Friday, September 30, 2016

Humiliation: No MCPS school makes 2016 National Blue Ribbon School list

Just months after the Montgomery County Council hiked property and recordation taxes to record highs, and falsely claimed it was to benefit schools (but without any major change in education strategy, meaning we're going to keep going the way we've been going - a.k.a. the definition of insanity), there is more alarming evidence that your tax pain is in vain. The U.S. Department of Education has just released its list of 2016 National Blue Ribbon Schools - and not a single Montgomery County Public School is on the list.


We've been told by the Montgomery County political cartel that, while we don't enjoy the booming private sector economic growth of states like Texas, we should still feel superior because we "invest in our schools." Fact check: Montgomery County suffered a humiliating shut-out on the list, while red states like Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and Louisiana cleaned our clock, with multiple public schools making the cut. In fact, 26 Texas schools in all made the 2016 list. Even a red county in Maryland like Anne Arundel has public school representation on the new list.

It turns out that the excess money spent on MCPS without a plan has been money down the toilet. Ironically, you can be almost certain that grades will rise in MCPS schools in the future - but only because the school system recently adopted an easier grading system for that very reason. Elected officials impotent to solve MoCo's education decline? No problem! Just get rid of final exams and inflate everybody's grades. God help us.


P.S. Congratulations to Montgomery County's St. Patrick's parochial school, which made the 2016 list as a non-public school.

Class 520 Thai ice cream update (Photos)

A sleek and modern interior is taking shape at the future Class 520 ice cream shop at 5 Dawson Avenue. The store will be, as far as I am aware, the first to bring Thai ice cream rolls to Rockville (and possibly, Montgomery County).

They are also now hiring staff. There's a lot more to making stir-fried Thai ice cream than dipping a scoop of vanilla out of a tub, that's for sure.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Rockville construction update: Ourisman Chevrolet (Photos)

Ourisman Chevrolet is expected to move down Route 355 from 15301 N. Frederick Road to Wintergreen Plaza by November. Here is how far construction of the new dealership has progressed. The building is certainly wider than the existing one.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Hear USA, Wingstop coming to Wintergreen Plaza

Two new tenants are on their way to Wintergreen Plaza in Rockville. Hear USA has put up some coming soon signage at their new location, and popular chicken wing chain Wingstop has signed a lease, as well. Wingstop will be near Paisano's.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Lotte Plaza Market lighted sign installed on Veirs Mill Road in Rockville (Photos)

Another lighted sign is now up at the soon-to-open Lotte Plaza Market on Veirs Mill Road in Twinbrook. The international grocery store is replacing the departed Safeway.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Dunkin' Donuts opening this Saturday at The Galvan in Rockville

Dunkin' Donuts will open its newest Rockville location this Saturday, October 1, in The Galvan at Twinbrook, located at 1800 Rockville Pike. During the first day, there will be music, a prize wheel, and a magician/balloonist on hand between 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM. To celebrate the opening, the store will be offering a FREE small hot or iced coffee from October 1 to October 8.

Friday, September 23, 2016

MoCo Council embroiled in new scandal 45 days before voters decide on term limits

The Montgomery County Council's vote Tuesday to approve the hiring of attorneys Francoise Carrier and Douglas Bregman - to represent taxpayer interests in negotiations over a White Oak development - was an unforced political error. An astonishing breach of ethics, the 8-1 Council vote plunges the body into yet another scandal, even as a November 8 ballot question will ask voters if councilmembers should be limited to 3 terms.

Carrier and Bregman would represent the County in negotiations with developer Percontee, which is purchasing 115 acres of land from the County at White Oak, a deal already steeped in conflicts of interest for County Executive Ike Leggett.

Why is this a problem?

Herman, set the Wayback Machine for the late 1980s.

Leggett at that time began a close relationship with the developer that Carrier and Bregman will be negotiating with at White Oak. Contributors affiliated with the developer have donated thousands of dollars to Leggett's campaign accounts since that time. Negotiations between the developer and County Attorney Marc Hansen have been contentious and lengthy - in other words, Hansen appeared to actually be doing his job.

Now, mysteriously, Hansen is calling for outside legal counsel to take over the negotiations, citing a lack of resources in his office.

Hansen has 26 years of professional experience in the County Attorney's office. He serves at the pleasure of Leggett, who appointed him County Attorney in 2011, and of the Council, who unanimously approved his appointment. The sudden move to hire Carrier and Bregman creates - true or not - the public perception that Hansen is obeying a directive from Leggett and the Council to do so, or it might no longer be "their pleasure" for Hansen to continue in the position. That's just a fact.

