County Liquor Stores Losing Money, and What To Do

Montgomery County has an unusual alcohol policy. Restaurants and private stores must buy every bottle of wine, whiskey or beer from a County warehouse.

(Unless it was made locally, in which case it can be delivered by the maker directly.)

The County also operates 25 no-frills retail stores. They are the only stores where you can buy spirits.

Hundreds of private stores — but only a handful of grocery stores — sell beer and wine.

If you follow local issues, you probably know that our system generates a lot of revenue, $20-$30 million per year, for schools, parks and other priorities.

What might surprise you though is to learn that the net profit is entirely due to the warehouse operation. The County’s retail operation actually loses money — about $5 million a year!

In this year’s budget review, in dialogue with Councilman Katz, the ABS (formerly DLC) shared that they had recently made changes to their accounting practices to better track the profit and loss of each store. They said a few stores actually lose money. Keep reading >>

5 Point Plan to Power Up Montgomery County’s Economy

5 point plan to power up Montgomery County's economy

Dear resident:

Montgomery County is an amazing place. There is so much positive change here. We get so many important things right.

We are also facing some challenges, particularly when it comes to economic development. Our job growth has slowed and if the trend becomes a long term one, there will be profound consequences.

That is why I am working on an economic development plan — to help us power up.

The need is clear. In 2018, Virginia generated 71% of all new jobs in the Washington region, according to the Fuller Institute. So far, 2019 numbers show Virginia generating an even larger share of the region’s jobs, as high as 90%.

This is a huge change from the historical pattern, where Maryland generated about one-third of the jobs. For Montgomery County, it threatens our sustainability.

For the past year, I have been talking with business and education leaders about how to chart a better course. With a focus on public private partnerships to drive investment and policy, we can generate momentum and results.

Following are five policy areas that have risen to the top and that I intend to address in an ongoing manner as chair of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee.

Of course this list is not exclusive of other initiatives or economic development priorities. There are many others that we will be taking up, from 5g to opportunity zones to bus transformation to housing.

Nevertheless, these themes embrace multiple initiatives and have broad impact.

Hans Riemer's 5 point plan for job growth. 1. Purple Line Innovation District 2. North Bethesda economic development 3. Tech Talent Pipelines 4. More entrepreneurship from our federal labs 5. Transit for Upcounty and Across the River

1. Purple Line Innovation District

Recently PHED was briefed on the affordable housing goals proposed by the Purple Line Corridor Coalition, a community driven campaign. To fulfill that inclusive vision, which calls for securing at least 6,000 units of affordable housing in the County along the corridor, we will need to develop a specific plan, targeting housing finance to acquisitions as well as spurring redevelopment with high affordable requirements. That conversation is underway.

With a housing strategy under development, we must maximize the economic potential of the Purple Line. It is a perfect tool to grow our economy, by creating a thriving urban environment that is connected to some of the world’s most powerful research hubs.

With Bethesda and NIH on one end of the line, NOAA, Montgomery College and Silver Spring just a few minutes from the University of Maryland and its nation-leading computer science program, with NASA and FDA nearby, the anchors are there for a technology-driven science corridor.

The Purple Line is a great opportunity to form a bi-county economic development partnership to recruit companies to the corridor, and I am working on that now with Danielle Glaros, Prince George’s PHED Chair. You have seen the news reports that Northern Virginia jurisdictions are working together to attract companies. We can do the same.

We need to work with business owners and educational institutions to explore locating new research labs and facilities in Silver Spring and Bethesda. There are many possibilities, from a new university campus to incubator lab space.

Beyond marketing the corridor, we need to build walkable and bikeable communities there. We have a model bike network under construction in Silver Spring and another one planned in Bethesda that we need to complete urgently. We need great public spaces.

It’s an incredible opportunity. Let’s work together to make the Purple Line corridor an inclusive economic engine for our future prosperity.

2. North Bethesda Economic Development

Our County has an expansive vision for an urban corridor up and down Rockville Pike. But you wouldn’t know it from what you see on the street there, as the road hasn’t changed much from its suburban highway imprint. That mismatch between our vision and reality is holding us back.

In North Bethesda, large employers are making investments in new office markets and vibrant communities. We can support them by enhancing Metro stations and rebuilding Rockville Pike to become a walkable, transit-oriented community.

Let’s start by building a new entrance to the White Flint metro. That has been a big battle for two consecutive capital budgets. Alongside Councilmember Andrew Friedson, I am a strong supporter of the project as well as remaking the intersections in that area so that they are safe and walkable.

