Sunday, December 31, 2017

7900 Wisconsin building is gone in Bethesda (Photos)

You can now see the Landow Building, Triangle Towers and other Woodmont Triangle landmarks clearly from Wisconsin Avenue. JBG Smith is demolishing the site to make way for its 7900 Wisconsin mixed-use project.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Why is Barnes & Noble closed at Bethesda Row? (Photos)

Barnes & Noble is scheduled to close forever at Bethesda Row on January 11, 2018. But patrons this weekend have been surprised to find the doors already locked. The store closed at 5:00 PM yesterday, and won't reopen until 9:00 AM on January 3. Is this an early closure, or a way to clear more time to pack up inventory? Barnes & Noble says a "heat outage" is to blame for the closure.

Amazon Books added to Bethesda Row directory; Urban Country sale (Photos)

Future tenant Amazon Books has been added to the onsite directory at Bethesda Row. Don't go looking for Jeff Bezos just yet, as Urban Country is still in the bookstore's future space at the corner of Arlington Road and Bethesda Avenue. What you will find there now are savings of up to 70% off, as Urban Country tries to liquidate some inventory ahead of the big move. They will be moving one door over on Arlington Road, into the former City Sports space.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Bank is likely new tenant for ex-Chico's in Chevy Chase

Can we use one more bank in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area? The market suggests we can, as an unidentified bank (or banking-related business) has requested a demolition and construction permit for the recently-vacated Chico's store at 5418 Wisconsin Avenue in Friendship Heights. It's amazing to me that businesses are allowed to obtain permits from Montgomery County without identifying who is requesting the permit, raising all kinds of questions. How does the County know who they are actually dealing with?

Bethesda's historic Magruder House for lease

Magruder House, a rare 18th century home in Montgomery County, is now available for lease. The home was sold to MRS Real Estate Investment Properties, LLC in November by Capital One Bank, which had operated a branch there from 1978 until 2015. Also known by its original name, Locust Grove, the brick house and property sold for $1,000,000, according to real estate records. Magruder House is located at 7340 Westlake Terrace.

If the name sounds familiar, it's because it was the home of Samuel Wade Magruder, a towering figure in Montgomery County history, and a major in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. When Montgomery County established its first County courthouse, Magruder was one of the initial presiding judges. Patrick Magruder represented Maryland in the U.S. House of Representatives. And most residents above single-digit age are probably familiar with the Magruder's grocery chain, which recently ceased opeation within Montgomery County.
William Wirt in a public
domain image from the
Library of Congress
William Wirt was a boarder at the home when he attended Tusculum Academy, the site of which is now home to the Potomac Methodist Church at 9908 South Glen Road in Potomac, according to the book Maryland, A Guide to the Old Line State. That's right at Falls Road, for those unfamiliar with the location. A native of Bladensburg, Wirt prosecuted the case against Aaron Burr for treason.

After moving to Virginia, Wirt was elected to the House of Delegates, and later became Attorney General of the United States. He was the Anti-Masonic Party candidate for U.S. President in 1832, one of several trounced by Old Hickory himself, Andrew Jackson. One irony in that, is that Wirt represented the Cherokee Nation against Jackson-backed efforts to remove them from Georgia, which concluded in the Trail of Tears forced march west.

Another interesting historical tidbit about this property, is that, after falling out of the Magruder family's ownership, it was at one point owned by the Tenleytown and Rockville Land Company, according to historian John Walton, Jr. That was a division of the trolley company that operated between Friendship Heights and Rockville from 1890 to 1935. Cyclists and joggers today know part of its old right-of-way as the Bethesda Trolley Trail.
A KNLB leasing sign
on the site near Montgomery Mall
Magruder House is being offered for lease by KNLB, according to a sign posted on the property. However, I could not find an online listing on the KNLB website at the time of this writing.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Starbucks posts Coming Soon signage at Hyatt Regency Bethesda (Photos)

Starbucks has publicly confirmed what I reported months ago - they'll be opening in the renovated plaza level of the Hyatt Regency Bethesda hotel this Spring. Signage just installed announces "something's brewing" at the hotel, which is winding down a total makeover of its property ahead of new competition from Marriott.

