Monday, November 20, 2017

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.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Bethesda remembers veterans on Veterans Day (Photos)

Veterans Day was marked in Bethesda by a wreath-laying ceremony in Veterans Park. Among the organizations represented were Montgomery County, Bethesda Chevy-Chase Rescue Squad, Bethesda Urban Partnership, Bethesda Rotary Club, and the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce.

Civil rights leaders join fight to save Bethesda African-American cemetery at rally (Video + Photos)

About 200 people turned out for a rally at Macedonia Baptist Church yesterday, to protest the desecration of the historic African-American cemetery on the site of Westwood Tower in Bethesda. The fight against Montgomery County elected officials, developer Regency Centers and the County Housing Opportunities Commission was joined by several prominent civil rights leaders, representing several generations of activism.

WATCH: Click here for a full video report on the rally
The Rev. Walter Fauntroy was the headliner, and his presence underlined how unprecedented the uprising against the Montgomery County Executive, County Council, Planning Department and HOC by residents and faith leaders is. Who would have imagined even five years ago that the Rev. Fauntroy, who marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would one day march through the "Westbard" area in a protest against supposedly-progressive Montgomery County government? Nobody!
On a very cold afternoon, Fauntroy exhibited the energy of a man one-quarter of his age. He was the rare speaker who could speak authoritatively of past struggles and victories, but in another moment, sound like futurist Elon Musk, as he predicted his clean water and energy technology will change the world in as little as ten years. Fauntroy preached, prayed and marched throughout the three-and-half-hour event, at times shadowboxing or pumping his fist in response to another inspiring orator.
Another celebrity guest on hand was the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus. The Rev. Yearwood has just moved to Bethesda himself, after fighting against the system in post-Katrina New Orleans and Standing Rock. Yearwood suggested a boycott against businesses located in Regency Centers properties may be needed to move the needle in the development giant's boardroom, referring to past boycotts that had great success.
Montgomery County Councilmember
Marc Elrich was the only elected official
to accept an invitation to speak
Marc Elrich (D) was the only Montgomery County Councilmember and current elected official to accept an invitation to speak. Elrich, who is running for County Executive, tied the cemetery battle to other current instances of institutional racism in the County, including Farm Road and Lyttonsville. While Elrich has been the only councilmember to show any real solidarity with the church, he did vote for the Westbard sector plan that created the current threat to the cemetery in 2016. Robin Ficker, the Republican who will face the winner of the Democratic primary in the general election executive race, warmly greeted his old friend Fauntroy before delivering his own speech. Ficker promised that, if elected or otherwise given the opportunity, he would meet with Regency Centers. He would then have the doors to the room locked, he said, and tell Regency representatives they couldn't leave until they work out a deal to sell the cemetery land to the County.
The Rev. Graylan Hagler was an echo of a past preacher at Macedonia Baptist Church, whose sermons could be heard from the church's hill all the way down at the Milton-Loughborough House a century ago. In a booming voice, the Rev. Hagler got to the central issue of how identity and history can be used to control groups. Once you remove a people's historical narrative, "then you can justify doing anything you want to them," Hagler said. "There is, has been, and will be a place for the black community here in Bethesda, here in Montgomery County. We're not going anywhere," Hagler shouted to enthusiastic applause.
Music was provided by cultural activist Luci Murphy, the Youth of Macedonia choir, the Alphonso Coles Capitol Drum Collective and Eric Lewis Multicultural Drummers, and Congregation Beth El cantor Asa Fradkin. South African poet Siki Dlanga read a poem she was inspired to write by the Macedonia fight to save this cemetery, also referred to as the Moses Cemetery, called "Black Lives Matter, Dead or Alive."
Police did not provide traffic control for this march, which resulted in marchers having to shut down River Road themselves to get across to the cemetery site. Once there, the ritual pouring of libations was performed, as the names of some of those buried there were read aloud. A final and dramatic surprise guest was Nanette Hunter (maiden name Parker), the great niece of Cora Botts, who is buried in the cemetery. She said she was "overwhelmed" by the event and show of support from the community and faith leaders.
Rev. Graylan Hagler prepares
to address the rally
While HOC has relied on fake news suggesting they never planned to build a garage to change the narrative, they apparently don't realize we have multiple documents in which HOC demanded alterations in the Regency Centers site and sketch plans expressly to accommodate the parking garage on the graves. In fact, HOC's garage plan was one of the key controversies in Planning Board reviews of the sketch plan this year. So no one actually believes HOC can be trusted. And they also don't believe the cemetery should be left under asphalt, already being in a desecrated state after some of the graves were disturbed by workers excavating for Westwood Towers in the late 1960s. Macedonia and their supporters in the community want a memorial park and museum to preserve this direct link to the good, bad, and horrifying history of racism, slavery and the original black settlement of River Road.
Macedonia Baptist Church Social Justice
Director Marsha Coleman-Adebayo introduces
the Rev. Walter Fauntroy
One of the most intriguing aspects of the controversy, is that the Africans and African-Americans who are buried in the cemetery are, in a way, exercising power against the same forces who oppressed them in more overt ways over a century ago. It is their presence that is creating the power to fight a $14 billion corporation. And which may lead to reparations for the black families whose properties - which might be worth up to $1 million apiece today - were stolen by developers in the 1950s and early 1960s.
In this way, the act of dishonor in desecrating the cemetery has backfired, creating a rare scenario in which wrongs could be made right. As Dlanga's poem so correctly categorizes those below that parking lot, "We have been waiting to be woken up from a sleep. Our business on Earth is not yet done. We have been longing for an opportunity to state our case." That opportunity may now be here.

