Tuesday, September 02, 2014

4831 WEST LANE APARTMENT PROJECT HEADING BACK TO PLANNING BOARD (PHOTOS)

Montgomery County planners are recommending approval of the reworked luxury apartment project at 4831 West Lane in downtown Bethesda. Originally approved as the Holladay at Edgemoor, a six-story building with 48 units, the project has been upped to seven stories and 120 units. Nearby residents have expressed concern about the size of the building, and the potential for the small access roads to be overwhelmed by traffic.

The building will include 15% affordable units, which exceeds the County's minimum requirement, but alone will not achieve the total number of affordable housing units originally envisioned for the Arlington Road corridor. It is also in very easy walking distance to the Bethesda Metro station.

Architecturally, it will not feature the house-like roofline previously recommended by planners for buildings in this corridor. That recommendation was also not enforced for other projects previously approved, such as 4825 Montgomery Lane. The developer is SJG Residential.
Yellow outlines the
project area

The lobby entrance will be at
the corner of West and
Montgomery Lanes




Monday, September 01, 2014

CARS ARRIVE AT NEW BETHESDA VOLVO DEALERSHIP (PHOTOS)

You can't have a Volvo dealership without Volvos. Quite a few of the cars have now been situated in EuroMotorcars soon-to-open Bethesda Volvo dealership on Woodmont Avenue. The remodeled showroom was previously used for EM's Rolls Royce and Bentley operations.




ASSAULT AT MEDICAL CENTER METRO, DRUG ARREST ON WISC. AVE. + MORE - BETHESDA CRIME UPDATE

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

Drug arrest. Wisconsin Avenue at Cheltenham Drive.

Disorderly conduct. 7900 block Norfolk Avenue.

Theft. 4400 block East-West Highway.

Assault. Medical Center Metro station.

"Other sexual offense." Glenbrook Road at Bradley Boulevard.

Assault. Suburban Hospital.

Drug arrest. East-West Highway at Connecticut Avenue.

Theft. 6000 block Woodacres Drive (Wood Acres).

Vehicle burglary. 9200 block Shelton Street.

Vehicle burglary. 10500 block Redosier Court.

Vehicle burglary. 5800 block Inman Park Circle.

Vehicle burglary. 6500 block Rock Spring Drive.

Liquor arrest. 11000 block Earlsgate Lane.

STREET WORK TO AFFECT PEDESTRIANS, DRIVERS ON NORFOLK AVE. IN BETHESDA STARTING WEDNESDAY

Clark Construction has notified property owners near its 7770 Norfolk Avenue construction site that street work will affect travel by pedestrians and automobiles over the next 7 weeks. Starting Wednesday, September 3, there will be closures and detours on Norfolk, as contractors make deep utility and pipe connections for the 7770 Norfolk apartment tower project below the street. A second, smaller site by the property's Fairmont Avenue side will also be impacted.

The work on Norfolk Avenue will be between Fairmont and Woodmont Avenues. Given that the sidewalk has already been closed on the 7770 side of Norfolk there, one must assume that pedestrians will be affected on the Veterans Park side of the street. A memo on the project says the utility work on Fairmont will be a utility connection between the center of the street (underground) to the 7770 site (see image above; click to enlarge for detail).

7770 Norfolk is being developed by the JBG Companies.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

MICROSOFT STORE CAN'T WAIT TO MEET YOU, BETHESDA (PHOTOS)

The future Microsoft Store at Westfield Montgomery Mall has posted a large Coming Soon wrap at its upper level site, near Macy's. Its message is echoed by the store's website, which says "Get ready to experience the Microsoft Store near you. Although we can't reveal too much now, we can promise a lot of fun – and dancing – during our Grand Opening."

Celebrity guests at recent Microsoft Store openings have included Adam Levine, Kelly Clarkson and Demi Lovato. Whether Bethesda will get stars of that echelon remains unknown at this point. If not, the promised "dancing" will be more likely generated by the Kinect system for Xbox One.



SPOTLUCK ADDS BETHESDA ROW RESTAURANTS TO ITS HYPERLOCAL DEALS APP


Remember the Spotluck app for iPhone and Android I reported on a few weeks back? As promised, it has added more restaurants in the Bethesda Row area to its database. New restaurants include: Newton’s Table, Redwood, Tyber Bierhaus, Pitzze, Markham’s, Parker’s, Mussel Bar, Cesco Osteria, and Lebanese Taverna.

