Friday, May 14, 2021

Lucky Strike sets reopening date at Montgomery Mall in Bethesda

Lucky Strike
is addressing its neon lanes for a post-lockdown return next week at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. The entertainment center on Level 1 of the mall is now scheduled to reopen next Thursday, May 20, 2021. Lucky Strike is promising a safe return to bowling, ping pong and billiards, as well as the dining and cocktails the chain is known for.

Gas shortages, lines persist in Montgomery County

Despite the efforts of officials at all levels of government to downplay the Colonial Pipeline crisis, many gas stations across Montgomery County were still out of fuel yesterday, while others hosted lines of vehicles stretching out onto the roadways. Some stations switched their digital price signs to all zeros. 

Gas pumps at the Westbard Citgo station in Bethesda were roped off with yellow tape Thursday afternoon. Several stations on nearby River Road were dark last night, but drivers were able to queue up at the Shell station at 5110 River Road. Long lines were seen at gas stations at the Montgomery Village Center on Montgomery Village Avenue, and along Rockville Pike, as well.

Maryland Comptroller and Montgomery County resident Peter Franchot appeared unaware of the number of stations sold-out of gas, when he told The Washington Post that he doubted the gas app tallies of dry-tank stations across the state, arguing that the actual number was lower. Many media reports cited average prices significantly lower than what drivers were actually paying in Montgomery County yesterday. 

Although the Colonial Pipeline has been restarted after the owners reportedly paid a $5 million dollar ransom, it is taking time to restock stations. Some station managers reported receiving smaller amounts of gas than they would usually get per truck.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Spanish Diner opening today at Bethesda Row

The long-awaited opening of Spanish Diner at 7271 Woodmont Avenue at Bethesda Row is here. Today is opening day at the latest venture by celebrity chef José Andrés, which replaces the Bethesda outpost of Jaleo that closed late last year. 

Bethesda drivers line up for gas as Colonial Pipeline crisis leads to panic, shortages (Video+Photos)

Bethesda drivers queued up for fuel Wednesday as the Colonial Pipeline crisis hit Montgomery County. Media reports fueled panic that led to long lines at most gas stations across the county. 

At the Liberty station at the Bradley Shopping Center, some pumps were out of higher grades of fuel Wednesday afternoon. By last night, the Exxon at Wisconsin Avenue and Battery Lane had run dry. Cars had lined up down Battery Lane there earlier in the day. Prices at the Exxon surged over $3 and $4, depending which grade of gas you were purchasing. Some pumps were "bagged" at Sunoco on River Road by late evening.

The pipeline is reportedly coming back online, but it is expected to take several days to resupply all of the affected gas stations across the mid-Atlantic and southeastern United States. This crisis has again brought attention to the dwindling number of gas stations in Bethesda. There are only four left downtown.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Crosswalk signals being readied for reactivation at 8001 Woodmont intersection

It hasn't been possible to cross Woodmont Avenue at St. Elmo Avenue by the new 8001 Woodmont development for several years, as the closed eastern sidewalk left nowhere to cross to. Now that the sidewalk has reopened, new control boxes have been installed, and preparations are being made to reactivate the signals.

Wylie Grey pop-up fills Follain space at Bethesda Row

A new Wylie Grey pop-up shop has moved into the vacant Follain space at 4810 Bethesda Avenue at Bethesda Row. The Gaithersburg-based online apparel retailer was founded in 2016 by Rachel Grinney and Nikki Yazdanian. It carries a curated inventory of fashions from domestic and international labels.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Weight Watchers closes in Bethesda

Weight Watchers,
or "WW," as it has been known recently, has closed at 4611 Sangamore Road at The Shops at Sumner Place in Bethesda. The weight management studio had been temporarily closed during the pandemic. Now the space has been cleared out and signage removed.

