Friday, November 29, 2019

Kyoto Matcha opening today in Rockville

Kyoto Matcha Dessert is opening today at 33 Maryland Avenue at Rockville Town Square. This is a soft opening for Black Friday, for a special treat in-between doorbuster missions. Kyoto Matcha's desserts promote both matcha tea culture and traditional Japanese tea culture, the company says.
Their matcha tea is sourced from the Uji Matcha Supply Factory in Japan. Their philosophy is that of the modern expert on matcha, Mr. Matsushita, who advocates we "Let the tea return to the forest" - experiencing the beauty of the forest through the flavor of fine matcha tea.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Rockville gas station to be replaced with a new gas station, convenience store

The owner of the Gulf gas station at 801 Hungerford Drive, Petroleum Marketing Group, is proposing to demolish the station and redevelop the site. A new gas station with a convenience store has been proposed for the site by PMG.
Site plan
Site plan renderings show a 6-pump gas station with canopy, and a convenience store structure. The convenience store would be on currently-forested land on the property. No brand for the new station is indicated. With very limited parking, it does not appear to be a Wawa/Sheetz-scale operation. A community meeting on the project is scheduled for December 4, 2019, but no location or time information is currently given by the developer.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Rockville Baskin Robbins closing

This entire counter display at the
Baskin Robbins at Congressional Plaza
is up for bid when the store closes
Baskin Robbins is closing at Congressional Plaza on Rockville Pike. The contents of the ice cream shop are scheduled to be auctioned off after the closure. This is sad news, as this was the best Baskin Robbins location in the county, in my opinion, since the old Bethesda one on Arlington Road closed many years ago. If you're a big 31 Flavors fan like me, you can even buy the entire counter display and recreate it in your basement recreation room. It's a puzzling closure, as there always seemed to be customers whenever I stopped in to buy something here.

Photo courtesy Capitol Online Auctions

Monday, November 25, 2019

Robin Ficker leading Republican race for MD governor in 2022, poll says

Robin Ficker (center) is mobbed by
supporters after a 2017 speech in Rockville
Montgomery County attorney and activist Robin Ficker has won a Red Maryland poll that asked participants which potential Republican gubernatorial candidate they would vote for, if the 2022 GOP primary were held today. Ficker received 23.8% of the votes cast, beating current Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and Congressman Andy Harris in the conservative website's poll.

Among other intriguing names on the ballot was Baltimore Orioles baseball legend Cal Ripken, Jr., who received only 0.3% as a write-in candidate. Other prominent potential candidates included State Senator Michael Hough, a highly-respected conservative who has raised his statewide profile with bipartisan efforts on sentencing and prison conditions; Brian Murphy, who excited many in the base with conservative bonafides on social issues when he challenged Gov. Bob Ehrlich in the 2010 primary - picking up a Sarah Palin endorsement in the process; and Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, a former state delegate who has been seen as a promising statewide candidate by many in the party for over a decade. Schulz managed a strong showing at 5.6% among a list of dozens.

Prominent names missing from the poll included Wheel of Fortune host - and Annapolis resident - Pat Sajak, former Maryland First Lady Kendel Ehrlich, and 2014 gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar. Lollar, of Charles County, has a resume from central casting as a successful businessman and Marine veteran. One of the relatively few Maryland Republicans who can deliver a stemwinder of a speech, Lollar is one of several African-American GOP stars in the state who haven't received the support they should have from the party during election season.

Obviously, if Ripken or Sajak were to enter the race, they would instantly be frontrunners. Ripken in particular would have tremendous bipartisan appeal, but there's no indication he's even considering a run.

Ficker remains a force in Montgomery County politics, as the only figure to repeatedly defeat the MoCo political cartel in recent times, with ballot measures that have capped property tax increases and established term limits for County Executive and County Council. The Washington Post damaged Ficker's fortunes by entirely ignoring those triumphs. Instead of giving Ficker his fair paragraphs as a seasoned politician who would bring that same skill to addressing the County's many crises, and who had more impact on the County than his opponents, the Post bizarrely described him as a "heckler" through the entire campaign year.

