Author Archive: Max van Balgooy

No Confederate Flags in Rockville, but What About the Statue?

Confederate Soldier Memorial at Red Brick Courthouse, Rockville.

Confederate Soldier Memorial at the Red Brick Courthouse, Rockville.

No Confederate flags fly above any government or business building in Rockville, but what about the Confederate Monument on the grounds of the Red Brick Courthouse in downtown?  The United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the statue directly in front of the courthouse “to our heroes of Montgomery Co., Maryland, that we through life may not forget to love the Thin Gray Line,” unveiling it at a dedication ceremony on June 3, 1913 (Jefferson Davis’ birthday) that featured Congressman J. Thomas Heflin of Alabama, who was an outspoken proponent of white supremacy.

Rockville’s and Montgomery County’s sympathies for the Confederacy were strong both during and after the Civil War.  Of Montgomery County’s Confederate veterans, three were elected as county commissioners, five as state delegates, two as state senators, three as state’s attorney, and one as mayor of Rockville.  Vestiges still survive today. For example, Edward Wootton, whose family name is memorialized on a major street, park, and a high school in Rockville, had fought for the Confederacy. Matthew Fields, the founder of The Sentinel (now the only local newspaper in Rockville), was a vocal supporter of the South, mixing his political vision with a hatred for immigrants, blacks, and Catholics.  And of course the Confederate Monument in downtown Rockville.

The Confederate Monument was moved to the side of the courthouse in 1971 into a grove of trees as part of the urban renewal of downtown–but is that sufficient? Perhaps we’re still bound by nostalgia or too ignorant to fully realize the meaning and symbolism that was poured into that bronze soldier, who is forever gazing South.  The community still commemorated the arrival of Confederate Generals Jeb Stuart (on his way north to Gettysburg in June 1863) and Jubal Early (on his way south to Washington DC in 1864) during the 2013 Heritage Days.  The Beall-Dawson House and Glenview, two historic houses owned by the City of Rockville, barely mention the enslaved men, women, and children who lived and worked there and would have continued into slavery for generations had the Confederacy won.  Now that we have African Americans serving on our City Council and as the County Executive, isn’t time to rethink who and what we commemorate in Rockville and Montgomery County?  Isn’t time for us to reflect on the full meaning of the Confederate Monument?

Local Gazette Newspaper Publishes Final Edition

Gazette newspaper closes.The Montgomery County Gazette newspaper will close and the final edition has been published. Post Community Media, the parent company of the Gazette, cited declining advertising revenue and inability to find a buyer to purchase the Prince George’s and Montgomery County editions. Earle Hightower established The Gazette in 1959 in the basement of his Rockville home, making it truly a hometown newspaper. Ironically, the newspaper folded the same week as Hightower, 92, passed away at his home in North Carolina.

In a letter to readers, the editor reflected on the past 56 years: “As journalists, it has been our duty, indeed our imperative, to expose both the good works and the machinations of government and industry, and to encourage debate as to which was which. As a community newspaper, it has also been our mission, indeed our passion, to expose the ordinary as extraordinary — a fundraiser for an ill child, a centenarian’s surprise birthday party.”

The newspaper business has increasingly become financially unsustainable, both in terms of attracting advertising dollars (which has moved from print to other media) and in gaining a foothold on the Internet.  There was hope that local newspapers would be able to weather the storm because they offered something that others media could not:  local content to local residents.  Now the Gazette joins Patch and Rockville Central, leaving local coverage to the Washington PostRockville Living and the Sentinel.  The Sentinel is already struggling to capture an audience and is now facing additional problems of its own making.  Turns out that it published a series of cartoons over the years that that were lifted from newspapers across the country, including the Palm Beach Daily, Columbia Daily Tribune, New Yorker, and the Guardian, without attribution or payment. Now facing accusations of plagiarism and copyright violation from dozens of artists and newspapers, it’s pulled those cartoons from its website but could also be subject to lawsuits and payments that could jeopardize its future and its credibility.

Cartoon Plagiarism by Sentinel

Rockville Solar Co-Op Closing Soon

Maryland SunThe Rockville solar energy cooperative is growing, sufficiently to the point that it looks like it’ll be able to solicit bids from installers in June.  Maryland Solar United Neighborhoods (Maryland SUN), a nonprofit organization, is working with the Environment Commission of the City of Rockville to make solar energy more affordable and accessible.  By using the collective buying power of a group of Rockville residents, we’ll save on the cost of installation (yup, my family has joined).  If you’re interested in going solar but not sure where to start, this co-op is a great place to learn.  At this point, there’s no obligation to purchase a system or have it installed, they’re just collecting names of homeowners who are interested so that we can obtain the best bids possible. Based on the same principle as buying in bulk, the group will go through the process of going solar together by working with a Maryland SUN to select a single installer. Each participant signs an individual contract with the chosen installer, but all participants get the group discount. After the installer has been chosen in August, it may not be possible to participate in this round.

