Monday, May 22, 2017

Mr. Smoothie for sale at Rockville Town Square

Mr. Smoothie is for sale at Rockville Town Square. The smoothie and frozen yogurt cafe has been in business since 1996, and remains open at this time. Sale price is listed at only $59,999.

Friday, May 19, 2017

F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre to close temporarily this summer for repairs

The F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville will close temporarily for repairs late this summer, from July 24-September 6, 2017. Roof beams will be reinforced, and a new motorized light bar will be installed, during the closure.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mayor and Council could pass outdoor dining smoking ban Monday

Smoking in outdoor dining areas could be banned in the City of Rockville as soon as Monday night. The Mayor and Council are scheduled to discuss the ordinance, but could waive a layover and cast their final vote, as well.

Of the public feedback on the proposal received by the city, 22 of 24 written comments supported the ban. However, one of the two negative submissions is a petition opposing the ban, signed by 189 people who oppose it. City staff has been unable to confirm how many of the 189 are Rockville residents, but then again, not everyone dining in Rockville is necessarily a Rockville resident.

Residents, businesses and patrons of Rockville establishments will have the opportunity to address the Mayor and Council on this issue during Community Forum, which is earlier in the meeting. The meeting begins at 7:00 PM this Monday, May 22, 2017, following an executive session that is closed to the public.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mayor and Council seek permission to demolish Rockville home for parking lot

The Historic District Commission will consider whether or not to declare a 1977 home in Lincoln Park historic at their meeting tomorrow night, May 18, at 7:30 PM at City Hall. Rockville's Mayor and Council purchased the home recently, for the purpose of demolishing it to make room for a parking lot at the Lincoln Park Community Center.

Although the area is historic for being one of the first subdivisions in Montgomery County available for purchase by African-Americans, the home itself is on a parcel that was created in 1976, 313 1/2 Frederick Avenue. Staff liaison Sheila Bashiri is recommending against historic designation.

For my part, having attended a number of events and meetings at the community center, I can attest that additional parking spaces are desperately needed at this facility.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Halpine View setting stage for redevelopment

The case of Halpine View and the taking up of the Veirs Mill Corridor sector plan by the Montgomery County Planning Board looks very much like a case of the tail wagging the dog. But for being one of the few actual growth sites in the plan area, the venerable garden apartment complex's ownership had few details to put on the table at a public meeting last night at Newport Mill Middle School.

Attorney Bob Dalrymple, representing the original family that still owns the complex, started off by noting that he grew up in Aspen Hill, and therefore feels personally invested in the area. He acknowledged Halpine View has been sector plan-shopping for several years, and are glad to have found a home in the Veirs Mill plan.

Nothing is imminent for the property, however. Dalrymple said the owners need the rezoning via the new sector plan in order to move forward. That means it's unlikely anything would happen for 2 years.

When it does happen, a representative of Grady Management said, Halpine View residents will get a year's notice of demolition. Surprisingly, in a county supposedly in an affordable housing crisis, he said Halpine View is experiencing a lack of interest from the market, and has vacant units.

Given that Halpine View is among the rapidly shrinking number of naturally occurring affordable apartment opportunities in MoCo, it's hard to believe they have habitable units sitting vacant. The Grady rep said renovation is not an option on the table.

The loss of 550 affordable apartments would be quite a blow. Unless the ultimate plan has that many MPDUs, it would mean a major net loss of affordable units. Dalrymple said affordable units will be "part of the discussion,' but the applicant isn't committing to anything beyond the minimum 12.5% of units required by the County at this juncture.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Another MCPS security employee charged with having sex with student

Montgomery County police have arrested and charged a Montgomery County Public Schools employee for allegedly having sex with a 14-year-old student at Col. Brooke E. Lee Middle School in Silver Spring, where he was a "security employee." Mike Anthony Lievano, 21, of University Boulevard in Silver Spring, has been charged with sexual abuse of a minor, a third-degree sex offense, and fourth-degree sex offense.

Police say Lievano turned himself in late last night, and was transported to the Central Processing Unit. He is being held on a $10,000 bond.

Lievano is the second MCPS security employee in a month to be charged with having sex with a minor girl at the school he was assigned to. In the first case, at Richard Montgomery High School, it was revealed that MCPS had failed to do a background check on that employee, who had faced charges in a strip club gun incident easily found through a Google search.

Detectives say Lievano and the girl at Lee MS started "dating" on March 29, after an exchange of text messages. They did not say how the suspect obtained the girl's cell phone number. "Inappropriate sexual contact" took place between the two at his home, and her home.

