Wednesday, April 30, 2008

east county in review: inbox edition

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Proposed condo on Thayer Avenue goes before Planning Board this Thursday; Prospective developers interviewed for bioscience park in Calverton; Police bust daytime booze bash with bevy of East County pre-teens.

The Planning Board has approved Washington Adventist Hospital's proposal to build a new facility in Calverton.

Here at Just Up The Pike, we get a lot of e-mails about events happening in East County. In a foolhardy attempt to inform You, The Reader about what's going on, here's a look at some of the news that's landed in our in-box this week:

- Last week, the Planning Board approved Washington Adventist Hospital's bid to build a new facility off of Cherry Hill Road in Calverton. Currently located in Takoma Park, the hospital has encountered both community opposition to expansion on its cramped site. The new facility will have over 700,000 square feet of space, 290 private rooms, and an interfaith meeting center. While the hospital has been well-received Up The Pike as it could create 2,000 new jobs, Downcounty residents are concerned about increased traffic at Holy Cross Hospital in Forest Glen, according to Maryland Politics Watch.

- Retirement homes and senior centers throughout East County have been hopping with Nintendo Wii, the video game system that actually makes you get up and take part in physical activity. Citing the console's offering of "stress-free exercise and a fun social atmosphere," Montgomery County's holding a Wii Tournament this May and June. The first event will take place Thursday at the Margaret Schweinhaut Senior Center in Forest Glen, with additional tournaments to follow in Wheaton, Long Branch and Damascus.

- With $4 gas on the horizon, the County's Department of Environmental Protection is betting you'll want to find ways to lower your energy costs. Together with the MoCo chapter of the Sierra Club, they'll be talking about the Maryland Home Performance program May 6 at the Eastern County Regional Services Center on Briggs Chaney Road. The Home Performance program "helps residents identify home improvements . . . that will help to improve the energy efficiency of the home and ultimately reduce energy costs," according to Susan Kirby from the DEP.

- Also on Thursday, State Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-Dist. 20) will be in College Park to tout the recently passed Family Coverage Expansion Act, which extends family health insurance plans to high school and college graduates through the age of 25. Currently, dependent children lost coverage soon after they finished school, and many go without health insurance because of the increasing cost. The press conference will be at 1 p.m. in the University of Maryland's Stamp Student Union.

IF YOU HAVE AN ANNOUNCEMENT, don't raise your hand and wait for me to call on you. E-mail me today at danreed at umd dot edu and you might see your announcement right here.

Monday, April 28, 2008

east county apartments capitalize on college park housing shortage

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Marc Fisher predicts future where Konterra gets built; Cedar Street bike lane named "World's Stupidest"; A Parent In Silver Spring appears in the Express.

ABOVE: Apartment complexes throughout the region, particularly in Silver Spring, are targeting University of Maryland students kicked out of on-campus housing. BELOW: An ad for The Enclave in White Oak, frequently spoofed on Silver Spring, Singular.

As the spring semester ends here in College Park, the yearly hunt for student housing resumes once again. The University of Maryland has thrown a sizable portion of the junior and senior classes off-campus, and the pages of the Diamondback, our daily student newspaper, are choked with ads for nearby apartment complexes.

What's notable about this year's ads, however, is just how far away landlords think that students are willing to move. Of the twenty-six apartment complexes advertised in the Diamondback last Thursday, fourteen of them are in Silver Spring or along the Route 29 corridor. These apartments often tout their proximity to the Silver Spring Metro when many, like Waterford Tower on Briggs Chaney Road, are in fact almost nine miles away. Seven are located in towns closer to College Park, like Hyattsville and Adelphi. Just two of the apartment complexes advertised are actually in College Park.

Eastern Montgomery County has long been a popular area for both students and faculty. Nearly twenty years ago, my mother moved to Silver Spring while attending the University of Maryland. Today, the University runs shuttle routes to Burtonsville, Calverton and the Silver Spring Metro. And since its opening in 2004, the Downtown Silver Spring complex along Ellsworth has become a big draw for Maryland students eager to check out a movie on Friday night without going into The City. (In the minds of the most sheltered, Washington, D.C. is the only place scarier than College Park after dark.)

A less-than-flattering portrayal of College Park in the Washington City Paper two years ago just about sums up the general distaste many people have for the U of M's neighborhood, which may or may not be deserved. Meanwhile, student housing projects closer to campus have been stalled by either the school or the city. And so long as nothing gets built in College Park, it's very possible that the East County could see an influx of students in coming years.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

university, new hampshire rank among region's most dangerous roads

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Freed slave's descendants explore homestead site in ICC path near Route 29; B'ville townhouses go green; former Council hopefuls say they'll be back in 2010.

A family attempts to cross Route 29 near Stewart Lane in White Oak. Montgomery County ranked among the region's most-dangerous places for pedestrians in a new study.

If you ever find yourself on foot in Montgomery County, you might want to think twice before stepping out into the crosswalk: a new study (warning! PDF file) from the Coalition for Smarter Growth revealed that we're the region's fourth most-dangerous municipality for pedestrians. The Coalition, which advocates compact, pedestrian-friendly development, analyzed pedestrian fatalities over past decades and ranked MoCo behind Fairfax County, Prince George's County and Prince William County in its "Pedestrian Danger Index."

While Route 29 has had only one recorded pedestrian fatality in the past six years, other local roads were less fortunate. Unsurprisingly, Rockville Pike was the county's most treacherous corridor, while the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard in Takoma Park - on the Montgomery/Prince George's county line - was considered to be especially dangerous as well.

Further east, the section of University Boulevard in Prince George's County was found to be the deadliest stretch of road in the Washington area, defined as the two suburban Maryland counties, four Northern Virginia counties, the District and the city of Alexandria. That portion of University passes through commercial centers in Langley Park, College Park and Greenbelt all with large pedestrian and transit-riding populations.

The study cites Montgomery County's Pedestrian Safety Plan as an example of what local governments can do to lower the occurrence of pedestrian-related collisions. Despite some of the plan's early successes - such as the installation of speed cameras in residential neighborhoods and school zones, or the construction of a sidewalk a along Route 29 in Burnt Mills - many improvements throughout the County were threatened by proposed budget cuts earlier this year.