Spotluck is simple to use, but also has complex algorithms behind the screens. For example, it calculates how low the discount needs to be to attract diners out to restaurants on a rainy Tuesday night.

JBG PROMISING BETHESDA'S NEXT GREAT RESTAURANT (PHOTOS)

The JBG Companies, the development firm that owns Artery Plaza at 7200 Wisconsin Avenue, is promising to bring "Bethesda's next great restaurant" to a Bethesda Avenue-side vacant space. An elaborate window display with this theme has been installed on the site, giving an artist's rendition of what the atmosphere might be like (indoors and out) with the addition of this eatery.

JBG has sought to modify the exterior architecture of the building, including removal of a large arch, to make it more appealing to a high-end restaurant tenant. The sizable space includes an 825 square foot outdoor patio area, which would go a long way towards animating the somewhat dark, dead block of Bethesda Avenue where it is located.

If they could somehow get a restaurant that squeezes the word, "American," in between "Great" and "Restaurant," that would be a sure winner. JBG actually did attract the first Great American Restaurant Group (Coastal Flats, Jackson's Mighty Fine Food, Sweetwater Tavern, etc.) location outside of Virginia to its Downtown Crown development in Gaithersburg. So maybe they have an inside contact they can work there? GAR has been part of a trend which has seen several hot restaurant brands leapfrogging over Bethesda, to go further out into the suburbs (Matchbox and Chef Geoff's to Rockville, Ted's Bulletin to Downtown Crown, for example). It's time to reverse the trend!




Saturday, August 30, 2014

LIGHTS, CAMERA, BAINBRIDGE! (PHOTOS)

There are lots more signs that the new Bainbridge Bethesda luxury apartment tower is finished today. First, and foremost, Turner Construction has closed its Bainbridge field office. Second, the official Bainbridge Bethesda sign has been attached to the building. And, finally, the switch was thrown to activate the decorative lighting on the pedestrian street/plaza that runs alongside the building between St. Elmo and Fairmont Avenues.
Close-up on the sign

The lights are on,
and somebody's home
Turner Construction
field office

Mission accomplished

All clear

View of Bainbridge Bethesda from
the Turner field office

LIMITED-TIME DRINK CREATING A BUZZ AT PUREE JUICE BAR IN BETHESDA (PHOTO)

Lisa Banusiewicz is typically working hard in the National Office & Industrial Group at Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Services, in downtown Bethesda. But she is also a loyal customer at Bethesda Row's Puree Juice Bar. So loyal, that Puree is offering a drink in her honor for a limited time.

Named after her Instagram handle OMGItsLisaB, it's officially called OMGIt'sLisaB(uzz). What's in it? 3 oz. coffee, 2 oz. date paste, cinnamon, vanilla bean powder, and 11 oz. almond "mylk."

Stop in and try it before it's gone. And don't forget to follow me on Instagram at @BethesdaRow!

Puree Juice Bar
4903 Elm Street
301-654-7873

Regram from @PureeJuice

WESTBARD SECTOR PLAN LAUNCHES - FIRST MEETING SEPTEMBER 23 - WESTBARD REDEVELOPMENT

The Westbard Sector Plan process has officially launched, as the Montgomery County Planning Department welcomed the public to a new website with an overview of the process schedule. Residents, business owners and other interested parties can sign up for newsletters and RSVP for the first public meeting, which will be September 23, 7-9 PM at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda.

There are a couple of minor issues on the website and Twitter account. First, the images used could be refined to be more indicative of the true character of the west Bethesda area. Currently, the pictures include a Cherry Blossom-season photo from Kenwood (with homes cropped out) and a nature scene. Those are  accurate. The Capital Bikeshare photo suggests the goal of getting more people to ride bikes to or from downtown Bethesda, Friendship Heights, or into the District. Fair enough, and a laudable goal.

But the second photo isn't a photo at all - its an artist rendering taken directly from promotional materials for developer EYA's Little Falls Place townhomes. This seems inappropriate for several reasons.
Townhome image (R) is taken directly
from developer EYA's promotional
materials 

First and foremost, EYA is one of the developers whose fortunes will depend upon the outcome of this Westbard Sector Plan. It has partnered with Equity One to redevelop the Westwood Complex. For the planning department to utilize a developer's promotional material for a process in which that developer stands to profit is unwise. It could - wrongly, I would hope - suggest that planners are showing favor to that developer, and to a particular land use with which it is associated - namely, high-density, multi-family housing.

