Monday, May 23, 2016

Sex offense on Chestnut St., burglary on Huntington Parkway + more - Bethesda crime update

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

Theft. 7800 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Other sexual offense. 4400 block Chestnut Street.

Theft. Medical Center Metro.

Burglary. 5600 block Huntington Parkway.

Theft. 8700 block Preston Place.

Vehicle burglary. 3700 block Stewart Driveway.

Drug arrest. 7100 block Whittier Boulevard.

Vehicle burglary. 5100 block King Charles Way.

Theft. 5900 block Ipswich Road.

Assault. 10400 block Old Georgetown Road.

Vehicle burglary. Federal Plaza (Pike District).

Tower crane installed at Stonehall Bethesda condo site (Photos)

Assembly of the tower crane at the Stonehall Bethesda luxury condo construction site is now complete. The process required temporary closure of Woodmont Avenue between Wisconsin Avenue and Battery Lane over the weekend.

The 46-unit building will include a club room and rooftop terrace when completed in 2017. Duball, LLC is the developer.
The crane can be seen in the
distance from Woodmont Avenue
further south

Montgomery County planning massive tax-cut for developers as they raise taxes on you

This Thursday, Montgomery County will raise your taxes to the highest level ever. And next week, they will discuss the biggest developer tax cut ever. 


On Thursday, the Montgomery County Council is expected to unanimously approve an FY-2017 budget that raises your taxes to a record, all-time high. It will include a property tax hike so massive, it required a unanimous vote by the Council last week to exceed the County's charter limit on property taxes. And it will hike the recordation tax you will pay when selling your home, or even just refinancing your mortgage. Notably, the budget shifts the cost of school construction from developers to taxpayers.

But the Council isn't done helping developers, who account for over 80% of councilmembers' campaign contributions, yet.

The Montgomery County Planning Department is now proposing a massive tax cut for developers.

That is not a misprint.

Just as the County has rejiggered its traffic congestion measurements to reduce taxes for developers, now the County political cartel is proposing to do the same for school capacity and construction costs.

Three key school funding equations would be changed under the planning staff's recommendations, and would result in developer tax cuts up to 59.4%!

Here's how the scam will work:
New math will make it
appear fewer students
are being generated
by new development
First, much like the "new math" planners now legally use to make failing intersections and overburdened roads appear to pass traffic tests, planners are proposing to change the equation for student generation rates. The "new math" will base the forecast only on housing built in the last ten years, which will - surprise! - slash the student generation rate significantly (anybody remember a little thing called "The Great Recession"?). Just a quick glance at the "before and after" colored bars in the graph above shows you just how drastic the change will be (green represents the number of students forecast under the proposed new math).
Massive developer tax cut
number one
The new, lower student generation rate will be combined with a biennial recalculation of school construction costs, to - surprise again! - massively slash school facility payments for developers. For example, the elementary school payment for a mid-rise apartment unit is currently $2,838. Under the new tax cut, that ES payment would drop to $1,495. How about a high-rise payment for the high school level in Bethesda, Silver Spring or Rockville? It will absolutely plunge from $804 to $394.

Sounds like a sweet deal, right? "But, wait - there's more!"
Massive developer tax cut
number two
Impact taxes developers pay will also be lowered under the new biennial formula. As the planning staff acknowledge in their report, under the new formula, "all School Impact Taxes will decrease." The mid-rise apartment building school impact tax per unit would drop from $12,765 to an astoundingly cheap $4,659.

In an additional proposed change, the current .9 multiplier in the school impact tax would be removed. This would preserve the type of massive tax cuts proposed for all but single-family homes. Which would also further discourage developers from building single-family homes, which cannot be built in the same density as townhomes and apartment buildings, and therefore generate fewer students on a lot of the same size than multi-family housing.

Think back to recent development fights in places like Westbard, downtown Bethesda, Rock Spring, White Oak and Lyttonsville, as well as the Adequate Public Facilities battle royale in the City of Rockville. At the outset of many of those discussions, the County Council and Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson told us they were going to "start a conversation" about how they could allow the massive development their developer supporters wanted, and somehow provide the infrastructure that would be required to support it.

