Sunday, August 31, 2014


The future Microsoft Store at Westfield Montgomery Mall has posted a large Coming Soon wrap at its upper level site, near Macy's. Its message is echoed by the store's website, which says "Get ready to experience the Microsoft Store near you. Although we can't reveal too much now, we can promise a lot of fun – and dancing – during our Grand Opening."

Celebrity guests at recent Microsoft Store openings have included Adam Levine, Kelly Clarkson and Demi Lovato. Whether Bethesda will get stars of that echelon remains unknown at this point. If not, the promised "dancing" will be more likely generated by the Kinect system for Xbox One.


Remember the Spotluck app for iPhone and Android I reported on a few weeks back? As promised, it has added more restaurants in the Bethesda Row area to its database. New restaurants include: Newton’s Table, Redwood, Tyber Bierhaus, Pitzze, Markham’s, Parker’s, Mussel Bar, Cesco Osteria, and Lebanese Taverna.

Spotluck is simple to use, but also has complex algorithms behind the screens. For example, it calculates how low the discount needs to be to attract diners out to restaurants on a rainy Tuesday night.


The JBG Companies, the development firm that owns Artery Plaza at 7200 Wisconsin Avenue, is promising to bring "Bethesda's next great restaurant" to a Bethesda Avenue-side vacant space. An elaborate window display with this theme has been installed on the site, giving an artist's rendition of what the atmosphere might be like (indoors and out) with the addition of this eatery.

JBG has sought to modify the exterior architecture of the building, including removal of a large arch, to make it more appealing to a high-end restaurant tenant. The sizable space includes an 825 square foot outdoor patio area, which would go a long way towards animating the somewhat dark, dead block of Bethesda Avenue where it is located.

If they could somehow get a restaurant that squeezes the word, "American," in between "Great" and "Restaurant," that would be a sure winner. JBG actually did attract the first Great American Restaurant Group (Coastal Flats, Jackson's Mighty Fine Food, Sweetwater Tavern, etc.) location outside of Virginia to its Downtown Crown development in Gaithersburg. So maybe they have an inside contact they can work there? GAR has been part of a trend which has seen several hot restaurant brands leapfrogging over Bethesda, to go further out into the suburbs (Matchbox and Chef Geoff's to Rockville, Ted's Bulletin to Downtown Crown, for example). It's time to reverse the trend!

Saturday, August 30, 2014


There are lots more signs that the new Bainbridge Bethesda luxury apartment tower is finished today. First, and foremost, Turner Construction has closed its Bainbridge field office. Second, the official Bainbridge Bethesda sign has been attached to the building. And, finally, the switch was thrown to activate the decorative lighting on the pedestrian street/plaza that runs alongside the building between St. Elmo and Fairmont Avenues.
Close-up on the sign

The lights are on,
and somebody's home
Turner Construction
field office

Mission accomplished

All clear

View of Bainbridge Bethesda from
the Turner field office


Lisa Banusiewicz is typically working hard in the National Office & Industrial Group at Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Services, in downtown Bethesda. But she is also a loyal customer at Bethesda Row's Puree Juice Bar. So loyal, that Puree is offering a drink in her honor for a limited time.

Named after her Instagram handle OMGItsLisaB, it's officially called OMGIt'sLisaB(uzz). What's in it? 3 oz. coffee, 2 oz. date paste, cinnamon, vanilla bean powder, and 11 oz. almond "mylk."

Stop in and try it before it's gone. And don't forget to follow me on Instagram at @BethesdaRow!

Puree Juice Bar
4903 Elm Street

Regram from @PureeJuice


The Westbard Sector Plan process has officially launched, as the Montgomery County Planning Department welcomed the public to a new website with an overview of the process schedule. Residents, business owners and other interested parties can sign up for newsletters and RSVP for the first public meeting, which will be September 23, 7-9 PM at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda.

There are a couple of minor issues on the website and Twitter account. First, the images used could be refined to be more indicative of the true character of the west Bethesda area. Currently, the pictures include a Cherry Blossom-season photo from Kenwood (with homes cropped out) and a nature scene. Those are  accurate. The Capital Bikeshare photo suggests the goal of getting more people to ride bikes to or from downtown Bethesda, Friendship Heights, or into the District. Fair enough, and a laudable goal.

But the second photo isn't a photo at all - its an artist rendering taken directly from promotional materials for developer EYA's Little Falls Place townhomes. This seems inappropriate for several reasons.
Townhome image (R) is taken directly
from developer EYA's promotional

First and foremost, EYA is one of the developers whose fortunes will depend upon the outcome of this Westbard Sector Plan. It has partnered with Equity One to redevelop the Westwood Complex. For the planning department to utilize a developer's promotional material for a process in which that developer stands to profit is unwise. It could - wrongly, I would hope - suggest that planners are showing favor to that developer, and to a particular land use with which it is associated - namely, high-density, multi-family housing.

