Saturday, May 27, 2017
The fire was caused by a short in a compressor, and was extinguished by Safeway employees with a dry chemical fire extinguisher, according to Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesperson Pete Piringer. Fire operations began winding down about 20 minutes later. No injuries have been reported.
Meanwhile, fashion retailer bebe is saying goodbye after their going-out-of-business sale. The store looks empty and deserted, except for a sad note in the window encouraging customers to continue to shop at bebe online. "We promise that we will continue to be everything you know & love," the note reads.
The interior of the store now needs to be built out, but the window covers were off briefly this week, and we can see here the renovated shell of the space. As of this morning, all windows were covered again. Fine Consigns will be right next to Heckman's Delicatessen.
Friday, May 26, 2017
Sexual assault. 6200 block Adelaide Drive at 5:50 PM.
Mental transport. 10400 block Grosvenor Place.
Embezzlement/"confidence game." 5400 block Marinelli Road.
Forgery/counterfeit/identity theft. 11800 block Grand Park Avenue.
Mental transport. 7500 block Leesburg Place.
Stolen auto part. 10500 block Weymouth Street.
Theft from vehicle. 5000 block Smallwood Drive.
Parks won't be of the size needed, and aren't guaranteed. Even the aspirational park sites were simply the low-hanging fruit, such as the parking lots at the edge of town. While that may or may not create a small buffer for the Town of Chevy Chase, those are poor locations for parks, which should be more centrally-located. Where is the green space with trees that can give a respite to pedestrians in the concrete jungle?
There is a slightly-greater commitment to affordable housing downtown, as there should be in an urban center near services and Metro. In contrast, the Westbard sector plan places a greater proportion of affordable units in that neighborhood, where there is little transit and no social services or County facilities. Ultimately, some of the growth that should have occurred downtown near Metro has been shifted to Westbard, a complete violation of smart growth principles.
Speaking of facilities, the Bethesda Downtown Plan is lacking in those, as well. At least a recreation center is under discussion. Westbard was completely shut out, despite having gone without a recreation center for decades.
On the flip side, the heights and density allowed in the core of the Central Business District near Metro are too low for the kind of major corporate tenants we need. One can argue that the question is moot, as the demand for office space in moribund Montgomery County is so weak, that no major corporate tenants will be interested anyway. But under this plan, downtown Bethesda will not be competitive with Tysons in ten or even twenty years. One of the main reasons is that most of what density is allocated will be eaten up by mediocre residential buildings, and Marriott, by the time the 2018 or 2022 County Councils can create a more business-friendly climate (assuming voters don't elect the "new" faces from the old cartel, who will be among the candidates on the ballot). How much will be left, for example, when Federal Realty potentially redevelops part of Bethesda Row, when Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema's lease runs out later in the next decade?
Unbelievably, the increased population downtown will be "accommodated" with lower speed limits and no additional highway capacity on Wisconsin Avenue. The major commuter route is already overloaded with interstate-level traffic, thanks to the cancellation of the Northwest Freeway.
In casting his dissenting vote, Councilmember Elrich noted that, "When you put it all together, the Bethesda plan has no transportation solution, no guaranteed amenities and no binding connection between increased density and the infrastructure necessary to support it.” His vote was an important one, regardless of the overwhelming support the plan had from his developer-beholden colleagues. It sends a clear message, and ensures that the dissenting views of actual residents have to be given at least a mention in media coverage.
In fact, given that the Bethesda Downtown Plan is better than the Westbard plan, I'm honestly puzzled as to why Elrich voted "no" on the former, and "yes" on the latter, instead of no on both.
Perhaps the only thing worse about the Downtown Plan than Westbard, is the uncertainty. Westbard-area residents know they were ripped off, will be getting no amenities at all, and a couple of postage-stamp-sized "parks." They know they're going to get 3000+ people and all their cars dropped into a block-and-a-half area, transformed into a concrete canyon of Soviet-style apartment blocs. And they know there are no plans for new schools, in a cluster where some kids are currently taking gym class in hallways.
In contrast, there's no clear vision at all as to what downtown Bethesda will look like in twenty years. After a promising start between the arrival of Metro and the late 1990s, the vision for downtown went off the rails after the turn of the century. The signature developments of that early period (Newlands Building, Chevy Chase Bank Building, Bethesda Lane, to name a few) have given way to a period where form lags far behind function.
Architectural and public art mediocrity and economic development malaise combine with a lack of real parks, public space and large-scale events (St. Patrick's Day parade? Halloween? Mardi Gras?) to weaken any sense of civic identity. We couldn't even pull off Strut Your Mutt this year. Downtown Bethesda deserves better, and was promised better, decades ago.
