Friday, March 31, 2023

Botanero offering Passover meals to go in Rockville

at 800 Pleasant Drive in the King Farm Village Center in Rockville is offering a Passover Meal for Two for pickup on April 5 and 6 at the restaurant. The meal includes wine-braised brisket, chicken matzo ball soup, purple cabbage salad with cabernet vinaigrette, stuffed chicken breast with apricot glaze, carrot and sweet potato tzimmes, and flourless chocolate cake for dessert. It will serve 2 or 3 people, and provide some leftovers as well. You can order more than 1 for a bigger group.

The cost is $85.00 per 2-person meal. Orders must be placed by Monday, April 3, 2023. You can place your order online, and also include additional a la carte items from the Botanero menu for an extra cost, if you wish. 

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Nighttime noise ahead tonight in Rockville

Contractors for developer EYA will be working overnight on Fortune Terrace in Rockville tonight, March 30, 2023 through tomorrow morning, March 31. Delmarva Site Development will be performing water line and storm drain work between 9:00 PM tonight and 4:00 AM tomorrow morning. The firm has received a noise waiver from the Montgomery County Department of the Environment. It is scheduling the work for night hours to reduce the impact of water service disruptions to nearby customers.

A City of Rockville inspector will be on-site to monitor the work and hours of operation. The work is related to the EYA Potomac Woods development project at 11511 Fortune Terrace.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Car stolen in Fallsgrove area of Rockville

Montgomery County police are investigating the theft of a vehicle in the Fallsgrove area of Rockville. The vehicle was taken from a residential parking lot in the 700 block of Fallsgrove Drive. It is believed the vehicle was stolen sometime between 8:00 PM Monday night, March 27, 2023, and 6:30 AM Tuesday morning, March 28.

Strong-arm robbery in Rockville

Rockville City police responded to a report of a strong-arm robbery north of Rockville Town Center Monday evening, March 27, 2023. The robbery was reported along the street in the 700 block of Hungerford Drive (MD 355) at 7:46 PM. That's near the Giant and post office.

Auto parts theft spree in Rockville

A lot of vehicles are missing parts in the Twinbrook area of Rockville, after one or more thieves went on a theft spree there early yesterday morning. Montgomery County police responded to multiple reports from victims in the 13200 and 12900 blocks of Twinbrook Parkway, and the 12600 block of Veirs Mill Road. Most of the vehicles were parked in apartment complex lots over Monday night into Tuesday morning. One was parked at the Twinbrook Recreation Center. When it comes to auto parts theft, thieves are most often looking for airbags and catalytic converters these days.

Montgomery County Council unanimously "reaffirms" appointment of James Hedrick to Planning Board

Montgomery County Planning Board commissioner James Hedrick will remain a member of the body, after his February appointment was unanimously "reaffirmed" by the County Council yesterday. County Executive Marc Elrich had vetoed Hedrick's appointment last Friday, leaving the Rockville resident's fate in limbo for several days, as supporters and detractors resumed their debate over his candidacy over the weekend. Hedrick had received eight votes from the eleven-member Council on February 28 to secure his appointment, and needed nine yesterday to survive Elrich's veto.

Hedrick found nine, and then some, when every councilmember supported his appointment at yesterday's Council session. Some councilmembers who showed unusual spine in opposing Council President Evan Glass's behind-the-scenes maneuvering when the new Council first convened last December found their knees buckling on Tuesday. A tweet prior to the meeting inadvertently revealed that the Council had already reached a decison to unanimously support Hedrick, an agreement that was come to off-the-record, out of public view. Some of the same councilmembers who took Glass to task for making decisions off-line in December about committee assignments went along with his ex parte process this time.

It's likely the Council circled the wagons in this case because Glass could have sold the Hedrick Holdouts the argument that this was a vote on principle, of the power and will of the Council versus the executive. Does this mean the more independent minds on the Council will now support the Glass agenda for the rest of his term as president? No, as the competing bills on rent stabilization clearly show.

Is the Hedrick appointment reason for opponents of Thrive 2050 and its threat to end single-family-home zoning to get their blood pressure up? No. As I noted Saturday, Hedrick's support of Thrive and upzoning are hardly unique on the new Planning Board. The Council will not appoint anyone who opposes Thrive. Hedrick's votes will likely be indistinguishable from any other commissioner this Council would have appointed in his place.

