Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Montgomery County 5G opponents turn out in force to urge County Council to delay small cell tower implementation

Montgomery County Council
President Hans Riemer
Opponents of deployment of 5G wireless small cell towers in Montgomery County made an impressive showing at a public hearing on a Zoning Text Amendment on the matter last night before the County Council. Speakers opposing both the towers and the ZTA received repeated applause from the large crowd. Council President Hans Riemer has tried to play both sides with Election Day fast approaching, but if the Council acts next month, he and others will be forced to take a position that could hurt them in November with motivated anti-5G voters.

Concerns went beyond not just the dangers opponents cited 5G would pose to residents, but also the rushed process for the ZTA, that moved forward before all issues raised by citizens had been fully addressed by the Council. While the County is limited in what it can do to stop implementation of the towers, which the industry claims must be deployed to facilitate everything from better cell service to autonomous vehicles and smart appliances, some speakers urged the Council to use the leverage it does have in creative ways.

Resident Edward Myers suggested requiring follow-up inspections for issues like radiation on towers constructed in residential areas. He noted that the current health-impact findings the industry and federal government are using as the standard are based on "1992 science." Resident Anita Prince cited more recent findings that, for example, show radiation impact on the human brain within three minutes of exposure.

Supporters of the ZTA urged the Council to act quickly in approving implementation, so that County residents and businesses can be among the first to enjoy the benefits of the new technology. Some cited the potential boost to telecommuting, as more complex tasks could be completed by more workers from home with the more powerful system. Supporters at the hearing included residents and telecommunication companies.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Sign installed at Pour Vino n' Hops in Rockville

The permanent sign was recently installed on the facade of Pour Vino n' Hops at 42 Maryland Avenue in Rockville Town Center. Pour Vino n' Hops will feature hundreds of hand-selected domestic and imported wines and craft beers. They are currently hiring sommeliers and bartenders, full and part-time.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Mellow Mushroom closes at Rockville Town Square

Mellow Mushroom has closed permanently at Rockville Town Square. The closure is a high-profile one, in a central on-the-square location, at a development that continues to struggle with tenant turnover. Mellow Mushroom's owner, Danny Trahan, has openly spoken in the past about the high costs of operating a restaurant in Rockville and Montgomery County. "Did I make a mistake in coming to Montgomery County?" he asked last year. "I feel like I did."

Several forces may have contributed to the demise of Mellow Mushroom. The owner was outspoken in his criticism of landlord Federal Realty and the City of Rockville regarding the parking policies at Rockville Town Square. Trahan estimated that the parking fees cost Town Square tenants $5 million in sales annually. Patrons must buy something to receive validation to avoid paying for parking. About 20% are unaware of the validation option, and pay the fees even if they did buy something at a Town Square business, Federal Realty reported at a Mayor and Council worksession on Town Center parking issues.

Many casual visitors who aren't sure they will spend money have been going where parking is free - Rio/Washingtonian Center, Downtown Crown and Pike & Rose (2 hours free at the latter). Property owners in the Town Center area have said they cannot afford to cover the cost of free parking under the restraints of the existing financial arrangements they have with lenders.

Trahan and other business owners have also complained that the limited hours of the Rockville Memorial Library across the square draw less foot traffic than a popular restaurant or retailer would. Montgomery County has slammed restaurant owners repeatedly this decade, starting with a massive hike in the Energy Tax in 2010. The County Council followed up with a historic property tax increase in 2016 that exceeded the charter limit, and a $15 minimum wage hike. "That's a lot of extra Slurpees to sell," one business owner said at a Council hearing on the wage increase.

The City's ban on outdoor smoking at the Town Square was the last straw for Trahan. "Are you trying to slow-poison business?" he asked the Mayor and Council incredulously at a 2017 worksession.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Taylor Gourmet to close all locations after Sunday

Taylor Gourmet, the D.C.-area hoagie chain whose locations include Bethesda Row, downtown Silver Spring, and Pike & Rose, will close all of its restaurants at the close of business on Sunday, according to Washingtonian magazine. Among the reasons cited for the closure were financial troubles with landlords at some of their locations, expanding too rapidly, and a brief downturn in sales after owner Casey Patten participated in a 2017 business roundtable with President Donald Trump, who is unpopular in all of the cities where Taylor Gourmet operates.

The chain has not publicly commented on the closure report on its social media accounts as of press time. Taylor Gourmet had recently experimented with new menu items such as burgers, tacos and fried chicken sandwiches.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Extreme Halloween opens in Rockville

Extreme Halloween returns to Rockville Pike this year, with a slightly different look, and a new location. Shop their selection of costumes, accessories and decorations at 1616 Rockville Pike. It's tough to take on Spirit Halloween, but I like that Extreme Halloween's funereal black shopping baskets say "Halloween" on them, for an extra dose of holiday "spirit."

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Chick-fil-A sets opening date at Research Row in Rockville

This is the news many of us have been waiting for: the opening date for the new Chick-fil-A restaurant at the equally-new Research Row shopping center at 1401 Research Boulevard in Rockville. The restaurant will open on September 27.

Finally a Chick-fil-A with a drive-thru! But if you are dining inside, the restaurant will seat 96, and features a two-story interactive play area for families who miss the old McDonald's playgrounds.

“I am excited to bring another Chick-fil-A to the Rockville community that I have been a part of for the last 25 years and to have the opportunity to continue serving the community both inside and outside my restaurant,” franchise operator Brad Wood said Wednesday. “I am committed to developing my team members, as together we provide a remarkable experience to our guests who become part of our family."

Of course, the restaurant will be hosting the now-traditional campout the night before the opening. Registration to line up will begin at 6:00 AM on September 26 at the restaurant. Up to 100 adults who live in qualifying nearby zip codes will win gift cards for a year of free Chick-fil-A meals. A book drive will also be held, benefiting a local Boys & Girls Club.

Sweetgreen is coming to Rockville

Federal Realty has signed another big name to its roster of restaurants at Pike & Rose. Fast casual salad concept Sweetgreen will open between Burger Fi and Sunday Morning Bakehouse on Grand Park Avenue.
The restaurant will be in the ground floor of the Canopy by Hilton hotel/930 Rose condo building. Speaking of which, the Canopy hotel is really going full steam now. When I was at Pike & Rose this past weekend, cars unloading luggage at the front of the hotel were backing up down Rose Avenue toward Grand Park Avenue. 
Canopy by Hilton reviewer on TripAdvisor says the
Pike & Rose hotel "exceeded all expectations!"
License plates included New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. And not necessarily the hip crowd the hotel is targeted toward, but families with kids, and the general tourist types. So it seems the hotel has become really popular since its opening in March. Canopy scores 4.5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor, 4.4 on Google Reviews, and I can't find a Yelp listing for it on Google.