Allies of the Council in the local media went even further than the Council's own press release Thursday, falsely declaring that taxes had decreased - even as the release stated otherwise. Fake news. In fact, the Council posted a required ad in local newspapers several weeks ago announcing a budget with an increase in taxes. This follows last year's all-time-high property tax increase of 9% (which many County homeowners found actually translated into tax hikes of 10% or more, based on - yep - those automatic tax hikes that happen whether the Council increases the rate or not), and a major hike in the recordation tax.
So "holding the line" in this case means we're still at the highest level of taxation in Montgomery County history. The Council didn't have to move a muscle to get all that, and a little bit more, from your wallet for this budget.
As I reported a few weeks back, the budget massively overpays for procurement purchases, and funnels money to key donors and political allies in often-duplicative non-profit social services. Some who receive salaries from those non-profits turn portions of their tax hikes into campaign donations for the very councilmembers who voted to approve the funding for their organizations. Funding for a new microlending "Bank of the County Council" can also be "paid forward" by recipients to the campaigns of councilmembers. Those involved in determining who receives the microloans are either directly appointed by the Council, or are within their direct orbits of political influence.
Whether you pay taxes in Montgomery County can also depend on who you are. As I reported this week, developer Regency Centers was found to be in arrears to the County, having not paid their tax bills on two Westbard properties. Yet their development proposals are being pushed through the approval process, at taxpayer expense. As you know, ordinary citizens like you and me can be denied various government benefits and services if we are delinquent on our taxes.
There's a lot in this budget for the beleaguered County taxpayer to review, and perhaps even more for the FBI to examine. Such an examination could turn the Council's unwarranted budget victory lap into a perp walk outside of 100 Maryland Avenue.
Thursday, May 25, 2017
MoCo HOC audited by feds: 75% of units didn't meet HUD standards, 405 code violations found (Photos)
audit findings were first reported by the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County.
Auditors also learned that HOC was using its own contracted inspectors to inspect its units, a violation of Section 10.8 of HUD's Housing Choice Voucher Handbook. Violations found by HUD inspectors included missing smoke detectors, moldy and mildewed showers and ceilings, exposed sewer pipes, and an improperly-vented hot water heater that could have prevented gas from being exhausted out of the building properly. Combined with a second gas-related violation that "could result in an explosion," the findings are particularly disturbing after the 2016 Flower Branch apartments explosion, which killed 7 people.
In all, auditors determined that $44,887 in federal taxpayer money given to HOC could have been "put to better use" on housing that would comply with HUD standards, a waste of tax dollars during an affordable housing crisis. Auditors have advised HUD that it should require HOC to reimburse HUD for the wasted funds.
HOC is a partner with Regency Centers in the proposed redevelopment on Westbard Avenue in Bethesda. The audit report follows the revelation earlier this week that Regency Centers was in arrears to Montgomery County, having not paid taxes on two Westbard properties.
Once again, the Montgomery County Council has failed to perform its oversight role over the HOC.
|Would you use this moldy|
shower at an HOC unit
in Montgomery County?
|One of two gas-venting|
violations found in HOC housing
auditors said "could result in an
|Exposed sewer pipe|
where a toilet was removed
but never replaced
Once again, the Montgomery County Council has failed to perform its oversight role over the HOC.
This one already has a semi-trashy appearance, due to something being stuck on or damaged on the right side, not long after it was installed (unless it looked like that when they erected it). That should be fixed, to avoid a snarky "Stay classy, Regency Centers," remark from patrons.
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Like them on Facebook, and get a free bowl and maybe even a free t-shirt or other swag, between now and 1:00 PM.
On Tuesday, the recycling trucks didn't bother to show up again in Bethesda. As night fell, recycling bins in neighborhoods counted their 24th hours at the curb, where residents placed them the night before. Naturally, those residents assumed the bins and earth-saving yard trim collections would be, you know, picked up on Trash Day.
Ironically, the County had done a lot of talking about recycling pickup on Tuesday, just very little actual picking up. They apparently forgot that 80% of success in life is showing up. As they say, "you had one job."
As recycling bins cluttered the roads, the County was talking. And talking. New contractors! Effective May 30! Just for Silver Spring!
But they weren't collecting.
But they weren't collecting.
Their efforts were mainly an attempt to look busy. Who wrote the contract for recycling collection? Does it have no penalties for simply not bothering to provide service? How many firms bid on this work, given that there have been issues with this contractor going back several years, such as labor disputes?