Shooting gallery opens at Montgomery Mall

A new shooting range has opened at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. Located on Level 2 at the Dining Terrace, Aim Point allows players to shoot at knock-down targets with guns that resemble assault weapons. This looks like a fun addition to the entertainment options at the mall, just in time for holiday shopping. It's also much more affordable than the flight simulator that just opened upstairs. As the range's motto exhorts, "Never give up!"

Friday, November 22, 2019

Marc Elrich is right on Montgomery County housing targets

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich is yet again the target of another hit piece in The Washington Post, which makes no secret of its disdain for Elrich, labor unions, and the men and women of our police department. Incredibly, the article, "Executive won't back housing targets" (Metro section, November 21, 2019) presents no defenders of Elrich's position. It instead attempts to paint him as a man entirely alone. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Elrich is the most popular elected official in Montgomery County, in both die-hard following and in actual votes cast. One of the key reasons is his willingness to put citizens over the interests of developers in situations exactly like this. As I reported earlier this month, the developer-controlled Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has put forward an "affordable housing" scheme designed to profit - surprise! - developers.  It has asked local jurisdictions to build a specific number of new, low-income housing units by 2030. Of Montgomery, it has asked for us to allow 23,100 additional low-income housing units to be constructed by 2030, in addition to those already approved or proposed.

Needless to say, agreeing to such a target would bankrupt the County for multiple reasons. MoCo has a structural budget deficit as far out as the future projections go. Our economy is so moribund, Montgomery ranks rock bottom in the region by every relevant federal economic development statistic from job creation to new business starts to new business growth this decade. We haven't attracted a single major new corporate headquarters to the county in over two decades.

The County's debt is so large, if it were a department, it would be the 3rd-largest department in the County government. Despite record-high taxes, County revenue is actually declining. Many of the ultra-rich have fled to lower-tax jurisdictions in our region, taking their money with them. And most significantly, because the in-the-red-every-year budget has proven definitively that residential housing growth costs more in new services than it generates in revenue (even as places like Clarksburg have grown 800% in population in recent years). Imagine adding 60573 more taxpayers who will not make any significant contribution to revenue, while requiring education, medical care, food, police and fire service, social services, and more.

Adding 60753 low-income residents beyond those already on their way by 2030, while simultaneously subsidizing developers to generate those units, would be a financial disaster. And it must be noted that MWCOG is not counting or restricting the number of existing affordable units that may be demolished - a phenomenon that has led to a net-loss of affordable housing in Montgomery County over this decade. Just this week, I reviewed plans for a major redevelopment on Battery Lane that will result in a net-loss of affordable units. Will the same County Council that attacks Elrich, and supports the housing targets scheme, block the net-loss Battery development? Of course not.

But take a look at this article.

Reporter Rebecca Tan tells us that the "unprecedented push to address the region's affordable housing crisis has hit its first major snag." That is biased language in favor of the scheme in the very first sentence. She then describes Elrich as "stubborn." This is wild - I've never seen another Democratic executive in the region referred to in pejorative language like that by a Post reporter. He is "a serious roadblock to addressing the housing shortage," and his "position is particularly concerning given that Montgomery, a wealthy suburb of 1 million, has been asked to create more affordable units over the next decade than any other locality."

I recognize Tan is new to covering the County, but her report appears to lack the context of the County's disastrous budget picture and moribund economy. It doesn't matter how "wealthy" a jurisdiction or any enterprise is, if it annually spends more than it takes in.

Tan notes that the County Council, as I reported, voted unanimously to adopt the MWCOG housing targets. What she doesn't note, is that each of them accepted thousands or more in dollars of developer campaign contributions. And that Elrich, by contrast, does not accept developer money.

This is a key point of context - why is it missing from the article?

Tan allows delusional 2022 Elrich challenger Councilmember Hans Riemer to say, "Marc Elrich stands alone," the theme she bashes readers over the head with throughout the piece. She goes on to quote five people critical of Elrich's position - all of whom are funded by development interests - without acknowledging their conflict of interest.

