Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Federal Realty plan would deliver new White Flint Metro entrance sooner at lower price (Photos)

The long-planned construction of a north entrance to the White Flint Metro station has been stalled since 2010. That year, Montgomery County approved the White Flint sector plan that requires the entrance be built, and WMATA conducted a study. An entrance closer to Pike & Rose, and - in relative terms - to properties north of Montrose Parkway, is considered essential to a successful redevelopment of the northern Pike District by property owners.

To try and get the ball rolling again at a time when Montgomery County councilmembers have managed to spend us into an ongoing structural deficit, developer Federal Realty hired a consultant to put together an independent study. Consultant AECOM and Federal Realty say the finished report shows the new entrance can be delivered sooner, and at a lower cost, than currently expected.

To achieve savings, the plan proposes breaking the development of the entrance into three phases. The Federal Realty proposal's price tag for Phase 1 would come in below the lowball option price of WMATA's study, which was priced in recession-era 2010 dollars, so the savings are likely even bigger than the numbers indicate. At only $11.1 million, Federal Realty's plan would deliver a functional station entrance at completion of Phase 1.

Later phases would add a station supervisor kiosk, exit fare machines, a pedestrian plaza, a bike storage facility, and employee and public restrooms, among other features and amenities. The push for the station takes on extra urgency, as the Pike District is considered the leading potential destination for Amazon's HQ 2 in Montgomery County.

While the empty former site of White Flint Mall is a major candidate, Pike & Rose is arguably the best choice for the long-term. Not only does it already have the urban "neighborhood" and entertainment, dining and retail options Amazon wants, but Federal Realty has several other large properties primed for redevelopment on the next blocks of Rockville Pike north of Pike & Rose. Amazon could end up with space to grow on the Montrose Crossing and Federal Plaza properties, which would be easily walkable from Pike & Rose - especially if a creative use or redevelopment of the underutilized parking lot north of Montrose Parkway at Towne Road is approved.
Federal Realty is now seeking to have a development study for their proposal funded in the FY-2019 Montgomery County CIP budget, and to develop a funding agreement and timetable among the County, WMATA and private stakeholders. The Federal Realty plan currently estimates the total price tag as $25.3 million.

PowerPoint images courtesy Federal Realty

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Mayor & Council to hold meeting in Twinbrook on Tuesday, March 6

UPDATE: The location of the meeting has been changed to the Twinbrook Recreation Center

The Mayor and Council will hold a meeting for Twinbrook residents on Tuesday, March 6, 2018 at 7:00 PM in the Social Hall at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, located at 603 Edmonston Drive. On the agenda is a community discussion.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Kabuto Japanese Steak & Sushi Bar posts "Coming Soon" signage in Rockville (Photos)

A long-awaited addition to Rockville's exploding Asian dining scene is finally showing further signs of life - and a modified name. It was nearly ten months ago when I broke the story that the owners of Kabu Japanese Steakhouse in Laurel had leased space for a new location in Foulger-Pratt's Rockville Metro II building at One Choice Hotels Circle. Since then, not much has happened besides the occasional appearance of a step ladder inside the space.

Now some significant work seems to be underway inside, and "coming soon" signage has been put up in the windows. The new year brings a new name for the restaurant, which will now be known as Kabuto Japanese Steak & Sushi Bar. For folks coming off the Metro at the end of the day, Kabuto will be the first restaurant choice they'll encounter walking into Rockville Town Center - Location, location, location!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Rockville construction update: Canopy by Hilton/bluemercury at Pike & Rose (Photos)

The new Canopy by Hilton is just about ready to open at Pike & Rose. A new bluemercury location is also under construction in the ground floor of the hotel.




bluemercury's corner spot on
the ground floor at Rose and
Grand Park Avenues

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Darnestown woman vanishes leaving courthouse in Rockville

A woman who left the District Court of Maryland courthouse at 191 E. Jefferson Street in Rockville around 9:00 AM yesterday hasn't been seen since. Montgomery County police say Diva Sada Anita Marshall, 28, is African American, approximately 5’5″ tall, and weighs 128 pounds. She has black hair and brown eyes.

Police and her family are concerned for her welfare, as she functions at a middle-school level. Detectives are asking anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Diva Sada Anita Marshall to call the Montgomery County Police Department’s non-emergency number at 301-279-8000.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Rockville construction update: The Red Door Salon & Spa at Pike & Rose (Photos)

The signage for The Red Door Salon &Spa has been installed and lit at 934 Rose Avenue at Pike & Rose. It is located on two levels at the bottom of the new Canopy by Hilton hotel and 930 Rose condo building. The spa and the hotel are both expected to open soon.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Ranked voting for Montgomery County elections advances in Annapolis

A bill that would drastically change Montgomery County's election process could be voted on in Annapolis as early as this week. MC 19-18/HB 173 would allow the Montgomery County Council to implement Ranked Choice Voting for County elected offices. It leaves all of the decisionmaking on how to implement instant runoff voting in the hands of the Council, ranging from how the ballots would be designed, to where they would be counted (in each precinct, or at a central location).

