Friday, March 22, 2019

Rockville Mayor & Council end process to fill vacant seat with no replacement

March 20, 2019 agenda shows no closed session,
no vote on candidates
Closed session vote was
not listed on agenda

The sudden end of what was otherwise a long process to fill a vacant Rockville City Council seat raises several questions, legal and otherwise. At a special meeting Wednesday night, the three finalists were again interviewed by the Mayor and Council. After the third interview was finished, the Mayor and Council abruptly went into closed session. When the public was let back into the room, Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton announced there was no consensus among herself and the councilmembers sufficient to give any of the three candidates a majority. 

Councilmember Beryl Feinberg then made a motion to end the Council vacancy process, and leave the seat vacant for the remainder of this term, which ends in November. The motion was seconded by Councilmember Mark Pierzchala, and passed unanimously. "The onus is now on this body to come together and serve this city as one for the remainder of the term," Newton said after the process fell apart. 

How the process ended was only the latest indication that appointments are not the way to fill Council seats. But it also left several questions about the legality of how it ended. There is a process on the books for filling this seat, as bad as it was. But it was not clear that the process could legally end with the seat remaining vacant.

Secondly, the public was not only reduced to spectator status in this process, but was not given public indication that a vote would take place Wednesday night. As the photo of the meeting agenda clearly shows, a vote was not shown on the agenda. Nor was a closed session indicated on the agenda. That does raise some question about the legality of the meeting under the Maryland Open Meetings Act, which states, "'Before meeting in an open session, the public body must make available to the public an agenda' that (1) contains 'known items of business or topics to be discussed at the portion of the meeting that is open' and (2) indicates 'whether the public body expects to close any portion of the meeting' under GP § 3-305." 

Third, the vote to select a new councilmember should have been held in an open session. 

And finally, one or more participants in the closed session leaked the proceedings of the session - including the number of votes each candidate received - following the meeting. Such leaks are illegal, and an elected official could be disciplined for leaking details of an executive session.

Ultimately, the outcome may be to the benefit of residents, as there is no majority to ram through any decisions on the future of RedGate golf course, or on adequate public facilities ordinance changes. Given past votes, it's unlikely the Mayor and Council would deadlock on the passage of the new budget, although other critical issues could wind up in a 2-2 tie. And with no members representing a specific district, the empty seat won't leave one area without representation.

If anyone was treated more unfairly in this process than residents, it was the applicants themselves. They clearly spent a great deal of time preparing written statements and for interviews - some for two or three interviews. To dedicate so many hours for a job that in the end does not even exist was a waste of everyone's time and energy. With voting by mail now the norm in Rockville, there's no reason this process can't be switched to a special election in the future.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Ocado skips across the pond, and Montgomery County, in U.S. HQ search

Just months after Montgomery County's humiliating-but-self-inflicted defeat in the Amazon HQ 2 sweepstakes, even Amazon's enemies are passing on MoCo in favor of Northern Virginia. Ocado, a British partner of Kroger that specializes in online grocery sales systems, announced yesterday it will conduct its search for its future U.S. corporate headquarters from gleaming offices in beautiful and booming Tysons. CEO Luke Jensen said he was "delighted" with the Tysons choice, and that the office would open in April.

Ocado has a service called Prime Now, that delivers groceries you order online within 2 hours. If the order is small enough, it might be delivered by scooter. Kroger - which owns Harris Teeter and Ralph's - has partnered with Ocado to prepare for the increasingly-competitive world of online grocery shopping, where its greatest rival will be Crystal City's Amazon.

Northern Virginia is becoming a hub for so many things, it's hard for our super-low-energy Montgomery County Council to even keep track, much less compete. But grocery firms are one of the latest; Lidl chose Arlington County for its U.S. headquarters in the most recent example before this. One can reasonably predict the high-tax, low-energy grass of bedroom community Montgomery County won't exactly look greener from Ocado's offices high above the bustling streets of Tysons.

This is just the latest humiliation for Montgomery County officials this week. It follows another disastrous job growth report (there wasn't any), and Montgomery County's leading economic development official returning empty-handed from an expensive SXSW junket. What Montgomery's selling...they just don't want it. They just don't want it.