With that in motion we also need to add add street furniture and art and design and actually create the vision that we are trying to market. North Bethesda can become a thriving urban center.

We have a lot to do to make North Bethesda into the dynamic office market that we have envisioned it to be to support our future growth. Let’s get going.

3. Tech Talent Pipelines

In today’s tech focused economy, companies chase talent and talent drives growth. Montgomery County is a talent factory thanks to our superb schools, higher education programs, and highly diverse community. But we can and should do more.

In our bid for Amazon HQ2, Maryland and Montgomery County pledged a major education investment to support Amazon’s job growth. Maryland and Montgomery County should follow through on that vision regardless of Amazon’s location, because it will help our County attract and retain technology focused companies, and support our residents and growth going forward.

Montgomery County and Maryland education leaders need to design more degree programs that are aligned with the emerging needs of our growing employers, through collaboration with the Universities at Shady Grove, Montgomery College and the University of Maryland, all workforce development powerhouses.

Meeting to develop new Cloud Computing Degree program

I convened a meeting with the Universities at Shady Grove, Montgomery College, KID, and Amazon to form a partnership for a new Cloud Computing degree program. The goal is to build a tech talent pipeline for cloud computing sectors.

The New York Tech Talent Pipeline initiative is another great model that should be duplicated. Bringing companies to the table with higher ed partners, they provide workers with no-cost training in tech specialities. We can do that here.

To diversify the pipeline, Montgomery County needs more STEM programs in schools and an ambitious apprenticeship program. Montgomery County should build off of its successful Summer Rise program, championed by Councilmember Craig Rice, to make internships year round. CareerWise Colorado is a great model to replicate.

And Councilmembers and the County Executive are working together on the possibility of a new KID museum / skills center and STEM school facility in Silver Spring, where we can model talent pipeline programs that promote equity.

Our first joint committee meeting of the PHED and Education Committees this year focused on the Tech Talent Pipeline. We are moving forward.

4. More Entrepreneurship from our Federal Labs

Finally, we need to focus on leveraging the tech resources we already have — some of the world’s most powerful research institutions — NIH, National Cancer Institute, NIST, to name a few.

These labs pack the same research power as America’s top universities. But universities have evolved into economic development engines more successfully than these Federal labs, thanks to deliberate strategy and policy making that supports entrepreneurship.

NIH spends more on research conducted here in Bethesda than it sends in grant money to all of the research institutes in Massachusetts, which fuels the vibrant Boston bio health sector. While NIH does spin off benefits to our growth, the state and county do not do nearly enough to leverage the opportunity.

To fuel our growing biohealth sector, we need to triple down on programs that support entrepreneurship in our community of NIH and National Cancer Institute scientists and visionaries. With NIST we can promote cybersecurity entrepreneurship. With FDA we can focus on medical devices; with NOAA, climate science and geographic and weather tech. That’s just a sampling.

At the highest level, reforming federal policies that keep innovations and scientists inside the labs must be an ongoing priority. We need to bring business and education partners together to advocate for commercialization strategies, whether federal legislative reforms or local talent partnerships.

I recognize that the payoff from a more intensive focus on leveraging labs would be long term. But it is a very realistic way for us to foster our own thriving economy.

5. Transit for Upcounty and Across the Potomac

Gaithersburg (a biohealth powerhouse), Germantown, and Clarksburg are envisioned as employment hubs. But companies are increasingly seeking transit-served locations with walkable amenities, which we need to expand Upcounty. That is why I am advocating for:

  • The Corridor Cities Transitway
  • BRT on 355 to Clarksburg
  • BRT on 270 to Northern Virginia, as I have proposed to be added to the 270 managed lane plan
  • Monorail to Frederick and Tysons, which I am exploring with the High Road Foundation
  • MARC integration with VRE, enabling a one-seat ride from UpCounty to Crystal City

For the Upcounty areas to continue to thrive, we must connect them better by transit.

A spirit of public private partnership
These themes are not exclusive or comprehensive; there is more that we need to do in a variety of areas. These are, however, five areas that I plan to continue developing.

With our recent joint meetings with MCEDC, featuring the voices of our business leadership, the PHED committee has embraced a spirit of public private partnership in our economic development strategy.

Let’s keep listening and keep working together to get better results.

