Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Legally-stymied self storage project seeks extension in Rockville

Siena Corporation is keeping its options open, should it find a legal recourse to force the City of Rockville to allow its approved self storage facility at 1175 Taft Street to go forward. The company has had no luck with either legal motion it has filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court so far.

By the time either motion reaches the end of the line in court, the approved site plan for the facility will expire. City staff is recommending the Planning Commission - which originally granted the approval, before the project was blocked by a Zoning Text Amendment forbidding self storage within 250 feet of a school (Maryvale Elementary School, in this case), passed by the Mayor and Council in February 2015 - approve the 1-year extension for the self storage project. The commission will take up the matter at its meeting tonight at 7:00 PM at City Hall.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Rockville names new City Manager

The City of Rockville has named Robert DiSpirito, who is the interim senior manager of the Sarasota County (Florida) Planning and Development Department, as its new City Manager.

DiSpirito also served as the city manager of Dunedin, Florida for nine years, and as city manager of Oberlin, Ohio for eleven years.

In Dunedin, DiSpirito oversaw 400 employees and an $80 million budget. He created the city's Housing & Economic Development Department, and is credited with guiding Dunedin's award-winning downtown and redevelopment citywide. This could be an asset for a town center in Rockville that some consider to be currently underperforming in certain respects.

"My wife, Evangelina, our children and I truly look forward to making Rockville our new home," DiSpirito said in a statement. "This is an amazing and diverse community of strong neighborhoods, beautiful parks, high-performing schools, a lively town center and engaged citizens. As city manager, I look forward to reaching out and hearing what matters to our employees, residents, civic groups, schools, businesses and other partners."

Streetsense marketing retail space at Metropolitan at Rockville Town Center (Photos)

Bethesda-based real estate firm Streetsense is marketing 6033 SF of retail space at the future Metropolitan at Rockville Town Center apartment building at 255 N. Washington Street. The space, which has outdoor patio seating adjacent to it, will face onto Beall Avenue.

The Metropolitan will include 275 apartments, and is scheduled to deliver in the 4th Quarter of 2017.
(Top) Kettler
(Bottom) Streetsense

Monday, November 28, 2016

SunTrust installs signage at future Galvan location in Rockville (Photos)

The permanent sign is up at the future Galvan at Twinbrook branch of SunTrust bank. Much progress has been made on the interior, and the ATM is already installed. This will be next to the eagerly-awaited Pie 360 pizzeria at the JBG Companies development, which is located on Rockville Pike near the Twinbrook Metro station (but officially addressed as 1801 Chapman Avenue).

Friday, November 25, 2016

Rockville construction update: Modern Market (Photos)

Modern Market is opening soon at Congressional Plaza on Rockville Pike. A new outdoor patio dining area has been created adjacent to the new restaurant.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Rockville construction update: Montgomery County Liquor store (Photos)

The Montgomery County Liquor store moving into the former Kam Sam Supermarket at 300 N. Washington Street appears close to opening. Shelving and signage are in place. Sadly, the top flight Chinese restaurant­čŹ▓ that had been planned for this space fell through. While the County liquor monopoly store will provide some convenience to nearby residents (at monopoly prices­čĺŞ), liquor stores don't bring a lot of halo ­čĹ╝effect to a neighborhood.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Trump supporter victim of hate crime in Montgomery County (Photo)

Montgomery County Police are investigating an incident of vandalism in Silver Spring they believe is "bias-based." On Sunday morning, a Donald Trump supporter in the Four Corners neighborhood in Silver Spring awoke to find a swastika had been spray painted on his front storm door, and his American flag had been stolen. Police responded to the home in the 200 block of Williamsburg Drive at 7:22 AM.

A preliminary investigation determined that this was the third time the Trump supporter's home had been targeted. The home was previously vandalized on October 16, police said, and a Trump-Pence sign was stolen from the front yard of the property in late October.

