Dear Council Candidate…

Dear Candidate for Rockville City Council,

With thirteen people running for a city council seat in Rockville this year, it’ll be more crowded than ever. You’ll have to work harder to get your voice heard because voters will have difficulty telling you all apart (which one is Bridget Mullican?). My advice is to be distinctive and avoid the shallow promises to lower taxes, fight crime, be inclusive, preserve green space, attract business, or modernize city services. Yawn. Everyone will be saying those things, so learn about the particular needs and interests of the various communities in Rockville and how you will you go about addressing them. Solutions are nice, but often issues are so complex that a good process is more important (has anyone mentioned the APFO to you?).

Continue reading →

Sister City Endorses Kuan Lee for Council?

Facebook Lee Endorsement

Facebook post endorsing Kuan Lee for City Council.

The message on Facebook asked readers to “Please support our member Kuan Lee who is running for the City Council of Rockville. Also, please join/renew the Rockville Sister City Corporation (RSCC) membership to show your support.

What? Rockville Sister City is endorsing a candidate? Not only is RSCC part of the City of Rockville, it’s incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization—endorsing a candidate not only would sever its ties with the City but also jeopardize its status with the IRS.

RSCC President Drew Powell assured me that Rockville Sister City did NOT endorse Kuan Lee, nor would it endorse any candidate for elected office.  It remains confusing, however, because Kuan Lee is a member of the RSCC board, the Facebook post urges support for RSCC, and Drew Powell is a longtime vocal supporter of Bridget Newton, Lee’s campaign colleague. RSCC can’t control what other people say or imply about them, but I suspect they will have a heated discussion to sort this out and clarify their role in the election and this debacle at their next meeting.

In the meantime, a closer look reveals that the Facebook post was made by the Rockville-Yilan City Corporation. Never heard of it? It was incorporated in Maryland in 2017 by…wait for it…Kuan Lee and operates from his home in Rockville.  Yup, Kuan Lee endorsed himself in the disguise of a charitable organization.

Screen Shot 2019-09-02 at 2.58.04 PM.png

There are so many things wrong with this, but let’s just list a few that are most important to Rockville voters: Continue reading →

“Boards and Commission Task Force” Should be Taken to Task

Jack Kelly and Steven Van Grack, members of Rockville’s Boards and Commissions Task Force.

I’ve just returned from the Boards and Commissions Task Force meeting in Rockville City Hall tonight and was surprised by two things:

  1.  Although they lacked a quorum, they met for two hours to discuss a set of draft recommendations to reform the city’s boards and commissions.
  2. Two members of the task force openly endorsed Bridget Newton in the mayoral election (“I’ll be voting for her in the upcoming election”).

It seems ironic that a task force charged with reviewing and improving the city’s boards and commissions fails to follow some of the city’s and state’s existing policies and practices.  Can you imagine other city boards discussing business without a quorum? If members of the planning commission or environment commission expressed their support for their candidates during one of their business meetings?

They also distributed a “dashboard” with their assessment of the city’s boards and found that significant improvement is needed in:

  • diverse citizen input
  • consistent internal communication
  • a transparent and efficient process for identifying and appointing board and commission members
  • Mayor and Council and city staff providing productive advice and direction to boards and commissions

The dashboard also revealed that NO areas were acceptable; all fell short in achieving the city’s goals. Rockville’s boards and commissions are entirely composed of community volunteers so this poor rating across the board is especially frustrating.  How much worse does it need to become?

Despite these challenges, tonight’s discussion showed that the Task Force is reluctant to make any meaningful changes, especially in the process for identifying and appointing board and commission members. They admit there’s been a long-standing problem in filling vacancies, especially on Planning Commission and Historic District Commission, but are pleased to confine their tinkering to the edges, not at core—the exclusive power of the Mayor to nominate board and commission members. And yet, Mayor Newton is unwilling or unable to do her job—there are currently twenty-six (26!) vacancies (that’s more than five basketball teams). It seems we’ll be facing a civic version of insanity when their recommendations are released this fall: “keep trying the same thing expecting a different result.”

