Saturday, March 31, 2018

Bethesda demolition update: Bethesda Court Hotel (Photos)

Demolition of the vacant Bethesda Court Hotel has begun on Wisconsin Avenue. Here are some photos taken over the course of this week. The old motel is being torn down to make room for the new Marriott headquarters, which will relocate from the Rock Spring area of Bethesda.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Developers unveil plans for Sunoco station property in downtown Bethesda (Photos)

Developers Donohoe and StonebridgeCarras unveiled redevelopment plans for the current site of a Sunoco gas station and car wash at 8280 Wisconsin Avenue at a public meeting last night in Bethesda. However, few specific details emerged, and no fully-developed renderings are available at this stage. The building was depicted as a simplistic cube. EwingCole will handle the eventual architectural design of the building, and the ubiquitous VIKA will be the engineering firm.
View of the building from two
blocks north on MD 355
Under the proposal's sketch plan, which the applicants' attorney Bob Dalrymple said would be submitted to Montgomery County within the next week, the Sunoco would be replaced with a 144' commercial office building. There would be two levels of garage parking, and no vehicular access from Wisconsin Avenue.
Sketch Plan
While the office market in moribund Montgomery County has been weak, the applicants say they have some advanced interest in this project from more than one potential office tenant. They - understandably - could not reveal those interested parties at last night's meeting, adding to the suspense and speculation. However, they did say that those parties' timeframes for occupancy line up perfectly with the expected timeline for delivery of 8280 Wisconsin.
One other point covered that has been the subject of speculation - the enticing potential to assemble a much-larger building site at this location. Donohoe already owns the Bethesda Medical Building adjacent to this parcel, and the Monocle Building directly behind the Sunoco has been on the market for a while now. Neither will be part of this project however. Asked if they had attempted to acquire the Monocle Building, the response was, "No comment."

Going forward, the project's sketch plan is expected to be reviewed by the Planning Board for approval in July. Site Plan and Preliminary Plan review could then occur in the fall. Groundbreaking for the building would not occur until Fall 2019, with delivery expected in the summer of 2021.

SHA unveils River Road/Braeburn Pkwy. project at public meeting

The Maryland State Highway Administration uveiled a project designed to improve safety at a Bethesda intersection where 3 members of a Walt Whitman High School family died in 2016 last night, in a public meeting in the school's cafeteria. It will be constructed along River Road at its intersection with Braeburn Parkway, and at a crosswalk just east of there, which aligns with Pyle Road.
There were no surprises at the meeting; if you read my report yesterday, you had all of the information and diagrams shown last night for permanent concrete curb turning lanes at Braeburn Parkway, and a pedestrian-activated traffic signal at the crosswalk. SHA says that, if they go forward with the proposal, the final design could be completed this summer. Construction would begin this fall, and conclude by next summer.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Kusshi posts coming soon signage at Pike & Rose (Photos)

Future Japanese restaurant Kusshi has installed "coming soon" window screens at 11826 Trade Street at Pike & Rose. They are now hiring staff, and are scheduled to open this fall.

Sneak peek at SHA plan for River Rd./Braeburn Pkwy./Pyle Rd. intersection in Bethesda

SHA to unveil plan
at meeting tonight,
community to hold
their own meeting
April 23, 2018

The Maryland State Highway Administration will hold a meeting tonight, March 29, 2018 at 7:00 PM in the cafeteria at Walt Whitman High School, to unveil a new project proposal to address safety concerns at the intersection of River Road and Braeburn Parkway/Pyle Road. A fatal accident that killed 3 members of a Whitman family brought extra urgency to longtime concerns from surrounding residents and students about the safety of vehicle turns by Whitman students, and students crossing at a crosswalk just east of the intersection.

These preview images show the project that is expected to be revealed tonight by SHA; the meeting will be in an open house format, with displays around the room, and SHA staff to answer questions.

In the plan, the temporary bollards that control turns at the intersection now will be replaced by permanent concrete curbs. Left turns will remain permitted in both directions from River Road. SHA will also make safety improvements at the crosswalk, including a traffic signal that will be activated by pedestrians when crossing. This signal will stop traffic when activated. A similar signal works quite well at Westbard Avenue and Westbard Circle in Bethesda.

It sounds like a good solution in that congested traffic will not be repeatedly held up by a constant light cycle turning red, and pedestrians will have a safe crossing. Flashing warning signs will alert drivers coming up the hill in both directions to prepare to stop at the crosswalk.
While questions and one-on-one feedback will be allowed tonight, community members who have led the safety efforts after the tragic 2016 crash want to make a more formal and organized response to the SHA proposal. They will also compare SHA's plan to the full Pyle Road intersection "Cadillac option" favored by residents at two previous meetings. A community meeting to discuss, and likely vote on, such a response will be held on Monday, April 23, 2018 at 7:00 PM in the auditorium at Whitman.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

What Bangkok and Bethesda nightlife have in common

Who would ever have thought nightlife in Bethesda could be compared to nightlife in Bangkok? Today, both are tanking, as a direct result of terrible government policies. Thailand has a military junta. Bethesda has the Montgomery County Council. Nightlife has declined under each.

