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Last Build Date: Thu, 19 Apr 2018 15:06:21 +0000

 



wheaton woods residents are upset about plans to build rain gardens

Thu, 12 Apr 2018 16:41:00 +0000

Montgomery County has plans to build gardens that collect and clean stormwater on the street in front of homes in older neighborhoods. Residents, however, are up in arms.A rain garden on Dennis Avenue in Silver Spring. Image by Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection.Whenever a new development is built, the developer is usually required to plan for getting rid of rainwater from big storms. They regrade the land so water flows away from houses, and often create a stormwater management pond where all the water can go.Older neighborhoods frequently lack those things. Many streets in older neighborhoods don’t have good drainage, or have streets with no curb and gutter. After a storm, water can collect in people’s yards, causing erosion or flooding. Or, it flows directly from the street into a storm drain, collecting a lot of pollutants before dumping the water into local waterways.Several years ago, Montgomery County started the RainScapes program to address this issue by building rain gardens on public property, including parks and schools, and giving private property owners rebates for building them on their land. Also called a bioswale, a rain garden is basically a landscaped area that’s designed to collect rainwater after a storm. They include a mix of plants, rocks, dirt, and even sand that filters the rainwater before it seeps into the ground below or is directed to a storm drain. Native plants give pollinators and other animals a welcome habitat.People are madCurrently, the county is working on plans to build them in Wheaton Woods, a 1950s-era neighborhood between Wheaton and Rockville where flooding is an issue. However, some neighbors are fighting it. One resident told Channel 7 that the gardens are dangerous because people will fall in them. Another claimed that they would hurt his property values, while a third worried that stormwater pollution will somehow end up in his yard instead.A yard sign in Wheaton Woods protesting rain gardens. Image by the author.Neighbors asked about the rain gardens at a recent county executive debate in Aspen Hill. In response, candidates Marc Elrich and David Blair referred to them as “pits of death” and repeated the claims that they were unsafe.Elrich, a current county councilmember, accused the county of misleading people. “The pictures that I saw are radically different from what I’ve been shown of what these are supposed to look like,” he told the crowd, adding that nobody knew if the rain gardens were eliminating the biggest sources of water pollution.According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the largest sources of pollution after agriculture come from vehicle exhaust and lawn fertilizer, things which would be pretty common in a suburban neighborhood like Wheaton Woods.Here's what a rain garden looks likeOver the past six years, county has built more than 300 rain gardens in thirteen older neighborhoods, mostly around Bethesda, Silver Spring, and Wheaton. They’re built using public funds, in the public right-of-way next to the street, and are maintained by the county. Each one costs between $25,000 and $35,000 to build.A rain garden in Sligo Park Hills, doing its job and collecting rainwater. Image by the author.What this street used to look like. Image by Google Street View used with permission.One area that got rain gardens is Sligo Park Hills, a 1930s-era neighborhood in Silver Spring next to Sligo Creek. The streets are narrow and hilly, and flooding was a recurring issue after big storms. Neighbors often parked their cars on the grass, or paved part of their yards.Residents actually asked for the rain gardens instead of having their street dug up to build a new drain pipe. Today, the streets have curbs, gutters, and lushly landscaped gardens on either side. On a rainy day last month, water steadily washed off the street and filled the rain gardens. There are curbs and gutters, and neatly defined parking spaces with pervious pavers, which also allow water to pass to the ground below.In White Oak, rain gardens were also a tool for traffic [...]



montgomery county rejects affordable housing in silver spring and will build it elsewhere

