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Challenger Questions Commitment Of District 18′s Gutierrez After El Salvador Trip

by Aaron Kraut | April 18, 2014 at 12:45 pm | No Comments

Ana Sol Gutierrez, Flickr photo via Edward Kimmel D-18 Delegate candidate Rick Kessler

A challenger for one of three District 18 delegate seats is questioning the commitment of incumbent Ana Sol Gutierrez because she took a trip to her native El Salvador during the 2014 legislative session.

Rick Kessler, one of seven District 18 Democratic candidates in this June’s primary, said Gutierrez’s absence from the General Assembly on Jan. 30 and Jan. 31 to travel to El Salvador was “about commitment to the district and the office.”

“Running for office is a choice and taking the oath of office is a choice. She chose to do what she wanted to do rather than what she was elected to do,” Kessler said. “It’s only a 90-day session. She chose to leave some of those days rather than be here for us all of those days.”

Gutierrez traveled to El Salvador, where she was born, to vote in the country’s Feb. 2 presidential election. This was the first year U.S.-based Salvadorans were given the chance to vote from outside El Salvador, but there remained difficulties in registering from abroad.

In September, Gutierrez told WAMU she planned to travel to El Salvador to cast her ballot.

“My only way to vote, which is the way I have always voted, is to go to El Salvador to cast my vote,” Gutierrez said then.

When reached for comment on Friday, Gutierrez said, “I’m not interested in this kind of story.”

“If you want to talk about issues, then we can, but not this kind of controversy. I don’t want to do that,” Gutierrez said.

Throughout the district, Gutierrez’s ties to her native country are no surprise. The English and Spanish speaking delegate was a Montgomery County Board of Education member from 1990-1998.

It’s the latest in what has been an at times contentious race for District 18′s three seats in the House of Delegates. All three incumbents — Gutierrez, Al Carr and Jeff Waldstreicher — are running. Kessler, Natali Fani-Gonzalez, Elizabeth Matory and Emily Shetty round out the field.

It appears Kessler and other competitors are targeting Gutierrez, the three-term incumbent who stated her intention to retire rather than run again in 2014 — at least according to challengers who said they got into the race with that open seat in mind.

Gutierrez told The Gazette earlier this month that she never said she wouldn’t run in 2014, saying her decision making on whether to retire is being used by challengers to hurt her campaign.

District 18 includes parts of Bethesda, Chevy Chase, North Bethesda and Silver Spring as well as Garrett Park, Kensington and Wheaton. It’s billed as the most diverse district in the state.

(more…)

PSC To Talk Pepco Rate Hike Request Next Week

by Aaron Kraut | April 18, 2014 at 11:45 am | No Comments

Pepco pole, via Abigail ReidPepco’s request for a $43 million rate increase will go before the state’s Public Service Commission starting next week.

The power company said the application for the increase, filed in December, was necessary to pay for infrastructure improvements that have led to fewer power outages and shorter outage durations.

On Tuesday, April 22, Wednesday April 23, Friday, April 25, Thursday, May 1, Friday, May 2 and possibly Monday, May 5, the Public Service Commission (PSC) will hold a series of hearings on the rate increase request.

If approved, the increases would go into effect on July 4, 2014.

The request includes records of the $238.5 million the company says it spent from October 2012 to September 2013 to improve infrastructure. The company claims it plans to spend an additional $234 million this year.

Pepco says it has done vegetation management on 5,600 miles of overhead wire, upgraded more than 130 overhead distribution feeders and installed new or upgraded more than 860 miles of underground home distribution lines since 2010.

Those improvements, Pepco says, have led to a 38.5 percent improvement in its Average Interruption Frequency Index and 40 percent improvement in its System Average Interruption Duration Index.

Pepco critics say the privately held electric company shouldn’t get more money for fulfilling its basic duty of providing reliable electric service.

The rate increase would mean an increase of $4.80 a month for the average residential customer, according to Pepco’s filing.

In the filing, Pepco also asked for an increase in its return on equity — the allowable return on investment to its shareholders — from 9.36 percent to 10.25 percent.

