Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Assault on Whittier Blvd., car stolen on Manning Dr. + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on February 25, according to crime data:

Drug arrest. 4900 block St. Elmo Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. 4600 block Chestnut Street.

Stolen car. 5100 block Manning Drive.

Assault. 7100 block Whittier Boulevard.

Collision/property damage. 8200 block W. Buckspark Lane.

Theft. Lord & Taylor (White Flint Mall).

Theft. 7100 block Democracy Boulevard.

Downtown Bethesda antiques shop to close (Photos)

The antique store at the corner of Woodmont and Cordell Avenues will close in about two weeks. A closing sale with savings of up to 50% off is currently underway. Antique objects, light fixtures, artwork, rugs, tapestries and accessories are available now.

Moribund economy, MCPS declining, roads jammed; MoCo Council's top priority? Vending machines!

Moribund Montgomery County is the only DC-area jurisdiction to suffer a net loss in jobs since the year 2000. The County Council's own reports show Montgomery County Public Schools in a steady decline since 2010, with a growing achievement gap and deadly gang problem. Our unfinished highway system is in utter gridlock, nearly 20 years after voters elected the laughably-named "End Gridlock" council slate. What is the very top agenda item this week for one of that slate's members, George Leventhal?

"Healthy vending machines."

You can't make this stuff up, folks! That's right, Leventhal and...surprise, surprise...Councilmember Hans Riemer will be in the 3rd Floor Conference Room of the County Council Building this morning, for a big press conference to introduce a bill to replace your Big Texas Cinnamon Roll and Mrs. Freshley's Jumbo Honey Bun with bean sprouts and kale chips. The bill will apply to all vending machines on county property, and require 65% of vending machine items to be "healthy."

If you need to kill some time around 11:45 AM, get some cheap entertainment in watching to see if even one reporter asks them how in the world vending machines could literally be their top priority at a time like this. Are you kidding me?

Slightly less than two years after touting a study showing Montgomery to be the healthiest county in Maryland, and giving himself credit for the designation, Leventhal now claims in a press release that "almost one in four children in Montgomery County is not able to maintain a healthy weight. This rate outpaces the national average. More than half of all adults in County (sic) adults (sic) are not keeping a healthy weight."

So let's get this straight, folks. Mr. Leventhal and the Council made us the healthiest county in Maryland (and probably invented the Internet along the way). That past claim of credit now requires us to blame the same County Council for our sudden, supposed two year plunge in health, that Mr. Leventhal says has left us fatter than the average American. How could they have done this to us? All the more reason to throw the bums out in 2018.

Of course, maybe it was the taxpayer-funded gift cards Leventhal's "Healthy Montgomery" organization gave out to MCPS students for sugary, liquid-candy Starbucks coffees and fat-and-sodium-laden Chipotle burritos that can partly be blamed. Perhaps the historic tax increase of May 2016 forced cash-strapped residents to turn to cheap junk food for subsistence purposes. After all, we can't all afford to shop at Whole Paycheck like Hans Riemer.
You apparently can use the hashtag #HealthyVendingMoCo to tell Big Government what you think of their legislative priorities.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Robbery on Hillandale Rd., car stolen in Friendship Heights + more - Bethesda crime update

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

Robbery. 6600 block Hillandale Road.

"Other sexual offense." 8900 block Rockville Pike.

Drug arrest, Wisconsin Avenue at De Russey Parkway.

Stolen car. The Hills Plaza at Willard Avenue.

Theft. 5100 block Westpath Way.

Theft. 6400 block Rockledge Drive.

Burglary. 5400 block Edson Lane.

Theft. 7100 block Democracy Boulevard.

Report: Half of MCPS Chromebooks "died" during routine update (Photos)

To hear the press releases tell it, Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer is our in-house tech guru. An announcement of his partisan political appointment to an FCC advisory committee stated that Mr. Riemer "is responsible for oversight and the development of Montgomery County’s information technology and telecommunications infrastructure.”

