Thursday, February 28, 2019

Watch your wallet in Wheaton

A pickpocket is on the loose in Wheaton, and perhaps elsewhere. Montgomery County police claim that a nattily-dressed alleged pickpocket used his dapper suit coat to scoop up a woman's purse at the Safeway on Georgia Avenue on the afternoon of November 19.

Later that day, cards that were in the victim's purse were used to make purchases at businesses in Hyattsville and Bladensburg. Now, detectives have obtained surveillance images of the suspect, and are asking for the public's help in identifying him.

Anyone with information about the suspect or this crime is asked to contact the Montgomery County Department of Police – 4th District Patrol Investigations Unit at 240-773-5522. 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 for this crime.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Delayed downtown Silver Spring development to finally start in May

The planned redevelopment of the Gulf gas station at 8600 Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring is officially back on. An approved plan to replace the station with a 173-room, extended stay hotel has been delayed for over a year. The Gulf actually closed at one point, and then reopened when the project was put on hold for unknown reasons in late 2017.

A representative of Starr Capital, which is funding the project, said last evening that they now plan to commence the project in May. He called the brief closure of Gulf "a false start."

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Yext Rosslyn announcement pounds final nail into MoCo's tech job coffin

Northern VA declared
"next Silicon Valley"
after tech firm follows
Amazon's 25000 jobs
into the Old Dominion

There's nothing new about Northern Virginia destroying Montgomery County when it comes to economic development, nor about tech firms choosing the "birthplace of presidents" and D.C. over moribund, high-tax-and-regulation MoCo. But Montgomery's sad role as pinata in our regional rivalry just got weaker than ever last week, when New York-based tech firm Yext announced it would open a new office in Rosslyn with 500 high-wage jobs. On the heels of Virginia's victory in the nation's biggest job sweepstakes - Amazon's HQ2 that will open in Crystal City - the Yext move now has national power brokers officially declaring Northern Virginia the "next Silicon Valley."

Rosslyn's latest big "get" follows other new arrivals to Arlington's business hub with monumental views like the world headquarters of Nestle, Corporate Executive Board, Gerber and Deloitte. Not to mention all the other HQs NoVa has nabbed in recent years, including Hilton Hotels, IntelSat, Volkswagen and Northrop. Yext has leased the top three floors of 1101 Wilson Boulevard, a Class A tower with breathtaking views of the Potomac River and Capitol dome, among other landmarks, according to the Washington Post. Most embarrassing of all, the Yext deal wasn't even a deal - Virginia is paying them no tax incentives, Yext founder Howard Lerman tells the Post. Meanwhile, Montgomery County hasn't attracted a major corporate headquarters in two decades.
Capital One tower in Tysons,
the tallest office building in
the D.C. region
Montgomery has a national reputation as being hostile to business, a high-cost location to do business from, and having an ideological aversion to completing its master plan highway system - or adding Express Lanes to jammed interstates (unlike Virginia). How bad is it? Bethesda-based Donohoe Companies' CEO Chris Bruch had to chastise Montgomery politicians, who are furiously trying to block Gov. Larry Hogan's Express Lanes proposal for I-270 and the Beltway, in a letter published by the Post last weekend.

In other counties and cities, local officials are usually allied with business leaders like Bruch to complete major infrastructure projects. Here? Welcome to Clowntown, U.S.A.!

But our horrible reputation has compounded many past defeats with a major one. All major local jurisdictions have been competing for some time to be seen as a national tech hub. The Amazon and Yext victories have now led to that contest ending with the official recognition that Northern Virginia has won: game, set, match: Virginia.

"Northern Virginia's status as an East Coast tech hub got a major lift last week," wrote the Post's Aaron Gregg of the Yext announcement. "Northern Virginia is a reservoir of untapped talent," Lerman told Gregg. "I think it's the quiet next Silicon Valley." Gregg notes that the hits taken by Pentagon contractors in the Obama-era knucklehead budget battles on Capitol Hill led Virginia officials to turn to the private sector. "They have succeeded with a string of influential corporations setting up offices and headquarters in places such as Rosslyn and Tysons."

