Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Magic Ingredient: A Commitment to Culture

Aside from traditional municipal services like road paving, police protection, and zoning regulation, what makes a place truly a City and not just a random collection of houses and businesses?  One key ingredient to that quality of life we enjoy is a robust set of cultural programs and resources, and indeed that is one of the most important ways that Gaithersburg is special.  It was evident this past week as we dedicated the new Observatory Park to commemorate the historical and scientific significance of the Gaithersburg Latitude Observatory and the connection it created between our City and the city of Mizusawa, Japan.  It was evident again on Monday as our intrepid Multicultural Affairs Committee hosted another public celebration attended by representatives of the Japanese Embassy, where kimono-clad musicians strummed expertly on ancient-looking Japanese instruments while City officials appealed for donations to the Red Cross to help rebuild Japan after the earthquake and tsunami.

And it will be on full display in all its glory come this Saturday, where the cultural component that beats at the heart of a vibrant and lovely City will blossom during the 2nd Annual Gaithersburg Book Festival.  This free all-day event — the brainchild of my friend and colleague Jud Ashman — brings together a stunning array of highly accomplished national and local authors,  all converging on the grounds of Gaithersburg City Hall to share with us their insights and to celebrate literary excellence.

There will be something for everyone — book-signings, children’s activities, poetry readings, college essay writing workshops — and every genre imaginable will be represented, from histories to mysteries, romances, business how-to books, and much much more.  I strongly encourage  you to bring your family and friends to join in this festival of all things literary, a true crown jewel in our impressive collection of artistic and cultural events provided, supported, or co-sponsored by the City throughout the year.  Is it any wonder Money Magazine/CNN named Gaithersburg one of the 25 Best Places to Live in America?

The Book Festival is rapidly becoming a premier event in the region, as reflected in the fact that C-SPAN will be broadcasting it live all day.   After you’ve returned from the Festival on Saturday and are still awestruck by how wonderful it was, check out our long list of other terrific cultural events and programs in the City of Gaithersburg.  There are several free summer concerts, Shakespeare in the Park, art gallery receptions at the Kentlands Mansion and the Arts Barn, plays at the Arts Barn,  signature events like Celebrate Gaithersburg, Oktoberfest, the Labor Day Parade, Independence Day fireworks, recreation classes for children and adults, regular receptions to honor various ethnic and geographic heritages, and so much more.  We also team up regularly with schools, business groups, and other organizations to provide even more special programming.  You can learn more at the City’s website.

As a City Council member, I have consistently supported artistic and cultural programming and sought creative ways to preserve such a critical element of our quality of life even when budgets are tight.  The free outdoor movie nights that have become a staple of our summer programming were my idea.  I am a frequent audience member at performances throughout the city, and I am proud to say that my wife Rachael was a featured artist at an Arts Barn gallery showing.  With your support, I will keep working to protect and expand the tremendous cultural opportunities that make Gaithersburg what it is — a wonderful place to work, live, play, and raise a family.

Kentlands Day

I hope to see you at the third annual Kentlands Day celebration on May 7, 2011.  For more information, click here.  This is always a wonderful opportunity to celebrate all that is great about the Kentlands — the schools, the businesses, the commitment to service, and the strong sense of community.  Enjoy the parade, the live entertainment, and the delicious foods of the “Taste of Kentlands,” and help support good causes like the Kentlands Community Foundation and Lakelands Park Middle School — organizations that the City has been proud to work closely with and to support.

As a former resident (and continuing property owner) in Kentlands, I can attest to the special quality of life in this idyllic New Urbanist community, and I have worked hard as a City Councilmember to ensure that Kentlands thrives going forward. I participated in the 2007 charrette, and  soon after being sworn in, I pushed for more signage to advertise the many wonderful shops and restaurants.  I also fought for an extra $50,000 in last year’s budget to implement recommendations from the 2007 charrette, even though it was a very tight budget year.  My family and I are frequent patrons of the restaurants and stores in Kentlands (as well as events at the Arts Barn and Mansion, Oktoberfest, the 5K race, the Main Street Music Festival and more).  I was an early proponent of the Kentlands Downtown Partnership when I served as the City Council liaison to the Market Square Advisory Committee, and I have been in discussions with the KDP about exploring the creation of an official Arts & Entertainment District in Kentlands.  Additionally, I have strongly advocated for the “Kentlands alignment” of the future CCT route along Great Seneca Highway.