Would you have imagined at that time that the plan was actually a ruse to open up the formulas and instead give those same developers a massive tax cut?

Well, if you read my blog back then, you might have known something was up.

It's unlikely anyone has any doubts about how arrogant and patronizing the County Council and Planning Board are at this point. You can be sure there's much "mansplaining" ahead from both, as they try to educate us to understand schemes and treachery - er, sorry, "Subdivision Staging Policy" - so complex it is simply beyond the small mind of you, the citizen.

Are you ready for term limits yet?

The Planning Board is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposals, and the rest of the SSP, on June 2, 2016.

So, to summarize, this Thursday, Montgomery County will raise your taxes to the highest level ever. And next week, they will discuss the biggest developer tax cut ever. You can't make this stuff up, folks! This is what happens when you have a political cartel where government policy is for sale to the highest bidder. And more than 80% of the money is coming from developers.

Res ipsa loquitur.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Assault at The Promenade, theft from vehicle in Green Acres + more - Bethesda crime update

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

Vehicle burglary. 5400 block Bradley Boulevard.

Theft from vehicle. 5000 block Smallwood Drive (Green Acres).

Assault. The Promenade (Pooks Hill).

Assault. 5700 block Grosvenor Lane.

Assault. 9900 block Montauk Avenue at 1:27 PM.

Gusto Italian Grill applies for liquor license in Bethesda

Gusto Italian Grill has applied for a liquor license from Montgomery County, to serve beer, wine and spirits. Their hearing will be on June 16. Gusto is located at 4733 Elm Street in downtown Bethesda.

Kneipp coming to Westfield Montgomery Mall; Sephora moving (Photos)

It's not often Bethesda retail signage features a priest. But Father Sebastian Kneipp is making a cameo appearance on Coming Soon signage for his namesake store at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. Kneipp USA will be moving into the former Bose space on Level 2.

A German naturopath afflicted with tuberculosis in the 19th Century, Fr. Kneipp used plants, herbs and hot and cold waters in the natural environment around him to cure himself. That made him quite a popular figure, and led to the retailing of natural bath and body treatments under the Kneipp brand.

The products are actually made in Germany, and include herbal baths that are natural treatments for back pain, stress and sleep issues, among other ailments.

Meanwhile, the reshuffling of stores on Level 2 continues with Sephora now scheduled to move to a new location in September. They will be on Level 2 next to Solstice.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Bethesda crime update

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

Theft from vehicle. 3700 block Thornapple Street.

Theft from vehicle. 4000 block Virginia Place.

Theft. 7100 block Democracy Boulevard.

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

Things are just getting started at the construction site of the future Cheval Bethesda ultra-luxury condos. The site has been cleared of demolition debris from the structures recently taken down there. You can see that quite a bit of grading work has been done.

Duball, LLC is the developer of the building, which is expected to deliver in 2017. The 17-story tower will house 72 condo units, and 7000 SF of non-residential space. Prices will be ultra-luxury tier indeed: From the $900,000s to over $2.5 million.

Update on Washington Gas project in Edgemoor neighborhood of Bethesda

Washington Gas, as of yesterday, has completed replacing its main lines under streets of the Edgemoor neighborhood in Bethesda marked in blue on the map above. One home is left to be completed on Fairfax Road in that area of the community.

Starting next Thursday (May 26, 2016) similar work will begin on: 1) Hampden Lane from Beverly Rd to Exeter Rd; 2) Denton Road from Hampden Lane to Elm St; and 3) Exeter Road from Hampden Ln to Elm St.

Other streets like Clarendon Road and Wessling Lane (any marked in yellow above) will have their mains replaced in a later phase of the project.

