Showing posts with label Larry Giammo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Larry Giammo. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Former Rockville mayor Giammo elected president of WECA

Outgoing West End Citizens Association President Noreen Bryan last night announced that former Rockville Mayor Larry Giammo has been elected the organization's new president. Giammo served as mayor from 2001 to 2007. He has been actively engaged in City issues since leaving office, however. In recent months, Giammo has been a vocal opponent of the proposed bus depot at the Carver Educational Services Center, and of the plan to build townhomes on the former site of Chestnut Lodge.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Giammo seeks answers on Carver controversy from Rockville city attorney

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton brought a request from former Rockville mayor Larry Giammo to the floor during Old/New Business at last night's Mayor and Council meeting. Giammo is requesting that the City Attorney give definitive answers to two legal questions regarding Montgomery County's plan to use the historic Carver Educational Center as a bus depot.

The questions regard which legislative body has jurisdiction in this case (several at the meeting said they believe the Montgomery County Council is that body), and a clarification on the Rockville Historic District Commission's legal role and authority in reviewing the County's request.

Newton asked City Attorney Debra Yerg Daniel to respond to Giammo's request. Councilmember Mark Pierzchala initially objected to Newton unilaterally making the request, saying such a direction to City staff could only come from the body as a whole. He ultimately made a motion to direct the City Attorney to respond to Giammo's request, which passed unanimously.

Pierzchala also requested that the Carver Coalition citizen group that opposes the depot be able to get its many legal questions answered definitively, as well.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Giammo asks Rockville HDC to reconsider Chestnut Lodge review

Former Rockville Mayor Larry Giammo appeared before the Historic District Commission last night on the current hot topic in historic preservation: Chestnut Lodge. Following the Planning Commission's unanimous bodyslam of a proposed townhome development on the former site of the famed mental health facility last week, Giammo asked the HDC to reconsider the findings it made in a Courtesy Review of the project last year.

At that November 19 review, the HDC commissioners present expressed no objection to the plan of JNP Chestnut Lodge, LLC for townhomes at the 500 W. Montgomery Avenue site. The development team's presentation was well-received, in stark contrast to the response of the Planning Commission and the public. However, the two HDC commissioners who are usually the most-outspoken on preservation matters, Jessica Reynolds and Craig Maloney, were both absent that evening. Maloney's term on the HDC has since ended.

But a re-review of the plan with Reynolds and new commissioner Stefanie Tincher on the dais could conceivably end with a different conclusion than the November session.

That possibility is on the minds of those opposing the plan, which includes Giammo. The former mayor told the HDC last night that the conversation planning commissioners had last week is the one he had hoped the HDC would have had last year. Giammo also was critical of staff's instructions to the HDC, which he noted were very narrow in scope.

In fact, Giammo said, Maryland law trumps the guidelines suggested by staff, and require the HDC to fully consider the impacts of such redevelopment on a historic site. That includes whether or not the project might have a negative, degrading impact on the historic character and integrity of the overall site.

The HDC must reach an "unequivocal determination" on all of the issues that have been raised, Giammo said. He also emphasized that the claims of the developer's historical consultant that there are no blueprints or design records that would permit reconstruction of Chestnut Lodge - which burnt down in a suspicious 2009 fire - are "entirely false." Giammo said Peerless Rockville and other historic preservation advocates such as historian Eileen McGuckian stand ready to assist in such an effort.

A legal agreement reached between the City and the developer at that time in 2006 required the rehabilitation of the Chestnut Lodge building as a condition for the construction of 7 condo units within the rehabbed structure.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Alternatives for future use of the Chestnut Lodge site in Rockville?

Testimony at Monday's Mayor and Council meeting capped other efforts underway to reopen debate on how the former site of the historic Chestnut Lodge sanitarium should be redeveloped. There is, of course, a new townhome proposal on the table, which recently passed scrutiny by the Rockville Historic District Commission (although two members were absent that evening). Chestnut Lodge burnt down in 2009, in what is suspected to have been an arson incident.

