Friday, October 31, 2008

oh, today is something (and, by the way . . .)

Happy Halloween, everyone. You'd think an afternoon of driving around East County yesterday would've yielded some awesome photos of decorations or whatever but, lo, it did not. There's one house on Briggs Chaney Road (around Fairdale Drive, I always forget where) that goes all-out for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. So go look at that, if you get a chance.

By the way: have you felt like JUTP hasn't been posting as regularly (or as thoroughly) as we used to? I do. That's why, for the first time in two years, I'm looking for some co-bloggers. You don't have to know how to use a computer, and you don't have to have a college degree - but you should live in East County, be able to write well, and want to talk about this place that we call home.

If you're interested, send a writing sample to just up the pike at gmail dot com.

Thanks! If anyone actually sees this, I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

in liberal moco, our republicans are the real deal

Old Columbia Pike during last month's Burtonsville Day festival.

I went to a high school where the kids who called things "gay" got made fun of more than the gays themselves. To call Blake High School "liberal" would be, as comedian Richard Jeni once said, to say the Atlantic Ocean was "damp." But there were a few conservatives, hard-core Republicans - many of whom were good friends of mine - who were brazenly outspoken in our government classes. They wouldn't let anyone forget that Blake, or East County for that matter, wasn't totally blue. And I respected them, because no matter what you believe, the least you can do is back up your facts.

But this girl? Now the president of the College Republicans at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., she was definitely not a well-researched conservative in high school. In tenth grade, I remember her vehemently denying that racist graffiti had appeared on homes in her Burtonsville neighborhood, even after it'd been written up in the Gazette and everything. (I've been trying to find the article online for years.) "I just don't believe it would happen in Burtonsville," she said.

The Post tries really, really hard to make her and her friends seem just like us liberals at a college known for its strict moral standards - throwing in mentions of expensive cars, indie rock, and the frequent runs to Starbucks. It's cute, it really is. But what does it take to be a Republican at Liberty University? Do you have to back up your opinions with anything other than "it's His will"? Can the idea of smaller government really be applied back home in East County, where roads have to be paved, schools have to be staffed and so many people - who are "too soft and expect too much," this girl complains - can't send their kids to expensive private schools and give them Infinitis to drive?

I can say I've seen more stickers for McCain than I have for Obama around Burtonsville. But I bet B'ville Republicans can back up their stuff better than Republicans out there in the so-called "real Virginia." After all, they actually have to defend themselves.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

what's up the pike: obama country is ugly . . .

Not only can low-income housing, like this Habitat for Humanity project in New Orleans, produce more Democrats - it can look good, too!

- The Gazette tries its hand at election forecasting by looking at who Burtonsville voters have picked in the past. While the precinct served by Burtonsville Elementary School - which covers the Agricultural Preserve north of Route 198 - narrowly voted for Bush in 2000, it's slowly turning blue. A spokesperson from the county Democratic Party says an "influx of lower-income residents" on the east side and MoCo as a whole will translate into more Obama votes.

- Speaking of lower-income residents: the newly-dedicated Habitat for Humanity homes that went up in Linganore Woods (off of Greencastle Road in Burtonsville) are very, very unattractive. They're affordable - $140,000 each, according to the Gazette - which was the intention, but it's demeaning to lower-income families that they have to live in homes that look like they were value-engineered into submission.

Habitat's capable of building attractive, well-designed homes at a low price. Last summer, I visited Musicians' Village (above), a project in New Orleans' Ninth Ward built for artists displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The homes here are derived from traditional "shotgun houses" in the surrounding area, and they blend in well, using bright colors and wide front porches, and well-proportioned facades. They're simple, but because of a few minor details they don't scream "AFFORDABLE HOUSING." And they'll retain that value over time. East County has enough cheap housing that looks cheap - people in need deserve better.

- Check out my weekly column in the Diamondback - this time, I'm writing about the ICC and its effects on my neighborhood in East County. It's loosely adapted from a post that appeared here a few weeks ago.

Monday, October 27, 2008

what's up the pike: everything comes together

It's the week before the election, I think. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, as they say, and suddenly, everything you didn't understand before has been illuminated. Here's a look at what's happening this week in East County:

- The Gandhi Brigade, a group based out of Silver Spring that uses different media to discuss issues affecting young people, has a permanent home in City Place Mall. Dubbed the "Media Center," the space will screen locally-produced films and also be used to train the organization's aspiring filmmakers, photographers and graphic designers. On Saturday, they had an open house with a presentation of El Play, a documentary about a Dominican baseball player.

- It just occurred to me that the blogger-led Silver Spring Zombie Walk is on November 1st, not on Halloween as I previously thought, meaning that I can still take my zombie-brother trick-or-treating without conflict. His costume looks disgusting.

