Tuesday, February 27, 2007


For various reasons both legitimate and illegitimate, Just Up The Pike will be taking a brief break. It's a busy, busy week in College Park, and fussing over what few quotes I could glean from my interview with Marilyn Praisner (which was cut short; even Ike Leggett, who only had me down for a half-hour, kept talking with me for a half-hour more) will not help my situation.

But unlike some of my fellow MoCo bloggers, you can trust that this hiatus won't last more than forty-eight hours, or even less if the compulsion to blog gets a hold of me. So I'll see you soon, and take care in the meantime.


Monday, February 26, 2007

thoughts on the new falkland chase

BUT FIRST: Blake High students are multitasking like pros (man, my alma mater's been in the news a lot); the Scene gives its perspective on our meeting with George Leventhal; and that very post broke a Just Up The Pike record, bringing over 300 visitors to the blog last Thursday.

AND LET'S NOT FORGET: Find out what Marilyn Praisner really thinks about East County . . . TOMORROW!

FINALLY: What's my first impression of the proposed Falkland North development? Those buildings - or that building - is really big. It's a huge change from the small, two- and three-story apartments and townhomes that characterize Falkland Chase now, and it won't do much to create a community. I can see Home Properties wanted to take a page from Modernist architect Le Corbusier's playbook and do the whole "towers in the park" thing like the Enclave, but just because it works in White Oak doesn't mean it works in Downtown Silver Spring, and it barely works in White Oak.

Mary Reardon from the Historical Society said in the Gazette that "Smart Growth doesn’t mean you have to cover every square foot with high-rises around the Metro station," but we aren't even doing that in Falkland North. There's a lot of open space in this project, but I don't think people are going to enjoy it. People like parks and squares, not oversized courtyards and fountains. They're pretty, but in the long run, they'll do little to benefit residents compared to the cost of maintenance.

The current Falkland Chase has a lot of small parks and courtyards and a stream running through the complex. It's simple, and it works. Seventy years ago, these apartments were built for families whose kids just wanted a place to run around. That may not be the goal of modern apartment developers, but it would be helpful to think about how people will use the space as opposed to what will make their jaw drop the farthest.

Just a thought.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

east county in review: getting squeezed out

What's getting pushed out (or aside, or inside) this week?

THE EDGEMOOROLD THINGS (AND OLD RESIDENTS): Silver Spring Scene was the first to bring us pictures of a redeveloped Falkland Chase apartments, and Silver Spring residents are buzzing about the possibilities. The Gazette, the Silver Spring Penguin and the Scene report a huge turnout at a meeting last week to discuss the project.

Developer Home Properties proposes replacing a portion of the New Deal-era complex at East-West Highway and 16th Street with a series of fifteen-story buildings reminiscent of the Edgemoor (pictured) in Bethesda. There would be over a thousand apartments and some retail space, including a Harris Teeter supermarket. The Historical Society says we shouldn't touch Falkland Chase because of its design and historical significance, but two-thirds of the complex will remain . . . for now. (Falkland picture from Silver Spring Scene.)

THE PURPLE LINE, ONCE AGAIN: Maryland says the Purple Line and other major transit projects will face another year of delays, meaning I won't be getting to work on time until 2014. "You get only one shot with the Federal Transit Administration," says Secretary of Transportation Michael Porcari, who wants to redo ridership estimates for the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway and Baltimore's Red Line to make sure the federal government is willing to pay for it. The Silver Line in Virginia has been struggling to secure federal funding for a long time as well. (Thanks to Rethink College Park for the heads-up.)

SCHOOLCHILDREN, AND THEIR BELONGINGS: The main reason I missed the bus in middle school was because I couldn't get my locker closed, and ten years later, nothing's changed. Blake High principal Carole Goodman (remember me, Mrs. Goodman?) talks to the Post about middle-and-high schoolers' frustration with tiny lockers.

"What do you have against Neighbors for a Better Montgomery!?" - Marilyn Praisner
Our chat with the County Council President (and Calverton resident) gets off to a rocky start: read the full review on TUESDAY.

I'll see you then!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

for george leventhal, food is the future of moco

Part two of the second stop on Just Up The Pike's "County Government Head-to-Head Tour." (Read part one here.)

