Sunday, February 01, 2015

BETHESDA APARTMENT FIRE DISPLACES 3 FAMILIES, 2 FIREFIGHTERS INJURED (PHOTOS)

Updated: 6:00 AM:

A fire has displaced at least 3 families this morning at an apartment building in the 5100 block of Dudley Lane. The 4-story building in the Pooks Hill area of Bethesda was heavily damaged, but all occupants were evacuated in time. According to scanner reports, the American Red Cross is being called in to provide temporary shelter for the displaced individuals.

The two-alarm fire has been extinguished, according to Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson Pete Piringer. Piringer said two firefighters have suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the blaze, which drew a response of more than 150 fire personnel to the scene. He said there was significant extension of the flames to hidden spaces within the building, and that firefighters would continue to search those spots.

Piringer says a guest at the nearby Bethesda Marriott hotel saw the flames just after 3:00 AM, and called 911. His report concurs with scanner reports during the incident, which indicated the blaze began on the second floor, and then spread to the upper floors. Further damage and injury or death was averted in part by the building's functional smoke alarms and sprinkler systems.
Photos via Pete Piringer

Saturday, January 31, 2015

NEW AWNING AT HECKMAN'S DELI IN BETHESDA (PHOTOS)

Heckman's Delicatessen, at 4914 Cordell Avenue in downtown Bethesda, just added a new awning. The awning emphasizes the "bar" at the deli, interestingly enough.


ROBBERY AT BETHESDA ROW, ASSAULT ON WISCONSIN AVE. + MORE - BETHESDA CRIME UPDATE

A robbery was reported on Wednesday at 5:45 PM, on Bethesda Avenue at Bethesda Row. No further details are available at this time.

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

Robbery. 4800 block Bethesda Avenue at 5:45 PM.

Assault. 7300 block Wisconsin Avenue at 4:45 PM.

Disorderly conduct. 4800 block Cordell Avenue.

Theft. Cordell Avenue at Old Georgetown Road.

Theft. Guapo's.

Vehicle burglary. 5700 block McKinley Street.

Vehicle burglary. 5100 block Wickett Terrace.

Vehicle burglary. 5400 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. 5800 block Kingswood Road.

Vehicle burglary. 5800 block Greenlawn Drive.

Theft. 9800 block Marquette Drive.

Drug arrest. Southbound Rockville Pike at MD 547.

Theft. Westfield Montgomery Mall.

Theft. 7100 block Democracy Boulevard.


INDEPENDENT TRANSIT AUTHORITY BILL TAKES A HORSEWHIPPING AT PUBLIC HEARING

Using transit, 
"you lose an enormous amount of 
your productive hours waiting"

Tell me about it.

The disrespect of the citizens of Montgomery County in the Independent Transit Authority scandal continued Friday night, as the Montgomery County Delegation to the Maryland state legislature held a public hearing on bill MC 24-15 at the County Council Building in Rockville. After all the deception and dirty tricks of the previous 6 days, the shenanigans extended to the hearing itself.

Despite promises that the hearing would present a balance between those for, and opposed to, the bill that would create an unelected transit authority with unlimited taxing and eminent domain power, the deck was stacked in favor of the bill. Citizens already forced to race home from work to Rockville for a 6:00 PM start time arrived to find County politicians and developer-backed advocates for the bill ensconced at the top of the speakers list. That was just the beginning.

Not only did citizens and Ride On employees have to sit through a whopping 15 supporters of the bill before even getting a chance to speak, but those speakers and their allies in the delegation dragged out their testimony to around 90 long minutes. 90 minutes of mostly hot air. At one point, the delegation's chair, Shane Robinson (D-District 39) even spent time giving shout-outs to former delegates. Why they were even there makes no sense, but how about a "shout-out" to your constituents - the people who pay your salaries?

Earlier, Robinson tucked away the First Amendment, admonishing the crowd to forgo applause, "booing, and hissing." God forbid we'd have to hear any expression of the anger of the public after the outrageous deception that brought forth this ITA proposal.

Speakers for the proposed legislation were given extra time, and more extra time beyond that to fully flesh out ideas, cover all the bases, and complete actual thoughts. The taxpayers who paid for the hearing and the microphones? Two minutes, a full 60-seconds less than the 3-minute standard for public hearings at every other level of government. "I am John Smith, and I oppose the bill because...." [beep beep] "Wrap it up!"

