Thursday, November 30, 2006

house of blues a sour note for silver spring

BUT FIRST: My piece on Galway might have to wait, but plan to see some pretty pictures of the Forest Glen Seminary tomorrow . . .

The House of Blues, a "chain of concert venues" located in such classy places as Atlantic City and North Myrtle Beach, has made plans to open a concert hall by the D.C. Convention Center, which might worry some Silver Spring residents hoping for a second branch of the Birchmere to take over the old J.C. Penney store (pictured) on Colesville Road.

And while the Birchmere has built its reputation on booking folk acts, they also feature a healthy amount of alternative rockers like Aimee Mann or local band Virginia Coalition. These are the same kind of artists that play at other area clubs such as the 9:30 Club, the Black Cat - and House of Blues locations such as the one in Chicago, where Senses Fail and Better Than Ezra will be showing up in December.

That's some healthy competition right there, especially between locally-based businesses that serve a limited population (each of these venues holds about a thousand) and a national chain. "We will lose half of our business, at least," says Seth Hurwitz, manager of the 9:30 Club, while Michael Jaworek, promoter for the Birchmere calls the ensuing struggle for acts "a case of Darwinism."

We'll have to see if the Birchmere actually plans to locate in Downtown Silver Spring, but with the entrance of House of Blues into the local concert scene, creating that "Broadway effect" on Colesville might be more difficult than we previously thought.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

ike leggett gets an earful from me

Well, I got what I wanted: County Executive Ike Leggett knows who I am and now he might actually be scared.

I went to Ike Leggett's Town Hall Meeting in Chevy Chase last night, attended by a standing-room-only crowd that spilled into the lobby of the Leland Community Center. A number of big MoCo names were there, including Del. Bill Bronrott (D-16), Dr. Dana Beyer and scandalized former Planning Board Chairman Derick Berlage.

After hearing all the Civic Association presidents complain about "overdevelopment" and "high-rises" - my favorite was the woman who wanted the State to compensate her for building the Purple Line next to her condominium, even though she wasn't losing any property - I had an opportunity to tell Ike Leggett what I think of him. This is what I said to him, taken as best as I can from memory:

"Mr. Leggett, my name is Dan Reed and I have lived in Silver Spring since I was three. I go to school in College Park, and I worked in Bethesda. I am one of those people who would benefit from the Purple Line, but all I have heard from your campaign this year is about how development needs to be stopped and how we need to place building moratoriums in the County, and it still takes me an hour-and-a-half to get to work in the morning.

"It's why all of these people here voted for you, but it is not a solution. I want to hear that you are committed to better transit in Montgomery County, because the only way we'll deal with this traffic is by improving the infrastructure."

No one applauded for me. A lot of people were staring at me as if I'd just dropped the F-bomb. But this is Chevy Chase: the Purple Line is unsafe political territory, but it was the white elephant in the room tonight. A number of people brought it up, whether they were for or against it. This is the number one issue in Montgomery County right now, but no politician here or on the State level seems to want to fully tackle it.

"I thought we covered this during the campaign," Ike said, eliciting a timid laugh from the audience. He went on to explain that "we do not have the resources" to build the Purple Line, but that it was not going to solve the traffic problem alone. He had a plan, he said - "slowing the rate of development," "providing additional mass transit," and "other solutions." "We cannot simply build our way out of this," he said, "and, young man, for you to say that the Purple Line will fix all our traffic problems is fine, but it will not."

"With all due respect, Mr. Leggett," I answered back, "that's not what I inferred."

I think he was a little taken aback, because he just repeated what he'd said earlier and went on to the next person. A photographer from the Washington Informer took down my name and, later, a photograph of me introducing myself to Ike after the meeting.

"I just wanted to say 'hi'," I said. "I know who you are," Leggett said, not too enthused. "I hope you hear from me again," I responded. (Whoops! My bad.) "I mean - until I can ride that train, you should expect to hear from me."

Something pushed me away. Maybe it was the crowd of people seeking a second with him - the woman who'd asked me to take a picture of the two of them together - but I made my way out, stopping to say "hi" to a few loyal readers.

