Friday, April 29, 2016

Samovar is hiring at Rockville Town Square

I can't wait for the first Russian restaurant to open in Montgomery County. Samovar at Rockville Town Square is now hiring. The interior remains top secret, as the window coverings have been replaced with drawn curtains. How many days until a beef stroganoff or borscht will be on my plate?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Rockville Planning Commission discusses community facility trends report

Red marks Rockville homes not currently
within 1/4-mile walking distance of a park
A new study of current community facility trends in Rockville was presented to the Planning Commission last night. Community facilities include everything from parks to hospitals to educational institutions. The report forecasts a need to hire 166 new City employees by 2040, notes there is little if any land left for new parks, and warns of shortcomings in the water and sewer system.

Issues such as the latter concerned some commissioners, as they consider public facilities in the context of a citywide Master Plan rewrite currently underway. The Executive Summary of the report cites the Martin O'Malley administration's controversial "12 Visions" for planning statewide. In regards to infrastructure, Vision 5 states, "Growth areas have the water resources and infrastructure to accommodate population and business expansion in an orderly, efficient, and environmentally sustainable manner."

Citing sewer and water deficiencies, school overcrowding and road capacity, Commissioner Don Hadley suggested the City may need to temper growth expectations unless those deficiencies are addressed. "There's a lot of stuff that doesn't add up here," he said. Hadley advised that those who are tasked with making these decisions need to "get out of our dream machines and into reality," before planning any significant expansion.

Commission chair Charles Littlefield noted that "there is a difference between sustainability, and sustainable growth."

The report refers to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' prediction that Rockville's population will increase from its current 65,937 people to 87,000 by 2040. Such growth, however, requires that the City allow construction of however many new housing units would be required to house those 22,937 people. Controversial local figures like former Montgomery County Planning Director Rollin Stanley have told us, "They're coming," and there isn't anything we can do about it. Not true.

In fact, they'll only come if the housing is built. That is where the decisions need to be made, in the context of infrastructure such as the commissioners referred to last night.

The report should be useful tool in that regard. It provides a good overview of City, Montgomery County, and private facilities, and discusses whether they are adequate today - and if they will be so by 2040.

Map courtesy City of Rockville

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sign installed at Mellow Mushroom in Rockville (Photos)

Workers were installing the sign at the soon-to-open Mellow Mushroom in Rockville Town Square yesterday when I stopped by at lunchtime. Each letter was being hammered into place. Unfortunately, the interior is still under wraps. Stay tuned for an opening date.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Residents unanimous in opposing Chestnut Lodge amendment in public hearing

Chestnut Lodge, as it appeared in
No Rockville resident came out last night in support of a developer's request to amend an approval governing redevelopment of the site of the historic Chestnut Lodge. A public hearing before the Mayor and Council on the fate of the spot where the famed mental health institution once stood found developers standing alone in support of their proposal for seven townhomes. Residents and historic preservation experts who spoke strongly supported the option of reconstructing the building.

Nancy Pickard, Executive Director of historical preservation organization Peerless Rockville, said the group supports the Planning Commission recommendation to reject the proposed amendment. There is a "substantial difference" between the original proposal to modify the now-destroyed Chestnut Lodge as a multifamily residential building, and the more horizontally-oriented townhome proposal. Townhomes are "inconsistent with the historic district," she said.

Pickard said the vote gives the Mayor and Council the opportunity to step back and consider the best future for the site. "Reconstruction should be given consideration," she concluded.

Dr. Alan Shiffenbauer spoke about the history of Chestnut Lodge, and urged that its significance "should be valued, it should be preserved, and it should at least be honored."

There is "widespread community opposition" to the townhome proposal in the West End neighborhood, West End Citizens Association President Noreen Bryan told the Mayor and Council. 180 residents have signed a petition opposing the amendment to allow townhouses on the site, she said. Bryan noted that residents made many concessions to the previous applicant for the sole purpose of keeping the original building in place. Now that it fell victim to a suspected arson, the agreement remains in effect, she argued.

That Planned Residential Unit agreement remains the crux of the debate. Larry Giammo, who was mayor when the PRU was agreed to, asked the Mayor and Council to imagine a reconstructed Chestnut Lodge being a conversation starter about the site's history. The "most significant mental health facility, arguably, on the planet...My God, that building was stunning," he recalled. What the developer has proposed, by contrast, is a "Disneyesque facade treatment," Giammo suggested. He recommended the amendment be denied. "Give reconstruction a chance," he said.

