Saturday, September 30, 2017

Public meeting on 7316 Wisconsin Ave. development postponed

The developer proposing to replace the office building at 7316 Wisconsin Avenue with a new, 290-unit residential tower has postponed a public meeting on the project that was scheduled for this coming Tuesday, October 3, 2017. No new date has been announced as of press time.

Wisconsin Ave. entrance to Bethesda Metro Ctr. garage temporarily closed (Photos)

Due to construction in front of the Hyatt Regency Bethesda hotel, the Wisconsin Avenue driveway entrance to the parking garage at Bethesda Metro Center is temporarily closed. You can still access the garage from the Woodmont Avenue entrance on the rear side of the property. The hotel and all businesses at the Metro Center remain open during the construction.

While you are waiting for the entrance to reopen, enjoy these photos of the latest LED accent lighting installed on the hotel's facade:

Friday, September 29, 2017

Westbard cemetery advocates to protest at HOC again October 4

Showing Up for Racial Justice - Montgomery County and advocates for the endangered African-American cemetery on the site of Westwood Tower will again protest at the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission meeting on Wednesday, October 4, 2017 at 4:00 PM, at the commission's headquarters, located at 10400 Detrick Avenue in Kensington.

The protest is in regard to the HOC's plan with partner Regency Centers to build a parking garage on the historic cemetery, which holds many residents of the lost community established there on River Road after Maryland Emancipation. That community was wiped out by developers in the mid-1950s. Now, with the cemetery scandal - here we go again, another example of the institutional racism against black landowners in Montgomery County.

SURJ, Macedonia Baptist Church, descendants of those buried in the cemetery, and their supporters in the community are asking the HOC to allow the church to conduct a valid archaeological study of the burial site, and to publicly acknowledge that the sacred nature of it outweighs their development plans.

Participants in the protest should bring signs to hold. Suggested messages include:

DON'T PARK ON ME, HOC (my personal favorite)

Be forewarned that parking is very limited, as all of the parking lots are hogged by HOC, despite all we the taxpayers contribute to the HOC. There are some street parking spaces, and the surrounding residential neighborhood has permit parking restrictions. For that reason, carpool if you can.

4 Bethesda Metro Center project back on the front burner

After a couple of years of very public bickering over the future of the plaza at the Bethesda Metro Center, a development project is again being proposed for it. Although the project will be mixed-use, and allowed to be as tall as 290', the developer is not yet stating whether it will be primarily residential or office space.

Instead, the early application will be for up to 500,000 SF of retail/restaurant, residential and/or office space. Whatever the bulk of the building ends up being, largely based on the market, the developer has made clear in the past that retail and restaurant will be on the ground level. Additionally, they have proposed a park space, which has been criticized as too small and too hidden-away by some residents.

A public meeting regarding the proposal has been scheduled for Wednesday, October 11, 2017 at 7:00 PM at the Bethesda Chevy-Chase Regional Services Center, located at 4805 Edgemoor Lane.

Bethesda tunnel house fire victim's Facebook appears to hint at excavation (Photo)

Montgomery County police have identified the deceased victim in a bizarre September 10 house fire on Danbury Road in Bethesda as 21-year-old Askia Khafra. Khafra was a resident of Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring, so it is currently unknown what he was doing at the home. The man believed to be the owner of the house survived with non-life-threatening injuries.

Investigators continue to work the scene, where mysterious excavations and possible tunneling had been done, and explosives teams have been seen searching the property. Detectives have not yet characterized the nature of those excavations, and their purpose is also unknown.

However, a photo on a Facebook page appearing to be the victim's hints at some type of excavation. The photo, which is also set as the page's profile photo, shows an unidentified person wearing a respirator, hearing protection, and a hard hat who appears to be several feet below ground. A caption on the August 25 photo posting reads, "Undaneef deez skreetz."

