Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Elrich introduces landlord-tenant reform bill that would increase tenants' power

Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich (D - At-large) has introduced legislation that would implement several landlord-tenant policy changes for rental housing.

Bill 19-15 would ban month-to-month surcharges for tenants, require leases to contain "clear, understandable language," allow tenants to withdraw from a lease renewal within 2 days of signing it, require additional reporting of rent increase data, and create incentives for landlords to stay within the county's voluntary rent increase parameters.

In addition, the legislation would mandate annual inspection of 100% of rental apartments, rather than the 10% inspection requirement now. Buildings with a solid record of code compliance would be exempt from the increased inspections.

“I have long been interested in promoting strategies to preserve affordable housing and provide some security for renters,” Councilmember Elrich said in a press release. “These proposed reforms, annual inspections, standard lease, more flexible lease deadlines, better data collection and reporting, are first steps toward improving the quality of life for tenants, who now are about one-third of the county population.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Nancy Navarro (D - District 4) and Tom Hucker (D - District 5).

Photo via Montgomery County Council website

Monday, April 20, 2015

Earth Day cocktails and raw oysters at All Set in Silver Spring

Enjoy a happy (two) hour(s) of cocktails and oysters this Wednesday, April 22, from 5:00-7:00 PM at All Set Restaurant & Bar in downtown Silver Spring. Wednesday is Earth Day, and you'll be doing your part by stopping by.

That's because all proceeds from sales of their AWS Specialty Cocktail during the event will go to the Anacostia Watershed Society.

There will also be $1 oysters with a shucking demonstration, and a Pacific Prime wine tasting.

Please RSVP for the event by close-of-business today, April 20.

All Set Restaurant & Bar
8630 Fenton Street
(301) 495-8800

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Suspect at large after armed robbery, pistol whipping in Four Corners area of Silver Spring

Montgomery County Police are searching for a suspect in connection with an armed robbery Friday morning in the Four Corners area of Silver Spring. Around 6:35 AM, police responded to a call regarding a robbery at the Shell gas station at 100 University Boulevard West.

Officers found a victim who had been struck with a handgun, which police allege was drawn by the suspect during the holdup. The suspect took an unspecified amount of cash from the Shell station, police said.

Despite search efforts that included K9 units, the suspect managed to evade capture, and remains at large.

The suspect is described as a Latino or white male, between 5’08” and 5’09”, wearing black pants and a black jacket, and armed with a black handgun.  During the robbery he concealed his face.

Anyone with information about this robbery is asked to call Major Crimes at 240-773-5070 or Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).  Callers can remain anonymous.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wayne Manchester Towers fire in Silver Spring displaces 4 families (Photos)

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue personnel responded to a fire at the Wayne Manchester Towers apartments in Silver Spring yesterday around 7:30 AM. The two-alarm blaze that started in a top floor apartment required over 100 firefighters to extinguish the flames, and rescue residents, MCFRS spokesperson Pete Piringer said.

Piringer noted that working smoke alarms in the building were a major reason all occupants escaped injury. But some needed to be rescued by firefighters, trapped by flames and smoke. An explosion reportedly blew out a window at the 8-story building at 25 E. Wayne Avenue.

The blaze, smoke and water damage caused over $125,000 in damage, according to Piringer. Its cause remains under investigation as of this writing.

Photos by Pete Piringer

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

All Set Restaurant and Bar all set to open today in Silver Spring (Photos)

The latest addition to the downtown Silver Spring dining scene opens today. All Set Restaurant and Bar draws its name from a popular New England saying, in keeping with its New England theme and nautical decor. That design is courtesy of Bethesda-based real estate firm Streetsense.

The All Set menu is New England-inspired, as well, with American cuisine selections like crispy skin rockfish, crab cakes, a fried oyster burger and braised short ribs. There's also a raw bar with fresh oysters, clams, lobster, crab and more. Handcrafted cocktails, and a selection of craft beers that includes local brewery Flying Dog, accompany your meal. A Family Clam Bake and Fried Chicken dinner will be offered on Sunday nights.

Dine in the 125-seat dining area, or out on the 24-seat patio during good weather. A 15-seat bar has its own menu selections.

