Thursday, December 17, 2009

Letters to the Editor: Code Enforcement

Here's a copy of my letter to the editor of The Gazette, which appeared in the December 16 issue:

Council has already begun to address code enforcement

I appreciate The Gazette's explanation of the Code Enforcement legislation ("Code enforcement clog," Dec. 2) that the Montgomery County Council is currently considering. As you mention, the council has been left with the task of determining how to balance a neighborhood's deep-rooted concepts of what is acceptable with the property rights of others.

However, I would ask that you bear with me while I take a moment to further clarify one point from [a] Nov. 25 article, "Leggett blasts council for slow response on code enforcement."

It seems that the biggest problem that has been identified in both [that] article and County Executive [Ike] Leggett's press conference that led to the story is a problem that has already been resolved: on-street commercial vehicle parking. [The article] begins by stating Ms. Marilyn Piety's concerns with large trucks parking on the narrow streets of her Silver Spring neighborhood.

As you may recall, I introduced Bill 27-08 in June of 2008. That bill, which was passed in January and took effect on July 1, 2009, prohibits the parking of heavy commercial vehicles in residential neighborhoods. None of the remaining code enforcement bills relate to this issue. I would urge Ms. Piety, and others with similar concerns, to contact their local Montgomery County police district, as the police are responsible for enforcing this legislation.

I appreciate the county executive's concern and am pleased that we have already addressed what seems to be the most immediate issue for affected communities. The remaining pieces of the code enforcement legislation have wide-reaching effects, and as The Gazette rightly pointed out, they deserve careful, thorough consideration.

Mike Knapp, Germantown

The writer is member of the County Council and chairman of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, which oversees code enforcement issues.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Full Text of the Knapp Resolution to Create an Ad-Hoc Water Quality Working Group

On Tuesday, October 13, the County Council unanimously supported the resolution I introduced to create an Ad Hoc Water Quality Working Group to look at water quality issues under the Clarksburg Master Plan. Here's the full text of the resolution, as approved by the County Council:

Resolution No.: 16-1149
Introduced: October 6, 2009
Adopted: October 13, 2009

By: Councilmembers Mike Knapp, Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal, Duchy Trachtenberg, Marc Elrich, and Roger Berliner

Subject: Ad Hoc Water Quality Working Group


1. The Clarksburg Master Plan, approved by the County Council in 1994, established four stages of development. The Plan mandated that certain criteria must be met before development could proceed to the next stage. Currently, all of the triggers required to advance Stage 4 have been met. One final requirement is a Council evaluation of the water quality results of Best Management Practices (BMPs) in the area.

2. On January 26, 2009, the County Executive released the 2007 Special Protection Area Annual Report. The Report presented early monitoring results indicating that there have been detrimental impacts to the biological health of the streams in Clarksburg. However, the Report’s information was based on 2007 data collected before much of the stormwater management infrastructure planned for Clarksburg has been constructed. Therefore, the true stormwater impact of potential development is not complete.

3. The Master Plan offers four options for the Council to consider as the final step after its evaluation: grant water and sewer category changes without limits on property owners; grant water and sewer category changes with certain conditions to protect Ten Mile Creek; consider other land use actions; or defer action on a Water and Sewer Plan category change pending further consideration.

4. In addition to considering the well-documented importance of impervious surfaces for maintaining water quality protection, the Council would benefit from an update on many new and pending regulations and initiatives for improved sediment control and stormwater management and their potential to improve development standards for water quality in Clarksburg. For instance, regulations resulting from the Maryland Storm Water Act of 2007 will apply to all new development that does not have final grading and stormwater construction plans approved before May 2010. Projects without their final approval may be redesigned to meet the new standards which could result in a significant decrease in impervious surface. The County’s Department of Environmental Protection is completing its draft of the Storm Water Management Law, Chapter 9, as required by the State which will base the new requirements on “environmentally sensitive design”. One new aspect of the law will reduce runoff by requiring many smaller basins causing the water to infiltrate into the soil rather than become concentrated in large ponds.

5. There are many other initiatives that will impact the construction industry to be reviewed as to their effect on water quality. MDE is in the process of updating the Revisions to Erosion and Sediment Control Standards and expects to complete this by December 31, 2009. The recent changes to National Pollution Discharge Elimination System Permit Requirements for Construction Activity, effective July 13, 2009 will also have a positive impact. In addition, at the federal level the Environmental Protection Agency’s Creation of Effluent Limit Guidelines and the Development of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load are being developed.

