41°Rain

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 BethesdaNow.com — March 4, 2015 at 11:00 am 265 4 Comments

This biweekly column is written by Suzanne Lawter, Director of Community Outreach for Mutts Matter Rescue, a local nonprofit, all-volunteer dog rescue. Mutts Matter is a network of volunteers who love animals and want to make a difference by helping forgotten and discarded dogs find loving families. Since our founding in 2010, we have successfully rescued and placed more than 1,400 dogs in the local Washington Metropolitan area.

Sadie is a gorgeous young Pointer mix who is around 3-years-old and weighs about 65 pounds. Her black and white speckled coat is silky soft, and her pretty amber eyes reveal a gentle, sweet soul who is ready to come out of her shell. She is still a very timid dog who is slowly learning to trust people, and really needs a confident and patient owner to help her rehabilitate and work through her fears.

Mutts Matter Rescue bannerSadie came into rescue as part of puppy mill bust. She was found chained outside in the heat of summer with her three puppies, and had dug a hole in the ground to protect them from the elements. This sweet girl was trying to her best to be a good mom, but she was malnourished with very limited resources or ability to provide for her pups. Luckily, rescue came in time to free Sadie and save her babies. All three puppies have been successfully adopted to great homes, and now its Sadie’s turn.

When Sadie first came into foster care she shut down, preferring to hide in a corner or curl up in tight ball hoping to avoid all social interaction. Her foster parents have been working with her to build her confidence and introduce new things into Sadie’s life. She now proudly takes long walks around her neighborhood, and has formed a close bond with her foster mom, Heather.

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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 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 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 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 8:05 am 1,291 6 Comments

Flickr photo by ehpien

Pair Of Bethesda Row Restaurants Leaving – Parker’s (4824 Bethesda Avenue) and Tara Thai (4828 Bethesda Avenue) will both be leaving their Bethesda Row spots when their leases run out at the end of March. Parker’s is looking for a new location. [Bethesda Magazine]

Assisted Living Facilities Are Ousting Senior Residents – Springhouse of Bethesda (4925 Battery Lane) is closing by June 1 and 53 residents of the independent and assisted living facility must find new homes. The property owner, HCP Inc., is also selling its Springhouse Silver Spring property. Last year, it closed its Westbard location. Residents were offered moving expenses if they transferred to another of the company’s facilities but it’s unclear whether the company will make the same offer this time. The company is selling off a number of its properties. [The Gazette]

Education Budget Forums – Councilmember Craig Rice, MCPS Acting Chief Operating Officer Andrew Zuckerman and others are holding a series of forums around the county looking into the school system’s education budget. The forum closest to Bethesda will happen on March 23 at Churchill High School in Potomac. [Montgomery County Council]

BOE President Lashes Out Against Council Building Renovation – Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill criticized the County Council for considering a $31 million renovation project for the aging Council Office Building in Rockville. O’Neill argued the money should go to school construction. Council President George Leventhal countered by saying, “In the school system’s view, 100 percent of the budget should be available for school construction.” [Washington Post]

Flickr photo by ehpien

by Aaron Kraut — March 2, 2015 at 8:00 am 1,035 4 Comments

Icy tree on Cordell Avenue, Sunday

Reminder: No More Free Parking At New Garage – Today is the first day Montgomery County will charge those who park at its new Capital Crescent Garage (7171 Woodmont Avenue). The county opened the garage in January and allowed drivers to park for free until today. The cost will be 80-cents-per-hour from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Friday. [Montgomery County]

Marriott Will Move From Bethesda Headquarters – Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson said the hotel giant will move away from its Bethesda headquarters, now in an office park on Fernwood Road. The company’s lease is up at the spot in 2022 and Sorenson said he’s looking for a more Metro-accessible location. More than 2,000 people work at the Bethesda headquarters. Sorenson said he’s held informal discussions with leaders from other area jurisdictions about the move. Marriott posted a 2014 profit of $753 million. [Washington Post]