This is the beginning of the next four years in Montgomery County. Everything I feared about our new County Executive is true: he is as patronizing and wishy-washy as any politician capable of earning the title "Nice Guy" can be, but so long as he wants to listen to what we have to say, I am going to keep my promise to Ike Leggett.

second in a week of features at Just Up The Pike.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

stuck in a NIMBY rut

While Virginia is pushing for more transit funding, why are "Evil Developers" and ways to stop them all that we can talk about in Montgomery County? Sure, Virginia Gov. Thomas Kaine wants to slow growth as well, but he goes a step further than making quixotic statements about "improving infrastructure" and "catching up," which is all our new County Executive can say.

Look, I'm upset that Montgomery County developers are shirking their responsibility to provide affordable housing in projects such as this development in Woodside. I worked at the firm that designed this project, and I met Joe Alfandre, the developer. He's a nice guy, but obviously he's not doing his job (nor are most New Urbanists when it comes to affordable housing, but that's for another day) and I think we need to do something about that.

But the people who led this current anti-developer push don't really care about affordable housing, and they're going to drag the well-being of Montgomery County down as they fight to keep their property values up.

Ike Leggett says he wants to people to have "confidence and respect for the system" with him as County Executive. Well, I'm not going to have confidence OR respect in a County government who seems to dwell on one issue which, as popular as it may be right now, doesn't actually provide a solution.

Monday, November 27, 2006

blake high chooses: the arts or racial diversity?

first in a week of features at Just Up The Pike.

"It’s not a choice process because there’s really not a lot of choice . . . The whole aura it sets up has made it tough in our house." - an East County parent (see article)
For ten years, each of the three Northeast Consortium high schools serving East County - James Hubert Blake, Springbrook and Paint Branch - has had a special focus and allowed East County eighth-graders to choose a school that best fits their interests. When I went to Blake, I met a lot of people who shared my interest in art, and I had a better education for it.

Shouldn't that be enough for Montgomery County Public Schools, who's been denying an increasing number of students their first-choice school to give Blake a more diverse population reflective of East County's demographics? Four years ago, 100 percent of students in the Northeast Consortium got to attend the school of their choice; today, only 85 percent have the same opportunity.

The result: Blake, which was already a hot commodity in the Consortium, has a lot of parents and kids worried about what are, essentially, the next four years of their lives. To me, the idea of giving kids on reduced lunch a preference in assigning high schools is a little close to the idea of mandatory busing. Racial or socioeconomic diversity is not the be-all, end-all goal of a school, especially when the community it serves (be it a farm town or simply kids who like to draw) may not be inherently diverse.

On the other hand, however, Blake's newfound diversity - according to the County's statistics, the school is 46% White, 34% Black, 11% Hispanic and 9% Asian - might be a boon for those students on reduced lunches. Blake's test scores are, in some cases, considerably higher than its Consortium counterparts, as evidenced by the dramatic increase of black students at Blake taking Advanced Placement courses.

The area served by the Northeast Consortium, which covers all of East County, is by nature a diverse one - everything from $1,000/month apartments to million-dollar homes. No matter what's taught in a school, that school will reflect the diversity of this community. We don't need to toy with hundreds of East County families each year by promising them a school their kids won't be able to attend. I say that the Choice Program be just that - a choice of the people - and let the chips fall where they may.

pictured: scenes from Blake High School, May 2005.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

next week at just up the pike . . .

I'm doing what I do best - long features - so watch out for the following pieces:

MONDAY & TUESDAY: I'll be talking about the schools. On Monday, I'll look at how the Northeast Consortium's attempts to engineer diversity in East County high schools has been hurting students' ability to attend the school of their choice.

On Tuesday, I'll be talking about the renovation of Galway, one of the County's largest elementary schools (pictured).

WEDNESDAY: I'll be re-capping County Executive-elect Ike Leggett's town hall meeting in Chevy Chase the night before. My explicit purpose for this trip is to see what Leggett will say about the Purple Line in front of its biggest opponents. I think it'll be fun!