Why is the selection of Carrier and Bregman a problem?

"I'm now on the
developers' side"

That Carrier was Chair of the Planning Board when the White Oak sector plan was passed is just the beginning of the conflicts of interest in this case. After leaving the Board in 2014, Carrier was appointed to the board of directors of a developer-backed non-profit, Communities for Transit. An instrumental figure on that board of directors? Jonathan Genn, Executive Vice-President at...Percontee. Yes, the White Oak developer Carrier will now "negotiate" with.
Look who teamed up
to deliver a presentation
at a development conference
this year
Earlier this year, Carrier and Genn teamed up at a Montgomery County conference to present a developer-friendly PowerPoint presentation on the so-unfair costs to developers (and the uninformed NIMBYs) that make "smart growth" urban development difficult in MoCo. "I'm now on the developers' side of the table," Carrier declared late in the presentation.

Carrier is also close to her now-partner in the Percontee negotiations, Douglas Bregman. Together, they helped stifle an objective, truly-independent investigation into the Farm Road scandal in 2013. As Chair of the Planning Board at that time, Carrier appointed Bregman to "investigate" Farm Road.

The Farm Road debacle began when African-American landowners were cheated out of their property rights in Sandy Spring. A road that served their properties mysteriously disappeared from documents and records, a move that benefited a developer building homes there, but preventing the black landowners from developing their properties.

How did this happen? There was enough evidence of foul play to spur the County Inspector General to call for an investigation of the Planning Department. Activists and Councilmember Marc Elrich were among those who called on Attorney General Doug Gansler to launch a state investigation (Elrich was the only councilmember to vote against hiring Carrier and Bregman Tuesday).

What could possibly go wrong?

It turned out that Gansler would decide whether an investigation was warranted based on the conclusions of Bregman's "investigation." Problem: Bregman had donated $4,000 to Gansler's campaign account. Bregman also contributed to current Attorney General Brian Frosh, and wrote a $1250 check to Leggett's campaign.

When Bregman's report - shocker! - cleared the Planning Department of wrongdoing, Gansler declined to investigate. The local press ceased covering Farm Road, and no true, independent investigation of the Planning Department ever took place.

When Carrier left the Planning Board, she joined the law firm of...Douglas Bregman. I am shocked. Shocked. You can't make this stuff up, folks. This is the proverbial revolving door, now coming around yet again.

Keep all of this in mind when you consider Carrier and Bregman will now represent your interests in this sweetheart deal to sell County land (a.k.a. taxpayer-owned land) to Percontee, "at below market value." God help us. This is happening at a time when developer-beholden County elected officials are telling us there is no money, and no land for new schools or bus depots.

According to a report by Bill Turque of the Washington Post, Carrier and Bregman will be paid $425-$525 per hour, to do the work we are already paying $190,000 a year for Mr. Hansen to do.

How, knowing all of this full well, could eight councilmembers have voted to hire Carrier and Bregman? Couldn't they have simply declined the nominations, and held out for truly-independent outside counsel? And why wouldn't they? Well, for starters, it suggests that they are, along with Leggett, behind the move to hire the pair.

And, let's be honest, this is the same "progressive" County Council that created a federal tax shelter worth $360,000,000 for one of their biggest campaign contributors. The same County Council that - minus Elrich - receives 82% of its campaign funds from developers. And the same Council that, after defeating the once-powerful Columbia Country Club and Town of Chevy Chase in the Purple Line battle, believes they are now invincible and entitled to do anything. In other words, they will intentionally engage in a massive breach of ethics simply because they can. It's just that attitude and chutzpah which have created the wide support among tax-stomped voters for term limits this year.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Mavana Nails & Waxing taking over Acqua Nails space at Rockville Town Square

The sudden departure of the staff of Acqua Nails appeared to spell the end of that salon on Gibbs Street at Rockville Town Square. Good news for Town Square residents who were patrons: Mavana Nails & Waxing is opening in the same space.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

German-themed festival to celebrate Rockville Sister Cities Corporation September 24

This Saturday afternoon from 4:00-6:00 PM, the Rockville Sister Cities Corporation will host a German-themed festival at Rockville Town Square. The event will feature draft beers and food from World of Beer and Gordon Biersch that reflect the German theme, as well as live music by the Rockville German Band.

There will be kid-friendly activities, and appearances by the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department and other supportive community organizations. The event is co-sponsored by the City of Rockville.

