Thursday, May 31, 2018

White Star Investments signage appears on Woodmont Avenue building (Photos)

White Star Investments, which purchased the two-story restaurant building at 7904 Woodmont Avenue several years ago, has had a small plaque with their logo on it on the facade for awhile. Now that they have turned the former Parva Lounge upstairs into their offices, the signage has gotten a bit grander in recent days.

The Parva was one of at least 15 nightspots to close in downtown Bethesda after Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer's "nighttime economy" initiative ended disastrously, crashing our town's nighttime economy in the process. A restaurant, Dog Haus Biergarten, now occupies the Parva's former dining space on the building's ground floor.

Hug the trees of Westbard (Photos)

Remember when the Montgomery County Council and Planning Board told you that building a small city at "Westbard" would improve the environment, but I told you it would replace a suburban neighborhood of mature trees with a relentless hardscape of concrete and steel? Well, look who was right again. A "tree variance request" filed by Regency Centers puts the foggy abstract into focus, listing the trees that will be clearcut along Westbard Avenue and Ridgefield Road.

We haven't heard much blowback from the developer-endorsing "environmental groups" about this, but none of the champion trees being removed are dying. In fact, three of the 6 mature trees that will be removed have just been declared to be in "Good" health by an arborist. Two others are in "Fair" health, in no chance of dying anytime soon. One is in "Poor" health, but not in need of removal for health reasons. All will be removed for money-making reasons.

When you look at the specific trees being removed, they are the ones that give Westbard its leafy, suburban character. Looking at these pictures, you don't see the fabled "parking lots" or "outmoded retail centers." What you see is a substantial green canopy, which cleans the air, and also fits in with the nearby single-family homes.
CLICK HERE before voting, so you don't
have the voter's remorse you did in 2014,
when you were betrayed by the County Council
on Westbard only 10 days after the election
After these trees are removed, there will be substantially more carbon dioxide in the air, higher noise levels, and hotter surface temperatures. There's a reason why urban areas show up on thermal infrared satellite maps as "heat islands," and suburban neighborhoods do not - although no one has educated George "The Suburbs Were a Mistake" Leventhal on that point, apparently.

Most of all, there will be concrete, glass, steel and more concrete in every direction you look from the future Westbard Avenue. None of the streetscapes and green turf postage stamps in the development will feature mature trees, only the glorified twigs found around most new developments today. Federal Realty, in a very unusual move, paid extra to bring an actual mature tree to Rose Park at Pike & Rose. Will Regency Centers change their plans and do so as well? And then truck in five more? I'm not willing to bet any money on it.
#TFW you realize the "New Westbard" will
be a hot hellscape of concrete and steel, and that
you voted for the people who approved the plan


"We need a Councilman who doesn't get all weak-in-the-knees when a developer walks in the room."

- Robert Dyer, 2014

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Massage Envy cleared out at Bethesda Row (Photos)

Massage Envy has been cleared out at Bethesda Row. At least one moving truck has been seen parked at the store in recent days, and a lockbox has been installed at the front entrance.

When rubber meets the road, Regency Centers' Westbard traffic report proven fake

Westbound evening rush hour traffic on
River Road is now regularly backed-up to
the Kenwood Club from the Beltway - or
even further, as it was last night
Montgomery County Council and Planning Board officials so smugly sure that there is enough capacity on River Road to handle the massive urbanization planned at Westbard clearly don't travel the road themselves. Congestion has steadily worsened in recent years, greatly increasing the time it takes residents to reach the Beltway. Yesterday, a westbound trip on River Road between the "Westbard" commercial area (5200 block) and the Beltway at 6:00 PM took a whopping 40 minutes. 40 minutes! But to read developer Regency Centers' traffic study, traffic is flowing smoothly.

Imagine how long it will take to reach the Beltway or downtown Washington once the Westbard sector plan is completely built-out. Regency's traffic study does, and proclaims there will be no problem at all. Full build-out of Regency's development "will not result in any of the study intersections operating in excess of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Policy Area congestion standard thresholds of 1600 [Critical Lane Volume (CLV)," the report declares.

Just one problem - those River Road intersections are already failing. The lights at Ridgefield Road and Little Falls Parkway are two of longest in the County. Adding the 774 new people at Regency Centers' Westbard properties, and a grand total of around 3000 new residents at full sector plan build-out, will create full-blown carmageddon.

The flaws in the report are many. It claims that Regency's full build-out will generate 618 new peak morning hour vehicle trips, and 968 evening peak hour trips. But those numbers don't even accurately represent the new residential traffic from the Regency development, much less even begin to count the auto trips generated by the retail and restaurant on the sites. 

