Thursday, October 27, 2011

Helping Neighbors in Need Celebrate the Holidays

There is no better way to share in the holiday spirit than to help make the holidays better for our neighbors in need. For more than 30 years, the Holiday Giving Project of Montgomery County has helped low-income residents celebrate Thanksgiving and the December holidays. A coalition of non-profit agencies, local governments and faith groups collect and distribute donations those in need. To find out how you can help, visit A Wider Circle, the Holiday Giving Project’s coordinating agency.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Montgomery Business Development Corporation Delivers Report

The Montgomery Business Development Corporation (MBDC) delivered its first year’s report, saying the County must work to encourage the growth of for-profit businesses, advocate for increased transportation options and work collaboratively with educational institutions to develop needed workforce. In delivering its report, the corporation, whose board includes members of some of the County’s most prominent businesses and representatives of businesses of all sizes, pledged to work with us to achieve those goals.

I introduced the legislation which formed the MBDC last year and established the overall goal to promote practices that will help sustain current businesses and encourage new businesses to relocate to the County. From its origin, the MBDC has sought to engage executive level business leaders to establish a vision for the County’s long-term economic future; to develop and articulate strategies to achieve that vision; to advocate for strategic changes in practices and policies; and to set performance metrics and report on their achievement.

We are currently in an economic era unprecedented in our lifetimes, so we are grateful that key people in some of the County’s most significant business enterprises have volunteered to serve on this corporation, with the singular goal of helping Montgomery County remain as one of the nation’s economic engines. We have asked the MBDC how we can better send out the word that we are open for business, and now they have delivered the outline of a plan that can help do that.

MBDC board members who presented the report to the Council included Brian Gragnolati, president and CEO of Suburban Hospital (and chair of the MBDC board of directors); Robert Brewer, principal, Lerch, Early & Brewer Chartered; Deborah Marriott Harrison, senior vice president for government affairs of Marriott International; Brett McMahon, vice president of business development, Miller & Long; Mathew Mohebbi, vice president/general manager of Mobile Satellite, Hughes Network Systems; Susan Nemes, president and CEO, Social Solutions International, Inc.; and Lawrence Shulman, president, Shulman Rogers.

Other members of the board include Bryant Foulger of Foulger-Pratt; Douglas Liu of Qiagen Sciences, Inc.; Ron Paul of Eaglebank; and Daisy Wallace of Computer Technology Services, Inc. Ex officio members of the board are DeRionne Pollard, president of Montgomery College; Steve Silverman, director of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development; Rollin Stanley, planning director of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission; and Joshua Starr, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Town Hall Meeting in Wheaton/Northern Silver Spring

Let us know what matters most to you at our Town Hall Meeting for the Wheaton/Northern Silver Spring area on Wednesday, November 2, at Mario Loiederman Middle School (12701 Goodhill Road in Silver Spring) beginning at 8 p.m. with a pre-meeting reception at 7:30. You can voice your opinions on specific issues and ask questions of us in an organized, but informal, setting. I hope to see you there.

The meeting will be taped for later broadcast on County Cable Montgomery (CCM—cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon). For more information about the Town Hall Meeting or about the broadcast times, call 240-777-7931.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New Zoning Means Montgomery is Open for Business

Check out my opinion piece which appeared in today's edition of The Gazette. I have reprinted it here for your convenience:

We have a new tool for economic development, and it comes from a place you wouldn’t suspect — the zoning code. In this case, changes to the zoning code represent modern and innovative action that helps the private sector create jobs and commerce right here in our communities. The new tool is what we call the commercial/residential, or CR, zones.

After months of study, the Montgomery County Council made bold changes to a complicated and sometimes inconsistent zoning code that has been characterized as unfriendly to both businesses and communities.

The new family of CR zones can strip away much of the red tape that has hindered business, particularly small business, for decades. By allowing a hodgepodge of commercial zones to be replaced with three flexible CR zones, we’re making our standards clearer, more predictable and ultimately more accessible to those who can create jobs and housing.

The CR zones do away with the traditional approach of land use planning by specific uses, such as commercial or hotel, and replace it with zones that allow commercial and residential uses to coexist in the same street or block. The zones strictly regulate the height and density of buildings, thereby creating attractive communities where people can pick up a pair of shoes, grab a bite to eat and catch a movie on their way home from work, all without getting in a car.

