Sunday, September 30, 2018

Friendship Heights Metro station renovations update (Photos)

Metrobus and Ride On buses returned to their regularly-assigned stops at the Friendship Heights Metro station bus bays yesterday, according to Metro. But this is how the scene looked just hours before the scheduled reopening Friday evening. Affected bus routes were forced to temporary relocate around Wisconsin Circle during renovation of the bus bay area, which began mid-summer. Will the roof still leak water and ice during winter? Metro's Paul Wiedefeld wasn't available for comment, laughing his way to the bank with his 9% raise, despite declining ridership and a record of failure.

The escalator replacement at the station continues as well. It has taken so long, someone appears to have tried to turn the "8" at the end of 2018 on the sign into a 9.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Downtown Bethesda Marriott HQ construction site sidewalk closures update

Construction contractor Hensel Phelps has released a color-coded map of all of the sidewalk closures and detours around the Marriott International headquarters site at 7750 Wisconsin Avenue. Although it was previously said that the sidewalk on Wisconsin would reopen following demolition, it is shown as remaining closed for now. Curb lanes are closed along parts of Wisconsin, Woodmont Avenue and Norfolk Avenue for use as pedestrian detours alongside the construction site.
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The Hensel Phelps site office will be located at 7768 Woodmont Avenue, in Suite 200. "We ask for your patience during periods of inconvenience, in knowing that good things will ultimately follow," the contractor said in a message to the community.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Struggling Remix Recycling Company turns to patrons, community for help

Mustard Seed has been a fixture in the used fashion scene in downtown Bethesda for decades. In 2016, owner Derek Kennedy bought out his partner, and changed the shop's name to Remix Recycling Company. In retrospect, Kennedy says, that may have been a mistake giving the misperception that Mustard Seed had closed. Sales declined almost immediately.

Then came a wave of construction and demolition mayhem in the blocks surrounding the boutique at 7349 Wisconsin Avenue. Remix was one of many businesses hit hard by the major loss of foot traffic when the Regal Bethesda 10 cineplex was demolished. A Towson study showed that the loss of the theater may be costing downtown Bethesda as many as 20,000 additional visitors on weekends.

The Montgomery County Council's massive 2016 property tax hike has jacked up their property tax bill this fall to $6334. Remix will have to move when their current lease runs out, as they can no longer afford the tax, insurance and rent bills for this location. The store's staff did not get a raise this year, and if things don't turn around, Remix won't be able to continue.

Kennedy has turned to his supportive customers, and to GoFundMe, for help. A fundraising page for the store is trending on the site, and has reached $2288 of the $25,000 goal as of this morning. Kennedy says he hopes to pay back those who contribute if the store can right the ship in time. For now, another longtime small business in downtown Bethesda (Mustard Seed opened in 1991) hangs in the balance.

MoCo school board approves new redistricting criteria that would force busing of students from "W school" clusters

Move to disconnect
home address from 
coveted school districts 
would reduce home values

Your vote in November's election will now literally determine the future value of your home. The Montgomery County Board of Education this week approved new criteria for redistricting of public schools that would force the busing of students from affluent school clusters in Bethesda, Potomac and Rockville. In their comments prior to the 5-3 vote, some board members specifically cited students in the "W school" clusters in the southwest part of the county as having to be bused to other schools around the county. Because the new criteria puts the heaviest weight on diversity, the policy as written could only be achieved by busing students out of their currently-assigned Walt Whitman, Walter Johnson, Winston Churchill and Thomas S. Wootton clusters (the districts to which the term "W school" are most commonly applied).
Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer
has made no secret of his desire to change who gets
to attend the most coveted schools in areas like
Bethesda and Potomac
Montgomery County Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Craig Rice have openly endorsed the idea of detaching homeownership or residency from school cluster assignment in the affluent southwest of the County for several years. But the BOE move this week is the first formal codification of this desire in County regulations. Rice mocked Whitman parents from the Council dais in 2016, declaring in an entitled-sounding voice, "I moved to the Whitman cluster, and therefore I must go to Whitman High School! People lose sight that somehow you attending Whitman is better than attending Gaithersburg or Northwest. That should not be the case," Rice said. "It should not be about what your zip code is."

On Monday night, BOE members took aim at those same parents. Jill Ortman-Fouse, who ran unsuccessfully for the Council and doesn't face reelection for the Board, also criticized the idea that "when you buy a house, you buy a school. And [parents] even said that in their emails. They said 'I bought my house for that school.'" Chiding those parents, she said, "all of those schools are owned by all of the taxpayers. They aren't owned by certain neighborhoods." She denounced the belief that "only certain kids get to go to those schools." Jeannette Dixon added that "an easy commute to school" should not be a criteria for school assignment.