Ranked Choice Voting allows voters to rank a first choice, second choice, for each elected office on the ballot. Proponents say it allows the majority to prevail. A winning candidate who doesn't have an actual majority of votes can be bumped in favor of a second-place finisher, who has received more second and third place votes than the winner.

Is this good or bad? There seems to be no definitive study or consensus opinion. Some say it gives a boost to third party candidates. The Cato Institute says it "actually neuters third parties." Republicans have fought it in Maine; College Republicans in Virginia just endorsed it this month. The lack of cohesive response might suggest that ranked voting is indeed fair to all, and being focused on dozens of major local issues, I'm not prepared to condemn something I haven't had time to study in great detail.

But, the skeptic - which any good journalist should be - would naturally have to ask, "Why is the Council pushing for this?" What problem is it addressing? There have been no disputed elections in Montgomery County. There have been no spoiler victories, no GOP victories, and no third-party victories.

Ranked voting might have stopped Donald Trump from gaining primary and general election victories, but Trump was crushed by Hillary Clinton in Montgomery County, and this bill only applies to County offices. We know that Montgomery County Democratic turnout was low in June 2014, but the low turnout was mainly the result of incumbents' desire to hold the Democratic primary while many voters were at the beach.

At this point, I would just like to hear ranked voting proponents answer what specific problem in Montgomery County elections this bill is solving. For example, how the outcome of County races in 2014 would have changed with ranked voting, and what benefit that change would have had. If these types of Montgomery County-specific questions cannot be answered, it would not speak well for the bill, or garner public support for Council action if it passes.

Monday, February 19, 2018

AT&T Store closes on Rockville Pike (Photos)

A short-lived AT&T Store has abruptly closed at 1600 Rockville Pike. For whatever reason, AT&T has trouble finding permanent locations for their stores in Rockville. My assumption is that their next destination is Montrose Crossing. But until then, they are directing customers to their Bethesda store at 4957 Elm Street - hardly a convenient alternative for Rockville customers.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Rockville's Choice Hotels breaks ground in Ocean City

When you come into Ocean City on the Route 50 bridge this summer, you may well see signs of your hometown hotel giant's newest Maryland property. Choice Hotels, which is headquartered in Rockville, broke ground yesterday on the 133-room Cambria Hotel Ocean City at 309 N. 1st Street. The hotel is scheduled for delivery in the summer of 2019.

Located on a bayfront lot that LoopNet termed a "trophy location" when it was on the market, the Cambria Hotel Ocean City will have private balconies overlooking the Isle of Wight Bay, an indoor/outdoor infinity pool, poolside cabanas, a tiki bar, outdoor fire pits, local art collections, 2,200 SF of meeting space, a business center and - best of all - a rooftop restaurant/bar with a panoramic view of Assateague Island, Isle of Wight Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

"The groundbreaking of the Cambria Hotel Ocean City property represents another important milestone for the brand, as we continue to seek opportunities in markets that provide the distinct upscale and cultural experiences modern travelers desire, such as those offered in the vibrant beach town of Ocean City," Janis Cannon, SVP, upscale brands at Choice Hotels, said in a statement yesterday.

Rendering courtesy Choice Hotels/Fisher Architecture

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Stonestreet Corridor Study draft recommendations to be presented Feb. 22

Rockville planning staff will present their draft recommendations for improvements and redevelopment opportunities in the city's Stonestreet corridor next Thursday, February 22, at 7:00 PM at Glenview Mansion, located at 603 Edmonston Drive. Those recommendations will be based on staff analysis and the input gathered at four previous community meetings.

Planners will be seeking feedback from the public on the proposed recommendations at the meeting. The study area encompasses the east and west sides of North and South Stonestreet avenues, from the northern edge on Westmore Road south, to where South Stonestreet Avenue ends at Veirs Mill Road. In total, the study area contains more than 150 acres of land.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Mayor and Council debate Fireside Park apartments refinancing plans

City asked to contribute
$500,000 grant to aid

UPDATE - February 15, 2018, 5:40 AM: The article has been updated to reflect that Fireside Park is not being compensated for its refuse pickup services by the city.

Rockville Housing Enterprises plans to move forward with a refinancing plan that would facilitate modernization of the Fireside Park apartment complex at 735 Monroe Street. The organization made a presentation to the Mayor and Council at their Monday night worksession.

Loans contributed by the City of Rockville (from its Housing Opportunities Fund), Montgomery County, and a loan from Citibank, are all scheduled to mature in 2019. The interest rate on the proposed new financing would rise from the current 3.5% to 4.05%. But RHE contends that modernization will allow them to raise rents, and therefore be able to meet the payment schedule at the higher rate.

Recent fire damage will be repaired by the end of 2018, RHE believes. RHE Executive Director Jessica Anderson told the Mayor and Council that the organization's insurance adjuster had not yet provided specific numbers, however. Despite wood construction leading to more-costly damage in the blaze, RHE said adding concrete or steel would be cost-prohibitive. Residents of the destroyed units have been placed into what were vacant market-rate units on the property.