Last July, the PSC approved part of Pepco’s last rate hike request, a decision that is being challenged in court. In a Nov. 6 earnings call, Pepco Chairman Joseph Rigby told investors the decision to grant $27.9 million of its $60.8 million rate hike meant the company must make another rate hike request.

That request followed in December.

The hearings will all begin at 10 a.m., unless otherwise noted. The April 23 and April 30 hearings will begin at 1 p.m., or half-an-hour after the completion of PSC’s administrative meeting.

The sessions will be a series of evidentiary hearings, in a court-like legal setting that critics of the PSC have said creates barriers to customer participation.

The PSC will hold two public comment hearings on the matter. One will be at the Executive Office Building in Rockville (101 Monroe Street) at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 12.

Written comments may also be filed by Friday, May 30, 2014, and should be addressed to David J. Collins, Executive Secretary, Maryland Public Service Commission, 6 St. Paul Street, 16th Floor, Baltimore, Maryland 21202, referencing Case No. 9336.

The evidentiary hearings next week will be held at the PSC’s headquarters in Baltimore. The hearings will be streamed live at the PSC’s website.

Photo via Abigail Reid

WSSC Says Contractor Partially To Blame For Bradley Boulevard Disruptions

by Aaron Kraut | April 18, 2014 at 8:05 am | 65 views | 2 Comments

Traffic cones and a steel plate in the roadway on Bradley Boulevard last weekend (file photo)The contractor on a Bradley Boulevard water main project has had to re-excavate the road multiple times to repair leaks in a new pipe it installed just last October.

Metra Industries, the primary contractor chosen for the project by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, “has struggled to meet contractual requirements and has produced some work that has been unacceptable,” wrote WSSC director of communications Jim Neustadt in an email response to Councilmember Roger Berliner’s office.

Neustadt went on to write that the problems with the project “could serve as an example of why the lowest-bid contracting is not necessarily always the best.”

The constant digging has left the busy thoroughfare near the heart of downtown Bethesda a jumbled mess of steel plates, traffic cones and construction vehicles. It’s also meant a host of complaints to Berliner’s office about late-night construction and daytime lane closures.

Last Friday, Berliner sent a letter to the State Highway Administration expressing his concern about the project and asked the agency to reconsider its permitting process. On Wednesday, Neustadt provided Berliner’s office and the SHA with a recap of the project and what’s next in the process.

On Thursday, Neustadt told BethesdaNow.com that WSSC will send out a similar summary to affected customers with a letter in the next day or two.

“As I said in the letter, we are pursuing appropriate contractual remedies,” Neustadt said. “Our top priority is getting this done so we can get our customers back to some sense of normalcy.”

Neustadt said final paving on the project should be done in late June.

The primary goal of the project is to replace a 20-inch diameter pipe under Bradley Boulevard, near Arlington Road. WSSC said the project was challenging because of adverse weather conditions, a large amount of existing utilities, storm water drainage, restricted working schedules and heavy traffic.

But part of the problem was due to the contractor’s work, Neustadt told public officials.

“We are proceeding with remedies in line with the contract,” Neustadt wrote.

On Thursday, Neustadt said he didn’t want to get into more specifics about the contractual obligations.

In the email, he wrote, “WSSC is working itself away from this type of contracting and has recently been utilizing other selection strategies that hopefully will yield  not only a better product, but better overall value for our customers’ dollars.”

Since the new water main was put into place in October, testing showed the pipe had many leaks, according to WSSC. That meant Bradley Boulevard had to be re-excavated so crews could locate and repair those leaks.

With the pipe unable to operate, Metra wasn’t allowed to tie in the new main to the existing pipe system, set up connections to properties nearby or hook it up to fire hydrants.

Neustadt said the leaks in the pipe have been located and repaired, which will allow Metra to move forward with the rest of the project.

Work that still must be completed includes the installation of two pipes on Arlington Road — a 96-foot long, roughly 10-inch diameter pipe and a 20-foot long, roughly 4-inch diameter pipe.

