Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Burglary on Wisconsin Ave., 3 drug busts + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on August 30, according to crime data:

Burglary. 8600 block Wisconsin Avenue at 10:20 AM.

Theft from vehicle. 4500 block Sleaford Road.

Drug arrest. 4900 block St. Elmo Avenue at 11:02 PM.

Drug arrest. 5100 block Fairglen Lane at 12:32 AM.

Drug arrest. 5300 block Yorktown Road at 8:02 AM.

Theft. 7100 block Democracy Boulevard.

Theft from vehicle. 7900 block Tuckerman Lane at 8:36 AM.

Death. 11400 block Falls Road at 2:02 PM.

School rage at Rock Spring planning meeting in Bethesda (Photos)

"I'm regretting my decision to
move here five years ago"

Montgomery County planners proposing more residential and retail development in the Rock Spring area of Bethesda encountered strong resistance from residents concerned about overcrowded schools last night at Walter Johnson High School. With the area facing a potential addition of thousands of new residents, and residents cynical from past promises-not-kept by elected officials, parents said they wanted to hear detailed plans for increasing school capacity.

But planners had no such answers ready, leading to a virtually-unprecedented intervention by the chair of the County Planning Board in the meeting, and leaving one new resident wondering aloud if she had made a mistake in moving to Bethesda.

In the words of one resident, planners pushing for dense, urban redevelopment of suburban office parks in Rock Spring are doing something "the community is not inviting you to do." After delivering a not-entirely-accurate summary of the current real estate and economic development profile of Rock Spring - largely drawn from a biased, taxpayer-funded study I discredited months ago - planning staff opened the floor to questions.

Residents summed up their top concern in 3 words: schools, schools and schools.

"We want space in our schools, and that's not a selfish thing - it's for our children," one said. Paula Bienenfeld, president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, recalled Montgomery County Public Schools Director of Planning Bruce Crispell's conclusion that White Flint would need a new elementary school. But "the [County] Council kicked the can on that one, and that's why we're concerned" about Rock Spring, she said.

Planners promised MCPS will be part of the discussion, which will include a special meeting dedicated to the topic of schools. That meeting will be held September 17 at 7:00 PM at Walter Johnson HS. That didn't lessen concerns from residents who were convinced their feedback would again fall on deaf ears.
Newsworthy - NBC4's
Jackie Bensen interviews
a resident at the
"You're going to meet with the schools, but you don't have a school plan," one pointed out. "We don't have faith in our elected officials," another said, "because our experience is, it doesn't get done." "It's a little bit of a trust issue," said a third. "I have some doubt."

Planners struggled to respond, at one point arguing of schools in the Walter Johnson cluster that "some are not overcrowded." The crowd was incredulous at that assertion, with one person shouting, "Wrong!" emphatically.

A Stratton Woods resident questioned why the proposed Toll Brothers residential development at the nearby WMAL transmitter site wasn't being considered in the study. There should be coordination between this plan and that potential major student generator, she argued, but "apparently there ain't none." "That's on the other side of Democracy Boulevard," a planner responded, evoking chortles of exasperation from the crowd. "Please," one resident said loudly in disbelief at the planner's reasoning.

Pointing to a list of planning staff assigned to the Rock Spring plan update, one attendee asked, "Who on that list is dedicated to ensuring there are schools?" "Everybody," a planner replied. "Everybody," the questioner repeated. "So you mean, 'nobody,'" she added. "What part of the problem is," she continued, "is to realize [this discussion] was the first mention of schools in this presentation. It just feels that it's separate and apart from the rest of the process," she concluded to vigorous applause.

One resident had heard enough. An NIH employee, she said, "I moved to this area to send my child to Ashburton [Elementary School]. I keep hearing about the new development being approved. I'm [now] regretting my decision to move here five years ago, and wondering if I should be moving out."

School overcrowding should be addressed before development is allowed, another resident said, but "It's not. It's just not." "We can't take responsibility for everything that's happened up to this point," a planner told the crowd - despite his department being in charge of every development plan passed in the county. 