6. These new and pending changes to the overall stormwater management and water quality requirements should be studied and reviewed as to their potential to improve development standards for water quality in Clarksburg.

7. Since the approval of the 1994 Clarksburg Master Plan, Montgomery County has gained experience in protecting streams using land cover requirements, including limiting impervious surfaces and maintaining riparian and upland forest cover, in the Upper Paint Branch and Upper Rock Creek Special Protection Areas and in the Sandy Spring/Ashton Rural Neighborhood Cluster Zone in Upper Northwest Branch. Key to the establishment of these land-cover-based watershed protection approaches was the County’s recognition of the importance of headwater stream systems. These systems provide the foundation for a stable flow of water, including through maintenance of groundwater recharge levels.

8. A Working Group that would collect information on all new and pending State and Federal regulations regarding water quality, stormwater management, and sediment control; analyze how these new requirements could impact future development in Clarksburg, especially in Stage 4; and seek input from Clarksburg stakeholders as to the methods they propose for minimizing development impacts on water quality in the Ten Mile watershed would help the Council determine steps necessary to preserve water quality in Stage 4.


The County Council for Montgomery County, Maryland approves the following resolution:

The Council will appoint an Ad Hoc Water Quality Working Group and direct the Working Group to issue its report and recommendations by February 1, 2010.

The Council intends to review the report of the Ad Hoc Water Quality Working Group.

The Council intends to defer any Water and Sewer Plan category change related to Stage 4 in Clarksburg until after it has reviewed the Working Group’s report.

This is a correct copy of Council action.
Linda M. Lauer, Clerk of the Council

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Testimony Regarding the Proposed Frederick County Church

As you may have read in articles like this one, there is currently before the Frederick County Planning Commission a proposal for a 138,000 square foot church in Frederick County. This church would have an impact on our county, as it lies just over the Montgomery County line and therefore much of the access to the facility will be through our county.

The Frederick County Planning Commission is meeting on Wednesday, October 14 to discuss the matter. I've submitted the following testimony for the record:
OCTOBER 14, 2009

Madam Chairman, Members of the Frederick County Planning Commission, Ladies and Gentlemen, I appreciate your allowing me the opportunity to provide you with testimony on this proposed project. As you know, the application before you has an impact not only on Frederick County, but on the Upcounty region of Montgomery County that I represent.

Let me say first that I understand the issues this application poses for you. Over the years, Montgomery County has struggled when beneficial but large Private Institutional Facilities (PIFs) have applied to locate in our Agricultural Preserve. In the past, these PIFs had been given greater flexibility for development. However, over the past ten years, Montgomery County began to realize that we had a problem of two community interests, agriculture and institutional development, competing to use the same land.

There is very limited public water and sewer service in our Agricultural Preserve, and one way the County Council decided to protect our rural land and the wells in the area was by limiting water and sewer service to support a PIF on land zoned Rural Density Transfer (RDT). As part of our 2003 – 2012 Comprehensive Water Supply and Sewerage Systems Plan Amendment, the Montgomery County Council voted to prevent publicly-funded support for community service to PIFS and to prohibit community water and sewer service to PIFs in the RDT.

In addition, in 2005, the Council limited any multi-use sewerage system in the RDT to 4,999 gallons per day. This was done in an effort to ensure that development of PIFs in a rural and agricultural area was kept in a scale appropriate to the area.

One additional issue that has come to our attention regarding the current application before you came from our Fire and Rescue officials. The roads in the part of Montgomery County leading to this facility are narrow. With only one road leading directly into this proposed facility, it is imperative that you consider the safety element should there be an incident.

In spite of the benefits that organizations such as Global Mission Church might bring, when weighed against the potential adverse impacts of this large-scale proposal on a rural community with narrow roads, reliance on well water, and the need to protect its agricultural land, this project raises very serious concerns for me. I hope you will carefully consider how this facility will impact this area and that you will make your decision with great caution and thoroughness.

I appreciate the opportunity to make you aware of our concerns.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Life Sciences and Technology Economic Development Strategy for Montgomery County


As the nation begins its emergence from the most difficult economic downturn in 70 years, Montgomery County has the potential to lead the coming economic resurgence with a focus on innovation opportunities for the knowledge economy. However, this leadership role will require that we take clear and decisive steps to build upon the technology assets that exist in our County. As in the past, a part of our County’s strategy must include appropriate land use designations and incentives. However, we must look further than land use. We must recognize that other jurisdictions have also been successful following our lead in developing strong programs to identify emerging technologies and create new business opportunities. We must do more.

