Monday, October 4, 2010

Green Festival comes to DC in October!

If you've never been to the Green Festival, this is a real treat. It doesn't come to DC every year. Held at the Washington Convention Center, it is a huge fantasmagoria of everything sustainable, with vendor booths, food, and speakers. Topics cover energy conservation, organic foods and products, fair trade, and anything else you can imagine. Two years ago, Dan & I managed to find a number of organic chocolate suppliers, and we bought a wide variety of dark chocolates for our choco-loving son-in-law. He was ecstatic, and one of the "finds" turned into his favorite chocolate of all time. The entry fee is reasonable (see the website), but you can get in for a reduced cost if you are a senior, student, come by transit or bicycle. Admission is free with a Ford dealer pass, if you bring a cell phone to recycle, purchase $25 in October at Mom's Organic Market (Nicholson Lane), are a member of Green America or Global Exchange, volunteer, or are under 18.
I can't tell you how much fun this is!!!

Take Metro directly to the convention center
October 23-24

Really fun, inspiring, and interesting!!!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

13 Questions to Ask Before You Buy Anything

I just read this list on the Mother Nature Network weekly email. If you don't get this service, it's great, but this one really got my attention, particularly after spending 3/4 of last year cleaning out the detritus of my parents' house. They were prodigious collectors of memorabilia, antiques, art, ceramics, books, and anything else that came their way. As a child, I heard "we might need it someday," "this would make a great gift for.... (then buy 5 more for other people)," and "I couldn't possible do without this...."
With a view toward consuming less, conserving more, and generally not burdening our children with unnecessary "stuff" (my mother's most hated word; her things were never to be called "stuff"), check this out:
1. Is this purchase something I need?
2. Do I already own something that will serve the same purpose?
3. Can I borrow one instead of buying new?
4. Can I make something that will serve the same purpose?
5. Can I buy a used one?
6. Would someone be willing to split the cost and share this with me?
7. Can I buy or commission one made locally?
8. Can I buy one that was made with environmentally responsible materials?
9. Can I buy one that serves more than one purpose?
10. Can I get something human powered instead of gas or electric?
11. Can I compost or recycle it when I’m done with it?
12. What is the impact on the environment of the full life cycle of it?
13. Does the manufacture or disposal of it damage the environment?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Miscellaneous design features for parts of North Bethesda

The county has approved the White Flint sector plan for North Bethesda with certain goals/requirements. One is to have a community center, and also to have a civic green for use by the new residents and residents of surrounding communities. At this time, the civic green may be placed on the south side of Old Georgetown Road, where the car dealerships are right now, and is planned for 1-2 acres. The White Flint Coalition is pushing for at least a 2-acre green/park. This is worth lobbying for.

Wall Park, next to the aquatic center (between Old Georgetown Rd & Executive Blvd., north of Nicholson Lane) will become a highly programmed park with ballfields, tennis courts, and other sports activities.

The Bethesda Trolley Trail, which currently connects from Tuckerman to the corner of Edson Lane and Woodglen, is to be extended through to Marinelli, ultimately connecting to the Metro station.

North Bethesda buildout politics & funding

It may be possible to obtain federal matching funds to develop the public infrastructure for the sector plan. It is critical that the Rockville Pike boulevard "complete street" design, as planned, be completed in as early a phase as possible to promote further development along rational, staged lines and to create a sense of place for North Bethesda. In order for this to happen, all of the political powers must include the creation of a new, improved Rockville Pike and North Bethesda as a priority. The plan, as approved, is a major step forward in the cooperation of public, private, and community sectors and could serve as a model for other emerging urban areas nationwide.

Currently, many of our local, state, and national leaders are on board to push this project for federal funding. On board are councilmembers Elrich and Berliner (I haven't confirmed with others, but suspect that Trachtenberg and Andrews are also proponents). Other local leaders in the City of Rockville are intrigued and would want to tie in with Rockville Town Center. On the state level, our delegates, Frick and Lee, state Senator Frosh, and Governor O'Malley are enthusiastic. Senators Cardin and Mikulski will also fight for the funding. However, Executive Leggett seems to be focusing on the Shady Grove Science Center and the Corridor Cities Transitway, leaving this important economic and social engine unattended. If you agree, please call or write Ike Leggett to let him know that we want his attention and backing for this project and the possibility of applying for and receiving federal funding.

The design for Mid-Pike Plaza

Hopefully, FRIT will have their sketch plan posted online, keep an eye out for it as a link from www.Friendsof
Here is a short text description that covers some of the points and questions made by community members during the July 14 sketch plan presentation. I hope that I don't butcher the plan with a clumsy description!