Robeks Juice, Olio Nails & Spa coming to Research Row in Rockville

The parking lots grow more full by the day at Rockville's newest shopping center, as Research Row continues to lease up after opening last year. Two new tenants are coming on-board. Robeks Juice is a smoothie shop that also features fresh juices and fruit bowls.

On the opposite side of the same building where Robeks is under construction will be Olio Nails & Spa. Robeks is still in the early stages of construction, while the interior fit-out of Olio Nails & Spa is much further along. Traffic at the property is currently dominated by tenants Chick-fil-A and Onelife Fitness.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Chico's relocates at Congressional Plaza

Chico's has relocated its Rockville store at Congressional Plaza. Their new location in the Federal Realty-owned shopping center is 1657 Rockville Pike, and is now open. The original Chico's location has been completely cleared out, as you can see in the photos below.

Moribund Montgomery iced out of ICEE HQ decision by Tennessee

Montgomery County has again been on the sidelines as dozens of major corporate headquarters have made relocation decisions in early 2019. Moribund MoCo, now at rock bottom in the D.C. region in virtually every economic development indicator, just got iced out of another one. While our corrupt elected officials were dozing at the switch, high-energy Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee closed a deal for the ICEE headquarters. The beloved frozen beverage firm is moving its California HQ to La Vergne, in Rutherford County Tennessee.

"It's such a business-friendly spot," ICEE President Dan Fachner said of La Vergne, according to the local Daily News Journal. The deal also includes a distribution center, and a requirement to create 207 additional jobs with an average salary of $60,152 within the coming five years. In exchange for a relatively-paltry $690,275 tax break, La Vergne, Rutherford County and Tennessee will get a $10.3 million project, and all of the tax revenue and collateral economic benefits.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R)
"ICEE's decision to bring its corporate headquarters to La Vergne highlights how Tennessee's low taxes, skilled workforce and quality of life continue to attract world-class businesses, said Bob Rolfe, the commissioner of the state's Department of Economic and Community Development," the Daily News Journal reported.

Once again, transportation infrastructure also played a big role in the decision. While not mentioned in media coverage of the ICEE deal, the City of La Vergne upgraded Mason Road and its utilities near Bain Drive during the year-long ICEE HQ decision process in 2018. And what do you know? That's exactly where ICEE is going to locate its HQ and distribution center.

Contrast that show of infrastructure investment and goodwill by Tennessee to the moronic decision by the Montgomery County Council to cancel the biggest infrastructure project in White Flint on the very day that Amazon executives were touring White Flint for their HQ 2 search. Along with the enablers in our obsequious and apologist local media, it couldn't be more clear why Montgomery has lost every single major corporate headquarters contest over the last two decades.
Google Maps image shows 13-minute trip to
the closest airport from the future ICEE site
The La Vergne site also sits right off of Interstate 24, and along a major rail line. Smyrna Airport is only 13 minutes away from the future ICEE property, and the major Nashville International Airport is only 18 minutes away, according to Google Maps. Meanwhile, Montgomery County officials have actively blocked any attempt to build a new Potomac River crossing that would provide direct access to Dulles International Airport, leaving all major airports a long, congested drive for busy executives - which is one reason those executives always pass over MoCo in location decisions. In fact, Montgomery lost the Discovery HQ to Knoxville, Tennessee, where Discovery chose a site with similar direct airport and interstate access.
The brain freeze of an ICEE isn't nearly
as cold as the one you'll get from the latest
Montgomery County Council tax increase
this year
While Montgomery County's corrupt, developer-controlled Council and Planning Board were busy converting MoCo's office parks to residential housing for their developer sugar daddies, Tennessee state and local officials were readying theirs for household-name tenants and success. While states like Tennessee and Virginia add highway capacity (and high-wage jobs and corporations follow), Montgomery County politicians in Rockville and Annapolis are aggressively fighting Gov. Larry Hogan's Express Lanes plan for the Beltway and I-270.
An ICEE chill settles over Montgomery County,
now the moribund bedroom community for booming
job centers elsewhere in the D.C. region
“With our top-rated school district, affordable cost of living and strong local economy, companies like The ICEE Company are choosing to relocate and put down roots in our community,” Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron said in a statement. Contrast that with Montgomery County's rapidly-declining public schools, high cost of living and record-high taxes, and moribund local economy. It's not a winning formula, to say the least.
The clock runs out on the
Montgomery County cartel
The ICEE victory again shows how attracting one major employer has a multiplier effect. Attracting Nissan to that same part of Tennessee decades ago fueled explosive economic growth in the area. Having traveled to Nashville many, many times as a professional musician, I've been surprised at how many people I've encountered there over the years are employed by Nissan or Nissan-related businesses. Some of them live in wonderful, new suburban neighborhoods developed as a result of the Nissan facilities. 520 new Nissan-related auto parts manufacturing jobs have been added in Smyrna in the last year alone, the Daily News Journal reported. Nashville also recently became home to the parent company of Hardee's and Carl's Jr,. another corporate HQ that MoCo didn't even compete for.

