Mayor and Council to Choose New City Logo and Change Election Campaigning
At its Monday, June 11, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss election campaign materials, referendums on voting eligibility, and repealing Covid vaccination requirements. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are construction contracts, grant authorizations, a zoning ordinance rewrite ($294,530), and planting trees and shrubs ($393,570), among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on the state legislation session wrap-up for District 17 and the City’s Branding Initiative.
Fourteen nonprofit organizations will be receiving grants to support programs and services that enhance the quality of life for Rockville residents, including:
- Peerless Rockville Historic Preservation, $120,000
- Rockville Science Center, $60,000
- Rockville Housing Enterprises, $52,820
- Metropolitan Center for the Visual Arts, $48,830
- Rockville Little Theatre, $18,000
- Rockville Musical Theatre, $18,000
- Victorian Lyric Opera Company, $17,200
- Rockville Volunteer Fire Department, $10,000
- F. Scott Fitzgerald LIterary Conference, $6,700
- Main Street Connect, $6,000
- Bender JCC of Greater Washington, $6,000
- Women Who Care Ministries, $5,000
The City Council is considering an Eleventh Amendment to the Interim Management Agreement for Rockville Town Square, the a 12.5-acre mixed-use development located in the heart of Rockville City Center, and is encompassed within the area bounded by Beall Avenue, Hungerford Drive, Middle Lane , and North Washington Street. On September 26, 2022, Morguard acquired from Street Retail, the fee simple interest in all of the commercial retail properties in the Rockville Townsquare (RTS) Mixed-Use Development. Although a long-term Management Agreement is desired by both the City and Morguard, both parties need additional time to engage further. As such, staff recommends that the Mayor and Council authorize and direct the City Manager to execute the Eleventh Amendment to the Interim Management Agreement, thus extending the term of the Interim Management Agreement to June 30, 2024. This would continue the agreement that the City will not assess a property tax in exchange for management and maintenance of the Plaza and sidewalks by Morguard. More details starting on page 636.
The City Council is considering a long list of changes to city elections, including:
- Amending definition of campaign materials to include campaign websites, emails, text messages, and other electronic communications.
- Establishing a second vote center at Thomas Farm Community Center and ballot drop boxes at City Hall, Montrose Community Center, Rockville Senior Center, and Twinbrook Community Center.
- Prohibiting electioneering within 50 feet of an outdoor ballot drop box.
- Independent communications and advertisements must include a notice stating that they have not been authorized by a candidate or candidate’s committee.
- Aggregate campaign contributions are no longer limited to $2,000.
- Requiring electronic filing of all Campaign Finance Reports, but permitting the Board of Supervisors of Elections to waive that requirement, on request, for good cause.
- Requiring clear and conspicuous disclaimers on campaign materials stating whether the material has been paid for or authorized by a candidate or political committee, and if not, identifying the person who did pay for the campaign materials, but also including an exception for materials on which disclaimers cannot be conveniently displayed.
- Requiring all campaign materials to state that they are paid political advertisements and to identify the person who paid for the advertisement.
The Council is also considering a series of advisory questions to submit to voters in November about lowering the voting age to 16 years, allowing residents who are not U.S. citizens to vote, introducing a limit of three consecutive terms (12 years) for Mayor and Councilmembers, ranked choice voting, and establishing council districts.
The Mayor and Council are conducting hybrid meetings. If you wish to submit comments in writing for Community Forum or Public Hearings, please email the comments to MayorAndCouncil@RockvilleMD.gov by no later than 10:00 a.m. on the date of the meeting.
More details in the 704-page/127 Mb agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_06122023-6935.
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 Receive Final Public Comments on FY24 Budget
At its Monday, April 17, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss FY 2024 budget (public hearing). On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are no items. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on no items.
This is the third and final public hearing related to the FY 2024 budget, with more than 100 suggestions received at the March 29 public hearing (lots of requests for community gardens and a new entrance to the senior center from Gude Drive, but many were boiler-plate requests which I tend to ignore). The FY 2024 operating budget totals $156.4 million for the City’s ten operating funds. This represents an overall increase of 5.1 percent from the FY 2023 adopted budget. The total number of full time equivalent (FTE) positions in the FY 2024 operating budget equals 642.7, a net increase of 4.1 FTEs from the FY 2023 adopted level. The FY 2024 proposed budget includes an additional 4.0 regular FTEs over the FY 2023 adopted budget.
