Author Archive: Max van Balgooy

The Domino Effect of the New Safeway on Rockville Pike

Former Safeway grocery store in the Twinbrook Shopping Center.

Former Safeway grocery store in the Twinbrook Shopping Center.

The new and larger 24-hour Safeway store that opened in December on Rockville Pike near the Twinbrook Metro in Rockville is having a domino effect on other businesses in the area.  When it opened, it made the Safeway in the Twinbrook Shopping Center at 2200 Viers Mills Road redundant, so it closed a couple months ago and left another empty store in the shopping center. Recent rumors suggest that it soon be filled by Lotte Mart, a South Korean market chain with more than 200 stores worldwide, including Gaithersburg and Wheaton, but its arrival won’t be welcomed by everyone—the nearby small Asian Market will close, leaving another hole in the shopping center.

As the owner of Asian Market explained, “between the increased rent and the new competition [Lotte Mart], I can’t stay in business. It’s already hard enough to make a profit while working 16 hour days, so I’ll be closing at the end of August and looking for a job working for someone else.”  Although it’s small store with just three aisles, it represented a wide range of culinary cultures, including Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Cambodian, Korean, Philipino, and Indonesian, that are not typically found in the larger Lotte Mart or Great Wall.  To clear out its inventory, it is selling its bottled, canned, and dry goods (except rice) at a 20 percent discount.  The soy sauce and sambals are all gone, but there still was plenty of Thai curry, coconut milk, and noodles on the shelves when I visited a couple days ago.

The former Safeway store, just like the Twinbrook Library, is on a parcel that is owned separately from the rest of the shopping center but serve as anchors that attract customers. The building is almost twenty years old but still serviceable, but too small for today’s major grocery, department, or hardware stores.  An Asian or Hispanic grocery store seems to be the most likely candidate, especially with the demographics of the neighborhood, and when it comes in, it too will have a domino effect on the rest of the shopping center.  Whether it will be good or bad remains to be seen. It’s pushed one business out but could attract others—and it badly needs to fill the half dozen stores that are empty.

 

Rockville’s Twin Valley Distillers Debuts at Olney Farmers Market

IMG_1350Twin Valley Distillers, the first distillery to operate in Montgomery County since Prohibition (that was nearly a century ago!), debuted four of its spirits today at the Olney Farmers and Artists Market thanks to a recent loosening of Prohibition Era regulations (when can we eliminate the county’s liquor department?).  They offered tastings of their 1812 Maryland Bourbon whiskey, Aged Wimsey gin, Dirty Apples cinnamon flavored whiskey, and Black Joe coffee liqueur, offering special discount prices of $25-35 per 750 ml.  They also produce rum, rye, and vodka, but didn’t bring them along for this debut.  Twinbrook neighbor Matt Von Hendy mentioned this place to me a couple months ago but I couldn’t fathom a serious distillery business was actually in operation in our hometown. Boy, was I wrong.  The owner is serious and the products are much better than expected.

IMG_1354The Bourbon whiskey and coffee liqueur were surprisingly good, so I picked up a bottle of each.  If you want to try some yourself, I suspect they’ll be returning to the Onley Farmers Market on Sunday mornings but you can also experience a tasting and a tour at the distillery on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday afternoons at 711 East Gude Drive, Bay D in Rockville.  This is in an industrial area, so you’ll need to watch the address numbers and be a little adventurous. To find it, look for Maaco and Abka Marble & Granite Countertops and pull into the parking lot.  At the back of the parking lot is a blue and white “White Flint Collision Center.”  Drive through the gates on the left and go around to the rear of the building to park and enter the distillery. Twin Valley has plenty of orange signs leading you there but that area is full of signs and they just get absorbed in the clutter.

For those of you that support “farm to table,” you can now expand your pantry to include liquor!  The spirits are not only made in Rockville, but the ingredients are sourced locally as much as possible. Local farmers supply all the grain for the spirits and Mayorga, which is also based in Rockville, provides the organic coffee.  On October 1, Montgomery County will allow Twin Valley and other distillers to sell directly to restaurants and bars, so you’ll see it appear more frequently (right now, there’s no place in Rockville to buy or drink these Rockville-made spirits except at the distillery. Ugh.).

IMG_4231 small

 

Garrison Keillor to Be Honored in Rockville in October

Keillor ReaderThe F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival, which this year will honor Garrison Keillor, founder and host of A Prairie Home Companion and The Writer’s Almanac, invites writers to submit entries for the festival’s short story contest. There is no restriction on subject matter but stories must be fewer than 4,000 words and unpublished and only residents of Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. are eligible to enter.  Entries for the 20th Annual F. Scott Fitzgerald Short Story Contest must be postmarked by Friday, Aug. 12, 2016.

