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Bethesda Food Truck Market Offers Patrons A Challenge

by Aaron Kraut | August 20, 2014 at 2:45 pm | 331 views | No Comments

The crowd at the Rock Spring Park Owner Association Farmers Market in Bethesda (file photo)A popular food truck and farmers market will extend its season into September if its patrons donate a certain amount of items to a local nonprofit.

Operators of the Rock Spring Park Market — the weekly lunchtime favorite of many Rockledge Drive office workers — said they’ve received many requests to extend the market season past its scheduled final date next week.

So the market has issued a challenge: If 125 items are donated to homeless prevention nonprofit Bethesda Cares at the market between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Thursday, the Rock Spring Farmers Market will be extended to Sept. 4.

If 250 items are donated, the market will be extended to Sept. 11. If 375 items are donated, it will go until Sept. 18 and if 500 or more items are donated, the market will be extended to Sept. 25.

Stacee Longenecker, who puts together the Thursday market event for property manager Piedmont Office Realty Trust, made the announcement on Wednesday. The property manager sets up the market each Thursday during the summer along the sidewalks near the 6720 Rockledge Dr. Garage.

It’s become a popular spot for local food trucks and farmers market vendors, and a popular lunchtime spot for the hundreds of nearby office workers without many nearby restaurants.

Bethesda Cares will accept all food items, though canned goods, pasta, granola bars and oatmeal packets are especially needed. The nonprofit will also accept socks and clothing items (especially gently-used men’s clothing), toiletries and money. One dollar will be equal to one item, for the purposes of the market challenge.

Westfield Montgomery Shows Off New Dining Terrace, Movie Theater

by Aaron Kraut | August 20, 2014 at 1:55 pm | 1,352 views | 5 Comments

Long gone are the animatronic chefs that would speak in thick French accents as you were sitting down to eat in Westfield Montgomery mall’s food court.

Since last October, the shopping mall conglomerate has embarked on a $90 million renovation and expansion of the Bethesda property that has included getting rid of the traditional food court concept altogether.

Now, it’s the Dining Terrace, packed with modern-style seating, 40-foot-high ceilings, five mature trees and soon to be home to three full-service restaurants, plus the escalator entrance to a luxury 16-screen movie theater out of Los Angeles.

“We started to get feedback from retailers and customers a few years ago that we needed to raise our game a little bit, bring a little bit of a new face to the property,” said Westfield’s Eric Howard on a Wednesday media tour. “We really fel that this move will help position us as the retail destination of choice in Bethesda.”

Many of the mall’s fast casual food options remain with new fixtures, signage and furniture. The yet-to-be-opened section of the Dining Terrace will include restaurants such as Cava Mezze Grill, Naples 45 Ristorante e Pizzeria and Boston-based steak and seafood favorite MET, which will be known as MET Bethesda.

Cava is expected to open in November. The movie theater, ArcLight Cinemas’ first foray outside of the Los Angeles area, should open in October.

Gretchen McCourt, an executive vice president with ArcLight, said it’s one of the few theaters to offer a mix of big Hollywood blockbusters and more speciality films.

It’ll have pre-reserved seating, large seats and take up the upper floors of what used to be a parking garage.

The $90 million worth of work included many of the lounge areas, seating and fixtures that have been installed throughout the mall, which has also worked hard to add new restaurants such as Blaze Pizza, the Cheesecake Factory and Bobby’s Burger Palace throughout the property. CRAVE, fusion American and sushi restaurant, will open in the fall.

But the crown jewel is no doubt the Dining Terrace. It’s double the size of the food court many came to know and love, and with what Westfield says is a more diverse roster of dining selections.

“What we had before was a food court,” Howard said, “a lot of quick-service offerings, seating packages. This is a new prototype.”

Berliner Wants To See Improved Performance Required In Pepco Merger

by Aaron Kraut | August 20, 2014 at 12:25 pm | 78 views | No Comments

Councilmember Roger Berliner (file photo)One of Pepco’s most frequent critics wants to see reliability requirements and newer energy models incorporated into Pepco’s merger with Exelon.

