Tuesday, March 26, 2019

What was that explosion in downtown Bethesda Sunday morning?

Some downtown Bethesda residents heard an explosion around 7:30 AM Sunday morning. A large cloud of white smoke was seen rising from a trailer at the 7750 Wisconsin Avenue construction site of the future relocated Marriott International headquarters. What was it? Now, it can be told.

A source reports that a Pepco electrical cabinet exploded, causing a small fire. This cut electrical power to the construction site, which reportedly remained without power Monday morning. By yesterday afternoon, a generator was transported to the site to provide power. Pepco and Marriott's contractor will meanwhile continue working to restore electricity to the site, the source reports.

In other Marriott HQ news, watch for modifications being made to one of the tower cranes on the site, which will increase its height.

Developer to begin demolition for ZOM Bethesda project next month (Photos)

Preparations are being made for the demolition of homes and buildings on the site of the future ZOM Bethesda apartments in the 7500 block of Arlington Road. Demolition permits have been requested from Montgomery County. State Farm agent Jeffrey Conley has already relocated his prominent Arlington Road office to 7801 Norfolk Avenue, in Suite 115.
This is just the beginning. Developer ZOM says you will soon see safety fencing erected around the perimeter of the site. Utilities will then be disconnected. Finally, demolition will begin in early April, and ZOM hopes to begin excavation later that month, weather permitting.
This will be a radical transformation of Arlington Road. But having said that, this is about as good as it gets as far as transit-oriented development - the building will be a five-minute walk from the Bethesda Metro station. If anything, the interior side of the building should have been taller, as there are limited sites this close to Metro. Instead, the County is shuffling those lost units to non-TOD areas like Westbard, that are not near Metro stations and the County services needed by lower-income residents of MPDUs. This is generating greater auto emissions, and is the key reason why the Planning Board intentionally broke County law and did not measure the greenhouse gas impact of the Westbard sector plan.

Monday, March 25, 2019

China Garden opening update

A long time has passed since China Garden announced it was moving to the White Flint area at 11333 Woodglen Drive. Some have expressed concern it wasn't going to happen, and "When is China Garden opening?" has become one of readers' most-asked questions in my mailbox. The good news is, things are moving forward at China Garden.

The permanent sign and statues have just been installed outside the restaurant. There's still a lot of work to be done inside, however. The owner told me that there were some delays getting the necessary permits from Montgomery County, which held up construction. They have a liquor license hearing scheduled for May 2, so that should give a rough idea of how close opening day is. This is the most grand restaurant entry in White Flint since the Lerners went berserk and demolished White Flint Mall, taking the impressive statuary of P.F. Chang's along with it.

Nighttime noise ahead for some Kenwood residents

Kenwood residents who live near the Kenwood Station shopping center at 5241 River Road may get a rude awakening next week. Cooling towers are scheduled to be installed at the Whole Foods Market grocery store there between 9:00 PM April 3 and 5:00 AM April 4, 2019.

The contractor performing the installation has requested a nighttime noise waiver from Montgomery County to allow the overnight work hours. Stock up on earplugs this week.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Chevy Chase Lake construction update (VIdeo+Photos)

The redevelopment of Chevy Chase Lake by developers Chevy Chase Land Company, Bozzuto, and EYA continues to transform the landscape along Connecticut Avenue. One residential building is complete, and progress is far along on EYA's Brownstones at Chevy Chase Lake townhome community.

Gone is the Chevy Chase Lake Supermarket and shopping center. In its place are excavation and grading equipment spread over a brown landscape. The Purple Line is under construction on the southern end of the site, as well.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Norman's Farm Market to add new location next to historic Bethesda Community Store

Norman's Farm Market is adding a new location close to downtown Bethesda this season. It will be in the parking lot of the historic-but-vacant Bethesda Community Store at the corner of Old Georgetown and Greentree Roads just north of Suburban Hospital. The owners say this will become a flagship location of sorts, with its ample parking and larger space for the market.

Rock Creek Bridge demolition will close Rock Creek Trail

Rock Creek Trail in Chevy Chase will temporarily close between the Ireland Trail head and Ray's Meadow Local Park for about two weeks starting Tuesday, March 26, 2019. The closure is due to the demolition of the Rock Creek Bridge, a Doug Duncan-era replacement for the old Baltimore & Ohio railroad trestle that once carried freight trains over the creek there.

A detour (shown in purple on the map above) will route trail users around the closure. At a later date, Purple Line Partners contractors will construct two new bridges over Rock Creek at this location - one for the two light rail tracks, and one for the Capital Crescent Trail. Once again you can get a sense of how a project of this width would destroy the environment if the Purple Line were extended west of downtown Bethesda to Westbard and Sumner, as the Montgomery County cartel is secretly planning to do behind closed doors.

