Friday, January 29, 2016

Mayor and Council to discuss pending Siena Corporation litigation in closed session Monday

Before Rockville banned self-storage facilities within 250' of schools last year, Siena Corporation's attorney threatened the City with legal action should it do so. The move by the Mayor and Council foiled construction of a Siena facility near Maryvale Elementary School in East Rockville, where residents organized to stop the project. Rockville's Planning Commission had previously concluded that there were no legal grounds upon which they could deny the EZ Storage application.

Now the Mayor and Council will receive legal advice on the matter in a closed Executive Session at 6:00 PM Monday night, February 1. The regular meeting schedule will follow at 7:00.

Also on the agenda, is a critical purchasing study report by an outside consulting firm that raised serious questions about procurement practices by the City last fall. The Calyptus consultant also outlined how implementation of his recommendations could potentially save the City up to $4.6 million.

But the report became controversial in the contentious run-up to last November's election, resulting in a split vote to delay implementation of the report, and a recommendation that the same presentation be delivered again to the newly-elected Mayor and Council. City Manager Barbara Matthews also indicated that she would need time to prepare herself and her staff to assume the oversight role over purchasing that the report suggests she take on.

A separate executive session at the end of Monday night's meeting will discuss the King Farm Farmstead.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Rockville planning commissioners want more historic designation options

Planning Commission Chair
Charles Littlefield
Members of the Rockville Planning Commission would like the City to take a more varied approach to historic preservation, as planners and commissioners consider a report on the past and future of such efforts. Rockville's Chief of Long Range Planning David Levy told commissioners that one of the main objectives of the report is to get feedback from the public on historic preservation during the Master Plan process currently underway. Levy and planner Cindy Kebba said the topic has not really come up in the many public listening sessions the City has hosted so far.

While communities such as Lincoln Park have welcomed preservation efforts, other neighborhoods like Twinbrook have been wary of what historic designation would mean for property values and redevelopment options for the small homes there.

Commissioner Don Hadley said sometimes the current designation process goes too far. Not every historic building is of the same importance or value, and some restrictions on properties are cumbersome while adding little value to preservation efforts. Hadley gave the example of a homeowner who can't easily obtain a particular siding material for a small outbuilding being forced to pay for custom manufacturing.

The City needs "a more nuanced set of tools," Commissioner Jack Leiderman concurred. He suggested having several gradations of preservation that could be more flexible, and put the property in question into the right context. When it comes to historic designation in the City today, he said, "people are a little bit scared what that means."

Commission Chair Charles Littlefield asked staff why the thresholds to start and complete the designation process are so high. It currently takes 40% of residents to agree to start the process, and 85% to apply the designation. Littlefield said that is much higher than the simple majority (51%) or two-thirds majority more often applied to legislative decisions. Zoning Chief Jim Wasilak said the City intentionally set a "high bar" for designation, to ensure that such decisions wouldn't be rammed through easily by a minority of residents. The current system requires clear buy-in by the community in question, Wasilak said.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Assessing MoCo's snow response + Rockville transit schedule update

A Montgomery County voter
is asked if he remembers voting
for the County Council and Executive
who presided over the blizzard fiasco
Here's an update on the current status of transit services, snow plowing, and pedestrian/cycling facilities in Montgomery County. Before scrolling down, let's assess the County's blizzard fiasco and what can be changed to avoid another one. The experience of the last few days has shown there are several areas in which the County needs to improve its storm response capabilities.

One telling sign is that DC had over 600 pieces of equipment to move and clear snow. Montgomery began with over 700, and was up to 800 pieces in the last couple of days. Should a jurisdiction as large as MoCo have not much more equipment than the smaller District of Columbia? That's a clear indication, along with the results and many complaints, that MoCo did not have sufficient assets and personnel in place. Snow operations personnel have been working hard around the clock; there simply weren't enough of them.

Second, we've been told 311 will "get it done". Several residents around the County told me they could not get an answer from that County service line yesterday. Later, the County acknowledged that a record number of calls to 311 were received, and that many did not go through. 311 had more calls in one half-hour period Tuesday than it usually receives in an entire day. This was largely due to the number of unplowed streets residents were calling to complain about.

