Friday, October 30, 2020

Pickpocket strikes at Rockville grocery store

Montgomery County police responded to a report of a pickpocket at a Rockville grocery store on Sunday. The victim's pocket was picked at a supermarket in the 9700 block of Traville Gateway Drive around 12:00 PM. There is a Giant grocery store in the shopping center on that block. Watch your wallet!

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Rockville Mayor & Council to discuss City Clerk, City Attorney positions in closed session on November 5

Rockville's Mayor & Council have scheduled a closed session meeting to discuss the City Clerk and City Attorney positions at 10:00 AM on Thursday, November 5, 2020. Under Maryland law, such sessions can be used to confidentially discuss "the appointment, employment,assignment, promotion, discipline, demotion, compensation, removal, resignation, or performance evaluation" of these city offices.

The position of City Attorney is currently vacant; Deputy City Attorney Cynthia Walters is currently serving as acting City Attorney. Former City Attorney Debra Yerg Daniel resigned at the end of the summer. Sara Taylor-Ferrell is the current City Clerk, and has served in that office for two years.

I note that a file name at the bottom of the agenda document includes the term, "performance review."

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Montgomery County Council passes massive developer tax cut, now wants to cut pay for cops, firefighters

The Montgomery County Council voted 7-2 yesterday to approve a massive property tax cut for developers, estimated to cost taxpayers from $400 million to upwards of a billion dollars over the next 15 years.After overturning County Executive Marc Elrich's veto of the developer tax cut, the Council is now seeking to cut hazard pay for police officers, firefighters, Ride On bus drivers and other frontline essential employees who are at high-risk of contracting Covid-19 daily during the coronavirus pandemic.

Yesterday's vote continues two disturbing trends by the Montgomery County Council: a continued shift of the tax burden from developers (who contribute to all nine councilmembers' campaigns) to workers and homeowners, and the ongoing practice by the Council of breaking labor agreements. 

While property taxes on homeowners have risen each year except 2014 (in which the average homeowner got a $12 tax cut - gee, thanks!), large developers have enjoyed tax cut after tax cut on property and impact taxes over the last decade. It started with a $72 million developer tax cut in 2010. Remember how your energy taxes were hiked, and an ambulance fee levied, around the same time to make up for that developer giveaway? Yep.

Combined with the County's failure to attract high-wage jobs or a single major corporate headquarters in over 20 years, outsize spending by Council, and the flight of the rich due to record-high tax burdens, the developer pay-days have blown an atomic bomb-size hole in the County budget. The result is a structural budget deficit as far out as the forecasts go.

So we've known by the last decade that massive residential development results in a deficit, as the costs this new housing creates for services like schools, infrastructure and social spending far outstrips the revenue it generates. 

We also know there's little demand for luxury apartments, as a large percentage of the new units delivered since 2010 are filled with airbnb hotel guests, college students and corporate contract residents, none of whom pay full-freight rent. In fact, the Council admitted there's no demand for high-rise housing atop Metro stations when introducing the new tax cut - and they're going to bust the budget and hike your taxes to build something nobody wants, just so they and their developer sugar daddies can still make a profit on it.

And we've learned that the affordable housing "crisis" isn't actually a crisis, because the Housing Opportunities Commission was able to move hundreds of people out of The Ambassador apartments into vacant units elsewhere and demolish the building, while the owners of affordable Halpine View said they have no takers for their vacant units in Rockville. Whoops! 

The shift in revenue burden has also moved from the large, international development firms that contribute to the Councilmembers' campaigns to the mom-and-pop developers who live in the community and build or expand single-family homes. Not only did the Council hit them with new regulations and tax hikes like the recordation tax, but they've recently sought to levy an all-new "teardown tax" on these small building firms. When you know that the Council's long-term goal is to change zoning to allow urban development in existing single-family-home neighborhoods, you can understand why they're trying to clear the construction field for the big guys.

But the Council isn't done spreading the unfairness around!