For more about pedestrian safety, check out www.pedestrians.org and, of course, the saga of the Lindes, a Downtown Silver Spring couple fighting for safer streets.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

green buildings, harris teeter possible at b'ville town center

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Calverton Elementary loses sixth grade; Blair magnet students march on Rockville; Outcry over "official neglect" of rec centers in MoCo's predominantly-black neighborhoods.

BUT FIRST: Montgomery College unveils plans to expand its Silver Spring-Takoma Park campus TONIGHT from 7-9pm at the Charlene R. Nunley Student Services Center (at left) at Fenton Street and New York Avenue.

Both the Mid-County (pictured) and White Oak recreation centers, currently in planning, will be certified for their sustainable design. Renderings courtesy of Grimm + Parker Architects.

East County could be seeing a wave of green construction as two LEED-certified developments begin to take shape. Created by the U.S. Green Building Council, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Rating Systems are a measurement of a project's energy-efficiency and sustainability. A scale of 69 points is used to rate buildings Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum, the highest-possible standard.

Developer Chris Jones is shooting for a LEED Gold designation for his Burtonsville Town Center project, which would redevelop the forty-year-old shopping center at Route 198 and Old Columbia Pike. Eileena York of East County civic group Citizens Involved announced Jones's intentions during a candidate forum hosted by the organization April 9.

The 260,000-square-foot development, first submitted to Park and Planning three years ago, would have half as much retail space as Downtown Silver Spring in as many as eight buildings. High-end grocery store Harris Teeter has been rumored as an anchor tenant, but it is "unconfirmed," according to York.

Two weeks ago, Montgomery County revealed early plans for the White Oak Community Recreation Center, to be built near the corner of April and Stewart lanes. At 33,000 square feet, the facility would become the County's largest green building and one of its largest recreation centers. It and a new Mid-County Recreation Center are currently in the design stage; JUTP could not get a hold of Grimm + Parker, the Bethesda-based firm currently working on the projects, for additional images.

Friday, April 18, 2008

taking parks out of the pocket

The Silver Spring CBD Green Space Plan, proposed by the Planning Department, seeks to create more parks Downtown. LEFT: Skater kids show their stuff in a "pocket park" at Colesville Road and East-West Highway in 2005.

In recent decades, Park and Planning's answer to increased density in Downtown Silver Spring has been the so-called "pocket park." A requirement for most new developments downtown, these little patches of green were intended to give people a place to play and green up the city streets. However, they've done little of either. As many Downtown residents and visitors can point out, most "pocket parks" have become the province of homeless people or skater kids - or, worse yet, abandoned altogether.

Enter the Silver Spring CBD Green Space Plan (warning! PDF file), set for review by the Planning Board next Thursday. Taking cues from some of the world's great urban spaces - from Square Saint-Louis in Montreal to Market Square in Alexandria, the plan seeks to create a livelier and healthier Downtown through its open space.

Its main goals are to clean up existing spaces that don't work, like Discovery Place on Wayne Avenue, a former "pocket park" that was fenced off and no longer feels like the public space it is. The plan also seeks to create new, larger urban spaces over existing County-owned parking lots. (Parking would be replaced underground.) Some of the proposals envisioned aren't just parks - they redevelop entire blocks, producing new opportunities for housing and business and raising the bar for Silver Spring's redevelopment.

AFTER THE JUMP: What kind of new green spaces and infill development could South Silver Spring, Fenton Village and the Blairs see in the coming decades?


Kennett Street Lot (after)A possible square in place of the current Kennett Street Parking Lot in South Silver Spring.

Parking Lot 3 (before)
Parking Lot 3 (after)
How County Parking Lot 3 could be redeveloped. Silver Spring Avenue is at the bottom and Bonifant Street is at the top.


The parking lot of the Blair Park Shopping Center re-envisioned as a sprawling green. Note that the Blair East and Blair Plaza apartment buildings have been preserved, while the Giant becomes the base of a high-rise.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

praisner, fennel head into district 4 special election

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: County considers increase in energy tax; Live Nation talks to Silver Spring, Singular about the Fillmore.

Don Praisner, seen at the IHOP in Calverton, won the Democratic nomination for the County Council seat opened by his wife Marilyn's death two months ago.

With a turnout of just over eleven percent, District 4 voters nominated Democrat Don Praisner and Republican Mark D. Fennel to run in the special election for the open County Council seat May 13. Praisner, widower of recently passed Councilmember Marilyn Praisner, garnered 3288 votes, according to the County Board of Elections. School Board President Nancy Navarro was not far behind with 2940 votes, while advocate Steve Kanstoroom and consultant Pat Ryan trailed them both.

With MoCo political gadfly Robin Ficker as campaign manager, Fennel's aggressive sign-deployment and promises to lower property taxes earned him the favor of Republican voters. The Aspen Hill resident beat Calverton real estate broker John McKinnis, with 898 votes to McKinnis's 771. Meanwhile, Spencerville's Robert Patton won 114 votes, while IT specialist Thomas Hardman, also of Aspen Hill, earned 96 votes.

As Marilyn's legacy hung over their heads, front-runners Praisner and Navarro waged an often-bitter campaign, made worse by allegations that School Superintendent Jerry Weast privately met with prominent unions to endorse Navarro, crippling her credibility. Adam Pagnucco from Maryland Politics Watch pointed out yesterday that a low turnout more or less ensured Praisner's victory, despite Navarro's larger campaign budget. District 4's two gigantic retirement communities - Leisure World in Aspen Hill and Riderwood Village in Calverton - guaranteed the 75-year-old Don a massive base of senior citizens, known to be the most hardcore of voters.

On top of that, he enjoyed strong name recognition from his wife, who sat on the Council for seventeen years and had been active in the Calverton community since moving there four decades ago. Praisner also had the support of County Executive Ike Leggett and four councilmembers eager to have a fifth vote for slower growth when the Council tackles its Annual Growth Policy this summer.

Monday, April 14, 2008

don praisner, picking up where marilyn left off

Part EIGHT 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.

