Author Archive: Max van Balgooy

The Rockville Pike Plan Is Out of Control

Car tracks on road out of control.When the Rockville Mayor and Council set out to update the 1989 Rockville Pike Plan in 2007, Apple released the first iPhone and the New Horizons space probe was passing Saturn.  In 2015, Apple is working on the iPhone 6s and New Horizons just passed Pluto–but the Rockville Pike Plan is still incomplete. It’s a complex area but something is definitely wrong with the planning process in the City of Rockville if it takes eight years to revise a plan for an area of 410 acres.  What happens when Rockville tackles the Comprehensive Plan for the 14 square miles of the City of Rockville?  Will it meet the state deadline to update that plan every ten years?

Rockville-Pike-Planning-Process

When you look at the timeline for the project, it’s pretty clear that the Pike Plan is languishing with the Planning Commission.   A closer looks shows they’ve held six public hearings, 32 work sessions, and formed two sub-committees and they’re still not done.  In contrast, the Mayor and Council have held five public hearings and one work session.  Looks like the Planning Commission is suffering from “paralysis by analysis.”

What is extremely puzzling is that the Planning Commission is taking as much time or more than Continue reading →

Rockville Solar Co-op Begins First Project

Maryland SunThe Rockville Solar Co-op has selected Sustainable Energy Systems (Frederick) and Standard Energy Solutions (Rockville) as the two firms who are eligible to bid on projects for the 128 members of the group.  They’re now scheduling site visits for homeowners and preparing proposals.  So far, 26 members have been contacted to set up a site visit; 16 members have had a site visit scheduled or completed; 9 members have received their proposal; and 1 member has signed a contract and is going solar!

Sign-ups continue to be open for the Rockville group through Labor Day. Know anyone who wants to go solar in Montgomery County? They can join the group at www.mdsun.org/rockville.

 

Months of Meeting Minutes Missing for City of Rockville

Rockville City Council meeting minutes missing since March 2015.

Rockville City Council meeting minutes missing since March 2015.

Years ago, the working of city council and major boards in the City of Rockville became more transparent with the broadcast of its meetings over cable channel 11 (Rockville 11) and online.  This year, however, we’ve taken a big step back by failing to provide written minutes of meetings in a timely manner.  The Mayor and Council haven’t provided minutes since March 2015 (about a dozen meetings) and the Planning Commission hasn’t provided minutes since May 2015 (about a half-dozen meetings).

That means if you want to know what’s being discussed or decided, you have to watch the meeting, which can last three to six hours.  Reading the meeting minutes is a much faster way to find out what’s going on (you can scan minutes in minutes), plus it’s a better way to record decisions (no worries about interpreting inaudible words and paper survives much longer than digital recordings).  You can rely on the local newspaper to report on what’s happening, but well, we really don’t have a local paper that provides that coverage reliably.  Sounds like the old-fashioned way of producing written minutes of a meeting in time for the next meeting seems to look better and better.

Rockville Planning Commission is missing minutes and video.

Rockville Planning Commission is missing minutes and video.

Strangely, the Open Meetings Act for the State of Maryland (excerpted below) allows local government to skip the written minutes if they provide video (although it looks like the Planning Commission failed on both counts because a few meetings weren’t recorded nor have minutes, so you really can’t know what happened).  It’s a bad idea if the goal is opening up the workings of government, especially when the requirements for minutes is minimal (list each item considered, action taken, and votes).  Secondly, local governments only need to retain minutes for a year, after which they can be tossed.  Really? What business or organization in America operates this way?  Obviously, the Open Meeting Act needs to be desperately revised if we want to fully understand what’s happening in government (looks like a job for Senator Cheryl Kagan).  In the meantime, the City of Rockville should establish better standards and practices for providing minutes of its meetings of the Mayor and Council and its boards and commissions.

Annotated Code of the State of Maryland, § 3-306

(b) Minutes required. — Continue reading →

Rockville Election Pressure Gauge Goes Up in August

Rockville-Election-UpdateThe City of Rockville will hold its elections for its Mayor and Council on November 3, 2015.  Not only is every seat up for grabs, but terms double from two to four years.  Although this City Council has been less divisive than in previous years, there is tension and disagreement both over style and substance, roles and responsibilities.  This year will draw new and familiar candidates, including several incumbents, to the election but we won’t know exactly who’s in or out until Friday, September 4, when the petitions for candidacy are due to City Hall.

Rockville-Election-Pressure-Gauge

Nevertheless, things are already heating up now that the election is three months away.  Brigitta Mullican has regularly mentioned she’s a candidate at City Council meetings during Citizens Forum,   Beryl Feinberg announced in July, Richard Gottfried held a campaign kickoff last week, and Julie Palakovich Carr has been walking neighborhoods (although she’s not officially announced).  August is typically very quiet but here are some suggestions if you’re considering a run:

1.  Attend the City Council meeting on Monday, August 3.  It’s the last one before summer recess and you need to see what it’s like (the next meeting is September 21).  Watching it on tv is nice, but it’s not the same as being in the Council Chambers.  Not only does it give you a better sense of what it’s like to sit attentively for 3-6 hours working on government business (this job requires endurance), but you can also Continue reading →

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?

Update July 31, 2015

Major postings about the Confederate Monument on other blogs or websites (in alphabetical order):

American Historical Association: All History Is Local: Debating the Fate of a Confederate Soldier Statue in Maryland

Bethesda Magazine: Rockville, Montgomery County Debating What to Do with Confederate Statue and Leggett Says Work Underway to Remove Confederate Statue in Rockville

Congressman Chris Van Hollen: Van Hollen Urges Immediate Removal of Confederate Statue in Rockville

History News Network: What Does Rockville, Maryland’s Confederate Monument Tell Us About the Civil War? About the Nadir? About the Present?

Rockville Nights: Rockville Confederate statue hearing draws a diversity of opinions

Rockville Patch: Group Offers Ideas on What to Do with Confederate Statue

The Sentinel: Man on the street interviews regarding the confederate statue (video); Committee releases report on Rockville Statue; and County can move confederate statue, state says

The Seventh State: Civil War Skirmish in Rockville

WAMU: Should Anything Be Done With The Confederate Monument In Rockville?

Washington Post: Confederate soldier statue in Montgomery spray-painted with ‘black lives matter’

WJAL: Confederate memorial in Rockville sparks controversy

WTOP: Confederate statue in Rockville vandalized

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 →

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