THURSDAY: While Save Our Seminary held a guided tour of the Forest Glen Seminary this weekend, I went out to see the redevelopment of this historical landmark for myself and took lots of pictures. How is this child's playground growing up? You'll find out.

Of course, you'll also get all the normal news and gossip that all blogs are dependent on. I feel this method gives me a better focus, however - another step in making Just Up The Pike a better blog.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

sarbanes' legacy in silver spring

If anyone should be especially thankful this Thanksgiving, it should be Senator Paul Sarbanes. In one of his last acts as County Executive, Doug Duncan asked the Metro board to name the new Silver Spring Transit Center after our outgoing Senator and an outspoken transit advocate. The $75 million Senator Paul S. Sarbanes Silver Spring Transit Center (if the re-naming of BWI is any indicator to how it will be named) will start construction this summer.

Will they re-name the Silver Spring Metro station itself after this is built? Probably not. Metro does not traditionally change station names once they're open - even when Prince George's Plaza became the Mall at Prince George's, the Metro station retained the PG Plaza moniker. They did, though, change the name of Mt. Vernon Square/7th St-Convention Center to reflect the convention center's move from Chinatown, but that was more of a logistical issue than the desire to stay up-to-date with place names.

Either way - man, I wish I had a place named for me while I was still alive. Sarbanes will pinch himself every time he takes a train to Silver Spring.

Monday, November 20, 2006

a poor man's Potomac?

"You wouldn’t even know it’s there, or that such high-end homes can be found so close in town."
First, we had the East County Castle. Now, McMansions priced from $1,499,900 are going up in my neighborhood at Route 29 and Musgrove Road, two years after a previous developer was shut down by the state.

There was a time when the fear of crime, sub-par schools and lack of shopping options kept People With Money out of East County, but I guess either we've upped our game or they've lowered their standards because I can now say I live in a million-dollar community. (Nevermind that the average house in my neighborhood sells for only half a million dollars.)

How can this work in East County? You could argue a "revitalized" Silver Spring could command these kind of home prices . . . but this is six miles away. You could also say we're becoming a more affordable alternative to more expensive County developments as the last remaining pieces of farmland on the fringes of Silver Spring become a new "poor man's Potomac."

What does this mean for Montgomery County in the long run? If these trends take hold, could we become more solidly homogeneous and hold on to our reputation for wealth? Or, could this just be a shift in which areas are considered "hip," meaning that new pockets of lower- and middle-income people could form in other parts of the County?

What do you think?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

some changes at just up the pike

"For $125 in advance or $150 at the door, a ticket to the black tie affair will buy you wine and soda and a gourmet buffet, in addition to dancing and valet parking."
Doug Duncan's throwing an inaugural ball? Why didn't I get an invitation? I want one-hundred-and-fifty-dollar soda: what a Montgomery County kind of drink.

FINALLY: You'll notice a few changes already on the home page, such as a cleaner, more straight-forward sidebar and a new background. The picture was taken at this overpass in South Silver Spring.

What you'll see soon is a change in my approach to blogging - "an extended rant," as suggested by the new subtitle. Ranting is my strong suit, and I hope to yell a whole lot more in the coming months. Who cares if the Democrats run everything now? I'm still plenty mad.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

thumbing through the papers . . .

so you don't have to.

From the Post:Yikes! These oddly-shaped lots are in Fairfax County, which is trying to prevent them from being developed again. They have a reputation for surveying blind, I guess. I wonder why we don't see this in MoCo as much.

From the Gazette:

- The assistant principal at my alma mater, Blake High, has been nominated for Maryland Assistant Principal of the Year. Mr. Berry was a great administrator and a good guy, and I think he deserves it.

- Throughout the fall, Ike Leggett's been focus-grouping his plans for governing Montgomery County with a cadre of business leaders in Potomac, while former Senate candidate Allan Lichtman suggests the election of so many slow-growthers in County government won't really make a difference.

