Neighboring county executives Isiah Leggett(D) and Jack B. Johnson(D) have broken through a long-standing impasse involving the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. The deal announced late last week by the leaders of Montgomery and Prince George's allows Montgomery to buy 115 acres of WSSC land to develop a science and technology center in the Cloverly area.
Montgomery leaders had been trying for years to purchase the former sludge site on Industrial Parkway just off Route 29, but could never agree on a price with the bi-county water-sewer agency. Leggett and Johnson, who controls the Prince George's appointments on the powerful commission, have apparently settled on $10 million, according to a Leggett administration official.
"This ensures WSSC a fair price and allows Montgomery County the opportunity to use available land for vital economic development purposes," the two executives said in a joint press release.
Montgomery County Council President Marilyn Praisner(D), who represents the eastern part of the county, hailed the agreement. Developing the site as a biotechnology center, she said, is expected to attract other businesses along Route 29.
Miffed About Zoning BoardFormer Planning Board and council member Esther Gelmanisn't one to sit back when she thinks something is awry. The latest target of her attention is the county's Zoning Board of Appeals, whose members have complained that they don't get sufficient backing from the office of the Montgomery County attorney when their rulings are appealed. Board Chairman Allison Fultz, a lawyer, was particularly miffed about a ruling in a case that had spanned six hearings involving the Chevy Chase home of Marc andMarianne Duffy, who neighbors had said were improperly rebuilding their entire home while labeling it a renovation. The board's decision was overturned by a Circuit Court judge last month, while the county attorney's office stood on the sidelines even though it acts as the board's legal adviser.
Gelman says the problem isn't the county attorney's office, it's the board.
In a letter to Leggett, Gelman said: "Never have I witnessed any to compare to this [Board of Appeals] in rudeness and poor procedure. There are no packets for the public: everything seems to be top-secret. When I asked to see two cases remanded by the court, I was given huge bins (larger than grocery shopping carts) to go through.
"I requested the synopsis given to BOA members. That request was refused. Not long ago, Delegate [Joan F.] Stern was told she could not send a request by fax. They do not accept any material by fax. The one and only time I have ever called the [board] because a friend out-of-town was waiting for a decision due by a certain date, the response came: 'No, it isn't ready and if you don't stop bothering me, it will never be ready.' "
Fultz said she thought Gelman had been disappointed by an adverse ruling from the board, in a case that eventually Gelman won after revising her client's proposal. Gelman's commentary about how the office works, Fultz said, "is wholly uncharacteristic of our board's practice. If there were specific concerns brought to the attention of our executive director, I would have heard about them, and this is the first I have heard."
B-Plus on Snow RemovalWhen the sleet and ice from last week's storm had been cleared, the county's chief executive gave his new administration a B-plus for handling the first major storm of his term. Leggett made his assessment after chatting with snowplow crews over a chicken dinner last Wednesday at the Bethesda depot on Seven Locks Road.
"Obviously there is room for improvement," said Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield.
Snow removal crews told Leggett that they were slowed somewhat by the amount of traffic on the roads, which made it more difficult to maneuver.
In east Bethesda, many neighborhood streets hadn't seen a plow by noon last Wednesday. In downtown Silver Spring that night, there were reports of spotty plowing on some side streets as late as 9 p.m. One plow driver, who wouldn't give his name, said the work was taking 50 percent longer than usual because the ice was much heavier to move than a powdery snow.
"The sleet makes it heavier and harder," the plow driver said.
Keith Compton, who oversees Montgomery's plowing operation, said the county's 400-person snow patrol team had salted and sanded all 3,200 miles of county-maintained roadway by midnight before the storm. But with the brunt of the storm dumping two inches of sleet through the early morning hours, it took crews longer to reach residential neighborhoods.
The mix of slush and ice proved particularly vexing to snowplows that he said need three inches of accumulation in order to be most effective.
"If this were snow, we could run the snow drill very well," Compton said the morning of the storm. "With the ice, you get into a more unpredictable situation."
With Montgomery schools closed for the balance of the week after the storm, system spokesman Brian Edwardssaid the problem at most campuses was akin to that of a homeowner who didn't shovel the front walk before an overnight freeze.
"We've got parking lots that are sealed in ice, and the stuff is like concrete. It's just incredibly dense, and so it's impossible to move," he explained. "And so we need heavy equipment, which we don't have."