Don Praisner at the IHOP in Calverton. For more information about his platform and biography, check out his campaign website.

In a special election born out of tragic circumstances but recast as a means for change in East County, there is one candidate who wishes to preserve the status quo. It has been over two months since Councilmember Marilyn Praisner passed away after forty years together, but Don Praisner is more determined than ever to ensure that her job is completed.

"I don't think anybody could hit the books as hard as Marilyn did," says Don over coffee at the new IHOP in Calverton, on Tech Road. "I'll try to work as hard as possible, but I don't think anyone could carry the workload she did."

In February, Marilyn passed away from complications due to heart surgery after a car accident last fall left her with a collapsed lung. Ten weeks later, Don remains surprised by her death. "Longevity was one of the characteristics of Marilyn's family," says Don. "I thought she would be around long after I was gone."

His candidacy to replace her was quickly endorsed by a slew of local elected officials, including County Executive Ike Leggett and four council members who voted for a slower pace of development for last year's Annual Growth Policy. With the loss of Marilyn, the coalition - made up of councilmembers Elrich, Trachtenberg, Andrews and Berliner - is anxious for a fifth vote to make it a majority. "Marilyn . . . she was for managed growth, not a moratorium," says Don. "My philosophies are the same."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

For forty years, Don and Marilyn lived in Calverton, a planned community straddling the Montgomery/Prince George's county line.

Known as an obsessive fact-checker, Marilyn would work long hours at the Council Office Building in Rockville, including Sunday afternoons. "She wanted to read everything she could . . . to be satisfied she knew of the issues," Don says.

He sometimes worried if his wife's hard work was worth the time and energy spent. "I've been surprised by all of the people I've met who made favorable comments about her," says Don. "I always said 'Why are you spending so much time on the job?' because it's never appreciated."

Over the past few months, he has ripped into Navarro and other candidates who try to compare themselves to his spouse. At a candidate forum in Cloverly two weeks ago, he told Navarro that "[Marilyn] was disappointed with you because you were not an independent voice," while claiming that she would "undo some of the work my wife did."

Don was unfazed by the Post's endorsement of School Board president Nancy Navarro for the Democratic nomination. "When they supported Marilyn, they always made some kind of backhanded compliment," says Don. "They pointed out some of Nancy's weaknesses, like leadership and independence. I think independence is important," he adds, pointing out that sixty percent of Navarro's funds come from unions.

Nonetheless, Don says he would put all bitterness aside if he lost the primary. "I'm a good Democrat," he states. If the voters reject his bid for office, he would like to play golf with his daughter, currently stationed with the government in Hawaii. "Of course, I'd also hope to be taking office for County Council," he says, smiling.

A Praisner campaign sign on Galway Drive in Calverton.

When I ask, as I have of all the other candidates, what the biggest problems facing East County are, Don echoes statements made by his wife when I spoke to her last year. "The same problems facing the County as a whole," he says. "A decline in revenues and an increase in services . . . one thing that distinguishes District 4 from the rest of the County is a need for jobs." The budget deficit is also a major concern. Don is cold to the idea of increasing property taxes to reduce it, as Leggett proposes. "I'd have to look at the services that will be cut if we don't," he laments. "Ike has a very difficult decision to make."

For the past forty years the Praisners have lived in Calverton, a 1960's-era planned community of fifteen hundred homes straddling the Montgomery/Prince George's line. During that time, the neighborhood has changed "some ways for the better and some ways for the worse," Don says. "We've become a cut-through between I-95 and Cherry Hill."

Dealing with two different counties reveals each jurisdiction's strengths and weaknesses, Don explains. "There are some places where P.G. does a better job . . . police response is better than Montgomery County," he says, though MoCo is "more sensitive to the social problems we have."

Disagreements between the two counties, however, have stymied attempts at coordinated planning and even threatened to tear the neighborhood apart. Fifteen years ago, the community rejected A-287, a proposed road that would have extended Clover Patch Drive across what is currently Riderwood Village, connecting Cherry Hill and Powder Mill roads and offering an alternative to congested Calverton Boulevard. Montgomery residents approved of it, says Don, "but Prince George's just didn't want the traffic in their backyard. It was a problem that was splitting our community, and we were very concerned about the consequences of that issue."

Even earlier attempts at regional planning were less than successful. "When Marilyn first got on the council, she recognized that what happens in your county affects us here," Don says. In 1990, Marilyn arranged the signing of a tri-county planning agreement between Montgomery, Prince George's and Howard counties, though it has since been ignored by all three.

"I'm not sure whether it's feasible or not" to pursue regional planning again, says Don. "I think it would take State intervention, someone with a club saying 'Hey! Get in shape!' And even then it'll be difficult."

A new restaurant under construction in WesTech Village Corner, one of several new developments in Calverton.

As former Vice President of the Calverton Civic Association, which represents the neighborhood, Don has been "in dialogue" with a number of developers seeking to build in Calverton and throughout East County, he says, though "it's not always a harmonious one."

One of the biggest proposals currently on the boards is for LifeSci Village, a 185-acre mixed-use community planned on the current site of the Percontee concrete recycling plant on Cherry Hill Road. In a November newsletter, Marilyn expressed concerns about the project, which Don shares. "It's an attractive plan, but I don't think it's ideal for East County," he says. Mixed-use is popular now, but "a developer isn't going to build an office building if he can't fill it. You can't ignore the marketplace."

Developers have made promises in the past that were not fulfilled, he warns, holding up the Orchard Center shopping center at Cherry Hill and Broadbirch as an example. "When the developers first brought this to us, a lot of promises about white tablecloth restaurants were made," says Don. Instead, a McDonald's and a Starbucks were built. "We're not totally happy with it, but we're glad it's here."

"They do good business here," Don says, motioning to the restaurant we're in. "Place is packed on Sunday mornings."

Burtonsville residents should be especially careful as its village center is redeveloped, considering all of the growth in Howard County and at the massive Konterra "mini-city" outside Laurel, he notes. "What is the marketplace willing to put into the village?" asks Don. "I guess they'll have to find their own personal niche. They can't compete with the Konterras of the world . . . but you have to fight to get as close to what you want as possible."

