Category Archives: Quality of life

Mayor and Council to Review Latest Concepts for Rockville Metro Station

Rockville’s Amtrak platform, which is shared with MARC and part of the Metro Station, is a grim experience. Will the new concepts for the Rockville Metro Station simply put lipstick on this pig?

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
Concept 1: Iconic Train Hall with High Rise.

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

Among the potential improvements being discussed in the 2023 budget are park shelters/canopies/gazebos. Which neighborhoods are well served and which are neglected?

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

Proposed plan for Twinbrook Commons, a 440-unit, 120-foot-tall multi-family residential building wrapped around a parking structure and surrounded by a bus loop. North is to the left, not the top.

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??).

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Mayor and Council Issues Its Top Ten Priorities to the State

Maryland’s District 17 primarily represents Rockville and Gaithersburg.

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.

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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

Dawson’s Market in Rockville Town Square, shortly before its closing in October 2018.

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 →

Mayor and Council focus Priorities around Development

PriorityThe Rockville Mayor and Council recently engaged the Novak Consulting Group (who aided in the search for the new city manager) to help refine their list of 23 priorities created in 2016—far too many to get things done.  As a result, the Mayor and Council identified the priorities among their priorities, coming up with a list of twelve which are overwhelmingly focused on city planning and development, and may just be wishful thinking: Continue reading →

Will Rockville Choose Diversity or Bureaucracy?

diversityWalletHub named Rockville as the one of America’s most diverse cities in 2016 based on social class, ethnicity, economics, and households. It ranked 14 out of 301, being bested by our neighbors in Gaithersburg (#1), Silver Spring (#4), Germantown (#5), and Frederick (#8), but ranked higher than places usually lauded for their diversity, such as San Francisco (#20), Alexandria, VA (#45), Denver (#67), San Antonio (#119), and Seattle (#149).

On Monday, March 6, the Rockville Mayor and Council will hold a public hearing on the role of the City Police in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.  Will Rockville’s diversity be celebrated or feared? Will immigrants be threatened or welcomed? Will the answers be quickly forthcoming or will they become mired in bureaucracy?  It’s uncertain where the City of Rockville will land and I suspect it will be a tense and difficult conversation.

It’s a conversation that started shortly after the Presidential election. Mayor Newton read a statement at the start of the City Council meeting on November 14, 2016 to recognize that Rockville’s strengths are Continue reading →

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 →