There are many activists, neighborhood leaders, and residents who agree with Marc Elrich whom Tan could have quoted. Contrary to journalistic standards, she did not. She even allowed Riemer to lie about the infamous fake-news claim that Elrich would prefer jobs go to Frederick County, which was pushed by the developer-funded Greater Greater Washington blog last year.

Elrich inherited a moribund county economy, and neither he nor the Council have made any significant moves to change our business climate and regional competitiveness since taking office last December. But Elrich has an impeccable record of standing up for the vulnerable, looking out for the interests of residential neighborhoods, and providing better protections for renters. As Tan's article notes, Elrich is pushing for a "no net loss" housing rule. That is exactly the type of policy that will actually ensure affordable units are available for decades to come. To paint a longtime advocate for the less-fortunate as a "NIMBY," as Tan does, is absurd. She states "some critics" call him that, but failed to produce any for her report.

The fact is, as Elrich has noted in years past, Montgomery already has in the planning pipeline sufficient units to meet the expected population demand by 2030. And the reality is, Montgomery County decides how much our population grows - if we don't build, they can't come. So our fate really is in the hands of our elected officials, not those of fate itself.

Council President Nancy Navarro and others chastise Elrich for "denying" and "pretending" that there isn't a "housing shortage" or "need for affordable housing."

But there is growing evidence that we don't have a housing "crisis." Recently, the County Housing Opportunities Commission moved hundreds of residents out of the Ambassador apartments in Wheaton, and is demolishing the building. They moved them into vacant units in their other buildings across the County. Not far away, the owners of affordable and spacious apartments at Halpine View told attendees at a public meeting that they have many vacant units, with little public demand for them.

Wait a minute...we have a "crisis," but we could give up an entire apartment building, have enough vacant units idling elsewhere in the County to take all of those folks in, and have vacancies at Halpine View? This doesn't sound like a crisis to anyone with common sense.

What is this all really about?

As Tan expertly manages to note in yet another Montgomery County cartel talking point, people like Elrich may be "seek[ing] to shield single-family neighborhoods from bigger or denser development." That is exactly what voters in those neighborhoods elected him to do - protect them from the plans of the Council and their developer sugar daddies to impose urban mixed-use zoning on all established SFH-zoned neighborhoods across the County.

What this is really about is adopting Wild West zoning, and the MWCOG-County Council plan to have you the taxpayer fund developers, who will profit from overbuilding while bankrupting the County and destroying the successful suburban and rural neighborhoods those taxpayers live in. All under the guise of "helping the poor." It's quite obvious who's really being helped by this scheme, and it's not the poor.

We don't even have adequate infrastructure to handle our current population. Until we do, or until developers agree to provide more roads, schools, etc., pulling up the ladders to the extent we can - while protecting the existing housing of current residents of all income levels - is the only responsible way forward in housing policy.

Marc Elrich is right - and he is anything but "alone" on this issue.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Randolph Crossing Rite Aid becoming Walgreens

The Rite Aid store at 12222 Veirs Mill Road is being converted into a Walgreens. Walgreens acquired Rite Aid in 2015, and has taken three approaches to its stores: keep the Rite Aid brand, but convert the store's pharmacy into a Walgreens; convert the store into a full-blown Walgreens location; or close the store entirely.
Here we are getting an actual Walgreens. I'm still a Drug Fair man, the chain whose D.C.-area stores were acquired by Rite Aid in 1987. The more things change...

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Shady Grove Fertility named "top docs" for infertility by peers

Fourteen physicians at Shady Grove Fertility in Rockville were named the Washington, D.C.-area's Top Docs for infertility by a survey of 13,000 of their peers conducted by Washingtonian magazine. The winners were reproductive endocrinologists, Eric Widra, M.D., Michael Levy, M.D., Arthur Sagoskin, M.D., Anitha Nair, M.D., Andrea Reh, M.D., Kimberly Moon, M.D., Naveed Khan, M.D., Paulette Browne, M.D., Eric Levens, M.D., Jeanne O'Brien, M.D., Frank Chang, M.D., Joseph Doyle, M.D., and reproductive urologists, Paul Shin, M.D., and Cori Tanrikut, M.D.

