Friday, March 30, 2012

old-school activists should make room for new voices

Planning director Rollin Stanley has already apologized and promised to take conflict-resolution classes after calling a group of activists who disagree with him "rich white women." But according to Councilmember Marc Elrich, Stanley needs to become a better listener:

Training Stanley to agree, to use less harsh speech, means little unless he begins to value opposing opinions, he said.
“I think that what he said indicates what he thinks,” Elrich said.

The issue isn't that Stanley doesn't "value opposing opinions." For the first time, a generation of community activists who basically ran the show in Montgomery County aren't always getting their way, and they're upset.

Members of Wellington's generation either grew up here or moved here in the decades following World War II in search of the suburban dream, and they became politically active to preserve it. These people include community activists like Wayne Goldstein or Stuart Rochester, politicians like former County Councilmembers Marilyn Praisner and Blair Ewing, and former County Executive Neal Potter. Not all of them were rich, and like current County Executive Ike Leggett, not all of them were white. Many have passed on, but those who remain continue to stand for the status quo, even as the county changes around them.

Today's Montgomery County looks more like the city these people tried to escape. There are nearly a million residents. Minorities make a slim majority of the population, but two-thirds of the public school system. Clusters of high-rise towers puncture the skyline. The county is the largest employment center in Maryland, with nearly a fifth of the state's 2.8 million jobs, and one of the largest job centers in Greater Washington.

These changes have altered the political climate in Montgomery County, as blogger Adam Pagnucco wrote two years ago. Established political organizations like the Montgomery County Civic Federation, which also called for Stanley's resignation, are now shedding members and losing influence as younger residents move in with very different values. (As a sign of how much things are changing, Pagnucco was tapped by Councilmember Hans Riemer to be his chief of staff after being elected in 2010.)

It shouldn't be a surprise to Meredith Wellington that public officials aren't as responsive to her as they once were, even if they occasionally put their foot in their mouth as Rollin Stanley did. Whether or not she's a "rich white woman," she's now just one of many different voices in Montgomery County. Demographic shifts show that there's an untapped demand for urban living in MoCo, and Rollin Stanley is listening. It's the civic activists who don't value opposing opinions, like former Councilmember Rose Crenca, who said last year that people who want to live in an urban setting should leave the county.

What's happening in Montgomery County now is a changing of the guard, and I doubt established political activists will leave quietly. But if they still want to be heard, they'll have to get in line.

Monday, March 26, 2012

fenton street market comes back fighting

Fenton Street Market from Ellsworth Drive
Back and better than ever.

Soap operas have fewer plot twists than the saga of Silver Spring's Fenton Street Market. The three-year-old flea market in Veterans Plaza was threatened by tone-deaf county bureaucrats and plans to replace it with a putt-putt golf course. Founder Hannah McCann nearly decided to give up the goose before local community organizer Megan Moriarty stepped in to save the day. And on April 28, Fenton Street Market will be back and fighting. This comes from an e-mail blast sent out on Friday:

We are excited to announce that the Fenton Street Market will be back on the Plaza beginning on April 28th! Our campaign to save the market was successful – today we learned Montgomery County has awarded the Fenton Street Market a three year contract to operate a market on the Plaza.

We look forward to bringing you exceptional vendors, engaging community programming, and talented musicians this season. Our regular season will run every Saturday (with the exception of a few dates in August and September reserved for larger community festivals) from the end of April through the end of October. This year the market will open at 10:00am and close at 4:00pm.

If you're interested in being a vendor, you can sign up on FSM's website starting April 2. You can also catch up with the market on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

if MoCo can get those millennials in the door, they won't leave

Woman, Northside Social, Clarendon
Arlington is like fly paper for twenty-somethings, but Montgomery isn't far behind.

Over the past few months, I've written a lot about Montgomery County's need to attract and retain Millennials, who could contribute a lot to the county but often cannot afford local housing prices. That's what Arlington's figured out, and that's why they recently held an event with the unfortunate name "Housing 4 Hipsters" to help young professionals looking for housing. They also know something we don't, as Lydia DePillis from the Washington City Paper points out in her column this week (emphasis mine):

About 100 people had shown up to talk to lenders and housing officials about their prospects for deals on housing. That’s 100 people who might end up buying homes—and paying taxes—in Arlington instead of Montgomery County, Fairfax County, or the District—people who’ll spend money eating, shopping, and raising their children in Arlington.