We won't attract that first breakthrough corporate headquarters with the super-low-energy, Berzerkley-inspired, anti-business "new" County Council that took office just over three months ago. They haven't acted on a single one of the major crises Montgomery County faces in the many weeks since. Their press release output in recent weeks features no Bill Lee-style announcements of new high-wage jobs, but instead highlights an "Islamophobia" resolution, an outdoor patio smoking ban, and a "Racial Equity and Social Justice Policy."

Res ipsa loquitur, indeed.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Sweetgreen Rockville opens at Pike & Rose

Sweetgreen opened yesterday at Pike & Rose in Rockville. The upscale, fast casual salad restaurant donated the proceeds of the grand opening sales to the non-profit FoodCorps. Some lucky patrons received free baked goods from Sweetgreen's future next-door neighbor, Sunday Morning Bakehouse. Sweetgreen is located at 11875 Grand Park Avenue.

Rockville construction update: BBQ Chicken & Beer (Photos)

BBQ Chicken & Beer has installed a permanent sign on the facade of their storefront at 9712 Traville Gateway Drive in Rockville. Work continues on the interior of the restaurant, which is taking over the vacant Quench space.

If you're interested in working here, they are currently hiring kitchen staff, servers and a bartender. Get a sneak preview of the BBQ Chicken & Beer Rockville menu by checking out the menu from their existing Centreville location.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Icon Bridal & Formal expanding to Rockville

Award-winning local bridal shop Icon Bridal & Formal is expanding down the pike to the Pike District. They've leased space for a new store at 11771 Rockville Pike, across from Pike & Rose.

Icon currently has a Darnestown location, which has won three awards from wedding planning website Wedding Wire. This space was last home to David Blair's almost-successful campaign for Montgomery County executive last year.

Performance Bicycle closes at Congressional Plaza

Performance Bicycle Shop has closed at Congressional Plaza. The closure was expected, as I reported last December. Everything has been cleared out of the space. It's especially notable that just as Montgomery County claims bicycle use is surging, bike shops across our moribund county are closing, including here and in downtown Bethesda.

Friday, March 15, 2019

White House Black Market closes Rockville store

White House Black Market, a solid-performing women's apparel boutique for many years, is the latest victim of the moribund Montgomery County economy. They have just closed their Congressional Plaza store in Rockville. Montgomery County has suffered a net loss of over 2100 retail jobs since 2000, according to the Maryland Retailers Association.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

KC Filipino nears opening in Rockville

KC Filipino looks about ready to open in the College Plaza shopping center in Rockville. The restaurant has completed its pre-opening health inspection by Montgomery County, and all of the furniture appears to be in place. KC Filipino is located at 15108-A Frederick Road, most recently home to Matt's House of Kabob, which closed in November.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Rockville acquires 6 Taft Court property

The City of Rockville has completed its purchase of 6 Taft Court, a 2.29 acre property that includes a 64,995-square-foot, three-story building. It is located in the industrial area along Gude Drive, and will relieve overcrowding at the present location of the city’s maintenance and emergency operations, the city announced Tuesday.

Those functions are currently housed at the city's Gude Drive Maintenance Facility on Rothgeb Drive. However, that facility has grown too small for these expanding divisions. It was never meant to hold two different departments of government when constructed, and is not ADA-compliant.

The city plans to move snow removal, street maintenance, recycling and refuse, parks and facilities maintenance operations, as well as water, sewer and stormwater maintenance, and other public services to 6 Taft Court. Emergency operations, as well as some storage and maintenance functions, will remain at 14625 Rothgeb Drive. As a bonus, vehicular access exists between the two properties, which are adjacent.