They’ve held two info sessions so far and the last is coming up on Tuesday, June 9 at 7 pm at Glenview Mansion.  For more information and to sign up, visit MDSun.org or contact solarteam@mdsun.org.

Rockville City Council Election Off to a Slow Start

Rockville-Election-UpdateUnlike the 2016 presidential race, where it seems that a dozen people have announced their intent to run, it’s been incredibly quiet in Rockville.  The elections for Rockville City Council are coming up on November 3, 2015–that’s five months away–and usually by this time several people have announced their interest.  Brigitta Mullican, president of Rockville Sister City, announced in February she is running for a council seat and former city councilman Mark Pierzchala stated in March he is not running, otherwise, nothing is certain.  The rumored candidates at this time are:

  • Beryl Feinberg (on council)
  • Richard Gottfried (president of Twinbrook Citizens Association)
  • Brigitta Millican (confirmed)
  • Virginia Onley (on council)
  • Julie Palakovich Carr (on council)
  • Zina Pizano

No word on council members Tom Moore or Bridget Newton, although as incumbents, they have a significant advantage over newcomers and don’t need to announce right away.  Summer is typically very quiet, but the election season will pick up in mid-August as candidates form their teams and begin raising money in anticipation of the September 4 deadline for getting on the ballot.  This election will be more important than usual because the terms expand from two to four years.  We’ll want to have an especially good council because we’ll be living with them for twice as long.

If you’re interested in running for office, pick up your candidate information election packet soon.  You’ll have to submit signatures from 100 Rockville residents who are registered voters along with appointing a treasurer and filing a financial disclosure form.  The process takes longer than you expect, especially to get those signatures.  The most efficient way is to obtain the current list of registered voters from the City Clerk’s office or the County Board of Elections and only go to the homes of registered voters.  At this point, you don’t need to ask for their support or an endorsement–you just want their signature to get on the ballot and offer voters a choice.  Do not gather signatures at Metro, grocery stores, or city events.  You’re wasting your time because many won’t be registered voters or don’t live in the City of Rockville, and their signatures will be disqualified.  And just in case, get an extra ten signatures to be sure you have some wiggle room (I’ve had signatures tossed because a person’s married name was different from their registered name–double-check to be sure names match and they’re legible).

Great Cheap Places to Eat in Rockville

Washingtonian 2015 JuneThe June 2015 issue of Washingtonian lists the top 100 places to “eat great cheap,” where all meals are under $25.  Nearly a dozen are in or near Rockville:

  1. A&J Restaurant, 1319 Rockville Pike (Chinese, Taiwanese dim sum)
  2. Bob’s Shanghai 66, 305 N. Washington Street (Chinese, Taiwanese) [note the street address because there’s a Bob’s Noodle 66 nearby and it’s a different restaurant]
  3. Bonchon, 107 Gibbs Street (Korean fried chicken)
  4. China Bistro, 755 Hungerford Drive (Chinese)
  5. China Jade, 1608 Crabbs Branch Way (Chinese)
  6. Honey Pig, Germantown (Korean)
  7. La Limeña, 765 Rockville Pike (Peruvian)
  8. Moa, 12300 Wilkins Avenue (Korean)
  9. Peter Chang, 20-A Maryland Avenue (Chinese)
  10. Tortacos, 9629 Lost Knife Road, Gaithersburg (Mexican)

Notice a pattern? Yup, it’s dominated by Asian restaurants.  Along with specialized grocery stores, Rockville is becoming the place for Asian food in greater DC.  The best Thai and Vietnamese restaurants seem to be in Wheaton and Falls Church, so perhaps ours will make the cut next year.

A couple restaurants merited special mention by the Washingtonian:

Favorite across-the-board Chinese:  Bob’s Shanghai 66: “Though slow to find its form, the high-volume, cash-only kitchen has been impressive of late, rendering its long list of Chinese and Taiwanese standards with a clarity and depth that most of its competitors can’t touch. The saucing is, almost without exception, clean and tight, making even a simple stir-fry—bean curd and pork, for instance, with long, thin bands of curd that have the slipperiness and chew of egg noodles, or tiny shrimp in a surprisingly balanced sweet-and-sour chili sauce—a memorable order.”