"I feel privileged to be a part of a practice that is committed to supporting the needs of our patients, and most importantly, helping them to achieve their dream of parenthood," SGF co-founder Arthur Sagoskin, M.D. said Tuesday. "We thank our patients, peers, and Washingtonian for their recognition and continued support." SGF has delivered 85000 babies since it opened in 1991.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Rockville's Lockheed Martin Distributed Energy Solutions acquired by TRC Cos.

TRC Companies, a Northern Virginia-based engineering consulting firm, has acquired Lockheed Martin Distributed Energy Solutions of Rockville. LM-DES provides services to some of the top electric and gas utilities nationwide, TRC said in its announcement this morning.

“This acquisition positions us to capitalize on a fast-evolving energy market and continue to meet the growing needs of our clients," TRC CEO Chris Vincze said this morning. "The move reinforces our strategic growth strategy and advances our ability to deliver innovative, fully integrated solutions for any Advanced Energy project.”

LM-DES' Roger Flanagan will become Senior Vice-President for Advanced Energy at TRC as part of the deal. The former Lockheed division has 400 employees spread across nearly a dozen states.

Monday, November 18, 2019

More Christmas decorations installed at Westfield Montgomery Mall! (Photos)

Westfield wasn't finished decorating for the holidays at Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. They've added a bunch of new trees, candy canes, Christmas mints, ornaments and assorted other trimmings around the mall. And I caught Santa Claus on his throne this time, getting ready to take photos with mall patrons. Can the start of Black Friday, which falls on Thanksgiving these days, really only be ten days away? You better believe it! Christmas shopping excitement is in the air.

Historic Wire Building for sale again in Rockville

The Wire Hardware building, subject of one of Rockville's biggest historic preservation battles in the 1990s, is up for sale again. Saved and restored by local historic preservation organization Peerless Rockville, the building was originally constructed for resident William Wallace Welsh in 1895. The asking price is not being publicly listed online, but can be requested. 22 Baltimore Road has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Rockville Mayor & Council winners to be sworn in at inauguration Sunday

The winners of the 2019 election for Mayor and Council of Rockville will be sworn in at an inauguration ceremony this Sunday, November 17, at 1:00 PM at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre at 603 Edmonston Drive. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and councilmembers Monique Ashton, Beryl L. Feinberg, David Myles and Mark Pierzchala will take the oath of office. The Mayor and Council will hold their first meeting of the new term the next evening, Monday, November 18, at 7:00 PM at City Hall.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

ICE captures sex abuse suspect MoCo released after 3 days at large

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers located a man accused of sexually abusing a child in Montgomery County hiding in Virginia, three days after Montgomery County released him from jail. ICE found Luis Fredy Hernandez-Morales, 48, in Springfield, Virginia on Friday.

ICE officials blasted Montgomery County for not honoring its detainer on Hernandez-Morales, saying the County had put children in Montgomery County and Northern Virginia at risk while he remained at-large. In a statement, ICE called Hernandez-Morales' release "the latest in a continuing list of public safety threats Montgomery County, MD has released into the community rather than allow a lawful transfer into ICE custody."

"This case shows how the noncooperation policies of one jurisdiction can have serious public safety impacts on its neighbors,” ICE Washington Field Office Director Russell Hott said yesterday. Hernandez-Morales is involved with the youth ministry program at Iglesia de Dios en Cristo, located on W. Diamond Avenue in Gaithersburg, Montgomery County police have said. They have expressed concern that there may be additional child victims in this case.

Police seek suspect in attempted burglary of Derwood Gulf station

A man tried and failed to break into the Gulf gas station at 15805 Frederick Road in Derwood, and now police are seeking your help in finding him. The suspect attempted to break a window at the service station Tuesday morning at 3:25 AM. Unable to do so, he fled on foot.

