Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, reported the numbers in a regular email to subscribers on Thursday.
The 30,484 riders in April were an 18 percent increase compared to April 2013. The 31,043 riders in May were a 10 percent increase compared to May 2013.
The free shuttle is operated by the Bethesda Urban Partnership and hits 19 stops stretching from Woodmont Triangle to Bethesda Avenue, with stops in and around the Bethesda Metro station in between.
In 2006, BUP took over operation of the Bethesda Trolley as Ride On planned to shut it down. In 2011, BUP switched out the old-school trolleys for sleek, modern Circulator buses similar to the vehicles in downtown D.C.
Expansion of the service is a possibility, according to BUP officials, though there are no imminent plans. Any expansion would of course depend on funding. BUP gets a majority of its funding through Bethesda’s Parking Lot District — the parking fees paid at Montgomery County meters in the Central Business District.
Much could depend on any new recommendations in the upcoming Bethesda Downtown Plan. The last master plan for downtown Bethesda, written in 1994, outlined the idea of a shuttle to transport people around various spots downtown.
Earlier this year, BUP put out a survey about the Circulator.
The latest in crime from the most recent Montgomery County Police 2nd District crime summary:
An aggravated assault occurred in the 7600 block of Maple Avenue in Bethesda on Sunday, 7/13 at 10:30 p.m. The suspect is known to the victim.
Arrested: Male, age 39, from Bethesda
A commercial burglary occurred at 4825 Bethesda Avenue in Bethesda overnight between Monday, 7/7 and Tuesday, 7/8. Forced entry; nothing taken.
A commercial burglary occurred at 4350 East West Highway in Bethesda sometime between Tuesday, 7/8 and Thursday, 7/10. Forced entry; property taken.
A commercial burglary occurred at 4720 Montgomery Lane in Bethesda between Friday, 7/11 and Sunday, 7/13. Forced entry; property taken.
A residential burglary occurred in the 8800 block of Altimont Lane in Chevy Chase on Thursday, 7/10 between 1:10 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Forced entry; nothing taken.
A theft from vehicle occurred at 8710 Brookville Road in Chevy Chase on Monday, 7/14. Vehicles were taken from a vehicle.
An aggravated assault occurred in the 10800 block of Hampton Mill Terrace in North Bethesda on Saturday, 7/12 at approximately 4:30 p.m. The suspects are known to the victim.
A commercial burglary occurred at the Exxon located at 6729 Goldsboro Road in Bethesda on Monday, 7/14 at approximately 6:00 a.m. No further information is available at this time.
Nine thefts from vehicles occurred in the beat during this reporting period. Most incidents occurred near Little Falls Park in Bethesda (off of Massachusetts Avenue). Incidents occurred primarily during the overnight hours and all involved unforced entry. Cash, GPS units, iPods, and glasses were taken.
A residential burglary occurred in the 7600 block of Carteret Road in Bethesda overnight between Friday, 7/11 and Saturday, 7/12. Forced entry; property taken.
A residential burglary occurred in the 7300 block of Millwood Road in Bethesda sometime between Saturday, 7/12 and Sunday, 7/13. No forced entry; property taken.
A residential burglary occurred in the 8900 block of Charred Oak Drive in Bethesda sometime between Friday, 7/11 and Saturday, 7/12. No forced entry; property taken.
A residential burglary occurred in the 10600 block of Democracy Boulevard in Bethesda on Monday, 7/14 between 12:20 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. Forced entry; property taken.
Four thefts from vehicles occurred in the 8500 block of River Road in Bethesda. During the daytime hours on Saturday, 7/12, entry was gained into four unlocked vehicles parked at Congressional Country Club. Laptops and wallets left inside were taken.
A month after threatening the federal government with legal action over the Purple Line light rail, an environmental group and many of the same Chevy Chase residents have done the same to the state of Maryland.
The Center for Sustainable Economy, Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, and 16 individuals including a member of the Town of Chevy Chase Council have filed a Notice of Intent to sue state agencies for what the group says is the state’s violation of its own endangered species law.
