Tuesday, January 12, 2021

TD Ameritrade closes Rockville branch

TD Ameritrade
has closed at 11560 Old Georgetown Road at Pike & Rose. The closure may seem surprising, as the stock market has been booming for years, and many amateur investors with cash joined the market when stocks briefly plunged at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. However, Charles Schwab is in the process of closing nearly 80% of TD Ameritrade branches nationwide. 

Charles Schwab found too much overlap with Schwab offices in most TD Ameritrade markets after acquiring the latter firm, it announced late last fall. Rockville and North Bethesda apparently fell into that category.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Rockville Planning Commission to consider annexing King Buick dealership to be redeveloped by EYA

The landowner of the King Buick GMC auto dealership property at 16200 Frederick Road is asking to have the land annexed into the City of Rockville, along with a portion of vacant land. If the proposal receives the necessary approvals, developer EYA intends to formally acquire and redevelop the site with 366 housing units in the form of townhomes and low-rise condo buildings. EYA is also proposing to provide an amenity related to the nearby King Farm farmstead site, such as parking.

Montgomery County's current zoning for the dealership property allows building heights of 45 feet, while Rockville's permits heights of 75 feet. An additional complication is that a Minor Master Plan Amendment process was previously initiated for the area by the Montgomery County Planning Board, which includes the dealership property. 

As drafted, the Montgomery County zoning change would permit heights of 80 feet, but could take up to 18 months to be approved. It's unclear what advantage there is to joining the City of Rockville other than that the project could begin sooner, as city staff estimate the land could be annexed by September 16 of this year. 

But if this is to occur before the County zoning change, the annexation would have to be signed off upon by the Montgomery County Council. That would mean the Council would cede the tax revenue from the future development to Rockville. City staff reports that Montgomery County planners were receptive to the idea of handing the plot over to Rockville.

The Rockville Planning Commission will consider the annexation plan and whether to schedule a public hearing to consider the petition at its January 13, 2021 virtual meeting at 7:00 PM. Planning staff is recommending approval of the public hearing.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Darcars opening new Rockville location

is the mystery tenant moving into the new building by Roy Rogers at 712 Rockville Pike. Once again, the Pike is maintaining its suburban character as a commercial strip with car dealerships and retail stores, despite developer efforts last decade to upzone Rockville Pike into a high-density urban area. A similar urbanization plan for White Flint's part of the Pike, passed by the Montgomery County Council, has been an utter failure so far.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Sign installed at Yi Fang Taiwan Fruit Tea in Rockville

The sign is up at Yi Fang Taiwan Fruit Tea at 777 Hungerford Drive in Rockville. This is near Flagship Car Wash north of the Rockville Town Center area.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Nick's Chophouse permanently closing in Rockville

Nick's Chophouse
has been temporarily closed at 700 King Farm Boulevard in Rockville. Now the entire contents of the restaurant will be auctioned off at the end of the month. Refrigerators, ovens, fryers, bar equipment, office equipment, TVs, booth and table seating, light fixtures and even the restaurant's security system are all up for grabs.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Surveillance robots that capture license plates appearing in Rockville retail parking lots

Montgomery County's increasing crime has apparently now gotten the attention of corporate boardrooms across America. Surveillance robots have begun popping up at major retailers and big box stores across the county in the late months of 2020. Walmart has been deploying these robots in their parking lots nationwide for several years, but they haven't been seen here much until now. The particular model pictured here at the CVS Pharmacy at 7809 Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda is by LiveView Technologies of Orem, Utah.

If you haven't seen one of these up close, you may have heard it without even being on the CVS property. The robot talks out loud all day and all night, and can be heard over a block away, if not clearly. 

What is the robot doing? It is filming you, and capturing your license plate. No information on how long it stores your license plate, or what is done with that video, is posted on the robot. You can see that any movement within a certain radius of the robot triggers that blue laser light. There are thermal sensors, and the retailer has remote 24-7 access to the cameras and license plate information. A business can even use the same speakers the robot uses to jabber all night long to address patrons and trespassers alike from a remote location.

The robot has been seen recently at CVS stores in Rockville, Kensington, Silver Spring and Gaithersburg. There are two at the Lowe's in the Kentlands area of Gaithersburg.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Rockville Mayor & Council to receive update on Rockville Town Center initiatives tonight

Rockville's Mayor and Council are scheduled to receive an update from city staff on the efforts to address the long-struggling Rockville Town Center area at their virtual meeting tonight at 7:00 PM. It will indicate what progress has been made on eleven areas of concern identified by the Mayor and Council at a 2018 meeting, as well as review efforts to address the special challenges of the last year that have impacted Rockville's town center.

The staff report shows that despite many business closures and vacancies in the area, rents have continued to rise in the town center. Staff also reports that the City has been unable to reach an agreement with Federal Realty on the possibility of offering free parking at certain times in the Rockville Town Square garages, even if Rockville taxpayers subsidize some of the lost revenue.

City staff asked an Urban Land Institute panel to make recommendations. However, many of the submitted recommendations are boilerplate urbanist initiatives not really on-target for the situation, like road diets, public art and taller buildings. One that makes sense is the suggestion to have the Montgomery College shuttle stop in the town center area, but that would increase travel times for students not stopping there. The college is open to discussions on the idea, but has not yet committed to doing so. Shuttles are currently offline due to the virtual nature of classes right now.

The ULI panel has also suggested creating a task force with town center stakeholders, to include business owners and residents. Merchants have often identified possible solutions that property owners and the City have not so far wanted, or been able, to implement.

A suggestion to create a special taxing district is sure to be controversial. Hitting up the business owners and residents already negatively-affected by town center's problems for more cash - directly or indirectly - is unlikely to be well received in those quarters.

Meanwhile, staff reports that the current management agreement between Rockville Town Square property owner Federal Realty and the City is due to expire this coming June 30. They indicate that Federal Realty has hinted at possible changes it will seek to that agreement, but has not yet submitted any specific proposed changes to the City. 

Key matters staff would like the Mayor and Council to focus on tonight are whether to initiate a branding exercise for the town center, CIP funding for changes already approved for E. Middle Lane and N. Washington Street, raising building height limits, improved wayfinding, better engagement with merchants and residents, and the WMATA Rockville Metro station redevelopment study.