What's being celebrated is 30 years of service by the Rockville Sister Cities Corporation, and the impending 60th anniversary of Rockville's sister city relationship with Pinneberg, Germany in 2017.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Chuy's sets opening date in Rockville

Tex-Mex restaurant Chuy's will open at Federal Plaza on Rockville Pike on Tuesday, October 4, according to a spokesperson for the new location.

Hooters closes in Rockville (Photos)

Hooters of Rockville abruptly closed yesterday, more than a month earlier than originally announced. The bar was due to close November 1 after reaching a deal with Montgomery County to not renew its liquor license. That agreement followed the tragic incident in which a patron of the popular Rockville Pike restaurant struck and killed County police officer Noah Leotta after consuming alcohol there.

The driver pled guilty after the wreck, and the future of the restaurant was in doubt prior to the deal being worked out with a Hooters lawyer.

All signage at Hooters was gone by yesterday evening, with a ghostly imprint of their famous owl logo still visible on the window despite its removal.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Rockville construction update: Chuy's (Photos)

The lighted sign has been installed on the front facade of Chuy's, the Tex-Mex chain restaurant opening next month at Federal Plaza on Rockville Pike. Some furniture is in place in the dining room, as well as some stringed, colored lights under the front overhang.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Rockville Florist moves...out of Rockville (Photo)

Rockville Florist has left its 785-C Rockville Pike store location for its new address, 12162 Darnestown Road in Gaithersburg. Montgomery Village Florist is at that location, so it appears the name Rockville Florist is most likely not going to survive. It wouldn't make sense anyway, as the store is no longer within Rockville.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Rockville construction update: East Grill Karaoke (Photos)

East Grill Karaoke, a new restaurant coming to Courthouse Center in Rockville, appears to be getting closer to opening. Furniture is in place in the dining room, and they are hiring staff. The shopping center is also home to the venerable Apollo, and is located at the intersection of N. Washington Street and E. Middle Lane.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Rockville candy store predicts "one scary election" (Photos)

ITSUGAR at Rockville Town Square has put America's "scary" presidential campaign front and center. Get ready to argue with friends and family on Gibbs Street while gobbling down the sugary treats representing your candidate. For Libertarians and Greens, there is no Gary "And what is ITSUGAR?" Johnson or Jill "I was invited to vandalize private property" Stein up front.

Trump or Treat? Or Happy Hilloween? You decide, unless you "don't know what you're going to do" like some establishment Republicans. Ghastly renderings of Donald Trump square off at the Square with a depiction of Hillary Clinton as a witch.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Veirs Mill BRT would seize property, cripple traffic in Rockville and Wheaton (Photos)

Don't tell BRT proponents, but
parts of Veirs Mill Road actually
do have 3 lanes; in those
spots, one lane would be
seized for BRT and closed
to automobiles except at right
Rockville's Mayor and Council were briefed on the Maryland State Highway Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Study study for the Veirs Mill Road corridor last night. All of the options most likely to be considered for final selection by the SHA will have impacts on private property, and could end up worsening traffic congestion rather than easing it.

The driving force behind the BRT push? Certain (not all) commercial property owners along Veirs Mill, who would be able to redevelop their land into mixed-use town centers with transit-oriented height and density. Ironically, most of the future "growth" cited as justification for BRT will only be possible with the addition of BRT. And, like the placeholder schools that never get built, BRT will be counted under ever-more-laughable MoCo traffic studies as phantom capacity to reduce fees and restrictions on developers. In fact, the County Council is on the verge of weakening traffic standards yet again. Under a system that allows an empty bus to count as though there is now capacity for 50 additional cars, God help us.

While the main route is between the Rockville and Wheaton Metro stations, consideration is also being given to extending the BRT to Montgomery College. The SHA will hold a public meeting on the study on September 28, at 6:30 PM, in the Montgomery County Executive Office Building cafeteria at 101 Monroe Street in Rockville. Feedback from residents at that meeting will factor into the final SHA recommendations, which will be presented to the Mayor and Council at their October 10 meeting.

Beyond the no-build Alternative 1, the first option is Alternative 2, which would not provide dedicated lanes for BRT, but would give the buses signal and position priority at certain intersections.

Dedicated queue jump lanes that would be added at some intersections "may require additional right of way with impacts to property in Rockville," according to the report. With queue lanes, Metrobus Route Q9 would get signal priority at those intersections, but otherwise operate in mixed-traffic along the entire route. The report does not give a detailed explanation of how lights can be properly synchronized (already a weakness in Montgomery County) if buses are forcing the lights to change at random intervals.

