Monday, November 20, 2017

Bethesda construction update: Bethesda Porsche at Pike & Rose (Photos)

The new Bethesda Porsche dealership building is turning heads on Rockville Pike. Nearing the finish line at Pike & Rose, the new building will house Rockville Porsche, which will move down the Pike and get a name change with even more cache. The curved, modern lines of the building stand out from the typical boxy car dealership you find along the Pike. It does look like a building you might find in the former West Germany, very appropriately. At night, you can get the full effect of the lighting.

Flexy opens at Westfield Montgomery Mall (Photos)

Flexy has a gift with your name on it. Or the name of the person you're giving it to. The gift shop has just opened its doors in the former Radio Shack space on Level 2 of Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. Choose your image, message or design, and they will personalize it on the product of your choice while you wait. Items include t-shirts, hats and baseball caps.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Bethesda construction update: My Eye Dr. (Photos)

My Eye Dr. is getting ready to move from Bethesda Row to nearby 4917 Elm Street. This used to be home to Bethesda Barbecue Company before it went out of business two years ago. The property owner has split the space into two; the other side will be The Halal Guys. It is technically part of the Shoppes of Bethesda.

Existing Bethesda Row location
at 7254 Woodmont Avenue

Bethesda to become a Winter Wonderland again December 2, 2017

Bethesda's Woodmont Triangle will be transformed into a Winter Wonderland once again on Saturday, December 2, 2017, courtesy of Bethesda Urban Partnership and 97.1 WASH FM. Stop by Veterans Park at the intersection of Norfolk and Woodmont Avenues that day between 1:00 and 4:00 PM, for live ice sculpting and the always-popular visit from Santa Claus himself.
Live music performance at
the 2016 Winter Wonderland
In addition to radio sponsor 97.1 WASH FM, holiday music will be provided by choral groups from the following local schools: Academy of the Holy Cross, Chevy Chase Elementary School, Georgetown Preparatory School, Our Lady of Lourdes, Seneca Valley High School, Washington Episcopal School and Westbrook Elementary School.

The event is free, and there will be free treats and crafts for children.

Top photo: Robert Dyer
Middle photo: Bethesda Urban Partnership

Saturday, November 18, 2017

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Bethesda Row

Christmas decorations are going up at Bethesda Row. Already now in place is the main Christmas tree, located on Bethesda Lane.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Amazon Books store to open at Bethesda Row, will include a cafe

Bethesda Row will get another bookstore, even if it's not an equal to the departing Barnes & Noble. Amazon Books will take over the current Urban Country space at 7117 Arlington Road next year, according to a statement from Federal Realty (Urban Country will move next door). The 6063 SF space cannot possibly hold the selection of books that Barnes & Noble did, but the store will give those wanting to hang out for a while a new cafe to do so in.

Not all Amazon Books stores have cafes, so we are fortunate to be getting one. Each store's cafe varies in coffee branding. One in New York offers Stumptown Roasters, while a West Coast location serves Peet's Coffee. Other unique features to the store will include a display below each book showing its rating and review blurb on, and a "Highly Rated" table that is usually prominently placed at the entrance.

Another section of the store will show off Amazon's electronic devices, such as the Echo and Kindle. Bibliophiles will likely be disappointed with the trendy and limited selection of books. I wouldn't expect to find myself in line behind David Brooks at Amazon Books (as has happened at Barnes & Noble). Maybe Wolf Blitzer.

Photo courtesy Amazon

Artena Bethesda apartment tower plans unveiled (Photos)

Rendering of the Artena Bethesda; the
white shapes on either side are 8008 Wisconsin (L)
and 7900 Wisconsin, neighboring projects
Developers Plank, Inc. and Aksoylu Properties - and their attorney, Bob Dalrymple - unveiled plans for a 17-story apartment tower at 8000 Wisconsin Avenue at a required public meeting last night in Bethesda. The Artena Bethesda will have 441 rental units, 25% of which will be MPDUs. Units will be primarily 1 or 2 bedrooms, with a few 3-bedrooms mixed in. Artena's ground floor will boast 50000 SF of retail and restaurant space, and an underground garage will hold about 300 parking spaces.

Sandwiched tightly between Toll Brothers' future 8008 Wisconsin condo tower and JBG Smith's under-construction 7900 Wisconsin project, Artena Bethesda will rise on the assembled lots of 7938-8000 Wisconsin and 8011 Woodmont Avenue. It also includes the public parking lot on the Woodmont side. Bethesda Chocolates will stay where it is, becoming the "hole in the doughnut," Dalrymple said.

