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Bethesda Fire Department To Brief Public On Redevelopment Plans Next Month

by Aaron Kraut | August 20, 2014 at 3:25 pm | 71 views | No Comments

Bethesda Fire Station #6, via Google MapsThe Bethesda Fire Department’s meeting with neighbors on Monday to discuss the potential redevelopment of Fire Station #6 will be just for neighbors.

But Department Board member Nat Finkelstein said the organization will have a pair of open-to-the-public meetings in September, one on Thursday, Sept. 11 and another on Thursday, Sept. 18.

The Fire Department’s Board is considering redeveloping the site at Bradley Boulevard and Wisconsin Avenue to include a mixed-use commecial project to help pay for a modern fire station facility.

Some in the Chevy Chase West neighborhood just south of the station have said they’ll be against any redevelopment proposal that includes a commercial or retail element.

Finkelstein said the Board hasn’t decided if it will go forward with a redevelopment project or what the project will look like. However, Board members told county planners they were examining a six- to eight-story apartment on the fire station’s current site that climbs down to four stories fronting the block of single family homes on Nottingham Drive. According to planning staff, the proposal also involves a one-story structure to house retail at the very corner closer to the intersection. The new fire station would be built on what’s now a bare spot of grass just to the west.

The meeting on Monday will be just for those residents on Nottingham Drive, Finkelstein said.

The September meetings — the times and location haven’t been set — would be open to the larger Chevy Chase West neighborhood.

Finkelstein said those meetings would not be official pre-submittal meetings, a more formal public meeting required by the Planning Department before projects are submitted for approval.

“I hope everyone can understand, this is something that’s going to be years away,” Finkelstein said. “We haven’t made a decision about what we’re going to do or when we’re going to do it.”

Naomi Spinrad has been leading the Chevy Chase West Neighborhood Association’s opposition to any commercial redevelopment. In a monthly neighborhood association newsletter, she wrote that “Traditionally the neighborhood has coalesced to protect any street or block facing unacceptable development or uses, and we need to rally strongly this time.”

Spinrad is opposed to a commercial redevelopment of the site because she argues it would mean service driveways and entrances on Nottingham Drive, increased traffic and the possibility that county officials would allow more development south of Bradley Boulevard.

Photo via Google Maps

Bethesda Food Truck Market Offers Patrons A Challenge

by Aaron Kraut | August 20, 2014 at 2:45 pm | 142 views | No Comments

The crowd at the Rock Spring Park Owner Association Farmers Market in Bethesda (file photo)A popular food truck and farmers market will extend its season into September if its patrons donate a certain amount of items to a local nonprofit.

Operators of the Rock Spring Park Market — the weekly lunchtime favorite of many Rockledge Drive office workers — said they’ve received many requests to extend the market season past its scheduled final date next week.

So the market has issued a challenge: If 125 items are donated to homeless prevention nonprofit Bethesda Cares at the market between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Thursday, the Rock Spring Farmers Market will be extended to Sept. 4.

If 250 items are donated, the market will be extended to Sept. 11. If 375 items are donated, it will go until Sept. 18 and if 500 or more items are donated, the market will be extended to Sept. 25.

Stacee Longenecker, who puts together the Thursday market event for property manager Piedmont Office Realty Trust, made the announcement on Wednesday. The property manager sets up the market each Thursday during the summer along the sidewalks near the 6720 Rockledge Dr. Garage.

It’s become a popular spot for local food trucks and farmers market vendors, and a popular lunchtime spot for the hundreds of nearby office workers without many nearby restaurants.

Bethesda Cares will accept all food items, though canned goods, pasta, granola bars and oatmeal packets are especially needed. The nonprofit will also accept socks and clothing items (especially gently-used men’s clothing), toiletries and money. One dollar will be equal to one item, for the purposes of the market challenge.

Westfield Montgomery Shows Off New Dining Terrace, Movie Theater

by Aaron Kraut | August 20, 2014 at 1:55 pm | 432 views | 3 Comments

Long gone are the animatronic chefs that would speak in thick French accents as you were sitting down to eat in Westfield Montgomery mall’s food court.

Since last October, the shopping mall conglomerate has embarked on a $90 million renovation and expansion of the Bethesda property that has included getting rid of the traditional food court concept altogether.

Now, it’s the Dining Terrace, packed with modern-style seating, 40-foot-high ceilings, five mature trees and soon to be home to three full-service restaurants, plus the escalator entrance to a luxury 16-screen movie theater out of Los Angeles.

“We started to get feedback from retailers and customers a few years ago that we needed to raise our game a little bit, bring a little bit of a new face to the property,” said Westfield’s Eric Howard on a Wednesday media tour. “We really fel that this move will help position us as the retail destination of choice in Bethesda.”

