Friday, July 29, 2016

Lunch Out Live concerts could start August 11 in Rockville, if Mayor and Council approve

Answering requests from Rockville Town Center merchants to restore public events that drew more customers at lunchtime in the past, City staff has proposed launching a new concert series as soon as August 11. Lunch Out Live would feature live music from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM on Thursdays from August 11 through September 29 this year.

Thursdays were chosen to avoid drawing people away from the existing Dawson's Farmers Market on Wednesdays.

Staff estimates the expense of hosting the event to be $1000 per concert. The outlay would have to be approved by the Mayor and Council, who will be briefed on the proposal at their meeting on Monday night. A decision would be necessary that night, as the Mayor and Council won't meet for several weeks afterward.

E. Montgomery Avenue would have to close in front of Regal Row businesses for safety reasons during the concerts, which would eliminate a number of the available parking spaces for lunch patrons. A farmers market on E. Montgomery Avenue featured live music in past years.

Rockville garage entrance closure throws another monkey wrench into Town Center parking problem

The temporary closure of the Monroe Street garage entrance of 255 Rockville Pike has sent Rockville officials and business advocates scrambling to reduce the impact on businesses at Regal Row. Assistant City Manager Jenny Kimball says Colonial Parking informed the City that the entrance should reopen on August 10.

To assist Regal Row businesses, Rockville Economic Development, Inc. (REDI) has printed up posters that Regal Row merchants can post in their windows about parking alternatives. The organization is also assisting Colonial Parking in creating a sign to be posted at the Monroe Street entrance during the closure.

City staff will present the first results of their efforts to respond to the parking crisis Town Center merchants described to the Mayor and Council on June 13. Chief among them are data on available spaces near Regal Row, improved signage, and designation of 15-minute "pick-up" spaces along E. Montgomery Avenue and Maryland Avenue, for patrons picking up carry-out orders from restaurants at Regal Row and Rockville Town Square.

Staff determined that the remaining surface parking in front of the Regal Cinemas is the first to fill at peak times. In working with the operator of the garage in the new Cambria Suites/Upton building, staff has identified many available spaces there. Between 2:00 and 11:00 PM on Friday and Saturday, July 15-16, the Cambria garage had between 55 and 96 spaces open at any given moment.

As a result, staff is recommending adding signage to alert drivers to the new Cambria garage entrances. They propose adding 4 new signs to the 3 that are already in place in the vicinity of the building.

They also recommend designating two currently-metered spaces along Regal Row as free parking for 15 minutes, as well as adding two such spaces to Gibbs Street, and converting the 5-minute book drop-off spaces by the Rockville Memorial Library on Maryland Avenue to 15-minute free parking spaces. Success of the spaces would be measured by consulting with merchants in three months, to determine if the free spots are helping the situation or not.

All of the proposals will cost money, and the suggestions will be discussed at the Mayor and Council meeting this Monday, August 1, at City Hall. Please note that this meeting will begin earlier than usual at 6:30 PM, due to the size of the meeting agenda.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Rockville construction update: Brightview West End (Photos)

Rockville's new senior housing development, Brightview West End, is under construction at 285 N. Washington Street. CBG Building Company is the construction company, and the architecture was designed by Hord Coplan Macht, Inc.

Brightview West End will include 195 units of independent and assisted living, 6568 SF of ground floor retail, dining facilities and a fitness center, a landscaped courtyard, and a "therapeutic" roof garden. Alzheimer's care will also be a specialty at this residential building, and services will include transportation to medical centers, museums and galleries, and local events. A movie theater, library and "upscale pub with billiards and TV" round out the leisure options.

Delivery is expected in 2017. A rental office Welcome Center is now open at 401 N. Washington Street.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

More psychobabble, no specifics on MCPS achievement gap

The sound you hear is $90,000,000 in taxpayer money going down the toilet. That's the $90 million the Montgomery County Council extracted out of you to give above the required funding for Montgomery County Public Schools in their wallet-busting, record tax increase FY-2017 budget two months ago. Where is it going? If you don't have blood pressure medication handy, you may want to stop reading now.

Incoming MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith announced his strategy last night to address the achievement gap between white students and black and Latino students. That gap has increased since 2010, despite record amounts of your money being supplied to MCPS by the Council.