If anything, Hedrick's appointment may improve the quality of the Board's work. Even if you disagree with the plans and policies he might vote to approve, his experience as chair of Rockville Housing Enterprises gives him an expertise on some of the technical and practical issues of multifamily housing that has been lacking in some of the commissioners in recent years. Board observers won't soon forget the many classic "amateur hour" moments from the Casey Anderson era, such as commissioners determining the maximum height for a parcel in the Westbard sector by looking at a distorted Google Street View image during a meeting.

One thing is for certain: the Hedrick controversy aside, the developer campaign contributors to the County Council are over-the-moon about the Planning Board situation as a whole. By all rights, the many scandals that ended with the forced resignation of the entire Board last year should have triggered comprehensive investigations by the local media, the Council, the Maryland Attorney General, and the FBI - starting with Farm Road and ending with Liquorgate. Some people might have even been looking at time behind bars in federal prison. Few could have imagined that the Council would be able to not only entirely sidestep investigations, but also seize the unprecedented power to appoint an entirely new Board and Chair all at once. 

We can wonder why the media and those other levels of law enforcement agreed to look the other way, much as they did during the 2018 County government $6 million embezzlement scandal. But we can truly know why the Council found the chutzpah to sweep the Anderson-era scandals under the filthy Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission rug. 

Once again, it goes back to one of the most pivotal moments in Montgomery County political history: the victory of the County political cartel over the Columbia Country Club in the Purple Line struggle. The elected officials dared to grab the third rail (pun intended), and when the next election came around, they realized that they weren't electrocuted - they were reelected! Turns out, especially when you have the local media in your back pocket, the third rail is a brass ring. If we can beat the Columbia Country Club, they concluded, we can beat anybody.

Energized to try their luck, the 2014-2018 Council approved a massive property tax hike, and the Westbard sector plan. They even aggressively defended the cover-up around, and ongoing desecration of, the Moses African Cemetery in Bethesda. While they ended up getting term limits, albeit with extremely-generous 12-year terms, when the actual elections came around in 2018...the voters - whose posteriors were still smarting from a tax and Westbard spanking they had just received two years prior - voted for the same or similar candidates who had delivered the beatdown to them.

The Council couldn't believe its good fortune. Realizing it now enjoyed serious Trump-shooting-somebody-on-Fifth-Avenue immunity, it could now go for broke. "Smart growth" around transit stations and the 2014 pledge that "we just want the shopping centers, we won't touch the neighborhoods" suddenly gave way to developer fever dreams like Thrive 2050. Serious players like Kenwood and the Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights who had to be bargained with in the past could now be ignored, resulting in decisions like the Little Falls Parkway road diet scandal, and the Westbard-area road closure fiasco.

Of course, the Anderson-era Planning Board was the harbinger of this iron-fist, winner-take-all era we've now entered. Gone are the days when well-argued testimony from a resident could lead a commissioner like Francoise Carrier, Amy Presley or Norman Dreyfuss to change their mind on an issue. When you come to a Planning Board session in recent years, you know how the vote is going to go, with extremely rare exceptions. Your only role as a resident or civic association officer is to at least get the opposing view on the record for posterity.

One can hope independent minds will somehow emerge on the new Planning Board. But the Council demonstrated such closed minds in its interview process, that it's hard to believe this new Board won't redefine the term "lockstep" with frequent unanimous votes. 

Consider that among the applicants for the interim board was former Rockville Mayor Larry Giammo. By every measure, Giammo was - if anything - overqualified to serve as a Planning Board commissioner. As mayor, Giammo successfully delivered the $400 million revitalization of Rockville Town Center. He also had served as a commissioner on the Rockville Planning Commission prior to that. And after leaving office, he has been a leading voice for the interests of City residents on growth, development and school overcrowding issues. In short, someone familiar with the nuts-and-bolts of development and its impact on public facilities and infrastructure, but with a record of representing the best interests of the community. That is the essence of what you would want in a Planning Board commissioner, right?

The Council didn't even include Giammo on its finalist interview list. 

That tells you everything you need to know about the credibility of the County Council in this process.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Strong-arm robbery at convenience store in Rockville

Montgomery County police responded to a report of a strong-arm robbery at a convenience store in Rockville early Sunday morning, March 26, 2023. The robbery was reported at a store in the 12400 block of Parklawn Drive at 4:04 AM. A suspect is also accused of damaging property at the store during the incident. There is a 7-Eleven at 12400 Parklawn.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich leading economic development mission to Taiwan

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has accepted an invitation from the Taipei Computer Association to speak at its 2023 Smart Cities Summit and Expo in Taiwan this week. He won't be alone on the trip, as he is leading a delegation to the event. Elrich's guests will be County Councilmember Natali Fani-Gonzales, chair of the Council’s Economic Development Committee; Kevin Beverly, board chair of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC); Gail Roper, Montgomery County’s chief information officer; and Judy Costello, Montgomery County's special projects manager for Business, Innovation and Economic Development.