Some people have expressed fears that skyscrapers will go up right next door to their single-family homes. That couldn’t be further from the truth. CR zones provide incentives for business to develop in ways that benefit neighborhoods and focus density near transit. They are designed to create interactive streetscapes where people can live, work, shop and play all within one neighborhood. It is important to note that the zones will place absolute limits on the allowable total density and building height.

The original CR zone already has been applied to the White Flint Sector Plan, which centers on the White Flint Metro station and which the council adopted in 2010. That ambitious and complex plan soon will transform the White Flint area along Rockville Pike into an exciting destination where strip malls are replaced by housing, stores and restaurants located together. Now the CR zones, which include lower-density provisions for towns and neighborhoods, are ready for other locations to be determined through our master planning process.

My hat is off to the Planning Board, planning staff, community activists, council staff, the council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee and all who participated in creating the family of CR zones. This new tool is an action statement to the business community that Montgomery County’s doors are indeed open for business, while at the same time serving as a commitment to residents and communities.

Nancy Floreen, Garrett Park

The writer is chairwoman of the Montgomery County Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Proclamation Honoring Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Montgomery County is fortunate to have many partners across various disciplines that raise awareness about the importance of early detection of breast cancer as well as provide services to those who have been diagnosed with the disease. Today it was my privilege to recognize a few of them with a proclamation on behalf of the Council.

One of the recipients was the County’s own Women’s Cancer Control Program which provides breast and cervical cancer screening to low-income women. Also receiving proclamations were that programs partners, Adventist HealthCare, Holy Cross Hospital and Suburban Hospital (see my October 6 post about Key to the Cure).

We also recognized the Montgomery County firefighters and their union for the pink shirt campaign which allows firefighters to wear pink t-shirts emblazoned with “Fighting for a Cure.” throughout the month as an optional part of their regular uniform. Included among the firefighters was Marshall Moneymaker who lost three sisters to breast cancer and now dedicates much of his time to raising awareness and money for organizations fighting the disease. He is known for wearing all pink, including the pink turn-out gear he received from fellow firefighters.

More than 600 Montgomery County women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Although Montgomery County has the highest incidence of breast cancer in the state, it also has the lowest mortality rate. That’s due in part to the fact that approximately 2,500 uninsured women receive free mammograms in Montgomery County.

Have you had your mammogram this year?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Unveiling New Agricultural Reserve Sign

Montgomery County’s efforts to protect more than 93,000 acres of farmland and woodland will be better known after this Saturday’s formal unveiling of a new sign telling drivers that they are in the County’s Agricultural Reserve area.

I, along with Phil Andrews, Ike Leggett and representatives of the Agricultural Services Division of the County’s Department of Economic Development, will celebrate the unveiling with the Greater Goshen Civic Association, which used its own funds to purchase and install the sign. It will be the sixth sign in the County that declares “Welcome to the Agricultural Reserve.”

The sign to be unveiled at 1:00 is located at the intersection of Brink Road and Wightman Road, at the northern end of Montgomery Village. Parking is available nearby and the Greater Goshen Civic Association will be hosting a picnic immediately afterward for all those who attend.

The Agriculture Reserve was established in 1980 by the Preservation of Agriculture and Rural Open Space Functional Master Plan. The plan seeks to protect about 93,000 of the County’s 316,000 acres for farming and horticultural use. Montgomery currently has about 570 farms and 350 horticultural enterprises.

Intern's Thoughts on Youth Town Hall

My intern, Seth Ross, who is a senior at Churchill High School, attended this week’s Youth Town Hall, so I asked him for his thoughts on the evening. Here is what Seth has to say:

At first glance, you might think the Youth Town Hall meeting this week was a full work session devoted to the teen curfew. However, teens filled the hearing room to capacity and asked many questions pertaining to their own education and the county’s mystifying budget.

