Thursday, August 25, 2016

PR battle over future of Bethesda Metro Center plaza continues (Photos)

Dueling concerts. Coffee and donuts. Artworks being created live as commuters pass by. The fight to win hearts and minds over the future of the plaza at Bethesda Metro Center could spawn an arts and entertainment district all by itself.

Brookfield owns the rights to develop the plaza, and has plans for a building of up to 290' tall that would frame and separate from noisy traffic a new central park. Their development plans also include restaurants and retail to activate the space. They've created a campaign called Bethesda Connected to promote the project.

Not so fast, says Clark Enterprises, whose headquarters currently has prime visibility on the plaza. Clark has launched a campaign, Protect Bethesda Open Space, that has appealed to concerns by residents that there is a lack of parkland and open space in downtown Bethesda.

It's hard to argue that Brookfield can't execute its plan - they have the legal grounds and right to do so. Clark's primary hope, then, is to generate enough support for its proposal, and sufficient opposition to the Brookfield plan. Central to their appeal may be their standing as one of the highest-profile hometown firms.

I've reported on this a number of times, but the campaigns are heating up again. Several mailings to downtown residents in July have been followed up by events and happenings at the plaza.
Clark Enterprises sets up
for live concert last night
Last night, Clark hosted a live concert on the plaza that promoted Protect Bethesda Open Space. As the musicians played, an artist sponsored by Brookfield was carefully coloring in his new mural that wraps around the top of the bus bays. The immediate winner was the Bethesda pedestrian, who could enjoy the free concert, watch an artist in action - or both simultaneously.
Brookfield-sponsored artist
 colors in his
mural as Clark's band plays
Brookfield has its own concert series called Fridays on the Plaza, from 6:30-9:00 PM, and earlier this month gave away free coffee and donuts to Surge-weary Metro riders. The mural is an early preview of the international Arts Brookfield initiative that Brookfield promises to expand to its Bethesda property. It is also part of a major investment Brookfield is making in renovating the bus bays area, and making it more inviting.

You can be sure that the plaza, along with Pike & Rose and Carr Properties' development planned for the current Apex Building site, are going to be in the competition for the prize of the new Marriott headquarters. Could public opposition to the 290' building (an opposition currently unmeasured by scientific polling, by the way), trump Brookfield's ground lease rights and clear economic development appeal in currently-moribund Montgomery County?

Stay tuned. And pass the donuts.

Harris Teeter opens in Bethesda (Photos)

Harris Teeter opened yesterday in the Flats at 8300 luxury apartments, at the corner of Battery Lane and Woodmont Avenue in downtown Bethesda. There were many special offers for customers on the first day, and feedback from those who ventured into the store was overwhelmingly positive. Unless you arrive via walking or bicycle, your visit will likely begin with drive down into the steep garage below the building.

Reserved spaces for
military veterans near
the door are a nice touch
No Escalades allowed
in this space
If you ordered your
groceries online, pull
into the Express Lane
for pick-up
Once inside, pick up a coffee at the in-store Starbucks.

Now it's time to start shopping!

Now it's time to check out. I'll have to test their self-checkouts, and report to you if they are better than the ones at Giant and CVS (not exactly a high bar).

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Cars stolen and burglarized in East Bethesda, DUI arrest in Bethesda garage + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on August 21, according to crime data:

Stolen car. 4500 block Fairfield Drive.

Vehicle burglary. 4600 block De Russey Parkway.

Stolen car. 4500 block Chestnut Street.

Vehicle burglary. 4400 block Chestnut Street.

Vehicle burglary. 4500 block Chestnut Street.

Theft. 4700 block Cumberland Avenue (Somerset).

Vehicle burglary. 4500 block Harling Lane.

DUI arrest. Cordell-St. Elmo parking garage.

Theft from vehicle. 7100 block Democracy Boulevard.

What's happening at Westwood Wednesdays tonight in Bethesda

Larry the Lion and the Just Gnocchi food truck return for Westwood Wednesdays, tonight from 5:00-8:00 PM at the Westwood Shopping Center in Bethesda. Larry's team from Brit-Am soccer will put kids to the test, along with other games for the whole family like cornhole, ladder ball and ring toss.

Purchase dinner from Just Gnocchi, but there will also be free popsicles (while supplies last), and free snacks and desserts from The Munchery, a new home-delivery meal service now available in the Bethesda area. The Jerry Irwin Duo will perform musical hits from the 1960s through today.

Temporary tattoos will also be available. The event will be held in the upper parking lot near Rite Aid. Tonight's weather forecast suggests perfect conditions for an outdoor event.

