Friday, May 29, 2020

Hogan extends moratorium on utility shutoffs, allows breweries to serve in outdoor seating

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued two coronavirus-related executive orders this morning. First, he has extended the moratorium on utility shutoffs - including internet and phone service - until July 1, 2020. Secondly, he is allowing state-licensed breweries, wineries and distilleries to begin serving customers on-premises in outdoor seating only. Hogan's order also allows third-party shipment of alcoholic beverages to consumers.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Glenmont Lidl set to begin construction soon

The race is on to see which Montgomery County community will get the first Lidl grocery store in the county. Glenmont appears to now have the advantage, as the German grocery chain is in the process of obtaining the necessary construction permits for its 2201 Randolph Road location from Montgomery County. Lidl purchased the building from Shoppers Food Warehouse when it closed.

Based on paperwork Lidl has filed with the County, they plan to gut the building inside. They will then add new interior partitions, construct a bakery facility, and build office space and a warehouse area. Great news for the great community of Glenmont!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

30 workers have tested positive for coronavirus at Wheaton Triangle construction site

Thirty cases of coronavirus among workers have complicated the final stages of construction of a Montgomery County government building at Lot 13 in the Wheaton Triangle, according to officials at the County Department of Transportation. Completion of the project has already slipped to next month from the original May 2020 projected date for "substantial completion."

The Town Square portion of the project is scheduled to be completed by next week, however. Completion of the square's performance stage and bioretention plantings are the final tasks.

MCDOT says that contractor Clark Construction now has two COVID-19 monitors on-site whose main task is to supervise that masks are worn and social distancing is practiced. There are now two entrances to the job site, where each employee is asked three COVID-19 questions when they arrive for work. And Clark has also hired a full-time cleaning staff to continuously disinfect surfaces and equipment.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Mass layoffs at Sheraton Silver Spring hotel

Coronavirus continues to wreak economic havoc for business owners and employees alike in Montgomery County. The Sheraton hotel at 8777 Georgia Avenue is now laying off 56 employees. Many hotels across the country are shuttered due to the collapse of the travel industry caused by Covid-19. The modern design of the Sheraton remains the premiere architectural specimen in downtown Silver Spring, in my opinion. In terms of hotel designs, only the Pooks Hill Marriott comes close.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Charlotte Russe laying off workers at Wheaton Plaza

More fallout from the coronavirus pandemic for Montgomery County workers. Charlotte Russe announced yesterday that it is laying off 13 workers at its Wheaton Plaza store. It could be worse; the boutique's Wheaton Plaza neighbor JC Penney has filed for bankruptcy.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Did Montgomery County really add 500 hospital beds for coronavirus patients?

A week after declaring surge 
capacity met, County now says 
there aren't enough beds to
reopen Montgomery County

Montgomery County officials attempted to address growing concerns over their lack of defined strategy for ending the coronavirus lockdown yesterday. In a streamed Zoom meeting, County Executive Marc Elrich said he thought the current statistics might point toward reopening the county in one or two weeks. But one number that Health Director Travis Gayles expressed concern about was ICU hospital bed capacity, and that four of the county's hospitals were at-capacity for ICU beds over the last week. This would make it difficult to handle a surge in new patients if a new wave of Covid-19 infections were to break out a few weeks after the Stay-at-Home order would be lifted.

Now, you may remember the county was 500 beds short of the projected need when the coronavirus pandemic began. On April 1, with great fanfare from their friends in the local media, the Montgomery County Council declared it was appropriating $10 million for county hospitals to add those 500 beds. Keep in mind, this is several hospitals' worth of beds.

To those more skeptical than our local press, this sounded like a hefty degree of magical thinking. If you know anything about construction, the regulatory hoops alone would have tied such expansion up for months. Permits would have to be processed, construction work would have to pass inspection. Not to mention that the work would have to be put out for bid, contractors selected, etc. The very expensive beds themselves - and all related equipment that is needed for each bed, particularly in an ICU setting - have to be ordered and shipped.