Representatives of five businesses that specialize in what a County press release calls "Smart Cities-related technologies" will also travel with the delegation. The companies are DFSFederal, Lumo Imaging (located in Potomac), Machfu (Rockville), Person Clinic (Rockville), and TSS, LLC. Not mentioned in the press release is whether their travel costs are being paid for by the County, or the businesses themselves.

The event will culminate this Friday, when Elrich will meet with Chiang Wan-an, the mayor of Taipei. Elrich will be one of only four members of the 1,300 expo participants who will participate in the mayor’s conference-ending press conference.

“I’m looking forward to meeting with Taiwanese business and academic leaders to learn more about their activities and to speak with them about why Montgomery County is a top location for them to enter or expand their presence in the United States," Elrich said in a statement.  “Getting Montgomery County’s economy moving and working for everyone is my top priority as the Chair of Council Economic Development Committee,” Councilmember Fani-Gonz├ílez said in the joint statement with Elrich. “That is why I am thrilled to join the County Executive and County business leaders on this delegation to Taiwan to bring investment and jobs to the County. We will aggressively court businesses and academic and research institutions to choose Montgomery County for their next location.”

Monday, March 27, 2023

Spring leaf collection ahead in Rockville

The City of Rockville may not collect trash twice a week anymore, but among the perks the municipal government still provides is a spring leaf collection. Vacuuming of leaves will take place across the city from April 3-14, 2023. 

Residents should rake leaves into piles next to - but not in - roadways, gutters and bike lanes. Keep leaves away from parked vehicles. Leaves should be raked by 6:00 AM on the first day of their collection period, but no earlier than one week before the collection dates, to avoid grass damage or fire hazards. Remove sticks and other objects that can either be propelled by leaf blowers or clog machinery. Avoid parking near leaf piles - you can not only ignite a fire under your car, but you'll also be blocking the collection crew's access to the leaf piles.

Remember that spring leaf collection crews make only one pass around the city, instead of the two they make in the fall. If you should miss the pickup date in your area (check your leaf collection status on the city map), you can still collect them in biodegradable paper lawn bags or 32-gallon trash cans (without plastic garbage bags), and put them out on your normal refuse and recycling collection day. You can also convert your leaves into mulch or compost, or use them to fertilize your lawn.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Marc Elrich explains veto of Montgomery County Planning Board member

Most residents became aware of Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich's veto of the appointment of Rockville resident James Hedrick to the County Planning Board not through a formal announcement by Elrich's office, but through the reaction of Hedrick's supporters after the County Council was informed of the executive decision. The first press release would come from Council President Evan Glass, who was displeased by Elrich's rejection of the Council's choice of Hedrick. It's unclear if Elrich did not anticipate that Glass would go public with the issue over the weekend, as the executive did not lay out his thinking in the public realm on Friday. But whatever the reason, Elrich did respond Saturday by posting his Friday letter to Glass online.

"I met with Mr. Hedrick for almost two hours on Friday, March 10," Elrich wrote, "and have reviewed his participation in land use issues in Montgomery County, his comments on social media, and other work. After this review, I have decided to disapprove his appointment to the Planning Board." Elrich noted that the recent replacement of the entire Planning Board due to a series of scandals, none of which have been investigated by the County Council or Maryland attorney general to date, made restoration of confidence and public participation in land use decisions essential to establishing a functional board.

"In the nuanced work of planning, there is a need to recognize the opinions and lived experiences of others and to come to the table ready to work together," Elrich wrote. "During my interview with Mr. Hedrick, he made it clear that he has no interest in doing this difficult work. Instead, his comments to me, as well as on social media, demonstrate an ideological close-mindedness as well as a disdain for those whose views do not comport with his."

"Mr. Hedrick’s view is that we need greater housing densities everywhere, that he has 'heard the same arguments' from those who oppose his view, and that he 'doesn’t have a lot of patience with those people,'" Elrich continued. "He seemed unaware that over the past 16 years, master plans have been used to substantially increase housing densities. He also seemed unaware of the fact that the forecasts for population growth in the county are based on the densities adopted in these master plans. This demonstrates a basic lack of understanding of the county’s master plan process, one of the most important elements of the Planning Board’s responsibilities and one that requires balancing sometimes competing policies – what rezoning is needed to encourage buildout; what steps must be taken to promote racial equity and social justice issues such as displacement and gentrification; what consideration must be given to the environmental consequences of increased land coverage."

Elrich has long pointed out that Montgomery County has already approved sufficient new housing units to meet the forecasted need by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments by 2030. He has also sought to highlight a number of projects that would either preserve or create new affordable housing that his office has orchestrated since 2022. And many note that developers haven't even begun to fully build out all of the available "smart growth" areas near Metro stations in downtown Bethesda and Silver Spring alone - nor the numerous "dumb growth"areas not within walking distance from Metro that the Council has deemed "activity centers," such as Westbard. In this context, Elrich and other slow growth advocates are perplexed as to why developers are now seeking to rezone existing single-family-home neighborhoods for multifamily housing, before even cashing in on the many land-use victories they've already won since 2002.

The controversial Thrive 2050 plan approved by the Council and previous, scandal-ridden Planning Board will provide only more luxury housing at market rates, despite claims that the plan was designed to increase housing opportunities for those who can't currently afford to live in the county. Even the Council's own consultants warned councilmembers that they had failed to adequately solicit and obtain feedback from people of color on racial and equity issues surrounding Thrive 2050. While proponents said Thrive 2050 would increase options, it in fact reduces options, by eliminating the single-family-home neighborhoods that are the main draw for homebuyers who choose the suburbs. Home prices in the few cities that have eliminated single-family-home zoning have not fallen as proponents have promised, but only continued to increase. The ultimate winners have been developers, not homebuyers or the poor.

However, Hedrick was not the only Council appointee to support Thrive 2050. Elrich wound down his letter to Glass by emphasizing the need to reduce the "toxic atmosphere" of the previous Planning Board, arguing that the appointment of Hedrick would not contribute to that effort. The boards of the last decade have been seen by many residents as only responding to the desires of developers and their paid lobbyists, very few of whom have registered as such with the state. Resident concerns were typically ignored, or even belittled, by planning commissioners. 

"The appointment of a new Planning Board is an opportunity for a fresh start, removed from the toxic atmosphere that permeated the defunct Planning Board at all levels, including social media," Elrich wrote. "Unfortunately, Mr. Hedrick perpetuates, rather than alleviates, that atmosphere. He has made insulting and dismissive statements about those with opposing viewpoints. When asked about this, he disappointingly expressed no regrets."

"Such rigid views are anathema to restoring the reputation of the Planning Board and the public’s confidence in its decisions. Land use planning in Montgomery County is at an inflection point that will determine how we move forward in addressing housing and community building mindful of the important role land use decisions play in ameliorating the increasingly apparent effects of climate-driven storm events on our homes, businesses, and transportation systems. We need Planning Board members with good judgment who are open-minded, constructive, and, above all, interested in hearing from all sides in a fair and transparent process before they have reached a decision. Mr. Hedrick does not meet those standards."

Elrich concluded his letter with an almost-Trumpian touch of all-caps, declaring "the appointment of James Hedrick to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission is DISAPPROVED." It was not immediately clear if the meeting between Elrich and Hedrick was recorded in any fashion, so that Elrich's characterizations of Hedrick's responses could be verified. Elrich's sizeable constituent base among homeowners countywide appeared to be satisfied by the decision, based on social media reaction. The move by Elrich was exactly the sort of action his voters put him in office to take, and puts the Hedrick holdouts from the February 28th Council approval vote on the spot this coming Tuesday, when Glass promised the Council would discuss Elrich's veto.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Police respond to disorder at Rockville hotel

Rockville City police officers were called to a hotel to respond to disorderly conduct at the property yesterday morning, March 24, 2023. The incident was reported at the Sheraton Rockville Hotel at 920 King Farm Boulevard at 9:10 AM Friday.

Montgomery County Executive vetoes County Council appointment of James Hedrick to Planning Board

James Hedrick

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) has vetoed the appointment of Rockville resident James Hedrick to the County Planning Board. Elrich has not made the reasons for his disapproval of Hedrick public yet. The only public statement regarding the matter came in response to Elrich's move, a press release from County Council President Evan Glass (D).