So, we had the 9% property tax hike, and taxes are now at the highest total level in Montgomery County history. What is MCPS going to do with it on the achievement gap? What's the innovative new strategy? We know what we're doing now doesn't work. After several months to strategize, here's what MCPS has outlined for spending your $90 million:

According to the Washington Post, Smith "stopped short of providing a detailed plan for the coming year, and school officials said more specifics would come soon."

Wait a minute, what?! 

Here comes the barrage of Orwellian buzzwords and phrases:


"build up cultural competency among educators"

"operational excellence"

"learning accountability"
(quite a statement from a system that just jettisoned final exams, and dumbed down its grading system to inflate final grades - which college admissions offices will catch onto soon enough, tarnishing our once great reputation across the country)

"Smith did not say precisely how success would be measured." 

God help us.

Your tax dollars "at work."

#MoCoTermLimits #ThrowTheBumsOut

Advisory board revolts against Leggett on Avery Road bus depot study

The Mid-County Citizens Advisory Board, which acts as the middleman between residents of Wheaton, Glenmont, Aspen Hill and Olney and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, has sent a letter to Leggett strongly denouncing his consideration of the Blair G. Ewing Center as a school bus depot site.

"We strongly urge that the Blair G. Ewing Center (on Avery Road) be immediately removed from any consideration," board Chair Gregory Intoccia wrote to Leggett. "This location is wholly unsuited for hundreds of buses."

The board cited environmental damage to Rock Creek and its watershed, loss of a forest conservation easement, traffic impacts on Norbeck Road, reduced traffic safety on Avery Road, the loss of Mark Twain Athletic Park on the Ewing site, and demolition of a functional school building when overcrowded schools are the norm in Montgomery County as its key objections to an Avery Road depot.

The latter loss would require existing programs at Ewing to be moved elsewhere, potentially to the vacant English Manor in Aspen Hill.

What makes the letter remarkable is not just the board going to bat for the community, but that the board members are appointed by Leggett himself. It's another sign of just how politically-toxic the bus depot issue is. There is literally no support for closing the existing depot outside of Leggett, certain County Council members, and the developer who is eager to get started redeveloping the current depot on Crabbs Branch Way in Shady Grove. Yet this thing keeps moving forward, attempting to find a political weak spot on the map.

The letter suggests that, once again, Aspen Hill will not be that weak spot. How much longer does the County risk pushing this scheme, with term limits looming on the November ballot?

Chestnut Lodge developer outlines changes in revised plan

A small crowd of residents turned out at Rockville's City Hall last night for a presentation by applicant JNP Chestnut Lodge, LLC on its revised project plan for 500 W. Montgomery Avenue. Developer-owner Jim Proakis outlined a series of adjustments to the plan designed to address complaints and concerns that derailed the townhome project's initial application earlier this year.

These include a reduction in the number of townhomes from seven to six, a slightly smaller footprint, exterior material changes, and a reconfiguration of parking. More holly trees will be saved under the revised plan, although some attendees said they would prefer to see chestnut trees restored to the site. Those trees gave mental health institution Chestnut Lodge its name, recounted resident Patricia Woodward, who once served as head nurse there. Chestnut Lodge ceased operation in 2001, and the building burnt down in a suspicious fire in 2009, before a previous plan to convert it to condos could be realized.

Proakis said his company had considered planting chestnut trees, but were told by two arborists that the current species available are not sufficiently acclimated to survive at the site. He and attorney Soo Lee-Cho said they would be glad to plant chestnut trees if it's determined they are viable.

In terms of improving the viewshed of the structure from the western side, the wood treatment on the rear facade is being replaced by brick. The building will now have a brick exterior all around, although the frame will be made of wood.

Nancy Pickard of Peerless Rockville, a historic preservation organization, asked what the roof would be made of. Proakis said it would be a composite material designed to reflect the appearance of slate. Pickard also asked about the very dark appearance of the windows in the renderings shown. While they look that way in the renderings, that's not how dark they will be in reality, Proakis replied. He noted that further guidance on colors and textures for the exterior will be given during the review process.

Strict condominium association rules will keep trash cans and recycling bins out of sight, and there will be a special utility room inside the garages to store them. "You won't see them," Proakis promised. A private contractor will collect the community's trash, he said.

Rockville City Councilmember Beryl Feinberg asked about the availability of overflow guest parking. Proakis said a separate guest parking area has been eliminated, allowing preservation of more trees. In its place, are four parking spaces per unit and six for the end units. Those spaces are split between those within the garages, and those immediately outside the garages.

