Mayor and Council to Consider Increasing Lots of Fees; Can it Untangle 900 Rockville Pike?
At its Monday, May 8, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss amending master fees for community planning and development services. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are the pension plan for 2023. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on the Vision Zero Action Plan, Bikeway and Pedestrian Master Plans, development of 900 Rockville Pike, and the historic preservation work plan.
Fees for building permits, inspections, and licenses are proposed to increase 2.5% to keep up with inflation; include a 10% fee to offset the cost of technology; adopt a fee structure based on square footage or estimated construction cost; and assess a separate application fee. For example, a building permit for new residential construction or to repair fire damage will be $0.25 per square foot, including the basement, garage, and roof; a license for short-term rentals is $450; and a building permit for a swimming pool or to demolish a building of any size is $553.
Interestingly, the staff report admits that the actual cost of providing services is unknown and it is uncertain whether the revenues from fees are sufficient to cover their expenses (170). Secondly, new construction accounts for 35-40% of global greenhouse gas emissions and “virtually every green rating program (LEED, USGBC, IgCC) recognizes the value of adaptive reuse” (173). Nevertheless, the City is comfortable granting inexpensive demolition permits (where does all that building material go? into the county dump!). Instead, it should encourage adaptive reuse by significantly increasing the demolition permit fees on a square-foot basis.
J. Danshes LLC has filed an application to build a 4,400 square foot one-story retail building at 900 Rockville Pike (southeast corner of Rockville Pike and Edmonston Drive, one of the narrowest lots on the east side of the Pike due to the railroad tracks). In 2006, the City adopted a Mixed-Use Corridor District zone for this small lot, which allowed up to 12,754 square feet of retail space. Despite this new proposal being a much smaller building, it is now subject to several new city regulations that have been adopted over the years plus it needs to accommodate the proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route. As a result, this project has been in the pipeline since 2017 and is becoming an enigma wrapped in a puzzle—what would you do with this property when you’re faced with the following situation:
“To create the right-of-way land area dictated by the public agencies, the Applicant must dedicate 6,523 square feet of area (0.15 acres, 25.2% of existing lot area) to public use. Said dedication reduces the size of the site from 25,862 (0.59) acre to 19, 339 square feet (0.44 acre).” (257)
More details in the 329-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_05082023-6899.
Will Mayor and Council Move Forward with Accessory Dwelling Units?
At its Monday, January 23, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss if they will move forward with allowing accessory apartments and dwelling units for single family houses. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are elevator modernization for 50 Monroe Street (NTE $470,000); purchasing of Tasers (“electronic control devices”; $213,000), and agreements for two Maryland Bikeway Grants, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on concept designs for the renovation of the outdoor pool at the Swim Center (built 1968, last renovated 1991; 2023 estimated renovation cost $9 million).
The City of Rockville has been exploring accessory dwelling units (ADUs) since 2019 and is now considering whether to move to the next step: developing regulations. ADUs are typically a second small home with a kitchen and bathroom on the same lot as an existing single family home. It allows more flexibility in neighborhoods with single family houses (the zoning that dominates Rockville) to accommodate different living situations more comfortably. For example, a grandparent could move in with their children, yet maintain a separate space (or downsize to a smaller home, allowing their children to move into the main house). Or as teenagers move into adulthood, they could have more privacy and independence while reducing expenses. Or it can allow a separate home office (businesses without employees or customers on site are currently allowed in single family neighborhoods). Secondly, it increases housing in a region that has a housing shortage without creating huge apartment or condo complexes. The homeowner can earn extra revenue, while the renter can obtain a more affordable and usually more comfortable place to live. So far, accessory buildings have gained the support of the Twinbrook Community Association, Lincoln Park Civic Association, East Rockville Civic Association, and West End Citizens Association and Montgomery County currently allows accessory dwelling units.
More details in the 182-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_01232023-6787.
Mayor and Council to Review Latest Concepts for Rockville Metro Station
At its Monday, December 5, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss the latest concepts for redesigning the Rockville Metro Station and allowing self-storage warehouses in an MXE zone. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are a CDBG grant application and agreements with local performing arts organizations, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on procurements for FY 2022 and an outreach program for minority, female, disabled, or veteran-owned businesses.