"I ran for office for a lot of reasons . . . I did not get elected to office to make developers rich." - George Leventhal

Montgomery County Councilman George Leventhal [D-At Large] didn't have a boring childhood in Bethesda, but he certainly was hungry. As a child, he says, "the most exotic meal you could get in Bethesda was a plate of French fries at the Hot Shoppes."

And if there's one way for him to mark the changes in Montgomery County since then, it would have to be food. "I like to link demographic change with food," he says. In forty years, Montgomery County went from French fries to French brasseries. With its newfound ethnic and culinary variety, the County is "just a more interesting place to live."

Not everyone would agree. There are some in Montgomery County who might want an end to immigration, but the real threat to our county's growth - and, of course, the good food - would have to be a few activists collectively known as the Neighbors for a Better Montgomery. Last week, he was still smarting from a spat with the head Neighbors, Drew Powell and Jim Humphreys. Nancy Floreen patiently refers to them as the "advocates," and they're quickly becoming the public face of citizen activism in Montgomery County.

The media "is buying into that [anti-growth sentiment]" espoused by the Neighbors, Leventhal says, "those same fifty people, the usual cast of characters, are the ones who get quoted in the Post." Their influence seems to have made a lot happen over the past few months, largely because County legislators are now listening. "Some of my colleagues think they're responding to the people," worries Leventhal, but they've only listened to one side of the story.

He holds up the new Downtown Silver Spring as an example of the debate on development we're not having. "My sense about Silver Spring . . . is that young people dig it," he says. "I think younger people want stuff to do . . . excitement! Activity! But the discussion [on development] is dominated by retirees who want to keep the county the way it was in 'fill in the blank.'"

Unfortunately, the people who benefit from this new development just aren't being heard. "We don't hear from the broad public who actually likes to go shopping," Leventhal says. (Perhaps, I wonder, it would be beneficial to hold County Council hearings in the food court at Montgomery Mall. People, especially young people, can be apathetic - but could the promise of Panda Express and piped-in Fall Out Boy make local politics exciting again?) "We need to find some other voices in this conversation. It can't just be elected officials, it can't just be developers, it can't just be developers' attorneys."

Our changing demographics have been ignored in the public sphere as well. "When we have this debate" on growth and development, Leventhal explains, "what we've had missing are some basic facts." For an example, he takes out a graph from Montgomery County Public Schools illustrating the change in enrollment from 1998 to 2006, broken down by race. There are over nine thousand fewer white students than in 1998, but nearly twenty thousand black, Hispanic and Asian students have entered the school system in the same period, with over half of those students identifying themselves as Hispanic.

"Between 1990 and 2000, the white population has declined," Leventhal continues. "Immigrants and people of color comprise all of the growth in Montgomery County over more than the last decade . . . I think growth, more economic development is very attractive to a lot of people," especially those new to the area and seeking to make a living. But they aren't being heard. At last month's Council hearing for the proposed moratorium, he says, "Marilyn [Praisner, County Council president] stacked the witness list with the same 'cast of characters,'" giving the Neighbors most or all of the say in how the County should deal with development, and that's not fair.

Leventhal is most disappointed with the current political situation in Montgomery County because it ignores the reason why people move here in the first place: "People like living in Montgomery County," he says. "I really like living in Montgomery County. I understand the things that make it special and my interest in planning comes from preserving that . . . [but] trying to freeze things in place means less of the things we welcome."

"Nearly half the county is not going to be developed, and I'm not proposing to change any of that. We're still gonna have the Ag Reserve, Rock Creek Park, the C and O Canal, we're still gonna have nice, green neighborhoods, but we'll have more options," Leventhal insists. "Don't be afraid of change. There's no going back, and it's gonna be better. It's not gonna be worse."

"We have the resources to do it," he says, beaming.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

topping off city place

What you're looking at is the future of City Place Mall, according to Silver Spring Penguin. Is this good? Well, I'll have to see more. The City Place Tower looks like a pastiche of every single 80's-era office building currently existing in Downtown Silver Spring. Big, gray concrete hulks, they mope around the business district like the huddles of depressed teenagers you see on "the Turf" during the summer.

