Sunday, December 28, 2008

Now, to a "greener" closet by Eco-Nize

The next step, after remodeling the bathroom, is re-organizing the walk-in closet in our bedroom. We were able to recover some extra space in the closet by removing the HVAC flue chase. The flue was no longer in use, since our 2007 installation of a high-efficiency hydronic furnace system vented out the side of the house. The bathroom remodeling included removing the chase to create a rectangular closet, moving the closet door to center it, and wiring the light to a switch outside the door. Now it's time to add shelving, etc. We have contracted with Noel Sweeney of Eco-Nize,, a green closet systems installer. Noel is able to offer a high-quality product at a wonderful price in comparison to the standard closet installers. The materials are "EPP certified 100% recycled or recovered wood or wood fiber." The company business practices are tuned to energy efficiency and recycling, with the company a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Noel measured our space, listened carefully to our needs and budget concerns, then send us several great designs. He worked with us to choose an optimal layout. The designs were sent by email, with great graphics detailing what we should expect. We hope to have the systems installed in the next couple of weeks and I will write about it when it's done, along with posting photos.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Before & After- "Green" bathroom remodeling

The first three photos show the tiny bathroom before construction began. The house was built in 1962 and the bathroom was leaking from every possible pipe. The 24" door blocked a small closet that took up room to the right of the sink cabinet. The closet was mostly obscured by an old accordian door. We believed that the space to the right of the sink cabinet, hidden by a wall, was an empty chase formerly used for the old furnace chimney flue. When the furnace was replaced last year with an ultra-high efficiency hydronic system (see previous posts) that vented to the side of the house, the old flue, which went through the room, was abandoned. We intended to pick up this space for use in the remodeled bathroom. As it happened, there was a return duct in the space, which had to be re-routed. Delayed progress, but was workable. When demolishing this bathroom, the contractors carefully removed anything we could reasonably donate as usable building materials or recycle. The vanity cabinet was donated to Habitat for Humanity ReStore, the sink & faucet and toilet went to the usable building materials section of the county recycling center, the medicine cabinet (minus the mirrored doors, which we are using elsewhere) was recycled, and excess aluminum from the re-routing of the ductwork was recycled.
The view from the pocket door to the shower. All of the tile is of recycled material. The red tile is from Sandhill Industries, Inc. and is made in the USA of 100% recycled glass. The shower walls (Terra Classic) and bathroom floor (Terra Traffic) tiles are from Terra Green Ceramics. From a supplier's website, "The body of the tile contains over 55 percent waste glass from windows, mirrors, and post-consumer glass like bottles and jars. The rest of the tile is made of nonmetallic minerals such as special clays, feldspar, sand, and silica." The shower floor is by Oceanside, a recycled glass mosaic blend called Disco Inferno. The manufacturer is in Mexico, a negative to the product, and the manufacturing process is not as energy-conscious as with Sandhill Industries or Terra Green Ceramics. All of the companies' tiles are handmade.
The toilet is a Toto dual flush, which, incidentally, performs like magic- a very efficient flush.
We purchased some of the items online, but much of the tile and the toilet were ordered through Amicus Green Building Center, a complete "green" supply company located on Howard Avenue in Kensington. The owner and staff are very knowledgable and prices are quite competitive.
This is the Oceanside tile.
The granite pieces used in this bathroom were scraps from a kitchen remodeler who polished these pieces for us instead of discarding them.
The 12" sun tube illuminates the room completely in the daytime, even though it was installed on a north-facing roof and it is winter. We anticipate that the summer light will be even brighter. This photo was taken without flash. The sun tube is Energy Star rated.
The light in the shower is part of an Energy Star exhaust fan using CFL lighting. Reflecting in the glass doors (standard construction, not "green") are two LED recessed light fixtures. They are 12 watts each, are dimmable (we installed a dimmer) and are expected to last 50,000 hours.
The other end of the small bathroom (only 48" wide) has the two vanities. The vanities and medicine cabinets are made of old rubber trees, but the sink bowls and faucets are standard. The counter bridging the cabinets is recycled plastic from 3-Form, Inc. The material comes in 4' x 8' sheets and is easily cut, but I found a scrap in their online "reclaim" page. It comes in a huge variety of thicknesses, textures, and colors. Amicus Green Building Center has a complete selection of samples and can order the material.
The pendant light between the mirrors (shown without the translucent white cylindrical globe, still on order) is a CFL fixture.
All in all, this was a really interesting project to see to completion. We are enjoying the new bathroom immensely. Our contractor was excellent. During the process of the job, he insulated wherever possible (and useful), and installed cellulose insulation in the attic to an R-38 rating.

Monday, December 22, 2008

State of the real estate market in North Bethesda

As in other areas of the country, prices are declining in our DC Metro area. Fall and early winter are often "slow" seasons for real estate sales, as people are focusing on getting children in school and gathering for the holidays. However, there are still buyers looking for good properties, and the buyers who are looking during this season are serious about purchasing. Many potential sellers are waiting for the "spring" market to list their homes, so the available housing inventory is now lower than it had been for the past two years. The combination of reduced attractive inventory and fewer, but more serious, buyers means that sales continue, with reduced volume of transactions. Here in North Bethesda, we have a variety of housing types, and the detached single family homes and newer townhouses have the advantage over the condominiums in this market. For the month of November, 2008, there were 51 single family and townhouse listings in the 20852 zipcode, with 101 condominium listings. Fourteen houses and ten condos went under contract in the same month. This gives an absorption rate of 27.5% for houses and 10% for condominiums. The absorption rate defines how much of the available inventory is removed (sold) in that time period. An absorption rate of about 30% is a reasonably balanced market between buyers and sellers, so the 27.5% rate for houses shows more strength in the market than we had previously. It is neither a sellers' nor a strong buyers' market for houses that are well kept and properly priced. Properly priced, for our area, means that the housing prices are roughly what they were in early 2005. The condo market, on the other hand, with a 10% absorption rate, is a strong buyers' market, so that, if the inventory is not reduced, prices will have to drop to create an environment in which buyers will be confident in making the commitment to buy.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I have been certified by the Association of Energy and Environmental Real Estate Professionals

As an adjunct to my other professional designations and specialties, I have completed the certification process for the green Realtor designation. The education requirements include coursework on air quality, hazardous materials, environmental issues, energy-saving products and building techniques, passive and active solar systems, building orientation issues, insulation, window design and materials, energy ratings for new construction, energy audits for existing residences, special financing for energy-efficient residential property, and other relevant topics. It is my goal to be able to serve my clients in the most complete manner possible, and I look forward to working with some of the excellent business partners in the field. Call or email me (or comment to this blog!) if you have are interested in referrals to green contractors, suppliers, products, energy auditors, air quality and environmental evaluators, etc.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Green bath remodeling update

