Thursday, June 30, 2016

Perfumania returns, new Champs store under construction at Wheaton Plaza (Photos)

Perfumania has reopened at Wheaton Plaza, and Champs is open in a temporary location as their new store is built out on Level 2. Find the pop-up Champs on the lower level next to Kids Foot Locker, near Target.
Temporary Champs location

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wheaton construction update: Bar Louie (Photos)

Bar Louie is rumored to be opening very soon at Wheaton Plaza. It will be in the new structure with the AMC Theatres Wheaton 9 cineplex and - most eagerly awaited - Olive Garden. They're still hiring for Bar Louie, and some recruitment materials are out at the mall.

As you can see, the Tyvek that was on the front facade in my last update has been removed. You'll also notice fencing (presumably for outdoor dining) has been erected around the restaurant and bar.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Wheaton construction update: AVA Wheaton apartments (Photos)

They're still digging at the future site of Avalon Bay's AVA Wheaton apartments at 2425 Blueridge Avenue at Georgia Avenue. As you can see, some sheeting and shoring work has been done. There's even a little staircase in one of the lowest areas.

The 319-unit apartment building with no retail is expected to deliver in 2017.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Wheaton Lot 13 parking mitigation won't meet peak demand on Fridays, Saturdays (Photos)

A parking mitigation plan for the construction period of the Lot 13 project in Wheaton won't provide enough short-term parking to meet demand on weekends, a Montgomery County Department of Transportation presentation shows. While weekday mid-day demand will be amply met, at the peak demand times on Friday evenings and mid-day on Saturdays, there will not be enough short-term spaces.

The blue column is demand,
the green/white column is
space availability
The overall strategy is to convert nearby long-term parking to short-term spaces, to both provide parking for patrons of businesses, and to discourage construction-related parkers from filling those spaces.

One other questionable strategy appears to show on-street parking being created in the right, northbound lane of Georgia Avenue - at the height of the evening rush hour on Fridays. Are you kidding me? What is the already-jammed traffic there going to be like with one lane gone?

Images courtesy MCDOT

Friday, June 24, 2016

Leggett rules out Carver, Westmore bus depot sites - but not Blair Ewing or 6001 Olney-Laytonsville Road

Residents in Lincoln Park and around the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville are celebrating the success of their efforts to stop Montgomery County from relocating the Shady Grove school bus depot to their neighborhoods. County Executive Ike Leggett sent a memo to County Council President Nancy Floreen yesterday announcing he is withdrawing the current Declaration of No Further Need for the existing depot on Crabbs Branch Way, and is removing Carver and 1000 Westmore Avenue from the list of potential depot sites.

While neighbors of 1000 Westmore won't likely complain, the County did end up blowing $12,000,000 on its purchase of the Westmore site in what it claimed was a budget time so tight that taxes were raised to the highest level in County history last month.

The Crabbs Branch depot was to be vacated in 2017, and sold to a developer who would build townhomes and apartments on the site near Shady Grove Metro station.

But the letter makes clear that this so-called "Smart Growth Initiative" is not over. Leggett states that he is having his staff find more suitable locations than Carver or Westmore.

The problem, of course, is that every potential depot site also has residents nearby.

You'll notice that, despite fierce community opposition, Leggett pointedly did not remove the Blair Ewing Center from the potential depot sites in his memo.

And another bad choice, the Oaks Landfill at 6001 Olney-Laytonsville Road, is one councilmembers like Hans Riemer explicitly stated they want to have a public discussion about. There are several residential subdvisions right around the site, and homes directly across the road from it. 410 buses would honk their horns and test their backup beepers each morning at 6:00 AM.

The only other site given serious public consideration last year was a property near the intersection of Woodfield Road and Snouffer School Road, also near homes.
Houses directly across
from 6001 Olney Laytonsville Road
Much of Rockville is now off the hook in this crazy, developer-fueled crusade - but the battle is just starting at these, and potentially other, poor choices for the depot site around the County. Residents near those locations are waking up to find the MoCo political cartel is headed their way.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Silver Spring construction update: Core (Photos)

Core, a 292-apartment mixed-use project from Foulger-Pratt and Willco at 8621 Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring, is now rising significantly above ground level. The development has a projected walk score of 95, with its proximity to so many jobs, amenities, restaurants, nightspots and transit in the downtown area.