The chair of the County Rapid Transit Task Force, Mark Winston, who was previously found to be in a position to benefit financially from the approval of a Bus Rapid Transit system and the development that would follow, had the laugher statement of the evening: "There is nothing sinister being proposed in this bill." Winston said the formation of the transit authority would "increase the sense of urgency" regarding construction of new transit projects in the county. But all of the urgency is really coming from the developers who will benefit from passage of MC 24-15.

Delegate Ben Kramer (D-District 19), one of the few outspoken critics of the bill (and one of the few who wisely voted Nay on the late filing of it in Annapolis) on the panel, asked Winston "are we perhaps putting the cart before the horse?" Kramer compared the idea of granting an unlimited funding mechanism before the details of the authority and the projects are even known to a kid demanding college tuition from his parents. That kid has no specific plans about college, Kramer said, but is simply "lookin' for you to pay for it," an allusion that drew raucous laughter from the packed hearing room.

Another Nay-vote, Delegate Eric Luedtke (District 14) was similarly skeptical of the bill, and the process that brought it to a sudden public surfacing last Friday. He mused aloud whether or not it might be sensible to simply have a public process and discussion on this at the county level through 2015, and then put forward a better bill in the 2016 session 12 months from now.

Luedtke's on-point questions also brought out a very significant aspect of the proposed authority I had never even considered. Because the ITA would not be backed by the "full faith and credit" of Montgomery County, it would therefore have to pay markedly higher interest rates - at taxpayer expense.

A common-sense idea from Delegate Aruna Miller (D-District 15) - who did vote for the bill, by the way - was to have the transit authority issue be put to a voter referendum in 2016.

But voters were still waiting to have their say last night. And waiting. And waiting.

Amy Ginsburg, Executive Director of Friends of White Flint, enthusiastically endorsed the bill, saying her group "looks very favorably" upon it. She claimed "the community rallied around" it, but strangely, none of those feverish fans ever showed up at the hearing last night to provide evidence of her statement.

Finally, a few detractors got a turn at the mic. One of them, Town of Chevy Chase Councilmember John Bickerman, scored several blows on the authority, and his testimony was referred to and seconded by many speakers through the long hours that would follow. He noted that the actual language in the bill "doesn't sound at all like what" its proponents testified at the hearing. The bill is actually a "backdoor property tax, an effort to circumvent the cap on property tax," he argued. One of Bickerman's comments which got a favorable response from the crowd, was his astonishment that "you have a public hearing on Friday night at 6:00."

Paula Bienenfeld, representing the Montgomery County Civic Federation, asked the delegation which of them traveled to the meeting by transit. No one raised their hand. The Montgomery County Council has famously had the same response when previously asked. Yet both bodies are asking the public to "get out of their cars." Winston, the Rapid Transit Task Force Chair once said "it has been a while" since he rode the bus. Hypocrisy at its best in all 3 cases.

Finally, someone pointed out the elephant in the room - the dirty tricks speakers list.

Twinbrook Civic Association representative Christina Ginsburg criticized the way the delegation "stacked this hearing" with supporters in the early, favorable slots (several reporters left early, and did not hear [and therefore will not quote] the later speakers). The crowd cheered, and one voice in the crowd bellowed toward Del. Robinson, "You said it would be pros and cons!!" That promise, of course, turned out to be hogwash.

Attacking the decidedly-unusual process by which this bill has been brought forth, Ginsburg said, "I'm appalled that you're lending your names and reputations to this kind of chicanery." She added that none of the jurisdictions cited as models in the county report allow what's in this bill.

"Kill this bill," county resident James Williamson said. He was skeptical of claims that the county should be trusted on this legislation. "Just look at the great work we did with the Silver Spring Transit Center," he noted sarcastically. County resident Tanzi Strafford concurred, citing the county's "history of incompetent transportation management." Williamson seconded Miller's suggestion of putting the matter to the public via referendum.

Joan Fidler of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League called the bill "a solution in search of a problem," and then went on to slice and dice it - and its proponents' arguments - to the delight of the crowd.

