Friday, May 30, 2008

photo essay: cameron street closed

JUTP is in New Orleans - regular news posts start up again in June!

The intersection of Cameron and Spring in Downtown Silver Spring has become a forest of cranes as construction proceeds on United Therapeutics' new headquarters (on both sides of Cameron) and the new Cameron House apartments (on the north side of Cameron). Here a few pictures I took on a sunny day last week with my back on the sidewalk and my camera pointed in the air.

Phase 1 of United Therapeutics' headquarters complex, completed in 2007.

You never pay attention to the electric signs when they change, but they make this nice "click-click" sound as the letters go around. It's soothing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

georgia crossing: no style, but lots of potential for wheaton

JUTP is in New Orleans - regular news posts start up again in June!

Georgia Crossing Shopping Center, located on the former Anchor Inn site at University Boulevard and Georgia Avenue, will open later this summer.

Two years after the Anchor Inn, a Wheaton seafood restaurant and local institution, was demolished, the corner of Georgia and University will see life again as the new Georgia Crossing shopping center nears completion. Many Wheaton residents complained about the quality of the development at a focus group last month, and even I myself referred to it as a "shitty strip mall" in November.

After visiting that "shitty strip mall" yesterday, still under construction, I have to admit it's not that bad. With its oddly-colored yellow and grey panels and lack of ornamentation, Georgia Crossing may not win any architectural awards, but it'll go a long way to creating the kind of vibrant community that Wheaton's longed for.

A site plan of Georgia Crossing, showing the first phase along University Boulevard and a future phase, which resembles a conventional strip mall. Image courtesy of Steven J. Karr.

For starters, the tenant mix emphasizes Wheaton's reputation for diversity and good food with a number of ethnic restaurants. Among them is Peruvian eatery El Pollo Rico, whose former location on Ennalls Avenue burned down last February. In recent years, El Pollo Rico had gained a regional reputation for its excellent chicken and questionable hiring practices, and it's put Wheaton on the map, even if by infamy.

Yet unlike many of the neighborhood's existing strip malls hiding behind parking lots, Georgia Crossing isn't afraid of the street. It sidles right up to University Boulevard, leaving room for a nice wide urban sidewalk. Preserving a line of mature street trees shades the space and that invites outdoor seating and pedestrian activity, creating a vibrant streetscape.

A second phase of the project, which would add a second line of shops directly behind the first, is more like a conventional strip mall. You'll see the sides of both strips - and the parking lot - from Georgia Avenue, which may not contribute much to the street life there. Nonetheless, Georgia Crossing is a step in the right direction. If you think it's ugly, you're not alone - but in a couple of years, you won't even notice. Enticing tenants and smart urbanism will hopefully make this more than just another strip mall for Downtown Wheaton.

Monday, May 26, 2008

going to new orleans for a week

I'll be out of town for the next week, volunteering in the ongoing reconstruction efforts in New Orleans. However, Just Up The Pike won't be going anywhere, with posts over the next couple of days about some things I've seen in and around East County recently. In the meantime, however, a few parting notes:

- If you're interested in Burtonsville's revitalization - which made the Washington Post earlier this month and would like to take part in a study about how to redevelop the village center, you'll want to attend one of two meetings on Thursday at the East County Regional Services Center on Briggs Chaney Road. The first meeting, at 12 noon, is for local business owners, while a separate meeting at 7 p.m. will be held for residents.

- Maryland Politics Watch, home to former JUTP guest blogger Adam Pagnucco, will be running a five-part series this week on traffic in Montgomery County. They'll be looking at how the county determines just how bad congestion is at a given intersection - which influences everything from which roads get funded for reconstruction to whether new development is allowed in a certain area - and how the system can be improved.

- And, as always, I encourage you to visit the District 4 Wiki, founded by local activist Eileena York and former County Council candidate Thomas Hardman. Like Wikipedia, the District 4 site can be edited by anyone. York and Hardman hope that East County residents will use the wiki as a way to write about their community - and to communicate with others as well. District 4 Wiki will be holding its first outreach meeting on June 5 at the Long and Foster in Burtonsville.