County Councilmember Roger Berliner, an energy lawyer who heads the Council’s Infrastructure Committee, said the Maryland Public Service Commission should only approve Pepco’s sale to Exelon if there are “binding commitments to superb reliability and better service to our long-suffering constituents.”

Exelon announced on Tuesday it had formally submitted an application for approval of the merger to the PSC, the five-member committee that regulates all utilities in the state.

In it, Exelon claimed the merger would mean cutting the frequency of power outages in Pepco’s Maryland service areas by 38 percent and cutting the average outage duration by 43 percent by the 2018-2020 period. Exelon offered to be subject to financial penalties if Pepco or Delmarva Power don’t meet those goals.

In a prepared statement, Berliner said “it is a fundamental responsibility of our state regulators to determine whether this proposed merger — which will result in a single utility totally dominating the state — is in the public interest.”

“Our Council has formally stated that should the Commission conclude it is in the public interest, it could only do so with binding commitments to superb reliability and better service to our long-suffering constituents,” Berliner said.

The resolution the Council approved in May says the PSC should require “that Exelon provide substantial ratepayer benefits, including, but not limited to, quality of service equivalent to a top quartile utility within three years, and that cost recovery for investments necessary to achieve that outcome be tied to performance.”

Berliner again asked the PSC to include aspects of the “Utility 2.0″ concept in any merger approval.

Last March, Berliner submitted a formal filing asking PSC regulators to push Pepco toward a more modern electric system that includes locally-sourced micro-grids. Berliner argued modernization should be included in the PSC’s recent effort to make utilities more reliable by requiring short-term and long-term reliability plans.

“That is what our constituents want and deserve,” Berliner said in the statement on Tuesday. “If the Commission finds that the merger is in the public interest, then the Commission should insist that Maryland and Exelon be a leader in the country in adopting Utility 2.0.”

He also said he expects Montgomery County to take part in what’s expected to be a lengthy set of regulatory proceedings judging the merger.

Suburban Hospital Set To Start Expansion In October

by Aaron Kraut | August 20, 2014 at 11:00 am | 391 views | No Comments

Suburban Hospital expansion rendering, via Suburban HospitalAfter years of zoning fights with a surrounding neighborhood group, Bethesda’s Suburban Hospital is finally close to starting construction on its massive expansion project.

As first reported by Bethesda Magazine, Suburban Hospital will have a groundbreaking ceremony for the 235,000-square-foot addition and new parking garage in late October. Suburban Hospital spokesperson Ronna Borenstein-Levy said that ceremony is set for Tuesday, Oct. 28.

Suburban Hospital officials say the existing facility is too small to deal with the number of patients the 70-year-old hospital sees each year.

The hospital bought homes along neighboring Lincoln Street to make way for the new facility. A zoning approval by the county’s Board of Appeals led to an intense legal fight from the Huntington Terrace Citizens Association, worried that the abandonment of Lincoln Street and the new garage will lead to more noise and traffic.

The County Circuit Court upheld the Board of Appeals decision and, on another appeal, the state’s Court of Special Appeals also upheld the decision last year.  In August 2013, Suburban was among a batch of hospitals to have letters of intent for expansion or relocation filed with the Maryland Health Care Commission. In April 2013, the County Planning Board approved Suburban’s preliminary and site plans for the expansion, though not without protest from some neighbors.

“We are very excited to be moving ahead with this project,” Borenstein-Levy said.

The parking garage is set to open in 2017 and the new building is set to open in the summer of 2019.  The hospital estimates the expansion project will cost $230 million.

Hotel Wants Visitors To See D.C. ‘Like A Local’ From Bethesda

by Aaron Kraut | August 20, 2014 at 10:00 am | 545 views | 3 Comments

Bethesda Row (file photo)

As part of a new marketing campaign, Marriott has offered some tips for how to see D.C. like a local from Bethesda might.