The old trope goes that young people move into "the city" after college, dick around for a few years, then move out to "the suburbs" when they're ready to have kids. Arlington's secret is that it has the convenience and activity of an urban area with the benefits of the suburbs, like great schools, low crime rates, and ample parking.

As DePillis points out in her column, that combination is enough to hook people for life. The young women she interviews at "Housing 4 Hipsters" allude to that suburb-city hybrid as a selling point: one complains she wouldn't move back to the District until "their standards are brought up," while another wants to keep a car wherever she lives.

Of course, Arlington doesn't have a monopoly on this lifestyle: Bethesda and Silver Spring offer it also, and soon places like Rockville, White Flint and Wheaton will as well. Montgomery County's done a great job of building these communities up and making them desirable places for people to live at all ages. But it wouldn't hurt for them to reach out to young folks like me, whether by encouraging the production of more housing, or with events like "Housing 4 Hipsters" that increase awareness of programs that can make it easier to rent or buy a home. Once you get us in the door, you'll have us for a long time.

Like I've said before, the largest generation in American history is entering the workforce, and a lot of them will seek places that have a mix of suburban and urban features. This is a great opportunity for Montgomery County. We've already got what it takes. All we have to do is go for it.

A side note: I couldn't have written this post if it wasn't for awesome alt-weekly newspapers like the endangered City Paper, which do local reporting justice in an era when it's often unprofitable to do so. Thanks, CP! I hope y'all stay afloat, for all of our sakes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

pedestrian bridge goes up at unither headquarters (updated)

Hoisting the Bridge (4)

Several dozen spectators gathered at Cameron and Spring streets in downtown Silver Spring yesterday to watch construction workers hoist a pedestrian skybridge into place at the headquarters of pharmaceutical company United Therapeutics. Friend of JUTP/freelance photographer Chip Py and I were there to capture the scene.

CEO Dr. Martine Rothblatt founded United Therapeutics in 1996 to find a cure for her daughter, who was suffering from pulmonary arterial hypertension, a disease that creates difficulty in breathing. The publicly-held company, which has over 500 employees, licenses, markets and will eventually produce three drugs that improve blood flow around the heart.

The bridge will connect two of the three buildings in UniTher's headquarters, which was designed by Schick Goldstein Architects of Chevy Chase and first opened in 2006. Altogether, the nearly-finished $32 million complex contains UniTher's corporate offices, research labs, and production facilities, along with several currently unoccupied retail spaces and two pocket parks.

Rendering of UniTher's completed headquarters courtesy of the Montgomery County Planning Department.

The steel-frame bridge was delivered on Tuesday to Cameron Street on the back of a flatbed truck. Construction workers I talked to said they were originally going to spend the past week attaching glass panels to the bridge before raising it, but decided against doing so because of the added weight.

At 11am Sunday morning, the crew began preparing to lift the bridge as a crowd of about 40 people formed on both sides of temporary barriers placed around the construction site. People brought their children, set up tables and chairs, and raised their cameras high, forming the dorkiest tailgate party ever. One Good Samaritan United Therapeutics provided coffee and donuts in the morning for spectators and construction workers alike; at lunchtime, they had several Papa John's pizzas delivered to the site. By 12:30pm, the bridge was in the air, slowly being raised into place by a crane.

Raising the bridge into place. Video by Chip Py.

Those lucky enough to have a higher perspective of the action took advantage. A small group of United Therapeutics employees gathered on the roof of their headquarters, while residents of the Cameron, a recently-built apartment building across the street, watched from their balconies.

Not everyone was excited about the construction. Cameron Street has been closed to through traffic since Tuesday, and residents driving in or out of the Cameron's parking garage grumbled as a police officer moved barriers and traffic cones aside to let them pass. The street was shut down entirely while the bridge was being hoisted into place, and one resident who couldn't leave the garage angrily confronted a construction worker.

Woman Arguing with Construction Worker
A woman living in the Cameron argues with a construction worker after learning she can't drive out of her building.