Garrison Keillor will be the festival highlight when he receives the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature.  Keillor went to work for Minnesota Public Radio in 1969, and on July 6, 1974, he hosted the first broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion in St. Paul. He is the host of The Writer’s Almanac,  the editor of the Good Poems series of anthologies from Viking, and author of nearly fifty books, including Lake Wobegon Days. The award is named in honor of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who is considered one of America’s finest writers and like Keillor, was born in Minnesota. Scott is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery with his wife Zelda in downtown Rockville (did you know that he’s related to the author of our national anthem, Francis Scott Key, hence his name F. Scott?).

The award has been presented to some of America’s most distinguished writers, including Norman Mailer, Pat Conroy, John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates. The festival’s activities include writing workshops designed for emerging and established fiction and nonfiction writers, literary discussions, panels and a film screening. The festival is for writers and book lovers who are not themselves writers.  Festival sponsors include the City of Rockville; the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference, Inc.; and the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County.

Learn more about the contest and festival at www.fscottfestival.org or by calling 301-309-9461.

Twinbrook hosts Bicycle Drive on Sat., June 11

wall-sport-green-bikeThe Rockville Bike Hub (RBH) will host a bicycle drive on Saturday, June 11, between 3 and 6 p.m., during the Bikes, Brews and Barbecue event outside Revolution Cycles at 5750 Fishers Lane adjacent to the Twinbrook Metro. All bikes will be accepted but the critical need is for bicycles for children in first through fifth grade. Adult bikes will be used for education and volunteer training or donated to Bikes for the World.

In partnership with the City of Rockville, the non-profit, RBH recently gave away more than 30 bicycles to local elementary school children as a reward for performing a small service project. “In general, a bike gives a child a sense of independence and freedom and the ability to broaden the area that they can explore in their neighborhoods,” said Rockville Bike Hub Board President Steve Andruski. “Our hope is that, it turns into a lifelong activity and they become connected to the bicycling community.”

In addition to collecting bikes, the Rockville Bike Hub will be Continue reading →

MoCo Beat Podcast Launched

podcastRockville residents Tom Moore and Dana Tofig recently launched MoCo Beat, a podcast about “the news, the politics, and the life of Montgomery County.” Moore is an attorney with the Federal Elections Commission and recently concluded four years of service on the Rockville City Council. Tofig works in the research arm of the US Department of Education was formerly the Public Information Officer with Montgomery County Public Schools.  Their first episode looks at the Rockville Pike Plan, the recently adopted Montgomery County budget, places to buy beer, and new restaurants in downtown Rockville.  The first podcast is just short of 40 minutes and looks like it might be a weekly production.

With the demise of the Gazette newspaper and spartan coverage by the Washington Post, it is difficult to locate news about Rockville but here are the ones I know: Continue reading →

Rockville Pike Traffic Solutions Appear Confusing, but 252′ Width Seems Right

Rockville Pike proposal for 252 feet.png

Rockville Planning Commission’s proposal for a 252′-wide ROW for the Rockville Pike.  It includes eight lanes for cars, two lanes for Bus Rapid Transit, four lanes for bikes, and two sidewalks for pedestrians along with landscaped medians and left-turn lanes.

On Monday, May 9, the Rockville Mayor and Council will continue its worksession on “Rockville’s Pike Neighborhood Plan.”  Along with building heights and pedestrian crossings, traffic congestion is a major controversy and the conversation has become terribly confusing:  widening or narrowing the road, keeping or eliminating the access roads, extending adjacent roads, increasing Metro service, and incorporating bus rapid transit (BRT).  Some of these solutions are beyond the control of the City (such as Metro service), some benefit one group versus another (such as businesses or nearby residents), and others are so expensive or far in the future that their feasibility is unclear (such as the BRT). What’s become incredibly confusing are Continue reading →

Fine Art Festival Comes to Rockville Town Square

 

English_000256_158754_09857301_4352

Craig English, a popular local artist specializing in silk-screen prints, will be part of Rockville’s fine arts festival.

The Fourth Annual A-RTS at Rockville Town Square Fine Art Festival will bring together more than 160 artists who are creating the most exceptional art found in America today.  A-RTS, a premier outdoor art festival, takes place Saturday, May 7, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, May 8, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

 

The jury-selected artists from across the U.S. will exhibit in an outdoor art gallery brought to life on the streets of Rockville Town Square. All participants were selected based on the creativity, innovation, and exquisite execution of their original works. A list of artists is available at http://www.a-rts.org.

These acclaimed artists represent the country’s highest calibre of art in a wide range of media including ceramics, digital art, drawing, fiber, glass, graphics/printmaking, painting, photography, and sculpture, among others. Also highlighted are the wearable arts – from fashion to jewelry – perfect for last minute Mother’s Day or graduation gifts.

According to A-RTS Festival Director Robin Markowitz, who also heads the Bethesda Row Arts Festival, A-RTS is a rare opportunity to meet outstanding artists and discover their work first-hand. “We’ve created an extraordinary and accessible show – one that has something for everyone – from college students to moms, whimsical collectors to fine art patrons.”

