Montgomery County Police say the removal of a Bethesda speed camera that a District Court judge ruled was improperly placed was not a result of that January court decision.
MCP Traffic Division program manager Dan McNickle said the department still believes the camera was properly placed in the 4300 block of Jones Bridge Road, though it was moved in December to another location.
There are six Portable Camera Unit (PCU) locations on Jones Bridge Road between Connecticut Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue — four on the eastbound side and two on the westbound side. McNickle said the cameras are regularly moved.
In January, District Court Judge John Moffett ruled in favor of attorney, political activist and famous sports heckler Robin Ficker, who challenged a $40 citation he received from the camera on Sept. 5, 2012.
Ficker successfully argued that the camera, at the bottom of a hill near the secure entrance to the Uniformed Services University, wasn’t legally placed because it was not within 300 feet of a residence.
Moffett agreed, rescinding Ficker’s $40 fine.
Montgomery County Police issued a press release saying the department would not review other tickets from the camera and that Moffett misinterpreted the law:
According to § 21-809(vi) of Maryland Transportation Article, a speed-monitoring system may be placed:
- On a highway in a residential district, as defined in § 21-101 of this title, with a maximum posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour, which speed limit was established using generally accepted traffic-engineering practices; or
- In a school zone established under § 21-803.1 of this subtitle.
Maryland Transportation Article § 21-101 defines a residential district as:
- Not a business district; or
- An area that adjoins and includes a highway where the property along the highway, for a distance of at least 300 feet, is improved mainly with residences or residences and buildings used for business.
Montgomery County Police said the speed camera was properly placed because it was placed on a roadway that contains at least 300 feet of residences and that the law does not say a speed camera must be placed within 300 feet of a residence.
A speed camera in the 4300 block of eastbound Jones Bridge Road that was still there after the court decision has also been moved. That camera at question in Ficker’s case was on the westbound side of the road.
Construction crews will need to blast through rock to build the underground parking garage slated for a 359-unit apartment building and Harris Teeter grocery store at Wisconsin Avenue and Battery Lane.
Developer StonebridgeCarras, the same company doing the Lot 31 excavation and blasting at Bethesda Avenue, said last week that crews have completed underground utility work around the 8300 Wisconsin site and are ready to start excavation.
Donohoe Construction Company crews are now on the site, which is being prepared with sediment and erosion control measures, according to a release. Workers are also building foundation piles that will be drilled along the property line.
Drilling is scheduled to begin this week and will last five to six weeks. Dump trucks will also begin to haul material off the site this week. StonebridgeCarras said preliminary tests indicate there will be about five months of periodic blasting to get through dense rock. That blasting is scheduled to begin in late July.
StonebridgeCarras said notice to the community will be sent out. Some near the Lot 31 parking garage and apartment project said they were caught off guard when Clark Construction crews began blasting there in December.
The utility work over the last six months that led to detours and bumpy patches in the Battery Lane and Woodmont Avenue intersection was to allow Pepco to replace the overhead power lines with underground ones. Pepco is planning to transfer poer from the overhead electric lines to the underground lines in late June.
StonebridgeCarras hopes to have the excavation done in January. Then, crews will erect construction cranes and start to pour concrete. The building is expected to top out at the end of 2014 and the entire project is expected to be completed by the third quarter of 2015.
Photo via StonebridgeCarras
Montgomery County says a recent analysis of car collisions with pedestrians proves its pedestrian safety efforts are working, despite that data showing a bump in pedestrian collisions in 2012 and seven pedestrian fatalities already this year.
An analysis at the May 8 CountyStat review of County Executive Isiah Leggett’s Pedestrian Safety Initiative showed the most severe collisions involving either debilitating injury or death decreased by 20 percent in 2012 compared to 2011. But total pedestrian collisions increased from 399 in 2011 to 423 in 2012, a result of what the county says was an increase in collisions in private parking lots and garages.
Still, the seven pedestrian fatalities in the first quarter of this year have already surpassed the six pedestrian fatalities in all of of 2012. There were 11 pedestrian fatalities in 2011 and a high of 19 in 2008.