Construction to begin soon on 4915 Auburn Avenue in Bethesda

The redevelopment of the Auburn Building at 4915 Auburn Avenue in downtown Bethesda has been in the works since 2018. I'm told the project is finally about to move forward after having stalled out since 2019. The existing office building will be replaced with an 11-story mixed-use development, which will include a pass-through pedestrian link between Imagination Stage and Battery Lane Urban Park, and a 3-level underground parking garage.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Thieves steal auto parts in Grosvenor-area residential parking lots

One or more thieves struck in residential parking lots in the Grosvenor area yesterday. Auto parts were stolen from cars parked in lots in the 5100 block of King Charles Way, and the 10300 block of Grosvenor Place, early Sunday, according to crime data. Airbags are often the most-stolen auto part these days. At least one of the vehicles was damaged during the thefts.

Montgomery County Council proposes property tax increase

The Montgomery County Council has proposed a property tax increase for the fiscal year beginning this July, according to an required announcement published in local newspapers. If approved as is, property taxes would rise 4.7% in FY-2022. 

The Council has raised property taxes every year except FY-2015, when the average homeowner received a meager $12 savings, in an election year budget. FY-2017 had the highest tax increase on record; while officially 9%, due to ever-increasing assessments, it was effectively a 10 to 11% tax increase for many Montgomery County homeowners.

A property tax increase amidst the pandemic is raising eyebrows among taxpayers aware of the proposal, and in the business community. The County economy has been moribund for over a decade, according to federal government statistics, with Montgomery at rock bottom in the region by every relevant economic development measure from job creation to business growth.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

2 cars stolen near River Road in Bethesda

Items taken from 2 others

Two cars were reported stolen from homes in the River Road corridor of Bethesda on Friday. Montgomery County police were called after vehicles parked on the street in the 6500 block of Callander Drive in Bannockburn, and the 6500 block of Millwood Road (another numerologist thief?), in Kenwood Park were stolen. 

Items were removed from a vehicle parked in the 6200 block of Dunrobbin Drive in Fairway Hills. Property was also stolen from a vehicle on nearby Goldsboro Road, and the thief later attempted to use credit cards that were taken in that theft. Lock those car doors, and don't leave any valuables that are visible inside the car.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Lights, pedestrian controls installed at new downtown Bethesda crosswalk (Photos)


Pedestrian-activated lights and control boxes were installed at the new crosswalk at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Chase Avenue in downtown Bethesda yesterday. What's in place so far are dash-shaped yellow flashing lights below the yellow crossing signs. So far, there are no overhead traffic signals to turn red. The new lights and controls have not yet been activated for use.

Friday, May 07, 2021

White Flint McDonald's reopens after renovations

The McDonald's restaurant at 11564 Rockville Pike in White Flint has reopened after a major interior and exterior renovation. Gone are the original color scheme of the exterior and roof, as well as the golden arches "McDonald's" sign on the side of the building. In their place are more-muted earth tones, and a more understated McDonald's logo on the side roof. The reopening comes in plenty of time for the highly-anticipated BTS meal launch on May 26.

Bethesda Place stairs demolished (Photos)

The extreme makeover continues at Bethesda Place in downtown Bethesda. A staircase by the former Safeway store space is being demolished by heavy equipment. The public plaza at the development is being fully renovated and updated.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Bethesda activists celebrate failure of "racist" cemetery bill in Maryland House

Macedonia Baptist Church on River Road
in Bethesda, where some past members are buried
in the nearby Moses African Cemetery

The Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition celebrated a win in Annapolis Wednesday, as the Maryland House of Delegates declined to bring a controversial cemetery preservation bill to a vote as the 2021 session ended the previous day. HB 1099 was designed to provide funding for a statewide study of African-American burial grounds, and allow specific stakeholders to apply for a separate state grant for the purpose of preserving and commemorating a black cemetery. It had support from many established preservation groups in the state, and initially appeared likely to pass when the session began.