"There's a whole bunch of stuff in the tool box," a planner assured the crowd hopefully. Some attendees said they were still waiting to hear about these supposed tools from Councilmember Roger Berliner, who held a summit on infrastructure and development earlier this year. Berliner was not at last night's meeting.

Residents weren't buying the answers, such as they were, that were available last night. "We're not going to say we have the answers," one planner told the crowd. "We don't."

"Does anybody on the Planning Board actually have kids in the [school] system?" one resident shouted.

Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson rushed from the back of the room, and proceeded to hijack the meeting with an extended speech that was not on the official program for the evening. This was inappropriate for several reasons.

First, this is a meeting for planning staff to receive feedback from residents. It is not a Planning Board meeting. The Planning Board will receive a staff draft from planners in the future, and will have virtually unlimited time to opine and debate its merits at that juncture. Anderson's move was akin to a U.S. Senate debate being interrupted, and taken over, by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Was the crowd getting the best of the back-and-forth with planners? Absolutely. Was Anderson annoyed by that outcome, as he and some others on the board were when the same thing happened during a meeting on the Westbard sector plan last year? Probably.

But a lot of people in the room, including myself, may have been annoyed about many statements made in the presentation - or even during Anderson's speech - we thought were false or misleading. We don't have the opportunity to grab the microphone, make an unlimited speech, and take on our detractors and rebut them point by point in this particular venue. Should Anderson have that luxury? Is this now going to happen at every sector plan meeting in the future? 

Furthermore, Anderson appears to already be endorsing the broad concept of redeveloping Rock Spring as a mixed-use town center that was hinted at by planners last night. This is not the first time Anderson has been in a public role of pressing for new development. He has already publicly described a new urban future for squarely-suburban Aspen Hill, nowhere near Metro, for example. That is not a role planning commissioners are supposed to take. In fact, they're not supposed to make public statements of their opinions on a particular plan or project at all at the stage Rock Spring was in last night.

A O'Fallon, Illinois planning official, Ted Shekell, explains this quite well on the PlannersWeb website:

"One of the most important roles of the planning commissioner is to be an objective, fair-minded representative of the community. As those in the arena of city planning know all too well, land use issues frequently bring out passionate opinions from all sides, with the voice of reason and balance often coming from the planning commission. 

Having said that, if commissioners become partisan or politically motivated in their decision-making, or if the appearance of fairness and open-mindedness is breached, then the confidence the public has in the commission’s decision-making process will deteriorate rapidly. So, it is of the utmost importance to resist the temptation to “make up” one’s mind before hearing all the facts -- for the sake of the individuals with a stake in the issue, and ultimately, for the integrity of the democratic process itself."

With that in mind, it is not appropriate for Anderson to argue that residential growth in Rock Spring "will improve our ability to attract [office] tenants." The debate on that hasn't even fully started yet.

In fact, Rock Spring's suburban office park character has virtually nothing to do with why it has a particular vacancy rate. 4500 East-West Highway is virtually vacant, two blocks from Metro in downtown Bethesda. 7550 Wisconsin Avenue had to discard its grander plans for large corporate tenants, and chop up its floors into smaller units, to attract any tenants at all - and it is even closer to Metro, and walking distance to all of the wonderful restaurants people are telling us are necessary to attract millennials. So where are the companies and the millennials at those Class A office buildings?

The main reason for vacancies at Rock Spring and other office parks is that Montgomery County's business climate is hostile, and the county enjoys the worst-ranked traffic congestion in America - capped off by a lack of direct access to Dulles International Airport, the stated choice of international firms. If we ignore those factors, and destroy office space in favor of residential, we won't "improve our ability to attract office tenants" at all. There also seemed to be a misperception that planners are going to add office space to Rock Spring. Nothing of the sort is going to happen; in fact, existing office space will be demolished. No one would clarify that to attendees, perhaps hoping that the idea was bolstering the case to destroy office space. A number of speakers were already convinced that office space has "failed" at Rock Spring, even though they oppose the redevelopment with urban residential.

