41°Rain

by Aaron Kraut — March 4, 2015 at 5:30 pm 0

Rep. Chris Van Hollen in Bethesda last year

Eighth District Rep. Chris Van Hollen on Wednesday announced he will seek the state’s U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Barbara Mikulski in 2016.

Van Hollen, a Kensington resident, has represented the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area in the House of Representatives since 2003.

His political stature has grown ever since. He served as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2007-2011 and was frequently mentioned as a potential future House speaker if Democrats regain control of the legislative body.

He was also pegged as a potential replacement for Mikulski as soon as she announced her retirement on Monday.

“I am excited to share that I have decided to run for the United States Senate from our great State of Maryland. I am very grateful to the citizens of Maryland’s Eighth Congressional District for the opportunity to represent them and want to thank the many Marylanders who, over the last 48 hours, have called, sent text messages, or emailed to urge me to run for the United States Senate,” Van Hollen wrote on Facebook.

Van Hollen is expected to face stiff Democratic competition for the seat. The competition for his Eighth District House seat, in a hotbed of Democratic politics, could be just as heated.

State Sen. Jamie Raskin, from Takoma Park, has already expressed interest. He could be joined by many state legislators and county officials. That game of “musical chairs,” as Raskin called it, could impact county elections in 2018, as County Executive Isiah Leggett is not expected to seek a fourth term.

Van Hollen’s full message announcing his Senate campaign follows the jump.

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by Aaron Kraut — March 4, 2015 at 3:05 pm 700 0

NWS snow prediction map, Via NWS

Heavy snow is forecast for the area on Thursday, and a Winter Storm Warning is in effect from late Wednesday night to Thursday night.

The key numbers: 6-10 inches. That’s the amount of snow accumulation the National Weather Service is predicting for Montgomery County.

Most of that snow will likely come from mid-morning Thursday to mid-afternoon.

Montgomery County Highway Services, the people who plow county roads, will activate the county’s Storm Operations Center at midnight.

County plows could have company from some of the 2,700 government personnel and contractors the State Highway Administration will have operating throughout the storm. That includes 2,400 pieces of equipment statewide. To date, the SHA has spent $95 million on winter operations and used 285,000 tons of salt.

The state will also put out six heavy-duty tow trucks on highways in the Baltimore and D.C. metro regions, in anticipation of disabled tractor trailers.

As for Metro, Metrobus service will be on a Moderate Snow Plan Thursday, meaning some routes will be suspended. Metrorail will operate as scheduled, though weather-related delays might happen.

Metro will have 771 employees assigned to snow-clearing efforts with 2,300 tons of salt ready to use on Metro roadways and parking lots. The transit agency also has 400,000 pounds of de-icer for sidewalks, station entrances and platforms. It claims it has 251 squeegees.

Jurisdictions such as D.C. and the City of Rockville have already declared Snow Emergencies for tomorrow. We’ll update this post if Montgomery County does the same.

Via MCPSAs for a school closing, MCPS typically releases its snow day decisions shortly before 5 a.m. the day of storms.

But the school system will occasionally act before any snow hits the ground on the nights before expected snow events. It cancelled school for Feb. 17 on the night of Feb. 16. About 3.5 inches of snow fell in Bethesda, though other areas of the county saw more accumulation.

If school is cancelled Thursday, some students may not be happy for too long. MCPS has already had five no-school days because of weather, one more than the four inclement weather days built into the calendar.

A snow day Thursday (and another potentially coming on Friday) could mean two or three days are added to the school year in mid-June.

Via NWS, MCPS

by Aaron Kraut — March 4, 2015 at 2:30 pm 2 Comments

Pepco truck on Old Georgetown Road

Exelon and Pepco have upped the amount of money they’ll put into a “customer investment fund” and promised quicker reliability improvements if state regulators approve their $6.8 billion merger.

The power companies offered the increased benefits in a filing with the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) on Wednesday. The PSC will decide by April 8 whether to allow the merger and if so, under what conditions.

