Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Update: Noise suppression plan for construction at United Therapeutics site in Silver Spring

Update 12:00 AM September 2: The filing is for a noise suppression plan, not for a nighttime noise waiver. All work will be done during business hours on weekdays. I apologize for the error in the original report

Whiting-Turner has filed a Noise Suppression Plan with the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection, related to construction work at the United Therapeutics campus at 1000 Spring Street in downtown Silver Spring. The work is expected to begin in late September, and will occur between 7:00 AM and 5:00 PM on weekdays only.

Work will include excavation, bedrock removal, sheeting and shoring, installation of concrete, erection of the tower crane, and installation of geo-thermal wells.

With noise mitigation measures in use at the site, sound levels will be allowed to reach 85dBA under County noise control ordinances.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

MoCo school board candidate forum September 14 in Aspen Hill

All candidates running for the Montgomery County Board of Education have been invited to a candidate forum on Wednesday, September 14, at 7:30 PM at the Aspen Hill Library, located at 4407 Aspen Hill Road. The forum is co-sponsored by the Aspen Hill Civic Association, the Friends of the Aspen Hill Library, and the Aspen Hill Library Advisory Committee.

One topic attendees may want to find out the candidates' positions on is the relocation of the Montgomery County Public Schools bus depot, and the related potential involvement of the Blair Ewing Center and English Manor school in that process. Olney residents will want to press the candidates on this issue, as well. A landfill in Olney adjacent to single-family homes at 6001 Olney-Laytonsville Road is also on the list of potential bus depot sites

The County Council holds the ultimate authority on that decision, but having community allies on the board never hurts. School board members will be elected on Tuesday, November 8. Make sure you are registered to vote now.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Wheaton-Claridge Park to close for renovations next month

Remember the meetings about renovations to Wheaton-Claridge Local Park two years ago? The project is finally coming to fruition. But in order to complete the renovations, the park will have to close for a year. That will happen sometime next month.

When the park reopens, it will have a reconfigured driveway and parking lot, and a new bridge, sidewalks and playground.

Friday, August 26, 2016

6 of 7 victims of Flower Branch Apartments explosion identified

Montgomery County Police yesterday released the latest list of victims who perished in the Flower Branch Apartments explosion in Long Branch. Only one victim is yet to be identified by authorities.

The six deceased victims are Maria Auxiliadorai Castellon-Martinez, age 53; Augusto Jimenez Sr., age 62; Saul Paniagua, age 65;  Deibi “David” Samir Lainez Morales, age 8; Fernando Josue Hernandez Orellana, age 3 and Aseged Mekonen, age 34.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ruby Tuesday closes at Wheaton Plaza

Of the Ruby Tuesday at Wheaton Plaza, Yelp user Tara B. said earlier this year, "this location should be shut down immediately." Four months later, it's happened. Ruby Tuesday has closed its doors in Wheaton.

Customers yesterday were being directed to their Greenbelt location (just a short jaunt up the road, right? Right.). Out with the old, in with the new. Olive Garden should be a huge upgrade when it opens at Wheaton Plaza.

The closure of the Wheaton Ruby Tuesday comes after the recent demise of the Rockville location. Ruby Tuesday has said it would close 100 of its worst-performing restaurants nationwide.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Man shot to death in Burtonsville last night

A man in his early twenties was shot in Burtonsville last night. Montgomery County Police and paramedics found the victim suffering from a gunshot wound to his upper body in a home in the 4500 block of Sandy Spring Road (Route 198) around 10:23 PM. He later died at a local hospital trauma center.

Police say they believe the victim knew the alleged shooter, and are investigating the incident as a homicide. Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to call the Major Crimes Division at 240.773.5070.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Firefighters responded to new gas leak 911 call at Flower Branch Apartments Sunday

Montgomery County firefighters responded to a 911 caller Sunday, August 21, who reported smelling a gas leak in an apartment building around 6:00 PM at 8674 Piney Branch Road, part of the Flower Branch Apartments complex in Silver Spring. That is the same complex where a natural gas-related explosion and fire killed 7 people just 11 days earlier, on August 10.