Fox 5 reported on Thursday that it has learned Khafra was hired this summer to work on the excavation by the home's owner. The station's report characterizes the excavation as including tunnels and a "bunker." Reporter Paul Wagner also was able to obtain additional photos within the tunnels and bunker, including one in which he reports Khafra was wearing construction gear similar to that in the above Facebook photo.

Image via Facebook

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Extortion on Shepherd St., pot bust on Beech Avenue + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on September 26, according to crime data:

Extortion/blackmail. Shepherd Street (Chevy Chase).

Burglary. Taylor Street (Chevy Chase).

Property damage. Business parking lot on Old Georgetown Road.

Possession of marijuana. Beech Avenue.

Mental illness - emergency petition. Andover Road (Chevy Chase).

Possession of marijuana. I-270 Exit 1.

Note: Montgomery County has improperly ceased providing street numbers in crime data.

Rugby Avenue demolition update (Photos)

One structure has been demolished to clear the way for the future Brightview Bethesda assisted living apartment building on Rugby Avenue. Still standing is the "Pink House," or "Pepto Bismol House," which most recently was occupied by a maid service called Molly Maid.

Westbard African-American cemetery scandal discussed on new WPFW podcast

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo and
Harvey Matthews (holding far left and far
right sides of banner) discuss endangered
African-American cemetery on new podcast
The African-American cemetery on which developer Regency Centers and the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission want to build a parking garage was one of the topics on a new podcast yesterday on WPFW-FM. "What's at Stake" is hosted by Marsha Coleman-Adebayo and Kevin Berends, and will be produced on the fourth Wednesday each month going forward. The program is focused on social justice issues; Coleman-Adebayo is Social Justice Director at Macedonia Baptist Church on River Road, where many buried in that cemetery worshiped.

Also appearing on the program is Harvey Matthews, a trustee at Macedonia Baptist Church who was also a resident of the historic black community. His family was one of many swindled out of their land along River Road by developers, as Montgomery County leaders looked the other way. Today, the church building and cemetery (located on the property of Westwood Tower on Westbard Avenue) are all that remain of the original community.

SAVE THE DATE: October 29, 2017 at 1:30 PM - Supporters of the cemetery are scheduled to march from Macedonia Baptist Church to the burial ground. I will post an update once everything is officially confirmed and announced.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Theft on Fairmont Ave., obstruction of investigation on Beltway + more - Bethesda crime update

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

Theft from building. Fairmont Avenue.

Property damage. Construction site on Connecticut Avenue (Chevy Chase).

Obstructing criminal investigation. Capital Beltway at I-270 spur.

Theft. Westfield Montgomery Mall.

Theft. Westfield Montgomery Mall.

MoCo mediators suddenly terminate mediation in Westbard cemetery dispute

Does the Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County have its own conflict? That's what some in Bethesda are asking themselves after the center unilaterally terminated the mediation process regarding the future of the African-American cemetery behind the Westwood Tower apartment building. Two sessions had been held over the summer, and a third was in the works. The Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission, which wants to build a parking garage and apartments on top of the graves, had been dragging its feet on scheduling that third session.

Now the mediation is over, and the question is, why did the center terminate it? All parties had indicated they were willing to participate in the next session. Macedonia Baptist Church, which is the only remnant of the historic African-American community along River Road besides the cemetery, was not consulted by the center prior to the termination announcement.  "Who authorized this decision, and why? County officials?" asked Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, Social Justice Director at the church.

Whoever did has set County elected officials up for yet another public relations disaster in the case. Public protests and marches had to be put on the back burner during mediation. Previous such protests were met with outsize police and security responses at the Planning Board and County Council, further indicating the institutional racism of Montgomery County government.

Now, cemetery advocates will be looking at protests - and any number of other new strategies - to save the burial ground from being desecrated for a second time (the first having occurred when Westwood Tower was built in the late 1960s).

Why would it be in the County's best interest to terminate the mediation? Very simple. Developer Regency Centers has sued the County to remove the delay on redeveloping the cemetery site. HOC's delays, and now the termination of mediation, could allow a judge to decide the fate of the cemetery before the questions about it can be resolved through other means.

