Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
The home of "Bethesda's best cheese steak" is getting ready for its annual summer vacation. Peter's Carryout will temporarily close on August 4, 2017 at 4:00 PM. It will reopen on Monday, August 14. The neighborhood restaurant has won over everyone from residents around the corner to Bethesda-averse Washington Post dining critics.
Downtown Bethesda's oldest building, the historic Wilson Store at 7250 Wisconsin Avenue, will be moved to its new location on Middleton Lane the evening of August 19. The relocation will occur between 9:00 PM and 6:00 AM the next morning, and is expected to take 4-6 hours to complete.
Workers will insert beams under the store, lift it, and place it onto a motorized dolly system. The store is being relocated to facilitate redevelopment of the Apex Building at 7272 Wisconsin Avenue by Carr Properties.
Intriguingly, the move had previously been scheduled to take place 72 hours before a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge is to hear an appeal of the Board of Appeals decision to permit the relocation. That hearing, requested by several nearby residents, is scheduled for August 8. The County has now pushed the move back to August 19 or later.
Monday, July 24, 2017
|Flagman directs traffic,|
as a police officer discusses
what to do with ownerless
Zipcars left on the street
|Zipcars posed a dilemma for|
road workers needing to clear
|Mercedes Benz - look at the condition|
of that road: terrible for such a
high-end shopping district
These 3 "benefits," only applicable to the Westwood Tower site, were given to HOC in exchange for HOC providing a specific number of affordable housing units above the amount required by County law. They also would ensure that the mutually-beneficial Westwood Tower deal would be achieved. Importantly, the negotiations on this deal were conducted outside of the public process.
The amended complaint gives a detailed history of the dealings on Equity One's planned redevelopment and the Westwood Tower issue, beginning with County Councilmember Roger Berliner (D - District 1) being contacted by Equity One's zoning attorney in February 2012, regarding getting the then-postponed Westbard sector plan rewrite back on track. In September 2012, the County Department of Housing and Community Affairs secretly approved a "Certificate of Compliance" and an "Agreement Not to Convert," both necessary to facilitate the purchase of Westwood Tower by Equity One.
The public announcement of Equity One's purchase of the tower and several other Westbard properties did not come until October 2012. For that transaction to occur, Montgomery County, Equity One and the HOC had to have negotiated behind the scenes prior to the sale, the suit notes. Mysteriously, the same day the plan to purchase the properties was announced, the Montgomery County Planning Board declared the Westbard sector plan was being reopened for amendment.
As part of its purchase of the so-called "Westwood Complex" from then-owner Capital Properties (who bought it from the Tauber family), Equity One paid $25 million for Westwood Tower in June 2013. Currently, the HOC is poised to buy Westwood Tower from Equity One for only $20 million, $5 million less than Equity One paid for it four years ago.
The amended complaint also provides new details regarding the cemetery cover-up. Planning staff ruled internal communications regarding the cemetery as "Confidential" in September 2015. As I previously reported, planning staff agreed to remain silent on the existence of the cemetery during a September 17, 2015 Planning Board tour of "Westbard."
Pointing to notes taken by Park & Planning staff during conversations with the son of the architect of Westwood Tower, the lawsuit refers to his account of remains being encountered when the cemetery was desecrated during construction of the building during the late 1960s. Dr. Lazlo Tauber, the original developer of Westwood Tower, is implicated in those recollections as having told the architect to leave bodies there and pave over them.
Another new detail about the cemetery is that the architect had to "fix the drainage at that corner of the building because they were worried that if water didn't drain, it would cause erosion, and bodies would come up." While evidence has pointed to some remains being pushed into a pit downward from the rear of the building, and a few being taken by the architect to Howard Chapel Cemetery for secret unmarked reburial, the recollections of his son in the notes clearly underline that most bodies remain on the site. Dr. Tauber "thought that leaving them there, paving over them was probably the best thing to do - leave in place."
This not only further suggests remains are still on the site, but is the first evidence that Tauber was part of the cover-up of the cemetery desecration. Another piece of evidence not referred to in the lawsuit, is the fact that the architect knew the remains were of African-Americans, as evident by his selection of Howard Chapel for reburial. How did he know that, unless someone such as Tauber informed him that there was an African-American cemetery on the site. We still don't know if it was Tauber, or someone else prior, who bulldozed or removed the gravestones in the 1950s.
With all of this in mind, the lawsuit alleges, the defendants and Equity One conspired to keep the cemetery information from the public, to prevent greater public opposition. Documents related to the construction of Westwood Tower, which the lawsuit alleges were in the possession of Equity One, conveniently got shredded in 2015.
HOC did not publicly announce its plan to build a parking garage and apartment building on top of the cemetery behind Westwood Tower until long after the County Council passed the Westbard sector plan in May 2016. But in a February 11, 2016 email to the County Council, HOC stated that "Equity One, who currently owns the [Westwood Tower] property, approached HOC almost two years ago to collaborate on development plans." The lawsuit adds that the email also referred to a "joint development agreement" between HOC and Equity One.
On April 22, 2017, Equity One stated in a letter that it would facilitate the HOC project through "significant financial contributions." The suit alleges these contributions will include "real property and construction costs in the millions of dollars." It notes that, since all parties claim no documents regarding their terms of agreement exist, the Westbard sector plan is then the only codification of the terms of agreement.
The Willett Branch stream buffers were dealt with in similar fashion, the lawsuit alleges, citing a February 2016 HOC letter that declared "the 'key obstacle' to the redevelopment of the [Westwood Tower] HOC property 'is the presence of [a] Stream Valley Buffer.'" It was made clear that only by weakening the rules regarding the width of the buffer would the HOC redevelopment be possible.
Terms of the contract zoning agreement for providing more MPDUs on the Westwood Tower HOC site resulted in a financial benefit for Equity One, the lawsuit states, as they could build more market rate units. A Council staff member advised the Council in an email not to publicly discuss that financial benefit for Equity One, saying, "I am hoping it does not come up."
By engaging in these type of agreements in illegal contract zoning, and ratifying them in the Westbard sector plan document, the lawsuit concludes, the sector plan is thereby "the de facto illegal contract in furtherance of an illegal zoning scheme," and must be rendered void.
A hearing has been scheduled for August 16, at which the judge's ruling will determine whether the case goes forward to trial or not.
Therefore, Foulger-Pratt will ask the Montgomery County Planning Board to amend the previous approval of 340 units with retail and a 12000 SF restaurant space, and permit instead a residential-only building with 348 rental apartment units. The applicant is highlighting the planned entrance plaza as the focal point for the building, with a small park area, courtyards and leisure trail among the landscape amenities. There will also be a pool for residents.
|Grey area left of center is above-grade|
parking garage structure
|Traffic circulation plan:|
Green is delivery/maintenance,
purple is resident traffic
Sunday, July 23, 2017
|Type "crime" in the search box at|
the upper right...
|...and the site delivers no results|
|Never had to log in to use|
the site before, and crime data
doesn't show even if you do log in
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Friday, July 21, 2017
In addition to delivering the resolution to the board, Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Marc Elrich participated in the meeting, expending political capital to try and stop a bridge that would provide an economic boon to Montgomery County. The politically-suicidal move left many on the Board scratching their heads. It also again proved that the Council is impotent, even among their Democratic colleagues at the state level, and across the region. Elected officials on the TPB from the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg, including Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton (who chairs the TPB) all backed studying the bridge.
Even one of the Council's war-on-cars fellow travelers, Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette, was perplexed as to why MoCo councilmembers would oppose objective study of a new bridge. Fisette said he too opposed the bridge, but thought it should be studied like the other projects. COG's own 2012 study showed that 25% of traffic on the American Legion Bridge during rush hour is traveling to, or from, the Dulles area. In addition, 27% of Virginia drivers crossing into Maryland are heading to I-270.
During discussion of the Council resolution earlier this week, Elrich had stated a new crossing was "not in the County's economic interest." This is simply not true, as many CEOs whose firms chose Virginia over Montgomery County have cited our county's lack of direct access to Dulles Airport as one of the deciding factors. Elrich said he wanted to prevent competition with BWI Airport, but BWI - like National Airport - doesn't offer the frequency and scope of international business flights that Dulles does. The largest and most-luxurious aircraft can't even land at BWI and National, but can be accommodated by runways at Dulles.
Councilmember Craig Rice said there was "not any benefit for the upcounty" in building a new bridge. Damascus, Clarksburg and Germantown residents who work in the Dulles area, and parts of Fairfax County, would vehemently disagree. Not to mention that offloading a quarter of the traffic on the American Legion Bridge benefits everyone using I-495 and I-270 during rush hour.
Another false impression was given by Councilmember Sid Katz, who declared, "the reality is, there's no money for this." With a private firm building the highway and bridge as a toll facility, the beauty of it is, very little taxpayer money would be needed. Since the road would most likely be an extension of the ICC/Sam Eig Highway, the private operator could also take control of the ICC, and lower tolls along the length of the route within Maryland.
Of the ten projects approved for study by the TPB, the Potomac River crossing would move the most people in the shortest time, for the least dollar amount per-person. In opposing it, the Council not only again declared war on their own constituents, but are actively trying to prevent congestion relief and job creation within Montgomery County, at the behest of their developer masters who want to use office zones for residential development. Protecting BWI, which can't compete on business flights with Dulles, at their constituents' expense? It sounds like Berliner, George Leventhal and Elrich are running for Baltimore mayor, not Montgomery County Executive.
Alonso Roche, the chef and co-owner of the operation, will draw from memories of his Cuban grandfather, and of West Indies curry dishes, to create the flavors for the 50-seat space. An industrial interior design will also pay tribute to the kind of Caribbean street vendors who inspired the brothers' first venture, Bold Bite, and outdoor dining will be available on a 16-seat patio.
As I reported yesterday, the restaurant will also serve beer, with a list combining local and Latin choices. TacoArepa will be located at 4905 Fairmont Avenue.
The board unanimously approved the Ourisman plan.
Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the evening was watching "bicycle advocate" Chairman Casey Anderson vote to shrink the County's premier bicycle facility, singing the praises of Ourisman Honda all the while. He said his major concern was the appearance of the garage wall, suggesting a mural be painted on it. Given the murals recently painted around Bethesda, that's hardly something to be optimistic about, unless the image is related to the Georgetown Branch Railroad that the CCT replaced.
Earlier in the meeting, planner David Anspacher stated that Planning staff will propose widening the Capital Crescent Trail to 23' this fall.This would now require moving the actual trail out of its own right-of-way, simply to accommodate a private business that broke the rules.
In a gaffe late in the discussion, commissioner Natali Fani-Gonzalez told Ourisman's attorney she wanted to "make sure they (Ourisman Honda) have the space that they need." By officially codifying Ourisman's encroachment beyond its own property lines, Fani-Gonzalez certainly ensured there will be no problem in that area. With a straight face, commissioner Marye Wells-Hartley spun booting the trail out of its own right-of-way as a chance to "enhance the trail." The Board ignored a staff recommendation that the size of the new plaza be increased, a suggestion Ourisman opposed.
Residents expressed anger on social media at the Board's decision, mulling what their options are to protest the decision at this point.