Monday, November 30, 2015

Sign installed at Miso Fusion Café in Rockville Town Square (Photos)

The sign is up and lit at the future Miso Fusion Café in Rockville Town Square. Originally expected to open this summer, the restaurant will offer Korean fusion cuisine from the folks behind the original Annandale location. This one is at 33-E Maryland Avenue.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Rockville construction update: Wintergreen Plaza (Photos)

Ted's 355 Diner was gutted, and a new retail structure is being built on its frame at Wintergreen Plaza. Whether this is for one tenant, or will be divided among several, is not yet clear - although there are dividers inside suggesting the latter. The dimensions appear to be capable of holding four tenants.

In any case, the building and its rooftop turrets match those nearby in the shopping center.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Alternatives for future use of the Chestnut Lodge site in Rockville?

Testimony at Monday's Mayor and Council meeting capped other efforts underway to reopen debate on how the former site of the historic Chestnut Lodge sanitarium should be redeveloped. There is, of course, a new townhome proposal on the table, which recently passed scrutiny by the Rockville Historic District Commission (although two members were absent that evening). Chestnut Lodge burnt down in 2009, in what is suspected to have been an arson incident.

Patricia Woodward, a resident who was once head nurse at Chestnut Lodge and now heads the Chestnut Lodge committee for the West End Citizen's Association, said a reconstruction of the original building "can be done," as a condominium development. This would reduce the size of what is proposed now by 63%. 

Woodward noted that "there is a precedent for rebuilding, reconstruction” on the site, including the stable, "wing B," and the Ice House. She said that, during her tenure, the Ice House served as a music room, with a baby grand piano, drum set, stereo system, and electric guitar. There was "room for jamming, and it was most enjoyable," Woodward recalled Monday night.

It is invaluable to have people who were actually at the Lodge during its operation participating in this discussion. 

It's also valuable to have input from former Mayor Larry Giammo, who was in office at the time when a Planned Residential Unit agreement was made with developer Chase Communities, and the Chestnut Lodge historic district was created. He made the point that townhomes had previously been determined unsuitable for the Chestnut Lodge site. Both he and current Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton have questioned the action of city staff in substituting their professional judgement for the terms of the PRU. Doing so was "actually illegal," Giammo said Monday night. He argued the issue should have been brought to the Mayor and Council. Newton questioned city staff later that evening as to why she and the Council were not informed of this matter.

The West End Citizen's Association has also started a petition to oppose the townhome plan, after Woodward's committee recommended the City deny the townhome plan. The petition has already gained 50 signatures. WECA is seeking further discussion that would determine a plan that considers both the historic importance of the site, and the previous PRU.

Chestnut Lodge was "the most important, most notable historic asset in the 
City of Rockville, before it was allowed to be destroyed by fire," Giammo said Monday.

Given the County's mental health crisis today - where both City and County police officers are often the ones who have to address the consequences of that crisis firsthand, and so many in the County are homeless - one wonders why the big talkers on mental health among our County Council didn't step in to acquire Chestnut Lodge, when it ran into financial difficulty.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Opposition to Chestnut Lodge proposal surfaces at Mayor and Council meeting

Chestnut Lodge in 2003
Rockville's Mayor and Council were briefed on the JNP Chestnut Lodge, LLC proposal to build 7 townhomes on the site where Chestnut Lodge sanitarium once stood last night. But before that briefing could be delivered, several residents voiced objections to the advancement of the project during the Community Forum segment of the meeting.

Among them was former Mayor Larry Giammo, who raised several points regarding the destruction of Chestnut Lodge, and a past legal agreement developers made with the City.

Giammo chastised the owner of the property at the time Chestnut Lodge burnt down, a shell company for Chase Communities, for neglecting to secure the vacant historic building from trespassers and vandals. The fire that destroyed the structure was suspected to have been intentionally set. Giammo noted that a representative of the development firm appeared to laugh off the frequent trespassing at Chestnut Lodge - prior to the blaze - in a video. I believe he may have been referring to this Fox 5 news story on the Lodge, in which Chase Communities' Morty Levine jokes that he hopes to meet a ghost in Chestnut Lodge, so that he can sell the spirit a condo.

But the former mayor had some additional concerns regarding neglect. Giammo said "city staff is 0-for-2" in enforcing a binding legal agreement the City reached with that developer. It stipulated that no additional construction permits could be issued prior to the developer "rehabilitating" the historic Chestnut Lodge structure. Just because the building burnt down, doesn't mean the agreement is invalid, he suggested.

