Tuesday, July 31, 2007

marc fisher gets the real final word on ellsworth photo policy

JUTP talks growth former Neighbor Drew Powell: scroll down.

See the opinion of the County's attorney on the rights available to patrons of Downtown Silver Spring

Marc Fisher's blog entry on the opinion

Just Up The Pike now declares the Silver Spring photo controversy dead. Long live First Amendment rights in Downtown!

drew powell: forget the brakes, look for balance in growth

Part THREE of our series on activist Drew Powell and Silver Spring marketing director Susan Hoffmann, both running for mayor of Rockville. read part ONE | read part TWO

Now that Drew Powell - former head of the Neighbors for a Better Montgomery - has thrown his hat into the Rockville mayor's race, he's facing a level of scrutiny he escaped as an advocate of slow growth at a time when most figured Montgomery County was headed that way already.

Over stuffed sandwiches at Potbelly a few weeks ago, Powell explained to me how NeighborsPAC works - and what he really thinks about Big Development.

For nearly a year, Just Up The Pike's been talking about "Where Are The Brakes?," a thirteen-page manifesto drafted by Powell's fellow Neighbor Jim Humphreys. First written after the 2002 County elections, "Where Are The Brakes?" encourages a level of distrust between citizens and the development community.

"Be careful not to tip your whole hand," when talking with developers, the pamphlet warns. "Developers will try to pump you for any negative reaction to their projects so that they can prepare responses to your concerns for inclusion in their plan presentations."

much, much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

pictured: a new subdivision off of Musgrove Road in Calverton.
Other passages are even harsher:
"Beware the wolf in sheep's clothing! There is evidence that neighborhood associations in several areas of the county have been co-opted by development interests."
Powell tries to explain the reasoning behind the wariness towards the business community. "Jim Humphreys is my friend, but I don't agree with everything he says," states Powell. "He wrote 'Where Are The Brakes?' . . . you have to understand the context under which that document was written."

A look at NeighborsPAC's website reveals a special page devoted to "Where's The Land?," a presentation done by local land-use firm Rodgers Consulting for developers at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas three years ago.

Nothing more than a crude PowerPoint that encourages developers to - among other things - utilize "creative design" and "context-sensitive infill" as tools for getting projects approved. Its main points include "respect and understand your neighbors' issues" and insists that "trust and credibility are everything."

As examples of quality development, it holds up Rodgers' own Wyndcrest and Bancroft, two communities in Ashton that residents have declared the standard for all new construction. While these don't sound like the tactics of a greedy developer, comments towards the end of the Rodgers presentation had the Neighbors' red flags up. "Control elections," the presentation says.
"Build coalitions. Use [candidate forums] as an opportunity to get across YOUR agenda. This is your bottom line: you need X of Y votes."
"It's not a level playing field," Powell laments. "These big attorneys are getting paid $500-700 an hour by developers to further their interests . . . Jim Humphreys isn't getting paid. He's doing this at the expense of every other thing in his life."

Powell pauses. "I can't say this strongly enough," he says. "I do not have anything against developers," Powell insists. "If I were a developer, I'd be trying to maximize my profits any way I could. My issue is with the elected officials who choose to take more than half their contributions from one industry. In this case, our industry is development."

The Rodgers presentation was a turning point in the mission of NeighborsPAC, transforming it from little more than a citizens' group to a full-fledged army waging war against the sea of "overdevelopment."

"We do have bridges and roads that are crumbling," Powell says. "There's infrastructure that needs to be replaced . . . taxpayers pay for all this crumbling infrastructure. In addition to those costs, we don't need to subsidize infrastructure for new construction."

"As much as I care about the people who will come," he continues, "I care more about the people who are already here. That's my first priority."

And for Powell, the work of companies like Rodgers Consulting only puts a harder strain on the people who are already here.

"The 'who pays' part is the key," Powell says, "if neighbors have to hold the bag for development. The average infrastructure (roads, sewers, schools) cost for a new house is $36,000, but the impact fees a developer is required to pay for it is only $7,000. While next year's Annual Growth Policy - to be decided this fall - could dramatically increase those fees, a gap in funding would still remain - and it would go to taxpayers.

pictured: various stages of the Rockville Town Center.

As mayor of Rockville, Drew Powell would be forced to tackle the "who pays?" issue in a big way as the ongoing Town Center redevelopment threatens to drain the city's funds. In our previous post about Powell, he explains how city residents are being taxed for everything in the new Town Square.

"We have to be careful as we move ahead," he says. "Development has to be supported by current or budgeted infrastructure."

The key to Rockville's success, he says, is to encourage some new growth while keeping what makes the city so great. "I'd like to preserve Rockville's hometown character while moving it ahead," he explains. "I don't think the citizens of Rockville want to live in Bethesda."

That statement seems to sum up Powell's ideal for citizen input: that an elected official should respect what his constituents don't want in their community. (Whether Rockville doesn't want to become Bethesda JUTP will not try to figure out.)

"I think everybody's a NIMBY," Powell says as we stand before the new Rockville Town Square - the Bethesdafication, if you will, of Rockville. "Everyone's against something in their neighborhood. And everyone has the right to weigh in on what they feel is appropriate in their neighborhood. That's the issue . . . is trying to achieve a balance."

top photo courtesy of Drew Powell; all other photos taken by Dan Reed.