Right off the bat, the first question was about the curfew. The question included a fair amount of research about constitutional rights that the student believed would be infringed upon if the proposed curfew bill were to be passed. Quick to respond was Councilmember Berliner who made it very clear that the Council did not propose this bill, and that is was being reviewed as a favor to the County Executive. Things began to heat up when a teenager raised the notion that some of the Councilmembers may just be passing the curfew to gain votes in the next election. I believe this is a possible tactic the Councilmembers are using to appeal to voters who live in areas with higher crime rates. Councilmember Andrews was the only Councilmember to be upfront and direct with his opposition to the curfew. I thought he was spot on when he explained that crime is not being committed by youth 22 and under during curfew hours and that youth crime in general is declining. Why is it necessary to impose a curfew when youth crime is going down?

While there were many teens opposed to the curfew, many others came to question the Council’s budget regarding MCPS. Councilmember Floreen got right to the point in clarifying that the Council gives approximately half of the $4.4 billion budget to MCPS. At first, what most students did not seem to grasp is that the roughly $2 billion for education is directly handed to the School Board. From there, the School Board is in charge of doing what they see fit with the money. It seems like neither teens nor adults can really understand our County’s budget!

Council Approves Commercial/Residential Zones

After months of work, we approved Zoning Test Amendment 11-01 that adds changes to the County’s Commercial/Residential Zone (CR Zone) and will greatly influence the scope of future development near Metro stations. The changes will encourage more urbanized, mixed-use development in those areas, allowing neighborhoods to evolve with retail, restaurants, services, entertainment, offices and near public transportation.

The Planning Board proposed ZTA 11-01. In our reviews, we made significant changes in the ZTA. Our revisions better protect communities by limiting land uses in CR Neighborhood zones, increase respect for master plans by implementing them through site plans, add increased incentives for affordable housing and create more certainty for communities and developers by clarifying the sketch plan process.

The ZTA provides incentives for developers to build near Metro stations. Current Commercial/Residential Zones allow for buildings in some circumstances to be between 16 and 27 stories high. To get permission to build, developers must meet specific criteria, which award “points.” Developments closer to Metro stations qualify for more points than those further from the stations. The new regulations clarify the criteria to get points, while also adding more options for developers to add points. For example, making buildings more environmentally friendly would earn additional points.

By this week’s adopting of two additional series of zones with lower building heights and density than allowed by current mixed-used zones, the Council will have more flexibility to respond to the competing demands of commercial and residential property owners reflected in master plans.

Future development will be required to get site plan approval to a greater extent than current standards, providing increased opportunities for the involvement of neighbors.

Those developing under the new zoning will be able to choose from a longer list of land uses. Dense development will still be required to provide public benefits, but development in the new zones will have to provide fewer public benefits than currently required on higher density mixed-use development.

The Commercial/Residential Neighborhood (CRN) and Commercial/Residential Town (CRT) zones were developed for areas where there are smaller properties, lower densities and more challenging economic conditions than where the Commercial/ Residential (CR) zones apply.

The new zones are structured like the current CR zones. The total floor area ratio (FAR), the residential FAR, the non-residential FAR and the maximum building height are identified with each zone.

One zoning series will apply to areas where existing commercial zones are located next to single-family residential neighborhoods. Another zoning series will apply to areas where requiring too many public benefits might impede redevelopment.

The allowed land uses and development standards vary with each zone. The CR Neighborhood zones would have the most limited land uses of the three commercial/residential zones.

Optional method development—where developers are often granted permission to build higher structures than would be permitted under regular zoning in exchange for providing certain public benefits—would not be allowed in CR Neighborhood zones.

The CR Zones will apply in some aspects to the future stops along the planned Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway, depending upon provisions of master plans for those areas.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Apply Now to Merit System Protection Board

We’re taking applications for appointment to a three-year term on the Merit System Protection Board. Generally, the board is expected to oversee the Merit System and to protect employee and applicant rights guaranteed under the County Merit System. Get your application in by November 9.

By law, no more than two of the three members of the Merit System Protection Board may be of the same political party. The appointee to this term may be a Republican or someone who declines to affiliate with a party. In addition, the appointee may be a member of another party officially recognized by the Board of Elections.

