One of the best things in Rockville are the parks. One of the best things near Rockville are the parks–and one of the best is Brookside, a county-owned horticultural garden just a few miles south of town near Glenmont. It features a variety of garden types, including Japanese, walled, rose, and naturalistic and while it’s fun to visit throughout the year, spring brings out a long display of flowers. Right now, the daffodils and cherry trees are at peak but will soon be followed by tulips and azaleas. If you visit on the weekends, I recommend arriving before 11 am (gates open at sunrise). Don’t forget that enjoying nature isn’t a luxury, it’s essential for mental fitness.
After five years of discussion, planning, and construction, the City of Rockville unveiled its new police station with a dedication and public open house on Saturday, October 20, providing a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse inside both buildings and all floors. It was a bit difficult to tell how many people showed up given the informal nature of the open house, but I’m guessing it was about 100-150 people. Most of it consists of (yawn) offices, but some of the more interesting spots were the armory and communications center. The best part, though, was meeting the staff and officers who gave tours or explained the work of their department–so much nicer than when you typically encounter them on the street when they’re handing a crime or a conflict.
The federal government abandoned the 1938 post office a few years ago and transferred it free to the City of Rockville so it could be used for a police station. The decision to undertake the $8.5 million rehabilitation and construction project was controversial at times but the new building provides much needed space for public safety and consolidates city offices that were rented and scattered throughout the city. The architects did an outstanding job of preserving the historic post office’s distinctive features, including the lobby and its mural, as well as adding a second building that’s modern but doesn’t compete. One feature that’s not obvious is the emphasis on saving energy, which can be seen in the extensive use of skylights, white roofs, and motion-detecting light switches. One element that does rattle my design sensibilities are the signs, which seem a bit cartoonish and dated, plus I don’t like the colors of green and silver. Chief Treschuk explained that green is a color that’s being increasingly adopted for places of safety (much like yellow for school busses) so I can live with that choice, but the otherwise, the signs really need to be rethought (okay, I’m partially to blame–I sat on the Historic District Commission when it reviewed the plans back in 2010).
“Walkability” is an increasingly popular measure of a community’s quality of life. By enhancing the convenience and ease of walking, it reduces traffic, improves health, increases community involvement, and puts more eyes on the street for safety. So how does Rockville rate? Walk Score calculates walkability on a block-by-block basis, generating color-coded maps. In the map of Rockville, green indicates the areas that are most walkable (such as downtown) and red the least walkable (such as Horizon Hill west of 270). Around town, they’ve calculated how the following locations fared on a scale of 1-100:
- 85 Very walkable: Maryland Avenue and South Adams (West End)
- 75 Very walkable: Baltimore Road and Grandin (East Rockville)
- 66 Somewhat walkable: Twinbrook Parkway and Viers Mill (Twinbrook)
- 65 Somewhat walkable: Fallsgrove Boulevard and Fallsgrove Road (Fallsgrove)
- 65 Somewhat walkable: Redland Boulevard and Pleasant (King Farm)
- 63 Somewhat walkable: West Montgomery and Laird (West End)
- 48 Car dependent: College Parkway and Princeton (College Gardens)
- 35 Car dependent: Falls Road and Kersey (Horizon Hill)
I’m sure this will generate controversy and prompt comparisons between neighborhoods (what!? Twinbrook rated the same as Fallsgrove and King Farm? Not possible!) but I’d really like to encourage a discussion about making our community more bike and pedestrian (and sometimes car) friendlier.
What makes a neighborhood walkable? According to Walk Score, the more of the following characteristics it has, the better:
- A center: Walkable neighborhoods have a center, whether it’s a main street or a public space.
- People: Enough people for businesses to flourish and for public transit to run frequently.
- Mixed income, mixed use: Affordable housing located near businesses.
- Parks and public space: Plenty of public places to gather and play.
- Pedestrian design: Buildings are close to the street, parking lots are relegated to the back.
- Schools and workplaces: Close enough that most residents can walk from their homes.
- Complete streets: Streets designed for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit.
The City of Rockville recently received federal funds to develop “complete streets” near the Twinbrook and Rockville Metro stations, so scores for those locations (and pedestrians using those locations) should improve as a result. Any suggestions to make your neighborhood more walkable? Should walkability be a goal for Rockville?
