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by Aaron Kraut — December 19, 2014 at 4:35 pm 0

Bear climbs down tree near NIH/Medical Center Metro (file photo) Clyde's Tower Oaks Lodge restaurant, via Facebook I-270 shut down in March as police search for bank robbery suspects, via TrafficLand.com

As 2015 approaches, we’ll look back at 2014 by reviewing some of the top local stories and trends that defined Bethesda this year.

First, what was popular? Following are BethesdaNow.com’s top five most read stories in 2014. Check back next week for more, including a look at the storylines that could be prominent in 2015:

No. 5 | Vince & Dominic’s Closes After 31 Years In Bethesda | 8,006 pageviews 

The venerable pizza shop certainly wasn’t fancy, which many of its longtime fans seemed to appreciate. The shop, stuffed into a strip shopping center near a Home Depot, closed in May after claiming its landlord decided not to renew its lease. That set off an outpouring of love for the place known for its simple menu and Kosher for Passover pizzas.

No. 4 | Cops Stop Traffic On I-270 To Catch Bank Robbery Suspects | 11,946 pageviews

A group of alleged bank robbers were heading south on I-270 near the Capital Beltway when police decided to use an unusual tactic to catch them: Stop traffic on both ways of the busy highway and search car-by-car.

Though police wouldn’t confirm it at the time, the bag of stolen cash had a GPS locator in it. That allowed authorities to know roughly where the alleged robbers were. Police said that when the suspects realized why traffic was stopped, they tossed the bag of cash in a dump truck nearby.

No. 3 | Bear Gets Stuck In A Tree At NIH | 13,865 pageviews

A black bear that had strayed too far south sparked a minor sensation when it got scared, climbed up a large tree at the NIH campus and then refused to come down until scared from its perch by firecrackers.

After an hours-long standoff, and with a gaggle of reporters hoping to catch the bear’s every move, the animal was finally tranquilized by Department of Natural Resources officials and safely returned to a more suitable habitat far away from Bethesda. In the meantime, someone started an NIH Bear Twitter account that exists to this day.

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by Aaron Kraut — December 19, 2014 at 4:00 pm 270 0

Photo via @mcfrsPIO

Updated at 5:05 p.m. – Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service units are on the scene of an outdoor natural gas line break in the Friendship Heights section of Chevy Chase.

The gas line break was reported near the intersection of Willard Avenue and Shoemaker Farm Lane just before 4 p.m. It was apparently the result of work from a construction crew on-site.

Shoemaker Farm Lane and Willard Avenue are shut down as MCFRS responds. Willard Avenue has been shut down west of Wisconsin Avenue all the way to its intersection with North Park Avenue.

MCFRS spokesperson Pete Piringer said less than 12 people in buildings near the gas leak have been evacuated.

The area is being cleared until gas company officials can turn off the line.

Photo via @mcfrsPIO

by Aaron Kraut — December 19, 2014 at 3:20 pm 601 4 Comments

The Chase At Bethesda, via The Chase at Bethesda(Updated at 3:55 p.m.) The Board of Directors at a luxury Bethesda condo claims a man climbed up the outside of the building and entered an unlocked unit last weekend.

According to an alert sent to all residents at The Chase at Bethesda (7500 Woodmont Avenue), the incident took place in the early morning hours of Saturday, Dec. 13.

The man, apparently drunk, got into a unit on the fifth floor of the building by climbing up the balconies “until he found a balcony that was unlocked.”

Montgomery County Police were notified of the incident and the Board told residents that it is working closely with the department. There were no signs of forced entry into the unit.

Capt. David Falcinelli, commander of the Montgomery County’s 2nd Police District, said police were told the suspect was known to the security officer at the building. It was treated as a trespassing with a written report but no arrest.

“It is not an ongoing issue where the public needs to worry,” Falcinelli said.