Second, and not far behind, is the fact that townhomes and apartments are not the predominant land use in the neighborhoods served by the commercial-industrial area termed the "Westbard Sector." There should be a photo of a single-family home up there. The handful of high-rise buildings that exist in the Westbard area are not compliant with the new zoning that will be applied; they are grandfathered in. Single-family homes are the dominant land use, and should not be entirely missing from any promotion imagery used by the County in the planning process.

Finally - and most obviously - it's just a drawing! If you want to show a townhome, show one that already exists. As is, the image favors a developer directly involved in the Westbard process, and absolutely is not representative of the area as a whole.

The other minor issue was an inaccurate statement about the history of the Westbard area, and the residential neighborhoods around it. It reads:

"Over a period of years, the residential uses were built around the commercial/industrial areas which extend along River Road and Westbard Avenue."

In reality, several residential neighborhoods predate the commercial/industrial areas. The commercial-industrial zone itself was actually an African-American residential community, dating back to Maryland Emancipation through the 1950s. Kenwood was founded prior to World War II. Many homes and neighborhoods existed before the Westwood Shopping Center was opened in 1959. The history of the area is tremendous, and should be respected in the planning process going forward.

Going forward...

Have concerns about the outcome of the Westbard Sector Plan process? For news and analysis going forward, continue to follow this blog, and @BethesdaRow on Twitter.

If you're really interested in the Westbard process, you'll also want to follow this special @Westbard account on Twitter, as well.

Friday, August 29, 2014

BETHESDA CONSTRUCTION UPDATE: TOLL BROTHERS LUXURY CONDOS (PHOTOS)

The houses near the corner of Hampden Lane and Arlington Road are still standing, but demolition operations are really just beginning on the Toll Brothers City Living Hampden Row luxury condos.

You can see where a utility right-of-way along the side of Hampden Lane has been excavated. All utilities, from electricity to communication to water/sewer, will have to be of higher capacity for a building, than for a few older homes.

Some damage back here,
but the main structures
are still standing

Exposed utilities (likely
newly-installed, based on
their condition)

WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH BETHESDA MASSAGE PARLORS & " DO NOT OCCUPY " SIGNS?

For a second time this summer, a downtown Bethesda massage parlor has been quietly shut down. And for the second time, a "Do Not Occupy" sign has been posted in the window of the spa in question. In neither case has any illegal activity or arrest(s) been announced publicly. My guess is, many people walking past may be wondering or speculating as to what is going on.

In early June, Massage Express closed temporarily at 7135 Wisconsin Avenue, and the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services posted a Do Not Occupy notice in the window. I had not heard of any arrests or police activity there, but it's fairly unusual to see a notice like this in downtown Bethesda. I contacted the DPS, and the email response said, "There was some issue with Massage Express use and occupancy permit, which has been resolved. Massage Express has re-opened their business as of June 12, 2014." No details, but the business reopened as normal.

Massage Express on June 10


Now, the same sign has been posted at Bethesda Wellness Spa, at 4715 Cordell Avenue (top photo). Why massage parlors?

One factor may be legitimate businesses getting snagged by new County rules designed to fight human trafficking. DPS now requires documentation from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Services that certifies every massage practitioner has obtained a valid Board of Chiropractic Medicine Massage Therapist Certification. Until such is supplied by DLRS, no occupancy permit will be issued/re-issued. So just one therapist's credentials (or lack thereof) could potentially lead to a temporary closure, until the paperwork can be verified.

Given that there is no indication of any unlawful issues at either business online, or in the press, it seems likely that the issue is regulatory red tape.
Bethesda Wellness Spa
yesterday

Reviews on Yelp give
high marks for the
spa's atmosphere and
decor

CAR CRASH-RELATED HOLE IN BETHESDA GARAGE GETTING PATCHED (PHOTOS)

Somebody was listening last week, when I reported on the massive hole that remained in Montgomery County Parking Garage 40 (Cordell-St. Elmo Garage) after a car wreck four months ago. The wall is being patched up, and the space is blocked off in the meantime. A fresh coat of paint on the exterior and interior walls should leave Garage 40 looking as good as new.
Exterior view from
St. Elmo Avenue


Thursday, August 28, 2014

SMOOTHIE KING POSTS COMING SOON SIGN AT NEW BETHESDA LOCATION (PHOTOS)

Smoothie King has posted "Coming Soon" signage in a vacant storefront on Bethesda Avenue. The shop will move to the former Zen Tara Tea space at 4710 Bethesda Avenue. Its current Connor Building location will be demolished to make way for a Westin hotel and office complex.