Now it wants to take hazard pay away from first responders and frontline employees that is in already-negotiated labor agreements. While the Council hides at home on Zoom meetings, these police officers and firefighters are responding to calls and speaking with often-unmasked citizens on a daily basis. Ride On drivers are helping similarly-essential personnel get to work, and low-income residents get to medical appointments, while exposing themselves to the virus on every shift. 

The same Council didn't even give our police officers a sufficient supply of PPE and hand sanitizer. How interesting that the same councilmembers - Hans Riemer (D - At-Large) and Andrew Friedson (D - District 1) spearheading the $1 billion tax cut for developers yesterday are also leading the charge to cut hazard pay for cops and firefighters. 

Now, even as the councilmembers' own $140,000 paychecks increase year after year, they want to again renege on labor agreements. County employees are counting on these agreements when planning the financial future of their families. The Council wants to take food off their tables during a pandemic, and turn it into cash for their campaign donors - and into future campaign checks for themselves.

It's outrageous.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Rockville to join Great American Smokeout November 19

Rockville City Council member
David Myles

The City of Rockville will officially join the American Cancer Society's annual Great American Smokeout nationwide event on November 19, 2020, to discourage smoking and usage of vaping products. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and the City Council will issue a proclamation to this effect, and residents are being directed to ACS smoking cessation advice and resources.

Rockville has already banned smoking in bars and restaurants, and in recent years on outdoor dining patios and on all City-owned property, including city parks. “While there is so much that is out of our control in this unprecedented moment, we can make individual decisions to improve our lives and the lives of those around us,” Rockville City Councilmember David Myles - who is also a physician - said in a statement Tuesday morning. “In addition to wearing a facial covering, stopping smoking has been shown to improve one's health and the health of those around you. Be a good neighbor and be good to yourself.”

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Monday, October 26, 2020

Rockville voters head to polls as early voting begins in Maryland

Montgomery County voters who want to vote in person, but cast their ballots before Election Day, are heading to early voting centers like this one in Rockville starting today. Early voting here in Maryland runs through Monday, November 2, 2020, from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM daily.
Executive Office Building early voting
site in Rockville

You can see the early voting locations and the current wait time at each on the Board of Elections website. Around noon today, the current wait time at the Executive Office Building voting site in Rockville was the longest at a whopping 90 minutes. Jane Lawton Community Center in Chevy Chase and Sandy Spring Volunteer Fire Department were shown with 45 minute waits. The wait time at the Silver Spring Civic Center and Wheaton Recreation Center, conversely, was zero minutes at noon.

Early voting sites with the longest
wait times on the first day of
early voting

One other tricky hurdle for voters besides the lines is matter of the ballot questions. Voters wishing to support the citizen questions on the ballot that would prevent the Montgomery County Council from voting to exceed the annual cap on property taxes, and change the structure of that County Council to nine smaller districts (and eliminate the four At-Large seats) will want to vote "Yes" on Questions B and D. 

Questions A and C are questions with similar wording the Council itself placed on the ballot. But if A and C are approved, they will cancel out Questions B and D, and neither change sought by the citizens who signed petitions would take place in that event. 

Rockville man killed in crash on Norbeck Road

A Rockville man has died after a collision on Norbeck Road Friday night. Detectives with the Collision Reconstruction Unit of the Montgomery County police say Christian Richardson, 24, of Dumbarton Drive in Rockville, was riding a 2014 Yamaha FZ-09 motorcycle heading west on Norbeck Road approaching Llewellyn Manor Way around 8:20 PM. A 2007 Toyota Prius on Llewellyn Manor Way attempted to cross Norbeck Road to enter Northwest Branch Recreational Park, and the two vehicles collided.

Richardson was transported to an unidentified local hospital, where he later died from his injuries. The driver of the Prius, identified as Tatiana Ogundeko, 22, of Waldorf, and an adult female passenger were not injured in the collision. They remained on the scene and are cooperating with police. Anyone with information regarding this collision is asked to contact the Collision Reconstruction Unit at 240-773-6620.

