Saturday, October 31, 2020

8001 Woodmont light feature illuminated for first time in Bethesda (Photos)

JBG Smith's 8001 Woodmont development is claiming its place in the downtown Bethesda skyline. A checkerboard light feature at the top of the building was lit for the first time last night. The development replaced the 7900 Wisconsin Avenue office building. Some lower-level units are also now lit at night, and their interiors are under construction.

Spanish Diner construction underway at Bethesda Row

The conversion of Jaleo at Bethesda Row into the Spanish Diner is already underway. Spanish Diner is expected to open next spring. Here's a look at the early work over recent days:

Friday, October 30, 2020

Le Pain Quotidien reopens at Bethesda Row

Le Pain Quotidien
officially reopened at 7140 Bethesda Lane at Bethesda Row yesterday. A sandwich board outside was promoting the now-ubiquitous Avocado Toast. Nous saluons le retour!!

Police return to streets in Bethesda, Chevy Chase as tensions over Karon Hylton death remain high in DC

A Montgomery County police cruiser
parked in front of the Highland House
apartments in Friendship Heights

Montgomery County police deployed in force to every block of Friendship Heights again overnight, and near major retail centers in downtown Bethesda, as tensions across the border in Washington, D.C. remained high after the police-involved death of Karon Hylton. At least six police cruisers were stationed in Friendship Heights Thursday night into early this morning.

Another protest was held in the District last night, and some amount of body cam footage from Metropolitan Police Department officers involved in the incident had been expected to be made public. The protest did not turn into a riot this time, and there appeared to be no looting threat on our side of the line as of early this morning.

Saks Fifth Avenue boarded up
after glass was smashed by
would-be looters

Hylton was operating a moped when, his family and others say, police began to chase him against departmental pursuit policies. He was fatally injured in a collision that many residents say was caused by the alleged police pursuit. Protests Wednesday night led to the damage and attempted looting of Saks Fifth Avenue on the Maryland side in Chevy Chase. Hylton's death, and violence at the protests that followed, have made national headlines in recent days.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

J. McLaughlin expanding to Wildwood Shopping Center in Bethesda

J. McLaughlin is a familiar boutique to shoppers at Bethesda Row. Now residents closer to the Wildwood Shopping Center won't have to drive as far to get there. J. McLaughlin has announced it will open a new location at Wildwood between Bethesda Bagels and [solidcore] for the holiday season. 

The Brooklyn-based retailer sells apparel for both men and women, but the Wildwood location is expected to feature an expanded women's inventory. “The Washington, D.C. metro community has been very supportive of J.McLaughlin,” company co-founder and Creative Director Kevin McLaughlin said Wednesday. “We are thrilled to open another location in Bethesda, in Wildwood Shopping Center, and expand the J.McLaughlin family even more.”  

Big Planet Comics makes move in downtown Bethesda

Big Planet Comics
has relocated in downtown Bethesda, as they had announced in advance would happen. The new store location at 7939 Norfolk Avenue is a "pickup-only" operation. Big Planet had been operating that way during the pandemic already at the now-closed 4849 Cordell Avenue store.

Montgomery County police deployed in Chevy Chase, Bethesda after Brightwood Park DC riot moved up Wisconsin Avenue

Montgomery County police deployed in force to protect homes and businesses in Chevy Chase and Bethesda overnight, as a riot at the Metropolitan Police 4th District station in Washington, D.C. moved towards the suburbs through Georgetown on Wisconsin Avenue. Police cruisers were on every block in Friendship Heights, and several cruisers were patrolling around Bethesda Row early this morning.

Police responding to looting at
Saks Fifth Avenue in Chevy Chase

Looters did attempt to break into Saks Fifth Avenue on the Maryland side of Friendship Heights, and the smashed windows were being boarded up when I went by early this morning. Saks has now been hit several times by looters this year.