Police ask anyone who believes that his/her child may have been victimized by Lievano in a similar way to call the Special Victims Investigations Division at 240-773-5400.

Timpano demolished at Montrose Crossing (Photos)

Timpano Italian Chophouse has been utterly obliterated at the Montrose Crossing shopping center in south Rockville. All that remains of the restaurant is a pile of rubble, and a graded dirt area. Property owner Federal Realty plans to build a new retail structure in its place, which will hold multiple retail and restaurant tenants. That structure will likely serve the same purpose at the front of the property as the holdover, low-rise retail did at Federal Realty's neighboring Pike & Rose, when Montrose Crossing is redeveloped in the future.

Friday, May 12, 2017

New development aims to "fill the gap" between Metro and Rockville Town Square

Developer Foulger-Pratt unveiled its plans for a mixed-use development at 220 E. Middle Lane at a public meeting last night at Rockville Town Square. An 85', 230000 SF mixed-use building will include 240 rental apartments, and about 8000 SF of ground floor retail. BKV Group is the architectural design firm for the project, which will sit between Federal Realty's Rockville Town Square and Foulger-Pratt's two Class-A office buildings, Rockville Metro Plaza and Rockville Metro II, on what is currently a surface parking lot.
Foulger-Pratt SVP Dick Knapp
introduces the project team
at VisArts last night
Foulger-Pratt Senior Vice-President Dick Knapp said the project is designed to "fill the gap" between the Rockville Metro station and Rockville Town Square. Ground-level retail, landscaping and amenities will be utilized to activate what is currently a dead stretch of E. Middle Lane. "To the extent E. Middle Lane is activated," Knapp argued, "it's going to make that connection between the Metro and Town Center that much better." 
The existing site of the
future apartment building,
looking northwest from
E. Middle Lane
Knapp said the theme of filling the gap expanded, after the company met with Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, and City Councilmembers Julie Palakovich Carr and Mark Pierzchala.

"We got a lot of excellent feedback from those three," Knapp said of those elected officials. In direct response to their input, he said, new elements were added to the project that fill needs for the city. Knapp said that Foulger-Pratt has agreed to Newton's request for family-size, 3-bedroom units. As a result, 11% of the MPDUs in the building will be 3-bedroom units, a longtime housing priority for the mayor.

Those 3-bedroom MPDUs will rent for only $1400-a-month, Knapp said. 1-bedroom MPDUs will run as low as $1000, and 2-bedrooms for $1335-a-month. He predicted market-rate units in the building would be similar to The Upton across the street. Studios would likely start at $1500-a-month, 2-bedrooms at $2300, and 2-bedrooms with dens at $2500.
This existing vehicle
access to nearby buildings
will be preserved under the
future building
The building construction will be wood-frame atop a concrete base, with 6 levels of residential over parking and retail. In order to preserve access to the existing parking for both The Palladian and the Foulger-Pratt office buildings, as well as to the existing loading docks, a sizable garage entrance will be located on E. Middle Lane. On the right side of the building, an "urban grotto" will provide pedestrian access to the office buildings and parking.

Aerial view of the site,
with future building at
center in white
In the garage entrance on the left side near HSBC Bank, there will be a Capital Bikeshare station, a map of parks and trails in the city, and a bike repair station with tools and an air pump. Knapp credited Palakovich Carr and Pierzchala, both cycling advocates, for suggesting those amenities. Out front, there will be cafe seating potential, if a restaurant tenant ends up leasing space there. The building will wrap around a central courtyard, which will feature a pool. Environmental features will include a green roof, a green panel along the building's frontage, and a bio-retention facility.

Closer view
(click to enlarge)
As Phase 3 of Foulger-Pratt's development of this site, the project has existing approvals from the City of Rockville. But that approval was for a 100' office building, not residential. The applicant will have to file, and get approval for, a project plan amendment to make the change. Barbara Sears, the applicant's attorney, said the project already complies with the city's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. Bill Robinson, a civil engineer with VIKA working on the project, said the team believes the existing water main at E. Middle Lane and Monroe Street - which flows south toward City and Montgomery County government buildings - is adequate for the new sewer demands this project will represent. If during the process they find otherwise, they will be prepared to address that, he said.

Sears said school capacity is "adequate under the test" now applied under the city's updated APFS. Students living in the new building would attend Beall Elementary, Julius West Middle School and Richard Montgomery High School.  The target demographic for the project includes "singles and couples in the technology field," and empty nesters, Knapp said. Foulger-Pratt anticipates both groups will find the "lock-and-leave" services the company will provide as the property manager appealing. He said the company plans to hold on to the property for the long-term.