Jean Cavanaugh was one of several civic leaders to note that the short notice of the bill and public hearing did not permit enough time to engage membership on the proposal. Her Seven Oaks Evanswood Citizens Association's Executive Board is opposing the bill.

The Greater Four Corners Alliance is also in opposition to the ITA bill, and its representative Kevin Harris referred to the "undemocratic process" it has been rushed through.

Eileen Finnegan said Hillandale residents question the need for such a transit authority, and its Executive Board is likewise opposed.

Allen Myers, representing the Maplewood Citizens Association in Bethesda, said that a similar ITA proposal was only approved in the state of Florida after two voter referendums.

The Cherrywood Homeowners Association was also opposed. Their representative, Paul Jarosinski, said resident opposition was "almost unanimous." Jarosinski called the county's BRT plan "a forced redevelopment plan, rather than a transit plan."

Cherrywood's neighbors, the Greater Olney Civic Association, is equally opposed, particularly in light of the ITA's "unspecified borrowing and eminent domain powers." GOCA is also concerned that ITA debt would ultimately become the responsibility of the County, and its taxpayers.

Union leader Gino Renne expressed several reservations about the bill, including the open question of what would happen to current labor contracts under the ITA, and the fear of privatization. The room and hallway were packed with union members wearing yellow shirts. Some carried signs protesting the bill.

Even supporters of the bill thought it could use some significant changes.

Jay Corbalis, development associate at Federal Realty, argued "we need to offer more than sitting in traffic" as transportation options for young professionals. But he added that the development firm doesn't "support a blank check" such as the bill's language currently implies. Corbalis also said Federal Realty wants checks on the ITA's powers, and a cap on the amount taxes can rise.

Author, transit advocate and Bethesda resident Ben Ross (Action Committee for Transit) said he is concerned that the ITA proposed is not restricted to transit. Ross was particularly concerned that ITA funds could end up going to garage construction. He argued parking districts should not be placed under ITA control, and said the "bill as currently drafted won't provide that."

A spillover crowd, angry constituents, and the first sunlight to hit the ITA proposal since it was drawn up behind closed doors almost certainly will result in some changes to this bill. It could even be delayed a year for more public feedback, if politicians don't want to end up like their ousted counterparts in Arlington County. 

But don't expect the ITA to disappear, with so much developer profit at stake.

Friday, January 30, 2015

ASSAULT ON NEWPORT AVE., DRUG ARREST AT SUBURBAN HOSPITAL + MORE - BETHESDA CRIME UPDATE

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

Theft. 7200 block Woodmont Avenue.

Burglary. 7100 block Woodmont Avenue.

Drug arrest. Suburban Hospital.

Vehicle burglary. 9400 block Old Georgetown Road.

Burglary. 3100 block Cummings Lane.

Assault. 4800 block Newport Avenue (Spring Hill).

Burglary. 5200 block Nahant Street.

Vehicle burglary. 5000 block Cloister Drive.

Theft. 11300 block Schuylkill Road (Randolph Hills).

Theft. 7100 block Democracy Boulevard.

FIRE HEAVILY DAMAGES N. BETHESDA TOWNHOME (PHOTOS)

A fire heavily damaged a North Bethesda townhome in the 10900 block of Brewer House Road early this morning. Quick action by Montgomery County firefighters and the Bethesda Chevy Chase Rescue Squad prevented the fire from significantly spreading to the neighboring units, according to MCFRS spokesperson Pete Piringer.

One adult male was transported to the Washington Hospital Center's burn unit, with second and third-degree burns, Piringer said. Piringer added that the home's occupant was alerted by his smoke alarm. No firefighters were injured.

Photos via Pete Piringer and Montgomery County Police

BETHESDA BAR ONCE HOME TO BLACKFINN BEING GUTTED


The vacant restaurant/bar building at 4901-A Fairmont Avenue, previously known as BlackFinn (and Willie & Reed's before that), is being gutted and renovated. Owner Greenhill Capital has hired local architecture firm Steven J. Karr, AIA, Inc,, to remove all of the previous tenants' interior improvements, and the entire 2,246 SF second floor, reducing the building to core and shell components.
The demolition work will be done by Sigal Corporation, also the contractor for another Karr project currently underway on Cordell Avenue. Demolition is expected to be completed by March. This is part of a larger overhaul of Greenhill's multi-building Lot 667 along Fairmont, Norfolk and St. Elmo Avenues that is also being designed by Karr.