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation is simultaneously performing extensive concrete work replacing curbs, gutters and sidewalks that already exist in Edgemoor, and the roads will be resurfaced this fall once utility and concrete work has been completed. Concrete work is expected to end by late summer.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Tower crane going up at Stonehall Bethesda construction site (Photos)

The latest tower crane to take to the skies over downtown Bethesda is being assembled at the future site of the Stonehall Bethesda luxury condos at 8302 Woodmont Avenue. Blasting will be necessary there to break up bedrock, as I reported a few weeks ago. Time once again to brush up on your knowledge of crane signals.

MoCo Council budget: So easy, a caveman could do it

As Paul Harvey used to say: "And now...the rest of the story." While the Montgomery County political cartel is congratulating itself on the biggest heist of County residents' money in history, it is indeed time for the rest of the story on the Montgomery County Council's FY-2017 budget disaster.

Being sold as an "Education First" budget, it is in fact exactly like every other budget this Council has passed, except costing you a lot more than ever before. Forget that the Council has just robbed your bank account, or is slamming the working family trying to refinance their mortgage with a recordation tax. The budget that pulls off the 100 Maryland Avenue equivalent of The Italian Job promises to flush $90 million more down the Montgomery County Public Schools toilet, where schools have been in decline since 2010 according to the report by the Office of Legislative Oversight.

Great. But how does that make any sense without a definitively new plan to spend it? The budget will reduce class sizes by 1 or 2 students at some schools. It will add more auxiliary personnel, not actual teachers. But that's it. There's no new strategy to tackle the achievement gap here, just more expensive deck chairs being added to the Titanic.

Where is the universal Pre-K? Where are the additional early education initiatives? Where are the new partnerships with high-wage employers? Hint, none of these sure-fire solutions to the achievement gap are in this massive tax hike budget.

We will only have standardized tests to gauge student results at this point. I agree that testing has been oversold in recent decades. But, ironically, by recently dumbing down its grading system and eliminating final exams, MCPS has only now increased the importance of standardized test scores. If all of the classroom work is going to be graded with the new powder puff grading scale, grades are almost certain to rise across the board. That's not improvement, nor is it how education works. Outside of MCPS, such tactics are correctly termed, "cheating."

As far as school construction funds generated, note that the Council is raising those funds from you, not from the developers who are creating the need for more classrooms and schools. They didn't have the guts to go after the developers who provide 80% of their campaign funds, but they were eager and ready to pick your pocket.

Moreover, the Council has just dug us deeper into the structural deficit hole that we already had no immediate ability to climb out of. By going so far over the Maintenance of Effort requirement, we will now be required to match or exceed that level of spending next year, and in perpetuity. This was not leadership. It was a reckless, irresponsible vote passed to cover the Council's fiscal irresponsibility over the last two decades.

Did the Council make "history," as they claimed? Yes, in two regards: They have finally triggered the ultimate tax revolt, by unanimously voting to exceed the charter limit. The brilliance of the Ficker Amendment that created that cap is that each councilmember becomes the deciding vote when all 9 agree to exceed the cap.

And secondly, Council President Nancy Floreen made history by giving the longest speech regarding the passage of a budget I've ever heard. Ms. Floreen and her colleagues should probably save their "emotional" speeches for the 2018 election, when they have to actually face the voters.

Most disgustingly, the Council is the only player in this budget that slithers away with no skin in the game. They didn't give up any of their pet projects or spending that goes towards their political patrons. They sure as heck didn't give up any of the money they funnel to their developer puppet masters.

All they did was pick the pocket of the taxpayer, rob your bank account, and kneecap County employees by breaking signed labor contracts the Council had agreed to pay. Even a caveman could do that. I've heard complaints from individual teachers, first responders and other County employees. But where are the comments from union leaders in the County? Where's the outrage? This was a horrible deal, and a horrible precedent for labor. If you want to limit wages, that's something you proactively do when you negotiate and approve labor contracts. Breaking contracts is beyond the pale.

Being an incompetent councilmember, and then robbing the taxpayer and County employees to make up for it, is not leadership. It is not ingenious. It is not wise. It is cowardice. It is impotence. It is contempt for your constituents. It is a firing offense.

