Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Broaden participation in crime summit - Letter to the Gazette Editor

Silver Spring residents should welcome the news that a local group of civic associations is planning a communitywide meeting on crime in the spring ("Citizens associations planning ‘crime summit'," Nov. 19 article).

In our neighborhood, the Northwest Park-Oakview section of Silver Spring, we have seen a significant increase in a broad range of crime, which has increased our residents' anxiety and adversely affected our quality of life.

Any "community" crime summit must include my neighbors who live in this part of the community, which borders Prince George's County and, especially, the thousands of tenants who live in apartment complexes throughout Silver Spring.

Luther Hinsley, Silver Spring

The writer is the president of the Avery Park Community Association.

Silver Spring Library vote put on hold - Gazette

Residents given another chance to review options at meeting scheduled for Tuesday

by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008

After cost estimates and construction times for designs of the new Silver Spring Library were revealed Thursday, a Montgomery County Council committee postponed a vote on the design options and urged library officials to hold a ninth meeting with the community.

During eight community meetings held in the fall, residents favored an alternative that differed from the one County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) recommended last week. The option Leggett chose would cost about $58 million to build. The option residents preferred would cost $78 million and require a zoning text amendment to allow for a taller apartment building on the site.

In a Health and Human Services committee meeting Thursday, councilmembers discussed possible compromises with library officials regarding parking, cost and density of the project. It was the first public meeting where cost estimates for the library had been presented.

Ultimately, it was decided residents deserved another look at the new information and a community meeting was scheduled for 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the current library, 8901 Colesville Road. The HHS committee will vote on an option Dec. 4. The full County Council could vote Dec. 9.

Last week, Leggett and the council were given three design options to review. The designs by the project's architect, Washington, D.C.-based RTKL, were based on community meetings.

Under the option Leggett chose, a five-story library would front along Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street and a 10-story, 146-unit apartment building would front on Bonifant. This design would provide more housing units than the preferred resident option and would connect the library to the third level of the nearby Wayne Avenue garage with a pedestrian bridge.

The site would also include an art center, public-use space and potentially a Purple Line stop.

Residents preferred an option that would place the library on Bonifant and the apartment building along Wayne. This option would include 140 residential units and would put a 13-story residential building closer to the Central Business District to the north. The smaller library building would fit better with Fenton Village to the south of the site, according to residents.

Because of the estimated 143-foot-tall residential building, a zoning text amendment would be required for this option due to the existing 110-foot limit on Wayne.

This option would also require a 120-space underground parking facility for the library, making it considerably more expensive than the option Leggett chose, said David Dise, director of the county Department of General Services. Parking for the library in Leggett's preferred option could be served by the Wayne garage, which currently averages 65 percent occupancy, Dise said.

"About $12 million of that $20 million difference [in cost for the two options] is for parking," Dise said.

With such an extensive community input process, it would send the wrong message if the county selected an option opposed by residents, said Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring.

"The executive branch needs to be cognizant that there is a growing unease out there that the community is not being listened to," said Ervin, who is not a member of the council's HHS committee.

Ervin said the county should not impose the apartment building on homes along Bonifant and could solve parking issues with existing options on the block and by sharing spaces with the underground parking already planned for the apartment building.

Parking cannot be shared between the library and the residential building – which will be developed privately –because the county would still have to foot significant parking costs, Dise said.

The additional community meeting is necessary to resolve differences between the chosen options, said Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park.

"You can never do enough to listen to the community. You can always listen more," he said.

Ervin said it would be helpful to residents to see cost estimates for the design options, which had not previously been known.

The committee also addressed a letter from the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board urging officials to increase the size of the library to accommodate a growing Silver Spring population. Advisory board chairman Darian Unger said the proposed Silver Spring Library would not be big enough to serve residents living within a one-mile radius of the site.

However, Leggett's recommended option would contain 15,000 square feet of office space while the community's preferred option would have 40,000 square feet. Architects have said office space could be changed to accommodate more library space if the planned 63,000-square-foot library building was deemed too small.

"I don't want the library to expand some day in the future," Unger said. "It should be in the initial library design."

County library director Parker Hamilton said the proposed library, which would be a significant increase over the existing library on Colesville Road and comparable to the Rockville Library, was satisfactory.

"Our record of building a copious-sized library is pretty good," she said.

A community meeting to

discuss the final concepts for the new Silver Spring Library Project and County Executive Isiah Leggett's recommendation will be held 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Silver Spring Library, 8901 Colesville Road in Silver Spring.

Study would explore uses, costs for renovated Blair Auditorium - Gazette

Group recommends classrooms, office space for school system, community groups

by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008

A study of the dormant Old Blair Auditorium will explore how the building's auditorium space can serve two Silver Spring schools and how classroom and office space planned for the site can be used by the community. However, significant funding is still needed for the project.

A group of county agencies and nonprofit organizations that have worked on the project recommended to the Montgomery County Council's Education Committee that the 1,200-seat auditorium be renovated into an 800- to 900-seat auditorium with additional classroom and office space for Montgomery County Public Schools or community agencies.

The work group – which includes Montgomery County Public Schools, county agencies and a nonprofit dedicated to finding uses for the building – will now develop a Program of Requirements for the auditorium, which is located on Wayne Drive in Silver Spring.

After the POR is completed, MCPS and the Board of Education will approve an architect to conduct a $25,000 feasibility study to determine cost and how the space will be used. Funding for the study is included in the Board of Education's fiscal 2009 budget and it could be completed next summer.

"We have this empty building and all these needs in the downtown area and something needs to be done to get this building back up to standards," said County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring.

The auditorium has been closed since 1999, when Montgomery Blair High School moved to its new location at Colesville Road and University Boulevard. The auditorium is now part of the Silver Spring International Middle School and Sligo Creek Elementary School campuses.

It has 900 seats on the ground level of the auditorium and about 300 "stadium seats" in an area that would be used for classrooms and office space.

Ervin suggested a day care facility or a school-based health clinic be considered in the POR as possible uses for the extra space. The work group also considered adding lecture hall areas instead of classroom and office space or simply upgrading the auditorium as it currently is, options rejected due to high costs or a lack of service to the community.

A $600,000 state bond bill was awarded to Old Blair Auditorium Project Inc. in 2005 and could be used toward renovation costs if the county or private donors match the funds. But the project could cost "quite a bit more" than $1.2 million, requiring additional county funds or even federal funds, said Stuart Moore, president of the Old Blair Auditorium Project Inc.

"I don't consider it highly likely that would work out, but it's something we can pursue," Moore said of pursuing federal funding, citing a cutback on federal earmarks as an obstacle. Moore said his organization has raised about $75,000 for the project.

Given the county's current financial situation, developing a financially viable POR could be difficult, said County Council President Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown.

"Basically we are supposed to go through the Christmas list of the things we'd like to see here," Knapp said. "Then we have others go back to see how much it would actually cost to buy Christmas this year."

One way to pursue funding for the project could be through partnerships with community organizations that need to use the space, said Ginny Gong, director of the county office of Community Use of Public Facilities.

"Maybe with [community groups] that really want regular use of it … in return for a certain amount of use we could explore creative partnerships with community groups," Gong said.

MTA: Purple Line tunnel too costly - Gazette

Residents at public hearing show support for light-rail option

by Jeremy Arias | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008

State transportation officials at a public hearing Saturday told supporters of a light-rail option for the Purple Line that running the transit line through a tunnel under Wayne Avenue in east Silver Spring would be too expensive to consider.

"We did hear a lot of residents who preferred a tunnel under Wayne in east Silver Spring," said Michael D. Madden, Purple Line development chief for the Maryland Transit Administration. "We've gone out to the community to explain that … [the tunnel] would have to go very deep, and it would have to go all the way out to University Boulevard. That makes that option not cost-effective."

In the final MTA-sponsored public hearing, 69 people presented testimony Saturday, with the overwhelming majority supporting light-rail (LRT) over a bus rapid-transit (BRT) system for the 16-mile system that would connect Bethesda to New Carrollton and incorporate Metro and MARC lines.

Six alternatives are being considered by the MTA for the Purple Line. Three would use BRT and three would use LRT, which would have higher ridership and a better economic impact, according to an MTA study released in October. Each mode of transit has three different plans under consideration which vary in cost, travel time and integration with existing roadways.

The 251-page study described how each alternative would impact the community and provided estimated travel times, costs and ridership statistics. As many as six of the possible 20 stations along the Purple Line could be in the Silver Spring area between 16th Street and Georgia Avenue and Arliss Street and Piney Branch Road.

While only two speakers supported the BRT option, many LRT supporters favored running the rail system through a tunnel under Wayne Avenue in east Silver Spring. Elected officials and MTA representatives argued such a tunnel would be too expensive.

Elaine Ellis, who has lived in Silver Spring for 25 years, attended the meeting with other residents of her Seven Oaks neighborhood to support the LRT option with a tunnel under Wayne. She held a "No Train on Wayne" sign outside Falcon Hall at the meeting.

"I just don't think it makes sense to put a 180-car train running both ways down a residential street," Ellis said. "It should be run underground, I mean, Montgomery County taxpayers pay some of the highest property taxes in the country; we deserve a high-quality transit system."

Del. Tom Hucker (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring said tunnel supporters were probably unfamiliar with government budgeting practices, and classified the tunnel as an overly costly concession for MTA.

"Anyone who understands the constraints on the federal budget system knows tunneling is not a real option," he said, explaining the light rail Purple Line would cost about $1.6 billion to run on the surface, and tunneling could push the budget over the $2 billion cut-off typically placed on federal grants.

One of two speakers who supported the BRT option, Cal Kriesberg characterized the option as cheaper and more flexible than the rail option. Buses would likely be hybrid electric, and both the BRT and LRT plans included the completion of the Capital Crescent Trail running from Silver Spring to Georgetown, important environmental points he said many LRT supporters ignore or overlook.