FIRE AT GLEN ECHO PARK (PHOTO)

Montgomery County firefighters responded to Glen Echo Park around 3:00 AM this morning, after an automatic fire alarm alerted authorities, according to MCFRS spokesperson Pete Piringer. Firefighters found heavy smoke in an arts building at the front of the park, which faces MacArthur Boulevard.

"We're gonna need some lights in here to determine exactly what's on fire," one firefighter was heard to say via scanner. "No active fire right now," one eventually reported at 3:35. Silverworks Studio and an unidentified painting studio were checked for fire and cleared at 3:39, according to scanner reports.

By 3:40, one firefighter determined a thermostat in an art studio/jewelry shop as the likely source of the fire and smoke. Piringer said sprinklers stopped the fire, there were no injuries, and that damage to the building was "moderate."

The historic (1892) Chautauqua Tower is adjacent to the studios mentioned during the scanner reports, so it's positive news that this fire was extinguished so quickly. It is the last remnant of the original Chautauqua at Glen Echo, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Photo via Pete Piringer


Thursday, January 29, 2015

YOUR CHIPOTLE CUP CAN BROADEN YOUR MIND IN BETHESDA (PHOTO)

When I think of fast food cup designs of the ages, my recollections are more along the lines of Jurassic Park or Batman cups at McDonald's. But Chipotle is fast casual, and if the elitists are to be believed, for a more sophisticated crowd.

That's why Chipotle's new collector cups and bags feature a more literary approach - literally. Their Cultivating Thought campaign is placing essays from prominent literary figures onto the restaurant's packaging. Featured authors include:

·       Amy Tan – The Joy Luck Club, Sagwa, The Bonesetter’s Daughter
·       Augusten Burroughs – Running With Scissors, Dry, Magical Thinking
·       Aziz Ansari – Parks and Recreation, Date and Switch
·       Barbara Kingslover – The Poisonwood Bible, Flight Behavior
·       Carlos Ruiz Zafon – The Angel’s Game, The Prisoner of Heaven
·       Jeffrey Eugenides – Middlesex, The Marriage Plot, The Virgin Suicides
·       Julia Alvarez – In the Time of the Butterflies, Finding Miracles, How the GarcĂ­a Girls Lost Their Accents
·       Neil Gaiman – Coraline, The Sandman, American Gods
·       Paulo Coelho – Veronika Decides to Die, The Alchemist, Eleven Minutes
·       Walter Issacson – Steve Jobs, Kissinger: A Biography, Einstein: His Life and Universe

Peter Benson, a Chipotle spokesperson, says that the promotion is designed to "create a moment of analog pause in a digital world, and offer customers the chance to engage with the unique perspectives, thought-provoking ideas and discussion of cultural issues." The upscale burrito chain sought to have global and multicultural representation among the chosen writers.

Chipotle has two Bethesda locations:

7600 Old Georgetown Road

Westfield Montgomery Mall

VEHICLE BREAK-IN, BURGLARY ON OLD GEORGETOWN RD. + MORE - BETHESDA CRIME UPDATE

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

Theft. 8100 block Connecticut Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. 9400 block Old Georgetown Road.

Vehicle burglary. 11500 block Schuylkill Road (Randolph Hills).

Theft. Westfield Montgomery Mall.

Burglary. 11500 block Old Georgetown Road at 3:59 PM (Pike District).

CITIZENS: WHO KNEW WHAT, WHEN ABOUT MOCO TRANSIT AUTHORITY PROPOSAL? (PHOTOS)

Document as reuploaded January 28, 2015
A Powerpoint presentation reportedly delivered by Montgomery County officials to as-yet-unidentified groups - prior to public announcement of legislation that would permit creation of an unelected Transit Authority with taxing powers last Friday - has been taken down, and reuploaded to the County website with a January 2015 date added.

While there is nothing necessarily nefarious about the change, it certainly plays into the existing controversy over the timeline of to whom the plan was disclosed to and when, prior to last Friday. There is a dispute between County officials, and citizens who oppose the plan, as to whether development interests had more notice of the plan details than residents. The latter only got their first look at the specifics of the proposal 6 days ago.