For Alternative 3, the third through or turning lane of each side of Veirs Mill (where they currently exist) would be seized from automobiles, and turned into a dedicated lane for buses only. The report is deceptive about this fact. It shows Veirs Mill as a two-lane-per-side road only, and purports that "a lane is added" for BRT use. That is simply not true for the entirety of Veirs Mill Road. Yes, they will add a BRT lane where there are only two lanes. But on parts of Veirs Mill, they will be seizing a lane. Eastbound, a through or turning lane would be seized "in the vicinity of Atlantic Drive and the Twinbrook Shopping Center and continue...all the way to Wheaton." A significant portion of the last stretch between Connecticut Avenue and Wheaton currently has three through lanes open to cars in one or both directions today.

Traffic congestion caused by reduced capacity in those spots would have a referred impact up and down the road, as any traffic jam does, worsening congestion in the corridor. Add in the new high-density development BRT would permit, and the thousands of new cars that would bring, and you have a recipe for disaster.

It is also unclear how a third lane - and a bike lane, and a multi-use path, based on the diagrams shown here - could be added on the outside of two-lane stretches where access roads today exist for residential homes on Veirs Mill. The report doesn't detail what will happen in those cases, which are numerous along the road.

Loss of a third lane will reduce vehicular capacity on the affected parts of Veirs Mill by 33%. The highest, rosiest claim for how many drivers would "get out of their cars" and switch to BRT was 16%. When you simply do the math, you find that BRT will not only not improve traffic flow (other than getting oft-stopping buses out of the second lane where Veirs Mill is only two lanes), but will actually leave drivers with a net loss in total road capacity.

A Cadillac option, Alternative 5b, would mostly solve the problem of reduced capacity by creating new, separate lanes for BRT in the center of Veirs Mill, rather than taking existing traffic lanes. The dedicated center lanes would have to drop to a single lane between First Street and Atlantic Avenue. Not solved with this option is the eminent domain threat to private property. Rebuilding the entire length of Veirs Mill Road and adding bus lanes would require condemnation of property along the corridor. The report also ignores the potential need to relocate utility poles along Veirs Mill, a very costly proposition.

At the high price and low ridership forecasts for BRT, there appears to be no sensible argument in favor of it.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Family Barber & Salon coming to Rockville

Family Barber & Salon will open in the former Yankee Clipper spot at 7 Dawson Avenue in Rockville. Yankee Clipper was a barbershop as well, but targeted toward men. Family Barber will be in the shopping center at the corner of Dawson and N. Washington Street.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Overflow crowd says no to bus depot at Blair Ewing site on Avery Road (Photos)

Montgomery County Councilmember
Sid Katz makes a point that he opposes
the Blair Ewing Center site being
considered for a bus depot
It was standing-room-only last night at the Bauer Drive Community Recreation Center, as residents from Rockville, Aspen Hill, and other neighborhoods near the Blair Ewing Center turned out to oppose a potential school bus depot at that school site on Avery Road. Citizen association leaders, activists, and a handful of elected officials were in attendance, and unified in one message to Montgomery County officials - no bus depot at Ewing, which also has a public park, and is adjacent to the environmentally-sensitive Rock Creek watershed.

The meeting was moderated by Aspen Hill Civic Association President Jamison Adcock, who fought this battle to save Blair Ewing from demolition along with a citizen coalition once before, just a couple of years ago.

"This whole issue
is a mess"

Last night's meeting was a success in terms of the objective for holding it - to clearly demonstrate the strength of the community opposition to a depot at the Ewing site. But citizens are still very much in the dark as to what the County's next move will be on the depot site selection, as well as the specifics on the secretive deal the County worked out with a developer to redevelop the existing bus depot in Shady Grove.

"We're trying to figure out how much money is changing hands," Adcock said, adding that residents can only estimate the County will receive about $30 million for the site from the developer. A memo dug up from 2009, written by then-Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent Jerry Weast, had called for the County to build a new depot and estimated the cost at $100 million - not including the expensive proposition of acquiring land. "I'm going to venture to guess it will cost even more," Adcock predicted, noting the size of the loss taxpayers would take if those numbers prove correct.

One resident pointed out that the $100 million figure was in 2009 dollars, and would be substantially higher with post-recession construction costs.

Adcock said MCPS had stated a depot would require 35 acres. The Ewing site is only about 22.5 acres in size. Only 16 of those are buildable, as 7 acres are in a forest preservation easement. Of the dangers to Rock Creek, Adcock said the stream valley park is "one of the things that makes the quality of life in Montgomery County special."

