Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Ranked voting for Montgomery County elections advances in Annapolis

A bill that would drastically change Montgomery County's election process could be voted on in Annapolis as early as this week. MC 19-18/HB 173 would allow the Montgomery County Council to implement Ranked Choice Voting for County elected offices. It leaves all of the decisionmaking on how to implement instant runoff voting in the hands of the Council, ranging from how the ballots would be designed, to where they would be counted (in each precinct, or at a central location).

Ranked Choice Voting allows voters to rank a first choice, second choice, for each elected office on the ballot. Proponents say it allows the majority to prevail. A winning candidate who doesn't have an actual majority of votes can be bumped in favor of a second-place finisher, who has received more second and third place votes than the winner.

Is this good or bad? There seems to be no definitive study or consensus opinion. Some say it gives a boost to third party candidates. The Cato Institute says it "actually neuters third parties." Republicans have fought it in Maine; College Republicans in Virginia just endorsed it this month. The lack of cohesive response might suggest that ranked voting is indeed fair to all, and being focused on dozens of major local issues, I'm not prepared to condemn something I haven't had time to study in great detail.

But, the skeptic - which any good journalist should be - would naturally have to ask, "Why is the Council pushing for this?" What problem is it addressing? There have been no disputed elections in Montgomery County. There have been no spoiler victories, no GOP victories, and no third-party victories.

Ranked voting might have stopped Donald Trump from gaining primary and general election victories, but Trump was crushed by Hillary Clinton in Montgomery County, and this bill only applies to County offices. We know that Montgomery County Democratic turnout was low in June 2014, but the low turnout was mainly the result of incumbents' desire to hold the Democratic primary while many voters were at the beach.

At this point, I would just like to hear ranked voting proponents answer what specific problem in Montgomery County elections this bill is solving. For example, how the outcome of County races in 2014 would have changed with ranked voting, and what benefit that change would have had. If these types of Montgomery County-specific questions cannot be answered, it would not speak well for the bill, or garner public support for Council action if it passes.

Club Pilates soft opening Thursday in Bethesda (Photos)

The permanent sign is up and lit at the new Club Pilates, replacing Ten Thousand Villages at 4959 Elm Street in downtown Bethesda. One of two new fitness options opening in Bethesda this week, Club Pilates will hold a soft opening this Thursday, February 22, 2018.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Spring Mill Bread Co. closes in Bethesda (Photos)

Local favorite Spring Mill Bread Co. has closed at 4961 Elm Street in Bethesda. The bakery has been open for 25 years, Their lease has ended, and they decided to close, according to the owners. Spring Mill's Rockville and Takoma Park locations remain open, and they say some of the Bethesda employees will transfer to those bakeries.

JBG Smith wants part of Reed Street again in Bethesda

Developer JBG Smith is again seeking to acquire right-of-way from the former Reed Street, near the intersection of Bethesda and Woodmont Avenues. However, unlike previous petitions (one successful, but not acted-upon by the deadline), JBG Smith is this time asking only for a portion of Reed Street that runs directly adjacent to their 4747 Bethesda Avenue project. This is an 18'-wide strip that the developer has always intended to serve as a public space, alongside the two-level retail structure that has been completed at the 4747 site.

The total area of the strip would be 3303 SF, according to the Montgomery County Planning Department. JBG Smith already has an agreement with the County that allows it to place tables and chairs in that strip of Reed Street. Under the new petition, the strip would be owned by JBG Smith, if approved by the Planning Board at their March 1 meeting. Planning staff is recommending approval of the request.

Those who recall Montgomery County recently paying a fortune to buy a triangular chunk of land adjacent to the Reed Street right-of-way may be wondering how JBG Smith can get valuable land in the same area via simple abandonment by the County. The key difference is that this is public right-of-way, such as any other the County abandons rather frequently; the larger piece acquired by Parks was private property. Whether abandoning it helps JBG Smith make a better public space for the benefit of Bethesda, or is a mistake, is up to the public to comment and the Board to decide.