At issue again is the existence of three types of amphipods, shrimp-like creatures known to live in the area’s streams that serve as an indicator of good water quality and healthy ecosystems. The group claims the state hasn’t adequately taken into account how construction and operation of the Purple Line would harm seven springs and seeps, plus two wetland areas in the path of the project or downstream.
“While this letter is a statutorily mandated precursor to filing a lawsuit, my clients are far more interested in the development and implementation of a conservation plan for protection of the endangered amphipods and their habitat than they are in litigation,” wrote Rockville-based attorney David Brown, who’s representing the group.
The notice letter cites research from American University biology professor David Culver, who the group claims has found evidence that the shrimp-like critters live in stream areas that would be directly affected — and perhaps wiped out — by construction of the 16-mile light rail through Chevy Chase.
The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail hired Culver to conduct surveying for amphipods with a $15,000 grant from the Town of Chevy Chase, which is officially opposed to the Purple Line.
Culver is scheduled to go back out to the streams in the fall to survey for the creatures.
Also in the notice letter is a second expert opinion from Dr. David Berg, a biology professor at Miami University of Ohio who specializes in freshwater invertebrates, including amphipods.
Maryland has formally listed the Hay’s Spring and Kenk’s amphipods as endangered. The Kenk’s amphipod is still only a candidate for endangered species under federal law.
Not included in the notice letter to the state (see PDF below) is the Center for Biological Diversity, a major national organization that boasts 775,000 members that is a part of the complaint against the federal government.
The Center for Biological Diversity drew criticism from some Purple Line supporters, who said they were surprised to see such a major environmental organization opposed to a major transit project.
Also on Thursday, Town of Chevy Chase resident Christine Real de Azua urged the Planning Board to let developers in Chevy Chase Lake know that they should be responsible for protecting the amphipods, or face legal action.
The Board on Thursday approved the sketch plan for a 392 apartment and townhouse units on Chevy Chase Lake Drive, on the existing site of a series of two-story garden apartments.
While environmental steps aren’t ironed out in the sketch plan stage of the approval process, Real de Azua said planners should let the developer know of the amphipod issue. Planners have already told the developer that some efforts might need to be taken to protect a local population of herons:
But additional adjustments may be needed for amphipod protection, and traditional “rip-rap” rock and wire, or other bank stabilization may destroy stream bank seeps that are amphipod habitat. In short, the appropriate steps to protect the amphipods have yet to be determined. It is therefore important that the applicant be made aware through this Sketch Plan review process that the current proposed scale and configuration of this project is subordinate to the protection of all Endangered or otherwise protected species threatened by the project, not just the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron.
In the notice letter, the group said the specific locations of the at-risk seeps and springs found by Culver were redacted “out of concern for the integrity of the amphipod habitat.”
Residents part of the notice letter include Real de Azua, environmental attorney John Fitzgerald and Town of Chevy Chase Councilmember John Bickerman.
Photos via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological Diversity
Politicians, Blogger Blame Media For Low Voter Turnout – After a paltry 16 percent of Montgomery County registered voters showed up for last month’s gubernatorial primary, the County Council on Tuesday used a session on voting reforms to reflect on why there’s such voter apathy for local elections. Some blamed the lack of media coverage. One blogger, Center Maryland’s Josh Kurtz, wrote the media was partly to blame, but so were other factors including a “minor league” field of candidates. [Center Maryland] [Washington Post]
County Official: The Bethesda I Know Is Not Snobby – A real estate website recently named Bethesda the No. 2 “snobbiest” small city in the U.S., something which the county’s lead official in Bethesda made clear he doesn’t agree with. Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, wrote in a regular Regional Services Center email that “the words ‘snobby’ and ‘snooty’ are inappropriate and unfair adjectives for our local communities of Rockville and Bethesda.” Rockville was also on the top-10 list. Hartman listed about a dozen local organizations and nonprofits that he said prove just how inaccurate the list was. [Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center]
Planning Board Approves Chevy Chase Lake Development – The Planning Board on Thursday approved the first development project to come as a result of the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan. The sketch plan would allow for up to 329 apartment and townhouse units on the existing site of HOC-controlled affordable housing. [Planning Board]
Flickr photo by Danny Fowler
According to WTOP, the Dave & Buster’s at White Flint Mall lost its court fight against the mall’s owners this week.