Third, despite Councilmember Hans Riemer's claims of being an open data guru, the storm fiasco helped bring to light that - five years after Riemer took office - the County's online Plow Tracker map isn't actually a real-time app, and isn't being instantly updated from GPS systems on trucks as we were led to believe. The map should be updated to provide that. Of course, a fancy map won't mean much if the County doesn't have enough personnel and trucks on hand to get the job done.

Fourth, Riemer's sidewalk-clearing law has been a complete bust. It's not being enforced, and we're getting the same dangerous results this time as pedestrians are forced to enter the roadway into oncoming traffic. Riemer took an unwarranted election year victory lap after passage of his law, as local media sycophants cheered him on. According to a Gazette (much missed - not!) report at the time, "the legislation seeks to ensure sidewalks are passable after storms and should improve how the county fulfills the intent of its law requiring snow removal, bill sponsor Councilman Hans Riemer said. 'The goal of this bill is to make our county more walkable in every season,' Riemer (D-At Large) of Takoma Park said."

Are you finding sidewalks around the County "walkable" today? I thought he said "every season." Cost of Riemer's law, the public education component that would magically move property owners to obey it, and the County implementation of it? $6,458,000, according to the Gazette.

We are being governed by some very incompetent people, folks.


Metro has announced that the Silver Line is back in service as of this morning, meaning the entire Metrorail system is now operational 82 hours after the snow stopped falling in the DC-area. Metrobus is operating under a Moderate Snow Schedule. The T2 is back in service today (Friendship Heights-Rockville via River Road). Many of the J routes remain out of service.

MetroAccess will operate on regular hours today.

All Ride On routes will have service on the S-Plan schedule.

Free parking in County public garages and lots has been extended through 9:00 AM tomorrow, January 28.

The Capital Crescent Trail has been plowed, is open, and still slick in spots; caution is advised.

The Bethesda Circulator bus will not operate again today.

A tractor-trailer jacknifed in the southbound lanes of I-270, leaving the local lanes temporarily blocked as rush hour got underway this morning.

Montgomery County's plow tracker map indicates that all streets that hadn't been reached yesterday in Springfield, Green Acres, Wood Acres, Spring Hill, Mohican Hills, Randolph Hills, Rock Creek Palisades, Stoneybrook Estates, and Aspen Hill have now been completed.

Most residents' assessment of Montgomery County's response to the storm is decidedly less positive than that expressed by County Executive Ike Leggett yesterday at a press conference. Leggett was not pressed to apologize by media, unlike DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, who did issue an apology.

Leggett promised every street in the County would have at least one lane cleared by 7:00 AM this morning. I've located only one complaint so far after the deadline passed, from a service road resident on Connecticut Avenue in Silver Spring. If your street has not been plowed yet, send me an email at robert [at] robertdyer [dot] net and call 311 to report it.

Bobcat loaders and plows worked all through the night to remove and move snow in downtown Bethesda and in neighborhoods along the River Road corridor.

In the Springfield neighborhood, one resident with an unplowed street flagged down a passing pickup truck with a snowplow attached to the front. After some negotiations, the pickup's driver began to plow part of the street for a cash payment. The private sector had provided service before the taxpayer-funded public sector in a classic free-market exchange.

Sidewalks remain snowdrifts in many places, including along River Road in Bethesda, and in front of the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase. Leggett acknowledged the widespread problem for pedestrians at his news conference, but has not yet produced a plan of action to address it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

MoCo, WMATA, Ride On slow to recover from blizzard

Grey lines indicate streets
where plowing has yet
to begin; map image from
7:20 AM today
A snow emergency remains in effect as Montgomery County and WMATA continue to struggle in recovering from Winter Storm Jonas. Montgomery County Public Schools are closed again today, and County snow plow crews are now tackling neighborhood streets.