Monday, July 30, 2007

leggett: fillmore's pitfalls don't hurt its potential for moco music lovers (updated)

UPDATE: In a press release issued this morning (but one that did not reach JUTP until late this afternoon), Ike Leggett spelled out his frustration over the loss of the Birchmere:
". . . Those who know me know that I have the patience of Job. Still, the County has been working for five years to reach an agreement with Birchmere . . . the County's vision is to bring a first-class music and entertainment venue to Silver Spring in the former J.C. Penney building. And that's just what we are going to do.

Again, I share your disappointment that the Birchmere didn't work out, despite the County's best efforts. Now it's time to move on."

Just Up The Pike normally doesn't troll the listservs, but an e-mail from A. Leger of East Silver Spring may shed some light on the collapsed Birchmere deal that has neighborhoods near Downtown Silver Spring in an uproar over the loss of the famous folk club.

At a community picnic last Saturday, Park Hills resident "Lisa" grilled County Executive Ike Leggett about the Birchmere's replacement: "the Fillmore," a chain of rock clubs named for a San Francisco hippie landmark.

"We're very much like Takoma Park . . . people like their folk music, and they love the Birchmere," explains Elisabeth Higgins Null of Bonifant Street, who forwarded "Lisa's" post to the well-read Queen Anne's listserv. "I think people were concerned about larger rock bands or more commercial music [at the Fillmore] . . . but also concerned about traffic." Following this month's photo controversy and the struggle for "the Turf," "this was just one more thing" to set residents off," Higgins Null adds.

The post follows:
From: "Lisa.......... " < @gmail.com>
Date: Sat, 28 Jul 2007 22:06:45 -0400
Subject: Re: [parkhillscivic] Ike Leggett on the Birchmere

. . . The original deal was for The Birchmere to pay $7,000 rent monthly and to renovate the interior (mainly the kitchen) for around $750,000. It was a rent-to-own arrangement and the 750K would have been subtracted from a future purchase price. I believe the original number of seats allocated was around 700. The county was going to contribute something like $8-10 million.

The Birchmere changed the terms and stated that they wanted: a. More improvements to the kitchen, at an estimated cost of $2 million. They wanted the county to pay 60% of the cost. b. Additional space in the back so that the tour buses could not only park in the alley but also turn around back there. This required them to remove part of the existing building, reducing the number of seats to 450.
more AFTER THE JUMP . . .
The county balked at this because with only 450 seats the potential for profit was substantially reduced . . . the Birchmere was not willing to change their terms. At the moment the only other group they have found with long-term economic viability is Live Nation . . . Mr. Leggett surmised that The Birchmere may have changed their terms because they signed an agreement with [Loudoun] County that was not as favorable to them, and they are feeling the pinch financially as they build that other facility.

Mr. Leggett's main concern with Live Nation is that they are agreeing to provide a greater diversity of entertainers (including jazz, folk, etc.) that would be agreeable to our community but that over the long term perhaps they will start showcasing acts that are high profit but not necessarily in line with the desires of the community. The county is trying to figure out a solution.

The Fillmore could potentially seat 1400-1700 people. I expressed concern over the parking and traffic situation (as did others) and he said that traffic would have to be directed. There are public garages north of 29 that are never full in the evenings. They could remove the meters in those garages if necessary. They are also in negotiations with the owners of the private lot on Georgia just north of 29 . . ."

"down briggs chaney, with its average life that's full of drama scenes . . ."

A LITTLE LATER TODAY: I talk to Drew Powell!

The Briggs Chaney Road area doesn't get a lot of love from most East County residents. This motley mix of scraggly apartments and townhomes is often ignored by people now able to whiz through on Route 29. But this Saturday, you're invited to look at Briggs Chaney in a different light.

East County Community Day, which goes down August 4th at noon, will turn Windsor Court and Tower Apartments into a wonderland of activity for anyone willing to make the trip down Castle Boulevard. There'll be food and fun for the whole family - in addition to a brief service for the Nuka family, whose three children perished in a fire in the Windsor apartments last month.

Just Up The Pike will even have a table where you can learn a little more about what I'm all about. (I think: I have to talk to the person in charge there.) So come on by - if East County can't come together around hamburgers and hot dogs, I don't think there's any hope for us.

post title from "Briggs Chaney" by local band The Spotlight.

Friday, July 27, 2007

for susan hoffmann, dreams come true in moco's new downtowns

Part TWO of a series chronicling interviews with activist Drew Powell and Silver Spring marketing director Susan Hoffmann, who are both running for mayor of Rockville.

Susan Hoffmann, Rockville mayoral candidate, admires her handiwork in the new Town Square.

Check out our interview with Drew Powell, also running for mayor.

Without knowing it, you've probably tasted the fruits of Susan Hoffmann's work. Or heard. Or ridden. She's a Rockville City Councilwoman by title, but her influence can be felt nowhere more than in Downtown Silver Spring, where for the past several years she's become a big-haired booster of all things Silver SprUng.

Her list of accomplishments as marketing director for the Silver Spring Regional Services Center are staggering: planning a yearly Thanksgiving Parade through Downtown Silver Spring; an annual Jazz Festival, whose headliner two years ago was Wynton Marsalis; the weekly Silver Spring Swings concert series; a nascent Restaurant Week; and a firsthand role in the redevelopment of Silver Spring's town center.

But please, Hoffmann insists, don't call her the "Mayor of Silver Spring" (as everyone from the Silver Spring Voice to the big D.C. blog DCist already do) because in a few months, she might be Mayor of Rockville. "First and foremost, I will be mayor of Rockville [if elected]," Hoffmann says. "It may not pay the most, but it will be my primary job."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Planning for the yearly Silver Spring Jazz Festival, shown here in 2006, is spearheaded by Susan Hoffmann.