Favorite dumplings by the dozen: China Bistro:   “The best reason to come is the speciality of the house—fresh-made dough hand-rolled and stuffed with any of 16 filings (we’re partial to the combinations, such as shrimp-and-chive or beef-and-celery) and steamed till they’re plump and juicy. Make dumplings the centerpiece of your meal (they come  12 to an order), and augment them with small plates—garlicky cucumbers, for instance, and a bowl of cold sesame noodles with its numbing chili sauce.”

Asian Retail Expands in Downtown Rockville

This just in from the JBG Companies:  they’ve fully leased their retail space at 275 North Washington Street, a new mixed-use building in downtown Rockville anchored by Bank of America (where the Giant Grocery store once stood).

Reflecting the growing international flavor of the surrounding area, four Asian-owned businesses have signed for the remaining retail spaces adjacent to Rockville Town Square. They are French-Asian cafe Lavande Patisserie, Kung Fu Tea, Quickway Hibachi Grill and Amber Door Day Spa. In addition to 12,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, JBG’s 275 North Washington Street includes 12,000 square feet of available Class A office space on a second level.

“This area offers a unique multi-ethnic dining and shopping experience that adds flavor and choices. It’s a draw for Rockville residents and for those living outside the city,” said Anthony Greenberg, a JBG principal. “There are several Asian markets and authentic Chinese restaurants near 275 North Washington Street, and we are pleased to be a part of an organically emerging district.”

Lily Qi, director of special projects for the Montgomery County executive, said Rockville is known as the Chinatown of Montgomery County because of its high concentration of ethnic Chinese residents and Asian businesses. Rockville’s central location and accessibility makes it a magnet for amenities that cater to the everyday living needs of this population, as well as to the tastes of the broader community who enjoy a diversity of cuisines and retail choices.

Retailers are moving into their spaces this month and expect to open this spring. Bob Liang, founder of regional Quickway Japanese Hibachi, said he chose the location because of the area’s diverse demographics and proximity to Rockville Town Center. The restaurant, which features fast casual Japanese, will be the 10th to open in the D.C. region.

Lavande Patisserie, owned by mother and son Julie Yi and Andrew Liang of Gaithersburg, is a farm-to-table café and will serve breakfast, lunch and French pastries with an Asian twist, such as kumquat fruit tarts. Lavande will butcher its meat in-house, mill its own flour, make its own creams. “Everything is fresh and purchased within 50 miles, nothing is store bought or pre-processed,” said Liang. Kung Fu Tea is a national franchise from New York that serves specialty tea drinks. The Rockville location will be the first in the Maryland, D.C., and Virginia area. Amber Door Day Spa is locally owned and will offer spa packages that include massages, facials, body treatments, makeup and more.

Continue reading →

Rockville City Council Lowered Building Size on Pike in 1988

As we’re contemplating a new Rockville Pike Plan, it’s always useful to step back in time to see how decisions were made in the past and created the community we live in today.

In 1988, the Rockville Mayor and Council dramatically lowered the height of buildings along the Rockville Pike, rejecting the advice of the planning commission for improving the “traffic-choked corridor.”  After six years of study (sound familiar?), the Planning Commission recommended reducing the maximum building size from 200,000 square feet (sf) to 35,000 sf for a 100,000 sf parcel but would allow up to 300,000 sf (a bonus) if developers provided certain community amenities, such as pedestrian bridges, plaza areas, and day care centers.  The City Council accepted the lower size but rejected the bonus, effectively decreasing the size to one-sixth of what was currently allowed.  Mayor Doug Duncan believed it would, “keep the retail strength of the plan. . .large office buildings [are] not in the interest of the community.” Planning Commission Chair Richard Arkin countered that “without the bonus system, the plan would lead to more small, unattractive shopping strips and few of the kinds of amenities that could transform the pike into an attractive road that is accessible to pedestrians.”  Now that 25 years have passed, what was the result of their decisions?  Who was more prescient?

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, read the entire story, “Building Curbs Supported for Rockville Pike” from the April 28, 1998 issue of the Washington Post.

Pedestrians and Cyclists will be Safer in MoCo, how about Rockville?

The Montgomery County Council unanimously passed an ordinance that amends the county’s urban road code to make sure new or reconstructed streets in urban areas are safe and attractive for all users.  Co-sponsored by Councilmembers Riemer and Berliner, it requires:

  • Narrower lane widths of 10’ to slow traffic and reduce accidents (it may sound contradictory, but wider lanes for cars result in more frequent and more serious collisions with pedestrians and cyclists–it’s all about the speed of a 2,000 pound car).
  • A 25 mph maximum speed for urban areas
  • Pedestrian bumpouts and smaller intersections, which will mean safer turns by drivers and a shorter distance for walkers to cross.
  • Stronger requirements to build sidewalks during road construction.