A new Rite-Aid just opened on the next block, speaking of convenience. The 16-story building will also house about 1500 SF of its own retail/restaurant space.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Businesspeople on MoCo Council's quest for $15 minimum wage: "That's a lot of extra Slurpees to sell"

Small business owners already struggling to profit in the moribund Montgomery County economy told the County Council last night that things will go from bad to worse if the minimum wage is hiked to $15. A bill to do just that, and tie future increases to inflation, is now on the table. Surrounding counties and Virginia do not have a minimum wage that steep.

$15? "That's a lot of extra Slurpees to sell," said Peter Gragnano of the Suburban Washington Franchise Owners Association. The hike could make a bad labor market for African-American youth in the County even worse, warned small business owner Stacey Brown. A 2015 survey I reported on showed that in Montgomery County, 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.

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

Attaching the minimum wage to inflation - which the bill would do beginning in 2021 - would also be a bad idea, another businessman testified. If inflation spiked as it did in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he predicted, "there won't be a way to wash a dish in a restaurant." Since the last minimum wage hike, touchscreen ordering kiosks have appeared in some County fast food restaurants, replacing cashiers.

Last night's testimony was enlightening in providing some more hard numbers on Montgomery County's floundering private sector economy. According to Maddy Voytek of the Maryland Retailers Association, Montgomery County has lost 2141 retail jobs since the turn of the century (around the same time the core members of this current Council were first elected). She said adoption of the $15 wage would "devastate our economy."

Montgomery County's restaurant sector has "slowed since 2012, and remains flat," reported Melvin Thompson of the Restaurant Association of Maryland. But things are tough all over, as County Council apologists like to tell us, right?

Wrong! Frederick County's dining sector grew by 5.4% in 2015 alone, Thompson said. How about our arch-rival Fairfax County, where Councilmember George Leventhal says he has to go to find a really good restaurant, because there aren't any in MoCo? The dining sector in Fairfax grew by 6% during that same year.

As wages go up, one person familiar with industry statistics testified, Montgomery County residents are being shut out of jobs here as Frederick and Carroll County workers seek our higher wages. They then take that money back to those jurisdictions, where they enjoy a far-lower cost of living, he said. Those counties then enjoy the tax and spending money benefits of Montgomery County retail and restaurant jobs, while putting more cars on our roads during rush hour.

Ilaya Hopkins, VP of public affairs for the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, said there are several problems with the proposed increase. First, it provides a "one-size-fits-all" solution to a diverse economy and labor market. Second, the potential impacts haven't been fully studied. And third, it further handicaps Montgomery County in its competition with other local jurisdictions where it is cheaper to start and operate a business.

The failure of the County's Nighttime Economy Initiative, after which there are fewer nightclubs in Bethesda than before it was implemented, is only one challenge for restaurant and bar owners. A previous wage hike, multiple new regulations and fee hikes, and a costly County liquor sales monopoly already make doing business in the hospitality sector here more challenging than in Northern Virginia.

Montgomery County Council all talk, no action on bus depot controversy (Photos)

"Talked to death in Rockville" is a good summary of yesterday's Montgomery County Council worksession on the controversial attempts to relocate the Montgomery County Public Schools bus depot in Shady Grove. That site is supposed to be cleared by next year, so that a developer can build hundreds of townhomes and apartments there. By the end of the meeting, no votes were taken and no plan of action was determined.

While Council President Nancy Floreen did not allow a resolution to deny the Declaration of No Further Need for the Shady Grove site, by the end of the meeting she agreed to bring one forward, likely next week. The County Department of General Services was directed by Floreen to bring back a cost-benefits study for the scenario of simply leaving the depot where it is, and to provide a list of temporary and permanent sites where the buses could be moved.

