Friday, September 30, 2016

Humiliation: No MCPS school makes 2016 National Blue Ribbon School list

Just months after the Montgomery County Council hiked property and recordation taxes to record highs, and falsely claimed it was to benefit schools (but without any major change in education strategy, meaning we're going to keep going the way we've been going - a.k.a. the definition of insanity), there is more alarming evidence that your tax pain is in vain. The U.S. Department of Education has just released its list of 2016 National Blue Ribbon Schools - and not a single Montgomery County Public School is on the list.


We've been told by the Montgomery County political cartel that, while we don't enjoy the booming private sector economic growth of states like Texas, we should still feel superior because we "invest in our schools." Fact check: Montgomery County suffered a humiliating shut-out on the list, while red states like Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and Louisiana cleaned our clock, with multiple public schools making the cut. In fact, 26 Texas schools in all made the 2016 list. Even a red county in Maryland like Anne Arundel has public school representation on the new list.

It turns out that the excess money spent on MCPS without a plan has been money down the toilet. Ironically, you can be almost certain that grades will rise in MCPS schools in the future - but only because the school system recently adopted an easier grading system for that very reason. Elected officials impotent to solve MoCo's education decline? No problem! Just get rid of final exams and inflate everybody's grades. God help us.


P.S. Congratulations to Montgomery County's St. Patrick's parochial school, which made the 2016 list as a non-public school.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Dave & Buster's sets November opening date at Ellsworth Place in Silver Spring

Dave & Buster's has announced its new downtown Silver Spring location will open at Ellsworth Place this November. They are now hiring for all positions at the dining and entertainment center, more than 260 jobs in all.

Since closing at White Flint Mall after the landowner pulled the plug on its successful, fully-leased retail center, Dave & Buster's has upped its culinary game. Diners at the new Silver Spring restaurant will enjoy dishes like Angry Orchard BBQ Chicken, and Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp with Lobster Sauce and Fire-Grilled Sirloin.

Cocktail connoisseurs can choose from tiki drinks, the Original CoronaRita, adult snow cones, the Strawberry Watermelon Margarita poured over strawberry ice cubes, Glow Kones featuring a multicolored, flashing cube, and the all-new Luxe L.I.T.’s.

The Ellsworth Place location's Million Dollar Midway will feature games like Star Trek and Star Wars Battle Pod, plus D&B exclusives like Ghostbusters. Tickets won won't be redeemed for junk prizes, but rather, Apple products, Xbox games, sports memorabilia and more.

Dave & Buster's also promises "better than the stadium seating" for Redskins, Nationals, and D.C. United games, with the massive HD TVs in their Sports Bar area.

An in-person job application site will open October 19 at the Hampton Inn at 8728 Colesville Road. Interviews will be held Monday through Saturday from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Kemp Mill Beer Wine & Deli seeks approval of U-Haul rentals from County

Have you noticed the U-Haul sign in the window of Kemp Mill Beer Wine & Deli, and the U-Haul vehicles parked around the shopping center? So did Montgomery County, which issued the store a code violation notice in February.

Kemp Mill Beer and Wine wants to rent 21 U-Haul vehicles, including four cargo vans, one pick-up truck, eight 10-foot trucks, and eight trailers. But the 10-foot trucks apparently qualify as "heavy commercial vehicles" under the County code.

So a special exception must be granted to allow the rentals. The store has community support, with 100 nearby residents and business owners signing a petition to allow the U-Haul use. Now the Planning Board will take up the matter at its meeting tomorrow, September 29.

Planning staff is recommending approval of the use. A County Hearing Examiner will review the matter at a public hearing on October 17.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Demolition update: Spring-Colesville Garage 21 (Photos)

The former public parking garage at Spring Street and Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring is pretty much gone at this point. It has been demolished to make way for 120,000 SF expansion of the United Therapeutics campus, including a 6-story building, retail and a replacement parking garage.

Monday, September 26, 2016

More AMC Wheaton 9 theater signage installed at Wheaton Plaza (Photos)

More signs of the soon-to-open AMC Wheaton 9 Theater at Wheaton Plaza. A slick AMC logo has been added to the art deco-inspired pedestrian gateway near Bar Louie at Wheaton. Another large sign is placed near a roadway.

