Monday, December 28, 2015

Tacky Park

Taco Bell recommendation.  Apparently, being an existing business or use isn't required for approval of an "interim" development for existing businesses or uses.

Meanwhile, Dan Reed! has a list of notable events in Silver Spring in 2015, almost all of which involve redevelopment and economic growth.  My understanding is that county officials were fairly apoplectic 10-15 years ago when downtown Silver Spring had come to be perceived as "low rent" and made sure that investments in infrastructure were made to change that image.  After all, blight wasn't supposed to be something that existed in Montgomery County.

Instead of priding itself on being hip and innovative, which it really isn't, Takoma Park should play up its Tacky Park roots.  Local officials should tour our abandoned storefronts when they visit the new transit center and gaze at the dumpsters that greet visitors to our community.     

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Langley Theatre

Man, the Crossroads area shopping centers used to be cool.  The one where the new transit center is going up used to house the Langley Theatre, a thousand-seat Streamline Moderne baby built in 1952 complete with a soundproof-glass encased crying room for parents (i.e. mothers) who wanted to go catch the latest Montgomery Cliff flick but didn't want to completely neglect their parental responsibilities.  The theater was even equipped in the '70s with the gimmicky Sensurround technology for movies such as "Earthquake" that benefited from the use of low-frequency bass speakers to rumble theater patrons during appropriate moments of the film.  The location was actually a showcase theater for local chain K/B and also featured exclusive first-run engagements of films such as "The Godfather" and "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" in the '70s.  Unfortunately, as with many movie theaters, it was twinned in the early '80s in an unsuccessful attempt to keep up with more modern multi-screen complexes and eventually closed in the early '90s.

There's now a discount clothing and uniform store at the location.  A few stores down, there are three storefronts adjacent to New Hampshire Avenue that are fenced off and look to be abandoned, if not condemned.  There's also a row of shops along New Hampshire that instead of facing the road have no entrances or even windows in that direction and instead have an industrial-sized dumpster greeting new arrivals to the transit center in that direction.

Talk about the last picture show!   

Friday, December 25, 2015

Rock n Roll

With the long overdue inclusion of power pop gods and recent Fillmore Silver Spring guests Cheap Trick, here is my list of the eligible acts most deserving of induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Note:  I, along with the Hall organizers, understand "Rock and Roll" in this context to generally mean American popular music (or more precisely, English-language music popular in the US) of the rock and roll era, from about 1955 on.  As such, I have no patience with the "It's a joke that N.W.A. (or ABBA or Donna Summer, etc.) are in when everyone knows that Foghat played real rock and roll and still aren't in!" argument.
  1. Whitney Houston - I keep having to check that she hasn't already been inducted by acclamation after her tragic early death a la Lou Gehrig.  Immensely talented singer who sold billions of records and had any number of iconic moments (singing the Star Spangled Banner as the first Gulf War began, telling Diana Sawyer that "crack is whack," allowing herself to appear in 11 unforgettable episodes of "Being Bobby Brown").  Perhaps enough time has passed for people to properly celebrate her talent and accomplishment. 
  2. Janet Jackson - Another extremely talented and successful African-American female singer who sold tens of millions of records and influenced generations of performers.  Perhaps hall organizers need to be reminded that rock and roll is just what white people started calling rhythm and blues when they got around to watering it down a bit.
  3. Dire Straits - This one I really don't get.  Dire Straits would seem to be a natural choice for hall honchos such as Jann Wenner - 4 or 5 musically accomplished white guys who could really play and wrote catchy songs like "Sultans of Swing" and "Money for Nothing" and were the biggest band in the world in 1985.  Plus, they're English, for pete's sake!  Perhaps Mark Knopfler has let it be known that he has better things to do than show up and play with his former bandmates at the induction show.
  4. The Cars - Paraphrasing "Wayne's World," I think that American suburban teens were issued a copy of their debut album as part of freshman orientation in the fall of 1978.
  5. Cyndi Lauper, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Kool and the Gang, Sade, Depeche Mode, the Cure, the Smiths, Erasure, Eurythmics, Roxy Music, Tina Turner (solo), KRS-ONE, Eric B and Rakim

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

WAH, Wah!

Proving that the second time is the charm, at least when it comes to state administrative health care facility reviews, Adventist HealthCare has finally gained approval from the state Health Care Commission to build a new 170 bed, $331 million hospital complex at White Oak.  The facility, scheduled to open in early 2019, will replace the current Washington Adventist Hospital facility in Takoma Park, which originally opened as a sanitarium in 1907.

