Link

Is The Tiny House Movement A Big Lie?   — You can read all about it over at the Tree Hugger Blog. Click on the big red link above.

Advertisements

Florida Next Winter

Featured

Note: This post was first published Jan. 8, 2015 on one of my experimental blogs. Now it’s December 2015. The year has come and gone, and a new winter will begin Dec. 21. And I’m not in Florida yet. My excuse is that major life decisions take time. I’m working  on it. 

Baby, it’s cold outside!

Tuesday, we had snow and 26 degrees. Wednesday, it was 17 degrees in late afternoon, and down to 12 degrees by the time I got home from work, around 9:30 p.m. I live in the Mid-Atlantic states. The climate here is supposed to be relatively moderate.

Except when it’s not. Tonight, it’s cold as a witch’s tit.

The heater in my 216-square-foot apartment runs constantly all night. It can’t raise the temperature inside high enough to cut off.

Is it any wonder that every year about this time, my thoughts turn to Florida? I’ve only been there once. I flew into the Tampa airport to help rescue my brother (he was very ill) and drive him back to Maryland. I have very little direct experience of Florida, but I know a lot about it second-hand. (Update: Took a two-week road trip to Florida in June 2015 to research housing options. So I’ve made a little progress.) Continue reading

AARP Online Retirement Livability Index

A new AARP Livability Index can tell you how your city or town (or the place you’re thinking about relocating) ranks as a place to live and grow older. The Livability Index, which can rate practically any neighborhood in the U.S., goes live this week, according to The Washington Post and a host of other mainstream media outlets. You can find it at aarp.org/livabilityindex. (Interestingly, many MSM sources fail to give the url for the new AARP tool.)

AARP describes the new resource as follows:

“The Livability Index is a signature initiative of the Public Policy Institute to measure the quality of life in American communities across multiple dimensions: housing, transportation, neighborhood characteristics, environment, health, opportunity, and civic and social engagement.

An interactive, easily navigated website, the Livability Index allows users to compare communities, adjust scores based on personal preferences and learn how to take action to make their own communities move livable.”

I entered my Maryland zip code into the system and found out in about half a second that my Gaithersburg neighborhood rates 59 on a scale of zero to 100. I also received specific ratings on the following livability measures:

  • Housing (affordability and access)
  • Transportation (safe and convenient options)
  • Environment (clean air and water)
  • Health (prevention, access and quality)
  • Engagement (civic and social involvement)
  • Opportunity (inclusion and possibilities)

Housing in my neighborhood rates a measly 36. Not a surprise to me. I already know that generally speaking, you can’t buy or rent a home in Montgomery County, MD, unless you’re affluent. You need two middle-class incomes or one high income to support a family here. (That’s why I’m researching communities in Florida. The cost of living in many parts of Florida is quite reasonable, compared to the Maryland suburbs. Needless to say, the AARP Livability Index will be a great help in my search.)

On the positive side, my neighborhood rates high in Health (79), and gets pretty good scores of 64 on both Neighborhood and Engagement. (I’m doubtful about the high rating for Engagement. If AARP considered voter turnout in the last election, we would rank much lower.)

Transportation rates 56. Even if you own a car, that’s an optimistic number. The Washington, D.C. area is notorious for rush hour traffic. If you depend on public transportation, I dunno. My part of Montgomery County is past the end of the line for the Metro subway. And Metro overall? I don’t have to ride the subway every day, and I’m glad I don’t. MARC commuter trains are good if both your home and workplace are near a rail station.

The transportation score could go up or way down in the future, depending on whether our leaders and voters are willing to fund plans for the Purple Line in the southern parts of Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties, and Bus Rapid Transit in northern Montgomery.

Take a look at the AARP Livability Index. How does your hometown rate? Are your civic leaders going to be bragging, or running for cover?

— John Hayden

Montgomery County Council At-Large Candidates Debate

Your photographer failed repeatedly to squeeze all eight candidates into a  photo.

Your photographer failed repeatedly to squeeze all eight candidates into a photo.

The four incumbent Democrats running for re-election to the Montgomery County Council acquitted themselves well in a debate Wednesday night. They all know Montgomery County government and key issues, but they don’t agree on everything.

