Monday, February 18, 2019

Rockville McDonald's closes for renovations (Photos)

The McDonald's at 1390 Rockville Pike has temporarily closed for renovations. It's a major project that required the restaurant to close, unlike some of the makeovers the chain rolled out earlier this decade. Customers are being referred to the Derwood McDonald's location during the project. There are also McDonald's further down the road at 11564 Rockville Pike, and at 2101 Veirs Mill Road in Rockville.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Mass layoffs announced at Rockville company

Centerra Group, LLC, a government safety and security contractor located at 11555 Rockville Pike, has informed the state of Maryland it will conduct mass layoffs of its employees March 31, 2019. The firm filed a WARN notice with the state regarding the layoffs yesterday.

Eighty-seven employees are slated to lose their jobs, according to the notice filing. This is another blow to the anemic job activity in the White Flint area, which was capped off by the humiliating loss in the Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes. Montgomery County's economy grows more moribund with each passing hour, yet our County Council hasn't taken a single action to address the economic development crisis in the first two months of its term. Heckuva job, Brownie!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Federal Realty exceeds revenue forecasts for Q4 2018

Federal Realty, which owns several major retail centers in Rockville including Rockville Town Square, exceeded analysts' forecasts for revenue in the fourth quarter of last year. The real estate trust took in $235.4 million in revenue in the quarter, compared to the $$234.2 million the Associated Press reports analysts had forecast.

Funds from operations, which adds depreciation and amortization to a firm's net income, exactly matched forecasters' estimate of $1.57 per share, the AP reports. Federal Realty's stock has climbed 23% over the last year. The City of Rockville recently began subsidizing anchor Dawson's Market at the struggling Rockville Town Square, where multiple large tenants closed in 2018, including Mellow Mushroom pizzeria, Pandora Seafood, and - briefly - Dawson's Market, until the city subsidy enabled it to reopen.

Federal Realty is headquartered in Rockville.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Public hearing February 25 for N. Stonestreet Ave. Plan amendment

The public can weigh in on the proposed amendment to the N. Stonestreet Avenue master plan at a hearing scheduled for Monday, February 25, 2019 at 7:00 PM before the Mayor & Council at City Hall. You can see the draft of the amendment online.

To testify, call 240-314-8280 by 4:00 PM the day of the hearing, or submit testimony in writing to or City Clerk’s Office/Director of Council Operations, City Hall, 111 Maryland Ave., Rockville, MD 20850.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Giant ends Senior Tuesdays discount

Senior Tuesdays usually find an increase in shoppers at local Giant stores. That was because of the 5% discount for seniors. About two weeks ago, however, some seniors discovered the popular promotion is ending.

While the 5% discount was honored that Tuesday, the shoppers were informed that they could sign up at the customer service desk for a new promotion where coupons would be mailed to them at home. I asked the corporate office at Giant, and they confirmed that the Senior Tuesday promotion is being axed.

Giant said they are introducing a new plan for seniors, a personalized monthly mailer with targeted coupons and nutrition advice. As store employees told shoppers two weeks ago, you can sign up for the mailings at the customer service desk using your Bonus Card and mailing address.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Collingswood Nursing Home acquired by private equity firm

Collingswood Nursing Home has been a landmark at 299 Hurley Avenue in Rockville for almost 50 years. Now its family ownership has sold the nursing and rehab center to Tryko Partners, a New Jersey-based private equity firm. Tryko has put the facility under the management of its Marquis Health Services firm, Skilled Nursing News reports.

The nursing home also sits on a prime piece of real estate, which makes it a very valuable investment for the long-term, as well. Potential redevelopment of the shopping center property up the street has already caused much consternation in the Rockshire neighborhood, so this is something to keep an eye on. However, the nursing home was recently renovated, suggesting it isn't going anywhere in the near future.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Rockville Planning Commission to hold public hearing on Twinbrook Quarter/Wegmans project plan

The Rockville Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on B.F. Saul's project plan for its Twinbrook Quarter project on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 at 7:00 PM in the Mayor & Council chambers at City Hall. The project will be anchored by a Wegmans grocery store at the corner of Rockville Pike and Halpine Road near the Twinbrook Metro station.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Rockville biotech firm's stock soars after successful study results

Rockville biotech firm MacroGenics enjoyed a spike of over 100% in its stock price yesterday, after it received positive test results for its Margetuximab antibody treatment for breast cancer. The Phase-3 clinical study, code-named SOPHIA, found the antibody was 24% more effective than trastuzumab in progression-free survival of test participants. 85% of those in the study had a factor that had not responded to other antibody treatments prior to Margetuximab, MacroGenics reported in a press release Wednesday.