Based on scanner reports, Paramedic Engine 716 and Truck 716 of the Four Corners substation of the Silver Spring Volunteer Fire Department responded. Paramedic Engine 701 also responded from the Silver Spring Volunteer Fire Department.

A firefighter radioed the dispatcher a short time later, and appeared to suggest having Washington Gas come out to the site, "due to the nature of this complex." There was no confirmation via radio that any gas leak was present. No further information about the incident was relayed via radio, and all three trucks were released back into service about an hour later.

Washington Gas has not responded to an inquiry for comment submitted to a spokesperson early Monday morning as of this writing Tuesday morning.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Spring-Colesville Garage 21 demolition update (Photos)

The Montgomery County public parking garage at Spring Street and Colesville Road is slowly-but-surely being demolished. Removal of the garage is clearing the way for an expansion of the United Therapeutics campus. That expansion will include a 6-story building with 111,724 SF of offices and laboratories, and 10,000 SF of retail, and a new 3-story parking garage.

Friday, August 19, 2016

OSHA slams USPS for safety hazards at Silver Spring postal facility

The United States Postal Service is facing $111,000 in fines, after the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued USPS multiple citations for hazardous conditions at its 8827 Monard Drive facility in the Lyttonsville area of Silver Spring. A whistleblower complaint in February led to inspections that uncovered the noncompliant conditions, including blocked exits and tripping/falling hazards.

"The hazards we found at the Silver Spring location show that it continues to expose workers to powered industrial equipment hazards, blocked exits, and fall hazards," said Nadira Janack, director at OSHA's Baltimore Area Office.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tilted Kilt sets opening date at Wheaton Plaza

After months of delays, the new Tilted Kilt at Wheaton Plaza is now planning to open on September 19. The restaurant and pub will have a prime market opportunity with Hooters closing in Rockville later this year, leaving zero competition in Montgomery County for the Tilted Kilt. You'd think Twin Peaks might want to step into this vacuum at this point.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Seventh deceased victim found in rubble at Flower Branch explosion site in Silver Spring

More tragic news from the site of the horrific August 10 explosion and fire at the Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring: a seventh deceased victim was found inside the collapsed building on Tuesday. Montgomery County Police have not yet made public the names of the victims. The fact that seven residents were known to be missing after the explosion suggests the recovery operation may be nearing its end. However, the search continues today, to ensure that any unknown victims are found.

The investigation continues, as well. Federal authorities may have a preliminary conclusion about the explosion's cause before the week ends. Therapy dogs have been brought in from Frederick County to help residents traumatized by the tragedy, the Frederick News-Post reported late last night.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Fundraiser for Flower Branch residents til 10 PM tonight in Silver Spring

Cava Grill in Silver Spring, who count two of their own employees among those who were displaced by last week's explosion at the Flower Branch Apartments, are hosting a fundraiser for all of the displaced residents tonight. 100% of the proceeds from sales through 10:00 PM tonight, August 16, will go to the American Red Cross effort to assist these residents.

Cava Grill is located at 8515 Fenton Street in downtown Silver Spring.

Flower Branch Apartments explosion death toll rises to six in Silver Spring

Search teams located the remains of a sixth victim in the rubble at the Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring yesterday. The deceased victim was found at the apartment complex in the 8700 block of Arliss Street in the Long Branch area. All six perished in the August 10 explosion, fire and resulting building collapse at the complex.

None of the six dead have been publicly identified, but Montgomery County Police have said they are among the eight missing people they identified a few days ago. That list dropped to seven missing yesterday, when - in a rare positive development since the explosion - police confirmed that Oscar Armando Ochoa is alive and well. Ochoa had recently moved out of the Flower Branch Apartments, but his name was not removed from the roster of tenants for unknown reasons.

