Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Taxpayers left holding the bag for $45 million in Silver Spring Transit Center fiasco settlement

Is this a thing of beauty, or what?
Montgomery County taxpayers are left holding the bag in the Silver Spring Transit Center debacle settlement agreed to yesterday. County officials attempting to cover-up their failure to conduct their oversight role on the project filed a weak lawsuit in a case where they themselves were mostly to blame.

The result? Realizing they could not win, the County's ultra-expensive legal team reached a chump change settlement worth a paltry $25 million. That leaves you, the taxpayer, holding the bag and paying $42 million for the remainder of the $47 million in cost overruns, $20 million in damages, and $10 million in legal fees. The settlement also requires the County (a.k.a. you, the taxpayer) to pay $3 million to Foulger-Pratt to settle their countersuit, which was directly caused by the incompetence of the County and County Council. You are now on the hook for a total of $45 million.

The surrender settlement, while inevitable given the County's woefully-weak case, was a total betrayal of the promises made by County Executive Ike Leggett and the County Council. Leggett stated he would not leave taxpayers on the hook for even a penny of the cost overruns. Councilmember George Leventhal promised the Brickyard Coalition in 2014 that he would "ensure taxpayers will not be on the hook for the remediation of the transit center." Councilmember Hans Riemer said in April 2013 he would "protect the taxpayers."

Once safely reelected, Leventhal and his colleagues abruptly turned around and made multiple new appropriations of tens of millions of dollars for the transit center. The taxpayers be damned!, was the clear message from the Council.

On Election Day 2018, voters will deliver the overdue "rough, seat of the pants estimate" Leventhal and his colleagues asked for in January 2015 - with a steel-toed boot.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The last hours of rue21 at Wheaton Plaza (Photos)

rue21 filed for bankruptcy about a week ago, and is in the process of closing almost half of its stores nationwide. One of them is here at Wheaton Plaza, where a closing sale is underway. Everything must go, as they say - including the fixtures and furniture of the store itself. Here are some photos from the final days of the Wheaton store. rue21 has another location at Ellsworth Place in downtown Silver Spring.

After drug deal at Silver Spring Days Inn goes bad, two arrested for homicide

Ruben Ortiz
Two alleged drug dealers who offered to sell Sulaiman Jalloh of Bowie pot at the Silver Spring Metro station Saturday night are now in police custody, charged with killing him Sunday morning at the Days Inn in downtown Silver Spring. Ruben Ortiz, 20, of the 2000 block of Erie Street in Adelphi, and Shanee Collette Cox, 19, of the 2200 block of Georgian Woods Place in Wheaton, have each been charged with 1st degree murder and armed robbery. Both were arrested around 10:00 PM on Sunday at Ortiz's residence.
Shanee Collette Cox
Detectives say they were told by the two suspects that, upon arriving at the Days Inn to sell Jalloh the marijuana at 11:00 PM Saturday, Jalloh allegedly proceeded to rob Ortiz of cash and his shoes. Ortiz then returned to the hotel later with a posse, and demanded Jalloh return the cash and shoes. Jalloh complied, and the group left. Then, just prior to 2:30 AM Sunday morning, Jalloh came out of his room to the Days Inn parking lot. There, he allegedly was jumped by a group that included Ortiz and Cox, beaten, robbed and stabbed.

Jalloh staggered back to his hotel room and called 911. He was transported by ambulance to a local hospital, where he later died.

A bond review hearing for Ortiz and Cox will be held at 1:00 PM today in Rockville. Detectives are asking for the public's help in identifying other members of the hotel attack posse. Anyone with information is urged to contact the Major Crimes Division at 240.773.5070.  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.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Sign installed at City Taste in downtown Silver Spring (Photos)

The sign is up over the future storefront of City Taste restaurant, located at 930 Wayne Avenue in downtown Silver Spring. There's still work to be done on the interior of the restaurant, however.

This space used to belong to Pho Hoa Binh 2. City Taste will offer a fusion of Chinese, Thai and Japanese cuisine, including sushi.

Friday, May 26, 2017

MoCo Council passes tax hike budget, bloated with payoffs to donors and allies - and themselves

The Montgomery County Council yesterday unanimously passed another budget that will raise your tax bill for FY-2018, in order to cover their highest-in-the-region salaries, and taxpayer-funded giveaways to political allies in the non-profit and contracting fields. Buried in the Council press release is a legally-required admission that your tax bill will increase, not decrease. That's because, while the Council can technically claim they "held the line on taxes," the corrupt tax system they've put in place automatically hikes taxes based on increased real estate assessments.

