Friday, October 30, 2015

Coming Soon signage at future Cava Grill in downtown Silver Spring (Photos)

It's not exactly a surprise that Cava Grill is taking over this former Baja Fresh space at 8515 Fenton Street in downtown Silver Spring. But Cava has put up some signage in case you had any doubt. The Baja Fresh was recently liquidated in an online auction.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Attempted carjacking in Aspen Hill

Montgomery County Police are seeking the public's help in identifying carjackers who attempted to steal a County-owned van from one of their own employees Wednesday morning. At approximately 6:30 a.m. yesterday, 4th District officers responded to the area of the 4800 block of Aspen Hill Road (near the intersection of Iris Street) for the report of an attempted armed carjacking.

Two suspects had approached the victim alongside the van. One of them pointed a handgun at him, and ordered him to hand over the van keys. The two suspects then proceeded to assault the victim, and ran off without taking the van. Police say the victim's injuries were non-life-threatening, but did require a trip to a local hospital.

The first suspect is described by police as a black male, 5’9” to 5’10’ tall, and weighing between 160 and 170 pounds. He was wearing a dark hoodie over his face, and was armed with the handgun. There is no description of the second male suspect.

Anyone who has information about these two suspects or the attempted carjacking and assault is asked to call the Montgomery County Police – Major Crimes Division at 240-773-5070. Those who wish to remain anonymous may call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County at 240-773-TIPS (8477) or Text-A-Tip to: CRIMES (274637), text MCPD and your crime tip. Crime Solvers will pay a cash reward of up to $10,000 for information provided to them that leads to an arrest and/or indictment for this crime.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

First signs of Dave and Buster's at Ellsworth Place in Silver Spring (Photos)

The massive future home of Dave and Buster's awaits build-out of what can arguably be described as the most anticipated business opening in downtown Silver Spring, inside the under-renovation Ellsworth Place mall. Elevator directories inside the mall now display "Dave and Buster's" among the choices for various levels in the retail center.

When Dave and Buster's opens, it will cement downtown Silver Spring's position as the most appealing destination for millennials in Montgomery County. With chart-topping acts performing at The Fillmore almost nightly, two movie theaters in walking distance, and the many dining options, downtown Silver Spring will soon be the place to be after business hours. It's hard to think of another urban district in the County that will offer this range of entertainment options.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

News on MCPS decline, achievement gap gets worse with new report

The troubling results of a new survey of Montgomery County African-American youths highlight the failure of the County Council and Board of Education to close an achievement gap that has grown since 2010. Connecting Youth to Opportunity was produced by The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, BETAH Associates, Inc. and Montgomery College.

Survey results showed that black students are 3 times as likely to drop out of Montgomery County Public Schools as white and Asian students. And black students are 3 times as likely to be suspended from school as whites and Asians.

The report also showed that Montgomery County's moribund economy, and weak job creation rate relative to Northern Virginia and the District, are disproportionately hurting African Americans. According to the survey results, only 8.7% of black high school students surveyed are employed, and only 30.7% of black high school dropouts have been able to obtain employment.

Even Montgomery County's young black high school graduates are being hard hit, with only 39.7% of those surveyed currently employed.

My suggestion for years has been to attract high-wage aerospace, defense and tech companies (and their accompanying research facilities) to the County - and have classroom space in those facilities as a provision for receiving County financial incentives. This would create internships, and high-tech skill acquisition, that would lead to high-wage jobs for students in our worst-performing schools.

Instead, our County leadership is doubling down on decline. What are we hearing the MoCo political machine's next moves are on declining schools and record exam failure rates? "Soft bigotry" moves like building more luxury apartments on top of demolished affordable housing complexes, putting more rich white people in places like White Oak and Wheaton while displacing lower income residents, redistricting school boundaries - the third rail of MoCo politics, and - by golly - just getting rid of those pesky exams the kids can't pass.

Let's hope this report provides them yet another wake-up call.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Name of new Wheaton cineplex revealed

The name of the future movieplex at Westfield Wheaton Plaza has been revealed. AMC's new cineplex will be known as AMC Theatres Wheaton 9. The multiscreen theater has applied to Montgomery County for a liquor license.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Driver killed in fiery Silver Spring crash (Photo)

A car crashed into a tree at Gist Avenue and Ray Drive in Silver Spring around 12:00 AM this morning. The car burst into flames, and according to Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesperson Pete Piringer, the driver was trapped inside.

The driver was declared deceased at the scene before any ambulance transport could occur, Piringer said.

Photo courtesy Pete Piringer/MCFRS

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

MCDOT wins grant to install Capital Bikeshare stations in Wheaton

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation has won a $300,350 Maryland Bikeways Program grant from the Maryland Department of Transportation to establish a six-station Capital Bikeshare network in Wheaton.