Strong-arm robbery in Rockville

Montgomery County police responded to a report of a strong-arm robbery in Rockville on Thursday morning. The robbery was reported along the street in the 11400 block of Rockville Pike around 7:15 AM, according to crime data.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Rockville planning staff recommends removing "substantial retail" requirement for Rockshire Village Center in master plan

Rockville Planning Commission
Chair Charles Littlefield

Residents in the Rockshire community of Rockville have long asked the Rockville Planning Commission to preserve the retail-only use of the Rockshire Village Center property in the update of the city's Comprehensive Plan. Developers seeking to redevelop the property are asking for retail use to be minimized or deleted altogether, asserting that there is no market demand for retail at that location. The Planning Commission will consider the competing arguments at its 7:00 PM, October 28, 2020 virtual meeting. City planning staff has now weighed in with recommendations.

Planning staff "does not believe that retaining the restriction on the site that it may only be retail
is in the best interests of the community or the property owner," a staff report included in the meeting agenda states, in response to testimony by resident Randy Alton. Responding to testimony opposing retail use by Bob Youngentob of development firm EYA, staff goes further, recommending commissioners delete the word "substantial" from "substantial retail" as a condition for any residential redevelopment. 

Staff also notes that commissioners could remove the word "retail" altogether. "In that case," the report suggests, "the language could be shortened to simply say:  'Any housing development must provide a significant amenity that would be an asset to the broader community.' An amenity could include retail or community space, but neither would be identified explicitly."

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Lidl proposes Rockville store in King Farm, Derwood area

German grocery chain Lidl is proposing a Rockville store in the King Farm-Derwood area. The store would be on the former CarMax property at 15931 Frederick Road, near the Shady Grove Metro station. As part of the proposal, an affordable housing development with 200-250 units would later be constructed on another part of the property. The grocer is also promising to upgrade the streetscape along the Frederick Road side of the property, to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Rockville "undercover billionaire" finds Camaro Z-28 he drove while student at Richard Montgomery High School

Billionaire Glenn Stearns is best known as TV's Undercover Billionaire, and as the founder of Stearns Lending. Lesser known are his Montgomery County days, when he attended Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville. Stearns never forgot his 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z-28, but never expected to find it again after being forced to sell it later.

But, as he tells Hot Rod magazine, Stearns incredibly found the car while attending a Barrett-Jackson auto auction with football legend John Elway. The Glacier Blue Z "was a known fast car on the streets of Rockville, Maryland, and among fellow students at Richard Montgomery High School," Hot Rod reports.

Now Stearns is once again behind the wheel of the car that once cruised the streets of Rockville. Bidding by phone when he had to leave the auction early for business, the billionaire reclaimed his long lost car. As sports car aficionados know, it's hard to stay "undercover" for long driving a Camaro Z-28.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Kanye West qualifies as write-in presidential candidate on Maryland ballot

Kanye West has officially qualified as a write-in candidate for president on the 2020 Election Maryland ballot, the Maryland State Board of Elections announced. West's name does not appear on the list of presidential candidates on the ballot, but it can be written in by voters in the "Write-in" box in that race. 

The significance of his qualification is that the state will tally the numerical total votes West receives, and they will appear in the election results. Write-in names that have not been qualified by the SBE, while still counting, will not appear in official result tallies.

West is running on a ten-point platform that includes reform of the justice system, fair trade, restoring prayer in schools and reducing household and student debt. Having spent some of his childhood in Montgomery County, West has said the area gave him his forward fashion sense, and he has given Rockville and Takoma Park shoutouts during his D.C.-area concerts in the past.

Maryland releases draft Covid-19 vaccination plan

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) released a draft of the state's Covid-19 vaccination plan this morning. Like all states, Maryland must submit a plan like this to the federal government for how it will store, distribute and administer any future approved vaccines for the coronavirus.