More than anything, patience is important. As a teenager, Don lived in Wheaton, where "the sign for Wheaton Plaza was there for eight to ten years before they actually built the plaza," he jokes.

an apology

Forty years ago, Don and Marilyn Praisner moved to a newly developed subdivision on the furthest edges of Silver Spring called Calverton. While the community they settled in has changed dramatically since then, they remained as stewards and leaders. Many newer residents such as myself, whose family moved here in 1999, cannot fully appreciate former Councilmember Marilyn Praisner's impact on our community as we were not here to witness much of her work.

While Marilyn and I did not agree on a lot of issues, I recognize that a piece I wrote last month, entitled "is marilyn praisner the new ronald reagan?", was insensitive. In it, I suggest that County Executive Ike Leggett's attempts to commemorate her life and career were excessive. However, I appreciate what she has done, and I want to see her legacy carried on in some form.

We all mourn the passing of Marilyn, though none of us can comprehend the loss her widower carries in his heart. Tomorrow morning - just in time for the special election - the "District 4 Head-to-Head Tour" draws to a close as we interview County Council candidate Don Praisner.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

john mckinnis, putting down roots

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Congressional candidate Donna Edwards moving into National Harbor in Oxon Hill; Post examines rift created by District 4 opening.

Part SEVEN 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.

John McKinnis at the Calverton Starbucks. For more information about his platform and biography, check out his campaign website.

At first glance, you can't tell that John McKinnis is a father of four, a successful business owner, or a Republican candidate for County Council. The news that he's thirty-two seems startling. He doesn't look as old as he is, and his actual age betrays his accomplishments. McKinnis is late for our meeting at the Calverton Starbucks, a few blocks from his home, but it's forgivable: he most likely put those ten minutes to good use.

McKinnis was one of a handful of candidates who drove to Four Corners last week for a late-night debate hosted by the Northwood-Four Corners Civic Association and unfortunately scheduled for the same time as one in Burtonsville. The event didn't let out until 11:30, he says, but as a former resident of Northwood he identified with the neighborhood's current struggle to stop the installation of soccer fields on a meadow in North Four Corners Park.

"I'm very concerned about that park and that rec center," says McKinnis. "My wife's Sweet Sixteen was in that rec center . . . we used to walk to that park."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

A native of Michigan, McKinnis has lived in East County for several years, moving from Four Corners to a newly-built home off of Cherry Hill Road in Calverton in 2001. While he is "not directly involved" with the politically influential Calverton Civic Association, he has been a coach in the Calverton Recreation League. Now that he's put roots down, McKinnis is impatient for results from a government he doesn't see as functional. "As an investor in our community, you have to demand a rate of return," he says.

"I think there needs to be some kind of sanity on this council right now . . . they're not focused on anything," says McKinnis, who last ran for District 14 delegate two years ago. The current emphasis on so-called "quality-of-life" issues, which often refers to land use and development, is no longer relevant when "people are just trying to survive," he laments.

As a Republican on an entirely Democratic council, McKinnis says he could offer a different perspective, enabling him to act independently. "Because I'm not in the trench of one direction, I can stand up and say 'we don't need to fall in line with this'," he says.

County residents are used to a high level of government services, making any program cuts very unpopular. McKinnis claims that he's willing to take the blame for those decisions. "Let me be that fall guy on the council," he says. "This isn't about party lines, it's about leadership . . . and this fiscal crisis requires direct leadership."

Montgomery County is facing a $300 million deficit, and McKinnis blames the school system's increasing demands for funding. "I think if you look primarily at our fiscal situation right now . . . a lot of people should be held responsible, but it starts with her," he says, referring to current school board president - and Democratic District 4 candidate - Nancy Navarro. "I guess this is the inconvenient truth of where our County is."

As a father of four, he expresses dismay towards many MCPS policies, including its recent decision to give students on free and reduced lunch higher priority in being assigned to Blake High School during the choice process for Northeast Consortium eighth-graders, which ended last year. "I have four incredible children, they're so talented, and you're gonna do everything you can to give them their dreams," says McKinnis. One daughter is an aspiring gymnast; his seven-year-old son is playing piano; his eldest son, age twelve, does music and theatre. He recently started working with the same manager as teen idols the Jonas Brothers.

In a few years, he'll have to be thinking about the Consortium, McKinnis says. "You look at Blair, the technology achievements being made there . . . there are certain schools that kids are going to gravitate to because of those achievements," he states. "I want to see [my son] going to a school not because of his color but because of what interests him."

McKinnis's four children are split between the public schools and Forcey Christian School on East Randolph Road, which has "a huge diversity of families," he says. His wife is a teacher at Burtonsville Elementary, and through her, he's learned a lot about the difficulties educators are facing in the school system. Increased attention to gifted-and-talented programs and special education has shortchanged students "in the middle," he laments. Meanwhile, problematic students are being swept under the rug by administrators unwilling to admit that they hamper the educational experience for other students.

"You are in denial of what your employees put up with," says McKinnis of the school system's administration. "I've known teachers who've been written up because their kids aren't above grade level. There's so much pressure on them . . . they're the sacrifice in this line of fire and the kids are suffering."

Nonetheless, problems in the school system and the county budget have been perennially pushed aside in favor of a bigger issue. "We talk about development," McKinnis laments. "None of this matters if our house isn't in order."

Friday, April 11, 2008

well-attended b'ville candidate forum invites debate, criticism

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE [COMING UP SOON]: County Council special primary this Tuesday; long-awaited Praisner and McKinnis interviews coming up over the weekend; "green" buildings planned for Burtonsville Town Center.

Burtonsville residents wait for a candidate forum at Paint Branch High School to begin last Wednesday evening.

Property taxes and the revitalization of Burtonsville took center stage Wednesday night during a candidate forum at Paint Branch High School sponsored by Citizens Involved, an East County civic group. Nearly two hundred people came out to hear hopefuls for the open County Council seat - for which a special election will be held on Tuesday - and for the Congressional elections in November.