In the mid-1980’s Montgomery County made a strategic decision to establish the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center which was the first location in the nation zoned exclusively for life sciences. In the coming weeks, the County Council will begin its review and revisions to the Gaithersburg West Master Plan and the White Flint Master Plan. Simultaneous to this, it is imperative that the County also establish the economic development framework that will not only help make these land-use plans successful, but more importantly, establish the framework for our County’s broader economic growth.

There can be many elements to an economic development strategy, but following is an outline of key components to reinvigorate our County’s efforts in the life sciences and emerging technology arena. There will be recommendations coming from the County’s Life Sciences Task Force sometime later this year. Those recommendations will supplement/complement these concepts to make an even more dynamic economic development strategy.

These 10 elements can establish a pipeline to provide access to new technologies, creating synergies between federal labs and academic research to make these technologies more robust, establish commercial opportunities for these new technologies, provide space and a location for new companies, and enhance a workforce to allow these new companies to grow locally. There are a number of ways to achieve these objectives, but it is vitally important that we establish this strategy in order for the Gaithersburg West Master Plan or any other land use plan focused on economic development to be successful. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the County Council and with the County Executive to achieve economic prosperity for today and generations to come.

Build Upon Existing County Assets

(1) Establish Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) for partnerships to increase academic research – Montgomery County is unique for counties of its size and wealth in that it is not home to a major academic institution. Fortunately, there are efforts underway within the University System of Maryland at the Universities at Shady Grove to increase academic programs and particularly, academic research. Johns Hopkins University has an emerging academic presence and, as the owner of one of the largest parcels in the Gaithersburg West Master Plan, has the opportunity to increase its world-renowned research in the county. It is critical in the coming months that the County seeks to establish memoranda of understanding that outline how the County and these institutions will partner to establish a long-term plan for academic research growth.

(2) Work to refine federal conflict of interest requirements – One of the most significant aspects for the success of the technology industries in California and Massachusetts is the transfer of technology and ideas from researchers in some of the nation’s leading research institutions like MIT, Harvard and Stanford who are funded in part by the federal government. Montgomery County has a number of institutions that rival these fine institutions, yet we don’t see the same number of new businesses being formed. Part of the reason for this is the conflict of interest requirements placed upon researchers in federal institutions. Clearly there must be guidelines to ensure that the taxpayers receive the financial benefit of federally-funded research, but we must come up with a better way to ensure that breakthrough technologies are developed commercially and made available to improve the human condition. We must work quickly and diligently with our federal representatives to strike the appropriate balance that allows for this to occur.

(3) Establish strategic partnerships with federal labs – While Montgomery County is home to numerous federal labs including the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to name a few, there are no broad-based partnerships in place to aid ongoing research activities or for the commercialization of technologies. Other jurisdictions with federal research institutions have established strategic relationships to accomplish similar objectives that benefit local economies and help achieve the research institution’s federal mandate and mission.

Implement Economic Development Initiatives

(4) Develop a plan for attracting/allocating life science/technology firms at the county’s signature sites (White Oak, Shady Grove, Germantown, Bethesda, Silver Spring) – The County has a number of attractive land use initiatives underway that provide unique opportunities for attracting new technology firms and locating emerging firms. Each of these areas provides different qualities for different types of organizations. For example, the FDA expansion at White Oak provides a location for regulatory affairs organizations, but as the era of personalized medicine becomes more of reality it will be important for many life science firms to be located near the FDA in order to keep up with evolving technologies and regulations. The County must assess the types of opportunities that exist at each of these locations and work with property owners and businesses to establish a process that locates firms in the best locations for their needs.

(5) Establish a technology pipeline with federal labs and county incubators – One of the most significant elements to Montgomery County’s success in the life sciences has been the number of federal scientists who wanted to start companies and didn’t want to leave the area. As a result, Montgomery County is home to MedImmune, HGS and the JC Venter Institute. Montgomery County has a strong incubator program that can be leveraged in conjunction with the federal labs to provide the space to start the next generation of companies with local scientists. Working in conjunction with our federal institutions we can continue to retain this international expertise residing in our local jurisdictions, as well as find ways to encourage those scientists to turn their research into science the general public can use.

(6) Establish a local biotechnology tax credit – Maryland State Delegate Brian Feldman of Montgomery County sponsored legislation three years ago that established a statewide biotechnology tax credit that has been an incredibly successful program, resulting in companies waiting in lines overnight to apply. The Council should establish a similar local biotech tax credit in the coming year.