Rockville paid $5.88 million for the property to seller M8 Property Group, LLC — $220,000 less than the appraised value. That's quite a contrast to Montgomery County, which often overpays landowners who contribute to elected officials' campaigns when acquiring property, and sells public land to developers at sweetheart low prices.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

CBD Wellness opens in Rockville

Cannabidiol oil is the latest hot cannabis consumer product in the United States. But CBD, as it is known, is not the same as medical marijuana because it has no psychoactive effects. It has anti-inflammatory properties, with uses ranging from pain and swelling relief to cancer treatment.

CBD Wellness has just opened a retail location in the Ritchie Center in Rockville at 765-L Rockville Pike. Their products use a proprietary blend of cannabinoids and terpenes, in salve and tincture form. They've taken over the vacant space that was recently home to a tobacco shop.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Regal Row surface parking lot closes in Rockville for the last time

It's the end of an era in Rockville Town Center. The last remaining half of the surface parking lot across from the Regal Cinemas and Cambria Hotel that once also hosted large Hometown Holidays concerts has permanently closed. Drivers are being directed into the adjacent hotel garage to park.

The closure comes as a new mixed-use project by developer Duball, LLC approved for the site begins to gain momentum. Once a popular and convenient parking destination for moviegoers and diners, the two-step closure of the lot has thrown gas on the dumpster fire that is parking in Rockville Town Center. It has also rendered Hometown Holidays a shadow of its former self.

LebTav opens at Congressional Plaza in Rockville

Lebanese Taverna has opened its downsized restaurant at Congressional Plaza, rebranded as LebTav after moving next to Modern Market from its old location in the other wing of the shopping center. As I reported several weeks ago, the menu was downsized along with the space. Here is a picture of the official menu:

Friday, March 8, 2019

Rockville police assist U.S. marshals in arresting two at Montgomery County Circuit Courthouse

City of Rockville police assisted U.S. marshals and Montgomery County Sheriff's deputies in apprehending two men at the Montgomery County Circuit Courthouse this week, the Sheriff's Office reports. Deputies assigned to a courtroom for security in another case recognized two individuals wanted on federal charges of possession of a dangerous controlled substance, with intent to distribute.

The deputies alerted the U.S. Marshal Service and Rockville police. Personnel from both agencies responded to the scene, and the deputies then moved to successfully take both suspects into custody without incident, the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office says. The Rockville officers and marshals then transported the suspects to the federal court in Greenbelt.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Rockville narrows finalists for vacant Council seat to 3

The Mayor and Council of Rockville reduced the number of applicants vying for the vacant seat on the City Council to three Wednesday, following interviews with five candidates the night before. The three finalists will now be interviewed again by the Mayor and Council on Wednesday, March 20, 2019.

Those finalists are Monique Ashton, James J. Hedrick, and Robert J. Wright. The applicant chosen for the seat will serve until the Mayor & Council elections this November.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Construction underway on new Pike & Rose office building

Construction has begun on a new Class A office building at Pike & Rose, known as 909 Rose Avenue. Although the office market in moribund Montgomery County is weak, with no major corporate headquarters locating here in two decades, property owner Federal Realty is making a similar move to rival JBG Smith - moving their own headquarters from up Rockville Pike into this building, just as JBG will relocate its Chevy Chase HQ to 4747 Bethesda Avenue.

Federal is marketing the rest of the available space in 909 Rose with an emphasis on the amenities found in the Pike & Rose development, which now boasts arguably the best one-stop dining collection in Montgomery County. And the AMP concert venue and iPic Theater. The building itself will have a rooftop lounge and outdoor deck. Federal Realty is also promoting the idea that, with its HQ on-premises, tenants will have a better experience compared to a "remote landlord."

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Fallsgrove Sunday Safeway bank robber strikes again - and gets away again

Encore! Encore!
The same suspect returned to the scene of his alleged past crimes this past Sunday at the Fallsgrove Safeway at 14939 Shady Grove Road. As he has done each month so far this year, he passed a note to the teller at the in-store SunTrust Bank, obtained cash, and fled. He even came around the exact same time as he did last month. What's astonishing is that no one was prepared for him by now, and that some of the basic anti-robbery strategies appear to not be employed by SunTrust.