Just last week, Gayles told Bethesda Magazine in an email that - incredibly - this David Copperfield act had been magically pulled off. In only 41 days, Gayles wrote, Montgomery County hospitals had added all 500 beds. Interestingly, with all of the news cameras hanging out at local hospitals these days, we never saw footage of these new rooms or wings being opened on the TV news.

Ten days ago, we were told we had enough beds to handle a coronavirus surge. Yesterday, still under lockdown before any such surge has even taken place, we were told that a lack of bed capacity is now a primary reason the County cannot reopen its economy.

Something doesn't add up here.

Photo courtesy Hill-Rom

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

More Montgomery County ballots being mailed to deceased, non-residents

A few weeks after a man described how his deceased mother was shown to have voted in Montgomery County elections for a decade after her death, another case of an illegal ballot being issued has come to light. Attorney Robin Ficker, a Republican candidate for Maryland governor, reports that his son was mailed a ballot to his old Montgomery County address. Problem: Ficker's son hasn't lived in Montgomery County for 12 years. And as a "live" ballot, it could be illegally filled out and mailed back by someone else.

"Election fraud?" Ficker asked in a Facebook post showing the improperly-mailed ballot. "How many of these ballots are being mailed by someone else?" Ficker isn't the only one asking questions. A watchdog group has successfully sued to receive the voter registration information of all Montgomery County voters, after it found there are more names registered to vote than there are eligible voters in the county.

In 2018, anomalous voting results were seen at dozens of precincts across Montgomery County in the County Council At-Large race, if not others. The voter universe in that election also increased by about 100,000 voters in only four years since 2014. Local media outlets have not challenged County officials about either issue so far.

Leaving ineligible names on the voter rolls is a key source of voter fraud. Anyone who has the names of deceased or non-resident voters can walk into the appropriate polling place, claim to be that person and provide the few details asked for by judges, and cast a ballot illegally using one of those many names. In this year's by-mail elections, these illegal ballots will be mailed out and ripe for the picking by any organized voter fraud operation, further underlining the urgency in cleaning up Montgomery County's dirty voter rolls.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Petition to create 9 Montgomery County Council districts can now be signed electronically online

An effort to create better representation for residents on the Montgomery County Council has gotten a new jolt of energy. Nine Districts for MoCo, a grassroots organization, has been collecting signatures to place a question on the November ballot that would eliminate the At-Large seats on the Council. Instead, the Council would have 9 seats that each represent a smaller district of the county. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Board of Elections has given the group permission to collect signatures online. Registered voters can now sign the petition electronically, through the organization's website.

The At-Large seats are seen as a way for developers and special interests to get 4 votes to override parochial neighborhood concerns. Needless to say, the Montgomery County political cartel is not pleased about the Nine Districts for MoCo effort. At one public hearing by the Charter Review Commission, four commissioners tried to prevent Nine Districts for MoCo Chair Kimblyn Persaud from testifying on a fictional technicality, before realizing they didn't have the votes to stop her from speaking.

I strongly endorse this effort. Unlike past proposals, this does not reduce the number of Council members in a County that is rapidly growing in population. What it does do is create smaller, more manageable districts, and Councilmembers who will literally be closer to their constituents and their neighborhood issues. 

Growing discontent over Montgomery County's data-free coronavirus reopening strategy

Montgomery County's "roadmap" for reopening
doesn't define any targets to be met
There has been growing concern over the last few days about Montgomery County's blueprint for reopening, after most of the state entered a phase one reopening last Friday, while the Montgomery County Council passed an indefinite extension of Stay-at-Home orders. Prominent business leaders like David Blair, business owners, and even some municipal elected officials have asked what Montgomery officials' precise plan and data measurements are. The issue is separate from the question of whether or not a continued lockdown is wise; the point of controversy for many is that there is currently no roadmap or metric for reopening the economy.