Dalrymple said the building facade will be slanted on the Wisconsin side to create articulation, but that the Woodmont side's multiple facades will make the building stand out more by itself, rather than a solid wall effect. Room will be left for a bus rapid transit lane in front of the building, as well as a potential BRT station at Wisconsin and Cordell. The developers don't yet know if the BRT station length will impact their property, as "County and State are short on details" right now, Dalrymple explained.

No promises were made about having a covered sidewalk on Wisconsin during construction. Dalrymple said the State of Maryland is not keen on covered sidewalks. The 7900 Wisconsin project next door has just such a covered sidewalk, however.

Dalrymple said the partners hope to break ground by the end of 2019. If that goes as planned, he added, construction would take about 18-24 months. Delivery would be expected by mid-2021, he said.

One resident attending the meeting questioned the lack of green space in the plans. Dalrymple said the team hopes their park payment to the County will be spent wisely in the vicinity of their building. He noted it is in their best interest, marketing-wise, for that area to become an appealing place people want to live.

Montgomery County Council clueless in meeting with Maryland transportation official

Another clueless performance by the Montgomery County Council in a transportation meeting yesterday has many in the business community questioning their fitness for office. In a failed attempt to dress down Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's transportation secretary Pete Rahn, their politically-motivated meeting ended up instead exposing how poorly-informed the Council is on the basics of modern infrastructure, its operation, and financing.

Councilmembers repeatedly demanded "transit" be part of Hogan's massive Express Lanes plan for the Capital Beltway, I-270 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. They were unaware that it is standard practice for regular and rapid buses to use Express Lanes on highways.

Council President Roger Berliner asked Rahn if he could "fold in" the stalled Corridor Cities Transitway BRT project into the $9 billion dollar Express Lanes project. This was patently absurd for two reasons: The CCT runs on a completely different route than I-270, for starters. And the CCT, like all bus and rail service, will be a money-loser; transit does not generate profits like Express Lanes. What sane private corporation would try to combine the potentially-narrow profit margin of these particular Express Lanes with a surefire money drain like the CCT?

Finally, Councilmember George Leventhal showed how out of touch he is with his constituents when he advised Rahn that the more transit is part of the Express Lanes plan, "the more it will be easier (sic) to assuage our constituents." Huh? His constituents, tired of being stuck in traffic, want the popular Express Lanes plan proposed by Hogan. Leventhal should listen to voices beyond the yes-men in his office before daring to speak on behalf of his constituents.

Rahn, in contrast, demonstrated he has his finger on the pulse of frustrated Maryland drivers. His only misstep was waffling on how much the project might end up costing taxpayers, off-message with Hogan's promise that private companies would take on the financial burden.

Business leaders watching the hearing - and Montgomery's moribund private-sector economy and plunging wealth numbers - were reminded of a similar amateur-hour performance by the Council earlier this fall. In a worksession on autonomous vehicles, councilmembers showed a laughable lack-of-knowledge of the basic nuts-and-bolts of this now-arriving technology.  Many referred to autonomous vehicles as a futuristic fantasy, apparently unaware that Tesla vehicles on the road right now have fully-autonomous capability. The Council also didn't know how the cars might be insured. As more evidence that the Council hadn't even done the most basic research ahead of the session, they didn't know Volvo had just announced it would take on drivers' insurance liability itself.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Bradley Party & Variety burglarized in Bethesda (Video)

Bradley Party & Variety was burglarized by a man on August 26, 2017 around 1:30 PM. The suspect entered the store in the Bradley Shopping Center like any other customer, Montgomery County police say. But then he snuck into an employees-only area in the back of the store, broke through a locked door, and stole money. He then walked out the front entrance of the store, but not before his heist was caught on a surveillance camera.

Anyone who recognizes the suspect or has information about this burglary is asked to contact the 2nd District Investigative Section at 240-773-6710.  To be eligible for a reward, tipsters may call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477) or enter a tip online. Crime Solvers will pay a cash reward of up to $10,000 for information provided to them that leads to an arrest and/or indictment of the suspects.  Tipsters will remain anonymous.

