Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Apex Building demolition shifts locations, allowing additional traffic lane to reopen in Bethesda

Workers demolishing the Apex Building at 7272 Wisconsin Avenue have moved to a different section of the structure. This allowed a second traffic lane to reopen on southbound Wisconsin Avenue in front of the building yesterday. The right southbound lane and sidewalk remain closed.

Toll Brothers seeks extension for WMAL tower site project in Bethesda

Developer Toll Brothers is asking the Montgomery County Planning Board to postpone review of its site plan for the WMAL radio transmitter site at 7115 Greentree Road in Bethesda. The company has proposed building 330 homes on the grassy site, which WMAL Radio's ownership has determined it no longer needs for signal transmission purposes.

Although a public hearing on the site plan must legally be held within 120 days of Toll Brothers' submission of the plan to the County on October 25, 2017, the company says there were too many issues raised by the County Development Review Commission. They cannot address all of these by the previously-scheduled hearing date of February 22, 2018. they said in a letter to planning staff.

Therefore, Toll is seeking a three-month extension, which would postpone the public hearing until May. Planning staff is recommending approval of the extension. The Board will take up the extension request at its January 25 meeting.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Apex Building demolition has SB Wisconsin Ave. down to one lane in Bethesda (Video+Photos)

Demolition of the Apex Building at 7272 Wisconsin Avenue has picked up speed, with about half of the structure having been knocked down at this point. Now that demolition is taking down the front portion of the building, traffic on southbound Wisconsin Avenue has been reduced to one lane.
This new view from Wisconsin Avenue
stopped me in my tracks for a moment - this
is what it used to look like up until the late 1980s

Old Georgetown Rd. Safeway to close in downtown Bethesda (Photos)

The Safeway store at 7625 Old Georgetown Road in downtown Bethesda will close in about two months, according to a store employee. Signs are posted around the store announcing a Closing Sale, with savings of 30% on many products at the moment. Safeway has two other locations in Bethesda, at 5000 Bradley Boulevard and at the Shops at Sumner Place at 4701 Sangamore Road.
This is a major blow to the Bethesda Place apartments, as well as to residents of the Lionsgate and Christopher condos, and nearby Element 28 and Metropolitan Apartments. Safeway was the closest grocery store to all of those buildings, in terms of walking distance. Hopefully a new grocery store or Walmart Market can be brought in to fill the vacuum.

Online reviews of this Safeway have been harsh, and like the Sangamore location, this store apparently hasn't discovered self-checkout machines exist yet. I'm still puzzled as to why Giant and Safeway leave all these empty checkout aisles that are never manned, instead of removing them for more inventory floor space.

Montgomery County has lost more than 2000 retail jobs since the year 2000, according to the Maryland Retailers Association.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Paladar closes in North Bethesda

Paladar has closed in the North Bethesda Market building, according to an email from the restaurant. Their Tysons and Gaithersburg locations remain open. They said the structure and layout of their space, and "building issues" in recent months, were to blame at the North Bethesda location.

SunTrust Bank in downtown Bethesda to move next month

The SunTrust Bank branch in the historic building at 7500 Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda will move next month to one of the newest buildings downtown. Its current location will close at noon on February 20, 2018. After a three-day moving process, the branch will reopen in its new home at 7535 Old Georgetown Road, in the ground floor of the Element 28 apartment tower, on February 23 at 9:00 AM.
If you need to go into a physical SunTrust branch during the closure, they are recommending the one at Chevy Chase Lake, at 8510 Connecticut Avenue. SunTrust also has a branch in the Westwood Shopping Center at 5450 Westbard Avenue, and in Chevy Chase at 4455 Willard Avenue.

Chelsea Manning to take on Ben Cardin in Maryland U.S. Senate Democratic primary

North Bethesda resident
would be first
transgender member of

What should have been a sleepy stagger over the finish line for Senator Ben Cardin (D - Maryland) has turned into a battle royale with national implications overnight. The Maryland Democratic political machine and Republicans alike melted down upon hearing Red Maryland report that Chelsea Manning has entered the race. Manning, a North Bethesda resident, is best known for her role in providing damaging information about U.S. actions and operations during the Iraq War to Wikileaks in 2010. She was serving as an Army intelligence analyst deployed to Iraq at the time.
Incumbent U.S. Senator
Ben Cardin (D-Maryland)
Cardin has essentially ignored Manning's announcement so far. He will have plenty of money, and remains very popular among Democrats, despite having no notable legislative achievements. Manning is making a clear appeal to progressives, in a state where the Democratic party's progressive wing is growing restless with the throwback leadership of their establishment. At the same time, many in both parties consider her a traitor whose actions disqualify her from office.

Manning can capitalize on national attention and money. The victory of Danica Roem in Virginia last November showed just how much national money was out there for a minor state legislative race. Manning would be the first transgender U.S. Senator, if elected. That's a strong selling point, when 2018 is expected to be another Year of the Woman in politics.

A campaign video and fundraising page have been posted by Manning's campaign in the last 24 hours.

Ourisman acquires Bethesda industrial site

An Ourisman entity, S.J. Ourisman, LLC, has acquired an industrial property off of River Road in Bethesda. 5420 Butler Road is directly across from an existing Ourisman Volkswagen service facility. The site is currently occupied by an industrial building that was converted into a sports training center about a decade ago. Ourisman paid a whopping $7,700,000 for the site, according to Maryland real estate records.

Longtime readers will recall that this property is the one through which I discovered an underground fuel spill eleven years ago, which had been covered up by Montgomery County and the State of Maryland. The previous property owner had received clearance to operate the sports facility from the Maryland Department of the Environment, under the provision that they would not disturb the soil or utilize the contaminated groundwater under the building.

