Friday, February 28, 2020

PLNT Burger gets a sign in Silver Spring

PLNT Burger has a new lighted sign in Silver Spring. Celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn's plant-based burger restaurant is located inside the Whole Foods Market at 833 Wayne Avenue. PLNT Burger uses the Beyond Meat burger patty and Schmidt buns.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Victim robbed at knifepoint in Bel Pre area

The latest violent crime incident in the Bel Pre area of Aspen Hill occurred around 6:50 PM last night. A victim was robbed at knifepoint inside an apartment building in the 14100 block of Whispering Pines Court at that time, according to crime data.The apartment complex is located off of Bel Pre Road and Georgia Avenue.

Armed carjacking in Silver Spring

An armed carjacking took place in Silver Spring early Wednesday morning, according to crime data. The driver was carjacked around 1:00 AM in the 9900 block of New Hampshire Avenue. That is just south of the Capital Beltway interchange near The Chateau apartment towers.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Montgomery County Board of Education candidate forum scheduled for March 16

A Montgomery County Board of Education candidate forum has been scheduled for Monday, March 16, 2020 at 6:30 PM at the Potomac Community Center, located at 11315 Falls Road in Potomac. Candidates vying for the three open seats on the board have been invited to participate.

Thirteen candidates are competing for the At-Large seat; the two top vote-getters in that April 28 primary race will advance to the General Election in November. The two candidates running in each of the District races are unopposed, and will face-off in the General Election. Key issues are the school system's funding and budget, the achievement gap, academic decline over the last decade, student safety and a highly-controversial redistricting study now underway that some on the current board have openly said should include the forced busing of students to schools outside of their communities.

The forum's sponsors include the Montgomery County Federation of Republican Women and its four clubs, as well as the GOP Asian-American Association and the Republican Legislative District 15 Political Action Committee.

Silver Spring woman missing, last seen in Long Branch area 7-Eleven

Montgomery County police are seeking the public's help in locating a missing Silver Spring woman. Vanessa Anise Pannell, 39, has not been seen by her family since last night around 7:00 PM at the 7-Eleven at 8472 Piney Branch Road in Silver Spring.

Police describe Pannell as being 5’04” tall and weighing 160 pounds. She has shoulder-length black hair and brown eyes.  Pannell was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and black leggings, and was carrying a floral backpack, when she disappeared.

Anyone who has information regarding the whereabouts of Vanessa Pannell is asked to call the police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000 (24-hour line).

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Ellsworth Place opens new indoor playground

Ellsworth Place has cut the ribbon on the new indoor play area inside the downtown Silver Spring mall. Representatives of the property owner, of the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce, and of the Montgomery County Executive's office did just that late last week. The new playground is located on Level 1 of the mall.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Montgomery County Council seeking authority for new property tax, income tax hikes

Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando (D - At-Large) will hold a press conference this morning to endorse two bills in the Maryland General Assembly that would broadly increase the Council's ability to hike taxes on property and income. If passed in Annapolis, the new taxing powers would allow the Council to hike property taxes even further on owners of homes 5000 SF or larger, or any subclass of property not specifically excluded in the bill, and to raise the County income tax and set multiple rates based on income. The proposed tax hikes come as County taxpayers are already paying the highest tax rates in history, and as large numbers of wealthy residents continue to flee to lower-tax jurisdictions in the region, resulting in declining revenue for the County as they take their money with them.

Last year, Councilmember Evan Glass (D - At-Large) proposed a "teardown tax," also known as a "McMansion tax." It would have taxed new construction homes that replaced existing homes, and then place an excise tax on the square footage added. The proposal was blasted by homebuilders, many of whom would have been forced out of business by the new taxes. Local media did their darndest to promote Glass and his tax, but rarely told the public that he did not even have the votes on the Council to pass it.