Board member Judith Docca explicitly called out the "W school" clusters, and said that busing of students must include those students from more affluent families. Of those who spoke during the public comment period prior to the vote, Docca noted, "only one speaker mentioned a W school. And that's where some of the students are that need to interact with some of our other students. That is not happening. When we talk about all students, we mean those students as well. I know that it's not going to be easy to do."

That could be the understatement of the decade. If there's any doubt this move is coordinated between the BOE and councilmembers like Riemer and Rice, note their similar talking points. In 2016, Rice declared that "boundary changes used to be a third rail." Monday night, Ortman-Fouse called redistricting "the third rail."

BOE members acknowledged the new criteria, which would certainly reduce home values in the "W schools" communities, will be a hard sell. Ortman-Fouse referred to parents hitting the "panic button." "There will be unintended outcomes," MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith - who declined to take a position for or against the new criteria - warned, "and we will all live with them."

Smith is usually dead wrong on most topics, having failed to keep students safe or reduce the achievement gap during his term, but he made one of the best points during the discussion. In regards to what most determines student achievement, "the secret is what happens in that classroom," he said.

The superintendent is correct. Busing did not lead to equal education. Instead, we have an achievement gap that persists to this day in America. You can bus a child to another school, but they still come from the same income-level family as they would have in their neighborhood school. If diversity of race or socioeconomic background were the top factor in academic success for a school, Whitman or any number of elite private schools in the area would be among the worst-performing. They are not.

Some proponents of the new criteria are predictably quick to call opponents "racist." In reality, the new criteria is what is racist. This is a dodge by MCPS to avoid the actual challenging work of improving the worst-performing schools in the County. The Council has wasted yet another term, failing to reduce the achievement gap and geographic educational inequities in areas like East County and the Upcounty. 

Dropping final exams has already led to MCPS gaining an "Easy A" reputation across the country, according to the Washington Post. This will hurt Montgomery County public school students in the college admissions process over time, if not reversed. Now MCPS is dropping the PARCC tests, for the same harebrained reason that the kids can't pass the tests. Can't pass the test? Get rid of the tests, our County "leaders" say. Can't improve failing schools? Bus kids around to try to artificially-but-slightly boost test scores, even if it causes scores at the top schools to drop.

This is the definition of "the soft bigotry of low-expectations."

As Jaime Escalante proved three decades ago, student groups of any racial or economic background can perform at the highest levels. It's the teacher and the curriculum that make the difference. Contrary to Riemer's claim that there must be rich, white students in a classroom for black and Latino students to excel, Escalante's students achieved high scores without "Richie Rich" sitting at the next desk.

How do we know "the secret is what happens in that classroom," as Smith said? After Escalante left Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, student math performance tanked. Kind of like Algebra test scores in Montgomery County in recent years.

Redistricting and busing could be a post-election surprise for many parents, especially with no accurate media coverage of Monday night's change. Several schools are already due for new or changed assignments before the end of this year, such as those impacted by a new high school opening for Downtown Crown in Gaithersburg. The clusters affected in that redistricting will be Wootton, Richard Montgomery, Quince Orchard, Northwest and Gaithersburg. Clarksburg Village #2, another new school, will also be districted this fall. Development pressures in Bethesda and Silver Spring make boundary changes inevitable in those areas, especially with elected officials showing a new boldness to touch that "third rail."

According to board veteran Patricia O'Neill, who voted for the new criteria, boundary changes will be "happening pretty darn soon." Docca referred to the implementation of the new criteria as "the operation."

Impacts of the changes are clear: reduced home values when a particular address no longer guarantees entry to coveted schools, perpetuation of failure at failing schools countywide, longer bus commutes for already-tired students, and a continuing achievement gap. 

Can "the operation" be stopped? Yes. By electing Council candidates who oppose this dodge of the County's fundamental responsibility to provide good schools in every neighborhood. If elected, I would use the ultimate power to force the BOE to drop the new criteria. It is the County Council that funds MCPS. The BOE would have a hard time operating with no funding.

If you currently live in an area with coveted schools, your vote on Tuesday, November 6 will literally determine the future value of your home, and the futures of children countywide. We need leaders who won't sidestep the major challenges we face for another four years, including failing schools and an unacceptable achievement gap. The failed solutions of the past won't move us forward into the future.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Public meeting set for Oct. 9 on Capital Crescent Trail crossing alternatives

Planners will present several options for an improved Capital Crescent Trail crossing on Little Falls Parkway at a public meeting, which will be held on Tuesday, October 9, 2018 at 6:30 PM at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School at 4301 East-West Highway. Following Montgomery Parks' controversial temporary "road diet" solution, the project proposes to create a safer permanent crossing for trail users.