According to the County snow operations map, some neighborhoods' streets remain untouched 59 hours after the snow ended. Spring Hill, Green Acres, Springfield, Wood Acres, Rock Creek Palisades, Randolph Hills, Stoneybrook Estates, and parts of Aspen Hill are among the "children of a lesser god."

The crews are working hard, but it appears the County did not procure enough of them in advance, despite the unusual advance notice of this weather event.

The other gaffe today is the County's Ride On bus service. Only Routes 1, 5, 8, 15, 16, 17, 23, 30, 34, 43, 46, 47, 55, 56, 59, 83, 100 will operate today, and - get this - only from 10:00 AM until 6:00 PM. What is this, just for senior citizens or something?! Unplowed neighborhood roads + no rush hour Ride On feeder buses = residents unable to get to work today.

Apparently, just because elected officials can declare themselves closed for a day off, they've lost touch with the fact that most of their constituents lack such authority. At last check, janitors can't telework. The failure to get the basic emergency transit service up and running is costing people pay, and possibly their jobs.

Unbelievably, once again there is no T2 Metrobus service along the River Road corridor. When you need transit in Montgomery County, it's just not there for you, folks. You can't rely on it.

Metrorail is operating with service on all lines except the Orange Line between Vienna & Ballston, and the Silver Line.

The Bethesda Circulator will not run today.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Tea Do to open this week in Rockville

The long-delayed opening of Tea Do is finally upon us. A casual Japanese eatery in addition to an Asian boba (bubble) tea shop, Tea Do is located at 838 Rockville Pike.

Their soft opening is scheduled to begin tomorrow, Tuesday, January 26. Tea Do's official grand opening will be Thursday, January 28, at 11:00 AM. The owners say the shop will stay open until midnight on Thursday.

Get a preview of their menu here.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Rockville snow and power outage update #WinterStormJonas #Jonas #Blizzard2016

Just before 1:00 AM there was a power outage near Shady Grove Road near King Farm and Interstate 270. Five customers were affected, but Pepco reports service has now been restored.

The worst of the storm is just arriving in the area. Wind gusts are projected to be 45-65 MPH through 1:00 PM today. Winds are currently 5 MPH in Rockville.

Snow accumulation around Rockville ranges from 4.8-5.1" at last report.

Current temperatures around Rockville:

Woodley Gardens: 20.8°F

Watts Branch Parkway: 20.8°

Twinbrook: 21.9°

Friday, January 22, 2016

Winter Storm Jonas update for Rockville

Rockville Storm Center

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has declared a State of Emergency, as Winter Storm Jonas approaches the D.C. metro area. The temperature is currently 21 degrees F. A Blizzard Warning will be in effect beginning at 3:00 PM this afternoon.

Expect the snow to begin between noon and 1:00 PM today, and to intensify by mid-afternoon. Blizzard conditions are predicted to start around mid-evening, and winds will increase dramatically to 25-35 MPH, with dangerous gusts up to 60 MPH. That almost guarantees power outages in the area.

Accumulations of at least 2 feet are expected (24-30" is the latest National Weather Service prediction), with the possibility of setting a new record for the area. Temperatures overnight will be in the mid-20s, but feel far colder with the Arctic wind gusts. Whiteout conditions are expected from Friday night through Saturday.

Montgomery County public parking lots and garages will be FREE starting today at noon, through 9:00 AM on Monday, January 25. If you're willing to gamble that there will be any kind of auto travel possible by Monday morning, you could theoretically stash your car in a public garage and avoid having to dig it out. Street meters won't be free, however. Watch to make sure you are not parked along a snow emergency route.

Montgomery County Public Schools are closed. It is not recommended anyone be out on the roads once the storm gets fully underway.