There will be nine blocks. Phase 1 is on the south end of the property, abutting Old Georgetown Road, and will comprise primarily 4-story buildings with a residential component above retail street-fronts. Since the plan for the sector modifies the current Old Georgetown/Executive Blvd intersection (the southwest corner of FRIT's property) so that Hoya Street will be opened to Old Georgetown Rd, Executive Blvd will no longer curve to intersect in that location and will be straightened through the current auto dealer sites so that it will continue through Mid-Pike Plaza (to be renamed...any nominations to send to FRIT?) and become the property's "main street" running north-south. The new streets that define the blocks will run roughly along the same driving routes that the current parking lot uses. The Exec. Blvd. "main street" will deadend at a T intersection at a large public plaza (the largest of 3 pedestrian/public plaza areas planned for the development). This public space will be larger than the plaza in Rockville Town Center in front of the regional library. For comparison, Rockville Town Center (also owned and developed by FRIT) is 13 acres, total. The public space will have lawns and pavilion shops, and can be closed off for large events (farmers' market, movie night, etc.) A hotel is projected to front this plaza. At the far north section of the property, The public space will be in phase 2, with the hotel in phase 3. Other public spaces will include a "raised street" with distinctive paving to delineate areas and uses, and another programmable space with a wide sidewalk. It is unknown if the paved surfaces will be pervious, but the engineers involved are aware that the community is asking for the most environmentally friendly designs possible. Most of the office space will be located closest to the southeast corner of the property, near the White Flint Metro station. The sector plan provides for an additional entrance to this station on the north end, catercorner from FRIT's property.

Parking and trucks- Parking will be along some of the streets and in 3 parking garages, which will utilize the red/green light technology used in Rockville to indicate where there are open spaces. It is unknown if there will be parking fees, but it is to be assumed that, eventually, all parking in the sector will be charged. The garages will be about 4 levels above ground. Some retail tenants may validate parking, and there will be ample parking for retail use, 3-4 spaces per 1,000 sq. ft. Office parking will be limited, as in the current Nuclear Regulatory Commission buildings, 2 spaces per 1,000 sq. ft. (approx. 3-4 workers). There will be 1 space per residential unit. It is calculated that residents of condos/apartments in the sector development will have fewer vehicles and will use buses, walk, bike, or use Metro more that in standard developments. Residential and office parking will be dedicated, not open to the general public for retail parking. Loading docks will be internal to each building, so that there will be no need for trucks to stop on the streets for loading or unloading.

Phase 1 will build the first part of the main street area at the south end, with residential above retail. Mid and high-rise buildings will be LEED certified (a certification process to rate "green" buildings). Due to stormwater management requirements and the need to reduce energy use, a number of the roofs will be vegetated. Phase 2 will complete the main street, with most of the retail space. Commercial (office) buildings will have bike racks and showers to encourage walkers and biker commuters. FRIT is negotiating with potential retail and commercial tenants, with the construction of high-rise office buildings dependent on leasing.

Process/Timeline for the redevelopment of Mid-Pike Plaza

On July 14, Federal Realty Investment Trust presented the sketch design for Mid-Pike Plaza to the community at large. The presentation was made by Evan Goldman. FRIT owns a number of very successful commercial properties and has made a specialty of developing transit-oriented mixed-use projects. Mid-Pike Plaza is located at the very north end of the White Flint Sector Plan, bounded on the north by Montrose Parkway, south by Old Georgetown Road (where it bends to meet Rockville Pike), east by Rockville Pike, and west by the old Old Georgetown Road, recently renamed Hoya Street. It is 24 acres, the 3rd largest property in the sector (after White Flint Mall and LCOR's WMATA site behind the White Flint Metro). The plan is to be completed in three phases, with the projected calendar as follows (take this with a large grain of salt; no one knows how long the process will take, but these are goals):

Next 2 months, Evan will meet with any and all community groups to share the presentation. White Flint Coalition's meeting is Aug. 3.
The sketch plan will go to the county sometime in September, with a public hearing in the fall and approval by the end of the year.
During the next year, 2011, the detailed site plan for phase 1 will go through the approval process.
Groundbreaking on phase 1 will occur in about 2 years. This will cover the area currently occupied by ToysRUS and the old Linens 'n Things space. Those leases expire at the end of 2012.
The other leases on the property (smaller stores, including Filene's Basement, Bally's, CVS, La Madeleine, Chipotle) are valid until the end of 2014, so that area will be part of phase 2. Phase 3 will be built on the parking area north of the shops.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Recycling bin- what can go in? Guidelines for Montgomery County