Many of the mall’s fast casual food options remain with new fixtures, signage and furniture. The yet-to-be-opened section of the Dining Terrace will include restaurants such as Cava Mezze Grill, Naples 45 Ristorante e Pizzeria and Boston-based steak and seafood favorite MET, which will be known as MET Bethesda.

Cava is expected to open in November. The movie theater, ArcLight Cinemas’ first foray outside of the Los Angeles area, should open in October.

Gretchen McCourt, an executive vice president with ArcLight, said it’s one of the few theaters to offer a mix of big Hollywood blockbusters and more speciality films.

It’ll have pre-reserved seating, large seats and take up the upper floors of what used to be a parking garage.

The $90 million worth of work included many of the lounge areas, seating and fixtures that have been installed throughout the mall, which has also worked hard to add new restaurants such as Blaze Pizza, the Cheesecake Factory and Bobby’s Burger Palace throughout the property. CRAVE, fusion American and sushi restaurant, will open in the fall.

But the crown jewel is no doubt the Dining Terrace. It’s double the size of the food court many came to know and love, and with what Westfield says is a more diverse roster of dining selections.

“What we had before was a food court,” Howard said, “a lot of quick-service offerings, seating packages. This is a new prototype.”

Berliner Wants To See Improved Performance Required In Pepco Merger

by Aaron Kraut | August 20, 2014 at 12:25 pm | No Comments

Councilmember Roger Berliner (file photo)One of Pepco’s most frequent critics wants to see reliability requirements and newer energy models incorporated into Pepco’s merger with Exelon.

County Councilmember Roger Berliner, an energy lawyer who heads the Council’s Infrastructure Committee, said the Maryland Public Service Commission should only approve Pepco’s sale to Exelon if there are “binding commitments to superb reliability and better service to our long-suffering constituents.”

Exelon announced on Tuesday it had formally submitted an application for approval of the merger to the PSC, the five-member committee that regulates all utilities in the state.

In it, Exelon claimed the merger would mean cutting the frequency of power outages in Pepco’s Maryland service areas by 38 percent and cutting the average outage duration by 43 percent by the 2018-2020 period. Exelon offered to be subject to financial penalties if Pepco or Delmarva Power don’t meet those goals.

In a prepared statement, Berliner said “it is a fundamental responsibility of our state regulators to determine whether this proposed merger — which will result in a single utility totally dominating the state — is in the public interest.”

“Our Council has formally stated that should the Commission conclude it is in the public interest, it could only do so with binding commitments to superb reliability and better service to our long-suffering constituents,” Berliner said.

The resolution the Council approved in May says the PSC should require “that Exelon provide substantial ratepayer benefits, including, but not limited to, quality of service equivalent to a top quartile utility within three years, and that cost recovery for investments necessary to achieve that outcome be tied to performance.”

Berliner again asked the PSC to include aspects of the “Utility 2.0″ concept in any merger approval.

Last March, Berliner submitted a formal filing asking PSC regulators to push Pepco toward a more modern electric system that includes locally-sourced micro-grids. Berliner argued modernization should be included in the PSC’s recent effort to make utilities more reliable by requiring short-term and long-term reliability plans.

“That is what our constituents want and deserve,” Berliner said in the statement on Tuesday. “If the Commission finds that the merger is in the public interest, then the Commission should insist that Maryland and Exelon be a leader in the country in adopting Utility 2.0.”

He also said he expects Montgomery County to take part in what’s expected to be a lengthy set of regulatory proceedings judging the merger.

Suburban Hospital Set To Start Expansion In October

by Aaron Kraut | August 20, 2014 at 11:00 am | 126 views | No Comments

Suburban Hospital expansion rendering, via Suburban HospitalAfter years of zoning fights with a surrounding neighborhood group, Bethesda’s Suburban Hospital is finally close to starting construction on its massive expansion project.

As first reported by Bethesda Magazine, Suburban Hospital will have a groundbreaking ceremony for the 235,000-square-foot addition and new parking garage in late October. Suburban Hospital spokesperson Ronna Borenstein-Levy said that ceremony is set for Tuesday, Oct. 28.

Suburban Hospital officials say the existing facility is too small to deal with the number of patients the 70-year-old hospital sees each year.

The hospital bought homes along neighboring Lincoln Street to make way for the new facility. A zoning approval by the county’s Board of Appeals led to an intense legal fight from the Huntington Terrace Citizens Association, worried that the abandonment of Lincoln Street and the new garage will lead to more noise and traffic.

The County Circuit Court upheld the Board of Appeals decision and, on another appeal, the state’s Court of Special Appeals also upheld the decision last year.  In August 2013, Suburban was among a batch of hospitals to have letters of intent for expansion or relocation filed with the Maryland Health Care Commission. In April 2013, the County Planning Board approved Suburban’s preliminary and site plans for the expansion, though not without protest from some neighbors.

“We are very excited to be moving ahead with this project,” Borenstein-Levy said.

The parking garage is set to open in 2017 and the new building is set to open in the summer of 2019.  The hospital estimates the expansion project will cost $230 million.