Happy Memorial Day! I will be back on June 1.

Friday, May 23, 2008

drafthouse owner godbout responds to JUTP story

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Planning Board hopefuls include former District 4 candidates, Robin Ficker; Route 29 named one of County's most congested corridors.

In August, the former P & G theatre at Wheaton Plaza will become the Montgomery Cinema 'N' Drafthouse, which will offer everything from first-run movies to live comedy.

In March, I wrote about the new Montgomery Cinema 'N' Drafthouse, opening in the former P & G Wheaton Plaza 11. The new venue will offer "first-run films, independent films, sporting events, live comedy,film festivals, speaker series, family friendly events, wine tastings, live music, [and] major televised events," according to their website.

I caught a little flack from commenters who thought my concerns about not naming the Drafthouse after Wheaton was kind of silly. One of those putting their two cents in was no less than Greg Godbout, owner of the Montgomery Cinema 'N' Drafthouse, set to open later this summer, and the current Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse in Virginia.

Godbout had this to say AFTER THE JUMP . . .
"Try to be a little more positive... This is good news for all of Montgomery County especally Wheaton and the Drafthouse.

(1) The name is Montgomery because we will be all of Montgomery County's Drafthouse. In our Arlington location (Located in Arlington County - thus the name) we are actually located in South Arlington off of Columbia Pike, we get 70% of our customer base that live outside our zipcode area. Our theater draws from a 30 minute drive time on a regular basis. In fact many of our regulars come from as far as Richmond VA, West Virginia, Annapolis MD and Baltimore MD

(2) The Wheaton comunity is a great community for us to operate in. As some have commented on this blog and our booth at the Taste of Wheaton - Wheaton needs a diverse entertainment venue. In our case we offer all sorts of entertainment.

(3) For those comparing us to a "regular" movie theater, I suspect you have never been to a "Drafthouse" or "Restaurant" style theater as the experience is totally different and are actually considered different industries.

(4) As for the quality of our entertainment experience, we were voted the Best Movie theater in the DC area as part of the Washington Post's Best Bet. The Washingtonian selected us as the best thing to do on a Friday night as we offer Wine Night at the Movies every Friday, which has optional wine tastings with experts from the Washington Wine Academy. Our small Arlington location with only one theater offering sub-run films (films that have been out for 2 to 3 months) gets 100,000 visitors a year! In Wheaton we will be offering both first-run films and sub-run discount films in a theater venue with 6 theaters. We easily expect to draw 300,000 people per year in our high quality/high end new flagship location in Wheaton.

(5) Live Entertainment: Our live comedy offerings feature the best of the national comedians on a regular basis. Our family friendly live events feature the best local family entertainers weekly. Our film festivals and cult film showcases regularly sell out. We offer live music on a limited basis, however we expect to offer more of it at the Montgomery Cinema 'N' Drafthouse.

We are very excited about being located in Wheaton and have for two years been seeking out a central Montgomery County location that could appeal to our existing fan base in MD and DC. Our customers have long asked for a location in MD and we are thrilled to open our Montgomery Cinema 'N' Drafthouse in Wheaton."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

montgomery's indoor picnic features chili, paper ballots

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Chevy Chase study insists Purple Line can't get federal funding; Takoma Park movie premieres at New York film festival; Pedestrian hit at 29 and Briggs Chaney last weekend; Man jumps in front of Red Line train at Wheaton.

Catherine Leggett, wife of County Executive Ike Leggett, Olney Theatre manager Amy Marshall, and Delegate Karen Montgomery at the Lamb, Ham and Vegetarian picnic last Sunday.

A diverse menu and a recent legislative victory were more than enough for Maryland's movers and shakers to brave the rain and attend Delegate Karen Montgomery's seventh annual Lamb, Ham and Vegetarian picnic held last Sunday in Brookeville.

