Monday, November 24, 2014

FOLLOW THE MONEY IN WESTBARD REDEVELOPMENT

Special Investigative Report

The pressure to transform the suburban Westbard area of Bethesda into an urban town center is not coming from residents. According to Montgomery County planner Marc DeOcampos, 85-90% of resident feedback during the week-long Westbard Sector Plan charrette was in favor of low-density development.

With those same residents panning the initial concept plan last week, and no clear incentives or perks to justify the negatives of urbanization on the Westbard area, where will any support for radical change come from in the Westbard Sector Plan process at the Planning Board and County Council levels?

Follow the money.

Developer Equity One, which owns all of the commercial properties along Westbard Avenue and Ridgefield Road, has partnered with local development firm EYA. EYA has donated many thousands of dollars to councilmembers. Here's a chart detailing checks the firm and its leaders have written to those members of the Montgomery County Council:

EYA (corporate)

2010
Nancy Floreen $250
Hans Riemer $500

2013
Hans Riemer $500

2014
Hans Riemer $500
Nancy Floreen $500

Bob Youngentob

George Leventhal $250
Nancy Floreen $1000
Hans Riemer $1100

LeRoy Eakin

Hans Riemer $500

Frank Connors

Hans Riemer $100

Aakash Thakkar 

Hans Riemer $743.12

The grand totals are $1750 for Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-At-Large), $250 for Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At-Large), and a whopping $3,200 for Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At-Large).

All 9 councilmembers will have the final say on the Westbard Sector Plan. If anyone keeps pushing for higher than 45' buildings in the plan, now that residents have made clear they are opposed, you'll know where it's coming from. Follow the money.

94 comments:

Anonymous said...

More vague conspiracy-mongering. Any worthwhile reporter would also note the aspects of this that make it seem a lot less likely EYA is trying to buy off politicians for more Westbard development rights:

1. EYA is headquarted in Bethesda
2. EYA has at least half-a-dozen completed or in the pipeline projects in Montgomery County
3. EYA hasn't even officially been named a partner in Equity One's plans

But go ahead RD, keep pitching this BS.

Anonymous said...

So you're saying the landowners want to build on their own land?

And they want to build above standard allowed limits? Which the residents don't like, but the planning board has authority to allow?

So you are suggesting that the aforementioned council members are letting the developers do that they want on their own land, despite what current residents want (with no legal power to do anything about it).

Anonymous said...

I'm sure EYA is looking for a return on their investment.

Anonymous said...

So for a few hundred bucks of campaign donations you are straight up accusing said council members of having their decisions swayed in something they don't have much power over? Isn't this the planning board's realm? I seriously doubt Decampo is taking developer money.

Anonymous said...

@10:09AM: The planning process isn't supposed to be about just signing off on what is legally allowable.

The planning board takes a holistic view of plans, not just whether it's legal or not.

Anonymous said...

Just curious how the council members have final say?

Anonymous said...

Sure. I concur. But if it's allowed already then there's nothing they can do about it. If they are asking for more than what's allowed, the planning board should take into consideration all factors. This includes the current resident opinions but is not limited to just those few hundred people. Long view planning needs to be taken into account too.

Anonymous said...

In light of this report, it will be interesting to hear Mr. Riemer weigh in on Westbard. Will he listen to the residents?

Anonymous said...

Dyer, what exactly is your point? Can you give a specific accusation and just say it in plain words instead of vague "hmmm.. Look at this coincidence..." type of loose conjecture? It will help us understand your specific and exact point.

Anonymous said...

What could Reimer do even if he wanted to listen to the residents?

Anonymous said...

While 85-90% of the people who _attended the charrette_ may have been against more development, that doesn't necessarily represent the views of the overall people living nearby. Most people are probably too busy to take time out of their day to attend these.. or they don't care enough. Tyranny of the minority.

Anonymous said...

10:35AM: media reports indicated a packed house for the evening meetings. I'd hardly say they were poorly attended.

Anonymous said...

Lots of white hair at those meetings. It looked like a Tea Party gathering.

Anonymous said...

I think that this is what bothered Robert the most:

EYA (corporate)

2010
Robert Dyer $0

2013
Robert Dyer $0

2014
Robert Dyer $0

Bob Youngentob

Robert Dyer $0

LeRoy Eakin

Robert Dyer $0

Frank Connors

Robert Dyer $0

Aakash Thakkar

Robert Dyer $0

The grand total is a whopping $0 for Wannabe Councilmember Robert Dyer (R-Loser).

Anonymous said...

"The pressure to transform the suburban Westbard area of Bethesda into an urban town center is not coming from residents."

Gee, maybe the pressure is coming from the people who own the land!!!!

Those NIMBYs in Westbard don't need a town center because they just come into downtown Bethesda clog up our streets and make it less livable.

Anonymous said...

