Thursday, April 30, 2009

tale of two conley houses

- Last week, the Planning Board approved a pre-preliminary plan (warning! PDF file.) for a development on Old Columbia Pike that would displace a historic house. By using TDRs (Transfer of Development Rights) to increase the allowable density, local builder Jamaal Homes (who don't really have a website) proposes building ten homes on the two-acre site across the street from the Tech Road Park-and-Ride.

The land is home to an abandoned (and rather spooky) house, built by the Conley family in 1928. While they sold the house four years ago, the family still occupies an older, grander residence less than a block away that's officially listed as the Conley House in the Fairland Master Plan (warning! PDF file.) That house, which was built in 1903 and is not historically designated, was the centerpiece of a farm called "Green Ridge," only a few acres of which remain today.

Home sites in the yet-unnamed subdivision will average a tenth of an acre, though they likely could've been bigger if the plan didn't require a new street dubbed Conley Court. The adjacent Willows Run Homeowners Association refuses to grant access to a 30'-wide strip of land they own between the proposed development and the adjacent Carters Grove Drive, a public street.

Looking through a stand of trees to Carters Grove Drive in Willows Run.

Can't help but say I like the Conley House (both of them), as they tell a story about East County's rural past that's rapidly disappearing. Other historic local buildings include the Fairland School (now the Fairland Center), built in 1895 as a tiny schoolhouse but no longer recognizable as it once was, and the houses on either side of Columbia Pike at Fairland Road, which dated to the early twentieth century and were demolished either for construction of the ICC.

But more disappointing than the loss of the Conley House are more subdivisions that don't connect to each other. I can't imagine that ten additional houses on a through-street would put that much of a strain on Willows Run, though an additional cul-de-sac on Old Columbia Pike could have an effect on traffic. Not to mention, of course, the potential for neighborhood-building you get when subdivisions are able to connect to each other. We can't follow Virginia's lead on cul-de-sacs fast enough.

what's up the pike: school and work

Blake High School at night.

- Montgomery County police say they've thwarted an attempt by two students to bomb Springbrook High School and murder staff members, including principal Michael Durso. Both students will be up for bond review this afternoon. School officials say they received a threatening e-mail last Monday, the tenth anniversary of the Columbine shootings in Colorado, but haven't made any connections with this incident.

- It's a hard week for local business: in Fenton Village, residents and shopkeepers debate whether to make their neighborhood "funky", or keep it as is - but no matter what, they don't want it to become another Ellsworth. Meanwhile, Wheaton and Silver Spring's "Buy Local" campaigns (which MPW talked about last week) may be cut from MoCo's budget for 2010, putting them out of business for good.

- Four years after Blake High student Alicia Betancourt died in a car accident, the yearly race held in her honor may fizzle out. Organizers note that this is the first year that Blake students won't have gone to school with Betancourt, who would have graduated in 2006, which may have made the race less relevant to current Bengals and their families.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

toronto's "tower renewal" has potential for east county high-rises

Toronto, Canada wants to find ways to use the land around 1960's-era "towers in the park" to better serve their residents. In East County, one developer built townhouses around Waterford Tower, an apartment building on Castle Boulevard.

During the 1960’s and 70’s, East Montgomery County experienced a high-rise building boom, with apartment towers sprouting up as far north as Burtonsville. A rough count shows there are over forty apartment buildings with more than eight stories in East County outside of Downtown Silver Spring, many of which are clustered in White Oak, Leisure World and along University Boulevard.

Today, these buildings designed for young professionals and small families fleeing the city are showing their age at a time when everyone’s moving back downtown. Not only that, but forty-year-old high-rises aren’t very energy-efficient. In Toronto, Canada, which has over a thousand such buildings, Mayor David Miller has launched a project to bring them into the twenty-first century.

Dense but often surrounded by generous lawns, these “towers in the park” can be isolating for their residents. Entire neighborhoods filled with these buildings and lower-density garden-style apartments are too diffuse (and often too poorly connected) to provide easy access to shopping and transit.

East County apartment towers seen from Georgian Towers in Downtown Silver Spring.

The goal of the Mayor’s Tower Renewal initiative is to a) make the buildings “green” with extra insulation and replacing obsolete materials and b) to find new uses for the land around the buildings, whether it’s as public parkland, vegetable gardens, or for amenities like rec centers, shops and restaurants, or even offices. This is how architect Graeme Stewart, who began developing this concept as a grad student at the University of Toronto, describes it:
"Right now neighborhoods offer residential density, but they're employment and service deserts," says Stewart. "The idea that to solve it, you would add more density seems sort of strange -- and I think that's going to be the biggest point of contention to the neighboring areas -- but at the same time, during early engagement with the communities, people are saying, 'I'd like a grocery store,' 'I'd like to be able to open up a small business.' It almost seems like a no-brainer. The fact that these neighborhoods have been ignored and stayed the same for so long is actually what's weird about them."
This seems like a proposal ready-made for East County’s apartment towers. “Filling in the gaps” between high-rises would provide extra income for landlords and developers; reduce car trips by locating amenities where people already live; offer places for kids to hang out; and provide space for small businesses to locate (not unlike my "shop-house" proposal last year), generating jobs in a community that definitely needs them.

This Census map (above) depicting average household income in White Oak by color (with darker green representing wealthier areas) shows that residents of the Enclave and White Oak Towers, two 1960’s-era high-rise buildings, are poorer than their counterparts in surrounding single-family neighborhoods. (They are wealthier than people living in White Oak’s more affordable garden-style buildings, but this may be because high-rise apartments are more expensive to maintain and thus charge higher rents.)

Places like White Oak and Briggs Chaney have been maligned for creating congestion and “demographic shifts” in East County, while their residents are isolated from the larger community and even from people living in the next apartment complex. Tower Renewal, or whatever you’d like to call it, could transform areas like White Oak and Briggs Chaney into vibrant neighborhoods and “town centers.”

We’re already seeing elements of Tower Renewal in this area. Lofts 590, a new building in Crystal City, returned low-rise scale to a 60’s-era complex of apartment towers in a park. And in Briggs Chaney, townhouses were built around the Waterford Tower on Castle Boulevard, giving existing residents an opportunity to “move up” into larger housing without leaving the neighborhood.

While neither of these projects go quite far as what’s being proposed in Toronto – they’re still isolated from the community and do nothing to address the issues of accessibility and energy use – they’re a sign that developers and communities alike are open to the possibilities of recycling the “tower in the park.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

how will we define ourselves?

I don't go to Calverton Baptist Church (I mean, I don't really go to any church, but I could walk here from my house if I felt like it) but I thought their sign was especially prescient this week. These are rough times for our country and for our community, but in the struggle lies an opportunity. On the Kojo Nnamdi show last week, professor/columnist/urban planner/my hero Roger K. Lewis mentioned that the economic downturn presents us with a time to "catch up" with growth, if you will. Not just in terms of infrastructure like roads, transit and schools, but with developing a vision for our future.