The term limit petition proposed for the ballot this fall may give voters the chance to give at least a few of the pink slips this Council so richly deserves.

Experimac opening in downtown Bethesda

The Apple Store at Bethesda Row is getting a new competitor over in the Woodmont Triangle. Experimac specializes in service and sales of pre-owned Apple computers, tablets and phones. They will offer same-day service, and in some cases, complete service on your device while you wait.

A focus on the service side of the business is what Experimac claims sets it apart from competitors. They also carry Apple/Mac accessories, and can upgrade your computer as well as fix it.

Experimac will be in the ground floor of the Bainbridge Bethesda apartment tower on Fairmont Avenue. The recent opening of Gold Leaf Bakery on the other side of the building appears to have given some momentum to the previously-stalled lease-up of its retail space.

I can imagine this would be an on-site amenity for Apple device owners who live in the building, as well.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Vehicle burglary on Rodman Rd., drug bust on Democracy Blvd. + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on May 16, according to crime data:

Theft. 4900 block Elm Street.

Vehicle burglary. 6900 block Woodside Place.

Theft. 7800 block Radnor Road.

Vehicle burglary. 3600 block Raymond Street.

Burglary. 6100 block Temple Street.

Vehicle burglary. 5000 block Rodman Road.

Theft. 11300 block Rockville Pike.

Drug arrest. Democracy Boulevard at I-270.

Miller & Long moving in downtown Bethesda

Miller & Long's tower cranes are a common sight in post-recession downtown Bethesda. One of the latest projects is hitting close to home for the construction firm - the site of its headquarters at 4824 Rugby Avenue.

The HQ is moving south in Bethesda, down to the recently-renovated 7101 Wisconsin Avenue office building. Their current offices on the future site of The Rugby apartment tower will soon be demolished to make way for that twin tower to the Gallery Bethesda apartments. Coincidentally, The Rugby's developer - The Donohoe Companies - recently moved offices into 7101 Wisconsin as well.

Harris Teeter hosting job fairs for new downtown Bethesda store

Just graduating from high school or college? Harris Teeter has just announced they are hiring for every position in their new downtown Bethesda store at 8300 Wisconsin Avenue.

They will be hosting two invitation-only job fairs on June 9 and June 23, 2016. Apply online, and they will contact you to let you know if you qualify for an interview at the job fairs.

The store is expected to open this summer.

Report: MoCo traffic congestion costing you $1834 per year

The failure of the Montgomery County Council to complete the County's master plan highway system is costing each resident an average of $1834 per year, according to a report released this week by the national transportation research non-profit TRIP. You lose about 82 hours a year idling in traffic jams, the report says, and the incomplete road network is costing Maryland $4.1 billion dollars a year in lost productivity and wasted fuel.

How much fuel? 85 million gallons. Which translates into significant additional pollutants and greenhouse gases that would not exist if traffic could keep moving smoothly.

According to the TRIP study, Montgomery County is home to the worst bottleneck in the state, at the Capital Beltway and I-270 spur in Bethesda. The Council's failure to build a planned Potomac River crossing north of the American Legion Bridge, and the Midcounty Highway Extended (M-83) - among other unbuilt freeways, creates traffic jams averaging 12.3 miles in length at the spur, lasting an average of 168 minutes per day there.

TRIP's latest numbers on vehicle miles traveled show most commuters still aren't "getting out of their cars." Vehicle miles traveled haven't declined in Maryland - in fact, they've increased: 12% since 2000, and 2% in the last 12 months alone. Metro ridership has declined over the same period. The report forecasts that VMT will increase another 20% by 2030, requiring new highway capacity to meet the demand. 

VMT increases almost 1% for every 1% of added population in Maryland, a damning statistic for those who claim that infinite growth is possible in Montgomery County.