Somewhat predictably, there has been some moaning and gnashing of teeth in TP about the loss of services.  My favorite response came from the Takoma Voice, which characterized Washington Adventist as "Takoma Park's only hospital," which makes sense for a community with 17,000 residents.  Adventist HealthCare commissioned a study that predictably forecast huge economic benefits for the East County from the move; I think that it will provide the "long-neglected area of the county" with another development anchor in addition to FDA headquarters.  The city of Takoma Park submitted a fairly bleak statement to the state commission that "envision(ed) a dying campus" at the current site after the move.

Some of this may have been a plea for sympathy, but the financial prospects of the Takoma Park site don't look good.  The commission previously rejected a more ambitious proposal for a White Oak hospital with 249 beds in 2012, so the approved proposal retains the hospital's inpatient psychiatric service facilities at Takoma Park for the timebeing.  The 40 bed facility, however, is projected to be a loss leader, and Adventist HealthCare can request that it be transferred to White Oak after five years.  The health care corporation is also required to maintain a 24/7 urgent care facility at Takoma Park, although this requirement could also eventually be reduced or eliminated by the state commission.

From my perspective, the hospital move is inevitable, if not overdue.  The hospital has been built out at the present site for decades.  The hospital needed to move to a larger site, much as Adventist church headquarters moved from Takoma Park to White Oak in 1989 and the once-massive Adventist printing facilities moved from the Takoma section of DC to Hagerstown in 1983 (only to be shuttered earlier this year as the worldwide faith transitions to digital media for its publishing purposes). 

It will be interesting to see what, if anything becomes of the current site.  For a complex that employs 1300 people, the current hospital has remarkably little impact on the surrounding area, in part because adjacent areas have always remained residential.  The fact that there haven't even been functioning sidewalks between the hospital and Washington Adventist University campus and the nearby shopping areas at Flower Avenue and Piney Branch Roads probably hasn't helped either.  I'd like to see the city and county pursue a headquarters for a federal agency at the site when the requirements mandated by the state commission are lifted.  After all, the site will then be within walking distance of multiple Purple Line stops at University and New Hampshire and Piney Branch.  Moreover, such a transition would be consistent with the disposition of its more famous predecessor, the Adventist sanitarium at Battle Creek of Kelloggs and "The Road to Wellville" fame.  It's now the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center, of all things.     

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

We're #8!

Takoma Park is the 8th most liberal city in the country based on political contributions, just behind Berkeley and ahead of Albany (aka "North Berkeley) and El Cerrito (aka "North, North Berkeley," aka "The Town that Produced Creedence Clearwater Revival and Where Metallica Crashed for a While After Hooking Up with Kirk Hammett in the Early 80s," aka "The Place Where I Got My Hair Cut When I Lived in Berkeley").  Interestingly, whereas Takoma Park has essentially nothing in common with Berkeley (among other things, Berkeley is an actual city), Wheaton always reminded me a lot of El Cerrito.  Both are neither close-in nor far-removed suburbs that were their area's version of an all All-American town in the '50s and '60s, complete with signs welcoming people with emblems of all of the local civic clubs (Elks!  Moose!  Kiwanis!) and centered around a shopping center (Wheaton and El Cerrito Plazas) instead of a downtown.  Both eventually got stops on subway systems that were developed around the same time (although I'm surprised that they didn't extend the Red Line past Silver Spring until 1990) and are now quite diverse and have a good selection of ethnic restaurants. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Monday, December 14, 2015

You're Next ... on Sports Call!

Anyone who lived in the DC area in the '80s remembers the distinctive voice and shtick of Ken Beatrice, who hosted the popular "Sports Call" program on WMAL from 1977 to 1995 and who died last week.  At the time, people were generally amazed by the notion of someone being knowledgeable about topics as seemingly esoteric as potential Redskins 7th round draft picks.  I even remember how it was a big deal that he took a leave of absence supposedly due to exhaustion in the early '80s.  It turns out that the real cause of his distress was an article to appear in the Post that pointed out various exaggerations about his background and reporting (among other things, Ken sometimes made up those stats he rattled off about potential draft picks).  The Post story was written by Tony Kornheiser of all people, and Ken's starpower was never quite the same again.