Patricia Woodward, a resident who was once head nurse at Chestnut Lodge and now heads the Chestnut Lodge committee for the West End Citizen's Association, said a reconstruction of the original building "can be done," as a condominium development. This would reduce the size of what is proposed now by 63%. 

Woodward noted that "there is a precedent for rebuilding, reconstruction” on the site, including the stable, "wing B," and the Ice House. She said that, during her tenure, the Ice House served as a music room, with a baby grand piano, drum set, stereo system, and electric guitar. There was "room for jamming, and it was most enjoyable," Woodward recalled Monday night.

It is invaluable to have people who were actually at the Lodge during its operation participating in this discussion. 

It's also valuable to have input from former Mayor Larry Giammo, who was in office at the time when a Planned Residential Unit agreement was made with developer Chase Communities, and the Chestnut Lodge historic district was created. He made the point that townhomes had previously been determined unsuitable for the Chestnut Lodge site. Both he and current Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton have questioned the action of city staff in substituting their professional judgement for the terms of the PRU. Doing so was "actually illegal," Giammo said Monday night. He argued the issue should have been brought to the Mayor and Council. Newton questioned city staff later that evening as to why she and the Council were not informed of this matter.

The West End Citizen's Association has also started a petition to oppose the townhome plan, after Woodward's committee recommended the City deny the townhome plan. The petition has already gained 50 signatures. WECA is seeking further discussion that would determine a plan that considers both the historic importance of the site, and the previous PRU.

Chestnut Lodge was "the most important, most notable historic asset in the 
City of Rockville, before it was allowed to be destroyed by fire," Giammo said Monday.

Given the County's mental health crisis today - where both City and County police officers are often the ones who have to address the consequences of that crisis firsthand, and so many in the County are homeless - one wonders why the big talkers on mental health among our County Council didn't step in to acquire Chestnut Lodge, when it ran into financial difficulty.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Opposition to Chestnut Lodge proposal surfaces at Mayor and Council meeting

Chestnut Lodge in 2003
Rockville's Mayor and Council were briefed on the JNP Chestnut Lodge, LLC proposal to build 7 townhomes on the site where Chestnut Lodge sanitarium once stood last night. But before that briefing could be delivered, several residents voiced objections to the advancement of the project during the Community Forum segment of the meeting.

Among them was former Mayor Larry Giammo, who raised several points regarding the destruction of Chestnut Lodge, and a past legal agreement developers made with the City.

Giammo chastised the owner of the property at the time Chestnut Lodge burnt down, a shell company for Chase Communities, for neglecting to secure the vacant historic building from trespassers and vandals. The fire that destroyed the structure was suspected to have been intentionally set. Giammo noted that a representative of the development firm appeared to laugh off the frequent trespassing at Chestnut Lodge - prior to the blaze - in a video. I believe he may have been referring to this Fox 5 news story on the Lodge, in which Chase Communities' Morty Levine jokes that he hopes to meet a ghost in Chestnut Lodge, so that he can sell the spirit a condo.

But the former mayor had some additional concerns regarding neglect. Giammo said "city staff is 0-for-2" in enforcing a binding legal agreement the City reached with that developer. It stipulated that no additional construction permits could be issued prior to the developer "rehabilitating" the historic Chestnut Lodge structure. Just because the building burnt down, doesn't mean the agreement is invalid, he suggested.

Rockville's current Mayor, Bridget Donnell Newton, also had some concerns regarding the briefing given later by the applicant's attorney, Soo Lee-Cho. Some of what was stated did not reflect her recollection of events, Newton said, and she asked city staff to provide additional information on those points. Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr asked staff to inquire with historical preservation organization Peerless Rockville on best practices, as the project moves forward to seek approvals from the Planning Commission and Mayor and Council.

