Sunday, November 20, 2016

Stratton Park basketball and Tennis court refurbishment started

 They have started the refurbishment of the tennis courts and basketball courts at Stratton Park in Bethesda.  This is independent of the ADA upgrades I have written about before, but not a coincidence that they are trying to do both around the same time.
 The basketball courts already have a fresh covering of blacktop.  The posts for the hoops are there, but are not complete.

 All the cracks in the tennis courts have been filled in with tar.  I guess that means that they aren't going to remove the existing blacktop, but only put a new layer over it.

The fence is down, but the poles remain.  The supports for the nets have been cut down as well.
 The equipment is on the courts, waiting to be used.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Council set to vote on SSP and remove school facility payment

On Tuesday, November 15th, the Montgomery County Council will vote on adopting the subdivision staging policy (SSP).  They have removed the School Facilities Payment section of the SSP, this will hurt the county's ability to fund expansion of our overcrowded school system.

The school facility payment has long been a part of the subdivision staging policy.  It is triggered if a school cluster is between 105% and 120% of capacity and required an additional payment be made by developers that goes towards increasing school capacity.

Last year (2015) these payments totalled almost 2 million dollars, and in 2014 they were over 2 million dollars.

Earlier this year the county council increases taxes paid by it's citizens in order to increase funding public schools, now, they are reducing taxes on developers by millions of dollars.  Taxes that were dedicated to schools.

It is because of things like this that term limits were overwhelmingly approved last week.  Keep this in mind next election when the non-term-limited council members run for re-election, and if any of the current council members run for county executive.

There is a petition asking that they postpone the vote scheduled for November 15th and address the the MCPS crisis more fully. It covers this issue as well as other school related issues.

The County Council's agenda for tomorrow is  here, the vote is scheduled for 10am. The analyst packet is here, it identifies all the changes (additions are underlined, deletions are in square brackets). The portion on the school facility
 payment starts on page 17, then there is some more on the bottom of page 18 and top of page 19.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Signs covered in Vines

I bet you can't guess what sign this is for.  It is almost totally covered in vines.  Imagine trying to read it while driving.

Here's the same sign with a bit of road for context, does that help you figure it out?  Notice how the vines are covering the whole area, not just the sign.

Here is another sign nearby the first.  This one is a bit easier since you can read the word Lane, but which lane is it?

Need a hint?  The vines covering the signs are porcelain berry, an invasive  deciduous, woody, perennial climbing vine with flowers and tendrils that is often confused with plants from the grape species.  It has taken over this section of River Road in Bethesda, MD.

This sign isn't covered in vines, but it is a well-weathered Ride-On bus stop sign just around the corner on Wilson Lane, MD-188. (Does that give away the answer to what the above signs say?)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Recomendations for WJ cluster schools

The superintendent of Montgomery County public schools (Dr. Jack Smith) has released his recommendation for how to address the continuing overcrowding at Walter Johnson cluster schools. He took into account sort and long term enrolment projections and the report of the Walter Johnson Cluster Roundtable Discussion Group to come up with his recommendations.  Here is a summary of the recommendations from the above linked PDF file.

  • For Ashburton Elementary School, reduce the approved addition project scheduled for completion in August 2019 from 881 seats to 770 seats, relocate the four special education Preschool Education Program (PEP) classes to Bradley Hills and Luxmanor elementary schools beginning in the 2017–2018 school year, and construct a modular classroom addition to open in August 2019 that can be relocated in the future after a new school opens.
  • Monitor the enrollment at Farmland Elementary School and consider the reassignment of students to Luxmanor Elementary School beginning in the 2020–2021 school year after completion of the revitalization/expansion project.
  • Utilize space in the annex facility adjacent to Garrett Park Elementary School to address the capacity deficit at the school.
  • Monitor enrollment in the cluster elementary schools and open a new school in the long term when the capacity deficit may support the need for the new school.
  • Continue with the plans for the addition at North Bethesda Middle School scheduled to open in August 2018 with a capacity for 1,229 students and a master-planned addition for up to 1,500 students.
  • Continue with the plans to revitalize/expand Tilden Middle School (and collocation with Rock Terrace School) with a capacity for 1,200 students and a master-planned addition for up to 1,500 students.
  • Convene a roundtable discussion group to include representatives from the Downcounty Consortium high schools a nd Walter Johnson High School to study the following:
    • Reopen the former Woodward High School to address the space deficits at Montgomery Blair, Albert Einstein, Walter Johnson, John F. Kennedy, and Northwood high schools; and in addition
    • Explore the possibility and develop a potential model approach to address space deficits at these high schools as well as others countywide, by offering alternative programmatic, career technology education, or other voluntary educational options for high school students through use of non-traditional facilities, including commercial space.
  • Planning and construction funds will be included for the high school solution as part of the Superintendent’s Recommended FY 2019–2024 Capital Improvements Program in October 2017.