"Perhaps we're asking the wrong question," Paul Newman, President of the 30 Oaks homeowners association, said. "We're in a PRU, and in a historic district." Why a development should not have to honor the PRU, he said, "it seems to me that is the question we should be asking."

"Think about what is the right use of the property," said Peerless Rockville Board of Directors President Patricia Wolff, "and figure out a way for us to get there. The result of (your decision) is going to be there for a long time." She said she would like future passersby on W. Montgomery Avenue to look at whatever is ultimately built, and say, "'Wow!' Not, 'can you believe what they've done to that site?'"

The applicant professed to believe their project would generate the former, rather than the latter, response. "You have before you the best possible outcome," attorney Stephen J. Orens of McMillan Metro, PC said. He suggested denying the application would be "a taking" by the City, and a case of inverse condemnation, although he did not explicitly threaten legal action. Orens and an architectural historian hired by the applicant cast doubt on the viability of reconstructing Chestnut Lodge.

Such a structure would give "a false sense of history that, frankly, would not be consistent with the Secretary of the Interior standards," Orens argued.

Preservation advocates strongly disagreed.

"My experience leads to a different conclusion," said Rockville historian Eileen McGuckian, who has been familiar with the site for fifty years. "There are hundreds, hundreds of documents" readily available for reconstruction purposes, she said. These include specific architectural studies of the site done in the 1970s, articles, papers, documentaries, photos, bricks retrieved from the fire that destroyed it, postcards, two County Cable Montgomery segments filmed prior to the fire, and raw footage from an unfinished documentary that also captured the structure on film.

West End resident Andrew Sellman, who also served on the WECA Chestnut Lodge committee, said he had traveled the region ahead of the public hearing to investigate other reconstructed buildings. He found several, including the Appomattox Courthouse; the Staunton, Virginia Shakespeare Theatre; and the All Hallows Parish Courthouse, which were reconstructed from far less documentation than exists for Chestnut Lodge, he reported.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said her involvement in the issue goes back many years. As WECA president, she helped to reach the agreement with developer Morty Levine to preserve Chestnut Lodge. "It blows my mind" that the City Attorney and staff did not take a proactive approach to enforcing the existing PRU after the destruction of Chestnut Lodge, she said.

Newton also questioned a precise and short timeline for approval of the applicant's proposed amendment shown by staff at the outset of the public hearing. She asked why dates were given by staff, when agendas are supposed to be set by the Mayor and Council. "When did that start," she asked.

"You're obviously under no obligation to abide by those," responded Zoning Chief Jim Wasilak. "I personally don't have a problem with staff making a recommendation," Councilmember Mark Pierzchala said. He questioned why the Historic District Commission was limited to conducting a courtesy review of the application, rather than taking a larger role in determining the best course to proceed on for the Chestnut Lodge site.

Pierzchala also said that the opposing opinions on what meets the Secretary of the Interior guidelines need to be clarified. City staff should weigh in definitively on the issue, he suggested. "That's a very important thing," he said.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Monday, April 25, 2016

Wall comes down at Mellow Mushroom in Rockville Town Square (Photos)

Window screens are still blocking the view of the interior at Mellow Mushroom at Rockville Town Square. But the future pizza parlor has dismantled the large construction barrier out front. Mellow Mushroom is expected to open as early as next week.

Fleming's Ultimate Garage making the ultimate move on Rockville Pike (Photos)

One of my personal favorite businesses along Rockville Pike, Fleming's Ultimate Garage, is moving. Their new location will be at 660 Loftstrand Lane, in the Southlawn industrial area. This is a decidedly lower-profile spot than their 1400 Rockville Pike location, but hopefully as a specialty business their clientele are willing to go a bit further off the main roads to find them.

Right now, it's hard to miss the '92 Chevy monster truck for sale out in front of the current showroom.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Rockville Historic District Commission selects roof option for King Farm dairy barn

The design of the replacement
roof selected for a dairy barn
at King Farm
The Historic District Commission last night recommended Option 1 out of three potential roof replacements for a dairy barn at the King Farm farmstead in Rockville. This option was determined to meet the Secretary of the Interior standard No. 6.