ALSO IN THE NEWS: Prince George's says Calverton sludge plant sale was a bad deal; at Blake High, teenage eating disorders take a strange, if charitable, turn; and the Burtonsville Day celebration might be in jeopardy.

Tomorrow, we'll hear from George Leventhal; but in the meantime, read our interview with Ike Leggett and see the Barbies taking MoCo by storm.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

ike leggett speaks (updated)

The third stop on Just Up The Pike's "County Government Head-to-Head Tour."

"My life has been a constant source of difficulty," then-County Council President Ike Leggett said in 1993. One of eleven children, paying his way through school as a groundskeeper, fighting in Vietnam - he has had his share of hardship. Around the same time he had quadruple heart-bypass surgery in 1992, an aide accused him of forcing her to become his "sex slave," and the resulting sex scandal made national headlines and threatened to destroy his career. (The case was dismissed, of course, and all of the allegations against Leggett were declared false.)

It's not surprising that Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett looks incredibly tired even at busy events like last month's town hall meeting with Martin O'Malley. Yet for all his struggles, he's remained a very popular candidate.

"I was one of the top vote-getters in Montgomery County for a long time," he explains. "If you look at every election over the past sixteen years . . . I was probably the person favored to win. At no point in time was [Steve Silverman] ever ahead."

Leggett told me this because I'd had the gall to tell him that "if it weren't for NeighborsPAC and the Teachers' Union, you wouldn't have been elected." He and his special assistant, Jennifer Hughes, look at each other, and then at me. "Ike wasn't endorsed by the Teachers' Union," Hughes says. (They didn't, but they didn't endorse Steve Silverman, either.)

For the past several months, I've made a name for myself as an ardent Ike Leggett critic through a series of awkward but fiery exchanges. Like most of the County government, it seems, Leggett reads Just Up The Pike, and he wasn't happy with what he read. "All I ask is that you get my real opinion," he said. "If you want to write something and you need my opinion, e-mail me. Just make sure you get my real opinion."

So these are Ike Leggett's real opinions, recorded at the Executive Office Building in Rockville and hopefully put forth in the most direct and honest manner possible.

The "Water Bottle" Theory of Growth

Ike Leggett speaks slowly and softly, like he would in front of a class at Howard. With one finger, he languidly fidgeted with the sugar packets surrounding his teacup, a delicate piece with a nature scene painted on it.

"I don't believe that the impact of growth is so dominant," Leggett opines, pointing out that last week, Steve Silverman had said in the Post that he didn't think NeighborsPAC "created the mood" on development in the County. Over the past several years, Leggett says, "we shifted transportation needs, growth, the cost of schools . . . more of the burden on homeowners and taxpayers. The citizens actually reacted to that. What I've said and what others have said is that we need to correct that."

From 2001 on, Leggett states, the annual growth rate in Montgomery County was about 2-2.5 percent. For a county of 940,000 people, that's an increase of about 23,000 people a year, or the population of North Potomac. (That is a lot of McMansions.)

"Now, it may seem mild and small," he continues, "but take that bottle you have now." He points to the bottle of Deer Park handed to me by an aide. "If it were ninety percent full and I added ten percent in on top, it would overflow. But if I turned it on the side [and added ten percent], it would be fine." Turning the bottle sideways, I suppose, would be Ike Leggett's approach to growth: steady. If it's going too fast, tilt the bottle down; too slow, move the bottle up. (I assume.)

He explains that, at build-out, Montgomery County should have another 200,000 people. At that rate, we could reach build-out in ten years. "I believe we should [grow that much], but the question is what pace of growth . . . We will have that growth," Leggett says. "It slowed down because of Clarksburg and because the economy slowed down."

The moratorium was "never to totally stop growth," Leggett insists. "It was to pause, change the policy, and start again."

A "Healthy Mix" In East County

Ike Leggett predicts big things for the vast gravel fields of East Montgomery County. When asked about the need to correct the jobs-housing imbalance in East County by building more office space, the first thing Leggett mentions is Percontee, the gravel mine on Cherry Hill Road. Eventually, it could become a mixed-use development dubbed LifeSci Village, adding a "sense of community" found to be lacking in East County, according to its developers.