"We define ourselves when all is going wrong," reads the sign. This is a time to look at the East County we know and position ourselves for a time when, hopefully, we have the means to start growing again. It's worth noting that our local master plans - White Oak, Cloverly and Fairland - will be up for revision in a few years. When the economy picks up, will we pick up where we left off and continue building car-oriented subdivisions and strip malls, fearful of density, traffic and "undesirables," or will we try to tackle these concerns proactively rather than running away from them?

wayne goldstein (1952-2009)

From the Gazette:
Longtime civic activist Wayne Goldstein died of a heart attack Monday morning in Rockville on the way to testify in a hearing before the county's Board of Appeals, family members said Monday afternoon . . . On the morning of his death, Goldstein was scheduled to testify about Suburban Hospital's planned expansion.

"If ever you can say someone went out with his boots on, Wayne was doing what he loved right up to the very end," said Drew Powell, former executive director of Neighbors PAC, and a fellow civic activist.
I spent most of my first year writing Just Up The Pike bashing civic groups like Neighbors PAC, whom Wayne Goldstein associated with (but was not a part of). He must not have ever read those posts, because every time I spoke to him he was friendly to me, if not to everyone else. The first time I met Wayne, we were standing outside the Marilyn J. Praisner Recreation Center after it had just been re-dedicated, laughing at Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg as she struggled to find her car amidst the other four cars in the parking lot.

I can say with confidence that Wayne and I would not have agreed on a lot of things, but I have a lot of respect for anyone willing to challenge the status quo as tirelessly as he did. He never held public office, but he was as influential as any politician in this county, and I'm sure the County Council shook a little anytime he entered their chambers. I hope I can do the same one day.

(Thanks to Gaithersblog for the heads-up.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

getting serious about traffic calming in calverton

The reconstruction of Calverton Boulevard is designed to slow drivers down (or is that person slowing down because I'm in the street?) Note the surface of the road, which was ground down in an earlier attempt at traffic calming.

Roughly fifty feet wide from curb to curb, Calverton Boulevard is a neighborhood street that's become a cut through between Route 29 and I-95. It's got two lanes for traffic, two parking lanes and two bike lanes (which, unfortunately for bikers, suddenly become regular traffic lanes at the Prince George's County line.) Wide and fairly straight, it's a road that encourages speeding, despite MoCo's attempts to mill down the asphalt (the resulting noise was supposed to "scarify" drivers into slowing down) and the introduction of roving speed cameras (one of which, of course, caught me speeding two years ago), all in the name of improving pedestrian safety.

Two years after this great experiment in driver reengineering began, MoCo's finally done something to give walkers an easier time. You might have already seen the construction on Calverton Boulevard, which when completed in a few weeks (warning! PDF file.) will include bump-outs (curb extensions at the corners, giving pedestrians a shorter crossing and a better view of oncoming traffic), islands (which gives pedestrians a safe place to stop halfway across the street) and between Craiglawn Road and Palermo Drive, a narrower street altogether.

While one disgruntled resident wrote the Gazette complaining about these changes last fall, I'm sure many Calverton residents (myself included) are looking forward to an easier time walking around. If you want drivers to slow down, don't make them look out for cameras mounted in white vans. Give them street trees, narrower lanes and places where they can see pedestrians and vice versa. When drivers know they have to pay attention to their surroundings, they'll hit the brakes.

what's up the pike: t-shirts and theatres

It's a rare thing in this area for it to be ninety degrees and not oppressively muggy. I've been told that weather is like this in the West, but I've never seen it before, though I am enjoying a kind of heat that is not accompanied by sweat-soaked T-shirts. Speaking of which, here's a look at what's happening this week in East County:

- The Super Fresh on Plum Orchard Drive in Calverton always has a selection of shirts, hats, etc. all bearing the words "SILVER SPRING" in some configuration. I've never really paid attention to them (even I, as a big Silver Spring booster, am left wondering who these products are aimed at - tourists? Fleetwood Mac fans?) until I saw this T-shirt, with a logo that reads "Maryland Great Outdoors."

What Great Outdoors? Are you talking about Brookside Gardens? My friend from high school who had two acres and practically lived in Howard County but still had a Silver Spring address? Either way, it's a reminder that there is still a Silver Spring outside the Beltway, complete with soaring eagles and everything.

- I had to give this Diamondback story a second look before realizing that Steve and Barry's, the discount retailer that once sold ironic T-shirts by the crateful in City Place Mall before shutting down last year, wasn't actually opening up a store in College Park. No, the new shop, which also specializes in ridiculously underpriced [new and used] clothes, is called Barry and Steve's Clothing Exchange. Very, very slick. I know I'm not the only person who got it confused, and it'll hopefully keep this local business in the black.

- Montgomery County Public Schools is inviting the public to see and comment on early proposals to renovate the Elizabeth Stickley Auditorium on Wayne Avenue, which shut down in 1998 after Blair High School moved to its current campus on University Boulevard. The auditorium not only hosted Blair's drama and music productions, but big-name performers like Arturo Sandoval and Stevie Wonder. The next work session will be 7pm this Wednesday, April 29th at Silver Spring International Middle School, which is next to the auditorium. For more information, check out the Old Blair Auditorium website. (Thanks to Stuart Moore for the heads-up.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

what's up the pike: hurry up and wait

The abandoned Filbey Building at Columbia Pike and Industrial Parkway.

It's going to be a beautiful weekend. I look forward to spending all day tomorrow outside at Maryland Day, but in the meantime, here's a look at what's happening Up The Pike:

- Greater Greater pointed us to this segment on the Kojo Nnamdi show about retrofitting underused suburban strip malls and industrial parks. The guest is none other than Roger K. Lewis, professor emeritus at U-Md. (and my reason for going there), who we met two years ago on "the Turf." I can't help but think of the Filbey Building, the abandoned office building on Columbia Pike that looks ripe for redevelopment.

- The InterCounty Connector moves closer to completion, with the first segment between Shady Grove and Georgia Avenue in Norbeck halfway finished. Someone might want to get writer Katherine Shaver a map, though, because she won't stop referring to Colesville Road when, in fact, she's talking about The Pike.

- In the Gazette: County Councilmember Marc Elrich sells his plan for countywide Bus Rapid Transit to the Western Montgomery County Advisory Board. If his entire proposal - which would criss-cross MoCo with ten lines - can't be built all at once, routes along Georgia Avenue to Olney and Columbia Pike to Burtonsville would be his highest priorities.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

tanglewood says tunnel, trees breed crime?

A sale sign outside a house in Tanglewood. The ICC is going up next door.
"Kids are going to be breaking out the lights," [McFadden] said. "Someone is going to get hurt and someone is going to be robbed."

"A positive aspect of the ICC construction, [Evans] said, is that robberies that once took place in the woods near Briggs Chaney no longer occur because the trees have been cleared."
These quotes are from Bob McFadden and Dave Evans, president and board member (respectively) of the Tanglewood Homeowners' Association, which is fighting a tunnel the SHA proposes building underneath the InterCounty Connector, which is being constructed behind their neighborhood. Before the highway began construction, people could walk to Tanglewood through the stand of trees (at left) separating it from the Auto Park and Briggs Chaney, an area with a reputation for low incomes and high crime.