Washington Gas completed an inspection of its infrastructure at the site Monday. One other intriguing development yesterday was the sudden arrival onsite of federal inspectors from the National Surface Transportation Safety Board's Pipeline Division.

WUSA9 reported yesterday that the apartment complex had over 1600 code violations in two Montgomery County inspections prior to 2014.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Flower Branch Apartments explosion death toll now at 5 in Silver Spring

The terrible news just gets worse at the Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring, where the death toll from a horrific explosion late last Wednesday night now stands at five. Recovery teams located the fifth deceased victim yesterday afternoon. 

Montgomery County Police investigators have not identified the five victims as of this writing, but have released a list of those confirmed missing. They include: Saeda Ibrahim, age 41; Augusto Jimenez Sr., age 62; Maria Auxiliadorai Castellon-Martinez, age 53; Aseged Mekonen, age 34; Deibi “David” Samir Lainez Morales, age 8; Oscar Armando Ochoa, age 55; Fernando Josue Hernandez Orellana, age 3; and Saul Paniagua, age 65.

The ongoing search and investigation now includes MCPD, the Department of Fire and Rescue Service, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Silver Spring construction update: Core luxury apartments (Photos)

Core, a mixed-use development at 8621 Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring, is now about 6 stories above street level. Foulger-Pratt and Willco are the development partners on the project.

Core will contain 292 apartments, and has a projected walk score of 95, with its proximity to so many jobs, amenities, restaurants, nightspots and transit in the downtown area. The 16-story building will also house about 1500 SF of its own retail/restaurant space. 10 more stories to go!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Piney Branch Rd. fire/explosion injures civilians, FFs; mass casualty incident declared

Update 5:24 AM: 5-7 people unaccounted for in Piney Branch Road explosion and fire, according to MCFRS; search teams are using K-9s; the musical chairs regarding the shelter for displaced residents now has them at Long Branch Community Center, about 60 residents sheltering there

Update 2:55 AM: Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security deployed to Piney Branch scene, along with MCHHS and American Red Cross

Update 2:40 AM: Firefighter reports via radio that there appears to be a "gas-fed fire" in a second floor apartment on the rear side of an unspecified building at the Piney Branch scene

Update 2:32 AM: Firefighter says via radio that he sees active fire in a 1st floor apartment at 8703 Arliss Street; chief informs crews inside upper floor of that building that there may be fire below them; MCFRS cannot locate Pepco rep on scene to address electrical issues

Update 2:26 AM:  MCFRS spokesman says damage includes structural collapse of apartment building where explosion occurred, and collateral damage to nearby buildings; shelter for displaced victims now reported to have moved from Blair HS to Long Branch Public Library at 8700 Piney Branch Road, according to Dee Howard Richards of MCFRS

Update 2:20 AM:  MCFRS spokesman says about 2 dozen injured in explosion/fire, many more evaluated by EMS personnel; firefighters still asking for help from Pepco - they can still see lights on in the rear of the apartment building at 8703 Arliss Street, according to scanner reports: "We really need Pepco;" another firefighter at scene reports "at this point, there's no visible fire in 8701" Piney Branch Road; fire chief says via radio they are trying to get crews into left side of 8701

Update 1:50 AM: Firefighters still seeing blue flames at the scene, indicating gas-fed fire; one says "let it burn through the roof, and see what we've got;" Washington Gas still working to shut off gas to two other buildings; still concern that power lines could fall on firefighters: "We need Pepco back here," firefighter says; UNCONFIRMED report: Civilians victims include 29-year-old female transported to Medstar Washington Hospital Center, 6-month-old child transported to Children's Hospital

Update 1:39 AM: At least 2 firefighters injured, transported to local hospitals; one to Shady Grove Adventist, one to Walter Reed, according to scanner reports

Update 1:26 AM: Fire still active, HHS opening shelter for residents

An explosion and fire at an apartment building early this morning in the 8600 block of Piney Branch Road near Arliss Street, in the Long Branch area of Silver Spring, has been declared a mass casualty incident. There are multiple injuries to civilians and firefighters, including burns. Firefighters are still trying to locate and evacuate any remaining residents, according to Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson Pete Piringer.

