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Community Activist - Concerned Citizen - Howard County Council Candidate for District 5
Who is Joan?


Like many other residents, Joan has become concerned that Howard County's rapid economic growth is not sustainable and is eroding our environment and residential quality of life. The devastating floods of Ellicott City in 2016 and 2018 resulted in loss of lives, property, and livelihood, and yet the county continues to approve the conversion of surrounding natural buffers to housing. Forests and agricultural properties are being cleared for housing and commercial use. The lack of infrastructure for these changes results in over-crowded schools and traffic congestion.

After her 30-year career in scientific research, teaching, data management, and her voluntary work in local community activism, Joan is asking for your vote to represent the public’s concerns regarding the future direction of the county.

Joan's Family Background

Joan's parents met in the military. Her father, Robert, was stationed in Korea as a naval surgeon, while her mother, Mary Lou, served in the Army at the Pentagon. Following his service in Korea, Robert left the military to become a pediatric heart surgeon. He and Mary Lou married and raised their family of five children in Fox Chapel, a suburb with great schools outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Of the five children, Joan was the nature lover. Summers were spent picking blackberries, swimming,  canoeing, horseback riding, playing with her cat, and pet-sitting for neighbors.

Joan's love of science and technology led to a degree in Microbiology from the University of Pittsburgh. A position as a biomedical engineer took her to Brussels, Belgium. Although Brussels is densely populated, the nearby rural Flemish communities allow horseback riding on weekends. There, she met Filip Braeckman, a union electrician. They married and spent the next eight years in Belgium, during which Joan improved her French, learned some Dutch and earned her Doctorate degree in Biology from the Free University of Brussels. Weekends were spent riding past the castles of the rural countryside and visiting cafés.

Joan moves to Howard County

Joan and Filip moved to Maryland 23 years ago when Joan was recruited for a high-tech career as a data analyst at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda. Filip's first job in the USA was as an over-the-road truck driver. Later, he continued his work as an electrician, joining the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Joan and Filip were ready to settle down and find a permanent home in Maryland. The perfect location would be near their jobs and family members while allowing them to live their dream of having a farmette and spending weekends horseback riding. 

Joan found an ideal property in District 5 of Howard County—a small rancher on 2.5 acres with pasture and a run-in shed—on Manor Lane, a narrow mile-long cul-de-sac of agricultural and residential properties. Soon she discovered what a special place Manor Lane is. Historically, the Lane led to Doughoregan Manor, the plantation home of Charles Carroll, signer of the Declaration of Independence. Nearby are Clarksville, Columbia, historic Ellicott City, and the 16,000 acre Patapsco Valley State Park. 


Once Joan and Filip found their farmette, they needed horses! She was referred to Senator Jim Clark, living nearby on his farm on Clarksville Pike. Joan and Filip were soon the proud owners of his young geldings: Blackie and Cappy. Next came a truck and horse trailer for riding at Patuxent River and Patapsco Valley State Parks and Howard County's Schooley Mill Park in Highland. Home chores soon included well-maintenance, mucking stalls, and fence repair. Joan's interest in food had her picking her neighbor's blackberries, installing raised garden beds at home for tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers, and making jam from strawberries picked at Larriland Farm.

Joan's Community Involvement

However, changes were underway in Joan's new neighborhood. The county was considering using Manor Lane as an access road to a residential development parallel to Manor Lane. A pasture alongside Manor Lane wasn't farmland at all, but in fact owned by the Board of Education, and plans were being made to use it for a new school. These issues led to Joan and Filip being invited to neighborhood meetings to decide upon a response to these plans which would lead to increased traffic and disrupt the rural nature of the narrow Lane. 

Additional land use issues continued to affect Joan's community, and she responded by providing testimony at county zoning and State legislation hearings, attending Board of Education meetings, writing letters to county officials, and exchanging information on online community forums such as Howard County Citizens Association. Joan became increasingly familiar with county zoning regulations, appealing of decisions, Zoning Regulation Amendments (ZRA), and the nuances of interpretations of ambiguous wording of our zoning regulations, which too often benefit monied interests rather than our residents.

Joan's Education: 
  • Bachelor's Degree Biology. University of Pittsburgh

  • Master's Degree. Biomedical Engineering. University of Miami

  • Doctorate Degree. Biology. Free University of Brussels

  • Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification


Joan and Filip at the League of Maryland Horsemen in Patapsco State Park in 2000 with Cappy and Blackie.

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