Monday, January 22, 2018

Sign being removed from Barnes & Noble at Bethesda Row (Photos)

Now that Barnes & Noble has closed at Bethesda Row, the sign is being removed from the facade of the building. It's not yet known what structural and cosmetic changes next tenant Anthropologie will make to the building, or how the outdoor cafe seating will fit with the existing plaza and water feature.

Sports Extra, Urban Country move in Bethesda (Photos)

Two downtown Bethesda retailers relocated this weekend. Sports Extra left its Old Georgetown Road storefront, and moved around the corner to 4938 St. Elmo Avenue. That was once the home of Gallery St. Elmo.
New location

Old location now available
for lease

Urban Country's new spot at
Bethesda Row
Also moving was Urban Country at Bethesda Row. Their new location is one door up Arlington Road from their former location, at 7121 Arlington.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Signs of new Roche Bros. dining ventures in downtown Bethesda (Photos)

Signs of the next culinary ventures of Alvaro and Alonso Roche have been popping up on Fairmont Avenue in the last few days. Their Pho pop-up in the former TapaBar space at 4901-A Fairmont now has new signs and menus announcing a fusion/hybrid concept called R Family Kitchen & Bar. The menu keeps the Pho, but also adds American, Venezuelan, Argentinian, European and Mediterranean dishes and influences.

This means you can start with a piquillo pepper and chickpea hummus, have a bowl of pho, and then one of their western main courses - chicken, steak, or Norwegian salmon. Sides skew Euro-American, but sometimes with a Spanish twist of serrano ham or pimenton butter added. Interestingly, R Family's steak is of the coulotte variety, the cut that across-the-street rival Medium Rare has made its trademark in the D.C. area.
Menu for R Family
The difference? For $20.45, Medium Rare gives you steak with Secret Sauce, fries, bread and a salad; R Family's includes chimichurri, mojo picon and your choice of one side for $19.75. R Family also promises your main course will be served on a sizzling plate. In terms of flavor and portion size, that debate can only be settled with a taste test at both restaurants. R Family will be serving lunch and dinner.

Two doors down Fairmont, in the revamped space that once belonged to local favorite Fresh Grill, workers were applying the sign for the Roches' TacoArepa. That fast casual spot will draw on Venezuela, Cuba and the Caribbean for culinary inspiration. In the alley alongside the building, construction for the associated beer garden is also underway now.
Beer garden under construction
in back of the future TacoArepa
on Fairmont Avenue

Artist using stencil to create
logo for TacoArepa at
4905 Fairmont Avenue
Stencil removed, et voila!

Water main break starting on St. Elmo Ave. in Bethesda (Video+Photo)

There appears to be a new water main break on St. Elmo Avenue, between Old Georgetown Road and Norfolk Avenue. Water is standing and flowing in the roadway. Fortunately, temperatures were above freezing during the day, and will be again today, but this break is likely to get worse if not tackled soon.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Just Cozy closes, Things Remembered closing at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda (Photos)

Just Cozy has Just Closed at Westfield Montgomery Mall. Their space has been cleared out, and their sign rather shabbily ripped off of the storefront.
Just Cozy
Also on the way out is pop-up gift shop Things Remembered. As of last night, their closing sale was offering savings of 90% off, a true clearance liquidation.
Things Remembered

Friday, January 19, 2018

Stonehall Bethesda retail space to be filled by bank

The suspense is over. Wells Fargo Bank will be the retail tenant in the ground floor of the Stonehall Bethesda condos, at 8302 Woodmont Avenue.

A past Montgomery County Planning Board had stipulated the space be filled by a "quality restaurant," which was notable for proving that the County does indeed have the authority to require a type of business tenant. However, developer Duball, LLC requested that stipulation be amended, citing a lack of market demand for a restaurant at that location. The change was granted by the County.

Ralph Lauren closes in Chevy Chase, as the ultra-rich flee MoCo (Photos)

MoCo's Rodeo Drive
looking more like
Skid Row

Yet another store has closed on Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase, the stretch many once referred to as "Montgomery County's Rodeo Drive," leaving a barren strip of shuttered storefronts and smashed out bus shelters. The closures have directly corresponded to the exit of many of the County's wealthiest residents, who have sought refuge in lower tax jurisdictions around us. Studies have shown many of them have resettled in Loudoun, Fairfax, Frederick, and Howard counties.

Ralph Lauren has closed its doors at the Collection at Chevy Chase, where high-end retailers have fled along with their fabulously wealthy clients. Such clients usually sustain these posh boutiques through economic bubbles and recessions alike, so their downfall has been solid evidence that those clients are largely seeking greener pastures - and pastures that let them keep more of their green.

The grand windows of Ralph Lauren are now papered over. Letters announcing the store's name above the stately entrance have been pried off, leaving worn shadows behind.

Next to go will be DePandi at 5518 Wisconsin, which is currently holding a closing sale. The front windows of the shop are plastered with the GOING OUT OF BUSINESS and EVERYTHING MUST GO! signs so ubiquitous around Montgomery County these days. The high-end suit shop was opened five years ago by famed master tailor Eduardo DePandi.

Montgomery County is in real trouble, as the County's $120,000,000 budget shortfall - and structural budget deficit - prove. We haven't attracted a single major corporate headquarters in two decades. MCPS has been in a steep decline since 2010. Thirteen nightspots have closed in downtown Bethesda since County Council President Hans Riemer's "nighttime economy" initiative instead tanked the nighttime economy. The County has lost over 2000 retail jobs since the turn of the century, according to the Maryland Retailers Association. Even Riemer's former chief-of-staff and the Washington Post have taken to calling our private sector economy "stagnant" and "moribund."

Montgomery has fallen well out of the Forbes "Top Ten Richest Counties in America" list. We can see that on Montgomery County's "Rodeo Drive" these days.

Smashed-out bus shelter on
Wisconsin Avenue. Stay classy,
Chevy Chase!

MoCo Council asking Annapolis for eminent domain-on-steroids land grab power

For the third time in this term of office, the Montgomery County Council is trying to quietly ram a major change in the law through behind closed doors in Annapolis. In 2015, they tried to establish an Independent Transit Authority with unlimited taxation and debt power, and in 2017, they attempted a backdoor runaround the term limits voters had approved only months prior. This morning, they are exhorting the Montgomery County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly to expand and increase their eminent domain authority.

The bill, like the others, is being filed at the eleventh hour, and with no fanfare. Bill MC 27-18, "Eminent Domain - Expansion of 'Quick Take' Authority," would streamline the property seizure process related to highway and transit projects. For example, it would eliminate the ability to compare a property to similar pieces of land for the purpose of determining fair market value. The Council would also be able to force residents out of homes, and businesspeople out of commercial properties immediately, as long as they make an immediate payment of that potentially less-than-actual market value to the landowner.

Purple Line opponents suspect the law may be used in short order for eminent domain seizures related to that light rail project. That would fit the "heckuva rush" manner in which it is being put forward in Annapolis.

But looking ahead, this law would be equally handy in the quick demolition of more than 150 homes and businesses along Georgia Avenue between Olney and Wheaton, for the planned BRT route there. We know that from a state analysis, but we don't have similar numbers yet for which properties would end up being seized for BRT along MD 355 and Route 29. How might this also be used in the Veirs Mill Corridor sector plan, which is about to begin the process of approval before the Montgomery County Planning Board? Land seizures along Veirs Mill have been strongly hinted at by planners.

The late-filed bill will be introduced at the 9:30 AM session of the Montgomery County Delegation this morning. If the bill receives the necessary votes to advance, a public hearing will be scheduled. One question will be: will that hearing be held in Rockville, or Annapolis?

It's no wonder they held this bill from you, despite planning it for months, and are now attempting to file it quietly at the last minute!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Public meeting scheduled for ZOM Bethesda apartment project

A public meeting regarding the proposed ZOM Bethesda luxury apartments project in the 7500 block of Arlington Road will be held on Wednesday, January 24, 2018 at 7:00 PM in the All-Purpose room at Bethesda Elementary School. The school is diagonally across from the site of the project, which will demolish several homes to make way for the new building.

The 60' tall building will house 235 units, a lobby cafe, a fitness center, landscaped terraces, and an underground parking garage. Florida-based ZOM has promised to offer 15% affordable units, which is higher than Montgomery County's required 12.5%.
Renderings courtesy ZOM

Regency Centers to hold public meeting to unveil revised Westbard plans

Developer Regency Centers has announced it will hold a public meeting on January 31, 2018 at 7:30 PM at Westland Middle School, where it will unveil a revised plan for the redevelopment of its Westbard properties. After the presentation, questions will be taken from the audience. Regency owns more than 20 acres of land along Westbard Avenue and Ridgefield Road.

Rumors have been floating around since late October that Regency was meeting with selected community groups, and that a revised plan was in the works for January. A legal decision is still pending in a case between residents and Montgomery County regarding the Westbard sector plan, which determines what can actually be built by any of the landowners in that area.

Some of the biggest questions in a revised plan: Will density and height - the two biggest community complaints - be reduced? Will Regency give up extra height and density previous property owner Equity One received in a trade for more-than-the required amount of affordable housing? Will the company still agree to a new alignment of Westbard Avenue sought by the Springfield Civic Association? Will Regency agree to bury power lines in the area, something Equity One refused to do, annoying community members? Will Regency proactively try to resolve the controversy over the Moses African Cemetery on the Westwood Tower site it owns? Will staging and leasing issues be addressed to allow current businesses in the retail spaces there now to survive and return in the new development?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Chris Bruch named new CEO of The Donohoe Companies

Chris Bruch is the new CEO
of The Donohoe Companies
Bob Donohoe, Sr. has stepped down as CEO of The Donohoe Companies, the Bethesda-based real estate and construction firm. He will remain as Chairman of the Board of Directors at Donohoe. Taking his place will be Chris Bruch, who has been with the company for 30 years, and is only the second non-Donohoe family member to be named its CEO.

In a statement, Bob Donohoe called Bruch "a proven, dedicated leader." Bruch has also taken a prominent leadership role in Empower Montgomery, a non-profit that seeks to increase voter participation in Montgomery County.

Photo courtesy The Donohoe Companies, Inc.

Apex Building demolition shifts locations, allowing additional traffic lane to reopen in Bethesda

Workers demolishing the Apex Building at 7272 Wisconsin Avenue have moved to a different section of the structure. This allowed a second traffic lane to reopen on southbound Wisconsin Avenue in front of the building yesterday. The right southbound lane and sidewalk remain closed.

Toll Brothers seeks extension for WMAL tower site project in Bethesda

Developer Toll Brothers is asking the Montgomery County Planning Board to postpone review of its site plan for the WMAL radio transmitter site at 7115 Greentree Road in Bethesda. The company has proposed building 330 homes on the grassy site, which WMAL Radio's ownership has determined it no longer needs for signal transmission purposes.

Although a public hearing on the site plan must legally be held within 120 days of Toll Brothers' submission of the plan to the County on October 25, 2017, the company says there were too many issues raised by the County Development Review Commission. They cannot address all of these by the previously-scheduled hearing date of February 22, 2018. they said in a letter to planning staff.

Therefore, Toll is seeking a three-month extension, which would postpone the public hearing until May. Planning staff is recommending approval of the extension. The Board will take up the extension request at its January 25 meeting.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Apex Building demolition has SB Wisconsin Ave. down to one lane in Bethesda (Video+Photos)

Demolition of the Apex Building at 7272 Wisconsin Avenue has picked up speed, with about half of the structure having been knocked down at this point. Now that demolition is taking down the front portion of the building, traffic on southbound Wisconsin Avenue has been reduced to one lane.
This new view from Wisconsin Avenue
stopped me in my tracks for a moment - this
is what it used to look like up until the late 1980s