I welcome your feedback at councilmember.riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Thank you,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Chair, Planning, Housing, & Economic Development Committee

Councilmembers introduce zoning proposal to legalize small-scale equipment for 5g wireless

Riemer, Albornoz and Rice call next generation wireless
infrastructure “an economic development imperative”

ROCKVILLE, Md., Sept. 30, 2019—On Tuesday, October 1 three Councilmembers will introduce a zoning text amendment, ZTA 19-07, that prescribes new rules for the siting of wireless facilities in the County’s residential zones. The measure, sponsored by Councilmembers Hans Riemer, Gabe Albornoz and Craig Rice, aims to allow the deployment of next-generation wireless infrastructure, which will offer faster speeds, enhanced reliability and much greater capacity.

“The next generation of wireless technology will be profoundly more powerful than what we all use today,” said Riemer. “The opportunities for innovation and advancement in health care, education, transportation, agriculture, entertainment and many other sectors cannot be understated. I want Montgomery County residents and businesses to have access to next-generation wireless technology, but the County’s current zoning code effectively prohibits this technology in residential areas. This zoning change will fix that by enabling the deployment essential to supporting our tech devices both at home and in the workplace.”

“Connecting our County through the next generation of wireless technology will make our lives better in so many ways,” said Albornoz. “Imagine if a firefighter could be guided through a burning building by viewing the building layout in their helmet, or a paramedic treating a patient in an ambulance could be guided by a doctor miles away. This is the future, and we need to prepare for it by laying the foundation. This ZTA will get us there.”

“This ZTA is a step in the right direction for all County residents,” said Rice. “The tech industry is moving towards 5g wireless because they realize the evolution of technology has dramatically increased the number of high data users in our nation and throughout the world. Here in the County, we are seeing the increasing demand for stronger and more reliable signal service from our average tech user and especially from our small business owners located in residential areas and our budding entrepreneurs. ZTA 19-07 meets their needs, boosting their potential and consequently supporting local economic development.”

Current and future wireless networks will increasingly take advantage of millimeter wave spectrum above 24ghz, which means that they can carry a lot of information (every wobble of the wave can carry data) but they won’t travel very far. Thus, the technology requires many antennas that are closer to the device. While today’s technology relies on relatively few but tall macro towers, tomorrow’s technology will also make use of antennas on utility poles and streetlights. The problem is that Montgomery County’s zoning code does not allow these new wireless facilities in residential areas, where people also use their devices at home.

Accordingly, ZTA 19-07 does the following:

  • Allows wireless facilities on poles in the public right-of-way by “limited use” when those antennas are set back at least 60 feet from the nearest building, plus numerous other screening, color, and size/height conditions.
  • Allows wireless facilities on poles in the public right-of-way by “conditional use” when those antennas are between 30-60 feet from the nearest building, plus numerous other screening, color, and size/height conditions.
  • Does not allow antennas on poles that are closer than 30 feet to the nearest building.
  • Revises the conditional use process to comply with federal law by
    • affixing deadlines to all steps in the process to meet federal shot clocks.
    • requiring that the hearing examiner’s inquiry must determine the least visually obstructive location when ensuring provision of service.
    • allowing the batching of applications.
    • directing that appeals of the hearing examiner’s decisions go straight to the Circuit Court.

The impact of this proposal is that the industry is incentivized to use poles that are 60 feet or more from a building. When the setback distance is between 60 to 30 feet, residents will continue to have a voice in the process to argue that there are less obtrusive locations. No equipment will be allowed closer than 30 feet to a house or other habitable building.

The previous Council took these issues up in 2018 and passed ZTA 18-02. Then-Council President Riemer was the lead sponsor of this zoning change that allowed deployment of wireless facilities in mixed-use and non-residential zones. The previous Council also reviewed a residentially-focused ZTA in the fall of 2018, but Riemer did not bring the issue to a final vote because consensus on the measure was not reached.

Riemer added, “This new zoning measure also aims to disrupt efforts in the Maryland General Assembly and at the Federal Communications Commission to remove the County’s authority to control how these facilities are deployed. The County is fighting those preemption efforts, not by opposing next-generation wireless technology, but by arguing that we should retain local control over deployment because we can do a better job for our residents. This zoning change would exercise the local authority that we are fighting to protect. Our own standards are more protective of local concerns than the industry-supported proposals in the state or federal government.”

Riemer serves on the FCC Intergovernmental Advisory Committee (IAC) and as a member of the Telecommunications & Technology Steering Committee at the National Association of Counties (NACo). He has sponsored numerous resolutions and advisory recommendations as a member of these organizations and has advocated forcefully against federal preemption because the best and fastest deployment will only happen if local governments have a real seat at the table.

