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by Aaron Kraut — March 27, 2015 at 8:45 am 494 5 Comments

Flickr pool photo by John R Whitaker

Renovations Start Next Week For North Bethesda Restaurant – Helen’s The Bar hopes to open in the former Addie’s building at 11120 Rockville Pike over the summer. Addie’s and local restaurant owner Jeff Black left the spot because the landlord wouldn’t agree to a renovation plan. Helen Wasserman, a D.C. caterer taking it over, said renovations should begin next week. [Bethesda Magazine]

Norwood School 5K Run/Walk – The Norwood School (8821 River Road) is hosting a 5K Run/Walk on April 12 to raise money for Horizons Greater Washington. The nonprofit works on private and public school partnerships “designed to empower economically disadvantaged students.” The event will take place on the Norwood School’s Bethesda campus. [Horizons 5K at Norwood]

White Flint Wegmans Watch – Officials from New York-based grocer Wegmans were in town Thursday for their new Alexandria store. They didn’t talk about the long-rumored location at the White Flint Mall redevelopment project, which has been stalled due to legal issues. But company officials said they’re still eyeing other D.C. area sites in Tysons Corner and the old Walter Reed site in D.C. [Washington Business Journal]

Details On Old Georgetown Road Project – The State Highway Administration’s intersection improvement project at Old Georgetown Road and Cedar Lane has started. The SHA put out a public notice with more details of lane closures and contact information. [SHA via Montgomery County]

Flickr pool photo by John R Whitaker

by Aaron Kraut — March 26, 2015 at 4:05 pm 162 2 Comments

The search firm helping MCPS find a new superintendent says it has boiled down almost 1,000 pieces of community input into six “desired characteristics” the new hire should have:

  • A collaborative administrative style
  • Effective communication skills
  • Evidence of being culturally aware, culturally responsive, and valuing diversity
  • The ability to narrow the achievement gap
  • Educational experiences as a teacher, principal, and central office administrator
  • Respect for, and appreciation of, teachers and staff

The school system released the 47-page “Leadership Profile Report” from search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates on Thursday.

Board of EducationFormer Superintendent Joshua Starr resigned from the position in February once it became clear that a majority of Board of Education members wouldn’t support renewing his contract, which was up this summer.

Little has been made public about why Board of Education members were opposed to Starr continuing as superintendent, as preliminary deliberations were held in closed-door sessions.

The search firm collected feedback from 978 people, including parents, students, staff and other community members from focus groups, a series of community forums, online surveys and individual interviews.

The achievement gap, economic disparities and inequities, communication and transparency and testing were recognized as some of the school system’s poor qualities.

The Board expects to have a new superintendent in place by July 1. The search firm is still accepting applications.

by Aaron Kraut — March 26, 2015 at 3:15 pm 678 1 Comment

The Persei apartment building at Grand Park Avenue in Pike & Rose

The first mixed-use development project part of the county’s White Flint redevelopment plan will take home a top award from a national planning organization.

Pike & Rose, the half-finished 24-acre neighborhood at the old Mid-Pike Plaza shopping center, is this year’s recipient of an Award of Excellence from the American Planning Association and the National Association of County Planning.

The award recognizes Rockville-based developer Federal Realty and the Montgomery County Planning Department, which authored the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan.

The plan set new zoning, road and land use recommendations for the Rockville Pike corridor around the White Flint Metro station. It would allow for 3.5 million square feet of mixed-use office, housing, restaurant and retail space in what mostly still is a series of strip shopping centers.

Pike & Rose finished its first phase last year, with an 80,000-square-foot Class A office building, 174-unit mid-rise apartment building and new retail and restaurant spaces throughout. Its 319-unit apartment tower is set to deliver this summer.

The second phase will bring 185,000 additional square feet of ground floor retail divided by 30 stores, another 264 apartment units, a park and 104 luxury condos on top of a 177-room Hilton hotel announced last fall.