Sidewalks proposed for Brixton Lane in Bethesda

Montgomery County is considering constructing sidewalks along Brixton Lane in Bethesda between Greyswood Road and busy Fernwood Road. The street is located in the Stratton Woods subdivision.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for Wednesday, April 24, 2019 at 7:00 PM at Ashburton Elementary School at 6314 Lone Oak Drive in Bethesda. If you cannot attend the meeting that night, you can email comments regarding the sidewalk proposal to DTE.Sidewalk@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Battery Lane District redevelopment plans unveiled (Photos)

Redevelopment would result
in net loss of affordable units

Brown Development unveiled plans for its massive redevelopment proposal for properties it owns along Battery Lane in Bethesda at a required public meeting last night. While the plans are controversial, the meeting was much less heated than many anticipated. But the total number of affordable units are also less than some had predicted, leaving a net loss of such units on one of the few streets in downtown Bethesda that has naturally-occurring affordable apartments.
Lots A,B,C,D and E that hold the
six properties targeted for
Attorney Nancy Regelin led the meeting, which lasted for over two hours. She said Brown intends to file a preliminary plan and sketch plan with Montgomery County in April. Six buildings in total on Battery would be demolished if the County approves the plans. While the developer is filing plans for all six properties together in order to present a coherent vision, Regelin said the redevelopment will play out over a ten to fifteen year period.
A microphone awaits public
comments at Imagination Stage
last night
A site plan would not likely be approved before 2020, Regelin predicted. Groundbreaking for Phase 1 would be expected in 2021.
Illustrative plan showing the
layout and landscaping for the
redeveloped properties
"We don't want to talk about a project, but a place," Aldon Properties Executive Vice-President Douglas M. Wrenn told the audience. Aldon is a subsidiary of Brown. Wrenn said that maintaining the existing buildings has become more of a challenge in the last fifteen years, although some current Battery Lane residents tell me they find conditions more than acceptable. Claiming net operating income is shrinking, Wrenn argued redevelopment is necessary to retain value in the properties while providing better housing for Bethesda residents.
Site A - 4857 Battery Lane
Wrenn promised 25% MPDUs, and went further to make an unusual promise of "workforce housing" that would be constructed with cheaper materials for those who don't qualify for MPDUs. However, even at 25%, the redevelopment will end with a net loss of affordable units on Battery Lane.
Site B - 4858 Battery Lane
There are 477 naturally-occurring affordable units on the Brown properties along Battery today. Brown is proposing to build a total of 1498 new units. But at 25%, that would result in a net loss of affordable units. There is no guarantee or requirement that Brown actually build the "workforce housing" units is alluded to beyond the MPDUs.
Site C - 4890, 4900 Battery Lane
Such midrange units, to my knowledge, have never been built and marketed anywhere in Montgomery County. Advertising housing built with lower-quality materials is certainly unusual, as well. If there is a market for this, no private developer in its own private project has so far attempted to serve it. It will be interesting to see if the Planning Board actually makes these additional workforce units mandatory, and if they end up not getting flipped to more luxury units by the time they are built.
Landscaping plan for Site D
4949 Battery Lane

Massing diagram for Site D
4949 Battery Lane
Residents attending the meeting were not satisfied with having a net loss of affordable housing on Battery. It's also notable that many who currently live in the naturally-occurring affordable units on Battery today will not qualify for MPDUs - they make too much money, but not enough to afford the market rate at newer buildings in town. That is why you rarely hear about "workforce housing" in relation to MPDUs anymore. While MPDUs were once hailed as "workforce housing" for government employees held in the highest public esteem, many Montgomery County police officers, firefighters and teachers actually earn too much to qualify for them.
Height study for Site E
4998 Battery Lane
Many attendees had practical concerns about the project, as well. One resident of an existing Brown/Aldon building asked if he should rent a P.O. Box now for his mail. A neighbor who owns a house by the Stonehall condos said she will need continued access to the alley behind Stonehall because she has no access to her property from Woodmont.
Site E - 4998 Battery Lane
Another homeowner at the intersection of Battery and Old Georgetown Road asked if Brown could assist in making that intersection safer, reporting that she sees many accidents there. She also expressed concern that such a high number of units will threaten her business of renting homes to NIH employees. I can suggest she has nothing to worry about, as prices and rents have only increased as thousands of new apartments and condos have been delivered in downtown Bethesda. It's unlikely her current tenants qualify for MPDUs, either.
Study of impact of new building
at Site E on nearby single-family home
Finally, condo owners at Whitehall were concerned about sunlight to their property being blocked. They are not only afraid they won't get as much natural light, but that the valuable trees on their property will fall ill or die without sufficient sun.

While approval is nearly certain before the developer-controlled Planning Board, public approval is still important, especially since Brown emphasized its plan to remain part of the community as a long-term owner. Amenities will play a key role. Wrenn pointed to a pedestrian cut-through to the new development from Rugby Avenue and an events space near the Whitehall property as two potential public amenities. But if MPDUs or mandatory mid-priced units can be bumped up to at least the number there today, public acceptance would most certainly be broader.