Thursday, October 30, 2014

Zoning Code Enters the 21st Century

Confused about zoning in Montgomery County? You’re not alone. Up until now, only a select few understood the nuances of our 1,200-page zoning ordinance. But now, thanks to the newly overhauled code, zoning information in Montgomery County will be clearer, more accessible and available online. That means residents will be able to participate more effectively in key land use decisions and that small businesses will be able to locate and expand in the county without having to untangle a complicated web of archaic rules. The updated version took effect today.

The new code encourages community engagement. Who has time to sift through ten pounds of paper to find the relevant footnote? An exclusive club of land use attorneys, maybe, but certainly not the average resident. Soon, everyone will be able to access comprehensive information about every property in the county as the new code becomes available in an interactive, online format. Add to this the soon-to-be-launched electronic plans, which will allow residents to access project plans with the click of a mouse, and the mysteries unravel almost entirely.

The County Council, Planning Board and staff at both agencies spent about five years reviewing and streamlining more than 400 land use categories and 123 zones that were originally established in 1977 and augmented piecemeal over the following decades. The new zoning code does away with the traditional approach of land use planning by specific use and employs more flexible zones designed to spur economic development in our communities.

Some folks have expressed concerns that the new code will lead to more development, but I say the new code will lead to better development. With more predictability in the system, businesses will be able to act more nimbly and be more responsive to community concerns. That’s good news in a county that has long been criticized for failing to support job creation.

The modernized zoning code does not change our fundamental commitment to the master plan process. It just simplifies and clarifies the rules for achieving these plans, which increasingly focus development near transit and encourage urban hubs there while preserving agricultural lands and existing communities.

In Montgomery County we are always striving toward efficiency, transparency and openness. The new zoning code goes a long way toward achieving all these goals. What’s more, it fosters innovation, small business and community involvement. I’d call that a win all the way around.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Phyllis Campbell Newsome Award

I’m honored to be selected by the Center for Nonprofit Advancement for the Phyllis Campbell Newsome Public Policy Leadership Award. Not only am I pleased to be recognized by such a venerable organization as the Center for Nonprofit Advancement, but I’m also proud to be associated with our many outstanding nonprofits that make Montgomery County such a great place to live, work, and raise a family. Most of all, I’m humbled to receive an award that honors my friend and outstanding activist, Phyllis Campbell Newsome. She enriched countless lives in Montgomery County and throughout the region, and she inspired so many of us to try to make our community a better place.

The Phyllis Campbell Newsome Public Policy Leadership Award recognizes the work of elected and non-elected officials who work to build a stronger nonprofit sector and a more vibrant community. Each year the Center recognizes four public officials for the award, one for each of the jurisdictions it supports. I will receive the Montgomery County award, and awards also will be given to honorees from the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia and Prince George’s County.

The Center for Nonprofit Advancement is celebrating its 35th year of service. Its mission is to strengthen, promote and represent nonprofit organizations in the metropolitan Washington area in order to help them better meet the diverse needs of their communities. The Center for Nonprofit Advancement, founded in 1979 and originally called the Washington Council of Agencies, currently serves nearly 1,000 organizational members.

The Phyllis Campbell Newsome Public Policy Leadership Award was named in honor of the Center for Nonprofit Advancement’s former director of advocacy and community relations after her untimely passing in 2002 at age 40.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Apply Now for Two Task Forces on Procurement Process

Apply now for positions on two recently established task forces to study potential reforms of the County procurement system. The task forces the Council established are the Minority Owned and Local Small Business Task Force and the Procurement Policies and Regulations Task Force.

Get your letter and resume in by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, December 3 and make sure you indicate which task force you are interested in or whether you would be willing to serve on either one.

Each task force will consist of nine members (at least seven on each must be County residents) appointed by the Council. The Council will designate one member of each group as its respective chair. The task forces must solicit suggestions for potential reforms of the County procurement system from elected officials, County residents, business and community leaders, County and agency employees and other stakeholders.

The task forces must submit final reports to the County Council by September 15, 2015.

The Minority Owned and Local Small Business Task Force was established to provide options for reform of the County programs for minority owned businesses and local, small businesses to ensure that the procurement process is open to all vendors without regard to race, gender, national origin, disability or size of organization. The County’s Minority/Female/Disabled and Local Small Business Reserve programs are designed to eliminate the effects of discrimination in the marketplace on the award of County procurement contracts.