"It's a disgrace.
It's a disgrace"

While Aspen Hill would not be as directly effected by the noise and immediate fumes of buses at Blair Ewing, it is widely suspected that the County would try to move the special programs at Ewing to English Manor in Aspen Hill. That would prevent what the community wants, which is to reopen English Manor as a public school, to alleviate overcrowding at Aspen Hill-area schools. Aspen Hill would likely also feel the traffic backups that would result.

Another resident noted a recent traffic study, which showed that Norbeck Road cannot handle any additional traffic. When one attendee described her nightmare commute to Fairfax County, which begins on Norbeck Road, another commuter concurred. "I, too, drive to Fairfax County, where I'm considering moving because of this." Recalling a bus crash that blocked 2-lane, rural-esque Avery Road for hours during icy conditions, he added, "God forbid it should snow." Of the whole bus depot at Ewing idea, he concluded: "It's a disgrace. It's a disgrace."

Adcock agreed with the assessment of Avery, saying it is "the closest thing we have to a twisty country road."

"A tragedy
waiting to

Also complicating matters for the community, is that they won't really know exactly what they are fighting until the County releases its new assessment of potential sites in the next month or so. The only ones publicly known are Ewing and a former landfill in Olney; the latter is across the street from single-family homes.

Adcock and other civic leaders said that, for now, all they can concentrate on is continuing to demonstrate their opposition at public forums like the County Council Town Hall next Wednesday at Rosa Parks Middle School in Olney.

"I drive to
Fairfax County,
where I'm
moving because
of this"

In the meantime, residents and politicians alike lambasted the County for what all agree was a terribly-executed idea to redevelop the industrial area around the Shady Grove Metro station.

"I have, as you know, been opposed to this from the very beginning," said County Councilmember Sid Katz, the only councilmember to show up at the meeting. "This whole issue is a mess. [The bus depot] shouldn't be on Avery Road. I don't know where it should be, but I know where it shouldn't be."

Katz, who was not on the Council when the bulk of the so-called "Smart Growth Initiative" related to Shady Grove was approved by the body, is also one of the few who candidly acknowledges he voted for the bills that approved funding for two highly-unpopular depots in Rockville. Both sites ended up being taken off the table after residents organized and fought back, but funding for depots at Carver and Westmore were indeed unanimously approved by the County Council in the last two years.

"I voted for that, and I was very sorry I did," Katz said of the budget bill approved for construction of a depot at Carver. In contrast, Councilmember George Leventhal stated publicly that he did not read the Carver bill before voting in favor of it, a stunning admission of reckless irresponsibility by a legislative official. How many other bills has Leventhal voted for without reading, one has to wonder?

"Who is going
to profit from
this, so we know
who to go after?"

"Illogical, ill-conceived, irresponsible." That was how Delegate Ben Kramer described the prospect of a bus depot at Blair Ewing. Kramer, who has virtually no authority to step into a County matter like the depot, can be expected to get called up from the minor leagues by the County political machine if term limits pass and five councilmembers are ousted. He said buses on a road like Avery would be "a tragedy waiting to happen."

Chiming in on the earlier concerns about the already-bad congestion on Norbeck Road, Kramer said, "You know the traffic nightmare that is Norbeck Road." Ironically, some of that congestion can be blamed on the delegate's father, Sid Kramer, who canceled the Rockville Freeway despite admitting the road would indeed reduce congestion.

Referring to the lack of information that was foremost on the minds of many, Carver Coalition volunteer Theresa Defino said, "We need to stop guessing what is going on." She advised the crowd to press the County Council and Executive to have an open process on the depot site selection this time around. Defino said public hearings should be signed before a site is chosen or purchased, not after, as happened when the County secretly purchased the Westmore/WINX property for $12 million prior to a public hearing.

Representatives of the organization Preserve Rock Creek were also in attendance.

"We're not
going to
roll over"

But leave it to residents to put things in the clearest terms.

"Who is going to profit from this, so we know who to go after," one asked, delivering the quote of the night, during a question-and-answer session. (Hint: the developers, and the politicians who get checks from them - 82% of the campaign funds received by the Council comes from developers. Councilmember Marc Elrich does not accept contributions from developers, it should be noted)

"We're nice people," Adcock said, "but we're not going to roll over. My answer is, "No."

+ + +
Here is a series of photos panning around the room to show how packed it was. The crowd overflowed out into the hallway, which can't be seen in these photos.

Aspen Hill Civic Association
President Jamison Adcock
addresses the crowd