The change was reported by the Stop the Backroom Montco Transit Authority Deal Facebook page, operated by citizens organizing to fight the proposed new transit agency and taxing authority.

Previously, the document was dated "December 2014," a date prior to the January 23, 2015 public announcement of the Independent Transit Authority legislation and details.
Original date stamp
Patrick Lacefield, Montgomery County Director of Public Information responded to the blog prior to yesterday's date stamp change. He asserted that the Powerpoint presentation had been delivered to "a whole range of community organizations" since County Executive Ike Leggett's Inaugural Address December 1, 2014.

The County has not yet published a list of the "community organizations" to which the presentation was made. If your civic association, organization or business group received the presentation, please comment below or confidentially via email. I personally never heard any public announcement of a presentation that could either be attended, or requested to be delivered to a civic association or group, during the time period in question.

A public hearing on the state legislation that would permit creation of the Transit Authority will be held Friday, January 30, at 6:00 PM in the 3rd Floor hearing room of the County Council building at 100 Maryland Avenue. Those interested in testifying can sign up online by 12 PM on Friday.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

RENOVATION PROPOSAL FOR CAROLINE FREELAND PARK IN BETHESDA (PHOTOS)

The Montgomery County Department of Parks has prepared a "Preferred Plan" for the renovation of Caroline Freeland Park at Arlington Road and Elm Street, in downtown Bethesda. Incorporating citizen feedback, the plan is the latest step in the process that will lead to a final proposal, and then a presentation to the Montgomery County Planning Board. The public will be able to comment at that Planning Board meeting, which will be held at a yet-to-be-determined date this spring.
Proposed main entrance
Planners are attempting to make the park more inviting with a new main entrance design, and "soft moonlighting" to improve safety after dark. Highlights of the proposed changes and upgrades also include:
An unobstructed green space
Protect existing shade trees in
this Elm Street grove, and keep paved
areas out of trees' root spans
Upgrade and expand the
popular playground area
Maintain an adequate buffer with
the residential neighborhood behind
the park
Relocate the park's landmark
sculpture further inside the park
You can view the full Preferred Plan, and the department's presentation to Edgemoor residents last week, online. If you want to reach out to the project's manager with feedback, or ask questions, you can email Lucas Bonney, or call 301-495-2572.

Images courtesy Montgomery County Department of Parks

ASSAULT ON STRATHMORE HALL ST., WISCONSIN AVE. THEFTS + MORE - BETHESDA CRIME UPDATE

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

Theft. 7400 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Theft. 8100 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Theft. 6800 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Assault. 10300 block Strathmore Hall Street at 7:35 PM.

Theft. 7100 block Democracy Boulevard.

HOGAN RETAINS MOCO DEMOCRAT AS DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan continues to make bipartisan overtures toward Montgomery County, this time in another personnel decision that retains one of MoCo's most-prominent Democrats in his administration. As first reported by Maryland politics blog Seventh State, Hogan is keeping Kensington Mayor Peter Fosselman as Deputy Secretary of State.

Fosselman has served in the role for nearly four years, and has been Mayor of Kensington since 2006.

JBG PLACES 7900 WISCONSIN/TRADER JOE'S PROJECT ON HOLD IN BETHESDA

The speculation as to when construction will begin on the JBG Companies' 7900 Wisconsin mixed-use project continues. But JBG has just informed adjoining property owners at Fairmont Plaza that the project is now temporarily on hold, while the development firm seeks a joint partner.

On JBG's to-do list during this delay is obtaining a construction loan, and naming a general contractor for the project. As a result, the firm expects construction to now start in June or July, at the earliest. Previously, the plan was to begin demolitions of existing structures on the property this month. The anchor retail tenant at 7900 is expected to be a Trader Joe's grocery store.
Market = Trader Joe's
What has led to some speculation is the matter of Fitness First, a gym tenant in the existing Wisconsin Avenue office building on the property. Fitness First has not only publicly said it has a lease until 2019, but recently began a expansion of its facility - not something a business would ordinarily do if it was going to be demolished in 2015. At the same time, JBG has maintained all along that it has the right to demolish that structure, even having applied for demolition permits from Montgomery County last year. Next door to Fitness First, Parvizian Fine Rugs has said its space is being demolished, and it is moving down Wisconsin Avenue and remaining in Bethesda.