Perhaps something like this needs to be adopted in Rockville.  We often promote cycling and walking, and yet overlook the needs of pedestrians and cyclists in the strangest ways.  For example, at the Twinbrook Recreation Center, it was years before a sidewalk was laid for pedestrians connecting it to the street.  During construction around Twinbook Metro, sidewalks are often blocked and people have to walk in the street.

Want to learn more about what makes safe, complete urban streets? Check out this great infographic from our friends at the Active Transportation Alliance.

Rockville Rated Highest Per Capita in Chinese Dumplings

xiao long bao chinese dumplingsDCist recently listed the best places to get dumplings in the DC region, with seven of the nine restaurants listed in Rockville.  Although restaurants in Rockville are barely considered by the Washington Post and Washingtonian magazine, the food scene is growing deeper and bigger, which is evidenced in part by this dumpling study.  Many Chinese restaurants include dumplings on their menus, but these restaurants focus their menus around them or serve an extraordinary version of them.

If you haven’t tried Chinese dumplings, there are many types of choose from but usually are ground pork or shrimp wrapped in dough and then steamed.  The portions are usually big (think 6-12 dumplings per order) and I always bring my own bottle of sweet chili sauce to add some zing (these are simple homey restaurants, so they’re not offended if you bring your own condiments).

Here’s the line up from DCist:

  1. A&J Restaurant: 1319 Rockville Pike (in the green and white Woodmont Station shopping center down below next to Hertz car rental; cash only)
  2. China Bistro:  755 Hungerford Drive (in the blue and white Flagship shopping center)
  3. East Dumpling House:  12 N. Washington Street (in the strip mall downtown with Apollo and Woodside Deli)
  4. Bob’s Shanghai 66:  305 N. Washington Street (near Dawson Avenue, not to be confused with Bob’s Noodle 66 up the street)
  5. Joe’s Noodle House:  1488 Rockville Pike (along the side of the strip mall with the Yekta and Mi Rancho restaurants)
  6. Shanghai Taste:  1121 Nelson Street (in the Woodley Gardens shopping center with Good Times Cafe and Carmen’s Ice Cream)
  7. Sichuan Jin River: 410 Hungerford Drive (at the back of the office building next to the fire station)

Happy eating!

Is Your Neighborhood Safe?

Rockville CrimeReports.com 2014You can figure this out for yourself at CrimeReports.com.  The Montgomery County Police Department shares their crime reports (which includes the City of Rockville) with CrimeReports, a private firm based in Utah, which combines it with police departments from around the country to display the information on an interactive map.

The map show various colored and lettered icons so you can quickly spot where things happened in your neighborhood.  For example, A is for Assault, TV is Theft from a Vehicle, and R is Robbery.  You can also choose the time period to examine as well as zoom in or out (or check out what’s happening elsewhere in the country–it’s a national database).  If you know something about an incident or crime, you can share an anonymous tip.

Do be aware there are some weaknesses in the map:

  • There seems to be a 24-48 hour delay.  If something happened today, it probably won’t show up until tomorrow or the next day.
  • Locations are not exact.  It records where the report was taken, not necessarily where the incident occurred.  For the sake of victim privacy, all crime addresses have been rounded to the block level (e.g. 800 block of Viers Mill Road).
  • There are no details.  For example, it’ll tell you the approximate location and time of an assault or robbery, but not identify the victims, mention if anyone was arrested, what was stolen, or the extent of injuries (e.g, punched? stabbed? hospitalized?). CrimeReports relies on individual law enforcement agencies to provide details on crimes. Each agency is different and may provide more or less crime information than others. At minimum, CrimeReports requires four items of information when mapping crimes: type, location, date, and time. All additional information is voluntarily supplied by individual law enforcement agencies.
  • It may not be complete.  On Monday, July 21, Janice Land and John Land of the 1600 block of Crawford Drive were arrested with two counts of vulnerable adult abuse and attempted false imprisonment (keeping their twin 22-year old autistic sons locked in the basement).  The incident made national news, but doesn’t show up on the map at all. Maybe tomorrow?

If you want further details, contact the Montgomery County Police Department at (240) 773-5330.  Thanks to Crime Analyst Sherri Hendry of the Rockville Police Department for sharing this resource.

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