Friday, November 29, 2019

Silver Spring teen missing

Montgomery County police are seeking the public's help in locating a missing Silver Spring teenager. Jessie Felder, 16, hasn't been seen since leaving his residence in the 1900 block of East-West Highway on November 19 at 7:30 a.m.

Police describe Jessie Felder as being about 5’ 11” and 140 pounds, with brown eyes and short brown hair. They believe that he may be in downtown Bethesda or downtown Silver Spring.

The Police Department and family are concerned for Jessie Felder’s welfare. Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to call the Montgomery County Police Special Victims Division at 240-773-5400 or the police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000 (24-hour line).

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Charlotte Russe opens at Wheaton Plaza (Photos)

Just in time for Black Friday, Charlotte Russe has opened at Wheaton Plaza. Grab your ugly Christmas sweater in time for holiday parties and Christmas TV watching. Judging from their pre-Black Friday sale - billed as "Nothing over $25," there is no shortage of bargains to be had at Charlotte Russe this week.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Signage confirms Don Pollo on board at Ellsworth Place in Silver Spring

There apparently were a few doubting Thomases out there regarding my scoop on Don Pollo signing a lease at 905 Ellsworth Drive in the Ellsworth Place mall. Look upon these signs just installed at the space, and be not faithless, but believing: Charbroiled chicken is indeed coming to downtown Silver Spring.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Hair We Go opens in Silver Spring

There's more demand for wigs than for rental cars in downtown Silver Spring. That's a lesson from the local economy we can learn from the arrival of Hair We Go at 8203 Georgia Avenue. The space used to belong to a Hertz rental car office.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Marc Elrich is right on Montgomery County housing targets

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich is yet again the target of another hit piece in The Washington Post, which makes no secret of its disdain for Elrich, labor unions, and the men and women of our police department. Incredibly, the article, "Executive won't back housing targets" (Metro section, November 21, 2019) presents no defenders of Elrich's position. It instead attempts to paint him as a man entirely alone. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Elrich is the most popular elected official in Montgomery County, in both die-hard following and in actual votes cast. One of the key reasons is his willingness to put citizens over the interests of developers in situations exactly like this. As I reported earlier this month, the developer-controlled Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has put forward an "affordable housing" scheme designed to profit - surprise! - developers.  It has asked local jurisdictions to build a specific number of new, low-income housing units by 2030. Of Montgomery, it has asked for us to allow 23,100 additional low-income housing units to be constructed by 2030, in addition to those already approved or proposed.

Needless to say, agreeing to such a target would bankrupt the County for multiple reasons. MoCo has a structural budget deficit as far out as the future projections go. Our economy is so moribund, Montgomery ranks rock bottom in the region by every relevant federal economic development statistic from job creation to new business starts to new business growth this decade. We haven't attracted a single major new corporate headquarters to the county in over two decades.

The County's debt is so large, if it were a department, it would be the 3rd-largest department in the County government. Despite record-high taxes, County revenue is actually declining. Many of the ultra-rich have fled to lower-tax jurisdictions in our region, taking their money with them. And most significantly, because the in-the-red-every-year budget has proven definitively that residential housing growth costs more in new services than it generates in revenue (even as places like Clarksburg have grown 800% in population in recent years). Imagine adding 60573 more taxpayers who will not make any significant contribution to revenue, while requiring education, medical care, food, police and fire service, social services, and more.

Adding 60753 low-income residents beyond those already on their way by 2030, while simultaneously subsidizing developers to generate those units, would be a financial disaster. And it must be noted that MWCOG is not counting or restricting the number of existing affordable units that may be demolished - a phenomenon that has led to a net-loss of affordable housing in Montgomery County over this decade. Just this week, I reviewed plans for a major redevelopment on Battery Lane that will result in a net-loss of affordable units. Will the same County Council that attacks Elrich, and supports the housing targets scheme, block the net-loss Battery development? Of course not.

But take a look at this article.

Reporter Rebecca Tan tells us that the "unprecedented push to address the region's affordable housing crisis has hit its first major snag." That is biased language in favor of the scheme in the very first sentence. She then describes Elrich as "stubborn." This is wild - I've never seen another Democratic executive in the region referred to in pejorative language like that by a Post reporter. He is "a serious roadblock to addressing the housing shortage," and his "position is particularly concerning given that Montgomery, a wealthy suburb of 1 million, has been asked to create more affordable units over the next decade than any other locality."