Many are wondering what is going in that building alongside this right-of-way. Dean & DeLuca was announced as the retail tenant, and was to have opened last year. However, Dean & DeLuca's contractors never began to build the interior for their store. A commercial real estate source told me that was because the deal was off, and there would never be a Dean & DeLuca store there.

When I inquired with JBG Smith, the company said the store would open two years later than planned, in 2019, because Dean & DeLuca wanted to make design changes. In the last month, two other sources have told me Eataly would replace Dean & DeLuca as the anchor tenant. Eataly spokesperson Sara Massarotto told me their current expansion plans only include two North American openings: Las Vegas this year, and Toronto in 2019. Stay tuned.

TRUEBODY Bethesda schedules opening events

TRUEBODY Bethesda, the long-awaited new gym in the historic Bethesda Post Office building at 7400 Wisconsin Avenue, will officially open next Monday, February 26, 2018. However, they will also be holding several Open House events this coming weekend at the facility, which has a modern addition behind the historic structure out front.

Stop by this Friday, February 23 (9:00 AM - 8:00 PM), Saturday, February 24 (9:00 AM - 5:00 PM), or Sunday, February 25 (9:00 AM - 5:00 PM), when you will be able to try a class or their 90-minute TRUEBODY Experience, tour the facility, meet the staff, enjoy food and refreshments, sign up at the discounted pre-opening rate, and - assuming you do - go through a member orientation.

You can see the schedule of classes and events this weekend, and sign up, on their website.

Rendering courtesy TRUEBODY Bethesda

Bistro LaZeez now for sale in Bethesda (Photos)

What a couple of weeks it has been for Bistro LaZeez at 8009 Norfolk Avenue in downtown Bethesda. First, they "temporarily closed" at the end of January. Then they were officially shut down by the Montgomery County health department on February 8. A week later, their landlord went after them for unpaid rent and late fees in court. Now the restaurant is for sale for $100,000.

I and some readers have seen ads prior to this offering a restaurant that sounded like the bistro. But this ad now posted on the front of the restaurant makes it official. It offers the business as a turnkey restaurant opportunity, with the prospective new owner taking up the rest of the seven years remaining on the lease.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Honest Tea celebrates 20 years in Bethesda (Photos)

It may not seem like it, but Honest Tea has been around for two decades as of this month. The 4827 Bethesda Avenue-based company is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and despite hitting the big time via a partnership with Coca-Cola, people all over the world still see their Bethesda address on each bottle. Honest Tea was launched in co-founder and "TeaEO" Seth Goldman's house on February 2, 1998, less than one mile from their corporate office.

My Eye Dr. sets moving date in Bethesda

New Elm Street location
We knew that My Eye Dr. was planning to move from Bethesda Row to a new location at 4917 Elm Street, and now we know when. The eyewear retailer will make the move on Monday, February 26, 2018. Their new spot is at the Shoppes of Bethesda, in a space that most recently was home to the long-shuttered Bethesda Barbecue Company.
Current location

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Bethesda flags at half staff after Florida school shooting (Video+Photos)

Flags were at half staff for the opening day of the new 2nd District Montgomery County police station on Rugby Avenue, following this week's school shooting in Parkland, Florida. As they were at the Bethesda Metro Center plaza.

Old Georgetown Safeway closing sale now 50% off (Video+Photos)


The Safeway store closing in March at 7625 Old Georgetown Road in downtown Bethesda has just upped the savings in its store closing sale. Everything is now 50% off, "restrictions and exemptions apply - see store manager for details." As you can see, many shelves are already empty. You have to have signed up for the Safeway Club Card to get the savings (type in your phone number if you don't have your physical card).

Friday, February 16, 2018

Metrobus T2 stop at River Road and Beech Tree Road closed through Feb. 25

WMATA has announced that the T2 Metrobus stop (Stop # 20001329) on River Road at Beech Tree Road has been closed due to construction. The closure and construction are scheduled to continue through February 25, 2018. WMATA made the obvious suggestion of waiting for/exiting the bus at the Glenriddle Road, or Helmsdale Road instead.