MTA consultant Mike Flood agreed that there was a tendency for LRT supporters to overstate the pollution impact of the BRT option.

"BRT emits pollutants from the vehicle, while there are no emissions from the LRT vehicle [but] LRT vehicle pollutants come from the power generation plants [off site]," Flood said. "Both technically should be treated similarly in terms of pollutants."

Harry Sanders of the Purple Line Now! group, and a supporter of the LRT option, said buses would likely be slower than light-rail and could not seat as many passengers as a multi-car train.

Kriesberg argued that, while buses might be slower, dedicated bus-only lanes in the BRT plan would cut down on delays and the lower cost of the BRT could free up more funds for tunnel options supported by many speakers.

Madden said the MTA would be carefully documenting and summarizing public input until the Jan. 14 deadline for public comments, including input from supporters of the bus rapid-transit option which would see dedicated bus lanes instead of an electric rail system along the route.

Secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation John D. Porcari (D) and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) will make their final decision sometime in February or March. Testimony will be taken through Jan. 14 and can be submitted electronically on the MTA's Web site,, by e-mail to, or by mail to MTA Director of Planning Diane Ratcliff at the MTA Office of Planning, 6 St. Paul St., 9th floor in Baltimore, MD 21202.

The Montgomery County Planning Board will hold a public hearing Jan. 8 on the Purple Line to inform its decision on a recommendation for the route and type of transit – light rail or bus rapid transit – for the Montgomery County section of the Purple Line. The board's recommendation will go to the County Council and then to MTA, which will make the final decision.

The public is welcome to speak at the hearing, although board Chairman Royce Hanson is encouraging people to send written testimony, which can be of any length, given the large number of people who may wish to be heard. Written testimony should be received by noon Jan. 2. Testimony will be limited to two hours, with each speaker receiving no more than three minutes.

Those who wish to speak must specify which segment of the Montgomery County Purple Line they wish to address – Bethesda/Chevy Chase; Silver Spring; Long Branch/Takoma/Langley; or the entire length – using the online sign-up system available in late December on the Planning Board Web site or by calling 301-495-4600.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Indoor Artist Market December 6th at Mayorga - You're Invited!

20 Amazing Artists - Great Work, Great Prices, Great Atmosphere

Saturday, December 6, 2008, from 12 noon to 5 pm
At Mayorga Coffee Factory, 8040 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring.
Your Host: Brenda Smoak

Parking in the new parking garage next door to Mayorga Coffee.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Holiday Greeting from Barack Obama and his family!

Red-light cameras mulled as source of EMS funding - Gazette

Plan is a ‘risk' that puts county in deeper financial hole, Leggett says

by Janel Davis | Staff Writer | November 19, 2008

A plan to use revenues from red light and speed cameras as an alternative to a proposed ambulance fee would be a "risk," would move the county in the wrong financial direction and could jeopardize the county's camera safety program, County Executive Isiah Leggett said Tuesday.

Leggett (D) held a press conference to denounce the proposal by council Vice President Philip M. Andrews, the governing body's staunchest opponent of the controversial ambulance fee.

Under a plan put forth this week by Andrews, net revenues from speed and red light cameras — already in use in the county — would fund emergency apparatus for the Fire and Rescue Service. The camera revenues now pay for pedestrian safety and other public safety programs.

The proposed legislation would require the money be spent on new programs and equipment.

"This legislation would provide enough funds to purchase fire and rescue apparatus on an annual basis, as needed," said Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, who introduced his legislation Tuesday morning.

"None of the money [from camera revenues] goes to fire apparatus, and that equipment is frequently involved in road safety. This would be a close nexus in how the money would be raised and how it would be dedicated."

But the plan would increase the county's financial challenges by forgoing a potential $14 million in annual revenue collected from the ambulance fee, and would require officials to find additional money to pay for new pedestrian and public safety programs.

The county collects about $21 million in camera revenues annually. About $11 million of the revenue is spent on operating costs. The remaining $10 million is included in the budget for pedestrian and public safety programs, as required by state law.

"This bill does not offset the ambulance fee because this $10 million is already assumed in the budget to cover existing programs," Leggett said. "We would need to find additional revenue to cover this loss of revenue or reduce or eliminate some programs."

Under Andrews' plan, the council would allocate 50 percent of the revenues for emergency fire and rescue equipment, 35 percent for pedestrian safety programs and 15 percent for traffic safety programs, which would be funded in the police department budget.

The bill's allocations may not be legal under provisions of the state law governing the county's speed camera program, Leggett said, and could cause lawmakers to reconsider the county's program.

Andrews introduced his bill with four council co-sponsors, including Councilwoman Nancy M. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park, who advocated for increasing the allocation to pedestrian safety initiatives.

Another co-sponsor of Andrews' bill, Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring, said, "My constituents have no patience on raising more taxes and fees, especially on emergency services, which is how most of them see the ambulance fee."

Last month, a council committee headed by Andrews indefinitely tabled the ambulance fee proposal. Leggett's staff has been meeting with council members to revisit the fee proposal.

Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At large) of North Bethesda also co-sponsored Andrews' plan.

Leggett (D) proposed the ambulance fee as a dedicated method of paying for fire and rescue service needs. The fee would be billed to a patient's insurance company, and no county resident, including those without insurance, would be charged, Leggett has insisted. Montgomery County is one of the last jurisdictions in the region that transports patients free of charge.

Since the ambulance fee proposal, the county's volunteer firefighters have campaigned vigorously against the fee, saying it could cause some patients to hesitate in calling for an ambulance and could reduce their fundraising revenues. They also argue that they shouldn't have to charge fees for services now provided for free.

Many of the county's volunteer corporations are supporting Andrews' alternative.

But not all of Andrews' co-sponsors, or other council members, see the legislation as an alternative to the ambulance fee.

"For me, these are two separate things," said Council President Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist.2) of Germantown, another co-sponsor.

Councilmen Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac, Don Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton, and At-large members Marc Elrich and George L. Leventhal both of Takoma Park, did not sign on to the legislation.

Elrich said the bill "was not the way to go," and Leventhal said the plan was not an alternative to the ambulance fee and would not expand the county's speed safety programs, as he would like.

A public hearing on the camera legislation is scheduled for Dec. 9.

U.S. Marshals apprehend two men in teen slaying - Gazette

by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer |Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008

Romero and Milan-Canales detained by fugitive task force in Houston; awaiting extradition to Maryland

Two men sought in connection with the Nov. 1 slaying of a Silver Spring boy on a Ride On bus were apprehended last week on a bus in Texas after fleeing the county, according to Montgomery County Police.

Members of the U.S. Marshal's Fugitive Task Force apprehended Gilmar Leonardo Romero, 20, and Mario Ernesto Milan-Canales, 30, around 10 a.m. Nov. 12 as they were riding a public bus in Houston. County police learned that Romero and Milan-Canales had fled to Texas after arrest warrants were issued Nov. 10.

County police then alerted fugitive task forces across the country to look out for the suspects. Deputy Marshal Alfredo Perez said marshals in his Gulf Coast Violent Offenders Task Force in Texas received intelligence that the two men could be in the Houston area.

While performing surveillance in the Houston area for Romero and Milan-Canales, marshals identified the two boarding a public bus, Perez said. Officers from the Houston Police Department were notified and with their assistance, a traffic stop was performed on the bus, Perez said.

Officers quickly stormed the bus and arrested Romero and Milan-Canales, the only two passengers, without incident, Perez said.

"We got some good information on the general area so everybody spread out and looked for the guys," said Perez of the task force, which includes 30 officers. "[The officers conducting surveillance] weren't there that long and they had pictures [Montgomery County Police] had sent them and, lo and behold, they were walking toward the bus stop."

Romero and Milan-Canales are being held in the Harris County jail in Houston and awaiting extradition to Montgomery County.

Romero and Milan-Canales, whose local addresses are unknown, were allegedly involved in the Nov. 1 slaying of 14-year-old Tai Lam of the 1000 block of Quebec Terrace in Silver Spring, who was shot and killed on a Ride On bus on his way home from downtown Silver Spring with a group of friends.

The warrant for Romero charges him with first-degree murder and the warrant for Milan-Canales charges him with accessory after the fact for first-degree murder. Hector Mauricio Hernandez, 20, of the 8600 block of Flower Ave. in Takoma Park, was arrested Nov. 7 and charged with first-degree murder. He was denied bail.

Although police believe Hernandez was the shooter, prosecutors in the Montgomery County State's Attorney's office allege that Romero had a substantial involvement in Lam's death, said Lucille Baur, a county police spokeswoman, last week.

Police believe all three men are affiliated with the Salvadoran gang MS-13. Perez said one of the men had an MS-13 tattoo on the back of his head. He said the task force has seen a recent increase in the number of MS-13 members its officers apprehend.

County police believe Hernandez is an illegal immigrant but could not confirm the immigration status of Romero and Milan-Canales.

"We have the three people that were primarily involved in this incident and have the charges in place for them," Baur said Thursday. "We are continuing to investigate and there is the possibility that someone else can be charged."

Lam was riding home from downtown Silver Spring the night of the shooting with a group of 10 to 12 friends, when three to four men got on the bus at a Sligo Avenue stop in Silver Spring. Another man, who police say was Hernandez, got on the bus at another stop shortly after.

Lam Cao, Tai Lam's 16-year-old brother, said some of the men were taunting other passengers on the bus. Police say there was a verbal exchange between the men and the group of youths riding with Tai Lam and Lam Cao. As the men were getting off the bus at Piney Branch Road and Arliss Street, one of them, who police say was Hernandez, turned and fired several shots into the bus near the rear door, striking three teenagers who were together at the back of the bus.