Why is the Council impotent on this issue, as they are on so many other critical issues? Will residents' trash and recycling fees be partially refunded for the unacceptable service? How does this keep going on, week after week?
Recycling contractor Potomac Disposal has made campaign contributions to councilmembers Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal, according to the Maryland Campaign Finance database. It's unclear if those donations also get them a free pass for frequently dropping and smashing glass bottles they were supposed to pick up, and then driving away, leaving broken glass shards to puncture taxpayers' tires.
I particularly like how the official announcement yesterday said that, if your recycling isn't picked up, "leave your material at the curb. The contractor will collect missed items as soon as possible."
Don't call us, we'll call you.
It's time for the County Council to be put out at the curb, for quick pickup on Election Day 2018.
|Montgomery County Council|
President Roger Berliner speaks
to the MoCo NAACP general
meeting last night in Rockville
"This is awkward"
Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner faced tough questioning about his role in an ongoing controversy over the African-American cemetery on the Westwood Tower property in Bethesda, at last night's county NAACP meeting. Leaders of Macedonia Baptist Church are scheduled to attend their first mediation meeting with the Planning Department and developer Regency Centers today, the beginning of a process Berliner and County Executive Ike Leggett had suggested two months ago. But the Planning Board ignored the letter and gave Regency a green light to conduct a private study of the cemetery. That plan was unacceptable to church officials, who noted that such a study would be inherently biased toward Regency, which was paying the firm conducting it.
|Rev. Segun Adebayo, pastor of|
Macedonia Baptist Church
social justice director at MBC
|Harvey Matthews, who was|
a resident of the historic River Road
African-American community, before
it was wiped out by developers
While saying he disagreed with Coleman-Adebayo on Wright, Berliner did move further toward acknowledging the cemetery exists. "There is an extraordinary amount of evidence. I concede that." He also apologized to Harvey Matthews, who was a resident of the black community on River Road, until his family was forced out by developers.
Matthews also pressed Berliner on the skeptical language officials keep using, despite Matthews himself having given firsthand accounts of the cemetery to County officials. He said he told Wright that construction workers who desecrated the cemetery while building Westwood Tower in the late 1960s spoke of having dug a "trench" on the site. Using a bulldozer, he said, they plowed remains into that mass grave, an illegal act. But an act that proves the bodies are still there.
Snowden Funeral Home, with vast knowledge of African-American burials in the county, has no record of the cemetery being relocated, Matthews noted. No documents have been found to suggest a removal. He himself used to play among the graves when he was a child growing up on River Road. "This is the real deal," he said of the graveyard. Having officials continue to express skepticism about the cemetery is "very disgusting, with me being born and raised there," he said.
"To the extent to which you feel disrespected, or you feel your ancestors were disrespected, I apologize," Berliner replied.
Matthews recalled how Wright dismissed the two anthropologists the church had wanted to monitor the cemetery investigation. "Wright kicked them to the curb. Why did they kick our people to the curb," Matthews asked Berliner.
Wright remains a controversial figure at the center of the cemetery scandal. When Berliner dashed out the door before the meeting was over, some from the church followed him outside the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville. Wright "is a racist, and we all know it," Coleman-Adebayo said as Berliner walked to his car. "I don't believe that to be true," Berliner responded. "I don't believe Gwen Wright is a racist." "She wanted an all-white staff," Coleman-Adebayo countered, referring to the archaeological investigation of the cemetery. "That's the reality of it. And that's who you're supporting."
The two anthropologists dismissed by Wright were African-Americans, with extensive experience and peer acclaim in site studies of historic black cemeteries.
Berliner appeared to know he was in for a tough night early on, noting, "this is awkward." To his credit, he did not surround himself with police or security guards to have a civil conversation with his constituents, unlike Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and others. He is also literally the only person to apologize to anyone from the church so far, regarding the disastrous way County officials have handled this matter. Of course, none of that guarantees - yet - that we are going to have a full and fair investigation of this cemetery, on which Regency Centers and Montgomery County want to build a parking garage.
The Council President wasn't just feeling the pressure from the audience in front of him. From the executive officers' table behind Berliner, Montgomery County NAACP President Linda Plummer made clear the organization stands with the church on the cemetery issue. "I want everyone to know the NAACP supports Macedonia Baptist Church, and their [pursuit] of justice."
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
See the full Montgomery in Bloom schedule on the mall's website.
|Fashion by Lily Pulitzer|
|The display is accessible to|
the disabled, as this
patron found while taking
a wheelchair tour
|Hashtag your selfies with|
|Sample a floral tea|
from David's Tea
|...or a macaron from|