This follows the installation of similar stations in Friendship Heights, Bethesda, Medical Center/Walter Reed, Takoma Park, Silver Spring, Rockville and near the Shady Grove Metro station.

No date for installation has been given yet.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Pedestrian & cyclist struck in Aspen Hill in only 6 hours

A pedestrian was struck on Connecticut Avenue at Aspen Hill Road yesterday at 12:45 PM, near the Aspen Hill Shopping Center. The woman was transported to a local trauma center with non-life-threatening injuries, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson Pete Piringer said.

Only six hours later, a cyclist was struck by a vehicle near the Home Depot on Connecticut Avenue. There is no report on that cyclist's condition as of this writing.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Everything must go in auction of Baja Fresh on Fenton St. in Silver Spring

The contents of Baja Fresh at 8515 Fenton Street in downtown Silver Spring are being auctioned off today. Prep tables, kitchen islands, dishwashers, a soda fountain - even the Salsa Bar can now be yours.

Photo courtesy Capitol Online Auctions

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tilted Kilt coming to Wheaton Plaza (Photos)

Rapidly-expanding restaurant and bar chain Tilted Kilt continues to grow in Maryland. Not long after adding a Frederick location, its next target is Wheaton. It's been known for months that the chain was coming to Wheaton, but the location has remained under wraps. No longer. These banners have been posted near Entrance 1 at Westfield Wheaton Plaza. It was either going there, or in the recently-vacated El Fogon de Wheaton. There isn't another available space large enough for a Tilted Kilt in downtown Wheaton, to my knowledge.

While the theme of Tilted Kilt is Scottish, its menu leans Irish, with Shepherd's Pie and Olde Dublin Irish Stew. 

Tilted Kilt is currently hiring staff, including Kilt Girls, who have their own annual calendar featuring waitstaff chosen from its restaurants across America.

A representative for the Tilted Kilt said there is not an official opening date for the restaurant yet.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A'GACI coming to Wheaton Plaza (Photos)

A'GACI, a fashion boutique carrying "all things fierce, fabulous and fly", is opening a new location at Westfield Wheaton Plaza. The chain specializes in offering styles that let women duplicate the looks of stars like Taylor Swift and Hailee Steinfeld.

This will be only the second A'GACI store in the Mid-Atlantic region; the first opened in Annapolis.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Sarku Japan temporarily closed at Wheaton Plaza

Sarku Japan is temporarily closed for renovations at Wheaton Plaza. No word on an official reopening date for the Japanese restaurant and sushi bar.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Nando's Peri Peri coming to Wheaton (Photos)

One of the most-popular and fastest-growing restaurants in the DC region is finally coming to Wheaton. Nando's Peri-Peri is opening a new location at Westfield Wheaton Plaza, next to Tutti Fruitti.

Nando's spicy chicken resulted from a culinary collision of Portugal and South Africa, fueled by the discovery of the PERi-PERi chili - the "secret ingredient" in Nando's overnight marinade and basting process.

Their first American location opened in Washington, D.C. in 2008.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Montgomery County's low unemployment rate doesn't mean jobs were created in the county

Montgomery County is again touting its low unemployment rate, reported by the Maryland DLLR as 3.8% in August, according to an official County press release. While it's always good news that residents are employed, and it would be fine if the press release stopped there, unfortunately it goes further.

The release proceeds to give credit for the increase to the County's "Six-Point Economic Plan designed to make the County even more competitive in business attraction and job growth."

Whoops. Unemployment rate has absolutely nothing to do with the county's job creation rate, which was far behind Northern Virginia counties and the District of Columbia during the same period. Add the qualifier of high-wage jobs, and MoCo's share plunges even further. And speaking of "business attraction," the County hasn't "attracted" a single major corporate headquarters to relocate here in over a decade.

Montgomery County's low unemployment is due to the many jobs being created outside of its borders in Fairfax, Loudoun, and Arlington counties and the District, which its residents travel to each morning on the congested roads of our unfinished highway system.

In fact, Montgomery County's 3.8% unemployment rate itself isn't special in the region at all. Arlington County (2.7%), the City of Alexandria (3.2%) and Loudoun County (3.4%) all beat MoCo in August, while cleaning our clocks in job creation. Those numbers come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of September 30, 2015.