A federal judge agreed with White Flint Mall that Dave & Buster’s violated a requirement that prevented it from opening another restaurant location at Arundel Mills Mall in 2006. The judge, Roger Titus, also threw out Dave & Buster’s challenge to an eviction the landlord apparently issued.
The court fight started when Dave & Buster’s sued White Flint Mall for what it claimed was a violation of its lease because of the mall’s redevelopment plans. Lord & Taylor filed a similar suit last summer.
Construction on the gleaming new office building at 4500 East-West Highway is nearing its conclusion, but in another sign of the area’s struggling office market, the building doesn’t yet have any tenants.
The nine-story building from Carr Properties includes 220,000-square-feet of Class A office space, an expansive rooftop terrace, green roof and bike storage area that developers promoted as an environmentally-friendly future landmark in Bethesda.
It will be delivered in September, said Transwestern’s Phil McCarthy, who’s handling leasing for the property.
McCarthy said there’s been “a good deal of activity,” for the property, but no leases signed yet.
McCarthy pointed to leasing activity at the renovated Akridge Class A office building nearby (7550 Wisconsin Ave.). That building is about 70 percent leased after sitting vacant for nearly eight years before Akridge and Rockwood Capital bought it for $12.5 million in a federal auction in 2010.
There are 190 office properties totaling 8.3 million square feet in downtown Bethesda, according to the Montgomery County Planning Department. Nearly half of that inventory is in 19 large Class A office buildings in the Central Business District.
At the end of 2013, the average office vacancy rate in downtown Bethesda was 10.7 percent. Infill properties long ago envisioned as new offices in Bethesda’s “Metro Core” are now being pitched as mixed use residential buildings.
There was, however, some more good news earlier this month for property owners with office space in North Bethesda/White Flint. Bank of America Merrill Lynch announced it had signed on for 40,000 square feet of Federal Realty’s new 80,000-square-foot Class A office building part of Phase 1 of the Pike & Rose project.
A Federal Realty official said the building would be up to 75 percent leased by the time it opened.
As for 4500 East-West Highway, Transwestern is also looking for a replacement for the one tenant many thought would stay — a McDonald’s that became a landmark of its own before being demolished to make way for the project.
McCarthy said Transwestern is looking “for a high quality restaurant which would be an amenity for tenants in the building and the neighborhood,” something that might disappoint lunch-seekers from nearby Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.
Beginning Friday at 7 p.m., SHA’s contractor for the work will begin the final paving for the project at Bradley Boulevard and Strathmore Street in Chevy Chase. Weather permitting, the removal of the top layer of asphalt, resurfacing and painting of new pavement markings should be done by noon on Sunday.
Parking restrictions may be in effect during the work and the SHA wants neighbors to know the work can be loud and disruptive. The resurfacing will mean a single lane closure, possibly in both directions throughout the weekend.
More than 22,000 vehicles use the section of Bradley Boulevard a day, which is also a popular pedestrian crossing spot for those traveling from apartments and condos to downtown Bethesda.
The $425,000 project includes the installation of a flashing signal for pedestrians wishing to cross Bradley Boulevard and the installation of a median.
The SHA contractor for the project is D.C.-based Fort Meyer Construction.
