Friday, April 28, 2017

Montgomery County microlending could put taxpayer money in County Councilmembers' accounts

Last week, the Montgomery County Council got into the banking business. Despite there being a bank on almost every corner, and of every size, the Council thought it was time start their own bank - using your money, of course. $572,000 of your money in FY-2018 alone, to be exact. The result is the newest patronage scheme by our corrupt County Council, with real potential to put taxpayer dollars into the campaign accounts of councilmembers.

Here's how the scheme works. Small businesses based in Montgomery County can apply for microloans of $500-$15,000 from the Council's new "bank." The individuals who decide who gets the money are all either appointed directly by the Council, or are closely within their political orbit. So corrupt councilmembers could absolutely influence who gets the loans.

Once the businessperson obtains the loan, there is nothing to stop him or her from donating some of that money to the councilmembers' campaign accounts. This has happened in the past with another Council patronage scheme - the funding of non-profits. Councilmembers vote on which non-profits get money. They decide the exact dollar amounts given to the non-profits. Officers of those non-profits, who often earn salaries from their non-profit, have then made campaign contributions to the councilmembers who fought to obtain the funding for them. In some cases, they've made the maximum contribution allowed by law.

Both schemes may now become even more essential in the new age of public financing. We now know what I predicted in 2014 was correct - the specific public financing program passed by the Council was designed primarily to help Council incumbents, not challengers. Longtime councilmembers have vast numbers of patrons from which to extract the many, many small donations needed to unlock the taxpayer-funded public matching funds.

With the new bank "microloans," and the same non-profit scheme, an even larger portfolio of political patrons can now be developed. Meanwhile, challengers have no such Rolodex to draw upon. True public financing would give every candidate a reasonable amount of funds from which to get their message out. Montgomery County's does not. So many incumbents have signed up for the public financing option, there's a real possibility the funds will be depleted. What then? They'll simply make an appropriation of more of your taxpayer dollars.

Three ways to use your taxpayer dollars to fund their campaigns. It's outrageous. And it's amazing how the Council can find $572,000 in the sofa cushions for microloans, and millions in public funds for their campaigns, but not for a host of other more urgent needs. Things that make you go, "Hmmm..."

How do we get this ripe-for-corruption system under control? By passing a law to prevent those receiving these microloans, or who receive income from non-profits awarded funds by the Council, from donating money to political candidates who have influence over the awarding of those loans and funds. A reasonable approach to keeping the corrupt hand of the Montgomery County cartel from getting yet another chance to pick your pocket, to profit themselves. Demand all candidates support such a rule change in 2018.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Rockville Farmers Market to return May 13

The Rockville Farmers Market will return for summer on Saturday, May 13, from 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM to the jury parking lot at E. Jefferson and Monroe Streets. Vendors this year will offer fruits and vegetables, plants and flowers, herbs, baked goods, local beer and wine, knife sharpening, meat and coffee.

Welcome the following new additions to the market, which will run on Saturdays through November 18:

Good Hope Farmstead of Woodsboro, McClintock Distilling Company of Frederick, Mock's Greenhouse of Berkeley in West Virginia, Oak Spring Farm of Freeland, Shenandoah Seasonal of Boyce in Virginia, and Twin Valley Distillers, who are based right here in Rockville.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Nails by Timothy appears to have closed in Rockville

Wintergreen Plaza nail salon Nails by Timothy appears to have closed. A sign is offering a number to call for a similarly-named business, Timothy's Salon and Spa.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Corner Bubble, Fusion Academy coming to Rockville Town Center

Rockville Town Square has found a tenant for the briefly-vacant Ev and Maddy's space at 101-C Gibbs Street. Corner Bubble appears to be a bubble tea shop.

Meanwhile, up the road at 275 N. Washington Street, The JBG Companies have found a different type of tenant - a school. Fusion Academy will be a private school offering one-to-one teacher-student learning for middle school and high school students.

With one teacher and one student per classroom, Fusion Academy is designed for children who are not being served well by traditional class sizes. These include gifted students, and those interested in pursuing acting or athletics.

Fusion will hire 15-20 teachers at first, and could have as many as 35 staff members once the school is at full capacity. They will also offer customized schedules tailored to each student's needs. Homework is done at the Homework Cafe at school.

Allison Mapes, who will be the Head of School, is originally from Virginia. “I’m eager to return to the area and to connect with students and parents in a way that fosters true educational, emotional and social growth,” Mapes said in a statement Monday. “Having taught in many private and public school settings, I’m impressed by Fusion’s ability to connect directly with each student, making them feel valued and treasured, which is what we strive to remind them of every day.”