Fauntroy reacts to a powerful
statement by Rev. Hagler

The Youth of Macedonia choir 
performs on the church steps

MBC trustee and former River Road
resident Harvey Matthews, County Executive
candidate and attorney Robin Ficker, Coleman-Adebayo
and SURJ-MoCo's Laurel Hoa listen to
Fauntroy's speech

Matthews tells the crowd how his
family and others were forced off their
properties on River Road in the 1950s,
as Fauntroy embraces another former
resident of the lost black community

Congregation Beth El cantor Asa Fradkin
leads a song in Hebrew

Local historian David Rotenstein

Ficker promises, if elected, to lock Regency Centers
executives in a room and not let them out
until they agree to sell the cemetery plot
to Montgomery County, while embracing
old friend Fauntroy

The Rev. Lennox Yearwood warned
of a boycott of Westbard businesses
if Regency Centers doesn't do the right
thing regarding the cemetery
Marchers descend from the church
hill to River Road to walk to the
The march begins, with MBC Pastor
SegĂșn Adebayo, former River Road resident

Frank Lancaster,
Fauntroy and Ficker leading the way

Marchers arrive at the cemetery in the
shadow of Westwood Tower

Yearwood leads an African
ritual pouring of libations, advising
those gathered to touch the earth to
connect with the ancestors below

South African poet Siki Dlanga
recited a powerful poem inspired
by the Moses Cemetery desecration
and fight

Mardokai Russom (center) of
the Multicultural Workers Forum

Carolyn Lowery represented
Impact Silver Spring at the

River Road resident and
activist Ralph Wooden said
white privilege protects the
graves of his ancestors from
the kind of desecration that
has taken place at the
Moses cemetery

Former River Road resident
Frank Lancaster

recalls the close relationship
between his and Matthews' families

A last surprise guest was 
Nanette Hunter, the
great niece of Cora Botts, who
is buried in the cemetery

Marchers depart the cemetery
and make the climb up to
Westbard Avenue

With no police escort for this
protest, marchers detour down the
ramp at Westwood Center II for
safety reasons

In perhaps a symbolic moment, Matthews
halts Bethesda drivers on River
Road in front of the property that
once belonged to his family, so marchers can
safely cross; after the Matthews
were forced off the land, it eventually became
home to a Whole Foods Market

Matthews speaks at the site of his
former home, now home to Whole Foods

Rev. Adebayo thanks participants
as the rally concludes after 3 1/2 hours
of speeches, marching and honoring ancestors