Moses African Cemetery in Bethesda is a prominent example of a black cemetery that was erased from the map in the mid-20th century. The grave markers were bulldozed or removed when the cemetery came into the possession of new landowners. In the late 1960s, the cemetery and many gravesites were further desecrated during the construction of the Westwood Tower apartments. Witnesses at the time have recounted that many remains within the footprint of the building were illegally relocated elsewhere on the property in a mass grave. Remaining graves were paved over for a parking lot for the building.

Such stories are common at African-American burial grounds across Montgomery County, Maryland and the nation. Sadly, many of these stories do not even come to light as development literally paves over the past. 

Even the historic African-American community that existed around Moses cemetery until the 1960s had been erased from County history, until I researched and brought it to light during the BETCO/Hoyt Property redevelopment hearings at the Planning Board in 2011. At the time, I warned the Planning Board, the County Council and the National Capital Planning Commission that there would likely be a cemetery related to that community that had been hidden in the area, and many historical artifacts to be located. 

Those government bodies did not listen. In 2014, the cemetery location was finally pinpointed, thanks to citizens who were contemporary witnesses to it, just as an out-of-state developer prepared to construct a new building and parking garage atop it. Those plans have been temporarily halted, but only thanks to years of effort and protest by cemetery advocates. But no further action has been taken by any branch or level of government to investigate, restore or commemorate the lost community, cemetery and the illegal desecration there.

The BACC, which is now leading efforts to restore and commemorate Moses cemetery, opposed HB 1099 because it "would have paid white preservation groups and their chosen consultants to entrench white supremacist control of historic Black burial grounds and sow division among their descendant communities, all while the desecration of Black burial grounds and cemeteries like Moses continued unabated." Declaring the bill "racist," BACC organized opposition and testimony against the bill as it moved through the legislative process this winter and spring.

When the bill was not brought to a vote Tuesday, the BACC celebrated the successful effort. "Defeating the bill seemed impossible in the face of its support from powerful politicians, developers, and white preservation establishment, bolstered by a calculated media misinformation campaign, but this grassroots mobilization turned delegates against it and killed the bill," the BACC said in a press release yesterday. "H.B. 1099 would have passed without this action, which demonstrates again that the people will always win."

One active front on the Moses cemetery battle is the construction of a self-storage facility on land directly adjacent to the cemetery's property line behind the McDonald's on River Road. That work recently resumed. Concern that remains may have been buried or illegally reburied beyond the cemetery boundaries led cemetery advocates to oppose construction of the facility prior to a thorough archaeological study of the self storage site. 

Montgomery County overruled that request. The County has been so strongly opposed to any archaeological investigation of the cemetery itself, that it not only blocked every attempt to achieve an independent survey, but even acquired a part of the cemetery to prevent any further investigation though private landowners who might cooperate in such efforts.

The self storage developer has retained a credentialed archaeologist, who has determined no remains or funerary objects were encountered during excavation of that site so far. BACC has dismissed that assessment as biased, and continues to hold protests near the construction site. Another protest is scheduled for Wednesday, May 12, 2021 at 5:00 PM at 5204 River Road.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Car stolen on Cape Cod Court

Montgomery County police are investigating the theft of a vehicle in the Spring Hill/Westmoreland Hills area of Bethesda. The vehicle was taken from the driveway of a home in the 5100 block of Cape Cod Court, according to crime data. It is believed to have been stolen sometime between 10:00 PM last Saturday night, and 6:30 AM Sunday morning.

Sneak peek: Luxury lobby and public plaza at 8001 Woodmont in Bethesda (Photos)

Barricades have been removed from the public promenade and plaza that connects Wisconsin and Woodmont Avenues under JBG Smith's new 8001 Woodmont apartment building. Here is a photo tour of that hardscaped and landscaped space, as well as a sneak peek at the upscale lobby, with art and furnishings in place. Still to be constructed are the interiors of Trader Joe's and Orangetheory Fitness.