In December, the county said pedestrian collisions had decreased by 12 percent since 2009, when County Executive Isiah Leggett’s Initiative was first funded.
“In 2007, my Pedestrian Safety Initiative outlined a blueprint for reducing pedestrian collisions in Montgomery County, and I am gratified that the plan appears to be working,” Leggett said in a release. “Through engineering, education and enforcement, as well as a broad partnership between residents, County departments and agencies, and the State Highway Administration, the severity of collisions are trending downward, particularly in the areas that need the most help. Targeted interventions really can make a difference in reducing the number of pedestrians who are injured or killed.”
In Bethesda, a group of pedestrian activists and Bethesda Elementary School parents joined together to ask the county to lower speed limits, increase fines and install crossing signals that allow pedestrians an exclusive window to cross in school zones.
Montgomery Students Are Failing Math Exams At High Rates, How Much Does It Matter? — Montgomery County Public Schools released data on its students’ high failure rates on math final exams, what some say is a result of students studying only to get the final exam grade they need to pass the course. In January, countywide stats show each non-honors math course except for Pre-Cal (48 percent) saw more than 50 percent of students get an E on the final exam. In January, 86 percent of Bridge to Algebra 2 students countywide failed the exam. [Washington Post]
Union Boycott, Protest Doesn’t Stop Money From Coming Into Local Democratic Party — A boycott and protest of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee Spring Ball meant some big names stayed away from the event, but it hasn’t hurt the party’s fundraising efforts. The group’s chairman said donations from people who did not attend the Ball have put the party over its $50,000 fundraising goal. [The Gazette]
Citizens Advisory Board To Talk Budget, Housing and Tenant Rights — The Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board will meet tonight for its monthly meeting. Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda) will give an update on the recently agreed upon FY14 budget. The Board will see a presentation on the county’s Housing Policy and discuss tenants’ rights. The meeting is open to the public and will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center (4805 Edgemoor Lane). [Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center]
Share Your Bethesda, Chevy Chase, North Bethesda and White Flint Photos With Us — Contribute to the BethesdaNow.com Flickr pool to see your photo lead off our Morning Notes or to show us what’s going on in your community. [Flickr]
Flickr photo by daveandraina
The Kensington man who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) in last fall’s election will go before the Montgomery County Board of Elections on Monday and ask it that it implement further security measures for voting machines, software and operating policies.
Ken Timmerman, a Republican who lost to Van Hollen in Montgomery precincts of Maryland’s Eighth District by a 3-to-1 margin, backed off his original claim that the county’s voting results were inaccurate. He said he “conducted an investigation with the help of volunteers” and “came away from that investigation convinced that the anecdotal reports we had gathered did not rise to the level of a systematic pattern of voter fraud.”
Before, Timmerman had claimed supporters supplied him with anecdotal evidence of “irregularities” during early voting and the Nov. 6 general election. He also claimed there were voting machines in the district without a single Republican vote.
“However, as I learned more about the electronic voting machines and their vulnerabilities, I also became convinced that the security measures in place – especially in Montgomery County – were inadequate,” Timmerman wrote in an email to supporters. “While I do not doubt the good intentions of the professional staff who administer our elections, I believe the politicians who give them orders and set the security parameters can do better.”
Timmerman will address the Board of Elections at its meeting on Monday at 2:30 p.m. and make two unspecified recommendations he hopes they will adopt. In November, he said the state must enforce a 2007 law that established the replacement of touch-screen machines with optical scanner voting machines.
“If they fail to enact these common sense reforms or equivalent measures, I will have no choice but to tell the public that I have no confidence in the outcome of the 2014 election results in Montgomery County,” Timmerman wrote.
Giant Food hopes to open a Peapod grocery pick-up facility and gas station at the Sunoco gas station site in Chevy Chase by this fall, according to a company spokesperson.
The location, at 8500 Connecticut Ave., would be for pick-up orders placed online, according to Giant Food spokesman Jamie Miller. Miller said the Peapod by Giant will open in late summer or early fall.