For the background, see my post from September. We have ordered all but one or two items, and it's all piled up in the dining room, waiting for construction to begin next week. The tile is gorgeous, but we did order a little tile from Oceanside after all, since Sandhill's glass is too expensive (and slippery) for the shower floor. The cabinets arrived and are everything I hoped for. We bought a dual-flush Toto toilet at Amicus Green Building Center in Kensington. As for lighting, which hadn't been addressed previously, Rexell Lighting off Gude Drive & Calhoun Ave. has a number of low-energy-use options. Mel was very helpful and respectful of my priorities when I came in there, asking for guidance. We will install two LED recessed fixtures. The light color is wonderful, there is no heat generated, the lamps never need to be replaced (guaranteed well past my lifespan!) they are each 12 watts, and they are dimmable, unlike compact flourescents. Between the 2 medicine cabinets, we will hang a pendant fixture, which uses a 13 or 18 watt compact flourescent lamp (about 8" long). We bought an energy-star exhaust fan online; a little research gets the best price. Upon demolition, the contractor will save any reusable items, and we will take them either to the Habitat for Humanity Restore on Gaither Road (just east of Home Depot off Shady Grove Rd.) or to Community Forklift in Prince Georges County, off Kenilworth Avenue. Both of these places have normal working hours, take donations, and sell reusable building materials. It's amazing what you can get there! We shopped at Community Forklift, but they didn't have enough tile for our whole job or cabinets that would fit, but I encourage you to check them out. Habitat for Humanity is closer to us, and the offerings change daily. A good choice for recycling.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Check out proposed building heights

Some of the plans for North Bethesda include building heights as high as 28 stories around Rockville Pike. This is approximately 300 feet. On Saturday, Sept. 20, Luxmanor Civic Association sponsored a balloon test, in which they flew a huge balloon near Marinelli Road, demonstrating the potential height of such buildings in our town center.

Letter to planners regarding North Bethesda development plans

Below are some of my suggestions to the county planners and councilmembers as they consider White Flint Sector Plan. Currently, planning staff is recommending phasing the development by geographic area, which ignores the readiness of owners of various sites and will throw the area into chaos. Also at stake is the redevelopment of Rockville Pike into a Bethesda-style boulevard (see Wisconsin Avenue), with smaller blocks to facilitate pedestrian crossing and use. We can't create a "town center" if people can't walk around, and the shops created won't be successful without pedestrians. They are now talking about needing a new elementary school to accommodate the new local population. Placement of the school is being discussed... 1. Rockville Pike improvements phasing - Rockville Pike is the backbone of the sector. All planning is directed toward its success as a circulation corridor. It is critical that the conversion in the Rockville Boulevard concept is begun in Phase 1 so that any commercial development in the corridor can proceed with the Pike infrastructure in place. It cannot be left till the last phase. 2. Geographic project phasing - I heard about this concept first at the last advisory board briefing by staff. This concept was dismissed by all of the private citizens and developers in attendance as an artificial barrier to the development process. Phasing should proceed using the criteria currently in place in the Bethesda CBD, with individual projects staged based on the sector development and needs, not cutting the sector into smaller geographic pieces. This coordinates with the concept that the Pike must be constructed in its "boulevard" design at the earliest opportunity. 3. Revenue distribution - Any tax revenues generated by developers in the White Flint sector must remain in the sector for infrastructure and transit use. These monies cannot be diluted into the general Montgomery County "pot." Infrastructure needs in this sector are and will remain extremely high, and the money the developers contribute is critical to the success of the overall plan. 4. MCPS elementary school site - I understand that MCPS wants a future school site to be located within the sector plan. However, the two sites that have been identified to date, Wall Park and White Flint are each totally unacceptable. Wall Park is right on major roadways and will be an unsafe site, as well as removing an important park asset for the surrounding residential communities. White Flint is too close to Garrett Park Elementary School, is on the fringe of the sector (not near much of the new housing to be built) and will also remove a valuable asset from the White Flint and Garrett Park Estates communities. The optimal site for a new elementary school is the current WMATA bus depot, which is of sufficient size and is located near The Sterling, The Gallery, and the new LCOR residential units. As a bus depot, it is a supreme waste of acreage as the sector density increases. The depot must be relocated and the land used as a positive community resource.

Friday, September 12, 2008

New, free website rates consumer products

Check out This new site is free and has rankings on over 61,000 household products, with ratings for effectiveness, environmental responsibility of the company, social responsibility, and consumer satisfaction. The detailed information on each product includes the product's ingredients, and there is a "shopping list" you can compile for the products you want to start buying so you will remember the ones you liked the best. It is easy to use, and you can also sign up so that your settings can be saved. All around, a great new site!!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Green" remodeling- our bathroom adventures

We are in the middle of planning a total remodeling job in our master bathroom, which was precipitated by leaks in the shower pan, shower drain, and sink drain in our 44 year old house. The room is small and has no windows, and we have decided to make this environmentally as low an impact as possible. To this end, I have been doing massive research on materials, designs, supply sources, etc. So far, here are some of the factors involved (what to look for and where I found it): 1. Cabinetry Looking for a renewable wood (companies that harvest trees in a sustainable manner earn the FSC certification). Bamboo can be problematic if it has to be shipped here from across the Pacific Ocean, so bamboo (and cork) should be checked for where they were harvested. Maple grows like a weed around here, so it is reasonably OK to use. Another factor is whether or not the manufacturing process includes VOC (volatile organic compounds) and/or formaldehyde. Most particle board contains both, which can be respiratory irritants or worse. Greenway Cabinetry, Inc. has a product line called Breathe Easy, using non-toxic water-based glues, formaldehyde-free plywood, and FSC woods or bamboo. I found a company in Baltimore and another south of here that will order these cabinets. However, due to design and space needs, I ended up ordering a different cabinet that is made from the remains of used-up rubber trees. Tile: Ceramic tile is available that is made with a high content of recycled glass and the remains of other ceramic processes. I found wall and floor tile in many colors and sizes at Amicus Green Building Center, 4080A Howard Avenue, Kensington. This store features all kinds of building materials, and the staff is very knowledgable regarding the sources and processes for the materials they sell. I will be using floor and wall tiles (matte and gloss) from Terra Green Ceramics, Inc., which I will order from Amicus. Glass tile made from recycled glass is trickier (also gorgeous and more expensive, but great for accents); the most common manufacturer is Oceanside, sold both at Amicus and at Home Depot's Expo. However, Oceanside moved its manufacturing plant to Mexico and uses a lower % of recycled materials with a production process that is higher in energy use that two other tile sources. Online, I found Sandhill Industries ( and Stardust Glass ( Both use up to 100% recycled glass (post-consumer and bits from windows, etc.) and a less energy-intensive process. These are stunning tiles. Sandhill is based in Idaho, and Stardust Glass is in Washington State. I will be ordering from Sandhill; they are sending me some samples. Neither of these companies has a local dealer, so I have told the owners of Amicus about them. Hopefully, they will expand their product lines. Other architectural-quality recycled glass tile manufacturers are Blazestone from Bedrock Industries and Aurora Glass Architectural Accents. I have not researched these thoroughly, so I can't comment on their product lines. Vanity countertop: We will probably be using a recycled plastic product called 3form ( It comes in sheet of every possible color, texture, and thickness. The website includes instructions for cutting and modifying the material. I was looking for a thick material that is translucent, and find that I can even find scraps large enough for our purposes on the website. Lighting: We are installing an 18" suntube, which is an energy-efficient version of a skylight. We saw one installed in a friend's bath, and it delivers a lovely diffused light all day long (and will glow gently on moon-lit nights). As we move further along in this endeavor, I will report on our progress.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Parkway closed between E. Jefferson St. and old Old Georgetown Rd.