- The Republicans mustn't let Thomas Hardman join in any of their reindeer games, because the former County Council candidate has left the party. Hardman came to the decision after a long night of drinking and debate with friends last weekend, according to his blog. Jumping ship to the Democrats wasn't gonna happen either, he says, because the "Party would destroy me . . . simply for having ideas of which the Central Committee didn't approve."

- Speaking of the G.O.P.: Maryland Politics Watch's Adam Pagnucco will apparently be responsible for John McCain winning the presidential election. Now, we don't do endorsements here at JUTP but, then again, I didn't get up at the ass-crack of 9 a.m. twice! to see McCain speak. I'm just saying.

Friday, October 24, 2008

it's all tanglewood, all the time

As everyone knows, the best way to find out what the kids are saying today is to check your local blogs. The planning website Planetizen pointed us to Wordle, a website where you can put in a block of text - or the address of your favorite blog - and it'll spit out "beautiful word clouds" in which the words you've used most frequently in recent posts appear bigger.

Here's the word cloud for Just Up The Pike. Strangely, "Pike" is not one of our most-used words:

what other blogs' word clouds look like AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Over at Silver Spring, Singular, it's pretty clear what Sligo's been talking about recently:

And at Maryland Politics Watch, gambling has dominated the blog banter in the weeks leading up to the election:

This is from my personal blog. I don't use "Pike" a lot here, either, but I do use something that rhymes with it:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

channel 8 talks to wayne avenue residents about purple line

One's for the Purple Line, while the other's against it - and they can sit on their stoops opposite each other on Wayne Avenue, stroking their imaginary rifles and giving the death stare. (If only the Purple Line debate were so exciting.) We'd love to have done a story like this, but better to catch it from News Channel 8, whose Jackie Congedo is a long-time friend of Just Up The Pike.

what's up the pike: round and round again

The point of roundabouts is that they don't need so many signs to tell people how to drive, which forces them to actually think for themselves and drive more carefully. Or maybe our motorists are just that stupid, which is why my beloved roundabouts along Fairland Road have been vandalized with all of these signs. Oh, well.


- As always, I've got a new column in the Diamondback, which is definitely worth checking out.

- Is Maryland Politics Watch hosting a Town Hall Meeting with your District 18 state delegates? That's what Facebook says. Whether or not they're actually running the show, if you're in the Wheaton-Kensington area, come out to Holy Cross Hospital and air your concerns Tonight at 7pm.

- My brother doesn't read Thayer Avenue (he is nine, and cares little for blogs), but he's definitely planning on being a zombie for Halloween. Whether or not I'll take him down to Ellsworth Drive for the Zombie Walk is another question, because they won't have any trick-or-treat candy, and I figure he'll get bored.

- For anyone who says that East County isn't really a part of Silver Spring proper: check out these videos of Springbrook High's marching band in the 1969 and 1970 Silver Spring Christmas parades. Notice how vibrant Colesville Road looks at a time when Downtown was allegedly "in the pits," having been circumvented by large shopping centers like the one in White Oak - which is much, much closer to Springbrook and perhaps a larger part of their school community. But, of course, you can't have a parade in a strip mall, which shows how significant Downtown Silver Spring's always been as a gathering place.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

bus controversy more than a "sour note" for tanglewood

Residents in Tanglewood protested a Metrobus line along Schubert Drive (pictured), causing it to be re-routed out of the community.

Growing up, I was always a little jealous of Tanglewood, the neighborhood across the street from mine, and how many kids I'd always see playing in its many tree-studded cul-de-sacs. I was happy to see the neighborhood at Route 29 and Fairland Road reviewed in last weekend's Post Real Estate section, which called Tanglewood "effective at restoring harmony when the occasional sour note intrudes."

With a mix of condos, townhomes and smaller single-family homes, Tanglewood is a fairly diverse neighborhood, and not a place I'd accuse of trying to keep people out. These are nice, tree-hugging people whose homes will sit in the shadow of a sixty-foot-tall highway interchange when the InterCounty Connector is completed. But they've also made it clear that you don't tangle with Tanglewood, whether you're beavers whose dam clogged their storm water management pond, or SHA proposing a bike path to Tanglewood across the ICC ("It seems like a crime waiting to happen," says resident Bob McFadden).

Tanglewood's biggest triumph would have to be re-routing of a Metrobus line so it wouldn't enter their community. "Residents protested, wrote letters and made phone calls" after the Z6 route was directed through Tanglewood on its way between Silver Spring and Briggs Chaney in 2004, says the article. They even staged a protest, complaining about "noise and safety problems" caused by the buses, despite the line's strong ridership from residents both inside and outside of Tanglewood.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

People walk through woods where the InterCounty Connector will eventually pass by Tanglewood.

A 2004 Gazette article suggests that Tanglewood residents could have purposely parked their cars along Schubert Drive, the main artery, to block buses from using the road and forcing WMATA to suspend the route indefinitely. Whether or not they actually did that, the bus opponents won: last summer, the Z6 was finally taken out of Tanglewood - and along most of Fairland Road as well, forcing riders to walk seven-tenths of a mile to the nearest Z6 stop or ride a more circuitous Ride On bus now serving the neighborhood.