The full text of the alert is after the jump:

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by Aaron Kraut — December 19, 2014 at 8:45 am 0

Flickr photo by ehpien

Sentencing Postponed On Montgomery Mall Road Rage Stabbing – A Potomac man convicted in a road rage-fueled double stabbing last year at Westfield Montgomery mall had his sentencing postponed until Jan. 13 on Thursday. David B. Goldberg faces up to 165 years in prison for nine charges related to the incident in November 2013. On Thursday, his original sentencing date, his attorney asked the court to group all the charges together for a maximum sentence of 20 years. The attorney also filed a motion for a new trial. [Montgomery Community Media]

MoCo To Freeze Hiring, Most Spending – The Montgomery County government, facing a projected $179 million budget shortfall, will freeze most hiring and spending for the rest of this fiscal year. Chief Administrative Officer Timothy Firestine outlined the moves in a series of memos this week, telling department heads to expect a 3 percent spending cut for next fiscal year. [Washington Post]

Online Feedback Loop Deadline Today – Friday is the last day to comment on the Planning Department’s “feedback loop” regarding the concepts for downtown Bethesda presented last week. While preliminary, it’s likely many of the concepts will make up the recommendations that planning staff send to the Planning Board. [Planning Department]

Flickr photo by ehpien

by Aaron Kraut — December 18, 2014 at 3:25 pm 647 18 Comments

Planning Board members on Thursday had some suggestions for staff who were involved in a contentious November meeting with Westbard residents about the future of the area.

“It was a long week of work. I felt you guys were very tired,” said Planning Board Commissioner Natali Fani-Gonzalez. “It may seem like a simple thing but it showed.”

Fani-Gonzalez attended the Nov. 18 meeting, during which the vast majority of residents who stood up to ask questions and make comments derided the planning staff’s preliminary ideas for allowing mixed-use redevelopment along stretches of River Road and Westbard Avenue.

One man didn’t leave the microphone until planners attempted three different responses to his assertion that the plan was a “giveaway” to developers.

Others chose not to wait for their turn at the microphone, frequently yelling out while planners were attempting to respond to concerns.

“You want people to respect you, then you have to show more professionalism,” Fani-Gonzalez said on Thursday. “I have to say it.”

Fani-Gonzalez, the newest Planning Board commissioner, said she didn’t like how planners made comparisons to other areas of the county, such as Rockville. She also thought planners should’ve been more quick to explain existing problem areas in Westbard, especially when residents asked why the county wanted to allow any changes at all in its zoning and development patterns.

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by Aaron Kraut — December 18, 2014 at 1:35 pm 188 0

Police arrested a man they say was shooting at an inanimate object in a neighborhood near Old Georgetown Road. That and the rest of the most recent 2nd District crime summary follows:

A weapons offense occurred in the 6300 block of Huntover Lane in Rockville on Sunday, 12/7 at approximately noon. The suspect discharged a weapon at an inanimate object in a residential area.

Arrested: Male, age 47, from Rockville

A bank robbery occurred at M&T Bank, 10400 block of Montgomery Lane in Bethesda on Tuesday, 12/9 just before noon. The armed suspect obtained proceeds and fled.

Suspect: White male, 45-50, 5’8″-6′/heavyset, wearing black clothing and a black ski mask

A commercial robbery occurred at Gap, 5430 Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase on Tuesday, 12/9 just after 7:00 p.m. The suspects assaulted the victim and obtained property.

A residential burglary occurred in the 9400 block of Rosehill Drive in Bethesda on Friday, 12/5 at 11:50 a.m. Forced entry; unknown what was taken.

Arrested: Male, age 37, from Alexandria, VA; male, age 38, from Springfield, VA

An attempted commercial burglary occurred at First Clinic, 9800 Falls Road in Potomac on Monday, 12/8 at 8:45 a.m. Attempted forced entry; nothing taken.

A sexual assault occurred in the 8000 block of Quarry Ridge Way in Bethesda on Saturday, 12/6 at an unknown time. The suspect is known to the victim.

by Aaron Kraut — December 18, 2014 at 12:40 pm 568 6 Comments

Police say a pair of suspects used stolen or lost credit cards to buy more than $8,500 worth of gift cards in eight minutes from a local Target store.

On Thursday, police released the above surveillance video of the suspects in an effort to identify them.

Police said that on Dec. 5, the 39-year-old victim of the fraud was eating dinner in the White Flint area of North Bethesda when she started getting phone calls and text messages from her credit card companies.

Credit card fraud suspects, via MCPThe messages were alerting her to large purchases being made on her cards: $4,000 to a Visa card, $4,000 to an American Express card and $530.05 to a MasterCard. At that point, the victim looked into her purse and realized her wallet was gone.

Police said detectives are still investigating whether the wallet and credit cards were lost or stolen.