Anderson also boasted that he and the board have never failed to deliver a needed school, despite numerous people referring to the never-delivered elementary school in White Flint throughout the evening. And then there's Wood Acres ES in Bethesda, where that "never fail" record required 6 portables within a few years of the new school being built. That overcrowding is only being addressed years later with an addition.

Finally, Anderson claimed that Rock Spring office workers are "trapped in the middle of the day with nowhere to go" for lunch. At least one other official made the same claim last night. That left me wondering if any of them have actually been to the office parks in Rock Spring. There are convenience stores and at least two cafes at the Vornado/Suburban Hospital buildings on Rockledge. Stop by for lunch, and you'll see a constant parade of workers carrying takeout containers back to their offices. I've even dined at one myself. 

And those offices are - believe it or not - walking distance to the nearly-endless food offerings at Westfield Montgomery Mall, Georgetown Square, Westlake, and Wildwood Shopping Center. Hopefully, planners will add those stops to the bike tour of Rock Spring.

Residents already know about those many restaurants, citing them and their shopping centers among the strong points of the Rock Spring location. During breakout sessions, residents asked planners to "preserve the suburban, bucolic character of the area." Among things they would like to see in the plan are a trail to Cabin John Park, safer ways to cross Democracy Boulevard and Old Georgetown Road, and keeping new development to a scale comparable to existing shopping centers or parts of the Kentlands, rather than urban heights and density.

There's no doubt Rock Spring could be improved in any number of ways. But if we put our heads in the sand over the real drags on economic development and the county's moribund economy (we haven't attracted a single large corporation in over a decade), we'll never become more attractive as a destination for the corporate headquarters, laboratories and research facilities that demand the larger, secure campuses Rock Spring excels at providing.

Millennials don't drive cars? They don't dine inside their corporate headquarters? They only work in dense urban cities by transit stations?

Man, do I have a couple of businesses for you to visit: Facebook and Google. Their campus headquarters are, yep, just like Rock Spring. Millennials care about high-wage jobs, and they'll go anywhere they are being produced in abundance. 

One resident may have summed up what the goal of the plan should be best:

To create a model development "that those companies want to come for, but we want to stay for."

B|Bop|Q Korean Fusion Eatery coming to Bethesda (Photos)

Westfield Montgomery Mall is beefing up its selection of Asian cuisine, as its Dining Terrace continues to diversify with new ethnic dining choices. B|Bop|Q (or B Bop Q, without the lines the restaurant includes in its name), will bring traditional Korean bibimbap into the Chipotle American future with wraps, tacos and bowls.

In the Cava Mezze Grill/ShopHouse era, you know the drill by now: Choose a starch (rice or japchae), add a protein or vegetable (beef, chicken, pork, tofu, kimchi, arugula, edamame, to name a few), and then add their signature spicy sauce or sesame soy sauce.

But wait, there's more. You can put that in a taco or wrap instead of a bowl.

Still more: How about crispy wings or chicken strips, Bonchon fans? And 6 dipping sauces to go with  them?

For side dishes, choose from soup or dumplings.

B|Bop|Q plans to open in Bethesda in November. This will be its first location in America, with more to follow in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Honolulu. Make sure to remind your friends in the Golden State that you'll be trying B|Bop|Q before them.

In a show of the mall's increasing diversity, and Montgomery County's significant Asian population, the restaurant will be across from the future Shanghai 66 Innovation Kitchen, near Macy's Home Store on Level 2.

Meanwhile, in other mall dining news, Grill Kabob is temporarily closed but promises it is "reopening soon."

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Assault in Friendship Heights, 3 more drug busts in Bethesda + more - Crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on August 29, according to crime data:

Drug arrest. Wisconsin Avenue at Cordell Avenue.

Theft from vehicle. Wisconsin Avenue at Cordell Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. 7900 block Chelton Road (Westboro).

Vehicle burglary. 4000 block Virgilia Street (Chevy Chase).

Disorderly conduct. 7500 block Elmore Lane.