The company believes the antibody also has potential to be effective against gastroesophageal cancer. “We are pleased with the SOPHIA clinical results and are especially grateful to the patients, their caregivers, trial investigators and site personnel who participated in the study. I would also like to thank the entire MacroGenics team and our business partners who worked diligently to bring margetuximab to the clinic and execute the SOPHIA study,” said Scott Koenig, M.D., Ph.D., MacroGenics’ President and CEO.

In moribund Montgomery County, biotech is the only real economic bright spot. With Fortune 500 and other major firms showing no interest in locating in Montgomery, our only hope at this point - barring an election defeat for our corrupt political cartel - is for an existing company like this to someday achieve such status. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

MCPS caught without surveillance cameras again in Richard Montgomery incidents

Twenty years after Columbine and two years after the Rockville High School rape scandal, Montgomery County Public Schools' leadership has been caught again without adequate security cameras and surveillance at its facilities. Two recent incidents in as many months at Richard Montgomery High School proved that once again. And along with a horrible record of school violence and fighting, teachers and staff sexually assaulting children, massive cybersecurity flaws revealed in a state audit, and a failure to even perform basic background checks on security employees, children attending MCPS schools remain unsafe under the system's current failed leadership.

The RM incidents - rearrangement of cups spelling seniors to instead spell a racial slur in December, and a swastika being painted on the school last month - should have been easily resolved using security camera footage. Police and school officials seem to know the general timeframe in which the incidents occurred. If cameras were in place, it would be a simple matter to look at all movements on the campus between those reference points. The fact that no photos of suspects or vehicles have been released by police by now speaks for itself.

How can this be, in the age of terrorism and mass shootings? The County Council and Board of Education clearly do not have student safety as a top priority, An examination of some of the truly frivolous expenditures by MCPS over the last two years proves that. So, too, did the 2017 County Council security camera procurement scandal, in which taxpayers unwittingly picked up the tab for a 4-camera security system worth less than $1000 for a whopping $22,000, putting the Pentagon's famous toilet seats to shame. Those cameras were for a County government building, not a school, to boot.

We can do better. Leadership, like the bad example and behavior of MCPS-employed adults that filters down to impressionable children in their charge, starts at the top.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Mayor & Council approve school test waiver for B.F. Saul's Wegmans-anchored Twinbrook Quarter project

Feinberg opposes;
Farmland parents turn
out in force

Rockville's Mayor and Council voted 3-1 to approve a school test waiver for developer B.F. Saul's Wegmans-anchored Twinbrook Quarter project last night, after delaying the controversial decision for nearly two months. Councilmember Beryl Feinberg was the sole dissenter casting a "No" vote. The waiver concept won support from Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, who had opposed Councilmember Mark Pierzchala's original proposal, which would have amended the city's Adequate Public Facilities Standards to allow schools in targeted areas of Rockville to have student populations at 150% of capacity.

The meeting's regularly-scheduled Community Forum became another public hearing on the question, with the vast majority of residents again opposing loosening student overcrowding standards. A large number of parents of students attending Farmland Elementary School turned out, as that already-overcrowded school is currently slated to receive a portion of the students who would be generated by the Twinbrook Quarter project, and others in that area.

Many parents became emotional as they described existing conditions at the jampacked school. "We are in a crisis mode at Farmland," one said with tears in her eyes. A father who brought his Farmland first grader to the meeting told the Mayor and Council of a "heartbreaking" conversation he had with his son just before the meeting started. He asked his son what his school environment was like, and his son "just looked at the ground and said, 'It's so crowded.'" The father noted that the boy's large class size prevents him from getting the extra help he needs with reading.

Among those favoring loosening standards were a millennial seeking more housing, and representatives of the Twinbrook neighborhood, which B.F. Saul has worked with for several years as the project moved forward.

In the end, there would be no across-the-board 150% standard, as a new waiver alternative was developed over the last week. But the full impact of the waiver and the new precedent on school overcrowding were not immediately clear. Newton and Feinberg complained that important elements of the proposal were left out of the documents given to the Mayor and Council Monday by staff, such as the stipulation that any additional units proposed for the project in future amendments would have the school test applied to them.