A few paragraphs later, it claims that "Riemer has strengthened Montgomery County’s digital infrastructure." Right. You mean the same county that was found to be running on Windows 2000 four years after Riemer took office, and whose school system's computer network was found by a state audit to be as secure as a screen door on a submarine?

Speaking of schools, Riemer's press release credits him with having "championed the growing deployment of Chromebooks in the County’s public schools."

Let's listen in to the Riemer digital revolution at MCPS:

Beep. Bzzzzzzzzt.

Uh oh.

MCPS tried to install an update to their 120,000 Chromebooks, and..."half their fleet died," tweets Kenn White. With Hans Riemer fully "responsible," we continue our streak of success as Tech Capital of the World. 


American Apparel closes at Westfield Montgomery Mall (Photos)

American Apparel has cleared out its store at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. The struggling company collapsed after the outster of founding CEO Dov Charney. Canadian wholesaler Gildan bought American Apparel's intellectual property and manufacturing equipment for $88 million in January.

Westmoreland Hills Citizens Association donates $5000 to Save Westbard lawsuit against county

The Westmoreland Hills Citizens Association officially announced yesterday it is donating $5000 to the Save Westbard lawsuit against Montgomery County. WHCA includes the neighborhoods of Westmoreland Hills, Spring Hill, Overlook, Westgate, Westhaven and Yorktown Village. "The substance of the [Westbard sector] plan is dishonest," said Celia Martin, who is running unopposed to be the new president of the WHCA. She said the plan, which was opposed by an overwhelming majority of area residents, "disregards that schools and roads are inadequate" to handle the influx of the more than 3000 new residents allowed by it.

Martin said residents were concerned about private meetings held between county officials and developer Equity One. Even if the lawsuit were to fail, she added, it "focuses much attention on how Montgomery County is developed," such as the influence of developers on the County Council and the planning process. More than 70% of the campaign funds received by the current County Council come from development interests. "By helping ourselves, we help other communities," Martin told a standing-room-only crowd at the Washington Waldorf School last night.

Westmoreland Hills joins Sumner, which has already ponied up $5000 for the lawsuit, which Sumner Citizens Association President Sid Clemans called "really the only practical way to stop or slow this process down." Residents whose testimony was (literally) entirely disregarded by the Montgomery County Planning Board last Thursday would likely agree. He mentioned traffic impacts as a major concern for his neighborhood, which is already going to bear the brunt of thousands of new vehicles related to the new intelligence campus on Sangamore Road.

Of planners' laughable claims that there is less traffic than there was ten years ago, Clemans said, "I don't know anyone here who agrees with that," to chuckles from the crowd. In fact, a recent study showed the intersection of River Road and Western Avenue - which will be traversed each morning by a majority of the thousands of new cars brought by the Westbard plan - is the third worst bottleneck in Montgomery County.

Also in attendance at the meeting, were the Rev. Segun Adebayo, Pastor-Elect of Macedonia Baptist Church, and five-term Kensington Mayor Peter Fosselman, who is running for the District 1 seat on the Montgomery County Council. Adebayo expressed his frustration with Thursday's Planning Board decision, which allows Equity One to move forward with its development plans, while providing no written or legally-binding assurances that the African-American cemetery investigation on Equity One's land will be conducted properly and with full transparency. He said the church is currently reaching out to additional allies at the county and national levels, and is prepared for "a long struggle. We're going to fight them."

A lawsuit similar in scope to Save Westbard's recently prevailed in the District. Ironically, the McMillan development was also proposed by Equity One's Westbard partner, EYA, and utilized the same architecture firm, Perkins Eastman. Both projects' renderings are eerily similar, showing proposed buildings as a series of boxes lined up in a row.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Neighborhoods near Suburban Hospital rocked by auto break-ins, sexual assault in Pooks Hill + more - Bethesda crime update

Unseasonably warm weather has given criminals a little more energy, as one or more thieves hit at least 9 cars parked in neighborhoods near Suburban Hospital on Thursday. For good measure, a car was stolen altogether on Maple Avenue.