"It's Sunday, and people have to work!" she yelled. "This is unacceptable! Nobody told us it would be like this." A police officer intervened, trying to calm the woman down, but was persistent, demanding to have the name of everyone's supervisors as she walked back into her building.

Almost There
Almost there!

After an hour, the bridge was almost in place. A few construction workers in a cherry picker assisted the crane operator, giving him specific directions to shift the bridge over a few inches at a time. When the bridge is exactly where it has to be, the crew will fasten it to each building.

As I've written before, the UniTher headquarters is a great addition to downtown Silver Spring. The complex will not only save lives and provide jobs, but it offers retail space for local businesses and two well-crafted public spaces for everyone to enjoy. On top of all that, the buildings just look cool. Hopefully, this project will encourage other companies locating in Montgomery County to follow suit.

Check out this slideshow of the bridge being lifted into place. Also, click here to see Chip's photos.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

piratz tavern re-opens to full house (updated)

UPDATE: In the comments, Piratz Tavern waitress Poppet (who has served me several times over the past 3 years) offered her account of what really happened on Bar Rescue:

For the record. I am one of the tavern staff who has been there for over 4 years. I was involved in the whole bar rescue nightmare from begining to end. Bar Rescue provided NO TRAINING! That is a lie for tv. The only thing they did was remodel the space. Even that they did badly. Many of our service issues were due to previous empolees who are no longer with us. The rest of us are doing everything possible to improve tavern on our own
If you have not been for a while, or had a bad experiance in the past, please give us a try again. We have greatly improved due to a dedicated careing staff. These improvements are due to us and HAVE NOTHING TO DUE with Bar Rescue.

We're hearing from several sources that local bar Piratz Tavern is back in business after shutting down and being remodeled by reality TV show Bar Rescue two weeks ago.

Photo by Joshua Lynsen.

Yesterday afternoon, Twitter user Joshua Lynsen announced that the bar would reopen at 5pm and posted this photo of the logo for Corporate Bar and Grill, the bar's new name, adorned with a eye patch. A few hours later, he posted another photo of a packed bar, complete with servers dressed as pirates and wenches.

Chris Burroughs, another Twitter user, told us he went to Piratz and "had a great evening of grog and steak on a stone," while friend of JUTP Chip Py saw the bar open while leaving the Quarry House and took these photos of happy waitstaff and customers back in their element. "Piratz lives!" he texted me.

Corporate Bar and Grill's logo has an eye patch on it to signal the return of Piratz Tavern. Photo by Joshua Lynsen.

Piratz Tavern Back Patio
Piratz Tavern's back patio, seen from the parking garage across the street.

It looks like some but not all of the original pirate decor has returned. In the back patio, the cannons, hanged pirates and other decorations are gone, while the remaining tables, chairs and thatched-roof bar are piled together in a big mess. Looking down from the Bonifant-Dixon parking garage across the street, I could also see someone working, though I wasn't clear what he was doing.

I'm glad to see Piratz Tavern coming back. There are other factors that make it hard to open and run a bar in Silver Spring or anywhere in Montgomery County, but as many of our intrepid commenters point out, the best way to stay open is to have a good product. Piratz needed the help, and even if the owners decided not to keep the new look Bar Rescue host Jon Taffer gave the bar, they and their staff will benefit from the training and advice given by the show the added publicity of appearing on a reality TV show. [Scroll up to see our correction -ed.]

Hopefully, Piratz will be able to keep the grog flowing for a long time to come.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

remembering phantasmagoria

Phantasmagoria, Wheaton, Md. (1995)
Phantasmagoria in 1995. Photo from Adventures Under the Porcupine Tree.

I was very excited to stumble upon this photo of Phantasmagoria, a record store-turned-punk club on Elkin Street in Wheaton that operated during the 1990's long before The Fillmore came to East County. Back in 2010, guest blogger Dave Murphy wrote about his experiences growing up in Wheaton and going to Phantasmagoria as a high school student:

In 1996, Phantasmagoria moved to Elkin Street, next to one of my other favorite Wheaton venues, Legends Pool Hall. "Phantaz", as we called it, added a grill and a stage at their new venue, and all of the sudden Elkin Street boasted two hip venues. The tight streets and nighttime activity created a sort of feral urbanism, an area to walk around and feel natural despite the fact that I was trying to distract myself from the continuing decay of community and the arts in suburbia.

