Monday, October 19, 2020

Rockville Mayor and Council to discuss undergrounding MD 355 in Rockville Town Center

Redevelopment of Rockville 
Metro station also to be discussed

A long-term goal of Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, the undergrounding of MD Route 355 where it passes through Rockville Town Center, will officially come before the Mayor and Council for the first time tonight at its 6:00 PM virtual meeting. The idea has been floated for decades, such as the above rendering from the 2001 Rockville Town Center master plan.

Newton revived the idea in recent years, with a goal of creating more public space for city events, and a calmer traffic environment for the town center. The space could replace the lost town center parking lots where events like Hometown Holidays formerly hosted concerts and carnival rides, but with less asphalt. City staff estimates the potential cost of such a project to be in the $200-300 million range.

This 1990s concept drawing of the
undergrounding of MD 355 created by
a city-hired consultant envisioned the
future redevelopment of the
Rockville Metro station surface areas

There is potential to combine such a project with development or redevelopment of the Rockville Metro station surface lots, and the Rockville Mall-era structure across MD 355 from it. Coincidentally, the Mayor and Council will also be discussing the former topic at tonight's meeting, as well. The staff report notes that the city's Rockville 2040 comprehensive plan draft calls for "a blend of moderate-density housing and neighborhood-serving retail" on the station site, and at the edge of East Rockville.

Images via City of Rockville

Dokiya Ramen closes in Rockville

Dokiya Ramen
has closed at 785-H Rockville Pike. Its space in the Ritchie Center has been cleared out. The restaurant had enjoyed a solid four-star rating on Yelp prior to closing.

Rockville to consider revising Covid-19 face covering policy

Rockville's Mayor and Council will consider a revision to the city's Covid-19 face covering policy tonight. The proposed change would no longer allow face shields as a substitute for a mask, and also forbid the wearing of masks or face coverings that have exhalation valves or vents. 

According to a staff report, face shields are no longer considered effective enough in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, and masks that have valves or vents may actually contribute to the spread of the illness. The revision would still allow face shields to be worn in lieu of a mask by by those who are hearing impaired, and by those who care for or communicate with them. Otherwise, a mask would have to be worn under the face shield.

Staff are recommending approval of the revised policy. The Mayor and Council will discuss the proposal at its virtual meeting tonight at 6:00 PM. Montgomery County adopted a similar revision to its mask policy last month.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Friday, October 16, 2020

Purse snatching at Rockville grocery store

A purse-snatching was reported at a Rockville grocery store on Wednesday afteroon. Montgomery County police responded to the theft at a supermarket in the 12000 block of Rockville Pike around 1:00 PM. No force was used against the purse's owner in the snatching, according to police data.

Twinbrook Laundromat construction update

The lights are now on at the future Twinbrook Laundromat at 2131 Veirs Mill Road in Rockville. There is still paper over the windows, but the roadside sign is now lit at night. No opening date has been set yet.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Athleta opening location at Congressional Plaza in Rockville

Athleta will open its first Montgomery County location at Congressional Plaza in Rockville next spring, property owner Federal Realty announced this morning. This will be the performance and lifestyle apparel brand's third regional location, with existing stores in Georgetown and Tysons. Targeted toward active girls and women, the store is positioned to align with the same consumers as Federal Realty's new FITRow-branded fitness area at the shopping center.

FITRow will include CorePower Yoga and Orangetheory Fitness when it debuts. Athleta will be located by The Fresh Market at Congressional. “Federal Realty always seeks exceptional brands to complement our merchant mix at Congressional Plaza,” Kari Glinski, Director of Asset Management at Federal Realty. said in a statement. “With the opening of FITRow, featuring CorePower Yoga and Orangetheory, we are confident that Athleta will be a sought-after retail destination.” 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Montgomery County Council using taxpayer funds to campaign against citizen ballot questions

October 13 email sent from Montgomery County Council
government email system urging recipients to vote against
citizen-proposed ballot questions

Montgomery County residents have been receiving frequent emails from County Council members in recent weeks urging them to vote against ballot questions proposed by County residents. Just one problem: these spam political campaign emails are paid for by you, the taxpayer. If a politician wishes to campaign against a ballot question, they can form a new campaign entity or use their own campaign funds, but they cannot use taxpayer funds. This use of taxpayer-funded government email systems for political campaigning should be reviewed by the Maryland Board of Elections, and the Inspector General's office.

I personally have received two of these emails in just the last two days from Councilmembers Andrew Friedson (D - District 1) and Hans Riemer (D - At-Large). I've previously received several emails from their same government accounts, which also urged me to vote against Questions B and D. The shady and illegal tactic is simply one more reason voters should vote FOR Questions B and D, and AGAINST Questions A and C.
The October 13 County government-sent email illegally urges
recipients to vote a certain way on ballot questions

The taxpayer-funded spam email blitz is only the newest unethical tactic the Council has deployed against citizen efforts to chip away at its authoritarian power. While the citizen-petitioned ballot questions each received the support of nearly 20,000 Montgomery County residents who signed the petitions, the Montgomery County Council placed its own deceptive ballot questions with no public, democratic process. 

Content in years past to wage expensive campaigns against citizen ballot questions, the Council upped the ante and the corruption this year. With no advance warning or public process, the Council simply gaveled two identically-worded poison pill questions onto the ballot at a virtual online meeting. The scheme is intended to fool voters into voting "Yes" on all four. Legal experts have advised that if all four ballot questions are approved, they will cancel each other out, and none of the changes citizens sought will take place.
Fine print at bottom of email confirms it
was sent "on behalf of Montgomery County, Maryland Government"

Question B would eliminate the Council's ability to override the existing property tax cap, as they did in 2016 to slam homeowners with a 9% property tax increase, to cover for their mismanagement of the County budget. Question D would eliminate the At-Large seats on the Council, and reorder the Council into 9 smaller districts. Questions A and C are the Council's poison pill questions that mimic the language of B and D. 
Fine print also declares the email "is part of
the Council's newsletter software," a taxpayer-funded
government communications platform

Making taxpayers fund their corrupt schemes is nothing new for the Montgomery County Council. My investigation in 2018 found that Councilmember Hans Riemer was charging taxpayers to fund both a political website (even though each councilmember already gets a free, taxpayer-funded website on the Council's website), and to pay for his gas when he traveled to private meetings with his campaign donors.