The merger has come under fire from a D.C.-based “citizens’ advocacy” group, environmentalists, longtime critics of Pepco and a group of local elected officials, green energy companies and local municipalities called the Coalition for Utility Reform.

Exelon and Pepco hope to quell that opposition by promising to reduce the frequency and duration of power outages in Maryland beginning in 2016, instead of by the 2018-2010 three-year window as originally proposed.

If the utilities don’t achieve the proposed reliability performance targets in 2018, 2019 or 2020, it offered to be subject to non-compliance payments of up to $7.75 million over the three-year period.

Facing opposition in front of D.C.’s utility regulators, Exelon and Pepco made a similar move to beef up merger customer benefits last month.

The merger, which would put all of Pepco Holding Inc.’s utilities in four states and D.C. under the control of Chicago-based Exelon, has been approved by federal regulators and regulators in New Jersey and Virginia.

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by Aaron Kraut — March 4, 2015 at 1:25 pm 1 Comment

The Rockville Pike lane shift that’s been delayed four times because of winter weather is now scheduled for Tuesday, March 10, with an inclement weather date of March 11:

It will be the State Highway Administration’s latest attempt to move traffic lanes to the west on the busy stretch around Cedar Lane in order to replace a stream culvert under the roadway.

The SHA removed the median on the road to accommodate the shift, though the move has been pushed off multiple times because of snow, ice and cold temperatures that prevent crews from putting down new lane markings.

by Aaron Kraut — March 4, 2015 at 12:25 pm 346 3 Comments

AMP by Strathmore, the new 240-seat music venue at the Pike & Rose project in White Flint, is set to open this weekend.

Strathmore CEO Eliot Pfanstiehl has made no secret of his hope that the fourth-floor concert room in the middle of what used to be a strip shopping center attracts a younger audience than the organization’s decade-old concert hall on Tuckerman Lane — typically reserved for the likes of the National Philharmonic Orchestra.

“That’s the perception, at least,” said Strathmore Associate Marketing Director Mike Fila, while giving a tour of the space on Wednesday. “It’s hard to get people to come up past the Beltway.”

Fila said Strathmore has been peppering riders of Metro’s Red Line into D.C. with ads promoting the new concert space. The venue (11810 Grand Park Avenue) is less than a 10-minute walk from the White Flint Metro station.

But Strathmore hopes AMP is more than just a new venue for D.C. and close-in Montgomery County residents. Over it’s first spring and summer, it’ll try to find what works with artists over a wide range of musical acts, including alt-country veteran Jay Farrar (who will officially open the venue on Friday night) a classical pianist and a go-go band.

The venue will also try out a tribute bands and a stand-up comic, though it’s intended mostly for live and original music.

“We’re sort of throwing some stuff up against the wall to see what works,” Fila said. “It’s certainly very exciting, having it finally come together.”

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by Aaron Kraut — March 4, 2015 at 9:35 am 1,274 9 Comments

Lord & Taylor at White Flint Mall

A federal appeals court says the owners of White Flint Mall should be able to redevelop the property, despite a legal challenge from tenant Lord & Taylor.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld an earlier decision by a U.S. District Court judge that Lord & Taylor’s requested injunction to stop redevelopment of the property “would be unworkable in light of the already advanced stage of the project.”

Developer Lerner Enterprises plans to tear down much of the mall structure and develop it into a mixed-use, town center-oriented project as part of the larger redevelopment of the White Flint/Pike District area along Rockville Pike.

In October 2012, the county Planning Board approved Lerner’s sketch plan for the project, the first of three approvals necessary for redevelopment.

White Flint MallBut planning for the redevelopment stalled in July 2013, when Lord & Taylor filed suit against the mall’s owners and asked for the court to stop any demolition. The New York-based department store claimed tearing down the mall would violate the 1975 lease agreement with the mall that brought it to Rockville Pike. 

White Flint Mall’s owners filed a countersuit, claiming Lord & Taylor was well aware of the coming redevelopment and that it timed the lawsuit in order to get a settlement payment out of the Lerner family-owned shopping center.