Fusion has schools in Alexandria, Washington, D.C. and Tysons. Fully accredited, the first location was founded 27 years ago in San Diego. The school will share JBG's recently-constructed mixed-use building with Kung Fu Tea and Lavande Patisserie.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Rocklands Barbeque & Grilling Company closes in Rockville (Photos)

Rocklands Barbeque & Grilling Company has closed at Wintergreen Plaza in Rockville. The owner says they lost their lease. Barbecue fans won't have to go far in search of food, however. Mission BBQ recently opened in the same shopping center. The closest Rocklands location to Rockville is probably the one at 2418 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., in the District.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Another office project to go residential in Rockville (Photos)

Project site at the northeast corner
of W. Montgomery Avenue and
West Gude Drive
More potential high-wage jobs are about to disappear in Rockville. A site at the corner of W. Montgomery Avenue and West Gude Drive once planned to hold office space and research facilities will trade conference rooms for bedrooms, should a revised mixed-use project receive approval. Applicant J2 Holdings, LLC is asking to replace the already-approved 3 office/R&D buildings with 2 buildings, holding 459 residential units and 10,053 SF of retail space.

J2 Holdings is also requesting a 75' building height, 10' more than is allowed under the current zoning. 620 parking spaces are planned. The property and currently-approved office use were part of the Fallsgrove Concept Plan.
The site is currently a
wooded area along Route 28
Montgomery County's moribund private-sector economy, and hostile-to-business reputation, have led to a high number of office vacancies. With residential development more profitable than office, many developers have seized on the opportunity to shoehorn more residential into office zones. Critics note that the resulting loss of jobs increases driving and auto emissions, as residents of bedroom community Montgomery County are forced to commute to job centers elsewhere in the region.

After a Development Review Committee meeting on May 11, the project will go to the Planning Commission for review.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Proposed senior housing project at old Rockville IBM site morphs into mixed-use project

Last year, a 175-unit senior housing apartment building was proposed for 50 Monroe Place, the former IBM site in Rockville Town Center. Now a new, mixed-use project is being proposed for the same address.

The new project will consist of an unspecified number of "mixed-income" rental apartments, including some for those with special needs, and retail and office space. Structured parking and landscaping will also be part of the project.

A public meeting to introduce the project will be held on Tuesday, April 25, at 7:00 PM, at the Rockville Memorial Library, in the 1st Floor meeting room.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Rockville construction update: Brightview Senior Living West End (Photos)

One of the major pieces of Rockville Town Center Phase 2 is the Brightview Senior Living West End project. Developer Shelter Group has planned the residential building to both offer internal activities, as well as the advantages of Rockville Town Square and other restaurants and retail within walking distance.

The project is scheduled to deliver this summer. For right now, a leasing office is open at 401 N. Washington Street, in Suite 100.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Montgomery County wants to increase your Rain Tax by 9.7%

Your rain tax may be about to increase. Bigly. Montgomery County continues to have an annual Water Quality Protection Charge, determined by the "total impervious area for each property." After the County's original, illegal rain tax was struck down by the courts in 2015, the Montgomery County political cartel simply figured out a legal workaround, and brought it back again.

County Executive Ike Leggett is recommending a whopping 9.7% increase in the Rain Tax, er, "Water Quality Protection Charge," for FY-2018. The County has already determined the amount of impervious surface on your property to determine your charge, by looking at an aerial photo. Very scientific.

You'll also pay higher property taxes this year, as rising assessments create an automatic tax increase even when the tax rate doesn't change. And the County Council gets another salary increase, just like Bell, California. The difference is, Bell's Council is in prison, and ours is still free and on-the-take.

Throw the bums out. Or #LockThemUp.

Mavana Nails opens in Rockville

Mavana Nails & Waxing is now open at Rockville Town Square. The spa took over the former Acqua Nails space at 100-H Gibbs Street. To make an appointment, call 301-424-0009.

MoCo's number of registered voters exceeds its voting-age population, foundation threatens to sue

Judicial Watch, a non-partisan foundation promoting integrity and transparency in government, is threatening to sue Maryland in federal court over what it calls Montgomery County's "dirty election rolls." The foundation's analysis revealed that there are more people registered to vote in Montgomery County than there are citizens of legal voting age, based upon the latest U.S. Census data. Judicial Watch says the excess voter names are of those who have died or moved, or of non-citizens who have illegally-registered to vote.