That episode really soured my opinion of Tanglewood, if only because I lived on Fairland Road and I used the Z6, at least until it was taken away. With nearly 900 homes in the subdivision, there's no way that its main roads were too narrow to handle buses, but a vocal minority chose to make it an issue.

The Metrobus Z routes are some of the most heavily-ridden in the region, enough so that they deserve priority on roads in the neighborhoods they serve. No one ever suggested taking away parking along Schubert Drive, which would've inconvenienced people who had other places to put their cars (either in assigned spaces or in garages) for the benefit of people who may not have had cars at all. If a community that puts the needs of a few over the needs of many is one in harmony, then that's a song I'd rather not hear.

Monday, October 20, 2008

what's up the pike: belt-tightening edition

North Bethesda Center, one of several new developments along the Other Pike.

- The Post has a two-part series on plans to redevelop Rockville Pike from a wonderland of strip malls into a string of urban centers that would rival Downtown Bethesda. In White Flint, where two large, mixed-use projects are already under construction, County planners envision 500-foot-tall buildings rising along the Other Pike. Councilmember Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) says that East County residents shouldn't have to pay for the road and school improvements that the new development will demand when there are roads and schools to be built over here.

Should East County taxpayers pony up? Does a rising tide in Rockville lift ships in Silver Spring - or does it further exaggerate the divide between east and west? Hey, readers, I'm gonna cop out and ask: what do you think?

- Financing concerns have forced General Growth Properties to scrap a skating rink, a health club and actual brick on some buildings from their plans to redevelop the failed Laurel Mall. While "newly reconfigured" proposals for the mall - now called Laurel Commons - have already been approved, the city and Prince George's County have failed to deliver tax breaks which would have helped pay for some of the deleted features in the $450 million project. Boasting a sixteen-screen movie theatre, new high-end shops and an outdoor plaza, Laurel Commons was set to be finished in time for next Christmas, though it's now several mponths behind schedule.

- Commuter bus routes serving East County seem to be doing well enough that the Maryland Transit Administration's not going to cut them in a new round of budget-minded service changes. The 929 bus - which travels from Columbia to the District with stops in Burtonsville and Silver Spring - will only lose mid-day service, but the similarly-routed 915 will be unchanged. Meanwhile, four lines serving Baltimore's suburbs and two lines that feed into Metro stations in Prince George's County may go on the chopping block. The MTA will hold public hearings throughout the month of November to discuss the proposed changes, which are outlined on their website.

Friday, October 17, 2008

another take on the turf (R.I.P.)

"The Turf" may not properly exist anymore, but that wasn't enough to stop it from being the site of a design project for students here at the University of Maryland School of Architecture. In 400G, a graduate-level studio class, their latest assignment is a cafe/newsstand at the corner of Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street. It's supposed to be something that would provide an amenity for commuters walking down to the Metro station while not blocking off "the Turf." On Monday, I briefly sat in on their final reviews and took a few pictures of the models.

This student proposed elevating the new structure over "the Turf" (at lower left) so as not to close it off. The colors and materials used for the context suggest he had a fairly bleak view of Downtown.

This model was by far one of the most accurate I saw. You can recognize the Majestic on the right and the Town Square Garage on the left.

By far my favorite of the ten or so projects presented. The canopy of the newsstand (in the middle, "turf" at upper right) is jaunty without seeming tacky. And, of course, the entire thing is covered in plastic turf.

purple line hearings: get your voice heard, share some laughs (updated)

An MTA visualization of the Purple Line as it could look passing through Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase. BELOW: A rendering of the line along Wayne Avenue near Cedar Street in Silver Spring.

The MTA's released its Alternative Analysis/Draft Environmental Impact Study for the Purple Line in anticipation of public hearings to be held next month. Weighing in at a few thousand pages, the report includes detailed information and analysis of proposed routes and modes for the transitway, along with any effects the MTA believes it'll have on the 16-mile corridor. The document (warning! PDF file) also includes several computer renderings of how the Purple Line may look when built.

Whether you're for the Purple Line, against the Purple Line, or completely oblivious, this is your opportunity to make your voices heard on what could potentially change the face of Montgomery and Prince George's counties. For you spectators out there hungry for another sober shitshow, these hearings offer a great opportunity to see civic involvement at its very best - and worst. The tour begins in New Carrollton on Nov. 15, followed by Chevy Chase on the 18th and College Park on the 19th before it stops in Silver Spring on the 22nd. For more information about the hearing times or how they're run, check out the Purple Line website.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

stop the ICC? not after what the ICC already started

These are hard times for the InterCounty Connector, as evidenced in the State Highway Administration's Neil Pedersen writing an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun and a letter to the Gazette defending the toll road between Gaithersburg and Laurel currently under construction between and its many cost overruns. Meanwhile, Greater Greater Washington calls the highway "dangerous thinking for Maryland," and Matt Dernoga in the Diamondback says it's time to kill the ICC in favor of other transportation projects in Prince George's County that have been cut.

