Tuesday, December 31, 2013


The biggest night out of the year doesn't require a trip downtown on Metro. There are some great spots to celebrate right here in Rockville:

Bar Louie

Bar Louie is the best for younger folks. For $45, enjoy cocktails from 9 PM to midnight, a Champagne toast, a DJ from 10 PM to 1:30 AM, party favors, and a breakfast buffet from midnight to 2 AM.

La Tasca

La Tasca's New Year's Eve gala includes unlimited tapas from their special New Year's Eve menu, a bottle of wine for every 2 guests, party favors, midnight Champagne toast, music, and their Fin de Año celebration. To see the menu and make reservations, visit their special website.

Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar

Salsa dancers, dinner, a DJ and dancing are on the menu at the new Paladar in White Flint. Book your table here.

Monday, December 30, 2013


The former location of Chicken Out at 1560 Rockville Pike is getting a new tenant. Zhang restaurant and bar will serve Chinese and Thai cuisine, as well as sushi. This is the latest addition to Rockville's varied and sizable Asian restaurant list. Mr. Bánh Mì just opened last Thursday up the Pike in the Ritchie Center.

Saturday, December 28, 2013


Can't get enough of Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches? You're in luck: Mr. Banh Mi is now open in the Ritchie Center on Rockville Pike, near Wooton Parkway and behind the IHOP. A great new addition to the Rockville dining scene!

Here is the menu (click photos to enlarge):
Bánh Mì

Dessert drinks

Specialty drinks


Fresh fruit or veggie juicers

Friday, December 27, 2013


A real turkey dinner like Thanksgiving or Christmas from Lean Cuisine? Can it be done? It's time to test out Lean Cuisine's Roasted Turkey Breast frozen dinner, featuring turkey and all the trimmings.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


Chips Ahoy, America's best-selling chocolate chip cookie, has a very inclusive Holiday cookie. The packaging gives a shout-out to Chanukah and Kwanzaa, as well as to Christmas.

Of course, the most important cookie issue is, how does it taste? Watch my video review to find out!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Demolition of the historic Rockville building known as "The Pink Bank" has begun. The building was cleared for condemnation by the previous Mayor and Council on October 14. In its place will be a mixed-use development by Kettler. Most historic preservationists are dismayed by the demolition, and a sitting member of the city's Historic District Commission, Jessica Reynolds, took city leaders to task in a recent letter.

The New Formalist structure was built at 255 North Washington Street in 1965, when it was known as the Suburban Trust Building. This demolition is an unflattering reflection of our disposable society, and echoes the mass demolition of the city's original, historic town center decades ago.

Monday, December 23, 2013


Taco Bell has an early Christmas present: the Grilled Stuft Nacho. The Grilled Stuft Nacho has seasoned beef, nacho cheese sauce, cheesy jalapeño sauce, red strips (a.k.a. Fritos), and reduced fat sour cream. How does it taste? Watch my video review to find out!

Friday, December 20, 2013


The Montgomery County Planning Board voted unanimously Thursday afternoon to abandon the Aspen Hill Road Extended right-of-way between Veirs Mill Road and Twinbrook Parkway. "I don't see any reason not to abandon it," board chair Francoise Carrier said. This vote clears the way for redevelopment of the Halpine View garden apartments, which currently comprise one of the few existing affordable housing complexes in Montgomery County. Such redevelopment will surely allow luxury apartment buildings to loom over the adjoining Twinbrook neighborhood within the City of Rockville.

I do not know who might have submitted written testimony on the matter besides me. But the questions raised in my testimony were never addressed by the board. In fact, my written testimony was entirely ignored. The only significant issue of any sort, which was not in my testimony, was raised by Commissioner Casey Anderson. Anderson expressed concern that some notation be made in the record to preserve the county's right to provide trail access from Twinbrook Parkway for pedestrians and cyclists.

It is simply beyond belief that a body responsible for planning and transportation can simply decide not to consider the future uses of such a right-of-way. And why the county continues to aid and abet the demolition of what existing affordable housing we have, is a serious question that needs to be answered.

During the discussion, it was revealed that conditions 3, 4, and 5 were revised - 4 substantively - since the staff report was made public. Not even the applicant had the language. Is this what passes for open data and citizen involvement in planning in Montgomery County?

Prior to the hasty vote, Carrier said, "I'm helping the developer here." No one can dispute that.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


I came across a curious invitation for speakers who would like to expound on a "makeover" of suburban Montgomery County. What makes it interesting, is that it is not an open forum to discuss the future direction of the county. Rather, it only invites speakers who subscribe to a particular view, with a preset list of acceptable topics. The language of the announcement is exclusive, rather than inclusive. And it starts what is ostensibly an academic exploration with rigid, ideological conclusions prepositioned firmly in place.

