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Update on the Nighttime Economy Task Force

To be competitive for creative-class workers as well as empty-nesters, Montgomery County must be able to offer the new urban quality of life that those residents are seeking. To advance this issue, I requested the County Executive to establish the Nighttime Economy Task Force, which examined policies, resources and amenities that impact Montgomery County’s nightlife offerings. The task force led to the passage of numerous pieces of legislation in the Maryland state legislature as well as the County Council, all of which make it easier for restaurant and entertainment-oriented businesses to thrive in Montgomery County. I think it has been a success.

Please see the most recent implementation report below (PDF), as prepared by the County Executive’s team.

Nighttime Economy Task Force Implementation Summary May, 2015

Task Force Recommendations

County Executive Ike Leggett appointed the Montgomery County Nighttime Economy Task Force in May 2013 to explore ways of improving nightlife offerings at Montgomery County’s urban centers to meet the changing needs of our community.

After five months of intense work, the Nighttime Economy Task Force delivered the report, “Destination Montgomery,” to the County Executive with 32 recommendations for improving options and quality nightlife in Montgomery County. These recommendations covered the following six areas:

  1. Arts and Entertainment,
  2. Business Engagement,
  3. Public Space and Amenities,
  4. Quality of Life,
  5. Transportation, and
  6. Venue Operations and Public Safety.

Implementation Overview

A year and half after the report’s official release, the recommendations are at varying stages of implementation. A few have been implemented, some are actively being implemented, others are being further evaluated, and a few are no longer applicable or supported by the County government.

Recommendations successfully implemented

  1. Recommendation: Extend the hours of operation for venues with beer/wine/liquor licenses to 2 am on Sundays through Thursdays, and to 3 am on Fridays, Saturdays, and the Sundays before Monday federal holidays.
    Status: HB-463 and SB-657 were passed were passed in support of the recommendation.
  2. Recommendation: Expedite the creation of a social venue license, and modify the current alcohol to food ratio under the Class B beer/wine/liquor license from 50/50 to 60/40, to reflect the change in increased demand for higher quality, higher priced alcoholic beverages and to encourage establishment and operation of venues that host live music and other events.
    Status: HB-142 and SB-300 were passed in support of the recommendation.
  3. Recommendation: Develop an educational Patron Responsibility Program.
    Status: Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control (DLC) has partnered with Brown-Forman and a designated driver program called “Be My Designated Driver” (BeMyDD), to encourage people to plan their night out and ensure a safe ride home. These programs are being promoted by alcohol serving venues with a planned community education program with private sponsorship.
  4. Recommendations: Planning or Zoning Changes:
    1. Amend zoning standards to provide flexibility in meeting public use space and open space requirements.
    2. Support additional density in the County’s urban areas to foster a vibrant
      nighttime economy.
    3. Explore alternative, more attractive incentives for developers to include suitable, affordable performance spaces for small and emerging arts groups.

    Status: The Montgomery County National Park and Planning Commission finalized in 2014 the Zoning Rewrite for the county which ultimately, updated zoning codes and the zoning map that helped address the recommendations listed above. One remaining opportunity revolves around understanding the opportunities available under the Arts & Entertainment Districts. The Department of Economic Development is helping draft information both for the Planning Department and other entities on the Arts & Entertainment Districts but also other related tax incentives that exist for developers including Enterprise Zones, Façade Improvements, Green Building Codes, the Public Art amenity, just to name a few.

Recommendations being Implemented (in progress)

  1. Recommendation: Improve awareness of parking options.
    Status: All three urban districts are in agreement in utilizing and promoting the ParkMe application (www.parkme.com) for visitors and consumers, which is the preferred application by the Montgomery County Parking Lot District.
  2. Recommendation: Marketing County business resources and assets.
    1. Market A&E districts and county business resources to property owners.
    2. Create, develop, and implement a marketing program for the County.

    Status: These above recommendations are being advanced by multiple partners. The three A&E districts are exploring Placemaking options to enhance urban vitality and an inviting atmosphere that include both daytime and nighttime hours. The Office of the County Executive is taking a lead on developing a comprehensive economic strategy that will include better alignment of place-based economic development and program- based economic development. It is also in the middle of a multi-year marketing and branding project with several short-term projects to be delivered in spring 2015.

