Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Burglary on Dickens Ave., assault in Pike District + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on February 7, according to crime data:

Theft. 5100 block Nicholson Lane.

Theft. Sears at Westfield Montgomery Mall.

Assault. 12100 block Rockville Pike (Pike District).

Theft from vehicle. 7100 block Westlake Terrace.

Burglary. 10100 block Dickens Avenue.

Disorderly conduct. River Road at Little Falls Parkway at 12:17 PM.

Bethesda construction update: Kapnos Kouzina (Photos)

Just a day after the sign and awning were installed at celebrity chef Mike Isabella's future Kapnos Kouzina at Bethesda Row, here's an early look at the interior transformation of the former Vapiano space.

No more live tree in the dining room, but the basic layout remains the same with the ramp, side bar, dining levels and open kitchen counter.

Kapnos is located at the corner of Woodmont Avenue and Hampden Lane. The rustic Greek restaurant should open by spring, if not earlier.

Another public meeting for 8008 Wisconsin project, now with more retail space

There have been lots of meetings regarding the long-delayed 8008 Wisconsin project in downtown Bethesda's Woodmont Triangle. And now, there's another.

New landowner Toll Brothers City Living will likely be detailing what changes it plans for the 14-story residential building first proposed by Douglas Development. 8008 has been stalled for more than a year after Montgomery County made some arbitrary demands of Douglas for a Bus Rapid Transit right-of-way that can't possibly be extended all the way to Bethesda Avenue as proposed.

The latest description of the project is a 115-unit mixed-use tower with up to 6195 SF of retail space. Those who are concerned about activating the streetscape will note the retail/restaurant space has increased by about 1,400 SF from the original Douglas proposal.

Plan to attend the public meeting on Wednesday, February 24, 2016 at 6:30 PM at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center at 4805 Edgemoor Lane.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Assault w/deadly weapon in Pike District, disorder in Bethesda + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on February 6, according to crime data:

Disorderly conduct. 8100 block Wisconsin Avenue at 1:21 AM.

Disorderly conduct. 4900 block Cordell Avenue at 1:19 AM.

Kidnapping. 7300 block Wisconsin Avenue at 8:56 AM.

Vehicle burglary. 7100 block Brookville Road (Chevy Chase Section 5).

Liquor arrest. 6900 block Tuckerman Lane.

Assault with deadly weapon. 5500 block Randolph Road at 6:56 PM (Pike District).

Theft from vehicle. 12000 block Rockville Pike (Pike District).

Theft. Timpano Italian Chophouse (Pike District).

Liquor arrest. 11800 block Charen Lane at 9:56 PM.

Kapnos Kouzina installs lighted signage, awning (Photos)

Chef Mike Isabella's newest venture, Kapnos Kouzina, has installed the permanent signage on the facade of the restaurant. A zebra-striped awning accent has also been added. The restaurant will focus on rustic Greek dishes, and offer plates designed for sharing.

Bethesda TV tower had no aircraft warning lights last night

The Crown Castle-owned former TV tower on River Road, now serving other telecommunication purposes, had no operating aircraft warning lights last night through dawn this morning. Located behind McDonald's in the industrial area, the tower is 850' tall.

Lisa Minney of Crown Castle tells me the company is aware of the problem, and is working to resolve the issue. She said a Notice to Airmen was issued regarding the dark tower.

Berliner outlines alternative Westbard sector plan

Montgomery County Councilmember
Roger Berliner listens as a Springfield
resident asks a question
Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner gave some Bethesda residents a preview of what he thinks the new Westbard sector plan should look like last night. The plan, as currently drafted and approved by the Planning Board, has been soundly rejected by residents. At a special meeting of the Springfield Civic Association, which represents one of the communities most directly affected by the planned Westbard redevelopment, the councilman outlined what he called, "the Berliner alternative."

"I know how much stress this has caused the community," Berliner said, "and I regret that." He said the current plan is "far too aggressive," and includes "twice as much as we ought to be thinking about" in terms of housing units. Berliner got in front of the issue recently by issuing a memo with his general thoughts on the plan, and appeared to agree with the majority of residents on a number of the plan's most ridiculous proposals. With the alternative plan he previewed last night at the Fourth Presbyterian Church on River Road, Berliner fleshed out those comments further in terms of specifics he will present to his colleagues at upcoming worksessions.

The good news first:

Berliner criticized the attempt by Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, and the County Department of General Services, to stuff a 75' building on the Little Falls Library site at the very last minute, when the public had no ability to comment on the idea. "The very end, the plan put things in like the library [proposal]. Really?" Berliner asked incredulously. "Nothing is going to happen on that library site," he promised residents.

A second point of contention, a high-density mixed-use building the plan recommends for the Manor Care site on Ridgefield Road, was also on Berliner's radar. Again, Berliner assured residents this, too, will not happen. "It's not gonna be a tall multifamily building," he predicted. "It's going to be townhouses. That's the Berliner alternative."

Berliner was less confident that he could bring the building height on the Westwood Center II site (corner of Ridgefield and Westbard Avenue) down from 90' all the way to 50', and later said, "I doubt we will get to 50'" on the Capital Properties site around the Park Bethesda. CP initially asked for at least 250' for two new towers on the Park Bethesda parking lots. That is not even legal. But the Planning Board has proposed 110' heights, stepping down to 35' adjacent to the Westbard Mews/Westwood Mews townhomes across Crown Street.

Praising Wood Acres PTA President Jason Sartori as "an extraordinary asset in your community," Berliner announced that Sartori's outreach and convincing arguments have led to him arranging a special meeting between the affected PTA representatives, Berliner himself, and Montgomery County Public Schools. He did not yet announce a date for the meeting, however.