This incident shows the danger of jumping to conclusions, as the Montgomery County Council has, in regard to a handful of hate-based vandalism incidents since the election. With no evidence, and not a single suspect having been arrested and questioned, our County Council has alleged these incidents were inspired by Trump and/or perpetrated by his supporters.

The Council has now been wrong twice in the last week; the only physical hate violence in the County so far has been directed against a Trump supporter, during a student protest last Wednesday in Rockville. And now in Four Corners, the only case where we have a clear motive, all evidence again points to anti-Trump forces.

Fortunately, the police are not taking a political approach, and are examining all cases objectively in their investigations. In a statement, detectives said they believe the homeowner's support for Trump is the motivation for the thefts and vandalism in the Four Corners case.

Anyone with information about these thefts or the vandalism incidents is asked to contact the 3rd District Investigative Section at 240-773-6870.  For those who wish to remain anonymous, Crime Solvers of Montgomery County is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for any information that leads to the arrest of the suspect(s).  Tipsters can call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

Photo courtesy Montgomery County Police

Rockville BRT choice will require demolition of at least 2 homes on Veirs Mill Road

The claims that Montgomery County's bus rapid transit boondoggle would not require demolition of homes and businesses were, well, demolished last night. Rockville City Councilmembers voted 3-0-1 to approve BRT Alternative 3, with Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton abstaining. The City's preference will now be considered by the State of Maryland as it makes a final recommendation on a BRT alternative in the coming months.

Alternative 3 will require the demolition of at least 2 homes, as well as 41 other property takings of various sizes, along the proposed Veirs Mill Road route of BRT. These are the numbers before the project even gets into the design phase, and station locations are not yet determined, either. Those later decisions, and issues that inevitably arise in any transportation project, could further impact property beyond what we know today.

Councilmembers Mark Pierzchala, Beryl Feinberg and Julie Palakovich Carr voted in support of Alternative 3; Councilmember Virginia Onley was absent. Newton was dissatisfied with the options presented, saying, "I don't think we're right yet." With homes threatened by the project, Newton called the decision a "rush to judgement," and a threat to naturally-occurring affordable housing in the Veirs Mill corridor.

Pierzchala said you can't have a major transportation project without having some negative impacts. He argued that the affordable homes lost would be more than replaced by future redevelopment of the Twinbrook Shopping Center, which would require affordable units. Pierzchala also said the affected homeowners would be "handsomely recompensed" for the value of their homes.

Newton countered that the money the homeowners will receive will not be enough to afford a similar home in Rockviille under current market prices. "Where are you going to buy another home for that price," she asked.

Monday, November 21, 2016

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Rockville Town Square (Video+photos)

The Christmas trees are lit in Rockville Town Square, menorahs are in place ahead of Chanukah, and other festive lights are bringing the holiday spirit to Rockville's town center. Decorations helped the Federal Realty property kick off the holiday shopping season this past weekend.

Friday, November 18, 2016

MoCo holds naming contest for BRT system...and the names are as lame as BRT

The latest gaffe in the unending quest of the Montgomery County political cartel to build a $5 billion bus rapid transit boondoggle is a naming contest for the system. But it turns out your creativity is not needed - they've already chosen three potential names: "Flash," "Rapid" or "Swift."


Flash could help us generate some genuine laughs, as we know the BRT will take 48 minutes to travel only 15 miles. Can you imagine telling someone, "I'm waiting for the Rapid?"

Neither can I.

After the County admitted they were getting consulting advice from the Communist Chinese government on BRT, the implosion of the Independent Transit Authority scam, the realization that BRT will result in the condemnation of thousands of residential and commercial properties countywide, and the revelation that the "futuristic, sleek, train-like vehicles" are actually just going to be old-fashioned diesel buses, these ongoing pratfalls are par for the course for a boondoggle the public opposes - and which could cost taxpayers $500-1000+ a year in additional taxes.

"I am ready to support the infrastructure upgrades [a.k.a. tax increases] that may be necessary in order to provide a higher level of service," County Councilmember and tax-hike specialist Hans Riemer said yesterday.

