Friday, July 21, 2017

MoCo Council bodyslammed by regional leaders on new Potomac crossing

Regional leaders delivered a stinging rebuke to the Montgomery County Council this week, approving a new Potomac River crossing study over MoCo councilmembers' objections. The County Council had unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday opposing a new bridge, or even a study of a new bridge. On Wednesday, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) met to consider the crossing and 9 other items for study.

In addition to delivering the resolution to the board, Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Marc Elrich participated in the meeting, expending political capital to try and stop a bridge that would provide an economic boon to Montgomery County. The politically-suicidal move left many on the Board scratching their heads. It also again proved that the Council is impotent, even among their Democratic colleagues at the state level, and across the region. Elected officials on the TPB from the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg, including Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton (who chairs the TPB) all backed studying the bridge.

Even one of the Council's war-on-cars fellow travelers, Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette, was perplexed as to why MoCo councilmembers would oppose objective study of a new bridge. Fisette said he too opposed the bridge, but thought it should be studied like the other projects. COG's own 2012 study showed that 25% of traffic on the American Legion Bridge during rush hour is traveling to, or from, the Dulles area. In addition, 27% of Virginia drivers crossing into Maryland are heading to I-270.

During discussion of the Council resolution earlier this week, Elrich had stated a new crossing was "not in the County's economic interest." This is simply not true, as many CEOs whose firms chose Virginia over Montgomery County have cited our county's lack of direct access to Dulles Airport as one of the deciding factors. Elrich said he wanted to prevent competition with BWI Airport, but BWI - like National Airport - doesn't offer the frequency and scope of international business flights that Dulles does. The largest and most-luxurious aircraft can't even land at BWI and National, but can be accommodated by runways at Dulles.

Councilmember Craig Rice said there was "not any benefit for the upcounty" in building a new bridge. Damascus, Clarksburg and Germantown residents who work in the Dulles area, and parts of Fairfax County, would vehemently disagree. Not to mention that offloading a quarter of the traffic on the American Legion Bridge benefits everyone using I-495 and I-270 during rush hour.

Another false impression was given by Councilmember Sid Katz, who declared, "the reality is, there's no money for this." With a private firm building the highway and bridge as a toll facility, the beauty of it is, very little taxpayer money would be needed. Since the road would most likely be an extension of the ICC/Sam Eig Highway, the private operator could also take control of the ICC, and lower tolls along the length of the route within Maryland.

Of the ten projects approved for study by the TPB, the Potomac River crossing would move the most people in the shortest time, for the least dollar amount per-person. In opposing it, the Council not only again declared war on their own constituents, but are actively trying to prevent congestion relief and job creation within Montgomery County, at the behest of their developer masters who want to use office zones for residential development. Protecting BWI, which can't compete on business flights with Dulles, at their constituents' expense? It sounds like Berliner, George Leventhal and Elrich are running for Baltimore mayor, not Montgomery County Executive.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Fresh paint at Lina's Diner in Silver Spring

The wall alongside Lina's Diner in downtown Silver Spring got a fresh coat of white paint. Lina's is located at 8402 Georgia Avenue.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Tilted Kilt sign comes down at Wheaton Plaza, Famous Rotisserie and Grill opens

Tilted Kilt seems to be officially out of the picture at Wheaton Plaza. The restaurant's sign has been removed from the facade of the space where construction has been stalled for more than a year. The venture became bogged down in lawsuits and liens over that construction.

In other Wheaton Plaza news, Famous Rotisserie and Grill has opened in the food court next to Ruby Thai Kitchen. They still have no website, no Facebook, or any other social media presence I can find, certainly unusual for 2017.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Should Wheaton Library furniture be tested in Wheaton, or in...Rockville?

One would think that if Montgomery County was seeking community feedback on the furniture they're considering for the future Wheaton Library and Recreation Center, that they would seek it in Wheaton, right? But Wheaton residents are hearing two different stories: County Council President Roger Berliner stated in a late-June email that furniture would be tested at the interim Wheaton Library, located in the Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad ballroom. County Library Department officials, however, have suggested the furniture "test bed" would be at the Rockville Memorial Library, according to Wheaton Regional Park Neighborhood Association President Kimblyn Persaud.
Interim Wheaton Library at
the Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad
at Georgia and Arcola Avenues
Persaud questioned why Wheaton residents should have to travel that far, and pay for parking at Rockville Town Square, when the interim library is in the neighborhood and has free parking. She also noted that the furniture options have not been shown on the Department of General Services project website for community review.