The youths were taken to the hospital. Two survived, but Tai Lam was pronounced dead upon his arrival at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, according to charging documents.

A preliminary hearing for Hernandez is scheduled for Dec. 5 in Montgomery County District Court.

Court dates for Romero and Milan-Canales will be scheduled after they arrive in the county. Perez said Romero and Milan-Canales waived their rights to an extradition hearing in Texas, clearing them to be returned to the county as soon as possible

Citizens associations planning ‘crime summit' -Gazette

Sunday meeting would launch series of monthly discussions in advance of spring forum

by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer

A group of 12 Silver Spring citizens associations have begun planning a "crime summit" to address recent crime increases in their neighborhoods.

The event will be sponsored and planned primarily by Prezco, an umbrella group of several civic associations in Silver Spring. Tony Hausner of Prezco and the Indian Spring Civic Association said his neighborhood is concerned about the random shooting of a resident in July and increases in thefts from automobiles and home burglaries.

Other organizations within Prezco echoed the concerns at a September meeting and the group decided a joint effort was necessary.

Hausner said the summit would include a series of planning meetings that would culminate in a one-day event. At that event, panels of speakers would address residents on crime issues and then groups of residents would work with officials to develop plans of action for specific areas.

The summit wouldn't actually be held until the spring but the first planning meeting will be 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Saint Luke Lutheran Church at 9100 Colesville Road in Silver Spring, with monthly meetings to follow. The first meeting will focus on ways to address specific crimes and how to obtain useful crime statistics.

At a Silver Spring Advisory Board Neighborhoods Committee meeting Monday, Hausner asked for the support of several community organizations to serve as sponsors for the event. The Advisory Board is serving as a sponsor.

Hausner said the idea for the summit began before the Nov. 1 shooting death of Montgomery Blair High School student Tai Lam on a Ride On bus, but responding to that incident and gang issues in Silver Spring would be a top priority. Lam was allegedly killed by members of the MS-13 gang.

"The murder of Tai Lam clearly has just heightened it," Hausner said, adding that as the summit is being planned, there will be interim efforts to support Blair. "… We've had significant increases in home burglaries, lots of cars broken into [and] thefts from vehicles. All of these things are at the forefront of our concerns."

Bringing the arts to school halls, city walls - Gazette

by Jeremy Arias | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008

Planned and completed mural projects brighten several buildings in Silver Spring, Takoma Park

When Oak View Elementary School fifth-grader Dio Cramer returned to school this fall, she and her classmates were quick to notice Principal Peggy Salazar's new addition: a bright-colored glass mural framed over the school's entrance hall.

The work, completed by high school students working with professional artists from the Arts on the Block program of Wheaton, features a network of green and blue speckled lines weaving across a backdrop of orange and yellow circles and blue-to-white background, an intricate design that students seemed to enjoy trying to describe.

"I think it's like paths through water," Cramer said. "And I think it symbolizes finding your way through life."

Her classmates, Dennis Buruca-Ramos and Emerson Adams-Jackson, said they thought the design represented the tails of dragons, the school's mascot, while others, like Dianne Caceres, simply appreciated the mural for its aesthetic value.

"It's very beautiful," she said, pointing out the bright oranges and yellows of the work. "I feel happy when I see it."

Oak View's mural is the latest in a series of art projects planned for locations in Silver Spring and Takoma Park. A full-building mural is being funded by the Takoma Foundation for a house on Carroll Avenue, while the city's own Community Center may soon be decorated by Silver Spring-based Arturo Ho through Art for the People, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering creativity in communities that don't have much access to the arts.

Jan Goldstein, director of Arts on the Block, a program that engages high school students in the world of professional art by assigning them projects and paying them for designs and work, said the program often benefits students as much as clients. The Oak View mural, designed by Angel Smith last summer, cost about $5,000, she said.

"We believe that there are a lot of creative kids out there who never really get the chance to leverage their creative skills and we give them that chance," she said. "Everybody wins. [Oak View Principal Peggy] Salazar gets this great mosaic, our kids get to see how the process works."

Goldstein's role with students often puts her in touch with other area artists. Washington D.C.-based artist G. Byron Peck directed 25 students in the Silver Pass mural project on Georgia Avenue, which was displayed last summer. Four new panels are being constructed, while Peck himself plans his next move, a Trompe-l'™il mural at 7056 Carroll Ave.

"It's a classical architectural and illusionistic painting style with a high degree of illusionism," Peck said of the Carroll Avenue mural. He plans to paint a front porch scene with the illusion of depth on the flat wall of the building.

Peck, whose work graces several buildings in the District and Silver Spring, said he hopes the mural will not only beautify the Takoma Park community, but also serve as a crime deterrent.

"It really does a lot to help people be aware of what's going on," he said. "A lot of public arts projects have the dual purpose of making people aware of the environment. [Plus] anything that can jazz up the neighborhood, I'm all for it."

The foundation is looking to raise an additional $13,000 toward the $26,000 Peck needs to begin the mural. They hope to secure funds and begin painting this summer.

While Peck and the sponsoring Takoma Foundation have already released a concept design for the Carroll Avenue project, the foundation and the Art for the People group are looking for community input for a planned mosaic project to decorate the Community Center at 7500 Maple Ave.

About $40,000 will be donated toward the project, half by the city and half from fundraising by the foundations. So far two meetings have been held in the center to introduce Ho, the project's artistic director, and generate ideas for where the mosaic will go and what it will look like.

"I want the community to have the major say - where it's going, what they'd like to see," Ho said during the second meeting Thursday. "It's not just one group of people making decisions."

Community members are encouraged to write to the foundation with ideas, fill out surveys or even submit drawings of what they want to see. Suggestions can be sent by e-mail to the foundation or by dropping letters into a box that will be at the Community Center information desk until January, according to Alice Sims, president of Art for the People.

The groups will begin holding workshops in December to teach volunteers the process of cutting glass and making mosaics. American Visionary Arts Museum representatives Joe Wall and Bonnie Bonnell, who are advising the project, showed a film of Baltimore at-risk youth assembling the museum's own mosaic in Baltimore at the meeting Thursday. Wall praised the Takoma Park project.

"This really is a powerful project," he said. "I mean, at some point it's just gluing some blue stuff to a wall … but it really means something to the people who get involved."

Ideas for the mural will be accepted through January, when Ho will begin designing his own vision of the work, which will be compiled from community input. Sims and Stepp hope to begin gluing the mosaic together by March of 2009.

City recommends light-rail for Purple Line - Gazette

Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008 | Council Notes | Jeremy Arias

Council vote includes residents' and business owners' concerns over redevelopment in Crossroads area

The Takoma Park City Council voted to approve a recommendation to the Maryland Transit Administration calling for a light-rail transit system for the Purple Line with an emphasis on community-involved planning and a balance between walker-safe sidewalks that don't infringe on businesses.

The council amended Deputy City Manager Suzanne Ludlow's original recommendation to include concerns from Crossroads area residents and business owners regarding maintenance along the proposed route down University Boulevard and a balance between safe sidewalks and the parking spaces area businesses say they need to ensure a profit.

"You can understand that there's nervousness and some concern about what's going to happen [to local businesses at the Crossroads]," said Takoma/Langley Crossroads Development Authority Director Erwin H. Mack, who represented both the authority and the Xroads group comprised of business owners. "We're simply saying ‘be careful, please.'"

Ludlow met with Xroads members last week to get input from business owners but restated her desire to forward the light-rail option now and work out details with property owners later.

"There's plenty of time to talk about easement with property owners on a case-by-case basis," she said of Mack's proposal to ensure sidewalks are both wide enough for safe pedestrian use and did not eliminate too many parking spaces for businesses in the Takoma Park/Langley crossroads area.

The council drafted mostly general changes to the wording of their recommendation, including encouraging "continuing the coordination and cooperation between the existing government agencies towards the emergence of the strongest possible plan," according to Councilman Doug Barry's (Ward 6) wording.

Executive Director of the Maryland International Corridor Laurie Kelly represented businesses on the Prince George's side of the planned renewal of University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue. She suggested businesses conduct surveys to determine how many parking spaces they will need to accommodate customers who commute from out of the area.

Mayor Bruce Williams will represent the city Nov. 22 at a meeting regarding the Purple Line at Montgomery College's Falcon Hall, 7600 Takoma Ave. in Takoma Park. The meeting, which will begin at 1 p.m., will be the final public hearing before the Maryland Transit Administration makes its decision on the project.

Casa opens new day-laborer center in Crossroads - Gazette

by Jeremy Arias | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008

Immigrant advocacy group says facility is largest in country at 6,000 square feet

Casa of Maryland will open what the group is calling the country's largest day-laborer center Wednesday in the Langley Park Shopping Center, drawing praise from officials in nearby Takoma Park and criticism from a group opposed to illegal immigration and the use of public funding for such facilities.

The workers center, located at 7978 New Hampshire Ave. at the Takoma/Langley Crossroads, cost about $720,000 with funding from Prince George's County, the State of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. At 6,000 square feet, it will be the largest day-laborer center in the country and will serve up to 160 laborers at a time, Casa of Maryland officials said.

Casa spokesman Mario Quiroz said the new worker center would fit the demand in the area. The commercial centers at the intersection of University Boulevard and New Hampshire are home to the largest concentration of day laborers in the country, according to Quiroz, citing a 2006 study by UCLA Center for the Study of Urban Poverty that ranked the area above Chicago, Phoenix and San Francisco in terms of day-laborer density.

"The goal is to bring all those [area day laborers] here," Quiroz said. "[The center] will provide more training. … Basically they will be really technical so that makes them much better day laborers."

