Mayor and Council meets in Twinbrook

For the first time in a very long time (John Tyner can perhaps assign a precise date), the Mayor and Council held one of their regular meetings at the Twinbrook Recreation Center since, as Mayor Marcuccio stated, “you can’t come to see us, so we’re coming to see you.”   It was a regular meeting, so no agenda items were Twinbrook-focused, but half of the people who spoke at Citizen’s Forum were from Twinbrook and raised the following concerns:

  • Poor condition of the Twinbrook Shopping Center:  “not inviting,” “shabby,” “unpleasant,” “loitering,” “crime” were among the adjectives used to describe the strip mall on Viers Mill Road.
  • Lack of responsiveness by owners of neglected properties and apparent inability of City to intervene for years.
  • Need for increased pedestrian safety:  street lighting along Halpine by the Metro station, incomplete pedestrian sidewalks near the Safeway grocery store, snow plows dumping huge piles of snow on sidewalks making them impassable for weeks
  • Better parks and recreation:  more small “pocket” parks, installing trashcans, expanding the recreation center, providing more community meeting space for workshops.

Mayor Marcuccio stated that the staff were listening closely and would be taking care of these issues, but I’m skeptical.  I’ve heard these same topics over and over during the last ten years.  The lack of action has me absolutely puzzled and frankly, the Mayor’s response seemed to be a dismissive pat on the head.  The street lights on Halpine have been out of months, perhaps even years, even though the residents on that street have complained to Pepco and the City about it regularly.   Property maintenance of abandoned properties has been a longtime issue throughout Twinbrook, yet the recent round of budget cuts eliminated a housing code inspector.  And despite the ongoing complaints about the appearance and maintenance of the shopping center, the City hasn’t been willing to require such common practices as adequate landscaping or enclosed trash and grease dumpsters in the new zoning code.

I was delighted to hear that two residents (which included a representative from the Plymouth Woods civic ssociation) state their concerns over the planned elimination of bus service on Route #45 on Saturdays.  I was surprised that no one from Twinbrook mentioned this, especially since it travels from the Twinbrook to Rockville Metro stations via Twinbrook Parkway and Baltimore Road.  Although some people (including Councilmember Pierzchala) mentioned the value of this route to persons with limited mobility, no one mentioned that this “Round Rockville” bus connects several major neighborhoods in the city (it runs from Twinbrook through East Rockville, Town Center, and College Gardens to Fallsgrove) and that it cost $1 million in city and federal funds to implement  this service just a few years ago.

Finally, although I welcome the City Council to hold their meetings in various neighborhoods, it falls short of the ideals we discussed during the 2009 council campaign.  Many of the candidates expressed their desire to re-establish the “walking town meetings,” in which the Council and residents explored a section of the town during the day to see and discuss the issues that mattered to the neighborhood.  The meeting’s entire focus was on the neighborhood and the Council and staff couldn’t claim ignorance or avoid facing a tough community issue.  I hope that will happen soon, otherwise we’ll continue to receive more dismissive pats on the head.

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10 responses

  1. Max, thank you for this helpful piece. Your blog is an important part of the Rockville community infrastructure.

  2. Thank you Max. I was unable to attend and appreciate your report. It seems that no matter what is promised during elections or while in the “seat” mayor and council remain dismissive of Twinbrook. But I recognize that we have to change this — using our power of numbers and votes.

  3. Is the neglect in certain parts of Rockville due in part to NOT having neighborhood or regional representation ON the council? Maybe Rockville needs established ANC (Advisory Neighborhood Committees) like DC has. Something to think about. Thanks Max.

    1. I doubt that having district representation in Rockville will affect code enforcement. It didn’t really affect code enforcement during the tenures of Hall or Dorsey. I will say that Dorsey was at a meeting that kicked off the code enforcement project I describe below. So was Chief Treschuk. Showing support through prescence is important, yes. But money talks.

      If you want to try and evaluate whether district representation helps with something like code enforcement, just look at Aspen Hill. They had problems and worked with the county code enforcement to get some things done. I don’t remember hearing that their councilperson was involved with it much. And if you want to see how a large effort can kind of peter out, look at Aspen Hill again. Their civic association put a lot of work into getting the county to address their property code violation issues. But some of them have come back.

      When I was president of TCA, I spent one year focusing on property code issues. There were and are a number of properties currently out of compliance in Twinbrook. I can’t tell you how many. However, I can tell you it is too many. Remember that out of compliance not only means what you can see on the outside. It also means houses rented without rental certificates, or rented with too many occupants. It means people operating businesses out of their homes that are not allowed in residential areas, such as automobile refurbishing and repair or construction related businesses that use residential property for materials or vehicle storage. It means people who park oversize vehicles on the street but do not have permits to do so. There are more than just a few of these types of properties in Twinbrook. Within a three block radius of my house there were at least three car repair operations. One is still operating and I think the other two are operating. There is also a construction-oriented operation that violates codes with its trailer and trash.

      During TCA’s effort a few years back, we drafted a plan and refined it with Inspection Services. IS assigned two inspectors to bicycle through the neighborhood. They told me they saw a lot more that way. I’ve noticed that I see a lot more when I walk around Twinbrook than when I drive also. The effort was publicized well in advance in the Voice, the now abandoned TCA quarterly newsletter.

      A number of citations were issued. The known repeat offenders were targeted. There was some improvement. However, this type of activity has to be sustained. In fact, it has to be the norm in order to control the behavior of chronic offenders. And Rockville, like many cities, does not support code enforcement nearly to the extent that it should. The money would have to come out of the budgets of other, sometimes more popular, programs.