Jawando will endorse a bill today that brings the tax back in a new form - and then some. Applying to homes 5000 SF and larger, it again primarily targets teardown projects, by going after square footage. Jawando claims that 97% of County homeowners own homes less than 5000 SF in size, and promises that they would receive a "property tax cut." However, House Bill 1276 includes no such tax cut. There is also the possibility that the automatic assessment hikes each year would handily eclipse a nominal, tiny "tax cut." In that case, the "97 percent" of homeowners would continue to pay the same high property taxes they are now - and the ongoing annual increases.

The House bill is also much more general then what Jawando's press release would suggest. It could lead to all kinds of new property tax hikes on other kinds of property.

HB 1276 actually would allow the Council to create new, higher property taxes on any subclass of property. The bill appears that it could be used to sneak in the high taxes developers have sought for golf and country clubs that would run them out of business, forcing them to sell their club properties, to open up their vast lands for real estate development. In fact, under the current language, any subclass of property not exempted by the bill could face higher taxes of any amount sought by the Council.
Attorney and activist Robin Ficker
is mobbed by fans outside the
Council Office Building in Rockville
The property tax move is the Council's latest attempt to find an end run around attorney Robin Ficker's successful property tax cap ballot initiative, which requires the Council to vote unanimously to raise property taxes beyond the charter limit. When the Council did last did that, voters responded by voting to pass Ficker's ballot question allowing 12-year term limits on the Council and County Executive.

Ironically, Jawando's press conference is scheduled to take place at 11:45 AM this morning. Fifteen minutes later, at noon, Ficker is expected to deliver 55 lbs. of signed petitions for a new ballot question preventing the Council from passing another 9% property tax hike as they did recently.

But wait, we're not done talking about new taxes!

Jawando will also endorse House Bill 1494, which he claims will allow the County to increase the tax rate on incomes over $1 million a year from 3.2% to 3.5%. The Councilman says such a tax hike on millionaires would raise $88.4 million in new revenue annually.

One must ask, if true, why did the 9% increase of the already-progressive property tax only result in ongoing budget shortfalls each fiscal year since? Revenue is declining, not increasing, under the record-high tax rates now being paid. You can only get so much blood from a stone, especially when that stone has very smart tax advisors on retainer. Some on the Council continue to ignore what their own staff - past and present - has warned them about the impact of overtaxing, and their warnings are borne out in our declining revenue today.

One must also, again, read the actual text of the bill. In fact, under the language in the bill, everyone - that includes you! - could end up paying a higher income tax rate. "But Will Jawando says we won't," someone - likely an obsequious member of the local media or political cartel - might protest. As with the desperate Council attempt to create a Transit Authority last decade, it is key to ignore what the politicians say, and read what the actual bill says.

Under HB 1494, the Council could - for example - hike the income tax of all residents to 3.4%, and of "millionaires" to 3.5%. The bill has no language protecting "non-millionaires" from a higher income tax rate. It only says wealthier residents can't pay a lower tax rate than the people in the brackets under them, and allows the Council to create those brackets.

So even if you think the property tax hike on homes bigger than 5000 SF - and the income tax hike on incomes over $1 million - are good policy, you need to lobby your legislators to actually put those specific provisions into the bill. They aren't there as of this morning.

With no amendments to the text of each bill, both proposals will allow much corrupt mischief by the Council on property taxes, certainly hit local homebuilders and remodeling firms hard financially, and absolutely set up a potential income tax hike for every Montgomery County resident.

Will the proposed tax hikes destroy the Montgomery County economy? Probably not, because the County economy has already been destroyed. The new taxes will simply put a heavier layer of concrete atop the grave of the moribund economic corpse. And will make it all the harder for a future, competent set of new leaders to restore it once we have a free and fair Montgomery County election.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Virginia studying another Metro extension - why isn't Montgomery County?

The Silver Line isn't even finished yet, and booming Northern Virginia is already looking at another ambitious subway extension to Prince William County. Meanwhile, Montgomery County elected officials are looking at a ten-day February vacation, and even sleepier, moribund economic times ahead. What they should be studying are Metro extensions to the Upcounty and East County, studies that should have begun over a decade ago.