All Set is co-owned by Jennifer Meltzer and Chef Edward Reavis. I heard that Meltzer graduated from Good Counsel High School, and there was another Falcon among the bartenders at a media preview event yesterday. All the more reason to support this local business.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
were a nice parting gift at
yesterday's event

New Wheaton Library and Recreation Center design unveiled (Photos)

The Montgomery County Department of General Services, and a design/architecture team have "very successfully" incorporated community feedback into the latest proposal for a co-located Wheaton Library and Recreation Center - while shaving $13 million from the price tag - DGS Director David Dise told residents at a meeting last night. The design allows far more green space, while allowing for free parking. It also would close the top of Hermitage Avenue where it meets Georgia Avenue.

Attendees seemed to give the redesign a warm reception, applauding at the end of the presentation. But concerns about transparency, and the ability for the community to participate in the design phase, remained for some.

"You want this to be a facility you're proud of," Dise said to residents. "You want this facility to have curb appeal." He said the goal, as with other recent county buildings, was for people "to be pleasantly surprised that this is a public building." At the same time, the redesign had to cut the cost of a facility deemed too expensive by County Executive Ike Leggett.

As of last night, the project's budget has been trimmed from $89 million to $76 million. Since the details of the building took up the bulk of the presentation (including an animated 3-D flyover/flythrough of the future facility expected to be posted online sometime today), many residents were asking each other afterward what had been trimmed to account for the savings.

In an interview after the meeting, Dise said cost-cutting measures included reducing the footprint of the building and structural changes, both accounting for around $5 million of the cost reduction alone. He said moving the building back from the Hermitage Avenue right-of-way meant underground utilities would not have to be relocated, for example. Switching from a green roof to a "white roof," with plans to add solar panels once the building is finished, was another significant cost savings. A portion of the roof, over the children's library, will still have vegetation. The Gilchrist Center's decision to move into the Wheaton Central Business District, rather than into the new Library/Recreation Center, was an additional cost eliminated. Dise said a full, itemized list of the changes that reduced the cost would be available when DGS presents the project to a County Council committee next week.

The savings did not come at the expense of the library collection, Dise said. Parker Hamilton, Director of Montgomery County Public Libraries said that not only would the number of books remain the same, but that the children's and teen collections would actually increase in size.

All in all, the facility will equal new recreation centers being built in North Potomac and White Oak in size, Montgomery County Recreation Department Director Gabriel Albornoz said.

A Power Point presentation revealed that the library and recreation center will include a Reading Room, a gym on par in size with the largest in the county, an elevated track on the second level above the gym's basketball courts, computer labs, an arts and crafts room, a pottery room, a vendor cafe, a weight room (which Albornoz said will be many times the size of the current weight room), an upper level Social Hall, a children's library, a teen area, a used bookstore on the western side of the building behind the gym, and even a learning kitchen facility.

Outdoor features will include an entry circle for drop offs of patrons or borrowed materials, with handicapped parking in the center, a close distance to the entrance. People entering from either Georgia Avenue or the circle entrance behind the building will be greeted by the same employees at the lobby desk for better security.

A large green space to the north of the building, including what is today part of Hermitage Avenue, will serve as a multipurpose field. While it won't be large enough to serve as a regulation soccer field, it is expected to host many impromptu, pickup soccer matches. One resident said she thought it would be better to use that green space for an indoor soccer field, citing concerns that it would be underutilized in the winter months, and the need for more soccer fields in the community. Albornoz said the indoor gym is so large that it will be possible to play indoor soccer in there. The community had previously sought more green space on the site, which is one reason the large field is planned. Despite county trends toward controversial artificial turf fields, Dise said the field will be natural turf. There will also be playground equipment near the surface parking lot, and walled-in rest areas with seating near Georgia Avenue.

Special angled bay windows on the Georgia Avenue side will redirect the setting sun, while filling the gym with light. Trespa paneling on the facade will allow designers to create a welcoming color scheme, and add texture. The building will step down in height from Georgia Avenue toward the neighboring homes. Designers promise that the facility will "glow from the inside out" at night, one of several measures to meet residents' suggestions for a welcoming, gateway facility.