The Maryland vaccination plan is split into three phases: the initial period when vaccine supply may be minimal and who should have priority to receive it must be determined, a second phase when large amounts become available and there is a more general rush to administer it to a large number of people, and a third, ongoing phase when one or more Covid-19 vaccines continue to be distributed like a flu shot in the future.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R)

The Maryland Department of Health Center for Immunization (CFI) will orchestrate the operational side of implementing the plan. MDH's Office of Preparedness and Response (OP&R) will focus on planning, coordination and logistical matters. And other MDH programs and agencies such as the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and Maryland State Police will take on other roles "as the operational needs evolve," the plan draft states.

Will you, the average Montgomery County citizen, be one of the first to receive a Covid-19 vaccine? No, according to the plan. In phase one, only high-risk members of the population and workers at hospitals, long term care (LTC) and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) are anticipated to be vaccinated. 

The plan states that two doses of the potential vaccine(s) will likely be required, with a period of three or more weeks between shots. Maryland plans to use its PrepMod and Maryland MyIR online portals to send recipients a reminder that it is time to come in for the second dose. PrepMod will also initially be the main vaccine management system, 

PrepMod is an online clinic management and appointment scheduling system. It is used by Maryland local health departments to conduct mass vaccination drives and vaccinations at school-located clinics. Maryland's ImmuNet will play a central role as the one-stop shop for health care providers to register as an official Covid-19 vaccine provider, order their vaccine supplies, track vaccine deliveries, report doses administered, and to determine scheduling of second doses.

Maryland's first priority in public messaging when a vaccine becomes available will be assuring the public that it is a safe and effective vaccine. Public communication will then emphasize vaccination of the most-vulnerable first, and then the general population.

One of the other key points covered in the report is the necessary training of providers in the handling, storage and administration of this new vaccine or vaccines. This training will have to be rapid. Among the required training efforts, Maryland plans to utilize state, federal and CDC materials and webinars to get providers up to speed quickly.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Rockville Mayor and Council to discuss undergrounding MD 355 in Rockville Town Center

Redevelopment of Rockville 
Metro station also to be discussed

A long-term goal of Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, the undergrounding of MD Route 355 where it passes through Rockville Town Center, will officially come before the Mayor and Council for the first time tonight at its 6:00 PM virtual meeting. The idea has been floated for decades, such as the above rendering from the 2001 Rockville Town Center master plan.

Newton revived the idea in recent years, with a goal of creating more public space for city events, and a calmer traffic environment for the town center. The space could replace the lost town center parking lots where events like Hometown Holidays formerly hosted concerts and carnival rides, but with less asphalt. City staff estimates the potential cost of such a project to be in the $200-300 million range.

This 1990s concept drawing of the
undergrounding of MD 355 created by
a city-hired consultant envisioned the
future redevelopment of the
Rockville Metro station surface areas

There is potential to combine such a project with development or redevelopment of the Rockville Metro station surface lots, and the Rockville Mall-era structure across MD 355 from it. Coincidentally, the Mayor and Council will also be discussing the former topic at tonight's meeting, as well. The staff report notes that the city's Rockville 2040 comprehensive plan draft calls for "a blend of moderate-density housing and neighborhood-serving retail" on the station site, and at the edge of East Rockville.

Images via City of Rockville

Dokiya Ramen closes in Rockville

Dokiya Ramen
has closed at 785-H Rockville Pike. Its space in the Ritchie Center has been cleared out. The restaurant had enjoyed a solid four-star rating on Yelp prior to closing.

Rockville to consider revising Covid-19 face covering policy

Rockville's Mayor and Council will consider a revision to the city's Covid-19 face covering policy tonight. The proposed change would no longer allow face shields as a substitute for a mask, and also forbid the wearing of masks or face coverings that have exhalation valves or vents. 

According to a staff report, face shields are no longer considered effective enough in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, and masks that have valves or vents may actually contribute to the spread of the illness. The revision would still allow face shields to be worn in lieu of a mask by by those who are hearing impaired, and by those who care for or communicate with them. Otherwise, a mask would have to be worn under the face shield.