With a new wave of mass layoffs hitting the county, discontent with the rudderless direction is rising in many quarters. After receiving some blowback, Montgomery County Councilman Evan Glass posted a Powerpoint-style graphic (shown above) on Facebook and Twitter. "Here's the roadmap," Glass declared authoritatively. But the "roadmap" only gave a vague wishlist of trends, not the specific targets that would be met, nor the specific length of time those targets would have to be met to reopen. Five different "sustained decrease" trends are listed, but unlike federal and state plans, the time-span of "sustained" is only defined for one ("new cases in an environment of increased testing" - and what qualifies as "an enviroment of increased testing" is undefined).

Glass promised a dashboard of County-level coronavirus statistics heretofore withheld from the public would be online later this week. But that is a totally separate issue. Raw data doesn't tell us what the plan is, and what the data needs to show us in what timeframe, to reopen.

Again, that's not to say it is wise or unwise to reopen now. But it would be wise to have an actual plan with targets that can be met or not met. After all, we may be facing a devastating second wave of hospitalizations in about three weeks, if Gov. Larry Hogan was premature in loosening Stay-at-Home orders last Friday. Maryland did not meet all of the federal criteria for reopening, so there is a risk.

The future is uncertain. But we need leadership to tell us how we are going to tackle the problem, which is the only certainty we can have at this point.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Ulta moving at Downtown Silver Spring

Ulta is relocating at Downtown Silver Spring. The beauty store appears to be taking advantage of the temporary coronavirus lockdown to make a move from its current Ellsworth Drive spot at the Peterson Cos. development. A permanent sign has already been installed at the new location, 8510 Fenton Street.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Montgomery County $5 million check program quietly doubles to $10M, court filing reveals

County in legal jeopardy over program 
it says has already disbursed $1M

Montgomery County officials told the public that they had appropriated $5 million to disburse as cash payouts to residents who do not qualify for federal coronavirus relief funds. But a new court filing shows that the program has quietly doubled to $10 million without public knowledge. The explosion in size of the check program has only come to light in a letter from County Attorney Marc P. Hansen filed yesterday in U.S. District Court. This letter was in response to the lawsuit right-wing government watchdog group Judicial Watch recently filed against the County, which alleges that the check program is in violation of federal law because Maryland has never passed legislation to allow Montgomery County to disburse cash payments to residents who are illegally present in the United States.

Hansen's letter states that "[i]t has come to our attention that the County has appropriated ten million dollars for the challenged EARP program." The County never publicly announced an appropriation of another $5 million for the program since its original press release. Hansen also confirms that "one million dollars has been disbursed as of this time." The money will be moving quickly out the door, according to Hansen: "It is anticipated that the balance of the appropriated funds will be distributed by the end of the first week of June," he writes to U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messite.

Photo via

Friday, May 15, 2020

Former Staples to become medical imaging center in White Oak

The vacant Staples at 12008 Cherry Hill Road in White Oak has a new tenant. It will now become a medical imaging center. This makes perfect sense, as it is located near many other health-related facilities, most prominently Washington Adventist Hospital at White Oak and Riderwood. Construction is expected to begin soon.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Montgomery County sued over $5 million check handout that group alleges violates federal law

Right-wing government watchdog group Judicial Watch has filed suit against Montgomery County over its recently-announced plan to disburse $5 million-worth of checks to residents who do not qualify for coronavirus financial assistance from the federal government. While the County's official announcement nowhere mentions that the money will go to non-legal residents, it was widely recognized by advocates and opponents alike that the money was intended to go to residents who are here illegally. The initiative was seen by proponents as essential to the County's recovery, given the large number of undocumented immigrants in Montgomery County who would otherwise receive little financial relief during the pandemic.

Judicial Watch is seeking a restraining order against County Executive Marc Elrich and Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services Director Raymond L. Crowel on behalf of two Montgomery County taxpayers, Sharon Bauer and Richard Jurgena. The restraining order would prevent Elrich and Crowel from disbursing any of the $5 million to residents who are in the country illegally.

The group asserts that the County's plan, known as the Emergency Assistance Relief Payment (EARP) program, violates federal law. Under 8 U.S.C. § 1621(a), a local government may only provide benefits to "unlawfully present aliens" if the state the jurisdiction is in enacts a law permitting it to do so. Judicial Watch argues that, because Maryland has never passed a law allowing Montgomery County to disburse cash payments directly to residents living here illegally, the EARP program itself is illegal.

