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by Aaron Kraut — January 22, 2015 at 11:00 am 1 Comment

Bethesda resident and BOE President Pat O'Neill, via BOEA key member of the county’s Board of Education won’t be jumping on the bandwagon for a post-Labor Day start to the school year.

Board of Education president and longtime member Patricia O’Neill wrote a blog post last week criticizing the idea, which seemed to picked up steam last Thursday with the support of Gov. Larry Hogan and a newly introduced bill in the State Senate.

“If there are districts in Maryland that would like to start school after Labor Day, there is nothing stopping them from doing so. But the state shouldn’t force everyone to follow the same calendar,” O’Neill wrote.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County resident and Democrat, has championed the idea of mandating that school start after Labor Day as a way to boost the tourism industry for places such as Ocean City and Deep Creek Lake.

But county and state education leaders have come out strongly against the proposal, fearing it would lead to a later end date to the school year in June and would circumvent a decision that’s traditionally been up to each local school district.

“Let’s be clear: The Comptroller’s efforts are not about education and are not about helping children,” O’Neill wrote. “It is entirely about boosting the state’s tourism industry. While my Board colleagues and I certainly support tourism in our state, it should not drive educational decisions.”

She went on to write that mandating a later school start date “will not make the summer longer: All it would do is shift the beginning — and the end — of the school year later.”

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by Aaron Kraut — January 22, 2015 at 9:30 am 603 6 Comments

PizzaPass, via Facebook

Updated at 2:25 p.m. – A Craigslist ad offering up restaurant equipment and supplies indicates Bethesda’s PizzaPass is preparing to close on St. Elmo Avenue.

But owner John Foster said the restaurant is not closing, rather selling off extra gear after changing concepts. The ad, first reported by blogger Robert Dyer, was originally titled “Restaurant Closing!!! Selling Everything!!!” and includes PizzaPass’ 4924 St Elmo Avenue address.

Foster said the title of the ad was meant to drum up more interest in the extra equipment. He’s had trouble finding interested buyers so far.

“It’s no secret that we’re struggling,” Foster said. “But we’re not closing. We decided to change the concept.”

Foster and a partner opened the restaurant in December 2013. It featured Brazilian steakhouse-like concept of constant table-side service, just with pizza instead of meat.

Late last year, Foster reverted to a more traditional pizza concept, with small and large pizzas, carryout, catering and delivery. He said the all-you-can-eat model was leading to fans of the pizza coming in less than they would have otherwise.

“Our customers flat out said, ‘We love your food, but I feel guilty eating all of that food,’” Foster said. “So they didn’t feel comfortable coming in once a week. Some of them told us they felt guilty stuffing themselves. We’ve had no complaints about the price and now we’re starting to see people once a week and twice a week.”

The property is on the redevelopment block. The Lenkin Company, a D.C. area developer with its offices in the existing two-story building at 4922 St Elmo Ave, has proposed a 16-story, roughly 210-unit apartment that would include the PizzaPass and Chef Tony’s properties.

That project still must go through the Planning Department’s approval process and isn’t expected to start until at least 2016.

The Craigslist ad was posted Wednesday and includes booster seats, wine coolers, two pizza deck ovens, storage racks, a pasta cooker, surveillance system, grill and more.

Some of the items are listed as available Jan. 30.

Photo via PizzaPass/Facebook

by Aaron Kraut — January 22, 2015 at 8:45 am 191 0

New traffic pattern sign on Rockville Pike, Flickr pool photo via Ilona Szczot

Latest On The Bethesda Downtown Plan – County planners today will discuss what they’ve been up to since their last set of proposals for a new downtown Bethesda master plan. They’re taking part in a happy hour hosted by SK&I Architectural Design Group (4600 East-West Highway) from 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Planners will also host a more formal public meeting on Jan. 29. [Planning Department]

Retired Fire Chief May Not Be Retired After All – Montgomery County said former fire chief Steve Lohr would be retiring Dec. 31 to recoup the money in his Deferred Retirement Option Plan. But now, County Executive Isiah Leggett is pushing for Council support to name Lohr the chief again — even though a Council attorney says Lohr is barred from coming back. Councilmembers and the head of the firefighters union have come out against the idea of reinstating Lohr. [Washington Post]

Al Carr Recalls Family Connection To MLK – District 18 Del. Al Carr addressed the House of Delegates for its Monday MLK Day commemoration. In his speech, Carr talked about finding a tape of Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at his late grandmother’s school in Cleveland in October 1964 — thought to be his first public appearance after winning the Nobel Peace Prize. [Seventh State]

Urban Country Valentine’s Celebration – Furniture and design showroom Urban Country (7117 Arlington Road) is hosting a weeklong Valentine’s sale on heart-related accessories and merchandise from one of its major suppliers. There will also be complimentary mystery gifts and an open house reception from 6 p.m.-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 10. [Urban Country]

Flickr pool photo via Ilona Szczot

by Aaron Kraut — January 21, 2015 at 4:30 pm 3,160 33 Comments

NBC’s “Today” show featured a county official and one of Bethesda’s most notorious parking lots in a Wednesday report on aggressive towing practices.

Reporter Jeff Rossen interviewed Eric Friedman, director of Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection, about the subject. Friedman has previously done interviews for ABC News’ 20/20 program on aggressive and predatory towing.

Rossen’s report also included a look at how quickly tow truck operators pounce at the small parking lot near the Mattress Warehouse store at 6930 Wisconsin Avenue. The parking lot is one of two downtown Bethesda lots Friedman has said bring his office the bulk of its Bethesda-related towing complaints.