Here's hoping that they serve jamocha shakes from Arby's in heaven for Ken's sake.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

WGTS - World's Gateway to Service

I always find it interesting that one of the most valuable entities in Takoma Park gets such little local attention.  WGTS, the contemporary Christian music radio station owned by and operated at Washington Adventist University, was valued at at least $25 million in 2007 when American Public Radio came close to purchasing the station.  They planned  to convert it into a news and public affairs station that would compete with WAMU and WTOP.  At the time, the endowment of the then-named Columbia Union College was said to be around $4 million.  According to a subsequent article -
WGTS-FM broadcasts from a converted World War II-era Quonset hut squeezed into a corner of Columbia Union College's shoe-box campus in Takoma Park. The building's roof leaks. Inside, the station's cramped offices are outfitted with enough hand-me-down furniture to stock a Goodwill store. Today, the general manager's German shepherd, Andy, is hanging out, wandering from room to room between naps.
but the station was also said to have a fairly large and extremely loyal groups of listeners throughout the DC area.

I can't imagine things changing much at the nonprofit, listen-supported station, but it would be nice if such a potentially valuable resource had more of an impact in its community and in the area generally.  Oh, and also a roof that doesn't leak. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Guns

Seth Grimes on the possibility of productive gun control legislation.  The Washington Post on the Supreme Court's recent refusal to hear an appeal of a lower court decision to allow localities to enact more stringent gun control.

As an aside, my brother once worked as counsel for the Brady Center to Prevent Handgun Violence.  Their strategy was to copy the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement and sue gun manufacturers on behalf of states and localities to recoup costs associated with gun violence such as emergency room and Medicaid expenses.  I never really understand the strategy - tobacco companies like Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds made billions and were huge corporations.  Gun manufacturers like Colt and Smith and Wesson were oldline New England manufacturing companies barely hanging on.  I was generally right although I think that they did win a few cases.  Of course, inevitably the gun companies would threaten to declare bankruptcy and/or Congress would prohibit such lawsuits so he ended up going and teaching torts and Constitutional law to others.   

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Starbucks in Takoma Park

Somehow this story made the local news on Channel 7.  They did mention that Takoma Park already has a Starbucks.  We apparently are the "outskirts" of town.  As opposed to Old Takoma. 

Update:  The ABC affiliate in Baltimore has weighed in and thinks that Takoma Park is a "hipster enclave."  Ha, ha, ha! 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Get on the Bus!

It looks as though there is momentum among county leadership to improve bus service.  Great!  The question appears to be how those improvements will be implemented.  County council member Hans Riemer is advocating for expansion and improvement of existing service, specifically with regard to limited-stop, express bus routes.  Hey, that's exactly what I want!  According to Bethesda Beat, "Council member Hans Riemer suggested Thursday that those pilot projects could consist of limited-stop routes along the county’s existing bus lines with the goal of speeding up how long it takes a bus to get from one end of its route to the other.  `We could have a limited-stop system operating in 2016,' Riemer said."  He also added, "At least we could start getting momentum with getting riders going. This planning is building toward construction projects that we don’t know yet how we’re going to pay for.  I just feel like all these discussions about the perfect system get in the way of making progress."

BRT advocate and fellow county council member Mark Elrich is still dismissive of such incremental approaches.  "I probably couldn’t disagree more," Elrich said. "We have fundamental problems in this county. We have a level of development coming that our infrastructure can’t support and everybody knows it. Virginia is not sitting around twiddling its thumbs saying, ‘I think we’re going to do a pilot here and a pilot there."  Elrich also proposed taxing developers of properties surrounding BRT routes to pay for their development.

Look, I favor big-budget, coercive socialist planning as much as any loyal Montgomery County resident, but why don't we begin by improving the service that we do have and thus implicitly rewarding the long-suffering residents, many of them working class and immigrants, who have been patiently riding buses for years?  Incremental but sustainable improvements are likely to actually get implemented and will increase demand for public transit.  I would love to see lanes of traffic on New Hampshire Avenue or Columbia and Rockville Pikes dedicated to bus service, but the rationale for such conversion, which would face significant opposition, will be much stronger when these corridors have developed large and growing MetroExtra bus riderships.  In the absence of such established demand, Erlich's proposals will continue to appear to be a Great Leap Forward lacking practicality in terms of need, sustainability, and expense.  
 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Planning, Or the Lack Thereof

I sent the following letter to Neil Braunstein, the relevant Planning Department staff Planning Coordinator,(neil.braunstein@montgomeryplanning.org) and Casey Anderson, Planning Board chair (mcp-chair@mncppc-mc.org) regarding the proposed Taco Bell with drive-through at the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and Holton Lane.  We'll see what Mr. Braunstein recommends, but approval with the condition of removal of the drive-through would be consistent with the stated criteria of evaluation of need provided by the Planning Department.  The Planning Board hearing is January 7, so I assume that Mr. Braunstein is currently preparing his recommendation.

                I am writing to ask that the Planning Board reject the application for a Taco Bell fast food restaurant with drive-through at the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and Holton Lane in Takoma Park (Plan #820150150).  This action is well justified given that the proposed development with automobile-oriented drive-through is inconsistent with the adopted Takoma Langley Crossroads Sector Plan and that the traffic-congested Crossroads area is already saturated with an excessive number of fast food restaurants with drive-throughs that contribute to traffic congestion.  This decision is particularly needed by the Montgomery and Prince George’s County communities, given that the Crossroads area has the highest number of pedestrian accidents and fatalities in the state.

The county’s relevant zoning provisions and stated criteria for evaluation of these provisions require rejection of the proposal.  Section 7.3.4.E.3 of the Zoning Ordinance states, “To approve a site plan for a Restaurant with Drive-thru, the Planning Board must also find that a need exists for the proposed use due to an insufficient number of similar uses presently serving existing population concentrations in the County, and the uses at the location proposed will not result in a multiplicity or saturation of similar uses in the same general neighborhood.   Gwen Wright, Director of the Montgomery County Planning Department, has affirmed through letter to the City of Takoma Park regarding this proposal that Planning Department staff and the Planning Board will consider all relevant aspects of saturation of similar uses including traffic conditions and compliance with the standards of adopted development plans.  She wrote on October 16, 2015, “Ensuring that public streets are not overburdened by traffic generated by a proposed drive-thru helps answer the question of a saturation of uses.  Ensuring conformance with the master plan will help answer the question of the sufficiency of the number of existing similar uses and saturation of those uses, by comparing the existing conditions with those envisioned by the master plan’s future land use and urban design goals.”

                The proposed development with automobile-oriented drive-through is thoroughly inconsistent with the area’s Sector Plan, which was approved and adopted by the county in 2012.  The Plan states, “Takoma/Langley Crossroads will be a transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly community that celebrates and builds on the cultural diversity of the Crossroads community. Smart growth and transit-oriented development support the integration of mixed land uses into communities as a critical component of achieving a better place to live. This Plan reduces automobile dependency by locating a mix of uses convenient to homes and adjacent to transit, and by providing alternatives for walking, cycling, and transit within a physical environment that meets the community’s needs” (page 17).  Simply put, an automobile-oriented restaurant with drive-through represents the antithesis of the county’s stated vision of pedestrian- and transit-oriented smart growth development for the area.  As such, the proposal should be rejected.  

                The proposal should also be rejected according to the provided criteria given that a drive-through is inappropriate for the Crossroads area due to existing traffic congestion in the sector.  New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard are already heavily trafficked and densely congested roadways.  Such congestion will only intensify with the imminent construction of the Purple Line along University Boulevard, which will involve the permanent removal of two lanes of automobile traffic.  Allowing another drive-through will only direct more traffic to the area and exacerbate traffic congestion.  Such an outcome is highly undesirable, especially given that the Crossroads area already has the highest levels of pedestrian accidents and fatalities in the state, a situation due in large part to residents who rely on public transportation crossing busy and congested roadways.  Adding another drive-through will only worsen this condition.

                The revised needs analysis submitted by the applicant supports these objections.  It points out that there are already 6 fast food restaurants with drive-throughs on University Boulevard and another 3 on New Hampshire Avenue in the immediate vicinity of the proposed development.   It notes that several of these existing restaurants serve authentic Latin American cuisine, in contrast to the proposed development, in the highly diverse Crossroads area, which has a large Latino population.  The report also repeatedly notes existing problems with traffic flow and congestion caused by the presence and design of automobile drive-throughs at these restaurants.  

The applicant’s proposal is thus inconsistent with the relevant zoning provisions and the stated criteria for their evaluation.  Planning staff has confirmed that compliance with the adopted sector plan and contribution to good traffic flow and safety are essential for approval of the proposal.  The sector plan specifies redevelopment to promote pedestrian- and transit-oriented uses.  Construction of yet another automobile-oriented fast food restaurant with a drive-through would only undermine and delay such much-needed redevelopment.  The applicant’s own analysis has already demonstrated that there is an excess number of restaurants with drive-throughs in the Crossroads area, and the excessively high number of pedestrian accidents and fatalities in the sector attests to the results of this type of automobile-oriented development.  As a result, the Planning Commission should reject the submitted proposal.