The facility will be built in the Chevy Chase Lake Sector, where the Montgomery County Council is currently weighing a series of significant zoning changes. Developer Chevy Chase Land Company hopes to build a mixed-use town center across the street from the site and the Planning Board approved a Sector Plan that would rezone the 8500 Connecticut Ave. property to allow for a 35-foot-tall residential and retail development and a 70-foot one after the Chevy Chase Lake Purple Line station is assured.
“The relatively small size of this property limits its potential redevelopment as a stand-alone project. However, its location creates opportunities for redevelopment, as part of an assemblage of properties. To encourage this, the Plan recommends rezoning to match the shopping center’s height and density. If this property is ever assembled with others, as part of a unified development, the number of curb cuts along Connecticut Avenue, between Manor Road and Chevy Chase Lake Drive, should be reduced,” according to the Sector Plan.
A gas station and grocery pick-up site seems to contradict the more urban and transit-friendly feeling developers and the Planning Board seek for Chevy Chase Lake.
Miller said it will be a small facility, “where customers can place their online orders in the morning or while at work, then come pick the orders up on the way home.
“We’ve identified a demand for the service at that location,” Miller said. “We feel that this is going to be a growing part of the grocery business and a great convenience.”
Giant Food and Peapod opened a similar location in April in Clarksville and Columbia, both in Howard County.
“Our mission at Peapod is to save our customers time and money — and for many busy families, especially moms, who are always on the go, a quick stop at our pick-up location on the way home is the most convenient option,” Peapod President Andrew Parkinson said in the press release announcing the Howard County openings. “Peapod Pick-Up is fast and easy. Peapod associates greet you at your car, collect your coupons and load your groceries into your vehicle for you — all within five minutes. There’s no need for you to even get out of your car.”
As expected, a hearing on a proposed Bus Rapid Transit system that would dedicate lanes exclusively to buses drew a wide range of opinions from a wide range of Montgomery County residents on Thursday night.
Some argued for the system, an 80-mile network of 10 bus corridors designed by county planners, as a common sense approach to solving the area’s traffic issues. Others said taking away traffic lanes for cars makes no sense. Then, there were residents — including a group from the Chevy Chase West neighborhood along Wisconsin Avenue — who argued against the proposal on the basis it won’t work for their specific communities.
The Planning Board’s public hearing on the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan went on for more than three hours and included testimony from developers, transit advocates, bicyclists, environmentalists and one Bethesda resident who claimed the idea of taking away lanes of regular traffic was not just “a war on cars, but also a war on working families.”
“I think an anti-car attitude is just counterproductive at this point,” said Robert Dyer, blog author and one-time County Council candidate. “When the product requires sabotage of the highway system to get ridership, it’s a bad product.”
Transit advocates made the case the Bus Rapid Transit system isn’t a choice against cars, but simply a choice.
“People will tell you this evening that there’s no room for transit. That’s false,” said blogger and activist Dan Reed. “People will continue to come here and that’s a good thing, but forcing them to bring their cars isn’t. This plan isn’t about taking away from drivers, but putting those who ride transit on equal footing with them.”
The debate is particularly heated in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, where lead planner Larry Cole says Rockville Pike/MD 355 would serve as the most popular BRT transitway, capable of supporting one bus-only lane each way along the median in some of the road’s most congested stretches.
Central Farm Markets Combining Markets This Weekend — Central Farm Markets will combine its White Flint and Bethesda farmers markets into Saturday’s Pike Central Market at Mid-Pike Plaza (11810 Rockville Pike). Bethesda Central Market will be closed on Sunday due to a Bethesda Elementary School PTA fundraiser. [Central Farm Market]
B-CC Jazz Band To Perform At Bethesda Blues and Jazz — The Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Jazz Band will take the show around the block when it performs at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club (7719 Wisconsin Ave.) at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 23. Tickets are $10. [Bethesda Blues and Jazz]
Leggett In Annapolis As O’Malley Signs Transportation Bill — County Executive Isiah Leggett was in Annapolis on Thursday as Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed the recently passed transportation bill and gas tax increase that will send state revenue toward county transportation projects including the Purple Line light rail. O’Malley called Leggett “a consistently strong advocate,” for the measure. Leggett first proposed raising the state’s gas tax in 2006, at a time when he says the position was particularly unpopular. [Montgomery County]
Town Of Chevy Chase Looking For Help With New Website — The Town of Chevy Chase is redesigning its website and wants help finding photos that will make it more attractive, interactive and user friendly. The photos would go in a photo gallery featuring pictures of town events, landscapes architecture and other sites. Email digital photos to Eric Glidden at firstname.lastname@example.org or on a CD or flash drive to the Town Office.