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on February 23, according to crime data:

Theft. 4800 block Cordell Avenue.

Drug arrest. Old Georgetown Road at Auburn Avenue.

Theft. 4800 block Battery Lane.

Vehicle burglary. 7100 block Exfair Road.

Vehicle burglary. 100 block S. Brook Lane.

Vehicle burglary. 8200 block Maple Ridge Road.

Vehicle burglary. 5200 block Rayland Drive.

Vehicle burglary. 8500 block Hazelwood Drive.

Vehicle burglary. 5200 block Roosevelt Street.

Vehicle burglary. 5200 block Roosevelt Street.

Vehicle burglary. 5300 block McKinley Street.

Vehicle burglary. 5300 block Roosevelt Street.

Vehicle burglary. 5300 block Roosevelt Street.

Stolen car. 6900 block Maple Avenue.

Forgery/counterfeit/identity theft. 5500 block Surrey Street.

Burglary. 4700 block Willard Avenue.

Theft from vehicle. 6800 block Winterberry Lane.

Theft. 6300 block Valley Road.

Collision/property damage. 6100 block Melvern Drive.

Sexual assault. 5200 block Pooks Hill Road.

Domestic violence assault. 9800 block Bristol Square Lane.

Westbard sketch plan approval: Was it legal?

Westbard Sketch Plan Hearing, Part III: "You Cannot Do That"

The Montgomery County Planning Board was too clever by half, approving the Equity One Westbard sketch plan despite an unresolved controversy over an African-American cemetery by temporarily removing the parcel where it is located from the plan. An immediate question for me, when this "solution" was proposed a couple of weeks ago, was, "is this legal?" After all, how does removing the major plan elements of that Westwood Tower site - with multiple buildings, traffic and environmental impacts, a major chunk of the Willett Branch and stream buffer, and the largest portion of affordable housing in Equity One's plan - allow you to approve the sketch plan without them?

In fact, the description of what a sketch plan does released by the Planning Department states that it is all about these very sorts of plan elements. It seems I was correct in my assessment, as the issue came up during the sketch plan hearing last Thursday, as did a last minute document submission by Equity One.

Click here to read Part I: "Enough is Enough"

Click here to read Part II: "A Ton of Other Benefits"

Attorney Michele Rosenfeld, who is representing a group of residents in a lawsuit against Montgomery County over the Westbard sector plan, admonished the Planning Board for its cafeteria approach to the sketch plan Thursday. The application was supposed to be considered as "a single sketch plan, not in a piecemeal fashion, as it is being presented today," she said.

As examples, Rosenfeld pointed to the fact that a major portion of the Willett Branch greenway was within the excluded site, "yet it is a core component of the recommendations of the sector plan," she said. And that a critical pedestrian linkage between Westbard Avenue and River Road through the Westwood Tower site also was in the hashed-out area of the map.

Those two features alone are covered under the main purposes of a sketch plan, in the Planning Department's own words: "locations of public uses and their relationship to existing and proposed properties. A sketch plan shows circulation patterns and describes the public benefits." 

A sketch plan also "describes...the phasing of the development," which certainly couldn't be shown in the sketch plan approved Thursday, because it was not known at the time of the vote when the Westwood Tower site would be developed - if at all, given the known cemetery issues.

And how was the board able to give Equity One credit for the affordable housing on the Westwood Tower site, when it not only wasn't in the sketch plan approved Thursday, but might not even be able to be built due to the cemetery? "You need to take the [Westwood Tower site] density out of what you approve today," Bethesda resident and Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights member Bob Cope advised the board. Like Rosenfeld, he criticized the board's move to approve a plan missing several key elements. "You cannot do that," he warned.

"I object."

"The board is not in a position to find conformance to the sector plan," Rosenfeld testified, calling it a premature "rush to judgement. It should be denied." Rosenfeld also protested a last minute letter filed by Equity One less than 24 hours before the hearing. Planning Board rules state that any document received less than 24 hours before the start of the hearing will not be part of the official record. Rosenfeld requested the board strike the letter from the record, a request later denied by board chair Casey Anderson, who astonishingly suggested he had the authority to override the board's own rules in that regard.