Clarksburg is about 12 miles from the Shady Grove Metro station. Burtonsville is around 10 miles from the Silver Spring Metro station. Virginia's $2 million Blue Line study is examining a 15-mile extension to Prince William via Fort Belvoir, Lorton, Potomac Mills and Quantico, modestly bigger than either potential Montgomery County extension.

Rail transit is far more advantageous for economic development than bus rapid transit. Unlike BRT, companies and developers can be assured the new transit isn't going to be suddenly cut off or rerouted. Ridership of rail would be far higher than that of buses or BRT (the County's future "Flash" B"Rapid"T will take a sluggish 87 minutes to travel from Clarksburg to Bethesda - longer than a car in traffic!).

In contrast, Montgomery County couldn't even get the Corridor Cities Transitway bus line built. Instead of high-speed rail technology fomenting a modern economic hub of the future, Montgomery's "Science City" ended up as Sleepy City. Just more stack-and-pack residential development, and thousands more cars vying for space on over-capacity I-270 and MD 355 every rush hour. Promised anchor biotech tenant Johns Hopkins Medicine just exited stage left as a result.

Meanwhile, what jobs we had in the 270 corridor continued to migrate to Northern Virginia and Frederick County. Montgomery County was at rock bottom in the D.C. region for job growth over the last decade. What we need are boardrooms, not more bedrooms.

There are also large properties planned for redevelopment north of Shady Grove, such as Lakeforest Mall, COMSAT and the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. These developments will not be "smart growth" without a Metro extension, or other rail service, and will not have the job component we need to also reduce the number and length of car trips in the corridor. The same goes for White Oak and Burtonsville.

A coordinated plan to address our moribund economy and failing, incomplete transportation system is needed. No such plan has come out of our current County Council.

Here's what we should be prioritizing today:

  • Study extending the Red Line to Clarksburg, including options for at-grade, elevated and cut-and-cover underground segments
  • Metro should connect to Lakeforest and COMSAT
  • Study of Metro extension from Silver Spring Metro to Burtonsville
  • Addition of third track to MARC Brunswick Line
  • Making Ride On bus service free
  • More business-friendly tax policy and regulations
  • More competitive state tax policies
  • Fully privatizing the County liquor monopoly, and allowing beer and wine sales at all grocery, drug and convenience stores
  • Coordinate timing of new business policies with zoning/sector plan updates that incentivize and favor commercial/corporate development (a.k.a. high-wage jobs) over residential housing
  • Planning and construction of long-delayed Midcounty Highway Extended (M-83 Highway Master Plan Alignment), with potential use for median/cut-and-cover simultaneous construction of rail line from Shady Grove Metro on relevant segments
  • Construction of equally-long-delayed new Potomac River crossing to Dulles Airport with trackbed for future Red Line extension to Silver Line in median, as a toll facility built by a private company
  • A concerted, focused effort on attracting aerospace, defense and tech corporate headquarters, and related research and manufacturing facilities (i.e. satellite and rocket assembly)
The Montgomery County Council isn't doing any of this. In fact, they're in the middle of a 10-day vacation. In February. 
Working hard, or hardly working?
In contrast, the Council-equivalents of our biggest competitors - Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties - are all meeting this week. It would be interesting if all local media - print, online, TV, radio - would join me in exposing the lazy work schedule of our self-proclaimed "full-time" slacker County Council.

Anyone who thinks we can dig ourselves out of this economic hole with a small-ball agenda by running empty BRT buses up and down, giving government contracts to small businesses, believing residential housing that generates more costs than revenue is the definition of "economic development," and patting ourselves on the back by adding the same STEM components to our schools that all of our competitors' school systems are also adding - or that it can be done under the leadership of our current County Council - is fooling themselves. 

Virginia has plenty of housing. But they also have plenty of jobs. Plenty of revenue, as a result. And they are making the big ticket investments to keep cleaning our clock for decades to come. Meanwhile, we're scaring every company away, have a structural budget deficit as far out as the projections go, are paying record high taxes, have massive debt, and steadily declining revenue even with a 9% tax hike several years ago. 