Note that these are just recommendations to the Board of Education, they may not be acted on, or may be only partially acted on.

Friday, September 30, 2016

WMAL transmitter building demolished

 The transmitter building that has long stood at the WMAL field on Greentree road has been demolished.  Some months ago the transmitter equipment was moved to a temporary building on the same lot.

 The plan is for the radio towers to be removed and over 300 houses and townhouses put on this 75 acre lot.

 The building was listed on Maryland's inventory of historic properties, but that didn't afford it any special protection against demolition.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Go Visit the National Mall at night

 This past Friday was the Harvest Moon.  On Saturday Night I went to see the moon rise over the Capitol and see some of the monuments at night.  This is a good time of year to go, it isn't too hot or too cold, there aren't as many people as there are during the summer, and the skies are often clear.

The Lincoln Memorial is a great place to start, you can look down the reflecting pool to the Washington Monument and Capitol building.  It is a popular spot to be, even at night.  It was probably a bit more crowded than usual due to the nearly full moon.

Abe keeps his eternal vigil in the Lincoln Memorial.  He always welcomes company.

The World War II memorial is well light and has interesting fountains to see.

 The Washington Monument with the moon in the background.  That string of white dots along the bottom are pathway marker lights.

 The Washington Monument has people milling about, even at 10pm.

 You can walk right up to the monument and look straight up.  It is relaxing to sit on the ground with your legs on the monument and look up for a while.  Just be careful you don't put your hand on one of the lights, they are hot.

It seems like there is always a breeze blowing the flags that surround the Washington Monument.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Stratton Park upgrades are coming

 Wednesday night, the parks department held a community meeting to discuss the upcoming improvements to Stratton Local Park and to get the neighborhoods input and suggestions. I counted 18 residents in attendance, 3 Parks people, and a representative from delegate Marc Korman.

Stratton Park is located just behind the firehouse on Democracy Blvd between Fernwood Rd and the I-270 Spur.  It has a soccer field, a baseball field, tennis courts, basketball courts, a playground and a picnic shelter, water fountain and grill.

The upgrades are to make the park comply with the American With Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.  In 2008 the federal government evaluated Montgomery County and Montgomery County parks and found that they were not up to the ADA standards.  In August of 2011 the county reached a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) that identified 19 parks that needed barriers to access removed.  Stratton Park was one of the parks identified and is the last park in that group to be brought into compliance.

The main improvement will be a new sidewalk connecting the baseball field, parking lot, grills, picnic shelter, playground, tennis courts, basketball courts, and connecting to Democracy Blvd.  This sidewalk will not be lit at night and will not be permeable.

The old grill will be removed and two new grills (one of them ADA compliant) will be installed on the opposite side of the pavilion.

The parking lot will be kept the same size but re-configured to increase the parking spaces from 26 to 30.  Two of them will be handicapped spots.

There will also be several underground stormwater management areas to contain runnoff from the area and allow it to recharge the aquifer.  The speed bump will also be rebuilt to better divert water from the parking lot into a stormwater management area.

The port-a-potties will remain, but will get there own enclosure that is not part of the parking lot but near it.

Happening around the same time, but technically unrelated, the basketball courts and tennis courts will get revitalized.  This process usually takes a couple of weeks, then, if they paint the courts they have to wait for the asphalt to cure first so that adds another couple of weeks.

The residents who came to the meeting did have some suggestions:
  • Extend the sidewalk to the Surrywood Rd access path behind the baseball diamond.
  • Look at ways to increase safety at the entrance to the parking area (by installing sidewalks, speed bumps, or narrowing the entrance so people can't park in it).
  • Include an unpaved trail around the perimeter of the park's open area.
  • Situate the sidewalk connection to Democracy Blvd in a way that prevents children on bikes from riding straight onto Democracy, and see if there is a way to discourage people from jaywalking at that connection.

The parks department plans on starting this renovation later this year.  They may do the renovation in phases or may temporarily shut down the park.  This is a four month project, but due to winter weather constraints it is likely to impact the spring sports season.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

County council meeting on the draft Subdivision Staging Policy

 Last night there was a Montgomery County council meeting about the Subdivision Staging Policy (SSP)  It was a chance for the public to comment on the planning board draft that was submitted to the council.  The next steps are various committee meetings on aspects of the SSP.  On Monday September 19th, Monday September 26 and Friday September 30 the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) committee will meet on the SSP.

The SSP provides the framework for development throughout the county. The intent of the Subdivision Staging Policy is to ensure adequate public facilities infrastructure, particularly schools and roads, associated with new development and growth. It sets impact taxes and fees related to infrastructure required to support new development.  Every four years the SSP is reviewed and updated.