“The White Flint Sector Plan represents the transition from car-oriented suburbs into livable, urban-style communities with access to transit. Pike & Rose exemplifies this exciting change and sets a high bar for the mixed-use developments to come,” Planning Director Gwen Wright said in an announcement.

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by Aaron Kraut — March 26, 2015 at 2:00 pm 2 Comments

Metro on Thursday released two safety videos telling riders what to do in case of a smoke or fire emergency on a train or in a station.

The videos, which come in 90-second and three-minute versions, come after January’s deadly incident in D.C, when a woman died after smoke spread through a stopped Metro car.

“In the wake of the January 12 incident, customers indicated that they wanted additional information about what to do in an emergency and that they trust Metro Transit Police to deliver that message,” Metro announced.

Bethesda Metro StationThe video covers when and how to evacuate a rail car, how to use on-board safety features such as the intercoms and how to identify and avoid the electrified third rail.

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board found that the smoke in the January incident near the L’Enfant Plaza station likely came from an arcing insulator — when water or other debris makes contact with the third rail.

Arcing insulators are common on the Red Line in Bethesda, where tunnel leaking issues have Metro officials planning a 14 weekend shutdown of the stretch next year.

At a Council committee hearing in January, MCFRS Acting Chief Scott Goldstein said firefighters have responded to 62 emergency situations in Metro stations over the last three years, the vast majority of which had to do with reported or actual arcing insulators.

At a Council committee hearing on Tuesday, Metro officials said they didn’t know how long it would take to evacuate the Bethesda Metro station, but that it would probably take longer than the National Fire Protection Association’s standard of six minutes.

Video via Metro

by Aaron Kraut — March 26, 2015 at 1:05 pm 150 0

Highway crews clean up gravel spill on I-270 on Thursday, via TrafficLand.comGravel that spilled onto the roadway is blocking two lanes of southbound I-270 near Bethesda on Thursday.

Highway crews are out cleaning up the mess, which has temporarily closed the two right main lanes just south of Montrose Parkway.

Via TrafficLand.com

by Aaron Kraut — March 26, 2015 at 12:05 pm 263 2 Comments

U.S. Census population change 2013-2014

Montgomery County’s population grew by another 10,680 people last year, again giving the state’s most populous jurisdiction the largest year-over-year increase in population.

The U.S. Census on Thursday released county and city population changes from July 1, 2013 to July 1, 2014.

While Howard County once again had the state’s largest population growth rate (1.4 percent), Montgomery County saw the largest amount of new residents. The county’s 1 percent growth rate was good for fourth in the state, behind Howard COunty, Charles County (1.2 percent) and Prince George’s County (1.1 percent).

Howard County was second in terms of new residents with 4,350.

The 10,000 additional residents gives Montgomery County a total population of 1,030,447, according to the Census.

The information is based on population estimates since the 2010 Census and births, deaths and migration numbers.

The amount of new residents is slightly fewer than the county saw over the previous year (July 2012 to July 2013). Montgomery County added 12,201 people in that timeframe and about 13,000 people the year before, when it went over the 1 million population mark.

by Aaron Kraut — March 26, 2015 at 11:00 am 230 2 Comments

County Executive Isiah LeggettMontgomery County says its settlement with Pepco and Exelon was a good deal, despite criticism from the County Council that the agreement won’t prevent electricity rate hikes.

“The status quo with Pepco is unacceptable. The alternative to this settlement is not necessarily something better,” said Patrick Lacefield, spokesperson for County Executive Isiah Leggett. “The alternative could well be no deal at all. Then county residents are stuck with the status quo. [Leggett] doesn’t want that and neither do county residents.”

Leggett and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker agreed to the deal last week.

In exchange for the counties’ support of Exelon and Pepco’s merger bid before state regulators, the utilities promised $57.6 million for energy efficiency programs, bill credits for Pepco customers, five megawatts of solar power generation, a $50 million “Green Sustainability Fund,” and recreational trails along Pepco transmission lines.