Covered sidewalk removed behind 8200 Wisconsin apartments in Bethesda

The wooden protected sidewalk covering on Woodmont Avenue, that's been behind 8200 Wisconsin in downtown Bethesda for several years, has been removed. Inside, it looks like there is more work to be done, but the rear entrance and staircase look brand new.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Jesse Daumit to perform live at Villain & Saint in Bethesda Sunday, Feb. 26 (Photos)

The Jesse Daumit Trio will return to Villain & Saint in downtown Bethesda tomorrow night, Sunday, February 26, at 5:00 PM. Surface parking is available behind the building.

Villain & Saint
7141 Wisconsin Avenue

Photos courtesy Michael Lebowitz

Bethesda residents search for the incredible shrinking "amenities" in Westbard plans

Westbard Sketch Plan Hearing Part II: "A ton of other benefits"

On its way to disregarding serious concerns related to an African-American cemetery and approving Equity One's Westbard sketch plan on Thursday, the Montgomery County Planning Board told us the big rush was necessary, to more quickly deliver the "public benefits" the project will provide. Chair Casey Anderson summed up the whopping list of these "public benefits" thusly: the naturalized Willett Branch stream, and a realignment of Westbard Avenue.

Click here to read Part I: "Enough is Enough"

So treating the concerns about the cemetery on the Westwood Tower portion of Equity One's land in a disrespectful fashion, and dropping more than 3000 people (and their cars) into a block-and-a-half area of Bethesda is worth it for that two-item list?

While the vast majority of residents support naturalization of the Willett Branch, two problems remain, and were only amplified by the hearing Thursday. First, the project remains "pie in the sky, by and by." No land has been dedicated, and no funds have been collected to build the project. Each segment of it will have to be built separately, and so it will be many years before even a large portion of it will be ready.

Willett Branch is "not going
to be as naturalized as we
had all hoped"
- Montgomery County
Parks Department representative
at Thursday's hearing

Second, there is no evidence the finished product will resemble the renderings shown by the Parks Department. At Thursday's hearing, Equity One's attorney, Barbara Sears, protested the idea that the development firm should have to actually construct the naturalized stream segment between River Road and American Plant. She also had a different interpretation of the guidance on building within the stream buffer that the Westbard sector plan provides. Her arguments could well prevail in court if the dispute goes that far.

Even the representative of the Parks Department presenting the Willett Branch portion of the sketch plan conceded that "it's not going to be as naturalized as we had all hoped." Wait, a minute - what? Sears may have made the best prediction on the Willett Branch: "I think we'll be here ten years from now, trying to figure it all out."

Then there's that road. Sure, the realignment of Westbard Avenue was sought by the Springfield Civic Association for purely practical reasons - to reduce cut-through traffic into their neighborhood. But to call the realignment an "amenity" is more than a stretch. It's dishonest.

Planning Director Gwen Wright stressed that Equity One's project will provide parks where there are none. But those two patches of green are ridiculously small, especially placed against the scale of the actual development. Several in the crowd chuckled Thursday, when they noted the "civic green" was so small, it could hardly be made out on the rendering. Wright also referred to the project "improving the environment." Ironic, given that the Save Westbard lawsuit is partly about the fact that the Planning Board never evaluated if the Westbard sector plan would reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, and vehicle miles traveled, as it is required to do under a 2008 county law.

"I think we'll be here
ten years from now,
trying to figure it all
- Barbara Sears, attorney
for Equity One

The "private shuttle to Metro" was also invoked, but not mentioned was the fact that the County Council declined to make the shuttle mandatory, and even deleted the Transit Center from Equity One's site in the sector plan. This left many residents still searching for the supposed "amenities."