Current school board president Nancy Navarro (at right), who won the Washington Post's endorsement today, said she was frustrated by an "amazing disconnect between what I hear are very important issues - land use and development - and no discussion about poverty or education," she lamented, saying it was necessary to "listen to everybody to prioritize our needs."

Consultant Pat Ryan, who volunteers for the non-profit group Action In Montgomery, bristled at Navarro's suggestion that she was the only one to mention low-income people. "I've been talking about affordable housing at every forum," Ryan said. In addition, he promised to talk to the State Highway Administration, who have continually rejected a request by local business owners for a sign on Route 29 announcing the Burtonsville Crossing shopping center. "I've dealt with pigheaded bureaucrats for the past thirty years," he said. "I know how to deal with them."

Steve Kanstoroom, an Ashton resident who's made headlines for representing disenfranchised Sandy Spring landowners, stressed his history of advocacy. "I've been advocating for people full time, double time, paid staff since 2003," he says. "I'm bringing to you all the services other parts of the County get." He was unfazed by the Gazette's recent endorsement of Pat Ryan for the Democratic nomination. "The Gazette recently endorsed Al Wynn," scoffed Kanstoroom. "The Gazette endorses people who don't win."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

From left to right, Democratic candidates Pat Ryan, Don Praisner, Nancy Navarro and Steve Kanstoroom listen to Daniel Straub from Citizens Involved speak before the forum began.

Don Praisner, widower
of former Councilmember Marilyn Praisner, stressed the need for optimism about the Council's ability to handle the budget crisis. "You have to have some trust in government," he said, but noted that they have a difficult decision to make. "We've put ourselves in a position that either we have to break the charter [limit on property taxes] or cut services."

The crowd thinned out considerably after the Democratic candidates spoke, and as a result, the Republican candidates who followed were more light-hearted. "If County statistics are accurate, there are probably three Republicans in the room, and I'd appreciate your vote," said Spencerville resident Robert Patton.

As his campaign manager, perennial candidate and MoCo gadfly Robin Ficker (at right) was bullish on Mark Fennel's chances of winning the Republican nomination of Tuesday. "No one was talking about fiscal policy before, but we made property taxes the issue," says Ficker as he flagged down cars on Old Columbia Pike, campaign signs in hand. During the debate, he planted a question about his latest referendum - which would require all nine Councilmembers to vote for raising the limit on property taxes in order to lift the current cap - earning him the ire of most Democrats and Republican John McKinnis, who didn't agree with his proposal.

"No offense, Robin," said McKinnis, addressing him in the audience, "but there are other was we can do it and we can do it right."

Aspen Hill resident Thomas Hardman (at left), who for $100 self-financed his campaign, promise to deal with code enforcement, citing the problems he's seen in his own community. "Neighbors do not have the right to ruin people's lives by having truck tire fires in their yards because they like to see things burn," he deadpanned. However, he disappointed members of the Paint Branch PTSA who asked candidates to pledge their support for funding the high school's modernization. "I've found that sometimes you make commitments and you have commitments that prevent you from keeping them," he said.

Congressional candidates Peter James (R) and Donna Edwards (D) were both invited to the event, but only James showed up, making up for his opponent's absence by holding up a sheet of notebook paper with a drawing of Edwards' face on it. James promised a "money-back guarantee" if elected, offering to put his salary in a trust fund and return it to voters if he didn't hold to his promises. "If you don't see any action, you can vote for Donna Edwards and she can be in for another sixteen years," he snapped.

Jonny Akchin, Edwards' field organizer for Montgomery County, spoke in her place, but many residents were not satisfied, approaching him after the event to ask where she was. "It's a very large district. She can't talk to everybody," Akchin lamented. He claimed that the campaign had not received word of the event until earlier that day, and Edwards had already made plans.

After the forum, Council candidates expressed frustration with the format, in which each speaker took turns answering a series of questions handed in by audience members. While responses were limited to forty-five seconds, the event dragged on for nearly three hours, delaying another debate immediately following in Four Corners. "I tried to make it as fun as possible, but I was tired," says McKinnis, who was the second-to-last to speak. "I was falling asleep through some of my answers."

As a result, many candidates did not go to the second meeting, according to Adam Pagnucco at Maryland Politics Watch. They included Praisner, who didn't want to travel there at ten o'clock. The Burtonsville forum "wasn't handled right, to have a candidate stand up and answer twelve consecutive questions," he says. "It's just not fair to the candidates."

robert patton, back in burtonsville and on the defense

Part SIX 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.

County Council candidate Robert Patton, left, and his brother and campaign manager William, at the Starbucks in Burtonsville. For more information about Robert Patton, check out his campaign website.

If you've ever been to the Turf Center on Route 198 in Spencerville, you've bought sod from the Pattons, who've been landscaping Montgomery County yards for seventy years. Last Monday, I talked to two Pattons - Republican District 4 candidate Robert and his brother and campaign manager William, himself a former council hopeful - about Burtonsville, McMansions, and just what's wrong with the County establishment.

It was hard to get a word in between their rapid-fire conversation, and you can clearly tell how close they are. "We bounce ideas off each other all the time," says Robert. "I guess that's an advantage. I got more than one head to think with."

Robert decided to run because he was frustrated by politics and politicians. The County Council is distracted by "issues they feel aren't that important because it meant they didn't have to deal with other things," Robert laments. "I understand that new problems have new needs . . . but what tends to happen is you neglect your core responsibilities. On basic terms, it's your schools, your police force, your roads. Everything that makes the basic quality of living."

Meanwhile, those in his own party aren't holding true to their own ideals. "The Republicans are saying 'we gotta cut spending' but you ask them 'you wanna build the Purple Line' they all say yes," says Robert. "I don't think it's a worthwhile investment . . . who's gonna ride the Purple Line but the people who watch kids in Bethesda?" he says, suggesting that a line on Route 29 would be more successful.

