Wednesday, April 9, 2014


The rewrite of the master plan for Rockville Pike could be sent to the Mayor and Council in June, Rockville Planning Commission Chair Don Hadley said Monday night. Hadley had been summoned before the council at the behest of members concerned that the Pike Plan process was taking too long. He submitted a written summary of the issues at hand, and highlighted some of the primary challenges in his remarks to the Mayor and Council.

Hadley noted that the consultants hired by the city to develop a Pike Plan concept had 4 years to complete their work. Translating those conceptual goals into a real-world plan is far more complicated, he said. "Structurally, the Pike Plan actually had two parts," Hadley argued: a policy part, and a practical side. That required the commission to convert policy goals into "technically proficient and enforceable law," Hadley said, "not arbitrary, [but] well supportable" city code.

"Hot topics," such as building height, naturally take time to work out among the "democratization of ideas" on the 7-member commission, Hadley said. The deliberative process among commissioners - who don't necessarily agree on all matters - has "been healthy for us," he said. Technical issues not addressed in the consultants' plan have forced the commission to take extra time, as well. Hadley pointed out that the consultants' plan did not include the massive bus rapid transit line in the center of the Pike, now being pushed on the city by the Montgomery County Council. How to balance the demands for safe bike routes, local bus service, and street parking for merchants, has been a major challenge, Hadley reported. And the current demand for surface parking and big box stores on the Pike doesn't line up with the new urbanist goals of the consultants, he explained. It has fallen to the commission to resolve these inconsistencies, Hadley said.

Most significantly, Hadley said, the consultants' plan ultimately did not reflect Rockville's values. He referred to a panel hosted by former commission chair Jerry Callistein at a city summit, which sought to determine the city's values. "Neighborhood-oriented, family-friendly small-town people," was the panel's final definition of the city's character, Hadley recalled; "that’s been our guiding influence.”

Hadley said that the incompatible nature of the policy goals and today's reality (walkable, mixed use development vs. the existing, popular commercial area along the Pike) would probably demand a reassessment of the plan's specifics and performance every two years. He also sought to assure elected officials that the delays were not political in nature. There "really aren't any politics" on the commission, Hadley said. "I wouldn’t want [the Pike Plan] to come to you with any sense that it has a particular axe to grind," he concluded.

Mayor Bridget Newton and the council briefly responded to Hadley's presentation and letter Monday night. “I thought your letter was very instructive,” Newton said. "We’re delighted to hear that it’s coming in June," said Councilmember Tom Moore, who had expressed concern over the delays.

Planning commissioners Anne Goodman, Jack Leiderman and John Tyner were present at the meeting.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Rockville residents have a bonus leaf collection that Montgomery County residents don't get. Spring leaf collection is now underway in the city. Leaves should be raked to the curb, or into the gutter, by 6 AM on the appropriate day. Here is the map, with dates of collection below:

Area 1 leaves are being collected through today. Area 2 collection will be April 9 and 10, Area 3 will be April 11 and 14, Area 4 on April 15 and 16, and Area 5 will be completed on April 17 and 18.

Monday, April 7, 2014


Fried fish and french fries for 300 calories? How will that taste? Watch my video review of Weight Watchers' Smart Ones Fish and Chips to find out!

This frozen dinner has one of those silver-lined packages, designed to make the fish and french fries crisp in the microwave. How did that work out? We'll find out in the video.

The fish and chips are an Alaskan Pollock filet, and crinkle-cut french fries, respectively.

Friday, April 4, 2014


The agenda for the April 9 meeting of the Rockville Planning Commission will be dominated by the potentially controversial Draft Bikeway Master Plan. Citizens may comment on the draft during a public hearing, which will be the first item on the agenda at 7:00 PM. Commissioners will then discuss the plan, and the public input, in preparation for any direction or changes they may choose to forward to the Mayor and Council.

Are you gung-ho about getting a bike lane on your street? Or concerned about what impact that will have on your street, regarding parking, lane width, safety, etc.? While few details are given in the draft, now would be a good time to make your concerns known to the commission.

The meeting will be held in the Mayor and Council chambers at City Hall next Wednesday.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Back we go to Taco Bell in Rockville, for another sample of the new Taco Bell Breakfast!

The Taco Bell breakfast menu also includes a breakfast variation on the popular Crunchwrap. You can order the new A.M Crunchwrap in three variations: steak (my choice), sausage or bacon.

Inside the warm, grilled tortilla are Taco Bell's marinated thick-cut steak, scrambled eggs, a hash brown patty, cheddar cheese, and jalapeño sauce. It is a heartier entree than the new Waffle Taco.

How does it taste? Watch my video review to find out:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Yesterday morning's devastating fire destroyed many apartments in the Gables Upper Rock apartment complex off I-270 and Shady Grove Road. Fortunately, the fire was within an unoccupied part of the complex, which had been expected to open for leasing soon. Instead, crews are turning to a demolition and debris-removal operation today. Equipment was moving into place last evening for that purpose. I'm curious if the sprinkler systems were active at this point in the construction; we're often told by developers that less firefighting resources are needed even as development grows, due to modern sprinkler systems.

Montgomery County firefighters, and at least 4 firetrucks, remained on scene late last night, to inspect and extinguish any remaining hotspots in the wreckage.

MCFRS public information officer Pete Piringer tweeted the following photos of the scene; you can see some of the heavy equipment moving into place for today's operations:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


What was once denied, is now the newest buzzphrase in Montgomery County: the county office market is weak. With no large employer moving to the county in over a decade, the government - and struggling office building owners - are scrambling to temper once-high hopes.

The gleaming building at 7550 Wisconsin Avenue, that was completely renovated into a Class A office tower by developer Akridge, was poised to become a hot business address. 18 months later? It's a vacant monument to a business climate that fails to appeal to major firms searching America for a new corporate headquarters.

With no significant policy or taxation changes on the horizon, no plans to build a new Potomac River crossing for the Dulles Airport access international firms demand, and landlords having to still pay their bills while vacant, some are now thinking small.

Montgomery County's Economic Development Fund is now offering a program designed to attract smaller firms to vacant office space in the county. The MOVE program will offer $4-per-square-foot rent subsidies to a first-time renting firm that meets 4 criteria. Spaces that qualify are limited to those between 2,000 and 10,000 square feet.

Akridge is ahead of the downward curve in Bethesda.

The company is currently in the process of dividing the fourth floor of 7550 Wisconsin into 3 suites - on spec, as there are still no tenants. But going forward, those new suites would likely qualify for the new MOVE subsidy. There are still many other floors in the building, however. According to a source, Akridge is open to dividing other floors into suites, if the initiative proves successful on the fourth floor.