Author: Dave Kunes

Restaurant Week is Back for a Fourth Year

I launched Restaurant Week in 2015 to help promote our great restaurants and also expose residents to the terrifically diverse cuisine in our community. In our 4th year, we had 32 participating restaurants offering special fixed-price lunch and dinner menus featuring culinary treats from America, Korea, Italy, Latin America and more. This year I was especially proud Restaurant Week was featured on Good Day DC on Fox 5, and engaged over 5,000 local residents.

Silver Screens another success

Despite some meteorological challenges this summer — i.e., we had more than our fair share of rainy Fridays and some cancellations — our annual Silver Screens series of free outdoor movies was again a big success.

Many thanks to AFI Silver for presenting the movies and Sonny’s Green at The Blairs for hosting them. And thanks to everyone for turning out for these fun family evenings.

I’m looking forward to working with them again next summer — and hoping for drier weather.

Fighting climate change: What we can do

In August, I worked with One Montgomery Green, Integrative Strategies Forum and Poolesville Green to present “Leading the Way — Montgomery County Confronts Climate Change.” This month, a public briefing following up on the discussions at this important conference will be held in Rockville.

More than 80 residents, specialists and others attended last month’s public meeting in Silver Spring, sharing what local groups are doing to mitigate climate change, reviewing county programs in its Climate Mobilization Report and discussing initiatives the county could launch or expand to reduce our carbon footprint.

The meeting was held as an affiliate event with the Global Climate Action Summit , set for Sept. 12-14 in San Francisco.

As a result of these discussions, a report will be presented to county leaders at a public briefing at 6-8 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Council Office Building in Rockville.

As the Council’s Lead for Environment — and with frightening news about rising sea levels and record wildfires, floods and heatbeing reported on practically a daily basis — I know that fighting climate change is among our generation’s most urgent challenges.

Our County Council has set an ambitious goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035 and I’m committed to helping meet that goal.

This year I spearheaded a successful proposal to change our zoning law to allow community solar projects, each capable of generating up to 2 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 200 homes. And next month there will be hearing on another proposal of mine that’s designed to cut the red tape and expense for businesses that want to install their own solar projects.

More information about the Sept. 12 briefing is here: https://bit.ly/2NBmkgT

County’s student loan refinance program advances

As many of you know, I fought this spring to have $60,000 included in our fiscal 2019 operating budget to fund a market-demand study and cost analysis for a new county student loan refinance program, through which borrowers could refinance their college loans and save thousands of dollars. This summer, we solicited bids and received several from reputable vendors.

Our staff expects to rate the bids and award the contracts this month, with the actual studies getting underway shortly thereafter.

This is great news, as it means we’re on our way to helping our college borrowers ease their huge debt loads. The nation’s total student loan debt is now about $1.5 trillion — an enormous sum that’s crippling the ability of young professionals and their families to buy homes, start businesses, pursue graduate degrees and save for retirement.

Our county program would be similar to those that several states have run successfully for years. These programs are self-sustaining, with private activity bonds issued to refinance loans at lower interest rates; the borrowers’ monthly loan payments are used to pay off the bonds.

Not only do such programs help borrowers, they’ve been shown to boost the local economy. Businesses such as Microsoft use these public refinance programs to attract and retain employees.

By establishing the first such program run by a county in the U.S., Montgomery can become a national leader in this growing movement to help ease this burden on borrowers.

At a time when the Trump administration is doing what it can to hurt student borrowers — seeking to end the federal loan forgiveness program, siding with lenders over borrowers through its regulators — it’s more crucial than ever that the county step in to help.

You can sign a petition to support the proposal here.

Helping More Businesses Switch to Solar Power

As I reported in my last newsletter, I recently introduced a zoning text amendment designed to make it easier for businesses to install solar energy panels on their property.

It’s a follow-up to the zoning change I introduced that the council approved this spring, allowing community solar projects that can provide electricity to residents who can’t have their own solar panels.

This new proposal would exempt accessory use solar projects from the costly and lengthy site plan process.

Too often, the cost of the site plan process can outweigh the benefits of adding solar panels to a property.

Many of our businesses want to participate more in the new green economy, for both financial and environmental reasons, and this proposal would help them do just that.

