Monday, October 31, 2016

Flats at Shady Grove apartments now leasing in Rockville (Photos)

The new Flats at Shady Grove apartments at 1380 Piccard Drive have begun leasing. Converted from a former hotel, the apartments are located right off of I-270 near the Shady Grove exit. More than 200 units are being offered at rents developer Kettler says undercut market prices in the surrounding area.

Amenities include two courtyards, a large outdoor pool, a clubhouse with free WiFi, 24-hour emergency maintenance, pet salon, billiard and movie rooms, and complimentary coffee or tea.

Signs are inviting drivers to visit the building's leasing office, as the finishing touches are put on the renovated building.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Jeep Meetup Nov. 2 in Rockville

New auto dealership, customizing and service center Limitless Garage, Inc. will be participating in Capital Jeepers' Jeep Meet next Wednesday, November 2, at 5:00 PM, at Miller's Ale House at 1471 Rockville Pike. All Jeeps are welcome. The organizers are encouraging attendees to bring canned food for a food drive to help families in need during the upcoming holiday season.
Limitless Garage not only sells Jeeps, but also customizes them, and can build one to your specs. They are located at 1400 Rockville Pike, and their phone number is (301) 442-0690.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Early opportunity to speak to Mayor & Council on FY-18 Rockville budget Nov. 1

In an effort to get more public feedback about the Rockville budget before it starts to take shape during the official process, the Mayor and Council are holding a public hearing on Tuesday, November 1, at 7:00 PM at City Hall. If you have comments about taxes, fees, spending and priorities, this is the time to make them known.

Anyone wishing to testify should call 240-314-8280 before 4:00 PM on November 1 to get on the speakers’ list.

The proposed FY-2018 budget is scheduled to be introduced by the City Manager on February 27, 2017, and the Mayor & Council will vote on its adoption in May.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Suspect in Rockville home invasion robberies arrested by Rockville police (Photo)

A man accused of entering two Rockville homes, and assaulting their residents, has been taken into custody by the Rockville City Police Department. Mohammed Soumah, 30, of no fixed address, is charged with attempted armed robbery, first-degree assault, first-degree burglary and first- and second-degree assault. He is being held at the Montgomery County Detention Center on $10,000 bond.

According to police, Soumah allegedly entered a home in the 400 block of N. Horners Lane around 2:00 PM Monday, and held a knife to the throat of an elderly woman after she caught him going through her bedroom drawers. He fled after another occupant in the home intervened. The suspect allegedly entered a second home on Robert Road, and engaged in a scuffle with a resident. Soumah managed to take cash from a desk despite the struggle, and fled.

Shortly afterward, a Montgomery County Sheriff's deputy noticed a man who fit the description given by both victims in the parking lot of the Burgandy Park Shopping Center. He stopped Soumah, and he was ultimately arrested for the crimes.

Anyone with information about this incident or this individual is asked to call the RCPD Criminal Investigations Unit at 240-314-8938. Callers may choose to remain anonymous.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Lotte Plaza opens

Lotte Plaza Market has opened in the former Safeway building at 1902 Veirs Mill Road in Rockville. They are having a contest for the grand opening that runs through December in which you can win prizes that include a hefty gift card and a TV.

Walking around the store, you'll notice several ways Lotte Plaza differs from Giant and Safeway. There is a greater selection of international foods, of course. A huge selection of pre-packaged sushi is available. But even more notable is the seafood section. Here it is more like a real fish market, with fresh-caught fish of all kinds displayed on beds of ice. In the produce section, you'll find a more diverse variety than the other local chains.

On the other end of the food spectrum, Lotte Plaza even has Banquet frozen entrees you won't find at Giant or Safeway, including their updated Pizza with Macaroni & Cheese dinner.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Rockville Real Estate Breakfast Tuesday morning

The Rockville Chamber of Commerce is hosting a Rockville Real Estate Breakfast (click link to register) tomorrow morning, Tuesday, October 25, from 8:00-10:00 AM. It will be held at the Best Western hotel. The breakfast will be free for members of the Chamber, and $20 for non-members, and is being sponsored by the C. Clifton Veirs Insurance Agency.

Tomorrow's event will begin with networking and light breakfast fare, followed by a panel discussion on the current state of Rockville real estate, and the impact of current and future development on the local economy.

The panel will consist of D. Todd Pearson, VP of Acquisitions & Develop ment - B.F. Saul Company; Matt Brady, Sr. VP - Scheer Partners; Laurie Boyer, Executive Director - Rockville Economic Development Inc.; and Ron Thomas, General Manager - Federal Realty Investment Trust.

Rockville construction update: Pie 360 at The Galvan (Photos)

Things are shaping up at the future Pie 360 at The JBG Companies' Galvan at Twinbrook development in Rockville. The sign is up, and build-out of the interior is nearing completion.