But Councilmember Roger Berliner, an energy attorney part of a group involved in the merger deliberations, said the deal should have also guaranteed “our ratepayers should not be pawns in Exelon’s desire to prop up its nuclear power plants.”

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by Aaron Kraut — March 26, 2015 at 10:00 am 968 7 Comments

White Flint Mall Marriott International's Fernwood Road headquarters, Photo via Marriott International

A group of residents, developers and business owners wants to pitch Marriott International on moving its headquarters to White Flint.

The Friends of White Flint is planning a strategic campaign to at least get the possibility of relocating to White Flint/the Pike District on the hotel giant’s radar.

Speculation about the Fortune 500 company’s future has run rampant since early this month, when CEO Arne Sorenson told the Washington Post Marriott plans to move from its Bethesda corporate headquarters by the time its lease is up in 2022.

Many in the Friends of White Flint, a group formed to ensure the area’s redevelopment is done according to the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan, see potential for Marriott to move to Metro-accessible, yet-to-be-developed office space that could spur the area’s new look.

“It can make the community,” Friends of White Flint Executive Director Amy Ginsburg said Wednesday. “You want to be live, work and play and if there’s no work, it’s hard to sustain it. A major corporation like Marriott, it brings jobs, it brings stability, it brings sustainability.”

The company has about 2,000 employees at its Bethesda headquarters, in the Rock Spring office park on Fernwood Road.

Sorenson told the Washington Post that he’s looking for a location that’s transit accessible to appeal to a younger workforce. The White Flint Metro station would seem to serve that purpose, and was perhaps the largest reason why Montgomery County moved to allow the massive amount of new residential units and commercial space under the 2010 Sector Plan.

“This might be the single best thing that could be done to really kick off White Flint and turn it into what we’d like to see it be,” said Saul Centers Senior Vice President Brian Downie.

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by Aaron Kraut — March 26, 2015 at 8:35 am 251 0

Flickr photo by ehpien

Raskin Will Run For Congressional Seat – State Sen. Jamie Raskin says he will run for Chris Van Hollen’s soon-to-be-vacant 8th District Congressional seat. The longtime state legislator from Takoma Park was widely rumored to be looking at the seat once Van Hollen announced he would run for Senate. Raskin said he will formally announce his run next month. [Baltimore Sun]

How Pepco’s Tree-Cutting Program Works – Since 2012, Pepco has been required to more aggressively prune and remove trees that could fall and knock down power lines. Some feel the utility has been too aggressive. But Pepco says it follows a standard protocol and always gets permission if a tree is on private property. [The Gazette]

Van Hollen Unhappy About HHS Relocation Plan – The Department of Health and Human Services is planning to move 100 employees and contractors slated for its renovated Twinbrook facility to Utah. Rep. Chris Van Hollen this week told HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burrell the move would be “detrimental to our region and devastating to the families” of affected employees. [Van Hollen On HHS Move]

‘Brit Bandit’ Released Early From Prison – Charles Francis Watkins, who in 1997 used a fake British accent when robbing homes at gunpoint, was set free Wednesday after a judge agreed to end his prison sentence. Based on a letter from Watkins and testimony from a prison official, the judge determined that Watkins had changed for the better. The break-ins in 1997 attracted attention because they happened at high-end Montgomery County homes and because Watkins and a partner spoke with British or Australian accents to their victims. [Washington Post]

‘Sports Junkie’ Coming To Bethesda Row Tonight – Eric Bickel, one of the “Sports Junkies” from 106.7 The Fan will be at the American Tap Room (7278 Woodmont Avenue) tonight for a college basketball viewing party. [CBS DC]

Flickr photo by ehpien

by Aaron Kraut — March 25, 2015 at 4:50 pm 2,685 21 Comments

A new fitness and yoga center will move into the historic old Bethesda Post Office building

The historic old Bethesda Post Office has a new tenant.