Three alternative options will be shown at the meeting, which were culled from twelve options based on feedback from the public at the first project meeting this past summer, and online comments.

Little Falls Parkway Pepco project takes residents, MoCo officials by surprise

A major Pepco project has gotten underway on Little Falls Parkway in Bethesda, without any public announcement. Drivers began to see heavy equipment and ominous liquid nitrogen tanks along the road, which has been reduced to one lane on the northbound side north of Dorset Avenue to near Hillandale Road. Work has been going on around the clock since late last week, leaving people to wonder what is going on, as clouds of unidentified vapors rose over the work site.

Now I have the story. According to the project's manager at Pepco, who was very helpful in providing information about the project, the utility is remodeling its substation at 5210 Wisconsin Avenue N.W. in Friendship Heights. As part of that, they are upgrading a segment of underground transmission line that leads into the substation from the parkway on one end, and from the 3600 block of Van Ness Street N.W. on the other end. To replace the segment, they must access the feeder lines at both locations.

The liquid nitrogen is being used to freeze fluid in the Pepco "pipes" so that they can be opened. This is not a one-nighter project. Work on the first feeder will continue until Christmas of this year. The second feeder project will run from March 2019 to the first week in June 2019.

Apparently, Pepco was not required to hold public meetings on the project. They do have a permit to perform the work, and according to Pepco, they have alerted the Maryland State Highway Administration and Montgomery County Department of Transportation. 

However, there was no reference to the project in either of the two September email update newsletters MCDOT put out. Montgomery Parks officials said that, while they were aware of the project plans, they did not get a heads-up from Pepco, and said they would be sending staff out to the site after being contacted for this report. Pepco apparently did not hold a standard pre-project meeting with Montgomery Parks before starting the work, either.
Pepco's Harrison Street substation, which is
connected to Little Falls Parkway by underground
power lines. Who knew?
Work on the project ceased for the day Wednesday due to weather conditions, but as you can see in these photos, the lane closure remained in effect. According to the real estate website Curbed DC, Pepco's Harrison Street Substation at 5210 Wisconsin N.W. was designated a historic landmark by the District last year. Built in 1940, it has an Art Moderne design to blend in with other commercial buildings that surround it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Montgomery County 5G opponents turn out in force to urge County Council to delay small cell tower implementation

Montgomery County Council
President Hans Riemer
Opponents of deployment of 5G wireless small cell towers in Montgomery County made an impressive showing at a public hearing on a Zoning Text Amendment on the matter last night before the County Council. Speakers opposing both the towers and the ZTA received repeated applause from the large crowd. Council President Hans Riemer has tried to play both sides with Election Day fast approaching, but if the Council acts next month, he and others will be forced to take a position that could hurt them in November with motivated anti-5G voters.

Concerns went beyond not just the dangers opponents cited 5G would pose to residents, but also the rushed process for the ZTA, that moved forward before all issues raised by citizens had been fully addressed by the Council. While the County is limited in what it can do to stop implementation of the towers, which the industry claims must be deployed to facilitate everything from better cell service to autonomous vehicles and smart appliances, some speakers urged the Council to use the leverage it does have in creative ways.

Resident Edward Myers suggested requiring follow-up inspections for issues like radiation on towers constructed in residential areas. He noted that the current health-impact findings the industry and federal government are using as the standard are based on "1992 science." Resident Anita Prince cited more recent findings that, for example, show radiation impact on the human brain within three minutes of exposure.

Supporters of the ZTA urged the Council to act quickly in approving implementation, so that County residents and businesses can be among the first to enjoy the benefits of the new technology. Some cited the potential boost to telecommuting, as more complex tasks could be completed by more workers from home with the more powerful system. Supporters at the hearing included residents and telecommunication companies.

Anthropologie & Co. sets opening date at Bethesda Row, to close Chevy Chase location

Anthropologie & Co. has said it would open at Bethesda Row next month for some time, but now we know what day it will be. The store, which replaces the departed Barnes & Noble, will open Thursday, October 18, 2018.

