Friday, December 8, 2017

Urban Hot Pot to hold soft opening this Saturday in Rockville

Urban Hot Pot is just about ready to open at the Galvan development at 1800 Rockville Pike. They will hold a soft opening tomorrow, Saturday, December 9, 2017. Urban Hot Pot will be an all-you-can-eat hotpot spot, complete with rotating conveyor belt. It is right next to the already-open Akira Ramen & Izakaya. The restaurant is walking distance from the Twinbrook Metro station.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

MoCo Council president Hans Riemer arrested

A Montgomery County Councilmember who has had trouble obeying the law in the past found himself in handcuffs Wednesday. Council President Hans Riemer was arrested on the steps of the U.S. Capitol by U.S. Capitol Police yesterday, after refusing an order to disperse following an immigration rally.

"I was arrested today," Riemer wrote on Facebook last evening. Riemer has promised to introduce legislation to declare Montgomery County officially a "sanctuary county" for illegal immigrants, according to Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of CASA de Maryland.

Riemer has run afoul of the law in the past, including violating his own Open Data law this past spring, when he directed that a file required to be posted on the County website be removed. In 2014, he appeared to have inside information on illegal activity in the County's Department of Liquor Control, over which he has oversight authority, but waited to report it until after he was safely reelected that November.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Riemer seizes Council presidency, declares war on his constituents

A backroom political deal culminated Tuesday with a unanimous vote by the Montgomery County Council naming Councilmember Hans Riemer Council President for the final year of their current term. In a rambling seven minute speech, Riemer took aim at the County's established suburban neighborhoods of "cul-de-sacs," which he described as "appealing, if exclusive, suburban communit[ies]" that are home to "those who already have every advantage."

Delivered with a sneering tone and slight smirk, Riemer's remarks echoed those of his colleague George Leventhal a few years ago. Leventhal declared the suburbs "a mistake," and during the Westbard sector plan battle, told residents angry about the plan to urbanize their neighborhood they should just be glad they were "lucky" enough to live there.

"People used to come here to get away from the city," Riemer said Tuesday, announcing a new "metropolitan" identity for a County where a majority live in leafy, suburban neighborhoods. Riemer appeared delusional when referring to the visceral anger displayed by residents toward the Council in the last several years - a backlash that culminated in the passage of term limits by an overwhelming margin in November 2016. Despite having his own term limited by that vote, in Riemer's world, "emotions in our community are charged" because of Donald Trump, not his own votes for tax hikes and urbanization of existing rural and suburban neighborhoods.

Riemer's Trump-like reputation for falsehoods was on full display in yesterday's speech. Moments before casting a vote to pass the controversial Westbard sector plan in 2016, Riemer claimed the Westbard community was "a mile from two Metros." That was a four-Pinocchio whopper, given that Westbard is at least two miles from any Metro station, nowhere near the quarter-to-half mile distance universally agreed upon for "transit-oriented development."

On Tuesday, Riemer stated that the Purple Line would place the University of Maryland "minutes away" from Montgomery County residents. In reality, the light rail's average speed between Bethesda and College Park will be less than 19 MPH. He came up with a new definition for the County's longstanding achievement gap between white and Asian students, and their black and Latino peers. Stunning observers active on education issues, Riemer falsely described Montgomery County Public Schools' gap as only affecting those between the ages of "zero and five." A clever scheme to absolve failed County officials from any blame, but unfortunately, completely false.

Riemer was more honest about the County's hated government-controlled liquor monopoly, which he took steps to strengthen and preserve during his current term. "We may have a reputation for liquor control," Riemer acknowledged. That control has frustrated restaurant and bar owners, who are forced to pay higher prices while getting poor selection and service from the County. Meanwhile, residents are among the few in America who cannot purchase beer and wine from grocery, drug and chain convenience stores.

Riemer's disdain for his suburban constituents, who represent a majority of County residents, raises questions as to how he intends to get anything done this year. It also brought to mind a quote from chef Anthony Bourdain:

"He’s a classic example of the smirking, contemptuous, privileged guy who lives in a bubble. And he is in no way looking to reach outside, or even look outside, of that bubble, in an empathetic way.”

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Despite record tax hikes, bungling Montgomery County Council runs up $120 million shortfall

Montgomery County is facing a $120 million budget shortfall, despite record tax hikes on residents in 2016 and 2017. County Executive Ike Leggett has asked every government department to identify 2% budget cuts, and encouraged the Council to follow suit.

The shortfall seemed to take the Council by surprise, despite projections of a structural deficit as far out as the forecast goes. More knowledgeable observers know exactly why revenues are down - the County's private sector economy has been moribund for some time, and the wealthiest residents are fleeing to lower-tax jurisdictions like Loudoun, Fairfax, Frederick and Howard Counties. Montgomery has dropped far out of the Forbes Richest Counties Top Ten list in 2017.

Add in the heavy debt load councilmembers have run up, and the fiscal scenario worsens still. How much debt is there? If County debt was a department, it would be the third-largest department in Montgomery County government. Yikes.

The spendthrift County Council has also engaged in a hurricane of wasteful spending. In just one example, earlier this year they approved $22000 for a surveillance camera system that, in the real world, can be purchased and installed for under $1000. Importantly: this expenditure was not itemized in public budget documents, instead lumped into a $34500 line item. Multiply this by every budget item, and we could be talking about millions in wasted funds. Don't expect this Council to identify them!

What raised eyebrows among many who follow the County budget closely yesterday was the petulant insistence by some councilmembers that they would not make major budget cuts. Considering that taxes are at a record level, many are wondering what planet these folks are speaking to us from. Leggett warned at an NAACP meeting last week that the Council simply cannot use a tax increase to solve shortfalls in the coming years. He clearly knew then what became public yesterday - we have a $120 million shortfall.