Another "Four Pinocchios"/"Pants on Fire" fact check rating for Montgomery County's political machine. We may have low unemployment, but our County's economic development remains moribund.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Amina Thai opens in downtown Silver Spring (Photos)

Amina Thai has opened at 8624 Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring. Billing itself as the only halal Thai restaurant in the DC area, this is the second Amina Thai location in Montgomery County. The first was in Rockville.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Giant screens installed at Ellsworth Place mall in downtown Silver Spring (Photos)

One of the most prominent additions to the facade of the transforming Ellsworth Place mall in downtown Silver Spring is in place - giant video screens, displaying mall information, weather, and more to passersby. Two screens have been installed, and one is already operating. This is just part of the major, complete renovation of the mall, which will take several more months to complete. Stores and restaurants are still open during the renovation, with more to come after the project is completed.

Monday, October 5, 2015

ShopHouse to open in downtown Silver Spring (Photos)

Well, here's a major upgrade. ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, popular in several existing locations around the D.C. area, is coming to downtown Silver Spring.

The chain, from the same folks who brought you Chipotle, plans to take over the former FroZenYo space at 935 Ellsworth Drive. ShopHouse says the new restaurant will open in Spring 2016.

Having dined at ShopHouse, I highly recommend the meatballs with broccoli.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Gas leak reported on Belvedere Boulevard

Montgomery County firefighters are responding to a gas leak in the 4100 block of Belvedere Boulevard in Silver Spring, according to scanner reports. This is in the Forest Glen area east of Georgia Avenue.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Wheaton armed robbery suspect turns himself in

Mario Wells, age 35, of an unconfirmed address in Silver Spring, turned himself in to Montgomery County Police on September 30, for the September 15 armed robbery of the Giant store located at 2900 University Boulevard West.

Wells has been accused of taking $100 worth of detergent, and then brandishing a large knife when confronted by the store manager.

Wells has been charged with one count of armed robbery, and one count of first-degree assault.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

MoCo residents on ITA at public hearing: "This is a lunatic idea"

Residents opposing the proposed Independent Transit Authority at last night's Transit Task Force public hearing again heavily outnumbered proponents of the unelected taxing authority, and Bus Rapid Transit.

What stands out is how the Montgomery County political machine is starting to sound more desperate as the ITA battle rages on. As Silver Spring resident Larry Dickter noted in his testimony, the ITA has "little if any public support." Even County Council President George Leventhal has suggested that the ITA bill not be submitted to the state legislature at this time. It's unclear what support the ITA has on the County Council or among Montgomery County legislators at this point, following 3 public hearings at which said public has overwhelmingly slammed the idea.

How desperate are ITA proponents? They're criticizing opponents for being white. You can't make this stuff up folks. Tom Liderto of Takoma Park, an ITA and BRT proponent, said that whites now make up less than half of the population in the county, but were the vast majority of the citizens testifying. He advised the task force that they might be hearing "a lot of loud voices from a minority."

A sure sign of desperation is when you have to pull out the race card. Your initiative has no public support, and a majority turns out to oppose it? Start attacking the crowd on the basis of race, age, etc. "I wanted to testify. But I'm white. So, I'd better do the right thing and stay home."

Likewise, it's intriguing to hear a particular faction of the County's Democratic Party adopt the talking points of Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. The so-called silent majority Liderto was referring to is gaining popularity as a talking point among that group. County Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson and former Leventhal staff member and blogger Dan Reed are among those who have cited a silent majority, who they say fervently favor the urban density, urbanization of the suburbs and war-on-cars transportation policies Anderson and Reed are advocating for.

Perhaps in the same county where Councilmember Hans Riemer takes a $500 campaign check from Mitt Romney's Bain Capital and $4000 from Mitch Rales, two Wall Street pioneers in outsourcing American jobs to China, this shouldn't be all that surprising, I guess.

Does a millennial telling older residents in the room that they should stop opposing BRT because he'll be alive in the coming decades and they won't sound kind of desperate? Yep. Cold, but desperate.

You'd be pretty desperate, too, if you were in their position.

The hearing wasn't all that far along, when task force Chair Mark Winston felt compelled to engage Montgomery County Civic Federation President Paula Bienenfeld in a back-and-forth exchange over how she should testify. Bienenfeld had already shown up the task force for its hypocrisy when asking who among them took transit to the hearing. Only Delegate Marc Korman (D-District 16) raised his hand. Do as we say, not as we do.

"We're not here to respond to questions," Winston advised Bienenfeld. "I believe you can answer questions," Bienenfeld responded, noting that taxpayers are funding the task force.

Do as we say, not as we do. It was a bit of a theme last night. Another proponent of BRT recalled that he and wife quit working at Montgomery College's Rockville campus "twenty years ago," because the drive from Takoma Park each morning was too stressful. Wait a minute. The Red Line runs from Takoma Park to Rockville. Even in 1995. If they didn't use transit then, why would they use an even-slower kind of transit now?

A very expensive kind of transit, in fact, especially when you break the cost down per rider and there's no indication there will be many.