"What are the amenities you're getting today," asked Bob Cope, a resident who has been a longtime volunteer with the Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights. He noted that, as part of past development agreements, the Friendship Heights recreation center and Round House Theater in Bethesda were built, and at completion, developers "handed the keys to the county." Here, Cope argued, all the buildings will be constructed, "and you come back and shoehorn in the creek." Many residents had advocated for large parks, a recreation center, and an aquatic facility, among other ideas. None of them ended up in the plan.

Both Pat Johnson of Kenwood's Westbard Committee and Springfield Civic Association President Phyllis Edelman commented on the lack of green space, and nonexistent playground areas for the future residents of the new development. "Where will the children play," Johnson asked the board.

Johnson said residents were expecting ample space for events like farmers markets. "How are we going to fit that into 1/3 of an acre," she asked to laughter from the audience. "These green patches are terribly inadequate. Living here will not be up to the standards of Montgomery County."

3000 people. Thousands of additional cars. All this for what could ultimately be a half-finished storm drain carrying the new trash and exhaust particulates from those 3000 people through a narrow green strip behind 5 high-rises, and a green patch that looks more like a carpet sample than a park. Raw deal.

MoCo Council's term limits sabotage attempt defeated in Annapolis

Congratulations to all who wrote and called our Montgomery County delegation in Annapolis this week. Your efforts were successful, as House Bill 348 was officially withdrawn yesterday. The Montgomery County Council's astonishing attempt to undermine the term limits 70% of voters approved last November is offficially dead.

But you can be sure the Montgomery County political cartel will head back to their smoke-[free] back room to come with a new scheme. Stay vigilant.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Vehicle burglarized at YMCA, assault on Wisconsin Ave. + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on February 21, according to crime data:

Theft. 8300 block Woodmont Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. 7200 block Glenbrook Road.

Drug arrest. Rockville Pike at Wilson Drive.

Vehicle burglary. YMCA.

Vehicle burglary. 9900 block Mayfield Drive.

Assault. 6900 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Theft from vehicle. 9400 block Old Georgetown Road.

Assault. 7100 block Westlake Terrace.

MoCo Planning Board backs developer over community on cemetery, and it's not a good look

Westbard Sketch Plan Hearing Part I: "Enough is Enough"

The Montgomery County Planning Board voted unanimously to approve Equity One's sketch plan yesterday, after a marathon session and emotional testimony that fell on seemingly deaf (and politically tone-deaf) ears. While the section of Equity One's property containing an African-American cemetery was hatched out of the sketch plan, and will have to be approved separately after a cemetery study is completed, the action disregarded concerns of the Macedonia Baptist Church and community. Planning Department claims of concern for the cemetery were undermined severely by the department's failure to execute anything in writing, to ensure a fully-transparent and respectful survey of the cemetery site takes place.

In a last-minute and jumbled modification of the sketch plan conditions, the Board added a two-month deadline that seems to either laughably endorse the idea that this complex and massive cemetery study can be completed in eight weeks, merely demand a contract and scope of work report, or serve as a loophole for Equity One to gain more immediate development rights on at least some parts of the Westwood Tower site via a condition modification, rather than having to go through a sketch plan amendment process.

Even if you assume, for the sake of argument, that the plan approval will protect the cemetery throughout this development process, the optics and subtext of the decision was another public relations disaster for 8787 Georgia Avenue.

The most moving testimony of the marathon 5-hour session, came from the final speaker, Ronald Cunningham. His family was among those who lived in the historic black community in the Westbard area of River Road that lasted for a century after Maryland Emancipation in the 1860s. "This is very emotional for me," Cunningham told the board, his voice cracking several times during his remarks.

"My family was born on River Road," Cunningham said. "That graveyard is there. It's not a spot you can say it's in limbo. It's not in limbo. It's a spot right here on Earth that we walk on. The spirit of my ancestors that were there before me. Equity One should give us that piece of land. They took that from me a long time ago. I want it back. We want it back. Equity One, I got to say to you all, don't do that. We are not animals. Give us that land, so my spirit, the holy spirit of my family, can live in peace."