Pie 360 - "Where every pizza is personal" - is a Baltimore-based chain offering customizable pizzas and wraps, as well as salads. Their specialty pizzas include Ring of Fire, Ricotta Infusion, and Buffalo Chicken.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Rockville HDC finds revised Chestnut Lodge plan meets Secretary of the Interior standards

The Rockville Historic District Commission made a preliminary finding last night that the revised plan for the site of Chestnut Lodge meets Secretary of the Interior standards for Rehabilitation. A formal vote on a final draft is expected to be taken at the body's next meeting on November 17.

Applicant JNP Chestnut Lodge, LLC has proposed constructing 6 townhomes on the spot where the historic Chestnut Lodge psychiatric hospital stood until it was destroyed by fire in 2009. Nancy Pickard, Executive Director of historic preservation organization Peerless Rockville, testified that townhomes were not part of the heritage of Rockville at the time Chestnut Lodge was built.

Pickard told commissioners that, while wealthy estate dwellers did buy townhomes in urban areas in those days, they did not do so in Rockville. She said the first townhome developments in the City weren't constructed until the 1960s, nearly a century after the era of Chestnut Lodge's birth as a hotel. She also criticized the idea that the proposal should be considered only in the context of the SOI Rehabilitation standards. The other 3 sets of SOI standards - Restoration, Reconstruction, and Preservation - should be applied as well, she said. Rehabilitation standards ceased to be relevant after the main lodge burnt down, she added.

HDC chair Rob Achtmeyer asked Pickard if the individual access doors of townhomes vs. the shared entry of a condo building was her central concern. "It is a large factor," Pickard replied. "That housing form (townhouse) was not introduced in this city until the 1960s. That is not the heritage of Rockville," she said.
"Massing, the stronger verticality of the original hotel. There was the relationship of the dominant hotel to the outbuildings. The whole site was larger."

Kate Kuranda of Goodwin and Associates, speaking for the applicant, said what is left of the Chestnut Lodge site would not qualify for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Once a building has burned, she said, it is removed from the Register. Kuranda said she concurs with City staff that the plan does meet the Secretary's rehabilitation standards, and that it retains the park-like setting of Chestnut Lodge.

Kuranda said the developer, Jim Proakis, has offered to establish a website to archive all of the photographs, oral and written history, and other records available on the historic hotel and hospital. Proakis has already discussed the idea with a firm that has experience in creating this type of website, she said. Achtmeyer said he found the website offer "very intriguing." He also exhorted attendees and the televison audience to bring forward to staff any materials they may have on the lost building. Achtmeyer called sitting on such materials as this plan rapidly moves forward "counterproductive. Please, do us all a favor - share."

In a presentation earlier, staff liaison Sheila Bashiri said that the suggestion by many in the community to rebuild Chestnut Lodge as it was would only make sense if it was then opened as a hotel or psychiatric hospital. The primary goal of a reconstruction, Bashiri said, is education. A building would usually be reconstructed, and then opened to the public, who could learn from visiting or touring it about its history.

Bashiri recommended the commission find the plan does meet the SOI Rehabilitation standards.

During a period of public testimony, Paul Newman, the president of the 30 Oaks Civic Association, asked why the input of the West End Citizens Association was not included in the staff report. "Where is it," he asked.

Newman said it was inaccurate to claim that the new building resembles the footprint of the lost building. He said he walked the grounds of the site, and noticed that some of the markers indicating the footprint of the proposed building are actually on pavement, not the grass, indicating it is larger. Newman called Chestnut Lodge "one of the anchors of the historic district. It's a little disingenuous to say [we can't reconstruct it]."

"Changing an access road to the outbuildings into a back alley with garages and trash cans," Newman said, "that is a major change in character." The applicant previously has promised to hide trash receptacles through both the design of the homes, and via condo association rules about when they can be placed outdoors.

There was very little mention of the Planned Residential Unit agreement that high-profile opponents like current Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, and past mayor Larry Giammo, have argued remains in effect. That PRU demanded that the main building be restored as a prerequisite for its adapted re-use as a condominium development. The PRU agreement was reached between the City and a previous developer who sought to redevelop the site.

After a short break, commissioners returned at 10:45 PM to discuss the matter.

"I find the massing and the roofline very problematic," Commissioner Stefanie Tincher said. "It changes its relationship to the surrounding buildings. I'm having a real problem with it."

No other commissioner commented on the plan. Achtmeyer suggested going forward then with the body's recommendation to the Mayor and Council.

First, a majority of the commission agreed that they should employ the Rehabilitation standards. Then they took straw votes on each of the applicable standards.

