Thursday, March 31, 2016

Rockville construction update: World of Beer (Photos)

World of Beer is probably the future restaurant opening I am most asked about by readers. Here's a look at where things currently stand in the interior build-out. World of Beer is in the ground floor of The Upton apartment building, at the corner of E. Montgomery Avenue and Helen Heneghan Way.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Rockville construction update: Habit Burger (Photos)

The Habit Burger Grill has posted some Coming Soon signage at its future Wintergreen Plaza location. As you can see, there's still a long way to go on the interior build-out.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Shobha coming to Galvan at Twinbrook; Dunkin' Donuts posts signs (Photos)

Shobha, which aspires to be "the global destination for hair removal," is coming to Galvan at Twinbrook at 1800 Rockville Pike.

Dunkin' Donuts, meanwhile, has installed Coming Soon signage at its Galvan space. The interior build-out is still underway there, as you can tell from the photos below. Smashburger is primed to open at Galvan next Wednesday, as I reported last week.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Signage installed at Samovar at Rockville Town Square (Photos)

Samovar is the most intriguing addition coming to Rockville Town Square, as Russian cuisine is virtuallly non-existent in Montgomery County. The restaurant will also incorporate dishes from Central Asia into its menu. While the interior build-out has been underway for several weeks, all that is visible from the outside are the light fixtures, as you can see in the photo below.

There is no website, Facebook, or Twitter for the restaurant, which simply adds to the mystique, but it appears the opening is close.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Hooters of Rockville adds onion ring towers, stuffed burgers for NCAA tournament

Hooters of Rockville is featuring two new menu items for March Madness. Onion ring towers are apparently a permanent addition, while Stuffed Burgers will be available only through April 10.

1584 Rockville Pike

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rockville Planning Commission approves 1900 Chapman Avenue townhome plan (Photos)

The Rockville Planning Commission unanimously approved a major site plan amendment for the 1900 Chapman Avenue mixed-use project last night. That amendment replaced a 339-unit apartment building with 61 townhouses. A second apartment building on the north side of the property, which is bordered by Thompson Avenue, the CSX railroad/WMATA right-of-way, Twinbrook Parkway and Chapman, remains in the plan. That building will hold 319 rental apartments, some office space, and in the future, potentially 3 to 4 retail spaces on the ground floor, according to the applicant's attorney, Nancy Regelin.

A new internal street, for which commissioners approved the name "Thompson Crescent" last night at the suggestion of Commissioner John Tyner, will provide access to both the multifamily building, and the townhomes. On the townhome side of the property, the street will function more as an alleyway, with the fronts of the townhouses facing the outward edges of the property.

The arrangement concerned several commissioners, particularly the homes that would front onto the railroad tracks to the east, and toward busy Twinbrook Parkway to the south. Noise concerns raised during the original 2-building application resurfaced last night. Commissioner Jack Leiderman noted that the new footprint of the townhomes was closer to the railroad tracks than the building they replace was to be. Regelin said construction materials and insulation would ensure noise levels inside the homes do not exceed the required limits.

In fact, some on the applicant's team pronounced the railroad proximity as a selling point for train buffs. There is a second factor near heavy rail facilities such as this, though. If you've ever been even a block or more away from freight trains, you know that there is also a tremendous amount of vibration through the ground and of structures as they pass. I wonder if the materials and construction of the homes are also designed to reduce vibration, as well.
Site plan - click to enlarge
for greater detail
Leiderman also questioned staff as to whether or not the requirement for 15% open space was being met by the new site plan. As you can see in the image above, it is now primarily in the form of a plaza on the townhome side, and a trail running around the outer perimeter of the property. A much thinner space along the railroad tracks replaces a slightly bigger one in the original plan. Leiderman also suggested that the townhome architecture proposed could have been more distinctive. Chair Charles Littlefield said he would like to have seen rooftop decks included on the MPDUs, just as they are on the market-rate townhomes.

But all seven commissioners commended the applicant after approving the project. Commissioner David Hill confessed he originally was skeptical of reducing density so close to Metro, but said the presentation had convinced him that this type of project could set Rockville apart from its high-rise-focused neighbors to the south. Leiderman said the project shows that there is a market in Rockville for both lower-density mixed-use projects, and for home ownership, as opposed to rentals. Even nearby residents were won over. The only member of the public to testify, a representative of the Cambridge Walk II townhomes, said his community was strongly in favor of the project.