Before the fire, those market rate units had a 15% vacancy rate, much higher than the city average of 5.7%. That was a cause for concern for some city leaders. There is some question as to whether Fireside will indeed be able to get the proposed rents for the modernized market-rate units in the now more-competitive rental market near Metro. RHE officials assured the city the property will be desirable enough at the prices proposed.

Upgrades planned include HVAC, water system, masonry, laundry, full kitchen and bath replacement, and a new community room and fitness center. Those new common areas will require deleting one unit. Councilmember Beryl Feinberg suggested revamping "underutilized" basement apartments on the property into studio units, which she said would generate both additional revenue and more workforce housing for the city.

RHE is asking the city for a $500,000 grant as part of the refinancing plan. Feinberg suggested making that a loan, instead of a grant. Councilmember Mark Pierzchala said he was fine with the money being a grant, and praised the Fireside strategy the city bought into in 2012 coming to fruition as planned. "It's been a success, and I look forward to it continuing to be a success," Pierzchala said. The city's affordable housing-preservation goals and plan were met, and the city will get its money back, he added.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton suggested RHE had failed to reach one goal, of replacing washing machines as expected. She remained skeptical of RHE's ability to meet the payment demands of the new loan, with 3 fire-damaged buildings out of commission for at least a year. Newton also noted that Fireside is receiving an offset of application fees for renters, from the city.

Feinberg asked city staff to prepare a number of loan options the Mayor and Council can study, in addition to the recommended grant proposal. There was some back-and-forth on that debate, but Newton reminded her colleagues that they were not intended to make a final decision Monday night. A public hearing will be held on the matter on Monday night, February 26, 2018, and the Mayor and Council will discuss the matter further at their March 19 meeting. The final decision is expected to be voted on in April.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

KFC-Taco Bell to get makeover in Rockville

The KFC-Taco Bell at 9910 Key West Avenue will be making alterations to their existing drive-thru restaurant. They have requested a permit from Montgomery County for $150,000-worth of changes to the building. In contrast to most permit request entries, no details on the specific changes have been provided to the public by the County's so-called "open data" website.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Tobacco & More closes in Rockville (Photos)

Only a year after opening, Tobacco & More has been cleared out at Ritchie Center. Located at 765-L Rockville Pike, Tobacco & More sold cigars, accessories and hookah equipment.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Kielbasa Factory close to reopening after SUV crashes into store

It's taken two months for the Kielbasa Factory to recover from a bizarre incident on December 10, 2017. On that day, at 2:20 PM, a driver turned to park normally in a space directly in front of the shop in the Talbott Center, at 1073 Rockville Pike. Suddenly, the SUV surged forward into the storefront, causing extensive damage to the facade, the interior, and the store's electrical system.

The horror wasn't over yet. As two police officers emerged from the business next door to find out what the noise was, the driver shifted into reverse, floored the accelerator, and backed into a parked car at high-speed. The actions resembled a deliberate act, but police reportedly described the driver as having been "disoriented."

Fortunately, the store's insurance company facilitated complete repairs. Kielbasa Factory is tentatively hoping to reopen for limited hours around Valentine's Day. Once they get back to full operation, they will formally announce their Grand Reopening. Stay tuned for further details.

Photo via Kielbasa Factory

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Slapfish to open at Montrose Crossing

Slapfish will be in the space at right
Fast-casual seafood chain Slapfish will open a restaurant this year at the Montrose Crossing shopping center. It will be located in the new retail structure facing Rockville Pike, in the space next to Honeygrow, which is now open. While Slapfish has primarily been a western U.S. chain, it is making inroads here in the Mid-Atlantic now, with another location planned for One Loudoun.

Fish tacos, shrimp burritos, fish sandwiches, chowder fries and a variety of lobster dishes are just some of the items on the menu. Slapfish will also work seafood from our region into the choices. Whether they can make work what Lobster ME couldn't, will be interesting to watch.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

New beer and wine store coming to Norbeck Road

Beer, Wine & More is coming soon to 4007-BB Norbeck Road. The 1100 SF store will sell beer, wine, tobacco products, general merchandise, and have a deli section. It will be open daily from 9:00 AM to midnight, and the owner expects to open in March.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Halal Guys to open February 16 in Rockville (Photos)

The Halal Guys have announced their new Rockville restaurant will open on Friday, February 16, 2018 at Wintergreen Plaza on Rockville Pike. Here's an exclusive sneak peek at the new restaurant's interior:

Monday, February 5, 2018

Pike Kitchen Asian food hall coming this summer to Rockville (Photos)

Pike Kitchen will bring the popular Northern Virginia Asian food hall experience to Rockville this summer. The 6209 SF food court will feature several eateries and vendors serving food and beverages from a variety of Asian countries, and will be located in the Edmonston Crossing shopping center at 1066 Rockville Pike (next to Taco Bell). Coming Soon signage has just been posted outside their space.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Tara Asia being cleared out in Rockville (Photos)

Tara Asia is being cleared out at Regal Row. A Rockville spinoff from the local Tara Thai chain at 199 E. Montgomery Avenue, it recently closed despite a 3.5 star rating on Yelp and a 4.5 star rating on Grubhub. You can see one of the exterior signs was ripped off and placed on the bar. I always thought they had a nice-looking dining room here.