Those numbers don't sound that big given what's at stake. And besides aren't large firms expected to make modest donations to the campaign funds of whomever is in power?

Robert Dyer said...

10:10: First of all, this report is about what money councilmembers got, not planners. I never said a planner got a campaign contribution anywhere in the article. Second, the 3 councilmembers mentioned do vote YES to projects by developers they receive donations from. Just line up their checks and votes to see for yourself. Finally, the Council is indeed the ultimate authority, not the Planning Board.

Robert Dyer said...

10:07 Are you serious? EYA is partnered with Equity One, and has had representatives at the public meetings. What do the factors you refer to have to do with EYA needing approval from the councilmembers they contribute to for higher density?

Robert Dyer said...

10:09: They can't go over 45' without a zoning change. Residents overwhelmingly oppose the zoning change. Where, then, is the compelling argument for change? What are the tremendous benefits for residents that outweigh the many negatives of the current proposal? Should developers be put above residents who are also landowners?

Anonymous said...

Oh, look at that, more conspiracy theories and libelous innuendos from Dyer. I have half a mind to start a blog and just post idiotic claims about how Dyer's a communist who runs for office so that he can turn Westbard into a Frito Lay factory to support his junk food addiction.

Robert Dyer said...

10:11: They have the final say on any Sector Plan passed in the County. The Council can overrule anything the Planning Board proposes.

Robert Dyer said...

10:16: Riemer can vote NO on the plan, that's what he has the ultimate power to do.

Robert Dyer said...

10:15: I was clear - if you hear about high-density urbanization of suburban Westbard as a good thing, even as residents clearly oppose it, consider who's been paid what by the developers.

Robert Dyer said...

10:35: The views expressed are entirely consistent with the household survey conducted by the Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights, and comments at community meetings. The charrette is the process the County chose, not the residents. They've provided certain mechanisms for public comment, including email and social media comments. If the results of that outreach are not what you like, it's too late to turn the game board over and run away now. All residents had equal opportunity to show up, and the overwhelming consensus was to reject heights over 45'.

Robert Dyer said...

11:47: Your offensive ageism aside, you obviously did not attend the meetings. The ages ranged from young parents to senior citizens. There aren't many new parents concerned about school overcrowding with white hair.

Anonymous said...

Ok so please again what is your exact accusation?

Anonymous said...

Who grants a zoning change? I don't imagine the council members actually do that?

Robert Dyer said...

12:09: So you favor sprawl at Westbard over growth at Metro-served urban areas like downtown Bethesda?

Anonymous said...

Wait the council has to vote on every project that the planning board approves???

Robert Dyer said...

12:38: Thousands of dollars sounds small to you?

Anonymous said...

Ok so you are saying they can overrule. But they don't actually submit the plan idea, right? The supposed experts on the planning board do, right? So if your experts tell you something is the right thing to do, do you ignore it and go with your voters? That sounds awful like your suggestion they are going with the deceloper's from their donations.

Anonymous said...

Let the market rule then. Organize a fundraiser for anyone besides Reimer, and get enough voters in the room to let the council members know that folks care, are putting money where their mouths are and will vote. At the least you would get heard and demonstrate the ability to get voters to show up.

Secondly, if any of these people are seriously swayed by a couple of thousand dollars, I'd be floored. Its the jobs they probably care about and the tax revenue attached for construction and residences. That's the real driver here, not 500 bucks.

Robert Dyer said...

12:52: Everything in the report is fact. You can't get around that.

Robert Dyer said...

1:12: Again, the Council has final say on any Sector Plan. That's the legal structure we're working under here.

Robert Dyer said...

1:13: The Council votes on every Sector Plan passed by the Planning Board.

Robert Dyer said...

1:15: You consider councilmembers voting against the wishes of actual residents to be a good thing? Especially when they've been paid by developers to do so? I don't think you'll gain much public support for that idea.

Robert Dyer said...

1:15: There are no jobs. There's no office space in the plan. So the jobs will be baristas and folding jeans in boutiques. Not a tax boon for the county when you factor in the county expense for low wage workers in services.

You've bought into the urban legend of "more housing units = more tax revenue." The County underwent explosive growth over the 20 years. Yet we have a structural deficit in tax revenue. The reality is that the services and personnel costs of residential growth (schools, transportation, police, fire, etc.) outstrip the tax revenue.

Anonymous said...

"You consider councilmembers voting against the wishes of actual residents to be a good thing?"

Yes, if the vote is in the best long-term interest of our community and the residents against it won't even be there in the lifespan of the master plan.

"Especially when they've been paid by developers to do so?"

Actually the numbers you cited in your super-duper "special investigative report" went to the candidates' campaign funds not their personal pocketbooks.

(Also, congrats on taking five minutes to search the state's online database. Very special investigation indeed.)

Anonymous said...