Bike facilities and circulation through the property have not yet been determined at this stage of planning. For those arriving by car, there will be 178 spaces in an open air garage below the building, and 61 surface spaces. No traffic control is currently planned for the intersection where patrons will turn onto Arcola Avenue.

With the good news out of the way, there is no positive way to say that Wheaton will be without a library for about 20 months. Dise said the design phase will last about another year. Construction could start in July 2016. The facility could then be expected to open in 2018. Part of the length of time being projected, is due to the demolition of the existing library and recreation center (formerly the Wheaton Youth Center), Dise said.

There is a possibility that a temporary, small library facility could be opened in a nearby shopping center or mall, officials said. Community meetings would have to be held in either the new Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad ballroom (where last night's meeting was held), or at the new Wheaton High School, which is projected to be completed by the time construction begins. The current recreation center can't stay open during construction, Dise said, because the contractor will need that space as a staging area.

"Thank you very much, I'm really happy," one resident said at the meeting's conclusion. Among residents who have been engaged with the long and controversial project from the beginning, there were still concerns about openness and community participation, however.

"The whole issue is transparency," said Kim Persaud, President of the Wheaton Regional Park Neighborhood Association. Persaud was recently socked with a $58,407 bill by the County, for a Maryland Public Information Act request she filed to get more information about the behind-the-scenes process. When she learned meetings were being held in Rockville without resident participation in the design planning, Persaud said she told DGS Deputy Director Greg Ossont that residents wanted to be involved. But once Ossont agreed to let her participate in the meetings, Persaud said, no further meetings were scheduled. She then made the MPIA request. "Why can't we know how they're spending our money?" Persaud asked. She said the neighborhood wants to be able to give feedback as various design decisions are being made, not after-the-fact at meetings such as the one last night. "I want to be involved in the design process. Period," she said.

Asked about those community concerns after the meeting, Dise told me the lack of meetings was due to the stalled project. The latest proposal was finally presented to Leggett last Tuesday, Dise said, and the executive gave his approval. Now that DGS has a viable project with Leggett's support, "we'll reconvene the group," he promised. Community leaders, members of the Midcounty Citizens Advisory Board and other participants will have a say in the design process through those meetings, he said.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Silver Spring Library book drop closed (Photo)

Yesterday was the last day to drop your borrowed materials into the Book Drop at the venerable Silver Spring Library, at 8901 Colesville Road. The drop closed yesterday in preparation for the switch to the brand new Silver Spring Library at 900 Wayne Avenue (the old library closed last month).

During the "no library" period in downtown Silver Spring, you may return materials to any other Montgomery County Public Library. The Long Branch and Chevy Chase libraries are likely the closest.

To find out more about how to handle your library card account during the interim period, visit the County's Silver Spring Library website.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Montgomery County Civic Federation to preview the future of transportation on April 13

Montgomery County elected officials' widely-panned proposals for Bus Rapid Transit, and a powerful new taxing authority to force taxpayers to foot the bill for it, have generated rage and controversy countywide. But expensive transit projects are not the only way to address Montgomery County's nation-leading traffic congestion.

There are the county's long-delayed master plan highways, such as the Midcounty Highway Extended (M-83), Rockville Freeway and new Potomac River crossing to Northern Virginia, that need to be built. And there are ways to better manage our existing roads and highways, and bus service, through rapidly-advancing technology.

The Montgomery Civic Federation will be hosting an interesting discussion of the latter at its Monday, April 13 meeting, which will be held in the First Floor Auditorium of the County Council Office Building, at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville, at 7:45 PM.

Speakers at the Transportation of the Future seminar will include representatives for the United States Department of Transportation's Beyond Traffic initiative, and the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA). In addition, Christof Spieler, a member of the Metro board in Houston, Texas, will join the meeting via conference call.

According to Jim Zepp, MCCF First Vice President, Spieler will discuss how Houston was able to use technology to greatly improve existing bus service in the city - and unlike BRT or the ITA, this was accomplished at no cost to the taxpayer.

The meeting is free, and open to the public.