Friday, February 28, 2020

Strong-arm robbery on Woodglen Drive in Rockville

A victim reported a strong-arm robbery on Woodglen Drive around 8:30 PM Wednesday night to Montgomery County police, crime data indicates. The victim was in a car at the time of the robbery, records state.

Rockville Mayor & Council to dedicate new Swim Center upgrades March 1

Rockville's Mayor and Council will be on hand this Sunday, March 1, 2020, at 2:00 PM to dedicate the renovated Rockville Swim Center at 355 Martins Lane. Improvements include an updated lobby and expanded locker room facilities. Work continues on further updates at the swim center. Sunday's event is free, and open to the public.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Pickpocket at Shady Grove Hospital

A pickpocket incident was reported to Montgomery County police at Shady Grove Hospital. The victim or victims had their pockets picked in the 9900 block of Medical Center Drive around 4:52 PM, according to crime data. Everybody check your pockets!

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Montgomery County Board of Education candidate forum scheduled for March 16

A Montgomery County Board of Education candidate forum has been scheduled for Monday, March 16, 2020 at 6:30 PM at the Potomac Community Center, located at 11315 Falls Road in Potomac. Candidates vying for the three open seats on the board have been invited to participate.

Thirteen candidates are competing for the At-Large seat; the two top vote-getters in that April 28 primary race will advance to the General Election in November. The two candidates running in each of the District races are unopposed, and will face-off in the General Election. Key issues are the school system's funding and budget, the achievement gap, academic decline over the last decade, student safety and a highly-controversial redistricting study now underway that some on the current board have openly said should include the forced busing of students to schools outside of their communities.

The forum's sponsors include the Montgomery County Federation of Republican Women and its four clubs, as well as the GOP Asian-American Association and the Republican Legislative District 15 Political Action Committee.

Goldfish Swim School opens in Rockville

Goldfish Swim School has opened at 1701 Rockville Pike. The privately-run school is located in the Shops at Congressional Village. Goldfish is open now, but will also host a free Grand Opening event on March 29, 2020 from 10:00 AM-2:00 PM, for those who want to see the facility and what they have to offer.

Photo courtesy of Goldfish Swim School

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Montgomery Mall to add more electric vehicle chargers

Electric vehicle charger at a
Montgomery County Safeway store
Westfield Montgomery Mall is already a popular stop for Tesla owners, who can charge their electric vehicles at the mall's Tesla Supercharger station while dining, shopping, or watching a movie. Now Westfield is adding two more charging stations for other electric vehicles this year. Malls, grocery stores, retail properties and town centers have become popular locations to charge vehicles, as ownership of EVs widens.

Derwood man missing

A Derwood man is missing, and Montgomery County police are seeking the public's help in locating him. Recardo Dewayne Dickerson, 46, hasn't been seen since he left his group home on Granby Road around 11:30 AM this past Sunday, February 23, 2020.

Police describe Dickerson as being about 5’07” tall, and weighing 165 pounds. He has black hair, brown eyes and facial hair that consists of a beard and mustache. Dickerson was wearing a red jacket, brown pants, and a blue hat when he disappeared.

Anyone who has information regarding the whereabouts of Recardo Dewayne Dickerson is asked to call the police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000 (24-hour line).

Monday, February 24, 2020

Montgomery County Council seeking authority for new property tax, income tax hikes

Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando (D - At-Large) will hold a press conference this morning to endorse two bills in the Maryland General Assembly that would broadly increase the Council's ability to hike taxes on property and income. If passed in Annapolis, the new taxing powers would allow the Council to hike property taxes even further on owners of homes 5000 SF or larger, or any subclass of property not specifically excluded in the bill, and to raise the County income tax and set multiple rates based on income. The proposed tax hikes come as County taxpayers are already paying the highest tax rates in history, and as large numbers of wealthy residents continue to flee to lower-tax jurisdictions in the region, resulting in declining revenue for the County as they take their money with them.

Last year, Councilmember Evan Glass (D - At-Large) proposed a "teardown tax," also known as a "McMansion tax." It would have taxed new construction homes that replaced existing homes, and then place an excise tax on the square footage added. The proposal was blasted by homebuilders, many of whom would have been forced out of business by the new taxes. Local media did their darndest to promote Glass and his tax, but rarely told the public that he did not even have the votes on the Council to pass it.

Jawando will endorse a bill today that brings the tax back in a new form - and then some. Applying to homes 5000 SF and larger, it again primarily targets teardown projects, by going after square footage. Jawando claims that 97% of County homeowners own homes less than 5000 SF in size, and promises that they would receive a "property tax cut." However, House Bill 1276 includes no such tax cut. There is also the possibility that the automatic assessment hikes each year would handily eclipse a nominal, tiny "tax cut." In that case, the "97 percent" of homeowners would continue to pay the same high property taxes they are now - and the ongoing annual increases.

The House bill is also much more general then what Jawando's press release would suggest. It could lead to all kinds of new property tax hikes on other kinds of property.

HB 1276 actually would allow the Council to create new, higher property taxes on any subclass of property. The bill appears that it could be used to sneak in the high taxes developers have sought for golf and country clubs that would run them out of business, forcing them to sell their club properties, to open up their vast lands for real estate development. In fact, under the current language, any subclass of property not exempted by the bill could face higher taxes of any amount sought by the Council.
Attorney and activist Robin Ficker
is mobbed by fans outside the
Council Office Building in Rockville
The property tax move is the Council's latest attempt to find an end run around attorney Robin Ficker's successful property tax cap ballot initiative, which requires the Council to vote unanimously to raise property taxes beyond the charter limit. When the Council did last did that, voters responded by voting to pass Ficker's ballot question allowing 12-year term limits on the Council and County Executive.

Ironically, Jawando's press conference is scheduled to take place at 11:45 AM this morning. Fifteen minutes later, at noon, Ficker is expected to deliver 55 lbs. of signed petitions for a new ballot question preventing the Council from passing another 9% property tax hike as they did recently.

But wait, we're not done talking about new taxes!

Jawando will also endorse House Bill 1494, which he claims will allow the County to increase the tax rate on incomes over $1 million a year from 3.2% to 3.5%. The Councilman says such a tax hike on millionaires would raise $88.4 million in new revenue annually.

One must ask, if true, why did the 9% increase of the already-progressive property tax only result in ongoing budget shortfalls each fiscal year since? Revenue is declining, not increasing, under the record-high tax rates now being paid. You can only get so much blood from a stone, especially when that stone has very smart tax advisors on retainer. Some on the Council continue to ignore what their own staff - past and present - has warned them about the impact of overtaxing, and their warnings are borne out in our declining revenue today.

One must also, again, read the actual text of the bill. In fact, under the language in the bill, everyone - that includes you! - could end up paying a higher income tax rate. "But Will Jawando says we won't," someone - likely an obsequious member of the local media or political cartel - might protest. As with the desperate Council attempt to create a Transit Authority last decade, it is key to ignore what the politicians say, and read what the actual bill says.

Under HB 1494, the Council could - for example - hike the income tax of all residents to 3.4%, and of "millionaires" to 3.5%. The bill has no language protecting "non-millionaires" from a higher income tax rate. It only says wealthier residents can't pay a lower tax rate than the people in the brackets under them, and allows the Council to create those brackets.

So even if you think the property tax hike on homes bigger than 5000 SF - and the income tax hike on incomes over $1 million - are good policy, you need to lobby your legislators to actually put those specific provisions into the bill. They aren't there as of this morning.

With no amendments to the text of each bill, both proposals will allow much corrupt mischief by the Council on property taxes, certainly hit local homebuilders and remodeling firms hard financially, and absolutely set up a potential income tax hike for every Montgomery County resident.