Crews must also complete seven tie-ins to existing mains, including a key connection to a 60-inch main. Each connection requires a water main shutdown. Neustadt said the contractor plans to perform shutdowns two at a time. Also, the work will happen at night to minimize the impact on customers.

The contractor must also connect the new pipe to two gas stations, an apartment complex and a house before final testing and chlorination.

Weather permitting, the final patching of the pavement will be completed by mid-May with the final mill and overlay paving done by the end of June.

“The current patching is only temporary asphalt which hasn’t held up well due to the extreme winter,” Neustadt wrote.

In a regular monthly email sent to subscribers on Thursday, Berliner wrote he was grateful WSSC saw the project as an example of how lowest-bid contracting doesn’t always work.

“Just sorry our residents have had to pay the price for learning these lessons,” Berliner said.

FBI Puts Out Reward For Info On Chevy Chase Bank Robber

by Aaron Kraut | April 17, 2014 at 12:40 pm | 164 views | No Comments

Image via the FBI

The FBI on Thursday said it’s offering $5,000 for information that can help its agents find a suspect in three area bank robberies, including one in Chevy Chase.

The FBI said the man pictured is responsible for the Jan. 13 bank robbery at the Bank of America at 4411 Sout Park Ave. in Friendship Heights.

The FBI said the man is also responsible for a Jan. 29 bank robbery at a Capital One Bank in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of D.C. and a March 28 robbery at a Bank of American in Columbia Heights.

In each of the robberies, the man approached the counter and handed the teller a note that demanded money and implied that he had a weapon. The man then fled the bank on foot after getting the money.

The FBI’s Violent Crimes Task Force, the Metropolitan Police Department and Montgomery County Police are requesting that anyone with information call the FBI at 202-278-2000.

MCP previously offered a $10,000 reward for any information on the identity or whereabouts of the suspect.

Image via the FBI

Purple Line A Big Focus In Town of Chevy Chase Election

by Aaron Kraut | April 17, 2014 at 10:25 am | 162 views | 2 Comments

Town of Chevy ChaseWith three seats up for grabs and the Purple Line on track for construction sometime next year, the transit system has unsurprisingly become a focus for many Town of Chevy Chase Council candidates.

The Town Council, a five-member group that includes the mayor, approved a $350,000 contract in February with a cadre of lobbyists and legal firms to fight the Purple Line and its proposed route behind a number of homes in the Town.

That decision elicited a wealth of opinions in the Town and an open meetings investigation spurred by Purple Line advocates.

Of the seven candidates for three Council seats in the May 6 election, five mentioned the Purple Line in their candidate statements. Councilmembers Al Lang and Kathy Strom are running for reelection. Councilmember David Lublin announced on Wednesday he won’t run again.

Mayor Pat Burda and Councilmember John Bickerman were elected in 2013 and have terms that will end next year.

In his statement, Lang came out strongly against the Purple Line lobbying contract — not because he favors the transit system, but because he opposes the way the Town went about picking the firm. “BIR” is the lead firm chosen for the contract, Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney:

There are many examples, (tackling the $9M reserves being one), but none is more important than my recent vote against the $360,000 for BIR, our Purple Line lobbying firm. While I have worked hard during my 6 years as Councilmember to find the right resources to mitigate this project, we are elected fiduciaries. Sadly, this contract lacked critical elements; there was not a request for proposal; it was not a competitive process; and we did not negotiate price. Elements well understood by all, not just a business person.

Candidate Grant Davies said the Town’s “mishandling” of its advocacy against the Purple Line has given it a bad reputation in Montgomery County:

Third, we need to improve the Town’s image with the public and the rest of the county. We have always been advocates for good government and considering the needs of the larger community. Our mishandling of our advocacy against the Purple line has given the Town an unwarranted black eye.

Candidate Donald Farren took it a step further, emphasizing that he is for the Purple Line. He also said he is “Pro transparent Town government,” an apparent jab at the contract process.

