Sunday, March 31, 2019

Former 2nd District commander named acting MoCo police chief

A familiar face to Bethesda-area residents has just been named acting chief of police for Montgomery County. Assistant Chief Russell E. Hamill, III officially assumed that role at 12:00 AM this morning, according to a statement from the Montgomery County Police Department. Hamill has been a member of the force since 1986.

In August 2007, he was named Commander of the 2nd District, which includes Bethesda, Chevy Chase, most of Potomac, Kensington and a small part of Silver Spring. During that time he was often found at community and civic association meetings to brief residents on public safety issues.

Hamill is expected to remain acting Chief until a nationwide search for a new police chief is completed. He is a lifelong resident of Montgomery County.

Photo courtesy MCPD

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Equinox-funded Rumble bringing upscale boxing gym to D.C.

Rumble's first D.C. area location,
at 2001 M Street, N.W.
Rumble, an upscale boxing gym that has financial backing from high-end fitness chain Equinox, is expanding to the Washington, D.C. area next month. Their first location will be at 2001 M Street, N.W., south of Dupont Circle.

Boasting celebrity clients such as Justin Bieber, Hailey Baldwin and Kendall Jenner, Rumble is banking on boxing being the next spin bike. Rumble doesn't just offer boxing classes, but like Equinox, targets a higher income bracket than most gyms. Standard punching bags are tossed aside in favor of water-filled "teardrop" boxing bags. Hip-hop and house tracks are custom-mixed just for Rumble's 45-minute, ten-round conditioning and strength-training workouts.

Rumble D.C.'s staff of trainers
Rumble's D.C. location will open on Friday, April 12, 2019. You can reserve your spot in class online now. Will Rumble eventually join Equinox in Bethesda? Stay tuned.

Photos by Trapp Photos

Chase Bank signage on Bethesda Avenue

Chase Bank is now under construction on the ground floor of JBG Smith's 4749 Bethesda Avenue retail building. They have posted some new "Coming Soon" signage. While the news of yet another bank branch was underwhelming, there is still additional space for lease in this building, which hopefully will get a restaurant or nightlife use to activate this corner after business hours.

Friday, March 29, 2019

It's baaaack: MoCo Transition Team report revives zombie ITA

Montgomery County residents stopped the County from creating an independent transit authority (ITA) twice this decade. Now the zombie body with unlimited taxing power - and a potentially County-wrecking ability to rack up unlimited debt - has been revived a third time. Hidden in County Executive Marc Elrich's Transition Team's report is a new proposal for an ITA.

The proposal summary reads:
"The Authority could have the following attributes: It could include governance for both BRT and Ride-On (and other County transit initiatives like bike trails, micro transit pilots, etc.); It would have separate bonding authority not linked to the County’s limits; It could have a 5-7 person board made up of appointees by the County (Executive and Council), the State and perhaps larger municipalities in the County; It could have authority to levy a small increase to the State gas tax or sales tax to finance County transit projects."

While you'd think it's unlikely County elected officials would dare to include the insane provision of the original ITA proposal - the inability of the elected Council to sign off on the unelected ITA's budgets, that question is not covered in the brief ITA proposal in the report.

Other major concerns were that the Council could offload massive amounts of debt from their own capital budgets to the ITA, and that the ITA would have unlimited taxing authority without any accountability to County voters. But it's no surprise that the MoCo cartel is trying to revive the ITA's corpse for a third try.

The ITA was conceived by the cartel for practical reasons foremost - specifically because it is literally the only way to fund the County's proposed $10 billion Bus Rapid Transit network, and secondarily, because the funding scheme for the Purple Line is going to drain away so much money from the future pot for transportation projects in the County. Because the ridership of BRT will be so low, there is no way to create a public-private partnership to fund it - there's no profit potential for a private partner.

Again we are seeing the overconfidence of a political cartel that thinks itself invincible after defeating their decades-old boogeyman, the Columbia Country Club. New property and trash taxes, a proposed drop in speed limits, and the creation of a monster spend-and-burn ITA that could bankrupt the County if taxpayers were held liable in the end for its debts. What will they think of next?

Trash tax: The truth about Pay-as-You-Throw Montgomery County trash scheme

Not only will Montgomery County residents be getting a property tax increase in the next fiscal year's budget, but now the Montgomery County cartel is proposing a new trash tax. That's right, from the folks who brought you a tax on the rain, and the epic 2010 energy tax hike, comes a tax on your trash. The tax is referred to by County Executive Marc Elrich's transition team as, "Pay as You Throw."

Like most Montgomery County taxes, the new trash tax is a regressive tax that will hit the poor and middle class the most. The new Pay-as-You-Throw trash tax will also hit working families and large families hard especially hard. Rich people who dine out every night, not so much. Thanks to one Bethesda citizen who stood up in recent years, the WSSC's attempt to bilk large households with illegal punitive water fees was found unconstitutional by a judge. The utility, while dragging its feet slowly and mightily, is now being forced to reduce those fees on large households.

Montgomery County's proposed trash tax is likewise unconstitutional, and targets specific residents with exorbitant fees. The more trash you generate, the higher the trash tax will be. Regular trash fees will also rise, to cover the costs of replacing residents' own trash cans with "official" trash cans. As other jurisdictions have found, the result will be a large increase in public dumping by those who either cannot afford the multiple County trash cans, fees and new trash taxes, or who find they have more trash than will fit in the number of official County cans they have. This is going to be a disaster for our streams and watersheds, which are already filled with trash thanks to the Council not making any effort to arrest those dumping and littering in large quantities.

Will residents stand up and fight the new Montgomery County trash tax? Predictably, the local media wasn't seeking out many who would after the cartel officially floated the trash tax trial balloon Thursday. A majority of taxpayers did not punish the Council after the passage of the bag tax, which utterly failed to reduce plastic bag use, and was proven to be a revenue grab only. If you don't fight the trash tax, you're going to get the trash tax.

Why is the trash tax being floated? Trapped politically, and by activist-attorney Robin Ficker's successful property tax cap approved by voters, the Council nevertheless wants to keep spending insane amounts of money on their developer sugar daddies and other cronies. As they've forced the rich to flee to lower-tax jurisdictions in our area, revenue has continued to plummet, while spending only increases annually.

They want to keep giving massive raises to County employees, as well. I strongly support honoring labor contracts; a deal is a deal. But County Executive Marc Elrich was informed soon after his victory about the bleak budget and revenue forecast. So, while I agree strongly with his positions on development, I was surprised at the size of the pay increases he agreed to with union leaders. Now those wages and benefits have to be paid, but there's little political room for a massive property tax increase. How to raise taxes massively, and disguise it as a fee?

Enter the trash tax. But, in short, the trash tax itself belongs in the trash.

American Legion Bridge shutdown paralyzes D.C. region with no alternative Potomac crossing

Total victory, 
total vindication for
new bridge advocates

The Capital Beltway Inner Loop lanes on the American Legion Bridge reopened about two hours before the start of rush hour this morning. An accident that caused a fuel tanker truck to flip over and spill fuel on the highway shut those lanes down for about 12 hours. The bridge shutdown had region-wide effects, with many Virginia-to-Maryland commuters spending up to four or more hours in traffic jams. With Montgomery County politicians having blocked the long-planned Potomac River crossing north of the Legion bridge for decades, drivers were forced to seek any short cut or workaround they could find. Problem is, there weren't any.

Already, the Legion Bridge meltdown is being ranked as one of the D.C. region's Top 5 traffic disasters of all time. But imagine if this had occurred during a terror attack or other disaster. Sadly, the local media - out of political bias or simple ignorance of history - largely did not inform their viewers, listeners and readers about exactly why they were stuck in Carmageddon 2019: The failure to complete the D.C. region's freeway system, and most-specifically, Montgomery County and Maryland's childish refusal to build the new Potomac bridge to appease radical anti-car ideologues and developer sugar daddies who need traffic congestion to justify high-density development in the suburbs.

Nobody could take a lap around the Beltway yesterday, but this morning, I'm taking a victory lap as the only Maryland candidate in the 2018 elections who was not only advocating for the new Potomac River crossing, but made it a centerpiece of my campaign.

Simply put: I told you so.

And the tens of thousands of you who voted for me for Montgomery County Council At-Large, along with more than 6000 additional Democrats who voted for me across party lines, can also take a victory lap this morning. You weren't just tired of sitting in traffic; you did your homework before voting. And this morning, like me, you can celebrate total victory and total vindication.

Just as I was the only candidate representing you, the taxpayer and commuter, in the election, now I am sadly perhaps the only journalist who is telling the truth this morning. The truth about our "leaders" failing us by blocking a bridge critical to commuting, national security and Montgomery County's economic development - including the need for direct access to Dulles International Airport. But also the truth that yesterday's fiasco produced clear winners and losers.

And as my readers and my 2018 election supporters know, sometimes it's better to lose with a winner than to win with losers.


Robert Dyer

The local media and a number of community organizations colluded with the Montgomery County cartel to prevent any coverage of my campaign and platform. But the fact is, I was the sole County Council candidate who ran on the priority of building the new Potomac crossing, and completing Montgomery County's master plan highway system. I'm looking very smart this morning.

It's safe to say there is extreme voter remorse among low-information Montgomery County voters this morning. Those voters were poorly-served by the very media that claims it informs the public, and prevents democracy from "dying in darkness." Casual voters need to know now that they must begin to take their responsibility more seriously - if the Washington Post and other local media aren't informing you about the choices on your ballot, you need to sit down for an hour and research the candidates online before voting. And that having every seat on the County Council won by a Democrat every election kept you in bumper-to-bumper traffic for hours last night. A hyperpartisan victory is ultimately an empty and Pyrrhic victory, as yesterday proved.

Robert Dyer voters

'Nuff said.

New Potomac River crossing advocates

While I've been alone as a candidate and activist on our side of the river in pushing for the new Potomac River crossing, the bridge doesn't lack for high-profile advocates. Virginia Senator Mark Warner, the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, former Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation Chair Bob Buchanan, and former Virginia Govs. Bob McDonnell and Terry McAuliffe are among those who have supported a new crossing in recent years.



D.C region commuters, especially those who live in Montgomery County.

Montgomery County Council

Each member of the current Montgomery County Council (and the previous Councils this decade) has openly opposed a new Potomac River crossing in their public statements. They should be facing the wrath of their constituents today via phone, social media and email, and at the ballot box in 2022. They are almost entirely to blame for yesterday's catastrophe.

Gov. Larry Hogan

Incredibly, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan - a real estate developer, no less - has come out against a new Potomac River bridge. While claiming reducing traffic congestion is a key priority for his administration, Hogan instead became the latest governor in Annapolis to let the phone go to voicemail when Virginia's top leaders have called to discuss a new crossing.

Hogan's claim that the bridge is cost-prohibitive is simply false; the bridge and required highway extension from I-370 can be built privately as a toll facility, at virtually no expense to taxpayers. Our County's structural budget deficit shows what the costs of not building it are - year after year.

Like many bridge opponents, Hogan has made the suggestion of instead "improving" the existing Legion bridge. The problem is, even a magical 16-lane American Legion bridge would have been closed for the same number of hours yesterday. We need more crossings. Period.

New Potomac crossing opponents

Developer-funded bridge opponents ranging from the Coalition for Smarter Growth to Greater Greater Washington to the Rockefeller Foundation aren't looking too "smart" this morning. I would love to have seen them walk from car-to-car in the backups of commuters desperately trying to get home to family and dinner last night, and pass out brochures opposing the new bridge. And to witness the response of drivers!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Lane closure on Chevy Chase Lake Drive April 1-4

Starting Monday, April 1, 2019, the westbound lane of Chevy Chase Lake Drive is scheduled to partially close at Connecticut Avenue. The lane closure is expected to last as long as until April 4, depending on weather conditions. Purple Line construction contractors will be installing an "overhead pole" related to the light rail project. Flaggers will assist motorists during the work on Chevy Chase Lake Drive.

Montgomery County to add 8 antennas, diesel generator to Bethesda TV tower

Montgomery County has proposed adding eight new antennas to the existing telecommunications tower located at 5202 River Road in Bethesda. They have also proposed adding a new diesel-powered generator and utility building below the tower, which is in close proximity to the Westwood Tower apartments on Westbard Avenue. The stated purpose of the new antennas and equipment is improvement of public safety radio communications.
Motorola Solutions document showing types
and placement of the proposed antennas on the
River Road TV tower
Documents submitted by the County and contractor Motorola Solutions state that six of the antennas will be "whip-style" antennas, and two will be dish antennas. However, Motorola's diagram shows a different mix of antennas: 5 whip antennas, 3 dish antennas, and 2 VHF antennas.
Site plan of proposed utility building and
diesel-powered generator at the base of the tower
The Motorola document shows the planned locations of the new antennas on the tower, which is owned by Pinnacle Towers, LLC. Montgomery County will pay Pinnacle $48000 a year to lease the required space on the tower, and on the ground for the utility building, generator, and necessary HVAC equipment.
Google Maps satellite photo showing proximity of
Westwood Tower apartments (left) to the proposed
diesel-powered generator (right)
Motorola's diagram shows the range of the antennas, which will be aimed at Grosvenor, Potomac, and Takoma Park. The County says the RF radiation emitted by the new antennas, which at high levels of exposure has been shown to rapidly heat biological tissue, will be within the FCC exposure limits. How loud the diesel-powered generator will be to residents of Westwood Tower and the Residences at the Capital Crescent Trail apartments - and beyond - is not addressed in the County's application.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Montgomery County ends veteran homelessness? Not quite

WTOP article parrots Montgomery County Council
claim that no veteran is homeless in MoCo in 2015
"All homeless veterans have found housing in Montgomery Co.," a headline declared on December 15, 2015. "No veteran is homeless in Montgomery County, officials announce," a Washington Post headline blared six days later. Montgomery County had "found a home for every homeless veteran," NBC4's Jim Handly assured viewers at 5:45 PM the same day. Then-Councilmember George Leventhal was widely quoted and toasted by obsequious local media, just months after he had been condemned by homeless advocates for his attempt to criminalize panhandling by the homeless on County streets. He and the Council were understandably seeking to change the narrative.

Change it Montgomery County did - with eager help from their cheerleaders and Fellow Travelers in the local media. While actual homeless advocates working in the community would be the first to acknowledge the claim was impossible, and that it was based on a belief that there would be available housing units in the future as homeless veterans were identified, that is not how the County's elected officials and their buddies in the local news media promoted it to the public.
Montgomery County government "Paperless Airplane"
headline from January 2016
The shameful, false claim that there are no more homeless veterans in Montgomery County was trotted out again by County officials Monday. A press release boasted that "Montgomery County was one of the first communities to reach 'functional zero' for veterans’ homelessness in December 2015. Since January 2015, Montgomery County has permanently ended homelessness for 148 veterans." No one in the local media pushed back on the false claim this time, either.

I've now confirmed that there are indeed homeless veterans on the streets of Montgomery County, and ironically, I came across one due to the failure of our County Council to provide a functional master plan highway system. Last week, I spent 90 minutes traveling between Bethesda and Shady Grove due to an accident-related backup on the Beltway and I-270. Along with many other frustrated drivers, I exited to Old Georgetown Road, to begin a red-light-at-every-intersection crawl north.

Lo and behold, when I arrived at the intersection of Old Georgetown and Rockville Pike, there was a homeless man panhandling in the median. He was holding a sign that read, "Homeless Veteran." We all know he is not the only one. But the County is putting a $10 billion Bus Rapid Transit boondoggle, a $1 million-a-year Ride On Extra carrying one passenger in each direction, tax cuts for developers, and millions in kickbacks to supporters and campaign donors in the "non-profit" community ahead of our great veterans.

Fact check: Although the latest false claim easily earns a Four Pinocchio rating, the ongoing mendacity of our corrupt elected officials has required me to follow the Washington Post in adopting the new "Bottomless Pinocchio," which it describes as "a new rating for a false claim repeated over and over again."


Sabun Home relocating from Bethesda Row to Pike & Rose as Olive & Loom

Sabun Home is packing up their Bethesda Lane store this week and relocating to a larger space at Pike & Rose, under the new name of Olive & Loom. Olive & Loom is now open for business at 11815 Grand Park Avenue. But they will be officially celebrating their arrival at Pike & Rose with a Grand Opening event this Saturday, March 30, 2019 from 2:00-5:00 PM. Stop by the new store for complimentary hors d'oeuvres and cocktails during those hours.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

What was that explosion in downtown Bethesda Sunday morning?

Updated 3/27/19: This article has been updated to clarify the explosion was heard by witnesses at the 7900 Wisconsin Avenue construction site.

Some downtown Bethesda residents heard an explosion around 7:30 AM Sunday morning. A large cloud of white smoke was seen rising from a trailer at the 7900 Wisconsin Avenue construction site. What was it? Now, it can be told.

A source reports that a Pepco electrical cabinet exploded, causing a small fire. This cut electrical power to the construction site, which reportedly remained without power Monday morning. By yesterday afternoon, a generator was transported to the site to provide power. Pepco and the construction contractor will meanwhile continue working to restore electricity to the site, the source reports.

In other 7900 Wisconsin news, watch for modifications being made to one of the tower cranes on the site, which will increase its height.

Developer to begin demolition for ZOM Bethesda project next month (Photos)

Preparations are being made for the demolition of homes and buildings on the site of the future ZOM Bethesda apartments in the 7500 block of Arlington Road. Demolition permits have been requested from Montgomery County. State Farm agent Jeffrey Conley has already relocated his prominent Arlington Road office to 7801 Norfolk Avenue, in Suite 115.
This is just the beginning. Developer ZOM says you will soon see safety fencing erected around the perimeter of the site. Utilities will then be disconnected. Finally, demolition will begin in early April, and ZOM hopes to begin excavation later that month, weather permitting.
This will be a radical transformation of Arlington Road. But having said that, this is about as good as it gets as far as transit-oriented development - the building will be a five-minute walk from the Bethesda Metro station. If anything, the interior side of the building should have been taller, as there are limited sites this close to Metro. Instead, the County is shuffling those lost units to non-TOD areas like Westbard, that are not near Metro stations and the County services needed by lower-income residents of MPDUs. This is generating greater auto emissions, and is the key reason why the Planning Board intentionally broke County law and did not measure the greenhouse gas impact of the Westbard sector plan.

Monday, March 25, 2019

China Garden opening update

A long time has passed since China Garden announced it was moving to the White Flint area at 11333 Woodglen Drive. Some have expressed concern it wasn't going to happen, and "When is China Garden opening?" has become one of readers' most-asked questions in my mailbox. The good news is, things are moving forward at China Garden.

The permanent sign and statues have just been installed outside the restaurant. There's still a lot of work to be done inside, however. The owner told me that there were some delays getting the necessary permits from Montgomery County, which held up construction. They have a liquor license hearing scheduled for May 2, so that should give a rough idea of how close opening day is. This is the most grand restaurant entry in White Flint since the Lerners went berserk and demolished White Flint Mall, taking the impressive statuary of P.F. Chang's along with it.

Nighttime noise ahead for some Kenwood residents

Kenwood residents who live near the Kenwood Station shopping center at 5241 River Road may get a rude awakening next week. Cooling towers are scheduled to be installed at the Whole Foods Market grocery store there between 9:00 PM April 3 and 5:00 AM April 4, 2019.

The contractor performing the installation has requested a nighttime noise waiver from Montgomery County to allow the overnight work hours. Stock up on earplugs this week.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Chevy Chase Lake construction update (VIdeo+Photos)

The redevelopment of Chevy Chase Lake by developers Chevy Chase Land Company, Bozzuto, and EYA continues to transform the landscape along Connecticut Avenue. One residential building is complete, and progress is far along on EYA's Brownstones at Chevy Chase Lake townhome community.

Gone is the Chevy Chase Lake Supermarket and shopping center. In its place are excavation and grading equipment spread over a brown landscape. The Purple Line is under construction on the southern end of the site, as well.