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: chaowu2016@gmail.com Website: http://www.chaowu.org

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: chaowu2016@gmail.com Website: http://www.chaowu.org
 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: chaowu2016@gmail.com  Website: http://chaowu.org

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: chaowu2016@gmail.com  Website: http://chaowu.org

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: chaowu2016@gmail.com  Tel: 240-481-9637  Website: http://chaowu2016.com

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: chaowu2016@gmail.com Website: http://chaowu.org
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.