It's a "very attractive area for jobs," Leggett says, "and there are a couple of other sites," mostly near Cherry Hill Road.

He also mentions the Verizon campus at Route 29 and Musgrove Road as ripe for redevelopment. The east side of the campus, home to a 1960's-era building reminiscent of the historically-significant COMSAT building in Clarksburg, is currently underutilized. White service trucks sit idly in the parking lot, waiting to be dispatched. "The number of jobs are relatively small compared to the size of the building," he notes.

Leggett appeared to support all of these future developments, but with some caution. "I think they as well as others need to go back and review the master plan," he says. "It has to be consistent."

Consistency was less of a concern for Briggs Chaney, where several developments of half-million-dollar townhomes are steadily chipping away at the neighborhood's reputation for cheap garden apartments and drug deals. "We have a real need for some levels of affordable housing," he says, fearing that one day, those garden apartments might be redeveloped. "You also need to keep a healthy mix."

Switching Tracks on the Purple Line

Before I prepared to leave, Ike Leggett remembered one more thing: "You have a question on the Purple Line," he says. Finally, he's going to say something I've been waiting to hear for months.

Seven years ago, Ike Leggett wrote an editorial to the Post saying that the Purple Line - then known as the Georgetown Branch and only running between Bethesda and Silver Spring - "will have severe financial and environmental costs," citing Baltimore's light-rail as an example of poor planning. Steve Silverman attempted to use this against him in last year's campaign, claiming that Ike Leggett was opposed to the Purple Line. Leggett says that it's more complicated than that.

What Leggett opposed was the plan to put trains in both directions on the same track, so a train in Silver Spring would go to Bethesda, turn around, and go back. "It would have taken forty-three minutes with single-track and back," he says. "If you're on the platform in Silver Spring and the train just left, that's forty-three minutes you have to wait."

"Everything that I've said, they've come to correct," Leggett continues, noting how his suggestions to have a track in each direction and extend the line to New Carrollton have since been taken up by the State. "That's why I've had a change of opinion."

The Purple Line and InterCounty Connector are "light years ahead in terms of the political support" compared to the Beltway, Leggett says. "The public support is for it and there's virtually no opposition for it," as opposed to when the Capital Beltway was proposed and "scores of local politicians" were against it.

Nonetheless, there seems to be little in the way of funding. "I am the only elected official who said 'pass the gasoline tax.' They said it was political suicide," Leggett recalls. "The only thing that is going to move these projects along is finance . . . and the Transportation Trust Fund is depleted."

"I don't see it as a Montgomery County problem" anymore, Leggett says. "I see it as the [state or federal] government saying 'let's get the funding.'"

The next major hurdle is design, as selecting the route of the Purple Line will have the most substantial effect on the project's price tag and whether it can get federal funding. In Tysons Corner, Virginia officials are struggling over the same issue, deciding whether running the Silver Line in a tunnel would keep it cost-effective.

Ike Leggett mentioned a couple of places where the Purple Line would be tunneled, such as near Coquelin Terrace in Chevy Chase or at major intersections such as Connecticut Avenue. East Silver Spring also came up as a possibility, given the difficulty of the terrain and the neighborhood's opposition to an aboveground route.

"You've got those steep inclines, you go very close to homes, and it makes it tough to secure this route and ensure the economic development," Leggett says, noting that the revitalization of Long Branch is integral to the Purple Line route through East Silver Spring (A route along Colesville Road and University Boulevard, often mentioned by neighborhood activists but long abandoned by the State, would not stop in Long Branch.) "But you're also adding cost and you have to go through the communities," he adds.

If you tunnel, he says, "you run into the Tysons Corner."

Final Thoughts

Ike Leggett is, in fact, a nice guy, nice enough to speak with me and nice enough to suggest that I get my facts straight without, of course, directly saying so. Meeting him was a humbling experience. After eight months of doing Just Up The Pike, I'm beginning to realize that local politics are a lot more complicated than they seemed from the window of a crowded J4 bus on my way to work in Bethesda.