Both Phantaz and Legends were places shady enough to be considered cool, but safe enough that my mother would reluctantly approve of me spending Friday nights shooting billiards and going to punk shows. Both were independent businesses, and both were affordable enough for crews of lower-middle class outcasts to seek refuge. In Legends, you were most likely to see Central American or Southeast Asian immigrants on the billiards tables or service industry types at the bar; meanwhile, Phantasmagoria attracted every kind of punk, indie rocker, metalhead, ska fan, or geek rocker you can imagine.

I never got into any trouble there, save for coming home smelling like cigarettes (which I don't smoke now, and certainly wasn't then). Nonetheless, I felt welcome and at home in the shadows and back alleys of Wheaton, not in Wheaton Plaza or fast food joints where my more clean-cut classmates might be found bubbling around after school.

Phantasmagoria closed in 2001 and was subsequently replaced by the Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity, which "provides activities and services to the County's diverse community and functions as a central point of contact for residents to County and other community services." I was 13 at the time, a little too young to have been able to go to Phantasmagoria, though I remember seeing it when I was younger and being freaked out by the people who hung around outside. I wish I'd had a chance to hang out there.

A local music scene is one of the things that make our community great. Phantasmagoria may be gone, but I hope other venues like it will emerge to take its place.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

in defense of "green day" urbanism

People sometimes complain that "New Urbanist" or "town center" developments like Downtown Silver Spring are fake and sterile. But the way I see it, these projects are to urbanism as Green Day is to punk rock. They may not be "authentic," but if done well, they can get people to seek out the "real stuff" later on.

Green Day concert in Montreal
Green Day performing in Montréal. Photo from Jonathan Patenaude on Flickr with a Creative Commons license.

That's what happened to me. When I was thirteen, I became increasingly curious about the outside world but had no real means to explore it. Then two things happened that would change my life.

The first is that I got a copy of Green Day's International Superhits!. Between my parents, who listened to adult contemporary, and my friends who were getting into musical theatre, I was anxious to hear music I could actually relate to. And Green Day was pretty easy to find: on the radio, on television, and in the halls of Blake High School, on t-shirts and patches sewn to jean jackets.

Their songs were fast and catchy, though as a preacher's kid, I was initially horrified by the foul language. But I'd spent plenty of mindlessly dull afternoons like the ones Billie Joe Armstrong described in "Longview," and was relieved to know someone else felt the same way.

The second is that my friend had a birthday party at the Washingtonian Center, a "lifestyle center" in Gaithersburg that I'd never been to previously. Before that evening, walking felt like a punishment, something I did on those "Longview" afternoons when I didn't have a ride to any place more interesting. On those days, I'd walk 45 minutes to the shopping center closest to my parents' house, down streets with look-alike 1950's ranch houses and all while not seeing another person. It was boring, but slightly better than being at home.

Washingtonian Center Lake; The Kid In The Blue Wouldn't Stop Staring At Me
Washingtonian Center in 2006.

At the Washingtonian Center, walking suddenly became something fun. We could walk from the movies to an artificial lake, then look in store windows on our way to dinner. And we could do all of this while being around and looking at other people. Not only was it better than sitting at home alone, but it was more fun than going to the mall.

I didn't question Washingtonian Center's authenticity at first, perhaps because I couldn't yet tell the difference between it and a traditional downtown. But I definitely wondered why Green Day called themselves a "punk band," which didn't seem to describe a group who played stadiums. Punks, I imagined, were more likely found in places like Phantasmagoria, the grungy and now-closed punk club in Wheaton.

But both of these experiences served as a sort of gateway to more "legitimate" pursuits. It's because of Green Day that I made friends with similar taste in music who would later introduce me to "actual" punk bands like Fugazi or invite me to see their band play shows in punk houses. (The webcomic Nothing Nice to Say jokes that Green Day fans get into real punk out of embarrassment for liking Green Day.)

And it's because of Washingtonian Center that I began to explore downtown Silver Spring before it became a new "town center" in its own right, and taking Metro into the District to wander around there. I've always been interested in architecture, but it's trips to places like Washingtonian Center which got me excited in the spaces between the buildings, which is why I'm currently in school for urban planning.

Looking Back Towards Ellsworth
People may call downtown Silver Spring "fake," but it gets people excited about urban places.