The loss of Chestnut Lodge remains a painful one for preservation advocates in Rockville, as it seemed a totally-unnecessary fate for the prized building.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Monday, November 2, 2015

Mayoral candidates line up endorsements in Rockville

Incumbent Rockville
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton
with 3 of the 5 past mayors
supporting her - Jim Coyle,
Steven Van Grack, Larry Giammo
Many of Rockville's past mayors remain closely engaged in city politics, and - as you might expect - their endorsements are in great demand. Incumbent Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and challenger Sima Osdoby have both released letters and statements in the closing days of the campaign highlighting those endorsements.

Newton is leading the mayoral endorsement race, with 5 of the city's former top leaders on-board. They are former mayor and Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, and past mayors Jim Coyle, Larry Giammo, Steven Van Grack and Phyllis Marcuccio.

Osdoby has received the endorsement of former mayor Rose Krasnow.
Former Mayor Rose Krasnow
has endorsed challenger
Sima Osdoby
As one might expect, the letter from the Newton endorsers has an optimistic tone, touting Newton's "proven, thoughtful leadership." Their letter goes on to say the incumbent has "been a steady leader who listens to all stakeholders, masters the issues and makes sound judgements." It also applauds Newton's management of the City's growth, and efforts to ensure there is adequate infrastructure to support new development. The mayors also note the City has just been ranked as the 17th "Most Livable City in America" by

Krasnow, by contrast, says she will be "heartbroken" if voters don't elect Osdoby, warning "Our City's future hangs in the balance." Now Deputy Director at the Maryland National Capital Park & Planning Commission, Krasnow is particularly critical of the delay in passing the Rockville Pike Plan in her statement. Newton has said the plan originally produced by a City-hired consultant was not sustainable, and needed to be thoroughly reworked by the Mayor and Council and Rockville Planning Commission.

Voters will go to the polls tomorrow, November 3.

Top photo by Robert Dyer
Krasnow photo courtesy MNCPPC

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Newton launches mayoral re-election campaign in Rockville (Photos)

A standing-room-only crowd packed into the VisArts Kaplan Gallery at Rockville Town Square last night for Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton's re-election campaign kick-off event. Joining Newton were three highly-regarded past mayors who have endorsed her: Jim Coyle, Steven Van Grack, and Larry Giammo.
Rockville mayors past and
present (L-to-R):
Jim Coyle, Steven Van Grack
Bridget Donnell Newton and
Larry Giammo

Coyle said he is "confident that under Bridget's continued leadership, we can meet the city's growing needs. This is the time to elect a proven leader, and that proven leader is Bridget."

"There was a lot of political gamesmanship in this last term," Giammo said. "Through all of that, Bridget stayed focused on what mattered." It was during Giammo's time in office that the Mayor and Council passed an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance that was far stronger than Montgomery County's. The school capacity standards under the APFO were severely weakened by a 3-2 Council vote earlier this year, an action that Newton strongly disagreed with.

Van Grack (R) listens as
Newton addresses the
In her speech last night, Newton said the APFO school standards were "gutted on June 1" in a "back room political deal that was made." The vote by outgoing Councilmember Tom Moore and current Team Rockville election slate Councilmembers Virginia Onley and Julie Palakovich Carr "eviscerated the only tool we had in our toolbox," Newton said.

With the entire city now free of any development moratorium, but classrooms still as crowded as before, Newton predicted a "Katie bar the door" wave of development ahead. "It's going to be unbelievable."

In that context, Newton argued it will be essential to ensure that Richard Montgomery Elementary School No. 5 is built to full capacity. She also called for the hiring of more city police officers, noting that the ratio of officers-to-residents is far lower than in comparably-tiny Easton, MD, which has only 16,000 residents.
Supporters listen to
Newton's speech
But Newton also decried the current political atmosphere in Rockville.

She fired back at Team Rockville's assertion that she failed to generate consensus on issues, noting that she was able to make allies on the Council despite being the only member not part of the 2013 Team Rockville slate. One of those allies, Councilmember Beryl Feinberg, was in attendance at last night's event.