"I could never play their game," he adds. "I might never be successful in politics but I'd sleep better at night knowing I tried."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

"You know with Howie Denis and Steve Silverman there was a better feeling on the council," says William. He points out that former Democratic councilmember Silverman and the Patton brothers represented a horse farm on Route 198 that was shut down because their weekly equestrian shows caused "a lot of traffic on the roads, and people complained," Robert says. "Now they have a hundred fifty houses and now they have traffic every day instead of just on Sundays . . . there's animosity between the farm and the neighbors when we'd really just want to see a farm."

"I hate these McMansions with yards that you could cut with a weedeater, they're so small," says Robert. If elected, he would seek a minimum one-acre lot for new homes in East County - or seek other uses for the land altogether.

"We're looking at what's a better use for the land after the father's done with his land and he wants to pass it on to his kids - like a driving range or a church or something," adds William.

Robert questions the commitment of people who complain that the East County doesn't have enough amenities. "They move here for the government jobs and they make a lot of demands but they aren't planning to retire here," he says.

While he supports the proposed Burtonsville Access Road, Robert's skeptical about further development in the village center. "I think there are a lot of amenities out here. I'm kind of partial to the green space," he says. "Burtonsville's always sort of looked like an afterthought. It was meeting a demand. It was never architecturally pleasing . . . I don't begrudge Burtonsville, but I wouldn't take a girlfriend here, maybe to Seibel's for a milkshake."

Suddenly, Robert and William launch into nostalgia. "There was a tractor dealership where the Free State used to be," says William.

"I used to go to the Amish Market for ham sandwiches," Robert adds. "Even when I was a kid I used to go there it was a Chesapeake Bay Seafood House. My parents took me there when I got A's on my report card."

William laughs. "Who thought we were gonna have a Starbucks in Burtonsville. This used to be a driving range."

Robert replies with a sigh. "That's sort of the kind of rural flair this area used to have."

The rural village charm isn't what drove Robert out of the Burtonsville area twenty years ago. As a sophomore, he left Paint Branch High School because "people were stabbing each other and there were thirty students in class and teachers couldn't handle it," he states.

"I remember I was at a party not too far from here and somebody got stabbed or pulled a knife on somebody and the police came," says Robert. "And my friends . . . they said 'Hey, there are some nice cars in the neighborhood. Let's go steal stuff.' and I thought 'Who are these friends I'm picking?'"

The following day, Robert's hockey team traveled to New Jersey to play Lawrenceville, a boarding school outside of Princeton. He was so inspired by the grandeur of the campus that he immediately applied to a dozen schools across New England before being accepted to one in Connecticut. "All of a sudden I was in classes with six to twelve students, and you had to do your homework," says Robert. "You couldn't hide it."

He proposes giving Montgomery County parents a property tax rebate that functions as a voucher for private schools, reducing the school system's budget while also helping students who like himself did not feel comfortable in a public institution. "The school voucher thing isn't so much I'm partial to private schools but you're spending nine grand a kid and the schools are one hundred percent at capacity you take twelve hundred dollars and they'll be under," says Robert.

"I would argue that this would cost the county $30 million but in three years it would make them $100 million," adds William.

After prep school, college and several years living in El Salvador - first in the Peace Corps, later working for the Salvation Army World Service Office - Robert returned to Burtonsville and was shocked at how much it had changed. "Coming back, you know, it's like seeing your nephew in ten years, you don't recognize anything," says Robert. Rising house prices forced him out of humanitarian work and into landscaping, which he had done before leaving.

"He's great at it, he's fluent in Spanish," William says.

As a contractor, Robert finds himself embroiled in the ongoing debate over illegal immigration, but he favors extending rights - like workman's compensation and time-and-a-half - to workers legally in the country. "Anyone that's worth employing is worth employing right," he says.

However, he is skeptical about the effectiveness of Casa de Maryland, a government-supported agency who runs a day laborer center in Takoma Park. "The Casa program, it has good intentions and it sort of keeps them on the grid, on the radar," says Robert, "and generally I'm in favor of it. But when you have budget problems I'm not sure if it's the best way to help the Latino community."

All of Robert's employees - many of whom have been there for several years - are legal, but he appreciates the struggle all immigrants went through to get here. "The most ambitious and hardworking of the Latinos are the ones who save six thousand dollars in a place where you can make ten dollars an hour to pay a coyote who can get you across the border just so you can stand outside Home Depot trying to get a job," says Robert. "I got a lot of respect for that kind of character just to begin with . . . and then once you're here send ten percent of your income back home."

Twenty years ago, he couldn't get out of Burtonsville fast enough, but now Robert hopefully plans to stick around. "If I had some guarantee that District 4 would remain the way it is, with acres of green space, however we decide to use them, I'd consider staying," he says. "I think most candidates would say yes but most of them are lying. Everyone wants to go to Florida, but my family's been here . . . it just makes sense."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

coming soon . . .

MoCo political gadfly Robin Ficker flags down motorists with a Mark Fennel sign outside a candidate forum at Paint Branch High School last night.

Just Up The Pike returns from a strenuous week of architecture studio with a vengeance, hitting the East County with a blitzkrieg of posts detailing all I've done and all that's going on Up The Pike. The "District 4 Head-to-Head Tour" comes to an end as we interview County Council hopefuls Robert Patton, John McKinnis and Don Praisner. We'll hear about Citizens Involved's candidate forum at Paint Branch, where all of the players spar each other for the umpteenth time in less than a month. We'll also hear about some of the latest developments in Burtonsville Town Center, including one that could change the face of B'ville as early as this summer.

Keep your eyes peeled for what we've got to show: the special election is in five days.

Monday, April 7, 2008

pat ryan, busy making plans (updated)

Part FIVE 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.

County Council candidate Pat Ryan at the Parkway Deli in Silver Spring. (Picture forthcoming!) For more information about his platform and biography, check out Ryan's campaign website.

Pat Ryan's just received an endorsement from the Gazette, but you wouldn't know it from the way he talks. On the day the paper came out last week, we met at the Parkway Deli on Grubb Road, and he sort of brushed off his campaign for County Council when talking to an
acquaintance we met.

"I'm not the favorite," he says. "Don Praisner is running. The widower."