You know, it's hard to stand in front of this project, fifty years in the making and mired in so much controversy you wonder why they give Sarah Palin so much trouble over the "Bridge to Nowhere." But it's also hard for me to have any opinion about the ICC, having gone over both sides so many times I can no longer bring myself to care. Just Up The Pike generally doesn't talk about the ICC, and for good reason.

They've already cleared all of the trees around Route 29, at the sixty-foot-tall interchange I'll be able to walk to from my parents' house. They've already fucked-up a neighborhood in Derwood, taken one of my old teacher's houses - though all of my high school friends whose families lived along Route 198 were saved. Pedersen says "the ICC project is well beyond the point where it could be canceled," and he's right. I don't want to see my neighborhood torn up in vain.

The InterCounty Connector doesn't get more people on transit, nor it doesn't encourage more compact development. Then again, nor does the Randolph-Georgia interchange, and unlike most of the ICC route, it doesn't sit in the middle of a potential transit district. The communities the ICC will bring new growth and development to - Burtonsville, Colesville, Olney - are car-oriented places, and there are no real plans to change that any time soon. So do we not build the ICC and leave them exactly the same, or build the ICC and bring amenities that might actually keep people in Olney from driving to Gaithersburg for a pair of underpants?

For what it's worth, I'd much rather see this thing get finished and for East County to get the economic growth it'll bring - and I don't doubt that it's coming, either - than to have a bunch of half-cleared forests and unfinished ramps and nothing to show for it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

what's up the pike: reviews finally over (updated)

Well, midsemester reviews are over - and what good timing, because a lot's happened in the time I was gone. Here's a look at what's happening Up The Pike:

- Barely a year and a half after becoming the University of Maryland's VP of Administrative Affairs, former County Executive Doug Duncan has resigned. "We will miss Doug's ability to navigate the complexities of local, county and state development issues," says college president C. Dan Mote in a statement released today noting Duncan's many achievements during his brief tenure - among them, shepherding along the redevelopment of Maryland's East Campus into a mixed-use community.

Of course, the letter doesn't mention how Duncan claimed that a Purple Line route through campus would disturb scientific experiments, which was eventually refuted - or how he stabbed MoCo in the back by to wrangle state funding from the Silver Spring Music Hall to East Campus after the Birchmere agreed to move there instead.

- Speaking of U-Md.: check out this week's column in the D'Back.

- The East County Community Job Fair will take place Thursday, November 6 from 3 to 7 p.m. at the East County Community Center on Briggs Chaney Road. Over fifty "local businesses and employers" (we're unclear how "local" is local) will be there, says this County press release. Those looking to clean up their resumes can attend a workshop on October 16 (why, that's today!) at 10 a.m. at the Regional Services Center, which is right next door.

- Just Up The Pike's been listed on the Wheaton Urban District's new website, which promotes the Wheaton CBD and all of the ethnic- and mall-based goodies within. We're the only blog there so far, which reveals a big gap in the East County blogosphere. There are a handful of blogs from Wheaton - Thomas Hardman's MoCo Mojo up in Aspen Hill; Life in Scenic Wheaton and, of course, Maryland Politics Watch's Adam Pagnucco, who lives in Forest Glen. While all three do write about the changes it's currently undergoing, I wouldn't say that there's a "definitive blog" about Wheaton that discusses events or local development in the area.

JUTP writes about Wheaton, but not as much as we could if we actually lived there. Of the well over a dozen East County blogs, all but a few are based out of Downtown Silver Spring. The New York Times wrote last year that gentrifying or redeveloping neighborhoods are usually the bloggiest - and given how much Wheaton's about to change in the coming years, I'm hoping that we'll see more blogs to document what happens.

Friday, October 10, 2008

what's up the pike: dueling scumbags and drafts

As I wrote in the D'Back on Wednesday, we're gearing up for mid-semester reviews at the School of Architecture, so JUTP might be a little quiet through the start of the coming week. In the meantime:

- The Going Out Gurus give us a preview of the Montgomery Cinema 'N' Drafthouse, opening next month in the former P&G Theatres at Wheaton Plaza. From the looks of their new marquee, the Drafthouse is definitely gonna class up Downtown Wheaton, and they definitely could use it.

- The Gazette writes about Dawson House Concerts, which feature nationally-touring folk artists at a house in Glenmont. Last weekend, I went a show at a house called Scumbag Nation in Colesville, but it was less folk and more hardcore/emo in a way you can only find in D.C.. There were no fewer than fifty kids packed into a small basement, singing, screaming and moshing, beneath a lone, naked lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, and it was sublime.