I recognize Tan is new to covering the County, but her report appears to lack the context of the County's disastrous budget picture and moribund economy. It doesn't matter how "wealthy" a jurisdiction or any enterprise is, if it annually spends more than it takes in.

Tan notes that the County Council, as I reported, voted unanimously to adopt the MWCOG housing targets. What she doesn't note, is that each of them accepted thousands or more in dollars of developer campaign contributions. And that Elrich, by contrast, does not accept developer money.

This is a key point of context - why is it missing from the article?

Tan allows delusional 2022 Elrich challenger Councilmember Hans Riemer to say, "Marc Elrich stands alone," the theme she bashes readers over the head with throughout the piece. She goes on to quote five people critical of Elrich's position - all of whom are funded by development interests - without acknowledging their conflict of interest.

There are many activists, neighborhood leaders, and residents who agree with Marc Elrich whom Tan could have quoted. Contrary to journalistic standards, she did not. She even allowed Riemer to lie about the infamous fake-news claim that Elrich would prefer jobs go to Frederick County, which was pushed by the developer-funded Greater Greater Washington blog last year.

Elrich inherited a moribund county economy, and neither he nor the Council have made any significant moves to change our business climate and regional competitiveness since taking office last December. But Elrich has an impeccable record of standing up for the vulnerable, looking out for the interests of residential neighborhoods, and providing better protections for renters. As Tan's article notes, Elrich is pushing for a "no net loss" housing rule. That is exactly the type of policy that will actually ensure affordable units are available for decades to come. To paint a longtime advocate for the less-fortunate as a "NIMBY," as Tan does, is absurd. She states "some critics" call him that, but failed to produce any for her report.

The fact is, as Elrich has noted in years past, Montgomery already has in the planning pipeline sufficient units to meet the expected population demand by 2030. And the reality is, Montgomery County decides how much our population grows - if we don't build, they can't come. So our fate really is in the hands of our elected officials, not those of fate itself.

Council President Nancy Navarro and others chastise Elrich for "denying" and "pretending" that there isn't a "housing shortage" or "need for affordable housing."

But there is growing evidence that we don't have a housing "crisis." Recently, the County Housing Opportunities Commission moved hundreds of residents out of the Ambassador apartments in Wheaton, and is demolishing the building. They moved them into vacant units in their other buildings across the County. Not far away, the owners of affordable and spacious apartments at Halpine View told attendees at a public meeting that they have many vacant units, with little public demand for them.

Wait a minute...we have a "crisis," but we could give up an entire apartment building, have enough vacant units idling elsewhere in the County to take all of those folks in, and have vacancies at Halpine View? This doesn't sound like a crisis to anyone with common sense.

What is this all really about?

As Tan expertly manages to note in yet another Montgomery County cartel talking point, people like Elrich may be "seek[ing] to shield single-family neighborhoods from bigger or denser development." That is exactly what voters in those neighborhoods elected him to do - protect them from the plans of the Council and their developer sugar daddies to impose urban mixed-use zoning on all established SFH-zoned neighborhoods across the County.

What this is really about is adopting Wild West zoning, and the MWCOG-County Council plan to have you the taxpayer fund developers, who will profit from overbuilding while bankrupting the County and destroying the successful suburban and rural neighborhoods those taxpayers live in. All under the guise of "helping the poor." It's quite obvious who's really being helped by this scheme, and it's not the poor.

We don't even have adequate infrastructure to handle our current population. Until we do, or until developers agree to provide more roads, schools, etc., pulling up the ladders to the extent we can - while protecting the existing housing of current residents of all income levels - is the only responsible way forward in housing policy.

Marc Elrich is right - and he is anything but "alone" on this issue.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Randolph Crossing Rite Aid becoming Walgreens

The Rite Aid store at 12222 Veirs Mill Road is being converted into a Walgreens. Walgreens acquired Rite Aid in 2015, and has taken three approaches to its stores: keep the Rite Aid brand, but convert the store's pharmacy into a Walgreens; convert the store into a full-blown Walgreens location; or close the store entirely.
Here we are getting an actual Walgreens. I'm still a Drug Fair man, the chain whose D.C.-area stores were acquired by Rite Aid in 1987. The more things change...