How much did we lose when the Montgomery County Council fumbled the Amazon golden ticket last year? 25,000 new jobs, $4 billion in lost wages, and $12 billion in collateral economic growth that Amazon would have provided. None of that even includes the tax revenue that would have accrued to Montgomery and Maryland.

Although it's unclear if our corrupt elected officials are capable of being embarrassed, particularly when they are being coddled and protected by an obsequious local press and surrounded by "Yes Men," we now know that Amazon was watching and listening to their public statements and actions very closely last year. Anti-Amazon and anti-business sentiments made by councilmembers last year were topped off by the capstone of the Council canceling the biggest infrastructure project near our proposed Amazon site in White Flint - while the Amazon executives were touring White Flint. It doesn't get any dumber than that, folks.

"For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term," Amazon said in its official statement announcing they were withdrawing their New York proposal. Yes, the comments and behavior of our "local elected officials" were indeed given heavy weight by Amazon. Anti-business sentiments and a bizarre, radical opposition to needed new roads were clearly not the winning message.

“A small group of politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said after Amazon's pull-out there, but he could have been talking about the Montgomery County Council, too. Nobody knows Montgomery's reputation for being hostile to business better than Yext founder Lerman, who grew up in Vienna. That irony echoes the Amazon decision as well, where one of the key decision makers for Amazon in the HQ2 search was Holly Sullivan, former President of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation. Sullivan knew our elected officials very well, and was very familiar with our business climate and failing infrastructure and traffic congestion. After all, she had to drive around it herself for several years! She knew exactly what Amazon would get by selecting Montgomery County, and...egads!!! Yikes!

Fortunately for New York City, at the end of the day, they're still New York City and an economic powerhouse even without Amazon. At the end of the day, Montgomery County is still...moribund.

Monday, February 25, 2019

It's baaaaack: The MCPS bus depot issue that will not die

"Derwood deserves better
- now!" residents say of 
issue County officials swept
under political rug

Former Montgomery County executive Ike Leggett, the County Council and Montgomery County Public Schools managed to sweep the highly-flammable hot potato issue of the MCPS Shady Grove school bus depot under the political rug ahead of the 2018 election season. But residents nearby the depot are growing impatient, having been told over a decade ago that the facility would be gone by now. Many are residents who bought or rented new homes built right around the depot itself in the first phase of "smart growth" construction, as Leggett termed the development due to its proximity to Metro and MARC rail service at Shady Grove.

At least 340 of those residents have signed a MoveOn online petition asking new County Executive Marc Elrich to take action on the relocation of the depot. Residents in Aspen Hill and Rockville were up in arms just a few years ago, when it was revealed that the County Council had approved the plan and agreement with developers at Shady Grove without actually identifying a new site for the bus depot before doing so.

This led to protests and tense community meetings, including one where former Councilmember George Leventhal admitted to the crowd that he had voted "Yes" on the Shady Grove scheme without actually reading the text of the bill first. The County tried to move it to a historic African-American site in Rockville on Mannakee Street first. When that triggered outcry from the community, they secretly purchased another site in East Rockville where there are a large number of African-American residents. That caused a second round of protests.

Avery Road property owned by MCPS was also considered, with the idea of moving a juvenile education facility to the former English Manor site in Aspen Hill to make way for a depot, reigniting a firestorm of opposition in that community. Councilmember Hans Riemer advocated studying a former landfill site in Olney, before the whole issue was tabled as election season neared. Rockville, Aspen Hill and Olney residents emphatically stated the depot should remain where it is, putting them on a collision course with the interests of residents around the existing site. Most elected officials realize that any vote on either keeping the depot where it is, or moving it, could be a career-ending one.