Public comments centred around a few areas of the SSP, primarily schools, transportation, metro station areas, and the Silver Spring former enterprise zone.

The largest number of people testifying were commenting on the schools.  These were primarily representatives of the various high school clusters and the PTA.  They liked the changes in the SSP but didn't think it went far enough and think it should capture more of the cost of new school capacity for new development.

The next were developers and representatives concerned about the treatment of former enterprise zones.   Current treatment of enterprise zones and former enterprise zones is the same, they are excluded from impact taxes.  The Planning Board is recommending that impact taxes be phased back in within former enterprise zones over four years (currently downtown Silver Spring is the only former enterprise zone in the county).  Developers would prefer that the exemption of impact taxes remain, but, as a second choice would prefer that they are phased in over 4 years (the original recommendation was to phase them in over 2 years).

There were also a number of people interested in the transportation aspects of the plan.  Many were in favor of the changes which reduces the amount of parking at new development in high density areas, and eliminates the traffic tests in metro station areas.  Some people however, thought the new focus on transit ignored the plight of the tens of thousands of road users and the impact of new development on them.

The final group were from the areas surrounding downtown Bethesda.  They want the traffic tests and impact taxes to remain in metro station areas (such as the Bethesda central business district) and point out that many of the new occupants will drive, emergency services will still be needed, and trucks will need to make deliveries to the new buildings.  They also note that impact fees collected because of road congestion can be used to improve transit, walkability, and bicycle access.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Community meeting about Stratton Park on Wednesday

 At 7pm on Wednesday, the Park and Planning Commission will be hosting a community meeting at Cabin John Ice Rink (10610 Westlake Dr) to discuss possible renovations and improvements to Stratton Local Park in Bethesda.  One important item on the agenda is to discuss a new access to the park from Democracy Boulevard.

According to the public notice:
Staff will host a community meeting to review the scheduled access improvement plans for Stratton Local Park.  Meeting will be at the Cabin John Ice Rink on Wednesday, September 14, 7pm.  The work planned will include better parking, access to park amenities, including the tennis court, basketball court, picnic shelter and playground. Staff will review access from Democracy Boulevard to park as well. The public is invited to hear the presentation and offer thoughts on the access improvement plan.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The crane Returns

 The crane is back at the Mormon Temple.  After they removed it last week I thought work had been completed, but it seems they are not yet done.

The work so far has been centered on the 18 foot tall, two ton statue of the Angel Moroni.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

New traffic lights on River Road

  Yesterday I saw that state was busy installing new traffic signals on River Road and Pyle Rd, the site of an accident on February 27th that killed three family members.
The concrete bases for the signals are in, and it looks like the dug a trench on the Southbound median of River Road down from Wilson Ln.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Never ending construction on Rockville Pike

2016 intersection of MD-355 and Cedar Lane
The never-ending construction on Rockville Pike (MD-355) at the intersection with Cedar lane (near NIH and Naval Medical) continues to not end.  Currently they are actively working on the median of southbound Rockville Pike, and earlier this summer they were working on the turn lane to go from Eastbound Cedar Lane to Southbound Rockville Pike.

2016 intersection of MD-355 and Cedar Lane

You can see there are still a lot of areas that are dug up, they aren't finished yet.  This picture is looking West along Cedar Lane, both sides of the street are still not finished.

This has been tying up traffic for years now, who knows if it will still be under construction this time  next year.

2015 intersection of MD-355 and Cedar Lane
Here is the same intersection last summer (June 16th, 2015). At that time, some of the Northbound lanes of Rockville Pike were closed and they were working on encasing the stream in some nice, safe concrete.

2014 intersection of MD-355 and Cedar Lane
Here is the intersection again, this time on June 20, 2014.  Yes, that means this is the third summer they have been working on this project.  During this time, Cedar Lane east of Rockville Pike was closed.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Traffic Calming on Glenbrook Rd

 Glenbrook Road, between Bradley Blvd and Little Falls Parkway is getting some changes to slow traffic down.  Three types of traffic calming structures are in the process of being added.  In the top picture you can see two oval structures in the middle of the road, forcing traffic into a single, normal width travel lane and leaving a large but not quite lane width area of the street on the other side (perhaps for a bike lane?).

At the beginning and end of the street there are the same oval structures, but they are much closer to the curb, preventing cars from taking a straight line path down the street, and leaving just enough space for drainage between them and the side of the road.