Much as I wouldn't have gotten into real punk if I hadn't listened to Green Day, I wouldn't be so excited about walking down real city streets had I not walked down a fake city street first. So for that reason, I'm not bothered when a new development is compared to a small town or an Italian piazza. Some of these places are like the Good Charlotte of urbanism, unable to be even a good fake downtown.

But like a good punk song that can teach you to see yourself and your world differently, I'm convinced that a walk down a good urban street can do the same, whether it's in a city or a suburb, old or new.

For more on the topic of punk rock and New Urbanism, check out this post from Scott Doyon comparing the two.

Monday, March 5, 2012

guest blog: why maryland desperately needs a gas tax

Today's post comes from Scott Goldberg, Bethesda resident and former candidate for state delegate, on why Maryland needs a gas tax to pay for the state's pressing transportation needs. For more of Goldberg's thoughts on transportation from the Purple Line to energy independence, check out his 2010 interview with Greater Greater Washington.

And as always,
JUTP is looking for guest posts. If you've got something to say, feel free to e-mail me at justupthepike at gmail dot com.

Super Traffic

If you’ve been outside of your home in the last decade you know that our roads, buses and trains are at their breaking point. Whether it’s sitting in traffic on the beltway (DC or Baltimore, both work for our purposes) or watching a full Metro train pass you by, you know something needs to be done. This may come as a shock but the ICC hasn’t solved all of our transportation problems. Maybe it’s time to actually have an adult conversation and get serious before something crumbles and people die.

Let’s discuss the wonderful world of Maryland transportation. Maryland pays for transportation projects in a variety of ways. Sometimes we use bonds. The Maryland Transportation Authority sells bonds and uses GARVEE bonds (look it up). Sometimes we pay cash. The Maryland General Fund or Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) are huge sources of money. And if Uncle Sam is feeling generous, the federal treasury helps foot the bill too. It doesn’t hurt that Marylanders send 18.4 cents per gallon of gas straight down 16th Street to the Treasury Department.

I’d like to focus on the Transportation Trust Fund for the time being because size matters and the TTF is the biggest source of revenue.

What is the Transportation Trust Fund? It is a “dedicated” fund started in 1971 that finances the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT). The TTF gets its money from the gas tax, excise taxes, motor vehicle fees (registrations, licenses and other fees), federal aid, corporate income taxes, operating revenues (e.g., transit fares, port fees, airport fees), and bond proceeds. MDOT uses the money to maintain and operate roads, bridges, trains, airports, sea ports, and buses. Pretty straightforward.

So why does the TTF need additional revenues? Easy. Two main reasons: 1) the fund’s primary source of revenue, the gas tax, is the same as it was in 1992, 23.5 cents, and 2) since 2003, the state stopped giving counties and localities their portion of the funds and paid other bills with the money instead. Reason 2 has been characterized as transfers, reallocations, adjustments, raiding or even stealing. At the end of the day, our government took about $1 billion it was supposed to spend on roads, bridges and trains, and spent it on other stuff. Oops.

Fast forward to right now and we’ve got more people to move around and less trains, buses and roads to do it. Oh, and our bank account is running pretty low. Enter the gas tax. Last fiscal year the gas tax brought in $746 million. Governor O’Malley proposed the proposal of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding that nets the most amount of money which would be to apply the 6% sales tax to the retail price of fuel. That brings us about $600 million. It’ll cost someone who drives a lot about $150 per year and will probably save them more than that in wear and tear. It pays all the back money we owe to the counties and Baltimore City in a year and a half and gives us the spending power to not only make sure bridges don’t collapse, but construct a modern transportation system.

It is big, it is bold, it is decisive, it could bring Maryland back into the game with the proverbial “one swing of the bat.” You should absolutely not support it . . . yet.

Imagine walking into a restaurant and the host asks you to pay $25 per person. The catch is that there is no guarantee that you’ll be seated, get food or be allowed to stay. That’s what Governor O’Malley is asking you with the gas tax. He is asking you to pay more but not assuring you that the money will go directly towards transportation projects or would ever be spent on infrastructure. The Blue Ribbon Commission nailed it on the head in their first recommendation to restore trust to the Trust Fund: enact laws that prevent money from being taken out of the TTF for non-transportation reasons ever again.