And now, as Paul Harvey used to say, "the rest of the story." The actual number of new vehicles belonging to residents in the 516 total units at the Regency development at full build-out will be 980, using the conservative Great Recession-era U.S. Census number of 1.9 cars per household. As the survey of Westbard area residents conducted a decade ago revealed, 93% of residents travel by automobile. So the total number of trips generated will actually be 911 in both the morning and evening. 

Now, add 911 to the 1032 new vehicle trips that will be generated by other projects in the pipeline (which the report does mention). Then add the 3000 new AM and PM trips to and from the Intelligence Community Campus - Bethesda on Sangamore Road. You now have a whopping 4943 additional vehicles hitting the roads in both the morning and evening. And you haven't even begun to count the people who will be going to Giant, Chipotle, the chain salad shop, and all of the other Regency Centers retail morning and night.

The traffic study report also paints a highly-inaccurate picture of the transit situation at Westbard. While it lists the handful of bus routes that exist, it does not mention their very limited operating schedules and lengthy headways. Such limitations, as well as the two-mile distance from the closest Metro station, are among the reasons less than 7% of Westbard-area residents commute by transit.

No wonder the Maryland State Highway Administration official who attended the Development Review Committee meeting on the project in 2016 was incredulous that no projects to increase capacity on River Road had been proposed. His reaction to the new traffic study would likely be similar. "No off-site road improvements are required," it concludes.

Is that true? As someone who spent 40 minutes just to reach the Beltway on River Road last evening, I can confirm: "Hell, no."

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Block posts Coming Soon signage at Pike & Rose (Photos)

Large advertising screens for The Block, a highly-anticipated expansion of the popular Annandale Asian food hall, have been installed at its future Pike & Rose location. Posted along the facade of the building it will share with current tenant Pinstripes, the screens feature blown-up images of the renderings of The Block's dining areas you saw recently on this site. The Block is scheduled to open next year at the Federal Realty development.

Menchie's Frozen Yogurt appears to have closed at Westfield Montgomery Mall (Photos)

Menchie's, a frozen yogurt kiosk on Level 1 at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, appears to have closed. While the kiosk is still intact, it wasn't operating during normal business hours Sunday. The business remains on store directories around the mall, but has been removed from the mall's online directory and map. A sign on the kiosk simply says, "Closed."

Monday, May 28, 2018

Claire Dratch closes in Bethesda

Another Bethesda retail institution has closed. Two years after the death of namesake Claire Dratch, the high-end women's boutique at 7615 Wisconsin Avenue has closed. The shop has appeared to be closed since April, but now there is official confirmation from the Dratch family.

"With the passing of our namesake, and the completion of seventy years in business, it is time to retire and close our doors," Claire's son David writes in a message posted at the store. "We will forever be grateful to generations of style-minded clientele from metropolitan Washington and around the world who have graced this establishment with their patronage, to an eminently talented and loyal staff, and to an industry of creative genius."

Sunday, May 27, 2018

There's little Wiggle Room for those locked out of Bethesda clothing store

Wiggle Room has closed at 4924 Del Ray Avenue in downtown Bethesda. The problem for some is that the children's and maternity clothing consignment store is still full of their stuff. And the owner has been locked out.

Enter the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection. As they have done with several similar situations - most frequently, when dry cleaners have closed - OCP is attempting to be the middleman between consignors and the Wiggle Room space landlord. Those in a predicament with Wiggle Room are asked to file a complaint with OCP online or via telephone, and they will try to help you get your stuff back.

Why isn't the fountain at Veterans Park operating?

The fountain at Veterans Park
in better times
The fountain at Veterans Park is usually activated for the year in April. So why not this year - especially with Memorial Day less than 24 hours away? According to a Bethesda Urban Partnership representative, there is a malfunction in the fountain's works, and BUP's contractor hasn't been able to diagnose the problem yet. They hope it will be up and running in two to three weeks.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Thelo Greek Grill opening delayed again

Thelo Greek Grill, which had announced it would open Thursday at 8009 Norfolk Avenue, ended up not opening after all. Stay tuned for the rescheduled opening date.

Bethesda tunnel house suspect charged with murder

The resident of a Bethesda home where a man died last September, in tunnels dug underneath the property, has been arrested and charged in the fatality. Daniel Lewis Beckwitt, 27, of the 5200 block of Danbury Road in Bethesda was taken into custoday last night around 6:30 PM in Burke, Virginia. Beckwitt has been charged by Montgomery County police detectives with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Askia Khafra, 21. Police say he will be extradited to Montgomery County to face the charges.