- A Silver Springer writes in to defend "the Turf" as more than a "placeholder" until the new Civic Building goes up.

It's been a good week, and I think the rest of it will look similar.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

a slow day in college park . . .

Something has just occurred to me: I do not live in Silver Spring eight months out of the year and, even though old College Park is but six miles away, my News-Gathering Capabilities are severely limited.

I need to do things differently at Just Up The Pike. Expect to see changes very soon - not huge changes, but a few tweaks that I think will make me a better blogger and this a better blog.

Monday, November 13, 2006

what was the name of that Lebanese restaurant?

okay, now imagine this is in Virginiapictured: storefront in Downtown Silver Spring, but imagine it's in Arlington, Virginia.

If there's any neighborhood in Greater Washington I'd compare to Silver Spring, it'd be Clarendon, whose revitalization is the subject of a Post write-up today. In Clarendon, you'll find everything from used record stores to Lebanese restaurants to trendy condos - all with a local character that is slowly dying off in the wake of gentrification.

But can this upheaval continue in the Clarendons and Silver Springs of the D.C. area forever? The Post also remarks on the growing popularity of so-called "urban villages," with one analyst estimating that the demand for these kind of neighborhoods is five to ten times the current supply.

What this suggests is that little future Clarendons will continue to pop up around D.C. for years to come - but what it might mean is, if we encourage the development of enough "urban villages," not just in the typical yuppie strongholds of Arlington County or Northwest but in Prince George's County, this demand could be spread out enough to spare a few local establishments from becoming Cheesecake Factories.

I think gentrification is a good thing, if we can share the wealth. Rosslyn spawned Clarendon; Bethesda (one could argue) spawned Silver Spring; Silver Spring and Clarendon could spawn the revitalization of many other small towns and urban neighborhoods.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

play nice, kids . . .

A few nasty comments here at Just Up The Pike are getting me worried enough to consider re-instating the ban on anonymous posting from August.

Now, I'm all for people making ignorant statements - such as this Rockville woman's anti-townhouse rant in last week's Gazette - but if you're going to do so, please show some backbone and give yourself a name; otherwise, I reserve the right to delete your comment.

Intelligent commenters fear not: you will always have a place at Just Up The Pike . . . and in my heart.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

ike's first act: placating the NIMBYs

County Executive-elect Ike Leggett may be on a high over the wave of Democratic elected officials flooding an already-blue Montgomery County, but he's still down in my book for giving into the NIMBYs and calling for a moratorium on growth in Montgomery County, perhaps in our very own East County.

Now, Ike lives in East County. He knows how expensive homes here have gotten. He knows how bad traffic is in the mornings when everyone drives out to work and in the evenings when they come back. He's probably frustrated over having to go to Columbia, Wheaton or North Bethesda for shopping. Maybe he's even ridden a crowded Z6 bus up The Pike once or twice.

So why's he so interested in a moratorium? Do we need any more McMansions like his eating up the Maryland countryside? Why isn't he calling for more mixed-use development? Why isn't he calling for more transit? Why haven't we heard anything about the Purple Line yet? O'Malley says it's at the top of his agenda. I guess we're seeing a reversal of the current situation, where the County Exec. is pushing for it and the Governor's indifferent.

The "I've got mine, screw you" mentality is better suited for the selfish NIMBYs than for the man who's supposed to be leading our County. You came from poverty, Ike. Shouldn't you care about people who can't afford to live in Montgomery County? Obviously not. You've got yours.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

let the gloating begin

I just called Governor Ehrlich's office. (The number is 410-974-3901.) "Governor Ehrlich's office," the woman on the other end said. "How may I help you?" "I doubt I can speak to the governor," I said, "but can you give him this message for me?" "Sure," the woman responds.

"I am so goddamned happy he lost the election. Let me tell you -"

"Thank you," the woman said. Then she hung up.

just up the pike turns 100!

And what better way to ring in the hundredth post than with these spectacular election day results! It feels like Christmas!

While the election has not been settled nationally (thanks a lot, Virginia and Montana), here in Maryland, the people have spoken, and Bob Ehrlich and Michael Steele are back out on the street.