The County Merit System Protection Board's mission is to oversee the Merit System for the protection of employee's and applicant's rights guaranteed under the Merit System. There are two methods in which the board processes appeals:
• A written decision issued after a review and discussion of a written record
• A written decision issued after a pre-hearing conference and a formal hearing in cases involving a suspension, demotion or dismissal

The board holds hearings during the day, which can take the full day, with any additional proceedings scheduled for subsequent evening(s). Also, the board normally meets for approximately an hour in the evening once or twice every month. Additional time is also required for preparatory work. Members of the board receive $7,467 per year, which is adjusted annually to reflect 50 percent of the percentage change in the Washington Area Consumer Price Index.

Board members are restricted in political activity while serving. Section 403 of the County Charter states in part "... No member shall hold political office or participate in any campaign for any political or public office during the member's term of office." Members of County boards, committees and commissions may not serve on more than one such group at a time.

Letters of application are made public as part of the appointment process. Letters expressing interest, including a resume listing professional and civic experience, should be addressed to: Council President Valerie Ervin, Montgomery County Council, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850.

For more information on the Merit System Protection Board appointment, call 240-777-7979.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bring Donations for Wounded Soldiers to Council Building

Employees here at the Council are going to celebrate the County’s 25th Annual Community Service Day with a weeklong event that also recognizes the County’s newest residents: the U.S. military’s injured personnel who are now receiving treatment at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that has been relocated to its new campus in Bethesda.

Although the Military Medical Center is well-recognized for the superior treatment it offers military personnel suffering severe injuries in conflict worldwide, there are items that the wounded soldiers need, but the items are not provided to them. From Monday, Oct. 17, through Friday, Oct. 21, County Council employees will collect items that the American Red Cross—which has a unit that works with the Military Medical Center—has recommended are in need by injured soldiers and veterans at the facility.

Council employees invite you join in the drive.

The items sought for the drive include:

New and unused plain cotton t-shirts and athletic shorts (sizes small through extra large in colors black, gray, charcoal gray and navy)
Calling Cards and Gift cards (including those specifically for Subway and Dunkin Donuts, which have commercial outlets on the Walter Reed campus)
Men's running/trail/walking shoes (sizes 9-12 including half sizes)
DVD's, XBOX 360 and Wii games
Non-perishable snacks or bottled water
Toiletries (including razors, toothbrushes, deodorant, etc.)
Monetary donations for use by the Walter Reed program (must be in the form of checks made out to "American Red Cross" with the specific notation "Walter Reed/Bethesda Hospital")

If you want to contribute to the drive, bring items to the 6th Floor reception desk of the County Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville, Md. 20850.

For more information about the drive for items for injured warriors, call 240-777-7923.

The items will be donated to a representative of the American Red Cross chapter that works with the Walter Reed program on Friday afternoon, Oct. 21.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Join Me to Benefit Women's Cancer Programs

Join me on October 20 for the regional kick-off party for the Key to the Cure. Suburban Hospital and Saks Fifth Avenue Chevy Chase will host the event marking the start of a national three-day shopping event designed to raise funds for cancer research and treatment. I'm proud to be the honorary chair and an honoree at this festive event which will feature the latest styles and fashion trends, culinary samplings from 20 of the area's top restaurants, specialty cocktails, entertainment and the Key to the Treasure raffle box, all for the benefit of women's cancer programs at Suburban Hospital. In addition to the direct proceeds from the October 20th event, two percent of retail sales generated through the weekend (October 21-23) will be donated to the Suburban Hospital Cancer Care Program. Over the past decade, this event has raised more than $900,000 to help serve women in the Montgomery County/DC community. This year, Suburban Hospital and Saks Chevy Chase expect to surpass the $1 million mark.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Reading at Snapshot Day

I had a great time reading to Beall Elementary School kindergarten students today at the Rockville Library as a part of Snapshot Day. The event is designed to demonstrate--through words and photos--how local residents love and use their libraries and underscore the value and importance of libraries in communities. We joined libraries across the state in the initiative.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Montgomery County Open on Columbus Day

Remember, Montgomery County government and Montgomery County Public Schools do not observe Columbus Day on October 10 as an official County holiday. Most Montgomery County services will operate, and facilities will be open on that day. Because the State of Maryland and the Federal Government do observe the holiday, state and federal offices and courts in Montgomery County will be closed.

Also remember to pay parking fees at Montgomery County-owned public garages, lots and curbside meters. Among the services that will operate on normal, Monday, weekday schedules are Ride On; refuse/recycling pickups; and County liquor stores.