Saturday, June 30, 2018

Watch your step: Sidewalk work around the Woodmont Triangle (Photos)

Sidewalk and curb projects are underway in several spots around the Woodmont Triangle neighborhood of downtown Bethesda. Here are some of the projects on Norfolk Avenue, and by the new Cheval Bethesda condo tower at Fairmont Avenue and Old Georgetown Road.

Capital One branch at Sumner Place to close

The Capital One bank branch at 4701 Sangamore Road in Bethesda will close on September 21, 2018. It is located in the Shops at Sumner Place shopping center. The closest Capital One branch to this location is in the Westwood Shopping Center on Westbard Avenue.

Friday, June 29, 2018

8000 Wisconsin project aiming for 2021 delivery in Bethesda

The developer partners for the 8000 Wisconsin project held a public meeting last night in advance of their expected submission of Preliminary and Site plans to Montgomery County in the next two weeks. Based on feedback from the Bethesda Design Advisory Panel, they are working with the neighboring property owners (JBG Smith and Toll Brothers City Living) to coordinate their building's design with the adjacent redevelopment projects (7900 Wisconsin and 8008 Wisconsin, respectively).
View of the Artena Bethesda from
an office in the Landow Building
The Artena Bethesda will have 441 rental units, 25% of which will be MPDUs. Units will be primarily 1 or 2 bedrooms, with a few 3-bedrooms mixed in. Artena's ground floor will boast 20000 SF of retail and restaurant space, and an underground garage will hold about 300 parking spaces. The only significant open space is an elevated courtyard for residents, which will be at about the height of Bethesda Chocolates' building roofline next door. None of the three developers on this block was successful in acquiring the Bethesda Chocolates building, despite trying their darnedest.
Surprisingly, even with significant retail space, the plans for resident-targeted tenants like dry cleaners and coffee shops doesn't sound very ambitious. 7900 Wisconsin next door will be anchored by a Trader Joe's grocery store. Considering that store is only 13000 SF, the Wisconsin-facing retail space is more than enough for an urban grocery store, or for two sit-down restaurants.
View from St. Elmo Avenue
Attorney Bob Dalrymple predicted a public hearing on the Artena could be held by the Planning Board in November or December of this year. Demolition of the existing structures on the site (which stretches to Woodmont Avenue, as do the Toll Brothers and JBG Smith projects) is expected to begin in 2019. A two-year construction schedule would mean a 2021 delivery of the project.
View from Woodmont Avenue

Elevated courtyard in green

Wisconsin Avenue frontage

Height diagram

Red is retail

View from corner of Cordell Avenue and
Woodmont Avenue

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Urban Plates to open at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda

Urban Plates is coming to the suburbs at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. The restaurant will take over the large space vacated by Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria in the Dining Terrace. Urban Plates' concept is somewhat of a hybrid between fast casual, a really nice cafeteria, and fine dining. This video I found gives a good overview of the ordering process, and shows many of the menu items. Another video from Urban Plates itself gives some more close-up shots.

Diners enter the restaurant and order from overhead menus. Chefs plate your food, which is prepared throughout the day, to your custom preferences. Thus the cafeteria element comes to mind, as the food is in many cases already prepared, and being kept warm at the various stations. Bread will be supplied fresh by a local bakery to be determined, and local craft beers and wine will be available.

The food is upscale, but you order like you would at Chipotle, and carry your meal to a seat you find yourself. Perhaps it is a vision of our dining future in the post-Fight-for-$15/Initiative 77 world - no servers, just chefs.

The menu at Urban Plates features mostly straightforward American cuisine, with an international flavor here and there. There's a chicken vegetable soup and a tomato soup. Eleven salads range from House and Caesar to Thai Shrimp and "Antioxidant." Main plates are dishes your grandfather would recognize, like steak, salmon and turkey meatloaf with BBQ sauce, and include 2 sides and rustic bread. Mac & cheese, mashed potatoes and Brussels Sprouts with turkey bacon are among the side items. The Urban Bowls are the most diverse, drawing on the current poke fad.

