Thursday, February 22, 2018

Darnestown woman vanishes leaving courthouse in Rockville

A woman who left the District Court of Maryland courthouse at 191 E. Jefferson Street in Rockville around 9:00 AM yesterday hasn't been seen since. Montgomery County police say Diva Sada Anita Marshall, 28, is African American, approximately 5’5″ tall, and weighs 128 pounds. She has black hair and brown eyes.

Police and her family are concerned for her welfare, as she functions at a middle-school level. Detectives are asking anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Diva Sada Anita Marshall to call the Montgomery County Police Department’s non-emergency number at 301-279-8000.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Rockville construction update: The Red Door Salon & Spa at Pike & Rose (Photos)

The signage for The Red Door Salon &Spa has been installed and lit at 934 Rose Avenue at Pike & Rose. It is located on two levels at the bottom of the new Canopy by Hilton hotel and 930 Rose condo building. The spa and the hotel are both expected to open soon.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Ranked voting for Montgomery County elections advances in Annapolis

A bill that would drastically change Montgomery County's election process could be voted on in Annapolis as early as this week. MC 19-18/HB 173 would allow the Montgomery County Council to implement Ranked Choice Voting for County elected offices. It leaves all of the decisionmaking on how to implement instant runoff voting in the hands of the Council, ranging from how the ballots would be designed, to where they would be counted (in each precinct, or at a central location).

Ranked Choice Voting allows voters to rank a first choice, second choice, for each elected office on the ballot. Proponents say it allows the majority to prevail. A winning candidate who doesn't have an actual majority of votes can be bumped in favor of a second-place finisher, who has received more second and third place votes than the winner.

Is this good or bad? There seems to be no definitive study or consensus opinion. Some say it gives a boost to third party candidates. The Cato Institute says it "actually neuters third parties." Republicans have fought it in Maine; College Republicans in Virginia just endorsed it this month. The lack of cohesive response might suggest that ranked voting is indeed fair to all, and being focused on dozens of major local issues, I'm not prepared to condemn something I haven't had time to study in great detail.

But, the skeptic - which any good journalist should be - would naturally have to ask, "Why is the Council pushing for this?" What problem is it addressing? There have been no disputed elections in Montgomery County. There have been no spoiler victories, no GOP victories, and no third-party victories.

Ranked voting might have stopped Donald Trump from gaining primary and general election victories, but Trump was crushed by Hillary Clinton in Montgomery County, and this bill only applies to County offices. We know that Montgomery County Democratic turnout was low in June 2014, but the low turnout was mainly the result of incumbents' desire to hold the Democratic primary while many voters were at the beach.

At this point, I would just like to hear ranked voting proponents answer what specific problem in Montgomery County elections this bill is solving. For example, how the outcome of County races in 2014 would have changed with ranked voting, and what benefit that change would have had. If these types of Montgomery County-specific questions cannot be answered, it would not speak well for the bill, or garner public support for Council action if it passes.

Monday, February 19, 2018

AT&T Store closes on Rockville Pike (Photos)

A short-lived AT&T Store has abruptly closed at 1600 Rockville Pike. For whatever reason, AT&T has trouble finding permanent locations for their stores in Rockville. My assumption is that their next destination is Montrose Crossing. But until then, they are directing customers to their Bethesda store at 4957 Elm Street - hardly a convenient alternative for Rockville customers.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Rockville's Choice Hotels breaks ground in Ocean City

When you come into Ocean City on the Route 50 bridge this summer, you may well see signs of your hometown hotel giant's newest Maryland property. Choice Hotels, which is headquartered in Rockville, broke ground yesterday on the 133-room Cambria Hotel Ocean City at 309 N. 1st Street. The hotel is scheduled for delivery in the summer of 2019.