  3. Recommendation: Develop and implement a busker program to provide entertainment in urban areas.
    Status: The Silver Spring Regional Center and the Montgomery County Innovation Program has been developing the idea of a busker program to be piloted with the Silver Spring Arts & Entertainment Advisory Committee, the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board and Silver Spring Urban District Advisory Committee. This group has been working on several areas including Identifying Potential Busking Areas, Developing the Specific Parameters for Busking, Enforcement, and Promotions and Marketing.
  4. Recommendation: Enhance pedestrian and bicycle access.
    Status: Bethesda, Silver Spring, and Wheaton are all moving forward to achieve this goal based on their unique needs. Bethesda has made a top priority improving lighting. Silver Spring and Wheaton have made has made pedestrian walkability a top priority through lighting, walking and biking accessibility.
  5. Recommendation: Create Urban Parks Guidelines to activate public space through design elements, enhance the greater community, and foster multiple uses to appeal to a range of demographics at different times.
    Status: The Department of Parks is working with Planning on efforts to activate spaces such as in Silver Spring, especially in areas that are not public parks but are public properties or quasi-public such as WMATA, while developing guidelines for new development particularly within urban areas to help define and develop spaces that can foster activity both during the day and evening.

Recommendations being further evaluated

  1. Recommendations: Developing transportation options.
    1. Expand the “Safe Ride” program to all weekends (Friday evening through early
      Sunday morning).
    2. Increase the number of taxi stands.

    Status: Due to the changing market and new players like Uber that are challenging existing regulations and established players like taxis, the Council is working on addressing taxi regulations that will help address the recommendations moving forward.

  2. Recommendations: Business Services Tailored to the Small Business Community.
    1. Create a concierge service that promotes positive customer service, assists with streamlining the planning and permitting process, and facilitates working relationships with multiple departments for the business consumer.
      Status: Several departments provide concierge service to small businesses including the Department of Economic Development, the Department of Liquor Control, and the Department of Permitting Services.
    2. Recommendation: Simplify and streamline the process businesses must go through in order to open an arts and entertainment venue or hold an arts and entertainment event.
      Status: The County Council has just approved a new Ombudsman in the Office of the County Executive for commercial and residential development projects who will report directly to the Chief Administrative Officer. DPS has consolidated the permitting process to support new and existing restaurants through its “Recipes for Success Packet” to explain the process of opening a restaurant in Montgomery County.
  3. Recommendation: Develop a targeted strategic plan for attracting new companies to the County, fostering entrepreneurship, and growing our existing businesses based upon the target markets.
    Status: The Comprehensive Economic Strategy underway will address the above issues and serve as a comprehensive blueprint for Montgomery County’s future economic success, including how retail and placemaking can support an overall economic vision and vitality. Achieving this recommendation would require further research into the retail inventory in the county’s urban centers ultimately leading to the creation of a retail plan for the county. This would help show gaps in retail, especially with those that are and/or can become retail destinations. That information would then lead to the strategic and targeted company attraction referenced by the task force.
  4. Planning and Development
    1. Recommendation: Reduce opportunity for crime in urban areas by incorporating Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) techniques.
      Status: This is a shared responsibility between a cluster of departments including Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, General Services and the urban districts in creative placemaking to eliminate dead spots and create an inviting atmosphere at the urban centers.
    2. Recommendation: Encourage more housing options.
      Status: Two issues related to housing options need to be addressed–the size of dwelling units and the parking standards for these developments that need to be further explored.
  5. Transportation Options at Night
    Recommendations:

    1. Improve/expand the circulator service in focus areas.
    2. Expand the frequency and reach of late-night transit service.

    Status: All three urban districts would encourage WMATA to extend hours on weekends to 3am, especially with the extension of hours to 3am in FY15. Additional bus service should be considered if demand increases over time.

  6. Urban Districts Support and Development
    Recommendations:

    1. Support dedicated public safety resources for the nighttime economy in high density
      urban centers.
    2. Increase funding for Business Improvement Districts and Urban Districts.
    3. Professionally manage and maintain public spaces through the private sector or
      through public-private partnerships (similar to the Bethesda Urban Partnership). Urban District would like to increase coordination with MNCPPC as Optional Method Developments (OMDs) come on board within the districts to activate public and private spaces.