But do I have any more faith in him than I did before? I'm not sure. Ike Leggett is every bit as reasonable as he's been made out to be, but he didn't seem to hold much cynicism for groups like the Neighbors. I told him about Where Are The Brakes? and he seemed non-plussed. NeighborsPAC was "very destructive" to our County's ideals, I said.

"Why are they destructive?" Ike Leggett responds. After all, they only "added to the margin" of his win.

Monday, February 19, 2007

this week on just up the pike

These cookie-cutter castles are located in Orchard Hill, a new Ryan Homes subdivision down the street from Blake High School. The website shows three models, but only one's been built so far. This was going to be a Model House Review, but the house was locked when I came by at 2 on a Monday afternoon. Oh, well. I dig the "bombed-out" look of the landscape. It's very charming.

ANYWAY: Perhaps I'm being too hard on myself, but I feel a little lazy for the lag time between meetings on the "County Government Head-to-Head Tour" and when I actually get around to discussing them. Between snow storms dicking around with the daily pace of life (how about that six-day weekend, Montgomery County Public Schools?) and the usual rush of life at school, it's hard to keep deadlines.

Nonetheless, TUESDAY we'll hear from Ike Leggett, on THURSDAY we'll hear some more from George Leventhal, and in between we'll probably make fun of Amy Kostant again. (I kid, I kid.) In the meantime: check out this new line of Barbies made "just for" Montgomery County!

moco barbie (beware: stereotypes ahead)

Following the success of editions in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Boston (and even in Northern Virginia), Mattel recently announced the release of limited-edition Barbie Dolls for the Montgomery County market. We can't swear to the authenticity of the report, but if it's NOT true, it should be. Here are the dolls:

Rockville Barbie
This princess Barbie is sold only at Montgomery Mall - ahem, Westfield Montgomery. She comes with an assortment of Kate Spade Handbags, a Lexus SUV, a long-haired foreign dog named Honey and a cookie-cutter house. Available with or without tummy tuck and face lift. Workaholic Ken sold only in conjunction with the augmented version.

Germantown Barbie

The modern day suburban homemaker Barbie is available with Ford Windstar minivan and matching gym outfit. She gets lost easily and has no full-time occupation. Traffic jamming cell phone sold separately.

Wheaton Barbie

This recently paroled Barbie comes with a 9mm handgun, a Ray Lewis knife, a Chevy with dark tinted windows, and a Meth Lab Kit. This model is only available after dark and must be paid for in cash (preferably small, untraceable bills) unless you are a cop, then we don't know what you are talking about.

Damascus Barbie
This pale model comes dressed in her own Wrangler jeans two sizes too small, a NASCAR t-shirt and tweety bird tattoo on her shoulder. She has a six-pack of Bud light and a Hank Williams Jr. CD set. She can spit over 5 feet and kick mullet-haired Ken's butt when she is drunk. Purchase her pickup truck separately and get a confederate flag bumper sticker absolutely free.

Poolesville Barbie
This tobacco-chewing, brassy-haired Barbie has a pair of her own high-heeled sandals with one broken heel from the time she chased beer-gutted Ken out her house. Her ensemble includes low-rise acid-washed jeans, fake fingernails, and a see-through halter-top. Also available with a mobile home.

Takoma Park Barbie
This doll is made of actual tofu. She has long straight brown hair, arch-less feet, hairy armpits, no makeup and Birkenstocks with white socks. She prefers that you call her Willow. She does not want or need a Ken doll, but if you purchase two Barbies and the optional Subaru wagon, you get a rainbow flag bumper sticker for free.

Bethesda/Post-Gentrification Silver Spring Barbie

This collagen injected, rhino plastic Barbie wears a leopard print outfit and drinks cosmopolitans while entertaining friends. Percoset prescription available as well as faux warehouse conversion condo.

White Oak/Pre-Gentrification Silver Spring Barbie

This Barbie now comes with a stroller and infant doll. Optional accessories include a GED and bus pass. Gangsta Ken and his 1979 Caddy were available, but are now very difficult to find since the addition of the infant.

Potomac Barbie

This yuppie Barbie comes with your choice of BMW convertible or Hummer H2. Included are her own Starbucks cup, credit card and country club membership. Also available for this set are Shallow Ken and Private School Skipper. You won't be able to afford any of them.