Tue, 27 Feb 2018 14:12:00 +0000

Neighbors have been fighting a proposal to build affordable senior housing and a childcare facility in downtown Silver Spring. In response, Montgomery County officials made a compromise: they’ll allow the childcare to go forward, but the senior housing will be built five miles away.Montgomery County will not build 92 apartments for low-income seniors here. Image by Google Street View used with permission.Ever since the Silver Spring Library moved to a new building three years ago, the county has been figuring out what to do with the old 1950s-era library, located four blocks from the Silver Spring Metro station on Colesville Road. County officials identified affordable housing and childcare as two major needs in the community, and put out a call for proposals to provide both on the two-acre site.Affordable housing developer Victory Housing submitted a plan to replace the library with 92 apartments and a child care center. However, County Executive Ike Leggett just announced that they’ve selected a proposal from child care provider CentroNia and the Gudelsky Foundation to simply turn the library into a child care center. The Gudelskys, who own development firm Percontee, will provide land at Viva White Oak, a mixed-use development they’re building five miles away, where Victory Housing can build the apartments.This decision appeases local historic preservationists who wanted to see the building preserved, a group of neighbors who opposed building housing (and in some cases, child care), and those who wanted the land turned into a park (despite there already being a park next door).Despite support for affordable housing, Ike Leggett sides with opponentsMontgomery County has gotten older as the Baby Boomers, the second-largest generation in American history, have aged. Fourteen percent of the county’s population are over 65, up from 11.9 percent in 2009.According to the Census, 7,100 seniors lived in and around downtown Silver Spring in 2016, 20 percent of whom live at or near the poverty level, 40 percent of whom are renters, and 24 percent of whom spend a large portion of their income on housing costs. The Bonifant, an apartment building for low-income seniors, had a waiting list of 800 people even before it opened in 2016. Homelessness has been an issue in the area; both the old library and its replacement are popular places for people to sleep at night.But neighbors of the old library claimed that building affordable housing for old people would create traffic, overcrowding, and lower property values. The county released emails they received about the proposal, excluding the writers’ full surnames for privacy purposes.The proposal “creates another monolithic building in an area that already has way too many high-rise apartment and condo buildings, and totally fails to fit into the residential profile of our historic neighborhood,” wrote Joseph G., who lives in the adjacent Seven Oaks-Evanswood neighborhood.Neighbors of the old Silver Spring Library said there wasn't enough park space nearby. Image by the author.However, many neighbors supported the proposal. (We collected over 300 signatures from people who asked the county to build homes here!) “Please know that they [opponents] do not speak for the entire neighborhood,” wrote Catherine V., “Some of us chose to live in the area because of its proximity to the urban downtown, and recognize the potential for denser development on the site to add badly needed housing for some lower-income members of our community.”This isn’t the first time this has happenedSilver Spring has had a remarkable transformation in the past 15 years as shops and businesses have flocked to downtown. A considerable amount of new apartments have been built, but there’s still a tremendous amount of demand to live here. Local neighborhood groups have a long history of fighting development that could help meet that demand.Seven Oaks-Evanswood spent five years unsuccessfully fighting a[...]



this video shows you how to find the right MCPS school for your family

Tue, 30 Jan 2018 16:57:00 +0000

There are over two hundred public schools in Montgomery County, and if you're picking a place to live, it often means comparing the schools in different neighborhoods. How can you find the right school for your family? This video shows you how.

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Recently, I interviewed Montgomery County board of education member Jill Ortman-Fouse about the best tools for learning about local public schools. While websites like GreatSchools.com assign each school a point rating based on test scores, they don't tell the full story.

Instead, Jill recommends taking a more hands-on approach. If you're curious about a school, schedule a visit, meet with the principal, or talk to neighbors whose kids attend that school. There are also a variety of online resources, including school websites, Twitter accounts, and Facebook pages, that list events going on at each school and can provide a first-hand look at what happens there.

And of course, Montgomery County Public Schools has a website with lots of information as well. Schools at a Glance is their annual report of data about every school in the system, with everything from test scores to teacher statistics to building information.

Are you trying to pick a school in Montgomery County right now? Have you picked one in the past? What tools did you use?



housing and transportation are LGBTQ issues, and politicians need to recognize that

