Monday, December 19, 2022

Drive-by Curiousity

The story I have for you today was born a long time ago and nurtured over many rides to and fro on Route 108 in Columbia. It’s a story about a building.

If you take a right turn from Thunder Hill Road on Route 108, you will soon pass a building that looks like this.

Image is a screenshot from

This building, now called Columbia Station, is located at 9123 Old Annapolis Road. It did not always look like this. 

It used to be a rather odd thing, neither fish nor fowl, with a sign in the window (for a tv repair shop, maybe?) and annual posters for Dick Gelfman’s Ride Across Maryland event. At one end, in what felt like a tiny outbuilding, was a seamstress who did excellent and speedy work hemming my daughter’s concert skirt for the Peabody Children's Chorus. 

I wish I had taken a photograph of it then. I’d love to compare it with what is there today. 

At some point the entire site was taken over with renovation. Again, I wish I had photographs of this to help tell the story. I remember being surprised that anyone felt that this unassuming property was worth all of that investment. I wondered where the seamstress would go.

The piece of information that made this story more interesting to me was learning that the building belonged to Richard and Lenore Gelfman. (That explained the signs.) You may already know that Lenore Gelfman is a retired Maryland Circuit Court Judge. 

Ms. Gelfman was one of the chief advocates, I believe, for investing in a new county courthouse.

Former administrative Circuit Court Judge Lenore Gelfman had pestered state and county officials for years to replace the cramped stone building, as Maryland’s Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera reminded the crowd of about 150.

Gelfman herself described the drawn-out search for an appropriate site. It wound just north of Route 108 and east of Route 29 on the southern edge of Ellicott City in what was once a huge Bendix Field Engineering building later bought by the county. - - Len Lazarick, Maryland Reporter

The new courthouse is about a five minute drive from 9123 Old Annapolis Road. That made me wonder. Did the choice of the site for the new county courthouse have anything to do with the Gelfmans’ decision to renovate their building? I’m curious.

Date-wise: the article by David Greisman in the Baltimore Sun about Judge Gelfman calling for a new courthouse is from May, 2012. The paperwork filed by the Gelfmans to request a zoning change for their property at 9123 Old Annapolis Road is dated December, 2012. They (obviously) were granted the zoning change although I feel compelled to relate that the Oakland Mills Village Board was strongly opposed, mostly due to traffic safety on Route 108. 

But the approval for the new courthouse didn’t come until 2018. That would seem like more than an ordinary amount of planning ahead, no matter how strategic you are. Deciding to renovate in 2012 with an eye to a courthouse was almost ten years away? I don’t know how commercial real estate works but it feels like you’d be taking a loooooong view if you were hoping for a good return on your investment.

I had just about forgotten about all this when I saw an announcement on Facebook.

Image by Oscar Ramos, from Facebook

That tiny little structure on the left where the seamstress was? It’s now a Subway Restaurant.

The original request for a zoning change was to enable the structure to become an office building. I obviously stopped paying attention for the part where it was going to contain commercial food service. (I wonder what the Oakland Mills Village Board thought of that?) Looking at this from the standpoint of traffic safety, I would recommend that you patronize this business if you can turn right going in and turn right going out. Just trust me on this.

I checked out the list of tenants in the building. It’s an office building, all right. Well, now it’s an office building with a Subway. That’s handy if your office is there and you don’t want to navigate Route 108 at lunchtime. But is there anything about Columbia Station that appears strategically connected to the new courthouse?

Hmm. That’s more complicated. At least one lawyer has an office there. And I suppose it’s a quick place to grab food that’s close to the courthouse.  But so are the Pizza Hut and the new Baskin Robbins/Dunkin, not to mention any food places at Long Gate Shopping Center, which is close by in the other direction.

What does all of this mean? Am I suggesting that something was done wrong or that there is some kind of conspiracy at work here? Not at all. Like most people I have a healthy curiosity about my community. Unlike most people, I have way too much time on my hands now that I am retired. When I see things that seem to me to hold threads of a good local story, I want to know more. 

I’m still curious. I’m wondering if any of my readers have pieces of this puzzle? And, while we are at it, do you know anything about the complete building renovation at the corner of 108 and Bendix Road? That’s where the new Baskin-Robbins/Dunkin is located. That project took forever. At several points I despaired of it ever reaching completion.

It, too, is beautifully completed and conveniently located near the new courthouse.

Have a great Monday. Got any good local stories? Fill me in.

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