"[Doug Duncan] left an imprint that will be lasting for generations."
She looks to Doug Duncan, her former boss, for inspiration. "Doug did it all," she says, referring to his work in Downtown Silver Spring ten years ago. "He had a vision, he saw it, and he did whatever it took to get it done . . . he left an imprint that will be lasting for generations. It makes me jealous, if I could do something like that for the City [of Rockville]."

And, it seems, she already has. The result of years of heated City Council meetings, Rockville's new Town Square has given the Mid-County a new gathering place with the potential to spark an urban renaissance not unlike what is currently happening in Downtown Silver Spring. "It's hard to explain what it feels like to see something you had a hand in," Hoffmann says as we walk through the new square. "I walk around smiling. People think I'm a lunatic."

Even the buses excite Hoffmann. As we sat down for coffee in a recently-opened Starbucks, several Ride-On Route 45 buses flew past the window. It was Hoffmann's proposal to have a shuttle than ran between the City's several neighborhoods and the new town center. "It's nice when dreams come true," she sighs wistfully, admiring a 45 as it goes by.

"Not only did we do it, but we did it right . . . and it looks great."
A walk through the Town Square shows how the City of Rockville learned from Silver Spring's earlier mistakes in planning the development. Five stories of condominiums rise over the shops and restaurants, creating a permanent consumer base for the retail and a constant human presence in the square. The streets are narrow, the building façades animated, and the parking garages are tucked neatly underground.

"I'd had the experience from Silver Spring . . . and I was able to bring that to the council," Hoffmann says of the process. One thing she made sure to do was keep the Town Square public. Had she gotten the opportunity to do Silver Spring over, Hoffmann notes, "I certainly would've never given up public streets," referring to the County's leasing of Ellsworth Drive in Downtown to the Peterson Companies, a private developer. (This demands a mention of the recent photo controversy, but we wonder if discussing it has become passé.)

"I'm all about trying to provide community-building activity . . . and you don't take a nap in the winter."
One mistake that will soon be fixed, Hoffmann argues, will be "the Turf," the popular but controversial fake-grass hangout that will be torn up at the end of the summer to make way for a paved town square. "I don't know what the hell they were thinking," Hoffmann spits, referring to its original installation nearly two years ago. "'The Turf' is filthy, it's disgusting . . . it's a petri dish. People let their dogs pee on it."

The future Civic Center and Veterans' Plaza, as the town square will be called, will make Downtown Silver Spring busy all year round, Hoffmann insists, especially because of the ice rink. "I'm all about trying to provide community-building activities," she says, "and you don't take a nap [on the ground] in the winter." (Just Up The Pike is curious how many people nap on "the Turf" as it is, and if they would be just as willing to nap on a hard plaza.) "It was so perfectly clear that having a winter activity [the ice rink] created a captivated plaza."

Off the ice, Hoffmann has plans to keep the plaza captivated as well. Unlike "the Turf," the Civic Center gives her more opportunities to bring new events (and support existing events) Downtown. While the New Year's Eve celebration First Night - a popular Silver Spring event throughout the 1990's - will remain at the County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg, Hoffmann envisions a similar party on Veterans' Plaza.

"What I intend to do in Silver Spring when the civic building is built is to have some kind of event," she says. "It won't be a large, county-funded [event] . . . it'll be the businesses."

Making the county do the legwork, Hoffmann laments, can be time-consuming. Her experience with both the City of Rockville and Montgomery County have made her a strong fan of living in a municipality. "You see the effects of your work pretty soon," Hoffmann says of her projects as city councilwoman. "I think it does take longer [in the County] in terms of impacting legislation. It just takes longer to happen . . . it takes longer to be implemented."

"I noticed when I came here a spirit, a love for the City [of Rockville], and I came to love the City very early on."
But, best of all, Hoffmann says, living in a proper city engenders a sense of community that the unincorporated parts of the County just don't have. Bethesda "does not have a particular character the way Rockville is," she argues, and Silver Spring "is a lot of things, depending on where you are."

"Rockville . . . is a city of neighborhoods," Hoffmann says. "And they're all different, but at the end, they all come together and support being a part of Rockville."

This fall, she hopes that they will all come together and support her for mayor. Having lived in the city for twenty years - and, of course, being a familiar face to many Montgomery County residents - offers Hoffmann a visibility that her opponent, former head of Neighbors for a Better Montgomery Drew Powell cannot compete with. Even Hoffmann doesn't know anything about him.

"I know very little about my opponent and what his issues are," she says. "He's only lived here for two years . . . that's really all I know."

Hoffmann pauses. "I know they [the Neighbors] oppose all development."

NEXT WEEK: Is that really what Drew Powell's about? Find out: we're finishing this thing for good.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

moco kills the birchmere (or, can we build a scene in silver spring without county money?) (updated!)

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: East County's last (and only) dinner theatre giving way to townhouses; proposed Wheaton townhouses might give way to parkland; Dan still slaving away on Drew Powell and Susan Hoffmann pieces (in case you're wondering).

UPDATE: Is the House of Blues trying to take over? Today's Post says they've been wooed by the County to to turn the J.C. Penney building into "the Fillmore," a chain of large (2,000-seat) music clubs named for a famous club in San Francisco.

This is eight months after HoB announced plans to open up near the D.C. Convention Center - and Just Up The Pike feared it would lay waste to the local music scene. I'm not sure what to think - below, I suggest that there have to be better ways to grow The Scene - but HoB might have a better variety of acts than the Birchmere would . . .