Fri, 26 Jan 2018 15:17:00 +0000

Just in time for this year’s elections, Montgomery County has a new LGBTQ political organization. Here’s why I’m hoping that the newly-formed Queer Democrats will look at access to housing and transportation.A pride flag outside a suburban house (though not in MoCo). Photo by mary on Flickr.I first came out in 2005. If you had told me then that today gay marriage would be legal in all 50 states, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell would be repealed, and Virginia would elect a trans woman to the state legislature, I’d have said you were dreaming. Even with the 2016 presidential election, queer people have made tremendous strides. However, these things don’t guarantee that queer people can make a life for themselves.Writing in Slate, my friend and New York activist Andrea Bowen cited a study that trans people there are consistently poorer and face more food insecurity than their cisgender counterparts. “You can ban certain types of discrimination,” she writes, “but that doesn’t mean an oppressed population’s access to the things that make life good - say, food, income, or medical care - is actually going to improve.” There are challenges that LGBTQ people face across the United States, in finding work, finding economic stability, or finding a stable place to live: It’s harder for us to find jobs: queer adults are 21 to 47 percent more likely to face employment discrimination, and a study found that “observably gay” job applicants are 40% less likely to get called for a job interview.When queer people do find jobs, they get paid less than their straight counterparts. Gay men earn 10 to 32 percent less than their straight counterparts, and are more likely to be penalized for not being discreet about it (such as announcing that they live with a same-sex partner). Ironically, the income gap is largest in high-paying, prestigious jobs, not unlike those you’d find here in the DC area.It’s also harder for us to find housing: 15 percent of lesbian, gay, and bi people, and 19 percent of trans people, reported facing some discrimination in searching for housing. Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ people comprise 10% of the homeless population, and 40% of the homeless youth population, as some young people are still rejected by their families for coming out.As a result, queer people are more likely to face economic insecurity. It’s hard to keep a job when you don’t have a stable place to live (or vice versa). Twenty percent of LGBT people (and one-third of trans people) around the US live below the poverty level, compared to just 17% of single straight people. Over a quarter of queer people faced food insecurity in 2015.This is something local governments can help solveEconomic insecurity isn’t an exclusively queer issues, but it’s an opportunity to make a huge difference in the lives of queer people. It’s also something that local governments are uniquely suited to tackle. For instance, Montgomery County, like most local jurisdictions, is in charge of land use (which means where and how you can build housing) and transportation. And research shows that access to reliable, fast transportation is the leading indicator of getting ahead. For LGBTQ people who disproportionately face economic and social hardships, where you live, and what jobs you can get to, are crucial for your ability to live a good life. The lighter areas have shorter commutes, and tend to be more expensive. Image from WNYC.For example, here’s a map of commute times in Montgomery County. Not surprisingly, commute times are shortest around Bethesda, the county’s largest job center, and higher basically everywhere else. That access to jobs costs money, and in Montgomery County, communities near major job centers have seen their home values fully recover from the Great Recession and, in some cases, even rise above their 2004 levels. The median home value in the county is $420,000, putting even a modest home out of reach for many Montgomery County households. Meanwhile, f[...]



“move to the cheaper area” is good individual advice, but not a solution to our housing shortage

Fri, 19 Jan 2018 16:00:00 +0000

As house prices around Washington have risen over the past few years, everyone from friends to real estate agents offer the same advice: “Have you considered a cheaper area?” However, this advice really only works for an individual person looking for a house. Applied to an entire city, county, or region, this advice doesn’t work very well.Wheaton may be more affordable than other parts of Montgomery County, but it's not guaranteed to stay that way. Image by the author.Last week, candidates for Montgomery County executive spoke to the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors, a group that represents real estate agents in the county and the District of Columbia. (Full disclosure: I am a member of GCAAR, though I didn’t attend the event.) As David Alpert wrote last week, each of the candidates were asked where they’d recommend a young couple making $100,000 per year should live in the county. Two of the candidates, Roger Berliner and David Blair, suggested that they look at Silver Spring or Wheaton.Would our hypothetical couple actually be able to do that? $100,000 seems like a lot of money and it is, though it’s actually a little lower than the county’s median household income of $100,352 per year. But what can they actually afford here?Does this advice work?A couple making $100,000 per year makes about $8,333 per month in monthly income before taxes. Most lenders require that homebuyers spend no more than 36 percent of their income on debt, and will subtract any other debts from that amount to get their mortgage payment. (That percentage is higher for government-backed FHA loans.) They’re just out of school, so let’s assume they each have $351 a month in student loan debt, which is the national average.That leaves a monthly payment of $2,250. Assuming they can produce a down payment of $20,000 (or five percent of the purchase price), they could afford a home of about $400,000. That’s just below the county’s median home value of $420,000, according to Bright MLS, the region's multiple listing service.A map of which zip codes have more homes for sale under $400,000. Data from Bright MLS. Image by the author. Click to make it bigger!And here’s where that advice works out: as of January 17, 2018, there are 389 homes in Montgomery County priced below $400,000 and with two or more bedrooms. Seventy-five of those homes, or about one out of five, are in zip code 20906, which (depending on who you ask) is part of Silver Spring, Wheaton, or neither. The Glenmont Metro station is at the very southern edge of this zip code, so most homes here aren't close enough to walk to it.Meanwhile, all of the other zip codes with a bunch of homes our hypothetical couple could afford are all in the Upcounty, further from jobs and other amenities. Zip code 20874 (Germantown) has 39 listings in their range, while zip code 20886 (Montgomery Village) has 35. Gaithersburg zip code 20878 has 25, while 20871 (Clarksburg) has 17.What if our hypothetical buyers wanted to look inside the Beltway? They’d still have a few choices. Zip code 20910 (downtown Silver Spring) has eight homes under $400,000, while 20814 (downtown Bethesda) has ten homes. 20902 (Wheaton and Forest Glen) has fourteen homes under $400,000. It's worth noting that most of these homes are condos.If I were working with one couple looking for one house, this would be great! They’d have a few choices of different neighborhoods and home styles and likely be able to find something that meets their needs.A graph of homes currently for sale in Montgomery County under $400,000, arranged by zip code. Data from Bright MLS. Image by the author.That said, much of the county would be off-limits to them. Most zip codes have only a handful of homes our couple could afford, and several have just one or two. Yet those are the areas that are close to transit, jobs, and sought-after schools.And of course, there isn’[...]



what does discovery leaving mean for silver spring?

Tue, 09 Jan 2018 22:18:00 +0000

Tuesday's announcement that Discovery Communications plans to close and sell its headquarters is a huge blow to Silver Spring, whose revitalization Discovery helped kickstart 20 years ago. Discovery in 2010. Photo by the author. Here’s a map of the ten most heavily used Ride On routes in Montgomery County. They all have a couple of things in common, which can tell us a lot about the state of transit in the county.These are the most popular Ride On bus routes. Map by the author using data from MCDOT.For starters, many of these routes have simple, easy-to-remember routes, a key feature for growing ridership. The 46 (Rockville-Medical Center) and 55 (Germantown-Rockville) both run on Route 355 with few deviations. The 100 (Germantown-Shady Grove express) follows I-270, making one stop in Germantown and another at the Shady Grove Metro station. Riders don’t need to be intimately familiar with each route in order to use it. They just need to know where that street goes.In addition, most of these routes are pretty frequent, running all day, every day, and every 15 minutes or more during rush hour. That means riders can rely on them at all times, without worrying how they might get home if they miss the last bus.Where these 10 routes go, however, might be the most interesting part. Three of them, the 15, 16, and 20, run between Silver Spring and the Takoma-Langley Crossroads area, a dense corridor with tens of thousands of residents, shops, and jobs. It’s also where the Purple Line will go, demonstrating the there’s a lot of demand for transit here.A map of Ride On's Route 46, which has a pretty clear, easy-to-follow route along Route 355.But five of the routes, the 46, 55, 59, 61, and 100, all serve the Upcounty, the newest, most suburban, and most spread-out part of Montgomery County. The prevailing wisdom among some county officials is that transit “doesn’t work” in these areas, unlike the denser, more urban Downcounty, where all of the county's busiest Metrobus routes are. In the Upcounty, the roads are big and fast and you have to travel long distances to get from residential areas to jobs, shopping, or popular hangouts.Yet these areas still manage to support frequent, heavily used transit service. There are thousands of car-free and one-car households in areas like Gaithersburg and Germantown who depend on transit. The Upcounty also has lots of places that people want to go to: Montgomery College and the Universities at Shady Grove; two hospitals; big shopping centers like Lakeforest and Milestone; and walkable, urban-ish neighborhoods like Rio/Washingtonian Center and Germantown Town Center.That’s something to remember as the county considers building new transit lines to serve the Upcounty, like the Corridor Cities Transitway and bus rapid transit on Route 355 - as well as big highway projects like M-83 and adding new lanes to I-270. Driving rates in Montgomery County have stayed flat over the past 15 years, even as 100,000 new people moved here. And it’s because some of those people, even those coming to Germantown, took the bus.[...]