The site was formerly home to Syms.

Duck Donuts opening today in Rockville

Duck Donuts is opening today at 1327 Rockville Pike, in the Sunshine Square shopping center. Their hours will be 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Smashburger opening in Rockville on April 6

"Better burger" chain Smashburger will open at 10:00 AM on Wednesday, April 6 at 1800 Rockville Pike. Part of The JBG Companies' Galvan at Twinbrook development, this will be Smashburger's first franchised location in the DC area (the others in our region are company-owned).

We are excited to bring Smashburger’s better burger to Rockville. Satisfying and real, basic and good, affordable and fresh – Smashburger is a place with a burger soul,” said Smashburger Co-Founder & Chief Concept Officer, Tom Ryan yesterday. “With a broad menu of handcrafted burgers, chicken, salads, signature sides and handspun shakes, Smashburger has something for everyone and we are proud to be opening another location in the area.”

Smashburger restaurants have special regional items in each part of the country, and here once again, they will offer the local-only Capital Burger with grilled onions, aged Swiss cheese, baby arugula, applewood-smoked bacon, tomatoes and mayo on a brioche bun.

Beyond their 400 degree grill smashed Angus beef burgers, Smashburger also offers grilled or crispy chicken sandwiches, fresh salads, signature side items such as Haystack onions and Veggie Frites, and hand-spun Haagen-Dazs® shakes.

Having tried their other area locations, I can attest that the high quality, never-frozen Angus beef definitely makes their burgers stand out.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Mayor and Council authorize MOU for I-270 noise barrier

Noise relief for some along the I-270 corridor in Rockville is a step closer this morning. Last night, the Mayor and Council voted unanimously to authorize a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the City and the Maryland State Highway Administration to construct a 2,609' Type II noise barrier wall along the east side of the interstate.

There's no indication of the exact start and end points of the wall, other than the stipulation that it begins "at the interchange." Proximate neighborhoods include West End Park, Woodley Gardens and Regents Square.

The barrier, which is currently being designed by the SHA, will begin at the interchange with W. Montgomery Avenue (MD 28) and continue northward for about half a mile. It may require land acquisition by either the SHA or the City.

SHA will pick up 80% of the design and construction costs; the remainder will be paid by the City to the SHA in installments that must be paid within 30 days.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton noted after the vote that had the barrier been constructed when originally sought several decades ago, it would have been far cheaper to build.

Burden of Rockville water and sewer fees debated by Mayor & Council

A property owner facing $7000 in water and sewer fees from the City of Rockville even after rebates testified before the Mayor and Council during last night's Community Forum. During an FY-2017 capital budget worksession later in the meeting, Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said the city's increases in such fees are "unsustainable." Particularly hard-hit, Newton said, are those residents on fixed incomes such as seniors.

Newton has asked City staff to consider the possibility of transferring revenue from a cell tower atop a City water tank to the sewer fund, rather than its current flow into the General Fund. Councilmember Mark Pierzchala said that would not provide sufficient revenue to allow a reduction in fees. Newton said that $50,000 annually adds up to a significant amount over time.

Like the WSSC, Pierzchala said, Rockville is being forced to spend large amounts to update aging water and sewer infrastructure. "It's what we have to pay to have clean, safe water," he said.

A ring that is planned for installation atop the tank will allow for more cell towers to be installed. Acting City Manager Craig Simoneau said that would provide opportunities for additional revenue.

Pierzchala warned that moving the cell tower revenue out of the General Fund would mean taking money from something else in the budget. Newton replied that the difference is there are more sources of revenue for the general fund, while water fees only draw money from ratepayers.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Monday, March 21, 2016

Rockville construction update: The Metropolitan at Rockville Town Center (Photos)

Construction continues at the future site of The Metropolitan at Rockville Town Center at 255 N. Washington Street. Its 275 units will range from one-bedroom lofts to three bedrooms on the former site of the historic Suburban Trust Building. Amenities will include a fitness center, a yoga room, a pet grooming station, bike storage, two courtyards with outdoor grills, a swimming pool, and a two-story entertainment lounge and terrace.