WATCH: Video of Gulf suspect

Investigators are asking anyone with information regarding this suspect to call the 1st District Investigative Section at 240-773-6084. Those who wish to remain anonymous 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 an arrest and/or indictment for this crime.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

MD, VA agree on Capital Beltway Accord, American Legion Bridge widening

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced a historic Capital Beltway Accord at a joint appearance at the Capital Region Transportation Forum in Washington, D.C. yesterday. The bi-state agreement, which does not yet specify a timetable for completion, would widen the failing American Legion Bridge between the two states by adding tolled Express Lanes on and near the bridge. The states would split the cost, with the heaviest burden being picked up by Maryland, and both states expecting tolls will cover the entire $1 billion projected expense.

The accord also puts the backburnered Hogan plan for Express Lanes on the Beltway between the Legion Bridge and I-95 back on the table. No details on the staging of the that project in relation to the bridge widening were put forward Tuesday. The bridge changes would almost certainly fail to solve congestion if the new Express Lanes end at River Road instead of I-95, as they would only create another choke point there.

Adding Express Lanes to the Beltway and I-270 won't take the place of a new Potomac River crossing, which would take about 25% of rush hour traffic off of the Legion Bridge, according to a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments study earlier this decade. They won't provide the direct access to Dulles International Airport from Montgomery County that international businesspeople have made clear they require to consider locating their headquarters here.

In fact, without a new Potomac River bridge north of the Legion Bridge - and major changes to County and Maryland tax and regulation schemes, Tuesday's accord would simply be another victory for Virginia and the crafty Northam from an economic development standpoint. Improved travel times for non-Dulles-related traffic on the Beltway would certainly help all of us, and are absolutely worthy of public support. But without direct Dulles access and a competitive business climate, the Beltway accord will simply reinforce our position as the bedroom community for the booming job centers in Northern Virginia.

The accord is a win for Hogan, however, as he considers a surprisingly-strong bid for the U.S. Senate. If he stands his ground on the Potomac-to-I-95 Beltway Express Lanes this time, Hogan will have delivered a start on major traffic relief on both failing interstates in Montgomery County in time for the 2022 election. Hogan was also the governor to finally get the new Nice Bridge project moving after decades of delay; that structure is scheduled to be well under-construction by the time he would take on Van Hollen.

Hogan hasn't even been grandstanding to the extent he could on transportation. He has quietly delivered new improvements on I-270 - such as new feeder lanes that allow entering vehicles from some ramps to proceed on the freeway without having to merge - over the last year. Surprisingly, he hasn't called a press conference to crow about these small but significant traffic flow upgrades.

Considering Van Hollen's weak legislative record, scandalous history of conspiring to reduce African-American turnout in his 2016 primary run against Congresswoman Donna Edwards (earning a rebuke from Hillary Clinton herself in the process), and Hogan's bipartisan support, this could be a top-tier contest. Neither man excites the core base of his party. But if these transportation projects move forward, Hogan will have done something Van Hollen hasn't in over a decade - deliver actual change for his constituents.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Federal Realty posts renderings of FITRow at Congressional Plaza in Rockville (Photos)

A first hint of what to expect from the first floor entrance of FITRow is now on display at Congressional Plaza on Rockville Pike. Three fitness centers will take vacant retail space in a redesigned section of the shopping center in 2020, under the FITRow branding. Already on board are orangetheory fitness and Corepower Yoga; a third space is still available for lease. You can see there will be a lobby area to the left of the existing escalators.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Sunday Kitchen & Bath goes dark in Rockville

The windows at Sunday Kitchen & Bath at Rockville Town Square were blacked out on Sunday with window coverings. According to landlord Federal Realty, the space at 156 Gibbs Street is now available for lease.

How the storefront looked last week
before the windows were covered

Friday, November 8, 2019

Golden Samovar contents to be auctioned off next week

A "3-year new upscale restaurant is shutting its doors and making a complete, urgent liquidation. Rockville, Maryland," states an online auction listing. The photographs appear to match Golden Samovar at Rockville Town Square. According to the listing, the auction will take place online on November 13, and items will be removed the next day.

Among the 183 items listed are bar equipment, four microwaves, the cash register, the "Open" sign, chandeliers, the chairs, the tables, the booths, sinks, stoves, refrigerators, and even a butane torch and the swinging door to the kitchen.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

NTB closes Derwood location in Rockville

NTB has closed its Derwood-area store at 15609 Frederick Road in Rockville. They are directing customers to the NTB location down the road at 379 Hungerford Drive. NTB recently rebranded the Merchants Tire & Auto locations they purchased as NTB.

MoCo Council approves budget-busting developer-backed housing scheme

The Montgomery County Council quietly adopted a developer-backed regional housing scheme in a unanimous vote Wednesday. A vote that received little attention from the local media, and was preceded by no public process to promote taxpayer buy-in. Why was that? Probably because the plan, along with the almost-certain Kirwan Commission spending increases ahead, is likely to bankrupt Montgomery County and lead to massive future tax hikes. And because each of the nine councilmembers has accepted thousands of dollars from their developer sugar daddies.

Only the Council itself appeared eager to brag about its vote in a press release yesterday. But braggadocio doesn't substitute for mathematics aptitude nor budgeting skill, as the Council's annual structural budget deficit proves. The Council just put you, the taxpayer, on the hook for a massive spending increase - in education, social services, police and fire, health care, and developer tax giveaways - even as they (presumably?) know there's no way in hell future councils will be able to pay for it.

What does approving the developer-backed Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' "regional housing targets" actually mean? It obligates Montgomery County to build 23000+ new housing units for low and middle-income residents by 2030, in addition to those already planned. The County Council couldn't even be honest about that in the press release, which falsely claimed the number as 10,000 additional low-income units.
The initiative sounds good, and like most developer initiatives, it's meant to. The reality is, the scheme is all about developer profits, and taxpayers will be left holding the bag.

MWCOG itself predicts that 75% of the new residents coming to Montgomery County by 2030 will be low or mid-income residents. That not only means they will contribute little in tax revenue to the county, but that spending will have to skyrocket to provide the services and infrastructure such a population surge would require.

This would be difficult enough of a fiscal equation to square - massive new spending, with only 25% of the new residents able to shoulder the huge costs. But then you look at the bigger picture, and the alarm bells really start going off.

Montgomery County's moribund economy, job creation, business starts, and business growth are all rock-bottom in the regional rankings this decade. Despite record-high tax rates and tax hikes, revenue is actually declining, even as the County Council continues to spend more. Many of the ultra-wealthy have fled Montgomery County to lower-tax jurisdictions in our region, taking huge chunks of revenue that used to balance the County budget with them. Greater spending, fewer revenue-generating simply doesn't add up, no matter what brand of calculator you use.
Then you look at the debt and cost obligations of the County. The bond rating agencies have already criticized the current Council's budgetary dirty tricks, which have failed to adequately fund government retiree health benefits, for example. Our councilmembers might be shocked to learn that even governments have to pay their bills. How such incompetent people were allowed to take power is a sad commentary on the sham, Soviet-style 2018 election, which had no general election debates or local media coverage of the County Council races. Joseph Stalin would be proud.

Debt is skyrocketing. If the County's current debt was a department, it would be the third-largest department in the County budget. The last thing a sane elected official would do in that situation is agree to a massive spending increase.
Finally, there's the coming budgetary atomic bomb: The Kirwan Commission. Kirwan is the biggest threat to the County's fiscal health since the state threatened to make the County pay more toward teacher pensions earlier this decade.

Kirwan is proposing astronomical amounts of new education spending, with no appreciable change in the actual curriculum or methods. Spending on education has already been jacked up year after year by the Council, to no avail. Test scores and graduation rates continue to decline, while the achievement gap remains the same or worsens.
Spending hikes proposed by the Kirwan Commission would literally be flushing good money after bad down the MCPS toilet. Money isn't the problem at MCPS. And don't forget, the maintenance-of-effort-on-steroids law adopted by Maryland will require us to maintain that level of spending into the future. There is no escape once these spending increases are approved.

Taken together, the housing targets adoption and the Council's rabid desire to adopt the Kirwan recommendations on the backs of the taxpayers, have placed Montgomery County on an accelerated course to fiscal oblivion. We can't go on like this.