    Status: These are long-term, broad-based recommendations, most of which will be supported as demand for services increases over time, especially for police and the urban districts services in each area. To sustain this enforcement would certainly require identifying the related departments and future funding sources, especially as it pertains to the urban districts. How this is achieved depends heavily on the types of services to be delivered in each urban district or new ones identified over time.

  7. Urban Noise Areas
    Recommendation: Amend the County’s noise ordinance to allow for the establishment of Urban Noise Areas around appropriate locations (e.g., Rockville’s Town Square, Silver Spring’s Veteran’s Plaza and downtown); increase the allowable noise levels for qualifying arts and entertainment activities in these areas to 85 dBA (measured at 100 feet from stage, PA, or other center of the performance); increase the time allowed for these levels to midnight; and ensure that nearby residents are informed prior to moving in of the possibility of event-related noise.
    Status: There are some policy considerations about the recommendation of the NETF, which is a “one-size fits all” approach that proposes a noise standard that could allow much higher noise at receiving properties than currently permitted under Chapter 31B. The recommendation also proposes a different approach to regulating noise than the current noise law by regulating the level of noise a source is permitted to produce rather than the level of noise heard by a receptor. This ignores the reality that different locations have different characteristics, and that what is reasonable at one location may be unreasonable at another. For these reasons, DEP believes it would be prudent to establish specific parameters for each UNA depending on the characteristics of the site. Some policy guidance would have to be provided regarding the balance between those entities creating the noise and those affected by it.

Recommendations no longer applicable or supported
The below recommendations are not being actively supported by the County government at this point for various reasons.

  1. Recommendation: Allow food trucks to operate after 10pm.
    Status: Montgomery County government is exploring options for mobile vending for all hours, not limited to nighttime hours.
  2. Recommendation: Artist tax that would incentivize venues that pay musicians to performance.
    Status: This recommendation is deemed a low-impact measure and thus not supported at this time.
  3. Recommendation: Development of Large-Scale Nighttime Events.
    Status: All three urban areas are concerned about large scale events that may compete with surrounding businesses.

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Snow storm resources

Following is information I hope is helpful as you prepare for the storm.

Plowing
Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) has already begun with a pre-treatment of County roads (a salt and water mix) before the snowfall. Pre-treatment lowers the freezing point on the surface so that snow will drain without freezing or sticking. Plowing will begin once three inches of snow or more have accumulated. MCDOT will prioritize emergency and primary roads and then move on to residential streets.

In response to comments from the community during last year’s storm, this year the county is launching a brand new approach to snow plow tracking, which is simpler and hopefully much more useful and reliable for our residents.

Winter Storm Information Portal

Many if not most of the biggest roads in the County are state highways. These are the numbered roads. Pretreatment and snow removal on those roads is conducted by the State Highway Administration (SHA). You can view their winter fact sheet here and/or contact them directly here. Requests or complaints about state highways that our county DOT receives are forwarded to SHA for action. The state makes its own decisions about pre-treatment and removal.

Sidewalk Snow Removal
Three years ago when the County experienced a significant storm, we saw or heard reports of pedestrians walking in the street on major roads, mothers pushing strollers over sidewalks that had not been cleared, seniors and individuals with mobility challenges unable to enter a street crossing because it was blocked by snow, and even motorized wheelchairs moving in traffic lanes on state highways (in this case, University Blvd) because sidewalks were impassable. This is why clearing sidewalks of snow is so important. Residents must clear their sidewalks from snow within 24 hours after a snow event. Please consider whether your neighbors are able to clear sidewalk snow, and if not, how you might be able to help them find a solution. For more information on this issue, visit the County’s sidewalk snow website, http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/safesidewalks/.

Two years ago I authored legislation, which the Council supported, to require the county to create a Sidewalk Snow Removal Plan. As a result, I find that the County is doing a much better job clearing snow from sidewalks where the County (or Parks) is the responsible party as well as helping clear snow from sidewalks where there may be a public safety concern. Urban districts are also doing a dramatically better job clearing snow, allowing businesses and residents to get back to usual more quickly.

Above all, I see residents pulling together to meet this challenge much better than in the past — thank you for doing your part.

Power Outages
According to Pepco, this storm may bring power outages. If you experience an outage, it is very important to report the outage to Pepco. Here is a website to use, http://www.pepco.com/pages/connectwithus/outages/outagemaps.aspx. Here is how to prepare for a power outage, http://www.ready.gov/power-outage.