Meanwhile, both Democratic at-large challengers, Vivian Malloy and Beth Daly, proved they’re able to engage with the incumbents.

The takeaway: Democratic voters face tough choices in the June 24 primary. A few other takeaways:

  • Beth Daly, a graduate of the Democratic Emerge Program, which prepares women to run for office, is a serious candidate. One of the incumbents is likely to be bumped from the Council.
  • Tim Willard, the only Green Party candidate, might be the sleeper candidate of this election. He has no Green Party competition in June. With sufficient funding, he could seriously challenge Democrats in November.
  • Beth Daly and Marc Elrich gave hints of forming a political alliance. Daly agreed with or complimented Elrich four or five times in the debate. I don’t recall her mentioning any of the other candidates by name. When asked after the debate, Elrich acknowledged her remarks without hesitation, and allowed that he and Daly could work well together.
  • Finally, a hunch. Elrich seems like the incumbent most likely to be safe in the Democratic primary.

Development and transportation in Montgomery County were two hot-button issues in the debate. Everyone was concerned about traffic congestion, but no one had surefire solutions.

Vivian Malloy, who lives in Olney, spoke passionately for the poor, advocating more jobs and affordable housing. Beth Daly, who resides in North Montgomery, not far from the Frederick County line, spoke for protection of the Agricultural Preserve and argued that adequate infrastructure needs to be in place ahead or future development.

Incumbents Marc Elrich and George Leventhal seemed most knowledgeable and persuasive of the group. Elrich said every neighborhood is against density, and he advocated preserving existing affordable housing. Leventhal summed up the development conundrum with these words: “We have to prosper while minimizing our footprint.”

Among the participants, incumbent Nancy Floreen appeared to most appreciate the nuances of issues and the complexities of governing. Floreen smiled warmly throughout the debate, took little offense, and was reluctant to promise easy solutions. Leventhal was a bit testy at times, but very well-informed. Hans Reimer, the youngest of the incumbents, is finishing his first term. He spoke well, arguing strongly for improving Ride-On bus service for riders, and  advocating a “more vital, exciting and dynamic Bethesda.”

Most of the eight candidates support building the Purple Line, which will connect Bethesda with Silver Spring and on into Prince George’s County. All six Democratic at-large candidates participated, plus one Green and one Republican.

Elrich also defended Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as more economical than other transit options. Leventhal, Daly and Reimer supported BRT as well.

Candidates views on development varied. The future of single-family housing in Montgomery generated the most heated exchange. Marc Elrich and Beth Daly took the cautious approach to development and density. Vivian Malloy and Robert Dyer advocated attracting big businesses for economic growth. Leventhal, Floreen and Reimer all agreed that single-family housing will remain viable in the county. “What’s really extinct is affordable housing,” Malloy said.

Dyer was the only Republican on hand for the debate, and Willard represented the Green Party. Neither Republicans nor Greens face a contested primary in June, so the spotlight was on the six Democrats.

Out of one million residents in Montgomery County, only a little more than 100 attended the debate. Turnout in June is likely to be light.

Those are my first impressions after the debate. If anyone has different views, please comment. Also see David Lublin’s post, “Verdict On The At-Large Debate” at TheSeventhState.com.

— John Hayden

Change And Construction Is A Constant In Montgomery

A CONSTRUCTION CRANE TOWERS OVER A BUILDING IN PROGRESS IN THE HEART OF ROCKVILLE.

A CONSTRUCTION CRANE TOWERS OVER A BUILDING IN PROGRESS IN THE HEART OF ROCKVILLE.

Back in the day, the symbol of change was the bulldozer. When the suburbs were being created in the 1950s and 1960s, one was never far from the sight or sound of bulldozers grading the land for construction of single-family houses on quarter-acre lots.

Fast-forward to 2014, and the symbol of change is more often the construction crane. Single-family houses — mostly for the high-end market — are still constructed in Montgomery County, but that’s no longer the most common form of construction. More often, you see multifamily housing. The garden-apartment style of multifamily has been replaced by four-story buildings, and the trend is to go higher and denser.