East County's always had a strong, locally-grown music scene, with house shows like the Dawsons', the now-gone Death Star and its replacement, The Corpse Fortress as its foundation. I'd say that, when it comes to ambiance, they'd give a Fillmore a real run for its money.

- A ten-year-old Washington City Paper article, "Loco in MoCo," might have coined the term "Silver Sprung," but in a slightly different way than we're used to:
Now, however, just as the county smugly basks in its wealth and power, in its political dominance of Maryland, and in its cultural dominance over metropolitan Washington, bad things are roosting in paradise. . . . The land of Silver Spring has apparently sprung: Edge City has become Edgy City.
The story talks about Montgomery's surprisingly seedy underbelly, from big celebrity scandals to what the then-very-ironic author calls "the Dueling MoCo Theory":
At the Book Alcove in Rockville, a kid behind the counter named Jared leans in close to tell me secrets revealed neither by Montgomery County's maps nor by its streetscape . . . "On this side of the pike [Rockville Pike, which is the side where you are likely sitting right now if you're reading this blog], it's juveniles and punks," he says, looking as if he's spent some time in that category. "Over there, it's the celebrities."
Hello, Scumbag Nation. (Remember when people saw "Silver Sprung" and thought it was a typo?)

NEXT WEEK: You will read a story about a musical about the Purple Line. It is coming sooner than ever.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

you are reading just up the pike's 500th post

Renderings of the proposed Fillmore music hall in Downtown Silver Spring.

Better start lining up for tickets now, kids: the Fillmore's doors will be opening on schedule in 2011. Yesterday, the County Council voted 7-2 to approve a controversial proposal that drastically reduces government oversight for a mixed-use project tied in with the planned music hall on Colesville Road in Downtown Silver Spring. In a statement released yesterday afternoon, County Executive Ike Leggett celebrated the approval of the plan he brokered with Lee Development Group, who's building the Fillmore in exchange for the right to develop land behind it.

"This important economic development project will provide music for a variety of tastes, include significant community use, bring more business to downtown Silver Spring, and result in a net public benefit of $1.6 million a year from the very start," says Leggett, who first proposed the changes. "This is a great deal for Montgomery County."

The new zoning changes apply only to certain projects in the County's three Arts and Entertainment Districts in downtowns Wheaton, Bethesda, and Silver Spring. They give a fifteen-year construction deadline to approved projects and remove some of the Planning Board's ability to negotiate with developers over what and how public uses attached to them are built. Planning Board chairman Royce Hanson criticized the zoning amendments as favoring big developers at the expense of the community's needs.


- A two-car collision yesterday at Flannery Lane and Montvale Drive in Colesville resulted in a shooting, says the Post. Both the victim and attacker know each other, according to Montgomery County police, and none of the victim's injuries are life-threatening.

- As always, check out my weekly column in the Diamondback. This week, I'm talking about "studio culture" and how forcing students off-campus has changed the School of Architecture.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

new parking, landscaping proposed for b'ville in legacy plan

Consultant Kevin Fisher discusses the Burtonsville Community Legacy Plan as board member Eric Luedtke looks on. For more pictures, check out slideshow.

New landscaping and reconfigured parking will save Burtonsville's struggling village center, according to County-hired consultants who presented recommendations for the business district last Wednesday at the monthly East County Citizens Advisory Board meeting. Run-down and lacking a cohesive identity, the village center - strung along Route 198 between Old Columbia Pike and the Burtonsville Bypass - has lost business since the bypass was completed two years ago. While it doesn't suggest any zoning or land-use changes for the village center, the new Burtonsville Community Legacy Plan reflects the desires of local businesses and residents, the planners say.

Following two open forums in March and a charrette - or design workshop - in June, consultants from Rhodeside and Harwell of Alexandria and Basile Baumann Prost Cole and Associates of Annapolis developed several possibilities for how Burtonsville could redevelop. They were then refined into a single concept that reflected the community's desire to preserve existing businesses in Burtonsville and their "strong opposition to residential development," according to Kate Shiflet of BBPC.

Among the consultants' proposals for the short term were widening Route 198 and adding new sidewalks and street trees; reducing the number of driveway entrances along the road and moving most of the parking lots in front of stores to the back; building the Burtonsville Access Road and adding new street connections to enable visitors to travel from shop to shop without going back out on 198; and creating a new community gathering area in front of the Burtonsville Elementary School.

check out the plan and hear what people had to say AFTER THE JUMP . . .

The new plan proposes landscaping, reconfigured parking and a gathering space for Burtonsville. For more pictures, check out this slideshow.

"The recommendations lead more to minimal change," said Kevin Fisher of Rhodeside and Harwell, who noted that businesses would be encouraged to improve their building façades facing 198. "We're not ripping up all the streets, we're not wiping out the buildings, we're improving what's there."

Over the next five to ten years, the consultants suggest relocating signage on routes 198 and 29 to better identify the Burtonsville commercial district to people traveling through the area. They'd also like to see a new road south of Route 198, similar to the proposed access road, that could provide another alternative route for local traffic. A road, Tolson Place, already exists in that area. "It's about providing visitors with an alternative way to shops and dining," said Shiflet.