For Standard #1 (A property will be used as it was historically or be given a new use that requires minimal
change to its distinctive materials, features, spaces, and spatial relationships), commissioners voted "Yes" by 3-2. Tincher and Commissioner Emily Correll were the dissenters. Tincher argued that #1 didn't apply, because the new structure will change the spatial relationships.

For Standard #2 (The historic character of a property will be retained and preserved. The removal of distinctive materials or alteration of features, spaces, and spatial relationships that characterize a property
will be avoided), commissioners unanimously voted that the project does meet the standard.

For Standard #3 (Each property will be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or elements
from other historic properties, will not be undertaken), commissioners voted 4-1, with Tincher dissenting. "I'd like to revise the staff report" on scale, mass and design, Tincher said. Achtmeyer suggested it might be faster to just cast her lone dissenting vote, and move on.

Achtmeyer joined Tincher in dissenting on Standard #9 (New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction will not destroy historic materials, features, and spatial relationships that characterize the property. The new work will be differentiated from the old and will be compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment).

The Planning Commission will be the next body to review the plan. Achtmeyer said he would like to hold off the vote until next month, so that the Planning Commission can reach their own conclusions apart from the HDC's influence.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Rockville California Tortilla for sale

The California Tortilla on "Regal Row" in Rockville town center is for sale. $329,000 is the asking price for the business, a franchisee of the burrito chain that got its start in Bethesda in the 1990s.

This CalTort's owner has been candid about the financial pressures he has been under, from the rent costs to the disastrous town center parking situation that has driven customers away from small businesses there. "You don't understand how much we're suffering. We're basically slaves now," he told the Mayor and Council during a discussion of how to fix the parking problem this past summer.

That lease runs to 2025, with a 5-year extension option, according to the sale listing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Saks Off 5th opening Thursday in Rockville (Photos)

Saks Off 5th, the "premium designer fashion outlet" store from Saks Fifth Avenue, will open this Thursday, October 20, at Congressional Plaza in Rockville. The chain opened another location just a week prior in Naples, Florida.

Monday, October 17, 2016

East Grill Karaoke opens in Rockville (Video+photos)

East Grill Karaoke has opened in the Courthouse Center shopping center in Rockville Town Center, at 12 N. Washington Street. The restaurant is next to the venerable Apollo, and will be open until 2:00 AM nightly.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Rockville HDC to review Chestnut Lodge proposal Oct. 20

The modified project plan for a townhome development on the former site of the Chestnut Lodge mental institution will be reviewed by the Rockville Historic District Commission at its October 20 meeting. This will again be a courtesy review; the project will also have to receive a Certificate of Approval from the HDC later, if its design receives final approval from the Planning Commission and Mayor and Council.

This proposal reduces the number of townhomes from seven to six, in response to community and historic preservation experts' concerns that the structure's footprint was wider than the original building, which burnt down in a suspicious fire in 2009.

Planning staff is recommending a favorable recommendation by the HDC.

The public will have the opportunity to speak at next Thursday's meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 7:30 PM at City Hall.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Montgomery County Civic Federation endorses term limits

The Montgomery County Civic Federation, a non-partisan organization which officially represents over 100,000 County residents, has endorsed term limits ahead of a November 8 ballot question on the issue. MCCF passed a resolution Monday supporting a YES vote on Question B. This highly-respected group's support is perhaps the biggest vote of no-confidence in the Montgomery County political cartel since the County's chambers of commerce all declined to endorse any incumbent County Council member in 2014.

Question B, if approved, would limit County Councilmembers and the County Executive to a still-whopping 3 terms (12 years), effective immediately and retroactively.

The MCCF action, from an organization that factually contains vastly more Democrats than Republicans, further undercuts the ridiculous claims being made by some councilmembers who face ouster. Last Thursday, Councilmember Nancy Navarro hijacked a Council committee meeting on a collective bargaining issue to make a political speech. This was totally inappropriate, and ethically improper.

Navarro, who I have had a great deal of respect for in her work in the non-profit realm and on the Board of Education, has increasingly sounded paranoid about the term limits issue. She and her surrogates have claimed term limits are not the result of citizen rage about record tax hikes and communities being ignored in the development process in Westbard, Lyttonsville, Rockville (bus depot fights), etc. Instead, she claims they were proposed specifically to remove her from office.


We know many residents are increasingly fed up and now favoring term limits. Now the MCCF is backing term limits.

But here's who Navarro says you, the average citizen, are, in her view:

 "The leading proponents [of term limits] are right-wing, anti-immigrant extremists. They don’t care about you, or me.”