Voter fraud can often involve people impersonating voters known to be deceased, or to have moved away, at polling places. In Montgomery County, only the most basic personal information (name, address, date of birth) about a deceased or absent voter would need to be known to vote using their name at the polls. Maryland U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D) warned last year that "We've seen fraud committed in our state in prior elections." Cardin and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) implored voters to "let us know" if they "encounter fraud or misconduct" at polling places.

Maintaining up-to-date voter rolls is required of states under federal law. Judicial Watch is demanding Maryland force Montgomery County to remove all ineligible voters from its rolls in 90 days, or they will sue the state - and ten others - for violating Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act.

“Dirty election rolls can mean dirty elections,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. “These 11 states face possible Judicial Watch lawsuits, unless they follow the law and take reasonable steps to clean up their voting rolls of dead, moved, and non-citizen voters.”

Monday, April 17, 2017

hhgregg closes in Rockville (Photos)

Big box consumer electronics and appliance store hhgregg has finally closed its doors forever in Rockville. After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this year, the struggling chain announced it was going out of business a few weeks later. Its corporate headquarters will close next month.

A farewell message in the window of the Rockville store says, "Gone fishin'." Meant to be humorous, of course, it sounds a bit off in tone, considering that everyone at the store has lost his or her job. On the other hand, at least this is one of the rare business closures we can't blame on the incompetent Montgomery County Council. The county has lost over 2000 retail jobs since the turn of the century, according to the Maryland Association of Retailers.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Despite fake news headlines, you won't be buying liquor at grocery, drug or convenience stores in MoCo

You may have seen fake news headlines over the last few days trumpeting that "liquor" will soon be sold at "privately-owned stores" in Montgomery County. The careful wording was designed by the Montgomery County political cartel, to give casual readers the false impression that beer, wine and spirits would be coming to the shelves at Giant, CVS, 7-Eleven, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it was surprising that many in the local media enabled the deception with false headlines. This is one of the more audacious public misinformation campaigns I've ever witnessed from the MoCo cartel.

Here are the facts:

The Maryland General Assembly just passed a bill which will only allow privately-owned beer and wine stores to sell liquor. Clever language in the bill specifically excludes grocery stores, drug stores, and convenience stores. Even popular convenience stores that currently sell beer and wine, like Talbert's in Bethesda, will be ineligible to sell liquor.

Even those beer and wine stores that qualify to sell liquor under the bill will still have to buy that liquor from the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control - the government monopoly. That means they will be competing on retail price directly with the Montgomery County government liquor stores. Merchants like Bradley Food and Beverage have pointed out in the past that such competition is unfair to the small private businesses being forced to compete with the same government-monopoly seller, who sets the prices they have to pay for stock.

The new law allows the DLC to decide the criteria for the granting of contracts with private beer and wine stores by itself, with no public input or transparency. DLC, in other words, can decide the terms of competition itself. Profits for whichever few retailers DLC decides to "compete" with will likely be limited by the monopoly control over price, and that means no savings for you, the customer.

It's also unlikely that private beer and wine stores could be competitive with County-owned liquor stores on inventory, because the County stores are physically larger than stores which have been only allowed to sell beer and wine. And they'll still have to deal with the same DLC inventory and delivery problems that have hampered their existing beer and wine sales.

Once again, County politicians have tried to "look busy," even as they bolster and preserve the government liquor monopoly. Real change would be full privatization of beer, wine and spirit sales in Montgomery County, and being able to buy Bud Light or a bottle of wine at Safeway or Rite Aid. That did not happen with this new law.

Fact check score for fake news "liquor to be sold at privately-owned stores" headlines, designed to fool people who don't read the articles for the details?

Four Pinocchios/Pants on Fire

Car vandalized on Coleman Park Lane in Rockville

Montgomery County police were called just after 12:00 AM this morning for a report of vandalism in the 100 block of Coleman Park Lane, in the Croydon Park area of East Rockville. A resident reported that their car window had been broken.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Nighttime road resurfacing on Shady Grove Rd., Crabbs Branch Way in May

A contractor will resurface parts of Shady Grove Road and Crabbs Branch Way near the Shady Grove Metro station next month. The work will be done at night, between the hours of 9:00 PM and 5:00 AM, to avoid negative impacts on traffic flow and local businesses. Resurfacing will begin the first week of May, and take about two weeks to complete.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Rockville construction update: 1900 Chapman Avenue (Photos)

