Category Archives: TheVillager

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.