“I am disappointed that County Executive Elrich disapproved James Hedrick’s appointment to the Montgomery County Planning Board," Glass wrote in his statement. "Mr. Hedrick received affirmative votes from a supermajority of councilmembers to become a Planning Board member on Feb. 28."

While Hedrick received a supermajority of eight votes from the eleven member Council that day, he will need at least one more if the Council is to override Elrich's veto and be appointed to the Board. Glass wrote that the Council will "discuss" the veto at its next meeting this coming Tuesday, March 28, 2023. 

Hedrick was a candidate for the Rockville City Council in 2019. He currently serves as the chair of Rockville Housing Enterprises (his term expires June 1), and as the vice-president of Action Committee for Transit.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Sexual assault at Rockville Metro station

Rockville City police were called to the Rockville Metro station at 251 Hungerford Drive Wednesday night, after a sexual assault was reported there. The incident was reported at 8:09 PM on March 22, 2023. This was the second sexual assault Rockville police responded to in as many days; the first took place in King Farm the day before.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Sexual assault in King Farm area of Rockville

Rockville City police responded to a report of a sexual assault in the King Farm neighborhood on Tuesday morning, March 21, 2023. The incident was reported on the street in the 700 block of Redland Boulevard at 11:45 AM Tuesday.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Umi Sushi & Seafood Buffet "coming soon" to Rockville

Umi Sushi & Seafood Buffet
is "coming soon" to 1471 Rockville Pike, according to a banner posted at the building. The large space was previously home to Miller's Ale House over the last decade. Umi promises "the largest and most elegant Chinese, Japanese and American cuisine restaurant." It appears to be a chain with locations in Brooklyn, Queens, and Brandon, Florida.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Melashops moving to Montgomery Mall in Bethesda

is moving from Gaithersburg to Bethesda. The fashion market has closed its Lakeforest Mall store, as the mall itself is closing March 31, 2023 and is in its final days. On April 1, Melashops will open at its new home, Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. Melashops carries apparel, jewelry, and accessories from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkiye, Afghanistan, and more. Look for Melashops on Level 1 across from Urban Outfitters.

Assault at Rockville gas station

Rockville City police responded to a report of an assault at a gas station in the King Farm area of the city Sunday afternoon. The assault was reported at a gas station in the 700 block of Gaither Road at 1:10 PM. That is the Shell station next to Dunkin' Donuts.

Arhaus to open at Montgomery Mall in Bethesda

will soon open a Bethesda location at Westfield Montgomery Mall. Construction of the furniture store is already underway inside their generously-sized showroom space on Level 1, as you can see below. Arhaus was founded in 1986, and specializes in heirloom-quality furnishings made from materials like wicker, aluminum, and teak. The company supports an exhaustive range of causes and organizations, from environmental sustainability to LGBTQ+ advocacy groups. In 2021, it opened a manufacturing and distribution facility in North Carolina to demonstrate its commitment to another goal, bringing back currently-offshored jobs to the United States.

Monday, March 20, 2023

The final days of Lakeforest Mall, closing March 31, 2023 (Video + Photos)

The end is nigh for Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg. Opened as a grand shopping and entertainment destination with distinctive architecture on September 12, 1978, the mall was hugely popular through the end of the 1990s. But then, a succession of greedy owners conspired with the sugar baby corrupt politicians they controlled in Montgomery County to run the successful mall into the ground. 

The mall's signature fountain and skating rink were removed, and local elected officials intentionally allowed crime to spiral out of control. Predictably, crowds began to thin, and quality tenants began to move out. 

The mall will close March 31, 2023, and will be demolished in 2024. It will be replaced with a massive housing development that will bring thousands of new residents to a property that has no rapid transit station, and no new highways planned, a traffic disaster in the making. Of course, the same political machine that helped run down the mall is approving that redevelopment.

Let's take a last look around inside Lakeforest Mall, where remaining anchor tenant Macy's was in its final hours before closing for good. We'll ride the glass elevator, and the escalators. You'll see some ghosts from the mall's past, including JCPenney, Sbarro, Ruby Tuesday and Sears. 

You'll also see that this is another example of crony capitalism gone utterly mad, with a perfectly-good mall building being torn down long before its time, with all of the waste and environmental harm such greedy demolitions generate. The new development won't have retail of even half the quality the mall did, if the tenant rosters of other post-Great-Recession developments north of Rockville are any guide. Here's a final look at the breathtaking architecture, thought-provoking art installations, inspiring aesthetics, and the grand lines and designs that represent all that is good in America and western civilization. Lakeforest Forever!