Stay tuned here on the blog, and on Twitter 24/7 @RockvilleNights throughout the storm for updates and information.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

MoCo snow fiasco (Photos)

A minimal snowstorm downplayed by forecasters turned into a major traffic disaster last night, as Montgomery County and the state of Maryland failed to pretreat roadways. The result? A six-car pileup in front of Pyle Middle School in Bethesda, dozens of fender benders, stuck and abandoned cars, drivers running out of gas on the Capital Beltway, and more than a few pedestrian wipeouts.
Traffic on the Beltway
after midnight
"I'm sleeping on the couch at work," tweeted
Fresh 94.7 FM DJ Dana McKay

"Good lord what a cluster,"
@jose3030 tweeted
By early this morning, the Beltway was in catastrophic shape, entirely shut down near the I-270 Spur in Bethesda. Drivers were pulling over to sleep in their cars, and Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesperson Pete Piringer reported that even fire vehicles were stuck in places for hours.
Six-car Pyle-up by
Pyle Middle School
Twitter user Justin Fidler reported from the scene that there were no injuries in the 6-car "Pyle-up" in front of the school, but that Wilson Lane was closed in both directions as firefighters awaited the arrival of a salt truck.

Montgomery County's storm operations center announced it was activated - two hours after the storm hit and the chaos began. The County Department of Highway Services attempted to awaken members of the Montgomery County Council, who were asleep at the switch during the entire storm. Only Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Sid Katz and Nancy Navarro responded by retweeting the DHS message regarding current operations late Wednesday evening.
MoCo Highway Services tries
to awaken Montgomery County
...who were largely asleep
at the switch during the storm

African-American mayors of
Washington take a lot of heat
for snow disasters; why don't white
leaders in MoCo get bad local press?
Many drivers were asking what had gone wrong, and took to social media to rip local authorities for their negligence. The Montgomery County Civic Federation asked MoCo transportation officials why the County and State continue to be unable to coordinate snow operations within the County.
"Pitiful job!" in Bethesda
Rockville to Silver Spring in
3.5 hours
Aspen Hill was "bad"
"Not one plow" in Wheaton
Failure to pretreat all state and most County roads not only created terrible driving conditions, but also made it difficult for snowplows and salt trucks to clear the hard sheet on roads by this morning's rush hour. In the worst-case scenario, remnants of this small storm could remain in many spots as a hard ice foundation, soon to be piled high with snow on top when Winter Storm Jonas arrives tomorrow.

Will anyone among Montgomery County's "leadership" be held accountable for the disastrous storm response, property damage and injuries? Not by the Washington Post. The newspaper's initial story on storm response is critical of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, but mysteriously passes on assigning similar blame to elected officials here in Montgomery County. Here we go again. The disasters will continue until there are consequences at the ballot box.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

East Rockville sewer improvements scheduled to begin

Pipes and manholes along several streets in East Rockville will be replaced starting this month. The work is expected to begin in Maryvale Park near Taylor Avenue, and end at the intersection of East
Middle Lane and Monroe Street. Additional streets that will be affected are Hungerford Drive, Park
Road, North Stonestreet Avenue, Grandin Avenue, Highland Avenue, South Horners
Lane, Seth Place, and Charles Street.

If you are in that area, you can expect temporary road closures, on-street parking restrictions and
construction noise. But water service will not be affected.

The project is expected to be completed in about a year, with each of the above streets requiring four to eight weeks of work apiece.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Public meeting tonight on Falls Road shared-use path plans in Rockville

The City of Rockville is proposing
to extend this path on Falls Road
A public open house will be held tonight to unveil a design proposal for extending the shared-use path on Falls Road. The path would provide a new pedestrian and cycling connection between Dunster Road and Kimblewick Road.

City staff have reviewed the alignment proposed by a design consultant, and tonight will get public feedback on the proposed design.

The meeting will be held at the St. Raphael's Church Library, at 1513 Dunster Road, at 7:00 PM tonight, January 19, 2016.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Public forums scheduled to discuss recent Rockville election

Rockville's Board of Supervisors of Elections is hosting a pair of forums in the coming weeks to analyze the November 2015 City election. The forums are open to the public, and it is hoped that candidates who ran in the election will also be able to attend one of the two dates.

The first forum will be held from 10 a.m.-noon on Saturday, January 23. The second will be from 7-9 p.m. on Thursday, February 4. Both will be held in the Mayor and Council Chambers at Rockville City Hall, 111 Maryland Ave.