Will the proposed tax hikes destroy the Montgomery County economy? Probably not, because the County economy has already been destroyed. The new taxes will simply put a heavier layer of concrete atop the grave of the moribund economic corpse. And will make it all the harder for a future, competent set of new leaders to restore it once we have a free and fair Montgomery County election.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Virginia studying another Metro extension - why isn't Montgomery County?

The Silver Line isn't even finished yet, and booming Northern Virginia is already looking at another ambitious subway extension to Prince William County. Meanwhile, Montgomery County elected officials are looking at a ten-day February vacation, and even sleepier, moribund economic times ahead. What they should be studying are Metro extensions to the Upcounty and East County, studies that should have begun over a decade ago.

Clarksburg is about 12 miles from the Shady Grove Metro station. Burtonsville is around 10 miles from the Silver Spring Metro station. Virginia's $2 million Blue Line study is examining a 15-mile extension to Prince William via Fort Belvoir, Lorton, Potomac Mills and Quantico, modestly bigger than either potential Montgomery County extension.

Rail transit is far more advantageous for economic development than bus rapid transit. Unlike BRT, companies and developers can be assured the new transit isn't going to be suddenly cut off or rerouted. Ridership of rail would be far higher than that of buses or BRT (the County's future "Flash" B"Rapid"T will take a sluggish 87 minutes to travel from Clarksburg to Bethesda - longer than a car in traffic!).

In contrast, Montgomery County couldn't even get the Corridor Cities Transitway bus line built. Instead of high-speed rail technology fomenting a modern economic hub of the future, Montgomery's "Science City" ended up as Sleepy City. Just more stack-and-pack residential development, and thousands more cars vying for space on over-capacity I-270 and MD 355 every rush hour. Promised anchor biotech tenant Johns Hopkins Medicine just exited stage left as a result.

Meanwhile, what jobs we had in the 270 corridor continued to migrate to Northern Virginia and Frederick County. Montgomery County was at rock bottom in the D.C. region for job growth over the last decade. What we need are boardrooms, not more bedrooms.

There are also large properties planned for redevelopment north of Shady Grove, such as Lakeforest Mall, COMSAT and the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. These developments will not be "smart growth" without a Metro extension, or other rail service, and will not have the job component we need to also reduce the number and length of car trips in the corridor. The same goes for White Oak and Burtonsville.

A coordinated plan to address our moribund economy and failing, incomplete transportation system is needed. No such plan has come out of our current County Council.

Here's what we should be prioritizing today:

  • Study extending the Red Line to Clarksburg, including options for at-grade, elevated and cut-and-cover underground segments
  • Metro should connect to Lakeforest and COMSAT
  • Study of Metro extension from Silver Spring Metro to Burtonsville
  • Addition of third track to MARC Brunswick Line
  • Making Ride On bus service free
  • More business-friendly tax policy and regulations
  • More competitive state tax policies
  • Fully privatizing the County liquor monopoly, and allowing beer and wine sales at all grocery, drug and convenience stores
  • Coordinate timing of new business policies with zoning/sector plan updates that incentivize and favor commercial/corporate development (a.k.a. high-wage jobs) over residential housing
  • Planning and construction of long-delayed Midcounty Highway Extended (M-83 Highway Master Plan Alignment), with potential use for median/cut-and-cover simultaneous construction of rail line from Shady Grove Metro on relevant segments
  • Construction of equally-long-delayed new Potomac River crossing to Dulles Airport with trackbed for future Red Line extension to Silver Line in median, as a toll facility built by a private company
  • A concerted, focused effort on attracting aerospace, defense and tech corporate headquarters, and related research and manufacturing facilities (i.e. satellite and rocket assembly)
The Montgomery County Council isn't doing any of this. In fact, they're in the middle of a 10-day vacation. In February. 
Working hard, or hardly working?
In contrast, the Council-equivalents of our biggest competitors - Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties - are all meeting this week. It would be interesting if all local media - print, online, TV, radio - would join me in exposing the lazy work schedule of our self-proclaimed "full-time" slacker County Council.

