I’ve just returned from the Boards and Commissions Task Force meeting in Rockville City Hall tonight and was surprised by two things:
- 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.
- 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.
Replacing Dawsons Market Requires a Cluster of Solutions; That May Be Too Much for the Mayor and Council
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 →
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 →
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
Each day, another archive is digitized and made available online and today I fell into a couple surprising stories while researching the history of our fair town of Rockville. The first story was the 1850 trial of W. L. Chaplin, who was indicted for helping two enslaved men to escape and for assaulting the men who attempted to stop him. Because the court believed he could not receive a fair and impartial trial in Rockville, the case was moved to Ellicott City. I’ll have to follow the case out there to find out what happened.
The second surprise was that whipping was an acceptable form of punishment until the 1920s. With the headline “Whipping Makes Men ‘Feel Fine'”, the Chicago Defender related the lashing of two men for abusing their wives in Rockville in 1922. There aren’t many details in the paper except that it might have been done publicly (“they were bound to the post and then the lash was applied”) and that it was usually “applied” to African Americans as a punishment (“Kemp was the first white man to receive such punishment in Montgomery county for many years.”). This story is uncomfortable and infuriating in so many ways.
Bill Truque, the Washington Post reporter covering Montgomery County government and politics, is leaving the paper, according to David Lublin of Seventh State. Turque has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star. As noted in The Seventh State, the blog that covers Maryland politics (especially Montgomery County), this is a significant blow for keeping local government honest:
Politicians in MoCo had it easy from the Post until Turque showed up. His two predecessors on the MoCo beat were Mike Laris, who wrote one or two articles a month, and Victor Zapana, who was fresh out of college. Neither knew a lot about the county. Turque, in contrast, was a long-time resident who quickly learned the history and the players. Before long, inconvenient stories began appearing in the paper. Politicians began longing for the days of scanty coverage!
How to pick the Best of Turque? There are so many articles to choose from. There’s the time when he outed a union-linked operative as the author of an anonymous attack website targeting former Council Member Valerie Ervin. Then there was the article in which he called out the County Council for violating its own law on Public Information Act disclosure in taking down email addresses from the county’s website. Council Member Marc Elrich, who has long said he turns away developer money, was caught by Turque taking money from an attorney who represents developers. Council Member George Leventhal has yet to recover from Turque’s posting a video of his berating budget director Jennifer Hughes from the dais which was cited in Bethesda Magazine’s coverage of his Executive campaign launch. And then there’s the Silver Spring Transit Center fiasco, the subject of countless Turque articles up to his flaying the county for getting fleeced by lawyers and experts. Years ago, a Leggett administration official complained to me about Turque’s relentless coverage of the transit center. Your author replied, “You can’t blame the wolf for liking the taste of meat!”
Incredibly, Rockville and Montgomery County find it hard to attract journalists to adequately cover what’s happening locally, despite its significant influence on Maryland and Washington DC. The only newspaper, The Sentinel, is distributed weekly and covers Rockville weakly, focusing mostly on high school sports and legal notices. Bethesda is working hard to cover the news through its bimonthly magazine and blog, but it’s mostly focused on the southern end of the county. Rockville Nights, Rockville View, and my own Max for Rockville blog are produced by volunteers. Rockville Reports and Montgomery County’s Paperless Airplane are government-sponsored sources and aren’t about to announce bad news. Ever since the Gazette folded, news became incredibly sparse in Rockville and a serious threat to keeping citizens and voters informed. The Washington Post hasn’t announced a successor to Bill Turque, but as subscriptions soar and its newsroom expands, I hope they’ll pay more attention to Rockville.