We can't go on like this.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

MVA expanding appointments to include vehicle titling

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R)
The Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration announced this morning that the appointment process it has used to address a backlog of Real ID verifications will now be expanded to include vehicle titling services. MVA Administrator Chrissy Nizer said that the appointments have been so successful and favorably-received by customers that the department decided to try expanding their use.

Customers who schedule a vehicle title-related appointment are guaranteed to be seen within 15 minutes of the appointment time, the MVA promised. In Montgomery County, the new titling appointments will be available at the Metropolitan Grove Gaithersburg and White Oak MVA branches. Appointments can now be made online.

New Silver Spring U.S. Post Office

The main U.S. Post Office in downtown Silver Spring has moved to a new location at 940 Thayer Avenue, in the ground floor of the Thayer & Spring apartments. It was previously at 900 Wayne Avenue. Here is a preview of the post office interior.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Eleanor sets opening date in Silver Spring (Photos)

The Eleanor will open next Monday, February 24, 2020 at Downtown Silver Spring, the restaurant/entertainment center announced yesterday. They will also host soft opening hours on the evenings of February 19-23.
Until March 1, The Eleanor will be open from 4:00 PM to 1:00 AM. Starting in March, their hours will expand to the regular schedule of 11:00 AM to 1:00 AM. Earlier this week, they have been hosting exclusive private events closed to the public.
Here's a sneak peek inside. You can see they have Mortal Kombat, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game, and Big Buck Hunter, in addition to skeeball and bowling.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Wendy's gears up for breakfast in Wheaton

Wendy's will begin serving breakfast nationwide on March 2, 2020. The Wendy's at 11030 Veirs Mill Road is getting ready for the big day that will be here soon. Located by Wheaton Plaza, the restaurant is hyping the new meal, and hiring breakfast-shift staff, promising "next day pay." A separate poster asks, "You Up for This?," one of the Wendy's slogans for the new breakfast service.

The new Wendy's breakfast menu will include the Montgomery County Council-enraging Breakfast Baconator, croissant and biscuit sandwiches, seasoned potatoes (kind of a fat fry version of hash browns), a Frosty-ccino coffee beverage, and even a Sausage, Egg & Cheese Burrito. Wendy's will certainly give rival chains a run for their money in the sandwich department, but with no pancakes nor a McDonald's Big Breakfast-style platter on the Wendy's menu, the Golden Arches will retain some advantages.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Burgerim closed at Wheaton Plaza (Photos)

Israeli burger chain Burgerim has closed at Wheaton Plaza. Signage has been removed inside and outside, and the windows are blacked out. The unique burger restaurant only opened just over a year ago at the Westfield-operated mall.
Perhaps adding to the pain, is the long construction period of delays that led up to the opening last spring. Once again the moribund, business-unfriendly economy of the Montgomery County Council claims a victim. To add to the shock, Burgerim's closure occurred just as another burger joint, Bobby's Burger Palace, closed at Montgomery Mall this past weekend.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Signs installed at The Eleanor in Silver Spring

The signs are up at The Eleanor, opening very soon at Downtown Silver Spring. Along with the logos, the updated exterior has a very sharp appearance. Property owner Peterson Cos. is taking the same approach here as when they signed Dave & Buster's at their Rio Lakefront development, in adding some energy via a game and entertainment venue.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Ellsworth Place's new maps are high-tech for high touch

Ellsworth Place in downtown Silver Spring has added new directory maps that are more advanced than most malls offer. The computerized terminals are large touchscreens, allowing patrons to navigate the mall map in real time using a finger.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Purple Line construction update (Video+Photos)

The elevated track for the future Purple Line at the Silver Spring Transit Center is beginning to resemble an actual trestle. A bridge structure is now capping off what were merely vertical supports in recent weeks. You can also see a lot more is being staged and assembled on the plaza itself at the station.