Bridges and tunnels over highways don't have a good track record here. The footbridge over the Beltway in Forest Glen was the site of three armed robberies within six months of opening, but neighbors are still pushing for another tunnel that would improve pedestrian access to the Metro. There are other local footbridges I can think of (over Little Patuxent Parkway and Route 29 in Columbia; over I-270 in North Bethesda) that have been relatively quiet.

But Tanglewood is also a place where a small group of residents forced Metro to reroute a popular bus line away from their neighborhood because they wanted more parking spaces. They may mean well, but what I hear from these residents is "I've got mine, screw everyone else," and it's everything I hate about East County. Let's look:

Assumptions. McFadden automatically assumes that the tunnel will attract vandalism and crime.

Lack of trust in our youth. McFadden assumes not only that the tunnel will be vandalized, but that it'll be kids doing it.

Finger-pointing. Of course, these won't be kids from Tanglewood doing the dirty work. Resident Dave Evans believes that the tunnel will attract crime because it'll connect with the apartments on Briggs Chaney Road. "You might as well build [criminals] a fort," he's quoted as saying.

Perceived "safety" at all costs. Either Gazette reporter Robert Dongu is doing some sloppy reporting, or Dave Evans said that clear-cutting thousands of trees is worth keeping "unwanted" people from his neighborhood.

Construction of the ICC seen from Tanglewood, as of last March. Click on the photo for a bigger version.

Tanglewood is not an affluent community. The little townhouses and condos here look just like the little townhouses and condos in Briggs Chaney. But Tanglewood does have a large, vocal Homeowners' Association, with people who have the time and money to speak out for their concerns, everyone else be damned. There are probably people in Briggs Chaney who have been inconvenience by the loss of access to Tanglewood or the re-routed bus line. But if they live in apartments, they don't have HOAs to represent them. And some can't afford to skip work or leave their kids at home to attend some meeting about a highway.

I mean, how many people are going to use a tunnel between Briggs Chaney and Tanglewood, anyway? The WashCycle blog pointed out last fall that, if McFadden and Evans want it to be really safe, they want as many people to use that tunnel as possible. It's all about "eyes on the street" - not from nearby buildings (which is what that phrase normally means) but from heavy use of the space.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

navarro declares victory

Navarro and staff at her campaign office in the Plaza del Mercado shopping center.

While MPW says conditions look "favorable" for Nancy Navarro's bid to run in the County Council general election May 19, her campaign's already declared victory:

SILVER SPRING, MD – Tonight, Nancy Navarro declared victory in her second run for Montgomery County Council, District 4. In two consecutive special elections, Nancy Navarro has thrown her hat into the ring. In 2008, Navarro came roughly 350 votes short of victory, but only a year later pulled off a tough-fought victory by 78 votes, winning most precincts carried previously by the late Councilmember Don Praisner . . .

Our campaign can confirm a large number of absentee ballot requests were submitted by our supporters. Elections experts consulted by the campaign point out that often a exceedingly small percentage of requested absentee ballots are actually returned. Considering Delegate Kramer lost the vast majority of precincts on Tuesday night, and Board of Elections records show that the distribution of absentee ballot requests was far more even than Tuesday’s turnout rates, Delegate Kramer’s path to victory is insurmountably narrow.
Now, I voted for her, but I'm a little nervous at the confidence displayed here. As they say, pride goeth before the fall, and these encouraging odds might turn around with a little karmic payback.

what's up the pike: election fallout (happy earth day!)

The Rachel Carson House in White Oak.

- Reader Eli Pousson e-mailed us some photos from the celebration of Rachel Carson's 100th birthday hosted by the Rachel Carson Council at her former home in White Oak last weekend. As a researcher at the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge, Carson studied the effects of pesticides on animals and wrote Silent Spring in 1962, effectively starting the environmental movement. The house on Berwick Lane where she wrote the book is now a National Historic Landmark.

- A number of local agencies - including MCPS, the county police, and the managers of Downtown Silver Spring - are holding a "Safe Silver Spring Summit" next month to deal with the increase in local crime. Last fall, Blair High student Tai Lam was murdered on a Ride-On bus; four months later, fights broke out after a concert on Ellsworth. This comes after Monday's "Crime Prevention Town Meeting" in Wheaton. The Maryland Gangs blog, however, worries the summit won't focus on teen safety.

- Supporters of Valerie Ervin (at right, with aides Amparo Macias and Avi Edelman) are throwing a fundraiser tomorrow night for the County Councilmember, who plans to run for a second term representing District 5 (that's most of East County below Randolph Road) in next year's election. Contributions for the dinner, which will be held at Jackie's on Georgia Avenue, range from $25 (Student) to $500 (Host). The fundraiser is from 6pm to 8pm.

it's . . . navarro and ficker (unofficially) (updated)

12:50: Keep in mind, of course, that these are the UNOFFICIAL results. We're calling it only as far as we can see and, as MPW points out, there are some 600 provisional ballots to count, starting Thursday.

10:58: The unofficial results, from the Board of Elections. For the Democrats, Nancy Navarro (left) pulls through by barely eighty votes, while Robin Ficker (right) thirty points ahead of the closest Republican contender:

Total Votes 7987Total Votes 2050
Nancy Navarro 3557 44.53%Robin Ficker 1187 57.90%
Ben Kramer 3479 43.56%
Cary Lamari 690 8.64%
Louis August 571 27.85%
Andrew L. Padula 292 14.24%

Robert Goldman 104 1.30%
Thomas Hardman 99 1.24%
Michael L. Bigler 58 0.73%

10:43: Unofficially, it's Navarro and Ficker. MPW all but calls them.

10:39: Whoops. There are only 45 precincts to report, so we're at 100% reporting. But, of about 96,000 voters, 10% voted. Fun with statistics.

10:22: It's getting tight. With 45 precincts reporting, Navarro's at 44.5% and Kramer at 43.5%, with the other Democrats splitting the rest. Ficker's leading the Republicans at 58%.

With 40 precincts reporting, Nancy Navarro is in the lead for the Democratic nomination (49% to Ben Kramer's 38%) and Robin Ficker for the Republican nomination (59%). If you'd like to follow this yourself, the Board of Elections is updating their results every twenty minutes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

one hundred fifty-seven . . .

was the number of voters at Paint Branch High School (my polling place) when I went around 5pm today. That breaks down to 136 Democrats and 21 Republicans, according to the election judges. Rona Kramer (Ben's sister, of course) was outside, shaking hands, across from a table with someone from the Navarro campaign. All was quiet, except for the yelling from a baseball practice a few yards away.

The Maryland Moment blog (which, not to toot my own horn, loses out from not linking to this fine blog) said there were a couple hundred people at Leisure World by this morning and, as Adam from Maryland Politics Watch points out, that's the golden ticket in this race.

Polls close in twenty minutes. We'll know soon enough.

special election today!

Today, East County voters head to the polls for the second County Council special primary election in as many years. I'll be heading to my polling place later today, and if you're unsure where yours is, check out Montgomery County's page on the special election.

While we're not expecting turnout like in last year's presidential vote (that's Paint Branch High School above), it's worth noting that this election could be a major turning point for East County. When the general election is held May 19, the winner will only be the third councilmember to represent District 4 since the County Council created individual districts twenty years ago. They'll also be the first councilmember who is not a member of the Praisner family, in itself a big change in east side politics.

You've seen my interviews with the candidates (if not, see left sidebar) and you know where my interests lie, but today is the day that everyone - or, at least, the eight percent of voters who actually care/live in Leisure World - gets to put their two cents in. I'll have the election results here as soon as I can get my hands on them.

Monday, April 20, 2009

what's up the pike: four-twenty . . .

In honor of today's, uh, holiday, the theme today is about crime, because this is a professional blog, and I don't want potential employers getting the wrong idea:

- MoCo gets serious about crime prevention (see kids stealing a shopping cart on Ellsworth, above) with a town meeting tonight in Wheaton. People can talk to representatives from both the county and park police, MCPS School Security, WMATA and Wheaton Plaza (where four violent crimes have happened in as many years since the mall was renovated in 2005). The meeting is from 7 to 9pm at Wheaton High School on Dalewood Drive. For more info, check out this flyer. (warning! PDF file.)

- One day before the District 4 special election, the Post talks about the contested County Council race, which has led to some mudslinging between the Kramer and Navarro campaigns. If you'd like to learn more about the candidates, check out JUTP's series of interviews with eight of the ten primary contenders on the left sidebar.

- The Post also profiles the Hillandale neighborhood and its fight to bring the FDA to the former Naval Research Center on New Hampshire Avenue. I'm always disappointed to see how "neighborhood coming together" stories usually involve people working to stop development/transit/people who don't look like them, but in this economy, it looks like Hillandale had the right idea by keeping commercial interests at bay.

- The New York Times comes down to Langley Park and explores the added difficulties of growing up Latino in the suburbs, where social service agencies struggle to provide the same "safety net" that they do in more "traditional" immigrant hubs like Columbia Heights in the District. (Thanks to the Maryland Gangs blog for the heads-up.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

east county rapid transit gains political momentum

The Transportation Planning Board's draft proposal for a BRT network across the region, including seven lines serving East Montgomery County. Below: People boarding a bus in Briggs Chaney.

Today, the Transportation Planning Board released a map of a regional network of Bus Rapid Transit lines that they’d use to apply for funding from President Obama’s stimulus package (the very same that’s being used to repave New Hampshire Avenue in Colesville). While the system could be whittled down to fewer routes, it could become a reality by 2012 if the funding was available.

TPB’s proposal (see report and geographically accurate map) is very similar to Metro’s plan for priority bus corridors and includes no fewer than seven lines serving East County along Georgia Avenue, 16th Street, New Hampshire Avenue, University Boulevard and Veirs Mill Road, and an express line on the InterCounty Connector. It also includes a line along Route 29 between Silver Spring and Briggs Chaney, which might be the closest we ever come to the light rail line once planned along the corridor several decades ago.

Under the concept of “transit serviceability” – today’s Transit Oriented Development – thousands of apartments and townhomes were built in White Oak and Briggs Chaney in anticipation of the line, which had been a part of the master plan for eastern Montgomery County as late as 1981. That year, planners considered a rapid transit line between Wheaton and Burtonsville via Route 29, University Boulevard and an unbuilt “Route 29 Spur,” thus bypassing traffic going into Downtown Silver Spring. On Route 29, which is a limited-access freeway north of White Oak, the line would have been in the median, with “stops at major intersections, fringe parking lots, major employment centers, and other appropriate locations.”

With a price tag of $350 million ($1 billion in today’s dollars), the line’s projected low ridership made it a non-starter for the Planning Department. “Although projected peak period ridership was in the range considered appropriate for light-rail transit, projected patronage, on a day long basis could not justify the expenditure of capital and operating costs,” reads the 1981 plan. The Planning Department saw that light rail could actually be viable along Route 29 were it not for a lack of mid-day ridership. When the Fairland Master Plan was revised again in 1997, the concept of "transit serviceability" was removed altogether, taking away any provisions to expand transit even for the development that had already occurred, let alone what was to come.

As the project gains political momentum and development patterns along Route 29 slowly begin to justify additional transit services, any kind of rapid transit here seems more of a possibility. A Bus Rapid Transit line between Silver Spring and Burtonsville has been on the county's Move Montgomery plan for nearly a decade. On their scorecard for the District 4 County Council election, the Action Committee for Transit found that all but one of the eleven candidates expressed some interest in a 29 line.

Responding to their candidate survey, Democrat Nancy Navarro notes that development on the east side has been and continues to be tied to public transit. "Without transit in District 4, there is no opportunity for transit-oriented development or smart growth," she writes.

Why rapid transit along Route 29? An existing pool of 200,000 daily rides is just the beginning AFTER THE JUMP . . .

A very quick diagram comparing past and present proposals for rapid transit along Route 29, including my own proposal from 2003.

1) By 1981, only a portion of the Briggs Chaney and White Oak areas targeted for dense development had been built out, and today, there are literally thousands of people living within a half-mile of the median of Route 29, where stations would have been located. The downside is that these neighborhoods were not designed to be pedestrian-friendly, meaning that few people are actually a half-mile walk from anything.

2) Shopping centers have been built at Burtonsville, Briggs Chaney, Cherry Hill Road and Tech Road, beginning to provide the mid-day trips the 29 Line needed to be economical. East County still isn’t nearly the shopping destination that Wheaton or Rockville Pike is, meaning that people running errands would still make up a small part of the potential ridership.

3) A small but growing job sector means that some people could have “reverse commutes” from the District, Downtown Silver Spring or other parts of Montgomery County. The arrival of 7,000 jobs at the FDA campus in White Oak and 3,000 jobs at the new Washington Adventist Hospital in Calverton suggest there’s a potential market for transit.

4) The industrial parks, garden apartments and shopping centers built during East County’s first wave of suburbanization in the 1960’s are all showing their age, meaning there are opportunities for infill development. Many of these projects, like the abandoned Francis Filbey Building at Route 29 and Tech Road, are adjacent to the highway, making them ideal candidates for TOD if a transit line were running in the median.

5) Route 29 has a large but underserved transit-riding population. The seven Z routes between Silver Spring, Ashton, Burtonsville and Laurel had a combined weekday ridership of 223,961 last July, according to WMATA, making it one of the highest-ridden lines in the entire Metrobus system.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

what's up the pike: tax day?

- This Saturday is the 100th birthday of Rachel Carson, the scientist who started the environmental movement with her book Silent Spring, which she wrote in this unassuming ranch house off of New Hampshire Avenue in White Oak. The Rachel Carson Council will be holding an open house there this weekend called "Spring of Awareness," with lectures and events commemorating her life's work. For more information, check out their website.