Since the fuel contained MTBE, an additive that moves far and fast through soil, and has contaminated water supplies nationwide, part of my investigation involved the MDE's handling of the secret spill. MDE documents state no cleanup action being taken at 5420, but the department refused to confirm or deny that when pressed repeatedly by me in 2007 and 2008. MDE also refused to say if it had investigated any of the adjacent properties for evidence of the "free product" that soil samples at 5420 revealed. That "free product" was found to contain elevated amounts of methyl-t-butyl-ether (MTBE), diesel range total petroleum hydrocarbons, tetrachloroethene (PCE), and naphthalene. 

All very healthy stuff, right? MDE thought so, apparently, because they could provide no evidence of any further investigation on their part to find out how far this material had gone on adjoining properties.

Fast forward three years after MDE's stonewalling to 2011, when my investigation was completely vindicated during the Little Falls Place scandal. Soil tests on the Hoyt/BETCO plant property confirmed what I had warned about years earlier - MTBE had indeed leached downhill to the BETCO site. Clearly, it also wound up going into the Willett Branch and Little Falls watershed, if you know anything about how MTBE moves once it is free in soil.

The Montgomery County Council, National Capital Planning Commission, and Montgomery County Planning Board all shared MDE's nonchalant attitude about these contaminants. All voted to approve the Little Falls Place townhome development on the BETCO site, following soil remediation.

Assuming an automotive use for the 5420 Butler site after this transaction, they will probably receive a "no further requirements" determination from MDE, as the previous tenant did.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Bethesda construction update: Urban Country (Photos)

Urban Country's new showroom at 7121 Arlington Road looks like it will, understandably, have a more upscale design than former tenant City Sports. They had previously announced a January 5 opening date, but it appears construction has taken a bit longer than expected. Amazon Books will take over the current Urban Country space at 7117 Arlington this summer.

CoCo La Rue closes, K&I Salon to open at Westfield Montgomery Mall (Photos)

One salon has closed at Westfield Montgomery Mall, and a second has announced it will arrive this Spring. Hair extension salon CoCo La Rue has cleared out after a short run at the mall.
Meanwhile, K&I Salon has posted Coming Soon signage, touting a Spring 2018 opening. They will be located next to T-Mobile on Level 1. In other mall news, expected arrival Altar'd State has posted signage announcing a March 2018 target opening date.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Barnes & Noble closes at Bethesda Row (Photos)

Barnes & Noble has closed forever at Bethesda Row. Despite the funereal black window coverings, some would-be patrons were still trying to figure out how to get inside last evening. The store will now be remodeled into a Anthropologie, which will open later this year and include a cafe with outdoor seating. Book lovers will have to travel to the Barnes & Noble at Montrose Crossing until the Amazon Books store opens at Bethesda Row this summer.

Pepco power grid problems continue in west Bethesda

Seventeen hours after a power outage in the River Road corridor of west Bethesda, a second blackout occurred in the same area. Friday night, shortly after 8:00 PM, a power outage darkened traffic signals and all commercial businesses except McDonald's on River between Ridgefield Road and Landy Lane. About two minutes later, power was restored.

Because the outage was so brief, and I was driving at the moment, I was unable to use the Pepco outage map to confirm if the same nearby homes were also affected this time. Once again, there was no bad weather or wind in the area when the failure occurred, suggesting something is wrong with Pepco's power grid in that area.

Friday, January 12, 2018

New petition requesting historic designation of threatened African-American cemetery in Bethesda

Community supporters of Macedonia Baptist Church and the Moses African Cemetery on the site of Westwood Tower in Bethesda are petitioning for the hidden graveyard to be designated historic, to protect it from development plans. A plan to build a parking garage and apartment building on top of the graves has supposedly been put on hold by the County Housing Opportunities Commission, but in reality, there is nothing preventing them from reversing that decision at any minute. In fact, the commissioners never even voted on that matter, making the declaration completely non-binding.

Regular readers of this site are well-versed in the facts about the cemetery, its history, and previous desecration in the late 1960s during construction of Westwood Tower.

But if you are new to the controversy, have questions, or simply want to show your support for the church and descendants of those buried in the Moses cemetery (who include some of the first African slaves freed after Maryland Emancipation, only to find themselves in death again the property of a white business enterprise worth billions of dollars), there is a potluck luncheon scheduled for this Monday, January 15, 2018, from noon to 3:00 PM, at Macedonia Baptist Church, located at 5119 River Road in Bethesda. Please bring a dish to share during the lunch.

You can sign the petition by clicking here.

Arcing insulator near Medical Center/Grosvenor Metro stations slows trains in Bethesda

Passengers on the Red Line are experiencing significant delays right now, as a report of smoke in the tunnel between the Medical Center and Grosvenor Metro stations caused single-tracking of trains. Firefighters who responded to the report said they saw no smoke in the tunnel or platform areas. A WMATA Emergency Response Team went into the tunnel, located the arcing insulator that caused the smoke, and reported it is now fixed, according to scanner reports.

Metro is reporting Metrobuses are currently bypassing the Medical Center station, and that trains from Silver Spring "will operate to Friendship Heights" for now.

Minuteman Press now in 8200 Wisconsin building (Photos)

I have an update on Minuteman Press, which had to move out of the Blackwell Building last May, ahead of its demolition for the new Marriott headquarters. It had temporarily relocated to 8218 Wisconsin Avenue. Now they are up and running next door, in the ground floor of the 8200 Wisconsin apartment tower, at 8210 Wisconsin.