If he can guarantee that, let’s go back to the restaurant analogy and ask to see the menu. Can we have the Purple Line and Rapid Transit Vehicles in Montgomery County, Red Line in Baltimore, Corridor Cities Transitway to Frederick, smarter traffic lights, bike lanes, and an easier trip to Ocean City for dessert? After a meal like that, I would be ready to pay the bill.

We should make our Governor make the case of why we need to pay more at the pump. Marylanders need to know what transit projects are going to be engineered and built, which roads will be paved, and where train tracks are going to be laid. We’re being asked to take money from our bank account and put it in Maryland’s bank account and that’s OK. I just want to make sure that my money and your money will result in all of us spending less time getting to and from work and more time with our families or if you don’t like your family, somewhere else you enjoy being.

When our Governor speaks up and tells us why we need to pay more, what we’ll specifically be paying for and how much it will cost us, then we should support him because by supporting his plan, we’ll really be helping ourselves.

Scott Goldberg

Friday, March 2, 2012

what's up the pike: not enough cake for wheaton?

Wheaton Cake
I feel guilty just throwing together a links post, particularly one of links about me. But this has been a trying few months - since January, I've gotten sick twice, my computer's hard drive failed, I just finished mid-terms and tonight, just so God can prove He still exists, my wireless router died. And tomorrow I'm going out of town for a week for a school trip. So, you know, I think a links post is warranted now.


- I'm really proud to be from Maryland after yesterday, and I hope it all doesn't come undone in November.

- I think County Executive Ike Leggett is doing a spectacular job trying to pit Wheaton and Bethesda against each other over what is admittedly a limited pool of county funds. And I generally agree with East County resident Cavan Wilk, who argues that we can give Bethesda a new Metro station entrance AND provide funds for redeveloping Wheaton, provided our priorities are in order. Hopefully, our county councilmembers feel the same way.

I was particularly intrigued by this post from Bethesda resident Robert Dyer, who says Wheaton is "doing just fine" and, thus, doesn't need any government help at all:

With pressing needs addressed, Wheaton is doing just fine. Visit sometime, and you'll find that - by golly - they do have good restaurants. Some of the best chicken can be ordered in Wheaton, and many critics have said the best dim sum is at Wheaton Plaza's Hollywood East Cafe.

Change will come to Wheaton, but let the market bring it, parcel by parcel.

Dyer might be correct. After all, developer JBG just got approval to build 1,500 new homes and 90,000 square feet of retail (that's about 1.5 times the size of a Giant supermarket) in Glenmont with no public funding, notes the Gazette. How can this happen when Ike Leggett insists we have to pay people to develop in Wheaton, which would arguably be a more attractive place to live/work/shop and, thus, a more profitable area to build? Or is it just a matter of reducing barriers that have prevented development from occuring there in the past?

If Montgomery County can find $40 million to spend on Wheaton, I'm all for it. But I'm not convinced they're going to the right place.

- My post about Takoma Park progressives impeding actual progress has gotten a lot of attention. The city administration wasn't too happy about it. I heard from a few city officials, including Councilmembers Seth Grimes and Tim Male, who wrote a whole post on GGW outlining "progressive" things the City of Takoma Park supports, like the Takoma-Langley Crossroads Sector Plan the MoCo Planning Department is working on, and The New Ave, which I've written about (and positively!) several times in recent years.

Meanwhile, Forbes contributor Josh Barro wrote a whole article about the topic, comparing NIMBY homeowners to an oil cartel:

Takoma’s residents oppose developments that should align with their ideological views because opposition to development is not about ideology at all. Instead, it is a matter of economic self-interest. Incumbent homeowners get together like a cartel and use their political power to prevent the creation of new housing units. This makes housing units more scarce and more expensive, enriching those who already own them. Your local block association might seem friendly, but its members are really no better than OPEC.

Let's be clear: I don't think Takoma Park residents, city employees, or elected officials bear any resemblance to OPEC. I don't want to cause any more trouble than I've already started.

Homes Look Like They Belong in Kentlands

Is this Kentlands? No, this is Poplar Run, the big new planned community going up at the former Indian Spring Country Club in Layhill. I need to write about this one day, now that I've been there.