With Ike Leggett already promising a major tax increase in 2017, which will follow the historic tax hike of 2016 that resulted in the passage of term limits by voters, taxpayers are most definitely not ready to support these"infrastructure upgrades."

Hosting a naming contest in which the public can't even suggest a name? Just more evidence that the cartel swears by Steven Lukes' Power: A Radical View as much as Robert's Rules of Order. Lukes' book fuels most of the ham-fisted government corruption that produces things like the Westbard sector plan and BRT.

In Lukes' concept, when I negotiate with you, the only options on the table for discussion are all acceptable to me. The options that are unacceptable to me are not even up for discussion. Sound familiar?

Taxpayers' goal now should be to continue stalling the creation of BRT until 2018, when we can finally clean house of the remaining stragglers who weren't covered under the 3-term limit this time. Then we can vote in new leaders who will support transportation projects that will actually reduce congestion, and move the largest number of commuters for the lowest cost. These include a new Potomac River crossing, the M-83 Highway upcounty, extension of the Montrose Parkway to the ICC, the Damascus Bypass, widening East-West Highway, upgrading Beach Drive, and building the Northern Parkway.

Naming contest?

The name most high-information voters would give BRT can't be printed in a family newspaper.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

MCPS super calling for end to walkouts after Trump supporter beaten in MoCo/MCPS-backed student protests

After strong initial support from Montgomery County officials for student protests this week, and the gang-style beating of a Richard Montgomery student at a Tuesday protest, Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith is now calling for an end to the walkouts.

Yesterday's attack has "required us to rethink the situation" regarding student walkouts, MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith will tell students this morning in a video message. Smith will tell students who defy the order that they will face disciplinary action, a change from the "bring a note from Mommy" policy MCPS had just 24 hours ago. "I am asking and expecting all students to remain in school," Smith will say.

The Tuesday promise by the Montgomery County Council of "community safety" and "respect" for every resident of the jurisdiction apparently didn't apply to Donald Trump supporters. A 15-year-old Trump supporter was brutally beaten by as many as six students, eyewitnesses said, during an otherwise-peaceful protest by Richard Montgomery High School students yesterday in Rockville.

Wearing a Trump "Make America Great Again" cap, the boy was repeatedly punched, thrown to the ground, and then kicked multiple times by his attackers, according to WTOP, which quoted Rockville City Police Major Michael English as saying the students "jumped him and beat him up pretty bad." The student was transported by ambulance to a local hospital. Media accounts suggest he could have potentially-serious head injuries, describing him as "disoriented" and groggy following the beatdown.

According to the Rockville police, only one of the attackers has been identified, but is not in custody. They say the attack occurred in the 100 block of Maryland Avenue, the location of the County Council building where councilmembers declared peace and respect for all just 24 hours earlier. Police say the identified 17-year-old student will face second-degree assault charges.

To his credit, RM principal Damon Monteleone condemned the attack. Dan McHugh, VP of the Montgomery County Young Republicans, said he was "appalled" by the violence. "We condemn any act of violence, or hate crime of any kind, directed towards any candidate [an] individual supports," he said Tuesday.
Councilmember Hans Riemer
endorses student walkouts on
The violent turn left councilmembers and MCPS officials in a bad spot, after they strongly endorsed the student walkouts earlier this week. Principals have facilitated the walkouts in most cases.

It's certainly a positive to have hundreds of students this engaged in the political arena - hopefully they'll register to vote, and governments will consider lowering the voting age to 16, as Takoma Park has. It's also ironic to have politicians who claim to be concerned about pedestrian safety egging kids on to walk into busy state highways during school hours.

County and MCPS officials could face legal consequences, should these students be injured during the hours we are paying exorbitant dollars to give them a free education. The parents of the beaten student certainly have grounds for a civil suit against MCPS in this case. Guess who would make the payouts in those lawsuits? You, the taxpayer.