Some earlier considerations had to be taken out of the final plan. Burying power lines underground was "cost-prohibitive," the consultants said, and installing a landscaped median down the middle of Route 198 would be difficult to do because of the left-turn lanes that are there now. Board member John Thomas pointed out that there weren't any crosswalks shown on the plan, either, and Fisher explained that there are no proposed pedestrian crossings other than the current ones in front of Seibel's restaurant and at Old Columbia Pike, which are a fifth of a mile apart.

A view of Route 198 with improved façades.

Board member Bill Strassberger expressed skepticism about the plan's potential. "I see a lot of moving parts, a lot of people having to get involved," he said. "How do we go from a picture on an easel to making this a reality?"

The next step, explained Roylene Roberts from the Montgomery County Department of Housing, is to apply for Community Legacy funds from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. Several years ago, Downtown Silver Spring received $1.8 million from the same program for the ongoing revitalization there, though Roylene Roberts doubts that Burtonsville will get as much funding "because this year they only have $6 million in the pot," she said.

And though the money's coming from the same place, Roberts insisted that concerned residents shouldn't be worried about Burtonsville getting too big for its britches. "This isn't going to be like Downtown Silver Spring or Bethesda," said Roberts, "because that's not what Burtonsville is."

Fisher discusses the plan with concerned residents.

There were some concerns about the planners' suggestion of adding housing to the commercial district. "It doesn't seem appropriate . . . if you're talking about adding housing, like apartments, to add to this congestion at this particular point," said board member Stan Doore. "Because of the County's master plan and the low-density wedge that 198 constitutes, there's no plan for denser housing," points out Stuart Rochester, who sat on a citizens' panel that helped draft the Fairland Master Plan eleven years ago.

Burtonsville resident and children's songwriter Barry Louis Polisar, who attended the charrette in June, liked many of the proposed changes, he said in an e-mail to Just Up The Pike. "It looks like a noble attempt to improve the access to the businesses there, improve the slap-dash look, and make the shopping and restaurants more bicycle and pedestrian friendly."

"The suggestions made are excellent," said board member Eric Luedtke, who also lives in Burtonsville. "I really like the inclusion of the village green, and hope that if built, it will be a gathering place for the community, in the same way that "the turf" was for downtown Silver Spring, but hopefully with a little less trash mixed in."

"There are few places now for those of us who live in Burtonsville to gather," Luedtke said. "This will create that sort of space, and by doing so bring Burtonsville together in a new way. I'm very hopeful that it will help tie together all our suburban bedroom neighborhoods into a more cohesive community."

a joint statement against anonymous attack blogs

By Adam Pagnucco, Eric Luedtke and Dan Reed

Recently, an anonymous blog appeared targeting Montgomery County Council Member Mike Knapp. The sole purpose of this blog was to attack Mr. Knapp's character in an effort to discourage him from running for County Executive. We will not do the author a favor by linking to his work. The issue for us is not Mr. Knapp or his fitness for office. Rather, the creation of this blog, which is neither the first nor the last of its kind, calls a question of vital importance to Maryland's blogosphere. And this is our response.

All of us blog under our own names. We do it because we believe what we say. We do it because we are willing to stand behind our words. And we do it because we do not fear accountability from our readers. In fact, transparency and accountability are good for the blogosphere. They are the primary tools by which our still young, and occasionally unruly, medium can be improved.

Unfortunately, our medium is subject to abuse by those who attempt to destroy the reputation of others while hiding behind a veil of anonymity. By spreading incorrect and possibly libelous information, anonymous attack bloggers do a disservice to legitimate bloggers and to the community as a whole.

While we may disagree on some matters, we agree on the fact that these anonymous attackers discredit the blogosphere and political activism as a whole. For the good of our craft, our readers and the public discourse, we the undersigned stand against them and condemn their work. Specifically, the creator of the anonymous blog attacking Mike Knapp should either have the courage to identify himself or herself or have the decency to delete the blog.

Dan Reed is the author of Just Up the Pike. Eric Luedtke is a contributor to Free State Politics. Adam Pagnucco is a contributor to Maryland Politics Watch. As measured by Sitemeter, Just Up the Pike, Free State Politics and Maryland Politics Watch are three of the five most-read blogs in the state of Maryland.

Monday, October 6, 2008

what's up the pike: not quite east county edition

Takoma residents say this proposed development at the Takoma Metro will hurt transit use.

A controversial development at the Takoma Metro will go before the Takoma Park City Council tonight. Local builder EYA has been trying for eight years to build townhouses on Metro-owned land adjacent to the station, which sits on the Maryland/Washington, D.C. boundary. Residents in both jurisdictions have been concerned about the plan, saying that it "fails to enhance transit use and is incompatible with the needs of the greater DC and MD Takoma community." The meeting's tonight at 8pm at the Takoma Park City Hall. For more information, check out the city's website.