A two-level, 303-space underground parking garage and 6000 SF of ground floor retail round out the project. Delivery is expected in the fall of 2017. Kettler is the developer.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Giammo asks Rockville HDC to reconsider Chestnut Lodge review

Former Rockville Mayor Larry Giammo appeared before the Historic District Commission last night on the current hot topic in historic preservation: Chestnut Lodge. Following the Planning Commission's unanimous bodyslam of a proposed townhome development on the former site of the famed mental health facility last week, Giammo asked the HDC to reconsider the findings it made in a Courtesy Review of the project last year.

At that November 19 review, the HDC commissioners present expressed no objection to the plan of JNP Chestnut Lodge, LLC for townhomes at the 500 W. Montgomery Avenue site. The development team's presentation was well-received, in stark contrast to the response of the Planning Commission and the public. However, the two HDC commissioners who are usually the most-outspoken on preservation matters, Jessica Reynolds and Craig Maloney, were both absent that evening. Maloney's term on the HDC has since ended.

But a re-review of the plan with Reynolds and new commissioner Stefanie Tincher on the dais could conceivably end with a different conclusion than the November session.

That possibility is on the minds of those opposing the plan, which includes Giammo. The former mayor told the HDC last night that the conversation planning commissioners had last week is the one he had hoped the HDC would have had last year. Giammo also was critical of staff's instructions to the HDC, which he noted were very narrow in scope.

In fact, Giammo said, Maryland law trumps the guidelines suggested by staff, and require the HDC to fully consider the impacts of such redevelopment on a historic site. That includes whether or not the project might have a negative, degrading impact on the historic character and integrity of the overall site.

The HDC must reach an "unequivocal determination" on all of the issues that have been raised, Giammo said. He also emphasized that the claims of the developer's historical consultant that there are no blueprints or design records that would permit reconstruction of Chestnut Lodge - which burnt down in a suspicious 2009 fire - are "entirely false." Giammo said Peerless Rockville and other historic preservation advocates such as historian Eileen McGuckian stand ready to assist in such an effort.

A legal agreement reached between the City and the developer at that time in 2006 required the rehabilitation of the Chestnut Lodge building as a condition for the construction of 7 condo units within the rehabbed structure.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Dawn Crafton Dance Connection opening at Rockville Town Square

The blank wall next to Bar Louie - that has been a dead spot since Rockville Town Square opened - will finally become an active storefront. Dawn Crafton Dance Connection will take over that space on Gibbs Street in June.

DCDC's facility will include four dance studios, Marley and hardwood sprung floors, and a beauty station. The locally-owned business has an existing location in Gaithersburg, and this will be their second facility. Classes range from ballet and tap to jazz and hip hop. The interior build-out is now underway.

Dawn Crafton is a graduate of Wheaton High School.

It'sugar opening Friday at Rockville Town Square; Finnegan's Wake Watch continues

New candy store It'sugar will open this Friday, March 18, at Rockville Town Square, according to a store employee. The boutique's staff was unpacking sweets and lining the shelves and displays late Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Irish pub Finnegan's Wake was dark and locked up tight 24 hours before St. Patrick's Day happy hour. A building permit was visible through the front door's window, but the yet-to-open pub was not listed in a St. Patrick's Day email announcement from Rockville Town Square. Stay tuned.

130 Gibbs Street
Rockville Town Square

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Metro shutdown - now what?

The failure of all three levels of government to hold WMATA accountable, and years of incompetent leadership within that transit agency, have culminated in a full shutdown of the Metro subway system today. That closure began at 12:00 AM this morning. While the public has been told the shutdown will last 24 hours (technically not true, as Metro doesn't operate overnight), there are indications it could last even longer if serious safety issues are found during the inspection of the system's power cables.

Here's the latest as of this hour:

Federal workers have the option of unscheduled leave or teleworking today. It will be interesting to see if the loss of Metro will mean carmageddon, or great driving conditions like we experienced during the Pope's visit.

Driving and Metrobus are the best options this morning. Metrobus and Ride On Bus are both operating on regular schedule this morning.

MARC commuter rail is a legitimate option, with stations in Rockville, Gaithersburg and Kensington. The train can take you into Union Station in the District, where you can connect to other transit options.