Candidate Deborah Vollmer is completely opposed to the 16-mile, $2.37 billion light rail:

Over the years, I have actively opposed current plans for the Purple Line; I do believe that improving public transportation is important, but the current plans are unacceptable, as they would destroy the canopy of trees in what is really a linear park, cause other environmental damage, and cause negative impact to all residents, especially those living at the Town’s borders, close to the rail line.

Another recurring thread in the candidate statements was the desire to keep a buffer between the development of downtown Bethesda and the Town, what is predominantly small streets of single-family homes.

Lang had perhaps the most interesting proposal: The purchase of county-owned and operated parking lots just east of Wisconsin Avenue and the conversion of those lots into green space that would “create the buffer the town needs to Bethesda encroachment.”

Vollmer said she would propose a moratorium and the building of new homes. Like much of Bethesda and Chevy Chase, the Town is home to a number of teardown projects. She also said she would put the Town manager’s job on the line every two years by making the extension of that person’s contract a ballot question.

The candidates will participate in a moderated forum on Thursday, April 24 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall (4301 Willow Lane).

Morning Notes

by Aaron Kraut | April 17, 2014 at 9:20 am | 98 views | No Comments

Flickr photo by ehpien

Tiger Grant Applications Include Capital Crescent Trail, Bethesda Metro Entrance – Montgomery County and the state of Maryland are applying for a piece of the pie in the next round of federal TIGER Grant funding. The pair is hoping for some federal funding of the new Capital Crescent Trail, a 4-3-mile shared use path from Bethesda to Silver Spring to run along the Purple Line. Separately, Montgomery County is applying for TIGER Grant funding for its Bethesda Metro Station South Entrance and a study of bus rapid transit on Rockville Pike. There is about $600 million of TIGER Grant money to be given out among transportation projects around the country. [National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board]

National Prescription Take Back Day – There will be two take back locations for unused or expired prescription medications or over-the-counter drugs on Saturday, April 26. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., you can bring those medications to the Chevy Chase Village Police Department at 5906 Connecticut Ave. or the Friendship Heights Community Center at 4433 S. Park Ave. [Montgomery County]

Whitman Grad Grabs Terps’ Starting Job – Class of 2012 Whitman High School graduate Michael Dunn has quickly solidified himself as a starting offensive linemen for the Maryland football team. Dunn started all 13 games last season, splitting time at right guard and right tackle. This season, the Terps’ first in the Big Ten conference, he projects as the team’s starting right tackle. [The Gazette]

Flickr photo by ehpien

Bethesda’s Building Boom, A Year Later

by Aaron Kraut | April 16, 2014 at 11:30 am | 838 views | 1 Comment

Last year around this time, we took a look at the many construction projects going on around downtown Bethesda.

A year later, a few of those projects are done or near completion. Some have made significant progress, but still have a ways to go. Others broke ground and still more are scheduled to start.

Here’s a quick reference guide of some of the major construction projects in Bethesda, as of April 2014.

The Gallery of Bethesda, Rugby Avenue

Gallery of Bethesda construction in March 2013 July 2013, construction of The Gallery Bethesda apartments in Woodmont Triangle The completed Gallery of Bethesda in early 2014

The first of two buildings in Donohoe’s Gallery of Bethesda project was completed earlier this year. The 17-story, 235-unit apartment bills itself as the tallest building in Bethesda and has begun move-ins. A 16-story, 221-unit companion building is planned for next door, though ground hasn’t been broken on that project.

Bainbridge Bethesda, Fairmont and St Elmo Avenues

March 2013 construction at the Bainbridge Bethesda project, a 17-story apartment in Woodmont Triangle Bainbridge Bethesda April 2014 April 2014 Bainbridge Bethesda

This 17-story, 200-unit apartment building isn’t completely finished. Demolition of older buildings and excavation work began in August 2011, but controversy soon followed.

The building is expect to be completed later this year, possibly this summer.

Lot 31, Bethesda and Woodmont Avenues

 April 2014 Lot 31 construction

This multi-faceted project meant closing Woodmont Avenue south of Bethesda Avenue in September 2012. When the underground garage — a 940-space facility to be operated by Montgomery County — is done, the road will reopen. That’s expected later this year.