East County commuters using the Green Line might see a new travel option with the Brown Line (warning! PDF), a proposed service between Greenbelt and Franconia-Springfield using the existing Blue, Yellow and Green lines that would relieve congestion on the Orange and Blue lines in Northern Virginia. The Brown Line will be presented to Metro's Rider Advisory Committee on Wednesday. More details at Greater Greater Washington.

Finally, county politics and wasting time at work come together with the new Montgomery County YouTube channel, featuring all of MoCo's biggest hits. Among the videos featured are a two part series on the Fillmore, but the most-watched video so far, with thirty views is the most recent "County Report." With MoCoYouTube, you can bet these clips are definitely not NSFW.

Friday, October 3, 2008

driver behavior, not street trees, are the real killer

One Calverton resident says street trees make Calverton Boulevard, above, unsafe for pedestrians.

At what point do trees go from being oxygen- and shade-givers to being silent killers? When they're street trees, apparently. A week ago, we wrote about County Executive Ike Leggett's recommendations for the new Road Code, which attempts to make MoCo roads friendlier to pedestrians and bicyclists in addition to cars. One of Leggett's biggest suggestions - and the one that's become the most controversial - is the removal of trees adjacent to traffic, which he considers very dangerous.

Two letters in this week's Gazette discuss the perils of street trees. AAA Mid-Atlantic Chairman Lon Anderson says that street trees and narrower lanes are more trouble than they're worth - and that the Planning Board's hit a "new high in its arrogance" for endorsing them instead of the County Executive's suggestions:
While narrower lanes may slow traffic, they also provide less margin for driver error, and we all know drivers make errors. In narrower lanes, errors lead to more crashes, just as more trees close to the roads also limit space for driver errors that can — and regularly do — lead to serious and fatal crashes.
Calverton resident Larry Reynolds says that trees impair his ability to see cars coming down Calverton Boulevard, which he walks on "several times a day":
I must step into the road before I can see if any vehicles are coming. The same is true for drivers pulling out of either of those streets. I have almost been hit several times . . .
so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray, Alexandria.

Anderson cites "driver error" as a reason why narrower lanes are dangerous. But if motorists are forced to drive slower, aren't the risks of "driver error" reduced - not only because they can react quicker, but because they can do less harm in a car that's going twenty-five miles an hour rather than forty?

And I'm not surprised that Reynolds has come close to being roadkill, but it has nothing to do with trees blocking his sight (which the County could fix with a little pruning.) Calverton Boulevard is five minutes from my parents' house, and I can tell you: people drive way too fast on it, myself included. The road is wide for a neighborhood street, and visually made wider because very few people park along it; it's fairly straight, and completely downhill if you're coming west from Cherry Hill Road. This is a design that encourages speeding, even with speed cameras. Talk about driver error! If you're going sixty (twice the posted limit) on Calverton, anything in your way is done for.

Compare this to Mount Vernon Avenue, a street in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, where I'm designing an infill project in my Studio class. Not unlike Calverton Boulevard, "the Avenue," as it's called, handles a lot more traffic than it was intended to as a neighborhood street, but with a lot less grief. Why? Well-used street parking and street trees visually make the road narrower and force drivers to slow down to about twenty-five miles an hour. I can cross Mount Vernon Avenue anywhere and not worry, because the cars can see me coming and I can see them coming, even with street trees. You'll find a lot of people on foot here, not just because it's a commercial street, but because it's a safe and attractive place to walk.

The odds are very high that street trees and narrower lanes will make a car slow down. What are the chances of "driver error" resulting in a deadly crash? As we found out in the tragic death of two ninety-two-year-old friends in a car-tree collision on Norbeck Road last month, those odds do exist. But why should we design our roads for extremely rare circumstances at the expense of a better daily experience for its users - not only motorists, but pedestrians and bicyclists as well.

guest blog: town hall meeting discusses iraq war's effect on moco

The following is a guest blog from Jean Athey, coordinator of PeaceAction Montgomery, about the Town Hall Meeting, "Can Montgomery County Help End The Iraq War?" held in Germantown last month. Now, we're well aware that Iraq is nowhere near East County. Nor is Germantown, but we figured it'd be a nice idea to talk about the world outside Silver Spring, if only once. (How about that debate last night, ay?)

County Executive Isiah Leggett moderated a Town Hall meeting September 22 in Germantown that addressed the costs to Montgomery County of the Iraq war and occupation and presented a new County Council peace resolution that its author Council member Valerie Ervin will soon introduce. The Town Hall Meeting was cosponsored by 15 community organizations and attended by some 200 people.

Mr. Leggett spoke in support of the resolution, as did Council members Duchy Trachtenberg and Marc Elrich, along with sponsor Valerie Ervin.