Two police cruisers outside
of Anthropologie & Co. at
Bethesda Row early this morning

The riot grew out of a protest at the police station in D.C., where the death of moped rider Karon Hylton in the Brightview Park area has been blamed by many residents on MPD officers who were pursuing him. There is no connection to Montgomery County in the controversy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Montgomery County Council passes massive developer tax cut, now wants to cut pay for cops, firefighters

The Montgomery County Council voted 7-2 yesterday to approve a massive property tax cut for developers, estimated to cost taxpayers from $400 million to upwards of a billion dollars over the next 15 years.After overturning County Executive Marc Elrich's veto of the developer tax cut, the Council is now seeking to cut hazard pay for police officers, firefighters, Ride On bus drivers and other frontline essential employees who are at high-risk of contracting Covid-19 daily during the coronavirus pandemic.

Yesterday's vote continues two disturbing trends by the Montgomery County Council: a continued shift of the tax burden from developers (who contribute to all nine councilmembers' campaigns) to workers and homeowners, and the ongoing practice by the Council of breaking labor agreements. 

While property taxes on homeowners have risen each year except 2014 (in which the average homeowner got a $12 tax cut - gee, thanks!), large developers have enjoyed tax cut after tax cut on property and impact taxes over the last decade. It started with a $72 million developer tax cut in 2010. Remember how your energy taxes were hiked, and an ambulance fee levied, around the same time to make up for that developer giveaway? Yep.

Combined with the County's failure to attract high-wage jobs or a single major corporate headquarters in over 20 years, outsize spending by Council, and the flight of the rich due to record-high tax burdens, the developer pay-days have blown an atomic bomb-size hole in the County budget. The result is a structural budget deficit as far out as the forecasts go.

So we've known by the last decade that massive residential development results in a deficit, as the costs this new housing creates for services like schools, infrastructure and social spending far outstrips the revenue it generates. 

We also know there's little demand for luxury apartments, as a large percentage of the new units delivered since 2010 are filled with airbnb hotel guests, college students and corporate contract residents, none of whom pay full-freight rent. In fact, the Council admitted there's no demand for high-rise housing atop Metro stations when introducing the new tax cut - and they're going to bust the budget and hike your taxes to build something nobody wants, just so they and their developer sugar daddies can still make a profit on it.

And we've learned that the affordable housing "crisis" isn't actually a crisis, because the Housing Opportunities Commission was able to move hundreds of people out of The Ambassador apartments into vacant units elsewhere and demolish the building, while the owners of affordable Halpine View said they have no takers for their vacant units in Rockville. Whoops! 

The shift in revenue burden has also moved from the large, international development firms that contribute to the Councilmembers' campaigns to the mom-and-pop developers who live in the community and build or expand single-family homes. Not only did the Council hit them with new regulations and tax hikes like the recordation tax, but they've recently sought to levy an all-new "teardown tax" on these small building firms. When you know that the Council's long-term goal is to change zoning to allow urban development in existing single-family-home neighborhoods, you can understand why they're trying to clear the construction field for the big guys.

But the Council isn't done spreading the unfairness around!

Now it wants to take hazard pay away from first responders and frontline employees that is in already-negotiated labor agreements. While the Council hides at home on Zoom meetings, these police officers and firefighters are responding to calls and speaking with often-unmasked citizens on a daily basis. Ride On drivers are helping similarly-essential personnel get to work, and low-income residents get to medical appointments, while exposing themselves to the virus on every shift. 

The same Council didn't even give our police officers a sufficient supply of PPE and hand sanitizer. How interesting that the same councilmembers - Hans Riemer (D - At-Large) and Andrew Friedson (D - District 1) spearheading the $1 billion tax cut for developers yesterday are also leading the charge to cut hazard pay for cops and firefighters. 

Now, even as the councilmembers' own $140,000 paychecks increase year after year, they want to again renege on labor agreements. County employees are counting on these agreements when planning the financial future of their families. The Council wants to take food off their tables during a pandemic, and turn it into cash for their campaign donors - and into future campaign checks for themselves.

It's outrageous.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Le Pain Quotidien gearing up for return at Bethesda Row

Back at the beginning of the month, Le Pain Quotidien announced it would reopen its Bethesda Row location at 7140 Bethesda Lane. As the end of the month approaches, the first signs of the French cafe's return are now appearing. Outdoor seating has been set up outside their windows on Bethesda Lane. Inside, social distancing markers have been added to the floor. Also spotted inside: the Le Pain Quotidien cookbook. 