- Greater Greater Washington has a map showing which local roads have the highest frequency of buses running on them. This is different from which bus routes have the highest ridership, though it provides some clues into why some lines are more popular than others.

Not surprisingly, buses run most frequently on portions of Route 29 and along Route 193 and Piney Branch Road, which may become part of the Purple Line. These routes have very high ridership. Meanwhile, buses are relatively infrequent on Randolph Road, which may explain why the lines that run along it - the C8, C7 and C9 - have at one time or another been suggested for service cuts because of low ridership.

- As always, check out my weekly column in the Diamondback, the University of Maryland's independent student newspaper. This week, I'm writing about the loss of Vertigo Books, a locally-owned bookstore in College Park that became a D.C.-area institution.

- Washingtonian magazine is doing a survey for its yearly "Best Of" lists and wants local residents to put their two cents in. For whatever reason, they've boiled down all of East County to "Silver Spring/Wheaton" in their neighborhood surveys, but it's still worth it. Quarry House for Best Burgers, anyone? (I mean, if there's a better place, I want to know about it.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

will silver spring's fall repeat itself in b'ville?

A sign for one of many closed shops at Burtonsville Crossing.

I went home for Easter this weekend. My mother is a pastor, but we don't keep a lot of holiday traditions, and we eat out a lot, so dinner meant a trip to Kim's Hunan in the Burtonsville Crossing shopping center at Old Columbia Pike and Route 198. I didn't realize how many stores have closed there, and even for a Friday night - not necessarily the busiest time for a strip mall - the place seemed unusually quiet.

Edens and Avant, the firm that owns Burtonsville Crossing, lists eight vacant stores on their website out of twenty-eight total. That's a third of the shopping center. Coupled with Burtonsville Shopping Center across the street, where all but the Dutch Country Farmers' Market (which, as we all know, was supposed to have left a year ago) is gone, the "Downtown Burtonsville" I knew as recently as three years ago is gone.

Going to Burtonsville Crossing last night reminded me of when my family lived in Georgian Towers fifteen years ago and Downtown Silver Spring was completely dead. It's a difficult comparison to make - even though Burtonsville and Silver Spring are ten miles apart, one is a small town and the other is Maryland's second-largest central business district. But the circumstances are similar.

Much as Downtown Silver Spring was crippled by the opening of Wheaton Plaza and shopping centers along Rockville Pike, Burtonsville has been hit hard by recent developments like Maple Lawn in Howard County. Not to mention, of course, the Burtonsville Bypass, which allows motorists to speed through town. For a place designed to be seen from a car window, Burtonsville is more or less invisible now.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Burtonsville Shopping Center, on the west side of Old Columbia Pike, is completely vacant save for the Dutch Country Farmers Market.

And as the vacancies increase, Burtonsville becomes less relevant as a gathering place - somewhere to bump into neighbors or have an impromptu lunch with a friend - because fewer stores mean fewer reasons to visit in the first place. Anyone who did their "hanging out" in Burtonsville is either in Downtown Silver Spring, in Columbia Town Center, or somewhere else altogether.

To me, the Burtonsville Community Legacy Plan Charrette was a failure of the people who claim to represent and support this area to understand that the previous way of doing things no longer works. Shopkeepers who complained that sidewalks on Route 198 would be a nuisance know their own clientele well - people who live nearby and drive, not walk to run errands - but ignore the potential draw a pedestrian-friendly town center could be. Residents who rejected any kind of new housing in Burtonsville are aware of how poorly planned the development in Briggs Chaney was - but, again, fail to understand that it was the execution, not the idea that is the problem.

The Business District in Maple Lawn, a new planned community in Howard County.

There is an example of what an attractive and economically successful small town looks like, and it is one exit north of Burtonsville at Maple Lawn. In a lot of ways, Maple Lawn is just another suburban subdivision pretending to be a small town: the people who buy the million-dollar houses there get in their cars and drive to the grocery store like everyone else, but when they get home they can still walk to a neighbor's house/to school/to the various expensive restaurants and boutiques there. It's a step in the right direction.

What we, as people who live in the suburbs, tend to forget about suburban development is that it has a short shelf-life. People live in a place long enough until they can afford to live somewhere "better" rather than investing in their community. Most of my friends and neighbors moved out here from neighborhoods inside the Beltway as they started to decline - and as this area shows its age they move to newer neighborhoods further out in Olney/Rockville/Howard County. My neighborhood was built in the 1980's, as was Burtonsville Crossing, which is now twenty years old. That's a long time in suburbia.

The future of Burtonsville simply isn't about maintaining the status quo. Something has to give, and it'll have to be the people who insist on everything remaining the same.

Monday, April 13, 2009

the thought process (not quite an endorsement)

I told each of the District 4 candidates that I wouldn't be giving any endorsements. And I'm keeping to that, even as I wait to interview Mike Bigler (repeated phone calls and e-mails have yet to yield an appointment) and Lou August (when he gets back from vacation, hopefully we'll talk). But this is how I see myself voting next Tuesday:

I believe strongly that the world Marilyn Praisner operated in no longer exists. This is no longer the squeaky-clean, sitcom-suburb Calverton she and Don moved to forty-five years ago - we are more diverse and yet still segregated, more affluent but more disadvantaged, better connected yet still isolated from the rest of Montgomery County. The game has changed, and so must the players.

I had my mind made up to vote for Chris Paladino this year before he dropped out, because his experience with Red Cross lends him an awareness of different people/needs/everything that you don't get just by living in Montgomery County. I hoped Rob Goldman stays involved in Burtonsville politics, but he's way too provincial for a district seat. I thought Andrew Padula's idea for creating "Go-Zones" in East County as a means of attracting new businesses was ingenious, but as the Post and Gazette both point out, he's weak on local issues. I supported Cary Lamari enough to lend him photos to put on his campaign mailers.

And I was warming up to Ben Kramer. His family IS East County. You have voted for his sister and father. You have run errands at shopping centers developed by him or his family. He genuinely wants to give back to this community. I have serious qualms about a representative who lives in Derwood, a full half-hour drive from my house. But, then again, Ike Leggett can see Howard County from his house, so maybe this isn't an issue.

But I feel I can relate best to Nancy Navarro, from her story of growing up in the chaos of Caracas to attend school in the United States and then building a life here to her teenage daughter's lack of places to hang out in East County. I can see a little of my mother in her when the accent creeps into her voice at a debate or public hearing. It may be seen as political showmanship to some, but t0 me it might be a quirk of assimilation.

I appreciate that she's brought race into the discussion to the point where it becomes obnoxious. (An already elected official complaining about her opponents being "delivered" to a seat seems disingenuous to me.) But the "riots" on Ellsworth last month, "mandatory busing" in Hampshire Greens, and the entire issue over whether to scrap the Northeast and Downcounty consortia all have something to do with race. This is a majority-minority district. A discussion of race and racial issues should be inevitable.