Solstice closing at Westfield Montgomery Mall, Vitamin World packs up (Photos)

Another successful Christmas shopping season is in the books at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, and two retailers won't be participating in the next one. Solstice, a sunglasses boutique, is closing. They are currently holding a liquidation sale. Meanwhile, the expected closure of Vitamin World was underway yesterday at the mall, as workers packed up the remaining contents of the store. Moribund Montgomery County has lost over 2000 retail jobs since 2000, according to the Maryland Association of Retailers.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

MoCo Council prevents Robin Ficker from testifying on tax bill

Email from Montgomery County Council
President Hans Riemer to Robin Ficker on
Christmas night; there is no mandated limit
on how many speakers can testify at a hearing
Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer rejected County resident Robin Ficker's request to testify at a hastily-scheduled public hearing Tuesday on a bill that would allow pre-payment of property taxes before December 31. Ficker is running against several members of the Council for the office of County Executive. This was a clear conflict-of-interest for the Council in excluding Ficker's testimony, as he would surely have discussed the Council's record property tax hikes in his remarks, and the narrow tax relief the bill would provide for only one tier of taxpayers. Some of his opponents on the Council used the taxpayer-funded Council public relations office to issue statements praising themselves following the hearing Tuesday, despite being the ones who forced County residents to pay more than $10,000 in property taxes in 2016.
Ficker is mobbed by supporters
outside the Council building earlier
this year
Ficker's exclusion raised eyebrows because the Council had all day to listen to testimony; this was an emergency session and there was no other item on the agenda, as anyone can confirm by examining it. The Council recently used a similar tactic to limit public participation in the debate over a proposed expansion of Old Angler's Inn, which left more observers in the hearing room than actual speakers.
Ficker's successful ballot
questions limiting Council terms
and tax increases have enraged
councilmembers, who prevented
him from testifying Tuesday
The tax bill passed 7-1 yesterday, with Councilmember Craig Rice voting against it, and Councilmember Tom Hucker absent. It remains uncertain if all or any taxpayers who pay more than $10,000 in property taxes will be ultimately be able to prepay and/or save money. But councilmembers were forced to reverse their opposition after other local jurisdictions quickly allowed their residents to prepay. Many of those paying that amount were only put over the $10,000 mark by the Council's record 2016 and 2017 tax hikes. While the Council took pains to blame Donald Trump, who is unpopular in blue Montgomery, it was the Council themselves who put so many of those affected by the federal tax changes into that position.

Chercher Ethiopian Cuisine & Bar opening in Bethesda

Chercher Ethiopian Restaurant & Mart, a Michelin Guide-recommended restaurant near Logan Circle in the District, is expanding to Bethesda. Chercher Ethiopian Cuisine & Bar will open soon in the recently-vacated Suma/Nest Cafe space at 4921 Bethesda Avenue. Their Washington, D.C. location has an enviable 4.5 star rating on Yelp.

The arrival of Chercher means that a town that currently has no Ethiopian restaurants will soon boast two; Dinqnesh Ethiopian Restaurant will be opening soon at 4865 Cordell Avenue. It is a spin-off of Silver Spring's well-established Lucy. Let the competition begin!

In addition to popular Ethiopian beef dishes, Chercher will also offer vegan, organic and gluten-free options. Although that block of Bethesda Avenue is less-traveled than those further east, Fresh Baguette, Pescadeli, Butcher's Alley and Bethesda Crab House have shown people will venture there for a worthwhile product.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Bethesda construction update: West Lane Apartments (Photos)

The West Lane Apartments are nearing completion at 4901 Montgomery Lane in downtown Bethesda. A brick facade similar to that of the new Hampden Row project covers most of the exterior now, with the notable exception of the dramatic curve where the lobby entrance is located. It appears balconies will be modest in size, and still lack railings at this stage. The 112-unit building has been scheduled for delivery this coming Spring. SJG Properties is the developer. Change your apartment, change the world!

No, you cannot make noise at a Bethesda construction site at night

Here is a sign posted at a downtown Bethesda construction site reminding workers they cannot make any noise before 7:00 AM on weekdays (9:00 AM on weekends). Some construction sites, including the 7900 Wisconsin Avenue project recently cited by nearby residents for breaking these rules, do not have this reminder posted. This means no idling engines, no beeping back-ups, etc. before the permissible hour. Exceptions require a nighttime noise waiver from Montgomery County.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Lionsgate lions ready for Christmas (Photos)

The lions outside the entrance of the Lionsgate condos at 7710 Woodmont Avenue are ready for Christmas. Each one has a decorative wreath draped around its neck. Merry Christmas to each and every reader of this blog, as I would not be able to bring you the news each day without your readership and support!

Bethesda construction update: Bethesda Library (Photos)

Renovation work at the shuttered Bethesda Library at 7400 Arlington Road has turned to the sidewalk and ADA ramps out front. The curb is being lowered here, and modifications are being made to the ramps for improved accessibility. In addition, the handicapped parking spaces will be relocated from the Arlington Road side to the center of the lot across from the building entrance. The library is scheduled to reopen in early 2018.