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 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 Choose Earmarks and Decide Upcoming Election Changes
At its Monday, February 27, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss proposed earmarks for the FY24 federal budget, requests from the Board of Supervisors of Elections, and recommendations from the Charter Review Commission. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are the preservation of public art, funding for the Rockcrest Ballet Center, Taste of Rockville agreement, and funding for the flood resilience master plan, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on operating budget and capital improvements budget for FY2024.
Yes, Congress is openly using earmarks again, “funds provided for projects or programs where the congressional direction (in bill or report language) circumvents the merit-based or competitive allocation process, or specifies the location or recipient.” For some, it’s simply another form of pork barrel politics but for others it’s a vital project. Perhaps the most famous earmark was by US Senator Ted Stevens to construct the Gravina Island Bridge or the “Bridge to Nowhere” for $250 million in 2002. But if you want federal funds for a specific project, the best way to ensure it is through earmarks. This year, the City of Rockville is considering several potential requests to Senator Cardin, Senator Van Hollen, and Congressman Raskin, including the emergency operations center at 6 Taft Court, police radio equipment ($1.4 million!), storm drain improvements in Potomac Woods, security for the water treatment plant, and water main or sewer main rehabilitation in an “equity focused area” (not identified but somewhere in southeast Rockville).
Preparations for the 2023 Mayor and Council election are underway and candidate information packets should be ready by May 1—however, there is still lots to be done. The Board of Supervisors of Elections is waiting for approval from the Mayor and Council on several changes to the City Charter and City Code in limbo; proposed translation of outreach materials in Spanish, Chinese, and French; adding a second vote center at Thomas Farm and placing ballot drop boxes in Montrose, Lincoln Park, and the Rockville Senior Center. Indeed, if the minimum voting age is lowered from 18 years to 16 years and the deadline for submitting nomination petitions is increased from 60 to 90 days prior to the election, the City may have already missed its ability to implement these changes for the November 2023 election.
Discussion of the 30 recommendations by the Charter Review Commission continues, this time on a more “precise, open, transparent, and definitive administrative process” for filling a vacancy on the city council after two years; adding a “none of the above” option on election ballots; increasing the size of the Board of Supervisors of Elections; increasing the number of ballot drop-off boxes; lowering the voting age to 16; and limiting the number of consecutive terms of council members to three four-year terms (but allowing a person to serve 12 years as a councilmember and 12 years as mayor—really? 12 years is plenty, give other people a chance!).
More details in the 450-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_02272023-6820.
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.
Only One “Very Best Restaurant” in Rockville?
Washingtonian magazine just released their annual “100 Very Best Restaurants” and it includes only one in Rockville: A&J Restaurant at 1319 Rockville Pike. Just outside of Rockville, they include Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana in Darnestown. I don’t want to diminish these honors, but geez, they’ve been listed many times before—is anyone at the magazine venturing out further? To provide some inspiration, here are some of my suggestions:
O’Donnell’s Market, 1073 Seven Locks Road, “Potomac” (officially in Rockville off Seven Locks Road, across from the Potomac Springs neighborhood). Among the best seafood in town and a very straight-forward preparation, and you can also buy fish and oysters, along with prepared side dishes and baked goods to take home.
Mosaic, 186 Halpine Road, Rockville (south end of the Rockville Pike, near Twinbrook Metro). The owner is from Lyon, France and it promotes itself as an “authentic French restaurant,” but more accurately it’s French-inspired. So they serve classics such as salad niçoise, duck confit, and beef bourguignon (alas with noodles, not potatoes) as well as a crab cheddar quesadilla, cajun shrimp omelette, and parmesan chicken picatta. Light, airy Belgian waffles dominate the menu and show up by themselves, in sandwiches, and the “bread” for entrees. I love ’em!
Java Nation, 11120 Rockville Pike, “North Bethesda” (across from the White Flint Mall, just south of Rockville). It’s an exemplar for independent coffee shops but it also serves terrific meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus wine, beer, and signature cocktails. The “very best” food doesn’t have to be expensive.