First and foremost among these "consensus" views, is that the suburbs were a 20th Century Mistake. In fact, the suburbs were part of a revolution that created the greatest period of economic mobility and convenience in American history.

But consider the prejudicial language employed by the announcement.

The event itself is called, "Makeover Montgomery." In reality, does a wealthy county, which nearly a million residents have proclaimed a great place to live, need a planning "makeover?"

"Transformation." This noun is defined by Google's dictionary as "a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance." We're not talking about spiffing up the place, then. What's advocated is an upheaval of the current dynamic. Montgomery County currently has two successful edge cities, Bethesda and Silver Spring. They always were downtowns, and have evolved into more densely-developed downtowns. This progress will and should continue. And the bedroom communities around them and north of them have desirable, single-family home neighborhoods, with commercial corridors and shopping centers that provide needed services. In regards to planning, other than the need to address our failure to complete our master plan highway system, and our affordable housing crisis, where is the demand or need to force a "thorough or dramatic change" in Montgomery County's "form or appearance?" From the legion of residents who testified against the radical county zoning rewrite, it's clearly not coming from a majority of the citizenry.

The announcement seeks ideas that will "continue to transform suburbs into exciting, attractive and sustainable communities." Again, this is biased language, suggesting that suburbs are currently not attractive. The population count and diversity of Montgomery County suggest otherwise.

"Taming suburban street design." It's a jungle out there, apparently.

Now, a lot of what's up for discussion at this event is actually worthy of discussion. Improving bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, the relationship of land use and transportation, and affordable housing are important issues.

But referring to "commuting culture" and suburbs in a negative light is counterproductive. Criticizing people who can't afford to live in Bethesda - but want a nice neighborhood and a backyard for kids to play in - for buying homes further out, and driving in to work because it is convenient, is not academic. It's elitist. And the encroachment of urbanization into suburban neighborhoods - now codified in the pending zoning changes - suggests where that "dramatic change in form" is going. That's one extreme makeover Montgomery County doesn't need.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


The Montgomery County Planning Board will take up a landowner's request to have the county abandon its right-of-way through the Halpine View apartment complex, originally planned as an extension of Aspen Hill Road from Veirs Mill Road to Twinbrook Parkway, this Thursday afternoon.

A perfunctory planning staff report is recommending the board vote to abandon the right-of-way, citing the North Bethesda-Garrett Park master plan recommendation to do so.

The ramifications of the abandonment are far more complicated than the staff report would suggest, however.

First, and foremost, the main driver of the abandonment is neither sound transportation policy, nor concern for the environment (an Aspen Hill Road extension would cross Rock Creek). Rather, it is to promote and facilitate urban redevelopment of the Halpine View garden apartment complex. Halpine View is one of a dwindling number of affordable and spacious housing developments in the county. Its design, much like Privacy World in Glenmont, emphasizes a suburban scale setting, and well-maintained trees and green space. Certainly, the buildings are aging. But to preserve existing affordable units, renovation would be far better than turning the site into another "town center" for rich people. Current rents at Halpine View range from $1000-$1600 a month, and only about two blocks from the Twinbrook Metro station. This makes the complex a valuable one for working families in Montgomery County.

But much like Privacy World and other models for suburban, multi-family housing development, Halpine View is now sought after by developers for dense, urban-style development. Such "town center" density is entirely inappropriate at this location, literally across the street from single family homes in Twinbrook and Aspen Hill. Furthermore, the lure of redevelopment - dangled by developer-beholden council members for decades in front of landowners in Wheaton, Glenmont, Aspen Hill, Rockville, Bethesda, Long Branch, etc., has discouraged routine renovations and maintenance at some properties. After all, why spend money to upgrade your building(s) if you think you're going to be tearing them down in a few years? Remember that when supporters of redevelopment try to convince you that this or that shopping center or apartment complex is "shabby," or obsolete for "the modern amenities young professionals demand today." Any such amenities can be added to any building.

Rather than giving massive tax giveaways to developers, the county would be better off using those funds to assist property owners - as necessary - to finance such renovations and improvements. That would be a far better use of $72 million than just giving it away to White Flint developers, as the county council did a few years ago.

Beyond the crisis of affordable housing we continue to experience in Montgomery County, Aspen Hill Road extended is a potentially vital transportation facility. Current county leaders have no intention of completing the Rockville Freeway/Rockville Facility (a.k.a. Montrose Parkway, in part) all the way from Falls Road to the Intercounty Connector. Therefore, lateral traffic movement remains severely constrained in the county.

