Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Vibes Hookah Lounge shut down by Montgomery County in Rockville

Montgomery County inspectors have taken enforcement action against several businesses they say have not complied with Phase 2 reopening guidelines and social distancing requirements. Vibes Hookah Lounge at 1 Dawson Avenue in Rockville was closed down by County inspectors because hookah lounges are not currently allowed to operate under Phase 2 rules.

Cabana Hookah Lounge in Silver Spring was shut down by the County for the same reason, County officials said Monday. Additionally, the County forced The Palisades Lounge in downtown Silver Spring to close because social distancing was not being enforced, and for a liquor law violation, officials alleged.

The Grille at Flower Hill in Gaithersburg came onto County officials' radar after the owner vowed on social media not to follow the County requirement that employees wear masks. But it has not been closed down yet, as it is not reopening until Thursday, when an inspector will reportedly pay a visit.

County health officer Dr. Travis Gayles said Monday that the County has "legal authority" to close businesses that do not comply with reopening guidelines. "Businesses will stay open provided they follow the public health guidelines," County Executive Marc Elrich said yesterday. "If they choose to ignore public health guidance, we will shut them down."

Monday, July 6, 2020

Mayor and Council ask Hogan to slow down interstate express lanes plan

Rockville's Mayor and Council have sent a letter to the Maryland Department of Transportation asking that plans to add Express Lanes to Interstates 270 and 495 be halted temporarily. The plan was approved by the state's Board of Public Works in January.

“The City of Rockville requests that MDOT put a pause on the project and process,” the Mayor and City Council wrote. “It is not responsible to continue spending taxpayers’ money on preliminary design, environmental studies, and hiring a developer while the country is facing significant economic changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also predicted that teleworking will be more acceptable and widely implemented in the future, which will likely lower traffic volumes on I-495 and I-270. Therefore, it only makes sense to hold off on next steps for this project until a new purpose and need is defined.”

Rockville's elected officials would have a very strong argument about telecommuting - if our region's leaders had not decided to let a crisis go to waste.

Many expected the light traffic of the coronavirus lockdown could be a sign of the future of telework. After all, every employer across the region now has a firm list of exactly who can work from home. Common sense would dictate that all of those individuals should now be encouraged, if not ordered, to continue working from home permanently. Not only would we have cleaner air and very little traffic congestion, but perhaps necessary and expensive road expansions would no longer be needed.

Shockingly, regional officials have made clear they have no intention of seizing the opportunity to implement teleworking on a large scale. No formal efforts have been made to keep workers from returning to their commutes as the lockdowns are lifted.

Why is this? In short, developers, developers, developers. If the federal government were to continue teleworking on a large scale, Metro would have to shut down, as these heavily-subsidized riders are now the major bulk of the rail system's passengers. And transit use and traffic congestion are needed to continue to make the public relations case for increased density in development.

It's been a lost opportunity, but a small victory for those who have long pointed out that some in the development industry cynically use issues like climate change and pedestrian safety to wring out even more profits and buildable land for themselves. When the impact of Covid-19 revealed that more space would be needed for outdoor dining, developers moved quickly to ensure that would take the form of lane and road closures, rather than mandated wider setbacks for buildings from the street. Most recently and outrageously, developers are now using race to achieve their goal of mixed-use zoning in single-family-home neighborhoods - literally using racial tensions to line their own pockets.

In reality, those developers don't give a damn about any of these issues. The proof is in the pudding. When presented with a grand opportunity to extend the lockdown's clean air quality for our region by making mass teleworking permanent, they showed their true colors by sending the highway and transit users back to the office.

