Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What's In and What's Out for 2012

IN -- Business: The Montgomery Business Development Corporation, which is made up of key people from some of the County's most significant business enterprises, delivered its first report to the Council in October and is poised to offer us meaningful advice on how we can better send out the word that we are open for business. 

OUT -- Red Tape: The new family of commercial/residential (CR) zones strip away much of the red tape that has hindered business for decades. Old zones are replaced by clearer, more predictable and more accessible standards. CR zones encourage 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.

IN -- Wheaton: The new Wheaton Sector Plan establishes a vision for future private sector redevelopment of this vibrant and diverse community. We rezoned large portions of the area to encourage mixed use development, including retail, office and residential, while protecting surrounding residential neighborhoods.

OUT -- Disposable Bags: Although I thought there were better ways to approach environmental protection, the Council approved a five-cent charge on paper and plastic bags which will take effect January 1, so bring your reusable bag.

IN -- The ICC: You can now drive from Sam Eig Highway in Gaithersburg all the way to I-95 in Prince George's County on the Intercounty Connector. BWI Airport, here I come.

OUT -- Maintenance of Effort: After years of doing more than required under the State's Maintenance of Effort law for school funding, we decided not to meet the requirement in 2011, deciding instead that we must create a stable, sustainable future for our schools and all County agencies.

IN -- Collaboration: At the urging of Councilmember Hans Riemer and me, Montgomery County and the District of Columbia will explore the possibility of extending the District's planned streetcar system to the Silver Spring Metro Station/Transit Center.

OUT -- Power Failures: Montgomery County has been aggressive in pursuing better reliability from Pepco after learning that that the power company's service ranked in the lowest quartile nationwide. Improvements, including tree trimming, are underway.

IN -- Clarksburg Grocery Store: We approved a limited amendment to the Clarksburg Master Plan that could lead to quicker establishment of a grocery store in Clarksburg, easing longstanding frustration among residents there.

OUT -- Curfew: The Council tabled a bill which would have imposed a curfew on minors. Although this means in effect that the bill does not pass, I would have preferred to take an up or down vote. Unless we decide to reconsider the bill, there will be no curfew.

IN -- Higher Property Values: While housing prices nationwide fell to their lowest level since 2002, median home values in Montgomery County rose 5 percent from $460,000 in 2009 to $483,000 in 2010.

OUT -- Empty Nests: More of Montgomery County's young adults are living with their parents. According to Census data, the number of adult children living at home grew 36 percent in the last decade.

IN -- Marriage Equality: We passed a Resolution in support of Maryland's Religious Freedom and Civil Protection Act, which would have allowed same-sex couples in Maryland to marry. Although the measure failed in 2011, there is reason for optimism in the new year.

IN -- Economic Recovery: The forecast of County revenues is up $79.2 million in FY12 and $36.4 million in FY13. We aren't out of the woods, but this modest improvement is encouraging.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

County Will Vigorously Contest Pepco's Request for Rate Increase

The County will vigorously contest Pepco's recent request for a $68 million rate increase.

County Executive Ike Leggett and Council President Roger Berliner said in a joint statement that Pepco's request is "not a nice holiday gift, but more like coal in our County's holiday stocking.”

They went on to say the following:

“Based on our initial review of the 1,000-page filing, we have concluded that the rate request is flawed in many respects, including these three major issues:

• While pitched as only a 4 percent increase, this is spin, not reality. In truth, Pepco's request, when considering only its distribution costs, may be more than double that amount.
• Pepco seeks full recovery of all forecasted reliability related expenditures. The County's position is that shareholders should bear a portion of actual expenditures to increase reliability given Pepco's imprudence in the past.
• Pepco is seeking an increase in its allowed rate of return. The County's position is that Pepco's rate of return should be reduced, not increased."

The County Executive and Council President said that a number of these issues have been awaiting decision since August by the Maryland Public Service Commission in its investigation of Pepco's reliability. The investigation was initiated by the Commission at the request of the County Council.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

NOAA Renews Lease in Montgomery

From our Department of Economic Development:

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), last week signed a 15-year lease renewal for more than one million square feet of Foulger-Pratt Companies-owned office space in Silver Spring - keeping more than 4,000 well-paying jobs in Montgomery County.

With more than 8.3 million square feet of federally-leased space in the County, our Department understands that working with GSA, federal agency leadership and the development community is critical to ensuring we continue to facilitate the retention and growth of the federal sector in Montgomery County, as it remains a steady contributor to our local economic and job base.