Last night, one of our neighbors heard a talk by Montgomery County's Recycling Coordinator.  We knew most of what he covered, but learned (or was reminded of) several things:
- Milk and juice cartons are now recyclable; rinse and put into big blue bin with other paper.
- Yogurt containers (and other tub shaped plastic containers, including flower pots) are now recyclable. 
- Plastic bottles from cooking oil or salad dressing are recyclable; wash with soap and put in with other plastic.
- Plastic bottles from motor oil are NOT recyclable.
- Styrofoam and other plastic containers with that feel are still NOT recyclable.
- Clear plastic clam shell containers (from fruit, salad) are NOT recyclable, no matter what number is on them; most are #1, but they melt at a different temperature from other #1 plastic containers  and mess up the result!  (This is the one I definitely didn't know about and have been guilty of)
- Bottle tops are recyclable, but put them in the plastic/metal bin separately from the container they belong to (i.e., not attached) 
- Metal can tops are OK if they are still attached to the can and pushed down inside it, but not if they are separated because they may have sharp edges that could injure handlers.
Check the link for all recycling questions, including all of the other myriad items that are recyclable and/or are taken at the solid waste facility.
Did you know that you can get free mulch at the Shady Grove Transfer Station? It's in a big heap; just drive up and shovel as much as you want.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Jobs projections for White Flint area and Montgomery County

This morning, the White Flint Partnership sponsored the third event in its speaker's series. The subject today was on the future of jobs in Montgomery County and, in particular, the vision for the White Flint sector. Speakers were Nancy Floreen, county council president (thank you for the correction in the comment below); member of the PHED committee (also attending was fellow PHED member Marc Elrich), Dr. Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis and professor at George Mason Univ., and Jim Dinegar, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. Here is a summary of their comments:
Nancy Floreen- the current job status in the county is better than the country in general, but the county was still affected by the recession. We have 5.2% unemployment, with 13,000 jobs lost in the county in 2009. The county is 2nd to last in the Metro area in job growth. Relative to the rest of the country, this is good, but the county is actively seeking means to encourage business to grow and to add jobs. The White Flint Sector Plan council review has been in the PHED committee and will go to the full council next week. They will begin with the staging plan, with an emphasis on determining funding levels and developing an appropriate public-private financing plan. There should be a decision out of the full council by mid-March. With regard to the county in general, she is trying to create a Montgomery Business Partnership which will work with the Chambers of Commerce and the Office of Economic Development. It was not clear what the purpose of the partnership will be as opposed to what the Chambers are already doing.
Prof. Fuller- although not official, the recession ended last June, and we are 8 months into the recovery cycle. The labor market hasn't stabilized yet, and there has been job loss of approx. 25,000 in the region, with Montg. Cty. taking a proportionally large "hit." The federal government has created 13,000 jobs, most of which are on the higher end in salary and education requirements. Unemployment nationwide will decrease slowly during the next several years. His forecast for Montgomery County for the next ten years (2010-2020, which is short-term in forecasting terms) includes the following: there will be a slowing of job growth (less than the metro area average), giving the county a smaller share of the regional economy. This, however, includes 20% job growth and 44% economy growth during this 10-year period. 25% of people who are currently employed in the county will retire or separate from their jobs, so that "new hires" will have to include replacing workers in existing jobs. Housing units lag behind jobs, and, with 49,500 housing units proposed to be added, this will only be 2/3 of the units needed for the job growth projected. In other words, we will not be building enough housing to accommodate the workers and their households that will be coming to the county. There is a need for more housing locally in the county. There is a high proportion of available jobs that require higher education and experience and are higher-salaried, with much of the available labor force in the lower-salaried retail, service industry, and construction sectors.
Jim Dinegar- there is a great opportunity for advancing the region in several industries in which the Metro region is already strong. These include health (NIH & bio-tech), hospitality (Marriott, Ritz, and others), green research & technology (BP Solar, ULI, AIA, Green Building Council, and numerous others), and cyber-terrorism (Google security headquarters debating coming here or to Texas). Do not underestimate the power of BRAC to bring related companies to the area and to affect our region, nor of NIH & the new Johns Hopkins campus to influence business relocation. We will never be a manufacturing center, so should be concentrating on our strengths, which include the presence of the federal government and all of the industries above, transportation systems, availability of suitable housing, entertainment, recreational, and cultural opportunities, and school quality.
Each speaker recognizes the changing character of our unique location, which was, until recently, a suburban community serving jobs in DC. The growth of business and federal involvement in Montgomery County dictates a re-alignment of the vision of the future to an urban community (in close-in Montg. Cty), utilizing smart-growth concepts to create higher density and provide cultural opportunities without overloading the transportation system.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

After the storms- preventing ice dams in the future

There are a couple of ways to minimize ice dam damage or to avoid the ice damming problem altogether.