But the investigation revealed that those cards were used nearby at the Target store at 5700 Bou Avenue, in the Montrose Crossing Shopping Center.

Police said that the two female suspects are shown entering the Target at about 7:20 p.m. Four minutes later, they approach the check-out line. At 7:28 p.m., they are shown leaving the store.

In eight minutes, they racked up more than $8,500 in charges to purchase gift cards, police said.

Police are asking anyone who recognizes the two suspects to call the Montgomery County Police — Financial Crimes Section at 240-773-6338. For those who wish to remain anonymous, Crime Solvers is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for any information that leads to the arrest of these suspects. Call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477) or leave a Crime Solvers tip here. Tipsters will remain anonymous.

Video, photo via MCP

by Aaron Kraut — December 18, 2014 at 9:30 am 0

Suspect in attempted purse snatching on Friday in Bethesda, Photo via Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce/TwitterThe Bethesda area police commander says there will be extra officers in popular shopping areas such as Westfield Montgomery mall, Friendship Heights and downtown Bethesda during the last week of holiday shopping.

Second District Commander Capt. David Falcinelli provided a public safety update via email on Wednesday:

“For this last week, I will be deploying additional officers to heavy shopping areas such as Westfield Montgomery, downtown business district, and the shops along the DC line,” Falcinelli wrote.

He also wrote about the theft of packages from doorsteps, a common problem this time of year around the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area.

“If you are an Amazon Prime shopper like me, make arrangements to have packages delivered to a place where they can be picked up/taken inside immediately upon delivery, or make other arrangements with the shipper,” Falcinelli wrote. “There are people that will follow delivery vans around and take packages from front porches just minutes after they are delivered.”

He also provided an update on the attempted purse snatching last Friday on Bethesda Avenue.

A call to 911 and the quick distribution of a surveillance camera image of the suspect led to his arrest within hours, Falcinelli said.

The suspect apparently asked an employee at a Bethesda business if he could have a job, then made the attempt to steal her purse.

“He is a criminal with a past and remains in jail as of today,” Falcinelli said.

The man charged with the armed robbery of a victim who had just taken money out of an ATM at the Wildwood Shopping Center was also charged with some other robberies in the area, Falcinelli wrote.

Photo via Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce/Twitter

by Aaron Kraut — December 18, 2014 at 8:45 am 191 0

Storefronts along Cordell Avenue

CEO Of Firm Bidding On Purple Line Is Also On Hogan’s Transition Team – Jim Soltesz, president and CEO of the Rockville-based Soltesz civil engineering firm, was recently  named to Governor-elect Larry Hogan’s team of advisors during Hogan’s transition into the governor’s spot. Solstesz’s company is also part of a group bidding to design, operate and build the Purple Line. The Maryland Ethics Commission said that the state’s ethics law doesn’t apply to Soltesz in this case because he is not a public official or state employee. [Washington Post]

Nurse With Ebola Exposure Hasn’t Tested Positive For Virus – The nurse flown in to NIH’s Special Clinical Studies Unit last week hasn’t yet tested positive for the Ebola virus, despite a high-risk exposure while working in Sierra Leone. [NIH]

Leggett Public Input Hearings On Budget – County Executive Isiah Leggett will again appear at a series of public input sessions on next year’s operating budget. Leggett is scheduled to be in Bethesda on Monday, Jan. 26 starting at 7 p.m. The session will take place at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center (4802 Edgemoor Lane). [Montgomery County]

Planners To Review Westbard Progress – Planning staff working on the new Westbard Sector Plan will go over their progress so far with the Planning Board on Thursday. [Planning Board]

Purple Line Advocates Begin Email Writing Campaign – The Coalition for Smarter Growth, Action Committee for Transit and Purple Line NOW have begun an email writing campaign to Hogan’s office in support of the Purple Line, the 16-mile light rail the governor-elect has indicated he doesn’t support. [Coalition for Smarter Growth]

by Aaron Kraut — December 17, 2014 at 3:10 pm 491 1 Comment

(From left to right) Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Sen. Jeff Lake, Alan Gross and Sen. Patrick Leahy in Cuba with Gross on Wednesday morning, via Chris Van Hollen

Alan Gross’ release from a Cuban jail on Wednesday helped pave the way for an end to the diplomatic standoff between the U.S. and Cuba.

It also meant a lot for some in the Bethesda community who knew the Potomac man before he was arrested and imprisoned by the Cuban government in 2009.

“This is about helping Alan feel that we didn’t forget him,” said Union Hardware owner David Goldberg, who put up a banner reading “Welcome Home ALAN” above his Wisconsin Avenue storefront upon hearing the news.

"Welcome Home ALAN" sign from Union Hardware owner David Goldberg, who has known Alan Gross since high schoolWithin a few minutes, Goldberg said Gross got word of the sign and sent him this video message via a cellphone.

Goldberg said he first met Gross, 65, in high school and had stayed in touch as best as possible over the last five years. Gross, who was arrested by Cuban authorities for his work on behalf of the U.S. Agency for International Development, sent his condolences to Goldberg when Goldberg’s dad died a few years ago.

Gross was given a 15-year prison sentence and accused of spying for the U.S. His family and supporters have maintained that Gross was on an international development mission for USAID, helping small Jewish communities in Cuba develop internet access.

“What a blessing it is,” Gross said on Wednesday after returning to Washington. “Thank you President Obama for everything you have done today and leading up to today.”

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by Aaron Kraut — December 17, 2014 at 1:50 pm 456 2 Comments

David Goldberg, at the time of his arrest, photo via Montgomery County State's Attorney's OfficeSentencing is Thursday for a Potomac man convicted in August of nine charges related to the stabbing of two people in a Westfield Montgomery Mall parking lot in November 2013.

David B. Goldberg, 25, faces up to 165 years in prison for trying to run over two victims and later stabbing them after his vehicle almost hit the victim’s vehicle at a stop sign on the ring road that circles the mall.

In August, Goldberg was found guilty of attempted voluntary manslaughter, second degree assault, three counts of first degree assault and other charges stemming from incident, during which his two-year-old daughter was in the car, police said.

Police said Goldberg and the victims could be heard shouting expletives at each other before the stabbing happened. After the near-collision, police said victims Rachel Peterson and her boyfriend Clifton Botts, both of Potomac, followed Goldberg and got out of their car to approach Goldberg in his Mitsubishi, but Goldberg sped off.

After the couple parked in a nearby lot and started walking to the mall’s Sears store with their child and Peterson’s mother, they heard Goldberg racing toward them in his car.

Goldberg hit a parked car in the process, according to court documents, before again arguing with Botts and stabbing Botts in the upper back, left cheek and right bicep. Goldberg reportedly stabbed Peterson in the stomach as she was trying to break up the fight, sending her to the hospital with serious injuries.

Police said Goldberg then fled to the top of a nearby parking deck, where he was taken into custody and where police found a five-inch a folding knife which they believed to be the weapon.

The sentencing hearing is set for Thursday afternoon in Rockville.

Photo via Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office

by Aaron Kraut — December 17, 2014 at 11:25 am 310 9 Comments

Crews relocate the non-signalized crosswalk on Woodmont Avenue at Fairmont Avenue in July 2013 (file photo)Montgomery County wants to make pedestrian safety upgrades to Woodmont Avenue and will be checking out the busy road today to figure out what those may be.

Officials from the county’s Department of Transportation and planning firm STV will do the pedestrian safety audit on Wednesday and Thursday, according to Montgomery County’s Ken Hartman.

The county hired STV to provide engineering and architectural consulting services on the project.

Officials will walk Woodmont Avenue between Old Georgetown Road and Battery Lane in the morning, mid-day and evening “to determine what may affect pedestrian safety, such as crosswalks, sidewalks and obstacles that prevent drivers from seeing pedestrians,” Hartman wrote in a regular email update.

The group will submit a formal report of its findings to the county, which will then make public its plans for “what changes it will implement to improve pedestrian safety along the audited stretch of Woodmont Avenue.”

Last year, the county relocated and upgraded the non-signalized pedestrian crosswalk across Woodmont Avenue at Veterans Park, near the Eagle Bank building.

The crosswalk was moved to the north side of the road’s intersection with Fairmont Avenue, and a pedestrian refuge island was added in the middle of the street.

The crosswalk did include signs telling drivers they must stop when a pedestrian wanted to cross. But much like the situation in other non-signalized crosswalks around Bethesda, drivers often don’t yield.

by Aaron Kraut — December 17, 2014 at 9:05 am 442 9 Comments

Bethesda Metro, Flickr photo by Carl Holscher

White Flint P.F. Chang’s To Close Jan. 4 – And then there was one. The P.F. Chang’s restaurant at White Flint Mall is set to close on Jan. 4 to make way for the redevelopment of the mall. The only tenant left will be Lord & Taylor, the department store that’s suing the mall’s owners over their redevelopment plans. The mall owners don’t yet have county approval for their mixed-use, town-center project and don’t yet have a timeframe for the project to start. [Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row]

Gas Line Replacements To Affect Area – Washington Gas is planning to replace existing gas lines and install a new gas main along four streets in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, including Gloster Road, Drummond Avenue, Newport Avenue and Earlston Drive. The Newport Avenue and Earlston Drive project is set to start in the next few weeks while the others will happen in January and February. Gas in those areas will be off during the replacement, but no longer than one day. [Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center]

Walter Johnson Students Take Part In Christmas Special – Two dozen choral students at Walter Johnson High School took part in this year’s “Christmas In Washington” TV special, featuring President Barack Obama and benefiting the National Children’s Medical Center. The students sang back-up for Hunter Hayes, Rita Ora, Darius Rucker, Christina Perri and Aloe Blacc. The show will be broadcast at 8 p.m. on Friday on TNT.

D.C. Group To Oppose Pepco-Exelon Merger – A coalition of residents, business leaders and community advocates called Power DC will make their case against the proposed Pepco-Exelon merger on Wednesday evening, before the D.C. Public Service Commission’s first public hearing on the merger. Each jurisdiction’s public service commission must approve the $6.8 billion sale of Pepco Holdings Inc. to Chicago-based Exelon before it can be finalized. The Maryland Public Service Commission has yet to decide, but is hearing from groups wary that the merger might not benefit area residents. Pepco says the merger will mean reliability improvements and other advantages. [Power DC]

Flickr photo by Carl Holscher

by BethesdaNow.com — December 17, 2014 at 8:00 am 214 0

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.

As 2014 draws to a close, Mutts Matter Rescue would like to thank the BethesdaNow community and our network of dedicated volunteers for your support throughout the year. With your help, we saved more than 270 dogs this year and placed them in loving homes. We expanded our team of volunteers, added new foster families, and hopefully made folks more aware of the importance of dog rescue.

Mutts Matter Rescue bannerRescue is truly a community of volunteers, and we couldn’t do it without you. Whether you’ve helped by sharing our pups’ stories with your friends and family, donated to help cover veterinary costs, or opened your home to a rescue dog by fostering, it all makes a difference in saving these dogs’ lives.

Most of us have busy, demanding schedules here in the D.C. area, and taking some time out to help our little furry friends is not only a good thing to do, it’s rewarding too. Dogs change people’s lives in very real ways, and that is a great experience to be a part of.

Working in rescue, we get to see how these sweet pups impact the lives of their adopters. They give and receive love unconditionally, and comfort us in times of need. They’re the companion for the widow who just lost her husband of 30 years, or the playmate for the new kid in the neighborhood who is still learning how to fit in, or the glue that keeps your family connected as your kids grow up and start to spread their wings.

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by Aaron Kraut — December 16, 2014 at 2:20 pm 650 10 Comments

Bethesda Metro Center 3, photo via Boris Feldblyum

A key property owner on Bethesda’s Metro Plaza doesn’t think a new park to revitalize the spot is financially feasible without a new building to support it.

Simon Carney, regional counsel at Brookfield Properties, said the company’s idea to build a new building and new retail space on the plaza would be the best way to improve it.

“Our goal here is not to just to build a building, but it is to build something that is for the community and that has an organic feel to it,” Carney told members of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board on Monday.

Brookfield, which owns 3 Bethesda Metro Center, says it’s in the preliminary stages of designing a new building that would go in the center of the plaza near the Metro station’s bus bay escalators. Carney said the company hasn’t determined if that building would be residential, office, retail or some combination of those uses.

The desire to make the Metro Plaza a more welcoming and active civic space has been among the top issues discussed while planners revise the downtown area’s master plan.

Brookfield’s concept for a “Bethesda Central Park” would be behind the Hyatt hotel building, an idea that’s directly in contrast with a proposal from neighboring property owner Clark Enterprises.

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