The forested property to the east of the Getty gas station on Montrose Road is owned by Wilgus Associates. Wilgus Assoc. received permits years ago to build two office buildings between the Getty station and old Old Georgetown Road. This year, Wilgus held an informational meeting about its new plans for the site. Guess where they put the public notice??? This sign is facing the CLOSED SECTION of Montrose traffic, no one passes by. As you can see, the meeting was last month. Traveling east toward East Jefferson Street on the closed parkway, there is a sign pointing to Stonehenge Place, as street that parallels the parkway, but doesn't intersect with it. This will be the entrance to Stonehenge Place. Even though the parkway was not supposed to be a local road and was to have smooth-flowing traffic through North Bethesda, the Wilgus property owners were able to get this curb cut approved with their development. It will lead to the back of the Cherington townhouses, the back of the Getty station, and branch to feed the new Wilgus buildings. Another view of the future Stonehenge Place access point from the Montrose "Parkway." Note that the median accomodates turns across the future traffic. Of course, this section of the parkway is not open. The contractor told me that, although it is completed, it will not be opened until Phase II (the intersection tunnel under Rockville Pike) is built.
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Monday, September 8, 2008

Digging under Rockville Pike

The Montrose Parkway Phase II is underway, with construction set up in the old commuter lot at the corner of Montrose Road & Rockville Pike. The first three photos show the construction, as of today, from the corner of old Old Georgetown Road and the closed section of Montrose Parkway. You can see the earth movers have dug right up to the Pike, preparing to tunnel the Montrose Parkway under Rockville Pike. You may have noticed that the trees on the east side of the Pike have been removed. This is to divert the Pike to the east during construction; we will be routed around the intersection on a temporary road that is being built right now. This is a view south on old Old Georgetown Road, looking toward the cul-de-sac behind the Garden Center and Toys-R-Us. The street is being widened to accomodate Montrose Parkway traffic. Eventually, the cul-de-sac will be opened so that this tiny road spur, in its widened form, will intersect with Old Georgetown Road at Executive Boulevard.
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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Detached houses sell well

There aren't many houses on the market in Tilden Woods, North Farm, Old Farm, Luxmanor, and Walnut Woods. The few that come on the market and look great with fair market pricing will sell, although the current average Days on Market is more than it was in the heyday of the market rush a few years ago. Within Montgomery County, the average Days on Market (the number of days it takes for an active listing to go under contract) is just over 90. In our market in North Bethesda, the average is 44 days. This shows great strength for our area. Prices have not dropped as much as elsewhere, although most detached homes that were in the $800k-$900k range several years ago might sell now for $725k-$825k. The key to a sale in a reasonable time and at the best price is to have the house "staged" to show to its best advantage, have the entrance landscaped, the house looking fresh and clean (free of distractions inside), with, hopefully, updated kitchen and baths. Our homes are now 42 to 50 years old, and even servicable original elements now lack the pizzazz that a current buyer is looking for. Some remodeling efforts are well worthwhile. I am an expert in knowing what updates will pay you back and which ones will cost more than they are worth.

Why houses might go to foreclosure

North Bethesda is holding up reasonably well, considering the general market and media attention on the national real estate scene. It is true that, in my 25+ years as a real estate professional, I have never seen such a rate of foreclosures before, the fact remains that the current price rollback is not worse than the percentages we saw in the mid-1990s. My take on the foreclosure situation is as follows: In the lower price ranges, many people struggled to buy their first homes in the past 5-10 years, often combining several incomes from various extended family members to qualify for a loan. I have seen some of them badly used by corrupt loan officers, who placed marginal buyers in loans that were not explained to them and that would be impossible to maintain; typically, the disreputable lender would promise a low interest rate, not revealing that the loan terms would change dramatically in a few years and the payment would jump. Compounding the problem would be if the borrower's first language is not English and they were unable to understand the complicated documents they were told to sign. They might trust a lender who was only trying to get the largest fee. Another scenario would be the marginal buyer who had great credit and worked for years to afford a first home, then lose a job or get sick. There is no help for this situation, and the house can go to foreclosure. Those who owned their homes for a long time and had built significant equity from appreciation sometimes have to foreclose if they have been continually refinancing and taking the equity out of the house. Someone may have paid $200,000 for their house, but refinanced it to $600,000 when the market was high and it could appraise for a little more than that amount. There is no room for error, and when the prices dropped back so that the house might be worth $550,000, there is now a bigger loan out on the house than its value. In this case, it is not the fault of the appraiser, who placed a market value on the house based on its actual value at the time of the appraisal. These scenarios are new with this recent market, which explains the foreclosure rate rising in an area that historically had very, very few foreclosures. Be aware that the figures you see in the media can be misleading; if an area had 10 foreclosures a few years ago, and today there are 20, that will be reported as a "doubling" of the rate. This represents a very small percentage of property sales for this area, which continues to be in some demand due to its proximity to transportation and other amenities.

Condominiums in North Bethesda

A blogger on another site asked about condos in North Bethesda and wanted to know what types and prices there are, whether any back to golf courses, and if there are any designated for seniors. My answer is below: North Bethesda is sprouting condos all up and down Rockville Pike. Existing high-rise condo communities include The Wisconsin, Fallswood, Grosvenor Park, The Gallery, The Sterling, Midtown, and TenTenOne. A bit further north in Rockville are Rockville Town Center (The Palladium), The Fitz, and Americana Center. Just across I-270 in Potomac is a huge community, under construction, Park Potomac. Others are under construction. None are age-restricted at this time, but there are other high-rise communities nearby that are over-55 with various amenities. With the current market, some of the builders who were planning to construct condos have decided to make their new buildings luxury rentals. Garden-style condos include The Gables, Bentley Place, Edson Place, Parkside, and Georgetown Village. The high-rise buildings tend to have upscale facilities. Because we have 3 metro stations in the immediate area, it’s not suburban enough anymore to have golf course properties (other than a few townhouses in Rockville that back to the Woodmont Country Club), but the growing urban environment is exciting, and there is a wealth of opportunity for shopping, entertainment, employment, and outdoor recreation in our parks. Prices for a 2 bedroom unit can range from $300,000+ for a garden community to $500,000-$800,000 in a high-rise. Check my website for a property search in the area and for my pages on local communities & things to do.