Brad Botwin, director of the anti-illegal immigration organization Help Save Maryland, said his group opposes the Takoma/Langley day labor center as it opposes every day labor center.

"The workers don't pay any taxes, they're taking jobs away from Americans and they're using our tax dollars to pay for facilities like this," Botwin said.

Even as Botwin raised concerns about supporting potentially illegal immigrant labor, Takoma Park Councilman Doug Barry, who's Ward 6 borders New Hampshire across from the new center, applauded the center and Casa's efforts to improve standards for day laborers in the area.

"It's a welcome addition to the area for two reasons," he said. "First, it will be a shelter area for the workers to go and be matched with the employers [eliminating loitering problems of the past]. The second reason it's important is the center will provide the workers with resources including English language classes."

Workers entering the new center will be registered and given Casa identification badges. The facility has about six training bays where workers can receive free, hands-on instruction in trades such as tile-laying, plumbing and electrical work by Prince George's County Community College instructors through a partnership between the college and Casa, Quiroz said.

As employers request them, Casa operators will call laborers by name from a list based on how many workers are needed by each employer. Secondary functions of the center will include English classes and worker rights instruction to ensure day laborers aren't mistreated, Quiroz said.

Some work still remains to be done on the center, computers that will be available for workers to find jobs or other resources have yet to be installed and the hands-on training bays are still unfurnished.

The facility is located in a basement in the Langley Park Shopping Center, a location that originally created some confusion among area business owners and their representatives who had a say in the site plan. Erwin H. Mack, executive director of the Takoma/Langley Crossroads Development Authority, originally opposed the center's location, saying a house would be a better acquisition.

"I thought we were rolling over too easily and simply using a basement [instead of] using a building that could be used adequately," he said, adding that he was happy the center will open soon. "We're going to strongly urge police and let property managers know that there's a place for [workers] to go instead of wandering around the shopping center."

Casa of Maryland will open the new worker center, the largest in the country, at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the center's location in the Langley Park Shopping Center, 7978 New Hampshire Ave.

Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson (D) will join state Sen. David Harrington (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly along with members of the Prince George's County Council, state housing department officials and workers to celebrate the opening of the new center.

Committee to review Silver Spring Library options - Gazette

Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008 | by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer

County officials will continue their review of designs for the proposed Silver Spring Library project Thursday after County Executive Isiah Leggett last week indicated preference for an option that would allow construction of a library building independent of apartments proposed for the site.

Three design options for the library will be presented 10:30 a.m. Thursday to the Montgomery County Council's Health and Human Services Committee, with a specific design to be chosen shortly. The same three options were submitted to Leggett Nov. 12 for review.

Under Leggett's recommendation, a five-story library would front along Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street and a 12-story, 176-unit apartment building would front on Bonifant. This design would provide more housing units than any other proposed and would put the library closer to the nearby Wayne Avenue garage, said Diane Schwartz Jones, an assistant chief administrative officer for Leggett (D).

Leggett wants the library to be built before the residential building to ensure Silver Spring residents would soon get a library that was already "overdue," Schwartz Jones said.

"The library project is ready to go forward and the housing project is not ready to go forward," Schwartz Jones said. "To put them together as a single project, it will take a lot more time."

Schwartz Jones cited failed negotiations between a developer and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission for the residential portion of the SilverPlace, another mixed-use project on Georgia Avenue, as an example of the challenges facing public-private partnerships.

The project's architect, Washington, D.C.-based RTKL also recommended independent construction of the library and apartment building.

The project will also include an art center, public-use space and potentially a Purple Line stop at the corner of Wayne Avenue and Fenton and Bonifant streets.

Another option preferred by residents at a Nov. 6 community meeting would place the library along Bonifant and the apartment building along Wayne. This option would include 140 residential units and would put the taller residential building closer to the Central Business District to the north. The smaller library building would fit better with Fenton Village to the south of the site, according to residents.

The council requested one design option in which the library and apartment building would be built together. In that design, a four-story library would front on Bonifant but half of a 10-story residential building would extend on top of the library. The 164-unit residential building would be U-shaped, with one end fronting on Wayne.

"If we built the library as a freestanding structure and waited to build the housing when the market was right, it could be a long wait," said Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park. However, Leventhal does not expect the committee to make a recommendation Thursday because it is the first time the council will be able to review the designs.

After Leggett and the council agree on a design option, RTKL will draft a more detailed design. Once 30 percent of the design is finished, a budget should be set and the site can go before the Planning Board for mandatory referral, said Gary Stith, director of the Silver Spring Regional Center.

"Once we get far enough in the design … we will really know how much it will cost," Stith said.

For all design options, Leggett has recommended 30 percent of housing units as workforce housing, 30 percent moderately-priced dwelling units and 40 percent sold at market rate. All designs will include an art center of about 23,000 square feet, about 12,500 square feet of public-use space and library of about 63,000 square feet.

The Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board has sent a letter to Leggett and the council urging them to increase the size of the library to accommodate a growing Silver Spring population. Advisory Board chairman Darian Unger said the proposed Silver Spring library would not be big enough to serve residents living within a one-mile radius of the site.

Unger said he favors the design that would put the library on Bonifant because it includes 40,000 square feet of office space which could potentially be made into additional library space.

"In that same space we can have … more library to serve the community," Unger said.

The Montgomery County Council's Health and Human Services Committee will review designs for the new Silver Spring Library project 10:30 a.m. Thursday in the fifth-floor conference room of the Stella B. Werner Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville.

For illustrations and information on the new Silver Spring library project, visit

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Leggett Seeks Applicants for Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board

Release ID: 08-145
Media Contact: Beth Gochrach, 240.777.2528

For Immediate Release: 11/14/2008
Application Deadline: 12/5/2008

Leggett Seeks Applicants for Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board

County Executive Isiah Leggett is seeking applicants to fill five vacancies on the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board. Three incumbents are eligible to apply for reappointment.

The Board is composed of 18 residents and/or business persons of communities in the Silver Spring/Takoma Park area. Applicants must work or reside within the Silver Spring Regional Center's service boundaries. The boundaries include: 495 south of the beltway (exception: all Four Corners neighborhoods north of the beltway are included); Rock Creek park to the west; the District of Columbia line to the south; and the Prince George’s County line to the east. Homeowners and apartment dwellers are invited to apply in order to establish a balanced representation.

Members serve without compensation. Meetings are usually held the second Monday evening of each month at various locations in Silver Spring. Members are also asked to serve on a subcommittee, and are required to attend at least 75 percent of the meetings in a six month period.

The Board acts as liaison between the Silver Spring communities and the county government by identifying neighborhood and business concerns and making recommendations to county officials. It advises the Silver Spring Regional Services Center Director on area needs and priorities such as economic development, transportation, housing, education, human services, and downtown redevelopment.

Applicants of diverse backgrounds, professions, gender, geography, disability and ethnicity are encouraged to apply, and should write by December 5 to County Executive Isiah Leggett at the Executive Office Building, l0l Monroe St., Rockville, MD 20850 or send an e-mail to A brief resume, including work and home phone numbers, should be enclosed.

Members of county boards, committees, and commissions may not serve on more than one such group at a time. Members of this board are eligible for reimbursement for travel and dependent care for meetings attended. Leggett’s appointments are subject to confirmation by the County Council. Applications of those selected for appointment are made public as part of the confirmation process.

Megan Moriarity elected Neighborhoods Committee Co-Chair

At its November 17, 2008 meeting, the Neighborhoods Committee of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board unanimously elected Megan Moriarity of Silver Spring as the Advisory Board Co-Chair of the Committee.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Message from the Chief of Police of Takoma Park

It has come to my attention that there continues to be many thefts from vehicles that are going unreported. This may be due to the individual’s belief that nothing of value was taken so it’s not worth reporting. WRONG! Regardless of the damage or value of the property, the police department wants to know. With a crime analyst in the department, part of her job is to track data on break-ins and crime trends. If we don’t know about it, we can’t track it. I implore you once again to report any break-ins to your vehicle, regardless of how small you may believe the incident is. Failure to report crimes, as I constantly stress, makes it extremely difficult to identify problems and to address safety concerns.

Below are safety tips to take into consideration:

If you leave valuables in your vehicle, will they be there when you return? If they can see it, they can steal it. So, secure it!

Theft from auto can occur at any time, from any vehicle. Often, valuables left in a car are taken during the night, but daytime thefts can occur on busy streets, with nobody reporting any suspicious behavior.

What Property Is Stolen? The following items, although not all-inclusive, should be taken into your home, or you risk them being taken by thieves: cellular phones, money, purse, wallet, briefcases, CDs, iPods, portable GPS systems, laptop computers and sports equipment. Auto parts are also taken, including a vehicle’s license plate.

How? Method of entry varies too. Unlocked cars with valuables in easy reach are as common as a window or door lock broken to gain entry.


Vehicle Theft: Many auto parts stores sell steering wheel locks which are inexpensive; these are a major deterrent to vehicle theft.

For License Plate Theft: a unique screw, which requires a special tool to release the license plate, is available from auto parts stores. The cost can be as low as $4.

What you can do:

Lock doors and close windows completely.
Remove valuables from the vehicle or lock them in the trunk where they are out of sight.
Do not leave electronic devices or accessories visible. (A cigarette lighter plug or cassette adapter are tell-tale signs of valuables in the car. Replace the lighter when exiting the vehicle.) Do not leave money in the car.
Park in your garage, if you have one, or in a well-lit area.
Install "tapered" door lock or an anti-theft device that has a visible indicator.

Aid to Recovery: Some valuables can't be taken out of the vehicle, such as a stereo or speakers. When installing custom sound equipment, record the serial numbers and/or engrave your driver's license on the items before installation. If stolen, those numbers could make a difference in locating and recovering the property, and prosecuting the thieves.