The zoning change would apply only to properties zoned for commercial, employment, industrial and mixed-use without residential.

Together, by promoting more solar energy, these two zoning changes can help our county meet its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 11, at 1:30 p.m. You can sign up to testify at the hearing online athttps://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/council/phsignup.html or by calling 240-777-7803.

And the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee is scheduled to discuss the proposal at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 13.

More information is here: https://bit.ly/2Ap0LOA.

Concerns About Plans to Widen the Beltway

Like many of you, I’m concerned about Gov. Larry Hogan’s plans to possibly widen the Capital Beltway through Montgomery County. I’ve heard from many residents who point to the massive disruptions this project could cause, especially because it would require taking significant amounts of private property through Silver Spring.

Some also question the wisdom of investing billions of dollars into expanding our highways, when other traffic solutions, such as mass transit, are more environmentally friendly and would do much more to help the county meet our goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035.

The County Council held a briefing from our staff on the Beltway and I-270 plans at our first post-recess meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 11. You can watch the streamed version on the council’s website, here.

And please continue sending me your ideas and feedback on this major issue at Tom@TomHucker.com.

Council Tackles Bicycle Master Plan

Among the many available options, including cars, buses and Metrorail, many of us have turned to bicycling, for health, environmental, economic and other reasons.

The growing popularity of cycling has spurred the county to adopt a comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan, incorporating and revising bike and other master and sector plans dating to 1978.

It will bring the county in line with leading practices in bicycle network planning and help us realize our Vision Zero Two-Year Action Plan to eliminate traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries.

The new plan calls for creating a low-stress network of bikeways throughout Montgomery County, so cyclists of all ages and abilities can safely ride to transit stations, employment centers, shops, public facilities and other destinations in the county. A new bikeway classification system organizes bikeways based on their level of separation from traffic.

In addition, long-term bicycle parking stations are recommended at all Metrorail Red Line and many MARC Brunswick Line stations, and future Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway stations.

About 30 people testified at a public hearing on the new plan on July 10.

AFI Silver Screens kicks off with ‘Jurassic Park’

I’m proud to once again help present Silver Screens, AFI Silver’s annual terrific series of free outdoor family movies this summer. This year’s screenings kick off with 1993’s “Jurassic Park” on Friday, July 13, and continue on Friday evenings through Aug. 31. Movies start at sundown, between 8 and 8:30 p.m. There’s a new venue this year: Sonny’s Green at The Blairs District, 1401 Blair Mill Road in downtown Silver Spring. The Blairs is also a co-presenter, along with the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. Other films this summer include “Moana” (July 20) and “Jumanji” (July 27). More information and the schedule are here: https://bit.ly/2xIFZYM.

Green jobs apprenticeship program good for workers, industry, environment

Green jobs apprenticeship program good for workers, industry, environment

Last month, the County Council unanimously approved my bill that will create a clean-energy jobs apprenticeship readiness program through Worksource Montgomery, which provides jobtraining and other employment services around the county.

This program will help meet two critical needs in our county:

  • It will give our jobless and underemployed residents a great opportunity to train for a well-paying career and climb up the economic ladder.
  • It will help provide the skilled workers that our construction companies need, as the industry increasingly incorporates greener technologies. And the need for these workers will only grow, with significant development scheduled in County buildings, schools, neighborhoods near the Purple Line, downtown Wheaton and White Oak, all of which will have a major focus on using renewable-energy sources.

On top of that, promoting more green building technologies is good for the environment and will help the County meet its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035.

The program will focus on training unemployed and underemployed youth and transitioning adults. The goal is to set them up for success in apprenticeship programs registered with the Maryland Apprenticeship Training Council and for eventual long-term employment in the cleanenergy construction industry.

The program will help prepare participants to work in jobs related to solar systems, green roofs, geothermal systems, rainwater catchments, pervious pavement, thermal walls, wind, natural gas, sewage treatment and other environmental technologies.

The program is not expected to cost taxpayers anything, according to a fiscal analysis by the County’s Office of Management and Budget. The program is anticipated to cost from $10,000 to $17,500 annually, with Worksource Montgomery seeking grants or sponsorships to cover expenses. More information on the bill is here: https://bit.ly/2K81CXO.