With the new advocacy effort from Shady Grove and Derwood, County officials may be forced once again to reopen this "third rail" issue. The County is facing not only angry constituents who live near the current and potential bus depot sites, but also legal action by the developers with whom they had made the agreement years ago. Riemer famously stated almost three years ago that he and the Council "taken ownership of the problem."

Silver Spring construction update: Palisades Lounge (Photos)

The sign out front has been up for months at the future Palisades Lounge at 8211 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. But now we're getting our first look at the results of the construction inside. As you may recall, this space was previously occupied by a paint store.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Aspen Hill Club vehicle burglary suspects sought (Photos)

Montgomery County police released photos of suspects they allege broke into a vehicle parked at the Aspen Hill Club at 14501 Homecrest Road on January 29, 2019. Detectives say the thieves took credit cards from the vehicle, and later used them to make purchases in Lanham.

Anyone with information about the suspects or this crime is asked to contact the Montgomery County Department of Police – 4th District Patrol Investigations Unit at 240-773-5522. 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 for this crime.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

MoCo fumbles three more: Blackboard, HalioDX, Idemia headed to Virginia

Montgomery County officials have blown it yet again. Just three months after failing to bring 25,000 Amazon jobs to our moribund County, they fumbled the ball on three more corporate headquarters sweepstakes. Blackboard, a high-profile education technology firm, will relocate its Washington, D.C. global headquarters to Plaza America in Reston. Biotech firm HalioDX chose Richmond over North Carolina, in its final North American headquarters decision. And Paris-based Idemia, a biometric augmented identity firm, is relocating its North American headquarters from Boston to Reston, as well.

The moves will bring hundreds of additional high-wage jobs to Fairfax County, and Idemia has promised to add 90 new high-wage jobs to the new HQ. Why did both firms choose Reston over Montgomery County? The answers are the same as usual: lower business costs, and superior infrastructure access in Virginia.

Blackboard CEO and President Bill Ballhaus cited their new location's proximity to Dulles International Airport, which as I've been noting for years, has the variety and frequency of international flights and destinations international businesspeople require. Unlike Northern Virginia, which has implemented several infrastructure projects to speed travel, Montgomery County has refused to build the new Potomac River crossing that would provide direct and quick access to Dulles Airport. In fact, the Montgomery County Council is actively trying to further sabotage our outdated and incomplete transportation system, refusing to build the M-83 Highway and Montrose Parkway East, and promising to lower speed limits on all major commuter routes to 25 MPH - and secondary and neighborhood roads to 15 MPH.

The failure to attract Idemia's HQ was a humiliating defeat for a County Council that has claimed it would make Montgomery County a cybersecurity hub. Instead, Virginia's Secretary of Commerce Brian Ball was the one crowing about the Old Dominion bolstering its dominance in that field with the addition of Idemia. "We rely on innovative companies like Idemia to maintain Virginia’s position as a U.S. leader in this industry,” Ball said in a statement.

HalioDX will join almost 70 biotech firms, laboratories and manufacturing facilities at the VA Bio+Tech Park in Richmond. It's a sad reminder that Virginia is now not only handing our County Council their [briefcases] in every other economic sector, but are rapidly reaching parity with Montgomery's biotech sector. Thanks to past County leaders who served before our elected offices were seized by the Montgomery County cartel in 2002, we had a promising biotech niche in the region. Now, it's only a matter of time before even those firms begin to relocate to Virginia, once they have the critical mass of qualified workers and government incentives.

The canary in the Montgomery County economic development coal mine has been deceased for some time. Our Council not only doesn't know anything about how to attract high-wage jobs and corporate headquarters, but couldn't act even if they did. Their developer sugar daddies, who fund the campaigns of every Council member, don't want corporate headquarters taking up valuable land they could use to profit from luxury apartments.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam hasn't had much reason to smile in recent weeks, and I reckon he appreciates Montgomery County turning his frown upside down reliably several times a month. His two immediate predecessors were legendary for openly mocking Montgomery County officials for their pro-tax, anti-business ideology. By all indications, comedy hour is just getting started at 100 Maryland Avenue.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

White Oak woman missing

A missing person case becomes even more concerning as a winter storm strikes Montgomery County. Michelle Alejandra Serrano-Garcia, 20, of the 11000 block of Old Columbia Pike, hasn't been seen since she left her job in the 800 block of Olney-Sandy Spring Road around 6:30 PM on February 13. Police describe Michelle as 5’ tall, and weighing 90 pounds. She has long brown hair and brown eyes. No racial identity was stated by detectives, but she appears to be a Latina.

Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Michelle Serrano-Garcia is asked to call the Montgomery County Police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000 (available 24 hours). Callers may remain anonymous.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Heavy snow and ice Wednesday could fell trees, power lines in East County

The weather forecasters got it wrong yet again, and we are facing a much more serious winter storm Wednesday than we were told last week. Heavy snow is expected to begin falling sometime after 3:00 AM Wednesday, most likely toward 5:00 or 6:00 AM. Accumulation of 3-6" is possible before precipitation switches over to freezing rain and ice mid-afternoon. Locations in the northern half of Montgomery County could see totals rise to 10". The storm is expected to end by 10:00 PM Wednesday night.

The combination of heavy, wet snow and a coating of ice will create conditions favorable to trees and limbs falling, and power outages. Temperatures will be the critical factor in the ultimate accumulation totals by nightfall Wednesday. This will be another serious test of the "new" Pepco system. With 48 hours of advance notice, the utility will have no excuse to not have called in backup workers from out of state. As a multi-state operation, Pepco parent Exelon has even more resources within its own nationwide workforce than the old Pepco did, so again, there will be no excuses.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has urged residents to check their home emergency kit, and to prepare a plan for power outages.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Renovations underway at Chuck Levin's in Wheaton

The venerable Chuck Levin's Washington Music Center at 11151 Veirs Mill Road is getting a facelift. Contractors on the project include the firm of local architect Steven J. Karr, AIA, and construction firm Silva Contracting. I still miss Wheaton Music around the block.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Construction begins on $10 billion BRT boondoggle

Construction on Montgomery County's $10 billion Bus Rapid Transit boondoggle is officially underway at the Briggs Chaney Park & Ride station. Hopefully you had a chance to hug the trees that will begin being cut down today on Lockwood Drive and Tech Road. Nothing boosts the cleanliness of our air like cutting down trees to make way for diesel buses, after all.

Take careful note that your cartel-controlled representatives in Annapolis are not introducing legislation to restrict home and business demolitions for the Route 29, Veirs Mill, Georgia Avenue and Route 355 BRT lines. While serving their developer sugar daddies well with BRT that will allow massive urban density along the entire stretch of each route, they are trying to stop Gov. Larry Hogan's plan to reduce congestion on I-270 and the Beltway, for which the state has made clear no home demolitions will occur. Why the hypocrisy, when their BRT plan actually will destroy homes and businesses along each route? Because the widening of the Beltway and I-270 not only doesn't allow for new urban-style development, but any reduction in traffic congestion only undercuts the fake arguments for high-density, transit-oriented development.

Photos via Montgomery County Department of Transportation

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Real estate firm marketing vacant spaces at Bombay Gaylord building in Silver Spring

Here's the latest update from the former home of Bombay Gaylord at 8401 Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring. Thur Retail has online listings for the 2871 SF space on the first floor, and a 3500 SF space on the second floor. Their brochure states that the interiors have been renovated, and shows renderings of an updated building exterior.

Thur is suggesting a restaurant use for the first floor, and an architecture/design firm or beauty salon/beauty school use for the second floor space.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Burgerim update from Wheaton Plaza

We have other signs of progress at the future Burgerim restaurant at Wheaton Plaza. One is literal: the exterior sign has been installed. Meanwhile, workers are constructing the interior, which has a ways to go still.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Giant ends Senior Tuesdays discount

Senior Tuesdays usually find an increase in shoppers at local Giant stores. That was because of the 5% discount for seniors. About two weeks ago, however, some seniors discovered the popular promotion is ending.

While the 5% discount was honored that Tuesday, the shoppers were informed that they could sign up at the customer service desk for a new promotion where coupons would be mailed to them at home. I asked the corporate office at Giant, and they confirmed that the Senior Tuesday promotion is being axed.

Giant said they are introducing a new plan for seniors, a personalized monthly mailer with targeted coupons and nutrition advice. As store employees told shoppers two weeks ago, you can sign up for the mailings at the customer service desk using your Bonus Card and mailing address.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Angel's Pizza & Pasta coming to Wheaton Plaza, Mezeh Mediterranean Grill closes

Angel's Pizza & Pasta
The owners of Rockville's Baronessa Italian Restaurant are opening a new venture in the food court at Wheaton Plaza. Angel's Pizza & Pasta is named after Baronessa's executive chef Angel Mendoza. He and co-owner Marcel Jares will be offering a fast-casual menu of brick-oven pizza, homemade pastas made fresh daily, and Italian desserts to Wheaton.

In other Wheaton Plaza news, Mezeh Mediterranean Grill has closed. Most but not all signage has been stripped from their kiosk.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Man charged in Briggs Chaney attempted robbery

Montgomery County police have arrested and charged a suspect in the November 6 attempted strong-arm robbery of an ATM user at Bank of America at 13808 Outlet Drive in Silver Spring. The victim was assaulted, but managed to flee with the money he had intended to deposit at the ATM.

Dominick Anthony Brown, 29, of the 14000 block of Castle Boulevard in Silver Spring was arrested Wednesday, and charged with one count of robbery. He is currently being held in the County jail on a $10,000 bond. Detectives credited a tip obtained through their Crime Solvers hotline for the break in the case, and are asking that tipster to call in to be eligible for his or her reward.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

United Therapeutics installs more lighting, landscaping at Unisphere (Photos)

Some impressive new lighting has been added to the Unisphere expansion at United Therapeutics' downtown Silver Spring campus. Landscaping has also been done around the new addition to the property. Now that Discovery has decamped for more business-friendly, lower-cost, and infrastructure-accessible Knoxville, United Therapeutics is the bright spot in downtown Silver Spring, pun intended.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

MCPS caught without surveillance cameras again

Twenty years after Columbine and two years after the Rockville High School rape scandal, Montgomery County Public Schools' leadership has been caught again without adequate security cameras and surveillance at its facilities. Two recent incidents in as many months at Richard Montgomery High School proved that once again. And along with a horrible record of school violence and fighting, teachers and staff sexually assaulting children, massive cybersecurity flaws revealed in a state audit, and a failure to even perform basic background checks on security employees, children attending MCPS schools remain unsafe under the system's current failed leadership.

The RM incidents - rearrangement of cups spelling seniors to instead spell a racial slur in December, and a swastika being painted on the school last month - should have been easily resolved using security camera footage. Police and school officials seem to know the general timeframe in which the incidents occurred. If cameras were in place, it would be a simple matter to look at all movements on the campus between those reference points. The fact that no photos of suspects or vehicles have been released by police by now speaks for itself.

How can this be, in the age of terrorism and mass shootings? The County Council and Board of Education clearly do not have student safety as a top priority, An examination of some of the truly frivolous expenditures by MCPS over the last two years proves that. So, too, did the 2017 County Council security camera procurement scandal, in which taxpayers unwittingly picked up the tab for a 4-camera security system worth less than $1000 for a whopping $22,000, putting the Pentagon's famous toilet seats to shame. Those cameras were for a County government building, not a school, to boot.

We can do better. Leadership, like the bad example and behavior of MCPS-employed adults that filters down to impressionable children in their charge, starts at the top.