Despite uncooperative weather conditions, Montgomery (D-Dist. 14) entertained dozens of friends and colleagues at her home on Market Street, portions of which date to 1813. Between directing people in search of trash bags and jumping up to check the oven, she explained the secret to her cooking. "You put enough garlic and spices in," she says. Montgomery made the lamb and chili herself, while the roast beef, ham and rice were prepared by others. The biscuits, meanwhile, came from New Orleans-themed local eatery Popeyes.

The delegate - whose sprawling district stretches from Damascus in the west to Burtonsville in the east - also received a certificate celebrating her recent success in ensuring that voter ballots can be easily recounted. Montgomery has been "working to ensure transparency, accuracy and accountability in our voting system," said Bob Ferraro of SAVE Our Votes, a nonprofit group demanding verifiable election results.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

County Executive Ike Leggett speaks inside Delegate Karen Montgomery's living room.

Maryland uses computerized machines from Diebold, the same company responsible for the ballot controversy in Ohio during the 2004 election. Demanding that they be able to provide recountable election results - whether on paper or electronically - was a "four-year struggle," says Montgomery, who was concerned about studies that proved they could easily distort voting records. "Two guys who had been indicted and jailed for computer fraud were working for Diebold," she says. "I frankly believe that using those Diebold machines that the election was stolen when Bush won. We need to have a record . . . that can be counted."

Elected officials from across the state came out to support Montgomery, including Dels. Dan Morhaim (D-Dist. 11) and Charlie Barkley (D-Dist. 39) and Craig Zucker, representing Comptroller Peter Franchot (D). In addition, County Executive Ike Leggett (D) said a few words about Montgomery to an assembly in her living room. "I'm so happy to be here with the three delegates that represent me," says Leggett, who lives in Burtonsville. "I feel at home."

Her next challenge in the State House will be the ongoing budget crisis, which she states is a symptom of the national economic slowdown. "It is not fair to tear into our people for what is a federal problem," she said, referring to the Bush administration's policies, earning her a round of applause from the crowd.

Alongside the lamb and chili was a surprise birthday cake for James Offord, Montgomery's perennial campaign chair and a Tamarack Triangle resident. Offord, who jokes he's turning "thirty-nine again," became friends with Montgomery after meeting her at the Olney Theatre several years ago and has since worked on all of her campaigns. As an African-American, Offord faced criticism for supporting a white candidate. "There's always subtle racial tension," says Offord. "People wanted to know why I was supporting this white woman and I said 'She's the best candidate. Race doesn't matter'."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

student leaders, transit advocates team up for purple line push

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Planning Board approves requirements for SilverPlace headquarters; New building on FDA campus dedicated; Metro plans rapid-bus expansion along 16th Street, Veirs Mill Road by 2009.

As Downcounty residents pored over the MTA's latest plans for the Purple Line last Wednesday, a group of student leaders met with members from the Action Committee for Transit at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School to learn how to make the proposed transitway between Bethesda and New Carrollton a reality.

"I think students and people in general are vested in the interest for transit," says Ben Moskowitz, senior at Walter Johnson High in Bethesda and student member of the Montgomery County Board of Education.

Roughly ten students, representing their schools' student government associations and newspapers, came from as far away as Watkins Mill High in Montgomery Village and Centennial High in Ellicott City. ACT President Ben Ross says it's just a sign of how popular the Purple Line is across the region.

"All I can say is . . . it is not just students that we see support from Upcounty," says Ross. "We leafletted the Metro stations two years ago and letters came from all over the County . . . people just look at that map and say 'this makes so much sense'."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Deirdre Smith and Carlos Abinader from the MTA gave a brief presentation on the project, including an explanation of light rail and Bus Rapid Transit, the two technologies proposed for the Purple Line. Abinader, who lived in Germany for several years, stressed how important transit can be to its users. "Kids, adults, everyone, they live it, they breathe it, they ride it," says Abinader. "It's wonderful."

One student from Whitman High in Bethesda expressed concerns about the line's effects on existing residential neighborhoods. "Things will be impacted," responds Abinader, "but we are trying to minimize any impacts."

A successful student-led protest against proposed Ride On cuts last winter encouraged ACT to reach out to high schoolers. "You need a few people who are really committed and it'll sweep the schools," says ACT Vice President Hans Riemer, who recently left a position as youth coordinator for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. "Student empowerment, that's the core tactic . . . talking to students about their power."

