Tuesday, July 16, 2019

White Flint project slashing planned retail/restaurant space

Developer ProMark is slashing the planned retail and restaurant space in its East Village at North Bethesda Gateway project, another troubling sign of moribundity in the White Flint sector plan area. Only Federal Realty has delivered a fully-realized development since the sector plan passed in 2010. While Federal Realty has delivered on its end of the bargain with its successful Pike & Rose property, its CEO has criticized Montgomery County officials for failing to deliver on their end. Inertia and incompetence among the County's elected officials has been compounded by the jurisdiction's hostile business climate. Both factors are crippling White Flint in its effort to compete with booming Tysons, arch-rival Fairfax County's own urban makeover project.

ProMark is asking the County Planning Board to approve a reduction in retail space at East Village from 20,000 SF to only 5000 SF, a retail footprint more in line with a boutique condo building. The developer is clearly looking at market trends, which are all tailing downward in moribund Montgomery County. With the ultra-rich fleeing to lower-tax jurisdictions in the region, there is no longer a wealth base sufficient to support high-end retail, or provide the revenue to fund promised infrastructure and amenities in White Flint and other parts of the county.

Other cost-and-risk-reducing changes in the East Village project reflect the stagnation in the local economy. The originally proposed underground garage, standard in premium luxury buildings, is being replaced with above-ground parking. And the number of residential units is being reduced from 382 to 335.

The Planning Board will take up the proposed plan revisions at its July 18 meeting. Planning staff recommends approval of the changes. East Village will be located at the corner of Nicholson Lane and Huff Court.
Montgomery County is on a fiscal trajectory
towards bankruptcy
Can Montgomery County go on like this? At rock bottom in the region by every relevant economic development benchmark, with revenue declining despite record-high taxes, and with debt so massive that - if the debt were a department in the County government - it would be the third-largest department, the alarm bells are beginning to go off. Those alarms are being heard in New York City, where bond rating agencies are alerting current and potential Montgomery County investors that actions by the County Council have put MoCo's AAA bond rating in danger.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Wilson Lane property owner seeks subdivision in downtown Bethesda

The owners of the Kolius Property at 5027 Wilson Lane are seeking to subdivide the site into two lots. If granted by the Montgomery County Planning Board, they would be recorded as two separate lots, with CRT-2.25 zoning under the Montgomery County zoning code. The property, constructed in 1923, is available for lease and was formerly home to L'Academie de Cuisine until 2017.

Westfield, Rock Spring Centre ask for extensions due to development moratorium

Rock Spring Centre rendering (2015)
Two developers with projects impacted by the Walter Johnson cluster development moratorium are asking the Montgomery County Planning Board for extensions. Westfield is seeking to extend the period of review for preliminary and site plan amendments to its Montgomery Mall outdoor expansion project from July 18, 2019 to July 16, 2020. And the development team for Rock Spring Centre, to be located across Rock Spring Drive from WJ itself, is seeking an extension for the review of its preliminary plan to January 16, 2020.

The extension requests are routine in these situations, but of great public interest in this case for two reasons. For one, this is the first news on the Rock Spring Centre front in five years. The project had approval in 2011, but Peterson Cos. backed out of the partnership in 2012. DRI was ready to reboot the project minus the Silverspot cineplex (which was sunk by the arrival of nearby ArcLight Cinemas and iPic since the original project approval) in the fall of 2015. All that was needed was a new investment partner, which DRI believed it had found.

But that partner never materialized, and the project went quiet for the last four years. The clear concern is that the approvals would expire. Now, Rock Spring Properties, Floyd E. Davis Company and Buchanan Partners say they are prepared to submit a new preliminary plan, but need the extension.

It will be very interesting to see what changes are made, given the state of the market in 2019, and the truly mixed-use nature of the original vision. Class A office space, hotel, retail and entertainment uses were given top billing alongside only 161 apartment units, a downright modest residential component compared to most County projects on far smaller lots. In a letter to Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson, Rock Spring Centre's attorney Steven A. Robins writes that "the plan has evolved."

Robins adds that site plan amendments allowing those changes could be submitted to the County within the next two months. According to his letter, the project still contains office and hotel uses, along with residential, retail and services. We'll have to see what the changes entail to determine if this is still the winning project it has been up to this point. Getting Dave & Buster's into the 90,000 SF entertainment space, and keeping residential in balance with office space, would be winning moves here (D&B has shown with their new Rio location that they are not afraid to have multiple locations in the County).