New this year, visitors to A-RTS can sample creations of another kind – Maryland wines and distinctive craft beers – all served in commemorative glasses. Local food purveyors will offer artisanal foods from hand-made chocolates to olive oils. And, A-RTS starts and ends on a high note with live music from bands including the popular 19th Street Band.

A-RTS will take place rain or shine. Sponsors include Bethesda Magazine, Rockville Town Square, Federal Realty Investment Trust, and Cambria Hotel & Suites Rockville.

Rockville Town Square, located in downtown Rockville between Hungerford (#355), Middle, Washington, and Beall streets, is within easy walking distance of the Rockville Metro Station. Parking is available at numerous garages located around the Festival site.

More information about A-RTS is available at http://www-a-rts.org or by visiting A-RTS on Facebook. More information about Rockville Town Square, one of the area’s most popular destinations for shopping and dining, is available at http://rockvilletownsquare.com.

Opposition to Carver Bus Depot Grows

The effort to stop the creation of a school bus depot at the Carver Center in Rockville continues to grow with community meetings, presentations at City Council meetings, collecting more than 1,700 signatures on petitions, and hiring an attorney.  Montgomery County Public Schools wants to consolidate several bus depots around the county that provide parking, equipment storage, and maintenance for school busses to one central location in Rockville.  It doesn’t make sense considering the size of the county—should 100+ busses come and go from Rockville to transport students in Poolesville and Silver Spring?

If you’d like to learn more:

  • Visit the Carver Coalition web site at CarverCoalition.org
  • Attend the Community Meeting on the plans for the depot hosted by Montgomery County Public Schools on Wednesday, May 11 at 7:30 pm at College Gardens Elementary School
  • Attend the Carver Coalition meeting on Tuesday, May 17 at 7:00 pm at the Rockville Unitarian Universalist Church at 100 Welsh Park Drive.
  • Read the latest flyer from the Carver Coalition.

There’s a bigger issue that continues to gnaw at me, however.  MCPS is one of the largest school districts in the country with a billion-dollar budget.  It’s considered one of the best in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, but does that mean it’s also well governed?  The school board seems to be continually tone-deaf when it comes to local issues, such as the bus depot, and the County Council seems to be unable to have any influence, despite being the major funder.  Is it time to split the school district into manageable parts and have more local control?

 

Rockville Violated Open Meeting Law, Says State Board

TransparencyThe Open Meetings Compliance Board for the State of Maryland has determined that the City of Rockville violated the Open Meetings Act, according to a seven-page opinion issued today to Lois Neuman, Chair of the Board of Supervisors of Elections in the City of Rockville:

We have concluded that the [Mayor and] Council and the Elections Board did not timely adopt meeting minutes for meetings in 2015, and we have noted that the City will be adding staff to enable these public bodies to do that more quickly.  We have also concluded that the Elections Board’s practice of providing notice through its agendas did not always convey the required information reasonably in advance of each meeting.

All “public bodies” in Maryland, which includes most state, county, city, school, and other boards and commissions, should “hold their meetings in public, to give the public adequate notice of those meetings, and to allow the public to inspect meetings minutes” in order to “increase the public’s faith in government, ensure the accountability of government to the public, and enhance the public’s ability to participate effectively in our democracy.”

I’ve noted the inconsistency of minutes for city boards and commissions previously and it’s received attention at times by the City, but with the truly awful delays with the Board of Supervisors of Elections during an election year in 2015 (by the end of the year, missing minutes stretched back to March), I felt I needed to Continue reading →

Is Rockville Moving Towards or Away from Transparency?

TransparencyThis week the City of Rockville responsed to my complaint that the City held nearly two dozen meetings last year without documenting their decisions and sharing them with the public. Among my complaints was that the Board of Supervisors of Elections failed to post minutes on a regular basis since March 11, 2015 and the Mayor and Council failed to post minutes of a closed Executive Session on January 25, 2015.

The City approved most of the missing minutes last week, which meant that it’s taken more than a year to provide minutes for some meetings. (If you watched the March 21 Council meeting, you probably didn’t notice it because it was part of the Consent Agenda and approved with no discussion.)  That’s probably unacceptable under Maryland’s Open Meetings Act, which requires that minutes be provided “as soon as practicable.” The issue is now in the hands of Open Meetings Compliance Board, who is expected to announce their opinion next month. Although the Board doesn’t have the ability to compel the City to follow the law, it is incredibly embarrassing because it publicly and independently confirms that the City isn’t meeting openly and transparently, which is the basis for a genuine democracy.

The City says it wasn’t able to prepare the minutes because the City Clerk’s office prepares the minutes for both the Mayor and Council and the Board of Supervisors of Elections and “the City Clerk’s Office has been extremely short staffed.” That begs the question, so why was the City Clerk’s office short staffed? It’s because Continue reading →