Prediction: The County Council will use another tax increase to close the budget shortfall, as they have every year since 2010. Then they will be voted out of office in November 2018.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Aldi to open Rockville store

German supermarket chain Aldi will open a Rockville location in 2018. The grocery store will be located in part of the former Circuit City space in the Congressional North shopping center. Aldi has opened several stores in Montgomery County, most recently in the Montgomery Hills area of Silver Spring.

Live Crawfish & Seafood holding soft opening in Rockville (Menu + Photos)

Live Crawfish & Seafood is holding a soft opening today and tomorrow in the Ritchie Center, at 765 Rockville Pike. They have a special offer for the soft opening: Buy one pound, and get a second pound at 50% off. The menu is Cajun cuisine, for lunch and dinner, and they also have a kids menu.

Here is the full menu:

Friday, December 1, 2017

Montrose Parkway East extension is essential infrastructure for Montgomery County

A third major effort to kill the long-delayed eastward extension of Montrose Parkway to Veirs Mill Road is underway. The war-on-cars Montgomery County Council is due to vote on the funding for the project in January. Killing the road or delaying it further would not be well-received by their constituents, who are stuck on the few existing east-west roads during rush hour daily. Then again, some on the Council sealed their electoral fates this fall, when they voted to kill the Midcounty Highway Extended (M-83), so maybe they have nothing to lose.

In times when radical ideologues put political whims and developer interests above their constituents, and are derelict in their duty to provide essential infrastructure, it's worthwhile to review the facts.

1. The Montrose Parkway, including the Montrose Parkway East, is arguably the infrastructure linchpin of the White Flint sector plan. 

2. Opponents often claim it is incompatible with the White Flint street grid, which misses the critical point: Montrose Parkway is not and was never meant to be part of the White Flint urban street grid. Its primary function, in fact, is to keep traffic that is not destined for White Flint off of that local street grid. That actually makes it safer for the pedestrians and cyclists we are encouraging to use those alternate modes of transportation to get around the urbanized Pike District.

3. Montrose Parkway, especially including the eastern extension, is critical to the success of retail and restaurant businesses in White Flint. The parkway's secondary function is to bring patrons of the businesses in the Pike District who live elsewhere in the County into the "downtown" from places like Wheaton, Aspen Hill and the I-270 corridor. Increasing trip times will only send those drivers to other commercial destinations. With a private-sector economy increasingly termed "moribund" by even the most progressive voices in the County, a loss of more than 2000 retail jobs since 2000 (according to the Maryland Retailers Association), and a stagnant restaurant sector (according to Melvin Thompson of the Restaurant Association of Maryland), we can hardly afford to self-sabotage White Flint.

4. The Montrose Parkway is a vital piece of a cross-county right-of-way known as the Rockville Facility. It was placed in earlier master plans as a future road to handle what everyone tells us will be a massive influx of new residents and development between now and 2040. The Rockville Facility extends from Falls Road in Potomac along Montrose Road and the Montrose Parkway to the Intercounty Connector, near the former site of the Indian Springs Country Club in Layhill.

For that reason, any attempt to downsize or intentionally slow traffic on the parkway will have dire repercussions far beyond the Pike District. It is gambling away what little capacity and valuable right-of-way we have left in reserve. The reality is, there is no other such east-west route available for a road.

5. Failure to build the extension, including the grade-separated interchange at Parklawn Drive, would forever stain the records of those who cast such a vote. There are four major infrastructure projects that were promised by all stakeholders in exchange for profitable development opportunities at White Flint, a $72 million developer tax cut, and hefty campaign checks for the Montgomery County Council. Only one of them, the Western Workaround, is currently moving forward. Still unprovided by the County Council are the new elementary school, the new MARC station, and the Montrose Parkway extension.

Very similar to the Council's bait and switch betrayal of upcounty residents with the M-83, cancellation of the Montrose Parkway East would prove that councilmembers only give lip service to necessary infrastructure in order to ram through the development. That's exactly the attitude that caused term limits to pass by an overwhelming vote by County residents last fall.

6. Funding for the Montrose Parkway vs. other long-delayed infrastructure in the County is not a zero-sum game. The parkway is an essential piece of infrastructure upon which all of the current and future development in White Flint and White Flint 2 will rely for adequate transportation capacity, and to promote the success of a walkable urban street grid amongst its new developments. It is not something that can simply be deleted because funds are tight, or because the Council has dropped the ball on infrastructure countywide. That's not the way planning and infrastructure work.

Much like M-83, the time to fund and construct the Montrose Parkway East is now; based on what County officials are hinting at for the redevelopment of Aspen Hill, Glenmont and Wheaton, it won't be long before we'll have to start planning future extensions to Connecticut Avenue (where ramp stubs are already in place for the road's planned cloverleaf interchange), Georgia Avenue and the ICC.

7. There are enough major development opportunities at the Montrose Parkway-355 interchange that we don't need to sabotage the parkway to create a smaller one near Parklawn. Air rights above the entire interchange can be sold to any interested developer. Along with the orphaned, pointless parking lot north of Pike & Rose, decking above the interchange could eventually create a seamless pedestrian connection between that development and a redeveloped Montrose Crossing.

The County Council's vote will cement their historical position as either responsible, honest stewards of growth and infrastructure (and I realize that is, frankly, a laughable thing to say about this Council) at White Flint, or a radical, war-on-cars mob of firebrands who have no qualms about burning down the foundations of the sector plan they passed unanimously in 2010.