The three-alarm blaze is being fed by natural gas, and the fire and explosion have caused extensive structural damage to the apartment building. According to scanner reports, Washington Gas is on-scene and "working in the front yard." Firefighters were instructed to use caution until Washington Gas can cut off gas service to the affected properties.

MCFRS has not yet publicly identified the name of the apartment complex, but have given the address as 8644/8701 Piney Branch Road.

"We're going to be re-engaging [when] the gas is out," a firefighter said at 1:16 AM via radio.

"There is no more fire, but this is an extremely unstable building," another firefighter said a minute later. However, by 1:23 AM, another firefighter reported an "active fire" at another location of the building.

According to Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker, the County Department of Health and Human Services is setting up a temporary shelter for the many displaced residents of the complex at Blair High School. Hucker also says that the American Red Cross is now also assisting displaced residents.

Stay tuned for updates here, and at @SilverSprung on Twitter.

Photos via Pete Piringer/MCFRS

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

15-year-old girl was alleged human trafficking victim in Silver Spring hotel (Photos)

Two Prince George's County residents have been arrested in an alleged case of human trafficking that took place in downtown Silver Spring early this year. Atuan Saran Rogers, age 34, and Dierra Victoria Lee Thomas, age 19, both of the 100 block of Lamarck Drive in Fort Washington, Maryland, allegedly met a 15-year-old girl at a downtown Silver Spring hotel in October 2015.
Thomas asked the girl if she "wanted to work," and introduced her to Rogers, who put her to work as an escort. Rogers allegedly advertised the girl's services in online classified ads. The victim met clients on multiple occasions in January of this year in an unidentified hotel on 13th Street in downtown Silver Spring. There are two hotels on that street.

When the victim announced she no longer wished to continue as an escort, she says Rogers struck her. He also allegedly denied her access to her phone and money.

Rogers was arrested on July 29, and is being held in the Montgomery County jail, with bail set at $80,000. Thomas had already been nabbed by Prince George's County police on July 11, but was released on a $5000 bond.

Police are concerned that there may be other victims in this case. Investigators are urging anyone who has information about human trafficking activities involving these suspects to contact the Vice and Intelligence Section at 240-773-5959.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Wingstop coming to Takoma Park this fall

Wingstop will open a Takoma Park location in the Takoma Langley Crossroads Center at 7659 New Hampshire Avenue. The restaurant, which specializes in chicken wings served in a retro aviation-themed setting, will open this fall. This 1350 SF location follows the chain's successful arrival in Aspen Hill in July 2014.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Sign installed at Tilted Kilt in Wheaton

The sign is up at the future Tilted Kilt at Wheaton Plaza. After many delays, real progress has been made on the interior over the last few weeks. They were hoping to open this month, so stay tuned!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Can a county running on Windows 2000 be called "Tech Savvy?" Uh...yep.

What happens when your county government is found to be running on Windows 2000...fourteen years after the year 2000? When your county 911 system goes down, and two residents calling for help die during the outage...and your Alert Montgomery messaging system doesn't send out an alert until 11 minutes after the outage is over? When your public school system's "secure" student information is held in a database that hasn't been supported by its developer since 2012?

You get an award!
Montgomery County and the Public Technology Institute gave us some much-needed comic relief from the horrors of terrorism and the presidential campaign this week, when they announced that PTI has declared MoCo to be "tech savvy."
You can't make this stuff up, folks.

It's a major award! Seriously, though, what was it that put us over the top?

Was it Councilmember Roger Berliner, when he asked: In the year 2016, when attempting to dial 911 in an emergency - “Would I be looking at my cellphone for alerts? I don’t think so.”

To quote his colleague George Leventhal, in the midst of publicly berating a female County employee on live television, "WHAT YEAR IS IT?! WHAT YEAR IS IT?!"