So when Ben Kramer told me that he didn't see "a demand or a need for directional change,” I reply that you're not looking hard enough. You're running against NINE people who say that the system is broken. And, even worse, you have a whole rack of people - including our own County Executive, who lives in East County! and is black, for whatever it's worth! - who by endorsing you are endorsing that statement.

That, to me, is really scary.

Friday, April 10, 2009

why are you reading this?

It's Passover/Easter weekend! Even if you're not a follower of the Judeo-Christian religions, say you are and skip class or work! It's a beautiful day outside.

what's up the pike: books and coffee

BUT FIRST: As I'm sure you've already heard, Nick Adenhart, pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels and a Silver Spring native, was killed a in a car crash in the wee hours of Thursday morning. The twenty-two-year-old Adenhart, who graduated from high school in Western Maryland, had made his debut with the Angels less than a year ago. Our condolences go out to his family and fans.

The White Oak Shopping Center is home to one of the latest Starbucks coffee shops slated to close.

- Burtonsville resident and writer Tom Meylan seeks to "help people get through these tough times" with his new book, Facing Challenges Whether You Chose Them or Not. The text "shows how our worldview can either be a constraint that keeps us from succeeding, or a tool that we can use to surmount our challenges," reads his website. I'm wondering if Meylan, who we met at last year's Burtonsville Legacy Plan Charrette, might consider pitching this to down-on-their-heels shopkeepers in B'ville in the hopes they don't close up for good.

- Speaking of closing up: The latest round of Starbucks store closings hits East County, with locations in White Oak and Leisure World soon to shut down among 300 worldwide. I've never been to the Leisure World Starbucks, but I can imagine the 55-and-older set preferring to have their breakfast at a slower-paced establishment like Nancy's Kitchen. I think the White Oak store would've done better after the Food and Drug Administration campus opens next door, and I wouldn't be surprised if the demand for one reappeared somewhere down the line. (Thanks to Patrick for the heads-up; Images from

- A recently-published book on suburban redevelopment features a blurb on Chip Py (right), the local photographer whose run-in with Downtown Silver Spring security two years ago sparked a march for free speech on Ellsworth Drive. Retrofitting Suburbia, a text by architecture professors Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson, mentions the "ambiguity" between public and private ownership in suburban "town centers" like DTSS that caused the photo controversy:
Over a hundred people gathered on July 4, 2007 at Downtown Silver Springs’ Astroturf town green (a celebrated if curious emblem of hybridity in its own right) before marching through the streets taking pictures and, more important, demanding civil liberties in spaces that are developed with public assistance. Does the fact that the space triggered public discourse and provided the setting for a protest qualify it as public space?
The book is on Amazon for a whopping sixty dollars, but if you're cheap like me, you can check out this excerpt available online. (warning! PDF file.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

ben kramer: returning balance to the council

Part EIGHT in our series of interviews with candidates in the County Council special election. For more information on Ben Kramer, check out his campaign website.

Ben Kramer in Ashton. Below: Kramer (at right) greets the staff at Dempsey's Restaurant.

“Fiscal responsibility” is probably the best way to sum up Marilyn Praisner’s career on the County Council. It’s also a phrase that all the candidates running for the seat she filled for nearly twenty years have used, even those campaigning for a change in leadership. As we sit in Dempsey's, an old diner in Ashton whose green benches and Keno posters suggest its age, Delegate Ben Kramer says he’s not interested in trying something different. “I don’t think there is a demand or a need for directional change,” says Kramer. “What Marilyn did is bring balance to the Council, and I think it’s important to continue that kind of representation, that kind of balance. People appreciate that.”

A long time friend of Marilyn Praisner – who encouraged him to run for the state legislature – Kramer’s earned the endorsement of many Praisner family allies, including County Executive Ike Leggett and Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg. He’s even won the support of Don and Marilyn Praisner’s daughter, Alison Klumpp. “They said it would be very important to have someone who is independent,” he says.

“Independent” is a word that sounds a little disingenuous coming from someone who’s supported by many in the Montgomery County establishment. To Kramer, it means “someone who is going to look at each issue on its merits, to look at all sides, not come in predisposed and have already made up their mind,” he says. “That’s what I’ve tried to do in Annapolis, it’s what the residents of this district expect. It’s what they’re accustomed to.”

And if there’s anything he’s learned in the State House, it’s the importance of reaching out to others and keeping an open mind. “The first thing I did when I came to Annapolis was make contacts, talk to other folks around the state about their concerns,” says Kramer. “We don’t always agree, but I respect my colleagues and I know they’re representing their constituents.”

Nonetheless, Kramer’s had a difficult time convincing legislators from throughout the state that “the streets in Montgomery County are not paved with gold,” and that as the state’s largest jurisdiction, the county has its own struggles. “We have more students on free and reduced meals then I think nineteen jurisdictions have in their entire student body,” says Kramer.

While some might see Kramer’s bid for County Council as a step down, he considers it a “lateral move” from the State House. “There’s a lot of overlap on the issues,” he says. “It’ll be important to have someone on the council who has connections to the state legislature. Marilyn was the only one who communicated regularly with the Montgomery County delegation to Annapolis.”

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

A Kramer campaign sign outside the Cloverly Towne Centre, one of two local shopping centers Ben Kramer has developed.

It’s also a shift that’ll bring him closer to the senior citizen community, Kramer’s largest political base. Not only is District 4 home to Montgomery County’s two largest retirement communities, Leisure World and Riderwood Village, but they’re filled with residents who remember his father Sid Kramer, the county’s first executive.

“I have three large pieces of legislation moving through the House and Senate that deal with senior issues,” explains Kramer, two of which deal with the financial exploitation of seniors. The third proposal is something he calls “Silver Alert” – like Amber Alert, an emergency announcement system for missing children, but for people with cognitive disabilities, regardless of age. When an individual went missing, the program would send out text messages to high school students who volunteer with Silver Alert to gain required student service learning hours. Given physical details and a location, the students would be able to go find the missing person and contact the police.

“Only six percent of those who wander can find their way back,” says Kramer. “If we have people out looking for them, it’s very important. And who knows the communities better than our high school students?”

One concern many voters might have is if Ben Kramer knows their community well enough. He lives in Derwood, in the far western reaches of District 4. He’s only a few minutes from the County Council Office Building in Downtown Rockville, but a half-hour drive from Burtonsville or White Oak, yet Kramer doesn’t see that as a detriment. “I don’t see it as being all the way over there,” says Kramer, who notes he “used to spend a lot of time” in the Tamarack Triangle, a neighborhood at East Randolph and Fairland roads.

“Geographically, it’s a large district,” Kramer says. “Between having grown up in the Wheaton area and residing in the Olney-Derwood area, I’ve spent my entire life in the geographic boundaries of District 4 and I will work with people on the eastern side of the county to make sure their concerns are represented.”

Kramer names some of the issues he sees facing the east side: community centers either being built or renovated in Good Hope, Sandy Spring and White Oak; working with minority business owners in Wheaton; and the Kennedy Cluster Project, a large part of his opponent Nancy Navarro’s tenure on the School Board. “It’s my alma mater,” he says. But when it comes to naming the biggest issues in the district, Kramer sounds a lot like Marilyn Praisner when we interviewed her two years ago. “For the most part, the issues that affect District 4 are the issues that affect us countywide,” he says, mentioning the ongoing budget crisis.