We see you.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Rockville task force on boards and commissions makes recommendations

Former Rockville Mayor Steven Van Grack,
chair of the task force on boards and commissions
A task force appointed to study the City of Rockville's Board and Commissions, and appointments to those bodies, has filed its report. The task force found that one-third of city residents are not aware of Rockville's boards and commissions, the work they do, or that they are eligible to participate as a member of them. In its report, which will be discussed by the Mayor & Council at their July 6 meeting, the task force made several recommendations:

  1. Improve diversity across all boards and commissions
  2. Create a full-time volunteer-coordinator position
  3. Increase transparency
  4. Better coordination among different boards and commissions when missions or issues overlap
  5. Improve clarity of missions and objectives with annual reports and workplans
  6. Enhance the volunteer experience with increased visibility and public acknowledgement of their work, enforcing the limits of terms, a more open expression-of-interest process, timely vacancy filings, and better training
  7. More openness to creating new boards and commissions, and reviewing the relevance of existing ones
  8. Update the City Code and guidelines to reflect any of the above changes if they are adopted
The report made other findings, including that the Animal Matters Board has not met in five years. A similar finding was made about the Personnel Appeals Board, The Recreation and Parks Advisory Board is currently being undermined by "subgroups" within the board, the task force said. 

REDI, the city's economic development corporation, needs more transparency, and attention to conflicts of interest, the report argued. And the task force suggested the Sign Review Board be abolished, its functions replaced by existing city staff and the Board of Appeals as needed.

Task force members include Anita Neal Powell, Anne Goodman, Anne Herbster, James Hedrick, Jack Kelly. John Becker, Lorraine Tarnove, Michael "Ben" Parry. The task force has a high-profile chair, former Rockville Mayor Steven Van Grack. Van Grack is also a prominent attorney, who has remained actively involved in the city long after his 1985-1987 mayoral term.

Photo via Twitter

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Kabuto Hibachi Sushi to reopen today in Rockville

Kabuto Hibachi Sushi will reopen today at 220 E. Middle Lane in Rockville. They will be offering takeout service only for the time being. Their temporary operating hours will be 11:30 AM to 2:00 PM for lunch, and 4:30 to 8:00 PM for dinner.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Pence visits U.S. Public Health Service headquarters in Rockville

Vice-President Mike Pence donned a mask to visit the headquarters of the U.S. Public Health Service in Rockville yesterday. He was joined by members of the Trump administration's Coronavirus Task Force, including U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir, M.D., U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, and Dr. Stephan Hahn of the Food and Drug Administration.

Pence said "it is a particular honor to be here at the headquarters of the United States Public Health Service," and thanked "the women and men who wear the blue uniforms across the country and have served our nation with such distinction and compassion over the past four months." He reported that 28 states currently have rising numbers of coronavirus cases or rising percentages of positive Covid-19 tests. 12 states have both, he added. And four states currently account for half of the total cases in America at the moment.

Admiral Giroir said that self-administered home nasal swab test kits will be the next leap in testing across the country. He predicted that up to 50 million tests will be available by September.

Hahn described himself as "cautiously optimistic" about the timetable for making a Covid-19 vaccine available to the public. Almost all of the speakers stressed the importance of wearing masks until such a vaccine is widely available. 

"If you want the return of college football this year, wear a face covering.  If you want a chance at prom next spring, wear a face covering," urged Dr. Adams, who couldn't resist playing to the home crowd in Rockville - at least to those who remember the pre-Big-10 days of local college basketball. "I had an interview earlier with a North Carolina radio station...if you want to see North Carolina beat Duke in person this year, wear a face covering. And I grew up in Maryland and in Indiana, so, sorry, Duke, but I...as long as somebody beats you, I’m okay with that," he said to laughter from attendees.

Photos via Office of the Vice-President

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Rockville construction update: Main Street Apartments (Photos)

The Main Street Apartments project is rounding into a nearly-finished shape at 50 Monroe Place. This was formerly the location of the IBM building. The project was scheduled for a July 2020 delivery, so let's see what happens in the coming weeks.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Gumbo YaYa has closed at Rockville Town Square

Gumbo YaYa has closed at Rockville Town Square. Rockville residents are growing used to businesses at the property closing, but it seems like the life of a business is shorter than ever here.

Longtime anchor Gordon Biersch lasted for well over a decade before closing recently, but businesses departing in recent years have sometimes lasted a year or less. Gumbo YaYa opened in November 2019.