Other County bottlenecks caused by unbuilt highways on TRIP's list include the Beltway at Connecticut Avenue (unbuilt Northwest Freeway, Outer Beltway, Rockville Freeway, I-95 through D.C.) in Kensington and the Beltway at Georgia Avenue (the unbuilt roads mentioned for the Connecticut exit, plus the unbuilt North Central Freeway and Northern Parkway) in Silver Spring. Multiple other I-270 interchanges made the list, as well.

The report notes that a 2013 survey of corporate executives found that Highway Accessibility is the top factor - after skilled labor - that firms consider when relocating their headquarters. Montgomery County has failed to attract a single major corporate headquarters in almost 20 years.

"Increasingly, companies are looking at the quality of a region’s transportation system when deciding where to re-locate or expand," the report says. "Regions with congested or poorly maintained roads may see businesses relocate to areas with a smoother, more efficient and more modern transportation system." Intelsat reportedly was considering moving its D.C. headquarters to 4500 East-West Highway in Bethesda, but ultimately chose Tysons with its superior highway access with Express Lanes, and direct highway access to Dulles Airport. In the near future, there will also be direct Metro access to Dulles from Tysons, to boot.

"Highways are vitally important to continued economic development in Maryland," the report argues, "particularly to the state’s tourism, agriculture, energy and manufacturing sectors."

The only good news in the report is that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's emphasis on addressing failing infrastructure appears to be bearing immediate fruit. There were 97 bridges rated "structurally-deficient" across the state in 2012; that number has fallen to 69 during Hogan's first term.

“From Governor Hogan’s $2 billion investment in highways and bridges to innovative projects and practical design, Maryland is committed to improving safety and reducing hours lost every day to congestion,” Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete K. Rahn said in a statement reacting to the TRIP report.

But without completing Montgomery County's master plan highway system, economic development and quality of life will continue to decline. “Without additional transportation funding, Maryland’s transportation system will become increasingly deteriorated and congested, the state will miss out on opportunities for economic growth, and quality of life will suffer,” TRIP Executive Director Will Wilkins said in a statement.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Pike & Rose as you've never seen it before (Photos)

Pinstripes building under
construction (at left)
Here's a view you can't likely get of the Phase 2 construction at Federal Realty's Pike & Rose development in North Bethesda, unless you own a drone or a helicopter. These photos were taken by Clark Construction from the tower crane high above the property.
Future apartment building
under construction along
Grand Park Avenue adjacent
to iPic and garage ramp
Porsche dealership under
construction at upper right
REI under construction (top)
on Rockville Pike; solar panels
atop Trade Street Garage
(bottom right)
Photos courtesy Federal Realty

Wood Acres ES addition complete in Bethesda

The addition at Wood Acres Elementary School at 5800 Cromwell Road in Bethesda is now complete. Construction workers have a few loose ends to tie up, including troubleshooting the fire alarm system. Fencing around the construction site is expected to be removed before the end of the Montgomery County Public Schools school year in June.

Eight new classrooms are the major benefit of the new rear wing, as well as the restoration of a dedicated music room. There are also new administrative offices, and an interior courtyard. Students will return here from the nearby interim campus for the fall semester.

There will temporarily be more room than expected, as a number of parents chose to pull their kids out of the school altogether, rather than have them bused over to the Radnor Center at 7000 Radnor Road. Before the addition, Wood Acres had 7 portable classrooms outside.

Schematic courtesy MCPS

Blue Bell Hair Salon & Spa opening in Lionsgate condo building in Bethesda (Photos)

This seems to be the week of beauty salon reveals in downtown Bethesda. First up on Monday was Phenix Salon at 4500 East-West Highway.

Now the second mystery salon in the ground floor of the Lionsgate condo building at 7710 Woodmont Avenue is known. Blue Bell Hair Salon & Spa is taking over the space that previously held a lingerie boutique.

There is no Facebook page or website yet for the salon.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Free smoothie today at Smoothie King in Bethesda

Enjoy a free smoothie today at Smoothie King in downtown Bethesda. Just stop by the shop at 4710 Bethesda Avenue today, May 17, 2016, between 11:00 AM and 7:00 PM.