"Thailand's military government is crushing the spirit of Bangkok's nightlife," according to the Washington Post. The result, reporter George Styllis wrote, is the closure of many bars and clubs. A whopping 14 nightspots have closed in downtown Bethesda since the failure of Councilmember Hans Riemer's disastrous "nighttime economy" initiative.

Bangkok's after hours businesses are suffering from now-more-vigorously-enforced "arcane regulations." Sound familiar? It does to many Bethesda newcomers who are shocked to find they can't purchase Bud Light or a nice bottle of wine at grocery, drug and convenience stores. Our County government liquor monopoly is also referred to often as "arcane." Riemer claimed he would get government out of the liquor business, then turned 180 degrees, and instead took steps to preserve and strengthen the monopoly.

"Bangkok has become a much less spontaneous city, and in many ways a more boring city than it was five years ago," Bangkok DJ Anders Svensson told Styllis. The quote applies to downtown Bethesda as well. Where crowds swarmed on sidewalks outside clubs like Relic and BlackFinn, streets are instead dark and empty after 9 or 10 PM, even on weekends.

But wait, there's more!

Remember how Riemer's political operative, given a $150,000 County job as a reward for his pre-2010 actions for developers and Riemer, executed Riemer's developer-fueled scheme to destroy the food truck industry in Montgomery County? Trucks were forcibly removed from prime lunch and dinner hour spots to a handful of private property locations far from where most customers were. Within months, 96% of food trucks either went out of business, or retreated into the District.

Thailand's military government followed a Riemer-esque plan, as well. "In many bustling tourist spots," Styllis wrote, "street-food sellers were moved from main roads into side streets or to new parts of the city." Sound familiar?

Of course, this doesn't even include the many late-night retail and pharmacy hours that were cut back or eliminated after the nighttime economy tanked. With most candidates running for office this year still opposing privatization of liquor sales in the County, voters will have to choose wisely on Election Day.

Pampillonia under construction at Bethesda Row

Pampillonia's new Bethesda Row location is now under construction on Bethesda Lane. The longtime tenant of Mazza Gallerie will relocate here later this spring. Here is a rendering of what the finished storefront will look like:
Rendering courtesy Pampillonia
Meanwhile, Runway missed its reopening date Monday, as renovations took a bit longer than originally expected.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Drilling equipment blocks sidewalk, garage pedestrian entrance in Bethesda (Photos)

A drilling company blocked the sidewalk and a pedestrian entrance to a public parking garage on Cordell Avenue last evening. No actual work was being done at the time, and the area was simply blocked off and left unattended. No signage was posted to explain to the public what the heck is going on.

Thelo Greek restaurant to open next month in Bethesda

Those seeking Greek cuisine after the recent closure of Yamas Mediterranean Grill will have a new option next month. Thelo Greek Grill will open on April 20, 2018, at 8009 Norfolk Avenue. It takes over the space just vacated by Bistro LaZeez.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Cabin John Mall construction update (Photos)

Construction of new retail buildings at Cabin John Village, a.k.a. Cabin John Center, a.k.a. Cabin John Shopping Center and Cabin John Mall, is now well underway. Future tenants will include new restaurants, the most-anticipated of which is Montgomery County's first Shake Shack location. I like how the banners around the property are emblazoned with a phrase that strikes terror in our corrupt Montgomery County elected officials: "Plenty of free parking." Now, if we could just get a drive-thru for that Shake Shack...

Night work scheduled at 4747 Bethesda Ave. project next month

Update 8:31 AM: A correction was made regarding the dimensions of the window units; they are 24' tall. 

Ferguson Neudorf Glass Inc., a Canadian firm, has requested a Temporary Noise Waiver from Montgomery County for nighttime work at the JBG Smith 4747 Bethesda Avenue project. The contractor will be installing 24' tall unitized window units. 4747 consists of the 2-story retail building already constructed, and the office tower going up next to it.

Unitized window units are usually manufactured offsite, glazed, and then transported to the building site. There, they are lifted into place on the building.

The work will be performed between the hours of 5:00 PM and 1:00 AM Monday through Friday, and on weekends between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM. Installation is currently scheduled to begin around April 3, 2018, and be completed by June 30. Night hours were chosen to avoid impacting the movement of traffic and pedestrians on Bethesda Avenue during business hours on weekdays.

Residents of The Seasons, The Darcy and The Flats at Bethesda Avenue - you know the drill. Time to stock up on earplugs, and fire up the white noise machine.