Friday, July 31, 2015

Police to update public on fiery Sam Eig Hwy. crash investigation today

Today at 11:30 AM, Montgomery County Police will hold a press conference, at which they will detail their progress in the investigation of a fatal crash at Sam Eig Highway and Fields Road on June 16, 2015.

That wreck resulted in the death of a 5-year-old child, Daniel Dana. His mother, Narges Shafeirad, 33, was seriously injured and hospitalized. The suspicious nature of the accident led police to launch an investigation.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Police investigating fatal accident in Clarksburg

Detectives from the Montgomery County Police Collision Reconstruction Unit are investigating a fatal, single-vehicle crash in Clarksburg on July 28. Richard Pliszak, 54, of the 4500 block of Roop Road in Mount Airy was killed Tuesday when his 2007 Ford Fusion struck a utility pole in the 26600 block of Clarksburg Road around 9:24 PM.

Investigators are seeking to determine the cause of the crash. Anyone with information regarding this collision is asked to contact the Collision Reconstruction Unit at 240-773-6620.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Municipal Parking Lot 5 paving Thursday, July 30 in Gaithersburg

Municipal Parking Lot 5, located along the railroad tracks off S. Summit Avenue in Gaithersburg, will be repaved tomorrow, Thursday, July 30, between 7:00 AM and 5:00 PM. For obvious reasons, no parking is allowed.

Should weather not permit the project to be completed, the work will be rescheduled.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Police to hand out flyers on homicide in Montgomery Village today

Montgomery County Police detectives will be handing out flyers about the recent murder of Bradley Colmes, 60, in Montgomery Village today. Colmes was assaulted and beaten in late June, and died from his injuries. His death was later termed a homicide, and an investigation is underway.

Police will hold a press conference this afternoon at 1:00 PM, in the 10300 block of Ridgeline Drive in Montgomery Village, where the attack took place.

Detectives will then canvas the neighborhood with flyers, as they seek leads and a motive in the case. A reward of $10,000 is currently being offered.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Cricket is the new soccer in I-270 corridor, MoCo officials say

"[C]ricket today in the United States is where soccer was thirty years ago," a Montgomery County Department of Parks memo to the County Planning Board says, in making a request that the body approve the dedication of two cricket fields in the Interstate 270 corridor. The memo argues the sport, invented in England around the 16th century, is growing in popularity among residents and the world. "It is estimated that the World Cup of Cricket will be watched by over 1 billion people," it predicts.

The department is asking for the fields to be constructed at southwest corner of Schaeffer Road and Burdette Lane in the South Germantown Recreational Park, and at the corner of Skylark Road and Piedmont Road at Ovid Hazen Wells Recreational Park in Clarksburg. Should the latter site not become available to Parks, the department suggests locating the second field at South Germantown, as well.

Should the fields be approved at this Thursday's board meeting, Parks says it will fund the first in its FY-2017-22 Capital Improvements Program budget. The department is also hoping to construct two cricket fields in the eastern part of the county, and says additional fields could be needed in the I-270 corridor.

Planning staff are recommending approval of the requests.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Howard enters 6th District race for Congress

Laytonsville resident Frank Howard has officially filed to run for Congress in Maryland's 6th District, the ridiculously-gerrymandered area that runs from Western Maryland all the way into many parts of Montgomery County. Within Montgomery, it includes rapidly-growing towns and cities like Gaithersburg, Montgomery Village, Germantown and Clarksburg; rural areas like Poolesville; and parts of Rockville and Potomac - and even a tiny bit of Bethesda, around Westfield Montgomery Mall. But wait, there's more: it also takes in parts of Aspen Hill.

The seat's current occupant, Congressman John Delaney (D), has been considering runs for the retiring Barbara Mikulski's U.S. Senate seat, and Maryland Governor.

Howard says he would seek to lower the U.S. corporate income tax, restore defense spending, protect Western Maryland workers against the "War on Coal", and replace the Affordable Care Act with a free-market alternative.