In a rather cruel twist of fate, the editor of Just Up The Pike found himself in Columbia at a concert (and far away from a computer) on the day that the nationally-renowned Birchmere music hall announces that their plans to move to Silver Spring have fallen through.

A lengthy press release from the Birchmere that appeared on the City Paper's website suggests more than a little animosity between the Alexandria-based club and the County, which seems to have other plans for redeveloping the J.C. Penney building on Colesville Road:

"Without cause or plausible explanation, the county has apparently chosen to breach its agreement with the Birchmere . . . The Duncan administration’s vision for the unique role of The Birchmere in the revitalization of Silver Spring appears to have been hijacked; it now seems the style and role of the music venue in the community is insignificant compared to its use as a tool in a complicated private development plan."
As a fan of music (loud music with lots of screaming) I've written a lot about the Birchmere's potential in Silver Spring - to bring country music to the unwashed masses; to run the 9:30 Club into the ground (with a little help, of course) - but, most importantly, to bring some life to the currently languishing north side of Colesville Road. While I was never happy with what the Birchmere does (seated shows? BORING!) I looked forward to what it could do for Downtown.

more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

What the Birchmere saga proves, however, is how fragile public-private partnerships (such as that which created Downtown Silver Spring) are. The press release leaves us wondering what exactly is Ike Leggett's plan for the J.C. Penney site - if not the Birchmere, what does he want there? What could eight million dollars of public money be better used for?

And should we even need that money to draw a lively arts and entertainment scene to East County? The goal, I think, should be to re-create (or preserve) the conditions that allowed places like the former Burn Brae Dinner Theatre in Burtonsville (now a church, soon to be a townhouse development) or the Death Star on Cedar Street (a house that hosted punk shows on the weekends; it will soon become a doctor's office) to form and flourish.

Forget the Birchmere. Forget the County's subsidies (and the double-crossing it comes with.) Downtown Silver Spring should be a valuable enough location (both economically and culturally) to create its own scene. The question is . . . how do we do that?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

ike leggett gives final word on peterson photo policy

SOON: Interviews with Drew Powell and Susan Hoffmann.

Photographers take to the streets July 4 in protest of the Peterson Companies' policy on picture-taking in Downtown Silver Spring.

The Peterson Companies were given a quick dressing-down by County Executive Ike Leggett in a brief but pointed letter sent out Friday. This follows a month and a half of Peterson's insisting that their Downtown Silver Spring complex was simply a mall without a roof.

The County leased Ellsworth Drive, the main street in the complex, to Peterson ten years ago, giving them the right to manage the street but not the title. Peterson argues that this arragement gave them the right to limit free speech as they did by hassling photographer Chip Py in June.

"I wish to make clear the County's position regarding Ellsworth [Drive, in Downtown Silver Spring]," Leggett writes, going on to say that

"The County considers Ellsworth to be a public forum permitting the free and unfettered exercise of First Amendment rights by residents of the County and its visitors to the extent as those rights are exercisable by residents and visitors to the County on any public sidewalk or public street within the County . . . I trust that you will agree with me and will ensure that your rules and regulations for the use of Ellsworth by the public appropriately recognize and protect the First Amendment rights of residents and visitors."
At Ike Leggett's town hall meeting the night before the letter was sent, Chip Py asked Leggett why he hadn't stated his position on the issue already. It just goes to show how responsive our County government can be - when you kick them hard enough.

Will this be the end of the Silver Spring photo controversy? Hopefully, Ike Leggett's letter will be the final word.

Friday, July 20, 2007

ike leggett's town hall: no more "mister nice guy"

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE? Searching for truth in the bowels of Rockville; JUTP hits the issues with Drew Powell and Susan Hoffmann LATER THIS WEEK.

Ike Leggett, patiently listening to your concerns.

NEXT WEEK: We'll hear more from some of the residents who appear below.

Wheaton resident Beverly Sobel grabs the mic at last night's Town Hall Meeting, held at Woodside United Methodist Church in Silver Spring. Representing the group Green Space on Georgia, Sobel's asking the County Exec to stop plans to build townhouses on the former site of the Montgomery College School of Art and Design on Georgia Avenue, which she calls a de facto neighborhood park.

"Which would you prefer - a townhouse development or the preservation of parkland?" she demands.

"Clearly, the right answer is a park," responds Leggett, to thunderous applause. If there's one thing I can appreciate about County Executive Ike Leggett, it's that he knows what the people want to hear.

And Leggett tried hard to make the people who swept him into office happy at last night's Town Hall, which brought over two hundred people into a sweaty church basement to raise their hand and be heard on issues from illegal immigration to crossing the street alive.

more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

DOING A GOOD DEED: Boy Scouts were called in to direct traffic at Ike Leggett's Town Hall Meeting last night.

Leggett attempted to set the evening's agenda by mentioning the State's budget deficit. "I always say that 'if Annapolis sneezes, Montgomery County catches a cold'," said Leggett, using one of his trademark sayings. "We want to make sure that they do not sneeze too much on our backs."

But in the wake of the El Pollo Rico raid last week, many spoke out on both sides of the illegal immigration issue. A fellow known only to Just Up The Pike as "Dorky White Guy" handed out anti-illegal flyers in the lobby.

"It is right for the police to detain and question anyone suspected of being illegal," said one Germantown resident, complaining about the proposed day laborer center in Derwood. "The raid last week at El Pollo Rico shows that illegal immigration brings criminal activity. People who are here illegally do not belong."

"My support of the day laborer center is not one I'm going to take back," said Leggett to thundering applause.