(7) Re-introduce a green tape approval process for qualified technology firms – In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the County utilized a “green tape” approval process for life science firms in an effort to make the establishment and/or expansion of these firms easier and more user-friendly by expediting County review and permitting processes. Montgomery County should re-initiate this green tape process for firms in the priority technology areas that have already been identified by the Department of Economic Development, including life sciences, information technologies, health care and telecommunications.

Invest in People

(8) Increase access to management talent and provide in-depth support and mentoring from people with experience in starting and growing companies - Having access to exciting new technologies and scientists is not in itself enough to make for a thriving technology economy, It also is vital to have the management expertise that knows how to make technology commercially viable. Through the County’s incubator system, we have an opportunity to provide support and mentoring for companies as they are starting out, but we must also recruit successful managers to aid in this process. There are a number of ways to achieve this by using both public and private sector support. We must explore these options and move quickly to put a program in place.

(9) Ensure workforce development – Montgomery County is already among the most educated jurisdictions in the nation with more than 55 percent of our adult population holding bachelor’s degrees, and having the highest number of doctoral recipients of any county in the nation. Nevertheless, it is important that we build upon that foundation to ensure our workforce has the skills necessary to work in a knowledge economy. We must enhance programs at Montgomery College, the Universities at Shady Grove and Johns Hopkins to ensure that employers can re-train employees, but more important make sure that our residents have access to programs that will make them eligible for employment in current and emerging technology firms.

(10) Enhance career pathways for Montgomery County students – Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) by any measure are among the finest in the nation at making students college-ready. One of our challenges, as well as one of the challenges for our nation, is to make sure that our students understand the career opportunities that are available to them in a knowledge economy. It is important for students to understand the relevance of the courses that they are taking to a series of career pathways. There is already a nascent effort underway within MCPS and Montgomery College, but this needs to be enhanced and made more robust by working with our four-year institutions and the private sector.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"A Vision of Science in Montgomery County"

I recently wrote a column for the Gazette outlining my hopes for our county's high-tech future. Here's how it starts:

Montgomery County is uniquely situated in the scientific community — even if those of us who live here don't know it. We hear a lot about the "technology corridor" or "DNA Alley," but what does that mean, why should you care and does it mean anything for our future?

There are two technology corridors in Montgomery County — a big one on Interstate 270 from the District of Columbia to Frederick County and a smaller one on Route 29 from Silver Spring to White Oak. Billions of dollars of research takes place annually in these corridors.

The National Institutes of Health spends more than $2 billion for research in Montgomery County alone. The Food and Drug Administration is completing a multi-million dollar expansion of its White Oak campus to oversee drug development and food safety. The National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Department of Energy are investing millions of dollars here every year.

Montgomery College has the largest science and engineering programs of any two-year community college in the nation and is constructing new buildings in Rockville and Germantown. MedImmune and its parent company, AstraZeneca, are hiring 800 new employees this year. Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) remains the world's largest private funder of basic life sciences research.

In short, this represents the most significant set of life science resources in one place, an unparalleled foundation for scientific discovery. Isn't it enough just having these phenomenal assets in our community in the first place?

It's not.

Wanna know why it's not? You can read the rest of the piece right here. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Investing in our Most Valuable Resource

What are we teaching our kids? Two years ago, the National Academy of Sciences commissioned a blue ribbon task force chaired by the CEO and Chair of Lockheed Martin (and Montgomery County resident), Norm Augustine, to examine the state of the competitiveness of our nation’s workforce.

The findings of this panel are quite distressing: As the rest of the world is making changes to their education policies and curricula to increase their focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (generally known as STEM), the United States is producing fewer college graduates in these fields than before.

In fact, the number of college graduates we have in our nation is quite startling. Even though a person with a bachelor’s degree makes an average of $51,206 while a person with only a high school diploma makes just $27,915, only a quarter of nation’s population -- that’s right, 25% -- have a college degree.

So while Mr. Augustine and the National Academy of Sciences have raised the broader issues of competitiveness at the national level, it is critically important to remember that most of the changes that need to take place will have to happen at the local level.

We are beginning to work on this in Montgomery County. Three weeks ago, I introduced a bill, cosponsored by two of my colleagues, Valerie Ervin and George Leventhal, that would establish a scholarship program for students attending Montgomery College and the Universities at Shady Grove who choose to get a degree in an area that will allow them to be employed in a key job area in our county, such as math and science teacher, health professions like nursing, engineering, and child care. In exchange for the scholarship the recipient would have to agree to work in Montgomery County for a period of four years. This provided an opportunity for our County to invest in our most precious commodity, our people, and then allow our County to see a return on our investment.