Flickr photo by ehpien
Those two major changes from County Executive Isiah Leggett’s recommended budget will be paid for in part by adjustments to the six-year Capital Improvement budget and a transfer of roughly $14 million from other county funds into its general fund. The 10 percent cut in the energy tax, which was instituted three years ago, will mean the loss of $11.6 million in revenue.
The Council unanimously agreed on the budget, despite councilmember Phil Andrews’ contention that Leggett’s proposed pay increases for county employees were too large. Andrews said he will vote against the County Government portion of the budget when it is formalized next week. Councilmember Marc Elrich said not enough money was dedicated to restoring social service cuts that came during the recession.
“I think if most of our residents were given a choice between reducing their average energy tax bills by just 65 cents per month or restoring some of these services, they would choose the services,” Elrich said in a statement.
The Council also added $100,000 to Leggett’s 10 percent bump in county library funding to increase the purchase of e-Books. In the six-year Capital Improvements budget, the Council differed on some of Leggett’s recommendations by keeping funding for the Bethesda Metro Station South Entrance on track, accelerating more than $17 million for street resurfacing and sidewalk repairs and adding $4 million for bridge renovations, including on the Elmhirst Parkway bridge in Bethesda.
In a statement, Leggett commended the Council for its work in finalizing the budget, but took issue with the energy tax cut. The Council approved 99 percent of Leggett’s recommended budget, which is fairly typical:
I am, however, particularly concerned about two Council actions that create an $18 million problem this year and create greater difficulties in balancing the budget in FY15 and beyond.
The energy tax cut of 10 percent reduces revenues by $11.6 million in FY14 and well into the future. One of the many reasons why I recommended retaining the energy tax at the current level is that a substantial portion of the tax comes from federal and other tax-exempt facilities in the County that otherwise pay nothing to the County for the services that they consume. This reduction reduces our budget flexibility in future years.
I also do not believe the Council should “borrow” $6.7 million in funds I set aside to pay for retired County employees’ health benefits. Those funds will have to be repaid next year, which will result in higher future obligations.
I understand the Council’s desire to meet its own policy goals and the tremendous demands that make these decisions so difficult. My goal is to continue to improve our fiscal stability that we have worked so tirelessly and collaboratively to achieve.
The parking fee structure for downtown Bethesda will change, as Leggett recommended. The Council also agreed to add 40 police positions and double the amount of School Resource Officers from 6 to 12.
Flickr photo by dan reed!
Police made three arrests in two late-April residential burglary cases:
A residential burglary occurred in the 4600 block of Windsor Lane, Bethesda on Tuesday, 4/30 at approximately 4:30 a.m. Unforced entry; nothing taken.
Arrested: Male, age 31, from Washington, DC
A residential burglary occurred in the 10000 block of Sinnott Court, Bethesda on Tuesday, 4/30. Unknown entry; unknown what was taken.
Arrested: Male, age 33, from Silver Spring; Male, age 20, from Silver Spring.
The rest of the most recent 2nd District crime summary is after the jump.
There has been pronounced opposition to the proposed Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan, but the major developer in the mix is hoping to show there is also community support.
The Chevy Chase Land Company, which wants to convert the existing strip shopping center near Chevy Chase Lake Drive into a mixed-use town center, held a happy hour event on Wednesday for its Friends of Chevy Chase Lake group.
There were supporters and many residents who had questions about specific parts of the plan. Land Company Vice President of Public Affairs Miti Figueredo and President and CEO David Smith answered questions about a planned new north to south road, the fate of the Chevy Chase Supermarket during construction and the status of the Purple Line.