The County Executive seemed increasingly frustrated by calls to deport illegal immigrants, saying it wasn't his jurisdiction nor his interest. He sharply told one resident that kept interrupting him to "shut up and listen," to which the resident responded "no, you shut up" much more quietly.

The debate came to a head when a representative from the Gandhi Brigade, a youth video group, complained that the raid was straining relations between the immigrant community and the police. "I would say a fear [of the police] is unrealistic," sighed Leggett, clearly frustrated.

"But there is a fear!" the representative insisted, stirring up the audience.

The Germantown resident stood up. "This is a major issue -"

"Sit down," Leggett shot back. "You asked your question."

One Wheaton resident's rant about Smart Growth led to what might be the Quote of the Evening. "I don't believe it is Smart Growth," he says. "I urge you to go up to the east side of Georgia [Avenue], by the [Wheaton] Metro. You don't see housing for people - you see housing for automobiles."

"When you have Smart Growth executed by Dumb People, you have bad ideas," quips Leggett. The wave of applause that resulted could have carried him and everyone else out into the parking lot. "I believe in Montgomery County we have too much growth in all the wrong places."

Several residents, however, didn't get to hear Leggett make a funny. One Silver Spring woman felt betrayed by Leggett's position on rent controls, claiming to have supported him for nearly two decades. "It's unfair that we paid the way for Silver Spring . . . and we're being forced out," said the woman, who lives in a Downtown apartment building. "Since you're not supportive of rent control - and I've been supportive of you - tell me where I need to go."

Rent controls already exist in Takoma Park and in College Park, where they've been the source of some controversy there as well. Throughout the meeting, Leggett repeated that he felt that they were not the right solution to the issue of rising rents.

Downtown residents Michael and Wendy Linde, who spoke out on the issue of pedestrian safety, asking why the County hasn't done more to make major roads safer. An article in this month's New Urban News (not available online) touting the revitalization of Silver Spring lamented that "pedestrians still must cope with broad, busy downtown roads." and the Lindes attested to it.

"There are aggressive drivers out there - and we walk," says Michael Linde. "We've nearly been killed seven times . . . there have been drivers who gave us the bird [when we try to cross]." He went on to ask why everyone from the police to the Department of Public Works and Transportation hasn't responded to his concerns, but Leggett chose to follow suit and moved onto the next question.

"I never got an answer to my question," wrote Linde in an e-mail. "I was not about to bully him because he did not answer my question."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

this is your mother's silver spring (see picture)

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE? Searching for truth in the bowels of Rockville; Town Hall Meeting with Ike Leggett TONIGHT in Woodside; JUTP hits the issues with Drew Powell and Susan Hoffmann LATER THIS WEEK.

Wednesday's adventure with Drew Powell (It's required reading if you haven't already - test on Friday!) might have you thinking I've moved to Rockville, but it's still about East County on Just Up The Pike:

THE BUS STOPS HERE: The era of "mandatory busing" ends in Hampshire Greens, the School Board decided that the golf-course community should send its pre-teens to Briggs Chaney Middle School, ending ten years of long bus rides to Key Middle in the name of "demographic balance."

ASHTON WORKS IT OUT: In the age-old battle between residents and developers, a compromise has been made over the Ashton Meeting Place, a controversial proposed shopping center JUTP reviewed back in June. Through a charrette, locals and developer Fred Nichols created a smaller, more pedestrian-oriented design that better accommodates the two-hundred-year-old village center.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

after the controversy, drew powell searches for redemption

Part ONE of a series chronicling interviews with activist Drew Powell and Silver Spring marketing director Susan Hoffmann, who are both running for mayor of Rockville.

I shake hands with Drew Powell, slow-growth activist and Rockville mayoral candidate, in the Rockville Town Square.

Post covers the Town Square's grand opening earlier this week.

Drew Powell - soon-to-be-former Neighbor for a Better Montgomery - cuts an imposing figure across the low-rise Rockville landscape. It's not just the fact he's pretty tall (as tall as I am) or has become an outspoken critic of the Way Things Are Done in Montgomery County - it's the fact he and I went searching the bowels of Rockville Town Square last Friday to make an apology.

The jewel box-like Town Square is where Powell's fledgling mayoral campaign took a turn for the worst two months ago. A week before announcing his candidacy, a security guard threatened to have Powell arrested for taking a photo of his nine-year-old son in the square.

At the time he was worried, he says, that "people are gonna think 'he's gonna make hay of it, he's gonna do it for political gain'," so he kept his mouth shut, even after photographer Chip Py led a protest through Downtown Silver Spring for the very same reason. When he finally told his story - to Drew Pierson, a Montgomery Sentinel reporter trying to see if another Chip Py would surface in Rockville - the current Mayor of Rockville accused him of lying.

lots more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

"If I'm not mistaken, the "rumor" is the result of the Sentinel reporter trying to make a story out of nothing," wrote Mayor Larry Giammo in an e-mail to various city officials. Giammo suggests that Powell was trying to photograph a store display, but the proof is in the picture: just a cute kid and the pavement of the plaza.

And Giammo ate his words when the City spoke to the guard and found that Powell was, in fact, telling the truth - but that wasn't enough. "I believe that moving forward - in Town Center, in Silver Spring, all over the County - there are First Amendment rights that need to be made clear for citizens," Powell says. "I have the feeling this will be decided in the Supreme Court."


We're on Maryland Avenue, lined by posh restaurants with outdoor seating. The beer garden at Gordon Biersch is full; TVs facing the street are blasting ESPN. "I shouldn't have to be afraid to come forward on this," Powell laments. "These are First Amendment rights, and I still happen to believe in the First Amendment."