County Parks Open for Sledding
Two years ago, friends asked me if they were allowed to sled on County golf course property. I inquired with the Parks Department and Casey Anderson, Chairman of the MNCPPC. I learned that there is no policy against sledding. In subsequent discussions at the Council I requested that Parks actively encourage this recreational activity by mapping great sledding hills and getting the word out. So I am delighted to share the Park’s Department newest release: Best Hills for Sledding in Montgomery County Parks!

Be Prepared
For more information, visit Montgomery County’s newly built Winter Storm Information Portal

Sign up for alerts on this snow storm as well as other important by information by visiting Alert Montgomery.

If you need assistance from the County at any time, call 311 or visit the 311 webpage.

Please do NOT reply to this email, but rather contact me by emailing Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov with any questions or concerns you may have. My team and I will be “on-call” to assist you.

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Update: New Sidewalk Snow Legislation Passes County Council

With snow in the near forecast, I am pleased to announce that the County Council passed my sidewalk snow legislation (Bill 46-16) that established a commercial-class fine for failure to remove sidewalk snow. I would like to thank Council President Roger Berliner for co-sponsoring this legislation, my colleagues on the Council for their support, and members of the community for their strong advocacy.

This legislation will enable the County to levy a fine on commercial property owners up to $250 for the first offense of not clearing snow and up to $500 for subsequent offenses. While a $50 fine seems adequate for residential properties, it has very little, if any, deterrent effect on commercial property owners. The fine needs to be larger to enable code enforcers to more effectively deal with the problem actors, which are few but have a larger impact.

Please see my full comments on the bill in the video below:

Overall, I am pleased with our progress on sidewalk snow removal, which I addressed in legislation in 2014.

  • MCDOT inventoried all of the County sidewalks and identified which ones the County is responsible for clearing. This information is organized in a GIS layer which I expect (and have requested) will be released soon.
  • In all other cases, the property owner is responsible, as per the original legislation passed by Councilmember Phil Andrews in 2001.
  • In 2015 MCDOT cleared over 50 miles of sidewalks focusing on high traffic pedestrian areas and bus stops.
  • This year MCDOT will be responsible for clearing over 320 miles of sidewalks.
  • Urban districts have significantly improved their response with better and more equipment and staff time devoted to removal.
  • In my experience, private property owners are acting with more care and diligence for sidewalk snow removal. County education efforts have made a big impact.

There is, however, more work to do, particularly when it comes to enforcement. Ensuring that the County responds to property owners who do not respond to county education efforts or personal appeals to clear their sidewalks in a timely manner is an area where I think we still have work to do. This legislation will help.

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Public hearing on new sidewalk snow legislation

Please consider testifying on behalf of legislation that I have introduced, co-sponsored by Councilmember Berliner, to promote sidewalk snow removal.

The bill, 46-16, would establish a commercial-class fine for sidewalk snow removal. This fine would enable the County to levy a fine on commercial property owners up to $500 for not clearing snow (the $500 is a maximum, not a requirement).

While a $50 fine seems adequate for residential properties, it has very little, if any, deterrent effect on commercial property owners. The fine needs to be larger to enable code enforcers to more effectively deal with the problem actors, which are few but have a larger impact.

The Council is holding a public hearing on this bill at 1:30pm on Tuesday, November 29. Please testify. You can sign up online here (look for Bill 46-16).

I am pleased with our progress on sidewalk snow removal, which I addressed in legislation in 2014.

  • MCDOT inventoried all of the County sidewalks and identified which ones the County is responsible for clearing. This information is organized in a GIS layer which I expect (and have requested) will be released soon.
  • In all other cases, the property owner is responsible, as per the original legislation passed by Phil Andrews.
  • In 2015 MCDOT cleared over 50 miles of sidewalks focusing on high traffic pedestrian areas and bus stops.
  • This year MCDOT plans to clear over 320 miles of sidewalk.
  • Urban districts have significantly improved their response with better and more equipment and staff time devoted to removal.
  • In my experience, private property owners are acting with more care and diligence for sidewalk snow removal. County education efforts have made a big impact.

There is, however, more work to do, particularly when it comes to enforcement. Ensuring that the county responds to property owners who do not clear their sidewalks in a timely manner is an area where I think we still have work to do. This legislation will help.

Thank you for your time and consideration.