A public hearing for ZTA 19-07 will be scheduled at a later date. Read more about ZTA 19-07 here. Give us your feedback on social media using #MoCoWireless.

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Community conversation on Vienna, Austria’s social housing model

One of my friends and a giant in Montgomery County housing advocacy, Pamela Lindstrom, asked me to organize a policy forum on Vienna’s social housing model. That conversation led to the event we hosted with the Sierra Club on September. Much of the work to organize the event was conducted by Council staff member Linda McMillan. I am grateful to them both for their support!

present a community conversation on

Vienna, Austria’s Smart City Strategies for Housing, Energy, and Mobility

SEPTEMBER 14, 2019
9:30-11:30AM

Council Office Building
3rd Floor Hearing Room
100 Maryland Ave
Rockville, MD 20850

A special thanks to Pam Lindstrom for helping organize this community conversation.

Presenters include:

  • Dr. Kurt Sturzenbecher, Member of the Vienna City Council
  • Mrs. Karin Ramser, Director, Vienna Housing Agency Wiener Wohnen
  • Ms. Katharina Bayer, Architect
  • Mag. Josef Cser, Director of Wohnservice Wien

Followed by a Q&A with the audience and representatives of County agencies, and remarks from Shruti Bhatnagar, Chair, Sierra Club Montgomery County, MD

Montgomery County has partnered with the University of Maryland and the Embassy of Austria to host an exhibition, provide presentations, and a community discussion on Vienna’s approach to social housing, energy, and mobility. Close to 60 percent of Vienna’s 1.8 million inhabitants live in government-subsidized housing that is rented to them by the municipality or nonprofit housing associations.

Watch the video of the event

Questions? Contact Councilmember Hans Riemer’s office
at 240.777.7964 or Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov

Council oversight on public safety

Dear resident:

Picture for a moment the radios that first responders carry. These radios function by relaying signals through a network of dedicated towers placed around the County.

Firefighters, rescue and police officers need a new radio network. The current one is failing. Failing means that there are moments when the radio network becomes unreliable.

Radios and towers work as a system

Consider that firefighters in a burning structure or police officers calling for backup could get a busy signal instead of getting through. It has been happening. For hours one weekend this May, 75% of the channels went down.

A new system is nearly ready. County departments have been working to build the new 22 tower system for years. The “go live” plan for the new network is Fall of 2020.

Recently, however, there has been confusion as the County Executive moved to cancel two critical tower locations for the network, putting completion of the project into jeopardy.

Some residents nearby did not want a radio tower where it had been planned, inside of the cloverleaf intersection of Georgia Avenue and the ICC. They spoke out. A handful of residents also protested a proposed tower near the Potomac River.

Map of the 22 public safety radio towers

In response, the County Executive directed his staff to find alternatives.

Councilmembers became alarmed as we heard from firefighters and other emergency management personnel that without those two final towers, the network would not work as planned, particularly in Olney, Leisure World and the Potomac River basin.

“This issue is now a public safety emergency that requires immediate and swift action to avoid further increased risks to the safety of the citizens, and those public safety officers who risk their lives to serve them every day.” Montgomery County Firefighters Association

While searching for alternatives may sound reasonable, as it turns out, you can’t remove 1 of the 22 towers without:

  1. Deploying a network with coverage weak spots where towers are missing
  2. Reconfiguring the entire network, which is designed as an interdependent whole, possibly requiring a delay from the Fall 2020 go-live, meaning the County continues relying on the failing system for longer
  3. Searching for alternative locations, which has no clear timeline for success
  4. Building alternative towers that could cost taxpayers millions more than planned

None of these consequences are acceptable. That is why the Council voted unanimously to approve a capital budget amendment requiring the executive branch to move forward with the network as planned. Watch a video of my remarks on the budget amendment.

While the Council very much regrets the dis-satisfaction these two towers have caused for some, there are tens of thousands of residents in the Olney area and a million of us around the County who are counting on our first responders to be able to do their job, every minute of every day.

If an alternative location were available that would not delay the full network, cause the area to have lesser coverage in the interim, and cost the County millions of dollars, we could do that. But there isn’t.

In response to Council questions about the final remaining tower, Bretton Woods, the County Executive’s representative said, “we have run out of time because the process to research, finalize location, permit, build and test this alternative site is predicted to take more than 18 months. The Executive directed staff to condense the process as much as possible, but at this late date, the alternative site cannot be guaranteed to be ready for the December 2020 deadline.”

And that is why we need to move forward without delay on this critical public safety initiative. With our unanimous vote, the Council is insisting on it.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large