At least 3 problems came to light during the November election. Questions were raised by one candidate about the machines used. Second, many inactive voters' names remain on the voter rolls. And third, there were reports that there was not a chief judge in each polling place at all times.

If you want to discuss these, or any other concerns that came to your mind during this most recent election, this is the perfect time to do so. For reference purposes, you can read the Elections portion of the City Code here, in Chapter 8.

Friday, January 15, 2016

MoCo fails again as General Dynamics chooses Reston for new headquarters

The first weeks of 2016 in Montgomery County have been dominated with promises of new tax hikes and perpetuation of the County's liquor monopoly by elected officials, exaggerated claims of miracle solutions to homelessness, and the discovery that yes, your kids in Montgomery County Public Schools are still being zapped by radioactive gas over the EPA limit - and that County officials hid this from you for some time. But across the river in rival Fairfax County, they've spent the month doing what they do best - cleaning MoCo's clock in economic development.

The first big win by a regional jurisdiction this year is the winner of the competition for the next General Dynamics headquarters - Fairfax County.

A search that considered hundreds of sites around our region and the nation ended at a piece of property at 11011 Sunset Hills Road in Reston. Right off the Dulles Toll Road.

No public effort was made by Montgomery County to win over General Dynamics. Neither the County Executive, nor the County Council, made any public overtures to General Dynamics. That, and offering incentives, are about the only tools Montgomery County could employ, considering that officials are still refusing to build the long-delayed Potomac River crossing west of the American Legion Bridge.

Without direct access to Dulles Airport, and with a severely-unfriendly business climate, it's difficult to appeal to a major defense contractor like General Dynamics.
Fairfax site has what none in
Montgomery have -
direct access to coveted
Dulles International Airport

Loren Thompson, a defense consultant, said it was no surprise that the company decided to stay in Northern Virginia, close to the Pentagon and Washington Dulles International Airport.

“I think the business climate in Northern Virginia is generally more favorable to corporate headquarters than the District or Maryland...if you’ve followed GD over the years, you know the financial implications would have been paramount in their decision of when to move and where to move.”

- The Washington Post, January 12

GenDyn is the third-largest Pentagon contractor, and will bring 200 high-wage jobs to this corporate headquarters, with two future 30,000 SF additions planned for more jobs.

The headquarters could easily have been accommodated by any of several supposedly-struggling and vacant office parks in Montgomery County. Many of these are currently being put to such sexy uses as cookie-cutter townhomes and self-storage facilities, as Montgomery County has failed to attract a single major corporate headquarters in over a decade.

GenDyn's plans also completely contradict the talking points given by the Montgomery County political cartel, who have told us that corporate tenants are all downsizing, and have no interest in suburban campuses (never mind that the top companies in the world like Facebook, Google and Apple all operate out of suburban campuses).

Oops. General Dynamics is increasing its square footage from 175,000 SF in its current headquarters, to 250,000 SF when its new headquarters is completely built out, according to current plans. Its choice was - a suburban office park, which at over a mile from the nearest Metro station, won't get many millennials to walk to work. But count on those millennials to still apply - and drive - in droves, because GenDyn has what they really want - high-wage jobs, something the moribund MoCo economy has failed to generate in the private sector over the last fourteen years.

Imagine the outcome of the General Dynamics race had our leaders wisely built the Dulles access planned for decades ago. Several perfect sites in the I-270 corridor would suddenly have been on the table. GenDyn wouldn't have worked for locations like downtown Bethesda, downtown Silver Spring or Pike & Rose, because they need a secure campus away from urban bustle.

When the next corporate HQ race begins, will we have those sites left, or will they all have been converted to residential? Will we still be no further toward a new Potomac River crossing to provide the Dulles Airport access international firms demand?

As impotent as Montgomery County has been in these private sector contests, our elected officials are even dropping the ball in attracting government jobs in recent times. County Executive Ike Leggett recently told the Washington Post that he decided unilaterally to pass on the tens-of-millions of dollars in economic development the FBI headquarters would have provided MoCo, solely so that his personal friend could reap the political windfall in Prince George's County.