Friday, February 16, 2007


Just Up The Pike is talking to Ike Leggett today. I was supposed to have George Leventhal up as well, but thanks to a cocktail of bad timing, bad weather and a bad Internet connection, that just couldn't happen.

On the bright side, I did have to dig out the foot-and-a-half of snow under my car that I thought a Honda Civic could climb in order to snag a parking space on campus. We certainly have no idea what to do with snow in Maryland. I was going to say that Montgomery County didn't need to close schools for a second day, but then again, I had to call someone to dig my car out.

I'll see you next week.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

george leventhal responds to the Neighbors

Part one of the second stop on Just Up The Pike's County Government Head-to-Head Tour. Part two, with the rest of our interview, will appear on Friday, the same day as our meeting with Ike Leggett.

Did County Councilman George Leventhal (D-At Large)really "interrogate" two of the Neighbors at a public hearing last month, as reported in Sunday's Post? Just Up The Pike asked Leventhal himself Monday afternoon at his office in Rockville. "I did not raise my voice, I did not lose my temper," Leventhal says, pointing out that he was simply trying to hold Jim Humphrey and Drew Powell, NeighborsPAC's leaders, to the language used in Where Are The Brakes?, their anti-developer treatise which we've blogged about before. Leventhal goes on to quote the following passage from the pamphlet:

"We must break from the traditional view that growth is inherently good, and that it always results in increased prosperity and quality of life for a populace. It is time to research, discuss, and create a plan to implement a new approach to improving the economic vitality of our businesses and a sustained high quality of life for Montgomery County residents--namely, sustainability or a steady state system."

A steady state system, which it seems was created to legitimize the NeighborsPAC brand of NIMBYism, would require that a home or job in Montgomery County to be removed in order for a new home or job to be created. "Well, who decides who loses their homes?" Leventhal argues.

"I totally dispute the idea," he adds. "I don't believe it. I don't think anybody in Montgomery County believes it but Jim Humphrey. It's their manifesto. If people knew that was [their goal], then their endorsement would lose value . . . and I just wanted to say that, but they wouldn't listen. It's a fantasy, and that's just what I'm trying to get across, but they won't pay attention.

"I speak with a lot of emphasis . . . [but] I didn't interrupt their testimony; I didn't see myself as prosecutorial."

How can the Post, which just a few days ago neatly laid out the facts surrounding the pro- and no-growth arguments, so quickly take sides with a NIMBY group? Should they believe the accusations of two men whose website depicts George Leventhal, the so-called aggressor, as a cockroach?

I wasn't at the public hearing where the "interrogation" took place, but I think things have been blown seriously out of proportion. Montgomery County residents should take a good, hard look at Where Are The Brakes? before they jump on the NIMBY bandwagon. The time for such divisive language may be gone, but the dishonest tactics of NeighborsPAC are long overdue for an exit as well.

Friday, February 9, 2007

purple line threatens chevy chase family's livelihood

We've discovered a new loser in the game to build the Purple Line: Chevy Chase resident Amy Kostant, whose start-up business could cease to exist when the light-rail line is finally built:
"While I don’t live directly on the [Capital Crescent] trail, our children play there and I am concerned about accidents should a train run through what is our No. 1 play space. My husband and I commute to the Metro via the trail; we hike, bike and set up lemonade stands on the trail . . ."
I like transit, but first and foremost I am a lemonade enthusiast. Who's gonna make sure this woman and her family doesn't land in the poor house when her lemonade stand is torn down? We need to organize a letter-writing campaign to Martin O'Malley to stop this mis-guided train from ramming through Bethesda and Chevy Chase and destroying what could be suburban Maryland's last chance at a good cup of lemony goodness.

Let's put aside our horrible commutes for a second: Wouldn't you want to be able to pull off East-West Highway and get a cold glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade from Amy Kostant? I definitely would, and I'm sure the legions of Bethesda housekeepers and gardeners who would otherwise be spirited to their workplaces on the Purple Line would appreciate it as well.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

the post gets it straight on slow growth

Montgomery County needs to get its act together. Officials in Alexandria are actually struggling to make the Carlyle district a new, vibrant downtown for the city, while we have nothing short of success in Silver Spring and Bethesda. And our people have the gall to say "stop"? It's ridiculous.