But none of this officially rules out the use of Carver Educational Services Center, 1000 Westmore Avenue or the Blair Ewing Center on Avery Road, all of which have been rejected soundly by residents who would be impacted. Depending which councilmember you listen to, there are all kinds of potential outcomes, and all but one (keeping the depot at Shady Grove) would place a school bus depot in someone's neighborhood.

Only two councilmembers, Sid Katz (who represents Rockville) and Marc Elrich (an at-large member), explicitly said Carver, Westmore and Avery should be removed from the list of sites under consideration. Save Blair Ewing, a resident organization fighting a bus depot on that site, is now leading a letter/email-writing campaign to sway three more councilmembers to join Katz and Elrich in placing language eliminating those sites from the list.

So next week, the Council may unanimously vote to say that the Shady Grove depot is, in fact, still needed by the County. Does that kill the Carver/Westmore/Avery plans? Not unless that language is included in the resolution, and even then, the legal ramifications of leaving the buses in place after a developer has spent millions on its plans remain to be determined. The Council also assumes that County Executive Ike Leggett could indeed reopen talks with the developer to give the County more time to relocate the depot. There's no guarantee of that, either.

The Council did talk a lot, though. To their credit, at least a few councilmembers somewhat accepted the blame for their role in allowing this depot debacle to happen. Councilmembers George Leventhal, Roger Berliner, and Hans Riemer were particularly candid in acknowledging the Council blew it with the Shady Grove plan.

"In hindsight, that plan was unwise," Leventhal conceded to his constituents in the audience.

Interestingly, while many on the Council have vehemently argued that residential development will provide large amounts of tax revenue to the County, Leventhal and a few of his colleagues are now coming around to acknowledge what I've been saying for a decade - new residential growth does not pay for itself, and in fact, costs more in services than it brings in in new revenue. The County's structural budget deficit is proof of that.

Leventhal estimated the County has spent $407 million on the Shady Grove "Smart Growth Initiative" so far. When will that expenditure "pay for itself" as Leggett promised years ago, Leventhal asked David Dise, Director of DGS. He also suggested they add the cost of County services and schools to the cost-benefit analysis.

"If I'm in a hole, do I need to keep digging," asked Elrich of the Council's predicament. He too questioned if the potential revenue would cover the cost of relocating the depot, which he said may be "the best location we'll ever have" for it.

"We shouldn't be doing this," Elrich said. "I'm just not willing to do that to people." He counseled Dise to make sure that any site suggestion is accompanied with an explanation of how it would be "better than what you have now."

Councilmember Craig Rice, who represents the Upcounty area, misfired with the audience when he launched into a strident defense of the Shady Grove plan. He noted that some of his Clarksburg constituents live right next to a bus depot. Rice then attacked unidentified residents, saying that "they want to keep those great things that we have in Montgomery County just to themselves."

That set off a round of booing and retorts from the audience. Floreen attempted to bring the meeting to order, as Rice hastened to add that he was not referring to the Carver Coaltion. Rice said he wants "to provide housing for everyone," although he didn't explain how that would be possible, or why it is the burden of County residents to accede to overpopulation of already-developed communities.

"What we really have here is a mess," observed Katz. "There is further need for [the Shady Grove depot]. There is no question. We need to do things in a more transparent way," he added to applause. A new depot "shouldn't be next to anybody's house," or route buses through residential streets, Katz said.

Katz argued that the City of Rockville "needs to be brought into the conversation." In explicitly calling for Carver, Westmore and Blair Ewing to be removed from consideration, Katz received another round of applause. "I usually don't get applause when I say, 'No.'" Summing up the situatiion, Katz concluded 'this does not make any sense. It doesn't make any common sense, and it doesn't make any dollars and sense."

Councilmember Nancy Navarro noted she was president of the Board of Education when the Shady Grove sector plan was passed. The plan "seemed to make a lot of sense back in the day," but not in 2016, she said. "It has not yielded the revenues promised by the County."

"I'm trying to understand where some votes are," Riemer began, speaking for many in the room. In any case, he said, he would vote against the Declaration of No Further Need the Council must pass to sell the land to the developer.