Ehrlich has done enough damage over the past four years. He dismantled Glendening's Office of Smart Growth; he ignored our state's transportation priorities and forced the approval of a two-billion-dollar highway; and he disrespected the people of a state whose beliefs are not in line with his.

Steele didn't do anything in office, but this election season he disrespected minorities, trying to swindle them into voting for him and assuming a cute puppy could cause us to ignore his conservative ideology and connections to President Bush. This man is little more than a false front, and now everyone can see it.

It's time for Maryland to pick up where it left off with Glendening and continue its tradition of progressive government. We've strayed too far from our goals over the past four years.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

all is right with the world

Reading the election returns on the Post's website I feel a surge of hope the likes of which I haven't felt in a while. I was too young in 2000; my friends and I all wanted Bush because our parents told us Bill Clinton did a "bad thing" and Gore was no better. In 2002, I took National, State and Local Government, and our teacher encouraged us to get involved and, on election night, my heart sunk as I saw Bob Ehrlich's victory celebration. In 2004, I was too demoralized to get involved in my high school's Young Democrats after I saw Howard Dean's disastrous speech on CNN; when Bush won a second term I succumbed to the realization that he was, in fact, Our President.

But tonight is different. I am listening to O'Malley's March, and I am hopeful. Perhaps we will get Maryland back on track soon.

the election takes a new turn . . .

Voting at Galway was fast and orderly. In the voting booth, I looked at this list of names for County Executive - Chuck Floyd, Ike Leggett, Robin Ficker - and I was unimpressed.

I knew my mother was voting for Ficker. Earlier today, she told me that Robin Ficker had represented my step-dad about fifteen years ago. I was pretty amused, but still unsure.

I clicked "Write-In" and typed: D-A-N-space-R-E-E-D. I know it's late in the game, but I am announcing my entry into the race for Montgomery County Executive.

falling on deaf ears . . .

This is my reason for voting:

"Is there anything important happening in the world today?" my roommate asked as I clicked through the Post's website just now.

"Well, it's Election Day," I said.

He smirked. "Other than that. Besides, it's only the midterm election."

"It's a very important election."

"If you say so," he muttered.

"It's a very important election," I repeated. "We're voting for Congressmen and Senators. If the House and Senate are taken over by the Democrats, Bush could have a very hard time the next two years." He was still unimpressed. "And we're voting for Governor, too."

My roommate simply shook his head. "There's a lot more to it," he said, explaining how "fucked-up" the system was, how the incumbents always win, and how even if someone new is elected, he "usually doesn't do anything different than the last guy."

When he left, I shook my head. There are too many presumably intelligent people who fall back on that defeatist bullshit whenever asked about voting. How can you tell if this system is messed up if you've never taken part in it?

UPDATE: I was surprised to hear my roommate went out and voted this morning. "You can't complain if you don't vote," he said.

My bad. I guess the electorate - or at least, the electorate in my room - deserves more credit than I'm willing to give.

it's election day!

The U-Md. campus is littered with "Vote!" signs, though the school newspaper is noting that there will be a record low turnout at the polling place in the Stamp Union. I plan to vote myself this afternoon - back home, at old Galway Elementary School.

My favorite campaign sign "ensemble" is at the corner of Cherry Hill Road and Route 1 in College Park, in front of the IHOP. There's a big Ben Cardin sign in the ground. Stuck to the front of it are several Michael Steele signs. And, stuck on top of one Steele sign is a Robin Ficker/Property Tax Relief sign.

Nevermind that this is Prince George's County . . . oh, well.

I will tell you what I told all of my friends today: "Go vote for all the right people!"

Thursday, November 2, 2006

how to save a dying mall

City Place, the Downtown mall that was almost dead from the start, has been the topic in the Silver Spring blogs this week. The Silver Spring Scene has word some people want to tear it down; meanwhile, Silver Spring, Singular wants to keep it, but is taking suggestions for a new name. Many a Silver Spring resident (even the number of people who shop there) have walked past and wondered "what do we do with this thing, anyway?"