Anyone who thinks we can dig ourselves out of this economic hole with a small-ball agenda by running empty BRT buses up and down, giving government contracts to small businesses, believing residential housing that generates more costs than revenue is the definition of "economic development," and patting ourselves on the back by adding the same STEM components to our schools that all of our competitors' school systems are also adding - or that it can be done under the leadership of our current County Council - is fooling themselves. 

Virginia has plenty of housing. But they also have plenty of jobs. Plenty of revenue, as a result. And they are making the big ticket investments to keep cleaning our clock for decades to come. Meanwhile, we're scaring every company away, have a structural budget deficit as far out as the projections go, are paying record high taxes, have massive debt, and steadily declining revenue even with a 9% tax hike several years ago. 

We can't go on like this.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

MVA expanding appointments to include vehicle titling

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R)
The Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration announced this morning that the appointment process it has used to address a backlog of Real ID verifications will now be expanded to include vehicle titling services. MVA Administrator Chrissy Nizer said that the appointments have been so successful and favorably-received by customers that the department decided to try expanding their use.

Customers who schedule a vehicle title-related appointment are guaranteed to be seen within 15 minutes of the appointment time, the MVA promised. In Montgomery County, the new titling appointments will be available at the Metropolitan Grove Gaithersburg and White Oak MVA branches. Appointments can now be made online.

New scrap metal furnace proposed for Southlawn Lane in Rockville

The Maryland Department of Environment says it is poised to issue a construction permit for a new metal reclamation furnace at Montgomery Scrap Corporation, located at 15000 Southlawn Lane in Rockville. A US Furnaces MAX 4000SP Secondary Aluminium Sweat Furnace, it is rated at 5MMBtu/hr heat input, and will be fueled by natural gas or propane. MDE says it is a replacement for an existing furnace.

To request a public meeting regarding the air quality impacts of the furnace, residents or other concerned parties must write to MDE within 20 days of the department's February 18 announcement of the potential permit approval. Public comments on the proposed furnace can also be sent to the same mailing address (within 30 days, or 5 days after a hearing if one is requested), which is Ms. Shannon Heafey, Air Quality Permits Program, Air & Radiation Administration, 1800 Washington Boulevard, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.

Anyone who would like to review the application, draft permit, and other supporting documents, can request Docket # 03-19 at the Rockville Memorial Library at Rockville Town Square.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Barnes & Noble raising the roof at Congressional Plaza in Rockville

It may or may not be a real upper floor, but a second level of architecture is being added above the future Barnes & Noble bookstore at Congressional Plaza on Rockville Pike. You may remember my update from December showed a frame structure rising on the front facade. 

Now there is a whole new roofline on top of that section of the strip mall, and it seems to be an attempt to match the higher floors of the Neiman Marcus last call STUDIO/new FITRow section directly adjacent to it, visually if not functionally. Having said that, anytime you have a bookstore with more than one floor, I will give you extra points for that. Also note that now the new front windows are uncovered.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Madison Reed Color Bar signage pops up in Rockville

Rockville Nights readers have known for a month that Madison Reed Color Bar is coming to Congressional Plaza this spring. But the harsh-chemical-free hair color studio is now making its imminent arrival public at the shopping center on Rockville Pike with some "Coming Soon" window screens.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Mavana Nails & Waxing closes at Rockville Town Square

Mavana Nails & Waxing has closed at 100-H Gibbs Street at Rockville Town Square. The salon opened in the spring of 2017.

Evoluxxy opens at Pike & Rose

Here's something that almost never happens in retail - a business that opens before the predicted opening season. Evoluxxy has opened at Pike & Rose. The women's designer-label fashion boutique was expected to open in the spring. Evoluxxy is located between Olive & Loom and Lucky Brand at 11811 Grand Park Avenue.