If you see suspicious activity, on the street or in a parking lot, or to report any theft from your vehicle, please call Takoma Park Police at 301/270-1100.

Not in Takoma Park? Here are the MCPD contact numbers

Drug Tip Hotline Call: 240-773-DRUG
Gang Tip Hotline Call: 240-773-GANG
Non-Emergency Dispatch: 301-279-8000

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Agenda - Neighborhoods/Transportation & Pedestrian Safety Committees - November 17, 2008

Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board
Joint Committee Meeting:
Neighborhoods & Transportation and Pedestrian Safety
Co-Chairs: Anita Morrison, Megan Moriarty & Alan Bowser; Darian Unger
Staff Support: Dwayne Jenkins (Silver Spring Regional Services Center)
SSRC: 301-565-7300

The Neighborhoods Committee handles matters pertaining to the quality of life in neighborhoods, including, but not limited to, public safety, public health, housing, community redevelopment, education, the Arts, and the natural environment in the Region.


November 17, 2008, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Silver Spring Regional Center
8435 Georgia Avenue

7:00 Greeting and Introductions

Summary of previous committee and SSCAB meeting

7:10 Public Safety and Transportation Updates
Lt. Liquorie, Montgomery County Police Department
Sgt. Tom Harmon, Montgomery County Police Department
Martha Waddy, Northwest Park/Oakview Weed & Seed Program

7:30 Planning for Silver Spring Crime Summit
Tony Hausner, Prezco

8:15 Washington Adventist Hospital – Plans for TP Site after Relocation
Dean Teague, Washington Adventist Hospital

9:00 Adjourn

Next Meeting: Monday, December 15, 2008

Two Additional Suspects in Silver Spring Teen Homicide Arrested - MCPD

Detectives from the Montgomery County Police Major Crimes Division - Homicide/Sex Section continue to investigate the individuals involved in the shooting death of 14-year-old Tai Lam, of the 1000 block of Quebec Terrace in Silver Spring, that occurred on Saturday, November 1, 2008, in a Ride On bus in Silver Spring.

On November 7, Hector Mauricio Hernandez, age 20, of the 8600 block of Flower Avenue in Takoma Park was charged with first-degree murder. He is being held without bond. It was determined that Hernandez was affiliated with the MS 13 gang.

Through the course of the investigation, the identities of two additional suspects were developed. Detectives obtained arrest warrants for: Gilmar Leonardo Romero, age 20, of an unknown address; and Mario Ernesto Milan-Canales, age 30, of an unknown address. Romero's warrant is for first-degree murder and Milan-Canales' warrant is for accessory after the fact for first-degree murder.

As the investigation continued, it was learned that Romero and Milan-Canales had fled to Texas. Today at approximately 10:00 a.m., members of the U. S. Marshal's Fugitive Task Force - Houston took both men into custody. They were found on public transportation (bus) and taken into custody without incident. They will be held in Houston to await extradition. It is believed that both men are affiliated with the MS 13 gang, but that has not yet been confirmed.

The investigation began on Saturday, November 1 at approximately 11:08 p.m., when police officers from the 3rd District were called to a bus stop on Piney Branch Road at Arliss Street for a shooting that had just occurred. Upon arrival they found three juvenile males on a Montgomery County Ride On bus suffering from apparent gunshot wounds. Tai Lam died of his wounds that night.

The preliminary investigation revealed that a group of 10 to 12 friends, including the 3 victims who were shot, got on the Ride On bus in downtown Silver Spring. There is no evidence that these individuals are affiliated with any gangs. Another group of four or five male subjects got on the same bus at two different locations. There was a verbal exchange between members of the two groups. What exactly was said and the manner in which it was said is still under investigation. It is believed that the two groups were only together on the bus for a short period of time.

For unknown reasons the four or five subjects got off the bus at the Piney Branch Road and Arliss Street stop. As one of those subjects was getting off, he turned and fired a handgun from the area of the rear door of the bus into the bus striking the three teens. That subject has been identified as Hernandez. All three victims were transported to area trauma centers. The two surviving victims, a 14-year-old male and a 15-year-old male, were released from the hospital and continue to recover from their injuries.

Montgomery County Police would like to thank all the members of the community who have called in and assisted in advancing this investigation.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In historically black neighborhoods, a new chapter in nation's history - Gazette

Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008
In historically black neighborhoods, a new chapter in nation's history
African-Americans say Obama's election as president brings hope for the future

by Robert Dongu | Staff Writer

President-elect Barack Obama wrote a new chapter in American history with his Election Day victory. Charlotte Coffield, 75, remembers what the book used to look like.

Coffield lives in the historically black Lyttonsville neighborhood in west Silver Spring, founded Jan. 3, 1853, when Samuel Lytton, a freed slave, received a parcel of land from a white landowner. A member of the Lyttonsville Civic Association, Coffield grew up in the community and attended a segregated school near Brookville Road. She had the same teacher from first to seventh grade. Her outdated, hand-me-down school books were donated by white schools.

"They had writing in them," Coffield said. "Some pages were missing. … Through that all that we were able to learn."

Coffield thought of past generations of her family when Obama was elected first African-American president in U.S. history.

"I was just elated," said Coffield, whose late sister Gwendolyn has a community center in Silver Spring named in her honor. "You start thinking what if my parents and grandparents were still living – what would they be thinking? How would they feel?"

Wheaton community activist Marian Fryer, 75, said she cried when she heard Obama had won.

"I have seen a lot of things in this county that have made me very sad," said Fryer, president of the Wheaton Citizens Coalition. "Today is a new day."

Guitele Lanoix, director of recreation for the Club Rec program at the Good Hope Community Center in Silver Spring, drove to her hometown of Middletown, N.Y., to vote for Obama and spend Election Day with her family.

Lanoix, a 2006 graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, said Obama's victory gave her goose bumps.

"I never thought I would see it," she said.

Roland Dawes, a resident of Takoma Park for 77 years, has owned a barber shop there since 1986. He said the election has brought joy to customers at his shop.

"I've never seen so many smiles," said Dawes the grandfather of gymnast Dominique Dawes, an Olympic medalist who was the first African-American to medal in an individual gymnastics event.

After attending the segregated schools, Roland Dawes enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he served as a truck driver and cook. Following his service, he worked at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District and then became an entrepreneur.

Dawes, 80, said he thinks Obama will be a "fine president."

"All I look forward to is the future," he said.

Willie Smith, a 75-year-old Silver Spring resident who volunteers at the Gwendolyn Coffield Community Center, scrambled to call people after hearing that Obama had won. Although the lines were busy, she was finally able to contact her daughter.

"I think [Obama's victory] gives other black Americans hope that anything is possible," Smith said.

Planners say Crossroads plan would stimulate business - Gazette

Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008
Planners say Crossroads plan would stimulate business
Residents fear redevelopment would push out low-income residents, specialty markets
by Jeremy Arias | Staff Writer

Residents and business owners at a public hearing last week reiterated concerns that proposed redevelopment plans for the Takoma/Langley Crossroads would push out the majority of low-income residents in the area and eliminate specialty markets.

The current plan would redevelop the low-income garden-style apartments on the Prince George's County side of University Boulevard into mixed-use buildings with stores on the bottom floor and residential units higher up. The road would be widened to accommodate two new transit centers along with whatever form the Purple Line will take.

The plan will guide development in the Crossroads, a predominantly Hispanic community where parts of Montgomery and Prince George's counties and a portion of Takoma Park meet. The Crossroads comes under the jurisdiction of both county Planning Boards.

Senior planners Melissa Williams of Montgomery County, Aldea Douglas of Prince George's County and Ilona Blanchard of Takoma Park told residents at the Thursday meeting that redevelopment would stimulate commerce by making the area more safe and presentable. But merchants said with higher leases, customers would be forced to move and businesses would not be able to compete.

Jorge Sactic, owner of the La Chapina bakery in Langley Park, represented about 50 area small businesses at the meeting held at the Langley Park Community Center, the final public hearing on redevelopment for the Crossroads.

"We are specialized in ethnic products for the people who live in this area," he said. "If that changes, then we need to reinvent ourselves again, and probably compete with more powerful businesses. That's not fair."

He said his businesses had not been informed of previous meetings, which began in January. The most recent public forums were held in June when the current redevelopment plan was selected from among three options.

Williams said Montgomery County's long-standing affordable housing program would require a percentage of new housing units at the Crossroads to be made available at lower rates. She also said small-business assistance programs provided by the Silver Spring Regional Center and the county's Department of Economic Development provide fa¡ade loans and counseling for small business. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offers grants for small and disadvantaged businesses.

"We're looking at a two-pronged approach so that if there is a change, to not only make sure that [small businesses] have the resources they need, but also that they are aware of the resources available to them," Williams said.

While Prince George's County does not have its own affordable housing program, Douglas said she doubted the plan would drastically alter the current availability in her county. All three planners cautioned participants that the plan was far from complete.

Dora Escobar, who owns Bazar la Chiquita, a check-cashing store on University Boulevard, said that after 18 years working in the area, new development will force her out along with her niche market.

"I know in the future it is going to look very beautiful," she told planners in Spanish. "But what about us?"

Other residents asked about plans for health care options in the area, especially considering the upcoming relocation of the Washington Adventist Hospital to the Calverton/White Oak area of Silver Spring planned for 2013.

Blanchard, Takoma Park's chief planner, said the new Village of Health and Well-being the hospital has planned for Takoma Park would include some emergency services, but master plans for redevelopment rarely include health care plans, she said, especially this early in the process.

Comments addressed to planners were respectful but pointed, with only a few displays of anger. One resident repeatedly warned the planners "this is not Downtown Silver Spring" and demolition and revitalization efforts would meet with opposition and failure.