It now appears Smith has come to the same realization.

Our other local officials seem to have missed yet another of the messages of the successful passage of term limits last week - residents are asking them to be the adults in the room on this, and so many other serious issues. Facing so many crises from our budget deficit to a failed transportation system to our moribund private sector economy, the last thing we need is Hans Riemer and George Leventhal trying to be the "cool dad."

Perhaps the most immoral crisis of all, is our worsening achievement gap at MCPS. One thing's for sure - that gap didn't get narrowed while students were walking around highways and malls this week.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Union reaches tentative agreement with Giant, likely avoiding strike

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400 has reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement with Giant parent company Ahold, averting a strike if the agreement is approved by members at a meeting today. A marathon negotiating session that ran late Tuesday produced the breakthrough.

According to a UFCW Local 400 spokesperson, the deal will preclude takebacks Ahold had sought in the new contract. If successful, the agreement will avert a damaging holiday-season strike.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

New name, new management for longtime Rockville gas station (Photos)

The sign says it all: "Under new management." So does the sign that disappeared. The longtime Exxon station at 200 N. Washington Street in Rockville has a new name, after decades under its original. Hickman's Exxon is now Town Center Exxon.

The switch in ownership actually happened over the summer, but the official rebranding is only happening now. That may be because original owner John Hickman passed away on October 17. I like the retro font on the "town center" signs.
The original J.C. Hickman
sign, from Google Maps
Same wall, now with
"Town Center Exxon"

Monday, November 14, 2016

Wingstop opening Wednesday in Rockville (Photos)

Wingstop is planning to open this Wednesday, November 16, at 891-E Rockville Pike. The popular chicken wing chain has already had a location in Fallsgrove. This new location is in Wintergreen Plaza. As you can see, the interior looks ready to go here, including the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Americana Centre seeking historic designation in Rockville

One of the most visible properties in Rockville could be one of the most protected, if the Historic District Commission and Mayor and Council approve. Americana Centre's Board of Directors has filed a request with the City seeking historic designation for the venerable condominium property.

Very much an icon of the "urban renewal" phase of the later-mid 20th century in Rockville town center, Americana Centre is now surrounded by a landscape of change, however slow its pace.

Carl M. Freeman and Associates was chosen by the City of Rockville to design the complex, which opened as a rental property in 1972. Quickly converting to condominium, the property was the first residential high-rise in the city. But the complex also includes many garden-style and townhome units, as well.

Folks with Delaware beach property may be familiar with another Freeman property, Sea Colony in Bethany Beach. The firm also has several other Americana-branded developments in the area, including one now known as Glenmont Forest. That garden apartment community is now in danger of demolition and redevelopment, thanks to our corrupt County Council's passage of a destructive Glenmont sector plan.

Americana Centre may be spared from such an ignominious fate - staff is recommending approval of historic designation for the property. The HDC will review the request at its November 17 meeting at City Hall, scheduled for 7:30 PM.

Meanwhile, the staff report is very much worth a read if you are interested in midcentury modern Rockville, including an extremely rare aerial photo of the Rockville Mall.
Staff report photo of
Rockville Mall

Thursday, November 10, 2016

New Montgomery College parking garage expected to deliver by Spring 2017 semester

The new parking garage at the Montgomery College Rockville campus is expected to be completed and ready for vehicles in time for the Spring 2017 semester start in January, according to a spokesperson from the community college.

Photo by Marcus Rosano/Montgomery College

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Term limits win big in MoCo as voters throw the bums out

Montgomery County voters delivered a powerful repudiation of the County Council at the ballot box yesterday, with a whopping 69% voting YES on Question B, in favor of term limits. At least four councilmembers, Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen, and George Leventhal, will be barred from running again for their seats in 2018. Councilmembers Nancy Navarro, Hans Riemer, and Craig Rice will be able to run for a final term in 2018, but cannot run again in 2022. Navarro received a save from voters yesterday, who voted by 79% on Question C to allow her partial term in 2009 to not count as a full term.

