Monday, November 19, 2018

Schokolat & Unique Treasures opening Bethesda location

A British retailer of fine chocolate gifts has crossed the Atlantic, and is opening a store in Bethesda. Schokolat & Unique Treasures will be located next to Boutique Spa by Infinite Beauty.

Their online store includes chocolate gifts that look like real-life objects, including wrenches, guns and handcuffs.

Bethesda Sears store in full closing mode (Photos)

The Sears store at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda is scheduled to close forever in February 2019. They're getting a head start just before Black Friday, however. "Store Closing" signs have been slapped all over the store inside and out. A closing sale is also now underway.

Manufacturers' warranties still apply to appliances and other items, but no returns are being accepted - all sales are final. Some points and promotions will no longer apply here, and you can no longer return Land's End merchandise to this location. Expect to find some deals, but make sure you read all the disclaimers and signage in the appropriate department before buying anything. In addition, this store did not participate in a members-only Sears nationwide event last night at 6:00 PM.

It's a sad end for our venerable Sears store, which will follow the legendary Tenleytown Sears store into the Great Beyond. It takes a hustler like Fast Eddie Lampert to run an iconic American retail brand into the ground.

State proposes third left-turn lane on Jones Bridge Road at Connecticut Avenue

Traffic jam on Jones Bridge Road
at Connecticut Avenue
The Maryland Department of Transportation is proposing another BRAC-related traffic project for the troubled intersection of Jones Bridge Road and Connecticut Avenue. MDOT plans to add a third left-turn lane on Jones Bridge for eastbound drivers turning onto Connecticut.

A public meeting to provide information on the plans is scheduled for Thursday, December 6, 2018 from 7:00-9:00 PM in the cafeteria at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, located at 4301 East-West Highway. There will be no public testimony, and no formal presentation will be delivered. Instead, there will be displays set up around the room and state officials standing by to answer questions.

The proposed project plans indicate MDOT will also add improved stormwater drainage and a shared-use path. MDOT says it plans to begin relocating affected utilities at the intersection as early as this fall, even though the project design is not yet complete.

Despite previous expensive projects to add turning lanes at this spot, traffic remains jammed during rush hour, and whenever there is a large exodus of employees from the base trying to reach the Beltway. The real solution is to force the Pentagon to use the direct Beltway access points into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that were planned and provided long ago, which would take Walter Reed-Beltway-related traffic entirely off of local streets and avoid all signal timing problems at the busy Jones Bridge-Connecticut intersection.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Some holiday decorations appearing in the Woodmont Triangle of Bethesda (Photos)

The beginnings of Christmas are popping up here and there in the Woodmont Triangle neighborhood. A few signposts are wrapped with garlands as of last night.

Montgomery County embezzlement covered up until after Election Day

Officials were told
$6.7 million stolen in
April 2017 by IRS;
plea deal was in works
long before Election Day

Montgomery County elected officials withheld the fact that a County employee had embezzled nearly $7 million in taxpayer funds until after Election Day on November 6. The case and the cover-up again prove that the local media, including the Washington Post, are not actively investigating corruption in County government. And that there's no low our elected officials won't stoop to in protecting themselves and their allies in the Montgomery County political cartel.

Media reports show little questioning of officials in all three branches of Montgomery County government, two of which - the Executive and County Council - had direct oversight of Byung Ill "Peter" Bang, who allegedly embezzled over $6.7 million while serving as chief operating officer of the Department of Economic Development.

The press apparently believes it is credible to assert that neither the Executive branch nor the Council noticed $7 million unaccounted for, over a seven year period. To show how obsequious the press is toward Montgomery County officials, the same Washington Post that sent three reporters to Tallahassee to investigate Andrew Gillum's developer scandal and Judge Roy Moore's prowling of local malls in Alabama, supposedly never caught one sniff of the Bang case brought to County Executive Ike Leggett's attention by the IRS in April of 2017?


According to Leggett himself, entire new divisions and units were created in the Executive branch, a new contractor was procured and funded (by the Council, which must make all such disbursements), and every single manager in County government was specially retrained - all since April 2017. Yet none of these transactions were noticed, and not a single employee leaked the story to the Post or any other media outlet?


Consider how bad the story makes reporter and Democrat County Council uber-fan Jennifer Barrios of the Post and others look. Journalism 101 would suggest a quick review of campaign finance and judicial records for the suspect. Yet no story I could find about the Bang scandal mentions two cases easily found in Maryland court records - a foreclosure of a Gaithersburg property owned by a Byung Ill Bang in 2007, and a tax lien judgement entered against a Byung Ill Bang less than three months ago in Montgomery County Circuit Court, for failure to pay state taxes. Both closed cases should be highly relevant to a financial fraud news story, wouldn't you agree?