Among concerns expressed by residents of Fairmont Plaza are traffic flow around the affected streets, and ensuring access to the condominium building's parking garage remains unobstructed during construction.

One aspect of this project not in question, is that it will bring some distinctive and impressive architecture to this currently-dead space along Woodmont Avenue.

Renderings via Montgomery County Planning Department/JBG
All rights reserved by JBG

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

STOUFFER'S TURKEY TETRAZZINI REVIEW (VIDEO)

Today I have a special review for the Blizzard of 2015. New York City and Boston are snowed in, and what better time to review a dish that was originally invented at the Knickerbocker Hotel on 42nd Street? Turkey Tetrazzini is part of the Classics line from a classic name in dining and frozen food from the great city of Cleveland, Ohio - Stouffer's. Does the Stouffer's recipe do justice to this over-100-year-old dish? Watch my review to find out, and learn a bit of history about the creation of this dish along the way. There may not be 3 feet of snow in Bethesda, but it's still a perfect day for a hot meal like this.

DISORDER ON ST. ELMO AVE., THEFT ON CHEVY CHASE DR. + MORE - BETHESDA CRIME UPDATE

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on January 24, according to crime data:

Theft from vehicle. 5400 block Wilson Lane.

Theft. 4900 block Elm Street.

Theft. 4800 block Chevy Chase Drive.

Assault. 11500 block Rockville Pike at 2:26 AM (Pike District).

Disorderly conduct. St. Elmo Avenue at Old Georgetown Road.

Liquor arrest. 5800 block Cheshire Drive.

Theft. 7100 block Democracy Boulevard.

SHAM OF THE CENTURY: MONTGOMERY COUNTY INDEPENDENT TRANSIT AUTHORITY SET TO BILK TAXPAYERS

FIGUREHEAD AUTHORITY
WITH 
UNLIMITED TAXING
POWER IS 
TAXATION WITHOUT 
REPRESENTATION

I told you this was coming back in 2012, and now it's here. A new tax that will cost many Bethesda homeowners around $1000-1500+ a year has been planned by Montgomery County since that time. But the problem they've faced is, how to introduce the largest across-the-board tax increase in County history, but avoid the political damage to themselves?

Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich has previously suggested having developers pay the cost for the $5 billion boondoggle known as Bus Rapid Transit, given that the system will generate more real estate developer profits than actual riders - even according to County planner Larry Cole' original ridership estimates (before he got a good talking-to from the MoCo political machine, and hastily revised his numbers).

If you follow county politics, home of the $72 million tax-cut for developers in White Flint, you know that developers aren't going to pay for this. You, the taxpayer will foot the bill, even as you deal with the traffic worsened by BRT taking lanes from cars on MD 355 and Georgia Avenue, reducing capacity on those already-jammed roads by 33%.

But how to do this politically? After all, the BRT is such a weak project, it qualifies for no federal funding, and proponents have been unable to identify or procure a single penny to build it.

Introducing the Montgomery County Independent Transit Authority.

While no one was paying attention, MoCo elected officials did a run-around the public. First they hid a state bill that would give them authority to create this Independent Taxing, er, Transit Authority. Then, after the deadline for bills from the Montgomery County Delegation, the bill was snuck in.

No public hearing. No public announcement.

The only way I found out about it, was that I was signed up for a County email list, and received a fact sheet on a Friday afternoon - and if you're in the PR and politics business, you know that's the time of the week that politicians dump something they want the public to ignore.

More secrecy. An unannounced public hearing will be held by the same delegation that hid this unlimited tax-hike bill from you for weeks, this Friday in Rockville, a mere 7 days after the bill's existence was even made public. It only exists on this website if you do a Google search, and 99% of the public doesn't even know it should look for it at all. It's outrageous.

What will Bill MC 24-15 do?

Not all of the implications are even know or understood by the public yet.