I wasn't going to say anything about this Post article given how much I've already written on the no-growthers in Montgomery County, but I think it was a nice slap in the face for anyone who says moratoriums (moratoria?) are the answer. It lays out the facts in a even-handed manner: yes, we can stop building in areas where the schools are overcrowded, but if we just rest on our laurels and don't build more schools to alleviate the pressure, the Evil Developers will just take their business elsewhere (see Huntfield, West Virginia.) And, of course, our traffic will be just as bad.

Speaking of traffic: It looks like the Purple Line might have to wait even longer for funding, even after the lobby-fest in Annapolis last month. Transit boosters are cautiously optimistic about bringing light-rail to Montgomery and Prince George's counties, but Action Committee for Transit President Hans Riemer (hey, that name sounds familiar!) says transit boosters are "focusing on next year" to get something done.

TOMORROW: We'll look at one Bethesda resident who stands to lose a lot from the Purple Line.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

forget the veterans! I want turf

Pocket Park (with homeless
man), Cameron Hill
Paley Park, New York City

"In urban areas, it’s not always easy getting green," the Gazette whines as it proceeds into a particularly dumbed-down explanation of why Montgomery County wants to pave over the "Turf", one of the few public spaces in Silver Spring that actually works.
"[Director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center - *deep breath* - Gary] Stith said there are more appropriate places to put an expanse of grass. The site of the future Silver Spring Library, to be built on Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street, would be larger and able to withstand heavier use."
And where, pray tell, would that be? Bigger than the "Turf"? You lie, Gary Stith.

Is Silver Spring just doomed to have bad public spaces? Take away the "Turf" and we're left with a number of "pocket parks," which are required by the County in most new developments. You might find some skaters or card-players hanging out in the Metro Urban Park, but little else. There's always a homeless person sitting at Second and Colesville (in front of Cameron Hill), but no workers from the office building across the street.

Why are these spaces bad, and the Turf (or Paley Park, pictured) good? Good public spaces are accessible to the street (not elevated and hidden with walls) but also detached (not just a bench at a street corner). They're near a mix of uses (not just a Metro station) and allow a variety of uses themselves (other than sitting). On the Turf, you can sit, stand, run around, play football, or just people-watch. Its genius is its simplicity, not some stupid gimmick or slick Modernist design.

But as long as we're going to rip out "the Turf" to put in some slick Modernist piece of crap, we might as well take the money from these little pocket parks to build a more substantial park somewhere Downtown. Is there space for that? Um . . . we went over that already.

Do I care about the veterans enough to give over our biggest and best public space Downtown over to them? Hell, no.

Monday, February 5, 2007

learning to listen with nancy floreen

The first stop on Just Up The Pike's "County Government Head-to-Head Tour."
"Montgomery County people cannot come to any collective agreement - and probably never will - on whether we will be urban or suburban." - Nancy Floreen
County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) says there are about a hundred people who show up in her office on a regular basis, and a handful that stop by each and every day. They are the "advocates," she calls them, a very small but very vocal minority representing a few select interests (cough cough NeighborsPAC) in Montgomery County.

And their input in County government, while valued, can be frustrating. "It's complicated once you get past the spin that people put on things," Floreen notes. "But advocacy is advocacy. You gotta respect it, and listen to it." There's still quite a lot of spin. "That's why I keep this," Floreen adds, picking up a copy of Harry G. Frankfurt's On Bullshit on the table next to her desk.

Also in her office is a photocopy of an old New Yorker article, "The Slow Road." In it is a statistic: since 1970, the United States population has grown forty percent; the number of registered vehicles, one hundred percent; and the number of roads, six percent. "Duh!" Floreen spits, emphasizing her point: when it comes to new roads - or any form of transportation, we've fallen way behind.

Montgomery County's a pretty well-educated place, home to the smartest city in America and one of the country's best school systems. One could even argue that the County's lavish spending on schools over the past thirty years has sucked money away from roads. A map from Marylanders for a Second Crossing shows a slew of proposed highways for Montgomery County that were all cancelled, including the Outer Beltway, a precursor to the InterCounty Connector.