Blanchard said the main challenge was to balance the fears of lower-income residents and small business owners with the county and city's desire to increase the tax base from businesses in the corridor. She believes the high crime-rate scares many Takoma Park residents from the potentially profitable area.

"We have wonderful businesses here," she said. "And people are afraid to visit them after dark, when most people do their shopping."

The plan also includes a connector pedestrian trail, modeled after the "ramblas" promenades featured in Barcelona city plans that would connect the Long Branch and Sligo Creek park systems to the Northwest Branch system on the opposite side of University, according to Jay Parker of the Parker-Rodriguez Landscape Architecture company.

Throughout the meeting, planners stressed the point that, even after a plan is drafted, there will still be plenty of opportunity to comment to the individual county planning boards and county councils. Construction is estimated to begin in 2012 at the earliest, planners said.

County to choose from three library designs - Gazette

Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008
County to choose from three library designs
by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer

How the proposed site for the new Silver Spring library mixed-use project integrates with the surrounding community will depend on which of three designs are chosen by county officials in the coming weeks.

After a series of community meetings with the project's architects, three designs were chosen for the site, which will include a new library, a high-rise residential building, an art center, public use space and potentially a Purple Line stop at the corner of Wayne Avenue and Fenton and Bonifant streets.

The designs vary in the layout of the site, the number of levels in the library and the number of units in the residential building. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) is expected to review the designs today. The Montgomery County Council will review plans Nov. 20.

Representatives from the project's architect, Washington-D.C.-based RTKL, presented the designs to residents Thursday at the current Silver Spring Library at 8901 Colesville Road.

Most residents favored a design that had a four-story library fronting on Bonifant and Fenton streets, because it would fit with the current density on those streets. A 14-story, 140-unit residential building would front on Wayne, adjacent to The Crescent apartment building, which would be almost an identical size.

A 23,000-square-foot art center would front Bonifant Street at street-level and the ground floor of the apartment building would include retail shops. Two additional floors of county office space totaling 40,000 square feet would be added on top of the library. This design was the only one to include office space.

The Purple Line, which was incorporated in each design, would run at street level beneath an elevated portion of the library that would be roughly parallel to Fenton and surrounded by at least 12,500 square feet of public-use space.

"It's a place where you can hang out and have a cup of coffee," said Douglas McCoach, vice president of RTKL.

This option was preferred by residents because the taller residential building would be closer to the Central Business District to the north, while the smaller library building would fit better with Fenton Village to the south of the site.

"I see Wayne as a divider here," said Celandra Deane-Bess, who lives across from the proposed site on Bonifant Street. "[North of Wayne] is the busy part and a high-rise is better located on a busy street."

A setback for this option was the lack of access to the library from the nearby Wayne Avenue garage, which could require about 150 parking spaces under the library, McCoach said. Also, the design offers 140 residential units, fewer than the other options provided. Fewer units could mean lower bids from prospective private developers, McCoach said.

Under this option, the library would be developed separately from the residential building, which is the recommended phasing of the project by RTKL.

"We don't want the schedule of the development of the library to be dependent upon a private developer," McCoach said.

Another option features separate development, with the library closer to Wayne and the residential building fronting Fenton. This option would allow for 176 residential units in a 12-story building.

A third option features an integrated library and residential building, a design option requested by the County Council. A four-story library would front on Bonifant but half of a 10-story residential building would extend on top of the library. The 164-unit residential building would be U-shaped, with one end fronting on Wayne. McCoach said building on top of the library would be more costly and time-consuming for private developers.

For all design options, Leggett has recommended 30 percent of housing units as workforce housing, 30 percent moderately-priced dwelling units and 40 percent sold at market rate.

All of the design options to be considered include at least a 60,000-square-foot library, more than twice the size of the current library and a significant increase over previous recommendations. The size of the library in relation to those it will serve is comparable to Rockville, Wheaton and Germantown, said Rita Gale, a public service administrator for Montgomery County Public Libraries.

"All 80,000 [Silver Spring residents] aren't going to use the library," she said.

But residents were still concerned Thursday that the proposed size of the library will not meet growing demographics in Silver Spring.

"To say it's the same size library as a more rural area or a much smaller town is not a fair comparison," said Darian Unger, chairman of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board. Unger said while the size of the library is comparable to the Rockville Library, Silver Spring has far more residents surrounding the proposed site.

Under the option that includes two floors of office space, that space could be converted to serve the library if necessary, McCoach said.

Costs for each of the options could not be determined until a more detailed site plan is drafted. Currently, $30 million has been set aside for the library with about $15 million spent on acquiring the land and much of the remaining funds covering the design of the site, Stith said.

"[The County Council] knows they are going to have to add more money to build this library," Stith said.

Increase in fines for violations of housing code recommended - Gazette

Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008
Increase in fines for violations of housing code recommended
Overcrowded housing also targeted
by Janel Davis | Staff Writer

Fines for housing code infractions would be increased and commercial vehicle parking would be restricted to certain areas, including underused Park and Ride lots, under a long-awaited code enforcement report released this week.

The 74-page report and recommendations, commissioned by County Executive Isiah Leggett and drafted by a Code Enforcement Work Group, stem from a yearlong evaluation of the county's code enforcement regulations and enforcement agencies, such as Permitting Services, police, fire and rescue, and Housing and Community Affairs.

The report addresses concerns from county residents about more frequent violations throughout the county, including overcrowded homes, disabled and abandoned vehicles and inefficient regulation of home-based businesses.

Key to the recommendations is a proposal to increase fines for repeat housing code violators from $500 a day to $750 a day.

"Residents are concerned that portions of the county code are outdated, that enforcement is uneven, that too much time passes between the issuance of a citation and correction of a code violation, and that there is not enough coordination between various county departments," Leggett (D) said in a statement.

The report follows a separate proposal by County Council President Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown to address the problem of commercial vehicle parking in his upcounty district.

He introduced a bill in June that would bar vehicles more than 19 feet long, 8 feet tall, more than 5 tons and with more than a 1-ton capacity from parking along county streets on the same block as a residence, playground, church or school.

Knapp's legislation was criticized by some residents and large vehicle owners for its lack of parking alternatives and its unintended consequences of forcing truckers out of their neighborhoods.

In September, Leggett's task force asked council members to hold off action on Knapp's plan until the report was complete.

The two proposals effectively get to the same point on where the vehicles can and cannot park, said Knapp, after reviewing the report Monday.

The task force recommended that the commercial vehicles be parked in company lots, underused Park and Ride lots, truck stops, privately owned storage facilities or remaining on the street if traffic flow is not a problem.

The task force divides the vehicles into separate "light" and "heavy" commercial vehicle distinctions, and allows a limited number of light vehicles to park in off-street residential areas.

"We looked at the light and heavy vehicle distinctions, too," Knapp said. "Then there was the problem with enforcement. Knowing how thinly stretched police officers are, I'd prefer them out doing the real job of policing instead of counting vehicles."

The report also addresses home-based businesses by recommending issuing citations, instead of just a warning, for violators of the home occupation or health practitioners code provisions.

Registered home occupations could not begin without a county inspection, and violators could have their registrations revoked.

The task force also recommended strengthening residential building permits to require an approved inspection of a one-family dwelling or structure accessory within six months of receiving a building permit. An approved final inspection would be required 18 months after a building permit is issued.

The report does not directly mention the complaints of some county residents regarding immigrants who sometimes crowd into residences designed for one family.

The report does include a policy statement and training guidelines for an inspection group aimed at non-English speakers.

With the report out, the council's Public Safety Committee will discuss both proposals at an upcoming meeting.

Increase fines for repeat housing code violators from $500 a day to $750 a day

Prohibit parking of heavy commercial vehicles, and those 19 feet or longer, in residential areas on-street and off-street

Prohibit parking of recreation vehicles on any public road, with 24-hour loading/unloading exemption

30-day limit for property owners to remove inoperable or unregistered vehicles

Require inspections of

one-family dwellings within six months of issuance

of a building permit; final inspection within 18 months after permit issuance

Expand the use of an automated system to report potential code violations

Improve outreach for limited-English speakers

New Alerts Will Flag Water Woes - Washington Post

Warnings on Burst Pipes to Be Available Electronically

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 12, 2008; B02

Residents in Montgomery and Prince George's counties can sign up for a service that will alert them via e-mail or mobile phone text message if a burst pipe has cut off water service to their home or will snarl traffic.

Today, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission will unveil a new way of telling customers about problems in its water and sewer network, which serves 1.8 million users. Residents can sign up to receive e-mails, text messages or both to alert them when water mains burst near any address they choose.

All users will be told of major events, such as a water main break that affects major commuter routes, said WSSC spokesman Mike McGill.

"People expect to receive information about events that might affect their daily routines," he said.

The alerts are designed for dissemination almost immediately after breaks are confirmed. McGill said users who awake in the morning to find no water service should find an alert awaiting them.

WSSC is joining an increasing number of government entities that offer residents text messages with information geared to where they live or work.

School systems send alerts to parents when inclement weather threatens classes. Since the shootings at Virginia Tech, colleges have introduced text messaging as a way to tell students about unfolding campus emergencies. Drivers can get electronic notices of major car accidents, and the D.C. police recently introduced a text messaging system to send alerts about crimes soon after they occur.

McGill said WSSC decided to introduce its system because managers realized that an aging infrastructure is resulting in more burst pipes, which can cut off service, flood roads and affect traffic. There were 2,129 water main breaks and leaks in 2007, the highest in the bi-county agency's history.

Customers interested in receiving the alerts must sign up online by visiting McGill said the company hopes 10,000 people will do so in the next year.