Should the Rockville Facility never be extended to Connecticut Avenue, Randolph Road and other local roads remain the only routes between White Flint and Aspen Hill. In that case, Aspen Hill Road Extended would be an important transportation facility.

There is also great potential for inappropriate use of "rapid transit" to upzone retail centers in Aspen Hill to high-density urbanization. Again, Aspen Hill Road Extended would certainly be a necessity under those circumstances.

Finally, a potentially high-traffic redevelopment is going to occur at the intersection of Aspen Hill Road and Connecticut Avenue - as a Walmart, or otherwise. Yet again, Aspen Hill Road would be a major route for patrons of that site.

In conclusion, there is no immediate need to abandon Aspen Hill Road Extended, other than private profit by a developer. The Planning Board should table this request indefinitely.

Retaining the Aspen Hill Road Extended right-of-way is in the best interests of the public, public safety, transportation needs, and vital to maintaining existing affordable housing units.

Monday, December 16, 2013


It's that time of year when you are searching for gifts for hard-to-buy-for family members, friends, etc. Hooters of Rockville wants you to know how easy it is to buy Hooters gift cards. You can even get them online, and send them directly via email to save shipping. Now, for every $25 you spend, you can earn $5 for yourself.

Friday, December 13, 2013


Anyone who walks home from the Twinbrook Metro station should be extra aware of his or her surroundings. Three women have been robbed of their purses in the Twinbrook neighborhood recently, after walking home from the Twinbrook Metro station around 8-10 PM.

All three women were walking alone; one received a head injury, and was dragged along the sidewalk until the suspect was able to get her purse. She was hospitalized for treatment. The locations of the attacks were Lemay Road and Ridgeway Avenue (December 5), Stanley Avenue and Matthews Drive (December 7), and Lemay Road and Holland Road (December 8).

The best description available of the suspect(s) currently is a 6 foot tall man wearing a dark-blue hoodie, black pants, light brown boots, and gray baseball cap with a red stripe. In each case, the suspect has assaulted the victim by striking or shoving her to the ground.

If it is necessary to walk home from the Metro station, take extra precautions and have your cellphone ready to dial 911 if necessary. Anyone who has a tip for Rockville Police in these cases, can call investigators at 240-214-8938. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Rockville Planning Commission Chair Don Hadley was reelected last night to continue in that position for a full term in 2014. Hadley was nominated by Commissioner John Tyner, and his nomination was seconded by Commissioner Jack Leiderman. The nomination was approved by the commission 4-0, with Hadley himself abstaining.

This will be Hadley's first full term as chair of the city's planning body. He was nominated as chair this year, after former Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio declined to reappoint former chair Jerry Callistein to the commission when his term expired. Hadley has been critical of pressures from development interests to urbanize the city as a commissioner, and as a 2013 candidate for the city council.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


The Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO is warning that action by the Maryland state legislature could negate the recently-passed Montgomery County Council bill to increase the minimum wage to $11.50. A statement in the "Union City" newsletter cites Prince George's County NAACP President Bob Ross, who said legislators are mulling a lower wage increase. A provision in that potential bill would revoke the minimum wage hikes passed in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, replacing them with a $10.10 rate.

Photo: Chris Garlock

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


The second annual Christmas Countdown is officially underway on the Robert Dyer Channel. We're starting off with an eggnog product to get everyone into the Christmas spirit: Egg Nog Nips.

Not only will you find out if Egg Nog Nips are worth buying (at CVS),but you'll also find out what ensues when our know-it-all expert, Tarnation Bob, travels to the North Pole to give us an update on Santa's workshop.

Unlike the sparse Christmas programming on TV and cable, the Christmas Countdown will broadcast to your computer and smartphone daily through January 6. Push the subscribe button while you're there, and you won't miss a single episode.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Friday, December 6, 2013


In the best traditions of political cartooning, William Charles is putting pen - and Rockville politics - to paper. And via Rockville Nights, to the internet:

(Click cartoon to enlarge for more detail)


Stouffer's Meatloaf is a true American classic. A descendant of the restaurant recipes of Mother Stouffer herself, this frozen meatloaf came to be after Stouffer's patrons demanded frozen versions of dishes served at the Shaker Square Stouffer's, outside of Cleveland, Ohio. Now let's test a 2013 serving of Stouffer's Meatloaf and mashed potatoes. A couple Stouffer's Meatloaf dinners in the freezer could come in handy during a blizzard.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Is there anyone with nostalgia for the Rockville Mall? I have some for two reasons: A) To the best of my recollection, I never entered the mall, and my parents never took me there, either. Which pretty much sums up why it was a failure, I guess.  And, B) Where are all the photos and videos of the mall? The attempt to sweep the memory of the Rockville Mall under the rug is understandable, but there are as many photos of the mall on the internet as there are of the Ancient Aliens. Less, actually.