Drug arrest. 5100 block Fairglen Lane at 7:57 PM.

Drug arrest. Allan Road at Western Avenue at 4:40 PM.

Assault. 5500 block Friendship Boulevard at 8:13 PM.

Theft. 5400 block Linden Court (Alta Vista).

Theft. Westfield Montgomery Mall.

Theft from vehicle. 7500 block Democracy Boulevard.

Dunkin' Donuts offers Tailgater breakfast sandwich for football season in Bethesda (Photos)

Dunkin' Donuts is greeting football season with a limited-time Tailgater Breakfast Sandwich. Available all day, the Tailgater features a split smoked sausage, egg, reduced fat cheddar cheese, fire-roasted peppers, grilled onion mix, and Ancho-Chipotle sauce on an oven-toasted French roll.

The sandwich sells for $4.29, and went on sale yesterday for the first time.

There are 3 Dunkin' Donuts locations in downtown Bethesda (and a fourth, if you work at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center): 4943 Elm Street, 7500 Old Georgetown Road (in the Clark Building near the Metro station bus bays), and 4905 Cordell Avenue.

Matuba to reopen as Deli Matuba in Bethesda

Bethesda Japanese restaurant and sushi bar Matuba is switching cuisines, and plans to reopen as Deli Matuba.

There were rumors yesterday that the restaurant was closing for good, but apparently, any closure will be for renovations related to the deli transition.

They are currently hiring front and back of the house staff. Matuba says the deli concept will open "soon." Stay tuned.

World Market "celebrates" closing in Bethesda (Photos)

Another longtime Bethesda small business is closing its doors. World Market, a mom-and-pop market and deli at 8125 Wisconsin Avenue held a "Closing Day" celebration last night. Loyal customers packed into the store, and the atmosphere was a festive one. Patrons snapped photos inside, and you would not guess without asking that the occasion was the closing of the store.

World Market is often mistaken for the large chain of the same name, which has locations just outside of Bethesda. It has operated since 1972.

Monday, August 31, 2015

4 drug busts in Bethesda, burglary on Montrose Park Pl. + more - Crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on August 28, according to crime data:

Theft. Elm Street at Woodmont Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. 4700 block Bradley Boulevard.

Theft from vehicle. 9200 block E. Parkhill Drive (Parkview).

Vehicle burglary. 5400 block Linden Court (Alta Vista).

Theft. 11400 block Rockville Pike (Pike District).

Theft. Westfield Montgomery Mall.

Drug arrest. 7600 block Democracy Boulevard.

Assault. 6100 block Montrose Road at 8:56 PM.

Burglary. 12000 block Montrose Park Place at 3:14 PM.

Drug arrest. 6400 block Montrose Road.

Theft. 5100 block Parklawn Terrace (Pike District).

Drug arrest. Marion Lane at Moorland Lane at 11:53 PM.

Drug arrest. Exeter Road at Edgemoor Lane at 9:21 PM.

Assault. 11700 block Parklawn Drive at 2:56 PM (Pike District).

Tower crane dismantled at The Lauren construction site in Bethesda

You can tell a building is making significant progress when the tower crane is dismantled and removed. A crew did just that at The Lauren on Saturday. The ultra-luxury condo will offer 29 units for sale with up to four bedrooms. Amenities will include concierge service, a wine lounge and on-site sommelier, and garages with available vehicle lifts. There's still a long way to go here, though.

Gold Leaf Bakery coming to Bainbridge Bethesda luxury apartments (Photos)

The Bainbridge Bethesda luxury apartment tower has signed its first retail tenant in the ground floor of the building. Gold Leaf Bakery will move into a prominent spot on the St. Elmo Avenue side of the Bainbridge, near the high-traffic lobby entrance.

According to an employee of the Bainbridge, construction of the bakery will take at least two to three months. Leasing the remaining retail spaces will go a long way to revitalizing Fairmont Avenue on the other side of the building. Getting the first retailer on board should now help bring in additional retail or dining tenants.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Items stolen from cars in downtown Bethesda, theft at Barnes & Noble + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on August 27, according to crime data:

Burglary. 7100 block Woodmont Avenue at 11:58 AM.