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Demolition of The Ambassador, formerly Howard Johnson/Best Western in Wheaton (Photos)

The exterior demolition of a building with a lot of history in Wheaton has begun. Over the last few months, crews demolished most of the interior of the former Howard Johnson motel, which later became a Best Western hotel in the 1980s. In recent years, it was The Ambassador apartments. Here is a look after the first 48 hours of demolition.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Sport Honda building for sale in Silver Spring

The property currently home to the Sport Honda auto dealership at 1006 East-West Highway in Silver Spring is now available for sale. Sport leases the building. The dealership's lease is up on December 31, 2020, but they have a five-year extension option.

An online listing shows an asking price of $4.6 million for the 1955 building, which has rooftop parking. It is positioned as a long-term investment opportunity, but developers may also find the location appealing.

Monday, November 18, 2019

External demolition of The Ambassador to begin today in Wheaton

Crews have been demolishing the interior of The Ambassador at 2715 University Boulevard West in Wheaton since September. This morning, lane and sidewalk closures will go into effect alongside the property on University and Veirs Mill Road, as exterior demolition begins. The former Howard Johnson/Best Western hotel structure will take four or five months to bring down, according to the contractors.
Pedestrian detour around the Ambassador-related
closures along University and Veirs Mill
Here's what to watch out for starting today, weather permitting: The sidewalk will be closed around the property on both University and Veirs Mill. The far right lane of westbound University will be closed alongside the building. One potential choke point to prepare for is if you are turning right from Veirs Mill onto University, you're going to have to go one additional lane to the left in a short distance than you regularly would.

There will be signage warning of the sidewalk and lane closures on both roads. All of the closures will continue through the end of the demolition next spring.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Downtown Silver Spring Christmas tree lighting Saturday night

The annual Christmas tree lighting at Downtown Silver Spring is set for tomorrow evening, Saturday, November 16, 2019 from 6:00-10:00 PM on Ellsworth Drive between Georgia Avenue and Fenton Street. There will be "holiday cheer stations" set up serving seasonal beer and other beverages, free "tasty bites," a Secret Walls live art battle, live music, and music by DJ Jerome Baker III.
Here you can see the tree being assembled and other holiday decorations being installed around the Peterson Cos.-owned property. All will be ready and trimmed by tomorrow night.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

K-Mobile Tech opens at Wheaton Plaza, Charlotte Russe hiring

K-Mobile Tech has opened on Level 2 at Wheaton Plaza. In addition to sales and accessories, the store also offers cell phone repairs.
In other Wheaton Plaza news, Charlotte Russe is now hiring for its store. The apparel and footwear chain has reversed its store closure plan, and is now reopening 100 of its stores that closed, USA Today reported this past spring.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

MD, VA agree on Capital Beltway Accord, American Legion Bridge widening

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced a historic Capital Beltway Accord at a joint appearance at the Capital Region Transportation Forum in Washington, D.C. yesterday. The bi-state agreement, which does not yet specify a timetable for completion, would widen the failing American Legion Bridge between the two states by adding tolled Express Lanes on and near the bridge. The states would split the cost, with the heaviest burden being picked up by Maryland, and both states expecting tolls will cover the entire $1 billion projected expense.

The accord also puts the backburnered Hogan plan for Express Lanes on the Beltway between the Legion Bridge and I-95 back on the table. No details on the staging of the that project in relation to the bridge widening were put forward Tuesday. The bridge changes would almost certainly fail to solve congestion if the new Express Lanes end at River Road instead of I-95, as they would only create another choke point there.

Adding Express Lanes to the Beltway and I-270 won't take the place of a new Potomac River crossing, which would take about 25% of rush hour traffic off of the Legion Bridge, according to a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments study earlier this decade. They won't provide the direct access to Dulles International Airport from Montgomery County that international businesspeople have made clear they require to consider locating their headquarters here.