In a statement, Macedonia Baptist Church said this is merely the latest case of the County looking the other way as developers take advantage of the River Road African-American community and its descendants. Black landowners were defrauded of their properties there in the mid-1950s, forced off homesites that would be worth around $1 million apiece today. Now even the earliest members of the community, who were among the first freed slaves in Maryland, could find their bodies being bought and controlled by $4 billion, out-of-state development firm Regency Centers and the HOC.

"Our ancestors should never have been sold," the church said in its statement. "We will not have them be sold again."

Westbard trial delayed

A trial scheduled for October 2 in the case of Bethesda residents vs. Montgomery County over the illegal approval of the Westbard sector plan has been postponed by the Circuit Court judge. The delay was sought by the judge to give him more time to consider and rule on several pre-trial issues in the case, including requests for summary judgement and dismissal of the entire case by one side or the other.

No new trial date was immediately scheduled. While it is always a challenge to take on developers and the County, particularly when the County and State laws are tilted strongly in favor of both, once again the length of time the judge is taking indicates the plaintiffs' arguments have strong merit. Otherwise, the judge would have quickly issued a ruling in the case.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Sidewalks close on both sides of 7900 Wisconsin project in Bethesda

Well, there was that covered sidewalk that appeared in front of 7900 Wisconsin Avenue last week. But now it has closed, and so has the sidewalk behind JBG Smith's future 7900 Wisconsin project along Woodmont Avenue.

As of this morning, the north end of the covered sidewalk was open, but it was still sealed off at the southern end. Not much help to the pedestrian. Let's hope they're working on something that actually requires these closures for a reasonable amount of time. Even in that case, there should be a sign posted detailing the length of the closure.

Kung Fu Tea opens, Sports Zone Elite closes at Westfield Montgomery Mall (Photos)

Kung Fu Tea has been a smashing success in Rockville and downtown Silver Spring, with lines often out the door. Now it's Bethesda's turn to sample these popular teas, as Kung Fu has opened its newest location in the dining terrace at Westfield Montgomery Mall. Look for their kiosk by the escalator that goes up to the Arclight Cinemas.

On a sadder note, Sports Zone Elite has closed and been cleared out. I noticed that at least some of their other stores have also closed, including their Beltsville location and one on Georgia Avenue in the District.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Shakespeare at the mall in Bethesda (Photos)

Shakespeare at the mall? Westfield Montgomery Mall is continuing its tilt toward more-sophisticated fare, teaming up with the prestigious Shakespeare Theatre Company of Washington, D.C. to present an interactive Shakespeare extravaganza through October 14 in the Nordstrom wing of the mall on Level 1.
Even if you are just strolling through, you won't be able to miss displays of costumes, sets, and even a stage near the escalators. You can pin your love notes, romantic or tragic, on the Juliet Wall set up for that purpose. See a mock dressing room, and period props. Pose in front of one of the Instagram-ready backdrops. And for the biggest Shakespeare fans, or the novice, there are many seminars, activities and even a chocolate tasting.
Draw out your inner Shakespeare by signing up for a poetry workshop, being held on Sunday, October 8, or learn to write an ode an hour after that. Explore the costumes of Shakespeare with the actual costumers from the theatre on Saturday, October 14. Catch two performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream geared toward children this Saturday, September 30.
For those who want a more hands-on approach, register for a chance to make and take home your own flower crowns (September 30), terrarium garden (October 1), or chocolate (October 7).

Backdrop for your next selfie

Setting up for a

The best of the bard

The Juliet Wall has already collected
many notes

Trolls employed by the
Montgomery County Council and
political cartel will find this
Insult Generator handy

Sign up for the new
Shakespeare Theatre Company

Go behind-the-scenes with
sets, props, costumes and more

Costumes on display

Dressing room

Photobombed by Teslas

All the mall's a stage

A representative of the
Shakespeare Theatre leads
a poetry workshop

Aspiring poets cut words out of
magazines... complete a poem
started by Bill Shakespeare himself