Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Car stolen from downtown Silver Spring apartment building

Montgomery County police are investigating the theft of a vehicle from an apartment building in downtown Silver Spring Sunday night, May 28, 2023. The vehicle was reported stolen from the garage of an apartment building in the 8700 block of 1st Avenue at 9:14 PM.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

A last look at Tastee Diner in Silver Spring (Photos)

Here's a last look at the venerable Tastee Diner at 8601 Cameron Street in downtown Silver Spring in its original form. Opened in 1935, the historic diner closed March 22, 2023. Roadside Development, which plans to redevelop this and adjacent property into a mixed-use residential building, has promised to retain the north, east and west facades of the diner car and its canopy in the design of the future high-rise.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Silver Spring construction update: Forte on Spring apartments (Photos)

The Forte on Spring development at 8787 Georgia Avenue replaces the old Montgomery County Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission building in downtown Silver Spring. Its two 7-story buildings will together hold 375 rental apartments, only 47 of which will be affordable. The Forte is located right next to the most beautiful building in downtown Silver Spring, the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, so no pressure on the architects, right?

A 17,300-square-foot MOM's Organic Market will anchor the ground floor retail at the property, which is being redeveloped by partners Bozzuto, StonebridgeCarras and Griffin Capital. Delivery is anticipated for Q1 2024.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Montgomery County Council President Evan Glass to host Pride Month events in June

Montgomery County Council President Evan Glass (D - At-Large) will once again host or appear at a series of Pride Month events in June. This will be the fifth year Glass will perform this leadership role. The events will include Rockville Pride, an annual event hosted by the City of Rockville at Rockville Town Square, which will be held on Saturday, June 24, 2023 this year. 

June 11 will be Takoma Park Pride Day. Bethesda's Big Train baseball club will also hold a Pride Night on June 17. Pride in the Plaza will take place at Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring on June 25. Events will kick off with the raising of the Pride Flag at the Montgomery County Executive Building on June 1. 

“I’m excited to host Montgomery County’s fifth annual LGBTQ+ Pride month events,” Glass said in a statement. “This is a time for celebration, reflection and unity. Today, the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans are under relentless attack. Members of the LGBTQ+ community — especially people of color and trans people — continue to face discrimination and efforts to undermine their human rights. As we continue our struggle for greater civil rights and liberties, Pride Month is a time to not only reflect on our progress but to focus on the work ahead.”

Friday, May 26, 2023

Montgomery County Council approves $6.7 billion budget, 4.7% property tax increase

The Montgomery County Council approved a $6.7 billion budget for the fiscal year of 2024 yesterday, including a 4.7% property tax increase. That tax hike joins a 7% increase in water bills, and a massive recordation tax increase, cementing Montgomery County's status as having the highest total tax burden in the region. Despite clouds on the national and international financial horizons, the budget represents significant spending increases using one-time funding sources that won't be there in future years. While some have suggested this will "create" a structural budget deficit, the reality is that Montgomery County has had a structural budget deficit for many years. The Council has just made it worse.

Montgomery County Public Schools received an 8.5% spending increase in the budget. Under Maryland's maintenance-of-effort law, Montgomery County cannot reduce the amount of spending on MCPS next year, so we are now on the hook for at least that amount in FY-2025 without the means to pay for it. That will require either spending cuts or raising taxes next year. The MCPS funding boost is shoveling good money after bad, given that student performance seems to decline in proportion to the constant and mindless increase in funding for the school system. Something is seriously wrong at MCPS, but there is zero accountability or oversight by the Council.

The FY-2024 budget could best be described as the "deception budget." The Council violated Maryland's sunshine laws, casting votes on various line items in the budget secretly, outside of public Council sessions. This was noted by Councilmember Kristin Mink (D - District 5), who also took some of her colleagues to task last December, when decisions about Council and committee leadership were made behind closed doors. County Executive Marc Elrich (D) expanded on Mink's criticism of the shadow budget process in his remarks on the budget's passage yesterday.

County Council President Evan Glass, who directed the budget process from start to finish, made it clear he did not share Mink and Elrich's view. But his Trumpian "most transparent budget process ever!" declaration was only missing the Sean Spicer "Period." It was clear that the budget process was designed to avoid painful roll call votes that highlight councilmembers' positions on controversial, difficult or unpopular issues. Such as councilmembers who had promised to restore the Office of the People's Counsel opposing funding for the OPC in this budget!

