Monday, January 7, 2019

here are 13 reasons why Montgomery County has to make budget cuts this year

Montgomery County will soon start working on its budget for next year, and officials already expect that they'll need to make big cuts. While the county's population is growing, its tax base has been shrinking, which means that we're trying to pay for more services with less money. How did this happen? Here are several reasons.

1) 6116 Executive Boulevard

6116 Executive Boulevard
This Montgomery County office building has been totally vacant for five years. All photos by the author unless noted. 

This eight-story building, built in 1989, has been totally vacant since the National Institutes of Health left in 2013. As a result, its value has fallen 64% over the past decade and the building went into foreclosure in 2014 because the owners weren't collecting rent. It's one of 19 office buildings in Montgomery County that are either fully vacant or will be soon, all of which are outside the Beltway.

2) One Discovery Place
Discovery Communications' soon-to-be-former headquarters.

Twenty years ago, Discovery Communications moved from Bethesda to Silver Spring and helped usher in downtown's revitalization with a huge new headquarters that consumed four blocks and employed 2,500 people. However, they've slowly been shedding workers, and will move from Montgomery County to Tennessee and New York next year, with about 200 people remaining in Silver Spring. While the building has a new owner, no new tenants are on the horizon.

3) White Flint Mall

This was Montgomery County's fanciest mall, and it was slated to become a fancy open-air town center until department store Lord & Taylor sued the Lerners, which own the mall, for knocking it down–and they won. More recently, the county offered the 45-acre property for Amazon's new headquarters, and we know how that went. Today it's a big pile of dirt, though Lord & Taylor is still there.

Monday, December 31, 2018

a brief look back at 2018

The week between Christmas and New Year's is one of my favorite times of year, one in which everything quiets down and we can take a moment to reflect on the past year and make plans for the future as well. Or at least, that's the plan, right? This year has been exhilarating and productive and sometimes frustrating, and I'm grateful for the adventures I've had and the great people I've gotten to work with.

However, I am wiped! Here are some of the things I did this year:
My goals for 2019 are simple: there are only so many hours of the day, and I want to spend them with the people I love, projects I'm passionate about, and all while taking care of myself. I know all of you had a big year, and I hope you take care of yourselves in the coming year too! I'll see you in 2019.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

wheaton's art parade shows how we can reuse vacant suburban spaces

This Sunday, works of art will take over the streets of downtown Wheaton for the Wheaton Art Parade. Now in its second year, the parade is a sign of how communities in Montgomery County are finding new uses for vacant suburban retail spaces.

One of the sculptures in the Art Factory, the former mall beauty school where pieces in the Wheaton Art Parade are stored. All photos by the author.

Earlier this month, I stopped by the Art Factory, a former beauty school behind Wheaton Plaza. Nestled between mannequins and barber’s chairs are giant sculptures, including a rainbow-colored chicken and a robot. A piece called “Narcissus” riffs on Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam by putting a smartphone in Adam’s hand as he takes a selfie.

Dan Thompson, executive director of the Wheaton Art Parade and a retired federal worker, wanted to bring local artists together. “The town doesn’t know the artists that are here,” he says. “Artists don’t know each other. You want to call a meeting with artists? They’re all busy scraping by.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

montgomery county says no new homes in silver spring because the schools are full

For decades, school planners assumed that families would move out to the suburbs once they had kids, and made projections for where and how to build new schools based on that. But as that trend begins to shift, Montgomery County is finding school enrollment harder to predict, which creates new challenges in and out of the classroom.

Paint Branch High School. All photos and maps by the author.

Like many places, Montgomery County Public Schools predicts how many students will enroll in local schools for the next several years, and if a school will have enough room or if it’ll be over capacity. Like many places, those projections, along with traffic predictions, can be used to stop new development.

This summer, Montgomery County’s planning department declared a “moratorium” in several areas, including Silver Spring, Wheaton, and part of Bethesda, because some schools are projected to have more students than there is space. This halts new development in those area until enrollment drops, the boundaries are moved, or additional classroom space can be found.

What families want is changing

How did this happen? In a recent Washington Post story, reporter Katie Shaver notes that Montgomery County Public Schools didn’t anticipate changes in how and where families want to live. The school system is seeing a lot of growth in close-in areas like Silver Spring and Bethesda, because more families want to live in urban, walkable neighborhoods where they can walk to shops, jobs, or transit.

These communities are also becoming very expensive because there’s a lot of demand to live there, and outside of a few areas, very few homes are being built there. As a result, many parents can’t afford to buy a house and are instead renting apartments, living with relatives, or even doubling up with other families to make ends meet.