Option 1 was recommended by the contractor hired to replace the roof, which will also get a replacement Thompson's Dairy logo when work is completed. The project is part of a renovation of the farmstead that has been a priority for the Mayor and Council.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Smashburger now open at Galvan in Rockville

Smashburger has opened at JBG's new Galvan at Twinbrook development in Rockville. The restaurant opened yesterday, after postponing the original April 6 opening. Galvan is located at 1800 Rockville Pike. Smashburger has several other area locations, including Bethesda and Downtown Crown.

Botanero to take over Dough Roller space in Rockville

It was sad news indeed to hear that Dough Roller closed in the King Farm Village Center in Rockville. There were high hopes that the pizzeria's fanatic Ocean City tourist following would translate to the parts of the state where those vacationers actually live.

The good news is that a new tenant has been found. Botanero, a small plates-centric restaurant and wine bar will be coming soon to 800 Pleasant Drive.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

BRRRito returns to Ben & Jerry's in Rockville today

An ice cream burrito? Not an impossible idea to conceive of if you've had Good Humor's Choco Taco, but the BRRRito at Ben & Jerry's replaces the burrito's tortilla wrap with a waffle shell. The menu item returns today to their Rockvillle Town Center store.

Ben & Jerry's 
199 E. Montgomery Avenue

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mayor & Council approve letter asking County Council to halt Carver school bus parking decision

A letter to the Montgomery County Board of Education and County Council regarding a proposed school bus depot at the Carver Educational Services Center was unanimously approved by Rockville's Mayor and Council last night. It asks the County Council to delay a declaration of "no further need" for the site as a bus parking lot until all concerns have been addressed, and all other options exhausted.

"I don't think the Board of Education is aware of the full impacts to the City," Councilmember Mark Pierzchala said before the vote. Concerns include traffic and safety in the surrounding neighborhood, additional congestion of roads in the area, and the negative impact the use would have on the Carver historic district. The bus parking is theoretically a violation of the requirement that any future uses of the Carver site respect the historic viewshed and 150' buffer area the City established in the past.

The County Council is poised to declare the County has "no further need" for its existing school bus parking facility in Shady Grove, which a developer has acquired for a residential community near Metro. As part of Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett's "Smart Growth Initiative," as outlined in the RFDP, a viable new parking site (or sites) for the buses and maintenance facilities was to have been identified before the existing Jeremiah Park site was turned over to the developer. That did not happen for the usual "mysterious" reasons under the Montgomery County political cartel.

Rockville elected officials expedited the drafting of a letter, in the belief that the Board of Education would be voting on the matter this morning. But later in the discussion, Maryvale ES PTA VP of Advocacy Melissa McKenna reported that no BOE vote was expected today. In a historic moment, McKenna - who had been at the meeting earlier Monday evening - informed the Mayor and Council of this via Facetime on an iPad held up by Paul Geller, a PTA official from the Sherwood cluster in Olney. 

This was the most interesting use of technology at a Rockville meeting since a developer used a Blackberry to jam the microphone, while delivering news that wasn't expected to be well-received by the public years ago. This time the technological breakthrough was actually of help to officials, but Pierzchala couldn't help but wonder about "the propriety of having a tablet speaking to us."

The letter was largely drafted by Pierzchala, who said he did extensive research on the issue. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton added additional points earlier Monday evening, including new remarks from Nancy Piccard of historic preservation organization Peerless Rockville. Moving the buses to Carver would be "detrimental on many levels," notes the letter, which supports an existing letter from BOE member Phil Kauffman, who is running for reelection this year.

"This gets us on the record," Pierzchala told his colleagues. "This to me is something we're saying that really needs to be evaluated." Noting that Montgomery County Public Schools had declined an invitation to address the Mayor and Council earlier this year, Pierzchala said, "There is a whole lot wrong, in my opinion, with this process at the County level." He added that dispersing buses to numerous sites would be counterproductive, as many buses need help getting started in cold weather. If mechanics are not on the same site as the parking, he warned, kids could end up stranded at bus stops.

McKenna said she thought James Song of MCPS "would have been willing to come," but he had no information to present. No study has yet been done, and no funds have been appropriated in that direction, she said.

"I don't buy that they didn't know what to do," Pierzchala said. "[MCPS] could have suggested they would come to the city, as well," Newton argued.

Councilmember Beryl Feinberg was not happy with the process on the Carver debate up to this point. "What disturbs me about this is that we have not had a session to discuss this issue," she said. "It would have been a more open and transparent [process] if we had had a hearing and staff report. It feels like it's being a rush. All the facts have not been right out here." 