Kentlands is a special place — the award-winning flagship development showcasing New Urbanism for the nation — and Kentlands Day is a great way to celebrate it.  I hope to see many of you there, and I hope to have your support at the polls in November so I can continue my work on the Council supporting the current and future success of the Kentlands.

 

Economic Development

We all know the old addage that you have to spend money to make money.  Last year, as cities and counties throughout the nation were still reeling from the Great Recession, the Mayor & City Council of Gaithersburg made a rather unconventional decision to significantly beef up our funding of Economic Development initiatives.  The logic was simple:  At some point the economy is going to start turning around, and Gaithersburg wants to be prepared to be among the first to attract businesses and redevelopment opportunities, which will in turn grow our tax base and put us on a more secure long-term fiscal footing, and give us the ability to return to the level of service we provided to our residents and businesses before we were forced to make painful cuts.  We wanted to send a clear signal to the world that we are open for business.  Evidence is mounting that the decision has paid large dividends.

Notwithstanding the lingering effects of a global economy struggling to emerge from recession, our very assertive and forward-looking approach to economic development has positioned Gaithersburg at the forefront of recovery.  We are making good on our commitment to spur a long-awaited revitalization of Olde Towne with approved plans, and even visible construction progress, on “game-changing” projects like Archstone, as well as Summit Center, the Y Site, and the Fishman site.  The new apartments at 355 and West Deer Park Road are filling up at a steady clip. We are also very excited about the construction of the new Gaithersburg High School, which the City has worked hard to realize along with our community partners, scheduled to break ground on May 26, 2011.  We also fought for, and won, an expansion of the State-designated Enterprize Zone which creates tax incentives for businesses to locate in Olde Towne.

Ryan and his colleagues at the groundbreaking of Archstone in Olde Towne in January 2011.

Beyond Olde Towne, we are seeing movement at Crown Farm, Watkins Mill, and Parklands — several cutting-edge new “smart growth” projects that are mixed-use, walkable, and transit-oriented.  There is no denying that a LOT is happening in Gaithersburg, and that we are far ahead of the pack regionally and nationally in terms of municipal economic recovery.  We are not out of the woods yet, but all of this activity in Gaithersburg is a positive sign that our aggressive economic development strategy is working.

But development projects are only one piece of the puzzle.  Another key element of the equation is the growth of high-quality jobs amidst a robust business climate.  Using incentives funded by our Economic Development Toolbox program, we are seeing an incredible wave of high-tech and healthcare company expansions in Gaithersburg.  At our City Council meeting on May 2, 2011, my friend Maryland House Majority Leader Kumar Barve spoke of the high level of competence of our council in managing the city and joked that it seemed like a new biotech company is opening every other day in Gaithersburg!  Indeed, we had a ribbon cutting for Noble Life Sciences in Gaithersburg the same day.  Noble Life joins several other cutting-edge biotech firms that have chosen to locate in Gaithersburg in recent months, including Integrated BioTherapeutics and Zyngenia.  Some of the credit for attracting these great businesses belongs to the Gaithersburg Accelerator, an innovative public-private partnership between the City of Gaithersburg and Scheer Partners.  The Accelerator offers affordable lab space and facilities for “second stage” life sciences companies that have outgrown incubator programs.  Larger companies like MedImmune also continue to grow and add more high-quality jobs to the City.  Geospatial imaging company MDA Information Systems, Inc., is moving to Gaithersburg too, bringing hundreds of good jobs to the City.  Kaiser Permanente is also moving a large array of state-of-the-art medical services to fill 200,000 square feet of space at Watkins Mill.

Smaller retail businesses are also blossoming around the City.  Gaithersburg’s first chocolate factory — Spagnvola — opened in the Kentlands with a fabulous ribbon cutting on April 2.  In recent months the Kentlands has also welcomed Panera, Coal Fire pizza, Bark!, Alliage Salon & Spa, Pinky & Pepe’s Grape Escape, 16 Handles frozen yogurt (with two locations — one in Kentlands and one in Washingtonian Center), and others.  Elsewhere in the City, businesses like the Slice of Olde Towne pizza shop, which opened in 2010, are thriving. It’s no wonder Money Magazine/CNN said that “Gaithersburg’s ability to attract start-up companies has allowed it to rebound from the recession better than many other places. ”

I am running for re-election to continue the leadership and the policies that have helped foster this renaissance of economic activity in the wake of the recession.  Gaithersburg is on the map as a prime destination for businesses large and small, bringing jobs and contributing to our high quality of life, due in no small part to our laser-like focus on economic development.  But our work is not done, and I ask for your support so I can help lead the City to build upon the many successes we are already seeing.

