Thursday, December 31, 2015

Karaoke Fridays start January 8 at American Tap Room in Rockville

DC-area "KJ" David Gaines (a.k.a. Dave the Karaoke Guy) is bringing his microphone to American Tap Room in Rockville Town Square next Friday, January 8. That will be the launch day for the bar's new Karaoke Fridays, which will be held there from 9:00 PM to 12 midnight.

You can submit song requests in advance through Dave's website.

American Tap Room
36-A Maryland Avenue

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Montgomery County Council helping their billionaire sugar daddy evade taxes

Councilmember Hans Riemer, a
leading recipient of campaign
donations from billionaire
under investigation for tax evasion
Senate Finance Committee
investigating museum scheme

Most of the controversy surrounding Potomac billionaire Mitch Rales' Glenstone museum has related to its private operation, its addition of a sewer line, and his sugar daddy status to members of the Montgomery County Council, to whom he has donated tens of thousands of dollars. Now a U.S. Senate Finance Committee investigation is looking into another question - is Glenstone actually an art museum, or simply an easy way to avoid personal, capital gains and estate taxes through its Glenstone Foundation?

Councilmember Roger Berliner has received at least $27,000 from Rales, according to blogger Eric Hensal. The second-biggest recipient of money from Rales, a pioneer in outsourcing American jobs to China, has been Councilmember Hans Riemer. 

Riemer has used a mysterious out-of-state bounty of cash from a rogue's gallery of Wall Street scoundrels, banks, mortgage sharks, and lobbyists - who together caused the "Great Recession" - to win two council elections. Yet, he has faced no media scrutiny of his unusual campaign finances. 

Rales' Danaher Corporation wrested 140 jobs away from Hanover, Maryland alone, in a four-state liquidation of factories, as the linked video demonstrates. Is it surprising that Riemer would support a Wall Street outsourcer in evading taxes right here in Montgomery County? After all, Riemer also took a fat campaign check from Mitt Romney's Bain Capital, another pioneer in closing factories, and outsourcing jobs to overseas countries. And, while receiving funds from anti-Obamacare lobbyists, Riemer endorsed dropping the public option from the Affordable Care Act in 2009, creating a huge payday for the insurance companies.

Both councilmen, and several other colleagues who received Rales booty, delivered a series of votes that enabled the expansion of Glenstone in recent years.

While they spoke of Glenstone as a public amenity, it is actually private, not open to just anyone to visit during set hours, and located on Rales' Potomac estate, nowhere near public transit infrastructure. Glenstone has already denied access to visitors, including reporters who have dared to criticize it.

The Senate Finance Committee has heard enough, and is now investigating whether Glenstone - enabled by the County Council - is violating IRS rules and evading taxes. While the New York Times accepted Glenstone's visitor numbers at face value, fortunately, the City Paper actually did the research and found just how few visitors there have been over the years in relation to similar facilities elsewhere - and that no visitor records are publicly available for the past two years.

Meanwhile, the City Paper found that Rales is stashing away more than $360,000,000 in Danaher stock in Glenstone, and another $26 million from his Janalia Corporation. Can you get into Glenstone? City Paper reporter Kriston Capps has been rejected from visiting twice. That's not a public museum.

Aside from determining whether tax evasion has occurred (gee, you think?) with the aid and abettance of the County Council, there is another possible benefit to the Senate-level investigation. Investigations tend to turn up more than what they start out looking for. Montgomery County has a false reputation as an ethical jurisdiction primarily because there have not been federal investigations here. In a federal probe, a lesser member of a political machine can be threatened with jail time - until he or she starts talking about the bigger scandal going on higher up, in exchange for leniency or immunity. 

Farm Road, the Silver Spring Transit Center, the Council-connected nonprofit that "lost" $900,000 in taxpayer money? In every case the politicians themselves were able to control what passed for an "investigation", and declare the case closed. While the feds seem to be in constant pursuit of African-American officials in the District and Prince George's County, our white Montgomery County and Maryland politicians continue to evade scrutiny.

That has to change.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Rockville bicyclist killed in Aspen Hill collision

A 19-year-old Rockville resident died from injuries he sustained when his bicycle was struck by a truck in Aspen Hill last night. Frank Lawrence Towers, of the 13100 block of Beaver Terrace in Rockville, was crossing westbound Veirs Mill Road at Turkey Branch Parkway around 7:25 PM Monday night when he was struck by a silver 2000 Toyota 4Runner.

Towers was transported to a local hospital, but later died from his injuries. Juan Francisco Orellana, 39, of the 12100 block of nearby Selfridge Road in Silver Spring, was the driver of the 4Runner.

The cause of the accident is now under investigation. Investigators are asking anyone who witnessed this fatal collision to contact the Collision Reconstruction Unit at 240-773- 6620. Callers may remain anonymous.

Monday, December 28, 2015

It'sugar opening at Rockville Town Square (Photo)

Despite all the talk of obesity and diabetes, a major new trend in local retail is sugary candy. It'sugar, a new candy boutique opening at Rockville Town Square, doesn't mince words when it comes to treats.

"Bigger is always better," is the chain's mantra, and its products skew in that direction. If you need a 1 lb. Snickers bar, "the world's largest tube of SweeTarts", or a 5 lb. gummy bear, you'll be in luck at It'sugar.

Founded by Jeff Rubin in 2006, It'sugar envisions a world "with fewer rules and more sugar."

Rockville Town Square owner Federal Realty recently added a pop-up candy store at its Bethesda Row property, and Westfield Montgomery Mall just welcomed a similar shop, Lolli and Pops.

Photo courtesy It'sugar

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Rockville Mayor elected first vice chair of regional transportation board

Rockville may have more input on regional transportation decisions, as Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton has now been elected first vice chair of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB). This will be Newton's fourth term on the body when she assumes the FVC role in January. The board makes planning and project decisions that determine federal financial support for local transportation priorities.

Newton is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, and a member at large of the Maryland Municipal League (MML) Board of Directors. She served as president of MML’s Montgomery County chapter from November 2012 through May 2015. Newton also serves as the chair of the MML Legislative Committee.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

VisArts moves into another vacant space at Rockville Town Square (Photos)

VisArts is once again making use of a vacant unit in Rockville Town Square. After doing so this year on Gibbs Street, the arts non-profit has now taken over another vacant spot on Maryland Avenue. This one is near the Liquid Blue denim boutique. Federal Realty, the owner of the Rockville Town Square development, is one of VisArts' corporate partners.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Rockville shooting suspect still at large

Scene of Rockville shooting,
the 300 block of Martins Lane
A woman drove up to the Rockville Volunteer Fire Station No. 3 on Hungerford Drive just before 8:00 last night, and reported she had just been shot in the leg while driving a few blocks away. Rockville Police reported receiving calls minutes earlier regarding shots being fired in the 300 block of Martins Lane, where the victim was driving at the time.

The driver's side door of the victim's SUV, which was left in the driveway of the fire station, sported a coin-size hole. Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesperson Pete Piringer said the victim was transported Priority 1 to a local hospital. She is expected to recover.

No description of a suspect has been released so far, in what some public safety officials and media have described as a "drive by shooting." This was the second shooting in Montgomery County in 24 hours, following the early morning homicide in Damascus.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Construction begins at Mellow Mushroom in Rockville (Photos)

After months of no activity, temporary wood walls have been erected in front of the future Mellow Mushroom at Rockville Town Square. That's an obvious sign that construction inside, and on the outside facade, are now underway. Mellow Mushroom bills itself as a Southern-style pizza parlor.

As you can see in the photo below, they have their construction permit from the City of Rockville.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Rockville HDC approves County request to move statue to Beall Dawson House

The Rockville Historic District Commission voted 3-1 last night to approve the Montgomery County Department of General Services request to move the Confederate statue from the historic courthouse to the Beall Dawson House. There was actually some drama at last night's meeting.

Commissioner Emily Correll once again recused herself, due to having testified against moving the statue at a public hearing, prior to being appointed to the HDC. That left a quorum of 4. But things got briefly tense when a 2-1-1-1 split emerged among the four commissioners voting.

Commissioner Jessica Reynolds said she favored the recommended spot at the Beall Dawson property. Chair Rob Achtmeyer countered that that site seemed too much like a rededication, and said the alternate location would be less formal. Commissioner Craig Moloney was not pleased about placing the statue in such a prominent place. He said he personally was offended by the statue, and that it is "defiant", not merely a fallen soldier surrounded by angels. Commissioner Anita Neal Powell concurred, saying that placing the statue at Beall Dawson was actually giving it greater prominence and visibility than the current site, where it is hidden.

Reynolds repeatedly made her displeasure with the County Executive known during the hearing, asking city staff what conditions the HDC could place on the approval to require the County to pick up the potentially hefty tab for moving, siting and posting of signage and other materials. She argued city residents shouldn't have to pay when it was the Executive who demanded it be moved.

The motion to approve was made by Reynolds and seconded by Powell. At the last moment, Moloney and Powell joined Reynolds for a 3-vote majority; Achtmeyer cast the lone dissenting vote.

What made for some drama was that earlier split - 2 people in favor (but each preferring different alternative spot), and 2 opposed. Reynolds ultimately sided with Achtmeyer on the alternate spot, setting up a 2-2 tie. A tie would have counted as a rejection of the County's request, potentially delaying the statue's move further.

Now the Mayor and Council will vote to accept or reject the statue at their February 8 meeting.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Head of MoCo Economic Development Corp. backs new Potomac River crossing

Buchanan says MoCo
businesses are "solidly
behind" a new bridge

The newly-formed Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation may have a chance of actually accomplishing something after all. Its chair, Bob Buchanan, has already bucked the County's political machine, which has failed to attract a single major corporation to Montgomery in over a decade. Speaking to the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board on December 9, Buchanan strongly urged them to open dialogue with Maryland on a new Potomac River crossing west of the congested American Legion Bridge.

Buchanan, a Montgomery County resident, has long been an advocate for completing this missing piece of our region's transportation infrastructure. But he told the CTB that Montgomery's business community is squarely behind a new bridge, as well. It is refreshing that Buchanan was willing to openly divert from the party line of the County Council, which has strongly condemned even talking about the needed bridge, much less building it. A truly independent MCEDC, able to talk sense as Buchanan did, will be in a position to address the factors which have crippled our County's economic growth since the turn of the century. (County Council term limits wouldn't hurt, either)

Calling for greater regional cooperation, a theme stressed at recent business events in Tysons and in MoCo's newly-branded Pike District, Buchanan asked the CTB to "open negotiations with Maryland regarding another river crossing." A new river crossing "will be a game changer," Buchanan predicted, citing our current "broken transportation system." 

Our congested roads have not only scared away businesses, but raised costs for those already here. They even made your online holiday shopping more expensive, with shipping rates calculated using congestion and travel delay data. Equally troubling: the lack of a direct highway connection between Montgomery County and Dulles Airport has been a deal breaker for international firms considering moving here. All of this, along with MoCo's tax and regulation scheme, have led to a moribund County economy.

"The business community - I speak for Montgomery - is solidly behind another river crossing to alleviate the congestion," Buchanan told the CTB. He recalled that a survey of local businesses found the number one project universally responded to was a new bridge connecting Montgomery with Northern Virginia. Buchanan said businesspeople told him that they are afraid to be too vocal about their support for the bridge because "the politics are so great" on the issue. "Let's not let politics stop what we know needs to be done," Buchanan said.

This is truly a sea change from the usual boilerplate of our County government. It's clear the tide is slowly beginning to turn. No councilmember has stated support for a new bridge, and the long-delayed M-83 Highway has been tabled again. But councilmembers who were claiming Bus Rapid Transit was the solution for the American Legion Bridge just a few years ago, are now advocating extending Virginia's Express Lanes into Maryland. Instead of the bus-and-carpool-only lanes they promoted in 2012, they're now endorsing toll lanes that solo drivers could use.

That change comes at a time when Virginia's transportation secretary has thrown out a 2012 Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments study which showed around 25% of traffic on the Legion Bridge to be headed to, or from, the Dulles area. Replacing it, is a fake study with totally different numbers, that claims a fake average speed on the Inner Loop crossing the bridge during evening rush, and cooks the books to make it seem no one is going to or from Dulles. 

Fortunately, heavier political weights like Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sen. Mark Warner are solidly behind a new Potomac crossing. Now is the time to address this critical transportation project, while Maryland also has a governor who wants to improve highway capacity, and now has a bridge advocate such as Buchanan in a position of power in the County.

As Buchanan advised the CTB, "We should never be afraid of talking." 

The CTB later approved a resolution directing Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne to initiate discussions with Maryland on existing and potential new river crossings, including a new bridge west of the Legion crossing, and a replacement Gov. Harry W. Nice Bridge in Southern Maryland.

Our phone is ringing. Will our leaders finally answer?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Rockville's Confederate statue could stay put at least through February 2016

Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and the City Council will have the final say over whether or not the Confederate statue outside the Red Brick Courthouse ends up on the grounds of the Beall Dawson House, City Manager Barbara Matthews confirmed during Monday night's Mayor and Council meeting. 

The Rockville Historic District Commission is scheduled to take up Montgomery County's request to move the statue, which the County owns, to the City-owned Beall Dawson property on Thursday night. That decision was postponed when the recusal of one commissioner prevented a quorum on that agenda item at last month's meeting of the HDC.

Matthews said that, even if the HDC approves the move, the Mayor and Council can accept or reject the statue. She recommended scheduling Mayor and Council action on the matter for February, so that the highly-controversial issue would not overwhelm budget discussions already on meeting agendas in January.

That would mean the statue will remain in place at least through February of next year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rockville councilman: Stop funding tackle football

Rockville Councilmember Mark Pierzchala advised his colleagues at last night's Mayor and Council meeting that he wants the City to stop funding contact football for youth in its budget. The Mayor and Council have allotted $342,510 for youth sports in FY-2016. However, the amount of that which funds tackle football is not broken out in the budget document.

The Recreation and Parks Department offers a Rockville Football League for youth on its list of sports. A representative for the City, Jen Liberto, sits on the Board of Directors of this league entity. But it's unclear how much control or say Rockville has in its budget and operations, or how much the City contributes financially to the league. If Rockville were to cease funding tackle football, the impact on this or other programs is also unclear.