District Court Judge Roger Titus ruled in favor of White Flint Mall. Lord & Taylor appealed and on Wednesday, the Court of Appeals upheld Titus’ ruling.

“Either the court would be required to supervise the repopulation and restoration of the largely vacant Mall, or the effect of its order would be to suspend the site in its current unusable state. We see no grounds for disturbing the district court’s reasoned exercise of its equitable discretion, and therefore affirm.”

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by Aaron Kraut — March 4, 2015 at 9:10 am 0

Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club

Before he “made it,” legendary Broadway songwriter Fred Ebb was 40 and living with his mother.

That’s something that stuck with his niece and Bethesda arts booster Cathy Bernard. It’s also one of the reasons she devised a first-ever local songwriting competition that will debut Friday at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club.

“Even with talent, it’s hard to get a break,” Bernard said. “I think it’s important to help people that are trying to fulfill their dreams.”

Starting last summer, Bernard and members of the Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District she chairs organized, promoted and recruited artists for the Bernard/Ebb Songwriting Awards.

Bernard/Ebb Songwriting finalist and Bethesda resident Laura Baron, via BUPNine finalists were selected out of 258 entries to perform their songs in front of a live audience on Friday. The grand prize, to be awarded by a panel of musical theater professionals, is $10,000 with a $2,500 prize going to a young songwriter under 18.

“This fit because it was different than anything else we had done,” Bernard said. “It seems to have sparked people’s interest.”

The songwriting isn’t limited to theater tunes. The finalists who will perform Friday (starting at 8 p.m.) do musical theater, jazz, folk, country, contemporary and pop. The six adult finalists will perform two songs each. Bernard said some have described it as a local version of “American Idol,” though she’s not sure she’d agree.

Bethesda jazz and folk artist Laura Baron will perform two songs. The full-time musician and performer has put out three records, including one last year that got five Wammie nominations from the Washington Area Music Association.

“My career is having a lot of very nice things happening at the moment and to be able to perform at this wonderful venue will only help,” Baron said. “This is my town. To see a competition with a very big prize attached to it in Bethesda I thought was a great opportunity.”

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by Aaron Kraut — March 4, 2015 at 8:15 am 510 1 Comment

Flickr photo by ehpien

No $31 Million Renovation For Council Office Building – The County Council tabled a plan for a $31 million renovation of its aging Council Office Building in Rockville, parts of which date back to the 1940s. Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill said the renovation would send the wrong message to Annapolis while county leaders try to get a state school construction funding bill passed. The sponsor of the the Annapolis bill said it would have no impact and the bill has little chance of passing this year anyway. [Washington Post]

Local Teacher Up For ‘Teacher Of The Year’ – Fifth grade Chevy Chase Elementary School teacher Josephine Luster is one of three finalists for the county’s 2015-2016 Teacher of the Year Award. Luster teaches in the school’s Highly Gifted Center. [Montgomery Community Media]

Local Couple Goes On Bravo Reality Show – Kirk and Laura Knight are starring in the second season of Bravo’s reality series “Newlyweds: The First Year,” which premiered on Tuesday night. The Bethesda couple is one of four newlywed couples the show will follow for the first year of marriage. [The Gazette]

Playing Fields Won’t Open This Month – Montgomery Parks has delayed the opening of all park and elementary and middle school playing fields until April 1 at the earliest thanks to recent weeks of wet weather. The fields were originally scheduled to open March 15. Parks will assess the fields again on April 1. The delay doesn’t apply to synthetic turf fields. [Montgomery Parks]

Flickr photo by ehpien

by Aaron Kraut — March 3, 2015 at 4:05 pm 699 0

Snowy Woodmont Avenue during a March snow storm in 2014

Updated at 6:10 a.m. Wednesday – The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning starting Thursday night, with the potential for 6-10inches of snow and a trace of ice in much of the D.C. area:

…WINTER STORM WARNING IN EFFECT FROM 10 PM THIS EVENING TO 7 PM EST THURSDAY…

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN BALTIMORE MD/WASHINGTON HAS ISSUED A WINTER STORM WARNING FOR HEAVY SNOW…WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM 10 PM THIS EVENING TO 7 PM EST THURSDAY.