The vote was a major victory for neighborhoods across Montgomery County, whom the Council had thumbed their nose at violently in the last year. In Damascus, where councilmembers supported an urban-style low-income apartment building in a part of the small town that already has a disproportionate amount of low-income housing and a high crime rate, term limits won 88% of the vote in early voting.

Councilmembers had also unanimously approved construction of bus depots at the Carver Education Center and WINX property on Westmore Avenue in Rockville, only to be hit by a tidal wave of blowback from residents who found out they'd be awakened by 400 blaring truck horns as early as 4:00 AM each morning.

Lyttonsville residents and business owners found themselves being pushed out by potential urban-style high-density development. And, perhaps most controversial of all, the Westbard sector plan found the Council voting unanimously in favor of urban-style growth in a Bethesda neighborhood nearly two miles from the closest Metro station - despite vehement opposition by over 90% of their Westbard-area constituents.

Most ironically, the Floreen-led Council boldly voted unanimously again yesterday to approve the Westbard sectional map amendment, that will make their high-density Westbard plan formally the new zoning across 44 acres of currently low-rise suburbia, just feet from single-family homes. At the same time, voters were ending the careers of four of them at voting booths around the county. How sweet it is.

A 69% vote against the County political machine was a rare primal scream from the normally staid, obedient and docile MoCo electorate. How did it happen?

Give civic activist Robin Ficker his due. The attorney worked tirelessly to collect far more than the number of required signatures, and debated opponents in numerous forums to promote Question B. For all of the criticism directed at Ficker, he has now scored some of the largest political victories in County history with the property tax cap and term limits. 

One may have led to the other. The 9% tax increase, which supposedly raised $90 million for public schools without a radically-new strategy to justify it, ended up being 10% or larger for many homeowners. At the same time, the Council voted themselves a massive raise while claiming we were cash poor, personally enriching themselves at taxpayer expense. Politicians in Bell, California went to jail for the same circumstances.

Aggrieved communities coming together was the other factor. Neighborhoods targeted at the same time by the Council for the bus depot ended up supporting each other, instead of trying to push the depot to the other's neck of the woods. Lyttonsville supported Westbard in testimony and numerous events.

And yesterday, the citizen group Keep Damascus Rural endorsed term limits. In its announcement, its leader, Seth Gottesman, wrote:

Why should we in the up county care? Because our leaders count on specific communities not being able to significantly impact an election result. If other communities stand by or are uninformed while this sort of leadership occurs to another because it doesn't impact them directly, it will come to us as well and the culture of rejecting the desires of the community will continue and that affects everyone. When our leaders are held accountable, the culture can start to change and that takes all of us from all communities. We have to support each other.

Powerful stuff. Ironically, it was through a Council agent's compulsive trolling on my blog that it accidentally became public that the Council was indeed calculating the number of votes they would lose if they supported the Westbard plan. And that they had concluded those votes alone were not enough to cost them the 2018 election.

How wrong they were.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Montgomery County 2016 election results

With 112 of 267 precincts reporting, 67% of Montgomery County voters have voted FOR term limits on ballot Question B. Voters are also supporting the Question C that would allow Councilmember Nancy Navarro to run again in 2018 with 79% of the vote.

Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by 77% to 18%.

Chris Van Hollen (D) is leading for U.S. Senate with 77% of the vote.

Jamie Raskin (D) is blowing out Dan Cox for the 8th Congressional District House seat by 78% to 18%. Incumbent John Delaney (D) is blowing out Amie Hoeber in Montgomery County by 71% to 25%.

Jeanette Dixon, Rebecca Smondrowski and Shebra Evans continue the lead they established in early voting for the 3 Board of Education seats.

Montgomery County early voters went big for term limits

Early voting results have been released by the Montgomery County Board of Elections, and those voting early through last week were big fans of term limits. 64% voted "Yes" on Question B, in favor of term limits; only 36% were opposed. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the vote today goes.