He starts searching the brick-paved sidewalks, and it takes a second before I realize that he's walking up to a security guard, decked in blue. "Do you know Leo?" he asks.

"Leo? Curly hair? He was transferred to D.C.," the security guard says. "Eight months ago."

Powell's face turns white. "But . . . I saw him, like, two weeks ago." There's a brief silence: was it all an illusion? Can't be. "Wait," Powell says, "do you mean" - and he says Leo's last name. The guard's expression changes. "Leo!" he says. "He's probably out back. Lemme take you to him."

We're led across the street, past the beer garden, and through the posh lobby of a still-unsold condominium. A metal door, hard to hide but easy to find, takes us into an alley, where the illusion abruptly stops and Rockville Pike comes into view. We've gone from turrets and lattes to parking lots and office blocks. A Red Line train screeches by a few blocks away.

"A side of Rockville Town Square you've never seen before," Powell jokes.

"I've seen this before," I say. "I've taken out the trash."


"I think Town Center is fabulous," Powell says earlier that afternoon, while munching on a chicken salad sandwich at Potbelly. "But there are things I don't think most citizens are cognizant of."

Three-fourths of the condos in Town Square have yet to be sold. In the sales office, three floors above Maryland Ave, office workers outnumber actual customers. And, then there's the parking garages: "Every taxpaying citizen of Rockville pays a large portion of their taxes - about ten percent - just to pay for the [parking] garages" in the Town Square, says Powell, explaining that the bonds taken about by the City to pay for the garages' construction and maintenance cost $1.5 million a year to service. "Public-private partnerships need to be gone into with open eyes."

The Public-Private Partnership - best described as a "deal with the devil" between local governments and Big Developers - goes a long way back in Rockville. Just ask any Rockville resident over the age of thirty about the Rockville Mall, the failed behemoth (paid for by Federal Urban Renewal grants) that was bulldozed to make way for the Town Square.

"Architecture classes used to take their students in there and say 'this is exactly what you're not supposed to do'," Powell says, completely straight-faced. As a result, Powell remains more than skeptical about the city's latest attempt at town-building.

"The City needs to be careful as it moves ahead - so we're not spending more money to subsidize Town Center I, Town Center II, Town Center III," insists Powell. "These projects have to pay for themselves."


We're back in the alley. The stench of trash is unbearable. Behind each gray door is a different surprise - a peek inside the Papery, a stairwell, a dank hallway. Powell starts peppering the guard - who's introduced himself as Eddie Warren - with questions about the Town Square's photo policy.

"You can take pictures, okay," he says, "but other sites I work at they have signs posted."

"It should've been posted," Powell repeats.

"Reston Town Center where I've worked, they had signs posted around," Warren continues. "You wanted to take a picture, you had to go to the main office . . .that came about five years ago, during the 7-11 [sic]."

"He was just doing his job," Powell says, shaking his head.

One door reads "Engineering Office." He'll be in here, the guard says, reaching for the handle. He pulls: it's locked, and he doesn't have the key. Powell sighs. No luck today.


Disappointed, Drew Powell and I walk back out to the street, where shiny SUVs slowly tread over the cobblestones and diners and pedestrians exchange awkward stares. We discuss taking a picture in the Square, in the exact same spot as his son. "Okay, but only if we get someone to take a picture of the both of us," Powell insists.

Then a voice calls out: just a sound, no real words. Once again, I'm lost for a second before realizing Powell's running down Maryland Avenue, towards the Fractured Prune. Eddie Warren is waiting, with a much shorter, stockier guard in a white shirt. His nametag reads Leo: this is the guy.

Powell looks flustered. "I know you were doing what you were supposed to do," he says. "I know they put you through a lot of shit." He tries to crack a friendly smile - hey, we're all in this together - but Leo isn't taking it. His face is completely blank.

"I didn't spoke to nobody about it," he says, almost too quietly to hear.

"Scott Ullery [Rockville city manager] said he spoke to you." Powell's voice is trailing off.

Leo shakes his head. I introduce myself and offer a card. "I don't want a card," he says, "and I don't got nothing to say."

Monday, July 16, 2007

just up (rockville) pike

In the interest of equal time, Just Up The Pike will be sitting down with Susan Hoffmann, Rockville mayoral candidate. You may have seen Hoffmann in such roles as honorary "mayor" of Silver Spring.

There's a lot of territory to cover between interviews with Hoffmann and Drew Powell - the continuing photo controversy in Silver Spring and Rockville Town Square; the issue of growth, both in Rockville and throughout the County; and, of course, that silly mayoral race. (I mean, really: who votes for mayor? I sure don't.)

Over the next week or so, we'll be covering all of these topics, as seen by Hoffmann and Powell. While our readers don't live in Rockville, this is an excellent opportunity to continue the discussion on growth that I thought had been finished last November.

Come back soon!

Friday, July 13, 2007

next week on just up the pike . . .

I've been talking about Drew Powell - mayoral candidate soon-to-be-former head of the Neighbors for a Better Montgomery - for nearly a year now, and I haven't always had the nicest things to say about him. That's why I was surprised when Powell asked to sit down and talk with me about what's going on in Montgomery County.

This is the fight - er, coffee - of the century: come back MONDAY to see what happens when I find out where exactly "the brakes" are.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

drew powell, exploiting the errors of silver sprung

Are photo rights threatened in Rockville Town Square, as mayoral candidate (and big NIMBY) Drew Powell wants us to believe? A month ago, the head of NeighborsPAC was hassled by security for attempting to take a picture in front of the new Rockville Library (at left), but he only recently brought it up on the Flickr group DC Photo Rights.