Il Pizzico, 15209 Frederick Rd, Rockville (north end of the city at East Gude Drive). Friends love this restaurant and claim it serves the best Italian food in the region. I rarely visit because it’s across town and takes me more than 30 minutes to get there. It’s in a dull office building and parking is limited but inside you’ll find meals that are a step up from the usual fare, such as tagliatelle al ragu’ di vitello or filetto di maiale al balsamico).
Any other suggestions that you’d consider among the very best?
Mayor and Council to Expand Mayor and Council?
At its Monday, January 30, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss increasing the number of city councilmembers and annexing 1202 Seven Locks Road. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are the purchase of three dump trucks. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on the Town Center Master Plan.
The City Council will consider the Charter Review Commission’s recommendation to add two new councilmember seats, which would expand from five to seven seats (which includes the Mayor). This meeting will include a Public Hearing to accept comments from the community before proceeding to a Resolution. In 2013, voters were not in favor of a change but the Charter Review Commission included it among their sixteen recommendations in September 2022 with the following commentary:
“Increasing the number of seats on the city council will allow the council to be more engaged with the residents and to learn more about the communities within the city. This could provide more opportunities for people to run for office and to serve their city as well as their communities, especially based on the increased size of the population since 2012. Currently how much does the council know and understand about the history and circumstances of the city they represent? If the number of seats increased from 5 to 7, depending on the outcome of the results from an election, parts of the city that are not represented as well as other parts of the city could be actively involved in city politics by having a seat at the table.
“Expanding the number of seats could have a possible impact on decisions that require a majority vote and could avoid a vote being deadlock because of the size of the council and not enough votes to move forward. Moreover, increasing the number could allow for the members of the council to meet with the residents where they are and not just when decisions are being made about the place where they live, work or go to school. In the past, each council member had a day set aside to meet with the residents who wanted to have conversations outside of public meetings. To continue this practice by having more seats on the council could allow residents to speak freely with council members who they feel understood their community especially when there is a need in the community or an issue that needs to be addressed. Ultimately, this could enhance the importance of consensus-building between the council and the residents.
“Finally, if council members engaged more with the residents outside the community they live in, it could provide more insight about voting on issues that come before them. So, expanding the size of the council can prove to really be effective for the city and its mavor and council.”
More details in the 97-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_01302023-6795.
Twinbrook Holding its First In-Person Community Meeting
On Tuesday, January 24 at 7:30 pm at the Twinbrook Community Recreation Center, the Twinbrook Community Association will be holding its regular community meeting—but it will be in person for the first time since 2020! The meeting will include information about Rockville’s Flood Mitigation Assistance Program (how homeowners and renters can reduce the cost of protecting their home from flooding), a discussion on the expansion of the Mayor and Council from five to seven members, and recognizing Melissa and Tony Downs as Twinbrookers of the Year for their extraordinary support of Twinbrook Elementary School PTA and the community.
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 Consider Changes to Mayor and Council
At its Monday, December 12, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss the FY22 financial report and the FY24 budget priorities. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are a dozen items, including easements, services, grant agreement, and the tenth amendment to the interim management agreement with Morguard for Rockville Town Square, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on priorities with the District 17 Delegation and recommendations from the 2020-22 Charter Review Commission.
The Charter Review Commission has developed recommendations for a wide variety of issues related to the City Charter (its constitution), including expanding the size of the City Council, term limits for councilmembers, alternative voting systems, translation of election materials, the scope and size of the Board of Supervisors of Elections, and increasing voter turnout. After forty meetings and interruptions due to the pandemic, the Commission is recommending that,
“the City maintain the status-quo on several topics (e.g., staggered Council terms and alternative methods of advertising elections), the Commission is also recommending bolder changes to City policy and operations in order to enhance accountability and transparency, increase voter turnout, and advance racial equity and social justice. Notably, the Commission is recommending such reforms as an increase in the size of the Council, implementation of term limits on the Mayor and Council, creation of representative districts, exploring changing the time of the election, and allowing residents who are not United States citizens and those at least 16 years of age to vote in municipal elections.”
More details in the 465-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_12122022-6765.
Heard on the street: things are heating up in the West End neighborhood regarding design guidelines proposed by the West End Citizens Association. I suspect this is related to the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. A website opposed to WECA’s action can be found at PreserveTheWestEnd.com.