"It's not right to disadvantage current residents to clear a nuisance for future residents," Riemer said. "We played a role in this mess," he acknowledged. But at the same time, Riemer added that "I don't think we can just throw up our hands and walk away."

"We all bear some responsibility," Riemer went on, but promised that the Council has finally "taken ownership of the problem."

Councilmember Roger Berliner exhorted Floreen to allow a vote on the Declaration of No Further Need during yesterday's session, a request she failed to grant.

"The notion that this will be resolved by the end of the year seems pretty far-fetched," Berliner said. He congratulated the Council staff member who prepared the report for her prediction a decade ago that the Shady Grove plan would not pay for itself. "You were right," acknowledged Berliner, before asking Dise to provide "an honest assessment" of the situation.

Berliner commended Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, who was in attendance, for her work on behalf of her constituents against the Rockville depot proposals. "You've served your community well," Berliner told her.

"I think the Carver people can go home happy," Floreen said at the end of the session, despite it having produced no concrete results. When Floreen asked Dise for a list of potential sites, she completely ignored the fact that Council staff had done just that in its report for yesterday's session. The County DGS itself has reviewed 200 properties. Let's face it, if there was a good site, the County would have acquired it long ago.
MyMCMedia's Sonya Burke
interviews a member of the
Carver Coalition before the
Residents in the Carver Coalition
trademark yellow shirts

City Councilmember
Mark Pierzchala
(L in white shirt) was
one of several Rockville
elected officials on hand
"Like the buses, we will
not go quietly" was among
the creative signs held
by residents

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

County Council staff puts Avery Road back on table for bus depot

The Montgomery County Council will take up the controversial school bus depot issue this morning, but the Council staff report makes an equally controversial set of recommendations. It recommends parking Montgomery County Public School buses at the Carver Educational Services Center, and at 1000 Westmore Avenue, a property already purchased by the County for that purpose. Or, to use their convoluted language, they are "not recommending against" using them for bus parking.

It is hard to believe that staff could recommend this, after the ghastly litany of County abuses of the Lincoln Park neighborhood that was recited during a public hearing before the County Planning Board last week. That hearing concluded with the board recommending against acquisition of the Westmore site by the County - an irrelevant vote, as the County had already secretly purchased the site.

Council staff has also put the Blair Ewing Center on Avery Road back on the table, sure to be highly controversial in both Rockville and Aspen Hill. Use of the Blair Ewing Center site would create a domino effect, requiring moving the alternative education facilities there elsewhere. "Elsewhere" was English Manor Elementary School in Aspen Hill when this last came up. Avery Road was ultimately dismissed as a bus site after a well-organized opposition effort by Aspen Hill residents.

I am shocked - shocked - that Avery Road has risen from the dead. Of course, I'm joking, as I've been predicting this would happen for several months. The other site proposed for a permanent depot is the Oaks Landfill at 6001 Olney-Laytonsville Road. Both sites, particularly Olney-Laytonsville Road, are still within 6:00 AM-bus-honking earshot of nearby houses.
Residential neighborhoods lie
directly adjacent to a proposed
bus depot site at
6001 Olney-Laytonsville Road
(red pin at right)
We won't know the Council's reaction to the recommendations until later this morning. But the Council staff's intent seems to be the same as the County and MCPS: Pit neighborhoods against each other, and ultimately drop the depots where they conclude political power is weakest. Residents are simply gladiators in the arena for the Emperors-with-no-clothes' entertainment. The interesting twist here is that the residents affected by the Carver, Westmore and Avery Road sites have all been politically strong in their response so far.

