WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Studio Plaza project delayed; Silver Spring bloggers meet with Ted Mankin of Live Nation; Forest Glen station makes Metro's ten least-used list.
Part THREE of our "District 4 Head-to-Head Tour," which seeks to interview all eight candidates running in a special election to replace Councilmember Marilyn Praisner, who passed away in February. A primary will be held April 15, followed by a general election May 13.
District 4 candidate Steve Kanstoroom in Rockville Town Square. Check out his recently-completed campaign website for more information.
Steve Kanstoroom says the music in Starbucks is getting to him. The Ashton resident and candidate for the District 4 Council seat is running on "zero sleep," he says, the result of filling out endorsement questionnaires the night before, and he finds himself easily distracted.
We step out into the streets of Rockville Town Center, where he'd just wrapped up a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce, and head for the square. "Have any change?" asks a man on a bench. "I've only got a ten," Kanstoroom responds, "but I can run back inside for change if you want." Before I know it, he's in Starbucks again, returning a second later to give the man some money.
For Kanstoroom, it's clear that sleep can wait when people are in need. Google his name and you'll see his long career of advocacy: pushing for flood insurance reform after Hurricane Isabel damaged his former home in Talbot County; investigating the dumping of toxic materials near his current home in Ashton; and, more recently, representing a group of Sandy Spring landowners who've been told a road they built their lives around doesn't legally exist.
so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .
It's elected officials' ongoing refusal to legally recognize Farm Road, a century-old road serving a historically Black community in Sandy Spring, that was the "tipping point" for Kanstoroom to announce his candidacy.
"The [State] legislators take the position that Sandy Spring is a County issue, the Council members take the position that it is a State issue . . . Attorney General [Doug] Gansler takes the position that this is either a County issue or a Federal issue," says Kanstoroom. "That passing of the buck has left some of the most vulnerable members of the community losing their most valuable tangible asset: their family home."
"The unwillingness of our elected officials to act is shocking," he adds.
On Martin Luther King Day three months ago, Kanstoroom and a number of Farm Road residents picketed the homes of County Council members, Planning Board officials and several State officials, showing up with a flatbed truck and a sign that read "Since you won't let us live on our properties, we thought perhaps we could live on yours."
They were met with a variety of reactions. Councilmember George Leventhal told the Gazette he was "highly offended" with the visit, while Attorney General Gansler was "appropriately concerned." At the home of Rose Krasnow, former Rockville mayor and Chief of Development Review for the Planning Board, they were met by the police.
"Her husband appeared to be feverishly dialing the phone [during] the time Farm Road residents were at his home," explains Kanstoroom. "There were two police officers, one who was quite stern and one who was quite curious. He had never seen such a thing. He proceeded to say that there had been a complaint about a large truck in the neighborhood and someone replied 'there's a moving van in the neighborhood, so why isn't that a problem?'
"'He's making a delivery,' the officer said, and the person answered 'we're making a delivery, too. We're delivering a message.' When the officers understood what the message was, they explained there was no violation and everyone could leave."
Kanstoroom says he and the Farm Road community were unfazed by the run-in with the police. "The worst of what happened is that Secretary [Tom] Perez wasn't home," he says.
Kanstoroom feels a local developer's proposal for the Ashton Meeting Place is too large for the community.
The Sandy Spring controversy is just one example of how the government's lax enforcement of its own rules and ideals is exploited. A mile away from Farm Road is the Ashton Meeting Place, a controversial planned shopping center at New Hampshire Avenue and Route 108 in Ashton. Local developer Fred Nichols proposes building a mix of retail, apartments and a large grocery store that Kanstoroom feels is out-of-scale with the small town center.
"I think the plan drawn by the community would be an acceptable proposal," says Kanstoroom, referring to a smaller-scale design by Brookeville architect Miche Booz. "It conforms with maintaining the 'rural village feel' the community adopted in its Master Plan."
"Quite frankly, I believe that Fred [Nichols] was making the most out of a system that was broken," he continues. "The issue is not 'is the developer the enemy,' the issue is the developer's using the broken planning system. They're the identifiable target for it, but it's more complex than that."
Worsening traffic and increasingly overcrowded schools are examples of how County residents aren't getting their "money's worth," for the taxes they pay, says Kanstoroom. "There's no oversight and there's no political will to initiate the oversight."
County agencies, particularly Montgomery County Public Schools, continually ask for more money each year without explaining what they will do with it, he explains, a policy that could only exacerbate the current budget crisis. "How can you begin to solve a deficit when you only have half a picture?" he says.
"Why is it a secret where the school buys its staples from and how much they cost?" Kanstoroom adds. "The average County resident wants to know that their leaders have the information to make intelligent decisions."
Meanwhile, the times when our elected officials attempt to cut costs have been equally harmful. Kanstoroom points to Ike Leggett's proposal to cut the County chapter of the Police Athletic League, which brings kids and police officers together for recreational activities, encouraging crime prevention.
"There's an expense in cutting the PAL program," states Kanstoroom, noting that it could lead to an increase in juvenile crime and leave kids without things to do after school. "Sure, you can save a couple million dollars by cutting it, but what's the true save?"
By refusing to show the public their hand, the County has grown increasingly self-interested over time. "The problem then becomes an effort on the part of some to protect the system and not the people," says Kanstoroom. "If there's problems, we'll fix them. It's not about pointing fingers."
Meeting some of the other candidates in the special election, notably Republican Mark Fennel, Kanstoroom sees a "commonality among us. They all feel there's a change needs to be made," he says.
With a potential $300 million deficit, Montgomery County faces many difficult decisions, and Kanstoroom feels that the people currently in charge aren't willing to make them. "Everybody wants a quick fix. When they're sick, they want to take a pill to get better. They don't want to start eating better and exercising," says Kanstoroom. "The folks on the Council right now don't have the business experience to manage that. I managed tens of billions of dollars each day, and it had to balance. No ifs, ands or buts about it."
"It's not enough to just say you can do something . . . the best indicators of future performance is past performance, and my experience speaks for itself."