The Republican ran a formidable campaign for the District 14 State Senate seat in 2014, in which he was endorsed by the Washington Post, The Gazette, and the Maryland Farm Bureau PAC. An Old Dominion University graduate, Howard is an Air Force veteran and an owner of Shipley Associates. He has also been active in the community, as President of the Board of Directors for Second Chance Wildlife Center, and with Gaithersburg Meals on Wheels.

Photo courtesy Frank Howard for Congress

Thursday, July 23, 2015

VDOT out of step with MD/VA leaders on new Potomac River crossing

The Virginia Department of Transportation has lost a few steps since Gov. Bob McDonnell left office. While some overt, and in more cases, subtle, steps toward building a second Potomac River bridge were taken during the McDonnell years, the latest talking points from VDOT are decidedly less favorable toward such a venture.

VDOT recently released a study of traffic on existing Potomac River crossings that did briefly mention a new bridge remaining a long-term option. But the study "results" strongly favored another option, the extension of HOT lanes along I-495 over the American Legion Bridge onto Maryland's stretch of the Capital Beltway. That's certainly a positive and common sense option that should indeed go forward, particularly to give Beltway drivers willing to pay the toll a faster route.

But HOT lanes on the existing bridge won't give Montgomery County the economic benefit of a more direct route to Dulles Airport, the preferred flight option of firms who do business internationally. Conversely, they won't help boost economic development in the Dulles area, either. And they won't solve the reality that about 25% of Legion bridge traffic is traveling to, or from, the Dulles area.

That latter figure, from a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments study, mysteriously appears nowhere in the report. Other figures that are in the report are questionable, such as the maximum speed claims for rush hour traffic in the area of the bridge on the Beltway. As bad as they sound, they're too fast for Legion bridge commuters to believe.
22.5 MPH speed crossing
from Tysons to Bethesda
during evening rush?
Traffic isn't moving
that fast in real life
There's one other engineering issue: the current Legion bridge isn't wide enough to hold an extension of the Virginia HOT lanes. Widening a bridge is not easy. The report makes no mention of the costs and challenges in doing so.

Moreover, VDOT's downplaying of a new crossing is out of step with their own elected leaders, and the change in leadership on our side of the river. Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently endorsed a new Potomac River bridge at a conference called Dulles Matters. U.S. Senator Mark Warner favors a new bridge, as well.

Maryland has a new governor, too. But Virginia's transportation secretary apparently hasn't heard yet. In his usual dismissal of a new Potomac River crossing, the Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock quotes him as follows: 

“Maryland has publicly stated they’re not interested in any additional river crossings,” Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne told members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board. “Okay, what’s the practical solution we can work on?”

That's complete baloney. Gov. Larry Hogan has never publicly stated he's not interested in any additional river crossings. That was the previous, Martin O'Malley administration that stonewalled any attempt to discuss the matter by Virginia officials.

By all means, go ahead and extend the HOT lanes. But this is also the time to finally begin a legitimate dialogue on a new bridge between the two states, while common-sense governors who understand highways are the major transportation method of the majority of commuters, and will remain so in the future.

Images: VDOT

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Despite special order proposal, Montgomery County staying in liquor business

The current special orders system for beer, wine and liquor in Montgomery County is hurting bars and restaurants' bottom lines and social media reputations, according to several county businesspeople who testified before the Ad Hoc Committee on Liquor Control last night.

Mark Moore of Bethesda's Tyber Bierhaus said that customers can't always get the special German, Belgian or Czech Republic brews they were expecting there, leading to negative comments online that hurt business. The reason some of his taps are not in use at times, Moore testified, is that the County Department of Liquor Control can't fulfill the special orders.

Hans Olson of Clyde's Tower Oaks Lodge recalled that his business was told by the DLC that a bartender staple, Maker's Mark, was simply not available during the busy holiday season. Another popular spirit, Grey Goose vodka, was unavailable in the county for six weeks on one occasion, he said.

And prominent local chef Geoff Tracy, who owns Chef Geoff's in Rockville and Lia's in Friendship Heights, said the DLC is currently unable to serve MoCo restaurants at the level of service their DC and Virginia competitors currently enjoy.

Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction in the state of Maryland with total government control of liquor through the DLC. The Ad Hoc Committee has been unsuccessful in answering the question of many residents and businesspeople: Why is the county involved in the liquor business to begin with? It is now down to only one reform suggestion, allowing alcohol wholesalers to sell and deliver special orders to retailers and restaurants. DLC would continue to have a monopoly on distribution of "stock" beer and wine.

Of course, this will cost around 15 county employees their jobs, for which the proposal offers little substantial remedy. And it will take a sizable chunk out of the approximately $30 million in revenue the county takes in annually from liquor sales. To make up that lost amount - now even more critical with the Supreme Court Wynne decision costing MoCo $50 million in the FY-2017 budget, and added Purple Line cost of $50 million - the county will have to levy some kind of tax on alcohol sales.

Such a tax or fee could end up raising the cost of alcohol. Some in the hospitality business question why the county is still entitled to revenue, if it is no longer providing any service. Good question. What's the justification? And, while we know "Option 4" will be financially beneficial to a few private liquor distributors, will the new special order system sustain, worsen or improve the current situation for restaurants, bars, and their patrons? Sure, accounting and delivery speed will surely improve, but what about prices, particularly with the unknown county tax added?

Molly Horn, bar manager at the new All Set Restaurant and Bar in downtown Silver Spring, noted that customers can now get the same drink for a lower price right over the border in DC under the county's current system. That's a huge disadvantage to county restauranteurs and patrons.

But the county even gouges retailers, currently. Charleen Merkel of Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda said the county is charging private retail stores like hers a higher markup on wine, while selling it for a cheaper price to consumers in county-operated liquor stores.

Of course, Option 4 sounds good under the circumstances. If you were a political prisoner surviving on bread and water in solitary confinement, and the warden said you could have a prime rib and a run around the prison yard once a day, you might consider that good news, too. But it wouldn't make the overall wrong right, and hardly be celebration-worthy.

But there's entirely too much fawning media coverage of the "effort" to reform the liquor system in Montgomery County by Councilmember Hans Riemer. If Option 4 indeed comes to pass, it won't be the end of liquor control by county government. It doesn't assure that prices will be lower in the long term.

What Riemer and other officials are saying is, we're going to give you back a little bit of your business we have no business being involved with in the first place. They're still not getting out of that business. And they still don't trust you, the adult taxpayer, to buy Bud Light or a sub-$10 wine bottle at Giant or CVS.

Before the MoCo political machine apologists say, "but that's the state law, not the county!" - yes, it is.

But charging a tax and allowing private distribution, if Option 4 comes to pass, will require two legislative actions in Annapolis. Why not add in grocery and convenience store sales to the legislative "ask" at the same time? Guess what, they're not going to. Put those pom-poms away.

Speaking of fawning media coverage, when will the local media ask Councilmember Riemer what he knew, and when he knew it, regarding alleged illegal activity in the DLC? Riemer appeared to be highly-involved in an NBC4 investigation, which purported to show employees drinking on the job, and engaged in other illegal activity. Yet that report, which included a well-staged, formal sit-down interview with Riemer, aired a mere 48 hours after Election Day in November 2014.

Was illegal activity in DLC known to Councilmember Riemer prior to Election Day, but not disclosed until after he was safely reelected? Riemer and the County Council have oversight authority over the DLC, and each of them took an oath of office that required them to uphold the law, which would include reporting illegal activity immediately to law enforcement authorities.

Enquiring minds want to know.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Damascus teen missing (Photo)

Montgomery County Police are asking the public's help in locating a missing Damascus teenager.

Taya Nadine Eader, 16, of the 28900 block of Kemptown Road was last seen on July 13, 2015 at 9:30 PM. Police describe Eader as a white female, 5’02” tall, 120 pounds, with hazel eyes, red hair and scarring on her forearms.

Police say they and her family are concerned for her physical and emotional welfare.

Eader last updated her Facebook account on July 10, at 11:30 AM. Her Twitter account has never tweeted.

Anyone who has information regarding her whereabouts is asked to call the Montgomery County Police – Special Victims Investigations Division at 240-773-5400, or the police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000 (24 hours).