Finally, at the end of the street, the intersection of Glenbrook, Little Falls, and Fairfax Rd has been modified.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Curb and drainage work on Fernwood and Greentree

New curb on Fernwood, just south of Michaels Dr
 For the past couple of weeks they have been replacing the curbs and improving drainage on Fernwood road near Michaels drive.  For all the talk Montgomery county does about permeable pavement, I hope this is porous asphalt, but it doesn't look like it to me.
Newly refinished drainage ditch on Fernwood, just north of Michaels Dr

 They have now started to improve some of the drainage on Greentree Road near the Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, clearing out the overgrown and clogged ditch that was there, and in at least one place re-surfacing the bottom of the ditch.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

WMAL field housing development community meeting

Toll Brothers held a community meeting today about a revised concept plan they are working on for the WMAL radio transmitter field in Bethesda, MD.

The original concept plan was submitted last November and the planning board as well as the fire department had extensive comments on it.  Toll Brothers went back and updated the plan based on those comments, and this meeting was the first chance the community got to see the plan.

The meeting was held at North Bethesda Middle school and was packed with almost every seat taken and many people standing along the sides of the room.

The new plan hasn't changed very much from the old plan (the top link in the story discusses the old plan, I won't repeat it here).  There is still 328 houses, some single family and some townhouses.  There is also still a 5 acre site reserved for 3 years for the county to purchase at fair market value if they desire it.  That reserved area includes some of the mature woodland that they can't build on anyway (and that the county probably couldn't use either).  If the county exercises the option to buy the total number of houses built would be reduced from 238 to 306 units.

Removed from the plan are any mention of a dog park, as well as the wide boulevard running north/south in the middle of the site.  Based on comments from the county, the Greyswood to Greentree interconnection has been straightened out and an access to the neighborhood via Renita lane has also been added (Toll Bros. was clear they would like this to be for fire department access only, possibly by having it gated, but the county has to agree to that).  I understand the county also didn't like the alleys behind many of the houses and how close the houses were to the road, but those concerns don't appear to have been acted on.

In addition to the road access points (three on Greentree, one on Greyswood, and the possible Renita lane access) there would be a pedestrian only access onto Derbyshire, and, if the Renita Lane access were fire department only that would be a pedestrian access as well.

The plan they showed us was just the pretty overview drawing, it didn't have lot sizes or road widths on it, so it isn't clear if any of that has changed.

School enrollment projections for the WJ cluster based on development of the WMAL radio transmitter site.
This property is zoned for the Walter Johnson cluster.  They used the county guidelines for how many students would be added to the cluster.  These projections (which during the questions, several residents suggested were too low) call for an additional 153.2 students.  That rounds out to be 78 new elementary students in Ashburton ES, 38 new middle school students at North Bethesda MS, and 38 new high school students at Walter Johnson HS.

They talked about the scope of the traffic study but said it was not complete.  One of the Toll Brothers representatives promised there would be another community meeting at a yet-to-be-determined date to focus on traffic.  One small piece of useful information they gave was that they estimate in the peak hour, this development will generate an additional 209 trips on local roads.

The site plan makes extensive use of bioswales for stormwater management.  Toll brothers claims that the impact of the development on the Chesapeake bay after the houses are built will be lower than it is today, however I find that claim dubious since it is currently undeveloped forest and grassland.  The bioswales will mostly be on neighborhood association owned land, but some (on the east side) will be on private property easements.  All the bioswales will be maintained by the association.

A line of people waiting to ask questions at one of the two microphones.
After the presentation, the community was given time to ask questions.  People lined up for access to the microphone.  Questions focused on the roads/traffic, the schools, and the size of lots and prices.  People also asked about the environmental impact of the project, such as wildlife, energy efficiency and carbon footprint.

There will be four types of housing on the site, Moderately Priced Dwelling Units (MPDUs) The pricing formula is set by the county and wasn't discussed, but they will all be townhouses.  The townhouses (not all will be MPDUs) will have two car garages with rear (alleyway) access.  They will start above $900,000.  Some of the detached houses will also be rear-load (alley access to two car garages), these will start around 1.1 million dollars.  There will also be houses with front driveways (and two car garages) on slightly larger lots starting around 1.3 million dollars.

One person asked about the 15 foot buffer between the houses on the east side and existing houses on Corkran Lane.  That will be planted as a water swale, but will be owned by, and be part of the backyard of, the new houses backing it.  Another person asked about the current wildlife in the area, including the sizeable deer herd on the property.  The response was that nothing special was planned, and they expected the deer to move out on their own as development progressed (undoubtedly onto the interstate and into the backyards of existing houses).

One interesting thing I noticed from the questions, is the people who live on the Greentree side of the field think all the traffic from the development will end up on Greentree road, and all the people on the Fernwood side of the field think all the traffic will end up on Greyswood Road.

Updated 4/9 6pm:  changed the number of access points on Greetree from 2 to 3.  A closer look at the plan reveals they plan roads that connect at Barnett Rd, Grubby Thicket Way, and at the current end of Greentree Rd.

Updated 4/14 9:45 am: Toll Brothers has posted  the presentation from the meeting here: