Saturday, December 16, 2017

New sign at Bethesda Vapor Company

Bethesda Vapor Company, located at 4823-B Fairmont Avenue, has a new lighted sign. The shop opened in August 2014, and has managed to weather a legislative assault on the vaping industry by the Montgomery County Council in 2015.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Credit cards stolen from purse at Bethesda Trader Joe's (Photos)

One patron of Trader Joe's had problems worse than the cramped parking for the popular Bethesda grocery store. Her credit cards were snatched from her purse by a man on November 27 around 5:00 PM, while a second man distracted her with conversation. The cards were then used to make purchases at the Tenleytown Best Buy store.

Suspect one is described as an adult male in his early 30s with dark hair, 6’2” tall, and weighing between 210 and 230 pounds. Suspect two is described as an adult male in his early to mid 40s with dark hair and a full beard., 5’10” tall, and weighing between 180 and 190 pounds.

Anyone with information regarding these suspects is asked to call the 2nd District Patrol Investigations Unit at 240-773-6700. Those who wish to remain anonymous may call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477). Crime Solvers will pay a cash reward of up to $10,000 for information provided that leads to an arrest in this case.

Bethesda Nationwide office moves to Rockville

Nationwide Insurance has relocated from Cordell Avenue in Bethesda to 751 Rockville Pike in Rockville. They are in Suite 6-B. The new office is next to the Marlo Furniture showroom.
The vacant Bethesda office
is now for lease

MoCo Planning Board ignores cemetery, stormwater concerns in approving Westbard Self Storage (Video+Photos)

Laurel Hoa of SURJ-MoCo (left) and
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, Social Justice
Director of Macedonia Baptist Church, chant
"Boycott" moments after Planning Board approves
self-storage project by cemetery site
The Montgomery County Planning Board completely ignored testimony by Bethesda residents and Macedonia Baptist Church last night in unanimously approving the Westbard Self Storage project. It was another evening of disrespect and institutional racism on display by the Board and County Planning Department, that included the Board summoning four Park Police officers to badger protesters to put down poster board signs they were silently holding in the back of the room that said, "Black Lives Matter."
"We turned our signs 
around to white. That
seems to be a color that
is recognized in
Montgomery County"
Cemetery advocates, including Macedonia Baptist Church Director of Social Justice Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, asked the Board to modify conditions it imposed on the project to allow an archaeological study of the historic Moses African Cemetery before any construction begins in its vicinity. Coleman-Adebayo proposed a commission that would include various stakeholders, including the church and anthropologists Dr. Michael Blakey and Dr. Rachel Watkins. Blakey and Watkins are renowned in their field for their expertise in African-American cemeteries, yet Montgomery County has been dead-set against hiring them, leading many to believe the County (which has financial and political conflicts of interest in preventing those bodies from being located under parking lots behind the self-storage site and Westwood Tower) is planning a coverup of the cemetery to allow development on top of it.

The Board set the disrespectful tone early Thursday, when it proceeded to change the time of the public hearing for a third time, moving it from 6:50 PM to 5:55 PM, without advance notice to those who had signed up to testify. When speakers originally signed up, the hearing had been scheduled for 2:45 PM. This was clearly an attempt to cheat people out of being able to testify through cheap shenanigans. I question if the decision last night was legal, in light of the last-minute agenda change with no advance notice.
"I condemn each branch
of County government
for passing the buck, and
cashing it in on my
Outside, there was one Park Police cruiser prominently parked in front of the Park & Planning headquarters at 8787 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. One might have thought that was a de-escalation of Board Chair Casey Anderson's notorious reception of cemetery protesters earlier this year, when he surrounded himself with armed police officers when approached peacefully by a black woman, a white woman and a child holding petitions they want to hand him. Anderson had called in six police cruisers to confront cemetery protesters that day.

By the end of last night's hearing, Anderson had summoned four cruisers. Police were silent when the hearing began at 5:55, but at 6:40, the lone Park Police officer began to quietly request protesters to lower their signs. Such a rule does not appear in the Planning Board hearing rules, but was, ironically, instituted by Anderson following that original Macedonia Baptist Church protest this year. Clearly designed to silence the voices of those defending the cemetery against the County's nefarious plans, the rule is simply unconstitutional. The fact that it was never a longstanding rule, and was implemented specifically to silence one group this year, makes it even more difficult to defend in court.

Protesters correctly noted that no such rule was posted online when they signed up, but eventually agreed to turn their signs around to the blank white side on the backs of them. Coleman-Adebayo would later sardonically note to the Board, "We turned our signs around to white. That seems to be a color that is recognized in Montgomery County."

The officer returned at 6:50 to say he had called his supervisor, and was told any sign larger than 8x11 could not be held up in the room. When that did not get total compliance, three more squad cars pulled up out front, and three more officers entered the building. Fox 5's Evan Lambert asked Anderson about the questionable sign ban, and the Chair refused to answer. Back at the microphone, Anderson cited "time, place and manner" restrictions to the First Amendment, as a defense.
"Alright, alright," a Park Police officer,
one of four summoned by Planning Board,
admonishes chanting protesters to be quiet,
despite the meeting having ended
During public testimony, Coleman-Adebayo also recommended that a provision be added to alert the pastor of Macedonia within 24 hours of discovery of human remains or funerary relics on any of the sites in question. As it stands now, the same Board that has disrespected church leaders and the community on the cemetery issue, will have the final say on what happens to any remains found - and that worries cemetery advocates for obvious reasons.
"Shame on you.
Shame on your
entire criminal
Harvey Matthews, an actual former resident of the black community that was forced out on River Road by the 1960s, delivered a scathing condemnation of County officials who have "ignored, outfoxed, and slandered" Macedonia Baptist Church on the cemetery this year. The last charge refers to false statements released publicly by the County Housing Opportunities Commission alleging that Macedonia Baptist Church had divulged information from arbitration meetings over the summer. Pressed to provide evidence of such leaks, HOC has been unable thus far to do so, but refuses to retract its false statements.

Matthews condemned Anderson for hiding behind the police, and Planning Director Gwen Wright, whom he advised should change her name to "Gwen Wrong." "I condemn Roger Berliner," Matthews continued, "for passing legislation that does not protect cemeteries. I condemn each branch of County government for passing the buck, and cashing it in on my ancestors. Shame on you. Shame on this hearing. Shame on your entire criminal enterprise."

"I share Macedonia's contempt for this board," activist Kevin Berends testified. He blasted their attempt "to normalize desecration." Berends likened the County government to a "four-headed monster," which serves a fifth, "unseen monster, your corporate benefactors."
"Talk about animus.
That's below the belt."
Laurel Hoa of Showing Up for Racial Justice - Montgomery County noted that the Matthews family land on River Road, which they were forced off by developers in the late 1950s, is now worth $60 million. She denounced the Board's institutional racism, saying it was a textbook case of "decisionmakers holding oppressive power over a community," a point driven home by the poster controversy.

Equally controversial and racist was the Board's treatment of the church, which is actually a party to the Westbard Self Storage and Regency Centers development plans, as the contemporary representative of the cemetery that was bulldozed in the 50s and desecrated in the late 60s. The church should have a seat at the table just like the applicants' attorneys. Instead, they are forced to remain silent in the back of the room.

When Hoa asked if she could read the portion of Coleman-Adebayo's statement left out by time restrictions, Anderson saw fit to take a cheap shot at Coleman-Adebayo. Clearly annoyed by the ongoing media attention (but still not embarrassed by it), Anderson said, "She can say it to the camera in the hallway," referring to the Fox 5 news crew. "That's really mean," Coleman-Adebayo replied from the back of the room. "Talk about animus. That's below the belt."

Cemetery advocates waited patiently in silence for the Board to respond to the substantive cemetery issues raised by speakers. They instead talked briefly about stormwater concerns raised by the Little Falls Watershed Alliance, before dismissing them. They next talked about art. Art, instead of the bodies of the first freed slaves in the state of Maryland being acquired by corporations and government.

And then, just when you thought you couldn't be shocked anymore by the racist and inhumane actions of this Board and County Council, it was time for collective jaws to drop again: Anderson called the vote. He and his colleagues did not say a single word about the cemetery, voted to approve the self storage project, and dashed out of the room as protesters chanted, "Boycott!" and "Black Lives Matter!"

WATCH: Click here to watch moment Westbard Self Storage is approved

On the way out, protesters sparred verbally with one of the owners of the self storage project. Church officials say he had initially agreed to allow them to conduct an archaeological study, but withdrew the offer under (surprise!) pressure from the Montgomery County Planning Department. Meeting with officials at Macedonia Baptist Church earlier this year, his attorney advised him to grab his things and leave immediately. "You came to our church and insulted us," Coleman-Adebayo said, "and then you left with your lawyer." "I did not," the owner replied. "Yes, you did," Coleman-Adebayo said. "So, you may have won here, but you need Bethesda residents to put their things in your storage company, and we're not going to do it, so good luck."

Stormwater advocates didn't fare much better. While a few of their concerns were briefly discussed, the Board ultimately made none of the substantive changes the Little Falls Watershed Alliance had sought. LFWA's Sarah Morse had stressed the need for sufficient groundwater to recharge the Willett Branch stream when it is naturalized. The official in charge of stormwater management at Parks & Planning disputed that, saying the fill dirt and clay present at the site would not transmit groundwater effectively to the stream.

Citizens once again ignored by the Planning Board were then asked to vacate the premises by the four Park Police officers, who said, "We have to lock up the building." They walked out the door to find the four police cruisers parked in front of the entrance.

Marijuana dispensary coming to downtown Bethesda

Just a week after the first medical marijuana dispensary opened in Bethesda, at the Wildwood Medical Center, another is on the way to downtown Bethesda. Budding Rose, LLC, has leased the renovated space at 4909 Fairmont Avenue. Budding Rose is a franchise based in New Jersey, one of several dispensary brands rapidly moving into the state of Maryland after such medicinal sales were approved.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Marriott's impending arrival means new parking fee at Woodmont Grill

Woodmont Grill, which some industry insiders say does the most business of any restaurant in downtown Bethesda, has recently lost a perk previously taken for granted by patrons: free parking. Some diners have told me they were surprised by the new $3 fee to park in the lot right next to the highly-popular restaurant.

A spokeperson for Woodmont Grill's parent company confirmed that it is the new owners of their parking lot, not Woodmont Grill, who are charging and collecting that new fee. Marriott Corporation is building its new headquarters adjacent to the restaurant, in a deal with original landowner Bernstein Cos. and partner Boston Properties. Hillstone Restaurant Group says the $3 charge is "something over which we have no control."

The Marriott team sought to acquire the Tastee Diner and Woodmont Grill properties as part of the redevelopment plan. They were able to come to terms with the diner, but the bonus space was ultimately not realized, as Woodmont Grill declined to sell.

No road diet for Arlington Road

Despite several pedestrian-involved collisions in recent years on Arlington Road, Montgomery County will not put the arterial route on a "road diet." The County Department of Transportation has completed an engineering study it announced last year. Based on the study results, MCDOT is planning to make other changes along Arlington Road, rather than narrow it. These include adding pedestrian-only cycles to traffic signals at several intersection, so that there won't be cars turning while people are crossing in the crosswalks.

Near Bethesda Elementary School, pedestrians will get extra lead time before signals allow cars to start moving forward. These signal changes are expected to be implemented early next year. MCDOT is also looking at adding a missing crosswalk on Bradley Boulevard where it meets Arlington, on the CVS side. Bradley Boulevard is a state route, controlled by the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Prior to their recent study, MCDOT says it had already improved and installed speed limit signage along Arlington, slightly expanded the "school hours" time and flashing lights that warn of the 5 MPH reduction in speed during those periods, and installed high visibility crosswalks at the intersection near the school.

New annex planned for Bethesda office building

The owners of 4800 Hampden Lane are planning to turn a recently-demoed space in their office building into an "annex." Large plans for "The Annex at 4800 Hampden Lane" are displayed on the wall inside the space. The building is home to many traditional offices, as well as co-working spaces.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Condo demand slipping outside of downtown Bethesda?

Some post-recession condo buildings in downtown Bethesda have gotten off to a strong start in sales. Hampden Row was 50% sold before there was even a model unit to tour, according to Toll Brothers. Four hundred people turned out for the first sales event held for Duball, LLC's Cheval Bethesda ultra-luxury condo tower, expected to deliver in February 2018. I'm still waiting for occupancy numbers for The Darcy, The Lauren, and Stonehall Bethesda. One project is already making a switch: The developer of Quarry Springs, which had an approval for another 47 condo units at the former quarry site on River Road just west of Seven Locks Road, is requesting an amendment from Montgomery County to change those to 44 townhomes.

Given the closeness in the number of units, it's not so much a lack of housing demand, but perhaps indicates a market preference for townhomes in that particular area. Unlike the urban buildings above, the perks of condo living are far less when there's nothing in walking distance outside the front door. What the quarry site does offer is excellent access for automobile travel, being only a minute away from the Capital Beltway on-ramps. 
How the finished development will look
from River Road
Profit margin is an intriguing consideration. The existing condo units at the site start at $1.99 million apiece. Those townhouses will have to be opulent, large and feature-laden to command even that much in a market where large homes closer-in to Metro and D.C. can be had for that price, or slightly more. There will be no MPDUs among the new Quarry townhomes; a payment will be made by the developer to the County's housing initiative fund.

The Montgomery County Planning Board will take up the request at their December 21 meeting. Planning staff is recommending approval of the amendment, with conditions.

Renderings via Montgomery County Planning Department

Relocated Community Paint & Hardware store now for lease

The historic Wilson Store, a.k.a. Community Paint & Hardware, is now available for lease to potential retail tenants. Relocated to 4538 Middleton Lane in August, the store is the last remaining 19th century building in downtown Bethesda. It was relocated to make way for Carr Properties' new 7272 Wisconsin Avenue project, which has signed Fox 5 as its first tenant.

How much it will cost you to rent the old store is not disclosed in the listing. Montgomery County planners and Carr believed the store might be of interest to retail tenants, or professionals such as medical doctors and dentists.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Bethesda demolition update: 7900 Wisconsin Avenue (Photos)

Developer JBG Smith continues demolition of 7900 Wisconsin Avenue, and the surrounding properties it has assembled, for the mixed-use residential project it will replace them with. The building is about half gone at this point.

3D Manaco closes at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda

Even in progressive Montgomery County, there wasn't enough demand for 3-D portraits of the Obamas to keep 3D Manaco in business at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. Or of County Executive Ike Leggett or President Trump, for that matter. The lenticular photograph shop has closed its doors. Montgomery County has lost 2141 retail jobs since 2000, according to Maddy Voytek of the Maryland Association of Retailers.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Where to buy Christmas trees in Bethesda

Bethesda has lost many a seasonal Christmas tree lot due to development in recent years, but there are still many vendors waiting to meet your holiday needs. Some are even donating the proceeds to worthy causes. Here are some of the places you can find the right tree for you in the Bethesda area:

Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad
Rear parking lot
5020 Battery Lane

Strosniders Hardware
Bradley Shopping Center
6930 Arlington Road

Dan & Bryan Christmas Trees
Wisconsin Avenue at 4600 Davidson Drive, Chevy Chase
(between Bradley Boulevard and Friendship Heights)

American Plant
5258 River Road & 7405 River Road

St. Bartholomew's Catholic Church
6900 River Road

Potomac Farm Market
7300 MacArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo
and 9035 Congressional Parkway, Potomac

Home Depot
7111 Westlake Terrace
(by Westfield Montgomery Mall and Jim Coleman Toyota/Cadillac)

North Bethesda United Methodist Church
10100 Old Georgetown Road

North Star
2601 Colston Drive (East-West Highway at Grubb Road)
"Chevy Chase" but closer to downtown Silver Spring

Palisades Lions Club
Behind the Safeway at
4865 MacArthur Boulevard N.W., Washington, D.C.

Sutherland Christmas Tree Market
(St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church lawn/parking lot)
3514 Garfield St. N.W. (on Massachusetts Avenue before
Observatory Circle)

Know of another good Christmas tree lot in the area? Let me know, and I'll add it to the list.

Vitamin World closing at Westfield Montgomery Mall (Photos)

Vitamin World is closing at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. The vitamin and nutritional supplements store is holding a closing sale. Prices are reduced up to 50% off at the moment. Vitamin World is located on Level 2 of the mall, in the Dining Terrace corridor near Macy's. Montgomery County has lost more than 2000 retail jobs since 2000, according to the Maryland Association of Retailers.

These signs are becoming ubiquitous
across moribund Montgomery County

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Whitman student found dead near Bannockburn Swimming Club

A Walt Whitman High School student was found dead today near the Bannockburn Swimming Club. Montgomery County police say Navid Nicholas Sepehri, 17, was discovered during a search today after going missing Saturday night, in a wooded area off of the 6500 block of Laverock Lane.

According to a message posted to a neighborhood listserv while Sepehri was missing, he was last seen at the 7-Eleven in Glen Echo around 11:30 PM Saturday. Whitman principal Alan Goodwin has confirmed Sepehri passed away in an email to parents. "We ask that you remember and celebrate his love of art and commitment to others," Goodwin wrote.

Sepehri is the second Whitman student to die in as many weeks. Anyone with information about this case is urged to call the Major Crimes Division at 240-773-5070.

Photo Gallery: The first snow of winter in Bethesda