Does that make you angry? It should. It raises, at a minimum, serious ethical questions. Have you heard anything about Montgomery pursuing the Transportation Security Administration headquarters, now that it's back on the regional table again?

How about a bid for the new Washington Redskins stadium? We just passed on D.C. United, despite having likely the largest concentration of United fans in the region within Montgomery County.

The Redskins won't change their name, and District officials have - to our advantage - decided to cut off their nose to spite their face, by requiring a name change before wooing them back to DC. Putting politics over the economic best interests of your constituents? Hmm....that sounds familiar.

Loudoun is already negotiating. Where is Montgomery County?

The same place we always are under the "leadership" of the Montgomery County political machine. Asleep at the switch. Ninth runner up. Last place. Loser.

"If you're not first, you're last."

Term limits, anybody?

Rockville Syms demolished, developer swaps town center for townhomes (Photos)

The former Syms store off of Rockville Pike is no more. Syms filed for bankruptcy in November 2011, and all of its stores closed shortly thereafter. Longtime residents and television viewers may feel at least a hint of nostalgia at finding the remaining sign and legendary motto still standing on the property.

Just as the clothing discount retailer famously declared "an educated consumer is our best customer," the new landowner developing the site apparently found educated luxury apartment hunters weren't plentiful enough in Rockville. The 1900 Chapman Avenue site is now planned to be developed as 70 townhomes, instead of the 339 apartments previously approved by the City of Rockville.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Rockville Planning Commission reopens building height discussion in Rockville Pike Plan

The Rockville Planning Commission last night reopened discussion of perhaps the thorniest element in the draft Rockville Pike Plan, building heights. Commissioner Jack Leiderman expressed concern over the lack of transparency in the draft's current language on height. He noted that both the previous 1989 Pike Plan, and the Rockville zoning code, measure building heights in feet. The draft plan, in contrast, speaks of height in stories.

"Part of it is transparency," Leiderman explained, suggesting that the public would be fooled in regard to the actual heights that could end up on the Pike. A building described as "7 stories" could actually be the height equivalent of 12 stories, should the current draft language pass, Leiderman said.

Commissioner David Hill said the difference would be more aesthetic than a notable change in density. But Leiderman said that the height in feet was important, as it would have practical impacts such as permanent shadows, delay in ice melting, and incompatibility with the residential character of adjoining single-family home neighborhoods.

"I want a maximum expressed in feet even if we're using stories," Leiderman said. He added that he would prefer a cap on heights that would require developers to get permission to build taller, rather than simply give that height away "by right" to every project.

Some commissioners also suggested the visual chart on building heights was less-than-transparent, as well. Don Hadley, whose term as Chair of the commission ended last night, said that apparently "the intent was to avoid shock value" by not showing the highest building height possible. "I favor reviewing the issue," he added, and concurred with Leiderman's suggestion of a hybrid story/feet/cap model for heights.

"Is it the will of the Commission to revisit heights?" asked David Levy, Rockville's Chief of Long Range Planning.

New commission chair Charles Littlefield called a straw vote on the question. Commissioners narrowly voted 3-2-2 to reopen the height discussion. Planner Cindy Kebba said staff would come back with several alternative height schemes at a future meeting. Staff liaison Andrew Gunning advised commissioners that their schedule in the months ahead is growing increasingly tight, making it difficult to fit in the unexpected further discussion on the plan. He said there may be time at one of the February meetings to hold further discussion on heights.

Leiderman requested staff include a new visual chart of actual maximum building heights, to compare with the draft version.  He said he suspected it "would look quite different" from what's currently being shown.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rockville Senior Center patrons: "We are freezing"

Frequent users of the Rockville Senior Center say the popular facility is not being properly heated. Resident Barbara Elish told the Mayor and Council Monday night that the current level of heat during the winter, apparently controlled off-site, is inadequate.