Newton also disputed Team Rockville's bleak assessment of Rockville Town Center. "Rockville is doing very well," she said, noting that several restaurants and bars will be opening soon at Rockville Town Square, and that the Duball development across the street has attracted several tenants, including World of Beer and Panera Bread. A groundbreaking will be held at the Kettler development across Beall Avenue from Rockville Town Square in a few weeks, as well. The new Cambria Suites hotel "is booked solid almost every weekend," Newton reported.
Former mayors Van Grack and
Coyle chat with attendees after
the speech
On the personal side, Newton said she has "a strong distaste for the politics of today. I strongly, strongly object to the way the conversation is going in our city, in our state, and in our country." The mayor recalled a recent blog post by the campaign manager of Team Rockville that described her as "a homemaker, as though that was an insult." The post angered many of her supporters. Newton said that in 2015, people should be celebrating individuals for "the choices they make, not putting labels on them."

In addition to a wide variety of leadership and public services roles she has held, Newton said her role as a parent gave her a set of skills that comes in handy in city politics. "There is no difference between a 2-year-old having a meltdown than dealing with a councilmember having a meltdown. With one, it's age-appropriate," she added to raucous laughter from the crowd.

She urged the crowd to focus in the next 6 weeks on "who will champion what is great about this city," and said having independent voices on the council would be an advantage. To that end, she invited the independent candidates for City Council - Beryl Feinberg, Rich Gottfried, David Hill, Brigitta Mullican and Patrick Schoof - to her event.

The remaining candidates are on the Team Rockville slate: Sima Osdoby for Mayor, Onley, Palakovich Carr, Mark Pierzchala and Clark Reed.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


While it seems that the fight over Rockville's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance keeps coming back like Freddy Krueger, a new talking point emerged at Monday night's public hearing before the Mayor and Council. Some proponents of lowering the city's school capacity standard, from 110% to the 120% overcrowding limit allowed by Montgomery County, appeared to be using the change as blackmail for school construction funds.

Open Rockville to developers who fund the campaigns of all Montgomery County Councilmembers except Marc Elrich, they argued, and those development firms and Montgomery County Public Schools will release funds they apparently won't put towards Rockville classrooms otherwise. While this is most definitely not the legal mechanism for school funding in the state of Maryland, developers and their allies at the County level made clear they are fed up with the City of Rockville retaining control over its development and quality of life.

Former Rockville Planning Commissioner Steven Johnson put into words what many observers may have been thinking after hearing previous speakers, when he used the phrase, "held hostage," in making his case to lower school standards. What was originally designed as a tool to guide development, Johnson said, is now "a blunt instrument to kill" residential development in Rockville.

"You need to change your APFO ordinance," former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow warned her successor and city councilmembers, or Rockville will be "left in the dust" by Downtown Crown and other urban town centers popping up around the county. Krasnow, now employed by the Montgomery County Planning Department, suggested allowing Rockville schools to get more overcrowded would somehow result in extra MCPS construction money flowing to city schools. Most significantly, Krasnow described Rockville's current relationship with the County as "antagonistic," and that County officials feel that the City is "not willing to work with them."

Aakash Thakkar, Senior Vice President with infill development firm EYA, put the message in somewhat more diplomatic terms. By allowing more residential development, including a Tower Oaks project sought by EYA itself, the city could thereby "show goodwill" to County officials who want more tax revenue. This would lead to a more "cooperative relationship" between the city and county. He said developers would also contribute money for schools, although no such legal requirement exists to enforce such a promise, beyond the basic school fees charged now for development in Montgomery County. Thakkar also argued that "new people" are needed to support the retail businesses in Rockville.

Not so fast, Rockville resident Jack Gelin rebutted in later testimony. The idea that the city should accept more-crowded schools and more development simply so that county officials will "not be angry with us" was not a good argument for changing the APFO standards. As for Thakkar's promise of more tax revenue for schools being generated by new development, Gelin referred to the "old discredited theory that somewhere there's a free lunch. This has never happened, and will not happen."