Staff are recommending approval of the revised policy. The Mayor and Council will discuss the proposal at its virtual meeting tonight at 6:00 PM. Montgomery County adopted a similar revision to its mask policy last month.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Friday, October 16, 2020

Purse snatching at Rockville grocery store

A purse-snatching was reported at a Rockville grocery store on Wednesday afteroon. Montgomery County police responded to the theft at a supermarket in the 12000 block of Rockville Pike around 1:00 PM. No force was used against the purse's owner in the snatching, according to police data.

Twinbrook Laundromat construction update

The lights are now on at the future Twinbrook Laundromat at 2131 Veirs Mill Road in Rockville. There is still paper over the windows, but the roadside sign is now lit at night. No opening date has been set yet.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Athleta opening location at Congressional Plaza in Rockville

Athleta will open its first Montgomery County location at Congressional Plaza in Rockville next spring, property owner Federal Realty announced this morning. This will be the performance and lifestyle apparel brand's third regional location, with existing stores in Georgetown and Tysons. Targeted toward active girls and women, the store is positioned to align with the same consumers as Federal Realty's new FITRow-branded fitness area at the shopping center.

FITRow will include CorePower Yoga and Orangetheory Fitness when it debuts. Athleta will be located by The Fresh Market at Congressional. “Federal Realty always seeks exceptional brands to complement our merchant mix at Congressional Plaza,” Kari Glinski, Director of Asset Management at Federal Realty. said in a statement. “With the opening of FITRow, featuring CorePower Yoga and Orangetheory, we are confident that Athleta will be a sought-after retail destination.” 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Montgomery County Council using taxpayer funds to campaign against citizen ballot questions

October 13 email sent from Montgomery County Council
government email system urging recipients to vote against
citizen-proposed ballot questions

Montgomery County residents have been receiving frequent emails from County Council members in recent weeks urging them to vote against ballot questions proposed by County residents. Just one problem: these spam political campaign emails are paid for by you, the taxpayer. If a politician wishes to campaign against a ballot question, they can form a new campaign entity or use their own campaign funds, but they cannot use taxpayer funds. This use of taxpayer-funded government email systems for political campaigning should be reviewed by the Maryland Board of Elections, and the Inspector General's office.

I personally have received two of these emails in just the last two days from Councilmembers Andrew Friedson (D - District 1) and Hans Riemer (D - At-Large). I've previously received several emails from their same government accounts, which also urged me to vote against Questions B and D. The shady and illegal tactic is simply one more reason voters should vote FOR Questions B and D, and AGAINST Questions A and C.
The October 13 County government-sent email illegally urges
recipients to vote a certain way on ballot questions

The taxpayer-funded spam email blitz is only the newest unethical tactic the Council has deployed against citizen efforts to chip away at its authoritarian power. While the citizen-petitioned ballot questions each received the support of nearly 20,000 Montgomery County residents who signed the petitions, the Montgomery County Council placed its own deceptive ballot questions with no public, democratic process. 

Content in years past to wage expensive campaigns against citizen ballot questions, the Council upped the ante and the corruption this year. With no advance warning or public process, the Council simply gaveled two identically-worded poison pill questions onto the ballot at a virtual online meeting. The scheme is intended to fool voters into voting "Yes" on all four. Legal experts have advised that if all four ballot questions are approved, they will cancel each other out, and none of the changes citizens sought will take place.
Fine print at bottom of email confirms it
was sent "on behalf of Montgomery County, Maryland Government"

Question B would eliminate the Council's ability to override the existing property tax cap, as they did in 2016 to slam homeowners with a 9% property tax increase, to cover for their mismanagement of the County budget. Question D would eliminate the At-Large seats on the Council, and reorder the Council into 9 smaller districts. Questions A and C are the Council's poison pill questions that mimic the language of B and D. 
Fine print also declares the email "is part of
the Council's newsletter software," a taxpayer-funded
government communications platform

Making taxpayers fund their corrupt schemes is nothing new for the Montgomery County Council. My investigation in 2018 found that Councilmember Hans Riemer was charging taxpayers to fund both a political website (even though each councilmember already gets a free, taxpayer-funded website on the Council's website), and to pay for his gas when he traveled to private meetings with his campaign donors.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Robbery and assault at Derwood restaurant