Tree-lined path pointing
NW at right is the
"urban grotto"
Both Sears and Knapp suggested traffic would be lighter under the residential use than the original office proposal. There will be 1.2 parking spaces per unit, Knapp said, as well as capacity in nearby garages. He noted that hundreds of spaces were available in the adjacent Maryland Avenue garage at Rockville Town Square, when he pulled in last night. "We're going to provide plenty of parking, I assure you."

The interior bike station
accessible from E. Middle Lane
Montgomery County's moribund private sector economy continues to drag down demand for office space. No major corporation has relocated to the County in two decades. Foulger-Pratt's Phase 3 office project seems to be the latest victim. County officials eager to get rid of office parks favored by biotech and defense firms have tried to spin the office vacancy crisis, arguing that only office space near Metro is viable.

Vehicle and bicycle access
from E. Middle Lane
Foulger-Pratt's real-life experience suggests otherwise. The company tried to attract an anchor tenant for the third office building, steps away from Metro, Knapp recounted, but there were no takers. He said demand is hurt further by the large number of vacancies south of Rockville, in places like White Flint and downtown Bethesda. "Bethesda has a lot of vacancies," Knapp said. Rather than continue to sit on the property, he said, the company decided to switch gears and develop as residential. Duball, LLC has its own residential project that will be directly across the street. Knapp announced that construction on that project should begin next summer.

Courtyard with pool
Construction was on the minds of nearby residents who attended the meeting. Noise and dust were immediate concerns for residents of The Palladian at Rockville Town Square, which is directly adjacent to the Foulger-Pratt site. One resident of that building was concerned that the E. Middle Lane access for Palladian residents to Garage B would be cut off when Maryland Avenue closes for events. A representative of the architecture firm said the design will maintain that vehicle access. He said they are working closely with Federal Realty on that issue, as well as on making the side of the building that will be seen by Town Square patrons walking between the development and the garages, appealing. Residents of the new building will have elevator access from that side. "We are looking closely at that design. It's a challenge."
Town center residents also expressed strong opinions on current retail, and potential tenants for the new building. Knapp said project planners were making locally-owned retail and restaurant tenants a priority, but some residents dissatisfied with limited options said they would welcome a chain grocery store or market. "This place is so dead," said a resident of the town center. Dawson's Market is too small and specialized, she said, and the closest full-size grocery store is "the most pathetic Giant I've ever been to." The resident said she had moved north from White Flint, and noticed the difference in retail options. "I miss Harris Teeter," she said.
View from E. Middle Lane
The resident suggested a more mainstream grocery market as the tenant for the 8000 SF of retail space in the new building, far less than typical grocery stores require. "It's one thing to make money," she said. "It's another thing to say, 'Here's some trees, here's a place to sit, and here's a market.'"  Knapp said the technical term for what she wanted was "small format grocer." He assured the woman her market suggestion "will be in the minutes" of the meeting. Another resident disagreed with having a chain, saying he preferred Foulger-Pratt's original concept of attracting local tenants.
A resident who lives across E. Middle Lane from Rockville Town Square lamented the vacancies in that development. He suggested that adding residents from the new building to the area would help. "We need more residents here...who can shop here," he said. Knapp agreed. "Town Center needs support."

That support is still nearly five years away, however. "It's going to take awhile," Knapp acknowledged of the timetable. He said groundbreaking is two years away, and that it will take about two years to construct the building. Sears predicted the project's Pre-Application Submittal would likely be filed "toward the end of the month." Next up, will be informal presentations to the Planning Commission and Mayor and Council, followed by the formal approval process and public hearings before both bodies.

With the announcement of a Japanese steakhouse as the future ground-floor tenant at Rockville Metro II next door, the entire block between MD 355 and Maryland Avenue could be fully-activated at street level by 2021 or 2022.

Kabu Japanese Steakhouse to open in Rockville Town Center

The wait for a ground floor tenant in the Rockville Metro II Class A office building seems to have paid off for Foulger-Pratt. Kabu Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi will open in an 8250 SF space on the ground floor of the building in late summer 2017.