The students joined Ross for a round-table discussion about ways to generate interest in the Purple Line, with suggestions ranging from additional student meetings to a new Facebook group. Alex Blocher, a junior at Blake and president of its SGA, says he hopes to reach out to people who don't see the utility in the project right away. "People who have a reason for it . . . who actively travel Montgomery County are aware of it," states Blocher, "but the general population isn't as aware as I'd like it to be."

Moskowitz knew about the Purple Line for years, but first became interested in supporting it after working on Steve Silverman's County Executive campaign in 2006. As the campaign and his position on the Board took him across the County, he "became even more passionate about it in my car driving from Bethesda to Silver Spring and once even taking the Metro from Glenmont to White Flint."

Although he'll be going to the University of Pennsylvania in the fall, Moskowitz hopes events like this will groom a new generation of student advocates. "The biggest advantage we have is there's a lot of people who have time to stay with this," he says.

Riemer looks forward to the possibilities. "I know that high school students in Montgomery County are some of the most organized around," says the East Silver Spring resident, who ran for County Council two years ago. "What if you could get the media to see young people care about the Purple Line rather than focusing on the people carping about what they might lose?"

Friday, May 16, 2008

more info means stronger opinions at purple line open houses

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: What are local high schoolers doing to show their support for the Purple Line? We'll find out next week.

A computer-generated image of Purple Line trains running along Wayne Avenue. The Maryland Transit Administration is releasing more visuals of the project to give local residents a better idea of what it will look like.

A new round of information on the Purple Line released at a series of open houses this week is giving some Downcounty residents more reason to support or question the controversial proposed transitway between Bethesda and New Carrollton.

Representatives from the Maryland Transit Administration said there was a "steady flow" of visitors to an open house Wednesday evening at East Silver Spring Elementary School, with approximately fifty people in their guestbook at 6:10, an hour after the meeting started.. Transit advocate Don Slater, whom with his wife Tina lives "six doors off" the Wayne Avenue alignment, was excited about the turnout. As we reported last winter, the Slaters have printed out bumper stickers reading Purple Line/Green Transportation for supporters of the project. The Purple Line is "absolutely necessary to the Maryland suburbs," says Slater.

Gary Stith from the Silver Spring Regional Services Center noted that the project's slow pace has tested the patience of local residents, but only because they're so hungry for information. "The more you keep people informed, the better," says Stith. "They're smart, well-educated. They expect to get good information."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

The State's newest ridership figures estimate that as many as 68,000 people will ride the Purple Line each day, depending on which of six alternatives is built. It's a large increase from the 47,000 daily riders anticipated last December. At this month's open house, MTA has also produced estimates of how many automobile trips will be removed in different parts of the region. According to the latest figures, the greatest traffic impacts will be seen in College Park, where as many as 7,000 trips could be replaced by the line, while an additional 5,900 trips may disappear in Downtown Silver Spring.

Another new feature was a series of video simulations depicting different parts of the route, the early versions of which have appeared in neighborhood meetings over the past several months. Standing a few feet away from a screen showing trains flying down Wayne Avenue, Sligo-Branview resident Rose Polyakova said she hoped that MTA would pick light-rail vehicles over Bus Rapid Transit, a cheaper technology that can be compared to a train on rubber tires.

"Most [people] want to build a Purple Line," says Polyakova, but "a lot of people would ride a rail that would not ride a bus . . . there's a perception that buses are not nice."

One possible BRT design would cut across the front yard of her home at Wayne and Flower avenues, where she's lived for nine years. "Sitting on my front porch would not be as pleasant as it is today" with a bus running through it, she says.

East Silver Spring resident Karen Roper, who sits on the Purple Line Advisory Committee, had already seen most of the information presented at the meeting. "Don't expect to see anything new," she says. "I just expect to keep them honest."