Montgomery County elected officials failed to notice incredible sums of missing money, clearly indicating that - unless they were in on the action - they never audited Mr. Bang's department over the entire last decade. Remember when a nonprofit politically-connected to the Council "lost" hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds it couldn't account for a decade ago? The press not only didn't "follow the money," but stopped asking about the missing money altogether. Voters who just wanted 9 Democrats on the County Council - literally no matter what - went ahead and reelected the same old crooks again - hey, what's a few hundred thousand dollars, right?

There's a price to be paid for such ignorance - $6.7 million, in this latest instance alone. That's how much taxpayers are out thanks to corrupt and inept elected officials, "journalists" who are in the tank for the local political cartel, and the low-information lemmings who make up a sizable chunk of the Montgomery County electorate.

It's beyond credibility to suggest that the timing of Mr. Bang's dual court appearances Friday - not only a week after Election Day, but the traditional day when anyone who has bad news releases it to get lost on the weekend - was not politically-coordinated at all levels to protect Montgomery County Democrat elected officials. The same officials who facilitated and enabled Bang to allegedly pull off a $7 million heist in the first place.

It's outrageous.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Marriott HQ team announces telephone hotline, monthly briefings on construction

The Marriott International headquarters development partners made two announcements Friday regarding additional ways residents and businesses can get information about the ongoing construction at 7750 Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda. A new telephone hotline will allow you to leave a voicemail comment for the development team. The number is (240) 514-7831.

Second, the partners will begin to hold monthly community meetings next month. The first is scheduled for Tuesday, December 4 at 6:00 PM at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, located at 4805 Edgemoor Lane. Again, these meetings are for both residents and business owners.

The team has also received complaints about early-arriving trucks around the construction site each morning, a common problem at construction sites across Bethesda. They will tell truckers to line up in the now-closed curb lane of Wisconsin Avenue (which should delight residents of The Whitney apartments).

A promised effort to work with County and Maryland officials to adjust traffic signals along Wisconsin and Norfolk Avenue to better speed construction-related traffic through, has come to fruition. Marriott officials say the new timing is now in place.

There will be no construction activity on Thanksgiving Day, and team officials say they expect greatly reduced activity at the site through the holiday weekend. However, Pepco will be undergrounding power lines around the site over this coming week, starting Monday.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Ceremony Coffee Roasters to open Bethesda location

We've been waiting for Philz Coffee to open for some time at Bethesda Row, and now there's even more good news for Bethesda java lovers. Annapolis-based Ceremony Coffee Roasters is coming soon to the Bethesda Crescent building at 7475 Wisconsin Avenue.

The company offers a constantly-changing selection of fine coffees from growers around the world. Their selections represent "super-fresh, super-clean, 85+ point coffees with loads of sweetness and character," according to the company's marketing materials. "Then our roasting team gets to work on a tireless pursuit to develop roast profiles and blend ratios that highlight the best of every coffee."

Ceremony also sells coffee gear and accessories, and promotes a "taste by color" guide that connects your "flavor memories" with specific roasts.

MOD Pizza to open at Montrose Crossing shopping center

The new addition at the Montrose Crossing shopping center just inked its final tenant. Seattle-based MOD Pizza will take the last open space between Five Guys and the new AT&T Store facing Rockville Pike.

MOD already has a Silver Spring location, arriving in Montgomery County during that initial wave of "fast-fired" personal pizza chains a few years back. But it's a pretty strong addition in this spot, because it will be the only pizzeria at Montrose Crossing, and there isn't much fast casual pizza competition within walking distance besides &pizza at Pike & Rose.

Expect a thin crust due to the fast baking time in the 800 degree pizza oven, but also expect to pay one flat price for unlimited toppings of your choice, always a good deal. You can also get milkshakes at MOD, fairly unusual for a pizza joint. The chain is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

No, losing Amazon HQ2 is not a win for Montgomery County or Maryland

We've all been hearing and reading delusional comments by our inept elected officials regarding Montgomery County's defeat in the national sweepstakes to win the Amazon HQ2. A largely-obsequious press corps is indulging them in their delusion. But at some point, they must remove their rose-colored distortion lenses, and accept the truth: This was a loss, and a damning indictment of our business climate, poor transportation infrastructure, and bumbling economic development "leadership."

And now, as the great Paul Harvey used to say, "the rest of the story."

Reality check: All Amazon benefits accrue to Virginia, and specifically, Arlington County. Aside from Montgomery County residents who end up employed by Amazon, we will be getting only the negative impacts of the HQ2.

