Home Archived Articles Q&A With Howard County Deputy Director of Planning & Zoning Raj Kudchadkar

Q&A With Howard County Deputy Director of Planning & Zoning Raj Kudchadkar

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Raj Kudchadkar was first hired as a planner in 2001 with the Resurrection Project, a community development corporation that helps revitalize impoverished neighborhoods in Chicago; then he moved to Communities in School in 2003, where he guided schools and surrounding neighborhoods on how to secure federal and state resources.

After practicing civil rights and disability right law in nearby Hanover for the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education, in 2007 Kudchadkar joined the Howard County Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Office as deputy director. From his post, he helped direct a BRAC Task Force of more than 100 community volunteers to plan for growth in Howard County due to its proximity to Fort Meade.

In 2009, he went on to lead the Base Business Initiative (BBI). The primary objective of this business development program was to help small businesses navigate the federal contracting environment at Fort Meade. In less than two years, Kudchadkar helped increase the membership base of the program from 20 businesses in Howard County to nearly 3,000 businesses in the mid-Atlantic.

In 2014, Kudchadkar was appointed director of the Howard County Office of Military Affairs. This position required him to lead the engagement and coordination of senior government officials in strategic planning efforts. Most recently, he was appointed deputy director of the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning, where he works to create collaborative plans and implement innovative strategies that effectively address growth and redevelopment.

Kudchadkar received a B.A. from Carleton College, an M.A. from Columbia University and a J.D. from American University.

What are your thoughts on the progress of the Downtown Columbia Master Plan?

It took a while to come up with the plan, but it’s a plus that there was so much thought and process involved. We already have the Metropolitan, built by Howard Hughes Corp.; the upgrade at The Mall in Columbia and a few other projects.

One of the next in line will be The Crescent, the undeveloped land south of the mall next to Merriweather Post Pavilion, which will be the site of a mixed-use project that will add a more vibrant feel to the updates going on at Merriweather and the Inner Arbor project, to be known as Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, among others.

The groundbreaking of the Chrysalis, the first component of Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, is set for September. What do you think the project will do for Downtown, and how will it serve as an attraction for the area?

The Chrysalis, as well as the new pathway when we are promoting the walkability of downtown, will be a great attraction. There are many phases to this project and much work to be done on 16 acres over several years, but the commitment is there. There is still much discussion to be had until the plans become final and it’s built out.

What’s the status of the revitalization improvements that target Ellicott City?

Much of what we need to do we have already done, such as renovating parking Lot E with a beautiful new staircase and a new parking lot that is in line with stormwater management needs. We also have a $50,000 Community Legacy Fund grant from the state of Maryland for façade improvements and new streetscape amenities, which will include new trash and recycle cans and benches, among other items.

We also formed an Historic Ellicott City Flooding Workgroup, and it is addressing flood mitigation issues downtown. We have been given $2.5 million from the county’s capital budget to address the issue, and we’re contemplating how to spend the money. In addition, we have added free Wi-fi hotspots along Main Street.

What’s the status of the Howard County Courthouse renovations?

County Executive Allan Kittleman has put a committee together that includes several department heads, and they have just begun to meet to discuss our approach. For fiscal ’16 we have funded $300,000 for a feasibility study, so we will be considering the pluses and minuses of expanding it or finding a new location.

After serving as the BRAC coordinator, what do you consider to be the biggest misconception of the realignment among the general public?

The overall misconception about Fort Meade. People hear the post’s name and they’re aware of it, but many people don’t really know where it is. It’s less than a mile from the Howard/Anne Arundel line, but you could tell them that it’s in Garrett County (Western Maryland) and they can’t visualize where it is.

I think the reason for that situation is the secretive nature of Fort Meade and NSA. Let’s put it this way: If Ford Motor Co. was located on that property instead of the NSA, people would make more noise about it. They’d be wearing company jackets, hats and T-shirts, talk about going to the company picnic, etc. They’d never have been told not to talk about it.

Also, BRAC wasn’t a big as people thought. It’s just a part of the growth, and it didn’t encompass the U.S. CyberCommand and the growth that NSA is experiencing. BRAC was a small percentage of the growth at Fort Meade. Fort Meade grew by nearly 20,000 since the BRAC announcement to a total workforce of just over 50,000, but only 30% of that 20,000 was due to BRAC.

After having worked at the BBI, do you think our small businesses better understand how to work with the federal government?

The process may not be as challenging as they thought it was, but the competitiveness of the government contracting sector makes it tough. The idea of the BBI was to see how small companies tried to enter that market and what bumps they had to go over, en route. And we were there to solve those issues. The idea was to help them navigate the federal contracting labyrinth.

What do you consider your biggest challenge today?

I think that’s having been in my new position for only three weeks and getting a handle on what is going on. I’m working with co-deputy director Amy Gowan [and she’s explaining] the intricacies of the many development projects in their various stages.

There are more now than there have been in recent years with the overall improvement of the economy, because developers are moving on projects that hadn’t been started. The market is dictating how fast we move on those projects.

What do you want to do with the rest of your career?

I’ve become a Howard County zealot. My family and I have been living here for almost 15 years, and I jumped at the opportunity to work with the county government. I’d really like to move forward with the county and would be open to working wherever I might be needed in the future.

Have you ever considered running for office?

My job brings me in contact with many community groups, and therefore residents, and they have lots of ideas about many plans, so I’m getting good practice if I decide to go that route.

What do you consider your finest professional accomplishment?

The work that I’ve done with county government during the past eight years, notably that I was instrumental in launching the BBI. When it started in 2009, we had 20 members; since, it has grown to include more than 3,000 members.

Due in large part to those efforts, the Howard County Chamber of Commerce inducted me into their Hall of Fame for being Government Advocate of the Year in 2011. Also, the Maryland Economic Development Authority gave BBI an award in 2014 for having the best economic development program in the state.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

That I was an intern for the White House in 1997 during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The interns are typically stationed in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, but I was lucky enough to work in the West Wing.