Roper made headlines two years ago for taking elected officials on walking tours of the Purple Line route in East Silver Spring to convince them to re-route the line away from her neighborhood. Learning more about the MTA's plans haven't changed her opinion, she says, especially as the project's focus has changed and more stops were added. "I think you have to look at what this was supposed to be," says Roper, "and it was supposed to be rapid transit."

"It's an end game," she adds. "Politicians are stuck between a rock and a hard place . . . to prove that they can make it work."

The next step will be the publication of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, a several-hundred-page document outlining the Purple Line's direct effects on the region, later this spring. They'll also make a decision on which form the project may take - what routes and whether light-rail or BRT will be used. In September, the MTA will hold public hearings where residents can speak about the project.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

don praisner wins district 4 special election

District 4's new councilmember is Calverton resident Don Praisner, widower of Councilmember Marilyn Praisner, who passed away during surgery in February. The Montgomery County Board of Elections' unofficial results report that Praisner, a Democrat, beat Republican Mark Fennel with two-thirds of the vote.

Turnout in District 4, which stretches from Derwood and Glenmont in the west to Burtonsville and Four Corners in the east, was about ten percent, slightly lower than during the special primary election last month. Don, who promised to carry on the legacy of his wife - who represented the district since its creation in 1990 - plans to finish what would have been her fifth term, which ends in 2010.

Just Up The Pike congratulates Don Praisner for his win. We wish him success in the County Council and hope he knows to expect us at his new office after he's all settled in.

meeting place compromise goes before planning board

Developer Fred Nichols teamed up with Ashton residents to create this "compromise" plan for the controversial Ashton Meeting Place. The Planning Board reviews their proposal on Thursday.

After years of wrestling over how their village center should be developed, a group of Ashton residents and a local developer have come to a compromise on the Ashton Meeting Place, a proposed mixed-use complex on nine acres at the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and Route 108. On Thursday, the Planning Board will review plans for the once-controversial shopping center mockingly called the "Ashton Mall."

The current design, which grew out of drawings by Brookeville architect Miche Booz and resident Brooke Farquhar, is designed to resemble the low-rise, free-standing buildings that currently line New Hampshire and 108. A line of small buildings containing about 14,000 square feet of retail, 32,000 square feet of office space and a restaurant will hug both streets. They hide a large interior parking lot and a smaller, 18,000 square-foot yet-to-be-named grocery store. At the corner is a green intended to be the literal "meeting place" of the community. In keeping with the property's current mix of commercial and retail zoning, there will be seven new single-family homes.

"I think it takes a little imagination, and probably a financial risk," said Farquhar, a planner for the County's Department of Parks, of the compromise plan after its unveiling last summer.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

A year ago, Just Up The Pike attended a meeting of the Sandy Spring-Ashton Rural Preservation Consortium, whose aim is to "see the area remain rural," according to their website. They've clashed repeatedly with Ashton developer Fred Nichols, whose earlier proposals for the Meeting Place included up to thirteen condominiums, office space, and an approximately 60,000 square foot grocery store. That concept, which would have required an exception from Park and Planning for encroaching on wetlands, was rejected in July as being "out of scale" with the nearly three-century-old village.

The "compromise" plan for the Ashton Meeting Place, created by both residents, local architects and the developer. Click here to see a larger version, or check out the project's website. (Warning! PDF file!)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

district 4 votes for open council seat today

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Single immigrant men learn cooking and cleaning at home; Sandy Spring residents expect child care center to kick-start revitalization; Thayer Avenue proposes UFO commission for Silver Spring.

Today is Election Day! No, really! It's the special general election to fill the County Council seat left open by the passing of Marilyn Praisner, who passed away in February. While Democrat Don Praisner is the favored winner in left-leaning District 4 - which stretches from Derwood and Glenmont in the west to Four Corners and Burtonsville in the east - there is a growing concern that a paltry turnout could mean a win for Republican Mark Fennel.

The Praisner campaign, which until recently was "very quiet" according to Don himself, sent out a mailer to residents of the sprawling district warning that "the Republicans are counting on Democrats staying home" come Election Day. Last week, Maryland Politics Watch's Adam Pagnucco explained how Fennel could finish the deal with just a few hundred votes.