There will also be street parking available along the internal road for the intermittent times when more parking is needed, such as during parties. A driveway 18-20' in width would allow for cars to be parked on one side.

Fire and rescue officials asked the applicant to include a new, grassy turnaround area that would allow emergency vehicles to make three-point turns, Proakis said.

Townhome units will be 4200-4800 SF in size, essentially making them attached single family homes, Proakis added.

Feedback from the audience was primarily in the form of questions. Previous criticism from project opponents has centered on a Planned Residential Unit agreement the City reached with the previous developer. That agreement specified condos could be built only if the historic Chestnut Lodge building were restored. Some current and past elected officials, historic preservation advocates and residents have argued the PRU remains legally binding, thereby disqualifying a townhome project on the site.

The next step in the review process will be a staff development area review meeting on September 8.

One resident asked if the developer could create a 3-D CAD model of the project. "Well, now I only have 6 units, so I can't afford a 3-D," Proakis replied jokingly.

Rendering courtesy City of Rockville

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Rockville Hooters to close in November

Hooters on Rockville Pike will close after surrendering its liquor license to Montgomery County on November 1. The move, which was brokered by a Hooters attorney, renders moot an August 4 liquor license hearing the restaurant was facing. That was to address the restaurant's role in the drunk driving death that killed Montgomery County Police officer Noah Leotta last year.

The driver who struck Leotta had been served alcohol at Hooters on December 3, 2015, before he drove north on Rockville Pike. His blood alcohol level was .22. This decision, reached in agreement between Hooters and an associate Montgomery County Government attorney, Kathryn Lloyd, seems to acknowledge that the fallout from fighting the violations alleged by the County would not have been worth keeping the restaurant successfully in operation. Community outrage had been seen in comments posted on the restaurant's social media accounts following the tragedy.

Hooters stated to Lloyd in a letter agreeing to the exit that the proposed resolution "holds Hooters accountable, and hopefully contributes to the community's healing process." The company and others could still face civil suits from Leotta's family in the incident despite the liquor license agreement.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Rockville construction update: 1900 Chapman Avenue (Photos)

Mystery project name. Mystery developer. Despite still being publicly known by an address and an LLC, construction is underway at the future 1900 Chapman Avenue development in Rockville. The project includes 319 apartments, 61 townhomes, office space, and 3 to 4 retail spaces.

Right now, concrete and asphalt have been demolished and cleared, and some grading work appears to be underway. You can see how close the townhomes will be to passing CSX, Amtrak, MARC and Metro trains in some of these photos, an issue raised by some planning commissioners during the approval process.

The site is bordered by the railroad and Twinbrook Parkway. It was previously home to Syms. From some angles, the current state of the site creates a surreal atmosphere. In the photo below of a Metro train passing the site, I can almost convince myself I'm standing near a CSX main line in Boyds or Adamstown. Almost.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Rockville construction update: The Metropolitan apartments (Photos)

The Kettler mixed-use project called The Metropolitan at Rockville Town Center continues to rise from the hole at 255 N. Washington Street. This is part of Phase 2 of redeveloping the Town Center area.

275 apartments 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. A very bare bones website has been launched to market the apartments.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Maryvale Elementary School students' art livens up N. Washington St. in Rockville (Photos)

A graffiti-style painting that appeared in a pedestrian covered walkway on N. Washington Street may have been a premonition of things to come. CBG Building Company, which is constructing the Brightview Rockville Town Center senior apartment project at 285 N. Washington Street, has an art program that puts works by local students on display at their construction sites.

Here in Rockville, CBG asked third, fourth and fifth graders at Maryvale Elementary School what they do for fun in their neighborhood. The resulting artworks have now been installed at the site's covered sidewalk area. In addition, CBG posted a couple of renderings of the project, which is expected to deliver in May of 2017.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Abandoned Twinbrook Safeway (Photos)

The vacant former Safeway store at the Twinbrook Shopping Center may have been stripped of exterior signage, but inside it still very much looks like a grocery store. Just without any groceries on the shelves.

Interestingly, the lights are still on inside. This was not the classic Safeway store design like that found in Damascus, which ended up being demolished. All contents were auctioned off prior to demolition.

This situation looks more like that at the old Magruder's in College Plaza. That store was put up for lease, and the new tenant utilized the leftover checkouts and even shopping carts when it opened. Other than a potential redevelopment of the shopping center, the question here is, will it be a new grocery store chain or an ethnic grocery store?