Prominent Bethesda Justice Department Lawyer Dies – Robert Saloschin, the Justice Department lawyer who pioneered the Freedom of Information Act, died last week. He was 95. Saloschin was also credited with curbing violence against Freedom Riders during the Civil Rights era by suggesting the use of the Interstate Commerce Commission. After his Justice Department career, he worked for Bethesda law firm Lerch, Early and Brewer. [The Gazette]

Teachers’ Union Wants School Funding Restored, Decrease In Mandated Testing – The Montgomery County Education Association and its statewide counterpart will host a public briefing and call to action on Wednesday on federally-mandated standardized testing in elementary schools and proposed cuts to state education funding. The event is set to take place at 6 p.m. at MCEA’s headquarters (12 Taft Court, Rockville). [MCEA]

by Aaron Kraut — March 2, 2015 at 4:50 am 811 3 Comments

The quarter-inch of ice that fell on Sunday across much of Montgomery County has led to the closure of Montgomery County Public Schools on Monday.

MCPS announced just before 5 a.m. that schools would be closed today, and all school and community activities in school buildings would be cancelled.

Administrative offices will open two hours late and day care programs in school buildings may open at 9 a.m.

It is the fifth day MCPS has cancelled school this winter, putting it over the four inclement weather days included in the schedule. That could mean MCPS will have to apply for a waiver from the state in order to not have to make up the day later this year.

A Dense Fog Advisory is in effect for much of the area until 9 a.m. Monday, which could make it more difficult to navigate ice-covered sidewalks, according to the National Weather Service.

by Aaron Kraut — February 27, 2015 at 2:10 pm 744 15 Comments

Montgomery County's liquor retail store in Chevy Chase

Complaints from restaurant owners about late and incomplete alcohol deliveries are one reason Montgomery County should get out of the alcohol distribution business, Councilmember Roger Berliner said Friday.

Berliner made the comments during the first meeting of the Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Liquor Control, referring to years of complaints from Bethesda restaurant owners in particular.

Montgomery County operates under a unique control model in which a county agency called the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) must distribute all alcohol products to restaurants and beer and wine stores, effectively acting as a wholesaler.

Over the rest of 2015, the committee will review a number of recommendations — including full privatization, a few hybrid approaches or fixes to improve DLC’s operations — for dealing with what has recently been a controversial issue.

Berliner said he spoke to a restaurant owner a week ago who said he made a special order of 45 cases of wine. DLC delivered just five cases.

“I really feel like we’ve got to get out of the way here,” Berliner said. “We are not providing a service to our community. We are providing a disservice to our community.”

Much of the first of four scheduled committee sessions focused on how DLC handles special orders of less common craft beers or special wines, since it’s the primary source of complaints from restaurants and beer and wine store owners.

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by Aaron Kraut — February 27, 2015 at 11:30 am 260 0

Police say a homeless man assaulted someone at the Bethesda North Marriott and Conference Center. That and the rest of the most recent 2nd District crime summary follows:

An aggravated assault occurred at the Marriott Conference Center, 5701 Marinelli Road in North Bethesda on Wednesday, 2/11 at 8:30 a.m. The suspect assaulted the victim, then fled.

Suspect: Black male, older in age, 6’2″/180 lbs., beard; homeless.

Three thefts from vehicles occurred in this beat during this reporting period. Incidents occurred on Montgomery Ave and St. Elmo Ave in Bethesda and on Fairglen Lane in Chevy Chase. Items taken included cash, glasses, chargers and an iPad.

Ten thefts from vehicles occurred in this beat during this reporting period. Incidents occurred on Walhounding Road, Wissioming Road, Broxburn Drive, and Ben Avon Road in Bethesda.

A residential burglary occurred in the 6700 block of Newbold Drive in Bethesda sometime between Wednesday, 2/11 and Friday, 2/13. Unknown entry; property taken.

An armed robbery occurred in the 8800 block of Clewerwall Drive in Bethesda on Monday, 2/16 at 5:30 p.m. The suspects threatened the victims with a weapon and obtained property.

Suspects: Two white males, 30′s, 6′-6’2″, each in black clothing

by Aaron Kraut — February 27, 2015 at 10:25 am 223 0

View of proposed of B-CC High School addition, which could start next year depending on state and county school construction budgets, via mCPS

Montgomery County Public Schools tabbed a well-known regional economic expert to show how a fully-funded schools budget would help the local and state economy.