Theft from vehicle. 4800 block Bethesda Avenue.

Theft from vehicle. St. Elmo Avenue at Norfolk Avenue.

Theft from vehicle. 7200 block Woodmont Avenue.

Theft. Barnes and Noble at Bethesda Row.

Theft. 7100 block Woodmont Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. 8400 block Connecticut Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. 5200 block River Road.

Drug arrest. 10400 block Montrose Avenue.

Theft from vehicle. 10500 block Tuckerman Heights Circle.

Theft. 7300 block Bradley Boulevard.

Drug arrest. 7100 block Democracy Boulevard.

Drug arrest. River Road at Seven Locks Road.

Burglary. 6700 block Sulky Lane.

One of Bethesda's rockiest roads gets repaved (Photos)

A rough stretch of Bethesda Avenue between Arlington and Clarendon Roads is finally getting some attention from Montgomery County. The grinding and repaving isn't coming a minute too soon for drivers who regularly navigate this block. 

Now if somebody can get something done on the section between the Capital Crescent Trail by Ourisman Honda down to Arlington Road... Its condition definitely doesn't reflect the high-end Bethesda Row atmosphere at the moment.

Gas leak in Burning Tree Valley neighborhood in Bethesda

A natural gas leak in Bethesda's Burning Tree Valley neighborhood around 10:45 last night was considered a danger to several nearby homes. Firefighters prepared to evacuate residents of those homes near the intersection of Winterberry Lane at Beech Tree Road, while awaiting a crew from Washington Gas, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesperson Pete Piringer said.

Once workers arrived, the leak was contained and it was determined no fire danger was present. The leak was from the Washington Gas system outdoors, not inside any of the affected homes.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

2 assaults, 4 liquor arrests in Bethesda; cars broken into in Chevy Chase West + more - Crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on August 26, according to crime data:

Liquor arrest. 8000 block Woodmont Avenue.

Liquor arrest. 4900 block Cordell Avenue.

Theft. 4900 block Hampden Lane.

Theft from vehicle. Old Georgetown Road at Woodmont Avenue.

Liquor arrest. 8100 block Lynbrook Drive.

Vehicle burglary. 4600 block Chevy Chase Boulevard.

Vehicle burglary. 4600 block Morgan Drive.

Vehicle burglary. 5300 block Danbury Road.

Drug arrest. Southbound Connecticut Avenue at Parsons Road.

Burglary. 8800 block Kensington Parkway at 3:27 PM.

Theft from vehicle. 6300 block Tulsa Lane.

Liquor arrest. 11600 block Old Georgetown Road (Pike District).

Drug arrest. 7100 block Arlington Road.

Assault. 6500 block Lone Oak Drive at 6:35 PM.

Drug arrest. 6400 block Rock Forest Drive.

Drug arrest. 10200 block Grosvenor Place.

Assault. 5400 block Marinelli Road at 2:44 PM.

Demolition update: Bethesda Shell station (Photos)

Underground storage tanks have been dug up at the site of the former Shell station at Old Georgetown Road and Woodmont Avenue in downtown Bethesda. As you can see from the aerial views, the rest of the site has been cleared and graded. 

A small TD Bank will bizarrely be placed on a site clearly suited for a high-rise residential or office building with ground floor retail.

Police searching for this suspect in "pack-style" robbery at Westfield Montgomery Mall Macy's (Photos)

Montgomery County Police have released additional photos of a suspect in the brazen July 23 robbery at Macy's in Westfield Montgomery Mall. He and others allegedly shoplifted merchandise from the store, and pepper sprayed Macy's loss prevention officers as they made their escape around 3:21 PM that day.

The suspect appears to have been caught by a bus security camera, and is wearing the same shirt as he was pictured in at the mall that day.

Do you know this man, or did you see him on this bus, in the mall, or anywhere else that day? Contact police immediately.