Here's what's known so far:

The bill will permit creation of a 5-member Independent Taxing Authority board. Those 5 members will be chosen by County Executive Ike Leggett, subject to approval by the County Council. They will have the power to raise taxes on everyone, including the poorest residents of the county. In fact, residents in places like Poolesville, Westbard, Potomac, and Damascus - who won't even have BRT to use in their areas - will have to pay the tax, too.

Most significantly, there is no limit to the amount of taxes the ITA could raise, even within one year. Leggett's Rapid Transit Task Force recommended a 15% property tax hike, which is what would lead to yearly payments in the hundreds of dollars for even those who own condos in older buildings, or more than a thousand a year for those in luxury condos and McMansions.

And as unelected officials, they are entirely unaccountable to the voters. Of course, that's the brilliance of this scheme, in that the County Council and Executive will be able to shirk the blame for higher taxes off onto this hatchet team that can be as mean and nasty as they want, without any threat of removal from the public.

That is Taxation without Representation.

But wait, it gets worse. Check out Line 6 of Page 4, and Line 7 of Page 7 of MC 24-15/House Bill 104, and you find out that not only would this Transit Authority be able to take on unlimited debt, but that the County can even shift debt and financial obligations to it. Theoretically, the County Council could transfer the "assets and obligations" of any boondoggle or pet project - including the Silver Spring Transit Center - to this body. And you would be stuck with the bill, while the County Council avoids having to be the body raising your taxes to pay for it, and gets to spend more money on its sugar daddies, the developers.

That makes the ITA a virtually unlimited vehicle to raise taxes and blow the County budget even beyond its already-ridiculous $5 billion proportions. And there will be absolutely nothing you can do to stop it.

According to Line 10 of Page 5 in HB 104, the ITA will not have to submit its capital and operating budgets for approval to the County.  To quote directly from the bill:

(6) Establish a budget process for the Transit Authority that:

II. May not require the Transit Authority to submit its capital or its operating budget to the County for approval. 

That directly contradicts claims that the County Council will have approval authority over its budgets.

But, wait, there's more.

Not only would the ITA be exempt from the "Ficker Amendment" to the County Charter, which provides what little restraint exists on the amount of taxes the County can raise in any year, but it gets even worse. According to 6C and 6D on Page 5 of HB 104, no amendment could be made to the Charter in the future that would restrict or cap the amount of revenue the ITA could raise at any time.

Meaning that, even if an activist like Robin Ficker were to collect signatures to get such an amendment on the ballot, it could not be applicable to the ITA.

While the tax issues may be the most blatantly abusive and offensive in this power grab, there are other provisions that must be examined, as well.

The ITA would have de facto eminent domain authority, and the ability to demolish homes and businesses. That raises the specter of the quiet plans to demolish 155 homes and businesses along Georgia Avenue between Olney and Wheaton for a BRT line. Don't like it? Too bad, the ITA is unelected, and would not be thrown out in the next election by angry residents (assuming they still had a house to reside in). And assuming a board member with ties to developers was appointed to the ITA (such as Mark Winston's ethically-questionable role on Leggett's Rapid Transit Task Force), the body could wheel and deal in the real estate market with public money, and developers could acquire private or County land at sweetheart prices, among other potential abuses.

There would also be a currently-undisclosed bureaucracy of new government employees who would be hired for the Authority, with the high-ticket pay and benefits one expects from Montgomery County. With many County departments currently understaffed for financial reasons, where would the money for that come from? From you, of course.

Who voted for this now-you-don't-see-it-now-you-do MC 24-15 bill?

Thanks to the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, that information is available.

In Bethesda, Delegates Bill Frick, Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman all voted to approve this "late-filed" legislation. In Rockville, Delegates Kumar Barve, James Gilchrist, and Andrew Platt all voted YEA, as well.

Worst of all, this bill has all the wrong priorities. Completing our unfinished master plan highway system would move the most people for far less money. Yet this ITA would do nothing for highways, or even to repair the ones we already have. In fact, it will use dirty tactics to fund a BRT system that would actually reduce highway capacity, and that the vast majority of residents oppose.

MC 24-15/HB 104 must be stopped. One citizen group is already organizing against it, and there is a Change.org petition online. The gumption of the county's elected officials is something to marvel at, given they just got walloped by Maryland voters who rose up in a tax revolt, of all things.