Newton acknowledged that, but said the apparent rush to judgement by County officials required them to act expeditiously, particularly when it was thought a vote was imminent today. "That's kind of what happens on some of these issues. We need to take a stand," Newton said.

"There has never been a presentation here," Feinberg responded. "It has never been presented to us as an elected body. This process is not something we should be proud of." Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr said all members knew the letter would be coming before them Monday night. "I see no reason to not vote on this tonight," she said.

Pierzchala moved to approve the letter after the Mayor and Council refined the final paragraphs. His motion was seconded by Councilmember Virginia Onley. Acting City Manager Craig Simoneau said the letter would be sent out Tuesday morning.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Suspicious death at Rockville hotel

Montgomery County Police detectives from the Major Crimes Division are investigating a suspicious death at the Red Roof Inn in Rockville, at 16001 Shady Grove Road. Police and fire/rescue personnel were summoned to the hotel at 11:49 AM Saturday by an undisclosed caller. Upon arrival, they found a deceased adult in a room at the hotel. The gender and age of the victim have not been disclosed as of press time.

Detectives say there appeared to be trauma to the body of the victim, and are now investigating the case as a suspicious death. The next step is to have an autopsy completed by the Maryland Chief Medical Examiner's office in Baltimore, to determine the cause of death and other details.

Police are asking anyone with information regarding this case to contact the Major Crimes Division at 240.773.5700.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Save the date: Super Hero Day at Krispy Kreme in Rockville April 28

Krispy Kreme in the Fallsgrove Village Center will be hosting Super Hero Day on Thursday, April 28.

Buy 1 dozen donuts that day, and get a second dozen Original Glazed Donuts free.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

EYA Tower Oaks project recommended by Rockville Planning Commission (Photos)

Montgomery County took one more slouch towards becoming the world's largest bedroom community last night, with the Rockville Planning Commission's recommendation to the Mayor and Council that land designated for office space in Tower Oaks be converted to residential. Commissioners voted 4-2 to approve developer EYA's project plan amendment that would allow 375 housing units, including four multifamily buildings, townhomes and single-family homes, on the east side of Preserve Parkway. The project plan will now go the Mayor and Council for approval.

Staff presented the commission with 9 binding elements required for approval, and commissioners voted unanimously to add 2 more - a shuttle to take residents to Metro and nearby shopping centers, and to make a proposed market a binding agreement.

Aakash Thakkar, Senior VP of Acquisition and Development for EYA, described the market as being a "general store," where residents and their guests could purchase items like wine, cheese or a loaf of bread. Commissioner David Hill suggested making it a binding element, due to the absence of any grocery stores within easy walking distance of the site. EYA readily agreed to the addition, as well as the shuttle.

The project would wipe out two-thirds of the forested property, and preserve one-third. Thakkar said EYA plans to leave that forest in its natural state, and perhaps add a wood-chip path that would meander through it. He said EYA would be willing to sign an agreement that would ensure the remaining forest was never developed. The development will also include a clubhouse with swimming pool and patio, several pocket parks, and a nature trail with exercise circuit.

Commissioners expressed many misgivings about the proposal, but ultimately seemed to side with short-term real estate market realities over long-term ideals.

Thakkar said the development would target a similar demographic to that of the nearby Park Potomac, empty nesters. There would certainly be children, he said, but the lack of transit, dining and nightlife on-site would not appeal as much to millennials. He suggested that up to 20% of future residents might be current employees in the nearby office developments. The project was also supported by several adjacent office park owners.

Chair Charles Littlefield was among the most skeptical of the project, although he stressed that it had many strong points. "This is not smart growth," he concluded, based on the distance of the site from Metro and the proposed density. Thakkar noted that the density is lower than that of the developer's other projects, such as Park Potomac.

The trendy thinking in the County is that the office market is weak away from Metro, and will be in perpetuity. This is not accurate, however. Wheaton has a Metro station, and its office market is terrible. 4500 East-West Highway and 7550 Wisconsin, both a short walk from the Bethesda Metro, have had to lower expectations and lease to smaller tenants than expected. 4500 lost the bidding for Intelsat headquarters to Tysons.

How bad is it? One of the largest office buildings within walking distance of the Wheaton Metro station was just demolished to make way for - guess what? - housing.

In reality, the office market is weak because Montgomery County's private sector economy is moribund, and its business climate is one of the worst in the region. The County hasn't attracted a single major corporate headquarters in nearly two decades. Not a single County Council member was endorsed by any Chamber of Commerce in the County in the 2014 election, a damning indictment of the anti-business record of the Council.