Newton announced at the outset of the discussion that the city would be forming a committee or work group to avoid a rushed process like this in the future. She said that among her goals were to avoid increasing the overcrowding standard above the current 120% of capacity, to seek boundary changes that would direct new students generated at Twinbrook Quarter to the Rockville High School cluster, and to remove the Town Center as a zone where weaker school capacity standards might apply.

Feinberg was not placated by this, and the meeting featured a rare disagreement between her and the Mayor that became mildly pointed at times. Noting that the waiver didn't require anything additional beyond what B.F. Saul was already required to provide for a "Champion Project," Feinberg said, "They are not doing anything extra." She disputed Newton's citation of a potential $70 million in revenue from Twinbrook Quarter to city coffers, arguing that "we have never received any documentation validating those numbers. Ever. " B.F. Saul's Todd Pearson said the documentation was submitted to the Mayor and Council, but Feinberg said it was never forwarded to her.

Lowering the boom on the deal when it was apparent it would pass, Feinberg blasted it on several fronts. Approving the waiver "sends the message that Rockville prioritizes development over our children's education," she said. Feinberg noted that Richard Montgomery High School has run out of extra classrooms it can convert to science labs, which will hurt science learning among the 1100 new students that could be added to the school in the coming years, if development could avoid moratorium.

Turning back to the issue that residents were getting nothing extra in exchange for the waiver, Feinberg asked, "What are we getting for this?" She then asked Pearson if B.F. Saul would provide 20,000 SF of public space as a condition for the waiver, but he was unable to make such a commitment last night.

Feinberg also raised potential legal issues. "This is clearly a carve-out for a developer, and one developer only," she said, adding that the city was now giving B.F. Saul "most-favored developer status." Now other developers will seek similar "gimmees" in the future, she predicted, and sue if they don't get them.

A potential candidate for mayor this November, Feinberg made clear she would vote no on the waiver, closing her speech by declaring, "Not with my vote, not on my watch."

Seeking to correct the record on a few points as the question was called, Feinberg was cut off by Newton, leading to another testy exchange as officials faced arguably the most unpleasant vote of this term. "I don't appreciate being cut off," Feinberg said. "You cut off all of us last Monday," Newton replied, "so I resent that comment."

When the vote was taken, the waiver was approved 3-1, with Newton, Pierzchala and Councilmember Virginia Onley voting in favor, and Feinberg opposed. Newton said at her victory party in 2015 that she did not plan to run for mayor again. While a solid supporter of more-responsibly-managed growth, as evidenced by her appointments to the Planning Commission, Newton has long supported the Twinbrook Quarter project.

Beneath the apparent drama on the surface, last night's events made sense politically for each elected official. Newton achieved a compromise, was able to advance a project seen as an accomplishment of her tenure as mayor, and won't have to face voters angry about the impact on schools this fall. Feinberg made it abundantly clear she was the defender of students and parents in this battle, while Pierzchala and Onley retained their pro-development bonafides. This sets up another election of contrasts this fall, even as speculation swirls about who will run for Mayor and Council.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Nighttime noise ahead on Aqueduct Road in Rockville

WSSC water tank on Aqueduct Rd.
in Rockville
The WSSC will be upgrading its water mains along Aqueduct Road in Rockville between Chilham Place and Old Canal Road this winter. To reduce the impact of water loss on residents, the utility will be performing the work at night, between 9:00 PM and 5:00 AM.

The project will take several nights to complete, and will take place this month or possibly into March, depending on weather conditions. As you may know, the WSSC has a large standpipe water tank on the next block, at 8505 Aqueduct Road, so these are likely large and important water connections underneath the road.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Rockville bank robbery suspect photos released in search

Montgomery County police have identified a suspect in the January 27, 2019 SunTrust Bank robbery inside the Shady Grove Road Safeway store around 4:05 PM that afternoon. Detectives have released surveillance camera photos of the suspect, and are seeking your help in identifying and locating him.

Anyone with information about the suspect or this bank robbery is asked to contact the Montgomery County Department of Police – Major Crimes Division at 240-773-5100.  To be eligible for a reward, tipsters may call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).  Crime Solvers will pay a cash reward of up to $10,000 for information provided to them that leads to the arrest and/or indictment of this suspect.  Tipsters will remain anonymous.