Been meaning to try biking to work? This could be the day. Search #WMATABikePool on social media to find fellow riders to make the trip safer. An extra hour of daylight should help tonight.

Capital Bikeshare is offering 24-hour memberships today.

Uber will cap surge pricing in the Washington area at 3.9 times base fares today only. Lyft is offering new users $20 off their first ride during the shutdown.

This is another lesson today - we have to finish our master plan highway system. And we simply must do our homework, vote smarter, and start electing the right people who can get the job done. The results so far speak for themselves.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Rockville Police readying body camera policy

Rockville Police will soon be wearing body cameras, and that requires not only getting the technology and equipment in place, but also a policy to address privacy concerns such as how long footage will be stored. Chief Terry Treschuk told the Mayor and Council last night that he has been working on both aspects of the program.

Treschuk said one server will support and store video files from all of the cameras in use. He examined body camera footage storage policies from police departments across the country, as well as locally. Montgomery County, which already has begun using body cameras, has a 120-day storage policy. After study and consideration, Treschuk said he is recommending a 90-day storage time for the archiving of video taken by Rockville Police body cameras.

Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr asked if citizens and the Mayor and Council will be kept apprised of the final policy, such as when body cameras will be on or off. Treschuk said he would ensure everyone is kept informed as the policy and cameras are implemented.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Rockville Pike Plan transmitted to Mayor and Council, public hearings set for April 11, May 16

The Rockville Pike Plan was officially transmitted to the Mayor and Council at last night's meeting. Planning Commission Chair Charles Littlefield was there in person, as the plan process reaches its conclusion with two public hearings, worksessions and adoption.

Public hearing dates were set by the Mayor and Council for April 11 and May 16. Yesterday's transmittal triggers a 90-day review period for the plan. Should the Mayor and Council ignore the plan for 90 days without adopting it, it would either take effect as is, or the City could grant itself one extension if it can demonstrate a good-faith effort to complete it.

Caregiver grants, cell tower revenue among Rockville budget concerns

Rockville's FY-2017 budget will increase spending by 2.2% to $126.1 million dollars, but property taxes will remain the same, under recommendations by the City's finance department. Deputy Director of Finance Stacey Webster presented the budget at last night's Mayor and Council meeting.

Savings were found in many areas, Webster reported, such as in taking advantage of lower fuel prices. Other costs have gone up, including the amount needed to cover new vehicle purchases across many departments. The City is also facing a major fiscal challenge in the Supreme Court's decision in the Wynne case, which will result in less revenue coming from the state to Rockville.

Expanded programming at the Twinbrook Community Center and Rockville Senior Center, upgrades at the Swim Center, and design improvements for the Croydon Creek Trail are among the expenditures that residents will notice the most. Rockville taxpayers will also face greater burdens as a result of Montgomery County's increase in the minimum wage. Public funds of $43,250 and $50,000 for temporary employees in refuse collection and Recreation and Parks, respectively, show that County wage boost has required greater public spending.

Councilmembers Mark Pierzchala and Beryl Feinberg raised concerns over the cost of caregivers funded by the City. Not all who receive City funding are keeping adequate records, Pierzchala noted, and he suggested that for next year they should be warned that such failure may result in termination of City funding.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton asked Webster and Finance Director Gavin Cohen if cell tower revenue from towers at a water tank and RedGate golf course currently going into the general fund could be moved back to the enterprise funds they were meant to support. Webster said RedGate is in good financial shape, but she and Cohen said the potential of reverting the funds could be explored.

One new factor this year is that the County is demanding the City pay its property taxes much earlier. Originally, they asked to receive them by May 13, but Webster was able to obtain an extension until May 17, the day after the Mayor and Council are expected to adopt the final budget.

Public hearings on the budget will be held on March 21, April 4, and April 18, 2016.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Rockville construction update: Floyd's 99 Barbershop at The Galvan (Photos)

"The original rock and roll barbershop" looks just about ready to go at Galvan at Twinbrook, JBG's new development at 1801 Chapman Avenue (but which fronts directly onto Rockville Pike).

Floyd's 99 Barbershop has rock paraphernalia covering its walls, but probably won't have plastic wrap covering its barber stools much longer. Traditionalists will be glad to know they still have a classic barber pole out front.