The Rockville Metro Station serves WMATA, MARC, and Amtrak, as well as Metrobus, making it a major transportation hub for the state—although it’s incredibly understated. A year ago, the City Council reviewed five preliminary concepts and wanted to explore four further (seems they had a hard time prioritizing). At this meeting, the consultant team is returning with their findings and recommendations on these four concepts:
- Concept 1: Iconic Train Hall with High Rise
- Concept 2: Town Center Station with High Rise
- Concept 3a: MD 355 Tunnel with Local Surface Lanes
- Concept 3b: MD 355 Tunnel with Surface-Level Open Space
The consultant team evaluated each of these concepts according to their ability to provide convenient connections to transit and safe access for pedestrian and bicycle users; create an attractive station environment that encourages ridership; improve wayfinding and integration of the site with surrounding areas; accommodate a mix of uses and amenities; and support economic development. Concept 1 scored the highest due to attractiveness, site integration, and economic development and might be similar to The Avenue in Baltimore or the planned station in New Carrollton. Concepts 3a and 3b scored the lowest due to the very high project cost (did the City Council actually think that placing one mile of a six-lane highway underground through downtown Rockville was going to be remotely feasible? What a waste of consultant fees!). After this meeting, the consultant team will hold two workshops with the community to review the concepts and the final report is expected in spring 2023.
U-Haul‘s request to convert an office building into a self-storage warehouse at 1355 Piccard Drive has become a dumpster fire and consumed more than 400 pages of the agenda packet. Seems they failed to obtain building and occupancy permits for their existing use, and have been parking trucks and equipment outside of a designated location. Recent complaints are supported by LOTS of photos documenting violations and noted that maintenance of the building has deteriorated so badly that tenants have left. Looks like U-Haul is a bad business and yet wants a special favor from the City. A surprising twist: the building is owned by the Montgomery County Board of Realtors (you’d assume they’d know how to manage a multi-million-dollar property). How did it get this bad? The Council’s efforts to reduce expenses in 2016-2018 left the City with only one Senior Zoning Inspector, which prevented pro-active zoning enforcement. Another example of “penny wise, pound foolish.”
Did you know that the Rockville Little Theatre, Rockville Musical Theatre, and Victorian Lyric Opera Company are considered RESCOs (resident community performing arts organizations). They receive reduced rental rates at the Fitzgerald Theatre in exchange for mounting a minimum number of productions annually and paying the City $1.50-$3.00 per ticket sold.
More details in the 743-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_12052022-6758.
Board of Supervisors of Elections Recommends Lowering Voting Age to 16
At its Monday, October 24, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss creating RHE Scarborough Square (no staff report was available when the agenda was posted). On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) is a license to KBSG to construct a 47-space parking lot at King Farm Farmstead Park, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports from the Board of Supervisors of Elections and the Traffic and Transportation Commission.
The Board of Supervisors of Elections is recommending a “series of amendments to the City Charter and to Chapter 8 of the City Code,” including lowering the voting age to 16 years; increasing the deadline for submitting nominations for candidates to city council from 60 to 90 days prior to the election; prohibit campaigning within 50 feet of a ballot drop box; requiring electronic filing of all campaign finance reports; and limiting campaign committees (“slates”) to one election cycle. Some of these changes will be controversial.
The Traffic and Transportation Commission is requesting its scope of responsibilities be updated from its creation in the 1970s, including two ex-officio, non-voting seats from the Bicycle Advisory Committee and Pedestrian Advocacy Committee; meetings be held quarterly; advise on “opportunities to advance a transportation and mobility network that is safe, equitable, convenient, fiscally resilient, and environmentally sustainable;” “approve the official names of newly constructed or reconstructed bridges” (but why not streets, turnpikes, highways, intersections, bus shelters, and parking lots?); and changing its name to the Transportation and Mobility Commission. So let me get this straight: there are three city commissions responsible for “transportation and mobility” in the city (Traffic and Transportation, Bicycle, and Pedestrian)? Seems like a lot more bureaucracy than needed for such a small city. Can’t they be combined with a balanced representation of all three interests? That might result in better solutions and more efficiency.
More details in the 109-page agenda packet (21 pages of which are devoted to proclamations) are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_10242022-6728.