* ACCUMULATIONS…SNOW 6 TO 10 INCHES…ALONG WITH A TRACE OF ICE.

* LOCATIONS…CENTRAL MARYLAND TO NORTH-CENTRAL VIRGINIA.

* HAZARD TYPES…WINTRY MIX LATE THIS EVENING…THEN SNOW…HEAVY AT TIMES.

* TIMING…RAIN CHANGES TO WINTRY MIX LATE THIS EVENING THEN ALL SNOW THROUGH THURSDAY. SNOW HEAVIEST LATE TONIGHT THROUGH EARLY THURSDAY AFTERNOON.

* IMPACTS…ROADS WILL BE SNOW COVERED WITH VISIBILITY REDUCED TO NEAR ONE-QUARTER MILE AT TIMES. TRAVELING WILL BE DANGEROUS.

* WINDS…NORTH 10 TO 15 MPH WITH GUSTS TO 20 MPH.

* TEMPERATURES…LOW 30S…DROPPING INTO THE MID 20S THURSDAY.

by Aaron Kraut — March 3, 2015 at 3:15 pm 954 9 Comments

MCPS school bus

Updated at 3:55 p.m. – A pilot program for busing private school students using MCPS buses and drivers will cost the county $240,560 for the 2014-2015 school year.

The County Council on Tuesday approved taking the money out of the county’s Mass Transit fund after a public hearing in which private school officials, parents and students talked of the overwhelming success of the pilot so far.

Nobody testified against the program, which was initiated in part by District 19 Del. Bonnie Cullison.

“The fact is that 20 percent of Montgomery County’s children don’t go to public schools,” Cullison told the Council. “Their cars and minivans are in some of our busiest intersections.”

The program started last fall and grew to include six schools: the Norwood School at 8821 River Road, the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy and St. Jude Regional Catholic School in Rockville and the Torah School of Greater Washington, Yeshiva of Greater Washington and St. Francis International School in Silver Spring.

The pilot required coordination with the public school system to make sure buses and drivers weren’t needed at the same time for public school students.

County Executive Isiah Leggett wrote in a memo asking for the $240,000 that he supported the pilot “in order to reduce peak hour automobile trips on County roads.”

The private schools involved contributed $43,285 for the program.

Father John Enzler, president and CEO of the Catholic Charities of Washington, told the Council to imagine the busy River Road intersection with Bradley Boulevard without private school parents driving their kids back and forth from school each day. The area is home to five non-public schools.

“This is not an entitlement,” Enzler said. “This is really actually a chance to make something happen that helps all of the people in our county.”

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by Aaron Kraut — March 3, 2015 at 2:00 pm 1,005 0

Woodmont Avenue blocked at Montgomery Lane, Photo via @mcfrsPIO

Updated at 3:55 p.m. – Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services evacuated nearby buildings and shut down a major downtown Bethesda intersection after finding a severed high-pressure gas line at a construction site.

Firefighters were called to a five-floor, four-unit luxury condo project at 4825 Montgomery Lane a little before 2 p.m. for the report of the broken line.

Accoridng to MCFRS spokesperson Pete Piringer, a 3-inch high-pressure gas line was severed. A Hazmat team and firefighters cordoned off the area, near the Bethesda Metro station.

Firefighters evacuated buildings nearby, including along Montgomery Lane, West Lane and Arlington Road. About 40 people have been evacuated and were waiting in the Bethesda Library until they were given the all-clear to return just before 4 p.m.

Montgomery Lane and parts of Arlington Road and Woodmont Avenue near the incident have been blocked off. No injuries or illnesses have been reported.

Photo via @mcfrsPIO

by Aaron Kraut — March 3, 2015 at 1:25 pm 262 5 Comments

Cycling team practices at Norwood Local Park in Chevy ChaseA County Council committee is looking for expert help to determine whether some lawn care chemicals approved by the federal government truly pose a health risk to people and animals.