Last week, with the support of Councilmembers Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal, I introduced the second installment of legislation that will improve our local competitiveness. The bill would do three things:

1) provide matching grants for our teachers to attend summer institutes in science, math and technology in order to update their skills and state of the art knowledge;

2) provide grants to local institutions of higher learning to offer a 2 year, part-time master’s degree program that focuses on science and math, and

3) provide incentives to instructors who teach advanced courses (Advanced Placement and/or International Baccalaureate) and who have students successfully complete these courses.

These bills are just a few small things that we must begin to do in order to ensure that our children have the skills to be successful as they become adults which in turn will ensure that our nation remains competitive in a global marketplace.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Doing The Math

Boy is it ugly out there! Everyone is having budget issues and your county is no different.

To meet the needs of our approximately 965,000 residents, our county budget is about $4.2 billion. That comes out to about $4,350 per resident. It's getting hard to maintain the current level of services we're providing because a sagging economy means we're having problems generating as much revenue as we originally anticipated. Why, you may ask? Didn't the county know this would be a tough year?

Actually, we did know -- but until we actually see some of the revenues come in, we don’t really know exactly how big a problem we’re facing. Interestingly, most of our revenue sources are okay; the real problem is in the income tax.

In Montgomery County, a lot of our income tax revenue comes from people paying capital gains taxes, which is usually generated from investment income. Obviously, there aren’t many people making investments right now -- so our current calculations show we’re already off about $590 million from what we were originally anticipating.

We're running low on funding, and we've already agreed to not increase taxes during this difficult fiscal time. So, what do we do?

Well, our schools are getting some funds from the federal stimulus package. That'll help a bit. Additionly, the County Council will have to work with our employee organizations (unions) to re-negotiate the current contracts to eliminate cost of living allowances (COLAs), just as the school system had already done with its employee organizations. That'll save us about $125 million.

After that, we'll have to re-focus our county’s efforts, clarify our priorities and make reductions –- not necessarily fun, but necessary. Fortunately, our residents have already helped us by responding to a county-wide survey that was conducted last year. In that survey, you told as that your three most important areas of focus for the county are public safety, education, and a basic safety net of social services. Given this feedback, in my mind we have a good place to start.

Finally, in year’s past, it has been assumed by many organizations and individuals that once the County Executive’s budget proposal is submitted to the County Council, it provides a stone-carved blueprint, and that there will be few big changes in what is ultimately approved. That's not the case.

This year, the County Executive has made many assumptions in his budget proposal that may still require us to make additional reductions to close the deficit. So, everyone should be aware that we have a long way to go -- and we'd also love to have any feedback that you would like to provide during this process.

The budget public hearings are on April 14, 15 and 16 -- and if you want to sign up to testify, call 240-777-7931, or feel free to e-mail any thoughts that you may have.

Monday, March 23, 2009

This Time, It's Personal...

I was pleased last week that we were able to open a brand new fire station – for the first time in nearly thirty years -- serving a new area in our County.

When the County opened Station 29 in downtown Germantown in 1981, it served a community of only about 20,000 people. Germantown now has about 86,000 residents -- and until last week, it still had just one fire station. With the opening of Station 22, we incorporated the history of the first Station 22 (which was on Bradley Blvd. before it closed in 1978) with the newness of our community, to increase the availability of critical public safety assets for that community.

This one is actually personal for me. While my home is only two miles from town center in Germantown, there are no hydrants in my neighborhood. And as I witnessed, there can be devastating consequences when the fire and rescue service does not have the right tools to do its job.

In February 2002, my neighbor’s home caught fire, and I stood with them on my front yard and watched their home burn to the ground. Now, there were lots of reasons that this happened on this particular day, but one of the most significant was lack of access to appropriate public safety resources. This should never be the case in our county.

Unfortunately, the story gets worse. Station 22 was initially approved by the County Council in 1999 and could have been in position to address community needs much sooner. But it wasn't -- and it wasn’t because of a lack of resources. We had the money, but we didn't have an efficient and effective process in place to get it spent and begin work. So I'm pleased that we've been able to get the logjam removed. In fact, we're now on track to have a second new station open next year in East Germantown, and in coming years, we're converting the interim station that we located in Clarksburg into a full station. We're also moving ahead with a critically needed new police station in Gaithersburg.

Public safety assets aren’t as high profile as some other projects, but I can’t think of anything that is more important for our residents. I’m glad we’re making some progress.