Whoa. That's crazy talk, folks. That's an outrageous smear and accusation, with no basis in fact. It's this self-serving, out-of-touch, and - frankly - nasty attitude that is likely to seal the deal for term limits passing November 8.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Leggett: Montgomery County becoming a "bedroom community" as jobs go elsewhere

The latest vindication of my diagnosis of what ails Montgomery County comes from our highest-ranking elected official, and de facto leader of the Democratic Party, County Executive Ike Leggett. I've been noting for years, to the displeasure of the County's political cartel, that we are becoming a bedroom community for the growing job centers elsewhere in our region. In the meantime, our private sector economy has become moribund.

Leggett now agrees with me. In testimony before the County Council's Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee last Thursday, Leggett's special assistant Joy Nurmi relayed his concerns on this very topic.

Nurmi noted that the percentage of development that is residential rose between 2005 and 2014, while the percentage that is office, retail and industrial declined. She said Leggett opposes impact tax increases on developers that could disincentivize office, retail and industrial projects.

"We are trending toward becoming a bedroom community and he doesn’t want to drive us further in that direction," Nurmi warned the Council. "It is a trend. And he is very concerned about disincentivizing commercial development anywhere in the County."

It is indeed a trend, with the County Council and/or Planning Board having allowed commercial properties, job centers and office buildings in Rockledge, Wheaton, Westbard, Aspen Hill, and the I-270 corridor to be converted to residential in recent months and years. The City of Rockville has approved similar conversions in King Farm, Tower Oaks, and the Shady Grove corridor in the last 24 months.

Loss of office space, businesses and land for corporate headquarters (MoCo hasn't attracted a major one in two decades) means more and more commuters driving to reach job centers elsewhere in Northern Virginia. And over the last 16 years, Montgomery County lost over 2000 retail jobs, according to the Maryland Association of Retailers. All of that means more traffic congestion on County roads.

Leggett joins other heavy hitters who are now starting to acknowledge the truth I've been reporting for years. The Washington Post recently referred to the County's eastern half as "economically moribund" (hopefully in the near future, they'll realize the western half is, too. But it's huge that they even acknowledged half is). And the former Chief of Staff to failed Councilmember Hans Riemer concurred, declaring Montgomery County's private sector economy "stagnant," and suffering from "weak economic performance" and "sluggish growth" during his ex-boss's tenure.

I couldn't have said it better myself!

In addition to the loss of those retail jobs, Montgomery County today has less private sector jobs than it did in 2001. Ouch.

During that time, Loudoun County gained 42,929 jobs. The District gained 78,011 jobs.

How many did we gain? Zero.

In fact, we had only a net loss of jobs, losing 3885 while the counties all around us averaged 9.5% in private sector job growth during those 15 years. Montgomery County is indeed a great place to live - hence our always-booming residential growth. Increasingly, however, it is not a place to work.

Leggett is correct. I'm correct. We are becoming the bedroom community for the region. And now we need to get a County Council that doesn't live in an alternate reality, and can get us out of the economic development mess we're in. We can start by voting for term limits this November.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Cost, impact on residents top concerns on Veirs Mill BRT options

Rockville's Mayor and Council were briefed on the options for bus rapid transit service on Veirs Mill Road between Rockville and Wheaton at their meeting last night. The project options range from doing nothing, to a "Cadillac" option (Alternative 5B) that would give BRT dedicated lanes in the center of the state highway - but carry a price tag of $289.4 million.

Councilmember Mark Pierzchala, a BRT supporter, was not convinced that option would be worth the money for the modest transit ridership boost the Maryland Department of Transportation claims the line will produce.

The loss of left-turns at many intersections was another concern for Pierzchala, as that would impact residents trying to get around their own neighborhood. Given the cost and disruption of the Cadillac option, Pierzchala said he is more comfortable supporting Alternative 3, which would provide dedicated curb lanes for BRT "where feasible."

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton suggested that cutting corners with BRT would fail to produce world-class results for passengers, and for economic development. She warned against trying to "nickel and dime around the edges" of a major project. At the same time, Newton said she was very concerned about the impact on residents and homes along the route. Houses and businesses along Veirs Mill are threatened with demolition to various extents, depending upon which alternative is chosen.

Newton also urged that any extension to Montgomery College of the service reflect the actual hours classes are held on the Rockville campus.

MDOT is scheduled to make its final BRT recommendation by the end of this year.

Photos via MDOT

Monday, October 10, 2016

Friday, October 7, 2016

Rockville construction update: Town Center Phase II (Photos)

View of cranes at Rockville
Town Center Phase II sites
from Rockville Town Center
Phase I area
Construction continues on two projects in the second phase of Rockville Town Center's redevelopment. Furthest along is the Brightview Rockville building, which will offer apartments for senior citizens. That is the taller one you see in most of the pictures here. The shorter one next door, formerly home to the Suburban Trust Building at 255 N. Washington Street, is a mixed-use residential project by Kettler.