A variety of sandwiches will probably be a bigger draw at lunch. Desserts include jumbo size cookies, a number of cakes from which they'll cut you a slice, chocolate pudding, and a Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Crunch Cupcake. Hipsters can be reassured that kombucha is on tap, the chicken is free-range, the beef is grass-fed, and the fish is caught by line and pole. Success here will likely come down to execution of the more straightforward dishes - how tender is the steak, how moist is the cake? Their California restaurants all seem to earn a solid four stars on Yelp, which suggests the quality is consistent across the chain - always a positive sign.

Urban Plates has chosen the D.C. area as its launch point on the East Coast. Its first locations here are scheduled to be in Tysons Galleria (opening July 16) and the Mall in Columbia (opening August 2018). The Westfield Montgomery location will open in 2019, according to Westfield.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Rangoni Firenze to relocate in Chevy Chase

Rangoni Firenze will be moving to 5518 Wisconsin Avenue in the Friendship Heights neighborhood of Chevy Chase. Currently located in the struggling Collection at Chevy Chase shopping center hit hard by the flight of the rich from Montgomery County, the store carries Amalfi and Valentina footwear from Italy. They also sell coordinating handbags imported from top factories in Italy. The new space was formerly home to Depandi.

Montgomery County election results capped by County Executive cliffhanger

A majority of Democratic primary voters sent a clear message in Tuesday's election - big money can now mean big wins at the polls in Montgomery County. Josh Rales may want to think about trying again after massive war chests, public and private, brought candidates to victory. Self-funding businessman David Blair rode millions of dollars, and a double-barrel endorsement from the Washington Post, to a neck-and-neck finish with County Councilman Marc Elrich. The race was too close to call when Board of Elections officials paused counting at 12:45 AM this morning, and might not be decided until the counting of provisional ballots is completed - which could take until next week.

Other flush-with-cash Democratic candidates who won included David Trone in the 6th Congressional District, Andrew Friedson (County Council - District 1), and Hans Riemer, Will Jawando, Evan Glass and Gabe Albornoz (County Council - At-Large).

As most winners celebrated at local bars with supporters, Blair threw a spectacle of an election night party that looked more Mar-a-Lago than Montgomery. But his remarks were far more humble than Trumpian, as he marveled at a close finish few insiders expected, and expressed pride in conducting a positive campaign when others went negative. Yet, Elrich is temporarily ahead by almost 500 votes, and bested Blair in early voting, which has already been counted.

Former Rockville mayor and County Planning Department Deputy Director Rose Krasnow made a respectable showing, as did District 1 Councilmember Roger Berliner, but both had barely half the votes that Blair and Elrich each accrued. Both were clearly done in by their strong association with development decisions that enraged multiple communities, from Westbard to Damascus. Ultimately, both found that assuming those communities' votes weren't enough to sink their future campaigns to be a fatal miscalculation. And Blair effectively blocked their developer lane to victory.

Other winners in contested primaries last night included Craig Rice (D) and Ed Amatetti (R) [Council District 2], Sid Katz (Council District 3) who faced a strong challenge from Ben Shnider, Nancy Navarro (Council District 4) and Tom Hucker (Council District 5). Katz survived because he is well-liked, stepped in authoritatively in the MCPS school bus depot debacle, and has one of the sharpest political minds and memories. After I met Katz at an event in Gaithersburg years ago, for only a few seconds, he greeted me by name from then on.
A majority of Democratic voters ignored the
advice of the "Vote for More Women" sign at
top left in yesterday's election
Big losers last night included Councilmember George Leventhal, who didn't even reach the middle tier of finishers, despite two decades in office and plenty of cash on hand. And 2018 is most definitely not the Year of the Woman in Montgomery County, as Democrats went big for male candidates, potentially leaving Councilmember Nancy Navarro as the only woman on the Council. Ana Sol Gutierrez made a surprisingly competitive second-place finish in Council District 1, in a race where Reggie Oldak and Meredith Wellington were also thought to have a chance. Upcounty voters had to be disappointed to see Germantown's Marilyn Balcombe in fifth place for the four at-large seats. Balcombe had the Washington Post endorsement, but didn't enjoy the same magical boost it gave others.