This morning’s Peerless Rockville tour of the Alaire not only provided an intimate behind-the-scenes tour with representative of JBG of this award-winning combination of residences and stores, but also discussed the plans and timing for several projects in the Twinbrook Metro area. About a dozen people joined the conversation to see the lobby, common rooms, and a one-bedroom apartment of the Alaire, then went out onto the street to discuss the current and upcoming development for the region. Among the items that caught my ears:
1. WMATA owns the land and has leased it to JBG for 99 years. That means that projects need to be approved both by the City of Rockville and WMATA.
2. WMATA wants to maintain the 1100 parking spaces currently available at the Twinbrook Metro station, so before any existing surface lots can be developed, sufficient parking has to be provided elsewhere. The parking structure currently under construction at Halpine and Chapman will allow development of the next phase of Twinbrook Commons.
3. The next phase of Twinbrook Station will occur on the west side of Fishers Lane, across from the Alaire. Called the Toronto, it will consist of a combination of residences, stores, and a parking structure and will be intentionally designed by another architectural firm to avoid a monotonous appearance for the development. Groundbreaking is expected to happen Continue reading →
This Saturday, April 21, from 10 am to 12 noon, join Peerless Rockville for a tour of The Alaire at Twinbrook Station, the beginning of a significant, New Urbanist community called Twinbrook Station being developed by the JBG Companies and WMATA. It’s the first Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) plan in the Washington metropolitan area, has been designated a Smart Growth project by the Washington Smart Growth Alliance, and received the International Charter Award for Excellence from the Congress for the New Urbanism. So if you want to know what all the fuss is about, staff from JBG will discuss their approach to development around a transit station, view an apartment, and find out more about their future plans and on-going projects, both at Twinbrook Station and on adjacent properties. Tour starts at 10 am at 1101 Higgins Place (the entrance to the Alaire apartments) and costs $7. Space is limited and reservations are recommended. Two-hour free parking in the Alaire garage (and the adjacent Metro lot is free on weekends). For more information, please visit PeerlessRockville.org or call 301-762-0096.
And just in case you didn’t catch my previous tweets, it appears that the nearby Walmart project at the Rockville Pike and Bou Avenue has been temporarily postponed: Bagel City recently signed a two-and-a-half year lease. A few doors down, the Office Depot is closing but it’s unrelated to future developments of the site (btw, everything is on sale at 10-30% off but is non-returnable).
In other related news, a couple of Rockville’s communities will enjoy national attention in May when I co-lead a tour of New Mark Commons and King Farm for the annual convention of the American Institute of Architects. We’ll be looking at cutting-edge planned communities in Montgomery County, starting with 1930s Greenbelt and ending with the 21st century King Farm. Lunch will be in Town Square, which has turned up as the poster child for the Congress for the New Urbanism. If you thought Rockville was just a little sleepy suburb, it’s time to change your mind.
At the April 5 meeting of the Rockville Community Coalition, Andrea Jolly shared that the Chamber of Commerce is becoming more active in local advocacy and that the Chamber cares as much about the community as it does business. She’s the executive director of the Rockville Chamber of Commerce, an organization that now claims 185 members, a dramatic turnaround from its nearly lifeless condition just a few years ago. As examples of their reinvigorated stature, she noted the public stand they’ve taken on behalf of Pumphrey’s; the support for environmental causes that affect the community as a whole (such as the bag tax and storm water management fees); and the sponsorship of the Rockville Economic Summit. She expressed her concerns that the community seems to be artificially divided between businesses and residents and while the Council claims to be business-friendly, their actions have indicated otherwise. Most members of the Chamber are small businesses that are locally owned and operated and rely heavily on local residents as both customers and employees. She also voiced a desire that there be good relationships throughout the community rather than irreconcilable differences–we may disagree at times, but we should always be willing to work together to solve shared issues.
During the discussion:
- she clarified the relationship with the Rockville Economic Development, Inc. (they attract and retain businesses but cannot advocate; Chamber provides ongoing services to its members and the current business community, can advocate for a business-friendly atmosphere). She also mentioned that REDI may have a new executive director in place in May.
- she was unaware that the City didn’t collect Continue reading →
At the November 22, 2009 inauguration of the current City Council, Phyllis Marcucchio opened her speech as the newly seated Mayor with the following words:
In keeping with my campaign issues, where I called for bringing citizens into the decision-making process, there are a number of actions I will propose during my administration which I hope the Council will support and which I believe will move our hometown safely and thoughtfully into a more citizen-driven future. Here are a few of those initiatives.