Rockville's current Mayor, Bridget Donnell Newton, also had some concerns regarding the briefing given later by the applicant's attorney, Soo Lee-Cho. Some of what was stated did not reflect her recollection of events, Newton said, and she asked city staff to provide additional information on those points. Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr asked staff to inquire with historical preservation organization Peerless Rockville on best practices, as the project moves forward to seek approvals from the Planning Commission and Mayor and Council.

The loss of Chestnut Lodge remains a painful one for preservation advocates in Rockville, as it seemed a totally-unnecessary fate for the prized building.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Monday, November 23, 2015

Gottfried still pursuing recount of Rockville election

Rebuffed on his offer to pay for a manual recount of this month's Mayor and Council election, Rockville City Council candidate Richard Gottfried is now pursuing other avenues of appeal.

Gottfried said he plans to file a complaint with the Montgomery County Board of Elections, and a separate complaint with Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. He will also ask if the Board of Appeals can hear the case.

Problems with the new voting equipment used during elections in Maryland this month are being referenced by Gottfried in his pursuit of further review of the election results. In light of those reports, he will also ask for a reconsideration of the BOE decision that denied a recount.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Rockville Confederate statue move put on hold, Chestnut Lodge development reviewed

The absence of two members of Rockville's Historic District Commission at last night's meeting resulted in the postponement of action on moving the Confederate statue to the Beall-Dawson House until mid-December. Although the Commission had a quorum with 3 members present, newest member Emily Correll informed HDC Chair Rob Achtmeyer that she would recuse herself from the statue vote, having testified on the matter as a citizen at a previous hearing.

Commissioner Jessica Reynolds was out of the country, and Commissioner Craig Moloney was detained by bad weather despite his intention to fly back in time for the meeting, Achtmeyer said.

The Commission was able to handle the rest of its agenda, however.

Commissioners voted unanimously that there was no historical significance to homes at 714 and 729 Beall Avenue, allowing their owners to now demolish them. Both are in the West End Park subdivision. Achtmeyer suggested that, while neither of these homes were of the structural integrity to preserve, the City and residents should be having conversations about specific homes, blocks and areas within Rockville that could be designated historic, to preserve mid-century residential architecture.

Afterward, Commissioners conducted a courtesy review of the 7-townhome development on the site of the former Chestnut Lodge at 500 W. Montgomery Avenue, for developer JNP Chestnut Lodge, LLC.

Architect Randy Creaser told commissioners that he did extensive research on Chestnut Lodge, a historic hotel later converted into a sanitarium. In 2009, the abandoned building was burnt down in a fire many believed was an arson incident.
Chestnut Lodge as photographed
in 2003

Creaser said he was inspired by the building's 2nd Empire Victorian architecture, and wanted a design that would "acknowledge and give a nod to the grace and beauty of that architecture we lost."
The proposed townhome
Central to that, are the tower elements of the building's roofline. Ten foot ceilings - "a very Victorian height," Creaser noted - also allow for tall windows. Natural light was very important during the gaslight age, Creaser said. A gable element along the new building's south elevation will also pay tribute to the Lodge.
Tower elements at the
roofline recall
Chestnut Lodge
Garages will be recessed 17' behind the rear decks of the townhomes, and are at a lower grade than the access road, minimizing them as architectural elements, Creaser said.

The applicant's attorney, Soo Lee-Cho, said that by moving the footprint of the building south, mature holly trees will be preserved. An arborist testifying for the applicant said the trees "are worth this effort," and that he had worked out a long-term plan with the City arborist to ensure the health of those natural resources.

Of the Chestnut Lodge-inspired design, Achtmeyer said, "This is not typical in any way, and I think that's important for this site."

Commissioners did not express any objections to the plan. It will now be presented to the Mayor and Council in a briefing Monday night.

Photos courtesy City of Rockville

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Transportation study overview at White Flint 2 meeting (Photos)

The latest meeting on the White Flint 2 Sector Plan was focused on transportation Wednesday evening at the Rocking Horse school center in Rockville. It was not about specific transportation projects and improvements as much as it was about the methods used to study traffic volume, capacity and speed. White Flint 2 borders the City of Rockville to the north, and one of the City's transportation studies is being used by planners as they work toward growth and transportation recommendations.