I've heard there was a Friendly's restaurant and video arcade in there. Which probably suggests they didn't market the mall very well, as those would have been draws for me!

I was too young to know the blow-by-blow management decisions made by the mall operator(s) over its short history. Could it have been turned around? Was it as hopeless as we hear it was today? The most fundamental flaw in the mall's design (in my opinion) was its distance from the interstate, relative to well-situated I-270 cousins Montgomery Mall, Washingtonian Center, Lakeforest Mall, and Milestone Shopping Center. It also lacked the surface parking all of its competitors had (although that never stopped Mazza Gallerie).

But the demolished mall isn't going quietly into the good night. Instead, it's reaching back from beyond the grave to take a small measure of revenge on the developer greed that fueled its destruction (the same greed that fueled its construction, and the demolition of Rockville's historic town center). At the last meeting of the Rockville Planning Commission, representatives of the Duball I and II projects on the former mall site said their construction was slowed after excavators ran into the caissons of the Rockville Mall deep underground. (These are watertight support structures that are typically anchored in solid bedrock). They said they anticipate they will encounter similar structures when they dig for the second tower.

In an ironic moment, commissioner Charles Littlefield lamented the lack of men's apparel options in the city, options an indoor mall typically provides.

Yet, the most puzzling point of the meeting for me was after commissioner Jack Leiderman asked Duball's attorney the $64000 question: How many more residents will be added to the Duball site if the developer gets the reduction in unit size it's asking for?

The Duball attorney could not answer that question. It just seems inconceivable that a developer would not know the answer to that question at this late stage. In fact, the answer is part of the financial calculation that spurred the request in the first place. This is a change that will require full disclosure, and consideration of the impacts on roads, schools and nearby neighborhoods.

[By the way, if anybody out there has photos of the Rockville Mall, email them and I will post them here on Rockville Nights.]

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


The Washington Post PR campaign on behalf of the Montgomery County Bus Rapid Transit boondoggle continued in Sunday's Metro section.

To his credit, columnist Robert McCartney was critical of many aspects of the proposed 98-mile BRT system. He sums up his current position on the initiative as "abundant skepticism."

Still, there were some inaccurate statements presented, and the repetition of these falsehoods is obviously designed to make an impression on readers. So let's provide the facts once again.

McCartney quoted some of his own laudatory, pro-BRT language from 18 months ago, when he cheered the Emperor's New Bus as an "original, bold, visionary plan to solve gridlock in Montgomery County."

Okay. Even the 160-mile version of BRT that he was referring to was never going to solve gridlock. In fact, it was going to make it worse. Roads like Rockville Pike are already operating over capacity. The county itself is telling us roads will be an additional 70% over capacity in the future. But taking away car lanes for BRT would reduce the capacity of Rockville Pike by 33%, making gridlock 103% worse than it is today. So much for "solving gridlock."

McCartney continued by repeating the familiar falsehood we've heard so often in the last few weeks:

"BRT...has one big argument in its favor: It's the only way in the foreseeable future to add ways for people to get around much of Montgomery."

Survey says...! BRRRRRRNNNNTTTT!!!

Readers of this blog already have a greater foreseeableness than Mr. McCartney, because you know that we can also choose to build the Rockville Freeway, a new Potomac River crossing, M-83 Midcounty Highway Extended, and Northern Parkway. Those long-planned but never-built roads would reduce congestion on Rockville Pike, Georgia Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, Randolph Road, I-270, I-495, and Route 29, just to name a few. And every single one of those projects would cost less than BRT individually. The Rockville Freeway, for example, would carry more commuters per day than the entire BRT system - for far less money!

When you read Ike Leggett say "I don't think commuters are going to have much of an option other than to consider some form of BRT to obtain traffic relief," you now know that is simply not true.

In fact, when I brought up the Rockville Freeway at a town hall meeting, the county executive agreed that it was a needed road, and would provide "connectivity" required by existing and planned development in Montgomery and Howard counties. His concern was that there would be no money to pay for it. Fortunately, the funding options for the highways I mentioned are vastly greater than those for BRT, a bus system that can ultimately be funded only by you, the taxpayer. That's because an inefficient system of riderless buses qualifies for zero federal funds. The federal government has a stringent emphasis on how many people your project is going to move. Bang for the buck, you might say. And these unbuilt freeways each beat BRT's people-moving capability hands-down.

Now that's a "bold plan."

Monday, December 2, 2013


Wicked Waffle opened on Black Friday at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. The restaurant serves waffle sandwiches ranging from breakfast eggs to peanut butter and jelly. Wicked Waffle is located in the food court.