Many who expressed their support for the project during a County Council public hearing in March did so on the basis that the new development would make sense around a planned Purple Line station just north of the Land Company’s existing 8401 Connecticut building.
Bonnie Wicklund, who lives in the 8101 Connecticut Condominiums, said she supports the development. Her main want is the Purple Line station.
“We have everything but a post office. The only thing that this area really lacks is easy access to the Metro so that we can get on a train, make a change or two without driving, without getting into a car,” Wicklund said. “As for the development, I like to walk. I walk all over Chevy Chase and to the Chevy Chase Supermarket. I would love to have more restaurants to choose from and more shops.”
The United States Postal Service is actively searching for a location to put a 2,000-square-foot retail post office in Bethesda, although the man in charge of the site selection process isn’t sure where and is asking residents to suggest potential storefronts.
Rick Hancock, a real estate specialist with the financially struggling agency, said at a public meeting on Wednesday that Bethesda has proven to have enough customer volume to merit a second post office. A year ago, the USPS closed down two post offices in downtown Bethesda and moved to a controversial location near Bradley Boulevard.
Hancock said the decision to open a second post office in Bethesda during a time when it’s much more common for the USPS to close down branches is not about the difficulty of finding parking at the 6900 Wisconsin Ave. location.
Residents and Rep. Chris Van Hollen have called on the Postal Service to relocate from that location because of the lack of convenient parking.
Joan Kleinman, Van Hollen’s district director, questioned why Postal Service officials promised many of the same things in a July 2011 meeting but never followed through.
“It is different. That was a very complex situation with a lot of moving parts,” Hancock said. “This one is simple, very focused: 2,000 square feet of retail. My only worry, for a lack of a better term, is where.”
Hancock said the Postal Service has approved a second post office location. If no suitable location is found, he said the USPS and its real estate broker, CBRE, will continue to look for one.
Hancock will post an official collection of possible sites at the 6900 Wisconsin post office and let people know through county government. There will be a commenting period and a site review committee.
Hancock said he was not sure if the second post office would be limited to the 20816 zip code, west of River Road and south of Goldsboro Road, an area removed from downtown with seemingly fewer options. The Postal Service had previously said it was looking for a location in that zip code and that the Retail Post Office would not have P.O. boxes.
Hancock said it would have P.O. boxes and that “it is our goal,” to have parking.
The property must be able to hold a Retail Post Office, have good customer access and space for a mail truck to back up and deliver bulk mail. Hancock said a location with a loading dock, while not necessary, would be preferable.
A Retail Post Office contains over-the-counter services, more limited than the all encompassing mail transfer station that the USPS closed down last year at 7100 Arlington Rd. Hancock said the USPS had to sell that property because of its dire financial situation.
But he attempted to assure a skeptical crowd of residents that a second Bethesda post office was in fact going to happen.
“They say, ‘Go forth Rick,’” Hancock said, “and Rick goes forth.”
Dee Metz, the Montgomery County’s White Flint Implementation Coordinator, told two groups of residents, developers and other stakeholders this week that the county hopes to present the plans for the new street network, called the western workaround, at the June meeting of the Implementation Committee.
There is $98 million worth of transportation design and construction programmed into the county’s FY13-FY18 capital budget for road projects in the western section of the White Flint Sector, including the new east-to-west Market Street that will connect Old Georgetown Road to a realigned Executive Boulevard.
The new section of Executive Boulevard will be built through the parking lot of the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center and cross Old Georgetown Road into the Pike & Rose development, now under construction at Mid-Pike Plaza.
Metz said the road design got held up several months as the county worked to get SHA to agree on fewer turn lanes and other design features more conducive to the walkable, pedestrian-friendly atmosphere county planners and developers seek for White Flint.
“The situation is the state does have a lot of influence over it. They typically have to approve any of our intersections with state roads,” Metz said on Monday at the Implementation Committee meeting. “We didn’t just want to go ahead and roll over and do what the state wanted us to do. Even though the design has been held up, we’re still on schedule to make it to the same construction timeline that we’ve had in the CIP program all along.”