      Note also that anyone who is cited for violating a property code is entitled to his or her day in court. Often, the person will wait until near the court date to clean up the problem. If they show up in court with the problem fixed, the fine is usually waived. Note also that some landlords or operators of unpermitted businesses simply treat the whole thing as a business expense. This is county court too, remember.

      The short answer is that Rockville has to make it a matter of city policy that it wants a higher rate of property code compliance from now on. And it has to fund that, which means hiring enough people. As far as I’m concerned, Inspection Services has always needed more staff, and I’ve lived in TB since 1996. IS itself may say something different, but they are not measuring success the way I and many citizens measure it. Keeping properties in compliance with code is important in older neighborhoods like TB. Once blight sets in, it is very very difficult to roll back.

      Note also that the code compliance project also included a carrot to go with the stick. We gave awards to people who we thought had examplary properties. When we went around to visit these folks come of them invited us into their homes. Some people have done some amazing things in the interiors of their homes. These people all got their plaques at City Hall. It was a nice event.

      As for asking neighorhood coordinators to represent Twinbrook citizens to the M&C, I don’t think that is why the NCs are there. They are there to coordinate city staff activities and serve as a laision between citizens and city staff. Note also that not all citizens in a given area agree on what should be done to address a problem, or even whether the problem exists. Liasions can’t solve those problems, nor should they. That is for neighbors or civic organizations to solve among themselves. I also dont’ think it is fair, or logical, to hold neighborhood liasions responsible if other city staff don’t, or can’t, do their jobs. Or for failures that my flow from the M&C.

      Citizens who wnat more action by the M&C should talk to them directly. After all, various of the M&C were elected due to the direct efforts of some of the people who post on various chats. What, they’ve stopped taking your calls? A laision laisions. Advocates advocate. You are your own advocate.

      As for the shopping center, if the same absentee landlord who lives in Florida still owns it, the situation will not improve until he tries to do something that will trigger code enforcement or implementation of revised codes. Or until he sells to someone who wants to renovate the thing. I’ve never met him, but I never talked to any business owner in the shopping center that had a single good thing to say about him. And he doesn’t respond to TCA requests for communication.

      And as far as I know, the shopping center may be shabby but is not violating any codes. Don’t quote me on that though because I don’t believe an inspection has been done for some time. For example, how can it be that the bowling alley, which burned out after it was closed, can simply remain boarded up for years yet the shopping center still be in compliance?

      Ok….and now, at the end of all that (-; I want to thank everyone for everything that each of you is doing. I do notice your good work, and regret I can’t be as active as in the past, for various reasons.

      Bests,

      Randy

      1. Wow, Randy! You’ve packed a lot of information in your comment–thanks! This provided good background on these recurring issues.

  4. Max, why not give the Mayor a chance before suggesting she was giving a dismissive pat on the head. You seem to have an axe to grind with this new Council. You were critical of the planning session they held a week ago, even though you only sat for an hour out of over 15 hours of meeting time. Only one person sat through it all, me.

    There are ways to hold their feet to the fire…why don’t you, Jacquie and others show up at a council meeting and ask for follow-up at citizen’s forum.

    As for walking tours, I don’t think they helped very much. They looked good, but few turned out, and those that did had their own agendas, not necessarlily what was in the best interests of the neighborhood. What are the neighborhood liasions that are part of the City Manager’s office doing? They are supposed to be advocates for the areas they cover…why not hold them partially accountable for getting things done and following up with staff and neighborhood leaders?

  5. Brigitta Mullican

    Joe and Max,

    You both have good comments and I agree with the concerns. I hope to work with all to help change the status quo in Rockville and especially in Twinbrook. City politics has not changed over the 45 years I have l lived in Twinbook. Walking town meetings have not had a great impact on neighborhood improvement.

    One difficulty is that individuals have different opinions and there are not enough good discussions and compromises. I also see that communication concern with our Mayor and Council. I also wonder why the neighborhood liaisons can not advocate more for us.

  6. I agree…lets give them a chance for followup before you be dismissive by saying they’re dismissive.

    EVERY neighborhood has one of “those houses,” the one that is barely within code. Some neighborhoods have more than others. I dont live in Twinbrook so I don’t know. But we have a couple right near where I live. If they are within code, then that’s the owner’s right to keep them that way. The condition of the shopping center, if it is up to maintenance and zoning codes, is something the community should be discussing with the owner.
    At least there’s a grocery store there. not something I can say for Town Square. Glad to hear FRIT is getting their lease money for the space.

  7. Why didn’t you report on the rest of the meeting? Is it because you live in Twinbrook? There were many other important issues covered including the in lieu if set aside and the COCC. A more complete account of the meeting should have been reported.

    1. I do live in Twinbrook and for this meeting, I was especially interested if the Council meeting’s relocation into Twinbrook would have an impact. It seemed that it did since about half of the speakers at Citizen’s Forum were from Twinbrook and weren’t the usual speakers. But even if I weren’t a Twinbrooker, you typically won’t find me reporting about an entire meeting. There are usually far too many topics to cover and I don’t want to duplicate the work of the Gazette. Instead, I’ll either follow a specific topic or aspect of a meeting (and it won’t always be the Mayor and Council–there are so many interesting boards, commissions, and associations in Rockville that deserve attention). Thanks for your comment!

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