The second notable thing about the requests by both developers is how supremely incompetent the Montgomery County Council is. They've been doing a lot of talking since 2014 about solving the infrastructure backlog, especially as it regards school capacity. Both of these projects have been in works for years, particularly Rock Spring Centre. Yet, all of these years later, the Council has failed to put together a plan and actually take action. If you can't figure out how to solve the infrastructure deficit in five years, to provide the needed classroom space and prevent a development moratorium, you have no business being on the County Council.

Both extension requests will be reviewed by the Planning Board at its July 18 meeting. Planning staff recommends approval of both extensions.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Potbelly to open in Chevy Chase

JBG Smith has found a restaurant tenant for the former Panera Bread space at 4459 Willard Avenue in Friendship Heights, which has been vacant for about a year and a half. Potbelly Sandwich Shop will open there later this year. This will probably be welcomed by office workers in the area who have missed Panera for lunchtime sandwiches. It's a solidly middle-class entry for an area whose target demographics have trended downward, with the flight of the ultra-rich from Montgomery County to lower-tax jurisdictions in the region.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Maryland named worst state to retire in

High taxes, cost of living,
crime & poor health
sink state in national ranking

Just days after one of Montgomery County's top CEOs bodyslammed elected officials for failing to build the highway infrastructure needed to compete with Northern Virginia, those same County officials and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan were treated to a piledriver from Bankrate.com. The financial advice website ranked all 50 states from best to worst as retirement destinations. Maryland was named the absolute worst state in America to retire in, finishing dead last.

Bankrate cited Maryland's high taxes, high cost of living, unaffordable health care, high crime, and poor health as the primary reasons prospective retirees should steer wide and clear of our state. The last place finish is a national humiliation for our smug, corrupt and self-promoting elected officials. While our Draconian taxes, surging crime and high cost of living are already notorious, the survey especially stung because our elected officials have routinely crowed about how healthy Montgomery County is.

Not so, says Bankrate, which used Maryland health data from Gallup, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to evaluate the wellness of Marylanders, and their access to health care in the state. This isn't the first report to contradict false statements by County politicians on public health. A troubling percentage of residents in eastern Montgomery County self-reported they are in poor health in a County survey that was (not-surprisingly) ignored by all media outlets except this one. And just last year, Montgomery was found to have the highest and fastest-growing rate of sexually-transmitted disease in the state.

Where should you retire? Bankrate declared Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota, Florida, and Kentucky as top destinations for those calling it a career. In dead last, Maryland is far behind Alabama, Tennessee, Texas and other states that are already destroying it in economic development. Along with more disastrous news on that front in recent weeks, will Montgomery County's Lake Wobegon fever finally break and bring serious change to the leadership of our moribund jurisdiction?

Friday, July 12, 2019

More Shark Week merchandise arrives in Bethesda

Shark Week hit CVS Pharmacy early in Montgomery County. Now Vineyard Vines has their own custom official Shark Week apparel and accessories on display. Items include shirts, hats, ties and bow ties, tote bags and phone grips.
The store's tag line for the limited-edition merchandise is, "You're gonna need a bigger closet." You're also gonna need a bigger wallet - the prices on the Shark Week merchandise will inspire sticker shock in all who are new to Vineyard Vines.
Shark Week begins July 28, 2019 on the Discovery Channel. Vineyard Vines is located at Westfield Montgomery Mall.

New ATM drive-thru proposed for Shops at Sumner Place in Bethesda

A new ATM drive-thru has been proposed for the Shops at Sumner Place (a.k.a. Little Falls Mall) shopping center at 4701 Sangamore Road in Bethesda. The specific location of the drive-thru on the property has not yet been publicly disclosed, but the ATM is for Chase Bank, which does not currently have a branch at this shopping center. PNC Bank already has a drive-thru for its pad site location in the Sumner Place parking lot.

A public meeting on the proposal has been scheduled for Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 6:30 PM at Little Falls Library, located at 5501 Massachusetts Avenue.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Work begins on Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Bethesda Row

Construction of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams is now underway on Elm Street at Bethesda Row. A space carved out of neighbor Mamma Lucia's formerly-larger dining room is being transformed into a new storefront for the ice cream shop. Now the question is, are they going to fix the sign that now just says, "Mamma?"

Bethesda construction update: 7272 Wisconsin Avenue (Video+Photos)

Here are some scenes from the construction of 7272 Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda over several recent days. Some of the most important work at the Carr Properties project is being done at night, especially when it requires further lane closures on Wisconsin. 7272 includes both an office tower (The Wilson) and a residential tower (The Elm) atop a ground level base, and the future Purple Line station below that.