In an email to Berliner, Persaud is seeking clarification of the testing location.

Monday, July 17, 2017

8787 Georgia redevelopment big on questions, small on green space, affordable housing

There are many curious aspects to the proposed redevelopment of 8787 Georgia Avenue, the sketch plan for which will come before the Montgomery County Planning Board on July 24. Many residents in the neighborhood directly across Spring Street from the site - which just happens to be the Planning Board's headquarters - have expressed concerns about the height, density, and massing of the project, as well as the viability of retail on this parcel.

Planning staff have addressed one major issue - the proposed shrinkage of Fairview Park - by getting the developer to agree to remove that from the plan. But many questions remain.

It's interesting that, for a project that is part of a public-private land swap with the County, only the required minimum of 12.5% affordable units is being demanded by planners. The Board and County Council last year approved a requirement of 15% affordable units in the Westbard sector plan area, which is nowhere near Metro.
This is how much public/green space
was recommended by residents and
planners in 2008
Second, the amount of green and public-use space is far smaller than the original 2008 "Silver Place" charrette proposed should be part of any redevelopment of this site.
...and here's what you're actually
going to get. "Holy shrink ray, Batman!"
Third, this is one of the least transparent sketch plans I've seen. There's no clear number of housing units being given, only a promise that the number will be determined later. A number of the renderings in the staff report are deceptive in terms of what the true height and massing of the new buildings across from the homes on Spring Street will be.

Notice how the tree in the
upper-right corner conveniently
blocks out the recessed upper floors
that will be seen from Spring Street?
Having said that, it's also interesting that the step-down to those homes on the Spring Street edge, and the overall site density, are much lower than that approved for buildings directly adjacent to, and across from, single-family homes in the Westbard plan. Westbard is 2 miles from the nearest Metro station and poorly-served by transit. 8787 Georgia is on a major bus corridor, and is only a few blocks from Metro. And this is not the first time the Board has done this within walking distance of Silver Spring Metro. Again, it's amateur hour at the Planning Board.
View from townhomes across
Spring Street seems more distant
than the actual proximity
Planning staff is recommending approval of the sketch plan with conditions.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Wheaton Woods Green Streets community walk Saturday, July 15

Wheaton Woods residents are being invited to participate in a "community walk" tomorrow, Saturday, July 15, 2017, in regards to potential "green streets" landscaping amenities Montgomery County might install on County-owned rights-of-way in the community. Meet up at the Parkland median (between Jupiter and Judith - - see star on map/click to enlarge for greater detail) at 9:00 AM for a selection of 3 walking routes, or meet up at the Grenoble median (near the Parklawn intersection) at 1:00 PM for 3 different afternoon walks.
Sample rain garden; some residents
complain these weren't maintained
properly by the County after
Potential amenities may include rain gardens, tree boxes, and underground facilities. The additions are not without controversy, as I've heard from a few residents in communities who say the stormwater collection "amenities" were poorly maintained by the County, with dying plants and pollutants that wound up in their front yards instead of being retained or flushed away to the sewer.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Wheaton online sale meetups end in robberies

Montgomery County police are reminding residents that they offer "Safe Exchange Zones" for sales of merchandise arranged online, after two sellers were robbed in Wheaton last week. These zones are located in each of the six district police stations around the county.

Detectives report that last Thursday, July 6, around 11:18 PM, an adult male selling tennis shoes through Facebook met his supposed buyer at the intersection of Randolph Road and Dalewood Drive in Wheaton. Instead of handing over the money, the "buyer" pulled out a handgun and robbed the victim of his shoes. The suspect is described as an African-American male, 5’8” and wearing a black t-shirt and gray sweatpants. He fled from the scene in a blue Honda Accord.

On Saturday, July 8, around 12:13 AM, an adult female selling her digital camera via the app, "OfferUp," met her supposed buyer in the 12000 block of English Orchard Court in Wheaton. Once again, the so-called "buyer" wasn't a paying customer. The 18-20-year-old, 5'8" Latino male with a slim build physically-assaulted the woman, grabbed her camera, and ran toward Randolph Road. He was wearing a "multi-colored hoodie" and khaki pants.

In addition to using the safe zones, one might also consider it is probably a bad idea to meet a strange man near Randolph Road in the middle of the night to exchange valuables for cash. Who knew?

Anyone with information regarding these two robberies or the suspects is asked to call the 4th District Investigative Section at 240-773-5530.  Those who wish to remain anonymous may call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).  Crime Solvers will pay a cash reward of up to $10,000 for information provided to them that leads to an arrest in this case.