On top of that will go a 64-unit luxury condominium building (The Darcy) and a 186-unit apartment building (The Flats) from developer StonebridgeCarras.

The developer has begun announcing some of its main ground-floor tenants, a group to be led by a new Silver Diner restaurant concept and upscale seafood outfit PassionFish.

8300 Wisconsin Avenue

October 2012, 8300 Wisconsin Ave August 2013, 8300 Wisconsin Avenue, via StonebridgeCarras December 2013 at 8300 Wisconsin Avenue, via StonebridgeCarras

The future home of a Harris Teeter grocery store and 360 residential units started excavation last year. Projected completion is spring or summer of 2015.

4500 East-West Highway 

The first new office building built in downtown Bethesda in more than a decade is expected to finish up later in 2014.

7001 Arlington Road

March 2013 at the 7100 Arlington Road project April 2014 at the 7100 Arlington Road project April 2014 at the 7100 Arlington Road project

This five-story, 145-unit apartment building on the former site of the U.S. Post Office on Arlington Road backs up to the Capital Crescent Trail. That will surely be a draw for residents.

The post office building was demolished in March 2013.

April construction at the 7770 Norfolk Avenue project7770 Norfolk Avenue

Across Fairmont Avenue from Bainbridge Bethesda is developer JBG’s 17-story, 250-unit apartment building, formerly known as 4900 Fairmont. JBG broke ground in October 2013.

4825 Montgomery Lane

The five-floor, four-unit building between Arlington Road and Woodmont Avenue is on the site of a former single family home and will soon have company.

The Lauren, 4901 Hampden Lane

That company will come in the form of The Lauren, an ultra-luxury condo building slated for just around the corner from Montgomery Lane. The developer there got demolition approval in February.

Proposed sculpture at Element 28, at Commerce Lane and Old Georgetown RoadElement 28, Old Georgetown Road and Commerce Lane

The 15-story, 120-unit apartment from developer Kettler will go on the existing site of the United Bank near the Bethesda Metro station. The bank moved to another building on Wisconsin Avenue and the demolition permit for that building has been issued.

Woodmont View, Battery Lane and Woodmont Triangle

Developer Duball will break ground on its nine-story, 46-unit luxury condo project at the corner of Battery Lane and Woodmont Triangle later this year. It could be interesting. The building will have just 60 feet of frontage on Battery Lane and must be sandwiched between Woodmont Avenue and an existing mid-rise apartment building.

Completion is slated for 2016.

7100 Wisconsin

Rendering for 7100 Wisconsin Ave., via Montgomery County Planning Department Eastham's Servicenter (file photo)

The longtime site of the gas station that housed Eastham’s Auto Servicenter will soon be home to a 120-foot-tall, 139-unit apartment building from Washington Property Company.

Eastham’s will complete its move-out this month, which means groundbreaking at the site won’t be too far behind.

Morning Notes

by Aaron Kraut | April 16, 2014 at 9:05 am | 116 views | No Comments

Lot 31 construction on Wednesday morning

MCPS To Hold Meetings On Fairness Of Private Donations – MCPS is studying the fairness of its private booster donation policy, especially when it comes to funds raised by schools with wealthier parent populations. Critics say the current policy leads to inequities between schools. The closest of the three public meetings to our area will happen on Thursday, May 8 at Churchill High School (11300 Gainsborough Rd.). MCPS says the meetings will be part of the larger study that could lead to changes in the policy for next school year. [The Gazette]

Town of Chevy Chase Council Member Retiring – David Lublin, who has been on the Council of the Town of Chevy Chase for six years, announced his retirement from the position on his politics blog, the Seventh State. Lublin said he will step down this May, at the end of his term. The Town Council has five members. [Seventh State]

‘House of Cards’ Won’t Be Bolting Across the Potomac – According to Virginia’s Film Office director, the Netflix show’s demands for incentive were too much for the state. The production company behind the show threatened to stop filming in Maryland if it wasn’t given millions more in tax credits. The General Assembly didn’t provide those extra millions and now it’s up to the governor’s office to find a way to bridge the gap. [Virginia Public Radio via WAMU]

Bethesda House Fire Causes $100,000 In Damage

by Aaron Kraut | April 16, 2014 at 8:05 am | 442 views | No Comments

MCFRS (file photo)A house fire overnight in the Wood Acres neighborhood caused $100,000 of damage, according to Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services.