"We are freezing," Elish said, noting that the building's card room is particularly cold. Jill Cornish said she frequently visits the Senior Center, but "I always wear a sweatshirt." Elish said one of the top card players at the center is 99 years old.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Rockville Mayor and Council discuss FY-17 budget priorities

Rockville's budget season is officially underway, and a preview of the FY-2017 budget was presented to the Mayor and Council at last night's regular meeting by Deputy Director of Finance Stacey Webster. Some information will not be available until the February 8 meeting, including whether or not tax increases - such as the property tax - will be necessary.

But if the Mayor and Council accept the general outline presented by staff last night, there would be a 5-6% increase in trash fees, and a two-cent hike in what commercial property owners at Rockville Town Square pay toward the parking fund annually. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton asked what that spike in trash fees would cost the average Rockville resident. Webster said it would be about $20 to $25 out of residents' pockets in FY-17. She said a number of factors led to the suggested increase, including a renegotiated city refuse agreement, new vehicle purchases, and labor costs.

Finance Director Gavin Cohen said the Rockville Town Square parking tax hike would cost property owners there about $12,000. He added that the new revenue would help cover the installation and adoption of "smart" parking meters.

Councilmember Mark Pierzchala, known for being well-prepared for meetings, identified a discrepancy in the newest unassigned reserves figure for FY-17. He noted it was now below the target established in the FY-16 budget. Webster explained that the number had to be revised due to new concerns about revenue, particularly in light of the Wynne decision and the recent mistake by the Maryland Comptroller's office in allocation of revenues to municipalities such as Rockville. The latter gaffe means the City will likely have to return an unknown amount of funds it mistakenly received from Annapolis.

In the context of those concerns, Webster said, she did not recommend the City reduce the property tax at this time. Councilmember Beryl Feinberg asked her colleagues if there was any inclination among the body to pursue a property tax reduction or credit for FY-17. There appeared to be no takers. Pierzchala said he was not only concerned about the factors Webster mentioned, but about the increasing forecasts of another national recession.

Webster said that Rockville is in a position to keep water and sewer fees flat this year, but cautioned against reducing the amount of unassigned reserves. She said the money that would free up would likely be outweighed by the negative message such a move would send to bond rating agencies, upon whom staff had impressed last year's increased commitment to reserve funding. Webster said those agencies expect the City to continue on that course to retain its prized Aaa bond rating.

With the recent election having just passed, the Mayor and Council also sought to deliver on promises made during the 2015 campaign. Newton noted that the Rockville Senior Center is in urgent need of both a full-time social worker, and a dedicated staff member who can help manage the aging-in-place Village programs being established across the city. She also pressed for one of her top priorities, increasing the number of police officers in the city. Newton said Rockviille's population, demographics and law enforcement challenges are not what they were 30 years ago. Rockville Police Chief Terry Treschuk concurred with the Mayor's comments. "It's time we had a frank discussion about the Police Department in this city," Treschuk said, "and lay it all on the table."

Pierzchala said he was hesitant to add signifcant numbers of new officers without first examining how current personnel are deployed and other efficiency options. Newton and Treschuk's remarks suggested that such analysis would be part of the overall discussion. But Newton argued that additions to the force are clearly warranted, with Rockville officers answering over 70% of calls within the city last year. She said Montgomery County officials have told her the efforts of the Rockville Police have allowed County Police assets to be redeployed to other priorities.

Feinberg brought up another proposal supported by several candidates last fall, the construction of additional recreation centers around the city. She suggested Potomac Woods Park as a prime location, because it already has utility lines running out to it, and existing recreational facilities in place.

Newton encouraged residents and staff to come forward with needs that could be addressed in this budget, saying it is important that the document reflect their priorities while maintaining the City's sound financial management.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Monday, January 11, 2016

Rockville construction update: Galvan at Twinbrook Metro (Photos)

The signs are up for Smashburger and Floyd's 99 Barbershop at The JBG Companies' Galvan development, by the Twinbrook Metro station on Rockville Pike. While both tenants' spaces are still under construction, the Safeway grocery store has been open for awhile. There is both garage and street parking available at Galvan.
The sign is up
Smashburger storefront
Smashburger interior
under construction
Floyd's 99 sign
No haircuts just yet
Floyd's still
under construction

Safeway and public art