On school overcrowding, Berliner said he wants to dial back the claims of the Planning Chair and MCPS - that the system can handle supersized Westbard growth - to more closely match "our sense of reality. Right now it's still too loosey-goosey." He said Anderson is "in error" if he believes the community desires the level of density Anderson and the Board forwarded to the Council for approval.

Berliner said developers would not guide his final decisions in the process. "What guides me is whether or not what is proposed...enhances our community," not development interests, he said. "I do not consider Westbard to be an activity center. I don't consider it to be urban. And that is my starting point." While planning staff and the Planning Board have made their recommendations, and MCPS has weighed in approvingly, "It is our responsibility, ultimately, to get it right," Berliner noted.

Most of this was well-received by the crowd, and Berliner's willingness to tackle some of the biggest problems with the current plan is encouraging.

Some aspects of the Berliner alternative weren't so pleasing to residents.

For example, Berliner strongly approves of Capital Properties' proposal to include 25% affordable units in its new towers on Westbard. 25% is great - if it was located in downtown Bethesda. 25% at Westbard is simply using the community as a dumping ground for low-income housing. The location is nowhere near a Metro station or to County services and facilities such disadvantaged residents need. There have been no County facilities in the Westbard area other than the library, and none are proposed in the new plan. How would it make sense to strand hundreds of low-income residents with no access to jobs, transit and services? In turn, will the Council insist that the redevelopment of the Apex Building include 25% affordable units or more, atop two rail stations?

Virtually no one opposes the current 12.5% affordable unit requirement, and that will happen automatically in any project of qualifying size at Westbard, generating as much affordable housing as Westbard can realistically bear, if not more than it can bear. There is today more affordable housing at Westbard relative to population than in developments approved in downtown Bethesda over the last 10 years. Park Bethesda and Kenwood Place have units that rent for significantly less than downtown Bethesda apartments, and Westwood Tower is nearly half affordable units.

Berliner also didn't mention any specifc projects that could add capacity to already-jammed River Road, to which the plan would currently add about 5000 cars during the morning rush. He also didn't discuss what he might do to preserve gas stations, nor the survival of small mom-and-pop shops in the Westwood Shopping
Center during and after the redevelopment of the site.

He said he thought the 1200 units he is proposing, half as many as are currently proposed in the plan (before density bonuses, at least), aren't too many. Many residents disagree.

And Kenwood residents are sure to be unhappy with Berliner's endorsement of the realignment of Westbard Avenue to meet River Road at Brookside Drive. While the Springfield neighborhood has complained of cut-through traffic, Kenwood residents have said such an alignment would simply funnel more traffic into their community. Having heard from both neighborhoods, Berliner told Springfield residents, "I'm with you. Your case is far more compelling" than Kenwood's. Surely, Kenwood residents will take issue with that statement.

But Berliner's proposal is at least a more-than-solid starting point for what should be an ongoing conversation between himself, Sartori and other PTA leaders, small business owners, and residents. Asked by one resident to be Peyton Manning against the developers' "Panther defense," Berliner responded, "I hope my arm is better than that, actually."

Union Jack's Bethesda closing as Bethesda's nighttime economy further tanks

Union Jack's will close its doors permanently in Bethesda this weekend. The bar has been a popular nightspot for over a decade, in a space longtime residents once knew as the Shark Club. There have been at least two attempts to sell the business in recent years.

The Riemer Factor

The closure adds to the downward spiral of Bethesda's nighttime economy, which accelerated despite Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer's "nighttime economy" initiative, an overhyped effort that failed miserably. There are now less nightclubs open in downtown Bethesda than there were before Riemer's effort!

Many other businesses that once offered late night or 24-hour service either cut back their hours since Riemer's initiative, or closed altogether.

Food trucks that operated in the Woodmont Triangle after midnight were chased out of Bethesda permanently by Riemer's political operative/campaign contributor-turned-$150,000 County employee (nice private payoff at public taxpayer expense, right?), who was put in charge of banning, er, "helping" food trucks. 96% of food trucks went out of business, or never ventured again from DC into Bethesda, since receiving County Chief Innovation Officer Dan Hoffman's "help."

Union Jack's is the
9th nightspot to close
in downtown Bethesda
since Riemer took office

This is the ninth nightclub to close in downtown Bethesda since Riemer took office in 2010, a staggering figure. Despite bar owners' number one request - getting Montgomery County Government out of the liquor business, Riemer has flip-flopped and is a staunch defender of the County liquor monopoly. Where long lines of revelers once formed, crowds now disperse and streets are dark and quiet in late night Bethesda.

Only the little people
pay taxes

One can't expect Riemer to care much about small business owners, as his campaigns have bizarrely been bankrolled by Wall Street banks and health insurance companies, their K Street lobbyists, and pioneers in outsourcing American jobs to China, like Mitt Romney's Bain Capital ($500 check to Riemer) and the Danaher Corporation ($4000 check to Riemer). One of the American factories closed by the latter was right here in the state of Maryland, a state which has lost nearly half of its industrial jobs over the last decade.

Quid pro quo?

A U.S. Senate committee is currently investigating whether or not Riemer and the Montgomery County Council assisted Danaher's Mitch Rales in evading income, capital gains and estate taxes. In addition to tens of thousands in campaign contributions, Riemer and other County officials were treated to an extravagant evening at Rales' Potomac mansion, prior to assisting Rales in establishing a museum that has become a holding entity for $386,000,000-worth of stock, the City Paper reported.

"Throw the bums out!" 

Some Bethesda restaurateurs have now become the biggest proponents of Robin Ficker's petition to allow County voters to approve term limits for County Councilmembers and County Executive. For Bethesda's beleaguered restaurant and bar owners, and those seeking nightlife in Bethesda, term limits can't come soon enough.

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."