Firefighters were called to the home at 5708 Cromwell Drive around 1 a.m. and found the home’s occupants had already gotten out. The fire started in the electric panel of a basement utility room, according to MCFRS spokesperson Pete Piringer.

At 1:25 a.m., Piringer tweeted that the fire was under control.

Wednesday morning, he tweeted that the fire caused $75,000 of damage to the house and $25,000 to its contents. There were no injuries.

TRAFFIC: 2 Vehicle Collisions During Afternoon Rush Hour

by Aaron Kraut | April 15, 2014 at 3:58 pm | 357 views | No Comments

Old Georgetown Road at I-270, via TrafficLand.com(Update at 5 p.m.) MCFRS and police are responding to a significant traffic accident Tuesday afternoon on Old Georgetown Road at I-270.

According to Fire and Rescue spokesperson Pete Piringer, there are multiple minor injuries as a result of the accident, which has some lanes blocked on Old Georgetown Road.

(Original) A vehicle collided with a pole on Rockville Pike near NIH and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Tuesday afternoon.

According to MCFRS spokesperson Pete Piringer, crews are evaluating and additional ambulance units have been requested.

The traffic signals in that area were out earlier on Tuesday afternoon. All lanes on Rockville Pike are blocked as crews arrive at the scene around 4 p.m.

Photo via TrafficLand.com

Morning Notes

by Aaron Kraut | April 15, 2014 at 9:15 am | 413 views | No Comments

Flickr photo by Don Blohowiak

Stone Ridge Used Book Sale Calls It Quits – After 46 years, last week’s Stone Ridge Used Book Sale was the last at the Cedar Lane private school. It grew from a one-room book sale at the school’s Christmas Bazaar to a four-day event in the school’s gym that attracts 7,000 people a year. The school decided to end the book sale as the campus goes through a new batch of development. The sale requires the gym to be closed for two weeks as volunteers set up the event. [The Gazette]

No Taxation Without Chip Compensation – Tuesday is tax day, so naturally the California Tortilla in Woodmont Triangle (4871 Cordell Ave.) is offering a special. Say the code phrase “taxes shmaxes” and get free chips and queso while supplies last. [California Tortilla via Facebook]

Congressional Art Competition Includes Bethesda Winners – Whitman junior Jackie Margolis will have her painting shown on Congressman Chris Van Hollen’s Rockville office for a year after being named one of the winner’s of the 33rd annual Congressional Art Competition. In Van Hollen’s Eighth Congressional District, 250 students from 30 schools participated. Margolis and Bethesda-Chevy Chase sophomore and photographer Jeff Fan were selected for special recognition.

O’Malley Signs Marijuana Decriminalization Bill – Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Monday signed a bill that will make those caught with less than 10 grams of marijuana subject to civil fines, not jail time. The law will take effect Oct. 1. O’Malley said he’s not yet on board with full legalization. [Washington Post]

Flickr photo by Don Blohowiak

Planners Ask For Thoughts On One-Way Streets, Closed Streets and Neighborhoods

by Aaron Kraut | April 14, 2014 at 3:25 pm | 575 views | 7 Comments

Map asks which one-way streets should be made into two-way streets Map asks which streets should be closed to traffic and reserved for pedestrians Population density map of 22-34-year-olds in downtown Bethesda

The community input portion of the Bethesda Downtown Plan continued last week with new questions about the neighborhoods of downtown Bethesda, which one-way roads should be two-way and which streets could be closed for pedestrian use only.

County planners introduced the three topics in map form, based on some of the most frequent feedback they’ve been getting about what a future downtown Bethesda should look like.