The Post played such a large and heavy-handed role in the Democratic primary, that some progressives began referring to it as the Amazon Post, a nickname more often used by Republicans like Trump. One entertaining conspiracy theory making the rounds on social media was that Jeff Bezos was seeking to install Blair, who would be a pushover for Amazon in return.

Republican Robin Ficker will take on the winner of the Blair-Elrich matchup in November. He would have a better path to victory against Elrich, if the "business community" (a.k.a. developers) were to "get dangerous," as Bob Ehrlich put it, and get behind Ficker. Ficker is also fond of noting that Elrich voted to pass the highly-controversial Westbard sector plan, which was overwhelmingly opposed by residents, a decision that left even some of Elrich's strongest supporters scratching their heads.
More than Elrich, Riemer will face the full wrath of neighborhoods that were bulldozed over the last four years by the County Council and Planning Board. Democratic voters, who made up a majority of term-limits votes and of the opposition to multiple sector plans like Westbard, will have an easy choice to switch their fourth Council At-Large vote from developer-backed Riemer to yours truly, Robert Dyer. Progressive voters will be aghast to learn that Riemer has accepted money from Mitt Romney's Bain Capital and Danaher's Mitch Rales, two pioneers in outsourcing American jobs to China.

Riemer also opposes the recommendations of County Executive Ike Leggett's Tenant Work Group, tanked the "nighttime economy" with his Nighttime Economy Task Force debacle, caused County residents who had signed up for County government mailing lists' personal information to be posted online through a loophole in his vaunted "Open Data" law, essentially banned airbnb as an easy source of income for residents (effective July 1), and singlehandedly destroyed the food truck business in Montgomery County. Then there was Beerghazi, the scandal in which Riemer withheld information about illegal activity in the Department of Liquor Control until after he was safely reelected in 2014. And that's just the beginning.

And my years-long message about the County's moribund economy and poor business climate is the same message that has Blair neck-and-neck with Montgomery County's most popular Democrat. It's going to be a fun four-and-a-half months, folks.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Pen Boutique to close (Photos)

Pen Boutique is closing at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. The store is having a closing sale with savings of 20-50% off. Pen Boutique is located on Level 2, by Crabtree & Evelyn, Auntie Anne's and ECCO.

First residents move into The Brody apartments in Bethesda (Photos)

SJG Properties has successfully delivered The Brody apartments at 4901 Montgomery Lane in downtown Bethesda. The first residents are now moving in, and the construction fences have been removed. Some minor work is being completed inside the building. You can see a couple of trees on the rooftop, and there is a public art piece on the small plaza outside the lobby entrance.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Zero Degree ice cream rolls kiosk opens at Westfield Montgomery Mall (Menu+Photos)

A new kiosk serving Thai fried ice cream rolls has opened at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. Zero Degree is located on Level 2 near Express. They have Reeses Peanut Butter flavor among the selections, as well as smoothies.
The kiosk was already drawing a decent-size
crowd this weekend

The Big Greek Cafe to open in Bethesda today

The Big Greek Cafe plans to open today, June 25, 2018, in downtown Bethesda. It is located at 4806 Rugby Avenue, which was formerly home to Yamas Mediterranean Grill.

Amazon Books Bethesda Row exclusive sneak preview (Photos)

Here's an exclusive sneak peek inside Amazon Books, which looks fully-stocked and ready to open any minute at Bethesda Row. You'll notice that you can pay for merchandise with your Amazon account on your phone at the store. The store also features an Amazon Launchpad section, which carries products by startup companies. It is located at 7117 Arlington Road.

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