One concern he has is the dearth of jobs in east county. “Marilyn Praisner worked to bring jobs to the east side. When major employers locate in Montgomery County they seem to go to the 270 corridor, and we’d like to see them on the east side.”

Even though his family’s business, Kramer Enterprises, has built several shopping centers throughout the region, Kramer insists he’s not the “developer” his opponents make him out to be. He prefers to be called a “small business owner,” noting that the only developments he’s worked on were a small strip mall on Norbeck Road (“with five minority businesses,” he boasts) and the Cloverly Towne Centre, a shopping center at New Hampshire Avenue and Briggs Chaney Road completed three years ago.

“There were a lot of buildings from the 40’s that were deteriorating, and my sister [Senator Rona Kramer (D-Dist. 14)] and I acquired the land,” says Kramer. “Wth the help of the community . . . we got a beautiful town center in Cloverly.”

Former Councilmember Don Praisner unveils a sign for the Marilyn Praisner Library, named for his wife, who preceded him on the council.

Unlike the proposed Ashton Meeting Place, which sparked years of fighting between residents and a developer before its approval by the Planning Board last summer – civic associations in Cloverly and Colesville welcomed the Kramers’ project. “It was a long process as far as inception to completion, but they were all very supportive,” says Kramer. “They liked the concept of having a redeveloped town center. It is small, but they were hoping to see something that was more attractive. One of the things that’s been a huge hit was the dance studio, because the area had nothing for the kids.”

For Kramer, the success of Cloverly Towne Centre isn’t just a show of business savvy – it shows that he feels responsible for the communities he serves, whether as a so-called developer or as an elected official.

“Business, particularly small business, is the economic engine of this county and this state and I stand to fill a dearth of business knowledge on the council,” says Kramer. “It’s also a perspective of fiscal responsibility that’s important to have. You have to have tremendous respect for the taxpayer’s money. It’s not Monopoly money.”

So, what should District 4 expect from its new councilmember if Kramer takes office? “I think they’ll have a strong advocate for the issues that are important to them, whether specific to the district or in terms of the whole county,” says Kramer. “They’ll have someone who’s very focused on constituent service and working on their behalf in the state legislature.”

what's up the pike: no time

- The Maryland Gangs blog attended a meeting of Mixed Unity, the youth group that arranged last month's "Stop the Violence" concert resulting in 35 arrests. Expecting to see an organization run by local kids - as advertised, he found a club that seemed to be directed by one very vocal [unnamed] adult:
Somewhere along the way, several organizations run by adults glommed on to what the kids had started. Mixed Unity became a convenient symbol to be held up as proof positive that Silver Spring does indeed listen to kids...even minority kids.
But there weren't many kids involved. There were maybe 10 kids showing up at meetings every week, and the rest of the people involved with planning the concert were adults.
- Is Steve Silverman the Hillary Clinton of MoCo politics? Sounds like it. County Executive Ike Leggett has named his former opponent to direct the county's Department of Economic Development, citing Silverman's abilities to harness the strength of Maryland's biggest economic center.

- In the Gazette: the state senate Budget and Taxation Committee is considering cutting funds for the proposed Fillmore music hall on Colesville Road; and they've also endorsed Ben Kramer and Lou August for the District 4 County Council seat. You'll see our interview with Kramer later this week.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

what's up the pike: where i drank last weekend

East County must really like to drink, because last week's post on where I should celebrate my 21st birthday generated one of the longest comment threads in, well, a while. I was thrilled to receive so many birthday wishes and bar recommendations from my readers (and a number of Your Elected Officials but, notably, not Delegate Herman Taylor.)

Now, for the answer you've all been waiting for. Where did I do it? There are actually three answers:

Dinner with family: The Olive Grove, Linthicum Heights, Maryland
My mother doesn't drink, so I felt ordering something from their menu of fruity iced things would be impolite. This Italian restaurant (we had crab cakes, though) is twenty-five miles from my house (out by BWI Airport) but came well-recommended from my friend, who went there with her parents once.

First real drink: Busboys and Poets, 14th and U streets NW, Washington, D.C.
The bar scene on U Street is much bigger than that in College Park or Silver Spring, of course, so it seemed like a good place for me to get a crash course in barhopping. I was kind of overwhelmed by the choices, though, so my friends dragged me in here. Awesome place to chill out, but it always surprises me that Busboys is actually a BAR. Very impatient for one of these to open up in Silver Spring. I mean, if they can do it in Shirlington, they can do it here.

First drink in Silver Spring: Quarry House Tavern, Georgia Avenue and Bonifant Street.

The Quarry House comes in alongside the Royal Mile in Wheaton and Old Hickory Grille in Burtonsville for the most recommendations. But wow, the burgers here are huge! (Half-price on Mondays!) And they actually do call their drink list "Beericulum Vitae"! Wow! I've only known of this place since I was five, and now I can say I have been inside. My friends and I were definitely the youngest people there by at least ten years, though, save for maybe the emo kid behind the bar. (It made me think of Ellsworth, and I teared up a little at the thought of my high school days, so far behind me.)

But, of course, if I wanted to be around people my age I would've gone to College Park which, as you notice, I did not.

thomas hardman: out from behind the screen

Part SEVEN in our series of interviews with candidates in the County Council special election. For more information on Thomas Hardman, check out his blog or our interview with him from last year.

Thomas Hardman and his car outside the Aspen Hill Dunkin' Donuts.

Last year, Thomas Hardman ran a campaign for County Council with just a hundred dollars and a blog and, surprisingly, managed to scrape together a few votes. Rather than give up, he responded by throwing his hat back in the race – and changing his party affiliation in the hopes that he can turn an election dominated by whichever candidate has the biggest wallet back into a war of words.

“I was the most unpopular Republican in Montgomery County and I took that as a clue,” says Hardman, an information technology consultant living in Aspen Hill. “If you want a shot at the seat, you have to run as a Democrat.” He says that voters were “disappointed” by last year’s slate of candidates running for the District 4 seat vacated by Marilyn Praisner’s passing. “They picked up [Don Praisner] because his policies were ‘good enough’ but no one really caught fire,” says Hardman.

Aside from several candidate forums, his campaign has largely played out online. Hardman’s made a name for himself by frequently commenting on local blogs – so frequently, in fact, that he was banned from Maryland Politics Watch earlier this year for antagonizing the site’s other commenters.

“I know I can be a little trollish,” says Hardman. “I don't want to come off as annoying as Robin Ficker, but I think that would take a God-given gift I don't possess. I try to be thoroughly knowledgable and a little annoying. If I were young it would come off as 'edgy,' but at my age, I guess it seems curmudgeonly.”

The internet as a tool of self-expression isn’t a new idea for Hardman, who says he’s been online for twelve years and for years before that on the BBS, an early precursor to message boards. “I love to write, especially in the context of known debates. The rhetoric is what I like,” he says. When asked how he’d deal with his potential constituents in person at town hall meetings, he replies with one word: “PowerPoint.”