Eric Graye, a transportation planner with the Montgomery County, said that planners are generally more willing to accept greater congestion in urban activity centers.

A resident of Randolph Hills asked if the County model could predict congestion in practical terms, such as the speed at which one could travel on a particular road. Graye said the County model's data can be compared to INRIX traffic data to suggest what speeds might be.

Maps around the room showed virtually all of the pedestrian and road connections attendees of the October meeting suggested. Remaining concerns of those who attending last night's meeting included the lack of available land for additional schools, poor mobility around the area due to the lack of connectivity, and train horns blaring near the area's residential neighborhoods.

The next meeting will focus on parks, open space and land use, and will be held on December 9 at 7:00 PM at Luxmanor Elementary School.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Rockville Planning Commission to assess City's environmental status (Photos)

Locations of green buildings
in Rockville today
The Rockville Planning Commission will receive a presentation on current and future environmental conditions across the City at its meeting tonight, November 18, at 7:00 PM at City Hall. A report released in advance has metrics for existing green buildings, hazardous contaminated sites, soil erosion, flood plains, and where high-risk dams are located.

Every 10 years, municipalities are required under Maryland law to produce such assessments. In this case, the report will aid commissioners in considering how they will incorporate environmental concerns into the Master Plan update currently underway. The environmental report itself is not making specific recommendations in that regard.
The four high-risk
dams holding back water
in Rockville (noted
in red)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Former Rockville councilman decries "awful" campaign tactics

Former Rockville City Councilman Jim Marrinan, who served on the Council from 1991-1999, condemned a last-minute attack mailing that contained false accusations against Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton during Community Forum at last night's Mayor and Council meeting. Saying it was the worst political behavior he had witnessed in 40 years in the City, Marrinan suggested the tactic backfired, as evidenced by Newton's overwhelming victory on Election Day.

Marrinan termed the mailer, sent out by the mayoral campaign of Sima Osdoby and emblazoned with logos of the Team Rockville slate, "awful."

Later at the meeting, the newly-sworn-in Mayor and Council held a public hearing to start the process of annexing the former CarMax property near the Shady Grove Metro station into the City. The site is at 15931 Frederick Road (MD 355).

Councilmember Mark Pierzchala questioned why the street between the CarMax site and the new Bainbridge Shady Grove apartments wasn't being included in the annexation. The street is currently owned by WMATA.

Planning commissioners had criticized the planned apartment building at the site for including no retail to activate the streetscape around it, or reduce driving by residents. They did ultimately recommend the proposed annexation plan.

Attorney Pat Harris, representing the developers 355 Partners, LLC and Frederick Road, LLC on the project at 15931 Frederick Road, said that the high ceilings and windows of the building's ground floor will allow future retail build-out if the retail market improves.

The Mayor and Council also discussed legislative priorities for the upcoming 2016 session of the Maryland General Assembly, such as school construction funding, and scheduling meetings on the topic of parking at Rockville Town Square. Parking problems have been blamed for recent business closures there.

Newton said she would like to include landowner Federal Realty in an upcoming worksession, and take action on the matter before the holiday shopping season gets fully underway. However, last night's scheduling discussion made it unclear that such timely action on the issue would be possible.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Monday, November 16, 2015

Rockville's first Mayor and Council to serve 4-year term sworn-in / 2015 Inauguration photos

Rockville's first Mayor and Council to serve a four-year term was sworn in yesterday at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre. Peerless Rockville's Eileen McGuckian served as host for the Inauguration, attended by a number of past and present elected officials. Among the crowd were former Gaithersburg Mayor and current Montgomery County Councilmember Sid Katz; Maryland state Delegates Jim Gilchrist, Kumar Barve and Andrew Platt; former City Councilmembers Bob Wright, Jim Marrinan, Tom Moore and Glennon Harrison; and Rockville Planning Commission Chair Don Hadley.

There was some irony present as McGuckian noted both that the Mayor and Council remain a four-woman/one-man body again this term, while - historically - the City's first elected commissioners were chosen by 66 white male voters.

Incumbent Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton was sworn in for a second term by Montgomery County Clerk of the Court Barbara Meiklejohn. Newton then swore in her Council colleagues Beryl Feinberg, Julie Palakovich Carr, Mark Pierzchala and Virginia Onley.
Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton
swears in Councilmember Virginia Onley
In her remarks following the swearing-in, Newton first acknowledged Friday's terror attacks in Paris. Noting that it is "a very tragic time in our world," she said, "we mourn with those who face this tragedy." She used the words of John Wesley to sum up the approach she hopes she and the Council will take - "Together we can."

After listing some accomplishments of the Mayor and Council's previous term - including negotiating an adequate gym for students at the future Richard Montgomery Elementary No. 5, tackling a compensation and classification review after 6 years of stagnant city salaries, and reviving walking town meetings - Newton cited the recent film Bridge of Spies as representative of the cooperation they will have to work toward in this term.

"If they can end the Cold War," Newton said, "we can come together as the governing body of Rockville." She added jokingly that City staff might also be able to go home before midnight on Monday nights. That drew knowing chuckles from many in the crowd who have sat through marathon Mayor and Council meetings in recent years.

Newton promised the Rockville of the future would be "multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-priced." She added that the Rockville Pike Plan and citywide Master Plan need to consider the City as a whole, not in isolated "segments." The Pike Plan also mustn't "put City taxpayers on the hook for rights-of-way," she said.

In reference to the debate over how much the City should change its character under pressure from developers, Newton said Rockville doesn't "need to change who we are, as much as we need to trust who we are."
Richard Montgomery junior
Alex Haddad speaks on the
theme of "trust"
The theme of trust carried over from the final part of Newton's speech to a spoken-word performance by Richard Montgomery High School junior Alex Haddad.
A blurry photo of the
Rev. Mansfield Kaseman
speaking with former
City Councilman Jim Marrinan
following the inauguration
One of the most prominent clerical leaders in modern Rockville history, Mansfield Kaseman, also picked up on the trust theme in his closing remarks. "Let us go forward a trusting and very grateful people," Kaseman said, exhorting citizens to resign themselves to not merely being "bystanders, but up-standers."

"Together, we can, and together we will, do great things for Rockville," Newton vowed.

Following the ceremony, which included a Rockville Police color guard, attendees gathered in the lobby for a reception.
The lobby of the
F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre
Delegate (and 8th District
Democratic Congressional candidate)
Kumar Barve and his
District 17 colleague, Del. Andrew Platt
Past City Councilman Glennon Harrison
and Acting City Clerk Sara Taylor-Ferrell
Outgoing Councilmember Tom Moore
and Platt; City Attorney Debra Yerg Daniel
is in the background at right
Councilmember Mark Pierzchala speaks
with constituents
City Manager Barbara Matthews
confers with City Communications
Manager Marylou Berg at left;
Planning Commission Chair Don Hadley
in background-center; Onley in foreground
Councilmember Onley poses
for a photo
Mayor Newton greets
attendees after the ceremony
and Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr
Barve and Newton

Thursday, November 12, 2015

New Dessert Shooters at Hooters of Rockville (Photo)

If you remember those shot glass-sized desserts at Timpano Italian Chophouse down the Pike, there's something similar now at Hooters of Rockville.

The four varieties include:

Peanut Butter Pie - Peanut butter nougat with chocolate candy pieces atop crunchy chocolate cookie crumb

Key Lime - Key Lime-flavored sweet cream topped with whipped cream, on top of graham cracker crumb. Hooters is calling this the "Official Dessert of the Florida Keys"

Strawberry Cheesecake - Cheesecake with 2 layers of house-made strawberry topping on top of cookie crumb

Chocolate Decadence - Chocolate mousse topped with ganache and chocolate curls on chocolate crumb

Hooters of Rockville
1584 Rockville Pike
(301) 230-2134

Photo courtesy Hooters of Rockville

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Alleged sex meet-up at Rockville hotel ends in stabbing (Photos)

An apparent prostitution case gone bad has Montgomery County Police searching for a suspect in a violent stabbing at a Rockville hotel. According to police, the male suspect arranged via online classifieds to meet the 22-year-old female victim at an unidentified Rockville hotel. There, they had agreed the woman would engage in sexual acts with the suspect in exchange for cash.

On October 7, around 11:30 AM, the victim and suspect met at the hotel. The suspect paid the victim the agreed fee. He then forced the victim’s hands behind her back. The victim pulled a small knife from a sheath hanging from her necklace, and began struggling with the suspect. Amidst the struggle, the suspect stabbed the victim. The suspect then claimed he was a law enforcement officer, and was trying to arrest her. The suspect then took his cash, and the knife, and fled the hotel.

Police describe the suspect as a black male, in his 30s, approximately 6’00” to 6’03” tall, bald, "very muscular," and dressed in all-black. He wore black loafers with silver buckles, and a tan baseball cap with an unspecified logo.

Anyone with information about this suspect is asked to call the 1st District Investigative Section at 240-773-6084. Those who wish to remain anonymous can call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).  Crime Solvers will pay a cash reward of up to $10,000 for information provided to them that leads to the arrest and/or indictment of this suspect.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Soft opening of Lavande Patisserie this Saturday in Rockville (Photos)

The long-awaited opening of Lavande Patisserie at 275 N. Washington Street in Rockville is near. Stop by when they soft-open at 11:00 AM this Saturday, November 14, to try French bakery specialties like macarons and croissants, and much more.

Serving breakfast and lunch, Lavande is positioning itself as a "farm to table café". It is one of four new Asian-owned businesses in JBG's new mixed-use retail center.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Rockville City Council candidate challenges election results

Rockville City Council candidate Richard Gottfried has contacted acting City Clerk Sara Taylor-Ferrell, and has challenged the results of last Tuesday's election. Gottfried is asking for a manual recount of all paper ballots, under Section 8-41 of the Rockville City Code.

Gottfried finished 282 votes behind incumbent Councilmember Virginia Onley, according to the City's posted election results. In his letter to Taylor-Ferrell, he cites an "excessively high number of under-votes, 1762 to be exact, which constitutes 28% of total ballots casted." He also notes that the new voting machines did not allow voters to compare their paper ballot with the scanned ballot for accuracy.

One other Election Day issue I've heard about from a source was that each polling place did not have a Chief Election Judge on-site at all times. I cannot personally verify this, as I was not at every polling place at every hour of the day. Reportedly, several judges were floating from site to site as needed. Article 10-203-B of Maryland election law states:

  1. One or two election judges in each precinct shall:
    1. (1)  be designated chief judge; and
    2. (2)  supervise the staff at the polling place. 
 Photo via Vote Richard Gottfried website

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Noodles and Company closes at Rockville Town Square

Noodles and Company has closed on Gibbs Street in Rockville Town Square. Outgoing Rockville City Councilmember Tom Moore sent this photo. The company has been expanding in the area this year, so this came as a bit of a surprise.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Black students more likely to be suspended by MCPS than by Texas schools

Everything's bigger in Texas - except racial disparities in public school discipline policies, apparently. A new study by Texas Appleseed helps provide further context to a recent report that showed African-American students in Montgomery County Public Schools are 3 times as likely to be suspended from school as white and Asian students.

In Texas, there are also racial disparities in school discipline. But the Texas Appleseed report, titled "Suspended Childhood", found that black students in that state are less likely to be suspended than black students in Montgomery County. Black students in Texas are more than 2 times as likely to be suspended as whites - not laudable, but lower than in MCPS schools.

Montgomery County should consider this comparison, and some of the recommendations in this report, as it continues to struggle with a growing achievement gap. A 2014 County Office of Legislative Oversight report confirmed that MCPS had declined, and the achievement gap had widened, since 2010.

Now we know that Montgomery County students also fared poorly on this year's PARCC exams, the scores of which determined less than half of MCPS high school students are ready for college-level work.

And that superintendent search? Yeah, that search. They'll get around to it. Maybe some of the WMATA runners-up will give it go. The Montgomery County Council and Board of Education have made slouching a science.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

3 new buildings proposed in office park across from King Farm in Rockville (Photos)

First Potomac Realty Trust has made a pre-application submittal with the City of Rockville proposing to add two new office buildings, and a café pavilion with open space for employees, at the Redland Corporate Center. The office park is located directly across Gaither Road from King Farm, at 520-540 Gaither Road.
This neighborhood is directly
across from the office park
After adding these structures over a 3-phase construction schedule, the property will hold 800,000 SF of office space, and a maximum of 3,000 SF of restaurant space (including the existing buildings already on the site). The two 11-story buildings will be built atop 267 surface parking spaces that are there today, and replace those with 1342 structured parking spaces.
Site plan
(click to enlarge)
FPRT says the additions will help the office park be more competitive in the weak Montgomery County office market, by adding the types of building designs, features and amenities employers want today.

The calendar for the full build-out is not known, as the application notes the construction will be based on market conditions. A Development Review Committee meeting on the project is currently scheduled for December 3.