 

Green Week

Green Week in the City of Gaithersburg kicks off today with our Environmental Awards reception.  For details on events throughout the week, click here.  This series of interesting programs is a great way to highlight Gaithersburg’s special commitment to being green.

We have been recognized as a “Tree City USA” for many years, and in recent years we have approved some of the most cutting-edge construction standards to ensure that all new commercial, multifamily residential, and municipal buildings are LEED certified.  Our new Youth Center in Olde Towne recently was named the very first LEED-Platinum youth center in the entire nation! The City’s environmentally friendly vehicle fleet includes hybrid cars, retrofitted diesel trucks, and a new fuel management system to reduce pollution and waste.

We are using stimulus funds to conduct energy efficiency audits at city facilities, and some of our newer developments have committed to LED street lamps.  Our renowned Winter Lights festival has now also converted to LED lights.  We are pursuing legal proceedings to require Pepco to create incentives for converting more street lamps to LED bulbs.  Our city council meeting packets have gone digital to reduce our paper consumption, we have kicked off an employee vanpool, and our development goals focus on walkable, mixed-use, transit-oriented communities in line with “smart growth” sustainability standards.

We preserve open space with several city parks and with strict requirements on new development.  We are designing new stormwater management standards in line with new state and federal directives for protecting the Chesapeake Bay, and we offer subsidies for the installation of rain barrels.  Our new procurement guidelines also weigh in favor of companies that use environmentally friendly methods.

And of course, we provide free 65-gallon recycling bins for every single-family home or townhouse that wants one, and we were one of the first jurisdictions in the region to implement “single stream” recycling and accept a wider array of plastic containers and other items for recycling.

It’s no wonder our official city color is green and our logo centers around a tree.  I am proud to have helped institute many of these initiatives, and I will continue my strong commitment to environmentalism and energy efficiency if re-elected.

 

Mitzvah Day

It has been a busy weekend!  I got to enjoy some quality time with little Jack while Rachael snapped pictures at multiple photo shoots.  We spent a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the University of Maryland for Maryland Day — the annual campus open-house — Jack’s first visit to daddy’s alma mater.

This afternoon we participated in the annual “Mitzvah Day” at our synagogue, Shaare Torah in Lakelands, where Rachael serves on the Social Action Committee, planning programs to give back to the community and serve those in need.  Rachael helped plan, and then documented with her camera, several activities including making paper flower arrangements for senior centers, writing cards to soldiers overseas and donating DVDs to them, baking muffins for the homeless, donating blood, and making pink hair extensions to raise money for breast cancer research.  It was a very successful day with participants of all ages.  We are all very proud of Rachael and her entire committee for organizing a great event.

NAACP Dinner

I was honored to sit right in between Congressman Chris Van Hollen and Congresswoman Donna Edwards at tonight’s annual NAACP banquet.  The City of Gaithersburg sponsors the event for the Montgomery County branch of the NAACP each year, but this year was especially nice as our own City Manager Angel Jones was the chairperson of the event and she did a fabulous job organizing a well-run gala.   It was a packed house filled with hundreds of activists including many elected officials.  The keynote speaker was former Baltimore Mayor and current Howard University Law School Dean Kurt Schmoke, who inspired the crowd to build on past successes.

Finding myself sitting right between them at the City of Gaithersburg’s table, I also didn’t miss the opportunity to explain to Reps. Van Hollen and Edwards the challenges facing municipal governments in this economic climate, and to lobby them on the need for Community Development Block Grant funding from the federal government.  And because spurring economic development is a key to Gaithersburg’s future success, I also took time to urge some of the state legislators at the event to support funding for the Watkins Mill interchange, which will inject much-needed energy into the revitalization efforts for that area.

The speeches and the vocal performances, along with the presentation of awards to many impressive educators and students, reminded everyone present to renew our commitment to improving our community and to celebrating education, the arts, and activism.  It was a terrific evening, and as always, I was proud to be a part of it.