“Montgomery County Executive Elrich and the Montgomery County Council have no legal authority on their own to spend taxpayer money for cash payments to illegal aliens,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. “The coronavirus challenge doesn’t give politicians a pass to violate the law. If they want to give cash payments to illegal aliens, they must be accountable and transparent, and, as federal law requires, pass a state law to do so.”

The group has filed a similar lawsuit in California, which is still pending there. Judicial Watch recently won a legal fight against Maryland, which resulted in a judge ordering the state to hand over all voter data from Montgomery County, after Judicial Watch found that there were more names registered to vote in MoCo than there are actual eligible voters in the county.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Chicken wing restaurant coming to Wheaton Triangle

Hot wings fans will soon have a new stop on Wheaton's main drag. A new chicken wing restaurant has leased the space at 11242 Georgia Avenue, in the Wheaton Triangle strip mall. Current Wheaton wing options include Pollo Campero and Chicken Basket up the street, Ledo Pizza around the corner, and Wingstop in Aspen Hill.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Demolition at 900 Spring Street in Silver Spring

Demolition may soon be underway at 900 Spring Street, formerly the headquarters of the National Ready-Mixed Concrete Association. The site was expected to be redeveloped, but a search of the Montgomery County Planning Department development map shows no project application has been submitted for this address. Maryland property records show the NRMCA is still the owner of the land. Montgomery County records - and a sign in front of the building - indicate a demolition permit has been requested for the property.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Pickpocket on Thayer Avenue in Silver Spring

Watch your wallet in downtown Silver Spring. A pickpocket reached into at least one pocket in the 900 block of Thayer Avenue on Saturday around 1:00 PM, according to crime data. The theft occurred in a retail establishment along that block.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Homicide in Aspen Hill

Montgomery County police are investigating a fatal shooting in Aspen Hill last night. Officers responded to a report of shots fired in the 3100 block of Hewitt Avenue around 11:35 PM. They found a 19-year-old man suffering from a gunshot wound. The victim was transported to an unspecified hospital, where he later died.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Downtown Silver Spring polling residents on reopening

State and local governments around the country are planning how and when to reopen their communities and economies after the coronavirus lockdown. Businesses are also preparing, but the concerns and readiness of potential customers are a primary consideration in their own decisions. Peterson Cos., the owner of Downtown Silver Spring and Rio Lakefront, is reaching out to them directly with online surveys to gauge their feelings about the near future.

They are asking questions such as, how long after orders are lifted will they be ready to venture out to dine or shop. Which specific types of businesses they plan to patronize, and their attitudes about mask-wearing, are among other queries in the polls. Feelings about dining inside vs. outside are a central issue, as is the willingness to wait outside a restaurant due to reducing seating capacity.

You can take the survey for Downtown Silver Spring or Rio Lakefront yourself online. This certainly seems like a smart idea, rather than trying to guess whether your customers are ready, which goods and services they are ready to buy, and what inconveniences or changes they are willing to tolerate.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Ooh La La Bakery opening in Wheaton

A new French bakery is coming soon to Wheaton. Ooh La La Bakery is taking over the vacant Cricket Wireless store at 2600 University Boulevard West. The bakery promises authentic French bread and pastries.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Armed robbery in Wheaton

An armed robbery in Wheaton was reported to Montgomery County police Sunday night. The victim was robbed at knifepoint in the 11100 block of Veirs Mill Road around 8:52 PM. That is right outside of Wheaton Plaza.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Montgomery County Councilman called out for violating MD Stay at Home order

Largely-Republican protesters rallying to defy their states' Stay-at-Home orders across the nation this weekend had an unlikely Democratic ally in Montgomery County. County Councilmember Evan Glass ventured far from his Silver Spring neighborhood to join a gathering of hundreds outside Suburban Hospital Saturday morning. The crowd was there to see a flyover by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds that was actually meant to thank frontline medical personnel at the hospital, who watched from a hospital rooftop.