Westwood Shopping Center
5400 Westbard Avenue

Bethesda Chocolates "opening soon"

A new sign appeared Tuesday at the long-awaited Bethesda Chocolates at 8003 Woodmont Avenue. It promises the shop will be "opening soon."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Car stolen from E. Parkhill Dr., assault in Martin's Additions + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on August 20, according to crime data:

Assault. 4900 block St. Elmo Avenue.

Liquor arrest. 4900 block St. Elmo Avenue.

Stolen car. 9200 block E. Parkhill Drive.

Theft. Friendship Heights Village Center.

Burglary. 6000 block Durbin Road.

Assault. 3500 block Turner Lane (Martin's Additions).

Vehicle burglary. 11100 block Schuylkill Road.

Theft. Nicholson Lane at Nicholson Court.

Theft. 11500 block Old Georgetown Road.

Planners press Equity One on Willett Branch, Westbard realignment, cemetery at DRC meeting

Proposed realignment of
Westbard Avenue to connect
directly to River Road
Montgomery County Government and planning officials, as well as representatives of the State Highway Administration and utilities, weighed in on developer Equity One's sketch plan at yesterday's meeting of the Development Review Committee. The developer is proposing to transform 22 acres of commercial properties along Ridgefield Road and Westbard Avenue in Bethesda. Quite a few issues came up, raising the possibility that the applicant may need to seek an extension for the sketch plan's review by the Planning Board.

Where the Montgomery County Council took a blase approach to the plans for naturalizing the Willett Branch stream, realigning Westbard Avenue to connect directly to River Road, and recognition and protection of an African-American cemetery on the site of the Westwood Tower apartments in approving the Westbard sector plan this year, planners pushed back after Equity One did not indicate these were priorities in its sketch plan.
What the development would
look like if Ridgefield Road
and Westbard remain as is

Equity One had never officially committed to the realignment of Westbard Avenue, but had only said it was open to the idea and willing to pursue it if feasible. The realignment was favored by the Springfield Civic Association, which argued that cutting off direct access to Ridgefield Road would protect its residents from additional cut-through traffic. In its sketch plan submission, Equity One shows the realignment, and an alternative that leaves the final block of Ridgefield in place.

Planners said they were not enthusiastic about the alternative. Robert Kronenberg, Area 1 planning chief, said the realignment is "what we expect. We do not expect the alternative alignment." Planner John Marcolin, project manager for the Westbard sector plan rewrite, said the alternative should be eliminated from the sketch plan. However, much remains unclear about the feasibility of moving the road, and who would pay the hefty expense. Equity One notes in its application that many of the agencies involved with such a project have yet to officially weigh in on the idea.

Park and planning officials also reasserted their priority of naturalizing the Willett Branch, and creating a park along its buffers. County Council president Nancy Floreen had declared that concept all but dead. Planners, in contrast, said they expect Equity One to add the stream and its buffers to their map. Susanne Paul, senior planner for park and trail planning, said the sketch plan should refer to the financial contribution and any land dedication Equity One would donate for the Willett Branch plan.

Paul also noted that the current plan encroaches on the stream's buffer along the Westwood Center II and Westwood Tower properties.

Kronenberg said "there is a lack of detail on the sketch plan," including the need to add the Kenwood Tributary of the Willett Branch that exists on the current Manor Care property.

The historic evidence of a lost African-American cemetery along the Willett Branch on the Westwood Tower property has been moved to the front burner in recent days by the Little Falls Watershed Alliance and historic preservation advocates. Kronenberg acknowledged planners had received many emails on the topic over the last week.

Based on land records, the cemetery is believed to have been active for burials up through the 1930s. Funeral processions to the cemetery took what is now the road behind the McDonald's retaining wall to reach the gravesite, according to descendants of the also-lost African-American community that centered around the Macedonian Baptist Church on River Road. The church remains, but the residential homes were bought up by developers, including that of The Kenwood condo tower.


Based on limited oral history, eyewitness and hearsay accounts, construction crews building the Westwood Tower are accused of desecrating the cemetery in the 1960s while constructing the building. Some accounts suggest some graves were improperly relocated close by, on one side of today's alignment of the Willett Branch or the other (Willett Branch was realigned by the WSSC in the late 1950s). Fill was added to some areas around there to facilitate creation of industrial and commercial properties. Radar imaging will be necessary to determine the location of any graves or remains. Advocates also want to ensure the cemetery is recognized in the proposed public park/greenway along the Willett Branch.

Planners are not endorsing, asserting or quoting any of the cemetery reports, but are concerned about confirming the existence of gravesites before any development goes forward in those areas. "It's a potential," Kronenberg stressed. "We don't know what's there."