Unfortunately for Powell, there's no denying that the Square is public. A tax map of the Town Square development refers to the square itself as lot N122, which this tax assessment lists as owned by the City of Rockville. Federal Realty, the developer of Town Square, doesn't have a lease agreement with the City the way Peterson does with Montgomery County on Ellsworth Drive in Downtown Silver Spring.

The Post's Marc Fisher, who's made the Downtown Silver Spring photo controversy (and the ensuing protest) a personal cause in recent weeks, is eager to rock the boat in Rockville as well. But this remains a largely Silver Spring issue. As the Penguin reports, a dialogue is beginning between the Peterson Companies and Silver Spring residents to ensure that personal rights are being respected Downtown.

Downtown Silver Spring was literally the first project of its kind in our area. A lot of mistakes were made - both in its design and execution - that later developments of its kind were careful to avoid. A clear, legal definition of public and private space in the Rockville Town Square shows how local governments are learning from those mistakes to ensure that personal rights are kept safe. I just wish that Drew Powell wouldn't take advantage of it for his own political gains.

Research by Adam Pagnucco; analysis by Dan Reed.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

do photo rights exist in rockville town square?

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE? City Place has a new owner; photographer protest floods Ellsworth.

Now, I rarely reserve sympathy for Drew Powell, head NIMBY of NeighborsPAC, but a recent run-in with security in Rockville Town Square (and the photo protest in Silver Spring) make me reconsider. The following is from Raw Fisher (blog of Marc Fisher, Post columnist) via the Montgomery Sentinel:
Rockville mayoral candidate Drew Powell told the Montgomery Sentinel that a security guard stopped him from taking a picture of his son in front of the Rockville Library last week . . . an executive at Federal Realty, the developer of the Town Center, said that "there are some situations in which people taking pictures in Town Square might be asked to stop," for example, if someone sought to take photos for commercial use.
Commercial use? Uh . . . guilty, almost. What would've happened if Rutgers University paid me to use a photo I'd taken of the Town Square for a newsletter they publish (instead of me giving it to them for free?) Could Federal Realty attempt to sue me?

Downtown Silver Spring and Rockville Town Square are both the result of public-private partnerships. However, Susan Hoffmann - Rockville mayoral candidate by day, Silver Spring "mayor" by night - told the Sentinel "she couldn't think of why photography would be forbidden in Town Square." The City of Rockville considers it a fully public space, whether or not it's managed or even owned outright by Federal Realty.

Because developments like this are becoming increasingly common - especially in Montgomery County's numerous redeveloping neighborhoods and town centers - a standard, across-the-board policy on personal rights must be created. I don't agree with Drew Powell's opinions (for all we know, he probably thinks the Town Square is too dense, too tall and destroying somebody's property values) but he, like all of us, deserves the right to free speech.

Friday, July 6, 2007

city place: a glimpse of our possible future

PHOTOGRAPHER PROTEST: Residents descend on Ellsworth demanding free speech in Downtown Silver Spring complex.

FROM THE POST: Extended hours for parking meters could end; Ashton Meeting Place defeated by Planning Board.

City Place's future is up in the air again as Silver Spring, Singular reports that developer Petrie Ross Ventures has bought the sixty-year-old Downtown landmark. It's unknown whether Petrie Ross will follow through with plans to build an office tower atop this moribund shopping mall.

Just Up The Pike has long wondered what should be done with City Place. Unlike the mall's past owner, whose portfolio consists mainly of office buildings and McMansions in Tysons Corner, Petrie Ross actually has experience building (and renovating) dying malls - giving us an idea of what City Place's future will look like AFTER THE JUMP . . .

The Centre at Glen Burnie in Anne Arundel County was renovated by Petrie Ross Ventures, City Place Mall's new owner.

1) City Place will be renamed to include the word "Centre."

Petrie Ross' portfolio shows their strategy: no matter what the project is, throw the word "Centre" in the name. Potential new names include The Centre at Silver Spring, City Centre, Centre Place, and City Centre Place Mall at Downtown Silver Spring.

2) It will be gutted and replaced with a Wal-Mart.

Well, it happened to the Centre at Golden Ring (formerly Golden Ring Mall) in Baltimore, and City Place used to be a single department store: who says it can't go back?

3) It will be classed-up.

The swanky Mall at Shelter Cove in Hilton Head, South Carolina - roughly the same size as City Place - has a directory that reads like a mini-Tysons Corner. If City Place follows its lead, we could see a Banana Republic, a Williams-Sonoma - even a Brookstone.

4) A little of all three.

The Centre at Glen Burnie (above, at right), a mall in Anne Arundel County Petrie renovated, sits in an older suburb that resembles Silver Spring in its less-thriving days. Like City Place, Glen Burnie's surrounded by larger, ritzier malls - Marley Station, Annapolis, Arundel Mills - but Petrie Ross has managed to find a niche for it by keeping stores like Rainbow while bringing in higher-end chains like Lane Bryant and Bonefish Grill.

5) Or none of these things at all.

Silver Spring is wildly different than any location Petrie Ross has worked in before. City Place will demand a creative solution - one that considers Silver Spring's increasing wealth while respecting the needs of its diverse consumer base. If Petrie Ross succeeds in remaking City Place, it'll have been just fifteen years in the making.

Shelter Grove photo courtesy of Petrie Ross.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

photogs for free speech flood ellsworth on fourth (updated)

No better day for a protest: hassled photographers flood into Downtown Silver Spring. For more pictures, check out our slideshow - and this extensive pool of protest photos.

Additional coverage at the
Silver Spring Penguin and the Silver Spring Scene.

While most Americans celebrated the Fourth of July with a leisurely bar-be-que, Silver Spring residents took to the streets. Yesterday afternoon, over one hundred photographers stormed Ellsworth Drive to demand free speech in a place where it should be most welcome: Downtown.

"The sign behind me says 'road closed,'" said organizer Wayan Vota, standing on a soapbox before the crowd of photographers on "the Turf." "We can think of it as saying 'rights closed.'"

The "Silver Spring Photo Walk," as dubbed by organizers Free Our Streets, was in protest of the Peterson Companies' disrespect towards local bloggers and photographers in their wildly popular Downtown Silver Spring complex after photographer Chip Py was accosted by security for taking pictures on Ellsworth last month. It was a quite a rebuttal to the Peterson Companies, who attempted to derail the protest with a compromise earlier this week and a photo contest to take place the same day.

AFTER THE JUMP: What residents, State Sen. Jamie Raskin and former news anchor I.J. Hudson have to say.
Photographers gather in Silver Plaza during the Silver Spring Photo Walk.

"The thing that ticks me off is . . . my taxpayer dollars go to supporting the security," says Tricia Southard, University of Maryland student and member of the Flickr group DC Photo Rights. "Granted, Peterson has given way . . . but they can yoink that at any time."

Mauro Giacchetti, local resident and friend of Py, stressed the importance of protecting personal rights. "It's a worthwhile thing," says Giacchetti. "We don't really want people's rights taken away. They seem minimal, but they're the only ones we have."

"We're just establishing that public space belongs to the people." - State Sen. Jamie Raskin
Despite their frustration towards Peterson, the protesters were peaceful, taking to Ellsworth as if was any normal day in Silver Spring. As stern-faced security guards watched helpless, number of people (including myself) took chalk and wrote on the brick-paved streets slogans such as "Shut Up And Shop!" and "I'll Buy My Rights For $2.00," referring to the Peterson Companies' lease of Ellsworth Drive from Montgomery County for one dollar a year.

That arrangement, in which the County leased Ellsworth to Peterson in exchange for the right to develop and manage the Downtown Silver Spring complex, is one example of a public-private partnership. Combined with the project's open, public design, free speech becomes a given, says State Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20).

"We're just establishing that public space belongs to the people," says Raskin, who rushed to the event from a 4th of July parade in Takoma Park and was the only politician to show today. "The streets, the sidewalks, the parks belong to the people for what they will."

"The first amendment gives the right [to take photos]," he continues. "You can't turn the whole county into Disney World, and it's not even clear if Disney World can take your rights away."

"Public-private partnerships are important to a lot of places. Sometimes, things don't happen without them." - I.J. Hudson
With several other Peterson projects already completed or under way in the region - including its high-profile National Harbor in Prince George's County - something should be done to prevent incidents like this from happening again.

"I wanna look at the terms of the contract," says Raskin. "We may need a state law that says that public land may only be taken over if they respect public rights."

However, the Peterson Companies feel their new policy, which allows photography on Ellsworth so long as it does not disturb other patrons, already does so. Last week, Forest Glen resident Adam Pagnucco was meeting with Montgomery County police regarding the protest when Peterson representatives barged in. Pagnucco, who's dealt with large corporations in the past defending labor unions, demanded that Peterson give photographers full rights on Ellsworth.

"[Pagnucco]'s a very sharp guy, very instructive," says I.J. Hudson, Peterson's lawyer. "Within a day and a half, we'd drafted a policy."

Chip Py has soundly rejected Peterson's new proposal, demanding full First Amendment rights to free speech. No sooner had I introduced myself to him did he make that clear: "We are not gonna compromise our civil rights," he said before walking away.

"We are not gonna compromise our civil rights." - Chip Py
Meanwhile, Hudson - best known as a former anchor on Channel 4 - was on Ellsworth today to speak with protesters. "I'm here to make sure people are treated with respect, to make sure our photo policy ensures people are treated with respect," he says. "There never was a 'photo ban' . . . If we see someone with a nice-looking camera, we ask them to check it with the guards . . . We ask that people be respectful and not disruptive."

"Public-private partnerships are important to a lot of places," says Hudson. "Sometimes, things don't happen without them. We were charged to manage this property the best way we know how . . . and that's what we're gonna do."

"I think we've been good corporate citizens," he continues. "I wouldn't say it if I didn't believe it."

downtown silver spring photo walk

Today, some two hundred photographers descended on Ellsworth Drive, demanding their right to free speech be respected. TONIGHT: Just Up The Pike brings you full coverage of the Downtown Silver Spring Photo Walk, including interviews with residents, State Senator Jamie Raskin and I.J. Hudson representing the Peterson Companies. We even got a few words from Chip Py, the guy who started it all.

And, of course, there will be lots of pictures.

Monday, July 2, 2007

the end of an east county era

After nine years, Cross Creek Club - the golf-course community that sprawls across the Montgomery County/Prince George's County line - will finally be sold out. You could call the sale of its last house (sometime this month, we assume) to be a marker of sorts - the end of large-scale greenfield (formerly vacant land) development in East County.

The future of East County will be redevelopment - recycling our current shopping centers, industrial sites and the remaining family farms into something new. To better show the wave of new development that will take place in our area in the years to come, check out Just Up The Pike's new "Developments Up The Pike" Google map. This frequently-updated map will show you what's being built or is in planning in East County. As you can see, there's a lot more going on that you might expect. But is it a boom? It's hard to say.