Marriott’s #LikeALocal package (hashtag included) is offering weekend packages at the chain’s three area hotels — the Bethesda Marriott at Pooks Hill, the Bethesda Marriott Suites on Democracy Boulevard and the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center on Marinelli Road.

The offer promises to let travelers “bypass the tourist traps to experience the District like the locals do.”

According to Marriott, that means shopping at Bethesda Row, hitting up Strathmore and running or biking on the Capital Crescent Trail, all things locals definitely like to do.

Bethesda locals also apparently like to eat.

“Eating in Bethesda means eating well,” according to the promotion. “Locals love starting the day with Bethesda Bagels’ artisan offerings, for example, and following it up with a savory lunch at Cava Grill. Serving tasty, healthy and fast versions of the food that made Cava one of D.C.’s best restaurants, Cava Grill is an ideal precursor to dinner at Jaleo. There, renowned chef Jose Andres has made tapas a household word — and a go-to meal option — with his exciting recipes and multiple locations.”

The package includes a $20 credit to app-based ride service Uber, which probably won’t sit well with some local taxi cab companies.

Morning Notes

by Aaron Kraut | August 20, 2014 at 9:05 am | 308 views | 3 Comments

Flickr photo by Danny Fowler

Chevy Chase Resident: I Won’t Pay For Pepco Smart Meter Fees – Chevy Chase resident Deborah Vollmer says she won’t pay Pepco for opting out of the power company’s smart meter program. Pepco is charging her $75 for the opt-out and a monthly $14 fee. Pepco says Vollmer risks being disconnected if she doesn’t pay her entire bill. [WTOP via SoundCloud]

State Leaders: Health Insurance Website Will Be Ready For November – Maryland officials say the state’s health exchange will be rebuilt and ready to go before the next enrollment period begins in November. The state’s first attempt was full of glitches and led to a new site that will cost at least $40 million. [Washington Post]

Bethesda Woman’s Two Decades Of Helping Food Bank – For almost 20 years, 91-year-old Beulah “Boo” Law has picked up extra food two days a week from the Bethesda Co-op in Cabin John and dropped it off at Manna, Montgomery County’s main food bank in Gaithersburg. [The Gazette]

MCPS Students Improve On ACT Tests – The MCPS class of 2014 earned an average composite score of 23.7 out of 36 on the ACT standardized test, besting the national average of 21. The Class of 2014 average increased from the 23.5 average of the class of 2013 and the 23.2 average of the class of 2012. [MCPS]

Flickr photo by Danny Fowler

Luxury Condo Project Tops Out On Montgomery Lane

by Aaron Kraut | August 19, 2014 at 3:20 pm | 586 views | 3 Comments

For a glimpse of the changes coming to one section of Bethesda, check out the construction progress on a five-floor, four-unit luxury condo project at 4825 Montgomery Lane.

The condos have been built as high as the project will go, showing how it and at least two other multi-family residential projects on the way will alter the skyline of what was once a section of single-family houses.

Most of the houses along Montgomery Lane, West Lane and Arlington Road are used for small businesses, medical practices and other professional services.

The 4825 property, at the corner of West and Montgomery Lanes, will include four individual garage doors.

controversial seven-story, 120-unit apartment complex (4831 West Lane) is planned for across the street. And around the corner, crews have demolished a garden apartment building and single-family house to make way for The Lauren, an ultra-luxury condo building.

Renderings via Montgomery County Planning Department

Bethesda A Very Honest Place, According To Honest Tea

by Aaron Kraut | August 19, 2014 at 2:20 pm | 318 views | 2 Comments

Honest Tea put people's honesty to the test earlier this month by placing unattended bottled teas in front of the Barnes & Noble in July 2013. Signs asked people to pay $1 each for drinks they took.Bethesda-based Honest Tea brought back its “National Honesty Index” this summer to test just how willing people were to abide by the honor code in exchange for a Honest Tea beverage.