In fact, without a new Potomac River bridge north of the Legion Bridge - and major changes to County and Maryland tax and regulation schemes, Tuesday's accord would simply be another victory for Virginia and the crafty Northam from an economic development standpoint. Improved travel times for non-Dulles-related traffic on the Beltway would certainly help all of us, and are absolutely worthy of public support. But without direct Dulles access and a competitive business climate, the Beltway accord will simply reinforce our position as the bedroom community for the booming job centers in Northern Virginia.

The accord is a win for Hogan, however, as he considers a surprisingly-strong bid for the U.S. Senate. If he stands his ground on the Potomac-to-I-95 Beltway Express Lanes this time, Hogan will have delivered a start on major traffic relief on both failing interstates in Montgomery County in time for the 2022 election. Hogan was also the governor to finally get the new Nice Bridge project moving after decades of delay; that structure is scheduled to be well under-construction by the time he would take on Van Hollen.

Hogan hasn't even been grandstanding to the extent he could on transportation. He has quietly delivered new improvements on I-270 - such as new feeder lanes that allow entering vehicles from some ramps to proceed on the freeway without having to merge - over the last year. Surprisingly, he hasn't called a press conference to crow about these small but significant traffic flow upgrades.

Considering Van Hollen's weak legislative record, scandalous history of conspiring to reduce African-American turnout in his 2016 primary run against Congresswoman Donna Edwards (earning a rebuke from Hillary Clinton herself in the process), and Hogan's bipartisan support, this could be a top-tier contest. Neither man excites the core base of his party. But if these transportation projects move forward, Hogan will have done something Van Hollen hasn't in over a decade - deliver actual change for his constituents.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Don Pollo coming to Ellsworth Place in Silver Spring

The tasty Peruvian rotisserie chicken of Don Pollo is coming to downtown Silver Spring. Their newest location will be at 905 Ellsworth Drive in the Ellsworth Place mall, next to Ben & Jerry's. The charbroiled chicken chain has existing locations in Bethesda and Gaithersburg, making this newest venture big news.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Islands Lounge update from Wheaton

It's been a long road, but Islands Lounge is getting closer to opening at 11300 Fern Street in Wheaton. An artist was decorating the exterior walls with vibrant Caribbean-themed art on Sunday. Islands Lounge will be the largest Caribbean restaurant, bar & lounge in the D.C. area when it opens. Check out the menu on their website and get on their mailing list. Stay tuned for an opening date!

Friday, November 8, 2019

Magview leaving Burtonsville for Howard County

Magview abandoning this HQ in
Burtonsville for Howard County
Magview, a medical imaging software firm, is leaving Montgomery County. According to a press release, the company is relocating with its 75 employees from Burtonsville to the Maple Lawn development in Fulton, Maryland. The loss is particularly embarrassing for Montgomery County officials, because healthcare and biotech are the only bright spots in an otherwise moribund County economy. Howard County in recent years has dethroned Montgomery as the richest county in Maryland, and with news like this - along with the flight of MoCo's ultra-rich - it's pretty obvious why.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

MoCo Council approves budget-busting developer-backed housing scheme

The Montgomery County Council quietly adopted a developer-backed regional housing scheme in a unanimous vote Wednesday. A vote that received little attention from the local media, and was preceded by no public process to promote taxpayer buy-in. Why was that? Probably because the plan, along with the almost-certain Kirwan Commission spending increases ahead, is likely to bankrupt Montgomery County and lead to massive future tax hikes. And because each of the nine councilmembers has accepted thousands of dollars from their developer sugar daddies.

Only the Council itself appeared eager to brag about its vote in a press release yesterday. But braggadocio doesn't substitute for mathematics aptitude nor budgeting skill, as the Council's annual structural budget deficit proves. The Council just put you, the taxpayer, on the hook for a massive spending increase - in education, social services, police and fire, health care, and developer tax giveaways - even as they (presumably?) know there's no way in hell future councils will be able to pay for it.

What does approving the developer-backed Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' "regional housing targets" actually mean? It obligates Montgomery County to build 23000+ new housing units for low and middle-income residents by 2030, in addition to those already planned. The County Council couldn't even be honest about that in the press release, which falsely claimed the number as 10,000 additional low-income units.
The initiative sounds good, and like most developer initiatives, it's meant to. The reality is, the scheme is all about developer profits, and taxpayers will be left holding the bag.

MWCOG itself predicts that 75% of the new residents coming to Montgomery County by 2030 will be low or mid-income residents. That not only means they will contribute little in tax revenue to the county, but that spending will have to skyrocket to provide the services and infrastructure such a population surge would require.

This would be difficult enough of a fiscal equation to square - massive new spending, with only 25% of the new residents able to shoulder the huge costs. But then you look at the bigger picture, and the alarm bells really start going off.

Montgomery County's moribund economy, job creation, business starts, and business growth are all rock-bottom in the regional rankings this decade. Despite record-high tax rates and tax hikes, revenue is actually declining, even as the County Council continues to spend more. Many of the ultra-wealthy have fled Montgomery County to lower-tax jurisdictions in our region, taking huge chunks of revenue that used to balance the County budget with them. Greater spending, fewer revenue-generating simply doesn't add up, no matter what brand of calculator you use.
Then you look at the debt and cost obligations of the County. The bond rating agencies have already criticized the current Council's budgetary dirty tricks, which have failed to adequately fund government retiree health benefits, for example. Our councilmembers might be shocked to learn that even governments have to pay their bills. How such incompetent people were allowed to take power is a sad commentary on the sham, Soviet-style 2018 election, which had no general election debates or local media coverage of the County Council races. Joseph Stalin would be proud.

Debt is skyrocketing. If the County's current debt was a department, it would be the third-largest department in the County budget. The last thing a sane elected official would do in that situation is agree to a massive spending increase.
Finally, there's the coming budgetary atomic bomb: The Kirwan Commission. Kirwan is the biggest threat to the County's fiscal health since the state threatened to make the County pay more toward teacher pensions earlier this decade.

Kirwan is proposing astronomical amounts of new education spending, with no appreciable change in the actual curriculum or methods. Spending on education has already been jacked up year after year by the Council, to no avail. Test scores and graduation rates continue to decline, while the achievement gap remains the same or worsens.
Spending hikes proposed by the Kirwan Commission would literally be flushing good money after bad down the MCPS toilet. Money isn't the problem at MCPS. And don't forget, the maintenance-of-effort-on-steroids law adopted by Maryland will require us to maintain that level of spending into the future. There is no escape once these spending increases are approved.

Taken together, the housing targets adoption and the Council's rabid desire to adopt the Kirwan recommendations on the backs of the taxpayers, have placed Montgomery County on an accelerated course to fiscal oblivion. We can't go on like this.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Marilyn J. Praisner Library to reopen November 16 in Burtonsville

The Marilyn J. Praisner Branch Library at 14910 Old Columbia Pike will officially reopen on Saturday, November 16, 2019 at 10:30 AM after a refurbishment. What's new at the library? New ergonomic sit-stand circulation, information, and self-checkout desks; renovation of the public restrooms; new painting and flooring; replacement of ceiling tiles; rearrangement of shelving and seating within the library; upgraded lighting with improved energy-efficient, and brighter, LED lamps; new furniture; dual-drinking fountain with bottle-filling station; and new window shades in the meeting rooms.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10:30 AM. The library is named for former County Councilmember Marilyn J. Praisner, who is remembered for protecting the suburban and rural character of her East County district during her years on the Council.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Connecticut Avenue Estates gets new signage

One of Montgomery County's best neighborhoods got a fresh look this past weekend. New gateway signage now welcomes residents and visitors to Connecticut Avenue Estates. A ribbon-cutting was held this past Saturday at Dalewood Drive and Brightview Street.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Forest Glen Castle Building again up for sale

The historic treasure of Forest Glen, the Castle Building, is once again on the market for sale. Located at 10 Post Office Road, the 1870-built castle today serves as a Class C office building. The asking price is $2.8 million, down from the sale price several years ago. According to an online listing from Coldwell Banker Commercial NRT, the castle is 92% leased with one vacant unit.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Montgomery College sends out false active shooter alert, apologizes

Montgomery College, through an electronic alert system, sent out erroneous tweets and text messages at 7:42 AM this morning falsely stating there was an "active shooter" at one of its campuses. The message included a bracketed phrase stating, "[insert campus]," (Montgomery College has three campuses). About half an hour later, the College deleted the original tweet from its Twitter account, and sent another message indicating the alert was a false alarm and apologized.