@ 1:12 PM: "So you favor sprawl at Westbard over growth at Metro-served urban areas like downtown Bethesda?"

More dense, more focused development at Westbard is not "sprawl", you dunce.

Robert Dyer said...

1:36: It is sprawl because it is not located at a Metro station. Jamming thousands of people and cars into non-transit-oriented site is classic sprawl at its best.

Anonymous said...

I doubt EYA is giving money and not expecting some return on that.

Of course they're trying to influence people and have like minded folks in power.

Anonymous said...

@ 1:40 PM - Do you take the Metro every time you go to downtown Bethesda?

What, you don't?

Hypocrite.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely agree. If the residents are short sightedly seeing their own needs versus a long term plan (like the master plan) then I very much think the planners and council members should do what is best for the long haul.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely a few thousand dollars of campaign donations sounds like an awful small amount to be affecting these kinds of decisions.

Also, sure you are full of facts, but your thesis point has no validation. Folks can say you sound like an idiot and act like an idiot, does that make you an idiot? Oh wait, by your logic it does.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Why not include contributions from development attorneys, and the folks who shepherd plans through technical review, and the various lobbyists?

Anonymous said...

@ 3:23 PM

How is not being responsive or weighing the desires of constituents poor governing? That's how people lose elections.

If enough people care by showing interest, and raising money, many things are possible. If not, they would simply weigh resident's input less, its that simple. Either side should ask themselves, what would motivate the Councilmembers, they're the final say. Use that to get what you want, its not rocket science.

@RD, there will be plenty of economic impact of building, construction materials, jobs building, planning, designing, maintaining, etc. Many of those are constituents, they would be motivated. While you're correct that social support may outstrip tax benefits in some cases, just waving people off in a major MSA isn't reality. (that doesn't mean anyone wants 120 foot building in their back yard especially without the infrastructure to service it)

Anonymous said...

Haha. Yes! That's good.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

"Citizens Coordinating Committee"

Hmmm... "CCC" sure sounds like a dog-whistle to me. I believe that they used names like that in the South in the 1960s.

Anonymous said...

1:14 PM Dyer I assume that large companies who do frequent business with the county are expected to pony up something to maintain their place at the table. An above board reportable contribution of $1000/year for a large wealthy county like Montgomery doesn't strike me as unseemly. Of course anything of a personal nature, that would be a different matter.

Robert Dyer said...

3:16 There is no Metro at Westbard.

Robert Dyer said...

3:23: "what is best for the long haul."

What does that mean? Developers making big bucks by urbanizing Westbard is "best for the long haul," and overrides the "short-sighted needs" of the residents?

Tell me more! What is the public need and benefit for jamming thousands of people and cars into a sprawl development nowhere near a Metro station?

What is "the long haul?" Are you anticipating some cataclysmic event or something? Do tell.

I'm trying to understand your astonishing talking point that residents and voters don't matter, and the out-of-town developers do. Please do try to have Hans Riemer, Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal announce that publicly; it should be an entertaining response from the public.

Developers over residents.

Is your next talking point, "Developers are people, my friend!"?

Robert Dyer said...

4:38 True. I will do future installments of the Westbard Follow the Money. There's also money that's difficult to trace, because it's passed through dummy corporations and LLCs.

Robert Dyer said...

5:32 Those jobs are temporary, and the revenue from them will not cover the taxpayer costs of the new development. Furthermore, there is not a single square foot of office space being proposed, which means there won't be any high-wage jobs. Ergo, there will be no "live where you work" offset for the new residents. That means this is sprawl development away from Metro with no revenue benefit for the county, and no clear benefit in the current proposal for residents. Who's left to benefit? The developers.

I am shocked. Shocked.

"Development firms are people, my friend!"

Still waiting for the people saying "residents don't count" to use that line.

Robert Dyer said...

6:43 Never said it was "unseemly." Just pointing out where the influence for high-density urbanization is coming from. It's an Astroturf effort, because there is no grassroots demand for urbanization around Westbard.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Dyer is an unhinged escaped mental patient. I would feel safer if he were locked up away from normal people.

Anonymous said...

Your logic: you have a dollar to a homeless man once. You like sex. This is evidence you use prostitiutes.

Anonymous said...

Why did that get deleted? Because it hurt Bobby's feelings? Anything he deleted before violated policy. How did that one violate policy? Or rob is just censoring now?

Anonymous said...

@ 3:33 AM - Dammit, your comment just caused me to wake up several neighbors.

In a way, it's a shame that he didn't get elected. His press conferences would have been so much fun.

Anonymous said...

@ 10:06 PM

"there is no grassroots demand for urbanization around Westbard."

There's plenty of demand from the folks who actually own that land, as well as from the potential residents who would like to live there.