Montgomery County police responded to a report of a robbery and assault at a restaurant in the Derwood area Saturday night. An unspecified weapon other than a firearm was utilized in the robbery, which occurred at a restaurant in the 15800 block of Frederick Road around 10:06 PM, according to crime data.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Indecent exposure in Rockville

City of Rockville police responded to a report of indecent exposure in the Wootton Oaks neighborhood of Rockville Saturday morning. The incident took place in the street in the 100 block of Wootton Oaks Court around 10:55 AM. According to crime data, the victim in the incident was a minor.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Carmen's Italian Ice temporarily closes Rockville, Olney locations after employee tests positive for Covid-19

Two Montgomery County businesses announced they were temporarily closing yesterday due to employees testing positive for Covid-19. Carmen's Italian Ice said it would temporarily close both of its locations after one of its employees tested positive. Because some employees work at both locations, Carmen's is closing both the Rockville and Olney locations.

Patisserie Manuel also announced it would close its Westfield Montgomery Mall location until further notice, after one of its employees tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Both businesses have received positive feedback on their decisions from customers, a number of whom said they appreciated the honesty and openness about the situation.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Some Montgomery County voters haven't received their mail-in ballots

Some Montgomery County voters are hitting the panic button as the mail-in ballots they requested weeks or months ago have not yet arrived. The panic is not only due to the high anxiety about election fraud this year, but more so because these voters have seen friends' and family members' ballots arrive, while theirs haven't - even though in many cases the requests were mailed the same day, or even together.

The Montgomery County Board of Elections told one voter who requested his ballot over a month ago that, if he doesn't receive it by the end of this week, to request a "second-issue ballot." This can be done by visiting the Board of Elections in person (Monday-Friday, 8:30am-5pm) at 18753 N. Frederick Avenue., Suite 210, in Gaithersburg; emailing your name, date-of-birth, address, mailing address (if needed), and second ballot issue request to; or by reapplying online by texting VBM to 77788 or using this form.

Another big question for some voters is why their ballot isn't shown as received days after mailing it back, or placing it into a dropbox. BOE says that it can take up to two weeks for a ballot to be collected and processed.

Voters are correct to be concerned. I lost my voting rights in the primary earlier this year when my completed ballot was "lost in the mail" on its way back to the BOE, making it the first election I ever missed participating in since I was old enough to register. I personally have received my mail-in ballot. But I will be using a dropbox to return it this time.

CM Chicken opening Rockville location (Photos)

CM Chicken
, short for Choong Man Chicken, is coming to Rockville. The restaurant is putting the finishing construction touches on its future space at the Ritchie Center on Rockville Pike. It's a Korean concept, and some online reviews are calling it even better than Bonchon.

Specialties at CM Chicken include its signature Snow Onion Chicken and Tikkudak chicken. Snow Onion Chicken is fried chicken topped with a copious amount of mayonnaise and raw onions. Tikkudak chicken varieties all benefit from being baked in an oven after frying for extra crunch. Spice levels range from mild to super hot.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Next Level Studio opening new studio in Derwood

Next Level Studio
, a dance studio with a competitive dance program and a variety of classes, will open a new facility at 15811 Frederick Road in Derwood, across from King Farm. Classes are currently being held in a space at the rear of the building, while construction on the new studio is being completed at the front.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Rockville Ourisman Mazda construction update (Photos)

Here's a look at the progress on the new Ourisman Mazda dealership facility at 801 Rockville Pike. The dealership remains open during the construction.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Gold's Gym renewing lease at Rockville Town Square

Rockville Town Square has suffered another round of business closures over the last year, but the development is going to hold on to one of its biggest tenants. Gold's Gym is going to renew its lease at the Federal Realty property, according to an agenda item for the October 5 meeting of the Mayor and Council. 

This is good news for several reasons. First, it is one of the largest spaces at the development. Second, it is a major traffic generator for the other businesses in the Town Square. And it is an important amenity for residents in the Town Square and immediate area around it, where there is not a huge number of other gym options.