The resolution makes two key demands: (1) that the U.S. government immediately commence a humane, orderly and complete withdrawal of U.S. military personnel from Iraq; and (2) that the Maryland General Assembly and the Governor limit the deployment of the Maryland National Guard outside of the State of Maryland to situations in which they are lawfully called into service under a valid and continuing authorization from Congress. (The draft resolution can be found at: <>.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-At Large) speaks at the town hall meeting.

Economist Brendan O'Flaherty of Columbia University discussed the financial costs of the occupation to Montgomery County, many of which, he stated, will be felt in years to come and will be borne by our children, limiting their futures in profound ways.

Karen Dolan, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, discussed reasons that local governments have an obligation to take principled stands on issues that deeply affect their constituents, even in the absence of legislative authority. She cited applicable Constitutional provisions and historical examples.

Commenting on the current national economic crisis, Dr. O'Flaherty noted that the combination of the war costs and the looming financial bail-out will be devastating, and the longer the U.S. maintains a large presence in Iraq, the worse it gets, given the current military "burn rate," which is even higher now than it was a year ago. The estimated total costs of the war, he said, are somewhere between two and four trillion dollars. That amount of money is equal to the construction replacement cost of about one-fifth of all the 1-to 4-family housing in the U.S.

Montgomery County's portion of the costs are equivalent, he said, to the cost of losing over 50,000 housing units in the county.

Mr. Leggett emphasized that his own war experience in Viet Nam impelled him to do everything in his power to bring this war to a speedy conclusion, and he sees the proposed resolution as an important stand by Montgomery County's elected officials to hasten the end of the occupation of Iraq.

Ms. Ervin's personal history also gives impetus to her support for the resolution, she said. She explained that her father died five years ago from long-term effects of Agent Orange, to which he was exposed in Viet Nam. She commented, "This resolution is the most important thing I will do in my service on the Council."

Three Council members have so far committed to cosponsor the Resolution: Ervin, Elrich, and Trachtenberg. They urged Montgomery County citizens to e-mail their Council representatives in support of the resolution, pointing out that e-mails sent to the Council president Mike Knapp also go to all other Council members. Mr. Knapp can be reached at <>.

Cosponsoring organizations of the Town Hall Meeting are PeaceAction Montgomery, Montgomery College Global Peace and Justice Studies Program, Pax Christi Montgomery, Progressive Maryland, Montgomery County Government Employees Organization, Montgomery County NAACP, Hispanic Democratic Club of Montgomery County, DC Region Veterans for Peace, Social Justice Committee of UUCR, Progressive Neighbors of Montgomery Countyy, Network of Spiritual Progressives of MD, Montgomery County Progressive Alliance, RRUUC Peace Action Task Force, Episcopal Peace Fellowship (MD/DC), and Maryland United for Peace and Justice.

If you've got something to say, Just Up The Pike is always looking for guest bloggers. While I don't always agree with the statements made, guest blogs offer an opportunity for all sides to be heard on East County issues. Contact me at justupthepike at gmail dot com if you're interested in contributing.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

fillmore plan lets cops moonlight as planners

Not only does the County Executive's office want to give the Lee Development Group "unrivaled" leeway for anything they'd like to build behind the Fillmore, they'd like to give planning control over to the police department in exchange for the Lees' donation of the proposed music hall on Colesville Road. This is from the Examiner:
[County Executive] Leggett wants to allow police to cancel pedestrian pathways recommended in certain area development master plans if police deem the path unsafe. Some council members are concerned that Leggett’s changes would allow developers to avoid building walkways, by submitting obviously unsafe proposals and requiring police to approve or reject them outright . . .
I was never extremely comfortable with giving a developer so much leeway with a property that, for various reasons, they haven't done anything with for nearly twenty years. But giving cops the ability to do design review? That's a disservice to County planners, who unlike police are actually trained to design "safe" spaces, and it sets a dangerous precedent for future development deals.

Now, I want the Fillmore, but the costs of getting it keep increasing.

what's up the pike: this blog in review

BUT FIRST: Following a brief charrette in June, County planning consultants reveal their suggestions for how Burtonsville should redevelop its village center tonight. The meeting's at 7:15 at the East County Regional Services Center on Briggs Chaney Road.

Check out Maryland Politics Watch latest series on Montgomery County's most influential people, sure to piss off a few local power brokers in the area. MPW's Adam - a former guest blogger here at Just Up The Pike - has such an interest in how the political game is run that I wonder if he's not scoping out for a run of his own . . .

Greater Greater Washington says the new Road Code changes could do County pedestrians a lot more harm than good. I hadn't gotten a chance to say anything after last week's post on the topic, but I note we did get a good response from AAA Mid-Atlantic Chair Lon Anderson from it, which I definitely appreciate.

As always, take a look at my weekly column in the Diamondback. This week, I'm suggesting that we need to name a new dorm on campus after Rockville, our county seat. Our friends at Rockville Central seem absolutely tickled.