In contrast to the main theater facade AMC logo installed early this month, these are more wayfinding in nature, to help theatergoers find the cineplex on the large mall property. I do like how the outdoor plaza along Bar Louie is slightly reminiscent of the outdoor mall-era of Wheaton Plaza, if you've seen photos from the old days.

Friday, September 23, 2016

One more sign of Montgomery County's anti-business climate

No major corporation has relocated its headquarters to Montgomery County in nearly twenty years. Thanks to the County's moribund private sector economy, office property owners have had to scale back their expectations, and try to lure smaller tenants. Whole-floor suites built with corporate headquarters in mind get hacked up into smaller office units, as firms like Intelsat and Northrop consider MoCo, and then pick Virginia instead.

So, while they didn't break the County Council's humiliating two-decade streak of no Fortune 500-size firms moving here, Brandywine Realty Trust had to be delighted when The Donohoe Companies - a major regional player in real estate development and construction - leased two floors at its newly-renovated 7101 Wisconsin Avenue office building.

But it almost didn't happen.

"Had we known then what we do now," Donohoe President and COO Chris Bruch told the Montgomery County Council at a public hearing Tuesday, the company might have chosen another jurisdiction. Was it the typical reasons that companies who choose Virginia or the District have cited, like the lack of direct access to Dulles Airport? The severe traffic congestion? Montgomery County's notoriously business-unfriendly climate and record high taxes?

No. It was the sign ordinance.

The high visibility of the office building at 7101 Wisconsin Avenue, along with $600,000 in incentives and loans from MoCo and Maryland, helped seal the deal for Donohoe. As the largest tenant in the building, Donohoe expected to be able to install signage on its facades, which loom over a major commuter route.

Instead, Bruch recounted, the company was "quite surprised" to learn that their signage plan would not meet the outdated restrictions of Montgomery County's sign ordinance. While that "may not seem like a big deal," Bruch said, "It is." Large tenant signs are currently restricted to a facade where a customer entrance is located.

Jennifer Russel of the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce testified that the current sign rules are "detrimental to the economic vitality of Chamber members." She said the importance of anchor office tenant signage was stressed recently by an official with the Maryland Department of Commerce. Major tenant name visibility is a barometer for visitors of "how thriving the economic center is" in an area like Bethesda, she said.

Brandywine Realty Trust's Deb Santano said that the zoning text amendment (that would allow Donohoe's signage) currently before the Council would help "foster a positive economic development climate in the County." With office property owners having to scale back expectations to smaller tenants, she said, the inability to allow additional tenant signage is "out of step with today's market."

It was telling that the only opposition testimony to the ZTA was from two members of the County's Sign Review Board; both stressed they were only speaking for themselves, not the board.

If you drive down Massachusetts Avenue into the District, you will eventually pass by the headquarters of one of Donohoe's competitors, Douglas Development. You can't miss it, because the building features gigantic, lit signage for the company visible from every direction. Montgomery County companies need the same advantage.

The sign ordinance. Who knew?

One more thing I hadn't even thought of to add to the list of reasons why, as of this writing, MoCo hasn't scored a single major corporate headquarters in two decades. And one more thing that needs to change.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

MoCo Council embroiled in new scandal after White Oak vote

The Montgomery County Council's vote Tuesday to approve the hiring of attorneys Francoise Carrier and Douglas Bregman - to represent taxpayer interests in negotiations over a White Oak development - was an unforced political error. An astonishing breach of ethics, the 8-1 Council vote plunges the body into yet another scandal, even as a November 8 ballot question will ask voters if councilmembers should be limited to 3 terms.

Carrier and Bregman would represent the County in negotiations with developer Percontee, which is purchasing 115 acres of land from the County at White Oak, a deal already steeped in conflicts of interest for County Executive Ike Leggett.

Why is this a problem?

Herman, set the Wayback Machine for the late 1980s.

Leggett at that time began a close relationship with the developer that Carrier and Bregman will be negotiating with at White Oak. Contributors affiliated with the developer have donated thousands of dollars to Leggett's campaign accounts since that time. Negotiations between the developer and County Attorney Marc Hansen have been contentious and lengthy - in other words, Hansen appeared to actually be doing his job.