1.This method can only be implemented when you install a new roof. Insist that your roofing contractor install an ice dam shield material under the shingles toward the gutter edges of the new roof. This is a strip of material that will prevent water, backed up from an ice dam in the gutters and on the roof shingle edges, from seeping back up the underside of the shingles. This will not prevent the ice dam process, but should prevent it from destroying your interior ceilings, walls, etc.

2. Add insulation on your attic floor and improve ventilation inside the attic. If your attic air space is not conducting heat from the house (through the attic floor) to the underside of the roof underlayment, the ice on the roof will melt more slowly, giving it time to drain properly without seeping under the shingles. This is not foolproof, but is a prudent precaution. Besides, it makes your house more energy efficient. Try using a cellulose insulation and get the federal tax break!

3. Prevent ice dams to begin with. You can install gutter heating strips. When the next huge storm hits, you can plug in the strips so that ice will never form in your gutters again. I have not researched these completely, but it seems that you can also install a sensor that will turn the strips on when conditions require. Go to and search for Wrap-On Roof and Gutter Heating Cable, EasyHeat ADKS Roof and Gutter Heating Cable, Danfoss RX Roof & Gutter Deicing Cables, EasyHeat PSR Pre-Terminated Self-Regulating Freeze Protection Cable for Water Pipes and Roofs, or Chromalox Commercial Grade Roof and Gutter Heat Trace Cable.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ice Dams- the next step after the storm

For many people with townhouses or detached houses, the huge amount of snow on our roofs will soon create ice dams. As a result, we will see water leaking into our houses, most likely near the junction between wall and ceiling. There is nothing that can be done to prevent this happening, but you may be able to reduce the damage. First, what is an ice dam? This occurs when the snow melts from the roof (it will often melt at the shingle level, since that is warmest with the heat from the attic). The water flows under the ice pack, ending in the gutters and downspouts, where it freezes. Once the gutters freeze full of ice, the continuing water melt backs up under the ice pack and on top of (and often, in between) the shingles. Freezing water at the shingle level will lift the shingles, so that water will now flow beneath the shingles. With no other way out (remember, the gutters are frozen, so nothing is passing through them), the water seeps into the attic or through the wall at the edge of the attic and house exterior. How will you know that ice damming is occuring? You may see buckling on your ceiling, or water dripping down the walls. In our house, the water pools above the bay window (a great place for an ice dam to occur, since it juts out from the exterior wall, just under the roof line) and then drips onto the window sill. This will damage drywall, paint, woodwork, etc. Will insurance cover it? Since this is a problem that comes from above, it is normally covered by homeowners insurance. If you ever have a water problem that comes from seepage from the ground, that would not be and would require a separate flood insurance policy. Ice dams, however, are storm-related and roof-generated, so you can put in a claim. So, what on earth are these pictures on this blog???? This is our method of minimizing the damage. Since there would be water pooling in the ceiling area, we have drilled small holes in the ceiling (where we had similar damage in 1993). In each hole is a piece of a paperclip, cut to look like a U, with a string tied to it. The paperclip is inserted in the hole so that, when the problem is over, it can be pulled out by the string. The string is then hung to sit inside a bucket on the windowsill. This way, when water pools above the holes, the water will travel down the strings and collect in the bucket. We will not have actual water damage to the woodwork or drywall (most likely), and only have to patch the holes when it is all over. Can ice dams be prevented? Not at this point, but, if you are installing a new roof, ask your roofer to install a barrier near the roof edges that is designed to prevent the movement of water below the shingles in the event of a huge storm like this. Also, if your house is well-insulated in the attic area, it will prevent the heat from the house from melting the snow pack on the roof too fast so that your gutters may (just MAY) have time to handle the flow. Not a fix, but can't hurt. If you decide to add insulation to your attic, please be conscious of the environmental qualities of the insulation that you choose. We added blown-in cellulose to our attic a little over a year ago (made the house much more comfortable!), which is a recycled material and has great insulation qualities. Happy springtime musings, but get out there and enjoy this lovely winter while we have it.
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