NOAA’s lease renewal comes on the heels of other positive federal activity in the County over the past 18 months including: the Department of Health and Human Services’ lease renewal for 932,391 square feet to house 3,000 employees at the Parklawn office complex in Twinbrook; the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' (NIAIDs') 15-year lease on a new 490,998 square foot Class A office building in Twinbrook to house 2,000 employees; and a new $200 million satellite campus at the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center for 2,100 employees of the National Cancer Institute. This activity helps us end 2011 on a high note and we look forward to working hard in 2012 and beyond to ensure continued success.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Schedule for Christmas and New Year's

We will observe the following holiday schedule for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays:

~County Offices – closed on Monday, December 26 and Monday, January 2

~Libraries – closed December 24, 25, 26 and 31 and January 1 and 2

~County liquor stores – all stores closed on December 25 and 26 and January 1 and 2; On December 24 and 31, all stores will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

~Ride On – Sunday schedule on December 26 and January 2 (regular weekend service except Christmas Eve, December 24, service ends early with last trips departing terminals around 10 p.m.)

~TRiPS Commuter Stores (Silver Spring and Friendship Heights) – closed on December 26 and January 2

~Refuse/recycling pickup – regular collection on December 26 and January 2

~Transfer Station – open on Monday, December 26 and Monday, January 2. Closed on December 25 and January 1.

~Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters – free on December 26 and January 2
~MCPS Administrative Offices – closed on Monday, December 26 and Monday, January 2

~State offices & courts – closed on Monday, December 26 and Monday, January 2

Monday, December 12, 2011

Montgomery Will Meet with DC on Streetcar Possibilities

County Executive Ike Leggett advised Councilmember Hans Riemer and me that the Department of Transportation will work with the District of Columbia to explore the possibility of expanding the District’s proposed streetcar system to Silver Spring. This is in response to the request we sent on November 16. Here is the full text of the letter:

December 9, 2011

To: Nancy Floreen, Councilmember
Hans Riemer, Councilmember
Montgomery County Council

From: Isiah Leggett, County Executive

Subject: District of Columbia (DC) Transit Future System Plan

Thank you for your memorandum dated November 16, 2011, concerning coordination between the Departments of Transportation from the DC and Montgomery County for possible modifications to the “DC’s Transit Future System Plan”. I have asked Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) Director, Arthur Holmes, Jr., to follow up with his counterpart at the DC Department of Transportation to initiate the process by setting up a meeting the explore the possibility of a rerouting of the Takoma Metrorail Corridor to have its end of the line station at the Silver Spring Metro Rail Station.

MCDOT’s Director will coordinate the first meeting and will invite representatives of the agencies suggested in your memorandum to the meeting. Thank you for your interest in the promotion of transit alternatives and coordination between the two governmental bodies and appropriate transit agencies in the area.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bethesda Parking Lot 31 to Close

Beginning in mid-January, two surface parking lots in Bethesda (known as Lots 31 and 31A), located at the intersection of Woodmont and Bethesda Avenues, will close for about 30 months for the construction of a public-private partnership project that will more than triple the number of public parking spaces available on the site. One to two months after the project begins, Woodmont Avenue between Bethesda Avenue and Leland Street will also close for about 20 months. The adjacent Capital Crescent Trail will remain open during the entire construction project.

In the interim, you can park at the Bethesda-Elm Parking Garage (Garage 57), which has more than 900 parking spaces and is located between Bethesda Avenue and Elm Street. If you need to park for a longer time, you can use the Woodmont Corner Garage (Garage 11), at Woodmont and Old Georgetown Road, and the Auburn-Del Ray Garage (Garage 36), as well as at privately operated parking facilities surrounding Lot 31. Also remember the free Bethesda Circulator shuttle bus. Starting in December, and throughout the construction period, the Circulator schedule will expand, and the frequency of service will increase.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Council Elects New Leadership

Congratulations to Councilmember Roger Berliner who we elected unanimously as our new Council president. Roger, who is also chair of the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, has demonstrated himself to be a dedicated and effective public servant, and I’m sure he will make a great president this year. Roger said today that we have every reason to be confident about the future, and I agree.

We also elected Nancy Navarro to serve as our vice president. Nancy has proved her mettle as the chair of the Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee, and I look forward to her leadership. Roger and Nancy will serve one-year terms as officers. Congratulations to both!