From July 16-Aug. 12, the company set up unmanned racks of bottled beverages in 60 places, all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Signage asked those who took beverages to put $1 into a bin for each beverage they took.

Honest Tea collected information on “the number of people who paid or stole,” though the company clearly didn’t report anyone for theft.

The marketing project showed that 94 percent of the beverages taken from the Bethesda set-up were paid for, which tied with four other places for the honor of 32nd most honest.

Nationally, 95 percent of the beverages taken were paid for. Nearby, Washington, D.C. was the most improved city compared to last year’s results, with 96 percent of the beverages paid for (just 80 percent were paid for in 2013).

Strathmore Shows Off Renderings Of White Flint Music Venue

by Aaron Kraut | August 19, 2014 at 1:10 pm | 585 views | No Comments

Strathmore on Tuesday revealed some interior renderings of its new AMP concert venue set for the Pike & Rose development in White Flint/North Bethesda.

The renderings show a lounge and stage, plus a potential set up for a private event. AMP will open to event rentals this fall and will open for live concerts in March 2015.

The 250-seat music venue is situated in the main commercial building of the first phase of developer Federal Realty’s Pike & Rose project. The company has spent the past two years remaking the Mid-Pike Plaza shopping center into a mixed-use, town-center style development.

It’s partnering with Strathmore for the music venue. Strathmore’s existing facility — the Music Center at Strathmore on Tuckerman Lane — holds nearly 2,000 seats and is one of two homes of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

AMP will be 2,800 square feet with floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies, plus a green room and 1,100-square-foot pre-function space.

It’ll also be located in the same building as an eight-screen iPic Theatres at 11800 Grand Park Ave., the new street Federal Realty built connecting to Old Georgetown Road.

The space will feature the Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s 550 Events & Provisions division as its exclusive food and catering vendor, not a surprise after Federal Realty announced the group would open a beer garden concept in the new neighborhood.

MoCo Reminds Drivers Not To Pass Stopped School Buses

by Aaron Kraut | August 19, 2014 at 12:15 pm | 74 views | No Comments

With the school year starting Monday, Montgomery County is reminding drivers not to pass stopped school buses.

A two-minute public service announcement advises drivers that they are putting students, who “can be unpredictable when getting on or off school buses,” in danger by passing a bus with an outstretched stop sign and flashing lights.

It also reminds drivers of the rules. All traffic in each direction must stop if a school bus is stopped — unless the bus is stopped on a divided highway of at least four lanes with a median. In that case, drivers behind the bus must stop while drivers heading the opposite direction may proceed.

Screen capture of a driver illegally passing a Montgomery County school bus with a camera catching the action, via County CouncilIf a police officer observes a driver passing a stopped school bus, it’s can mean a $570 fine and three points. Fines for being caught on an automated school bus camera are $125, with no points.

MCPS and the Montgomery County Police began the school bus camera in January with small cameras attached to the side of a handful of buses.

MCPS has about 1,300 buses that transport more than 100,000 of its roughly 150,000 students each day.

“It’s our duty as a community to make sure they are safe and secure,” says a narrator in the video.

There are 1,100 bus routes with more than 40,000 bus stops.

In just the first three months of the camera program, police issued 272 citations for drivers caught on camera passing a stopped bus. The cameras were eventually deployed on 25 buses. In April, MCP and MCPS said they hope to wire an additional 75 buses for cameras “to move cameras along high priority routes as needed.”

Police project that about 100 citations will be issued per month during the 2014-2015 school year. That means 1,000 total citations over a 10-month school calendar. Assuming a 90 percent collection rate, that would net the county about $112,500 in revenue.

Video via Montgomery County Council

Exelon, Pepco File For Merger With Maryland Regulators

by Aaron Kraut | August 19, 2014 at 11:00 am | 183 views | 8 Comments

Flickr photo by Bill in DCExelon and Pepco Holdings say the proposed merger of the two giant power companies will bring about 7,000 new jobs, $600 million of economic benefits and much fewer power outages in Maryland.