Among those likely to join quickly are environmentalists concerned about sewage leaks from WSSC pipes into streams and rivers, particularly into Sligo Creek in Montgomery and Broad Creek in Prince George's.

Neighbors of the two creeks have long tracked sewage spills in the waterways.

McGill said WSSC managers knew residents who monitor those leaks would be keenly interesting in the new alerts, and signed up several of them to help test the system during its design phase.

Alan Bowser, president of the Park Hills Civic Association in Silver Spring, said he and other residents have been frustrated by frequent water main breaks and sewage overflows into Sligo Creek, but he is impressed by WSSC's outreach to customers.

"It's an important issue to our neighbors who live on both sides of Sligo Creek," said Bowser, who since May has been testing the new system for WSSC.

"This is a good step to keeping people informed about these kinds of emergencies and about water quality."

Silver Spring Town Center Concert honors American heroes - Gazette

A star-spangled, star-studded celebration

Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008
by Matthew Smith | Special to The Gazette

Under red, white and blue gel stars shining in a darkened Silver Spring theater, a group of African-American jazz stars celebrated Veterans Day at a performance Sunday night for dozens of veterans.

"The reason we can sit here on a Sunday night is because veterans have lived and died for us," said Silver Spring jazz musician Marcus Johnson of the Marcus Johnson Project who performed at the event held at Round House Theatre in downtown Silver Spring with blues musicians Michel "Mike" Baytop and Jay Summerour. "Without the dedication of the veterans, we would not be here."

Veterans from several local organizations, including the charitable organization Operation Second Chance and the county branch of the American Legion, came to "chill" to driving jazz riffs and buzzing, soul-stirring songs of loss and glory.

But while the event featured music, America's veterans took center stage as officials and guests honored the sacrifice of those who fought for the nation's freedom.

"This concert is our first step to strengthen the community's ties to the veteran," said Alan Bowser, president of the Silver Spring Town Center, which sponsored the concert. Bowser said he hoped to make the concert an annual event as a "tribute to American's veterans."

Bill Bennett, president of the Montgomery County Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, said Veterans Day was a day to celebrate the heroes of the past, present and future.

"It's a time we need to reflect on the shared sacrifice of all those who served for our nation's security," he said.

Bennett said he's concerned that fewer Americans answer the call to serve in the armed forces.

"We have a society that is less concerned for service and I don't think this is good," he said. "We need to broaden our base."

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), a Vietnam veteran, said the county and agencies such as Operation Second Chance, which helps veterans recover from war, must be supportive of veterans returning from war.

"For every one veteran hurt, an additional eight members of his family suffer. Veteran's Day is a day to comment, reach out and help. We are a great country," he said.

"We are so blessed to live in a country with these men," said Cindy McGrew, president of Operation Second Chance, which brought more than a dozen veterans to the concert. "We are blessed with these freedoms. We serve amputees; we give them a home because you have no idea what they've gone through."

In a ceremony, McGrew, as well as retired Army Capt. Jack Hewitt, who served in World War II and remains active in county veterans affairs, and Marcus Johnson received awards at the event. Leggett called McGrew "one of Montgomery's County's respected citizens" and Hewitt one of the county's "most respected veterans."

"Without the dedication of the veteran, we would not be here," Johnson said. "I have to thank God, it's possible to put one foot in front of another. I met Jack Hewitt; he showed me his WWII hat. One foot in front of another: He let me meet his grandson."

Hewitt said he was proud to attend the event and receive the award on behalf of all those who serve and all those who remain at home.

"We do what's right to recognize the veterans of all wars," he said. "I recognize the veterans of all wars, not just one war."

His great-grandson, Tucker Nalls, wants to serve in the Coast Guard.

Besides the awards ceremony and celebrating Veterans Day, a large portion of the event was dedicated to talk of the new Silver Spring Civic Center, which is under construction and will include a Veterans' Memorial Plaza.

Pete Esker, a Korean War veteran and adjutant with the American Legion, said the new Veterans Plaza will be a "building that we can all be proud of."

Several veterans and county officials said they were hoping to have the new center completed next year in time for a dedication on Veterans Day

For now, Bennett said the concert could bring more attention to veterans.

"Events like this are going to make our veterans more recognizable," he said.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Arrest Warrants for Two Additional Suspects in Silver Spring Teen Homicide - MCPD

Detectives from the Montgomery County Police Major Crimes Division - Homicide/Sex Section continue their investigation into the shooting death of 14-year-old Tai Lam, of the 1000 block of Quebec Terrace in Silver Spring, that occurred on Saturday, November 1, 2008, in a Ride On bus in Silver Spring.

On November 7, Hector Mauricio Hernandez, age 20, of the 8600 block of Flower Avenue in Takoma Park was charged with first-degree murder. He is being held without bond. It was determined that Hernandez is affiliated with the MS 13 gang.

Detectives have now obtained arrest warrants for two additional suspects: Gilmar Leonardo Romero and Mario Ernesto Milan-Canales. Romero will be charged with first-degree murder and Milan-Canales with accessory after the fact for first-degree murder.

These two individuals were developed as suspects through the course of the investigation. It is believed that they are also affiliated with the MS 13 gang. Anyone who has information in reference to the whereabouts of these two suspects is asked to call detectives at 240-773-5070. Callers may remain anonymous.

Romero is described as a Hispanic male, age 20, 5’1” tall, weighing 120 pounds with brown eyes and brown hair. Milan-Canales is described as a Hispanic male, age 30, 5’3” tall, weighing 140 pounds with brown eyes and hair.

The investigation began on Saturday, November 1 at approximately 11:08 p.m., when police officers from the 3rd District were called to a bus stop on Piney Branch Road at Arliss Street for a shooting that had just occurred. Upon arrival they found three juvenile males on a Montgomery County Ride On bus suffering from apparent gunshot wounds. Tai Lam died of his wounds that night.

The preliminary investigation revealed that a group of 10 to 12 friends, including the three victims who were shot, got on the Ride On bus in downtown Silver Spring. There is no evidence that these individuals are affiliated with any gangs. Another group of four or five male subjects got on the same bus at two different locations. There was a verbal exchange between members of the two groups. What exactly was said and the manner in which it was said is still under investigation. It is believed that the two groups were only together on the bus for a short period of time.

For unknown reasons the four or five subjects got off the bus at the Piney Branch Road and Arliss Street stop. As one of those subjects was getting off, he turned and fired a handgun from the area of the rear door of the bus into the bus striking the three teens. That subject has been identified as Hernandez. All three victims were transported to area trauma centers. The two surviving victims, a 14-year-old male and a 15-year-old male, were released from the hospital and continue to recover from their injuries.


Silver Spring Town Center's Tribute to America’s Veterans

November 10, 2008. The “Tribute to America’s Veterans” concert, sponsored by the Silver Spring Town Center, Inc. was a tremendous success. Over 150 people attended the evening of entertainment at the Round House Theatre in Silver Spring, featuring the Marcus Johnson Project, and blues musicians Michel “Mike” Baytop and Jay Summerour.

“The Silver Spring Town Center Inc. Board of Directors are taking this opportunity to salute all the men and women in the Nation’s military services—those who have served and those who serve,” said Alan S. Bowser, president of the Town Center, Inc. Board of Directors. “We must never forget the sacrifices, large and small, that these individuals have made to keep us safe and free. We hope that this is the first of many Town Center, Inc. community programs that will recognize the great contributions of America’s veterans and remind Silver Spring residents of the high principle that they defend.”

In his remarks, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Army, passionately described the sacrifices that America’s veterans had made throughout history to protect the “blessings of liberty” enjoyed by citizens of the United States. He discussed the status of veterans in Montgomery County and the programs and initiatives that had been implemented to support the veterans’ community.

County Executive Leggett presented “certificates of appreciation” to World War II veteran and Silver Spring Town Center, Inc. Board member, Jack Hewitt, Operation Second Chance founder Cindy McGrew, and to musicians Michel Baytop and Marcus Johnson.

The “Tribute to America’s Veterans” concert was co-sponsored by the D.C. Blues Society, the Round House Theatre, Operation Second Chance, and PFA Investments, LLC.

Among those attending the Veterans Tribute Concert were Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, Walter Reed Society Secretary Peter Esker, and Silver Spring Town Center, Inc. Board Members Aurelia Martin, Wanda Whiteside, Estefany Carrillo, Graciela Jaschek, Laura Steinberg, Sheryl Brissett-Chapman, Beth Wong, Mary Ann Zimmerman, Jon Lourie, David Fogel and Don Berkemeyer, Jr.

The Silver Spring Town Center Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that has been established to provide community-based programming for the new Silver Spring Civic Building and Veterans Plaza to be located at the corner of Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street in downtown Silver Spring. The SSTCI is the result of a long process of community involvement and engagement to support the development of downtown Silver Spring. It was created to infuse community spirit and involvement in the new Silver Spring Civic Building and Veterans Plaza (which will be completed in 2009).

Man, 20, Charged In Bus Shooting - Washington Post

By Daniel de Vise and Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 9, 2008; C01

Montgomery County police said yesterday that they had arrested a 20-year-old Takoma Park man, who is allegedly affiliated with a Latino gang, in the fatal shooting of a 14-year-old honor student on a crowded bus in Silver Spring on Nov. 1.

Police said the alleged shooter, Hector M. Hernandez, was arrested Friday afternoon at a fast food restaurant in Langley Park, in neighboring Prince George's County. Lt. Paul Starks, a Montgomery police spokesman, said Hernandez is an illegal immigrant from El Salvador.

Hernandez was being held at the Montgomery County Detention Center on a first-degree murder charge.

Starks said the investigation could prompt as many as four additional arrests. "There were other people there at the time of the event," he said. "Whether they will be prosecuted or not remains to be seen."