Monday, August 4, 2008

EcoBroker certification coursework- Initial Topics

The Association of Energy and Environmental Real Estate Professionals has created a certification course for real estate agents. The EcoBroker certification process is broken up into three main courses, each of which covers a series of topics relevant to energy concerns and environmental health. I have now completed the first course, which covered health and safety issues in real estate. The specific topics, covered in some depth, are:
  • Radon
  • Lead
  • Water quality - private well systems, public treatment programs, and sources of contamination as well as remediation techniques
  • Mold
  • Asbestos
  • Indoor air quality - irritants from volatile organic compound (VOC) off-gassing, allergens, pesticide residue, mold, and radon
  • Historic contamination - any type of property contamination, such as leaking underground storage tanks or industrial contamination that occurred during prior ownership
  • Green buildings and health - contruction programs and certifications for new and existing property, along with government-sponsored incentive programs

I have access to certified and insured professional inspectors and remediators who specialize in each of these areas of concern.

The second area of study, which I am currently working on, addresses energy efficiency, materials, and techniques for a sustainable environment.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Birds attracted to flowers

On a walk this morning, we saw several bright yellow goldfinches feeding on the seed heads of a neighbor's coneflowers. These particular flowers are, I believe, a species of rudbeckia, which includes black-eyed susans. I don't know what attracted these gorgeous little finches to this patch, but the flowers are a light purple in color, with the signature rudbeckia downturned petals and large spherical seed head.
I don't know if the goldfinches are attracted to the type of flower or the specific color of this variety. They don't seem to feed on the black-eyed susans or daisies that I have in my yard, so I will be buying some of the purple rudbeckia and will make sure not to dead-head my flowers to allow them to go to seed and, hopefully, bring some more goldfinches to my yard.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Handling air quality inside your home

Lately, I have been involved in several cases of homes with poor indoor air quality. In each case, the owners have been coughing or have become ill repeatedly, but they have not tied their health concerns to problems with mold, dust, allergens, or other air contaminants. The worst offenders are mold spores and airborne dust. There are specialists to help identify sources of irritants and to give you do-it-yourself remedies or to carry out professional remediation. In the case of mold, I am in the process of assisting an elderly friend in 1. bagging & throwing out all of the moldy materials in his basement (using a proper respirator so that I won't get sick!), 2. identifying & bagging the things he wants to keep so that they can be properly sanitized later, 3. scheduling the mold remediator (in this case, RTS Environmental Services- certified & experienced) to safely kill the mold and coat surfaces so that it won't recur. Mold requires moisture (as do termites!), and my friend had not checked his house for leaks in many years. Our first item was to have a plumber go over the house, top to bottom. He found a leak in the hot water tank and most of the faucets and valves upstairs. The problem in the basement was so severe that we have found both mold and termites. So, the takeaway lesson is to be sure, first, that the moisture issues that started the mold blooms is corrected. That way, the remediation that kills the current mold (and the termite treatments) will not be wasted and the problem can be "solved." As for dust and allergens, consider a good filtration system on the furnace. We won't have to have the ducts and evaporator coils cleaned in this case, since the HVAC system is nearly new & doesn't show signs of mold blooms. Upstairs, we will be placing a few portable air purifying devices. I am avoiding any device that adds ozone, which can be a respiratory irritant. The best one I have found is the BlueAir 402 (sold at Bed, Bath, & Beyond for $399- your 20% off coupon will help), which will scrub the air and not add ozone. If you have these issues and your carpet is more than 15-20 years old, you should replace the carpeting, which, over time, becomes a haven for mold spores. Shampooing it can cause the mold to bloom. It is now possible to buy carpet with low VOC (volatile organic compounds, which can be hazardous) emissions. I can refer you to a good carpet company with "green" and low VOC options.

Monday, July 28, 2008

White Flint Sector Plan Piles on New Development

The White Flint Advisory Group has been meeting for about a year, making recommendations to the county planning staff about what downtown North Bethesda should look like in the next 20 years. Essentially, the county revises, about every two decades, the projections for parts of the county. The North Bethesda/Garrett Park Master Plan was adopted in 1992, so we are coming up for the long revision process before a new Master Plan is adopted. In this go-round, since our area is urbanizing rapidly, the planners have sub-divided the Master Plan area to create a separate plan that addresses only the central business district for North Bethesda. They are calling this are the White Flint Sector Plan. The advisory group has been composed of business owners, land use attorneys (hired by major commercial property owners and developers), and volunteer members of surrounding communities. Representing us in the Luxmanor, Tilden Woods, Old Farm, Walnut Woods area have been Paula Bienenfeld (current LCA president), Ken Hurdle, and Ed Rich. I have attended a few of the sessions as an observer, and have been allowed to participate on the perifery. The members of the group have invested an enormous amount of time, giving the community's input for our needs as pedestrians, bikers, drivers, shoppers, employees, and residents of the region. At the last meeting, July 22, the planning staff presented the recommendations and plans that they hope to present to the planning board as a result of the advisory group's meetings. However, the plans presented were not at all what the members of the group had seen before. Prior to the presentation, staff was instructed to increase the density of housing, retail, and commercial development for the sector. The members have not been able to get any studied reasoning from the staff or other participants as to how the density increases were derived. As part of the density discussions, there are assumptions about school enrollment, number of school-age children that will be generated by the higher densities, and where any new schools might be located. This type of change to studied plans, at the last minute, is not new to us. It happened with some regularity with the planning of the Montrose Parkway, and we have some bizarre traffic patters as a result.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Realtor association creates Green Task Force

I will be joining the newly formed Green Realtors task force as a member. Our next meeting is in the end of July. We hope to provide information to the public as well as advising the realtor associaton (GCAAR, the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors) about environmental issues and solutions. With many members dedicated to awareness and education in this field, we will have a lot to teach each other. I'm looking forward to hearing new ideas and finding ways to help our communities develop in an environmentally sensitive way. EcoBroker is the new designation for Realtors who are trained in green technologies, materials, safe building practices, and means of assisting buyers and sellers for whom a healthy environment is a priority. The training for the EcoBroker designation is relatively lengthy; I will be starting the training as soon as possible & will update this blog as I progress & learn more to share with others.

Cheer on Eric Friedland!