“Everybody uses it,” says Hardman. “Getting your staff to come up because they're doing the work most of the time. That delegation gives them a chance to shine. Whenever I get the specialist talking, that's fine if it's what the people want. I may as well face up to it.”

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Hardman holds up developments like Clarksburg Town Center as examples of well-planned growth.

One area of expertise he does have is in computers. With the ongoing budget crisis forcing Montgomery County to curtail everything from pay raises to bus routes, Hardman has a proposal that might save the school system a lot of money. By switching all of its computers’ operating systems from Windows to Linux, MCPS could save millions of dollars a year, he says.

“For each computer you put OpenOffice [the Linux version of Microsoft Office] on, you save $300,” says Hardman. “If you expand that to the operating system, you save $100 per machine” by replacing Windows XP with the free Linux software.

Hardman pushes the CD towards me with a label reading Slackware Linux. “It’s basically Linux,” he says, and if I put it in my computer, I’ll be able to run a new operating system. The disc, which he programmed, contains “2,000 applications that all do one thing about as well as they can do it,” he explains.

“If you were in the Windows world, it would cost thousands,” says Hardman. “It cost me time . . . thirty cents to press it out. Given a stack of computers that all had DVD burners, I could use economics of scale.” If the total savings per computer was $500, he estimates, and MCPS has 10,000 computers, the school system would instantly save fifty million dollars.

Like many of his opponents, Hardman feels the biggest issue in District 4 is a lack of representation, crippling its ability to respond to the area’s needs. “When Mrs. Praisner passed on, we had a lot of big issues going on,” he says. “We have a lot of big issues now but no representation when they come up. That's two years without accountability.”

And he has the same concerns many East County residents have about traffic, but insists that the solution doesn’t lie in halting development. “What sort of future do you want?” asks Hardman, who cites planned communities like Clarksburg Town Center and the Villages of Urbana in Frederick County as “good models” of growth. “People have to go somewhere if we're not having sprawl. We have to have mixed use, we have to have walkable density. It may not be your personal choice, but it’s the only one we have left.”

Likewise, those high-density communities have to be balanced out by preservation. “If I’m going to do any planning, the environment would be a major concern,” says Hardman. “District 4 has some of the remaining rural areas in the county. When you take 97 past Brookeville, you're in the Ag Reserve, but when you come into Howard County, it's McMansions. We're doing a good job, but the rest of the state isn't.”

On his blog, MoCo MoJo, Hardman writes extensively about the struggles of living in Aspen Hill in the house he grew up in. It’s a community that went from “nothing here to deep city” over the past five decades, he says from the parking lot of Dunkin’ Donuts, pointing out how the current mess of strip malls, tract houses and highways evolved since he was a kid. Inside, I ask him about the fights that broke out after a “Stop the Violence” concert in Downtown Silver Spring, and what it means for East County as a whole.

Hardman uses the novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac – which he describes as “two bloggers taking a road trip to Miami” – as an example of how people grow over time. The kind of people who’d go to make trouble at a youth event haven’t grown up, he says. “This is the eternal problem of teenagers and acculturation and what it means to be an adult,” says Hardman. “It's not just about your place in the world, it's about boundaries, and some people never learn that.”

If you give a teenager a psychological test, he explains, they’ll test as a sociopath just because their reasoning skills aren’t fully developed, but if someone still tests as a teenager at age twenty-five, they’re legitimately a sociopath. The people who started the fights “never grew up from wanting to be teenagers and came down to see if there was anyone else like them, and the teenagers weren’t buying it,” says Hardman. “They wanted to be peaceful. What do you do in the future? More bouncers.”

Few politicos in Montgomery County would name-drop Kerouac on the campaign trail, but that seems to be Thomas Hardman’s prerogative. His “regular concern in running for County Council is giving an alternative that might not otherwise exist,” he says. “On social issues I’m uber-liberal compared to most Democrats. On economic issues, I’m uber-conservative . . . It doesn't matter what party you run under as long as it's good government, which at this level means constituent service, infrastructure, etc.”

And if Hardman’s fellow bloggers, candidates or anyone else doesn’t understand why a candidate for elected office would spew lengthy rants on East County blogs, he’s got an easy answer for them. “Sloppy thinking annoys me, and whenever I see it I have to at least ask for clarification.”

Monday, April 6, 2009

almost there . . .

Right now, you know, it's just a nicely appointed building in empty space, but in due time there will be trees, and people, and all of the other buildings on Bonifant Street to keep it company while little Photoshopped cars drive by. Later today, we'll drive downtown to submit our competition entry and in a couple of weeks we'll find out if we won or not. (There is $6,000 riding on this.)

Regular posting will begin again tomorrow. Come on by for a re-cap of Where Did I Drink Last Weekend, followed by long-awaited interviews with Thomas Hardman and Ben Kramer.

Friday, April 3, 2009

where to go out for dinner and a drink?

Today is my 21st birthday, and I have realized that East County is a miserable place to drink. County laws limiting how many liquor licenses a restaurant could get dissuaded a lot of places from opening up on the east side. Meanwhile, the one cool place I might like to go for a night out - Downtown Silver Spring - is often overrun with mobs of high-school kids, making it less-than-appealing to the older, martini-swilling crowd. I would like to go to dinner for my birthday with my family. Suddenly, I have a new problem: where can I go to have a nice meal and a nice drink in East County?

Harry's on Old Columbia Pike was one of my favorite places to eat as a kid, with chicken fingers served in a rich, smoky barbeque sauce that I can still taste now. They had a bar, though in my high school the place (like much of Burtonsville) had a reputation for being kind of "rednecky." I drove by a few weeks ago to see Harry's was recently replaced by a Latino restaurant (I didn't get to see what it was called), which means that my hunger for barbeque sauce will have to wait.

Seibel's, also in Burtonsville, is a great place to take the wife and kids. It's homey, the food is probably good (I've only been for Don Praisner's ice cream social) and it's cheap. But I doubt I'd be able to scare up any drinks here.

The new T.G.I. Friday's in Calverton has quickly become a favorite of the local office-park scene, if only because it's the only place where you can drink at lunchtime and still be within stumbling distance of our desk. I went there for my 9th birthday, though (the one in Rockville, I mean), so it sounds kind of lame for a 21st birthday dinner.

Ellsworth has Ceviche, where I met one Hans Riemer on my first JUTP interview many, many years ago, drinking something foamy out of a large glass. But like I said: skater mobs. Fun for people-watching, bad for drinking buddies. (Doesn't help that many of those kids are, like, twelve.)

Hate to say it, but I might be heading to Bethesda/Rockville/Columbia for my first drink. If my mother has her way, we'll end up at Red, Hot and Blue in Laurel like my last birthday, because she enjoys (as I do) the roasted chicken. I don't know how the Quarry House on Bonifant Street is for dinner. I've been waiting to go in there since I was five, so I'll have to check it out soon enough.