As long as we continue to ignore that elephant in the room, we will never restore the office market. And you know what? Developers and landowners are largely fine with that. That's because the profits that can be realized from residential are far bigger than they will ever be from any office park or building.

So while there may be crocodile tears and renting of garments publicly over the weak office market, behind the scenes, developers are rubbing their hands together at the prospect of every office building and office park in Montgomery County being converted to residential.

Of course, that assumes that developers can continue to fill multifamily mid/high-rises with less-than-traditional suburban residents: heavily-subsidized millennials, contract and military housing, student housing, and the poor and homeless. That will not be so much the case in this Tower Oaks development, and several commissioners said they liked the home ownership and MPDU ownership opportunities the EYA project would provide.

But Littlefield was right on the money when he argued that "residential demand is not infinite." And equally so when he noted that "it's supposed to be the 'I-270 Tech Corridor,' not the I-270 residential corridor."

Whiile this project alone will not hurt much by itself, the flipping of office-to-residential is going to damage the City and County in the long-term. The loss of jobs and potential jobs, the incomes they provide compared to the retail/restaurant positions that replace them, and the impact on schools and roads are mounting by the day.

What happens if we one day have a pro-business County Council, and large corporate headquarters and government agencies like the FBI were being considered here? Where would they go? The land space would be gone.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

MD nonprofit seeks kids with asthma for study, offers stipend and free home improvements

The National Center for Healthy Housing, a non-profit located in Columbia, is seeking children with asthma between the ages of 5 and 16 for a study on improving indoor air quality. Children must live in a single-family home or townhome, and must be covered under private health insurance (includes plans under the Affordable Care Act).

Participants will receive a stipend of up to $350 for the year-long study, and some in the study group will receive free home improvements related to indoor air quality.

For full details, and to enroll by the May 31, 2016 deadline, visit the study website.

New Rockville city clerk named

Kathleen Conway is the new City Clerk of Rockville. Conway has served as Senior Director of Benefits for Interstate Hotels & Resorts, in Arlington, Virginia, since April 2013. She will have a much shorter commute at her new job.

“The Mayor and Council are thrilled to announce that Ms. Kathleen Conway has accepted the position of City Clerk/Director of Council Operations,” Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said in a statement yesterday. “Kathleen has served on the Rockville Sister City Corporation and the Ethics Commission and is a longtime Rockville resident. She brings a passion for public service and will be a tremendous asset to the governing body.”

“My family and I are long-term Rockville residents and I am looking forward to serving my community,” Conway said. “I believe my career successes, including effective competencies in team leadership, customer relationship management, communication skills, program management, research/analysis and creative problem solving will allow me to deliver the results the community expects from this position.”

Conway will take over for Acting City Clerk Sara Taylor-Ferrell.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Rockville Pike plan hearing is "The B.F. Saul Show"

Better call Saul. Last night's first public hearing on the Rockville Pike Neighborhood Plan was dominated by two complaints: the width of the Pike proposed in the plan is too wide, and the recommended building heights are too short. A good number of residents turned out to hammer these points home, likely to the delight of property owner B.F. Saul, which has been making both arguments for some time.

Todd Pearson, VP with B.F. Saul, testified on behalf of the company, showing a rendering of its planned Pike development that would cover 17 acres from the intersection of Halpine Road and Chapman Avenue up to Party City, and east to the railroad tracks. Pearson warned that height caps of 7 stories for residential and 10 for commercial could have "unintended consequences."

Those could include severe reductions in public and green space, and a lack of varying heights within a large building, Pearson predicted.

The width of the Pike should be more like what Montgomery County has planned for White Flint, 162', Pearson suggested. With the 252' width suggested by the plan, he said, there will be seven "pedestrian conflict points" for those making what he said would be a 1-minute crossing on foot. I think he had a good point when he cited the importance of extending East Jefferson through the Woodmont Country Club site, as well as the planned extension of Chapman, as important congestion relief projects.

Including a jobs-to-housing ratio also irked Pearson, who suggested that if one were to be in the plan, it should encompass a much wider geographic range.

Several residents testified that they moved to Twinbrook not only for the proximity to Metro, but also because they were aware of projects such as B.F. Saul's, and wanted that type of urban development.