There is currently a Kabu Japanese Steakhouse in Laurel. The menu is centered around hibachi grill cuisine with a theatrical presentation, as well as sushi, sashimi, and a full bar with signature cocktails. Located at One Choice Hotels Circle, diagonally across the street from the Rockville Metro station, the building is anchored by the international headquarters of Choice Hotels.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

There's a nominee for the Rockville Planning Commission

The Rockville Planning Commission currently has two vacancies. At next Monday's Mayor and Council meeting, May 15, at 7:00 PM (there will be a closed executive session at 6:00 PM), the Council will consider a nominee for the appointment, Jane E. Wood.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Montgomery County Council: Building a better $640 toilet seat...for $22000

Non-profits continue to be one of the biggest sinkholes in the Montgomery County budget, and as a source of political patronage, a hotbed of scandal for elected officials. A bloated Health and Human Services Budget remains just as "taxing" - pun intended. As I've previously mentioned, some non-profit employees who receive salaries and raises from the County Council turn around and write campaign checks to the councilmembers who voted for those outlays of taxpayer funds. Even as that scandal goes uninvestigated, your tax dollars are being wasted in outrageous grants to programs and non-profits that often defy common sense.

From the County that brought you the $900,000-over-budget sewer pipe in Glen Echo Heights, comes their next attempt to emulate the Pentagon's infamous $640 toilet seat. Yesterday, the County Council approved a barrage of budget line-items for County services and non-profits alike for FY-2018. Some were well-justified, and others a complete waste. Among the wasteful items was $22,000 for the purchase of a 4-camera security camera system for the County's new Supervised Visitation Center.

$22,000 for 4 security cameras in the year 2017? That price would certainly have gotten my attention if I were on the Council. If you consider that any County building would already have WiFi, you're talking about the four cameras, and video storage. According to Popular Mechanics, security cameras range in price from $100 to $950., a website that estimates project costs, states that Network-Attached-Storage devices range from $168 for 1 TB of storage, to $499 for 4 TB. Installation labor costs are estimated by to be $680 for four cameras. In other words, this whole system could be purchased and installed for under $1000, but the Council is picking your pocket for $22,000.

Interestingly, the $22,000 camera figure was not broken out in the Council staff report, but lumped with other costs in a $34,500 line item. The camera cost was mentioned by a staff member testifying before the Council yesterday. Not a single councilmember questioned the cost, and the item passed unanimously.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Rockville construction update: Metropolitan at Rockville Town Center (Photos)

Construction crews have been working on a terrace above Beall Avenue at the future Metropolitan at Rockville Town Center. Scheduled to deliver in the 4th Quarter of 2017, the Metropolitan will house 275 apartments, and 6033 SF of retail space. The retail space is below the terrace at street level in the above photo, and is being marketed by real estate firm Streetsense.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Richard Montgomery HS security leader arrested for having sex with student...again

Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent Jack Smith's apparent giddiness over the shocking decision to drop charges against the two students accused in the alleged Rockville High School gang rape was short-lived, to say the least. Remember the Richard Montgomery High School "security team leader" MCPS didn't run a background check on before hiring him - and who was then arrested for allegedly having sex with a 17-year-old female RMHS student? After being bailed out of jail quickly, Montgomery County police say he did it again.

Mark Christopher Yantsos was arrested Friday after a County judge revoked his bond. Police allege Yantsos defied orders to stay away from the student. Instead, they allege, he met with her several times since he was charged, and had sex with her once again.

Yantsos made headlines after it was revealed MCPS had hired him without doing a background check, which was proven by the fact that his previous run-in with the law - brandishing a revolver toward a woman he was trying to pick up at a topless bar - is easily called up in a simple Google search. Yet he was hired by MCPS to run security at Richard Montgomery. You can't make this stuff up, folks.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Rockville rape suspect freed after prosecutors drop rape charge

Henry Sanchez
Rockville High School gang rape suspect Jose Montano has been released by a Montgomery County judge, after prosecutors dropped rape charges against him in the alleged March 16 attack in a school bathroom. According to Fox 5, prosecutors are now going to pursue child pornography charges against Montano in juvenile court (he had been charged as an adult in the rape case).

Earlier this morning, the Washington Post reported that rape charges against the second suspect, Henry Sanchez, would also be dropped. The Post reported that he, too, would face child pornography charges, for having images of the alleged rape victim that were forwarded to him by Montano.

What we are not hearing, are the specifics regarding why prosecutors dropped the charges. Whatever evidence they are working with has obviously not been made public. Dropping the charges means the public is essentially being told a violent sexual encounter between a 14-year-old girl and two men in a school bathroom was a consensual and legal act. That is hard to believe, as Sanchez's defense attorney acknowledged to the Post. The public has a right to know what is going on here, in regard to the justification for dropping charges.

Equally important: If Montano is indeed being released, will he be arrested by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE)? ICE has declined to comment publicly on Montano, citing his age. But both Montano and Sanchez were detained by the Border Patrol after illegally entering the U.S. last year, and set free to family members under the Obama administration's "Catch and Release" policy. ICE did place a detainer on Sanchez. Will the County alert ICE to Montano's release, and Sanchez's release, should it occur?