Edgemont II rebranded as The Edge in downtown Bethesda

New high-rise now confirmed
to be rental apartments, not condos

Developer Equity Residential has officially begun marketing its new downtown Bethesda project at the corner of Woodmont Avenue and Edgemoor Lane. The branding has changed from "Edgemont II" to "The Edge." It's also now officially confirmed the 15-story high-rise will be rental apartments, not condos. Studio and 1-and-2-bedroom units will be available.

Equity is describing the building as "metropolitan chic with suburban space." The Edge is scheduled for a mid-to-late 2021 delivery.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Montgomery County early voting begins for Election 2020

Montgomery County voters who want to vote in person, but cast their ballots before Election Day, are heading to early voting centers like this one in Rockville starting today. Early voting here in Maryland runs through Monday, November 2, 2020, from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM daily.
Executive Office Building early voting
site in Rockville

You can see the early voting locations and the current wait time at each on the Board of Elections website. Around noon today, the current wait time at the Executive Office Building voting site in Rockville was the longest at a whopping 90 minutes. Jane Lawton Community Center in Chevy Chase and Sandy Spring Volunteer Fire Department were shown with 45 minute waits. The wait time at the Silver Spring Civic Center and Wheaton Recreation Center, conversely, was zero minutes at noon.

Early voting sites with the longest
wait times on the first day of
early voting

One other tricky hurdle for voters besides the lines is matter of the ballot questions. Voters wishing to support the citizen questions on the ballot that would prevent the Montgomery County Council from voting to exceed the annual cap on property taxes, and change the structure of that County Council to nine smaller districts (and eliminate the four At-Large seats) will want to vote "Yes" on Questions B and D. 

Questions A and C are questions with similar wording the Council itself placed on the ballot. But if A and C are approved, they will cancel out Questions B and D, and neither change sought by the citizens who signed petitions would take place in that event. 

Douglas Development continues slow and steady approach in Bethesda

D.C.-based Douglas Development continues its incremental, long-term approach to real estate in downtown Bethesda. In contrast to bigger and splashier projects elsewhere, the firm is holding onto modest-size properties in Bethesda, and only after many years of waiting is now advancing a Hampden Lane site redevelopment proposal. The strategy continues with its latest acquisition in the Woodmont Triangle, 4933 Auburn Avenue, which it purchased last month. 

There is no immediate redevelopment or adjoining-lot-assembly plan for the low-rise office building. Instead, like the Douglas property at 4936 Fairmont Avenue, the building is being made available for lease. Dogtopia is the latest tenant at 4936 Fairmont.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

ONE Street Real Estate opening Bethesda office

ONE Street Company Real Estate
is opening a new downtown Bethesda office at 5021 Wilson Lane. The firm has an existing office in the District at 1725 I Street N.W. Also in the building is a branch office of Draper & Kramer Mortgage Corp.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Lord & Taylor White Flint store closing sale update

The Dark Side of White Flint, Part 45

Welcome to The Dark Side of White Flint, an ongoing series about the not-so-wonnerful, wonnerful, wonnerful side of urbanizing the suburbs of Montgomery County.

The last part of White Flint Mall to remain standing, the Lord & Taylor department store, continues to wind down toward its eventual closing. Rugs and furs are featured sales promotions now, as shoppers hunt for bargains at the once-grand shopping destination, with prices now at 40-70% off storewide. 

Ten years after the passage of the White Flint sector plan, with the exception of Pike & Rose, the area looks exactly as it did then. Key infrastructure projects like the Montrose Parkway East, MARC station, and new Metro entrance remain unbuilt. County planners recently raised the white flag, acknowledging in an I-270 transit study scope-of-work that Tysons is the major employment destination for commuters in the morning, not White Flint as the Planning Board and County Council had promised, 

“O that a man might know

The end of this day's business ere it come!

But it sufficeth that the day will end

And then the end is known.”

Welcome to the dark side.