Police said that Hernandez was affiliated with Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, an international gang with a strong presence in the Washington area. Some members are immigrants from El Salvador and other countries in Central America.

The killing is the first in the Maryland suburbs that police have publicly linked to an affiliate of MS-13 in more than a year, although police say gang members have been suspected in other slayings.

Police said they were not certain whether gang affiliation played a role in the shooting, in which Tai Lam, a freshman at Montgomery Blair High School, was killed.

They said Hernandez boarded a county Ride On bus in Silver Spring with a group of friends. Hernandez's group exchanged words with a larger group of 10 to 12, none of them gang members, police said.

Investigators say the group, including Hernandez, exited the bus near Piney Branch Road and Arliss Street.

As they got off, witnesses said, one member of the group held a rear door open, and a gunman fired several shots into the bus, striking three teenagers inside.

Lam was killed, and two other teenagers -- ages 14 and 15 -- were wounded. Those two teens have been released from the hospital and are recovering, police said.

Lam's funeral was held yesterday. On Friday night, at Montgomery Blair's homecoming football game, Lam was named a member of the Homecoming Court -- something he had been campaigning for before he was killed.

A source with knowledge of the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said Montgomery and Prince George's police have identified two men with Hernandez during the shooting as also being members of MS-13. Police were searching for the two, the source said.

A MySpace page that the source confirmed was connected to Hernandez contains images of him flashing MS-13 gang signs, plus several paragraphs in Spanish that allude to gang violence.

Lam's death and the shooting on the crowded public transit bus run counter to a decline in violent crimes attributed to MS-13 in recent years in suburban Maryland. The shooting was a blow to a three-year-old campaign to curb gang violence in Montgomery.

Tomorrow at 7 p.m. in the Blair High auditorium, county authorities will brief residents on the investigation, give updates on safety and gangs and provide "a collective space for continued grieving and healing," officials said.

Teenager fatally shot on bus - Gazette

Family and friends mourn the loss of 14-year-old boy killed in Silver Spring
by Amber Parcher, Jason Tomassini and Jeremy Arias | Staff Writers

Tai Lam's trademark purple outfit and checkered scarf rested on his bed Monday, two days after a gunman shot and killed the 14-year-old boy. A painting of his name in Vietnamese calligraphy sat near the pillow, while his mother stood at the foot of the bed, weeping.

"Why they took my baby away from me," asked the grief-stricken Vietnamese immigrant. "For 14 years, I care for him by myself."

Tai Lam, a popular Montgomery Blair High School freshman, was slain Saturday night as he rode a Ride On bus home from downtown Silver Spring with a group of 10 to 12 friends. Tai's brother, Lam Cao, was with him when a man who had been taunting passengers got off the bus at a stop in the Long Branch neighborhood of Silver Spring and fired several shots into the bus.

Two bullets wounded two friends, ages 14 and 15, who were treated at a hospital and released. One shot hit Tai in the chest. Lam Cao rode with his brother to the hospital where he died. The shooter and a group of men he was with remain at large.

On Monday, the 16-year-old was in a state of shock, while mourners gathered in the family's Quebec Terrace apartment to comfort his mother, Ngoc Lam, and his sister, Quy Lam. The smell of incense filled the living room where family and friends created a shrine of photographs, notes and some of Tai Lam's favorite foods.

"[The killer] took the life of someone very important," Quy Lam, 24, said through tears, describing her brother as a bright, opinionated person who could have had a future as a lawyer.

Quy Lam said her brothers were like twins because they were so close.

Lam Cao said the shooting, which occurred around 11 p.m., was unprovoked. He was sitting near the front of the bus talking to some friends, while his brother sat in the back. The bus stopped near Sligo Avenue in Silver Spring and three Hispanic men boarded, he said.

At the next stop, another Hispanic man boarded and joined the three men near the back door of the bus. Cao said two of the men were taunting other riders and "trying to start trouble," while the other two remained quiet.

County police say there was a verbal exchange between the men and the teens. Cao said a female friend of his who speaks Spanish translated for him what the men were saying as the bus traveled along Piney Branch Road. She eventually attracted the men's attention and they approached her as the bus came to a stop at the intersection of Piney Branch Road and Arliss Street, Cao said.

When the bus stopped, three of the men exited from the back door but the shooter stayed on the bus. The other men urged the man to get off the bus. But instead of leaving, the man and his companions held the bus door open, Cao said.

Passengers in the back of the bus huddled together as one of the men reached for his hip as if he were grabbing a gun. The man relaxed his arm and didn't show a weapon, Cao said.

But moments later, Cao heard five to six shots and his brother scream "I'm shot!" The bus driver lurched the bus forward about 20 to 30 feet and Cao rushed to the back to help his brother.

"He was just pouring blood," he said. "I couldn't believe it."

Passengers stepped off the bus and began calling police, who Cao said arrived about five minutes later. Cao said he rode in the ambulance with his brother and held him all the way to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead upon arrival.

Police dogs, detectives and patrol officers began canvassing the neighborhood for suspects and witnesses, said Lt. Paul Starks, a spokesman for Montgomery County Police. At one point, a county police SWAT team was called to search an apartment building in the 8900 block of Garland Avenue after a caller claimed to have seen people matching the suspects' descriptions entering the building. The search did not lead to any arrests, Starks said.

Police are interviewing about 25 people who were on the bus Saturday during the shooting. Police believe a black hooded sweatshirt recovered from the scene was worn by the shooter. It is from the "Lot 29" clothing label and features a graphic design of "Marvin the Martian Commanding Tank," a design described by the company as an airbrushed image of Marvin the Martian pointing and commanding a tank into battle.

Police are asking anyone with information about the owner of the shirt or the shooting to call police at 24-773-5070.

Investigation continues

Cao's description of the man who shot his brother differs from what the police described. According to a police press release sent out Sunday, the shooter was in his early 20s, 5 feet 4 inches tall to 5 feet 7 inches tall with no facial hair. He was wearing a black hooded jacket and blue jeans and had a tattoo with some type of lettering on the side of his neck.

Cao said the shooter was wearing a white T-shirt and dark blue, almost black pants. He had a full mustache, a slight beard and not much hair on his head. His companion was bald and had on a large black T-shirt with a design on it and a tattoo on his neck. Another man with gelled hair was wearing a black long-sleeved thermal shirt with a red T-shirt over it. Cao said he could not describe the fourth man.

Starks said police continue to investigate the fatal shooting. While the Long Branch neighborhood where the shooting took place has experienced a recent spate of violent crime, Starks said the bus shooting was not common.

"This is a very rare case," he said.

Police believe the group of 12 or so teenagers Tai Lam was with did nothing to provoke the four men, according to Lucille Baur, a county police spokeswoman.

"… It appears that this was a very violent response to a very innocent situation," she said.

Cao said he didn't think the shot fired at his brother was a mistake because it hit him squarely in the chest and was concerned that police took five to six minutes to arrive when there was a substation nearby at Flower Avenue and Piney Branch Road. Baur agreed that five to six minutes would be an "atypical" response time, but said the substation is rarely staffed and she wasn't sure if officers were in the substation at the time of the shooting.

"We're typically on a scene like that in a matter of two or three minutes," she said, noting that Cao's concern is understandable.

"When a tragedy like that occurs, it seems like it takes a long time for police to arrive," she said.

Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said the shooting was rare, even for a designated "crime hotspot" like Long Branch, and there will be continuing efforts to make the community safer.

"Sometimes these horrible incidents bring neighborhoods together," she said.

Victim remembered by friends

Tai was very popular for a ninth-grader, said Montgomery Blair Principal Darryl Williams outside the Lam residence Monday afternoon after visiting Cao and his mother.

The freshman had followed in his brother's footsteps by joining the wrestling team and followed his own interests by joining the fashion club, friends and family said.

He modeled and designed clothes with the club, where he was known for his style, said Edith Verdejo, a ninth-grade administrator.

"He was very stylish, to say the least," she said.

There was no school Monday and Tuesday for professional work days, but Williams said grief counselors would be available today, as would staff members from Eastern Middle School, the school Tai graduated from in the spring.

Several groups have been created on the social networking site Facebook with slide shows and collages to honor Tai. One group titled "R.I.P. Tai. We Love You Man" has nearly 900 members and includes photographs of Tai with friends on the old artificial turf field in downtown Silver Spring.

Blair students have also used Facebook to organize two in-school events to honor Tai. Today, the student body is encouraged to wear all black. On Thursday, students are urged to wear white and purple colors and a scarf, just like the clothes laid out on Tai's bed Monday. More than 750 students are expected to participate.

Ervin said funds could be set up to aid the victim's family and alleviate funeral costs.

The Blair PTSA is still deciding how to respond to the tragedy. A parent meeting is possible and the PTSA's listserv has been discussing options, said PTSA co-president Bob Gillette.

"We haven't really begun to come to terms with it yet," he said.

Blair student-body vice president Jessica Arce said a group of students will meet with Williams and counselors today to coordinate counseling efforts. Vigils were held Sunday night on Flower Avenue and Monday night on Ellsworth Drive (see related story) and a banner to honor Tai Lam will be hung on Blair Boulevard, the main hallway inside Montgomery Blair High School.

"What hits people hardest is he was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Arce said. "… It just made us realize how important life is."

W. Gregory Wims, the president of the nonprofit countywide Victims' Rights Foundation, announced Tuesday he is offering a $5,000 reward fund on behalf of his organization for information provided to Montgomery County Police detectives that leads to the arrest and/or indictment of the people responsible for the shooting of Tai Lam. Anyone who would like to contribute to the fund should make a notation on the check that it is for the Lam homicide. All donations are tax deductible. Send donations to: The Victims' Rights Foundation, 814 West Diamond Ave., Suite 200, Gaithersburg, MD 20878.