The school system is facing state education funding cuts, a Montgomery County budget shortfall and an uphill fight in Annapolis for a state bond bill that would provide $20 million in annual construction funds.

To help make its case, MCPS hired George Mason University professor Stephen Fuller to do a study on how its $2.7 billion in operating and construction budget requests for FY 2016 would impact the economy.

If the County Council fully funds the school system’s operating budget request and the state legislature approves the construction bill, Fuller found that MCPS spending would contribute $3.2 billion to the county economy and $4.1 billion to the state economy.

“What this study does is demonstrate that for every dollar our community invests in MCPS, there is a significant economic benefit as well,” Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill said in a press release. “For every dollar that is invested, we generate $1.50 for the state economy.”

The study also found that MCPS would generate $711 million in new personal earnings to county workers beyond MCPS employee salaries and support 17,388 full-time, year-round jobs locally and elsewhere. A little more than 9,000 of those jobs would be held by workers who live in the county.

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by Aaron Kraut — February 27, 2015 at 8:30 am 267 1 Comment

Cumulus/WMAL radio tower site on Fernwood Road

MoCo May Buy Radio Tower Site – Councilmember Roger Berliner says he has asked County Executive Isiah Leggett to consider buying the 75-acre piece of land in Bethesda known as the WMAL radio tower transmitter site. Berliner said he asked Leggett to reach out to MCPS, Montgomery Parks and the state government to see whether there’s a way to “collectively come together” to purchase the land and use it for a new school, park or other government service. The land could sell for more than $75 million and is zoned residential. [Montgomery Sentinel]

Post-Labor Day School Start Bill – Comptroller Peter Franchot on Thursday testified in favor of a bill that would prohibit local school districts from starting the school year before Labor Day. Franchot said the idea to start school after Labor Day has the public’s support and the only ones against it are the “education elite, bureaucrats, superintendents.” State and Montgomery County education officials say the bill would mean the school year could end later in June or even July if there are enough snow days. Former MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr criticized Franchot’s effort on Twitter. [WTOP] [@JoshuaPStarr]

Bus Rapid Transit Map Of The Future? – Pro-transit website Greater Greater Washington designed a map of what Montgomery County’s future Rapid Transit System (RTS) could look like. The master planned version of the 355 Corridor would terminate at the Bethesda Metro station, not Friendship Heights as shown in the map. At 9 a.m. on Saturday, Montgomery County will host a general kick-off meeting of all the RTS corridor advisory committees at the Executive Office Building in Rockville. [Greater Greater Washington] [Montgomery County]

Floreen Talks Politicts, Governing With Van Hollen – At-large Councilmember Nancy Floreen sat down with Rep. Chris Van Hollen at Black Market Bistro in Garrett Park for a conversation about governing, Metro and many of the political challenges facing the county. [Montgomery County Council via YouTube]

by Aaron Kraut — February 26, 2015 at 3:20 pm 317 3 Comments

Uber DC, Flickr photo via MikeAs County Council members continue to tweak a set of bills to regulate companies like Uber and Lyft, lawmakers in Annapolis could propose legislation that would preempt the debate.

It appears a state senator from Baltimore is ready to propose a bill that would create new regulations for app-based ride services similar to those recently enacted in D.C. and Virginia.

State Sen. Bill Ferguson could introduce a bill similar to one that was withdrawn last year, which would create a set of licensing and background check requirements for Uber drivers separate from those imposed on taxi cab companies.

That bill, if passed in this year’s General Assembly, would likely preempt the County Council from regulating Transportation Network Companies such as Uber, according to a Council staff report prepared for Friday’s Transportation Committee worksession.

The committee will also have to wrestle with regulations being considered by the state’s Public Service Commission.

On Thursday, the Public Service Commission announced that it had approved a settlement with Uber over its UberBlack and UberSUV services.

The settlement doesn’t cover Uber’s more popular UberX service. Last week, Uber said the PSC is considering new rules for UberX that would “stifle our ability to operate, and make convenient rides less reliable and more costly.”

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