Montgomery County continues to have a tax problem. It continues to have a spending problem. Its leaders can't seem to solve either one. They only know how to increase both.

Even as the tax burden increases on residents, the County is missing out on commercial and business tax revenue it could be raking in. If only it paid the same attention to attracting major corporate headquarters to the County, as it does to boosting government salaries and profits for the Council's developer sugar daddies.

In fact, after having once again raised taxes on residents, Glass will lead a Council effort to deliver another massive tax cut for developers. On June 13, the Council will hold a hearing on an expedited Bill 25-23, which will reduce impact taxes on developers. The move continues the disturbing and immoral pattern of the Council shifting the tax burden for its out-of-control spending from developers to residents.

It's no surprise we don't have money to expand or replace overcrowded and aging schools, when we keep cutting taxes on the developers who are filling them up with new students. Likewise, the laser focus on residential development expands the structural deficit, because the new costs generated by residential development exceed the amount of property tax revenue it generates. But the Council will continue to feign surprise that we are once again in the red next spring.

Montgomery County hasn't attracted a major corporate headquarters in over 25 years. It has lost some in the interim. Most are choosing Northern Virginia, whose jurisdictions were able to increase spending in their FY-2024 budgets without raising property tax rates - and in some cases, cutting taxes. Gee, I wonder why?

While there can often be hyperbolic discussion about "cutting waste" in budgets, the fact is that there is a lot of waste in the County budget. Nobody wants to look for it. Exhibit A, is the infamous $22,000 security camera system for the County's Supervised Visitation Center. Such a 4-camera surveillance system, with installation, would have available for about $1000 at the time the Council shelled out $22,000 of your money for it. 

Such bloated expenditures going to well-connected businesses, contractors and non-profits who donate to councilmembers are a major source of fat in the County budget each year. If we have determined that County government should provide A, B or C to the public, streamline the operations and have the County provide them directly. Instead, we are making costly appropriations for a thousand individual organizations because this Councilmember's campaign donor, or that County official's wife, is on the board of such-and-such charity. Needless to say, this practice must be investigated, audited and eliminated.

The bottom line is that taxes will continue to increase until you, the taxpayer, make it politically painful for the people who are raising them. This hasn't happened yet. There was no taxpayer revolt. The only interruption of a Council session was by MCPS employees. They shut it down. Guess who got money in this budget.

Politicians generally aren't smarter than you. They're just more clever and devious, that's all. Like rodents in a laboratory maze, they quickly learn to favor the rooms with a piece of cheese over the ones where they receive an electric shock. Whether it's beating the Columbia Country Club with the Purple Line, or picking your pocket with another tax increase, the Council has yet to pay a price at the ballot box. It will continue to plunder until it does.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Gaithersburg teen arrested in Wheaton Metro homicide

Montgomery County police have arrested two teenage suspects in relation to the shooting death of another teenager last Thursday, May 18, 2023, in the Wheaton Metro station. Detectives allege Emmanuel Leonard Simmonds, 16, of Gaithersburg was the shooter who killed Tenneson Vaughn Leslie, Jr., 18 of Greenbelt, on the Metro train platform. Simmonds was arrested at his home, and has been charged as an adult with second-degree murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, first-degree assault, reckless endangerment and possession of a loaded handgun.

The second teen, a 14-year-old male, is being charged as an accessory after the fact in the homicide. His case will be handled through the juvenile justice system, police said Wednesday. Simmonds' bail status was not addressed in the press release.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Silver Spring office-to-apartments conversion underway (Photos)

The buzz in downtowns impacted by the work-from-home revolution is all about converting underused office buildings into housing. This is already happening in downtown Silver Spring. The Guardian Building at 8605 Cameron Street and Georgia Avenue is undergoing just such a conversion. It will essentially double the height of the building when complete, and replace mostly-vacant offices with 177 apartments, and 7496 SF of retail and restaurant space. What you see here is the gutting of the current office structure. The plan long predates the pandemic, having been introduced by the property owner in 2017.