Roger Berliner, chair of the Council’s Environment Committee, asked Harold Varmus, director of the NIH’s National Cancer Institute, if the agency could provide its expertise as the Council weighs a proposed ban of of “non-essential” lawn care pesticides.

“My colleagues and I are not expert in such matters, and given that there is no major jurisdiction in the country to have adopted a comparable ban, we have few resources to call upon to provide us with the scientific guidance we need to evaluate the proposal before us,” Berliner wrote in a letter to Varmus on Tuesday. “Our Council and community would greatly benefit from understanding what the [National Cancer Institute's] research relating to pesticide exposure has concluded. Specifically, we seek your guidance as to whether the NCI believes that the exposures created by the use of pesticides for lawn care and on playing fields warrant further limitations beyond existing federal and state rules.”

The bill, introduced by Council President George Leventhal, is largely based on a similar law enacted in 2013 in the City of Takoma Park, where Leventhal lives.

It would classify more than 100 pesticides and weed-killers as “non-essential,” including some products cleared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency but banned in Ontario, Canada and on a list from the European Commission.

Leventhal and bill advocates argue there’s enough evidence to link glyphosate-based weed-killers like Roundup to child health issues, chemical endocrine disruptors to badly damaged aquatic life in the Chesapeake Bay and prevalent neonicotinoid-based insecticides to the death of bee, butterfly and other insect populations.

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by Aaron Kraut — March 3, 2015 at 12:30 pm 0

Montgomery County Public Schools has cancelled all school-sponsored after school activities set for Tuesday because of expected wintry weather.

Day care programs in school buildings and community use activities in school buildings will happen as scheduled.

High school basketball playoff games scheduled for Tuesday will be moved to Wednesday, at the same time and same locations, according to MCPS Athletic Director Jeff Sullivan:

by Aaron Kraut — March 3, 2015 at 10:25 am 253 9 Comments

Some of the products at the Bethesda Vapor Company, via Bethesda Vapor CompanyThe County Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that bans the use of electronic cigarettes in public places where traditional tobacco smoking is also prohibited.

The bill, meant to target the use of e-cigs by teens, also requires liquid nicotine containers used in the devices be in child-resistant packaging. It also bans the sale of e-cigs in vending machines or any other place where a seller is not needed to provide the product.

Councilmember Nancy Floreen sponsored the bill and said she was concerned with marketing and packaging meant to draw teenagers to vaping.

“The liquids that are used in these e-cigs, it’s like they could’ve been designed by Ben & Jerry’s,” Floreen said, comparing the flavored nicotine products to the ice cream maker known for its creative flavors and product names.

E-cigs first got on the Council’s radar last summer.

The County Council’s Health and Human Services Committee heard from a group of health experts in a session dedicated to learning about the battery-operated products that are increasing in popularity. E-cigs heat the liquid nicotine, along with flavors and other chemicals, into a vapor that the user inhales or “vapes.”

While the Food and Drug Administration has yet to regulate e-cig use, health officials say the nicotine found in the products is highly addictive, has “immediate bio-chemical effects on the brain and body at any dosage” and can be toxic.

The FDA has banned fruit and candy flavors from traditional cigarettes and many — including the National Association of Attorneys General — have urged it to do the same when it comes to e-cigarettes.

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by Aaron Kraut — March 3, 2015 at 9:40 am 1 Comment

The lane shift slated for a busy section of Rockville Pike near Cedar Lane has been delayed for the fourth time, thanks to the wintry mix of precipitation forecasted for later today.

The State Highway Administration said it will re-issue an updated traffic alert as soon as it has a new date for the shift.

“Our project engineering team will meet with the contractor performing the work and advise of a new date for the traffic shifts.  SHA will re-issue an updated traffic alert concerning the change as soon as new dates for the work become available,” read a SHA statement.

The SHA said the lane shift would’ve started at 7 p.m. Tuesday:

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