Resident Brigitta Mullican called the B.F. Saul proposal a "fantastic project." Ellen Bogage, whose firm Chesapeake Public Strategies is managing community outreach for B.F. Saul, said a petition to reduce the Pike's width has received 218 signatures as of last night.

"Anything is better than what's there now," argued resident Colleen Reed. She encouraged the Mayor and Council to "recognize that Rockvillle is a city. I have no reservation about having taller buildings along the Pike."

Many who testified at public hearings during the process did have reservations, however, leading the Planning Commission to scale back what would be possible on the Pike.

Not everyone is on-board for narrowing the Pike. David Green, a longtime resident of Twinbrook, said he was "painfully aware" of how hard it is to get around Rockville due to the manmade barrier known as Metro. He said a 270' right-of-way was reserved along the Pike for that reason.

Green termed the shrink-the-Pike effort "slick marketing. Of course the developers want more land," he said. He urged the Mayor and Council to do everything they could to promote better traffic flow in Rockville.

"Please approve the Rockville Pike Plan with no more changes," Green said.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Rockville construction update: Supercuts (Photos)

The storefront of Supercuts has been revealed in the ground floor of the Cambria Suites and Hotel, facing E. Middle Lane in Rockville.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Redevelopment of Rockshire Village Center could create parking problems in Rockville

Redevelopment of the Rockshire Village Center in Rockville as a residential community could create serious parking problems in and around the Rockshire neighborhood. A developer preparing to submit plans to the City of Rockville for the property has met with Concerned Citizens for Rockshire Center, a grassroots organization representing community concerns.

Out of those recent discussions, five issues of mutual interest to residents and the developer were identified:

(1) Retail space
(2) Parking on the site
(3) Traffic
(4) School capacity
(5) Overall design, layout, and land use

A CCFRC representative spoke about the parking issue before the Mayor and Council Monday evening. He said loss of the ample surface parking currently on the Rockshire Center site would create problems for the adjacent Korean Presbyterian Church next door on Hurley Avenue. The church has a very small parking area, and has relied for years on the shopping center for overflow parking.

Wooton High School students are also currently able to utilize some of the spaces at the shopping center. Should a future development there have limited parking, this would understandably create parking issues for the surrounding area.

The shopping center is located at the intersection of Wooton Parkway and Hurley Avenue.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

New developer to try again with 900 Rockville Pike (Photo)

Update: 12:43 PM - I have removed reference to an earlier design proposal for the site after learning it is not affiliated with the current design study now underway. I apologize for any confusion.

A new developer, J. Danshes, LLC, is exploring the potential of developing one of the few greenfield properties along MD 355, 900 Rockville Pike. The 25,863 SF plot is also one of the most challenging to utilize. Just a few years ago, the latest applicant was unable to obtain approval from the Rockville Planning Commission for a billiards business there.

The primary issue has been the "landlocked" nature of the site. Hemmed in by the Pike, Edmonston Drive, the CSX/WMATA tracks, and a commercial development directly south of the property line, previous applicants have been unable to get satisfactory ingress and egress curb cuts for the site. First the Maryland State Highway Administration rejected the idea of an additional curb cut access from the Pike, and curb cuts on the Edmonston side were deemed unsafe. Then the property owner next door, understandably, objected to patrons of 900 using that property's curb cuts to gain access to the Pike.

This new potential applicant has hired the local architecture firm of Steven J. Karr, AIA, Inc. to come up with a plan for the (currently unknown) use it is considering there. Karr's firm designed the first retail building you encounter when entering the City of Rockville from the south, the successful Rollins Center on The Pike, at the southwest corner of the Pike and Rollins Avenue. That building was fully-leased when it was delivered a few years ago.

Perhaps an agreement has been reached with the property owner to the south, such as compensation, that makes it a win-win for both parties. We'll likely find out when the plans are eventually submitted to the City for review.

The Karr design study is expected to be complete by June.

Signage installed at World of Beer in Rockville

The signage is up at the future World of Beer, at the corner of E. Montgomery Avenue and Helen Heneghan Way in Rockville Town Center. Work continues on the interior build-out, although the real work may be how to stock 500 different beers under the Montgomery County Government liquor monopoly.

Photo: Tom Moore

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Staten Island experience shows Montgomery County BRT will "create a horrific situation" for drivers

Dedicated bus lane on Richmond Ave.
on Staten Island
Montgomery County is bulling ahead with plans for Bus Rapid Transit despite widespread public opposition. Officials might want to consider the disastrous implementation of a similar express Select Bus Service plan on Staten Island.