Website: Bethesda The No. 2 ‘Snobbiest’ Small City In America – The latest city ranking list from real estate website Movoto uses media home prices, household income, college degree rates, private school numbers and fast food restaurant numbers to decide which is the “snobbiest” small city in the U.S. Bethesda comes in No. 2, Rockville in a “tie” for No. 8. [Movoto]
Youth Soccer League Sues BOE Over Field Selection Process – The MSI youth soccer league is suing the Board of Education over its bidding process for three high school turf fields around the county. According to MSI, officials part of the school system’s process were biased in favor of other leagues because of personal connections and because the leagues chosen represented wealthier communities. [Bethesda Magazine]
British Man Gets Year In Prison For Ripping Off Bethesda Company – Darren Oliver Raymond Charles Defoe, 40, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for ripping off $275,000 in rented equipment from Bethesda film production company Visual Edge Productions. Defoe and a co-defendant pleaded guilty to providing bogus insurance information before taking the rented cameras, lenses, tripods and batteries straight to Dulles Airport and on a plane back to the United Kingdom. [The Gazette]
Paul Peditto, from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said the department got a call from Montgomery County Police about the sighting, which happened at about 2:30 p.m.
Reader Stephen Shaffer got an email from his wife Barbara at 2:35 p.m. in which she described seeing the bear on Tuckerman Lane before it ran into the Luxmanor neighborhood. She called police, who said they were getting to the area.
As many learned during last month’s high profile incident involving a black bear at NIH, a black bear sighting in populated areas of Montgomery County is rare but not a complete surprise. Peditto said DNR has gotten recent reports of sightings from all around Rockville, mostly from the Tower Oaks section of office buildings just east of I-270 and north of Montrose Parkway.
“So we know there’s one wandering around that area right now,” Peditto said. “If you’re near it and you have reason to be concerned, literally clap your hands and make noise. Don’t run. If you clap your hands and make noise the bear’s going to run away. It’s more afraid of us then we should be afraid of them.”
In the NIH incident, Peditto and other DNR officials scared a black bear off a tree limb before tranquilizing it and returning it to a more appropriate habitat in a wildlife management area in western Montgomery County.
Peditto also advised to avoid putting out anything that could serve as an attraction to the bear, such as birdfeeders, barbecue grills and trash.
“Anything that has a scent to it,” Peditto said. “Bears have a remarkable, if not one of the best senses of smell of any of the wildlife in our region.”
The Town of Chevy Chase Council voted on July 9 to submit a Maryland Public Information Act request to the Maryland Transit Administration asking for “the methodology and models used to develop ridership estimates for the proposed $2.37 billion light rail system.”
The Town, which is officially opposed to the Purple Line, said past requests to MTA for the data were refused, as the state cited “proprietary issues of the engineering firm [Parsons Brinckerhoff] that was paid to conduct the research.”
MTA officials weren’t immediately available for comment Wednesday.
The firm projected riders on the 16-mile Purple Line would make up to 68,000 trips daily. But the Town of Chevy Chase, apparently buoyed by a recent anti-Purple Line column from the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady, questioned if the numbers in the final environmental impact statement “were revised from previous estimates in response to concerns expressed by state officials about underestimations.”
The Town’s press release cited O’Grady’s column, which questioned if the ridership projections were overinflated and if the state should instead pursue a bus rapid transit network near the proposed Purple Line route.
In 2008, around the time of the Purple Line’s draft environmental impact statement, Purple Line officials said planners increased all daily ridership estimates by 20,000 to take into account potential Purple Line trips made by Metro and MARC riders.
“The justification for the Purple Line light rail train is reminiscent of the wildly inaccurate process used to estimate ridership on the Intercounty Connector,” said Town of Chevy Chase Vice Mayor Pat Burda.
The Intercounty Connector, a state highway built to connect Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, has fallen short of toll revenue forecasts made in 2005, when state lawmakers voted to increase the state’s debt to build it. Those forecasts have since been revised downward.
“These ridership numbers have changed over time yet have been substantially endorsed and quoted as valid by advocates and elected officials,” Burda said. “Since past efforts to access this information have been rebuffed, we are pursuing an official inquiry through the public information act process.”
The Town of Chevy Chase earlier this year entered into a $350,000 contract with a group of lobbying firms to work against the planned Purple Line route, which in Chevy Chase would run along the existing Georgetown Branch Extension of the Capital Crescent Trail.