In fact, Montgomery County has been on a building binge for years, with the exception of during the recent recession, and is locked in a structural deficit as far out as can be forecast. All of that tax revenue has failed to keep up with the costs of new infrastructure and services the new developments required. Even jurisdictions who have created more jobs than Montgomery County, like Fairfax and the District, are facing budget crunches. Where is all of the magic tax revenue? Nowhere to be found.

The idea that allowing more development and more school overcrowding would magically solve Rockville's challenges was among a number of false promises made by advocates of watering down the APFO, former Mayor Larry Giammo said. "Stop promulgating myths," he exhorted councilmembers who favor the changes, whose proposals he said were causing "unnecessary and harmful divisiveness" in the community. Rather than change the APFO, Giammo proposed, a better approach would be to update the city's master plan, and engage the county's Board of Education and and County Council to develop new strategies to address overcrowding.

Mayor Bridget Newton said the latter option is in the works, citing a discussion she had with Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-District 1) earlier regarding a work group he is assembling to look at the county's APFO standards. That group will be seeking input from municipalities, and would be a more productive approach to the problem than arbitrarily changing the city's own standards, she suggested. Newton also disputed claims that Rockville had been passed over for school construction money because of its higher APFO standards, pointing out that at least two significant school projects are currently moving forward in the city.

She and resident Joe Jordan also raised questions about how, and under whose authority, the city's staff produced a redline document on APFO changes. Newton asked staff to produce answers to those questions before a vote is taken on the measure. Jordan said he found it "really disturbing" that the process was being rushed without public discussion by the council, leaving residents unclear about each councilmember's position on the changes. Newton criticized city staff for leaving last night's public hearing off of a television announcement for the meeting, and for publishing a front page piece on Rockville Reports that implied she and all councilmembers were advocating changes to the APFO. She argued the city should wait for the outcome of Berliner's effort, and request an opinion from the state Attorney General on the question of whether she and the council have the legal authority to change the APFO, before voting on the proposed changes. The Mayor has the authority to request such an opinion, Newton said, noting that Councilmember Tom Moore had planned to do the same thing last year.

Some would have to question the wisdom of the new talking point deployed last night by proponents of change. "I've got money, but I won't give it to you until you turn over control of your city to us," sounds like a bad mob movie more than a coherent development policy.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


The Rockville Planning Commission voted unanimously last night to oppose proposed changes in the city's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance regarding school capacity standards. Some on the city council are in favor of replacing the current school standards with those used by Montgomery County. The changes would include averaging school populations over a cluster, rather than measuring overcrowding at each individual school, as the current Rockville standard does.

Commission Chair Don Hadley reiterated his previous remarks that the recent legal opinion handed down by Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler suggests the Mayor and Council lack the authority to change the APFS school standards. Hadley said they and the commission "need to find out what the rules of the road are," before changing the standards. Commissioner John Tyner said the recommendations of the city's APFO Committee a couple of years back - to implement no changes to the Rockville school standards - were forwarded by the Planning Commission to the Mayor and Council. "My opinion has not changed on that," he added.

There was a sense among some commissioners that something fishy is going on, and that the proposed changes are being pushed behind the scenes for an unstated purpose. "I'm fearful something non-transparent is going on that should be made transparent," Commissioner David Hill said. Commissioner Jack Leiderman said the demand for changes is certainly not coming from the city's residents. "Whenever there has been a proposal to weaken the APFO, this room has been filled to capacity" with citizens opposing the change, Leiderman noted. He said the January 5 date for the APFO public hearing - during holiday vacations - appeared to have been "frankly, chosen to minimize" public input.