Allies of the Council in the local media went even further than the Council's own press release Thursday, falsely declaring that taxes had decreased - even as the release stated otherwise. Fake news. In fact, the Council posted a required ad in local newspapers several weeks ago announcing a budget with an increase in taxes. This follows last year's all-time-high property tax increase of 9% (which many County homeowners found actually translated into tax hikes of 10% or more, based on - yep - those automatic tax hikes that happen whether the Council increases the rate or not), and a major hike in the recordation tax.

So "holding the line" in this case means we're still at the highest level of taxation in Montgomery County history. The Council didn't have to move a muscle to get all that, and a little bit more, from your wallet for this budget.

As I reported a few weeks back, the budget massively overpays for procurement purchases, and funnels money to key donors and political allies in often-duplicative non-profit social services. Some who receive salaries from those non-profits turn portions of their tax hikes into campaign donations for the very councilmembers who voted to approve the funding for their organizations. Funding for a new microlending "Bank of the County Council" can also be "paid forward" by recipients to the campaigns of councilmembers. Those involved in determining who receives the microloans are either directly appointed by the Council, or are within their direct orbits of political influence.

Whether you pay taxes in Montgomery County can also depend on who you are. As I reported this week, developer Regency Centers was found to be in arrears to the County, having not paid their tax bills on two Westbard properties. Yet their development proposals are being pushed through the approval process, at taxpayer expense. As you know, ordinary citizens like you and me can be denied various government benefits and services if we are delinquent on our taxes.

There's a lot in this budget for the beleaguered County taxpayer to review, and perhaps even more for the FBI to examine. Such an examination could turn the Council's unwarranted budget victory lap into a perp walk outside of 100 Maryland Avenue.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

MoCo HOC audited by feds: 75% of units didn't meet HUD standards, 405 code violations found (Photos)

Montgomery County's Housing Opportunities Commission is in an aggressive expansion mode, but an audit of their existing housing by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found 56 out of the 75 HOC units inspected did not meet HUD standards. 405 code violations were found, 89 of which were deemed so serious that HUD required them to be corrected in 24 hours. The audit findings were first reported by the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County.
Would you use this moldy
shower at an HOC unit
in Montgomery County?
Auditors also learned that HOC was using its own contracted inspectors to inspect its units, a violation of Section 10.8 of HUD's Housing Choice Voucher Handbook. Violations found by HUD inspectors included missing smoke detectors, moldy and mildewed showers and ceilings, exposed sewer pipes, and an improperly-vented hot water heater that could have prevented gas from being exhausted out of the building properly. Combined with a second gas-related violation that "could result in an explosion," the findings are particularly disturbing after the 2016 Flower Branch apartments explosion, which killed 7 people.
One of two gas-venting
violations found in HOC housing
auditors said "could result in an
In all, auditors determined that $44,887 in federal taxpayer money given to HOC could have been "put to better use" on housing that would comply with HUD standards, a waste of tax dollars during an affordable housing crisis. Auditors have advised HUD that it should require HOC to reimburse HUD for the wasted funds.
Exposed sewer pipe
where a toilet was removed
but never replaced
HOC is a partner with Regency Centers in the proposed redevelopment on Westbard Avenue in Bethesda. The audit report follows the revelation earlier this week that Regency Centers was in arrears to Montgomery County, having not paid taxes on two Westbard properties.

Once again, the Montgomery County Council has failed to perform its oversight role over the HOC.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Two new commercial tenants for Alexander House in Silver Spring

Two new commercial tenants are coming soon to the Alexander House apartments, at 8560 2nd Avenue in downtown Silver Spring. Montgomery Community Media has leased a 2475 SF space, and the U.S. Chess Center is taking over a 396 SF suite. Alexander House is part of the redeveloping Elizabeth Square project.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Two new restaurants coming to Wheaton Plaza

Two more dining choices are heading to Wheaton Plaza. Westfield is bringing in KPS Kustom Pizza & Subs, and Famous Rotisserie and Grill. The former appears to be the first restaurant of a new pizza and sub franchise, while there is a Famous Rotisserie and Grill in Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, New York.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Large clock installed at Core apartment building in Silver Spring (Photos)

A large analog clock has been added as a finishing design touch to the Core apartments, under construction at 8621 Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring. You might notice that the neighboring Lee Building also sports a nifty analog clock, among its art deco flourishes.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Lina's Diner and Bar opens in downtown Silver Spring

Lina's Diner and Bar is now open at 8402 Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring. The French bistro concept is in the old Piratz Tavern space. Alas, I can still find no social media accounts for the restaurant, and their website is still dormant as of press time. Maybe this is just a soft opening?

Silver Spring construction update: Core (Photos)

The leasing center is open on-site for the future Core apartments at 8621 Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring. It may look like a construction site (which it still very much is), but look carefully for the signs near the trailer. 

You'll notice those "spikes" that protrude from the roof of a building under construction have been removed since my last update.