Callers may remain anonymous.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Gaithersburg Mayor and Council to discuss Crown Farm legal issues in closed session tonight

What legal issues or litigation are brewing at Crown Farm? We don't know, and likely still won't know after Gaithersburg's Mayor and Council meet in a session closed to the public tonight at City Hall.

A quiet posting on the city website Friday says only that the Mayor and Council will "consult with counsel to obtain legal advice; and...consult with staff, consultants, or other individuals about pending or potential litigation. The topic to be discussed is the Crown Farm Development." The session will follow the body's regular 7:00 PM meeting tonight, July 20.

Stay tuned.

Photo courtesy City of Gaithersburg

Friday, July 17, 2015

Rabid bat captured at Dalamar Apartments in Gaithersburg

A rabid bat was captured by Gaithersburg Animal Control officers last Friday, July 10, at the Dalamar Apartment complex in the 40 block of Dalamar Street. Initially reported as a "nuisance bat", the animal was found to be rabid following testing.

If you or your pet had any contact with a bat in the vicinity of Dalamar Street in the last several weeks, officers urge you to contact the Montgomery County Health Department immediately at 240-777-1755 (if it was your pet, please contact Gaithersburg Animal Control at 301-258-6343).

Image via City of Gaithersburg

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Gaithersburg biotech firm enters advantageous merger

Gaithersburg's OpGen, Inc. (Nasdaq:OPGN), has made a deal to acquire AdvanDx, Inc., a Woburn, Mass. developer of advanced molecular diagnostic products.

AdvanDx is best known for its work in the molecular testing of blood cultures. QuickFISH™ products by AdvanDx provide 20 minute identification and differentiation of Gram-negative species and other blood pathogens.

"The acquisition of AdvanDx strengthens OpGen's portfolio of rapid molecular tests for combating drug resistant infections, while providing additional avenues to sell our Acuitas tests," Evan Jones, Chairman & CEO, said in a statement. "[The] combination of the two companies will expand our revenue and customer base and provide rapid testing capabilities to complement our MDRO gene tests. Together we will be able to combine rapid organism ID capabilities with best in class drug resistance testing."

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Montgomery Village sector plan draft headed to Planning Board July 23

A draft of the Montgomery Village sector plan will be presented to the Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday, July 23, at 7:00 PM.

Following discussion and feedback from the board, a public hearing on the draft will be set for September 10, 2015.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

" Alarming " new report confirms decline of MCPS under current MoCo Council, BOE

Unsuccessful challengers in the 2014 Montgomery County Council and school board elections have been utterly vindicated by an "alarming" new report that shows Montgomery County Public Schools have continued their decline since the incumbents were reelected.

Not only had MCPS students' performance declined between 2010 and 2014, but the achievement gap between white/Asian students, and their African-American and Latino counterparts, grew. Local media outlets papered over those facts, and promoted and endorsed the incumbents despite their failures on education and other areas.

Now we find that - after the voters were assured "Everything is Awesome" by incumbents and their backers in the media and county political machine - the numbers have gotten even worse since Election Day 2014.

"Montgomery County students lost ground in Algebra and showed no improvement or lagged slightly on five other key measures of math and reading performance," The Washington Post reported yesterday.

Since the reelection of the County Council and BOE, only 50% of county students were able to attain a grade higher than D in Algebra I, the report showed.

"Troubling". "Shockingly bad". "Deplorable." "This cannot continue".

Yet it does, and will, until the media and political machine are forced to stand down by their own utter failure. And until voters begin to actually do their homework, and elect candidates who bring new, different and innovative ideas about education, early education, poverty and the achievement gap to the table.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sprinklers put out fire at Germantown apartment (Photo)

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services credit smoke alarms and sprinklers from preventing disaster at an apartment complex on Dovedale Way in Germantown Friday. Firefighters responded to a blaze in an apartment there that was quickly extinguished by the building's sprinkler system.

Smoke alarms alerted the resident, who escaped unharmed. That resident has been temporarily displaced from the apartment. MCFRS ventilated the apartment post-fire.