Hill said he welcomed a "vibrant public debate" on school standards, but agreed that January 5 was not particularly conducive to having one. He reiterated Tyner's point that the commission had already spoken to the school matter by forwarding the committee report to the Mayor and Council. "I am not ready to change" school standards, Hill said. He said other jurisdictions in the state have used Rockville's 2005 APFO standards as a model, and therefore, the authority issue is very appropriate for Gansler to address at this juncture. Commissioner Anne Goodman concurred that the city should get a legal opinion from Gansler before acting on the APFS. "We have a legal uncertainty," Hadley said. "It leaves us in a very tenuous position."

Leiderman suggested the commission go on the public record regarding the controversial January 5 public hearing, and send a formal letter to the Mayor and Council. Hill said he agreed "it's the Planning Commission's place to make a recommendation."

Hill prepared language for a commission resolution that would reiterate the body's support of the 2012 APFO committee recommendations. He said they should emphasize to the Mayor and Council that those recommendations were "the product of a citizen committee that spent many hours" studying the complex issues related to adequate public facilities. Leiderman argued the commission should add one element missing from the committee recommendations, namely, to affirm that 110% of capacity is the maximum allowable in a particular school. He also said that passing the proposed changes would not be a mere alteration of regulations, but a de facto repeal of the APFO - an act that would require a text amendment. Leiderman warned that the county has even considered raising its weaker standard to a higher level of acceptable overcrowding - which would leave Rockville's schools well over the 120% county standard.

Ultimately, the commissioners came to a unanimous recommendation that the Mayor and Council should not change school standards at this time. 

Meanwhile, former mayor Larry Giammo posted a second article on his blog regarding the APFO controversy. Giammo was mayor when the city passed the original ordinance, which several commissioners argued last night is clearly working to prevent further school overcrowding. This latest post is devoted to debunking the stated rationales for loosening school standards in Rockville.

Monday, December 1, 2014


Rockville City Councilmember Tom Moore's push to change the city's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance/Standards is generating controversy among residents, and the former mayor who ushered in the ordinance in 2005. Moore has referred to the status quo rules regarding schools as "failed," and tweeted last month that "Our schools & City deserve standards that work." 

Former Mayor Larry Giammo, widely credited for guiding the construction of the city's town center, is urging residents to turn out in force at the January 5 Mayor and Council Public Hearing on the APFO, and oppose the changes. The changes under consideration include adopting a weaker school capacity test similar to Montgomery County's, which would allow more overcrowding (120%) than exists today. They would also use an average across school clusters that could mask specific schools' severe overcrowding issues, and change the school capacity test period from 2 to 5 years. 

Moore proposes charging developers a fee for their projects when school overcrowding reaches 105-120% of capacity, and says the current mechanism to request funds when overcrowding hits 110% hasn't generated the construction money necessary.

Giammo rebuts Moore's assertion that the APFO has failed Rockville on adequate school construction, arguing that the APFO was never intended as a solution to begin with; only to prevent overcrowding from getting even worse. "Why propose to loosen controls which are keeping the problem from getting worse, if you actually care about the problem?" wrote Giammo on his blog ten days ago.

Residents are organizing around a petition to keep the current standards in place, and are also urging concerned citizens to attend the January 5 hearing, or email their testimony if they cannot attend to speak in person. East Rockville resident Peter Wizler, who recently helped lead citizen efforts to prevent a self-storage facility from being constructed near Maryvale Elementary School, wrote on his blog that "I am sure we can all agree that school over crowding compromises the education of our kids." Loosening standards would lead to a rapid increase in development and overcrowding, many residents fear. Such development has been restrained by the current APFO standards.

The diverging opinions on the APFO/APFS have been a constant source of debate in City politics in recent years, and in the past election. Equally on the front burner has been the push to get more funding for school expansion and construction across Rockville. Mayor Bridget Newton and Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr recently testified before the Montgomery County Board of Education about the need for funds, and more accurate planning for future student populations.

The January 5 public hearing will be at 7:00 PM in the Mayor and Council chambers at Rockville City Hall. A vote on the APFO changes is currently scheduled for January 26, 2015.