Stay tuned.

Rockville rape suspect in court today; defense claims rape charge will be dropped

Rockville High School gang rape suspect Henry Sanchez is scheduled to be in court today to face charges in the alleged March 16 attack in a school bathroom. Sanchez's attorney, Andrew Jezic, has told the Washington Post that prosecutors told him they are dropping the rape case against Sanchez. Prosecutors have not publicly confirmed that report as of press time.

Should the charge be dropped, it would raise serious questions about the prosecution of this case. As defense attorneys engaged in victim shaming, prosecutors seemed to suggest that Sanchez's alleged role in the attack was the more egregious. Even if a consensual encounter in a school bathroom had been planned between the victim and alleged rapist Jose Montano (and no evidence has been made public to support that contention), that did not mean the victim had agreed Sanchez could participate, prosecutors argued.

If their case against Sanchez falls apart today, then, where does that leave the victim and the case against Montano? As for Sanchez, the Post reports prosecutors will pursue a child pornography case against him, for possessing photos of the victim that were forwarded to him by Montano.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, Sanchez faces immediate deportation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), unless Montgomery County politicians help him escape by not honoring the ICE detainer. Both Sanchez and Montano are in the country illegally.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Pie 360 closes in Rockville

Well, that was quick. Pie 360 has closed at The Galvan by Twinbrook. The pizzeria only opened last December at the JBG development. Customers are still coming by, and are shocked to find the place cleared out. They had a good four-star rating on Yelp, so it's not clear what happened.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Change is permanent in Rockville's town center [Sponsored]

[Sponsored content]
by Robert Dyer

The only constant in Rockville's town center for the last 60 years has been change. Newcomers may find it hard to believe, but Rockville once had a charming, historic town center like those still found in Frederick and Hagerstown. But in the 1960s, city leaders decided to demolish it, and pursue "urban renewal."

Redevelopment brought with it brutalist office buildings, the Americana Centre, and the modern Rockville Mall, anchored by a Lansburgh's department store. Only a year later, Lansburgh's was gone, an ominous sign of what was to come. Urban renewal had more businesses checking the Yellow Pages for movers in Rockville, MD, than adding up profits. What was seen as the jewel in the crown of Rockville's urban renewal was ultimately considered an albatross around the city's neck - particularly by developers eager to replace it.

The arrival of the Metro subway in the early 1980s, and the much-later construction of "Regal Row" along E. Montgomery Avenue, failed to change perceptions. Over the next two decades, city leaders sought to start over again.

A new plan sought to recapture some of what had been lost in the misguided downtown demolition mania. Centered around a Federal Realty mixed-use project called Rockville Town Square, the new design would be one to emphasize public space. At its 2007 opening, that was primarily embodied in the namesake town square. Well-programmed with events, there's always something going on in the town square, providing an energy not found in wealthier downtown Bethesda.
Cambria Suites guest room
But the change didn't end there. Choice Hotels moved its headquarters to the town center from Silver Spring. Duball, LLC brought another high-quality development in 2015, with the Upton apartments and Cambria Suites hotel. Phase 2 of the town center's redevelopment is bringing Kettler's The Metropolitan at Rockville Town Center, the Brightview West End senior apartments, and the already-completed 475 N. Washington Street retail-office development by The JBG Companies.
The Metropolitan at
Rockville Town Center under
construction in January
The JBG project came to represent a larger demographic change in the town center. Almost all of the businesses in the new building are Asian-owned. As gentrification pushed residents and businesspeople in Chinatown out of the District, many found a new home in Rockville. The city has become a dining destination for Asian flavors, and the arrival of acclaimed chef Peter Chang in 2015 made official what those in-the-know already knew.

There are big changes still to come. The city is now studying a plan that would place MD 355 underground through the town center, opening up the land above for redevelopment, and the creation of a large park. That park could allow the annual Hometown Holidays event to again include large concerts, which were the main draw for the late-May celebration.

Whether you're opening a business, relocating your office, or moving into a new apartment in the town center, Artisan Movers can provide the professional planning and execution of your move. Seniors downsizing into the Brightview assisted-living apartments will appreciate Artisan's secure and climate-controlled self-storage facilities, enabling them to downsize their lifetime of "stuff" at their own pace.

Artisan Movers is a Rockville company, not an impersonal nationwide chain. They have a perfect 5-star rating on Yelp, where one customer raves: "I give Artisan Movers a huge round of applause. I would use them again, and recommend Artisan Movers!" Once you consider your individual situation, you may just conclude that Artisan Movers is the right move for you.

This content is sponsored by Artisan Movers.