Bridges Fitness & Yoga, from the brothers who founded Bethesda-based software firm Opnet, will move into the historic building that was built in 1938 and sold in 2012 to the Donohoe Companies.

Donohoe Development Senior Vice President Jad Donohoe confirmed the fitness and yoga studio would be moving in. A website for Bridges Fitness & Yoga says it will open in downtown Bethesda in September 2015.

Alain and Marc Cohen, owners of the gym, couldn’t be reached for comment on Wednesday afternoon.

In 1986, the Cohen brothers founded Opnet, an application performance management firm. In 2000, the company went public and eventually grew to 700 employees. About half of those employees were based at Opnet’s Bethesda headquarters.

In 2012, the brothers sold Opnet to San Francisco-based Riverbed Technology for $1 billion. Riverbed maintained the firm’s Bethesda Row office location.

The gym is part of the Cohen brothers’ Cobro Ventures Inc. The website promises yoga, cardio and strength training in a state-of-the-art facility and “a beautiful, inspiring, and calming setting — an oasis in busy downtown Bethesda.”

It will be quite a departure from the old Post Office building, which has been designated historic. It was built in 1938 as part of the New Deal. 

Today, it occupies a spot in the center of downtown Bethesda, next to the Hyatt Regency hotel and Bethesda Metro station.

Facing financial troubles, the U.S. Postal Service sold the building to the Donohoe Companies in 2012 for $4 million.

Few interior modifications have been made since.

by Aaron Kraut — March 25, 2015 at 2:45 pm 2,590 27 Comments

Sheriff's office shuts down Pitzze in downtown Bethesda, Photo via Mike Landsman

A Bethesda pizzeria with a history of changing ownership was shut down on Wednesday by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.

Bethesda Magazine reported the restaurant — Pitzze at 7137 Wisconsin Avenue — was being evicted for failing to pay rent and two deputies told employees it would be closed immediately.

The restaurant opened as Haven Pizzeria in 2012. Original owner Tiger Mullen sold it to a group of minority investors at the end of 2012 but then bought it back early last year.

Mullen then rebranded it as Pitzze, claiming the previous owners “were absentee owners who really didn’t understand the concept.”

The restaurant had a 100,000-pound coal-powered oven, used to cook up its New Haven-style pies.

Mullen opened the concept in February of 2012. Mullen said some of his partners soon wanted to expand. With a general disagreement about how to move forward, Mullen agreed to sell his majority share of the restaurant to his partners, who he said went to a new manager and slowly lost what the original Haven Pizzeria was about.

Customers were starting to notice. Online reviews claimed the pizza and service had gone downhill. In the fall of 2013, Mullen began talks to reacquire ownership of the restaurant, a deal that was completed in time to put him fully in charge starting in April 2014.

Mullen couldn’t be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Photo via Mike Landsman

by BethesdaNow.com — March 25, 2015 at 1:25 pm 421 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.

Alexandra, affectionately known as Alex, is a delightful 4- to 5-year-old, 11-pound Hairless Chinese Crested who has a true joy for life. This social little pup is spunky, playful, good with kids and dogs of all sizes, and would be an ideal companion for a single owner who telecommutes or fit well in an active home with kids. Alex has an engaging personality, and when you meet her, she will probably want to curl up in your lap for a quick snuggle. She’s a sweet soul who just wants to please, and needs a family to love and call her own.

Alex is a remarkable dog in many ways, and has an amazingly resilient spirit. She survived years of neglect in a puppy mill, where she was locked in a cage and forced to breed, but has emerged unfazed and ready to embrace the world around her. We rescue a lot of dogs from these terrible places, but rarely do we see one so immediately social and trusting of people. Alex really loves people and craves attention, and she deserves a special family who will cherish her.

