr. Chao Wu

The Columbia Association (CA) has been actively involving community members to participate in Columbia’s operations and visions. CA has twelve resident advisory committees that serve this purpose: information technology, sport and fitness, health and fitness, aquatics, tennis, golf, green, watershed, art center, international and multiculture, senior, teen and middle school. CA staff has recommended phasing out the sport and fitness advisory committee, suspending the health and fitness committee, and combining the golf committee and green committee into one committee. The main reasons for these recommendations are the low participation rate. The goal is to improve the efficiency of the advisory committees by clearly stating staff liaison’s responsibilities, improving committee operations, and using annual reports to inform the CA Board of progress.

These advisory committees are very important for board members to have a better understanding of a wide scope of topics. Personally, I participate in the International and MultiCulture Advisory Committee. Recently we formed a new sister city partnership with   Haiti. We are working to form a new partnership with a city in China. Columbia is a very diverse community and we value the multicultural environment. I believe better engagement with the world is very valuable to our future.

So please volunteer to join one of CA’s advisory committees and advocate for matters of interest to you. It is in our community’s common interest to have residents serve in this capacity. It will help you and help others. Your services will be greatly appreciated.

Recently, the student member on the River Hill Community Association’s Board of Directors and River Hill High School senior, Jennifer Zhang was awarded a 2016 Maryland Governor’s Service Award. This is a great honor for her and our community. Ms. Zhang has devoted several hundred hours to the River Hill community during her four years of service on the Association’s Teen Advisory Committee and Student Member Committees. Congratulations Jennifer and thank you!

When this message is delivered to you in November, there is a great task for you to complete. Please vote in the general election. I have experienced four presidential elections and this election is unique in many aspects. It may define different paths for this country. Please make sure you take time and vote on Nov. 8, 2016 or before.

We will see changes are coming in different ways. Your engagement in various issues are defining or shaping those changes. So please get involved, in a big or small way.

Your feedback to my articles is greatly appreciated. Let’s stay involved with each other.


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.