Now, mysteriously, Hansen is calling for outside legal counsel to take over the negotiations, citing a lack of resources in his office.

Hansen has 26 years of professional experience in the County Attorney's office. He serves at the pleasure of Leggett, who appointed him County Attorney in 2011, and of the Council, who unanimously approved his appointment. The sudden move to hire Carrier and Bregman creates - true or not - the public perception that Hansen is obeying a directive from Leggett and the Council to do so, or it might no longer be "their pleasure" for Hansen to continue in the position. That's just a fact.

Why is the selection of Carrier and Bregman a problem?

"I'm now on the
developers' side"

That Carrier was Chair of the Planning Board when the White Oak sector plan was passed is just the beginning of the conflicts of interest in this case. After leaving the Board in 2014, Carrier was appointed to the board of directors of a developer-backed non-profit, Communities for Transit. An instrumental figure on that board of directors? Jonathan Genn, Executive Vice-President at...Percontee. Yes, the White Oak developer Carrier will now "negotiate" with.
Look who teamed up
to deliver a presentation
at a development conference
this year
Earlier this year, Carrier and Genn teamed up at a Montgomery County conference to present a developer-friendly PowerPoint presentation on the so-unfair costs to developers (and the uninformed NIMBYs) that make "smart growth" urban development difficult in MoCo. "I'm now on the developers' side of the table," Carrier declared late in the presentation.

Carrier is also close to her now-partner in the Percontee negotiations, Douglas Bregman. Together, they helped stifle an objective, truly-independent investigation into the Farm Road scandal in 2013. As Chair of the Planning Board at that time, Carrier appointed Bregman to "investigate" Farm Road.

The Farm Road debacle began when African-American landowners were cheated out of their property rights in Sandy Spring. A road that served their properties mysteriously disappeared from documents and records, a move that benefited a developer building homes there, but preventing the black landowners from developing their properties.

How did this happen? There was enough evidence of foul play to spur the County Inspector General to call for an investigation of the Planning Department. Activists and Councilmember Marc Elrich were among those who called on Attorney General Doug Gansler to launch a state investigation (Elrich was the only councilmember to vote against hiring Carrier and Bregman Tuesday).

What could possibly go wrong?

It turned out that Gansler would decide whether an investigation was warranted based on the conclusions of Bregman's "investigation." Problem: Bregman had donated $4,000 to Gansler's campaign account. Bregman also contributed to current Attorney General Brian Frosh, and wrote a $1250 check to Leggett's campaign.

When Bregman's report - shocker! - cleared the Planning Department of wrongdoing, Gansler declined to investigate. The local press ceased covering Farm Road, and no true, independent investigation of the Planning Department ever took place.

When Carrier left the Planning Board, she joined the law firm of...Douglas Bregman. I am shocked. Shocked. You can't make this stuff up, folks. This is the proverbial revolving door, now coming around yet again.

Keep all of this in mind when you consider Carrier and Bregman will now represent your interests in this sweetheart deal to sell County land (a.k.a. taxpayer-owned land) to Percontee, "at below market value." God help us. This is happening at a time when developer-beholden County elected officials are telling us there is no money, and no land for new schools or bus depots.

According to a report by Bill Turque of the Washington Post, Carrier and Bregman will be paid $425-$525 per hour, to do the work we are already paying $190,000 a year for Mr. Hansen to do.

How, knowing all of this full well, could eight councilmembers have voted to hire Carrier and Bregman? Couldn't they have simply declined the nominations, and held out for truly-independent outside counsel? And why wouldn't they? Well, for starters, it suggests that they are, along with Leggett, behind the move to hire the pair.

And, let's be honest, this is the same "progressive" County Council that created a federal tax shelter worth $360,000,000 for one of their biggest campaign contributors. The same County Council that - minus Elrich - receives 82% of its campaign funds from developers. And the same Council that, after defeating the once-powerful Columbia Country Club and Town of Chevy Chase in the Purple Line battle, believes they are now invincible and entitled to do anything. In other words, they will intentionally engage in a massive breach of ethics simply because they can. It's just that attitude and chutzpah which have created the wide support among tax-stomped voters for term limits this year.