If you've got twenty minutes at some point in your day, why not swing by your local polling place and cast a vote? Our Republican readers might note this is the first time in a long time in MoCo your party's got a fighting chance; if you're a Democrat, you'll probably want to put the kibosh on that immediately.

ALSO: The Just Up The Pike camera tragically disappeared some time last week, possibly in Burtonsville, possibly in College Park, possibly at my house. If you happen to see a Nikon Coolpix S9 with a photo of Don Praisner in it at any of these places, please send it my way!

Friday, May 9, 2008

what's not to like about a blog?

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Gazette and Maryland Politics Watch speculate on Fennel's ability to win special election; Burtonsville demands funds, attention for revitalization; Planning gives 814 Thayer condo project the go-ahead.

Ever since the 2006 elections, Montgomery County's politicos have been all over the burgeoning community of bloggers that's developed over the past couple of years. From County Executive Ike Leggett holding a special "blogger briefing" on the Fillmore to Council President Mike Knapp writing about the most mundane details of his daily life online, it's clear that Your Elected Officials have taken to blogs as a way to speak out but also listen to what their constituents have to say.

Which brings me back to Don Praisner's ice cream fundraiser at Seibel's last Saturday, where I found myself talking to Dale Tibbitts, Councilmember Marc Elrich's chief of staff, and former Planning Board Chairman Derick Berlage, both of whom had come out to support his bid for County Council. Berlage could not understand what Just Up The Pike was, and he fiddled with the business card I'd given him with a puzzled look on his face. "Columbia Pike?" Berlage says, frowning. "What is this? Is it supposed to be online?"

"It's a blog. A lot of people read blogs now," I say, attempting not to sound boastful. I turn to Tibbitts, who I first met trying to nail down an interview with his boss last spring. "You read blogs, right?" I ask.

Tibbitts is a large man with a commanding presence, and when he sighs, the whole room feels it. "No, actually, I don't," he replies. "There are a lot of things on Just Up The Pike I don't really agree with, so I don't read it. I don't read any blogs, not Maryland Politics Watch, nothing. Their beliefs are not in line with what I believe."

Now, I'm not going to complain that Marc Elrich's chief of staff doesn't read my blog, as he can choose to read or not read whatever he wants and, besides, I'm just a kid with an Internet connection. But I'm nervous that someone, particularly someone who works in government, would be so unwilling to hear opinions that differ from their own. (Note that when I interviewed him last year, Elrich went out of his way to say he does "read blogs" and back in 2006 he even kept one for a little while.) After all, aren't our elected officials - and the people they hire as aides - obligated to serve all of their constituents, not just the ones who voted them in?

Maybe you can pull that on the national level. President Bush's approval rating may be the lowest in recorded history but he's still satisfying a hundred million people. But here in Montgomery County - activist-driven, blogger-boosted, paralysis-by-analysis Montgomery County - you can't turn a deaf ear to anyone without them screaming even louder until you pay attention.

I'm especially curious about what Tibbitts finds so objectionable here at JUTP or Maryland Politics Watch. We strive for at least an impression of objectivity here, and God help me, if I've ever expressed an opinion here, I'll try never to do so again.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

before election, praisner treats supporters to ice cream

County Council candidate Don Praisner, pictured here at IHOP last month, held an ice cream social this weekend for friends and supporters.

About sixty well-wishers came out to Seibel's Restaurant in Burtonsville Saturday for an ice cream social and fundraiser supporting Democrat Don Praisner's bid for his wife's former County Council seat.

"It's kind of continuing a tradition my mom had," says daughter Alison Praisner Klumpp, a teacher at Fairland Elementary School. While it wasn't a yearly event, the social was held "quite frequently" by Councilmember Marilyn Praisner (D-Calverton), who passed away in February.

The Praisner family reserved two rooms in the back of the restaurant to entertain a steady stream of family and friends, including a number of countywide elected officials. Councilmembers Phil Andrews (D-Rockville) and George Leventhal (D-At Large) came out, as did Dale Tibbitts, chief of staff for Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-At Large).