The report suggests removing the Public Safety Academy and Gude Drive Landfill sites from consideration. And it recommends the Council not approve the Declaration of No Further Need for the existing Shady Grove bus depot on Crabbs Branch Way. In doing so, it assumes the County Executive can change the terms to not require the depot to be vacated and turned over to the developer in 2017. The County (a.ka. you, the taxpayer) could ultimately face legal action from that developer, which already has approval for 345 townhomes and 344 apartments on that property, known as Jeremiah Park.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Montgomery County Council betrayed you again - will they admit it on Tuesday? (Photos)

A picture is worth a thousand words - and here are pictures of the contract Montgomery County quietly signed to purchase 1000 Westmore Avenue for use as a school bus parking facility. 10 acres of undeveloped land in an industrial wasteland cost you, the taxpayer, $12 million at the same time that the County Council was raising your taxes to the highest level in history, and County employees were denied the wage increases guaranteed by their labor contracts.

As the Council prepares to take up the larger controversial issue of the County's "Smart Growth Initiative," and its requirement to find a new location for the Shady Grove bus depot, there are 3 things to watch for in Tuesday's worksession:

1. Will the County Council apologize to the affected communities, and admit that their votes brought us to this point?

Councilmembers, like hack actors ill-prepared for the role of a lifetime, attempted to pose as heroes-to-the rescue once the Carver Coalition was formed to fight a bus depot proposed for the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville. Problem is, the County Council are the very people who voted to approve funding for the land acquisition, design and construction of bus depots at Carver and Westmore.

That's right. The contract you see here was the direct result of a 2015 vote by the County Council, which provided the funds the County Department of General Services used to purchase the Westmore site. Whoops!

Likewise, a February 9, 2016 resolution passed unanimously by the County Council provided funds for the design and construction of a bus depot at Carver. Councilmember George Leventhal conveniently forgot about that vote when he appeared as a crusader for justice at a Carver-related public meeting. He proclaimed to have nothing to do with the Carver fiasco. When a citizen confronted him with the text of the February 9 resolution, and asked him to read it aloud, Leventhal refused to do so.

Leventhal later stated he had not read the resolution before voting for it, an incredible statement any way you slice it. Our councilmembers don't read the bills and resolutions they vote for?! Unreal.

The Council didn't admit their role then, and they haven't since. Tomorrow is a fabulous opportunity for them to belatedly admit that they alone had the true power to create this fiasco via these two votes, and their longtime support for the insane idea known as the "Smart Growth Initiative." Don't just bash DGS for an hour, own up to your major role in this mess.

2. Will Tuesday just be a back-and-forth between DGS, MCPS and the Council, which loves to hear itself talk? Or will the civic association leaders and municipal elected officials of Rockville and Gaithersburg have a seat at the table, as well?

3. Will the Council end the discussion by pulling the plug on the Smart Growth Initiative, by committing to not signing the Declaration of No Further Need for the existing bus depot on Crabbs Branch Way, thereby risking legal action by the developer?

What the Council hasn't admitted so far, but has a chance to acknowledge tomorrow, is that there is no acceptable site to relocate 410 school buses to within the borders of Montgomery County. Period.

The County has reviewed 200 properties in the desperate search for a depot. Choosing two adjacent to residential neighborhoods at Carver and Westmore proves the point that there is no dream site - otherwise, they wouldn't have risked the political uproar they now face.

Every single site discussed and dismissed in the past was in a residential area, from Potomac to the Webb Tract in Montgomery Village. Every community fought back, and they'll fight back on the Gude landfill (Derwood homes are directly adjacent) and Public Safety Academy (North Potomac homes are across the street) sites if DGS goes there next.

Only by pulling the plug will the County be unable to use the Westmore site for school bus parking. Of course, then the County (a.k.a. you, the taxpayer) will face legal action from the developer, and the costs and payouts that might entail. There again, the Council must be held accountable for its reckless actions in the Smart Growth/bus depot debacle. There must be consequences for their actions.

Tuesday is not a day for the Council to toast themselves as heroes, but a day to begin to face the music for their disregard for their constituents, and for prioritizing developers over people in Montgomery County.

Silver Spring construction update: Not Your Average Joe's (Photos)

Build-out of the interior of Not Your Average Joe's continues at Ellsworth Place mall in downtown Silver Spring. You can see the booths are now in place, as well as a number of lighting fixtures. Not Your Average Joe's is scheduled to open on July 11.