Core will contain 292 apartments, and about 1500 SF of retail space. The Foulger-Pratt/Willco project is scheduled to deliver this summer. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

New Wheaton Library and Recreation Center construction behind schedule

Demolition of the Wheaton Library is now complete, and the construction process is now underway for the new Wheaton Library and Recreation Center. However, the latest word is that the project is behind schedule.

Initially, delivery was expected by Summer 2018. The project website has more recently said Spring 2019, which would be 24 months from now. However, this week, Montgomery County Department of General Services Deputy Director Greg Ossont reported that "we're about 30 months out." That would be near the end of 2019, a full 18 months later than the original target date.

I did find what appears to be a new rendering of the rear of the building (or at least, it's new to me), on the project website, and it looks pretty impressive. This is where the circular driveway will be for drop-offs and book returns.

Rendering courtesy Montgomery County

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Silver Spring hotel developer seeks 4' of additional height

The Renaissance Inn extended-stay hotel planned for 8600 Georgia Avenue may get an extended height. Under the current zoning code, the starting point for measuring building height is in the center of the property. Developer Starr Georgia, LLC will ask the Montgomery County Planning Board for permission to count from the corner of the lot, which planners estimate will give them another 4' in height.

Getting permission to do so should not be a problem for this project, Area 1 Regulatory Supervisor Elza Hisel-McCoy told the applicant Tuesday. "You're at the intersection of Main and Main in downtown Silver Spring, and you need 4 feet," he explained. The site is at the crossroads of Georgia and Colesville Road, two of the heaviest-traveled commuter routes in the state of Maryland. It is currently home to a gas station.

The Board isn't likely to take up the matter until September, and the applicant may need to request an extension for the review before then.

Rendering via Montgomery County Planning Department

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Wheaton redevelopment groundbreaking date set

There's now an official date for the Wheaton redevelopment groundbreaking. It will take place on Sunday, June 4, at Lot 13 in the Wheaton Triangle. The event has been scheduled as part of Taste of Wheaton. Part of Lot 13 will then close as soon as the next day, as construction begins on the new Montgomery County government office building. A Bozzuto apartment building will be constructed separately on the other part of Lot 13.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Another MCPS security employee charged with having sex with student

Montgomery County police have arrested and charged a Montgomery County Public Schools employee for allegedly having sex with a 14-year-old student at Col. Brooke E. Lee Middle School in Silver Spring, where he was a "security employee." Mike Anthony Lievano, 21, of University Boulevard in Silver Spring, has been charged with sexual abuse of a minor, a third-degree sex offense, and fourth-degree sex offense.

Police say Lievano turned himself in late last night, and was transported to the Central Processing Unit. He is being held on a $10,000 bond.

Lievano is the second MCPS security employee in a month to be charged with having sex with a minor girl at the school he was assigned to. In the first case, at Richard Montgomery High School, it was revealed that MCPS had failed to do a background check on that employee, who had faced charges in a strip club gun incident easily found through a Google search.

Detectives say Lievano and the girl at Lee MS started "dating" on March 29, after an exchange of text messages. They did not say how the suspect obtained the girl's cell phone number. "Inappropriate sexual contact" took place between the two at his home, and her home.

Police ask anyone who believes that his/her child may have been victimized by Lievano in a similar way to call the Special Victims Investigations Division at 240-773-5400.

Sneak peek: BiBiBop Asian Grill in downtown Silver Spring (Photos)

BiBiBop Asian Grill looks close to finished inside at 935 Ellsworth Drive, in downtown Silver Spring. It looks like they are moving the furniture in. Based in the great city of Columbus, Ohio, the restaurant replaces the departed ShopHouse.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Wheaton Triangle's Lot 13 to partially close "on or about" June 5

Montgomery County Public Parking Lot 13 will partially close on or about June 5, 2017, according to the County. This is for construction of a new County office building on half of the parking lot. About 34 parking spaces will remain open for use for the time being. Eventually, a Bozzuto apartment building will be constructed on the remaining portion of the lot.

This fits with the groundbreaking date I've heard reported previously, June 4. After all these years, it sounds like Wheaton redevelopment is imminent, folks.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Silver Spring construction update: Studio Plaza (Photos)

Two tower cranes have been erected at the Studio Plaza construction site, which will eventually be addressed as 916 Thayer Avenue. Studio Plaza may get a new name, as well, as developer Fairfield Residential's website says the final name of the development is "pending." The site lists Summer 2018 as the opening date, although a sidewalk closure permit on-site says the sidewalk won't reopen until May 2019.

Whatever it's ultimately called, Studio Plaza will hold 415 residential units, 15% of which will be affordable. It will also boast 10,500 SF of retail, and 35100 SF of public space, including a green plaza, a through-block walk and public art displays. The building design is by WDG Architects.