Hotel Wants Visitors To See D.C. ‘Like A Local’ From Bethesda

by Aaron Kraut | August 20, 2014 at 10:00 am | 349 views | 3 Comments

Bethesda Row (file photo)

As part of a new marketing campaign, Marriott has offered some tips for how to see D.C. like a local from Bethesda might.

Marriott’s #LikeALocal package (hashtag included) is offering weekend packages at the chain’s three area hotels — the Bethesda Marriott at Pooks Hill, the Bethesda Marriott Suites on Democracy Boulevard and the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center on Marinelli Road.

The offer promises to let travelers “bypass the tourist traps to experience the District like the locals do.”

According to Marriott, that means shopping at Bethesda Row, hitting up Strathmore and running or biking on the Capital Crescent Trail, all things locals definitely like to do.

Bethesda locals also apparently like to eat.

“Eating in Bethesda means eating well,” according to the promotion. “Locals love starting the day with Bethesda Bagels’ artisan offerings, for example, and following it up with a savory lunch at Cava Grill. Serving tasty, healthy and fast versions of the food that made Cava one of D.C.’s best restaurants, Cava Grill is an ideal precursor to dinner at Jaleo. There, renowned chef Jose Andres has made tapas a household word — and a go-to meal option — with his exciting recipes and multiple locations.”

The package includes a $20 credit to app-based ride service Uber, which probably won’t sit well with some local taxi cab companies.

Morning Notes

by Aaron Kraut | August 20, 2014 at 9:05 am | 196 views | 2 Comments

Flickr photo by Danny Fowler

Chevy Chase Resident: I Won’t Pay For Pepco Smart Meter Fees – Chevy Chase resident Deborah Vollmer says she won’t pay Pepco for opting out of the power company’s smart meter program. Pepco is charging her $75 for the opt-out and a monthly $14 fee. Pepco says Vollmer risks being disconnected if she doesn’t pay her entire bill. [WTOP via SoundCloud]

State Leaders: Health Insurance Website Will Be Ready For November – Maryland officials say the state’s health exchange will be rebuilt and ready to go before the next enrollment period begins in November. The state’s first attempt was full of glitches and led to a new site that will cost at least $40 million. [Washington Post]

Bethesda Woman’s Two Decades Of Helping Food Bank – For almost 20 years, 91-year-old Beulah “Boo” Law has picked up extra food two days a week from the Bethesda Co-op in Cabin John and dropped it off at Manna, Montgomery County’s main food bank in Gaithersburg. [The Gazette]

MCPS Students Improve On ACT Tests – The MCPS class of 2014 earned an average composite score of 23.7 out of 36 on the ACT standardized test, besting the national average of 21. The Class of 2014 average increased from the 23.5 average of the class of 2013 and the 23.2 average of the class of 2012. [MCPS]

Flickr photo by Danny Fowler

Luxury Condo Project Tops Out On Montgomery Lane

by Aaron Kraut | August 19, 2014 at 3:20 pm | 489 views | 2 Comments

For a glimpse of the changes coming to one section of Bethesda, check out the construction progress on a five-floor, four-unit luxury condo project at 4825 Montgomery Lane.

The condos have been built as high as the project will go, showing how it and at least two other multi-family residential projects on the way will alter the skyline of what was once a section of single-family houses.

Most of the houses along Montgomery Lane, West Lane and Arlington Road are used for small businesses, medical practices and other professional services.

The 4825 property, at the corner of West and Montgomery Lanes, will include four individual garage doors.

controversial seven-story, 120-unit apartment complex (4831 West Lane) is planned for across the street. And around the corner, crews have demolished a garden apartment building and single-family house to make way for The Lauren, an ultra-luxury condo building.

Renderings via Montgomery County Planning Department

Bethesda A Very Honest Place, According To Honest Tea

by Aaron Kraut | August 19, 2014 at 2:20 pm | 288 views | 2 Comments

Honest Tea put people's honesty to the test earlier this month by placing unattended bottled teas in front of the Barnes & Noble in July 2013. Signs asked people to pay $1 each for drinks they took.Bethesda-based Honest Tea brought back its “National Honesty Index” this summer to test just how willing people were to abide by the honor code in exchange for a Honest Tea beverage.

From July 16-Aug. 12, the company set up unmanned racks of bottled beverages in 60 places, all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Signage asked those who took beverages to put $1 into a bin for each beverage they took.

Honest Tea collected information on “the number of people who paid or stole,” though the company clearly didn’t report anyone for theft.

The marketing project showed that 94 percent of the beverages taken from the Bethesda set-up were paid for, which tied with four other places for the honor of 32nd most honest.

Nationally, 95 percent of the beverages taken were paid for. Nearby, Washington, D.C. was the most improved city compared to last year’s results, with 96 percent of the beverages paid for (just 80 percent were paid for in 2013).

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