P.S.: The first word of the captcha that I had to enter for this comment was "alla". That's incontrovertible proof that Dyer is a terrorist.

Anonymous said...

Makes sense following Dyer's logic. Evidence! Proof! Facts!

Anonymous said...

I thought you said you had proof you traced it?

Anonymous said...

Very small to affect a councilmember's vote. Yes.

Anonymous said...

Your logic implies connections from facts. That isn't fact. That's conjecture.

You eat fast food. You support fast food chains. Facts. You therefore are conspiring against the health of our youth. Conjecture. Not fact. Now apply this to your other statements of fact.

Anonymous said...

Per bob's own words that did not violate commenting policy. So really Robert is just being sensitive and deleting things he doesn't like.

Censorship, one might say. Fact. Bobby is against freedom of speech. It's a conspiracy.

Robert Dyer said...

4:40: False comparison. The Council can impose urbanization on a neighborhood; I don't have legal authority over people's dining choices.

Anonymous said...

LOL, the only ones "imposing" anything here are the NIMBYs.

Robert Dyer said...

4:36: I did - read the list above.

Robert Dyer said...

4:08: So your position is that "Development corporations are people too, my friend!" Lots of people would like lots of things, but not all of them are legal or wise decisions. But I admire your Romneyesque spunk, in any case.

Robert Dyer said...

5:07: The status quo is not imposition. Radical urbanization by a handful of developers and county officials would definitively be imposition.

Robert Dyer said...

The posting of vulgar, bullying comments only proves that you have lost the argument, because you have no facts to back you up.

Tom said...

That guy's example was certainly extreme but his logic flow followed your exact fact pattern...

Gib said...

What was vulgar about it?

Just goes to show you pick and choose 'em as suits your agenda and opinion.

Anonymous said...

Dyer doesn't like the use of facts and his "logic" when it's turned against him, yet he walks around slandering other people on a weekly basis. And then Dyer cries that he's the one being bullied and unfairly targeted. Hil-freakin-arious.

Anonymous said...

Actually corporations kind of are people too. Per tax codes.

Anonymous said...

I used to think Dyer was just a crazy and/or uneducated person. After dozens of these "investigations" I think it's clear he's also a spiteful, amoral ass.

Anonymous said...

My position is that development corporations own the land, and you don't.

And they aren't telling you what you can do with your own land.

If you and your neighbors don't like their plans, then you should get together and buy the land from them so you can let it lie fallow until you all pass on.

Anonymous said...

@8:34AM
That's not how the development process works! The Planning Board has to take a holistic view of a plan: what are it's impacts, benefits and negatives.

Developers aren't just checking boxes off on what's legal or not.

Erol said...

Amen.

Anonymous said...

Haha. Idiot.

Adam said...

Very well put.

Robert Dyer said...

7:38: What a sad commentary about local journalism that anything that doesn't make the tired politicians of MoCo sound good is labeled "slander." Embarrassing.

Robert Dyer said...

7:42: My investigative reports are entirely based in fact, as evidenced above. What is your personal interest in the Westbard development that you are so emotionally invested in it? What do you have to lose if developers' ambitions are not realized?

Robert Dyer said...

8:34: No one is stopping them from building now to 45'. But the developers are asking for more than they are currently allowed to build. Hence the residents indeed have a say in whether or not that happens.

Robert Dyer said...

5:54: It's embarrassing that anyone would defend childish, vulgar comments as being legitimate, civil debate. Most people are wondering where these ill-mannered pro-developer folks are coming from. You're not winning any support with these foul, garbage messages you're posting here. It's a PR campaign that has backfired - bigtime. You're talking about one of the most highly educated audiences in the world, and they are not impressed by your schoolyard bully profanity and vile language, to say the least. Minus one for developers abd "smart growth" on this one...

Robert Dyer said...

7:39: Please do expand on this idea - "Development corporations are people, my friend!" It's a heck of a PR talking point to have to base a corrupt Sector Plan on.

Anonymous said...

Not really. The planning board has a say.

Anonymous said...

Dyer could not make himself look any worse. Even that one commenter who defends him - Woodmont - can't defend this clusterfuck of a "special investigation." Even more intellectually embarrassing than usual, Dyer. Kudos.

Anonymous said...

Words you'll never see together: "Special Investigation" and "Bethesda Gazette" (or any MoCo Gazette for that matter).

Let's me Thankful this season for Robert's investigative reporting. Speaking truth to power.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Robert Dyer said...

1:41: You've been banned from this site several weeks ago when I gave you your last warning to leave. You are guilty of defamation, harassment, cyberbullying through your comments on this site, which are in violation of my comment policy, the Google Terms of Service and state and federal law. Any further comments you post of that nature will be recorded. You are welcome to participate in a civil discussion on here. You are not welcome to harass, spam and bully.

Anonymous said...

This is uncivilized. Please use facts.