With all of the leeway in this legislation, $1000 per Bethesda resident per year could be just the starting point for the Independent Taxing Authority.

What's in your wallet?

Monday, January 26, 2015

SNOW BEGINS TO STICK TO ROADS - BETHESDA SNOW UPDATE + FORECAST

The current temperature in Bethesda is 30° F, and snow is now beginning to stick to and accumulate on roadways. Expect light snow to continue through 7:00 AM tomorrow morning, with the total amount ranging up to 3", according to the National Weather Service.  Temperatures will drop to 27°, and winds will be north at 9-13 MPH, with gusts up to 25.

Trucks are applying chemicals to local roads, such the convoy that traveled along Woodmont Avenue moments ago in the photo below.

Transit is operating here, but Amtrak is on a modified schedule along the Northeast Corridor this evening.

Stay tuned to @BethesdaRow on Twitter for updates throughout the storm.

THEFT AT BARNES & NOBLE, VEHICLE BREAK-INS IN PIKE DISTRICT + MORE - BETHESDA CRIME UPDATE

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on January 23, according to crime data:

Theft. Barnes & Noble at Bethesda Row.

Theft. 6800 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Burglary. 5500 block Friendship Boulevard.

Burglary. Unit block of W. Irving Street (Chevy Chase Village).

Vehicle burglary. 9400 block Old Georgetown Road.

Theft. 10400 block Old Georgetown Road.

Theft. DSW Warehouse (Georgetown Square shopping center vicinity).

Theft. 6900 block Heatherhill Road (Bannockburn Estates).

Vehicle burglary. 5500 block Executive Boulevard (Pike District).

Vehicle burglary. 11400 block Woodglen Drive (Pike District).

Vehicle burglary. 5100 block Nicholson Lane (Pike District).

Vehicle burglary. Westfield Montgomery Mall.

Theft. 7100 block Democracy Boulevard.

Theft. 10400 block Motor City Drive (Westfield Montgomery Mall area).

BETHESDA CONSTRUCTION UPDATE: NAPLES RISTORANTE E PIZZERIA OPENING IN APRIL (PHOTOS)

Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria e Bar, a New York City import coming to Westfield Montgomery Mall, is getting closer to firming up its opening date. April is now the target, according to the company, which is currently seeking its head chef. Meanwhile on site, construction of their space continues, one of the most prominent in the mall's new dining terrace addition. Here's a sneak peek inside:




REPORT: 7770 NORFOLK SIGNS FIRST TENANT; COMMUNITY RESTAURANT TO OPEN THIS FALL IN BETHESDA

Exclusive

The JBG Companies may have addressed some downtown Bethesda residents' wishes that the ground floor of its future 7770 Norfolk apartment tower not be a dead zone at night. DC dining expert Don Rockwell tells me the 17-story mixed-use project has signed a restaurant tenant called Community.

Currently expected to open this fall, Community's menu will be centered around American comfort food, including all-day breakfast and specialty burgers. It will also be open late, and feature themed dinner nights.

7770 Norfolk is currently under construction by Clark Construction, which recently celebrated the topping-out of the mixed-use project at the corner of Norfolk and Fairmont Avenues. The building is expected to be fully-completed by late 2015.

It sounds like this project could help replace the after-business-hours activity of Foong Lin and other tenants that previously resided on the corner 7770 now occupies. Bold Bite has been the only after-hours draw on Fairmont since BlackFinn closed last year. Let's hope the Bainbridge across Fairmont can come up with a similar tenant, to help reactivate that block of Fairmont.

BETHESDA SNOW UPDATE AND WEATHER FORECAST #DC #JUNO

Umbrellas will likely be more useful than shovels this morning. Bethesda and the DC area are not expected to experience the blizzard conditions and snowfall totals projected for points north like New York City tonight. Precipitation here will be a mix of rain and snow through this morning and afternoon, with a midday high of 37° F making rain the predominant thing falling. But expect roads to be slick when the temperature hits freezing around 9:00 PM tonight, as snow showers will dominate from then through the Tuesday morning rush.

The National Weather Service expects Winter Storm Juno to drop 3-6" of snow on the region by Tuesday, but it will likely be 3" or less in the Bethesda area.