We seem to have general agreement in Montgomery County in favor of tall development, rather than sprawl development. “Smart Growth” is the catchphrase.  The profiles of some communities — Bethesda, Silver Spring, and Rockville — have been redefined by high-rise construction. We’re not talking skyscrapers, but that time may come.

For a more in-depth look at change and economic development issues in Montgomery County, please see my post today in David Lublin’s TheSeventhState political blog under the title, “Contemplating Life Inside An Economic Engine.” 

— John Hayden  (BJohnHayden@icloud.com)

Real Estate Development Always At Issue in Montgomery County Elections

UPDATE: For more on economic development and growth in Montgomery County, past and future, please see my post, “Contemplating Life Inside An Economic Engine,” at the TheSeventhState political blog,  http://www.theseventhstate.com

_______________________

Most Americans outside the beltway* are justified in thinking that the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area is a one-company town, and that company is the U.S. government with its myriad contractors.

But here in Montgomery County, MD, the industry with political clout, decade after decade, is real estate development. It’s always a lucrative proposition. Start with some relatively inexpensive farmland, rough-in a few roads and water and sewer, build housing, and sell the added value for a tidy profit. Styles change — ticky-tacky ranchers, split-levels, townhouses, McMansions, luxury apartments or condos — but the concept remains the same.

An example of the modern residential construction style, the four-story rectangle with pitched roof. It allows somewhat denser development than the three-story garden apartments of the 20th  century.

An example of the modern residential construction style, the four-story rectangle with pitched roof. It allows somewhat denser development than the three-story garden apartments of the 20th century. This one is in Germantown.

Development has been a political issue in every local election for as long as I can remember. The slogans are short and sweet: No Growth, Slow Growth, Managed Growth, Smart Growth.

Sometimes the focus appears to be on related construction, such as adequate schools, highways, pubic transit, even parks and open space.**  The undercurrent is always development. Some recent twists have been fill-in development and redevelopment.

Election 2014 will be more of the same. If anything, the focus on development has been reinvigorated by the recent debate regarding Ten Mile Creek and Clarksburg. Bill Turque of The Washington Post has a concise story today highlighting the influence of developers on Montgomery County local politics. It’s a little bit “inside baseball,” but it might be a good introduction for voters new to the area.

The proximate subject is the Democratic primary contest for the District 1 County Council seat between Roger Berliner and Dutchy Trachtenberg.  The tantalizing story is a political fund-raiser associated with the development community calling the Sierra Club “the most vicious anti-development, anti-growth organization in the country.” For the record, the Sierra Club endorsed Berliner over Trachtenberg.

The “most vicious anti-development” trash talk is only a passing tempest in a long campaign season. But for any new MoCo voter, the story pulls back the curtain on the role of political contributions by real estate development interests. Montgomery county is home to a million people. Candidates for County Executive and the nine County Council seats face about a million pounds of pressure from all sorts of interests, with developers supplying much of the tonnage. Developer interests, as might be expected, are usually at odds with environmental concerns.

A secondary insight from the story is the role of candidate endorsements by influential interest groups such as the Sierra Club. Every imaginable interest group throughout the state is pestering candidates with questionnaires, with endorsements often forthcoming for the right answers. However, endorsements are sometimes often made in arbitrary fashion behind closed doors. In many cases, endorsements go almost automatically to incumbents, rather than challengers.

— John Hayden

* Maybe it’s time to retire “inside the beltway” and replace it with “inside the InterCounty Connector.”

** In the early days of suburbia, country club golf courses were often cited as “open space.”

Any thoughts on the wild world of nearly unlimited campaign money?

Good Intentions . . . In A Tiny Apartment

small kitchen sink piled with dirty dishes

I promised myself I wasn’t going to let this happen in the new apartment. Famous last words.

On the positive side, the sink is small — you might even say tiny, as kitchen sinks go — so it limits the number of dirty dishes that can pile up. Plus, I left most of the dishes at the old apartment. How many dishes does one bachelor need? Continue reading

Luxury With A Water View

Image

seashore houses

Grand cottages on the water, vacation homes of the one percenters. They make a pretty picture. They’re located in West Ocean City, not far from the Route 50 Bridge. The picture was taken with a zoom lens from across the bay in South Ocean City.