Pierzchala said that, as a former football player in his own youth, he knows football is inherently a "helmet-to-helmet" game. With recent concerns over concussions and long-term brain injuries in football players at all levels, Pierzchala argued that this is discussion the City must have. He said he wanted to give advance notice of his position, so that no one would be taken by surprise when the new budget deliberations are underway.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Lincoln Park resident dies from injuries in Rockville collision

A resident of Rockville's Lincoln Park neighborhood died at 6:50 PM last night, from injuries he suffered in a bicycle-automobile collision 24 hours earlier on E. Gude Drive at Southlawn Lane. Samuel Vigil, 37, of the 700 block of Lenmore Avenue, was riding his bike southward across the westbound lanes of E. Gude Drive when police say he struck a black 2004 Lexus RX330 traveling west in those lanes.

Montgomery County Police say their early investigation suggests Vigil was facing a red light, and entered the westbound lanes of E. Gude against the pedestrian signal.

Vigil was transported to Suburban Hospital, where he passed away last night. The driver of the Lexus, 23-year-old Monica Min of Gaithersburg, was taken to Shady Grove Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Police continue to investigate the incident. Anyone with information regarding this collision is asked to contact the Collision Reconstruction Unit at 240-773-6620.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Rockville construction update: Ourisman Rockmont Chevrolet dealership (Photos)

Work continues on the future Ourisman Rockmont Chevrolet dealership at Wintergreen Plaza on Rockville Pike. As you can see, the structure is beginning to take the shape of the latest Chevrolet dealership design template (bottom photo). You may have seen this showroom design elsewhere in the DC region.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Should part of the Southlawn industrial area be redeveloped as residential? (Photos)

One residential vision for
currently-industrial land on
N. Horners Lane in
Consultants unveiled two possible visions for the future of Rockville's Southlawn industrial area, and its interactions with the surrounding residential neighborhoods in East Rockville, at a public meeting last night. They wanted feedback from residents and business owners on what strategies and directions the City should pursue in the short and long-term in that area. Also there to hear that feedback were Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, Councilmember Beryl Feinberg, and members of City staff.
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton
and Councilmember
Beryl Feinberg

The basic choice offered was to make some modest improvements in pedestrian safety and cut-through traffic, or to allow a part of the industrial area along N. Horners Lane to be redeveloped as residential, a transformation that would cut off several roadway connections that currently exist between the industrial uses off Gude Drive and the residential neighborhoods.
The more-modest
Alternative A
Alternative B's
more radical makeover,
including townhomes

To encourage redevelopment along Horners, a new road would be constructed. Horners would no longer have an industrial use, and be fully integrated with the residential area. Townhomes and low-rise apartments would have industrial uses behind them, and a buffer zone in-between.
Buffer area for
proposed new residential
development along
N. Horners Lane
One option for buffer
area between homes
and industrial along
N. Horners
The latter plan is more ambitious, sure to be controversial, more expensive and involves private property not under City control. But, "everything's for sale, my brother," one of those private landowners said last night.

Another major proposal in both alternatives is to rezone the public housing development David Scull Courts from industrial to residential. I asked one of the consultants if that would make David Scull Courts vulnerable to redevelopment through a public-private partnership. In other words, does the inability to build residential on the currently-industrial site prevent a knock-down such as is being proposed at Halpine View, where residents end up scattered - if they are lucky - to other affordable housing, while their building is replaced with a luxury development most will never return to.

He suggested the new residential zoning might actually help preserve David Scull Courts from being replaced by an industrial use, by zoning it what it actually is today.

During break-out sessions following the presentation, residents discussed a number of concerns. These included how the changes would relate to the new Maryvale Elementary School building, which will eventually include the addition of the Carl Sandburg Learning Center, which will relocate from Meadow Hall Drive. That will add at least 100 more students and 100 staff members, Melissa McKenna of the MCCPTA CIP Committee said, as well as 15-17 more buses and a second bus loop to the site.

Those types of changes could determine what the City should and should not change regarding pedestrian safety and parking in that vicinity. Currently, cars line up on both sides of the street to pick up kids after school, which offers a county-wide French immersion program. Sandburg is also a countywide magnet program.

These pylons or other
signage would attempt
to brand the neighborhood
Helicopter view over Gude Drive looking down
Taft Street at First Street
Both alternatives show improvements at the intersection of First Street and Taft Street. But there is also a middle school and high school bus stop at that intersection, McKenna said.

Plans to use signage to discourage cut-through traffic met with skepticism from some residents. "I don't think it will work," one predicted. "[Drivers] don't pay attention to it."

Scenario A

Attendees' feedback on
Scenario B
Scenario B