The fact that this sacred ground is all that is left of the black community, besides the Macedonia Baptist Church at 5119 River Road - and the subtext of wealthy whites gaining control of the fate of African-Americans in death, and their sacred land where they rest - seemed to escape the board, but not those testifying.

"This land belongs to other people by a higher law," said a representative of the Washington Peace Center, an anti-racism grassroots organization in the District. She asked the board to consider "what is being stolen from black people to benefit white people in this room today."

The Rev. Charlie Davis of the Macedonia Baptist Church decried the "stalling tactics" that have caused the cemetery investigation to fall many months behind schedule, conveniently allowing the development approval process to speed past it on the calendar. "Justice delayed is justice denied," Davis said. "This hearing has a cloud of contempt, and not of good faith." A veteran of the Vietnam era, Davis noted that even today, newly-discovered remains of American soldiers in faraway lands are airlifted home, and given respectful ceremonial burials. "If they go to that length," Davis said, "that suggests there is something sacred about the remains of the dead."

Harvey Matthews, another former resident of River Road whose family home was located where Whole Foods is now, said, "I sit here with a heavy heart this afternoon." He noted that "the tulips that come up every spring [at the Whole Foods property] were planted by my mother." An attendee of the River Road Colored School, Somerset Elementary, Western Jr. High and Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Matthews wishes there was a physical place that his descendants could learn about their heritage and history in the River Road community.

Matthews and several others from the Macedonia Baptist Church community advocated for the creation of a museum on land or in space donated by Equity One to the county. "Create a space that honors our ancestors," Matthews suggested.

While the Planning Department has issued press release after press release touting its cooperation with all stakeholders in the cemetery controversy, church leaders tell a different story. "We have not met them even once," MBC interim pastor Rev. Segun Adebayo said of the Planning Department and Equity One. "There has been no meaningful progress, contrary to what has been propagated in the media. We have no confidence in Equity One."

In fact, the Planning Department still has no contract with the independent anthropologist and archaeologist who are supposed to oversee Equity One's cemetery search contractor, to ensure a transparent process. Adebayo said the church would be more comfortable if the county were hiring the search firm, instead of the developer. "He who pays the piper, calls the tune," he said.

Church officials and descendants of the black community and of those buried in the cemetery see history repeating itself in 2017. Despite the entrepreneurial initiative and hard work that created a thriving black community, "they could not fight off greedy developers." Now it's happening again. "Where is our humanity," Adebayo asked. "Enough is enough! Let our dead rest in peace." He said the church will do everything in its power to "extract the honor and dignity of our dead. The remains of our ancestors do not belong to anyone. They are not subject to negotiations."

Dealing with the Planning Department on the cemetery issue "has left me wondering if I live in Montgomery County, or Montgomery, Alabama," said Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, head of the church's social justice ministry.

For their part, the Planning Board didn't seem concerned about the comparison. "I think what staff did here is reasonable," Chair Casey Anderson declared during board discussion after the public hearing. "I'm OK with what staff did," in allowing Equity One to get sketch plan approval before the cemetery survey is completed. As four white representatives of Equity One were repeatedly given the floor by Anderson during the discussion, he shushed church officials who should legally have had a seat at the table, as the highest priority stakeholders in the matter at hand.

As Planning Director Gwen Wright characterized the ongoing efforts to secure a contract to begin the cemetery study optimistically, Coleman-Adebayo interjected, "But she's saying things that aren't true." "I can't hear from you now," Anderson scolded. "Maybe later." But by the end of the hearing and vote, no church representative had been called on by the chair.

Meanwhile, the board and department's racially-insensitive handling of the cemetery issue and protests surrounding it appear to have emboldened racist attitudes that were latent in Montgomery County, showing the danger of the media normalizing this "we don't have time to be politically correct anymore" style of planning. Racist comments about the cemetery and church community have been popping up in comment sections on the Washington Post and elsewhere. So far, no one on the Montgomery County Council has condemned the Planning Department and Planning Board's approach to this incredibly sensitive issue, and no councilmember has marched with the community in the cemetery fight. Planning Board commissioners are hand-picked by the County Council.