Here’s another kicker: the packet distributed at the meeting is not the same as what is available on the city website.  I’ve attached the packet so you can have a better sense of what was discussed. Their next meeting is Tuesday, July 30 at 6:30 pm in the Black-Eyed Susan Room at Rockville City Hall.

Rockville’s website shows 26 vacancies on its boards and commissions in July 2019 (this is just an excerpt).

Replacing Dawsons Market Requires a Cluster of Solutions; That May Be Too Much for the Mayor and Council

Dawson’s Market in Rockville Town Square, shortly before its closing in October 2018.

At the end of October 2018, Dawson’s Market closed in Rockville’s downtown. It was a big disappointment for the City of Rockville, who hailed its arrival in 2012 as a major success for the new Town Square. They spent years searching for an anchoring grocery store to attract daily shoppers to support the adjacent stores and restaurants (see MyMCM video, which includes hopeful remarks by several current and former elected officials).

In response to its closing, Dawson’s opened a short-lived $100,000 GoFundMe campaign and the Rockville Mayor and Council held two special meetings to discuss the future of Town Square (a couple other businesses recently closed as well) on October 9 and November 13, which attracted standing-room-only crowds.  These meetings generated lots of questions, including current efforts by Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT) and the City of Rockville. Unfortunately, most of FRIT’s responses are vague and uninformative:

  • “not uncommon for independent business owners to have more challenges than larger chains” (so what are the major challenges and how are you addressing them?)
  • “lease rates are determined through…many variables” (so what are the lease rates and how do they compare to areas outside of Town Square?)
  • “we value and pursue feedback from our merchants” (so what are they telling you and what have you learned?)

So what are the challenges facing merchants in Town Square? According to Continue reading →

County Considering Higher Densities along Twinbrook and Viers Mills Road

Veirs Mill Corridor Master Plan, Public Hearing Draft, April 2018.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has released the Veirs Mill Corridor Master Plan in preparation for public hearings. Veirs Mill Road cuts through Twinbrook in southern Rockville before connecting with the Rockville Pike in downtown. This plan only focuses on the areas of Veirs Mill Road south of Rockville’s borders, however, coordinating the commission’s and county’s plans with Rockville’s is crucial to ensure compatibility as well as reduce impacts and ensure benefits to residents and businesses (remember the struggles on the Rockville Pike?). Planning began in January 2017 and while the draft Master Plan was released in April 2018, the Commission has not established any public hearing dates (things move slowly in the county). The draft Master Plan and more details available at http://montgomeryplanning.org/planning/communities/area-2/veirs-mill-corridor-plan/

The Master Plan examines land use, urban design, housing, transportation (including pedestrians and bicycles), parks and trails, environment, and community facilities, then provides findings and recommendations by four districts. The Plan identified the major challenges as Continue reading →

Wondering About New Developments in the County?

The Twinbrook Metro Station area as shown in the Development Finder of Montgomery County’s Planning Department.

If you’re wondering what development projects are happening in Montgomery County, the Planning Department has an easy at-a-glance map that quickly highlights projects for an area that interests you.  Simply go to http://mcatlas.org/devfinder/ and move the map around and click on a location. Instantly, it draws a circle from 1-10 miles in diameter, highlights the property, and provides a list of all the projects. For example, within a mile of the Twinbrook Metro Station, there are 18 development projects in the hopper with the Planning Department.  Remember, if you’re on a county border (as Twinbrook is), what’s happening in the City of Rockville won’t appear.  You’ll need to also check the Rockville’s website for information.

Development isn’t just happening south of Rockville in White Flint. There’s lots going on northwest of Rockville along West Montgomery/Key West Avenue.

Pending and recent development project approvals near West Montgomery Avenue in Montgomery County.

Metro Seeking Comments on Service Levels in Rockville

IMG_4845 copy

Poster in Twinbrook Station asking for public response to increasing the number of trains to Shady Grove.