Chicago-based Exelon and Pepco Holdings Inc. filed for approval of the merger on Tuesday with the Maryland Public Service Commission, one of a host of state and federal agencies that must approve the move.

Upon the announcement of the $6.8 billion sale of Pepco Holdings Inc. to Exelon in April, some local officials expressed optimism that Montgomery County would be able to get more stringent standards for power reliability from Pepco, the D.C.-based subsidiary of Pepco Holdings that has long been criticized for poor service.

While announcing its filing for approval in Maryland, Pepco and Exelon promised a long list of benefits to customers that would come about as a result of the merger.

One of those was titled “Enhanced Customer Service and Reliability Committment,” in which Exelon said the merger would mean cutting the frequency of power outages in Maryland by 38 percent and cutting the average outage duration by 43 percent by the 2018-2020 period.

In its approval filing, Exelon offered to be subject to financial penalties if Pepco or Delmarva Power don’t meet those goals.

If the merger is approved, Pepco will retain its headquarters in D.C. Exelon has also proposed giving $40 million to the Maryland PSC that “can be used as the PSC deems appropriate for customer benefits, such as bill credits, assistance for low-income customers and energy-efficiency measures.”

Exelon has also promised $50 million over 10 years for charitable donations in the communities that Pepco Holdings Inc. serves. The company’s 2013 charitable giving amount came in at $623,000.

The merger will eventually mean the elimination of some jobs, though Exelon said it’s committed to “no net involuntary merger-related job losses of Pepco and Delmarva Power utility employees for at least two years after the merger, and to honor all collective bargaining agreements.”

Pepco Holding Inc. shareholders will meet to approve the merger on Sept. 23. The companies anticipate completing the merger in the second or third quarter of 2015. No rate increases are scheduled as a result of the merger.

PDF: Exelon-prepared FAQ On Pepco Merger

Flickr photo by Bill in DC

MCPS Superintendent Takes Ice Bucket Challenge

by Aaron Kraut | August 19, 2014 at 10:10 am | 386 views | No Comments

MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr was the latest to get a bucket of ice water dumped on his head for ALS research and he challenged three high-profile political officials to do the same.

Starr was challenged by Northwest High School Principal Lance Dempsey. The Ice Bucket Challenge has gone viral over the past few months, with celebrities, politicians and likely most people on your Facebook feed posting videos of themselves getting drenched.

The campaign is to bring in donations and raise awareness for ALS and so far has brought in $23 million to the ALS Association.

Starr sat on an outside bench and had school employee union representatives dump the water on his head.

“I’m sure it’s something they’ve dreamed about for the last few years,” Starr said, “because we are partners when it gets hot and when it’s cold.”

Starr challenged Rep. Chris Van Hollen, U.S. Labor Secretary and former County Councilmember Thomas Perez and County Executive Isiah Leggett.

And yes, the water was cold.

“That is cold baby,” Starr proclaims in the video as a slow motion version of the water dump is shown.

Video via MCPSTV

Morning Notes

by Aaron Kraut | August 19, 2014 at 9:15 am | 172 views | No Comments

Flickr photo by ehpien

Bethesda-Based Bank Moving – Bethesda-based Monument Bank will move its 7401 Wisconsin Ave. administrative offices to Rockville by the end of the year. The bank’s downtown Bethesda lease is almost up. The bank’s president said Monument will relocate its Bethesda branch to the 7700 Old Georgetown Rd. Garden Plaza building as part of the move. [Bethesda Magazine]

New MoCo Democratic Party Chair Aims To Up Engagement – Kevin Walling, who last month was elected to chair the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, said engaging newly registered county Democrats will be a chief goal. The Bethesda resident and political consultant was running for delegate in District 16 before dropping out and running for the Central Committee earlier this year. Walling also said he’ll aim to have a better relationship with county unions than the MCDCC has had in the past. [The Gazette]