Second, and not far behind, is the fact that townhomes and apartments are not the predominant land use in the neighborhoods served by the commercial-industrial area termed the "Westbard Sector." There should be a photo of a single-family home up there. The handful of high-rise buildings that exist in the Westbard area are not compliant with the new zoning that will be applied; they are grandfathered in. Single-family homes are the dominant land use, and should not be entirely missing from any promotion imagery used by the County in the planning process.

Finally - and most obviously - it's just a drawing! If you want to show a townhome, show one that already exists. As is, the image favors a developer directly involved in the Westbard process, and absolutely is not representative of the area as a whole.

The other minor issue was an inaccurate statement about the history of the Westbard area, and the residential neighborhoods around it. It reads:

"Over a period of years, the residential uses were built around the commercial/industrial areas which extend along River Road and Westbard Avenue."

In reality, several residential neighborhoods predate the commercial/industrial areas. The commercial-industrial zone itself was actually an African-American residential community, dating back to Maryland Emancipation through the 1950s. Kenwood was founded prior to World War II. Many homes and neighborhoods existed before the Westwood Shopping Center was opened in 1959. The history of the area is tremendous, and should be respected in the planning process going forward.

Going forward...

Have concerns about the outcome of the Westbard Sector Plan process? For news and analysis going forward, continue to follow this blog, and @BethesdaRow on Twitter.

If you're really interested in the Westbard process, you'll also want to follow this special @Westbard account on Twitter, as well.

Friday, August 29, 2014


The houses near the corner of Hampden Lane and Arlington Road are still standing, but demolition operations are really just beginning on the Toll Brothers City Living Hampden Row luxury condos.

You can see where a utility right-of-way along the side of Hampden Lane has been excavated. All utilities, from electricity to communication to water/sewer, will have to be of higher capacity for a building, than for a few older homes.

Some damage back here,
but the main structures
are still standing

Exposed utilities (likely
newly-installed, based on
their condition)


For a second time this summer, a downtown Bethesda massage parlor has been quietly shut down. And for the second time, a "Do Not Occupy" sign has been posted in the window of the spa in question. In neither case has any illegal activity or arrest(s) been announced publicly. My guess is, many people walking past may be wondering or speculating as to what is going on.

In early June, Massage Express closed temporarily at 7135 Wisconsin Avenue, and the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services posted a Do Not Occupy notice in the window. I had not heard of any arrests or police activity there, but it's fairly unusual to see a notice like this in downtown Bethesda. I contacted the DPS, and the email response said, "There was some issue with Massage Express use and occupancy permit, which has been resolved. Massage Express has re-opened their business as of June 12, 2014." No details, but the business reopened as normal.

Massage Express on June 10

Now, the same sign has been posted at Bethesda Wellness Spa, at 4715 Cordell Avenue (top photo). Why massage parlors?

One factor may be legitimate businesses getting snagged by new County rules designed to fight human trafficking. DPS now requires documentation from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Services that certifies every massage practitioner has obtained a valid Board of Chiropractic Medicine Massage Therapist Certification. Until such is supplied by DLRS, no occupancy permit will be issued/re-issued. So just one therapist's credentials (or lack thereof) could potentially lead to a temporary closure, until the paperwork can be verified.

Given that there is no indication of any unlawful issues at either business online, or in the press, it seems likely that the issue is regulatory red tape.
Bethesda Wellness Spa

Reviews on Yelp give
high marks for the
spa's atmosphere and


Somebody was listening last week, when I reported on the massive hole that remained in Montgomery County Parking Garage 40 (Cordell-St. Elmo Garage) after a car wreck four months ago. The wall is being patched up, and the space is blocked off in the meantime. A fresh coat of paint on the exterior and interior walls should leave Garage 40 looking as good as new.
Exterior view from
St. Elmo Avenue

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Smoothie King has posted "Coming Soon" signage in a vacant storefront on Bethesda Avenue. The shop will move to the former Zen Tara Tea space at 4710 Bethesda Avenue. Its current Connor Building location will be demolished to make way for a Westin hotel and office complex.

I'm afraid Smoothie King's biggest moment in Bethesda history was not beverage-related. Rather, it was the infamous Smoothie King armed robbery, executed with aplomb by the now-legendary Whitman Five gang. As in Walt Whitman High School. Uno's Pizzeria. A Vera Bradley handbag. And an actual getaway car.

If you're new to Bethesda, it may be an entertaining story for you.

The existing Smoothie King
location at 7720 Wisconsin
Avenue in Bethesda


The Montgomery County Department of Transportation's Division of Transportation Engineering (DTE) has selected a "preferred alternative" for the Goldsboro Road Pedestrian and Bicycle Project in Bethesda. It is now soliciting public comment on the proposal - but made the announcement in a press release only 48 hours before the deadline for public comment. The deadline is Friday, August 29, 2014 (unclear if that is close-of-business, or midnight).