Most telling about Montgomery County's out-of-control planning process? The only testimony in favor of sketch plan at yesterday's hearing was from...Equity One. Yet, the sketch plan passed despite universal public testimony calling for a delay. In a representative democracy, how does that happen?

Email/call delegates NOW after unusual tactic keeps MoCo Council term limit-sabotage bill alive in Annapolis

Thanks to your calls and emails, and members of a committee who recognized the voting landscape has changed in Montgomery County, House Bill 348 (which would hand the Montgomery County Council a suite of tools to subvert the term limits passed by 70% of voters last November) was temporarily dead yesterday. But in an unusual move, the full delegation failed to respect the vote of their colleagues on the Economic Development Committee, and have kept HB 348 on their voting agenda for today.

Light up their phones and inboxes, and ask them to respect the will of the voters, and KILL BILL 348 by voting NO. The meeting starts at 10:00 AM, so the time to act is NOW.

Use this list of phone numbers and emails, or the email list below (just CC everybody on one message to get the job done):


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sweetgreen to go cashless at Bethesda Row

Sweetgreen will go cashless at Bethesda Row on March 8. All transactions will be made via their iPhone app or credit card, and cash will no longer be accepted.

The salad chain says that the move will save employees an average of 2 hours in cash counting time, speed up service, reduce armored car emissions and paper waste (as well as the risk of being robbed), and help the restaurant to provide custom offerings via their app. They say less than 10% of their customers use cash to make purchases.

Sweetgreen is located at 4831 Bethesda Avenue.

Source: Marriott wants to buy Tastee Diner in Bethesda

According to a source, Marriott Corporation has made an offer to buy the landmark Tastee Diner at 7731 Woodmont Avenue in downtown Bethesda. The Bethesda-based hospitality giant is preparing to build a new headquarters and hotel just down the street, where the vacant Tako Grill, Bethesda Court Hotel and Connor Building property are. In an apparent acknowledgement of the constrained size of that site, it appears the company is exploring the potential of buying up the rest of the north end of the block.
Aerial view of
Tastee Diner; the tall
building next to it
reflecting the neon light
is the Blackwell Building;
to the diner's right is the
Woodmont Grill

Reportedly, Marriott's current offer to the owners of Tastee Diner is $5 million. Of course, they would need to also buy up one of the most popular restaurants in Bethesda to connect to the Tastee Diner property, Woodmont Grill. There is also the Blackwell Building at the corner of Wisconsin and Norfolk Avenues.

The Marriott project is about 5 years off from completion, and the Connor Building was just recently demolished.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Contact delegates TODAY to stop MoCo Council's attempt to undermine term limits

As I reported last week, a bill that would give the Montgomery County Council several tools to undermine the term limits on their time in office is under consideration in Annapolis. HB 348 would the first step toward allowing the Council to stagger its terms, with some County Council seat elections moving to presidential years. Term limits passed overwhelmingly last November with nearly 70% of voters approving them. The County Council should not disrespect the voters' wishes for new leaders, and for a four-year cooling-off period for long-stagnant members who will finally be forced out.

Potential abuses the current text of the bill would allow include extension of term-limited councilmembers' terms for an additional two years, cutting short terms of new councilmembers they'd like to get rid of by two years, allowing those forced out by term limits in 2022 to run again in 2024 before the new Council has even four years to change the county's direction, and moving seats not as favorable to the county political cartel (District 2) to presidential years, when voters are paying less attention to county-level issues.