According to Don Praisner, who goes up against Republican Mark Fennel in a special election May 13, the event is a great opportunity to catch up with friends, family and well-wishers. "People seem to enjoy ice cream, and a little iced tea," he says. "The kids show up."

After a heated, six-week campaign between four candidates for the Democratic nomination, Praisner has dialed down his campaign considerably, saying it's "very quiet" since the primary April 15. He will be talking to the Democratic Club at Leisure World this week and has already participated in a televised debate on Channel 16. Praisner stirred up a minor controversy when he mentioned property tax advocate Robin Ficker, who worked on Fennel's campaign during the primary. "He got very upset," says Praisner, "and said 'Robin's not on my campaign anymore'."

In a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans "four-to-one" and his wife was extremely popular, Praisner says, he knows he'll have some explaining to do if he loses next week. "I'm telling people if I lose, I'll have to leave the country," he jokes. "[Fennel] has the problem of name recognition, except for signs."

Monday, May 5, 2008

hardman, york create resident-driven district 4 wiki

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Movie reviewer calls dystopian thriller Blade Runner a "commentary" on Downtown Silver Spring redevelopment.

Seeking to bring District 4 residents together, Eileena York of the East County civic group Citizens Involved and former County Council candidate Thomas Hardman have created a wiki, or user-generated website, to discuss major issues affecting the area.

"I'm trying to bring people together in a way they can speak to each other," says York, a Burtonsville resident. "It's not a political forum and it's not a structural forum."

The website, at, runs on the same software as Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, and can be edited by anyone. Although it currently has one page, York and Hardman hope to expand it - and encourage other residents to log on - through monthly meetings held throughout District 4, which stretches from Four Corners and Burtonsville in the east to Glenmont and Derwood in the west.

York is hopeful that the wiki will bring people across the sprawling district together. "Maybe by doing this it'll be more effective, I don't know," she says. "I just think there needs to be more cohesiveness in our district."

One of the site's main goals is to provide the new District 4 County Council representative - voters will choose between Democrat Don Praisner and Republican Mark Fennel May 13 - with a list of their constituents' wants and needs each month. It will not only advocate for the district but could also help find individuals willing to run for County Council in 2010.

"If someone's going to actively champion our causes in District 4 they're not gonna pop up at campaign time," says York.

The first meeting for the website will be held at 7:30 pm Thursday, June 5 in the Burtonsville Long and Foster office. Future meetings may be held in Northwood and Aspen Hill; Hardman and York would like to have them in a different community each month.

Friday, May 2, 2008

delegate mizeur touts health care expansion for young adults

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: East County cops struggle to keep Third Police District safe; Biodiesel advocates visit Sandy Spring middle-schoolers; National Labor College breaks ground on fallen workers' memorial.

State Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-Dist. 20) announced the passage of her Family Coverage Expansion Act yesterday at the University of Maryland. The new law extends health insurance to dependents until age twenty-five.

State Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-Dist. 20) was at the University of Maryland-College Park yesterday to promote a newly passed law that extends health insurance to children for several years after high school or college graduation.

The Family Coverage Expansion Act, which Mizeur "shepherded through" in the 2007 legislative session, requires insurance providers to keep dependents on their families' health care plans until the age of 25. Currently, young adults lose coverage within a year of completing school.

"Becoming uninsured right after high school or college is no longer a rite of passage," says Mizeur at a press conference held this afternoon in the Stamp Student Union, on the University of Maryland campus. "It's a win-win-win situation for everyone."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Mizeur, whose district runs from Colesville in the north to Takoma Park in the south, was joined by State Senator Jim Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21) - who represents College Park - a raft of health care advocates and several university students who would immediately benefit from the bill, which takes effect this year. It's only one of several pieces of legislation passed by the state recently which increase insurance coverage, says Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative.

"I can't think of another state that has in so little time done so much health care expansion," DeMarco says.

There are 100,000 uninsured adults between twenty-one and twenty-five statewide, says Mizeur, making up about a third of all uninsured residents. Providing health coverage for them was one of her campaign promises, and she's glad to be able to fulfill it. "If you take care of them, you've solved one-third of the problem," says Mizeur.