While the selected option took into account previous public input on the possible alternatives, 48 hours seems hardly enough time for the public to engage on this matter. The press release does not even say exactly how one is to provide feedback, but gives a telephone number (240.777.7279) and email for the project's manager, Greg Hwang. I've communicated with Mr. Hwang before on other projects in the county, and found him to be very helpful, so I'm sure he can point you in the right direction.

43 people attended a December meeting on the proposed facilities, and 61 out of 65 submitted comments endorsed one of the possible designs, according to the MCDOT. It is unclear how many of the 61 endorsed Alternate 2, which is the one chosen by DTE.

Alternate 2 (as illustrated above - click the image to enlarge) will provide two 11-foot automobile lanes, one 5' to 5.5' bike lane in each direction, one 5' sidewalk along the northern side of Goldsboro with a green buffer in-between it and the road, some similar sidewalk segments along the southern side, and street lighting. The design will only apply to the portion of Goldsboro Road between River Road and MacArthur Boulevard. A separate bike facility upgrade has been underway along MacArthur for some time, which included a recent striping of lanes, crosswalks and bike lanes near Glen Echo.

Overall, it sounds like a good plan. My only question would be, can we measure what the stormwater runoff impact of the added sidewalk pavement will be on the Minnehaha Branch stream, which flows alongside Goldsboro Road?


Montgomery County's point man on noise says the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission failed to properly notify residents near St. Elmo Avenue of nighttime work that has kept many tossing and turning this week. Steve Martin, Environmental Compliance Supervisor for the county's Department of Environmental Protection, said in a letter to the Triangle Towers Apartments on Cordell Avenue that the WSSC admitted to him they did not provide the notifications. 

Martin informed the utility that there were 3 residential buildings within the 300' notification range that should have been notified in advance of the noisy work: Triangle Towers, the Bainbridge Bethesda apartments, and the Fairmont Plaza condominiums. I personally have heard from several residents in each of those buildings, as well as one resident of The Palisades, all of whom have complained of the noise over the last several nights.

And the work is not finished. According to a copy of the memo obtained by Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row, WSSC's contractor will be back on-site tonight, and on the evenings of September 2 and 3, 2014. The work involves a sewer line replacement, mandated by federal regulations on aging and failing sewer lines, according to Martin.

What can you do about the noise? Martin advises sleepless residents to contact Brandon Stewart, the WSSC Customer Care Representative for Bethesda, by email.

Martin says that, as a state entity, the WSSC is exempt from the county's noise ordinance - and that they did not advise him of the work in advance, either. He said he has informed the Bethesda Urban Partnership, Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, and the 2nd District station of the Montgomery County Police about the noise issue.

Here are some photos from their work last night:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Bethesda photographer Carly Glazier is reopening her studio at 4715 Cordell Avenue, after being forced out of the space by plumbing problems earlier this year. Two plumbing disasters, and the resulting damage, led Glazier to not renew her lease a couple of months ago. With the issues now resolved, Glazier has signed a new lease, and will reopen the studio on September 1.

You may notice there is also a spiffy new sign above the storefront (above photo).


Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on August 24, according to crime data:

Theft. 4900 block St. Elmo Avenue.

Assault. Norfolk Avenue at St. Elmo Avenue.

Assault. 7100 block Bethesda Lane at 8:40 PM (Bethesda Row).

Assault. Unit block of W. Melrose Street.

"Other sexual offense." 11500 block Rockville Pike (White Flint).

Theft. Sears at Westfield Montgomery Mall.

Burglary. 3700 block Village Park Drive.

Theft. 4500 block Willard Avenue.

Theft. 5400 block Westbard Avenue.

Robbery/theft from vehicle. 9800 block Raleigh Tavern Court .

Vehicle burglary. 9600 block Singleton Drive.

Vehicle burglary. 6500 block Wilmett Road.

Theft. Jiffy Lube at 5535 Nicholson Lane.

Theft. White Flint Metro station.


7900 Wisconsin Avenue, an office building slated for demolition in the coming months, has been barricaded with cones. The structure will be eliminated to make way for The JBG Companies' 7900 Wisconsin mixed-use project, featuring luxury apartments and anchored by a Trader Joe's grocery store.

Fitness First remains open on Wisconsin Avenue, but 7900 is vacant with a blank lobby directory.

It is unclear if this is a step towards placement of construction fencing, or to what extent the Wisconsin Avenue sidewalk will be impacted by the demolition and construction ahead. The cones are greatly reducing the sidewalk right-of-way. With the newspaper boxes in place, the open width does not appear to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act requirements. Even walkers were having difficulty passing each other on the sidewalk Tuesday evening. Adjustments should be made to address this.

One other trivial point - the cones are labeled for Aldon Management, which operates several buildings in the Battery Lane area of Bethesda, including the venerable 8200 apartment tower on Wisconsin.
You can see how much of the sidewalk
is taken up by the cones and
newspaper boxes; not very
pedestrian or ADA-friendly
Now-vacant lobby of 7900

When all else fails, duct
tape is the answer

Aldon Management is a
hometown company

The lights are on, but
nobody's home