I'm afraid Smoothie King's biggest moment in Bethesda history was not beverage-related. Rather, it was the infamous Smoothie King armed robbery, executed with aplomb by the now-legendary Whitman Five gang. As in Walt Whitman High School. Uno's Pizzeria. A Vera Bradley handbag. And an actual getaway car.

If you're new to Bethesda, it may be an entertaining story for you.


The existing Smoothie King
location at 7720 Wisconsin
Avenue in Bethesda

QUICK! MOCO WANTS YOUR OPINION ON GOLDSBORO RD. BIKE PROJECT - IN 24 HOURS!

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation's Division of Transportation Engineering (DTE) has selected a "preferred alternative" for the Goldsboro Road Pedestrian and Bicycle Project in Bethesda. It is now soliciting public comment on the proposal - but made the announcement in a press release only 48 hours before the deadline for public comment. The deadline is Friday, August 29, 2014 (unclear if that is close-of-business, or midnight).

While the selected option took into account previous public input on the possible alternatives, 48 hours seems hardly enough time for the public to engage on this matter. The press release does not even say exactly how one is to provide feedback, but gives a telephone number (240.777.7279) and email for the project's manager, Greg Hwang. I've communicated with Mr. Hwang before on other projects in the county, and found him to be very helpful, so I'm sure he can point you in the right direction.

43 people attended a December meeting on the proposed facilities, and 61 out of 65 submitted comments endorsed one of the possible designs, according to the MCDOT. It is unclear how many of the 61 endorsed Alternate 2, which is the one chosen by DTE.

Alternate 2 (as illustrated above - click the image to enlarge) will provide two 11-foot automobile lanes, one 5' to 5.5' bike lane in each direction, one 5' sidewalk along the northern side of Goldsboro with a green buffer in-between it and the road, some similar sidewalk segments along the southern side, and street lighting. The design will only apply to the portion of Goldsboro Road between River Road and MacArthur Boulevard. A separate bike facility upgrade has been underway along MacArthur for some time, which included a recent striping of lanes, crosswalks and bike lanes near Glen Echo.

Overall, it sounds like a good plan. My only question would be, can we measure what the stormwater runoff impact of the added sidewalk pavement will be on the Minnehaha Branch stream, which flows alongside Goldsboro Road?

WSSC FAILED TO NOTIFY BETHESDA BUILDINGS ABOUT NIGHTTIME WORK NOISE (PHOTOS)

Montgomery County's point man on noise says the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission failed to properly notify residents near St. Elmo Avenue of nighttime work that has kept many tossing and turning this week. Steve Martin, Environmental Compliance Supervisor for the county's Department of Environmental Protection, said in a letter to the Triangle Towers Apartments on Cordell Avenue that the WSSC admitted to him they did not provide the notifications. 

Martin informed the utility that there were 3 residential buildings within the 300' notification range that should have been notified in advance of the noisy work: Triangle Towers, the Bainbridge Bethesda apartments, and the Fairmont Plaza condominiums. I personally have heard from several residents in each of those buildings, as well as one resident of The Palisades, all of whom have complained of the noise over the last several nights.

And the work is not finished. According to a copy of the memo obtained by Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row, WSSC's contractor will be back on-site tonight, and on the evenings of September 2 and 3, 2014. The work involves a sewer line replacement, mandated by federal regulations on aging and failing sewer lines, according to Martin.

What can you do about the noise? Martin advises sleepless residents to contact Brandon Stewart, the WSSC Customer Care Representative for Bethesda, by email.

Martin says that, as a state entity, the WSSC is exempt from the county's noise ordinance - and that they did not advise him of the work in advance, either. He said he has informed the Bethesda Urban Partnership, Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, and the 2nd District station of the Montgomery County Police about the noise issue.

Here are some photos from their work last night: