Monday, February 08, 2016

Car stolen from Northfield Rd., theft at Regal Cinemas + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on February 5, according to crime data:

Theft. 7700 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Theft. Regal Cinemas Bethesda 10.

Vehicle burglary. 4800 block Auburn Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. 4200 block Leland Street.

Stolen car. 5600 block Northfield Road.

Theft. 5400 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. 5900 block Conway Road.

Theft. 6400 block Rock Forest Drive.

Drug arrest. Lord & Taylor (White Flint Mall).

Theft. 7100 block Democracy Boulevard.

Theft. 11600 block Rockville Pike.

Abercrombie and Fitch closes temporarily at Westfield Montgomery Mall (Photos)

Abercrombie and Fitch has closed its doors at Westfield Montgomery Mall, but the once-controversial retailer is promising to reopen soon. Two Abercrombie affilates, Hollister and Abercrombie Kids, were recently boarded-up at the mall. Should we be suspicious about this immediate trifecta of closures?

Here's what I can deduce is going on at this point: Abercrombie is going to move into the former Abercrombie Kids space, leaving its space and Hollister for new tenants. A sign attached to the door directing Abercrombie employees on posting signage (how's that for meta?) states something in code that translates to me as the move I've just described.
Marketing the "relo" of
"A.F." "to kids" translates as
Abercrombie moving into
Abercrombie Kids space
Perhaps the downsized square footage will be cheaper, one explanation for a chain experiencing some bumps in the fashion road moving. But would it really be necessary to close the current store before the new one opened? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, future shoe retailer Marmi has installed Coming Soon signage on its space.

Unshoveled sidewalks suggest MoCo Government isn't ready for a supersized Westbard

Blocked sidewalk at Ridgefield
and River Roads in Bethesda
Snow blockades on sidewalks in the Westbard area - more than two weeks after snow stopped falling - suggest Montgomery County Government is unable to handle tasks and enforcement of laws in that area of Bethesda now. How, then, will it perform if 5000 additional people are added to the neighborhood?

In addition to the spots I reported on yesterday, there are additional blockades on sidewalks along Westbard Avenue as of last evening: in front of the Westwood Tower apartments, near the Westbard Circle intersection with Westbard Avenue across from the Park Bethesda, and several spots alongside Montgomery County Public Schools property between Westbard Circle and Massachusetts Avenue.

These and other blocked sidewalks across the County indicate that County Councilmember Hans Riemer's sidewalk-clearing law has been a complete bust. It's not being enforced, and we're getting the same dangerous results this time as pedestrians are forced to enter the roadway into oncoming traffic.

Riemer took an unwarranted election year victory lap after passage of his law, as local media sycophants cheered him on. According to a Gazette (much missed - not!) report at the time, "the legislation seeks to ensure sidewalks are passable after storms and should improve how the county fulfills the intent of its law requiring snow removal, bill sponsor Councilman Hans Riemer said." 

"'The goal of this bill is to make our county more walkable in every season,' Riemer (D-At Large) of Takoma Park said."

I would not describe sidewalks in the Westbard area as "walkable" today. And most definitely not wheelchair-accessible.

Cost of Riemer's law, the public education component that would magically move property owners to obey it, and the County implementation of it? $6,458,000, according to the Gazette.

If the County and MCPS can't get the small things done now with regards to Westbard, what faith should anyone have in their promises for a supersized, urbanized Westbard with over 5000 more people in it?

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Burglary on Tuckerman La., assault on Gainsborough Rd. + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on February 4, according to crime data:

Vehicle burglary. 7500 block Old Georgetown Road.

Drug arrest. 8200 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. 7900 block Connecticut Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. 6700 block Selkirk Drive.

Burglary. 5400 block Tuckerman Lane.

Theft. Westfield Montomery Mall.

Assault. 11300 bock Gainsborough Road.

Death. 10200 block Holly Hill Place.

Death. 7700 block Fontaine Street.

Uncleared sidewalks in Westbard area of Bethesda

Several corners and crosswalks remained blocked by mounds of snow on Ridgefield Road and Westbard Avenue. They include the west side corners at Ridgefield and River Road and Ridgefield and Westbard, both in front of the vacant Manor Care nursing home.

The former spot is pictured above. Along the grass to the left of the curb cut and snow pile, where you might think able-bodied people could at least walk around it, is actually a deep gash in the lawn that makes it unsafe to traverse. It might have been created by truck trying to make the difficult turn there (but don't tell Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson that, he says it's no big deal). Of course, if you're in a wheelchair, you can't access this sidewalk at all from the crosswalk.

The sidewalk along Ridgefield on the Westwood Center II side is fully cleared between River and Westbard.

An entire stretch of sidewalk along Westbard remains uncleared between Ridgefield and the Westwood Shopping Center property. On the other side of the driveway entrance into the shopping center (below the staircase that leads down to Westbard Avenue), another large mound blocks full access to the otherwise-cleared sidewalk behind the shopping center.

Snow stopped falling around 8:00 PM on January 23 - two weeks before this photo was taken. Once again, Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer's vaunted sidewalk shoveling law has failed.

Tommy Joe's posts Coming Soon signage at new Bethesda location; Feb. 13 last call at old spot

Tommy Joe's has made it official - the venerable bar-and-grill will move from its longtime Montgomery Lane location to the recently-vacated Urban Heights space at 7940 Norfolk Avenue in downtown Bethesda. The last day at their current location will be February 13, and the new location will open sometime in March. With the move, owner Alan Pohoryles returns to the scene of his former rooftop venture, Roof Bethesda.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Car stolen on Old Georgetown Rd., burglary on Wyaconda Rd. + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on February 3, according to crime data:

Theft. 3600 block Thornapple Street.

Liquor arrest. Rockville Pike at Tuckerman Lane.

Stolen car. 10300 block Old Georgetown Road.

Vehicle burglary. 8000 block Summer Mill Court.

Drug arrest. Rockville Pike at Wickshire Way.

Theft. Lord & Taylor (White Flint Mall).

Burglary. 4900 block Wyaconda Road (Randolph Hills).

Bethesda construction update: Stonehall Bethesda ultra-luxury condos (Photos)

More excavation work has been done at the site of the future Stonehall Bethesda ultra-luxury condominiums in Bethesda, at the corner of Woodmont Avenue and Battery Lane. Stonehall will offer 2-bedroom condos from the $800,000s, 3-bedrooms from $1.7 million, and penthouses starting at $2.3 million.

Duball, LLC is the developer of this 46-unit building. Delivery was expected by this fall, but that doesn't look likely at this point.

Specs reopens at Westfield Montgomery Mall; Hollister, Abercrombie Kids walled off (Photos)

Designer sunglasses boutique Specs New York has reopened at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. Walled off, or closed, now are Hollister and Abercrombie Kids respectively, two chain retailers part of the Abercrombie & Fitch empire. Which is why they're telling delivery people to drop off packages at the main Abercrombie & Fitch store.
Abercrombie Kids

Friday, February 05, 2016

2 cars stolen, burglary on Roseland Dr. + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on February 2, according to crime data:

Drug arrest. East-West Highway at Chelton Road.

Stolen car. 5000 block Bradley Boulevard.

Vehicle burglary. 4400 block Ridge Street.

Vehicle burglary. 7500 block Radnor Road.

Stolen car. 7700 block Oldchester Road.

Theft. 5500 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Drug arrest. Old Georgetown Road at Cedarwood Drive.

Drug arrest. 5100 block Nicholson Lane (Pike District).

Burglary. 6000 block Roseland Drive.

Drug arrest. 7100 block Westlake Terrace.

Westbard sector plan public hearing 2: Lies, astroturf and "Monopoly at its worst"

Several dozen more speakers testified on the proposed Westbard sector plan before the Montgomery County Council last night, the second of two scheduled public hearings (Read a full report on the first hearing here). We learned quite a bit in the process, including that Montgomery County Public Schools and other County officials haven't been honest about the percentage of students generated by multifamily housing, some of the few speakers who favor the plan are reading from scripts (a phenomenon known as "Astroturf"), and that Ace Ventura may need to be hired to protect the Westwood Pet Center and other small businesses at Westbard from "Monopoly at its worst."

More Westbard coverage:

A Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School parent, who hadn't originally planned to testify but was welcomed up after several no-shows opened space on the list, told councilmembers that he was intrigued by developers' assertions that multifamily housing would not generate many students in the already overcrowded BCC and Walt Whitman clusters. He then studied the BCC HS student directory, tabulating the number of student addresses containing suite or unit numbers. His final calculation was stunning - a full half of BCC students live in multifamily housing, he said. 

This is embarrassing for several reasons. At an infrastructure summit held last year (enjoy my fact-checking takedown of the pro-developer propaganda generated by the event), which did not disclose that one "educational" presentation was delivered by an architect from the firm hired by Westbard developer Equity One (Oops), MCPS' long range planning guru Bruce Crispell's data touted only 69 high school students at BCC come from apartment buildings in downtown Bethesda. According to MCPS, there are currently 1989 students enrolled at BCC! Whoops! It sounds like they've been lying to us, folks.

Second, you then add the fact that Crispell acknowledged the percentage of students generated from multifamily housing in the Whitman cluster is much higher than average, and of course higher than in the BCC cluster. In fact, Crispell said he uses a special formula when he makes projections in the Whitman cluster for that reason, which he then demonstrated.

Speaking of misleading... A handful of people testified in favor of the plan last night as advocates of affordable housing. I noticed that several of them not only made the same points, but even used the exact same phrase: "a mix of senior housing, workforce housing and deeply-affordable units." Not only is it rare for different speakers to repeat an exact sentence during a public hearing, but I've never heard the phrase, "deeply-affordable", used in regard to housing in all my years of public activism. Clearly, a script was being used. This is called Astroturf, ladies and gentlemen, deployed when there are no actual grassroots to support something as unpopular as the current Westbard sector plan.

Even the race card was deployed once again. The term "racial segregation" was bandied about at one point. This kind of talk is completely absurd. First of all, Westbard today has a greater relative percentage of affordable housing than downtown Bethesda when you adjust for population. None of the buildings approved in the last decade in downtown Bethesda have the same percentage of affordable units as the buildings on Westbard Avenue. 

While affordable housing talk is employed to apparently shame and guilt-trip people into supporting the destruction of their own neighborhood, it also makes no sense and completely distorts the historical record.

The very Council these affordable housing advocates were addressing last night is the same one that sabotaged the designation of the Arlington Road corridor in downtown Bethesda for affordable housing. Ruling MoCo primarily thanks to millions of dollars in developer contributions to their political campaigns, the Council allowed those same developers to get out of building that housing. 

Right across Woodmont Avenue from the Bethesda Metro station, the proposed affordable housing zone was designed to place low-income residents within walking distance of County services and facilities, and public transit. Instead, the same Arlington Road corridor today is home to literally the most expensive housing units in downtown Bethesda!

Now, one person testified, the transit and public service Saharan Desert known as Westbard is suddenly "the last chance for affordable housing." Ralph Bennett of Silver Spring concurred, lecturing residents of a neighborhood he doesn't live in that Westbard is the "last obvious opportunity for growth." Huh?

In other words, current and recent past Councils personally profited by doing the wrong thing on affordable housing in downtown Bethesda, and now they want to dump a city's worth of affordable housing into a 2-block area in a suburban residential community? 

Much like Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson's out-of-touch comments on roads and schools, the facts don't back up the claims. You wouldn't know it from the testimony and propaganda, but black people do live in the Westbard area! If you were walking around the area regularly, you would know that. If you were voting here on Election Day, you would know that. You kind of had to live in a precinct to vote there, at least up until now.

Now if you're talking about income levels and affordable housing: First, hold your Council representatives accountable for their history with the aforementioned Arlington Road plan, their failure to require higher-than-12.5% affordable units in the rest of downtown Bethesda, and for their efforts demolishing (and rezoning for demolition) existing affordable housing in downtown Bethesda, Rockville, Silver Spring, Wheaton, Long Branch, and Glenmont. Own your disaster, own your Councilmembers you supported before you start lecturing other people.

There's nothing in the Constitution, by the way, that guarantees a Potomac mansion to minimum wage employees. That's not what providing affordable housing means. Welcome to the world. Playing the race card to help private development firms have a multimillion payday is about as low as it gets.

Speaking of accountability, resident Robert Lipman made a sensible demand of the County Council and Planning Board - show us the scale model. Lipman said, correctly, that the public has never been shown an accurate scale depiction of what a full-build-out of the proposed plan would look like (now, of course, we know why not, given the shock value of what an accurate model would depict). He recounted a typically-disastrous Metro and bus commute from earlier in the day. 

Then he pulled out a Monopoly game board and propped it up on the hearing table. Turning around to congratulate "Mike" (presumably Equity One's Mike Berfield), Lipman said "Mike" had money for the land purchase, as he waved a bag full of Monopoly money in the air. He then picked up a second moneybag, stating Mike also had money for the PR firm hired to shift public opinion. And he raised a third bag to represent the funds spent on lobbyists. As another speaker noted, the Planning Department mysteriously left Westbard untouched since 1982, but suddenly sprung into action when Equity One bought the Westwood Complex.

Don't expect free parking from the Monopoly guy, though. First, there's the language in the plan that could eventuallly lead to metered parking at Westbard.

But back to Bennett for a moment, who was outright trolling Westbard residents last night. I often testify on development in parts of the County I don't live in. The difference - I'm usually testifying on behalf of the position the majority of residents have, who are trying to fight the latest egregious, corrupt action of the Montgomery County political cartel. I'm not trying to destroy somebody else's neighborhood.

Bennett wasn't just advocating for high-density urban growth in a quiet suburban community, but even threw in the kitchen sink, boasting that Westbard would one day be a stop between Bethesda and Tysons on the Purple Line. Of course, this is the secret plan of the MoCo political machine, but one that few dare admit publicly. One has to wonder - are the vague plans, "connector road" right-of-way, and land acquisitions the plan calls for in the industrial zone near the Capital Crescent Trail really for parks? Or are they a placeholder Trojan horse for a Purple Line station, rail yard, transformer and maintenance facility? Shh......quiet.

Resident Margaret Ott said, "the Planning Board sold us down the river, and we don't want to be up Willetts creek without a paddle," referring to the popular but currently pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by proposal to naturalize the Willett Branch stream.

Thomas Hearn had an idea that's plenty popular in the square mile around the Westwood Shopping Center at the moment - "Defund the Planning Board." Some have inquired how Anderson could be removed as Planning Board Chair. Hearn's idea? All homeowners should ask for a reassessment of their (overinflated for tax purposes) home values to cut revenue that would fund the board.

Eduard Bos found it "appalling" that the Planning Board thinks the investments of out-of-state development firms are more important than the investments actual residents made in purchasing their homes here. "We thought we were moving to a suburban residential area," Bos said.

Could public school students being injured in overcrowded hallways between classes become a legal liability for MCPS? That's an intriguing possibility brought up by resident Sandra Arresta. Let's hope MCPS doesn't kick the reporter out of the courtroom again when it happens. Does the MoCo political cartel have an overinflated sense of entitlement, or what? Psychiatric help might be a solution, but term limits would probably be cheaper. Throw the bums out!

One speaker rightly commended Wood Acres PTA President Jason Sartori for his very effective testimony Tuesday night, for which neither the Planning Board nor Council have generated any response to yet.

What I thought was quite effective last night, were a number of speakers who made the case for what a great community exists now around the Westbard area. Both Malcolm Burke and Mary Morrissey said that Westbard as it is today was the selling point for them in choosing the community. 

Burke said he moved here because of the small, family-run shops in the Westwood Shopping Center, the great library a short walking distance away, and the small-scale residential neighborhood character. Passing the plan as is, Burke predicted, would be an "unmitigated disaster."

Morrissey recounted that "what attracted me to Westbard were the very things this plan would destroy."

Resident Fred Graefe countered far-fetched claims that patrons of the extremely-busy Westwood Shopping Center are about to take their business to cookie cutter "town centers" elsewhere in the County (good luck finding the right rabbit food, shoe repair or new muffler at Rockville Town Square or Downtown Crown, though...). Graefe accurately noted how full the parking lot there is, and it's not because of the liquor store, he added. "But I would imagine sales went up after this plan was released," he speculated, drawing hearty laughter from the crowd.

I'll leave it to resident Frank Vita to close it out. He described the Westbard area as an active functioning community, that would suffer "permanent and irreparable damage" should this plan be approved by the Council. 

Vita said jurisdictions would ordinarily propose a plan like this "where there's something lacking. Well, there's nothing lacking in our neighborhood."

Well said.

Giant apologizes after corporate VP appears to endorse Westbard sector plan

Oops. When Giant Food's Vice President of Real Estate appeared on the speaking list at Tuesday night's Westbard sector plan public hearing, it seemed somewhat odd. Giant is not a landowner, nor a resident, nor a small mom-and-pop shop unable to afford the higher rents landlord Equity One will likely charge at a redeveloped Westwood Shopping Center. Perhaps he would speak to the specific business interests of the grocery chain, whose recently renegotiated lease expires in 2019?

[Up next this morning - a full report on 
last night's second Westbard
public hearing before the County Council]

The testimony of William Shrader, a Pennsylvania-based employee of Giant parent Ahold USA, went further. Too far, in the opinion of many dismayed residents, who overwhelmingly oppose the plan. While some employees of the Westbard Giant store have expressed solidarity with community opposition to the Montgomery County Planning Board's high-density plan - the staging of which could potentially put them out of work for a couple of years, assuming Equity One even decides to re-up with Giant rather than a competing chain - Shrader spoke positively of the plan in broad terms, and sang the praises of the urban mixed-use model that is out of character with suburban Westbard.

Not a good way to endear yourself to the community that buys your groceries.

The higher-ups at Giant don't think so, either, and have acted quickly to distance themselves from Shrader's apparent "gone rogue" testimony.

"We regret that statements were made by our Real Estate representative that went beyond the scope of our supermarket project," said a statement released by Giant late yesterday. "We value our relationship with the community, appreciate the feedback and will continue to work with the developer and community to address concerns regarding the proposed project." Ira Kress, SVP of Store Operations for Giant Landover said the statement was authorized by Giant Food, LLC President Gordon Reid.

I commend Giant for taking prompt action on this matter. Speaking only for myself, I'd prefer to have Giant come back in "The New Westwood" shopping center, as Equity One terms it. Unless Equity One could get the urban Wegman's design (which at about 70,000 SF is not grossly larger than Equity One's proposed 60,000 SF grocery space), Giant certainly has the best selection across all departments of the area chains. The Westbard Giant is the best Giant in Bethesda, if not the whole chain.

The statement also reveals that Giant is apparently already in talks with Equity One regarding opening a future store at Westbard, after the current one is demolished. "The Real Estate arm of our parent, Ahold USA, has been working with the property owner to secure a new lease that will allows us to continue to serve Westbard. As with all projects where Giant is a tenant, our Real Estate team works closely with the developer to ensure that the new project will meet the needs and expectations of our customers."

It also notes the venerable store's 56-year role in the "Westbard" community. "We understand the concerns that have been raised by the community over the development of the Westbard property where our Giant Food store is located.  For nearly 60 years Giant has served the Westbard community, not only providing its grocery needs but participating as an active member in all facets of community life."

Regarding the final point raised in the statement, that "our store lease is about to expire": Contrary to some of the information floating around out there, Giant's lease didn't originally expire in 2019. Years ago, it was said that Giant had a 99-year lease for its Westbard store. While nothing was ever said publicly, it seems Ahold must have renegotiated the lease while Capital Properties owned the shopping center. Giant opened in 1959, and, well, 2019 isn't 2058.

Why a 99-year lease? That's common in "ground rent" situations, an antiquated real estate mechanism that was applied by original Westbard developer Dr. Lazlo Tauber across all of his parcels there.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Rape on White Flint Dr., drug arrest at Walter Johnson HS + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on February 1, according to crime data:

Theft. 5400 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. Westwood Shopping Center.

Theft. Bloomingdale's.

Drug arrest. Walter Johnson High School.

Rape. 5000 block White Flint Drive.

First renderings of future retail/restaurant space on Cordell Ave. in Bethesda

The architecture firm of Steven J. Karr, AIA, Inc. has revealed the first renderings of what the old Leahy Plumbing building will look like, when a shell and core renovation there is completed. In addition to larger glass in the front facade, and moving the front entrance around to the side, what is currently a drive/alleyway alongside the building will become a patio.

Conley Management, Inc., which is leasing the property, says the space could be used as a restaurant, retail store or fitness center. They expect the 4916 Cordell Avenue project to be delivered by summer. It is currently available for lease.
Renderings courtesy Steven J. Karr, AIA, Inc.
All rights reserved.

Bethesda Smashburger space available for lease

The space currently occupied by Smashburger at 4903 Cordell Avenue is being marketed for lease by JBG Rosenfeld Retail Properties. An online listing says the space can be available as soon as this month. The monthly rate is "negotiable."

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Vehicle burglary on MacArthur Blvd., 2 drug busts on Cordell in 3 hours + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on January 31, according to crime data:

Theft. 7200 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Theft. 6600 block Hillandale Road.

Vehicle burglary. MacArthur Boulevard at Clara Barton Parkway access road.

Drug arrest. 4700 block Cordell Avenue at 11:01 PM.

Drug arrest. Cordell Avenue at Norfolk Avenue at 2:00 AM.

Disorderly conduct. 7100 block Democracy Boulevard at 6:46 PM.

Disorderly conduct. 12200 block Rockville Pike (Pike District).

Pi Pizzeria coming to Bethesda

Barack Obama's favorite pizza is now coming to Bethesda. Pi Pizzeria will bring its St. Louis recipe pies to 7137 Wisconsin Avenue in April. They are now hiring for this location, which has been a pizza place before. It was most recently Pitzze.

Order the deep dish, of course! They also offer a thin, cornmeal crust. You may also know Pi Pizzeria as District of Pi in DC.

Westbard sector plan ripped at County Council public hearing (Photo)

The Montgomery County Council listened to public comment on the Westbard sector plan at the first of two hearings last night. "You're going to hear a lot about this not being an urban area," Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson predicted. Anderson himself appeared out of touch with the reality and implications of what he and his four colleagues have proposed.

Residents have demanded the Planning Department and Montgomery County Public Schools detail specific plans for how MCPS will accommodate the new students generated by the thousands of new housing units allowed by the plan. But Anderson continued to evade any such specifics. "I won't get into details about the schools," he said. He said he's been told by the school system that there's "no reason to have concern about the ability to handle the school capacity needs," a statement met by laughter from the crowd.

"Where is the analysis from which this conclusion is drawn?" Wood Acres Elementary School PTA President Jason Sartori asked regarding Anderson's "blind faith" in MCPS claims of readiness. Mere faith, Sartori added, "does not constitute a plan." He noted that MCPS growth estimates in the community have been off by 14% historically, resulting in six classroom trailers outside Wood Acres mere years after completion of that school's new building.

What about the impact of the proposed growth on already-jammed River Road? "For roads, the traffic counts are actually way down," Anderson claimed to derisive chuckles in the audience. Obviously, Anderson does not use River Road during rush hour. "I was pretty surprised to hear that traffic on River Road is less than it used to be," Deborah Schumann of Tulip Hill later said to raucous laughter from the seats.

Yet, the plan Anderson endorses would drop 5,000-6,000 new people, and nearly as many cars, into what is literally a two-city-block area. And offers not one proposal to increase capacity on River Road. As anyone who deals with local government infrastructure issues knows all too well, if it's not in the master plan, it's not going to get funded in a future CIP budget.

Few residents have any confidence in Anderson, and they now must rely on a County Council caught between large developer campaign contributions, and the potential of being voted out if they don't protect the neighborhood.

"This is a trial, and we have nine judges," resident Lynn Pekkanen observed. "They're the only ones who can vote on twenty years of future for all of us." Noting that the vast majority of financial contributions to the Council (with the exception of Marc Elrich, who doesn't accept developer donations) are from developers, Pekkanen said to the Council, "I want to know who you are. I want to know how you got here," referring to the well-bankrolled campaigns that lifted councilmembers to victory. "The word on the street is that this Council gets 70% of its money from developers (the number has been calculated to be as high as 82% in recent years). It's a simple question for me."

Phyllis Edelman, President of the Springfield Civic Association, urged the Council to ensure Westbard Avenue is realigned to connect directly to River Road to reduce cut-through traffic in that community. She also endorsed reconfiguring the corner of River and Ridgefield Road to better accommodate tractor-trailers, which often have difficulty navigating the turn there. Anderson essentially stated he didn't care about that during a Westbard worksession. Apparently, he hasn't been there when a Giant driver is squeezing between a utility pole and the cars waiting at the signal to turn onto River Road from Ridgefield.

Richard Mathias, President of the Westbard Mews condo board, warned the Council that "supersized apartment towers...all along Westbard Avenue will overwhelm our neighborhood. We live inside the Westbard sector." He cautioned them against "putting our library site in the hands of developers."

When Giant Food's William Shrader confessed he was "new to this area," as a lifelong resident, I was confident he was telling the truth. Shrader stated the Westbard Giant "has not kept pace. We don't have the infrastructure" to add Starbucks or a pharmacy. Actually, the store did have a Starbucks counter a few years ago, and it failed and closed. Perhaps because there's a full Starbucks just around the corner in the shopping center? The Westbard Giant is not only the best Giant in Bethesda, but it's also far larger than the urban Bethesda Row Giant. That smaller Giant on Arlington Road mysteriously was able to fit a pharmacy into its space.

Shrader went on to sing the praises of the mixed-use Cathedral Commons in the District, which replaced the old Giant there. I'd been to that Giant, and the G.C. Murphy next door, for decades, and found nothing wrong with either.

Resident Bob Cope, who also represents the Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights, was so dedicated to getting this plan fixed, that he came out to testify with "a couple of broken ribs. I really don't feel good. If I thought this was a done deal, I wouldn't be here tonight. I don't think this is a done deal."

Cope said he and the CCCFH look forward to working with the Council to improve the plan, which he said is "sort of like the 50s movie, The Blob." Referring to the industrial area, which provides many repair services to neighborhood residents, Cope said, "It's our dog patch, it looks like hell, but keep as much of it as you can."

Patricia Johnson, who serves on a committee focused on River Road development in her Kenwood neighborhood, lamented that "small merchants are being forced out" of the retail spaces where they've thrived for decades before redevelopment was proposed.

Lynne Battle of Westbard Mews said the plan "goes too far," and that her townhome community's residents "strongly oppose" the last-minute proposal to redevelop the Little Falls Library site as a 75' apartment building. She also denounced plans to build shared-use paths along both sides of Westbard Avenue, saying that would require taking portions of the townhome front lawns.

Would millennials really want to live over a mile from a Metro station? Sue Schumacher of The Kenwood condominiums was skeptical. "Millennials would sooner sleep in a tent at Logan Circle" than live in Westbard. She said young people ride the subway, not the bus, and called for more amenities for seniors such as a senior center. Aakash Thakkar, a senior vice-president at EYA, a development partner with Equity One, said he doesn't expect many millennials to buy in Westbard, as the townhome design they use appeals more to empty nesters.

Dan Dozier and Sarah Morse of the Little Falls Watershed Alliance both pressed for more guarantees that the proposed naturalization of the Willetts Branch stream. The current state of the waterway is "an abomination," Dozier said. Willetts Branch is "anything but idyllic," Morse said, adding it's the "kind of creek you see in a blighted neighborhood." She also noted that some of the businesses who own property along the stream, and are seeking to stop the naturalization proposal, are actually guilty of dumping their trash and other litter into the site. "I've seen their trash in it," she said, without identifying the culprits by name. LFWA organizes regular volunteer clean-ups in the watershed.

Sally Bosken, representing Little Falls Library, said the late proposal to replace the building with an apartment tower is "a dark cloud hanging over the library." Katherine Davies said the library is eligible for historic protection, as a unique example of both midcentury modern architecture and use of modern building materials. In fact, she said, the library was featured in a book the County released on midcentury modern architecture.

Resident Jenny Sue Dunner took her 3 minutes to speak on behalf of the merchants who will likely be displaced in the redevelopment on Westbard Avenue. Dunner said the owner of the popular Westwood Pet Center started when he was 21, and has operated the business for 37 years. She invited the Council to visit Anglo Dutch Pools and Toys, the type of toy store you can't find in a town center.

Richard Barnett, who lives near the Park Bethesda apartments, where owner Capital Properties plans to add additional towers on the parking lots, said a 20' slope means that excessive heights would tower "completely over our community." He said it was "imperative" that the Council maintain the 35' height for anything directly adjacent to residential homes.

"There is a complete disconnnect between planners and the public," said Robin Hammer, representing the Kenwood Civic Association. She said her neighborhood is "strongly against this Westbard plan" and its "overreach and cookie cutter" approach." She said there is disappointment and anger that residents' concerns were not considered by the Planning Board. "What happened?" she asked. "These are quiet neighborhoods."

Indeed. I made the point in my testimony that Westbard is not an urban area, but a low-density suburban area away from Metro. It's not Chevy Chase Lake, but is exactly like its neighbors across the DC line in Spring Valley and The Palisades. There, DC Councilmembers have protected their constituents' quality of life for decades. Spring Valley and The Palisades haven't changed in 50 years. Will our County Council do the same for us?

"It's a bad plan," said Leanne Tobias of the Springfield neighborhood, who has a backgound in commercial real estate. "It needs to be scaled back dramatically," she said. Although the plan claims to be "green" and "sustainable," Tobias said, "nothing could be further from the truth." It "undercuts established planning guidelines," she said, as Westbard is not recognized by the Metropolitan Washingon Council of Governments as a growth center.

Resident Jackson Bennett effectively summed up the Planning Board's approach as, "We know what's best." He said the resulting plan will only create a "soulless canyon of high-rise buildings," and that the claim of low congestion on River Road "ignores the testimony and actual experience of residents."

Bennett said the Council still has the opportunity to derail this "preventable error."

Councilmember Roger Berliner was the only member of the body to speak. "I promise you, I am listening," Berliner said earlier in the evening between panels. He also released a memo in which he, commendably, promises to "significantly reduce" the total number of housing units put forward in the plan. He has addressed quite a few of the most egregious aspects of the plan, stating that he agrees with residents that townhomes are more appropriate for the Manor Care site, that 90' is too high on the Westwood Center II site, and unequivocally opposes the rezoning of the Little Falls Library site for residential use.

Berliner's letter is a good starting point. Equity One did respond to many resident concerns on the Westwood Shopping Center site. What we need to do now, is to take that same collaborative approach on each parcel, and come up with something that works for all parties. Remember, most of the landowners are asking for more than current zoning allows. So a collaborative approach is the only credible one.

More public amenities are needed, such as a recreation center (which could also serve as a senior center). The language regarding the stream buffer width needs to be tightened up to ensure a viable greenway along a naturalized Willlett Branch.

More security needs to be provided for the small business owners in the two shopping centers, as well. One big question I have is, what will the staging be? If the underground parking requires the whole site to be dug up at once, that would make it impossible for the existing businesses to move into a new structure while the old one is demolished. Moving over to Westwood II is what I suspect would be offered, but that location's lower visibility and unfriendly parking setup will deter business.

We need more protection for gas stations, too. Casey Anderson stated that market economics ensure there are gas stations in the District. That's not true - DC has a gas station advisory panel that weighs in on whether a station can be redeveloped as residential or not. We need a panel like that here. Now is the time to get started.

Most of all, we need the Council as a whole to do what Berliner seems to be doing - listening to their constituents.

A second public hearing will be held Thursday night, February 4, at 7:30 PM before the Council.

The Shore House to replace Nest Cafe on Bethesda Avenue

The new ownership of the Nest Cafe, which announced it was closing for renovations to reopen this year, has given the restaurant a new name - The Shore House. No details yet on the menu, but I hear the cuisine will be American.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe opening Monday in Bethesda

I know where you'll be ordering breakfast Monday morning. Tropical Smoothie Cafe plans to open Monday, February 8, at 7:00 AM in downtown Bethesda. The restaurant serves smoothies with "brain-boosting" add-ins, bowls, wraps (including breakfast wraps), tacos, flatbreads and fresh fruit.

4731-A Elm Street

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Assault in Pooks Hill, theft from vehicle on Bethesda Ave. + more - Bethesda crime update

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

Theft from vehicle. 4700 block Bethesda Avenue.

Drug arrest. 6800 block Fairfax Road at 11:10 PM (Edgemoor).

Assault. 5100 block Pooks Hill Road at 10:53 PM.

Drug arrest. 5100 block Dudley Lane at 2:59 PM.

Theft. 12200 block Rockville Pike (Pike District).

Disorderly conduct. 4800 block Boiling Brook Parkway (Randolph Hills).

Death. 10700 block Shelley Court at 6:51 PM.

De Tapas applies for liquor license in Bethesda (Photos)

De Tapas, a new restaurant featuring - surprise - a tapas menu in the former BlackFinn space at 4901-A Fairmont Avenue, has applied for a Montgomery County liquor license. The newest venture from the owners of Bold Bite next door, De Tapas is expected to open this spring.

Sketch plan for redevelopment of Apex Building site on Planning Board agenda

The sketch plan for the proposed redevelopment of the Apex Building at 7272 Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda will be reviewed by the Montgomery County Planning Board at its February 11 meeting. Carr Properties acquired the site last fall, and has proposed breaking it up into three separate buildings, with a maximum height of 250'.

Nothing in the plan jumps out as being significantly different from what was outlined at a public meeting on November 30. The question of whether or not Community Paint and Hardware should be relocated, to allow a larger footprint for the building on Wisconsin Avenue, doesn't have to be answered until the site plan phase.

Planning staff is recommending approval of the sketch plan with conditions.

Toll Brothers buys 8008 Wisconsin from Douglas Development in Bethesda

Development giant Toll Brothers has concluded there is plenty of demand in Bethesda for its City Living brand of urban luxury condo living. The company has just acquired its second downtown Bethesda site, 8008 Wisconsin Avenue, from Douglas Development. Toll Brothers City Living's first Bethesda project, Hampden Row, is currently under construction at Arlington Road and Hampden Lane.

This is a significant real estate story for two reasons. First, Douglas had been pondering switching its plan for 140 apartments on that site to condos. Now we know this will be condos. And second, it's surprising that Douglas would punt on this project. Unless you think the condo market is weakening in 20814, of course.

The Toll Brothers units will clearly be larger than what Douglas planned - there will be only 100 units now, rather than the 130-140 rental apartments originally envisioned. Amenities will include a 24/7 manned lobby, concierge services, the now-mandatory rooftop terrace, a fitness center and an underground parking garage. The building's height will remain 14 stories, and there is no word yet on what the building's retail/restaurant square footage will be. Douglas had planned a restaurant for the corner of Cordell and Woodmont Avenues.

"With the strong interest we are seeing at Hampden Row, our first Bethesda Toll Brothers City Living building, we are extremely excited to be expanding our City Living brand in the highly-desirable Bethesda market, while further increasing the Toll Brothers urban footprint in the DC metro area,” Toll Brothers CEO Douglas C. Yearley, Jr said yesterday.

And Toll Brothers may not be done yet in Bethesda. The company's City Living and Apartment Living divisions have several projects underway in the region, and Toll says it is eager to acquire additional sites. "With significant capital on hand, we are positioned to close quickly on deals in primary urban locations,” Thomas Mulvey, President of Toll Brothers City Living said Monday. “The new acquisition on Wisconsin Avenue is a prime example and we are actively looking for more development sites to complement it.”

Toll expects construction at 8008 Wisconsin to begin in the summer of 2017, with the first sales of units to begin that winter. Douglas ran into numerous delays with its original development plan for this site, previously home to a venerable surplus store and the "beer house" at the corner of Cordell and Woodmont. The holdup was the bizarre and arbitrary attempt by Montgomery County to take part of the 8008 property to create right-of-way for a proposed Bus Rapid Transit line along Wisconsin Avenue.

The problem is, a right-of-way of that greater width (which the County claims would run from Battery Lane to Bethesda Avenue) could never be built! It is not only blocked by recently-constructed residential and commercial buildings on Wisconsin, but also the historic Bethesda Theatre, which is currently operating as the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club.

How about the downtown Bethesda condo market?

JBG's new 7770 Norfolk building recently switched back from condos to apartments and will begin leasing this month. The Lauren, Stonehall and Cheval Bethesda are all under construction now, and Redfin shows 10 units available at The Darcy. And there are more to come.