Over the next five minutes, she laid out a half dozen promises around financial management, charter reform, communications, citizen engagement, the environment, and others. Now that she’s nearing the end of her first term as mayor and hoping to be elected to another, I’ll examine each of these over the next few months to see how’s she fared (and if possible, where the other council members and candidates stand as well and include some of my own analysis). Of course, you’ll be invited to share your opinions but because the election season can provoke stronger and sharper words, I’ll be placing a stronger hand on the rudder to keep us on topic (you’ll want to review the rules for commenting on this blog if you’re unsure what I mean). I am also closing comments after a period of 30-60 days so that we can move the conversation along.
Today Rockville architect Jeff Broadhurst unveiled his Crib, a modernist cabin, at the Mansion at Strathmore. Based on a cabin he built for his family in West Virginia, this updated version is a mix of warm wood and industrial steel combined in a contemporary fashion. Furthermore, it’s designed as a kit of parts that can be easily transported and quickly assembled, and by standing on four piers, it can be built in nearly any terrain. Unlike most cabins that are dark and claustrophobic, the Crib’s high ceilings and translucent walls make it spacious and airy. Plus one wall opens like a garage door, stretching the living room onto the porch. It’s a very clever and beautiful design worthy of Sunset magazine or Architectural Digest, and ideal for a couple or small family that wants to live simply yet stylishly. It’ll be on display at Strathmore for two years and used as a studio and gallery for several of their artists-in-residence. Check it out and see what one of your neighbors has been up to.
Usually this type of post goes up on January 1, but I always prefer a bit of distance to identify the biggest stories of past year. Although this is admittedly from my limited personal perspective and is bound to generate controversy (but hey, that’s what these lists are supposed to do), here’s my list for Rockville in 2010:
1. Red Gate Golf Course. This is continued to be a thorny issue and made have seen its thorniest moment when the City Council used $2.4 million in “surplus” money to pay off past debt and the anticipated shortfalls for 2011, and also (once again) punted the decision to another time. Despite countless meetings and studies, for years the Council has been astonishingly agonized about making a decision on whether to commit to an annual subsidy, integrate it into the recreation program, levy a tax to support it, or to close it down. Meanwhile, the golf course continues to bleed money and participation rates continue to slide. Perhaps we need to start over: if we were offered 130 acres today (Red Gate is the second largest park in Rockville), what would most benefit the community? I don’t think most people would say golf course.
2. Snowpocalypse. Who can forget this snowstorm? There was so much snow it closed the federal government for a week. The adventurous walked and explored the city in a new quiet way and neighbors found a new reason to talk and help each other. There was a lot of frustration with snow clearing and the City wasn’t prepared, but remember, the city worked around the clock and conscripted employees into snowshoveling duties to deal with this record snowfall. We also improved our abilities to monitor and respond to these situations so when this happens again (and it may not be for another fifty years), we’re prepared. And someone at the City gets two stars for Continue reading →
Erik Read is collecting responses from candidates on a few different issues and I thought I’d respond to them here. His first question is:
Question 1: Potable municipal water is becoming more expensive to provide to the citizens of Rockville due to several factors. Much of the potable water is used for lawn and garden maintenance when untreated water would suffice. Amazingly, rainfall running off our roofs can be used for such watering if it can be collected and stored. Unfortunately for me, my Home Owners Association has a rule prohibiting the installation of rain barrels. As a city council member how would you ensure that rain barrels cannot be barred by HOA rules? Conversely, if you oppose rain barrels, please explain why.
I’m delighted that you’re interested in conserving water through the use of rain barrels. I’m working on installing one or two myself at my home in Twinbrook after taking a free class through the City of Rockville and have examined the various options presented as demonstration projects at the Senior Center and Croydon Creek Nature Center. I regret that your HOA doesn’t allow rain barrels and I would strongly encourage them to reconsider. I’m sure they’re concerned about the appearance, but they can be attractively installed or screened. I would have to find out, however, if the City of Rockville can override HOAs in this area. Strangely (at least coming from California) Maryland state law does not give cities as much independence as you’d expect (especially when you are inside the M-NCPPD). Rockville may be celebrating its 150th anniversary next year, but it only achieved Home Rule in 1955. If it can, I would require HOAs to develop guidelines to permit rain barrels, as well as other alternative energy sources, such as solar panels (which I think county law just recently required).