Eric is competing for a spot on the US Olympic swim team. He is from Tilden Woods, 18, a recent graduate of Walter Johnson HS. Trials are occurring at this time.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Green" remodeling for older homes

As we plan our bath and kitchen remodeling projects, we are trying to incorporate as many environmentally friendly aspects as possible to the design and selection of materials. This may include a sun-tube for day lighting, looking for tile that is produced and transported with conservation and recycling in mind, finding recycled countertop and flooring materials, and requiring that our contractor recycle as much removed material as possible. Quoted from the new website,, "The American Society of Interior Designers’ Foundation and the U.S. Green Building Council have partnered on the development of best practice guidelines and targeted educational resources for sustainable residential improvement projects." Check the site to download the guidelines. Renovation tips can be found at the USGBC site Contractors who work in remodeling can become certified in environmentally friendly construction practices. Asking contractors if they have any of these designations can encourage them to get the training, as they perceive consumer interest:
  1. Green Advantage has an education program, completion of which confers GA Certification
  2. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) issues the Certified Green Professional designation
  3. National Association of the Remodeling Industry education program can confer a Green Certified Professional designation.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Make sure your house numbers are visible in the dark

The fire & rescue departments find our houses easier with luminescent numbers painted on our curbs at the driveway curb-cuts. In previous years, we waited until someone put a notice on our door that they would be in the neighborhood to paint, and we would leave the payment on the door when they came by. However, it's been a number of years since any company solicited our business to refresh our painted numbers. There is a company that will do this work, if you call. They do a great job, use reflective paint, and add reflective crystals to the numbers. They can paint in a couple of color schemes. Call David Adamo, 714-580-0582, and leave a message if you'd like this service. You can email him at He is charging $19.95. In addition, he can paint iron railings, lamp posts, etc.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Let's get organized

It's been quite some time since Tilden Woods had a civic association long that many people in our neighborhood don't even know that we used to have a civic association, collect dues ($15 per year), take care of our entrance, distribute a quarterly newsletter, hold community events, and sponsor occassional improvements at Farmland School. We paid (with Old Farm) for the bulletin board at Old Stage and Tilden Lane, which was built by neighbor volunteers. Tilden Woods Civic Association pressured the county to provide some traffic relief on Tildenwood Drive and Old Stage Road, which resulted in the traffic calming islands and circle that help slow the cars. We were rather active as a community when fighting the Montrose Parkway, but interest in our community has faded. Our new challenges are the maintenance of the entrance, possible rebuilding of the gazebo at the entrance, and monitoring of the traffic, now that the Montrose Parkway construction created a dedicated turn lane into Tildenwood Drive. Luxmanor Citizens Association has been quite proactive lately, working with the county to find solutions for cut-through traffic. They have a traffic committee. Shouldn't we have an organization that will participate in these discussions? Please post your comments- does anyone have a suggestion for how to get our civic association jump-started? Old Farm has had difficulty in organizing as well. Do you think that Old Farm, Walnut Woods, Hickory Woods, and Tilden Woods should re-organize with one meeting, election, and board? Do we have anyone in the overall communities (our community) who can serve as treasurer, or someone who knows how to set up the legal framework for our new organization? Does anyone know how to structure insurance for the new board? For those of you not familiar with a civic association, this is not a mandatory homeowner's association. Dues are voluntary (but highly suggested!) and there is no architectural control over what you can or cannot build on your property.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Update on the TW Drive cherry trees

Believe it or not, we got the new cherry trees that we asked for! Thanks so much to the county office of tree maintenance. Although the original plan was to have all of the old trees removed or pruned, with stumps taken out, prior to the planting, a vast majority of the trees to be planted were put in a week ago, with some additional plantings last Friday. I called Brett Linkletter, tree maintenance program director, to find out what changed the plans, and he said that, at this late date in the fiscal year, he would have to wait until the next fiscal year begins to have the contractor come and remove the old trees. After that, there will be a time gap before the rest of the new trees can be planted in their places. We are still trying to find out who will landscape the earth berm along Tildenwood Drive behind the new access to Faith Methodist Church. The contractor for the parkway is still responsible for completing the pavers on the traffic island and replanting it. There will be a redbud tree put on the island.

The "Flat People" are gone!

Finally, the owners of Montrose Crossing have removed the hideous sculpture that was on the northeast corner of the Montrose Road/Rockville Pike intersection. It was removed a week ago, presumably to make way for the construction project about to begin- the tunneling of Montrose Parkway under Rockville Pike. Since it was installed years ago, the "sculpture" was reviled by everyone I ever met in North Bethesda. It was a circle of huge flat consumers in primary colors. It seemed that the shopping center owners, who commissioned and installed it, consider the residents of the area to be devoid of depth or subtlety. After seeing many of the inspiring and interesting pieces of public art in other parts of the metro area, it was disappointing beyond measure to have this prominent piece "in our face." I am thrilled to see it go and hope that it never reappears. Public art should have some basis in the art world.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Montrose Road intersection opens June 16

Today, I stopped by the offices for Concrete General, the contractor building the Montrose Parkway West project, asking for clarification on some dates, construction goals, and issues we've had with the project "progress." Here is the recap:
  1. There will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10am on Monday, June 16, for the Montrose Road bridge and tie-in intersection (in front of St. Elizabeth's Church) opening. This will eliminate the current detour for westbound Montrose Road traffic, and we will no longer have to turn onto East Jefferson St. when heading toward I-270. Montrose Road will intersect Montrose Parkway.
  2. The piece of Montrose Parkway between E. Jefferson St. and old Old Georgetown Rd. (behind La Madeleine) is complete, but will not be opened to traffic until the state intersection project is built. This will take several years. The intersection project takes Montrose Parkway under Rockville Pike and dumps it back onto Randolph Road before the CSX tracks. Funding has been allocated (the county is "lending" some of the funds to the state to start construction sooner; don't hold your breath for getting this money back), but engineering is not complete. Concrete General won the construction contract (big surprise). So, we have a completed road section that will sit there, unused, for years, while all eastbound Montrose Parkway traffic has to turn at E. Jefferson St.
  3. There is some confusion about the trees that were planted today on Tildenwood Drive. The old cherry trees were not taken down first, and I still don't know if the county planted the new trees (unlikely), or they were mistakenly installed by Concrete General's landscaping crew (more likely). I will write again about this when I find out what happened.
  4. Final paving for Montrose Road & Parkway will occur between July and September, and Concrete General will consider the project complete. They think it's likely to be July-August, but are saying September to be conservative.
  5. The sign for Hitching Post Lane at Montrose Road is missing. Conc. Gen'l's rep told me that they have the sign, but, until the final paving and re-alignment of the lanes, they can't install it. Hoping that it will be up within the next month.
  6. They still haven't finished the brickwork or planting in what remains of the traffic island on Tildenwood Drive. Promises, promises. I asked about planting shrubbery or ground cover around the new eastern redbud tree that's supposed to go in, but the staff on hand were not aware of any landscaping plans that included anything other than a single tree. Negotiations continue.
  7. I understood that Concrete General was responsible for planting trees and other screening on the berm next to the sidewalk on Tildenwood Drive (between the sidewalk and the new storm management pond behind Faith Methodist Church). Staff at the office had no record of this requirement. Again, I will follow up on this with the county tree maintenance department and with Roger Brown, the project manager for Concrete General.
  8. There are currently no crosswalks at the intersection of Montrose Parkway and E. Jefferson Street. I have had to take my life into my hands getting around that intersection on foot or on my bike. Final plans show crosswalks for all four sides of the intersection, with pedestrian signals to be installed. I hope to find out when this will occur and let you all know.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Paying for "greening" your home

As of December 31, 2007, the federal tax credit incentives for installing energy-efficient windows, insulation, HVAC systems, etc. expired. Our current federal government has not yet re-instituted any of these incentives. Hopefully, this will be corrected (and post-dated, if we're lucky). Meanwhile, if you want to keep track of possible financial incentives, check out the federal, state, and local government programs to see what is available to you. They do change from year to year, so be sure to check often. We found that it is possible to install advanced & efficient systems that, after tax credits or other incentives, cost practically the same as a standard installation would have cost. After that, energy savings into the future are "gravy" and we are all doing what we can to reduce our impact on the planet. Besides, when you are ready to sell your home, you have some very positive selling features! Here are some sites that can help identify financial incentives: Federal - Maryland - This site (the home page, which covers the entire US, is also has links to federal programs and local programs, so the Montgomery County program is linked, as well. Montgomery County - Currently, this site is showing that the Energy Rewards program is out of funding. However, it has a lot of useful links to energy programs with Pepco, etc., and could be a future source of incentives. I wouldn't rule it out. Be sure to post any comments if you have any additional ideas.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Cost of Commuting vs. Housing Costs

The cost of commuting and getting to the activities and places you want to go to has become a significant factor in deciding if a house is affordable or not. Along with the calculation of house size, determining the cost of transportation, parking, and the value of your time spent commuting can determine which neighborhoods you would consider living in. In past years, the decision of location vs. house size and age was not foremost for many relocating buyers. With the rise in gas prices, parking costs, and the terrible toll a long commute can take, I am finding that buyers are more likely to list location and access to transit as a higher priority than they did in the past. Many buyers are more willing to consider buying a condominium next to a transit station, shopping, and entertainment venues than in the past, even if the price is comparable to that of a detached home in a more suburban setting. I am often asked why a buyer would pay $650,000-$1,000,000 for a condo when, for the same price, he/she could have a house, yard, and greater privacy. The convenience of walking to stores, movies, and, sometimes, work, coupled with the ability to lock up and go on a trip can tip the balance. Add to that the modern, elegant surroundings of many of the new condo buildings (which often offer a security desk, fitness room, pool, business and function rooms, etc.), and it really is a choice to live in smaller space of high quality near "the action." Here in North Bethesda, we can have the best of all these worlds. There are plenty of luxurious condos to choose from, but we also have the advantage of the local amenities in the detached homes of Tilden Woods, Old Farm, North Farm, Walnut Woods, Old Hickory Woods, Luxmanor, Windemere, Montrose, Garrett Park, Wickford, and other lovely communities surrounding the North Bethesda "core." A new website is rich in analytical tools that help a buyer determine the travel-housing affordability of neighborhoods throughout the US. The DC Metro area has been charted on this site,

Monday, March 24, 2008

North Bethesda real estate market

The market for detached houses has fallen into two categories; houses that are in good condition and are priced appropriately for this market (more about this below), and those whose owners are trying to recapture prices from a year or two ago. The first group is selling. The second group will linger on the market as buyers check them out, either in person or online, then reject them at the current prices. Buyers are actively looking at homes; I am having excellent "traffic" in open houses this spring. Yesterday, at an open house on Pooks Hill Road, several buyers told me that, although they had been thinking about buying for some time, they were getting more serious now that interest rates are dipping. No one knows if prices will stabilize or decline a bit further, but the threat of an interest rate increase in future months may cause some buyers who had been on the fence to commit to making an offer. As to the offers themselves, most buyers will make a very low first offer to test what the "floor" is for the sellers. Sellers should not be angered by this; in the buyers' position , they would likely do the same thing. The critical matter is the intent of the two parties. If the buyer is looking for a particular type of property at a reasonable price, then a house that meets those criteria will be attractive to that buyer and a proper price can be negotiated. Buyers whose main goal is to find a true, outright bargain in this market will continue to make serial offers on multiple properties until they find the seller who will take a particularly low price. For the sellers, the most successful tactic is to evaluate the current competition, the active listings that are similar to their home that a typical buyer would view before making a choice. Then, the sellers can set an asking price that will communicate to the buyers that "this house is a better buy today than the other ones you are looking at." This should be done with consultation with a really experienced Realtor who has success in selling properties in a slower market. Choosing an asking price based on the comparable sales of a year ago will not bring a buyer today. Buyers will only check comparables after they have selected a property. They will choose the property to make an offer on based on the current inventory, then check comparables as one of the tools to determine the price to offer. The newer listings, priced propertly, are actually selling within 45-75 days of coming on the market. Properties that are perceived by buyers' agents and buyers to be overpriced for what they offer (against other active listings) will linger for 12-200+ days on the market. The average days on market for detached houses in the Montrose/Old Georgetown wedge area is changing: Sold homes (these have gone to settlement and, therefore, were likely to have started on the market in the fall/winter of 2007) average 91 days, Currently Under Contract (these are the most recent spring 2008 sales) average 57 days on the market.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Saying goodbye to a dear old friend

Just before midnight on March 16th, Helen Zuppas, our dear next-door neighbor, passed away quietly in her sleep. Helen had been ill for some time, tenderly cared for by her daughter, sons, and daughters-in-law. We will miss her & her kind and gentle spirit, and will remember her for her devotion to her family, intelligence, smile, and the way she and Simos welcomed us and our children (very small when we first moved in!) into their home.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Retrofitting an older house for energy efficiency

When replacing the HVAC and hot water systems in our house this past summer, we were faced with a 44 year-old brick home, supplied by natural gas. Research indicated that a geo-thermal system would be too disruptive and expensive, while installing a standard high-efficiency natural gas forced air system would not provide the fuel efficiency that we were after. A solar hot water system or gas tankless system for water would have been workable, but, since we had to replace the furnace, AC, and hot water heater at the same time, the best choice was for an integrated hydronic system, which involved a natural-gas fired ultra-high efficiency boiler. This provided heat for the furnace (no more "dry" heat), still utilizing the forced-air ductwork, while providing virtually "free" hot water all winter as a residual benefit of the HVAC's boiler system. This system met the federal standard for energy credits, while costing only about 10% more than the installation costs of a new standard high-efficiency system. It is working flawlessly. Energy conservation and sustainable living are among my major concerns, and I have made a study of many of the techniques, materials, and systems that are being developed to "green" our world. I am delighted to share this information with any neighbor, customer, or client who is also interested in this exciting and promising area. Reducing your energy usage, living "greener," and, in general, being more sensitive to our impact on the environment is a huge area of study. Among the topics are
  1. Modifications that can be made to an older home to conserve energy (such as adding insulation, plugging up gaps around windows and exterior outlets, replacing windows, doors, and old appliances with Energy Star items, installing solar or wind systems)
  2. Materials that can be used in construction that are sustainable and renewable
  3. Lifestyle changes to reduce waste (such as choosing products with less packaging, choosing items that are local, changing lights to compact fluorescents, and composting)
  4. Choosing transportation & workplace options that reduce the use of the automobile

A note about compact fluorescent light bulbs. We tried many of them, and find that, if you search for the bulbs that are rated 2700-2800k (kelvin), you will have a bulb that most closely replicates the light quality and color of an incandescent bulb. The lower the kelvin rating, the "yellower" the light; the higher the rating, the "bluer" the light. We found the higher k bulbs to be very harsh. You cannot use the standard compact flourescent bulbs on circuits with dimmer switches; there are special compact bulbs for that purpose. We are using them everywhere we can, and find virtually no difference at all. They also last many, many times longer that the comparable incandescent bulbs. Just be sure to take the "spent" bulbs to the Shady Grove transfer center (not in your recycling bin) so that they can be disposed of properly; there are trace amounts of mercury inside the tubes.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Church tower driving neighbors crazy

The new bell tower at St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church is lit all night long, and the bells are set to ring every 15 minutes, causing havoc in the houses across the street on Tildenwood Lane. Our neighbors need our support to ask the church to turn off the lights after 9pm and to stop ringing the bells all day, every day. Below is a letter I received from Julie Winston, outlining the difficulties they are having: The bell tower started operation around December 10th (we were away till the 16th, but they certainly coordinated with the opening of the Montrose Parkway). We returned from our trip and the entire upstairs of my house (6709 Tildenwood Lane) was lit up...thought I had been robbed, but found it was the LIGHT from the church bell tower brilliantly shining into my upstairs bathroom, hallway and bedroom. Little did I realizethat the church BELLS would affect me even more than this problem. These "lovely" bells ring EVERY 15 minutes all day long, and even more so on Sundays. They are on a BIG BEN system like in London, and very few churches buy this program because it does affect the neighbors. I can accept Sundays, as this is church time. I contacted the church 6 times via phone, and was told it was the holiday season and no one would be able to respond to my message until after the 1st of January. No one ever returned my call, but on January 8th, I finally spoke to a Mr. Foria who is the building engineer. He said he was surprised to hear about the light being an issue, and would try to dim it with a filter. I asked for it to be turned off after 9pm, as it was disturbing our sleep. He told me that was impossible as they wanted it to be seen all night from the MONTROSE PARKWAY! The noise from the bells was not an issue, as far as he was concerned. He never did get back to me, as he had promised. I called the county Dept of Environment , and Dan McAnn (240-777-7743) has been out here to check the sound levels and has even spoken personally to Mr. Foria at the church, but to no avail. Dan says the sound levels are ok and they do go off at 9pm, so that is acceptable to the county, but he agrees that the quality of life is definitely disrupted by the bell sounds every 15 minutes. This is not a way to live..... the light is shining on my breakfast room table, in my den, and my entire upstairs... and the bells are driving me crazy!!!! Happy retirement at 6709 Tildenwood Lane. At least 4 of the residents of this street are affected as well, and I haven't asked the remaining houses as of yet. I so appreciate the community's support in resolving this awful problem. See the article below re: Reston Church bells, law suit. Thanks again, Julie 301-468-9399

Monday, February 18, 2008

Montrose Road bridge construction

Dan & I just took a walk over to the closed section of Montrose Road. They are well on their way to creating the new bridge over Old Farm Creek. The photos here were taken while walking on the St. Elizabeth's Church side of the street, heading east toward East Jefferson Street. You can see the Montrose Parkway veering off to the right. To recap what the construction is all about:
  1. Montrose Road used to have a "dip" over Old Farm Creek between St. Elizabeth's Church and Treeline Way (townhouses). The creek passed under Montrose Road through a small culvert. They are raising Montrose Road about 7' above where is used to be, eliminating much of the dip, removing the culvert, and building a bridge over the creek that will be large enough to accommodate a wildlife crossing beneath it. I believe that they are also talking about having a human path (bike path? - I'll be checking on this) to link our new parkway bike path to the north side of Montrose Road, into Rockville.
  2. Once Montrose Road, traveling westbound, crosses the new bridge over the creek, it will veer left (south, and away from St. Elizabeth's) to intersect with the parkway. When you are on the parkway, you can see what looks like an incomplete intersection, with the booms for the traffic lights already installed. That's where Montrose Road will tie into Montrose Parkway.
  3. The part of the old Montrose Road that went in front of St. Elizabeth's (between Tildenwood Drive and the new Montrose Road/Montrose Parkway intersection) will be removed.

So, here are the pictures of the construction so far...

View eastward from Tildenwood Drive & Montrose Road, taken from the north side. You can see the parkway veering off to the right. The construction is further along on the left, on the closed section of Montrose Road.

Here is where the construction begins, just past St. Elizabeth's old entrance.
Continuing eastward, they built a temporary footbridge over the creek for pedestrians & bicyclists. This will be removed after the new roadway is opened.
Standing on the footbridge, this is the view north into the Rockville side.
Turn around in the same spot, and this is the view south into the construction of the new Montrose Road bridge. The cylinder is the old culvert that used to go under Montrose Road, with Old Farm Creek channelized through it. Flanking each side of the culvert are the forms, under construction, for the embankments of the new bridge. You can see how much higher it will be than the old roadbed was.
More of the same. Montrose Parkway is in the distance, past the strip of trees.
We have crossed the pedestrian bridge and are now standing in the middle of Montrose Road, near the townhouses, looking back (west) across the gulf where they are building the bridge (between where the cranes are). It is apparent that the "dip" is now pretty much gone. On this side, they are also working on building the new roadbed.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Montrose Parkway construction problems

There are still many problems with the way the contractor has left the neighborhoods around the parkway as they work on completing construction. If you know of issues beyond the ones I will outline below, please post them as comments so that I can bring all of our problems to the contractor and the county for correction.
  1. The Tilden Woods gazebo, just east of Tildenwood Drive & Montrose, is falling down and needs to be replaced or removed. In fact, contractors who illegally removed trees from the adjacent property felled limbs on the gazebo, making a bad situation worse.
  2. On Tildenwood Drive, the traffic island was ripped up and has not been rebuilt or replanted.
  3. Sidewalks were not built along the new length of Hitching Post Lane; the sound walls only allow vehicles through so that walkers cannot follow Hitching Post Lane to the swim club.
  4. Numerous cherry trees were cut down along Tildenwood Drive, particulary near the new storm water management pond south of the back of Faith United Methodist Church and near the intersection with Montrose Road, leaving large blank spaces in our tree canopy. I have arranged with a county department to have these replaced, no thanks to the parkway construction contractor.
  5. The contractor was to replant and landscape the earth berm between the storm water management pond (just mentioned above) and the sidewalk.