The Montgomery County delegation's Economic Development Committee will take up, and vote on, the bill tomorrow, Thursday, February 23.

and tell them to respect the voters' clear decision on term limits, and allow the reforms voters wanted to happen play out. The voters have not asked for this bill, some on the Council have.
Ask them to vote "no" and 

Ariana Kelly, Chair - Democrat, Legislative District 16; Phone: 301-858-3642 / 410-841-3642;

Maricé Morales, Vice-Chair - Democrat, Legislative District 19; Phone: 301-858-3528 / 410-841-3528

Sheila Hixson - Democrat - Legislative District 20; Phone: 301-858-3469/410-841-3469 

Anne Kaiser - Democrat Legislative District 14; Phone: 301-858-3469/410-841-3469

Kirill Reznik - Democrat, Legislative District 39; Phone: 301-858-3039 /410-841-3039

Jeff Waldstreicher - Democrat, Legislative District 18; Phone: 301-858-3130 / 410-841-3130

Then the whole delegation will take up the bill on Friday.

(carbon-copy every Montgomery County delegate if you can) 
Tell them to VOTE NO on HB 348

for their 
contact information

Bistro Sensations closes in Bethesda (Photos)

Are you ready for yet another closure in the Dining Terrace at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda? Bistro Sensations is the latest victim. My spider-sense was tingling over the weekend when Bistro's spot was dark and empty on an otherwise-busy day in the food court. Sure enough, as of yesterday, their space is now walled off. 

For fans of Bistro Sensations, enjoy a few photos from the final hours before the wall went up:

Ourisman Honda begins tearing down part of wall at controversial addition; new problem identified with right-of-way

Ourisman Honda turned many heads - and not just of cyclists - in downtown Bethesda, after the dealership put up a garage addition and wall smack up against the Capital Crescent Trail off Bethesda Avenue. This set off a "he-said, she-said" squabble between Ourisman and the Montgomery County, as to whether or not the addition was legal, or an illegal intrusion into the trail right-of-way, and if the latter, who was to blame - Ourisman, or the county's Department of Permitting Services?

Over the last few days, workers have suddenly begun dismantling part of the wall at the rear near the fountain. When asked if it was related to the right-of-way dispute, they said it was, but could provide no further details. At the time I went by, there was no evidence yet of the actual garage structure being dismantled, however.

In the meantime, another potential violation has come to light. The Ourisman addition could be standing within a 20-foot area that would be needed if fire vehicles responded to either Ourisman or the Flats at Bethesda Avenue apartments next door. There is a fire hydrant and sprinkler connection at the rear of the Flats, that is meant to be accessed by vehicles that would use the trail to reach it. A source who is knowledgeable about fire equipment tells me a 20' space was needed for a ladder truck to rescue residents, or an aerial fire platform truck, to be able to extend their stabilizing outriggers.

Apparently, this new issue was not on the original complaint against Ourisman. A nearby resident tells me a fire inspector came out, and confirmed there was not enough room for such trucks to navigate the space. However, that finding required the complaint to be amended to include the fire equipment issue.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Assault on East-West Highway, theft on Boxwood Rd. + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on February 18, according to crime data:

Disorderly conduct. 4900 block Cordell Avenue.

Theft. Verizon store.

Drug arrest. Old Georgetown Road at McKinley Street.

Assault. 3600 block East-West Highway.

Collision/property damage. 5100 block Allan Road.

Theft. 4400 block Boxwood Road (Westmoreland Hills).

Theft. 7100 block Democracy Boulevard.

Theft. 11300 block Rockville Pike.

Theft. Unit block of Paseo Drive.

Theft. 5900 block Hubbard Drive.

Collision/property damage. 4800 block Boiling Brook Parkway.

Pieology posts Coming Soon signage at Bethesda Row (Photo)

Future pizzeria Pieology has posted some Coming Soon signs at its 4922 Elm Street location. Promising 78 billon flavor combinations, Pieology has been named the fastest-growing pizza chain by Business Insider. They have an existing location in Gaithersburg.

First National Bank grand opening today in Bethesda (Photos)

If you thought there weren't enough banks in downtown Bethesda already, today we get one more. First National Bank will open this morning for the first time in the Bethesda Crescent Building. This space at 7475 Wisconsin Avenue previously belonged to Monument Bank.