Chinese Crested dogs like Alex are not common in rescue, and they definitely stand out in a crowd. Their origin has been a bit of a mystery, but many believe they are descended from African or Mexican hairless dogs. When Chinese explorers discovered the breed, they brought them back home and bred them to be a smaller size. They wanted the dog for its excellent ratting abilities aboard their ships, and could trade them at different ports. The Chinese also viewed these dogs as having healing powers and would use them as living heating pads to help nurse sick sailors.

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by Aaron Kraut — March 25, 2015 at 12:15 pm 612 3 Comments

A boxing and kickboxing devotee decided to open his own Bethesda gym once the one he went to abruptly closed.

Ken Gear joined the UFC Gym on Cordell Avenue two years ago. Coming off two knee replacements and looking for a new kind of workout, the Potomac resident and municipal finance officer quickly became a regular.

Then, in January, the chain announced it was closing the Bethesda location.

“There was a huge void and initially I talked to some people about investing,” Gear said Wednesday. “I started to figure out, well, if I’m going to put all of this money in, I need to be involved and I wanted to be.”

So Gear, along with some trainers who worked at UFC Gym, have opened the Bethesda Boxing & Kickboxing Academy at 4940 St Elmo Avenue.

The 2,000-square-foot space, in what was last a shoe store, has a personal training section in the front and a back studio with 18 heavy punching bags, two “peanut punching bags” for precision punching, a speed bag and space for a long roster of boxing, kickboxing and specialty classes.

Through the end of March, the Academy is offering free classes.

To make it all come together, Gear is actually leaving his job with the D.C. government. The self-described gym rat is the owner, operator and “motivator” behind the concept.

(more…)

by Aaron Kraut — March 25, 2015 at 11:00 am 833 5 Comments

Urban Heights is taking over the former Roof spot in Woodmont Triangle

Urban Heights, the Robert Wiedmaier restaurant coming to the former Roof space in Woodmont Triangle, is holding a job fair ahead of its opening later this spring.

The restaurant, which will take over the second- and third-floor rooftop bar space at 7940 Norfolk Avenue, is looking for bartenders, servers, hostesses, line cooks and prep cooks.

It will be doing interviews Tuesday-Saturday, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. throughout the rest of the month. Last week, the county’s Board of License Commissioners granted Urban Heights its alcohol license.

Roof, from Tommy Joe’s owner Alan Pohoryles, closed in November 2014 after a little less than a year in operation.

News that Wiedmaier’s group would be taking it over came early this year. Bethesda Magazine reported former Matchbox and TenPenh chef Cliff Wharton will helm the kitchen.

If interested in a job at Urban Heights, email garth[at]urbanheightsbethesda[dot]com.

by Aaron Kraut — March 25, 2015 at 10:00 am 213 3 Comments

People walking down the sidewalk along Bethesda Avenue (file photo)

A study of 30 factors influencing health found that Montgomery County is the healthiest jurisdiction in Maryland and compares well to the healthiest places in the country.

The sixth annual County Health Rankings, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, used Census numbers, hospital stats, crime data and other government reports to come up with the results.

The rankings were split into five categories: quality of life, health behaviors, clinical care, social/economic factors and physical environment.

Montgomery County ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the state in all categories except physical environment, where high housing costs, the amount of people driving alone to work (66 percent) and the amount of people with “long commutes” (52 percent) put the county at No. 8 out of the state’s 24 local jurisdictions.

Howard, Frederick and Carroll Counties followed Montgomery as the state’s healthiest, per the rankings. Baltimore City was judged to have the poorest health, followed by Caroline, Cecil and Allegany Counties.

Montgomery County had an 8 percent adult smoking rate and a 19 percent adult obesity rate, both numbers that were in the healthiest 10 percent of U.S. counties.

The county’s relative wealth and access to education helped too. The rankings considered high school graduation rates (87 percent), those who did at least some college (76.9 percent) and children in poverty (10 percent), all of which put Montgomery in the top 10 percent in the country.

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