Resident Kevin Harris, who is also a former planner with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said there has been "no data presented to show that BRT would solve the problems we're facing. We still have not been presented with the most basic traffic data" to justify BRT. The economic development numbers cited by Sage Consulting were "completely implausible," Harris said, terming Sage's work "wildly irresponsible modeling."

Harris questioned the task force's objectivity and and accuracy, "if you've already made your recommendations without data." "Performance metrics have never been established," Michael Pfetsch of Pinewood said.

Jerry Garson, resident and MCCF Treasurer, also questioned the task force's numbers. "I'm a CPA," Garson marveled, and "I can't figure it out." He pointed out that the task force calculations show "no administrative costs in the first five years of operation," an impossibility.

Silver Spring resident Carole Ann Barth took a creative approach in skewering the ITA's political and developer allies, casting them as "greedy piggies" in a fable-style tale, whose grand plan for pulling one over on residents doesn't end well.

Another resident, Harold McDougall, said he and his neighbors are "afraid of losing our homes" to an eminent domain grab by a future ITA for BRT. "We're tired. We're just depressed," he said. He noted that BRT was ginned up by a small interest group of developers and "Rockefeller-funded advocacy groups. There's big shots on one side, and little people on the other."

Many felt the task force has failed to consider any other solution but BRT and the ITA. Harriet Quinn of Silver Spring said the task force approach "excludes a comprehensive look at our overall transportation needs." Dickter argued the County would be better off improving existing roads and Ride On, "instead of obsessing over [BRT]."

A large number of speakers promoted similar alternatives: free Ride On service (which would cost a fraction of what is proposed to be spent on BRT, has none of the administrative or personnel costs BRT and the ITA would add, and has proven successful on Metro, where diehard riders are those who receive free or heavily-subsized fare on the system), completing unbuilt master plan highways like the M-83 Midcounty Highway Extended (and shamefully tabled recently by the Leggett administration), car sharing services like Uber and Lyft, Bridj, Express Metrobus and RideOn Plus services (these are existing proposals), autonomous vehicles (in the future), and using technology to make roads and transit systems more efficient as Houston has done successfully, without spending billions or even millions.

Robert Nelson of the Goshen area said, "I see very little benefit to our area" in the Upcounty, noting that the M-83 would be far faster for Goshen residents trying to reach the Shady Grove Metro station than the BRT system.

Jean Cavanaugh of Silver Spring was one of many who cited residents' "rapidly-rising tax burden." That burden is increasingly a regressive one, and four of the five task force report's revenue proposals would tax residents.

Do we need four new taxes to pay?

The League of Women Voters thinks we need five. Barbara Ditzler, representing the LWV, argued for new income, property, vehicle, development and fuel taxes.

This, on top of an already-looming property tax increase warned of by Leggett for next year.

Putting the ITA on the ballot to be decided by voters was suggested by several speakers, including James Williamson of Silver Spring. "Doesn't he trust the voters," Williamson asked of Leggett.

Eric Hensal termed the ITA debacle "red light district politics" by developer-funded elected officials who "cannot build a parking deck in Silver Spring." The ultimate goal of the ITA scheme, Hensal predicted, is to "socialize cost and privatize gains for the developer community."

Cherrywood HOA President Paul Jarosinski similarly described the ITA and BRT as a "bonanza for developers." The ITA sounds like "a good script for a crime movie," Jarosinski observed. "A parallel shadow government agency where you handpick five stooges."

Robin Ficker of Boyds, the man most responsible for the successful passage of the charter limit on property taxes approved by voters on the 2008 ballot, testified as well. "The Council is made up of a group of scaredy cats," Ficker said, delivering his remarks standing at the table as he does in court as a prominent attorney. "They're scaredy cats, because they know they can unanimously vote to exceed the charter limit," Ficker said, and would prefer an elected ITA take the heat from taxpayers instead. "They can never get enough money. That's all this is about."

Ficker also ripped the county's delegation to the state legislature for their failure to return sufficient transportation dollars to the County. "They're not doing their job in Annapolis," Ficker declared.

Stephen Poor summed up the feelings of most in the room, telling the task force, "You should just stop."

Pinning the future on BRT ignores the reality that cars are, and will continue to be, the dominant mode of transportation well into the future. Todd Solomon, who actually favors BRT, noted that - according to the Federal Highway Administration - a record number of vehicle miles were traveled by Americans in the first 6 months of 2015. And that a monthly record was just set this summer.

It doesn't sound like mass numbers of Americans will be "getting out of their cars" anytime soon. But will Montgomery County's elected officials be getting their hands out of our wallets?

Same answer.

The next move by the task force will be to begin their final review of the public draft report at their October 7 meeting.