Anyone who has information about these suspects or the robbery is asked to call the Major Crimes Division Robbery Section at 240-773-5100. Those who wish to remain anonymous may call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County at 240-773-TIPS (8477) or Text-A-Tip to: CRIMES (274637), text MCPD and your crime tip. Crime Solvers will pay a cash reward of up to $10,000 for information provided to them that leads to an arrest and/or indictment for this crime.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Assault on Westlake Terrace, disorder on Elm St. & Westbard Ave. + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on August 25, according to crime data:

Theft. 8200 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Theft from vehicle. 4400 block East-West Highway.

Vehicle burglary. 5800 block Wyngate Drive.

Theft. 11900 block Rockville Pike (Pike District).

Assault. 7400 block Westlake Terrace at 7:52 PM.

Theft. 5700 block Bou Avenue (Pike District).

Drug offense. Woodmont Avenue at Battery Lane at 10:54 PM.

Disorderly conduct. 4700 block Elm Street at 2:00 AM.

Drug offense. Arlington Road at Elm Street at 11:25 PM.

Disorderly conduct. 5400 block Westbard Avenue at 1:37 AM.

Drug offense. 7400 block Lakeview Drive at 8:58 PM.

Assault. 11100 Hurdle Hill Drive at 5:49 PM.

Theft. 10100 block River Road (Potomac Village).

Planners lay out scope of work for White Flint 2 redevelopment plan

"A critical issue for [White Flint 2] will be determining how much additional development can be supported by the existing and proposed transportation network," a Montgomery County Planning Department report says early on regarding the redevelopment of the area along Rockville Pike north of the Montrose Parkway, and south of Rollins Avenue.

Some of the groundwork has been laid by the existing and future segments of the Montrose Parkway itself, and a proposed Bus Rapid Transit system along the Pike. No Metro station is located within the sector plan's boundaries, but the location is between the Twinbrook and White Flint stations on the Red Line. Planners will review all of these, but also address the need for better pedestrian and bicycle connectivity between Rockville, White Flint 2 and White Flint. The latter two areas are now branded as the Pike District by Montgomery County.

Properties under study by planners for the WF2 Sector Plan include Montrose Crossing, Pike Center, Loehmann’s Plaza, and the industrial properties east of the railroad tracks along Parklawn Drive. The Midtown Bethesda North condos, and the adjacent Target store, are harbingers of what the future may bring to these commercial properties.

Issues planners want to address in the sector plan process are transportation and connectivity, community facilities (in particular, capacity - or lack thereof - in the Walter Johnson school cluster), environmental sustainability, and land uses and urban design.

One public kick-off meeting was held on June 25, 2015. You can review the public feedback I reported on from that meeting the next day.

A series of workshops will be held this fall to obtain more feedback from residents, businesses and landowners. Planners will present a working draft of the plan to the Montgomery County Planning Board in the spring of 2016, and a draft plan to the Montgomery County Council and Executive by August 2016. The Council will vote on the plan, and a necessary Sectional Map Amendment, by summer 2017.

The next step in the process will be planners' presentation of the Scope of Work document to the Board on Thursday, September 3, 2015.

Accident closes part of Massachusetts Ave. in Bethesda

A fatal auto accident has closed Massachusetts Avenue between Sangamore Road and Goldsboro Road. Use MacArthur Boulevard or River Road instead.

Montgomery County Police confirm the male cyclist has died after being struck by a vehicle around 6:20 this morning in the 6000 block of Massachusetts Avenue. The driver remained on-scene, and is cooperating with the investigation.

Bethesda Barbecue Company cleared out (Photos)

The contents of the now-closed Bethesda Barbecue Company were being emptied out into a rental truck Thursday evening on Elm Street. Rumors that the restaurant owners will try a third concept in the space (it previously was Newton's Apple) are hard to believe. Such a restaurant would have to function with no kitchen, no seating, no appliances, and no toilets. That's right. Workers were even carrying the commodes out of the restaurant. Stay tuned.
Here comes a commode
On to the truck it goes