Washington Region Has High Percentage of First-Time Home Buyers – The Federal Housing Finance Agency reports that the Washington area had one of the highest percentages of first-time home buyers in the country last year, despite high housing costs that typically drive down those numbers. According to the report, 68 percent of homebuyers in the region who used conventional or government-backed loans were first-timers. [Urban Turf]

Flickr photo by ehpien

Barwood Taxi Boss: Uber Is ‘Hitting Below The Belt’

by Aaron Kraut | August 18, 2014 at 3:25 pm | 1,032 views | 22 Comments

Barwood Taxi banner, via Barwood

Montgomery County’s Barwood Taxi is continuing its public relations push against ridesharing services such as Uber.

Barwood Presdient Lee Barnes penned a letter-to-the-editor in last week’s The Gazette claiming that Uber has an unfair business advantage because it doesn’t yet have to comply by many of the same state taxi regulations that Barwood does.

Barnes went on to write that competing against an unregulated Uber is exactly like a boxing match in which one fighter “has his hands tied behind his back and the other can do whatever he wants, even hitting below the belt.”

Barwood joined with other Maryland taxi companies in July to sue  Uber, claiming the app-based car service is hampering its ability to do business.

Barnes also wrote that it’s clear to him Uber is a taxi service:

Uber falsely claims that regulation stifles innovation. But Barwood’s technology innovations have taken place under stringent state and local regulations governing the for-hire transportation industry. Our vehicles must be inspected multiple times each year. The government decides who is best qualified to drive taxis safely, based on a series of criteria. The fares we charge passengers are regulated and we’re required to carry appropriate levels of commercial liability insurance to protect passengers. These are just some of the rules Uber refuses to follow.

We welcome the competition from Uber. But fair competition is impossible when companies like Uber don’t play by the rules. Just like Barwood, Uber transports passengers for a fee. They are a taxi service.

Changes to the way the state regulates Uber might be on the immediate horizon.

On Aug. 6, state regulators ruled that Uber should be subject to the same state laws that other non-taxicab transportation for hire services are. The decision from the Public Service Commission meant that Uber must apply for a motor carrier permit for its UberBLACK and UberSUV services within 60 days. UberX and Lyft were not part of the decision.

The order also directed PSC staff to draft regulations for non-taxicab, for-hire transportation services such as Uber and Lyft within 90 days.

“I applaud the Maryland Public Service Commission’s recent ruling that Uber is indeed a “common carrier.” While this is a step in the right direction, we still have to wait and see how, if at all, the state and local jurisdictions will actually regulate Uber,” Barnes wrote in his The Gazette letter.

The Gazette: Without regulation, fair competition is impossible

MCPS Looking For More Backpack Donations

by Aaron Kraut | August 18, 2014 at 2:05 pm | 153 views | 1 Comment

MCPSMontgomery County Public Schools is looking for more donations to its backpack and school supplies campaign as the first day of school approaches.

The backpacks, to be filled with school supplies, will be given out at the start of the 2014-2015 school year (Monday, Aug. 26) to students in need.

MCPS says it has raised about $153,000 through its Give BACKpacks campaign, which will provide more than 17,000 backpacks to students at 43 county schools.

Almost 52,000 MCPS students receive free and reduced-price meals, an indicator of poverty. The Give BACKpacks campaign started last year and brought in more than $100,000 for backpacks and supplies for about 15,000 students.

On Monday, MCPS said it was looking for more help for this year’s campaign. The school system has gotten large donations from the Educational Systems Federal Credit Union ($25,000), Montgomery County Council of PTAs ($8,000), Wegmans ($7,500) and Capital One Bank ($6,500).

The school system says a $10 donation will provide for one backpack filled with school supplies, $300 would provide backpacks for a class, $6,500 would set up a school and $25,000 or more would provide backpacks for an entire cluster. Donations of all sizes are welcome.

For more information, visit the campaign website.

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