Bobby's Burger Palace closed at Montgomery Mall

Apparently, someone did manage to Beat Bobby Flay. Bobby's Burger Palace has closed at Westfield Montgomery Mall. It's hard to believe, but the upscale burger joint did manage to last for six years and four months, not bad at all for a restaurant in the horrible business climate the Montgomery County Council has created for thin-profit-margin hospitality enterprises.
The windows and door were blacked out Sunday, and a farewell message thanking diners was posted. I do recall being pointedly snubbed for the media preview of this restaurant in 2013, an event attended by Bobby Flay himself. Not very smart to not promote your restaurant to thousands of readers of the leading source for Rockville restaurant news at launch time. Always a bad way to enter a market in the new media age.

Friday, February 14, 2020

7-Eleven now hiring at Montgomery Mall store opening this spring

The long-awaited 7-Eleven opening this spring at Westfield Montgomery Mall got a step closer yesterday. Signs announcing that hiring of staff has begun were posted at the store's location in the Dining Terrace.
It will be interesting to see how many employees will staff the store. Most 7-Elevens are understaffed, but I have seen others around the country that have separate staff to assist with fresh food items. I'll have a Big Bite hot dog with everything on it.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Tesla Supercharger station now online at Pike & Rose

A new Tesla Supercharger station has now been activated in the Trade Street garage at Pike & Rose. The Federal Realty property's garage was already doing its part for the environment with the largest solar canopy on a retail garage in the state of Maryland. Now multiple stalls are available on garage Level P6 for Tesla owners to recharge while shopping, dining, or taking in a movie at Pike & Rose.
This Supercharger site is also is one more dot on the nationwide network of Tesla charging stations, a network that surpasses any of the automotive company's electric rivals in the industry. Only one Tesla owner was taking advantage of the new Supercharger last evening, but expect that to increase as the word gets out. I look forward to plugging in my Cybertruck here someday.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Pizza Palace for sale in Rockville

Rockville's Pizza Palace is for sale. The pizzeria, located at 14050 Travilah Road, has been in business for just over 20 years. If you've ever wanted to own your own pizza parlor, the asking price for the Palace is $64900, according to the online sales listing.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Kobe Bryant tribute at Montgomery Mall

Kobe Bryant is being remembered at the Microsoft Store at Westfield Montgomery Mall. The former NBA star and Oscar winner was one of nine people killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was one of several tech industry leaders to comment on Bryant's death in the hours and days after the crash.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Sherwin-Williams to open new Rockville Pike location

Sherwin-Williams Paint will open a new location at 856 Rockville Pike. The building, which is owned by Douglas Development, was formerly a mattress store. Construction of the store interior has begun.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Peking Duck to open at Montgomery Mall

Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda has announced that Peking Duck will open at the mall in the fall of 2020. The mall owner says the restaurant will specialize in the cuisine of Northern China. Peking Duck will be located on Level 1. Stay tuned for more details on Peking Duck.

Photo via Westfield

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana opening at Montgomery Mall

Coal-fired pizza appears to be the new trend in Montgomery County. Less than two weeks after the opening of Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza in downtown Bethesda, Westfield has announced that the pizzeria touted as the "world's best" by many is coming to Montgomery Mall by the end of this year. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana will be located on Level 1 of the mall. The photo released by Westfield suggests the pizzeria will have an exterior storefront, which makes sense with the town center-style addition coming to the mall this decade.

Founded in 1925 in the beautiful town of New Haven, Connecticut, the pizza chain is still run today by Frank Pepe's descendants. Each location has a coal oven modeled after the original one Frank Pepe began using in 1929. All of their current pizzerias are in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York, so this will be the first Pepe's outside of that region.

Pepe's has won the Best Pizza title numerous times from media outlets and dining guides. YouTuber Tarnation Bob swears by the mushroom pizza at Frank Pepe's, and their White Clam Pizza is known as their signature menu item. Soon it will be our turn to sample what we've been told is the World's Best Pizza at Montgomery Mall, and we're likely to see lines such as those in the photo above.

Photo via Westfield Montgomery Mall