No exploding dye pack? No marked bills? Or other similar tactics to lead police to the perpetrator after a getaway? You would think the bank would be expecting the guy at this point, and that police would be staking out the bank on Sundays.

Instead, we have another photo of the suspect pulling off his latest alleged heist. It's no wonder he's often shown on his phone while at the store. "I can't believe how easy it is to rob a bank in Montgomery County - thank God for our soft-on-crime County Council," he must be saying to disbelieving friends. It's SunTrust customers in Rockville and elsewhere who have to pay ever-higher banking fees to make up for the cash that people like this guy get away with.

Anyone with information about the suspect or these bank robberies 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 may remain anonymous.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Rockville City Council vacant seat down to 5 finalists

Will developers have reason
to celebrate the closed process
to fill this Council vacancy?
Rockville's Mayor and Council interviewed twenty-one applicants for the vacant seat on the City Council on Saturday, March 2, 2019. They have now reduced the list of potential replacements for former councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr to five. Those five will be interviewed again on Tuesday, March 5 at 7:00 PM. The interviews will be broadcast live on Channel 11 and streamed live on the City website.

The five finalists are (click on name to read their application):

Monique Ashton - a  PTA cluster coordinator for the Richard Montgomery cluster in Montgomery County Public Schools, and a senior vice-president at Ogilvy.

Cynthia Cotte Griffiths - Richard Montgomery High School's Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) President and editor of the former Rockville Central blog and Facebook page. With an extensive professional background in non-profits, she is currently Executive Director of
DC-MD Justice For Our Neighbors in Rockville.

James J. Hedrick - Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) employee who currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Twinbrook Community Association (TCA), and on the board of Rockville Housing Enterprises.

Eugene M. Thirolf - retired Director of the Office of Consumer Litigation (OCL) in the Department of
Justice, with 20 years volunteer experience in the Richard Montgomery cluster that included being president of the PTSA at three schools in the cluster. He also was head of the Montgomery County Liquor Board, and a five year commissioner for the Rockville Ethics Commission, in addition to being a volunteer in youth sports.

Robert J. Wright - a former Senior Advisor with the U.S. Department of Energy, Wright served on the Rockville City Council for three terms beginning in 1995. He was defeated by Larry Giammo in the 2001 Rockville mayoral race, after some memorable rhetorical showdowns during the old Citizens' Forum segment of Mayor and Council meetings. A majority of residents sought a more responsible and lower-density development policy that year, among other concerns. Wright is promising not to run again in November if he is chosen to fill the vacancy now.

One thing clear so far in this process: the city needs a special election to fill vacancies like this, so that residents have a chance to fully interrogate the candidates in debates and forums on the critical issues like growth, development, and adequate public facilities. A second thing we know for sure is that this will be a somewhat-dramatic selection, as the Mayor and Council are split into two factions of two apiece. Someone will have to flip sides to anoint the winner here. Finally, residents will probably find time spent on recruiting and supporting five responsible-growth candidates for the real election this fall more effective than time spent worrying about who serves out the remaining months of this term.

Residents can ostensibly start weighing in on the finalists during the Community Forum at tonight's Mayor and Council meeting at 7:00 PM at City Hall. That meeting will follow a closed session, as the City is apparently facing a lawsuit that the Mayor and Council will discuss privately.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Future storefronts unveiled at Pike & Rose (Photos)

Construction walls have come down at three future additions to Grand Park Avenue at Pike & Rose. Unveiled on the Federal Realty development's main street are the facade designs of BurgerFi, Sweetgreen and Sunday Morning Bakehouse.

Burger Fi has an angled Dodge Neon Green arch across the top of their facade. It looks like some equipment, including a beverage refrigerator, are already in place inside.

Sweetgreen also looks far along inside, and their main and pedestrian-facing blade signs are already lit. The other two businesses are still awaiting installation of their signs.

Sunday Morning Bakehouse is still in the drywall stage inside. They are now hiring employees, and plan to open this summer. If you can't wait until then, chef-owner Caroline Yi has recently started a delivery service with a 30 mile radius. She also is vendor at the Pike Central farm market at Pike & Rose, which will resume this spring.