Mayor and Council to Approve Isolated Neighborhood on Tower Oaks Blvd.
At its Monday, April 24, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss an amendment for a permit to construct 83 townhouses in Tower Oaks and a work session on the 2024 budget. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are the installation of solar canopies on two city parking lots, an agreement with the Rockville Baseball Association, contracts to repair pedestrian bridges in city parks, and installation of murals at the Senior Center (artist Katie Giganti) and on the City Hall generator screen (artist Shawn James), among others.
Another isolated neighborhood is under consideration, ironically at the same meeting the Mayor and Council will approve a mural that represents the “City’s commitment to celebrating community connections.” Michael Harris Properties, LLC. has filed a Project Plan Amendment to construct 83 townhome units with a small community green space at 2200 Tower Oaks Boulevard, and to request a parking waiver for the existing office building located at 2000 Tower Oaks Boulevard. It was originally approved as a hotel and a health and recreation facility at 2200 Tower Oaks Boulevard and an office building at 2000 Tower Oaks Boulevard. An isolated forest stand (forest conservation easement), roughly 10,000 sf, is proposed for removal. The replacement forest conservation will be provided through the long-term preservation of additional forested area (~7,600 sf) contiguous to the primary forest conservation easement off the back property boundary, in addition to individual trees planted on the subject property for forest conservation credit (~2,400 sf). The proposed Project Plan will require a finding of adequate public facilities for the change in use to residential townhouse development. For the office building, Michael Harris Properties is requesting a reduction of 115 vehicle parking spaces or an approximately 18% parking reduction from the required 650 vehicle parking spaces. A couple residents have already voiced concerns about several aspects of the project (a very thoughtful letter starts on page 213) and I’ll include my concerns about the continuing fragmentation of Rockville into isolated neighborhoods, in this instance physically separated from any other neighborhood. Seems like the Mayor and Council needs to examine the larger context to see that this is NOT a good location for residential use—there are no connections between this neighborhood and others in the city. How did this get through Planning Commission with hardly any discussion? Looks like they were asleep at the wheel.
More details in the 279-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_04242023-6882.
Mayor and Council to Regulate Short-Term Rentals & Vape Shops
At its Monday, March 27, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss the annexation of 1201 Seven Locks Road; replace the Traffic and Transportation Commission with a Transportation and Mobility Commission; approve several regulations for residential rental facilities, room rentals, and accessory dwelling units; and consider a nine-month moratorium on businesses that primarily sell electronic cigarettes (vape stores) near schools. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are maintenance of the water features in Town Center, Courthouse Square, and Maryvale Park; authorizing the Maryland Highway Administration to enter city property near Winding Rose Drive to make emergency repairs to an I-2710 storm drain; renewing contracts for the purchase of fuel for city vehicles, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on the climate action plan and staff hiring and vacancies (nearly 60 staff vacancies, including 7 in recreation and parks, 11 in police, and 25 in public works).
In 2015, there were approximately 6,000 rental units in Rockville and there are now approximately 10,500 units, for an increase of 4,600 rental units. On February 22, 2021, the Mayor and Council discussed short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, and determined that the rental of rooms should also be regulated through Chapter 18 like other types of residential rentals. Chapter 18 regulates landlord and tenant relations and different types of licenses and leases, however, short-term rentals operate more like a hotel than rental property. Therefore, any existing short-term rental units in the city are operating without sanction or approval, because they are out of compliance with City requirements for renting a complete living facility or home. The City Council is considering new regulations that would only allow property owners to operate short-term rentals; require an annual license; notification of adjacent property owners; city inspection for zoning, building, and fire code violations; a limited of six adults at a time; no more than 120 days of rental per year; and two off-street parking spaces among other conditions and requirements. About 25 stakeholders have participated in two public hearings and a work session, and if approved by Council, the proposed Zoning Text Amendment will be reviewed by the Planning Commission.