It's 2016. The same year a state audit of MCPS found that exterior users can gain access to "any destination on the MCPS network." That an insecure connection protocol used by MCPS administrators shows login credentials in clear text. That 86 third-party business partners of the school system improperly have "network-level access to the entire MCPS network." That every computer tested by state auditors was determined to be running an outdated operating system. That 75% of the workstations they tested did not have the latest security updates downloaded. And that 13,000 MCPS computers were determined to not even be compatible with the anti-malware software tool the school system uses.

Was that "tech savvy" enough for the judges?

No, perhaps what put us over the top was the County Council throwing a tantrum that the aforementioned County operating system was so ancient, that it couldn't sync calendars with the fancy new phones councilmembers could afford after voting themselves a 28% raise (don't you wish you could do that at your office?).

Or a tech-based effort to "help" food trucks, which ended with 96% of food trucks either leaving the County, or going out of business altogether. Was that what snagged us the tech savvy award?

Maybe it was the drone adventure by the same County official who helmed Councilmember Hans Riemer's aforementioned food truck fiasco. That former Riemer campaign operative and donor, who was rewarded for his efforts with a $150,000-a-year County position created just for him, spent about $3000 of taxpayer funds on drones without clearing it with the higher-ups. After County Executive Ike Leggett got wind of it, the early Christmas presents ended up as extremely expensive paperweights in the County Innovation Officer's office.

That had to be it, right?

Or maybe it was the County Department of Liquor Control's paper-and-Post-It Notes inventory system, which has restaurant and bar owners taking the lead in efforts to boot the current County Council from office?

There's just so much tech-savvyness here in Montgomery County, it's honestly hard to say.

Whatever "open data" and "big data" efforts that have been made by Montgomery County have simply been aping similar moves by other jurisdictions across the country in that direction. It was just a few years ago that the City of Baltimore, the State of Maryland and Montgomery County were stealing wholesale from New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani with their various CityStat, CountyStat and StateStat programs, without crediting Giuliani, Bill Bratton, or other pioneers in the field.

I recall a consultant standing before the Mayor and Council of Rockville a few years ago, eagerly promoting the idea that he could shift the venerable Rockville Reports newsletter from print to online. Not exactly groundbreaking; should he have received an award?

By the way, in researching PTI, I noticed something else odd: two of the other jurisdictions that received the Tech Savvy award were Evanston, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. If you check the PTI Board of Directors list, the City Managers of Evanston and Mesa currently sit on the Board. Can anyone explain that?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Suspicious death in Wheaton now under investigation as homicide

Montgomery County Police responding to a "suspicious situation" call yesterday afternoon in the 2700 block of Arcola Avenue found a deceased 72-year-old woman inside the residence. The home was that of the deceased, and is located in the Wheaton Crest neighborhood west of Georgia Avenue.

Her body, found around 4:19 PM Wednesday, showed evidence of trauma. Detectives ruled the death suspicious, and are now treating the case as a homicide investigation.

Detectives are urging anyone who may have information regarding this investigation to contact the Major Crimes Division at 240.773.5070. Police say they are withholding the name of the victim until her immediate family can be contacted.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Silver Spring construction update: Downtown Silver Spring staircase (Photos)

The renovation of the staircase at the Peterson Cos.' Downtown Silver Spring development has made a lot of progress. You can see the art has been installed along the railings, and the new stairs (the old ones were destroyed in my last update) are in place. The renovation was required after an inspection determined the existing stairs had deteriorated to the point of being unsafe - the tiling, in particular.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

More coming soon signage at Taylor Gourmet in Silver Spring (Photos)

More promotional window screens have been installed touting the future Taylor Gourmet at 8535 Fenton Street in downtown Silver Spring. It is part of the Downtown Silver Spring development.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Champs reopens at Wheaton Plaza (Photos)

Fresh hook-up, indeed. Champs Sports has reopened in its new spot at Wheaton Plaza. The sporting goods store is now located on Level 2.