So just to prove my own allegiance to Silver Spring, I'd like to discuss what I'd do with City Place if I were a big, fancy developer:

1) Build the office tower as proposed. Design-wise, City Place as the bottom of an office tower reminds me of Copley Place in Boston (though without the Neiman Marcus). The office tenants would provide a built-in clientele for the mall, and increased rents suggest higher-end stores would come in as well.

2) Turn the shops inside out. Remove Gold's Gym, which is on the second floor (street level) next to Round House theatre on Colesville, and put in new retail that comes all the way up to the sidewalk. Downstairs, take out part of the discount department store and create small, liner shops fronting onto Fenton. All of these new shops should be small (less than 2,000 square feet). Bigger draws should be located inside.

3) Remove the food court. In 1997, my family went to China City and ordered Lo Mein. I was horrified to discover a hair in my noodles. We never went ate in City Place again.

But, seriously, the food court is redundant with all of the eating options on Ellsworth. I would take out the entire food court and put a large-format store in its place. Perhaps the entire first floor (except for liner shops) could become a Best Buy. A smaller grouping of fast-food restaurants could join Ruby Tuesday and Taste of Morocco upstairs, hopefully capturing foot traffic from Colesville.

4) Put the most activity on the top floor. Birchmere, nightclub, Dave & Buster's - replace the old AMC 10 Theatres with something. Ditto for Burlington Coat Factory. Make the fifth floor a destination of its own. (People will have to pass through the mall anyway!) Reconfigure the Fenton Street entrance so that , after hours, the rest of the mall can be inconspicuously closed off while customers can still access the fifth floor.

5) Respect the building's history. What made the original Hecht's work - and what still makes City Place so striking - is the streamlined Art Deco exterior. The fa├žades on Fenton and Colesville scream "This mall was built in 1992!" Let's be respectful of the building's history and take some of the marble down.

Let's take that even further: Hecht's department store as we know it is closed forever, and only a handful of the non-mall locations still exist. If we are to rename City Place as Silver Spring, Singular proposes, the new name should reflect the building's history. Something along the lines of "Hecht's Center" or "Hecht's Garden." I can see people shortening it to just "Hecht's." (It's not like our kids would get it confused.)

I understand this is an expensive idea. Does City Place need this much work to be turned around? Could signing a few leases with the likes of The Gap or Bed, Bath and Beyond be enough?

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

a "silver lining" in college park

College Park - Just Up The Pike's school-year headquarters - won't be found on many Good "College Town" lists. The City Paper hates the place so much they called it a "vile broth of popped-collar thugs and P.G. violence." Nonetheless, there are a few people (including myself) who're seeking out the silver lining.

A couple of years ago, Downtown Silver Spring was considered a "hellhole" of similar regard (save for the riots), but today, I consider Silver Spring an example for what College Park could be. That's the argument I made at Monday night's Housing Forum hosted by the SGA and the Rethink College Park blog. It was an unusual opportunity to bring students, the University, College Park residents and the development community together to talk about housing needs in a town with a 2% vacancy rate and thousands of students seeking places to live.

It was a surprise to see that the developers I spoke to were actually interested in what both students and the community wanted. The Diamondback, the University of Maryland student paper, called the meeting "sparsely attended," but that leaves student apathy more to blame than those of us who went. It's not a surprise that most students don't care about the renewal of College Park - after all, even I may not be here for too long - but the long-term benefit seems to be worth the trouble.

the Gazette is a sneaky paper

"I think he’s going to be sitting on it for awhile unless he splits it up into townhouses." - Santiago Testa, Realtor, on the East County Castle

Silver Spring, Singular reported it first (and Just Up The Pike quickly tagged on, but it takes the Gazette more than two weeks to pick up the East County Castle story.

I don't know how they learned about the Castle. Maybe they stumbled across it on eBay. Maybe they actually read one of our blogs. If they did, then I think some credit is due. I won't be holding my breath for it, but a little recognition is always nice.