There's some real progress to report on the 319-unit apartment building project at 1900 Chapman Avenue in Rockville. Excavation is complete, and the first elements of the building structure are beginning to rise up to street level. A second phase of 1900 Chapman will add 61 townhomes to the lot, formerly home to Syms.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Whipped by Fairfax, MoCo needs boardrooms, not bedrooms

A drive around the Capital Beltway tells you all you need to know about where the economic development action is in our region. Winding your way around the curves through Tysons, you marvel at the area's most impressive skyline. The region's tallest building - the Capital One headquarters - is under construction, towering over the freeway. Corporate logos are around every bend, including many that recently chose Tysons over Montgomery County, like Intelsat and Hilton Hotels. Snaking through the job-rich territory are major new transportation investments - Express Lanes and the Metro Silver Line; serious infrastructure compared to MoCo's laughably-lame future plans, which entirely consist of 12-miles-in-50-minutes Bus "Rapid" Transit, and bike lanes.

Driving the Beltway through Montgomery County, you'll see...trees. And more trees. Holy Cross Hospital. The Mormon Temple. A Marriott hotel. Extremely appropriately, the last thing you'll see before you cross the congested American Legion Bridge are two retirement communities on either side of the highway. Sad, but reflective of the message moribund Montgomery County would send to any international businessperson whose corporate limo happened to be traveling along the Beltway. An unlikely scenario, given that said businessperson will have already taken the Silver Line or direct highway access from Dulles International Airport into Tysons, signed the deal, and flown out of town again while you're still stuck in traffic going around the Beltway, thanks to our unfinished master plan highway system.

Realizing this, you probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that Fairfax County is still handing our impotent Montgomery County Council their briefcases when it comes to economic development. You wouldn't be surprised that the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that the average weekly wage paid in Montgomery County is $200 less than what you'd earn if you worked in Fairfax County. And you might not be surprised to learn that there are 588,000 jobs in Fairfax, and only 471,000 here in Montgomery.

But knowing all of that, what probably would surprise you, is that the Montgomery County Council and Planning Board believe we need more bedrooms, not more jobs. Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson recently went to bat on behalf of the developers he represents, adding even more last-minute luxury apartment height and density to the Westfield Montgomery Mall property, which sits alongside the I-270 spur in Bethesda. Not more office space, but more bedrooms. In one of the most overcrowded school clusters in the county, to boot.

This, despite the inescapable fact that adding thousands of new residential units countywide over the last two decades has proven the tax revenue generated by those bedrooms absolutely does not cover the costs in services, education and infrastructure they create.

This, despite County Executive Ike Leggett warning that we are becoming a bedroom community for the booming job centers elsewhere in the region.

And this, despite the fact that the only highway corridor in the county that has historically shown any sort of business development to interstate travelers - I-270 - is slowly being converted from corporate and business uses to residential and...self-storage. Yikes.

Office parks along I-270 and in Rock Spring near the mall are exactly the kind of places the most significant companies of our time are seeking for their headquarters - Apple and Google, for example, both have sprawling. low-rise, suburban campuses. High-wage aerospace and defense firms are seeking simiilar secure sites. Yet, companies like these aren't coming to Montgomery County. It's not because office parks went out of style, as Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai can tell you. It's because MoCo's taxes are too high, its regulation is extreme, the business climate is horrendously unfriendly, and the transportation system simply doesn't function - and doesn't go directly to Dulles Airport.

The last thing we need are more bedrooms around Montgomery Mall. Thanks to poor planning, and elected officials who are clueless about the world of international business circa 2017 (their few business trips have been taken exclusively to Communist countries, which probably explains a lot), we remain stuck significantly behind competing jurisdictions in economic development. Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction in the region to experience a net loss in jobs since 2000; all others around us gained jobs - even Culpeper County, for Pete's sake.

Government incompetence is costing you - in your paycheck if you work in MoCo, on your tax returns, and at the fuel pump and on your internet shipping charges, as traffic idles on the unfinished highway network of Montgomery County. Only by adding more boardrooms - not bedrooms - can we turn this around. Throw the bums out.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Timpano demolition imminent in Rockville (Photos)

Say your last goodbyes to the empty Timpano Italian Chophouse at 12021 Rockville Pike, in the Montrose Crossing shopping center. The building has been fenced off for demolition, and demolition permits are displayed at the site. Property owner Federal Realty is replacing the restaurant with a new 18000 SF, multi-tenant retail structure.

Rendering of the future
retail building on display
at Montrose Crossing

One last look pre-fence