More details in the 224-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_03272023-6849.
Mayor and Council to Tackle Elections and Rental Housing
At its Monday, February 6, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss lowering the voting age to 16, permitting non-US citizens to vote, setting term limits, creating representative districts, changing the election year, and changing to ranked-choice voting as well as several issues affecting renters and landlords. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are North Stonestreet Avenue sidewalk improvements and city-wide bus stops improvements, among others. I suspect this will be a loooong meeting with these topics.
There are several major changes to voting and elections under consideration, prompted by recommendations by the Charter Review Commission. The arguments for and against each of these recommendations is too lengthy to even summarize here, so read the report for yourself online. At this meeting, the City Council will hold a Public Hearing to accept comments from residents and will then decide whether to move forward, stop, or send it to the voters for their advice (this last happened in 2013).
The Mayor and Council has decided to move forward with the expansion of City Council from five to seven members (which includes the Mayor) and will be reviewing the changes to the City Code at this meeting. As written, this expansion will occur in this year’s (2023) election (I’m unsure what will happen if the Council decides to change the election year to align with presidential elections).
On other matters, the Council will discuss the Voluntary Rent Guidelines, which includes a recommended maximum rent increase of 5.8 percent (in 2022, it was 0.4 percent). Secondly, they are considering radon testing for basement or ground-contact rentals, which follows Montgomery County’s requirements, and that the City be allowed to inspect rental facilities if they suspect code violations (currently, “property owners are not obligated to allow City inspectors to inspect the inside of the rental facility”).
More details in the 143-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_02062023-6800.
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.
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 →
Planning Commission to Approve Subdivision near King Farm
At its Wednesday, September 28, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Planning Commission is set to approve EYA Development’s subdivision of a 20-acre site to develop up to 252 townhouses and 118 condominiums, of which 58 will be moderately priced, on the site of a car dealership adjacent to King Farm. It is difficult to understand what exactly is being proposed because the site has been broken into ten plats of 1-3 acres and there is no summary.
An unusual aspect of this project is that the streets will be named for African Americans who had a prominent role in education in the region, such as Nina Clarke, Odessa Shannon, Henson Norris, and Margaret Jones. How far the City has come from the 1960s when they demolished the African American business district for a shopping mall and a decade ago, nearly changed Middle Lane—the only element that survived—to Choice Hotels Lane (a business that has already announced its departure from Rockville).
The Planning Commission continues to be working without a full deck—only five of the seven seats are filled. Indeed, there are 33 vacancies among nine city commissions. Is no one interested in serving or is the City Council failing to act?
More details in the 58-page agenda packet available at https://rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_09282022-6703.
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 Discuss Big and Dull Changes in Twinbrook
At its Monday, March 7, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss Twinbrook Commons, Tropical Storm Ida, and the proposed FY2023 budget. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are multiple construction contracts for stormwater maintenance and repair for a total not to exceed $9 million over four years. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports from Human Services Advisory Commission and on a 37-question survey (good heavens, that’s too long) conducted by the Human Rights Commission on the impact of the pandemic and the community’s perception of discrimination and inclusion following the murder of George Floyd (the results seem unreliable: 24% of the respondents were from Fallsmead and 14% from Twinbrook—why do cities insist on conducting surveys??).Continue reading →
Mayor and Council Issues Its Top Ten Priorities to the State
At its Monday, December 20, 2021 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss state legislative priorities with District 17 elected officials; approval of 350 apartments in Fallsgrove; an agreement with Rockville Housing Enterprises on 29 homes; tree planting requirements for new residences; revising the ordinance relating to MPDUs, and parkland requirements in lieu of fees. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) is a letter to WMATA about safety. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on the FY 2021 finances.
Correction: The Mayor and Council did NOT go into Closed Session on Wednesday, December 15 to conduct a performance evaluation of the City Clerk/Director of Council Operations. This meeting was postponed.Continue reading →