The proposed Capital Improvements Program will receive $35.2 million in new funding in FY 2024. The CIP is organized by program area and provides:
- $10 million to the Recreation and Parks program area, which includes funding for the outdoor recreation pool renovations and the design of the dance/fitness studio and multi-purpose space proposed for the King Farm farmstead;
- $7.5 million to the Transportation program area, which includes funding for roadways, sidewalks, and ongoing LED streetlight conversions;
- $10 million to the Utilities program area, which includes funding for water main and sewer rehabilitation;
- $2.4 million to the Stormwater Management program area, which includes funding for stream restoration projects, storm drain analysis and spot repairs, and improvements to City stormwater facilities;
- $5.2 million to the General Government program area, which includes funding for data center and disaster recovery infrastructure and improvements at the city’s Maintenance and Emergency Operations Facility.
A few council members had questions about the budget, which were answered by staff. For Councilmember David Myles, see page 251+, 268+, and 272+. For Councilmember Mark Pierzchala, see page 257+ and 272+. For Councilmember Beryl Feinberg, see page 266 (just one question!), page 269 (two more!), and 277+ (lots, looks like she finally studied the budget by March 20). For Councilmember Monique Ashton, see page 266+ and 274+. For Mayor Bridget Newton, see page 273+ and page 285. If you’re running for council (or really want to know which council members are thoughtful and informed), you’ll want to review this section.
More details in the 294-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_04172023-6873.
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.
Mayor and Council to Discuss Human Rights and Rockville Town Square
At its Monday, April 18, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss an ordinance to establish an education commission, the management agreement with Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT) for Rockville Town Square, and once again, the FY 2023 budget and what to do with the remaining ARPA funds. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are contracts for tree care ($900,000 annually) and landscape maintenance ($193,000 annually); $250,000 grant agreement for Lincoln Park Community Center improvements; and six proclamations. The Mayor and Council will also receive a report from the Human Rights Commission.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 →
Planning Commission to Discuss Priorities for 2022-23
At its Wednesday, October 27, 2021 meeting, the Rockville Planning Commission will discuss implementation of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. During the September 22 meeting, the Commission and staff recognized that development of a
complete implementation framework covering the entire Plan, including Commission discussions, would
not be possible to complete this fall; and that the Commission could continue to work on this framework
over the next approximately six months. The city staff will present a list of about 30 recommendations for the next year to implement the Plan and, should the Commission choose to do so, make a recommendation to the
Mayor and Council in time for their development of the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget, which would mean
delivering its recommendation during the fall of 2021.
Among the short-term recommendations for implementation are:
- a comprehensive update to the Zoning Ordinance
- update the Town Center Master Plan
- enhancements to the pedestrian and bicycle safety and accessibility
- identify and acquire properties for parks
- complete the plan for Red Gate Park
- identify a solution for the King Farm Farmstead
- relocate the materials and distribution facility from North Stonestreet Avenue owned by MCPS and Montgomery County
- complete a climate action plan
- expand the number of charging stations for electric vehicles
- prepare a flood resiliency plan
- develop a marketing and branding plan to attract businesses and customers to Rockville
- complete a strategic plan for affordable housing
That’s the short list from nearly 30 items suggested. It is far longer than reasonable to get anything significant accomplished in the next year. To get anything done, the Planning Commission will need to choose no more than three—and more importantly, they need to be the right things that will have a lasting and significant impact on the community. Which three would you choose?
More details in the 11-page agenda packet available at https://rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_10272021-6389.
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 →
Increased Property Taxes? Who’s to Blame?
For homeowners in Rockville, July brings the annual property tax bill. I’m guessing that most people simply look at the bottom line and grumble that it’s higher than last year, blaming it on the government. But we’re the government, so we can and should tell our elected officials when it’s okay to be taxed and how we want those funds spent. Which elected officials should we blame? That’s where it can get confusing and far too often I’ve seen the wrong people blamed for the actions of others. Indeed, the Rockville Mayor and Council too often is unfairly blamed for high taxes, when it’s usually the fault of the Montgomery County Council. Take a look at the breakdown for my property taxes, which will be roughly equivalent to all other homes in Rockville because we pay the same percentage of taxes according to the assessed value of the property. As you can see in the pie chart, Montgomery County collects nearly two-thirds of the property tax (blue), Rockville about a quarter (orange), and the State of Maryland about ten percent (green). Rockville collects another ten percent for trash and stormwater management (light orange) but Continue reading →