The widower. Those two words have cast a cloud over the District 4 special election, being held to find a replacement for Councilmember Marilyn Praisner, who passed away in February. And while her husband Don is running to "carry on her legacy" in the council, it's Ryan that former JUTP guest blogger Adam Pagnucco says "may be the true heir to Marilyn Praisner from a policy perspective."

Pragmatic but deeply concerned about the glacial pace of progress in East County, the Fairland resident and local activist has thrown his hat into the ring to see that old promises are not broken. "I'd been interested in running for local office for a long time," says Ryan. "I thought it was really important for someone with a lot of local connections and really understood the district [to run]."

It doesn't help, though, that no one outside of the immediate area seems to know where he lives. "Yeah, I get a lot of blank stares . . . I say 'it's on the way to Columbia'."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

A Pat Ryan campaign sign vies for visibility along Randolph Road in Colesville.

Since moving to the area in 1984, Ryan became intimately involved in the community. A firm believer in public education, he sent his three children to Montgomery County schools through eighth grade, when they transferred to a private school at the request of his wife. During and after his kids attended County schools, he played a role in the creation of the Northeast Consortium, which for the past ten years has given East County eighth-graders the opportunity to pick from three local high schools based on their individual "signature programs."

"We were in this multicluster PTA meeting and I said 'Why don't we let parents and students choose which high school they want to attend,' and they said 'No, we don't do that in Montgomery County'," says Ryan. "One thing I saw that we don't talk about is white parents' fear of black students going to school with their kids . . . . Sherwood parents afraid of their kids going to Springbrook.

"I talked to a lot of parents ten years ago who said they moved Olney because it's a predominantly-white area and they wanted their kids to go to school with white kids," he adds.

"In a way, proposing the [Choice Program] was a way to avoid dealing with that conflict" faced by parents anxious about the presence of minorities in East County high schools, Ryan suggests. However, he stressed the significance of exposing students to a range of different cultures and experiences while in school. "What's the value here?" he asks. "Is it more important to give everybody their first choice or to give everyone a racially and economically diverse student body?"

"In a county that's increasingly diverse," he adds, "you have to make sure you're not tolerating a silent racism."

Through working with Action In Montgomery, a County-based "multi-racial, multi-faith, strictly non-partisan" group devoted to encouraging civic involvement, Ryan has become very passionate about the issue of affordable housing, making it a central part of his campaign. "I just thought it was important that the kind of issues we've been working on were heard in this race," he says.

Affordable housing isn't just about giving people a roof over their heads, explains Ryan. "I think locating housing closer to where people work deals with a lot of issues," he says. "There seems to be a lack of active visioning about how to solve this problem because people are commuting from Howard County and Frederick County to here, we have more traffic, more greenhouse gases."

As a result, Ryan has put together a five-point plan for dealing with affordable housing, which he explains in detail on his campaign website. One of the most dramatic improvements he proposes is that the County create a Non-Profit Corporation to build low-income housing using private funds.

Montgomery County lacks the necessary impetus to improve their affordable housing stock, especially when compared to the effort it puts into more lucrative ventures, he explains. "The reason Downtown Silver Spring got developed the way it did was because somebody was pushing for it in the County Executive's office, and we need someone to do that for affordable housing," he says.

Ryan's involvement in planning and land issues began in 1997, when he served as a member of the Fairland Master Plan Advisory Committee, which guided the creation of the Planning Department's master plan for the Route 29 corridor north of White Oak.

On the committee, he says, "You sort of see how a community gets shaped, how important values get protected . . . who shapes the future." However, in the eleven years since its adoption, the master plan has not been fully realized. "There's a lot that hasn't happened," says Ryan. "The Burtonsville Town Center concept is still in planning. For God's sakes, it's ten years since the plan was adopted."

With Howard and Prince George's counties bordering the planning area on two sides and a major highway bisecting it, developing a cohesive community has proved difficult. Forty years ago, Montgomery and Prince George's collaborated on the bi-county Fairland-Beltsville Plan, but it was replaced by master plans covering each side of the county line later on. "I think development which crosses the [county] line doesn't have a good track record," Ryan says. There doesn't seem to be a shared vision between them."

One example of how the two counties haven't been communicating with each other is Cherry Hill Road, which has been five lanes on the Montgomery side for nearly ten years but is only now being widened from two lanes on the Prince George's side. "If you drive down that way at any time of day traffic is just dangerous," laments Ryan. "The history of Montgomery County and Prince George's in terms of planning road capacity is not encouraging."

"I think there is this sort of sense that Prince George's County figures whenever they work with Montgomery County they'll get the short end of the stick," Ryan says, stressing why inter-county cooperation is so important. "The future of our area is intertwined with theirs . . . Don Praisner lives in Calverton, and Calverton is half in P.G., but the issues are the same. You look at traffic, you look at crime, you look at amenities, all of the issues that affect a community, and they all overlap."

"You don't solve traffic as Montgomery County. You're putting Band-Aids on a local problem," he continues. "Traffic is regional. It involves Frederick County and Prince George's County and even Northern Virginia . . . we need to get together and do more active planning . . . if we're gonna do something, we've gotta start now."

In the future, Ryan says, he'd like East County residents to consider "how we can share development space in a way that will lessen dependence on the car," he says. "Everyone in the Fairland area has a car. I know you don't."

"I do," I reply. "I drove here."

"But you look at some areas like the new Rockville Town Square where housing and shopping are in spaces where people can walk to them, that's the kind of development I'd like to see," he continues. "White Oak Shopping Center, that's probably going to be redeveloped. What do people want to see there? What's gonna happen?"

Friday, April 4, 2008

thomas hardman, always a few steps ahead (updated)

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Blair and Paint Branch bands appear in Russell Crowe movie; Several roundabouts planned for East County; Downtown Wheaton could see new library, apartments.

Part FOUR 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.

County Council candidate Thomas Hardman stands in Downtown Wheaton. Check out Hardman's campaign website and blog.

"If I seem a little disorganized and incoherent," explains Thomas Hardman while we're sitting down at Dunkin' Donuts in Wheaton, "it's because I don't have this [computer] screen in front of me serving as my short-term memory."