Here are the real winners and losers in the Crystal City Amazon victory:


Northern Virginia

Our biggest rival in the regional economic development arena never seems to leave the Winner's Circle. They got Hilton Hotels, Intelsat, Volkswagen, Northrop, Nestle and Gerber in the headquarters relocation wars. Amazon's supposed 25,000 jobs will only be the jewel in the Old Dominion's crown. Virginia gets all the revenue, and all the halo effect. Only a delusional person believes that other tech companies will say, "Amazon is in Crystal City, and we want to be near Amazon, so we're going to locate in...Montgomery County?"

Remember, pre-Amazon, literally no major corporation wanted to be in Montgomery County. We haven't attracted a single major corporate headquarters in two decades. Nothing has changed at all in the post-Amazon era. We have the same high local and state taxes, the same hostile business climate, and a large number of low-information lemming voters just elected another 9 anti-business Democrats to the County Council who will vote exactly the same way as their predecessors. Heckuva job, Brownie!

Virginia's last two governors were frequently caught by reporters laughing and mocking Montgomery County and Maryland's high-tax and anti-business climate, which has been so fruitful for their state. Rest assured that there are many chuckles ahead from Ralph Northam at our expense.


Amazon brilliantly collected reams of confidential data from desperate localities across America in its "reality-show-style" search. It has gleaned tremendous intelligence it can use for years to come. Expect more corporations to conduct similar beauty pageants, now that they've seen how profitable it can be. While New York and Virginia will receive the benefits of victory, Amazon has also extracted highly favorable incentives and cost-savings from each.

JBG Smith

Imagine you bought a junkyard, only to one day learn there was oil and a gold mine under it. That's the delightful position developer JBG Smith finds itself in with its Crystal City properties. An afterthought of vacant office suites amidst a traffic maze no one wants to walk or drive through just became a regional and national destination and landmark.

Robert Dyer

Once again, I was proven correct. I've been saying for years that we need to build a new Potomac River crossing to Dulles Airport. That project is opposed by all of the Councilmembers and Executive just elected last week. Turns out, Amazon wanted - get this - easy airport access, and specifically balked at the idea of a 30-35 minute airport trip from Montgomery County. They're even building a pedestrian bridge to National Airport, for God's sake. They're a logistics company, folks. Had people listened to me in 2010, we could have completed construction of the new crossing to Dulles by the time Amazon was HQ-shopping.

I've also said we need to improve our business climate, and have taxation and regulation schemes that are actually competitive with our rivals in the region. Instead, a majority of voters (who actually knew on Election Day that we had lost the HQ2 contest) elected nine anti-business Councilmembers, who this week are already preparing for yet another tax hike to deal with our...yep, structural budget deficit.

Who knew?

I did.

Montgomery County Cartel

The Montgomery County Cartel, in the smoke-filled back rooms, are quietly toasting to the Amazon defeat. Now all that land that would have gone to high-wage jobs is once again left open for more luxury apartments. With the now full-throated, open retirement of the county from any serious regional economic development competition, the developers, certain unions, and community organizations can continue to get all the money from taxpayers through their puppets on the County Council. Hans Riemer can finally be open about his belief that the future of economic development is farmers markets, 15 and 20 MPH speed limits, and a two-lane Georgia Avenue with maximum room for his developer sugar daddies to build in Montgomery Hills, Aspen Hill and Forest Glen.


Montgomery County

This was Montgomery County's biggest economic development defeat in history. No firms are coming here because Amazon is in Crystal City. Schools and urban centers in Northern Virginia are as good or better than what Amazon employees would find in Montgomery County. Beyond employees who already live here, few will have the desire to deal with the daily torture of commuting to Virginia from Montgomery County.

To top it off, as the rich exit Montgomery while the poor flood in, the victims of Amazon gentrification will cross the river to seek the generous services and public education in Montgomery County, further overcrowding classrooms and busting our already-busted budget.

White Flint/Pike District

Remember when the County Council loudly canceled the Montrose Parkway East with the irresponsible belief that Larry Hogan would pay for it when we got HQ2? Well, we didn't get HQ2, and now we are that much further behind in providing the infrastructure needed for White Flint.

White Flint was touted as the "new Tysons," but has been an utter failure in attracting major employers, much less corporate headquarters. Meanwhile, Tysons already had the jobs; now Tysons is adding residential and even more jobs, and Crystal City is about to become a boomtown.

Montgomery County Council + Taxpayers

The Council just make a shocking confession this week: While foolishly trying to tout their record 2016 tax hikes as a smart decision, they ended up exposing again that they had lied to taxpayers about it. At the time, they described it as an unnecessary tax hike that was employed to make an investment in schools. They called the record tax hike budget an "education budget."