Stretches of dedicated lanes were added to Hyland Boulevard and Richmond Avenue, roads similar to those where BRT is being proposed in Montgomery County.

Remember what I've been saying for about four years now about losing 33% of vehicle capacity where lanes are taken from cars for BRT? And how that will make congestion worse, not better?

Now listen to New York State Senator Andrew Lanza (R - Staten Island) report on the "success" of BRT there, in these remarks at a Subcommittee on Transportation hearing on June 20, 2013:

"The City came in and painted. We had so few lanes for traffic, and so we have, you know, so few roads for the number of cars. So in order to facilitate, uh, this new service, uh, we took one lane out of service, we painted it red. 

So we told people in cars - who need to be in cars because they don’t have service - that, you know, a third of the road space on the major roads is now not available to them. And by the way, um, buses often go in [one of the remaining automobile lanes] anyway. They need to, it’s not the driver’s fault, because cars are making turns in front of them. So cars can no longer travel in those lanes, and yet buses are still traveling in those other lanes anyway.

We talk about the fact that we save people seven minutes [on express buses]. That’s only if you go end-to-end. The majority of people don’t go end-to-end. We spent millions of dollars painting roads to save seven minutes. We don’t talk about the thousands of people in their cars who have had 10, 20, 30 minutes added to their shuffle because now they’re a choke points, uh, because where there was once a lane for them, it is no longer there. It’s just a parking lot now. And because there’s this red lane, that…and by the way, there’s hardly ever a bus coming through. Hardly ever.

We can’t just talk to the people on the buses. You can find that one person who now has the express stop in front of their house that now saves seven minutes. They’re gonna like it. People stuck in cars, it’s really created a horrific situation."

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Should Rockville eliminate long-vacant government positions?

Rockville City Councilmember Beryl Feinberg urged her colleagues to eliminate several city government positions that have long been vacant at last night's Mayor and Council meeting. Reasoning that the City has managed without those employees for an extended period, Feinberg concluded they could be safely eliminated, to constrain the budget going forward. She brought up the issue during an FY-2017 budget worksession.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and Feinberg's Council colleagues strongly disagreed with her proposal that they discuss the possibility. "We need to stay in our lane," Newton said, referring to the City's Council-Manager form of government, which gives the City Manager purview over personnel. Councilmembers Mark Pierzchala, Julie Palakovich Carr and Virginia Onley agreed with Newton.

Feinberg stressed that no current City employee would face a salary cut or termination, as all of the positions are currently empty. Newton suggested that the vacancies may not be as clear-cut as they appear, and might not remain vacant far into the future. On the code enforcement position Feinberg cited, Newton noted that the shortage of such City inspectors has been to blame for delayed restaurant openings in Rockville Town Square.

Acting City Manager Craig Simoneau backed up her line of argument later in the discussion. He said one of the positions became vacant because that employee was on a military deployment overseas. Another is in the process of being filled. And Simoneau hinted that he might well fill some of those vacancies, and put those new employees to work where current staff are most-overtaxed.

With no support for her targeted proposal, Feinberg then asked for $300,000 in general cost savings to be found in personnel. She noted that in her years of government experience, she has not found government departments to be willing to voluntarily eliminate chronically-vacant positions. Simoneau candidly acknowledged that he would not seek to eliminate these positions at this time.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Signs of change at Rockville Town Square (Photos)

Workers take down the ice
rink at Rockville Town Square
As the seasons change (although I'm having a hard time believing it with the weather over the weekend), there are some literal signs of change at the sometimes-turbulent Rockville Town Square. Of course, the ice rink has made way for the spring and summer event space in the square itself.

But there are also some new window screens advertising the vacant Noodles & Company space, and a sign promoting the future dance studio on Gibbs Street.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Rockville construction update: Brightview senior housing (Photos)

One of several projects coming to Rockville Town Center's Phase II of development, Shelter Group's Brightview senior apartment building is expected to provide more customers for the nearby retail and restaurants. You can also see the beginning of a new street that will eventually traverse the Phase II area, which is where those cement trucks are lined up.

The tower crane was assisting with construction when these photos were taken. You'll also notice that some concrete columns are in place.

Finnegan's Wake Irish pub to open today in Rockville

The long wait for one of several delayed openings at Rockville Town Square is finally here. Finnegan's Wake, a rare Irish pub in Rockville, will open this afternoon at 4:00 PM on Gibbs Street.