Mayor and Council to Discuss Priorities for Federal Actions and Funding
At its Monday, October 3, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss priorities for federal funding; a $7.5 M renovation for 6 Taft Court (a new facility for Public Works and Recreation and Parks departments); a Town Center “Road Diet” project (narrowing lanes on Washington Street and Middle Lane); FY 2024 budget; and an amendment to the Twinbrook Commons development on Chapman Avenue (adding parking spaces for electric vehicles). On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are approval of easements for King Buick and King Farm Farmstead Parking Lot; authorizing the City Manager to begin electricity supply agreements; awarding a $1.4 M contract for Storm Water Management (SWM) Facilities improvements; closing of an unnamed road adjacent to Twinbrook Quarter, and approving a charter for the zoning ordinance rewrite, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on performance measurement, make appointments to boards and commissions, and declare October 10 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day to recognize the “conquest, enslavement, displacement, and disease” which decimated the native people in the area.Continue reading →
Mayor and Council to Explore Financial Assistance to City Employees and ALICE Residents
At its Monday, March 21, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will hold a public hearing on the FY2023 Budget and discussion employer-assisted housing; a proposed Bank on Rockville program; and use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. A surprise for the upcoming budget discussion is a half-dozen requests at the last public hearing to increase city staff to support specific services. While there was one request for staff devoted to public safety (i.e., police), it was matched by requests for the arts, human services, bike and pedestrian safety, and environmental sustainability—significantly different results from the community survey, which had police and crime prevention as a top priority. These diverse opinions suggest the challenges that City Council members face when making decisions for the community. My advice: think long-term and focus on your purpose and vision.Continue reading →
Mayor and Council to Design Rockville Metro, Spend $6 Million in Federal Funds, and Battle over the Budget on December 13
At its Monday, December 13, 2021 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss three design concepts for Rockville Metro station, use of nearly $6 million in ARPA funds, and determine 2023 budget priorities. This is a worksession and will not offer public hearings or a community forum, but it will be streamed live if you are interested in these topics.Continue reading →
Mayor and Council to Discuss Affordable Housing, Environment, and a $plash Pad
At its Monday, December 6, 2021 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss moderately priced housing (adding 30- to 99-year rent control periods); abandoning a “paper” street adjacent to 205 Mount Vernon Place in Hungerford; and allowing 350 apartments instead of offices in Fallsgrove. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are a $322,364 splash pad for Maryvale Park (requested by the East Rockville Civic Association); a CDBG grant application to Montgomery County ($263,000 for the maintenance and repair of low-income housing); and letters to SHA (regarding traffic and pedestrian safety; most dangerous is the Rockville Pike) and WMATA (reduced service, access, and safety—can we all agree that WMATA has among the worst planners and project managers of any agency in the region?). The Mayor and Council will also receive reports from the Environment Commission and on an Employee Compensation and Classification Study (current salaries are generally competitive).Continue reading →
Mayor and Council to Approve 370 Residences near King Farm with Unusual Conditions
At its Monday, November 8, 2021 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will approve 370 residences at 16200 Frederick Road (aka King Buick), amend the City Code for “moderately priced housing”, and increase water and sewer rates starting in the second half of 2022. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are a replacement shelter at Isreal Park, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive a report from the Planning Commission.Continue reading →
Mayor and Council to discuss 350 Multifamily Unit Development in Fallsgrove
At its Monday, November 1, 2021 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss board and commission appointments; water and sewer rates; and construction of 350 multifamily units in Fallsgrove. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are no items. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on cultural arts; bikeway and pedestrian master plans; and the 2022 state legislative priorities.
Key West Center Fallsgrove LLC is requesting permission to building up to 350 multifamily units on an undeveloped property at 1800 Research Boulevard. It is currently zoned for research-and-development offices, but they are requesting a change to residential use, exceed the number of apartments allowed in Fallsgrove, and exceed the building height restrictions. In addition, they are asking to retain the ability to construct an office, if market conditions change (“having their cake and icing, too”). The property is within the Richard Montgomery Cluster Area. According to a 2019 traffic study, the project will “not substantially alter or change the projected and approved vehicular traffic flow movements in and around the subject site.” The Planning Commission had twice approved projects for eight-story office buildings, but nothing was built.
More details in the 226-page agenda packet available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_11012021-6394.