The Town also donated $10,000 to a nonprofit group to finance a study of endangered critters the group said would be harmed by the construction of the light rail.
That group recently joined with a major environmental organization in threatening the federal government with a lawsuit if it doesn’t perform more environmental studies of the area. The Federal Transit Administration endorsed the Purple Line project earlier this year when it issued its Record of Decision on the MTA’s final environmental impact statement.
The MTA hopes to pick a private concessionaire to help build and to operate the Purple Line, with construction starting in 2015.
Rendering via MTA
After a few months of embarrassing revelations about members’ use of school system-issued credit cards, an ad hoc committee of the Board of Education on Tuesday recommended substantial changes.
The committee recommended eliminating the usage of school system-issued credit cards by Board members, implementing a per diem for members attending professional conferences, limiting home office expenses for Board members and establishing a list of pre-approved public events Board members can attend.
The committee also released a report from attorney Karl Racine of the Venable law firm, who concluded that while the Board’s credit card and expenses rules are weak and ambiguous, there is no evidence that members intentionally used school system-issued credit cards for personal expenses.
Board member Chris Barclay repaid the school system more than $1,900 to cover 16 unauthorized charges over five years. An additional batch of records released by the school system in June showed Barclay and Board member Rebecca Smondrowski charged for hotel stays and room service in D.C. during a conference, despite living within easy driving distance.
The recommendations will go to the full Board of Education on July 28 for review and a vote.
“The Board of Education takes its responsibility seriously and we want to make sure that we are being good stewards of public dollars,” Board of Education President Phil Kauffman said in a prepared press release on Tuesday. “Our review process has shown that we clearly need to improve the review and approval process of Board member expenses. I think our recommendations today will go a long way in ensuring that we have good processes in place to manage expenses.”
The specific recommendations follow, from MCPS:
1. Removal of Credit Card Authorization. The Ad Hoc Committee recommends that Board members not have credit cards, even for the purposes of authorized travel outside of Montgomery County. Board administrative staff may continue to use purchase cards for authorized purchases.
2. Per Diem on Authorized Travel. The Ad Hoc Committee recommends providing Board members a per diem for nonlocal travel. In some cases, the per diem may be given to Board members in advance of travel in an amount not to exceed the per diem allowed for the trip.
3. Home Office. The Ad Hoc Committee recommends that Board Members still be provided with the necessary equipment and supplies to maintain home offices, but that the Board no longer grant reimbursements for home office internet service.
4. Development of List of Pre-approved Events/Meetings for Board Members. The Ad Hoc Committee developed a recommended list of conferences, events and meetings that Board members would be authorized to attend or travel to for 2014-2015.
5. Semiannual Reports. The Ad Hoc Committee recommends that the Board’s Fiscal Management Committee review, on a semiannual basis, summary reports on the status of expenditures by Board members and the Board office. The full Board will receive the reports in their regular Board packets as items of information.
Irina Tsyrlova, a 63-year-old resident of the 6300 block of Swords Way, was charged with passing a vehicle stopped for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, 2nd District Commander Capt. David Falcinelli said.
According to reports, Tsyrlova remained on scene, sobbing on the curb after hitting the girl, who was biking in a crosswalk at Kings Riding Way. The girl was taken to a local hospital with what were reported as life threatening injuries.
Falcinelli said the girl was released from the hospital on Sunday.
According to the driver who stopped at the crosswalk, Tsyrlova drove around him and hit the girl, dragging her along the road.
The crosswalk is part of the Bethesda Trolley Trail, which extends from downtown Bethesda to Woodglen Drive in North Bethesda.
Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, wrote in a weekly email that new flashing lights are currently under construction at the crosswalk, but not yet operational.
“We remind all drivers to approach crosswalks with caution. No one wants to be the cause of another’s tragedy,” Hartman wrote. “When cars are stopped at a crosswalk ahead or the next lane over, there is abundant reason to slow down and proceed with extreme caution.”