Photo: MCFRS

Friday, July 10, 2015

Free Slurpee at 7-Eleven Saturday, July 11 in Gaithersburg, Germantown, Montgomery Village, Damascus

Saturday is 7-Eleven Day.

Stop in to any 7-Eleven location tomorrow, July 11, from 11 AM to 7 PM, for a free small Slurpee.

This year they are also adding on a 7Rewards Week July 12-18.

Download the 7-Eleven app for your phone, and you will be eligible to get a free 7-Select brand item (under $2) with the purchase of a Coffee, Chillers® Iced Coffee, Slurpee, or Big Gulp - if you scan your 7-Eleven app those days.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Free concert and haircuts tonight at Downtown Crown

The Lloyd Dobler Effect will perform live in a free concert tonight, 6:00-8:00 PM, at Crown Park at Downtown Crown in Gaithersburg. If you make a $10 donation to MusiCares, you'll also get a free haircut from Crown's own Floyd's Barbershop aboard their Barberbus at the park.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Silver Diner closes at Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg

Silver Diner has closed at Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg. "There was simply not enough business to enable the location to be successful," co-founders Robert Giaimo and Ype von Hengst said in announcing the closure. 

The local restaurant chain says it is providing severance pay and recommendation letters to its Lakeforest employees, and offering them positions where available at other Silver Diner locations. New Silver outposts are opening in the future in Waldorf, Bethesda and Frederick.

Negotiations with the mall were ongoing to renew the restaurant's lease, but ultimately the owners had to make the call to close in recent days. They said they have not ruled out a future return to Gaithersburg.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Gaithersburg considering changes to APFO regarding school capacity (Photos)

Development restrictions resulting from Gaithersburg's current Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance regarding school overcrowding is pressuring officials to change their standards. Last night, the city's mayor and council held a joint public hearing with the Gaithersburg Planning Commission to discuss a draft proposal and listen to community feedback.

The current APFO standards for school capacity require school capacity to be measured by individual school, and examine its capacity within a 5-year horizon. If a school reaches 110% of capacity, a developer must obtain a city waiver to proceed with schematic development or Preliminary Plan approval in that area of the city. Should overcrowding reach 120%, the area served by that school goes into a development moratorium.
Gaithersburg schools currently at
110% of capacity or worse
(click to enlarge)
Under those standards, a majority of the city is now either in moratorium or requiring a 110% waiver. According to city staff, only 36% of the city's land area is currently available to develop minus a waiver, or not in moratorium. The recent worsening of the situation "somewhat caught us by surprise," a staff member said last night.

The most overcrowded schools in the areas under moratorium are Rachel Carson ES (148.1%), Summit Hall ES (140.1%) and Strawberry Knoll ES (138%).

Potential development projects now threatened by the current moratoria include redevelopment of Lakeforest Mall, Orchard Pond II (at Clopper and Quince Orchard Roads), and the Kentlands Boulevard Commercial District.

Using feedback at prior public meetings and a retreat, staff developed a draft amendment to the APFO for presentation last night.

The major proposed changes are the following:

  • The current 110% threshold for overcrowding would increase to 150%
  • Any new housing unit within the area served by a school that exceeds 105% capacity would have to pay a new Gaithersburg Schools Facility Payment Fee (in addition to the current Montgomery County fee)
  • The Gaithersburg City Council would have the authority "to waive either the 150% capacity ceiling or the Gaithersburg Schools Facilities Payment Fee (or both) with defined justifications"
What makes the new Gaithersburg school fee significant, is that - with the cooperation of Montgomery County - all of the money collected through the fee would go toward school construction and additions in Gaithersburg, rather than go into the general MCPS pot. Fees would start at $5400 per high-rise unit in the current draft.

This is an intriguing element compared to the recent changes in neighboring Rockville's APFS, where the City Council voted 3-2 to simply capitulate to developers and adopt the looser County school standards. There would be no new funding specific to Rockville, however. Here, Gaithersburg would potentially capture revenue that would stay within the city.

