Sunday, April 01, 2007

Lights! Camera! Action!! A Capital Properties Production. A Richard Cohen Film. Nicolas Cage. Diane Krueger. National Treasure 2. In this one, Benjamin Franklin Gates is searching for the treasure hidden somewhere in the Westwood Shopping Center. Not quite, but the crew working on the movie set up a tent city in the shopping center parking lot. This included a large circus tent that apparently was a mess hall, RVs, campers, semi trucks, fake DC police cruisers, and some security guards who acted like they owned the place. But who does own the place?

Richard Cohen, the New York-based developer who just bought it last year, that's who. This is the first time my blog has broken a news story, but nobody covered this and, most importantly, nobody told the neighborhood this was going to happen!

Since when can you use a shopping center as a campground in Montgomery County? Who issued the permits, if any were issued? Can I buy an RV, park it in the shopping center and live there? And pitch a tent beside it? Can I serve meals to a crowd of 100 people there? Doesn't this prove the rarity and value of the large surface parking lot we have there? Why are we getting the abuse, refuse, and damage to our roads and parking lot while the DC Government gets all the profits from the movie?

Is this a sign of what's to come in the future as the redevelopment of Westbard goes forward? Specifically, a profit-driven process at the expense of those who live here? It is very troubling and comes at a critical time in the Westbard Sector planning process.

It's a peculiar story that begins with the Park Bethesda high-end luxury apartment building suddenly being leased to American University as a dormitory(!). You know, why make millions on luxury apartments in Bethesda when you can make less and have tenants who'll trash the place - what a brilliant business strategy!

Then, what about the sweetheart deal Capital Properties got? In a zip code where houses go for $2 million, you can buy the entire Westbard Sector, properties included, for only $20 million? These two transactions just don't pass the smell test, in my opinion.

The average resident has, so far, been left out of the process. Despite all the hype about Park and Planning, it's still business as usual there. The developer-funded Democrats on the County Council got the man they wanted to head Park and Planning. You've got to ask yourself why those council members wanted him so badly. As a recent example, I only found out about a new industrial building being built on River Road by reading about it in the Montgomery section! This is on top of the self-storage building that literally just appeared overnight behind the Park Bethesda. The neighbors were never consulted about either building.

That our industrial zone is being expanded rather than phased out is very interesting. The County government, and its developer-beholden politicians, quickly closed the cement plant on Bethesda Avenue and tore up the Georgetown Branch railroad practically overnight. Why was it so quick to do that, but is leaving our industrial zone intact? And what is the significance of this winner-take-all, double standard development in light of the Westbard Sector redevelopment?

I hope to have answers sooner rather than later.