WMATA is considering running more trains to its Rockville stations (that’s Twinbrook, Rockville, and Shady Grove) by eliminating the occasional “turn back” at the Grosvenor-Strathmore station—but needs convincing. For years during the morning and evening rush hours, WMATA stops every other train at Grosvenor-Strathmore so they can be returned to DC to reduce congestion inside the Beltway.  In recent years, however, the population around the Rockville stations has grown and now it is common to find trains at standing-room-only capacity in Rockville at rush hour, even though they are located at the end of the Red Line.

In October 2017, County Executive Leggett suggested WMATA “conduct a pilot project using the current schedule of 15 trains per hour to Grosvenor, but extending all of these trains to Shady Grove.” In January 2018, sixteen state Delegates and Senators (but not Rockville representatives Senator Kagan nor Delegate Gilchrist) reminded WMATA about an agreement to eliminate the turnbacks by July 2018. In February 2018, the Montgomery County Council sent a letter asking WMATA to eliminate the turnbacks [according to WTOP but I could not confirm this on MoCo website] while Rockville Mayor Newton spoke at WMATA’s budget hearing to restore full service by summer.

Evidently, WMATA isn’t convinced either by their agreement or letters from elected officials at the city, county, or state level, and now are asking for the public’s comments.  If you have an opinion on increasing the number of trains to Shady Grove during rush hour from every eight minutes to every four, complete WMATA’s online survey by Monday, May 21, 2018 by 5 p.m.  Your responses will be shared with the WMATA Board of Directors at their July 2018 meeting (ironically, when they had already agreed to eliminate turnbacks at Grosvenor; the Metro Board desperately needs to be reformed).

K-12 Education in Maryland Receives a Grade of B, Still in Top 10%

Every January, the Education Week Research Center grades the nation and states on educational performance, based on a range of key indicators. For 2016, Maryland finishes fifth among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, with an overall score of 82.8 out of 100 points and a grade of B. The nation as a whole posts a grade of C. Across the spending indicators, Maryland finishes with a letter grade of B (ranking tenth in the nation) compared with a national average of D. Yikes!  More at Quality Counts 2017: State Report Cards Map at Education Week.

 

Planning Commission discussing Development Plans for Downtown and Lincoln Park

Screen Shot 2017-12-06 at 10.46.00 PM.png

Proposed north elevation (street facade) for 50 Monroe Place, an 81-foot-high/7-story building with underground parking.

On Wednesday, December 13, 2017 at 7:00 p.m., the Rockville Planning Commission will be considering three new development projects that could add two houses and 310 apartments to the city in downtown and Lincoln Park.  Here’s what’s on the agenda:

1. 304 Frederick Avenue in Lincoln Park:  JJ Realty of Bethesda proposes to create two residential lots from a 11,428-square foot lot, which will require a waiver to allow a minimum lot area below 6,000 square feet in a R-60 zone. Because this subdivision consists of fewer than 3 lots, it is exempt from the APFO.

2. 50 Monroe Place in Downtown Rockville (currently a vacant lot adjacent to the Americana Centre):  RST Development proposes the development of an 81-foot-high/7-story building with 1300-sf restaurant, 8000-sf office for non-profit organizations, 70 apartments, and an underground garage on a half-acre of land located on the south side of Monroe Place, with a request to reduce the parking requirement from 91 to 40 spaces because of its proximity to public transit. The property is zoned Mixed Use Transit District (MXTD).  A majority of the apartments will be Continue reading →

Maria’s, Rockville’s Chinese Diner, to Close September 4

Maria’s Bakery Cafe, a small “hole in the wall” diner exclusively serving home-style Chinese food in the Congressional Village shopping center at Rockville Pike and Halpine, will close on September 4 with the owners’ retirement. They’ll be returning to Hong Kong to join family and friends, but they certainly made lots of friends in the region through their pastries, bao, soups, and entrees served from a busy open kitchen at reasonable prices.  On Friday, the lunch line stretched to the door and I enjoyed my last cha sui bao and bought a jar of their special hot pepper oil as a souvenir (and a customer in front of me bought 3 jars!).  I suspect more of their customers will be stopping by for their last meal over the Labor Day weekend.