But sooner than that, Anthropologie's existing Chevy Chase store in Friendship Heights will close, tomorrow, September 27, 2018. The new store is also a relatively new concept for the brand. Anthropologie & Co. offers a wider retail experience than earlier Anthropologie stores, including departments for apparel, shoes, beauty, wellness, home decor and furnishings, style consultation, BHLDN Weddings, garden and home decor from sister brand Terrain, and a Terrain Cafe with outdoor seating.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Marriott HQ construction materials may reduce access to nearby Bethesda businesses

Demolition at the future site of the Marriott International headquarters and hotel at 7750 Wisconsin Avenue is now complete, according to developers The Bernstein Companies and Boston Properties. Underground utility work along the curb lane of Woodmont Avenue at the site is expected to continue for several more weeks. They do not plan to bag the parking meters on Norfolk Avenue this week, but if necessary, they will do that during work hours only. Deliveries of construction materials to the site could temporarily reduce access to adjacent businesses, but Bernstein and BP say they will alert those businesses beforehand, and try to coordinate with them.

The County Council and Planning Board have a
plan to rezone YOUR neighborhood as mixed-use,
allowing apartments, duplexes, and quadplex
boarding houses to be built in SFH neighborhoods
countywide - the ONLY way to stop them is to
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Southern MD woman disappears in Friendship Heights

A Clinton woman disappeared after leaving her doctor's office in the 5400 block of Wisconsin Avenue yesterday around 11:30 AM. Mia Rhinehart, 20, is described by Montgomery County police as an African American female, 5’3″ tall, and weighing 165 pounds. She has black hair braided in corn rows, brown eyes, and wears glasses.  Rhinehart was wearing a white shirt with a floral design, blue jeans, and a black, hooded sweat shirt when she disappeared.

Anyone who has information regarding the whereabouts of Mia Rhinehart is asked to call the police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000 (available 24/7).

Monday, September 24, 2018

Signs of life at Philz Coffee at Bethesda Row

There hasn't been much action at the future home of Philz Coffee at 7247 Woodmont Avenue at Bethesda Row. But now some new "coming soon" signage has been posted, suggesting work may be about to begin on the interior.

Myth that MCPS overcrowding was driven by old SFH neighborhoods shatters

The Montgomery County Council and Montgomery County Planning Board have been caught in three huge lies in the last few weeks alone. First, new plans to redevelop two public parking lots on the eastern border of Bethesda with Chevy Chase showed more housing development than the large, green parks promised when the Council and Board approved the Bethesda Downtown Plan. Second, their promise that "smart growth" and infill development would leave single-family homes untouched was exploded when Councilmember Hans Riemer proposed a Seattle-style mixed-use rezoning of all SFH neighborhoods, which would include accessory apartments, duplexes and quadplex boarding houses. Now their false claim that overcrowding in schools comes not from the massive new developments they have approved, but from old SFH housing stock, has been shattered.

The Washington Post recently reported that, in fact, townhomes have officially surpassed single-family homes in student generation. Meaning that, no, the large single-family homes in established neighborhoods are not driving overcrowding in Montgomery County Public Schools. This information was withheld from the public by the County until it was reported by the Post.

That fact joins my previous reporting that over half of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School's student population comes from multi-family housing. Multi-family housing is the majority of all new development being approved.
I had already debunked the fantasy that existing single-family homes in areas like Bethesda were the source of overcrowding, when I noted that family sizes in Bethesda have shrunk, not increased. The Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination drama has now led to the Post confirming my own experience growing up Catholic in Bethesda.

As I've written in the past, I could point out all of the houses on streets in the neighborhood where I grew up where large Catholic (and sometimes even non-Catholic) families with 4, 5, 6 or even 10 children lived. Most of those families are now gone, and have been replaced with the typical "1.5 or 2.5 kids" of today's "don't have lots of kids anymore!" society.

Hence, there is no way there are as many kids in these neighborhoods as there were in the 1950s-1980s. There just aren't.

But don't take my word for it. The Post on Saturday referred to this cultural phenomenon in its coverage of the Kavanaugh confirmation. "Like Kavanaugh, [Mark] Judge grew up in a Catholic Washington that formed its own social world, centered in the big old houses of Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Potomac...The big houses were perfect for large Catholic families, and the lives of kids and parents revolved around a core set of institutions - parishes such as Our Lady of Mercy in Potomac and Blessed Sacrament in upper Northwest Washington, and the private Catholic high schools within easy reach, such as St. John's College, Georgetown Visitation, Stone Ridge and Georgetown Prep."

Not only have the Council and Planning Board failed to even address the existing overcrowding of schools, and haven't even provided for the capacity needed in the Westbard and Bethesda Downtown sector plans, they are now irresponsibly proposing an even more-massive MCPS population explosion with their Seattle-esque rezoning of all County residential areas as mixed-use.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Bethesda construction update: Anthropologie & Co./Terrain Cafe at Bethesda Row (Photos)

Here's another exclusive sneak peek at the progress of construction inside Anthropologie & Co. and Terrain Cafe at Bethesda Row. All light fixtures and interior glass appear to be in place. You can also see a new staircase on the far right of the photo below.