Senator Rosapepe urged students to let their parents know about the Family Coverage Expansion Act, as did all of the speakers. He assured that there were no strings attached to the new policy. "They can stay on your policy but they don't have to live with you," he jokes. "That's a question a lot of parents ask."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

planners, residents, seek new vision for wheaton

Khalid Afzal and Sandy Tallant from the Montgomery County Planning Department take questions during the Wheaton CBD Sector Plan forum last night.

As dinner guests slowly trickled into the bars and restaurants of Elkin Street, about seventy people packed into the Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity in Downtown Wheaton for a forum last night on the business district's future. Despite pessimism over the current economic downturn, County planners stressed that "this ts the time" for Wheaton's rebirth.

"You have a lot of great amenities to create interest and . . . celebrate our culture here in Wheaton," says Sandy Tallant, project manager for the new Wheaton Sector Plan and one of several representatives from the Planning Department there to hear resident concerns. "Wheaton has great bones."

Seventeen years after the Wheaton CBD and Vicinity Sector Plan was last drafted, Montgomery County wants to begin writing a new one that considers shifting demographics and a new environmental awareness. The Sector Plan covers Wheaton's business district, Wheaton Plaza, and a handful of residential neighborhoods to the north and east. Issues to be confronted by the Planning Department include sustainability, land use, and connections to surrounding communities.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Planners and residents are creating a new vision for Downtown Wheaton in preparation for the new Wheaton CBD Sector Plan, to be approved in 2010.

Wheaton resident Marian Fryer says the community has already created a vision throughout nearly two decades of similarly-minded meetings and forums. "People work for long periods of time and nothing happens until you get new people coming out of the woodwork who don't know what happened," says Fryer, who sits on the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Board and urged audience members to become similarly involved. "We keep reinventing the wheel each time . . . this wheel has been invented."

Tallant explained that Montgomery County was "actively looking" for major employers willing to locate in Wheaton. One perk of bringing a large corporation to the community would be having a "signature" headquarters building - similar to the Discovery Building in Downtown Silver Spring - that fills the area with office workers and attracts other businesses. "The reason the restaurants aren't full at noon is because there's no one to come down here for lunch," she says.

Citing heavy weekend traffic and the slowing economy, many residents expressed skepticism about the feasibility of more growth in Downtown Wheaton. "Wheaton is not Bethesda and it's not Silver Spring. It's Wheaton," says one resident. "I think if the emphasis is on pure commercial development - I mean high-rise housing - I think it will not be good in the long run." The resident slammed the block of apartments still under construction at Georgia Avenue and Reedie Drive, which he called "ugly as sin."

Kemp Mill resident Louis Maier spoke out on the "hodgepodge, piecemeal" character of Wheaton's business district. "I have seen stuff going up that is worse than ever," says Maier, who moved to the area in 1962. "With the Anchor Inn, I saw the most potential. It is in the center of town! Now it is a strip mall."

Some residents are upset about the scale and aesthetics of new development in Downtown Wheaton.

"Is there ever a point where you say 'there's too much development, there's too much housing?'" asks Chris Carman, who lives just outside of the business district. "If you can prove to me that only urban planners are going to move here and ride bicycles, then I'll be fine with it."

After the forum, Carman admitted that he wasn't fully opposed to increasing density. "I know this is gonna be an urban area," he says. "I want this to be a livable urban area."

Brooke Farquhar from the Department of Parks, who attended the meeting, was happy with the meeting's outcome. "I think it was successful in explaining where we are in the process," says Farquhar, who also helped design a "counter-proposal" for a planned shopping center in Ashton, where she lives. "People seem to understand what a sector plan is now."

Last night's forum was the first of three to be held for the Wheaton CBD Sector Plan. In May, the Planning Department will present an "issues report" containing resident concerns from this month's meeting. A draft of the plan will be issued in December, followed by public hearings throughout the winter. Planning officials hope to have a document approved and made law by May 2010.