First sign of Kia Stinger Salon in Bethesda

It looks like the Kia Stinger holiday pop-up at Westfield Montgomery Mall will be on Level 1 near Macy's. Kia is calling the pop-up a Stinger Salon. According to a source, Kia is following the model of Tesla Motors, by operating the pop-up as a non-sales showroom.
Kia Stinger already on-display
inside the mall
A "Stinger Salon Vehicle Presenter" will greet customers - termed as "guests" a la Target - and introduce them to the Stinger luxury sports sedan. Test drives will be offered on-site, or by appointment at your home or office. Each market around the country will have special offers and promotions during the holidays.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Springfield Civic Association election results

Brent Mickum
The Springfield Civic Association elected new officers last night in Bethesda. Brent Mickum, who supports the lawsuit against Montgomery County regarding the Westbard sector plan, is the association's new President. Cynthia Green was elected 1st Vice-President. All other candidates on the ballot won easily, as they were unopposed. Springfield is the community most-directly affected by the planned redevelopment of Westbard Avenue and Ridgefield Road by developer Regency Centers.

Regency Centers to amend their Westbard plans

Developer Regency Centers will amend the plans submitted to Montgomery County for approval by their predecessor, Equity One, according to outgoing Springfield Civic Association President Phyllis Edelman. Edelman said that the developer met privately with Springfield officers, and other nearby neighborhood associations, recently. Regency representatives told them they are "looking at modifying the plans that Equity One submitted," she said.

Edelman said that Springfield, which will be the neighborhood most heavily-impacted by the construction of the 22+ acre megaproject, emphasized 3 priorities it would like to see in the amended plan: Less density, retaining the proposed realignment of Westbard Avenue, and construction of the Willett Branch Greenway park.

Regency is expected to file its amended plan, which it will reveal at a public meeting, in January. It is unknown if the company will use the new filing to extricate itself from the PR disaster over its plan with the County Housing Opportunities Commission to build a parking garage on top of an African-American cemetery by Westwood Tower. Should the amendments be substantive enough, a new public hearing before the Planning Board will be required for its approval.

Barnes & Noble sets tentative exit date at Bethesda Row

Barnes & Noble has tentatively set the date of January 11, 2018 to vacate its space at Bethesda Row, according to Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center Director Ken Hartman. The chain will still have a relatively-nearby store at another Federal Realty property, Montrose Crossing in the Pike District.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Westbard Self Storage site plan mentions cemetery, and it's not reassuring

The proposed site plan for the Westbard Self Storage development behind the McDonald's on River Road has been released, and it includes a notation in the bottom right corner on the African-American cemetery that extends onto that property from Westwood Tower. Anything it mentions regarding the controversial cemetery issue is significant. Despite initial promises of full cooperation, and good faith intentions by the original landowner, to my knowledge the self-storage company has not yet given the green light for an independent archaeological study on their portion of the burial ground.

The site plan notation reads:


The Applicant is dedicating P177 to the governmental entity to which the applicant is directed to dedicate the land. The dedication will be effected by including the dedication on the subdivision record plat. With respect to the development of the IM zoned land, the applicant will follow all applicable laws concerning cemeteries, including the procedures if human remains are found, under Title 10, Section 10.402 of the Maryland code, criminal, Office of Cemetery Oversight found in the code of Maryland regulations, and any applicable Montgomery County laws."

What this says, at face value, is that no independent study by the Macedonia Baptist Church is envisioned before moving forward with the dedication and construction. Moreover, the portion being dedicated to the County would then be under its total control. So there is a danger that a lesser study, such as the one Regency Centers and Planning Director Gwen Wright were attempting to haphazardly and quickly complete in a few weeks(!) earlier this year. Or no study at all.

On the buildable portion of their land, the self-storage company will only have to comply with the weak County and State laws regarding cemeteries, and "if human remains are found," they can be relocated with the approval of the County's corrupt Planning Board.

Now, whether there are any remains on the portion of the land where the self-storage building will be is unclear. However, given the possibility that some of the bodies buried were illegally moved and reburied a short distance away by the WSSC, when they relocated the Willett Branch Stream in the late 1950s, there's certainly a chance that remains might be found with any excavation performed just outside the recorded property lines of the cemetery.

There are definitely bodies on the section of land the self-storage company is dedicating to the County. While this is a small section compared to the rest of the cemetery by Westwood Tower, this project and the rules being established on its handling of the cemetery will have to be addressed sooner rather than later.