The third provision - the ability to waive the cap or the fee - caused concern for some on the Gaithersburg council. With the current language suggesting a rather wide loophole, "how can you say no" to a project, Councilmember Cathy Cathy Drzyzgula asked. 

As currently proposed, exemptions would be given for projects a quarter-mile from "existing or proposed transit", those that offer at least 30% affordable units, those offering "public benefit", or properties being annexed into Gaithersburg. Also exempt would be any project within the following areas: the Frederick Avenue Corridor Land Use Plan area, the Gaithersburg Olde Towne District, or the Kentlands Boulevard Commercial District. Obviously, these criteria allow much leeway for a waiver to be provided to almost any project in the broadest reading of the language.

Councilman Henry Marraffa said that if development that impacts schools is to occur, it would be preferable to have it within the city to draw revenue from.

Mayor Jud Ashman asked city staff if the proposed formula would work "as advertised?" One staff member said he believed it would, but that it would take several years to reap the benefits of the change.

In contrast to the mass resident outrage over the APFS changes in Rockville, there was little turnout at City Hall last night by residents. A county PTA representative expressed concern over whether allowing more development when schools are over capacity now would be a good strategy. One resident suggested some ways to tighten up the proposed amendment.

The Mayor and Council scheduled a work session on the draft amendment for August 10, 2015. Gaithersburg's Planning Commission will issue it recommendation on the matter on September 2. A vote on the changes is set for September 21.

Images courtesy City of Gaithersburg

Monday, July 6, 2015

Tow truck company fire in Gaithersburg (Photo)

Multiple vehicles caught fire at a tow truck company in Gaithersburg Sunday. Hazardous or flammable materials posed a potential threat to firefighters responding to the blaze at Snouffer School Road and Mooney Drive.

Multiple combustibles and magnesium metal casings were near the vehicles, but fast work by firefighters minimized their exposure, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesperson Pete Piringer said.

Photo by Pete Piringer, MCFRS

Friday, July 3, 2015

S. Summit Ave. to close next week for CSX railroad crossing repairs in Gaithersburg

S. Summit Avenue will close between East Diamond and Olde Towne Avenues for 5 days, beginning Monday, July 6, 2015. The temporary closure will allow CSX Transportation to make repairs to their railroad crossing. A detour with signs will direct drivers to an alternative crossing of the tracks.

Rail commuters can access the MARC Train Station via the pedestrian bridge from the Olde Towne Parking Garage, and from the existing boardwalk that crosses the railroad tracks in front of the station.

For updates call the Gaithersburg Department of Public Works at 301-258-6370.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Independence Day concert tonight at Downtown Crown

Start your Independence Day weekend off tonight in Downtown Crown in Gaithersburg, with a free brass band concert. The concert begins at 6:00 PM and goes until 8:00.

Jenni Chase of WASH-FM will be broadcasting live from the event beginning at 5:00 PM tonight.

There will also be face painting, a stilt walker, a photo booth with patriotic props, and free watermelon slices.

This is one performance in Downtown Crown's summer concert series, which will be on Thursdays at 6:00 PM. Next week, they'll host the Lloyd Dobler Effect.

Barking Mad Coffee, Fire and Spirits coming to Gaithersburg (Photos)

Barking Mad Coffee, Fire and Spirits is coming to the Watkins Mill Town Center, in the Spectrum development along Watkins Mill Road. Serving both coffee and adult beverages, Barking Mad won't be your average Starbucks. And it will be more of a restaurant than your average coffee shop.

Like Firebirds and California Tortilla, Barking Mad will have excellent placement for live concerts and other events in the adjacent Performers Park at Spectrum.

Barking Mad is expected to open in September.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Walnut Hill Shopping Center expansion plans in Gaithersburg (Photos)

Montgomery County Planning Department staff are recommending the Planning Board approve the proposed expansion at the Walnut Hill Shopping Center in Gaithersburg. The shopping center is planning to add two pad sites in the existing parking lot.

Because the site is already recorded in county records, and neither structure will be taller than 40', the sketch and site plans do not require approval by the board. Future tenants of the structures are not identified, but one is labeled as a "bank".

The issue will be taken up by the Planning Board at its July 9 meeting.