Bethesda Church Donates Money To Gaza – The Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church recently wired $2,000 from the church’s mission budget to a Jerusalem-based charity that says it’s using the money for a private hospital in Gaza. Hamas, which controls the territory, is in an intense military conflict with Israel. A church official said the congregation hooked up with the charity five years ago because of its concern for residents of Gaza. The congregation raised another $1,350 for the charity – the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem — on Sunday and a church official says members are raising more. [The Gazette]
County Websites Go Mobile – Montgomery County recently debuted cell-phone versions of three county websites: The general Montgomery County government site, a mobile 311 site that allows users to open new service requests and track existing ones and the county’s Storm Operations Site. [Montgomery County]
Outdoor Concerts Rescheduled – Two rained out outdoor concerts set for Veterans Park have been rescheduled for Aug. 7 (Levi Stephens) and Aug. 14 (Gary and the Groove). The concerts, organized by the Bethesda Urban Partnership, happen each Thursday evening throughout the summer. [Bethesda Urban Partnership]
Flickr photo by Danny Fowler
Montgomery County planners were hoping last week’s Streetsense-hosted party would introduce millennials to the downtown Bethesda planning process with the promise of free food, drink and cornhole.
After a few hundred showed up last Wednesday, planners now hope they can keep them interested.
“This was as much to share information, hear their questions and encourage them to be involved in the fall,” said Margaret Rifkin, part of the Planning Department’s team working on the Bethesda Downtown Plan. “We wanted to engage and invite people to be in our feedback loop in the fall, so we weren’t going out with specific questions about planning from our point of view.”
The event was organized by Streetsense, a brokerage, design and development company with a sprawling office at Bethesda Metro Center, after the Planning Department approached the company and developer JBG about more age-targeted outreach.
Until last week, planners hadn’t been able to get much of a response or input from millennials in sessions about the Bethesda Downtown Plan, which will bring new zoning and land use guidelines for the next 20-25 years of Bethesda development.
Streetsense did some basic surveying of what attendees would like to see more of in downtown Bethesda, information that Rifkin said the firm will provide planners in a few weeks.
She said it’s hard to know what portion of attendees work in downtown Bethesda, live in downtown Bethesda, work and live in downtown Bethesda or were representing event sponsors. The event was co-sponsored by Chevy Chase-based developer JBG and Bethesda-based Clark Construction.
“My perception was we got a very good complement of people who were work in downtown Bethesda and a small number who live there and we had just a few who both live and work in Bethesda,” Rifkin said. “But that’s just our staff circulating and talking with people. My feeling is this was a wonderful way to put out a wide net.”
Planners displayed the concept framework plan, a preliminary idea of where new development, parks and open spaces might go. Planners are expected to present their final work to the Planning Board this fall, which is expected to send it up to the County Council in the winter.
“We were really pleased with the number of people who came over to talk with our staff at length about the framework,” Rifkin said. “Although we know that many people would go anywhere for free food, we had a really good number of people who were genuinely interested.”
Photo via Montgomery County Planning Department
The savings and the potential to save $3.4 million annually were outlined in a memo this month from Finance Director Joseph Beach to Councilmember Nancy Navarro. Navarro chairs the Council’s Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee, which set up the county’s Property Tax Compliance Office in 2012.
Navarro said that office has since worked to identify the correct tax status of residential properties. The office found many properties from absentee owners that were receiving tax credits — the county’s Homestead Credit and Income Tax Offset Credit — that only owner-occupants are eligible for.
According to a Council press release, the office has identified nearly 4,900 ineligible accounts, based on its review of rental housing lists maintained by the Department of Housing and Community Affairs. The office cross-checked those lists with the State Department of Assessments and Taxation to see which accounts were improperly claiming the credit.
The Homestead Credit limits an owner-occupied property’s taxable assessment to a 10 percent increase each year. The Income Tax Offset Credit for 2014 is $692.
County staff says the continued tracking of tax status could mean added additional revenue of $3.4 million per year — though the Council press release claimed the office’s ability to correct the status of more properties depends on the state’s ability “to keep pace in updating its records.”