Shuttered Bistro LaZeez now hit for failing to pay rent (Photos)

The last week has concluded as badly as it began for Bistro LaZeez at 8009 Norfolk Avenue in downtown Bethesda. Last Thursday, the Montgomery County health department closed the restaurant down. But yesterday, a landlord's complaint filed in the District Court of Maryland stated the bistro has failed to pay rent for several months. A sheriff's summons has been posted in the window. The document declares the restaurant owes $44,433.24 in back rent and late fees, and demands a total of $47,475.24 be paid by the trial date of March 7.

La Madeleine in downtown Bethesda to be replaced with residential building (Photos)

A sign was erected outside of La Madeleine at 7607 Old Georgetown Road yesterday announcing a proposed redevelopment of the property with a mixed-use residential project. The proposed building would have up to 200 residential units, up to 2600 SF of retail (suggesting a small building footprint - this is similar to the now-stalled Claiborne condos project's 2800 SF of retail space at 4820 Auburn Avenue), and an underground parking garage of unspecified size.

La Madeleine doesn't represent vintage Bethesda. But you know a restaurant has been here for a long time when it still has a stand-alone sign, before such business-promoting methods were banned by anti-business Montgomery County. Better to let motorists guess what the businesses are as they drive by - that's sure to augment business owners' bottom lines.

This is prime Metro-proximate land, and exactly the place density should go.A public meeting on the project has been scheduled for Monday, March 5, 2018 at 7:00 PM at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center at 4805 Edgemoor Lane, in Conference Room B - West Room.

Lucy Ethiopian restaurant to open Saturday in Bethesda (Photos)

Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant plans to open Saturday, according to an employee. Located at 4865 Cordell Avenue, it will be the second Ethiopian restaurant to open in as many weeks in a town that previously had none. The owners have an existing location in Silver Spring, and the menu here is expected to be similar, the employee said. Here is a sneak preview of the restaurant interior:

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Bethesda construction update: The Lindley at Chevy Chase Lake (Photos)

The Lindley, a high-rise luxury apartment building whose construction topped out in December, will be one of the first Purple Line projects to deliver at Chevy Chase Lake. An 11-story building with 199 units, The Lindley will feature a rooftop deck with bocce court and grilling stations, a park, a game room, a fitness center, multiple lounges, and a dog walk, as well as a selection of studio, 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom, or 3-bedroom apartments.

Pre-leasing of apartments is expected to commence in June, and first move-ins are anticipated in September. The Lindley's developers are EYA and the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission. Design Collective is the architecture firm, and Donohoe Construction is the construction contractor.

Tastee Diner assembles team to protect their property interests during Marriott HQ construction

Downtown Bethesda landmark Tastee Diner will have a front row seat for the imminent excavation and construction of the new Marriott headquarters and hotel at 7750 Wisconsin Avenue. Deep excavations that go right up to the property line can sometimes be too close for comfort, and tower crane overswing agreements have to be worked out with adjoining property owners. To that end, the ownership of the diner is retaining a team of professionals, to watch out for the best interests of the property during the construction.

The diner will be represented by the law firm of Silver, McGowan & Silver, P.C. Local architect Steven J. Karr, AIA, is being retained as the owner's representative, agent and project gatekeeper. Rogan Stearns, P.E. of Stearns Engineering will be the consulting structural engineer, and the geotechnical engineer for Tastee will be Gerry Davit, P.E. of Professional Consulting Corporation.

Karr will play a key role in assisting Tastee's legal representation in negotiating a Support Structure and Crane Overswing Agreement with The Bernstein Companies and Boston Properties, who own the Marriott site. He will also review project plans, and coordinate with both Tastee's attorney and the Marriott project team throughout the excavation and construction. Karr will also monitor any physical impacts of the Marriott work on the Tastee building and property.

Tastee Diner is located at 7731 Woodmont Avenue, at the rear western corner of the Marriott site. Marriott actively sought to assemble the diner and Woodmont Grill properties into its headquarters site, but the plan was scuttled after the latter declined to sell.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Apex Building rubble (Photos)

Here's a look at the rubble remaining on the site of the demolished Apex Building at 7272 Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, as well as views of the site with the building now missing from the skyline from various perspectives. The building will be replaced by a mixed-use project from Carr Properties, over a new Purple Line light rail station.