Participants put colored stickers on the one-way roads they felt should go both ways. Unsurprisingly, Woodmont Avenue south of Old Georgetown Road and East-West Highway at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School were two popular spots for that change.

Many used the map to show their support for making Bethesda Avenue a pedestrian only street. It’s a seemingly far-fetched notion, but did serve to show planners where residents of Bethesda focus most of their attention when it comes to walking and shopping.

Another map showed the population density of those aged 22-34, a group that’s been a focus of Montgomery County, developers and the Planning Department.

By far the highest density millennial area was along Battery Lane, home to a number of low-rise apartment and condominium buildings. Other popular millennial areas were along Bradley Boulevard and northeast of the downtown’s “Metro Core.”

The Bethesda Downtown Plan will likely provide new zoning and new guidelines for the development and land use of the downtown area. Planners will host another workshop on Saturday, May 17, though the topics presented last week provide a glimpse of what the department is studying.

Leggett: ‘I’m Not Prepared To Leave This Ship’

by Aaron Kraut | April 14, 2014 at 2:10 pm | 194 views | No Comments

Isiah Leggett, back on the campaign trail Sunday in Randolph Hills

In fall 2012, Isiah Leggett said he couldn’t anticipate running for a third term as Montgomery County’s county executive.

In 2013, as the field for this June’s Democratic primary took shape, Leggett reversed course. On Sunday, he was back on the campaign trail, giving a stump speech in which he compared Montgomery County to an ocean liner — one he claimed to have steered safely to harbor despite the rocky waters of the recession and budget problems “below the surface” inherited from predecessor Doug Duncan.

“I’m not prepared to leave this ship,” Leggett said.

He spoke to a group of supporters at a backyard barbecue in the Randolph Hills neighborhood of Rockville, one of his first full-on campaign events this election cycle.

With a fundraising advantage and as a generally well-liked incumbent, many feel that Leggett is the clear favorite against Councilmember Phil Andrews and Duncan, who was county executive for 12 years before Leggett was first elected in 2006.

On Sunday, Leggett compared governing the county in Duncan’s time — mostly a period of economic growth and budget increases — to the last eight years, a period in which Leggett reduced the county workforce by 10 percent, imposed furloughs and stopped scheduled pay raises to keep the county’s budget in check.

“In the 90′s and early 2000 timeframe, it was much easier to be county executive,” Leggett said. “When you are able, over a 10-year period, to increase the budget by 130 percent, that’s unheard of. Which position is easier to govern from?”

Leggett said he wasn’t planning to run for a third term because his wife was initially very reluctant about it. He also said his mind began to change last year, when an infusion of state dollars from an increase in the gas tax provided a way to finish transportation projects he characterized as “unfinished business.”

But it’s clear Leggett’s desire to govern during improving economic times — in the type of conditions his predecessor and main rival enjoyed — was at least part of the reason he’s back on the campaign trail.

“To govern in those two periods was much different,” Leggett said. “Not to say that people then didn’t have leadership skills, but it was an easier proposition.”

(more…)

Residents Not Happy With Bradley Boulevard Utility Work

by Aaron Kraut | April 14, 2014 at 11:30 am | 406 views | 3 Comments

Traffic cones and a steel plate in the roadway on Bradley Boulevard A No Parking sign at a street meter on Bradley Boulevard near Arlington Road

For about a year, Bradley Boulevard near the heart of downtown Bethesda has been a jumbled mess of steel plates, traffic cones and construction vehicles.

That has a number of residents unhappy and Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda) asking the State Highway Administration to reconsider its permitting process.

The project is not actually the work of the State Highway Administration, but instead a water main replacement project from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission that requires late night digging into the road.

Berliner, after getting numerous complaints about construction noise, lane closures and torn up pavement, sent a letter to the SHA on Friday asking the agency to reconsider its overnight construction permit policy “on all construction projects going forward.”

“Working during such hours is detrimental to the quality of life of residents and is an undue burden to those who live along the areas of construction,” Berliner wrote.

The SHA has issued WSSC permits for the pipe replacement project from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. and from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. The affected area includes a busy stretch of Bradley Boulevard around Arlington Road.