Metz and Evan Goldman, from Rockville-based developer Federal Realty, indicated the SHA was more interested in a design that would move the most cars.
“The state has really dug in on certain principles that are really antithetical to urbanism,” Goldman said. Federal Realty is building the mixed-use Pike & Rose project.
Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike are state roads.
“They wanted eight-inch curbs. We want six-inch curbs. They’re showing cycle tracks, but we want buffers. These are the comments that we’re giving to them,” Metz said. “I think we’re making progress even though as I said this is somewhat a new way of approaching development.”
Photo via Friends of White Flint
The recently raised possibility of razing a downtown Bethesda building has given new life to the idea of an underground Capital Crescent Trail crossing of Wisconsin Avenue, but Montgomery County Planners will have to work fast.
The Maryland Transit Administration must know of any changes at the Apex Building, under which the agency plans to build its Bethesda Purple Line station, by the end of the year, project manager Mike Madden said. With new state transportation funding from the recently passed gas tax, MTA officials want to nail down matching federal funding next year and open the system in 2020.
At a Purple Line open house on Tuesday at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Madden said the MTA would like to know more about the fate of the Apex Building in the next couple months.
“That could change the station. But there would be requirements in terms of us knowing by a certain time if that building was going to be demolished,” Madden said. “If that does happen, then the station, the Trail could possibly go under that building. There could be some changes, but it all depends on timing on whether they decide to tear that building down.”
The MTA and Montgomery County previously determined that rebuilding the Trail under the building and next to the light rail station would be too costly.
The existing plan for the station, which MTA projects will be the busiest in the 16-mile system by 2040 with 15,000 daily boardings, also includes a fan tower that some have worried will be an eyesore near the high-end retail development of Bethesda Row.
In April, the County Council’s Planning Committee recommended the Apex Building Minor Master Plan Amendment be moved up in the Planning Department’s work plan as part of its FY14 budget. Interim Planning Department director Rose Krasnow said the decision to raze the building could mean huge public benefit with a Bethesda Purple Line station that includes an underground Trail crossing.
Council staff Glenn Orlin said razing the building would allow for $5 or $6 million in savings at the county’s Bethesda Metro South Entrance project, according to a conservative estimate from the state.
But the Planning Department’s study of the idea will have to be done in the shortest time frame ever for a Master Plan of such consequence, Krasnow said. Planners must also figure out the actual intentions of the owner of the Apex Building, listed in real estate records as Potomac-based Vanguard Realty Group.
The open house on Tuesday, the fourth of five along the light rail’s route, included satellite photos of the entire $2.2 billion system’s alignment, all the way from New Carrollton to Bethesda. The MTA’s noise consultant also presented a comparison of how the light rail will sound compared to other types of trains and vehicles, similar to the presentation MTA made in February to Town of Chevy Chase residents.
B-CC’s Presidential Scholar Talks About Alcoholism — Bayard Miller, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School student who was recently named a Presidential Scholar, said he’s a recovering alcoholic. He wrote about his experience in one of the essays that earned him the honor. Teacher Tim Gilmore will accompany Miller to the event. [The Gazette]
Bethesda Elementary Parents Talk Pedestrian Safety — Pedestrian safety around Bethesda Elementary School (7600 Arlington Rd.) has been in the news recently, with a group of parents and pedestrian advocates urging the county to make major changes in school zones. Some of those parents, including the father of a baby who was hit in February while in a stroller, spoke about what they want to see. [Bethesda-Chevy Chase Patch]
County Offering Free Deck Inspections — As part of Building Safety Month, Montgomery County’s Department of Permitting Services is offering free deck maintenance inspections through the end of May for single-family detached homes, three-story-or-less townhouses and duplex dwellings. To make a request, contact the county’s customer service center at 311 or 240-777-0311. [Montgomery County]
Concert To Benefit Bethesda Cares — On Saturday, the Westmoreland chancel choir will perform an all-Bach program with a reception and an art show to help raise money for homeless prevention nonprofit Bethesda Cares. The concert is set for 7 p.m. at the Westmoreland United Church of Christ (1 Westmoreland Circle). [h/t B-CC Regional Services Center]