Sunday, April 30, 2017

Bethesda demolition update: 4733 Bethesda Avenue (Photos)

The most deliberate tear-down in Bethesda history is also the tallest tear-down in Bethesda history. But without TNT or wrecking balls, the demolition of the office building at 4733 Bethesda Avenue is taking a heck of a long time to finish.

Click here to watch a building of the same height come down in seconds via controlled demolition.

The building will be replaced by The JBG Companies' 4747 Bethesda Avenue office-retail project.

Kit and Ace closes at Bethesda Row (Photos)

Kit and Ace has closed at Bethesda Row. They opened in November 2015, so it was a surprisingly short run relative to the hype the chain started with. Kit and Ace was founded by mother and son Shannon and JJ Wilson. JJ Wilson's father is the founder of Bethesda Avenue neighbor lululemon athletica, which seems to have figured out the Bethesda demographic better than the newcomer did.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Crew preparing Bethesda's historic Wilson Store for cross-town move (Photos)

Work has begun on the relocation of the historic Wilson Store building at 7250 Wisconsin Avenue. It is the only 19th-century building remaining in downtown Bethesda, and was later known as Community Paint and Hardware. Most recently, it was home to United Bank.

This isn't the first time the store has moved for new development at 7272 Wisconsin Avenue - it was moved a short distance when the Apex Building was constructed in the late 1980s. But this move will be significantly farther than the first. Its new destination is a public parking lot on Middleton Lane. There are some concerns about the clearance on the streets the store will have to travel. Will traffic signals or trees have to be moved or trimmed, respectively?

I need some of our resident construction experts to weigh in on what exactly they are doing here to prepare for the relocation. They've excavated around the foundation, and you can see rebar sticking out of the rubble alongside the building. The move is to make way for the massive mixed-use project at 7272 Wisconsin by Carr Properties.

Haagen-Dazs temporarily closes for renovations at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda (Photo)

UPDATE: Haagen-Dazs is open again at the mall

Haagen-Dazs has closed at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda for renovations. UPDATE: It initially appeared the store had closed pemanently the day this picture was taken, but the store owner informed me the closure was only temporary for the remodeling. Haagen-Dazs is now open again.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Montgomery County microlending could put taxpayer money in County Councilmembers' accounts

Last week, the Montgomery County Council got into the banking business. Despite there being a bank on almost every corner, and of every size, the Council thought it was time start their own bank - using your money, of course. $572,000 of your money in FY-2018 alone, to be exact. The result is the newest patronage scheme by our corrupt County Council, with real potential to put taxpayer dollars into the campaign accounts of councilmembers.

Here's how the scheme works. Small businesses based in Montgomery County can apply for microloans of $500-$15,000 from the Council's new "bank." The individuals who decide who gets the money are all either appointed directly by the Council, or are closely within their political orbit. So corrupt councilmembers could absolutely influence who gets the loans.

Once the businessperson obtains the loan, there is nothing to stop him or her from donating some of that money to the councilmembers' campaign accounts. This has happened in the past with another Council patronage scheme - the funding of non-profits. Councilmembers vote on which non-profits get money. They decide the exact dollar amounts given to the non-profits. Officers of those non-profits, who often earn salaries from their non-profit, have then made campaign contributions to the councilmembers who fought to obtain the funding for them. In some cases, they've made the maximum contribution allowed by law.

Both schemes may now become even more essential in the new age of public financing. We now know what I predicted in 2014 was correct - the specific public financing program passed by the Council was designed primarily to help Council incumbents, not challengers. Longtime councilmembers have vast numbers of patrons from which to extract the many, many small donations needed to unlock the taxpayer-funded public matching funds.

With the new bank "microloans," and the same non-profit scheme, an even larger portfolio of political patrons can now be developed. Meanwhile, challengers have no such Rolodex to draw upon. True public financing would give every candidate a reasonable amount of funds from which to get their message out. Montgomery County's does not. So many incumbents have signed up for the public financing option, there's a real possibility the funds will be depleted. What then? They'll simply make an appropriation of more of your taxpayer dollars.

Three ways to use your taxpayer dollars to fund their campaigns. It's outrageous. And it's amazing how the Council can find $572,000 in the sofa cushions for microloans, and millions in public funds for their campaigns, but not for a host of other more urgent needs. Things that make you go, "Hmmm..."

How do we get this ripe-for-corruption system under control? By passing a law to prevent those receiving these microloans, or who receive income from non-profits awarded funds by the Council, from donating money to political candidates who have influence over the awarding of those loans and funds. A reasonable approach to keeping the corrupt hand of the Montgomery County cartel from getting yet another chance to pick your pocket, to profit themselves. Demand all candidates support such a rule change in 2018.


Dog Haus Biergarten coming to Bethesda

Dog Haus Biergarten, a restaurant featuring gourmet hot dogs, hand-crafted sausages, and 100% Angus beef burgers, will open a downtown Bethesda location in the near future. They're taking over the vacant building at 7904 Woodmont Avenue, most recently home to The Parva.