Residents claimed construction work has shut down two lanes of the road during the day as well, even during rush hour.

SHA spokesperson Charlie Gischlar said WSSC told the agency it had patched up the water main under Bradley Boulevard to the point where it had to be replaced. Gischlar said SHA has an inspector who goes from project to project done by all utilities throughout the area.

The plan is for WSSC to resurface the road when it’s finished, though Berliner wrote he shared resident’s concerns that the resurfacing job would not be up to par.

“If the resurfacing effort along other roads where the WSSC has worked is any indication of their quality of work, it leaves much to be desired,” Berliner wrote. “I have spoken to the General Manager and Commissioners of the WSSC multiple times asking that they ensure that all roads are resurfaced and restored to optimal condition following work. I encourage you to hold the agency to the highest standard possible.”

WSSC is expected to wrap up the project this spring or summer.

“To ask that residents suffer through nearly a year of living in an active construction site is to ask too much,” Berliner said.

PDF: Councilmember Berliner letter to SHA

Rock Creek Hills School Opponents Prepared To Go To State’s Highest Court

by Aaron Kraut | April 14, 2014 at 9:20 am | 493 views | 6 Comments

One of the early site plans for the proposed middle school at the Rock Creek Hills Local ParkUndeterred by a Court of Special Appeals ruling against them, members of the Rock Creek Hills Citizens Association say they’re prepared to take their case against a middle school in their local park to the state’s highest court.

The neighborhood group is against the school system’s plan to to build a second Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster middle school at the park (3701 Saul Rd.). MCPS says it needs the school to accommodate overcrowding at Westland Middle School and the planned reassignment of Grade 6 students from Chevy Chase and North Chevy Chase Elementary Schools.

Neighbors sued to block the school and maintain the 13.4-acre park. At issue was the manner in which the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) acquired the site from the Board of Education in 1990. At that time, the school system didn’t need the land.

A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge threw out the suit last April, saying the school system had the right to get the land back to build a new school. The Planning Board reluctantly transferred the land back to the Board of Education last July.

The Rock Creek Hills group appealed the Circuit Court decision. Earlier this month, the state’s Court of Special Appeals likewise threw out the suit.

But Citizens Association President Jim Pekar and member John Robinson said they consider the Court of Special Appeals’ findings to be “erroneous,” and they are prepared to file another appeal to the Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court:

Last week, a three-judge panel of the Court of Special Appeals, in Annapolis, released a ruling affirming the decision of the Circuit Court in Rockville, to dismiss our litigation seeking to enforce the law and protect Rock Creek Hills Park. The panel did not rule against our arguments that the proposed conversion of the Park is unlawful; instead, their ruling was based primarily on their finding that the appealing parties lack adjacent property owner and taxpayer standing.

Specifically, the Court of Special Appeals held that adjacent property owners lack adjacent property owner standing because the County’s option to reclaim the land for educational use was not a land-use related provision.

This week, the RCHCA Board held an emergency meeting. After reviewing the court’s ruling, and consulting with our counsel, we consider the findings of the Court of Special Appeals to be erroneous. This is particularly true given a March 27 decision of Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, which reached the opposite conclusion in a different case that dealt with similar issues. Given this, we are preparing a motion for reconsideration, asking the Court of Special Appeals to reconsider their decision on our standing in light of the recent Court of Appeals decision, and to rule on the merits of our case. Failing that, we are prepared to file an application for Certiorari to the Court of Appeals; that is, we are prepared to ask our State’s highest court to consider our case.

Your Board continues to believe that our case has considerable merit,and asks for your continued support in this matter.

In October, the Board of Education approved an agreement that would allow Montgomery Parks to continue to operate Rock Creek Hills Park as a park until construction started on the school. Construction for the unnamed middle school is slated to start in July 2015.

Despite the possibility of another appeal, it appears that opponents of the school realize they might be fighting a losing battle.

Last fall, Robinson told members of the Citizens Association that it would be a good idea to participate in design discussions about the school in order to get the best design for the building.

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