Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mayor and Council spar over spending on Rockville seniors

Rockville City Councilmember Beryl Feinberg proposed designating $250,000 of the City's reserve funds for implementation of the Senior Action Plan in the FY-2017 budget. But her introduction of the proposal strongly criticized her colleagues, and implied that she alone was sending a message to seniors in the city that they are valued. The suggestion that other councilmembers were somehow not supporting seniors predictably did not sit well on the rest of the dais.

"I really regret the way in which you brought this up," Councilmember Mark Pierzchala said in response to Feinberg's remarks. "We are doing a lot for our seniors." Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr said the best way to help seniors was to be fiscally responsible in the budget, noting that Feinberg had proposed $2 million in new spending for FY-2017. She said she would not have voted for the senior plan in FY-2016 if she had not intended to fully fund it.

Mayor Bridget Newton, acknowledging that Feinberg's proposal did not have the votes to pass Monday evening, said that seconding her motion would not serve any purpose. But she added that it was "unfortunate" that a discussion on the issue could not be held without devolving into an "uncomfortable conversation."

The brief debate was a rare break in collegiality in this term, when this Mayor and Council have largely avoided the more-heated arguments of the last term.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Rockville councilman wants more info on Avery Rd. as alternative to Carver school bus depot

Rockville City Councilman Mark Pierzchala said last night that Montgomery County is not being forthcoming about the controversial relocation of its Shady Grove bus depot, and that he wants to act now to find alternative sites. Currently, the County is now considering the Carver Educational Center at Mannakee Street and MD 355, which has touched off fierce opposition from nearby residents concerned about noise, traffic, and emissions from idling buses. Carver has also been designated as a historic district.

Pierzchala specifically requested information from City staff on why the Avery Road site once considered for the depot was eventually dropped by the County. "That's one that I have understood to be a viable site," Pierzchala said of the Avery Road property, currently home to an alternative education program at the Blair Ewing Center and a City-owned park.

Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr said the strong opposition to the Avery Road option by Aspen Hill residents was likely the reason the County turned its search elsewhere. Pierzchala said he would like to know if it was dropped simply because "one part of the County is exerting more pressure than this part of the County," or because it is not viable. "If it's viable, then we can follow up," he added.

County officials have not given City elected officials the level of detail and responsiveness needed under the circumstances, Pierzchala said. His email requests for information on Avery Road, the Gude Drive landfill and other potential sites have been met with "terse" responses from the County, he said.

Citing the urgency of the situation, Pierzchala said, "We're really under the gun" to find alternative sites that can be presented to the County.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton concurred that Gude Drive should be considered, and argued that if the County is going to spend millions on turning Carver into a bus depot, it should attempt to find a permanent depot site in a more appropriate location. Pierzchala and other elected officials have expressed concern that the supposedly-temporary Carver site will actually be a permanent site.

The Mayor and Council instructed Acting City Manager Craig Simoneau to put the bus depot issue on the May 23 meeting agenda. Pierzchala said Avery Road should be on the top of the list for discussion. Other potential sites will be discussed, as well, and officials from Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery County's Department of General Services, and Park and Planning will be invited to answer questions at that meeting. The Montgomery County Council is ultimately responsible for making the final decision, and for the communities being in this mess in the first place.

Another East Rockville site is rumored to be in play for the depot, and Newton warned that the City should avoid pitting neighborhood against neighborhood. With no location that won't impact some neighborhood in some way, Rockville could instead end up pitted against Aspen Hill with this hot potato nobody wants. Putting the depot at Avery Road triggers the domino effect of relocating the Ewing programs to the vacant English Manor school in Aspen Hill, which was the highly-controversial proposal that galvanized Aspen Hill residents to organize their ultimately-successful coalition.

Rockville residents now have formed a Carver Coalition, and MCPS is hosting a meeting on the Carver proposal tomorrow night, Wednesday, May 11 at 7:30 PM in the all-purpose room at College Gardens Elementary School, at 1700 Yale Place in Rockville.

Be there - or get a bus depot dropped on your neighborhood!

Mellow Mushroom to open May 16 in Rockville

Mellow Mushroom has announced it will open Monday, May 16, at Rockville Town Square. I'm looking forward to trying the pizza there. Once open, Mellow Mushroom will operate 11:00 AM to midnight Sunday through Thursday, and until 2:00 AM Friday and Saturday nights.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Toosso Pakistani Kitchen aiming to open next week in Rockville (Photos)

Toosso Pakistani Kitchen hopes to open next week at 1596-A Rockville Pike, formerly home to Taipei Tokyo Cafe 2.

Their Virginia location gets a solid four stars on Yelp, and praise for serving authentic Pakistani cuisine.

In a time when many restaurant interiors look the same, check out the fantastic mural on the wall inside Toosso (click on the photo at bottom below to enlarge). It appears to depict a scene on the Pakistan Railways.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Rockville Town Square Arts Festival this weekend

Over 160 artists will converge on Rockville Town Square this weekend for the annual RTS Arts Festival. Artworks will be on display throughout the property, and available for sale.

There will be live music again, headlined by the 19th Street Band. New this year will be wine and craft beer sold in commemorative glasses. Selections will be from local breweries and vintners in the state of Maryland.

Mediums represented at the festival will include painting, photography, jewelry, sculpture, digital works and more.

The festival will run from 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM Saturday, May 7, and 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM on Sunday, May 8. Admission is free.

Photo courtesy Rockville Town Square

WECA asks Mayor and Council to halt approval process for expansion of small cell towers in Rockville

A small cell tower atop
a pole at the
Red Mill Center in
A zoning text amendment that would permit small cell towers to be installed on any structure 15' or higher in the City of Rockville is sailing towards a decision by the Planning Commission next Wednesday, unless the Mayor and Council intervene Monday evening. The staff recommendation is that commissioners recommend the Mayor and Council approve the ZTA, but reduce the allowable size of the antennas from 2x4.5' in size to 2x3'.

Yesterday, the West End Citizens Association sent a letter to the Mayor and Council asking them to halt the approval process until the public can be officially informed of the proposal and data on the health impacts of cell towers.

Noreen Bryan, President of WECA, wrote that City staff scheduled the May 11 commission hearing, and a June 6 Mayor and Council hearing, before alerting the public to the issue. Simply using the Rockville Reports newsletter to inform residents after the hearings was not sufficient, Bryan wrote.

"I believe that staff has overstepped its authority, has acted in a way that is adverse to protecting the public and has failed to allow citizens to participate in the issue by failing to notify themof the text amendment," she wrote.

Bryan urged the Mayor and Council to cancel the public hearings at their next meeting this coming Monday, to gather the available research on the health impacts of cell towers, and to then formally report that information - and the ZTA itself - to the public before holding any hearings.

In previous written comments submitted to the City, Bryan expressed concern that these small cell towers could wind up on many utility poles in residential neighborhoods, and that the low altitude of the towers would increase ground-level radiation. She also noted that the ZTA language would give the Board of Appeals power to allow antennas larger than the proposed 2x3'.

The applicant is Cellco Partnership, doing business as Verizon Wireless. Cell towers could not be installed on single-family homes under the ZTA as currently written.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Rockville construction update: The Habit Burger Grill (Photos)

Burger lovers who follow nationwide hamburger headlines have to be excited about the future opening of The Habit Burger Grill at Wintergreen Plaza in Rockville. In regions that already have locations of the expanding chain, their burgers are attaining Five Guys-level hype.

This is where Ted's 355 Diner used to be on the property. All that's missing is a drive-thru.