You'll be able to build your own skinless, all-beef hot dog, or choose from one of their signature Haus Dogs, including the bacon-wrapped Downtown Dog, the Free Bird turkey dog, or President Trump's personal favorite, the Scott Baioli, with smoked bacon, garlic aioli, white American cheese, and caramelized onions.

Hand-crafted sausage selections will include kielbasa, currywurst, spicy Italian and chicken fontina. Signature sausages with toppings range from the pastrami and melted mozzarella on spicy Italian "The Fonz," to the even spicier "Another Night in Bangkok," featuring Thai peanut sauce, Haus Slaw, and crushed peanuts atop a spicy Thai currywurst link.

Burger choices include The Freiburger, and The Hangover. Their beef patties are a proprietary grind of chuck and brisket. The retro menu item names extend to the side options, such as The Love Boat, which is your choice of fries or tots, topped with Haus Chili and Haus Slaw.

Dog Haus Biergarten, true to its name, will offer a rotating selection of local craft brews on tap. Other beverage choices will include wine, shakes, floats and soft drinks.

The Parva building has been vacant since the lounge closed in January 2016, one of 10 nightspots to close in downtown Bethesda since Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer's so-called "nighttime economy" initiative ended up wiping out a large chunk of nightlife. Neighbors who complained about the loud music of The Parva in the night will be delighted that the new tenant is going in a restaurant direction, as opposed to being a nightclub.

Dog Haus will compete with the homegrown Bold Bite, which is moving to a new location at Cordell and Norfolk Avenue next week. This will be the first Dog Haus Biergarten east of Colorado, and is part of a major expansion plan for the chain.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Assault reported at Suburban Hospital, assault on Pooks Hiil Rd. - Bethesda crime update

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

Assault. Suburban Hospital.

Assault. Inside apartment/condo in unit block of Pooks Hill Road.

Q by Peter Chang to open in May in Bethesda

A quick update on the eagerly-awaited Q by Peter Chang since my report on Monday - the restaurant has announced it will open next month at 4500 East-West Highway. They are interviewing for all positions this week.


See a sneak peek inside Q by Peter Chang

Bold Bite expecting to move early next week in Bethesda

Bold Bite will be moving down Norfolk Avenue early next week to the former Smashburger space at 4903 Cordell Avenue, if all goes according to schedule. Stay tuned for the official opening date.

Expect expanded hours now that they no longer have to share a kitchen with TapaBar. It's unknown yet if the new schedule will include late night hours. 202 Donuts & Coffee will remain on Fairmont Avenue. All 3 highly-rated restaurants are owned by brothers Alonso and Alvaro Roche.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Construction permit requested for site related to 7900 Wisconsin project in Bethesda

A construction permit request has been filed with Montgomery County for 8001 Woodmont Avenue - a curious request, as that property is part of The JBG Companies' 7900 Wisconsin mixed-use project. That project would demolish retail and office structures on Wisconsin Avenue, and the Autodentz and parking garage on Woodmont Avenue north of Fairmont Plaza, and south of Bethesda Chocolates. The permit request mentions it is for a "multi-family dwelling high rise," with a building area of 422,373 SF.

This is yet another sign that JBG is moving forward at last on this delayed project, which is supposed to be anchored by a Trader Joe's grocery store. What doesn't make sense is, why isn't the permit for constructing the high-rise useing the 7900 Wisconsin address? Isn't that the address of the high rise the permit is for?

JBG has already requested demolition, and sheeting-and-shoring, permits for the project, one of the more-promising in downtown Bethesda.

Macedonia Baptist Church members kicked out of MoCo Executive's office during Westbard cemetery protest (Video+Photos)

Leaders and members of Macedonia Baptist Church, and their supporters in the community, converged on Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett's office in Rockville yesterday morning for their first "Justice Tuesday" protest. The action is in response to the Planning Department cover-up of the "lost" cemetery with ties to the black community that existed on River Road in Bethesda for about 100 years after Maryland Emancipation.

Church members, surrounded by
Sheriff's deputies, are thrown
out of County Executive Ike Leggett's office

Desecrated during construction of Westwood Tower in the late 1960s, the cemetery is now threatened by a plan by developer Regency Centers and Montgomery County to build a parking garage atop the graves.
Tensions during the months-long dispute have been raised by disrespectful and misleading treatment of church representatives by the Planning Department and Planning Board. The latter called in 7 squad cars to planning headquarters, when protesters showed up quietly there. Yesterday, they received a similar response, being asked to leave under threat of physical force.

MBC's social justice director, Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, told a Leggett representative that church officials felt the executive had "treated us like dogs" in a recent meeting. That meeting resulted in a letter from Leggett to the Planning Board, which - it was later discovered - was written with the knowledge that Planning Director Gwen Wright had secretly given Regency the go-ahead to conduct their own, unsupervised cemetery investigation. In essence, the letter's proposal of a mediator to reach agreement on monitoring the investigation was an empty promise - the investigation was already underway.

"Gwen Wright must go!" protesters chanted. Leggett's office then summoned at least 5 Sheriff's deputies to inform protesters they could either move into a hidden conference room, thereby sparing Leggett further public embarrassment, or get out.
Eventually, the body-armor-clad deputies encircled the group of protesters, as MBC's pastor, the Rev. Segun Adebayo, attempted to deliver a prepared statement. "This is what you offer us," a protester said, gesturing to the armed deputies, "a show of force." Leggett's representative again exacerbated the situation by reverting to the County's talking point that the cemetery's existence is in question. "We don't know what is there," she told protesters. That is false, as land records prove the cemetery existed, and there is no document so far to indicate any legal relocation of remains from the graveyard.
"You're throwing us out?" asked Rev. Adebayo. "I am the pastor of a church." Turning to Leggett's representative, he noted that Leggett has been to Macedonia Baptist Church in the past to seek votes from the congregation. "He cannot hide behind his office," Adebayo said. "He has to stand up."
The group then filed out of the office toward the elevators, singing the civil rights standard, "We Shall Not Be Moved." Adebayo reiterated that the group will continue the Justice Tuesdays initiative next week. Protesters then walked over to the County Council Building, where the Council was in session to discuss the Bethesda Downtown Plan. That meant Wright and Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson - who infamously surrounded himself with armed police officers when Coleman-Adebayo attempted to hand him a petition at a Board meeting - were on hand, as protesters silently made their presence known.
The cemetery case has not only exposed the institutional racism of Montgomery County Government, but also that there is something going on behind the scenes with Westbard for the County Council and Planning Department. Normally hyper-politically-correct, the County Council and planning commissioners have had no qualms about appearing racist in the Westbard case. Already, emails obtained by public information requests have shown that planning officials conspired to cover-up the cemetery during the Westbard sector plan process. Where there's smoke, there's usually fire.

Harvey Matthews (plaid shirt at right),
one of the surviving members of the
River Road black community

Pastor Rev. Segun Adebayo

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Westbard Rite Aid robbery update

I have an update on the robbery of the Rite Aid on Westbard Avenue in the Westwood Shopping Center. The robbery caused the store to remain closed for much of Sunday.

2nd District Montgomery County police commander Captain David Falcinelli says there were two alleged robbers. The two suspects entered the store around 1:30 PM Sunday afternoon, and proceeded to jump over the pharmacy counter. They grabbed narcotics from the pharmacy shelves, and fled the store.

Falcinelli says the Montgomery County Police Department Robbery Section is currently investigating the incident.

Ourisman Honda resumes demolishing wall along Capital Crescent Trail in Bethesda

Ourisman Honda yesterday resumed its demolition of a controversial wall it recently constructed up against the Capital Crescent Trail, just off of Bethesda Avenue. The wall is part of an equally-controversial addition to the dealership, which included a massive parking garage. Together, the wall and addition are believed to be illegally intruding into three different easements, including that of the trail itself.

There is also a question of a fire code requirement that demands a 20' area for ladder trucks to access the rear of the Flats at Bethesda Avenue, in the event of a fire or emergency. While Ourisman has begun tearing down the wall without explanation, they have so far resisted calls to demolish the garage. That issue will be resolved by the Board of Appeals later this Spring. Trail users have been warned by signage to use caution when approaching the demolition site.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Source: Tastee Diner agrees to sell, will be acquired for Marriott HQ site in Bethesda

A source tells me the owner of Tastee Diner has agreed to sell the venerable restaurant's property, to make way for a larger Marriott headquarters and hotel to be built on that block in downtown Bethesda. After several months of negotiations with the Marriott site property owner, Tastee Diner has reportedly agreed to sell for $7 million. That is $2 million more than the offer they received in February.

Whether the diner would move to a new location, remains to be determined. If the deal goes through, Montgomery County officials should insist that a Hot Shoppes restaurant be included in the future hotel to balance out the nostalgia factor.

The Marriott headquarters project is a partnership between the hotel giant, property owner Bernstein Companies and Boston Properties. It is expected to deliver in 2022. Tastee Diner is located at 7731 Woodmont Avenue, a corner of the same block as the Marriott site, which is addressed as 7750 Wisconsin Avenue.

Bethesda construction update: True Food Kitchen (Photos)

True Food Kitchen has posted a sign with the grand opening date and time for the health-oriented restaurant. There's also a menu on display. It appears they will be doing an extensive amount of training, because the dining room looks just about finished, and they've actually already passed their Montgomery County pre-opening environmental inspection. True Food Kitchen is in the ground floor of the new Solaire Bethesda apartments, located at 7077 Woodmont Avenue.