Other concerns included the massing of one building in particular, proposed for the site of Bowlmor Lanes. As shown in the sketch plan, the massing is "very large and monolithic, creating a Great Wall effect," Marcolin argued. He encouraged Equity One to "break it up." Marcolin also advised the developer that it would have to at least show a provision for undergrounding power lines along Westbard Avenue to earn exceptional design credits.

Paul said the proposed civic green on Westbard should not include public right-of-way in its square footage calculation.

Greg Leck of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation said MCDOT has "significant concerns" about the location of traffic signals along Westbard Avenue, and the spacing of intersections and median breaks. He said there are concerns about queuing approaching River Road. There should be 600' between median breaks, Leck recommended, and the current plan offers "very limited left turn storage" for cars.

In terms of traffic signal placement, Leck said Equity One may need to consider putting one at the new Ridgefield-Westbard realigned intersection, and another approximately between today's Citgo station and the new building on the front lot of Westwood Tower. He also said Equity One may need a wider right-of-way for Westbard "if you want street parking."

Leck also questioned where the transit hub envisioned in the sector plan is on the sketch plan. The Council had disregarded that recommendation in its discussions this past spring. Equity One's property should have 4 bikeshare stations in MCDOT's view, and Leck emphasized that all truck loading dock access must be from private streets, not Westbard.

Equity One's plan would leave the existing utility poles in place on Westbard. Leck had doubts about that. "I'm not sure how this all is going to work out," he concluded.

A representative of the Maryland State Highway Administration said more needs to be done to measure traffic impacts, "knowing that [Route] 190 is a busy arterial." Given that congestion, he said, Critical Lane Volume "is not an appropriate measurement" in this case. "We need a traffic impact study."

Marie Labaw, representing the County Department of Permitting Services and Montgomery County Fire and Rescue on the committee, said the sketch plan had too little detail on fire access. She had particular concerns about the buildings on the west side of Equity One's property. "Don't design yourself into a corner," she said.

Equity One's Bill Brown and attorney Barbara Sears both said they were eager to work out all of the concerns with the different agencies in future meetings. Brown suggested "breakout worksessions, the sooner the better."

Kronenberg said Equity One can get a 30-day sketch plan extension without Planning Board approval. Further delay beyond that will require board approval, he said.

Maps via Montgomery County Planning Department

Red Bandana Bakery sets opening date in Bethesda (Photos)

Red Bandana Bakery has set an opening date for its bricks-and-mortar bakery venture at 8218 Wisconsin Avenue. The shop will open on November 1. Red Bandana sells gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, low-fat, and low-sugar baked goods. They'll also sell breakfast items, coffee, tea and and a lunch menu.

The bakery will take over the former Flaxella Cafe space in the medical building. 

Can't wait for November?

Visit their van at the Bethesda Farmer's Market on Sundays at Bethesda Elementary School, or order online or from UberEats. Smoke BBQ also sells some of their products in their restaurant.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Theft on Westbard Ave., vehicle burglary on Merivale Rd. + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on August 19, according to crime data:

Vehicle burglary. 4700 block Merivale Road.

Theft. 5300 block Westbard Avenue.

Theft. Unit block of Pooks Hill Road.

Vehicle burglary. 9600 block Old Spring Drive.

Theft. Lord & Taylor (White Flint Mall).

Theft. Whole Foods Market (Pike District).

Theft. 12200 block Rockville Pike (Pike District).

Bethesda Row outdoor movie Tuesday night: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Toll Brothers City Living is sponsoring an outdoor movie tomorrow night, August 23, 2016, at Bethesda Row. Raiders of the Lost Ark will begin screening at approximately 8:00 PM in front of Redwood at 7121 Bethesda Lane, which is co-sponsoring the event.

Seating will be limited, so bring a chair if you want to ensure a seat.

Toll Brothers is building the Hampden Row luxury condos, currently under construction at the corner of Hampden Lane and Arlington Road. They have a second downtown project moving forward at 8008 Wisconsin Avenue.

Kneipp plans October opening in Bethesda; Kay Jewelers reopens (Photos)

Kneipp, the chain offering natural German bath and body treatments, has now announced its new Westfield Montgomery Mall boutique will open in October. They've got some new Coming Soon signage up.
Already open now, and also on Level 2, is the new location of Kay Jewelers. Their old location in the mall is now walled off.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Cars stolen from Norfolk Ave., Pooks Hill Marriott; burglary on Cortland Rd. + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on August 18, according to crime data:

Stolen car. 7700 block Norfolk Avenue.

Theft. 8500 block Connecticut Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. 8900 block Connecticut Avenue.

Theft. 5400 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Burglary. 4500 block Cortland Road.

Vehicle burglary. 9700 block Cable Drive.

Stolen car. Bethesda Marriott (Pooks Hill).

Theft. 9900 block Seven Locks Road.