The Procurement Policies and Regulations Task Force was established to provide options for the reform of the County procurement system.  Simplifying the procurement process would increase the number of vendors who seek to do business with the County, resulting in better value and lower prices.

The task forces will be composed of members who are experienced in government, business or non-profit service delivery, or who otherwise have experience and expertise in government contracting. A person appointed to the task forces must not be employed by County government or any County-funded agency.

Letters of application expressing interest, including a resume listing professional and civic experience, should be addressed to: Council President Craig Rice, County Council Office, Stella B. Werner Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Maryland 20850.  Applications can also be submitted via email to

Applications must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Wednesday, December 3.  Letters of application and resumes are made public as part of the appointment process and are available for public review. After the closing date, the Council will review the applications and resumes for designation to the task forces.  The Council anticipates making the appointments by January 20.

New Zoning Code Takes Effect Thursday

On the day before Halloween we will say "rest in peace" to the old zoning code. Council President Craig Rice, Councilmember Cherri Branson and I will join with County Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, Planning Board members and staff at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday at a park next to Park and Planning Headquarters in Silver Spring for ceremonies to “bury” the County’s Zoning Ordinance that was originally established in 1977. Earlier this year, we approved the first major revision to the ordinance in 37 years. The new regulations go into effect on October 30.

After we bury a copy of the hefty original zoning ordinance in Royce Hanson Park, we will unveil the slimmer, easier-to-navigate new ordinance in an interactive presentation.
We will celebrate the modernized code’s clarity and ease of use, which will encourage community engagement and foster innovation. Previously, only experts in land use generally could navigate the zoning ordinance, but now it will be easier for more people to get comprehensive information about every County property in an interactive, online format.

Since its establishment in 1977, the zoning ordinance has undergone more than three decades of piecemeal changes—all of which combined to create a disjointed system where antiquated, complicated rules made the zoning process difficult for individuals to understand. In a coordinated effort to address these issues, the Council, the Planning Board and staff members have spent about five years reviewing, streamlining and overhauling more than 400 land use categories, 123 zones and 1,200 pages of rules.

With more predictability in the system, businesses will be able to act more nimbly and be more responsive to community concerns. That’s good news in a County that has long been criticized for failing to support job creation.

The new zoning code has broader land use categories that are inclusive of an ever evolving marketplace. The rules help to promote smart growth principles with more density allowed in and around transit. In addition, residential uses are generally permitted in commercial zones, which will create more mixed-use developments.

The zoning code rewrite is one example of how the County’s land use evolution is entering an exciting stage of development. The current Council has devoted considerable time to land use issues, and during its four-year term has approved more master and sector plans than any other Council in recent memory.

In addressing master and sector plans around the County, the Council has focused on creating cutting-edge centers for innovation in areas that have historically been underutilized, like the White Oak area.

The revised zoning ordinance is now available at: .

Thursday, October 23, 2014

County Maintains AAA Bond Rating

Great news. Here's the full press release:

County Executive Ike Leggett today announced that Montgomery County has maintained its Triple-A bond rating from three Wall Street bond rating agencies, just a week after Leggett led a group of County officials, including Council President Craig Rice, to meet with the agencies to brief Wall Street on the County’s fiscal situation and future plans.

Fitch, Moody’s, and Standard & Poor’s all affirmed the “AAA” rating – the highest achievable -- for the County. They all termed the outlook for Montgomery County as “stable.”

The Triple-A bond rating enables Montgomery County to sell long-term bonds at the most favorable rates, saving County taxpayers millions of dollars over the life of the bonds. The rating also serves as a benchmark for numerous other financial transactions, ensuring the lowest possible costs in those areas as well.

“What is remarkable about this is that Montgomery County has continued to receive a Triple-A bond rating from all three bond rating agencies even during these past few years when other jurisdictions – including the federal government – were seeing downgrades and despite federal shutdowns, budget sequestrations and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression,” said Leggett.

“Our ability to maintain our coveted Triple-A rating affirms my approach to putting the County’s fiscal house in order and reducing unsustainable increases in County spending, while investing in making government more effective and creating opportunities for the growth of good jobs in the future.

“We have boosted our reserves to the most ever, closed nearly $3 billion in budget gaps, made tough choices on spending, and saved millions for taxpayers with changes in County health and retirement benefits. Montgomery County has weathered the downturn and the investments we made during the toughest of times are enabling us to create more jobs and opportunity.”

“Working together in partnership, the County Executive and the County Council have made sure of strong County fiscal stewardship,” said Council President Craig Rice. “That is the foundation upon which we are building an even brighter future.”

The bond rating agencies underlined the County’s successful approach.

“Despite the 2013 federal government shutdown and sequestration, we note that the county did not experience significant disruptions to its financial performance due to, what we consider the diversity of its revenue base and its strong management practices,” wrote Standard & Poor’s Rating Services.

“Montgomery County continues to exhibit a very impressive economic profile,” wrote Fitch Ratings. “The County has gained employment each year between 2010 and 2013…Montgomery County has a sophisticated management team that uses conservative budgeting and established debt and reserve policies that have resulted in healthy reserve and liquidity levels.”

“The stable outlook reflects the county’s improved financial position that is supported by structurally balanced budgets and increased reserves,” wrote Moody’s.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Find Local Events with Visit Montgomery County

Visit Montgomery County just launched a local advertising campaign promoting its new county-wide calendar of events. The campaign includes Ride On bus ads, print and online advertisements in Recreation News, The Gazette, The Washington Post Express and an on-air campaign with All the Hits 107.3. Although Visit Montgomery invests more than $450,000 in advertising each year, this is the first time they are advertising in the local market.

In late August, Visit Montgomery County launched a new Web site,, with updated features like a county-wide calendar of events, interactive map and a trip builder. Visitors can subscribe to an event-specific feed, such as “family fun” or “outdoor adventures” and have the events automatically appear on their Outlook, iCal or Gmail calendar. The event calendar is always in the top five pageviews on the Visit Montgomery website, and that number continues to grow as popular events occur. During the first week of September, the pageviews for the Silver Spring Jazz Festival increased by more than 1,000 from the previous week.

I advocated for creating and funding the new Web site because I thought we needed one Web site with all events in Montgomery County. In 2013, I introduced Bill 36-12, which increased the allocation of the hotel tax to Visit Montgomery from 3.5% to 7%. The Council passed the bill and the funding increase began on July 1, 2013.

Visit Montgomery County encourages local organizations to post their events on the new online calendar of events free of charge. The guidelines are that the event occurs in Montgomery County and would be of interest to a tourist or resident. The goal is to be a one-stop shop for all events in Montgomery County.

The mission of Visit Montgomery County is to enthusiastically promote, market and sell Montgomery County as a destination for meetings, conventions and individual travelers, fostering economic development and benefiting and supporting members and the overall business community. It is Visit Montgomery County's goal to show leadership and be regarded as a quality organization of experts and advocates of its members, partnering with local, county and state organizations and government officials in an effort to further these goals.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Early Voting October 23-30

If you are registered to vote in Montgomery County you can stop by any of the nine Early Voting Centers October 23-30, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. to cast your ballot. Many voters find that early voting is more convenient than voting at their assigned polling place on Election Day (November 4).
Early Voting Centers:
  • Activity Center at Bohrer Park, 506 S. Frederick Avenue, Gaithersburg
  • Damascus Community Recreation Center, 25520 Oak Drive, Damascus
  • Executive Office Building, 101 Monroe Street, Rockville
  • Germantown Community Recreation Center, 18905 Kingsview Road, Germantown
  • Jane E. Lawton Community Recreation Center, 4301 Willow Lane, Chevy Chase
  • Marilyn J. Praisner Community Recreation Center, 14906 Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville
  • Mid-County Community Recreation Center, 2004 Queensguard Road, Silver Spring
  • Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place, Silver Spring
  • Wheaton Community Recreation Center, 11711 Georgia Avenue, Wheaton 
Visit or the new mobile site at for more information on early voting, including wait times for each center, updated hourly during voting hours.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Council Recognizes Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Today we recognized local breast cancer prevention and treatment programs as a part of the County Council proclamation in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Since BCAM began in 1985, mammography rates have more than doubled for women age 50 and older and breast cancer deaths have declined. That’s something to celebrate, especially since one in eight women in the United States—or 12 percent of women—will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in her life, making breast cancer the most common cancer among women except for skin cancer.

Montgomery County is fortunate to have many partners across various disciplines that not only raise awareness about the importance of early detection of breast cancer but also provide medical and support services to those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Today we honored these providers.

By way of today's proclamation we stand with the mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, and friends who have been affected by breast cancer, and that we recognize the ongoing efforts of dedicated advocates, researchers, and health care providers who strive each day to defeat this terrible disease.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Briefing on Deer Management

I get a lot of questions about deer in Montgomery County, so I want to let you know here's your chance to learn more. In a few minutes, we will begin a worksession on the County deer management program. The briefing will include an overview of the program, including the challenges to increase management efforts. It also will include an update on the impact of deer in the agricultural community and information on restrictions related to the discharge of weapons related to the program.

This is the 20th year of the County’s deer management program. Nearly 30,000 acres of publicly owned land is now being managed for deer. Deer management has been initiated in most of the larger parcels of parkland in the County owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, State parkland, WSSC-owned land and several publicly owned properties.

On average, deer populations have been reduced by more than 59 percent where management is occurring. The average number of deer-vehicle collisions within one-quarter of a mile of parkland is 10.9 for parks with no deer management compared to 3.4 for parks where management is being conducted.

If you can't watch the briefing now, you can get it on demand beginning tomorrow afternoon.

Council Appoints Natali Fani-Gonzalez to Planning Board

I'm looking forward to working with our new Planning Board member, Natali Fani-Gonzalez. She's a great communicator, and she has a real sense of Montgomery County. She will make a terrific addition to the team. Here's the full press release:

The Montgomery County Council today unanimously named Natali Fani-Gonzalez to a vacant position on the Montgomery County Planning Board.

Ms. Fani-Gonzalez, a Kensington resident, was one of 25 applicants for the position. The Council interviewed four of those applicants. She will serve a four-year term.

Ms. Fani-Gonzalez is the founder and principal of The Matea Group, a strategic public relations firm based in Montgomery County.

In her letter of application, Ms. Fani-Gonzalez wrote, “During the past decade, I have shown initiative, creativity in problem solving and a commitment to building consensus and excellence in a variety of settings. Through my public relations firm, I have successfully advanced local, state, national and international issues, including global migration and development, the Maryland Dream Act, online privacy and Internet freedom, transparency in elections, access to health care, the national Deferred Action for Undocumented Children, Women’s rights, family economic justice and veteran’s rights.”

Earlier this year, Ms. Fani-Gonzalez was awarded a citation by the Maryland General Assembly for outstanding contributions to the state. 

In her letter of application and in her interview with the Council, Ms. Fani-Gonzalez, who is fluent in English and Spanish, told Councilmembers she could bring a unique perspective to the five-member Planning Board.

“As part of the millennial generation—the largest and most diverse generation in the history of the nation, I will bring a pragmatic vision with a strong social conscience amplified by the use of technology,” she wrote in her letter of application. “Indisputably, the planning of a strong and successful Montgomery County must include the realities of my generation: an innovated, open-minded, achievement-orientated, socially focused, informed and high-tech community.”

Monday, October 6, 2014

Apply Now to Grants Advisory Group

Apply by November 6 to the Council’s Grants Advisory Group. We will appoint the volunteer community panel to review grant applications and advise us on proposals received from the non-profit community. 

The Council believes that a strong partnership with non-profit organizations is critical in meeting the County’s needs, so we have established a grants process in which the Council accepts applications from non-profit organizations seeking funds, forwards proposals to the Grants Advisory Group for advice and comments and then makes funding decisions during our spring budget deliberations.

It is anticipated that the Grants Advisory Group will be appointed in December and will be asked to report to the Council by the end of April 2015. Panel members will need to attend training sessions and review relevant materials during late January and February. The applications review will take place between late February and April 15.

The Grants Advisory Group will be asked to provide the Council with written comments on each of the grant proposals. The workload will vary based on the number of applications received and panel members appointed; however, it is expected that each member would review approximately 20 applications. Panel members should anticipate approximately six to eight meetings late January and mid-April, with the potential for weekly meetings in March. 

Volunteers for the Grants Advisory Group can come from panels reviewing Community Development Block Grants or Community Service Grants, as well as from other advisory boards or community groups. Applicants for the Advisory Group cannot be employees of, or member of a board of, a nonprofit group applying for Council grant funding. The Council will designate the chair of the Advisory Group. 

Send your letter of interest along with a resume to Council President Craig Rice, Montgomery County Council, Stella B. Werner Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Maryland, 20850, or by e-mail to by 4:00 on November 6. If you have questions, contact the Council Grants Manager Joan Schaffer at 240-777-7935 or

Thursday, October 2, 2014

MBDC Announces Three New Board Members

MBDC has three new members. We're extremely grateful for their willingness to serve. Here's the full press release:

The Montgomery Business Development Corporation (MBDC) has announced the election of three new members of its Board of Directors.  Joining the Board for three-year terms are Lisa Cines, CPA, Office Managing Partner Dixon Hughes Goodman, Leslie Ford Weber, Director of Campus, Government and Community Affairs for Johns Hopkins in Montgomery County, and Kelly T. Leonard, CEO of Taylor-Leonard Corporation. The Board makes policy decisions and oversees the MBDC operations.

Lisa Cines is the Office Managing Partner, Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP with over 30 years of public accounting experience.  She is well versed in accounting firm management with an emphasis on strategic and financial management, marketing and business development.  The Washington Business Journal named Ms. Cines as one of the “25 Women Who Mean Business.”  She currently serves as the Chair of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, serves on the board of Rockville Economic Development Inc., chairs the Advisory Board of the Maryland Women’s Business Center and is a member of the University of Maryland Smith Business School Advisory Board.

Leslie Ford Weber is the Director of Campus, Government and Community Affairs for Johns Hopkins in Montgomery County.  Ms. Weber coordinates the regional legislative agenda at the state and federal level and manages multiple relationships with the local executive and legislative branches and community organizations for both the University and Johns Hopkins Medicine.  Ms. Weber joined Hopkins-affiliate Suburban Hospital as Executive Vice President of the Suburban Hospital Foundation in 2004 and was also named Senior Vice President of Government and Community Relations in 2008. Ms. Weber is a graduate of the Leadership Montgomery program, a past chair of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, and currently serves as the Treasurer of Montgomery Women and a board member and Vice-chair of the Economic Development of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce.   

Kelly T Leonard is the CEO of Taylor-Leonard Corporation, with expertise in business development specifically for entrepreneurs and small business.  Ms. Leonard is a speaker, trainer, business leader, and 2014 Minerva Entrepreneur Women-Owned Business of the Year Award recipient. A certified public accountant, seasoned financial services professional, and corporate trainer with over twenty-five years of experience in federal government, private and public accounting environments, including Fortune 100, Kelly has an innate ability to connect with diverse audiences across disciplines.  Prior to becoming CEO of Taylor-Leonard Corporation (T-LC), Kelly held leadership positions with GE Capital, Kaiser Permanente, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.  

Montgomery Business Development Corporation is a non-partisan business development organization created by the Montgomery County Council in 2010 to expand the County’s economic development capabilities, including strategic planning, marketing, business retention and attraction, and data analysis.  For more information about Montgomery Business Development Corporation, please visit

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Report Shows Improved Congestion

They say you never really learn to swear until you learn to drive, but now you may be able to save a few nickels from going in the curse jar, according to the most recent Mobility Assessment Report. The study conducted by the Montgomery County Planning Department shows stabilization and even improvement in congestion in several key areas. That’s right, improvement in congestion. In fact, intersections categorized as severely congested have dropped from 17 percent in 2011 to 11 percent now. This marks the lowest rate since 2005.

Several factors likely contribute to the change, including land use planning that focuses development around transit, intersection improvements throughtout the county and efforts to make walking and biking safer and more accessible.
A key factor, though, is the Intercounty Connector, where use continues to grow steadily at a rate of 3 percent per month. Those who take the ICC cut their travel time in half compared to travel on local commuter routes like MD 28 and MD 108. What’s more, local roadways that parallel the ICC have shown improved travel time and reduced congestion since the opening of the toll road in November 2011.

While this is good news, there is still plenty of room for improvement, as commuters who travel on MD 355 near Shady Grove or pass through the intersection of MD 355 and West Cedar Lane will attest. These spots top the lists of the 50 most congested roadways and intersections. Check the report to see how your commute compares.
We will get a full briefing on the report at the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee meeting scheduled for 2:00 on October 9. You can watch the meeting live or on demand on County Cable Montgomery.