Located on a bayfront lot that LoopNet termed a "trophy location" when it was on the market, the Cambria Hotel Ocean City will have private balconies overlooking the Isle of Wight Bay, an indoor/outdoor infinity pool, poolside cabanas, a tiki bar, outdoor fire pits, local art collections, 2,200 SF of meeting space, a business center and - best of all - a rooftop restaurant/bar with a panoramic view of Assateague Island, Isle of Wight Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

"The groundbreaking of the Cambria Hotel Ocean City property represents another important milestone for the brand, as we continue to seek opportunities in markets that provide the distinct upscale and cultural experiences modern travelers desire, such as those offered in the vibrant beach town of Ocean City," Janis Cannon, SVP, upscale brands at Choice Hotels, said in a statement yesterday.

Rendering courtesy Choice Hotels/Fisher Architecture

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Stonestreet Corridor Study draft recommendations to be presented Feb. 22

Rockville planning staff will present their draft recommendations for improvements and redevelopment opportunities in the city's Stonestreet corridor next Thursday, February 22, at 7:00 PM at Glenview Mansion, located at 603 Edmonston Drive. Those recommendations will be based on staff analysis and the input gathered at four previous community meetings.

Planners will be seeking feedback from the public on the proposed recommendations at the meeting. The study area encompasses the east and west sides of North and South Stonestreet avenues, from the northern edge on Westmore Road south, to where South Stonestreet Avenue ends at Veirs Mill Road. In total, the study area contains more than 150 acres of land.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Mayor and Council debate Fireside Park apartments refinancing plans

City asked to contribute
$500,000 grant to aid

UPDATE - February 15, 2018, 5:40 AM: The article has been updated to reflect that Fireside Park is not being compensated for its refuse pickup services by the city.

Rockville Housing Enterprises plans to move forward with a refinancing plan that would facilitate modernization of the Fireside Park apartment complex at 735 Monroe Street. The organization made a presentation to the Mayor and Council at their Monday night worksession.

Loans contributed by the City of Rockville (from its Housing Opportunities Fund), Montgomery County, and a loan from Citibank, are all scheduled to mature in 2019. The interest rate on the proposed new financing would rise from the current 3.5% to 4.05%. But RHE contends that modernization will allow them to raise rents, and therefore be able to meet the payment schedule at the higher rate.

Recent fire damage will be repaired by the end of 2018, RHE believes. RHE Executive Director Jessica Anderson told the Mayor and Council that the organization's insurance adjuster had not yet provided specific numbers, however. Despite wood construction leading to more-costly damage in the blaze, RHE said adding concrete or steel would be cost-prohibitive. Residents of the destroyed units have been placed into what were vacant market-rate units on the property.

Before the fire, those market rate units had a 15% vacancy rate, much higher than the city average of 5.7%. That was a cause for concern for some city leaders. There is some question as to whether Fireside will indeed be able to get the proposed rents for the modernized market-rate units in the now more-competitive rental market near Metro. RHE officials assured the city the property will be desirable enough at the prices proposed.

Upgrades planned include HVAC, water system, masonry, laundry, full kitchen and bath replacement, and a new community room and fitness center. Those new common areas will require deleting one unit. Councilmember Beryl Feinberg suggested revamping "underutilized" basement apartments on the property into studio units, which she said would generate both additional revenue and more workforce housing for the city.

RHE is asking the city for a $500,000 grant as part of the refinancing plan. Feinberg suggested making that a loan, instead of a grant. Councilmember Mark Pierzchala said he was fine with the money being a grant, and praised the Fireside strategy the city bought into in 2012 coming to fruition as planned. "It's been a success, and I look forward to it continuing to be a success," Pierzchala said. The city's affordable housing-preservation goals and plan were met, and the city will get its money back, he added.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton suggested RHE had failed to reach one goal, of replacing washing machines as expected. She remained skeptical of RHE's ability to meet the payment demands of the new loan, with 3 fire-damaged buildings out of commission for at least a year. Newton also noted that Fireside is receiving an offset of application fees for renters, from the city.

Feinberg asked city staff to prepare a number of loan options the Mayor and Council can study, in addition to the recommended grant proposal. There was some back-and-forth on that debate, but Newton reminded her colleagues that they were not intended to make a final decision Monday night. A public hearing will be held on the matter on Monday night, February 26, 2018, and the Mayor and Council will discuss the matter further at their March 19 meeting. The final decision is expected to be voted on in April.