But this week, Council staff said the money was used to balance the budget (because of that pesky - yep - structural deficit I kept warning you about all of this decade). So now we know the money went to the Silver Spring Transit Center debacle, and to balance the budget (rather than cut the Council's outrageous spending). Not education. Wow. It's a good thing the majority of voters like paying taxes - they're going to be paying plenty more, especially with the loss of 25000-50000 Amazon jobs from the bottom line.

Gov. Larry Hogan

Let's face it - Larry Hogan's top priority is Larry Hogan. A one-man party who threw his fellow Republicans under the bus, he'll have a devil of a time attracting any major corporate headquarters to Maryland by cutting tolls on the Bay Bridge. Hogan came up with a winning incentive package for Amazon, but ultimately was powerless to overcome his state's horrifically-high personal and corporate taxes, and hostile business climate. Like the Montgomery County Council, Hogan - who also bizarrely opposes a new Potomac River crossing - needed Amazon desperately. The loss is that much more devastating.

Tastee Diner adds banner for visibility (Photos)

Tastee Diner has a new advertising banner along the Marriott HQ construction fence on Wisconsin Avenue. A "Diner open during construction" road-style sign has already been in place for several months on the other side of the diner at Woodmont Avenue.

B.F. Saul promises "beautiful landmark" for Bethesda with Rockefeller Center-inspired Metro Tower project

Bethesda-based developer B.F. Saul unveiled plans for its Metro Plaza mixed-use tower, planned to replace an existing office building at 7316 Wisconsin Avenue. Torti Gallas + Partners President John Francis Torti led the presentation at a public meeting last night, and promised attendees a "beautiful landmark on the Metro plaza."

"It's a building of elegant proportions," Torti said, which will also be sensitive to the pedestrian experience at its base. The 250' tower will be set back 25' from the curb of Wisconsin Avenue, and 15' from the curbs of Elm Street and Hampden Lane. Torti envisions style elements that reminded many of Rockefeller Center in New York, with two-story storefronts for its ground-level retail. The art deco design will also stand out from the more-modern architecture of The Wilson and The Elm, 290' towers that will be Metro Tower's next-door neighbors in the next decade. Torti also cited the Bethesda Naval Hospital tower as another great art deco structure in the area.

Expect 370-390 rental apartment units above the retail, with .5 parking spaces per unit, as the development will be within the downtown Bethesda parking district. B.F. Saul noted at the meeting that the firm holds onto its properties unlike some other developers, and is therefore fully invested in their success and longevity.

Saul will submit its sketch plan to Montgomery County by the end of this month. The designs showed a significant lighting feature atop the building, similar to the Chevy Chase Bank tower also developed by Saul, a feature missing on many dull and dark rooflines among the post-Great Recession buildings in Montgomery County.

Montgomery County pre-treats some roads for early morning winter weather (Video+Photos)

MCDOT truck pre-treating Woodmont Ave.
at Bethesda Row
Montgomery County's Division of Highway Services has activated its Storm Operations Center. Crews were spotted in downtown Bethesda pre-treating County roads, but there is no indication that residential streets received the same treatment overnight.

Three waves of sleet have passed through Bethesda since 4:30 AM, along with the first snowfall of the season. More sleet and light snow are possible between now and 9:00 AM, with minimal accumulation - mainly a coating, especially on non-roadway surfaces. Precipitation is then expected to convert to rain showers, heavy at times as the day goes on. Flooding is possible.

Montgomery County Public Schools will open two hours late this morning.
Mixture applied to street

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Nada to open November 19 at Pike & Rose

Nada, a Mexican tacos and cocktails restaurant, will open this coming Monday, Novermber 19, 2018 at Pike & Rose. The 6300 SF eatery, located in the ground floor of The Henri apartments, will be the Ohio-based chain's first East Coast location.

With seating for 140, and 50 more on the outdoor patio, Nada will serve lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Nada’s hours will be 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday. Brunch will be served Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Photo courtesy Nada

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas - and Chanukah - at Bethesda Row (Photos)

The Christmas decorations at Bethesda Row have been lagging slightly behind those at Pike & Rose this year. They also are either going up in stages, unlike the mass unboxing of years past, or will be less complicated this year. Other changes include the menorah's move from the "Barnes & Noble corner" now occupied by Anthropologie & Co. to the Amazon Books corner. Perhaps landlord Federal Realty is acknowledging the "power corner" at the development has moved down to Amazon's spot.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

"Danger!" warning at Bethesda condo renovation

An 8-unit condominium building at 4909 Hampden Lane is being renovated. Unlike most property renovations, alarming "Danger!" signs are posted around the property. Such signs are usually more associated with flammables, chemicals or electric shock. These signs have the notation, "Contains Lead." Perhaps they are repainting, and the old paint contains lead? The venerable brick buildings are located next to the new Toll Brothers City Living Hampden Row property, and The Lauren, two of the most-expensive condo properties in town.