Ten years ago, the Aspen Hill resident was making a name for himself online, with a prolific posting streak on Usenet, an early bulletin board system, and a website that you could call an early blog. But today, he's stepping away from the keyboard and onto the campaign trail, running as a Republican for the open District 4 seat on the County Council.

"I'm finally realizing it's more important to do things in the real world than to write and write," Hardman says. "You actually have to go out into the streets, shake hands, talk to people in order to make changes. Writing is just grist for the mill."

Today, Hardman is dismayed by the County's inability to acknowledge the issues affecting many communities, including his own Aspen Hill. "I was going on and on about gangs in my neighborhood for eight years and the County pretended it didn't exist," he says. "Security here is a big issue, and there are huge gaping holes that people ignore here for political reasons."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

A new townhouse in Wheaton is up for foreclosure. A downturn in the economy has made foreclosures increasingly common throughout Montgomery County.

Overcrowding has changed the place his family moved to forty years ago when it was "pretty much the end of the world," Hardman says. He would see "people that would pave their yards, three to four families a house . . . most of those people were construction workers here to work on the [building] boom," he notes.

And the Department of Permitting Services, who is charged with making sure that homes are legally occupied and meet building codes, hasn't done a thorough job. "If you look at most of the fires in Aspen Hill, they were in homes with excess occupancy . . . if they had been inspected, these problems could have been prevented," he laments. "In some situations you may want to speed up the process for more egregious violations."

With the faltering economy, however, overcrowding isn't the only problem in his neighborhood anymore. "You drive through Aspen Hill now, especially on the main thoroughfares, and it's one For Sale sign after another," he says. "I read about a town in Ohio that has the highest foreclosure rate in the nation, and it's just melted down . . . I could see some of those problems happening here."

Meanwhile, the County budget keeps growing larger and larger, he laments. "I'm trying to think of the right organic metaphor," Hardman says. "You ever see those science fiction movies with the giant amoebas?"

However, raising taxes isn't an option. "We're also gonna have to cut a lot of services," he laments. "You have a lot of these agencies that try to be everything to everyone . . . focus on the core competencies and less money will slip through the cracks," Hardman adds. "The last thing we want to do is tax the middle class into insolvency."

Hardman fears that Montgomery County could be getting too big for its britches. "Stop inviting more growth," he insists. "If you look at living things, the size of an organism is designed for its environment. You're not gonna have an elephant where there isn't enough food for it to eat . . . things are scaled by design."

While the pace of growth may be too high, the quality of the growth isn't nearly high enough, creating a "disconnect" between "here's where people work and here's where people live," he says. "That's where mixed-use zoning comes in. I lived in the District for several years and what I liked the most about it was within two blocks you had a variety of stores."

The addition of high-end housing in Downtown Wheaton allows people to live, work and shop in the same place.

We're outside at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Reedie Drive now, voices fighting the traffic, commenting on the accelerating redevelopment of Downtown Wheaton. Hardman keeps returning to the idea of the 'arcology,' a kind of superstructure in science fiction where a large amount of people can live, work and play without ever leaving. Places like Wheaton could almost be considered arcologies, he says. "If you think of the arcology as the reinvention of the village, you've got places to live, places to shop, places to work and transit," he explains. "All the stuff is there, you just have to build boxes and put people in them."

Hardman says it's possible, but he's skeptical. "This is the city, but it wasn't designed to be . . . other than saying 'this is a commercial area,'" he says. "The roads just weren't designed for this kind of traffic and the transit system is at its breaking point."

"These places will be pretty nice 'cause they're near Metro and shopping," he continues, motioning to a block of apartments and offices rising across the street. "The issue is can the people who work there afford to live across the street . . . can people who live there work at the mall?"

While Hardman supports public transit - he would like to see the Metro augmented with a system of "circulator-type" buses in business districts and longer-distance express buses - he rarely uses it anymore. "It's an increasingly unpleasant experience not because of the character or the quality of the people but because there are so many of them," he says. "It's getting to be more like Japan where they hire people to push you through the door."

Nonetheless, he states that "rail of any kind is the most efficient form of transportation that we have," but further implementing it here wouldn't necessarily be that way. "If we move to an urban planning concept that resurrects the village and have rail connecting them. . . I don't know how well that would work for Montgomery County as it's configured now," he says.

"All of this that runs on oil . . . all of this here will have to be massively downscaled - and sooner rather than later, or we could wind up like squirrels who haven't stored enough nuts for the winter."

Boarding a bus at Briggs Chaney Road and Old Columbia Pike. Hardman feels that creating more mixed-income housing in Briggs Chaney could have a large effect on the surrounding area.

I was flattered when Hardman e-mailed me to say that he'd been so inspired by JUTP's series on Briggs Chaney Road last summer that he drove down it a few days before our interview. The portion west of Old Columbia Pike "looks like a pretty nice neighborhood, the kind of place people would want to stay the same, save for a little less traffic," he says, though the areas east of the Pike were another story.

For their candidate profile, the Gazette asked Hardman if he felt the Planning Board was to blame for low test scores at Paint Branch High School, which serves the square-mile amalgamation of low-rent apartments and townhouses at Briggs Chaney and 29. "Probably concentraing [low-income people] all in one district isn't going to make them happy," says Hardman. "You look at scattered-site housing . . . maybe they could convert some of those high-density areas into luxury condos and have a wider mix of incomes."

Hardman was very disappointed, though, to read that local punk legend and Government Issue lead singer John Stabb was assaulted outside of his Briggs Chaney condo last summer. Twenty-five years ago, he was a fan, he explains. "You probably shouldn't write this, but I was kind of one of the first Goths in town," says Hardman. "I was not really super involved in the hardcore [punk] scene, but I probably drank in the same bars as they did."

Today, however, his musical involvement consists of some very respectable noodling on the guitar, which he's featured on his campaign website. Hardman likes to play guitar on his front porch, adjacent to a bus stop, which earns him both cheers and jeers from passers-by. "Most of the neighbors were like 'hey, great job, keep it up,'" he says. "But the people on the bus were like 'cut that mess down,' so I don't go on the porch anymore."

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

no 'quick fixes' for steve kanstoroom (updated)

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."