A lot of those cancelled roads are in still-rural or transitioning parts of the County, like Boyds or Ashton. "You don't build a lot of roads where they're not wanted," Floreen notes. But school funding can't be all to blame. (It really isn't. Unlike our neighbors Fairfax or Howard counties, we put our emphasis on mass transit. As a result, we have over a dozen Metro stations, and unlike a lot of suburbs or even cities, we know what to do with them.) "That's what I like to tell myself when I want to simplify it," she says, adding, "It's more fun to cut a ribbon for a new school than it is to open a road that people have been haranguing you about."

(Yeah, just tell that to Bobby Haircut.)

Of course, Nancy Floreen listens to each harangue, tirade and plea, from suddenly homeless families (Christy's my sixth-grade math teacher, by the way) to the disgruntled residents of Longmead Crossing.
"I approved Longmead Crossing . . . it was a mistake we made."
It's the Longmead Crossing folks who especially worry Floreen. In the 1980's, as a member of the Montgomery County Planning Board (which she served on until joining the County Council in 2002), she approved the Layhill development straddling the ICC right-of-way. "It was a mistake we made," Floreen says. "I said 'these people are going to be very upset'" if the ICC was built, despite planners' assertions that notifying homebuyers in advance would keep them quiet. Instead, they've mounted a multi-year campaign to stop the ICC, despite signs from Governor O'Malley that there's no turning back.

If you listen to Duchy Trachtenberg, Montgomery voters are pissed off about growth and traffic. But Floreen argues that relief, albeit slow, is on the way. "[We're experiencing the] growing pains of a county fulfilling its master plan," she says, pointing out that the County has increased transportation funding by 72 percent without burdening taxpayers. The traffic is still there, and the people are still coming, but Montgomery County has to keep going.

"It's very difficult to say 'no, we don't want you here,'" Floreen says, adding: "I refuse to be part of a county that shuts its door on people." And as a former planner, Nancy Floreen is committed to making sure new people are taken care of - and, most importantly of all, listened to.

Friday, February 2, 2007

the mall formerly known as laurel

Just Up The Pike speaks with Nancy Floreen: Read about it MONDAY MORNING!

BUT FIRST: Could you go Up The Pike to Pennsylvania one day? One Carroll County comomissioner wants to extend Route 29 from its current terminus in Ellicott City through Carroll County and to the Pennsylvania state line. Montgomery and Howard counties stand to benefit economically, how will thousands of commuters coming from as far out as Gettysburg affect local traffic? Let's hope this rough (very rough) proposal gets a full review. (Thanks to Columbia Compass for the tip.)

FINALLY: Rick at Laurel Connections went to the Laurel Mall presentation last week and has pictures and info about the beleaguered mall's transformation, first reported by Just Up The Pike in December. The Laurel Leader also has a lengthy feature on the project, and the Business Journal says the new mall will get a new name, but they don't say what it is.

I notice that the newly renovated mall will still be enclosed, as opposed to earlier drawings showing it as an open-air mall. Laurel Mall is small - a half-million square feet, less than half the size of the Mall in Columbia or Arundel Mills. As an enclosed mall - even with the undisclosed "high-end" stores it will have - Laurel may still struggle due to its size.

I'm very curious how Laurel Mall can find its place in a market with four regional malls within twenty miles and a fifth eventually opening in Konterra, practically next door. Can it become the centerpiece of a newly revitalized, upscale Laurel? Or will it falter again? (And, either way, what happens to Old Town Laurel, currently frozen in its turn-of-the-twentieth-century state?) We're about to find out.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

talking with nancy floreen

BUT FIRST: I'm quoted in the U-Md. Diamondback on an article about Rethink College Park and development in College Park.

"Montgomery County people cannot come to any collective agreement - and probably never will - on whether we will be urban or suburban."
- Nancy Floreen

The "County Government Head-to-Head Tour" begins as County Councilwoman and Just Up The Pike fan Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) sits down for a brief chat about buses, boosters and B.S. Things are looking up as long as this planner-politician is in office: Read about our meeting MONDAY MORNING right here at Just Up The Pike.