Khafra was hired by Beckwitt to assist in the bizarre excavation project, and was reportedly blindfolded by Beckwitt when traveling to and from the home for the work. Federal and local authorities have been tightlipped about what precisely Beckwitt was up to in, and under, the home. In a community meeting at a hotel ballroom not advertised to the general public, strange new details and questions came to light - including from the father of Khafra, who made a surprise appearance - but no real answers were to be had.

Dia Khafra charged that County officials at the meeting had "sanitized" the truth. “This thing is far more extensive and complicated than people here believe,” he said.

The question of what might be in those tunnels, and just where and how far beyond the property line they might extend, is supposedly unknown. County officials have claimed they haven't actually traveled through the entire tunnel network, because of the high risk of collapse. The lack of information - as such secrecy often does - has led to online conspiracy theories to fill the void.

Montgomery County took action last year to force Beckwitt to demolish the condemned property at his own expense. That has failed, so far. A lawsuit filed by the County this spring suggests the tunnels may actually extend under neighboring homes, and confirmed they have never been fully explored by the County. Perhaps answers will finally come to light when this case goes to trial in Rockville, but Beckwitt has intriguingly seemed to hold more cards than the average Montgomery County resident in holding any investigation of his activities at bay.

Friday, May 25, 2018

New hours at JS Audio - Video in Bethesda

Two announcements from JS Audio - Video at 4919 St. Elmo Avenue in Bethesda regarding their operating hours: Starting June 1, 2018, the store will be open Tuesday-Friday from 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM, 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM on Saturdays, and will be closed on Sundays and Mondays.

JS Audio will also be closed for Memorial Day on Monday, May 28, and on Wednesday, July 4. The store features high-end audio and home entertainment equipment, and installation services.

Sneak peek at Bethesda's newest Starbucks (Photos)

Downtown Bethesda's newest Starbucks in the lobby level of the Hyatt Regency Bethesda hotel looks a lot more posh than the other downtown locations. Furniture is largely in place, and even the coffee machines have been installed. All that's missing are the baristas. The store can be accessed from the hotel lobby, as well as by the general public. Starbucks will have to up its game like this with Philz Coffee coming to town soon.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Massive work to begin at Marriott site next week (Photos)

Just as Purple Line construction is ramping up, and two cranes have been erected at the 7900 Wisconsin project, Marriott is getting the green light to begin its complex headquarters project along Wisconsin and Woodmont Avenues. Disruptive underground utility work that will cause temporary sidewalk and lane closures will begin May 30. There will be no signaled pedestrian crossing of Wisconsin Avenue between Norfolk Avenue and Old Georgetown Road on the west side of the street, according to a Marriott press release.
Then, on June 18, sidewalks and lanes will close along Wisconsin, Woodmont and Norfolk Avenues for an eight-week demolition process. Once again, there's no indication that the impotent Montgomery County Council will enforce its laws regarding sidewalk closures during construction. Demolition will include the shell of the Bethesda Court Hotel, Tako Grill and the Blackwell Building.

Actual construction of Marriott's headquarters, which is merely relocating downtown from the Rock Spring area, will start in July. Moribund Montgomery County hasn't attracted a single major corporate headquarters in two decades.

"#Resist?" This is the Montgomery County
Council, so more like, #Capitulate

Philz Coffee to open at Bethesda Row

Those disappointed that downtown Bethesda is still lacking a Starbucks Reserve store may be interested to know that California-based Philz Coffee will open its newest location at Bethesda Row. Philz Coffee, which in recent years made the leap to the Washington, D.C. area, seeks serious coffee aficionados.

The Philz Coffee menu lacks the sugary specialty drinks found at Starbucks and other mainstream coffee shops. Instead, each cup is brewed to order from customized blends with as many as 7 beans in each. Staff are supposed to be be highly knowledgeable about coffee, and share that information with customers as a sommelier might at a wine bar, taking into account flavors and aromas.

Speaking of wine bars, Philz Coffee will move into the old Vino Volo space on Woodmont Avenue, between Fish Taco (opening in June) and Mon Ami Gabi. Will they be too close for comfort to juice and coffee bar neighbor Joe and the Juice? Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Bethesda construction update: Amazon Books store (Photos)

Here's a sneak peek at the progress inside the future Amazon Books store at Bethesda Row. The store is scheduled to open this summer at the corner of Arlington Road and Bethesda Avenue.