That's just near the entrance to Tilden Woods! Further east on the parkway,

  1. The bike path gets to East Jefferson Street, continues on the other side, but there is no crosswalk. In fact, the vehicular traffic around that corner does not stop, and it is decidedly treacherous to cross the street to stay on the bike path.
  2. The county transportation department (DPWT) has striped and re-striped the pavement along East Jefferson Street so that lanes suddenly appear, disappear, merge, and make forced turns in such a bizarre pattern that accidents are nearly a daily occurrance.
  3. Although the utility companies have finished moving cables from the poles that were in the middle of the widened Montrose Road, not all of the poles have been removed. Notably, there is a pole in the street at the corner of Montrose & Tildenwood Drive. After I sent an email to the county, the contractor put a few barrels around it and nailed neon stripes to it, but it's an accident waiting to happen if someone rounds that corner and doesn't see it (or the barrels get blown aside, as one did this past week).

Do you know of other problems to be addressed? Be sure to post them. Thanks.

Street trees - County policy

The county will be replacing cherry trees on Tildenwood Drive due to the immense destruction that was caused by the construction crews when building the Montrose Parkway. Since first notifying everyone that the dead trees will be removed and new ones planted, a lot of people on other streets have asked to have trees removed and/or planted. First, I will outline the county tree maintenance department policy, as I understand it (having discussed these requests with Brett Linkletter, the tree maintenance program manager). Next, we can discuss the Montrose Parkway construction "fallout" as it pertains to the contiguous neighborhoods. I will put that into another post. A short course in ownership does not extend to the street curbs. The grassy strips at the edge of the streets are generally easements for utilities and the county to do public maintenance. As a side note, the street itself is a public right-of-way, and parking along the streets is open to the public at large, if parking is permitted on that street. No property owner "owns" or controls the parking space on the street in front of his/her house. This issue has come up in the past, so I thought I'd clarify it. The trees next to the street are county-controlled. If there are power lines on that side of the street, pruning of the trees is done by Pepco, with the intention of keeping the lines clear and free from breakage. Pepco's tree-trimming subcontractors are notably unskilled at properly pruning for appropriate future growth. The county government is not responsible for these prunings. Any tree that is a county street tree in poor health or decayed beyond saving can be removed by the county, with a new tree planted in its place. The new tree may not be the same variety or species as the one removed. Since our communities were built 45-50 years ago, the science of street trees has grown, so that the list of "approved" trees for different locations has changed. In addition, the tree removal and subsequent replanting schedules vary widely. It may take a year to get a dead tree removed, and another year to get its replacement planted. The county will not plant a tree just to fill in a blank space; if there wasn't a tree there, they won't be likely to add one. It is up to each homeowner to notice if there is a problem with the street trees in front of his/her house. The county doesn't cruise the streets, inspecting all the trees. If you note that your tree(s) are dead or diseased, the county will respond if you notify them of the problem. You can reach Mr. Linkletter at or by phone at 240-777-6000.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Turnout in our voting precinct in bleak weather

Hello, friends & neighbors! This is the first post on my new blog, and I hope to write regularly to share my thoughts about North Bethesda, real estate, community concerns & updates, and some politics. Thank you for checking my blog, and I hope you return often and post your comments and wisdom. I can't promise wisdom from my side, but I love to learn from others. Voting went smoothly for our precinct, 4-13, at Farmland Elementary School. The Board of Elections suggested a new circulation pattern and layout, and the school obliged by allowing us to let people enter and leave through the main doors. From the point of view of those of us working at the polls, it was a far superior layout, and no one had to stand in line outside in the rain and sleet. We opened promptly at 7am with all touch-screen machines functioning perfectly and experienced no glitches during the day. Turnout was great for a primary election. Of the 2020 voters registered to vote at Farmland, 1026 were logged as "voted" in the electronic register when we closed the polls at 9:30 pm (that's right- we were held over to extended hours; more on that later). By party, there were 760 Democrats, 234 Republicans, and 32 Un-affiliated voters. Since the Democratic primary has been hotly contested, the turnout for that party was extraordinary. A recent court case resulted in permissible voter registration of 17 year olds who will be 18 before the general election in November. We were delighted to see several enthusiastic voters take advantage of this ruling. We had to give them provisional ballots, so all of them voted on paper. Provisional ballots will be counted at the Board of Elections by next week. In November, when they are 18, they will use the dreaded Diebold touch-screen machines like the rest of us. Many people asked my about the security of the voting machines. As I said, we had no glitches or problems with the operation of any of our 12 voting units, but Maryland does not have a paper trail capability or requirement to be able to audit any of our elections this year. This means that, if a hacker were to change votes in the machines or at the mainframe, no one could ever prove that the system had been hacked or the election tampered with. This happened in 2004 in Ohio in at least one dramatic case, where a precinct, voting on these same machines, delivered over 6-times the number of votes for George W. Bush than there were voters in that precinct. No one could prove tampering (no ability to audit the election), but the mathematics were unmistakable. To our knowledge, this type of thing has not happened in Maryland, since we are not known as a contested state in the general elections. Thankfully, after long court battles since 2002, the last MD general assembly passed a bill to require a paper trail for all elections after 2008. We will use the current Diebold system in the 2008 general election, but will have something new (and auditable!) by 2010. Back to our primary... The weather got worse all day, and we were hearing reports from the "outside world" that traffic was snarled all over and people were skidding on ice outside. We were about to close at 8pm (after being open for voting for 13 hours) when we received the dreaded call from the Board of Elections, instructing us to stay open until 9:30pm. Some judge in Anne Arundel County had decided that people needed more time to get to the polls. Our extended-hours rules require that we close the electronic voting units and use provisional ballots for all voting after 8, so we closed down the machines and re-arranged the room to accommodate additional provisional voting. Seven brave souls came in to vote between 8 and 9:30. Again, the provisional votes will not be tallied until next week. As required by law, the pre-voting and closing paper tapes (which show the tabulation of each race, by candidate, for each machine) were taped to the wall outside of Farmland ES at the main entrance. In the future (this may only apply to the November general election, which could be the last time we use these machines), if you are interested in the election results from our precinct, you can come to Farmland after 8pm and examine the tapes. It can take us up to 1/2 hour or so to close the machines and run the final tallies, printing the tapes out, but they will be there. Although the hours are loooonnnngggg when working at the polls, it is really fun. I encourage anyone who can take the time & has the strength to volunteer to be an election judge. You will learn a lot, and meet wonderful people. We had a fabulous group, and I was proud to serve with them. As an aside, there is a small stipend paid to election judges. Don't spend it all in one place! To sign up, or, if you want to reach the Montgomery County Board of Elections for any reason, the site is