The gathering was not only in violation of Maryland's Stay at Home order, but the Pentagon had explicitly directed the public to watch the jets from their homes, and not to travel to the hospitals where pilots would fly over to thank healthcare professionals - not elected officials from Montgomery County. Councilmember Andrew Friedson was also in attendance, but said in a Facebook post that he remained on the other side of the hospital away from the crowd.
The Pentagon's official announcement explicitly told
the public to stay home, and "refrain from traveling
to see the flyover." (Photo: Chip Py/Facebook)
One constituent took Glass to task over his violation of the Stay at Home order on Facebook. "Council Members are putting others at risk by attending this non essential event that wasn’t supposed to be attended. Great example y’all," wrote Chip Py. "Guilty," Glass wrote in reply.

According to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's March 30 Stay at Home order, "no Maryland resident should leave their home unless it is for an essential job or for an essential reason, such as obtaining food or medicine, seeking urgent medical attention, or for other necessary purposes." In issuing his order, Hogan said, "This is a deadly public health crisis—we are no longer asking or suggesting that Marylanders stay home, we are directing them to do so. No Maryland resident should be leaving their home unless it is for an essential job or for an essential reason such as obtaining food or medicine, seeking urgent medical attention, or for other necessary purposes."

The Pentagon's own statement directed the public to "observe the flyover from the safety of their home quarantine...refrain from traveling to see the flyover. Stay home!"


The Councilmen put the health and lives of their constituents at risk by illegally traveling for starters, and then joining in an illegal gathering, despite being warned by Maryland and federal officials not to do so. Had police on the scene enforced Hogan's directive, Glass and Friedson could have faced "imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding $5,000 or both," according to the text of the Stay-at-Home order.

Beyond the serious health and safety implications, there was the attempt to hijack a moment recognizing health heroes at Suburban Hospital for political gain by the Council. This was the doctors' and nurses' moment, not the Council's.

Interestingly but predictably, no local media reports pointed out the councilmen had broken the law by traveling to and attending the flyover gathering. The Montgomery County cartel's control of the local press again proves beneficial to elected officials convinced our laws don't apply to them. I must admit, the flyover wasn't anywhere close to as exciting for those of us who obeyed state and federal orders to watch from home as it was for our wayfaring County politicians.

Elected officials have to be held to a higher standard. Councilmembers breaking the Stay-at-Home order not only put themselves, Suburban's staff, and all of us at risk, but undermine the spirit of the public to continue to follow Stay-at-Home and social distancing guidelines. Covid-19 cases continued to rise steadily, a number of negative records were set, and Montgomery County went to Blue Alert with critical care beds "mostly filled" on the same weekend the Council crashed the Suburban flyover.

It turns out that having a bursting bag of developer campaign cash, and local media allies eager to amplify your imagined exploits in office, don't necessarily translate into possessing common sense or basic leadership skills.

Heckuva job, Brownie!

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Coronavirus patient surge at hospitals puts Montgomery County on Blue Alert

Critical care beds
"mostly full" at all
County hospitals tonight

The number of coronavirus cases confirmed by the Maryland Health Department has continued on an upward track recently. Tonight, Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Services spokesperson Pete Piringer confirmed that critical care beds at all county hospitals are "mostly full" this evening. This triggers a Blue Alert for MCFRS crews. County EMS supervisors are actively managing patient distribution countywide at this hour.

"All area hospitals are busy," Piringer said. As a result, patients may be transported to a hospital further away from their home until beds free up.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Glenmont teen missing

Montgomery County police are seeking the public's help in locating a missing Glenmont teenager. Keila Bonilla, 15, of the 12000 block of Judson Road, was last seen at her home around 4:00 PM on Tuesday, April 28.

Bonilla is described by police as being around 5’04″ tall, and weighing about 110 pounds. She has black hair and brown eyes.  Bonilla was wearing a black jacket and black sweatpants when she was last seen.

Anyone with information regarding her whereabouts is asked to call the Police Department at 301-279-8000 (24/7 phone line).