Drivers often get towed after parking at the spots reserved for Mattress Warehouse and walking to the nearby Verizon store or U.S. Post Office.

Screen shot from Today show report on aggressive towing in a downtown Bethesda parking lot, via TodayIn the segment, Rossen’s producer left her car in one of the Mattress Warehouse spots before walking off.

The reporter claimed it took only about 10 minutes for a tow truck driver from Rockville-based Authorized Towing to show up and hook up the vehicle to his truck.

“In this case, the towers are hoping for one slip-up. If the consumer makes one wrong move, they can back in there, get that car and make $150,” Friedman said in the segment, referring to the $150 average fee for reclaiming a towed vehicle.

Rossen than confronted the tow truck driver and asked how he knew to find the illegally parked car so fast.

“If you get towed, you need to learn to accept it and you need to learn how to read the signs properly,” the tow truck driver said at one point.

Rossen pondered whether aggressive towing is “a matter of common courtesy.” But the tow truck driver, who went on to calmly explain the process to Rossen, did get the Matt Lauer seal of approval.

“The driver was pretty impressive though,” the longtime Today host said while chatting with Rossen after the segment.

Video via Today

by Aaron Kraut — January 21, 2015 at 3:25 pm 496 0

Tilden Middle School (the former Woodward High School) at 11211 Old Georgetown Road, via MCPSOver the past few weeks, a group of parents, teachers, administrators, MCPS planners and architects have begun discussing how a North Bethesda middle school might share a new building with one of the county’s special education centers.

MCPS has suggested collocating the Rock Terrace School, which serves students age 12-21 with special needs, with the new Tilden Middle School once it’s built.

Superintendent Joshua Starr has yet to formally recommend the move, but the Rock Terrace School/Tilden Middle School Roundtable Discussion Group has been hammering out big picture issues that would need to be addressed.

At a meeting of the roundtable on Tuesday, architects presented eight concept plans for how a Rock Terrace School/Tilden Middle School building might look. MCPS previously decided to move Tilden (now at 11211 Old Georgetown Road) back to 6300 Tilden Lane, where it was until 1991.

Many of the questions and concerns brought up Tuesday were about where to put the school’s gyms, cafeterias, parking lots and bus drop-off areas.

MCPS senior planner Deborah Szyfer said school staff members at an earlier meeting mostly agreed the two schools — if collocated — should be put in the same structure, but with clearly separate spaces.

Starr is expected to recommend whether to collocate the schools in February. The Board of Education would have to approve of the collocation plan by April.

Until then, the roundtable group is mostly dealing with the broad strokes. Szyfer described the concept plans presented Tuesday as even less specific than a feasibility study that would be performed after Starr and the Board’s decision.

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by Aaron Kraut — January 21, 2015 at 2:25 pm 538 15 Comments

Purple Line NOW! social media "profile badge," via Purple Line NOW!  Purple Line NOW! social media "profile badge," via Purple Line NOW!

Purple Line supporters took the occasion of Gov. Larry Hogan’s inauguration day to start a social media campaign aimed at getting his support for the light rail.

The Purple Line NOW! group is asking supporters to change Facebook and Twitter profile pictures, post about the proposed light rail project on Hogan’s official Facebook page and tweet out stats the group says prove how much the Purple Line will benefit the state:

Send a message to the Governor to welcome him. As the governor is sworn in today, here are some sample messages to leave on his Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/larryhoganmd:

  • Welcome to Annapolis, Governor Hogan! I hope we can work together to keep the Purple Line on track and ensure 1000s of jobs for Marylanders.
  • Let’s @changemaryland and create more jobs by building the #PurpleLine! #MDpolitics
  • Congratulations Governor Hogan, now let’s keep and attract millennials for Maryland with the #purpleline. #MDpolitics
  • Let’s @ChangeMaryland and build the #PurpleLine before we fall behind Virginia’s Silver Line boom. #MDpolitics
  • Hey Governor Hogan, let’s show Virginia and the world we’re #openforbusiness by investing in the #PurpleLine
  • Let’s @ChangeMaryland by giving people an alternative to sitting in traffic with the #PurpleLine #MDpolitics
  • Happy inauguration Governor Hogan, please build the #PurpleLine to fulfill your pledge to bring new families & businesses to Maryland.

It’s the latest in what’s sure to be a first few weeks of Purple Line advocacy — both for and against — that will be presented to the Republican governor.

The estimated $2.45 billion project that would run from New Carrollton to Bethesda was scheduled to start construction later this year. But Hogan has expressed doubts about the project since last fall.

Via Purple Line NOW!

by Aaron Kraut — January 21, 2015 at 1:00 pm 0

Snow falls Wednesday afternoon in Bethesda

Montgomery County Public Schools will close at the regularly scheduled time today, but there won’t be any MCPS after school or evening activities.

Day care programs in school buildings will remain open as scheduled. Community activities in school buildings will occur as scheduled.

The National Weather Service predicted up to 1 inch of snow accumulation on Wednesday in downcounty Montgomery.

All MCPS wrestling matches, basketball games and bocce matches scheduled for Wednesday will be made up Thursday at the same time and same location.

by Aaron Kraut — January 21, 2015 at 11:55 am 0

David "Curley" Cornblatt (left) with one of Bethesda Cares' meals program participants in September, via Bethesda Cares

A local food truck owner is auctioning up a chance for a barbecue Super Bowl bash to raise money for Bethesda Cares.

David “Curley” Cornblatt, owner of the Curley’s Q BBQ truck, is offering a fully-catered barbecue meal for 30 to the highest bidder and at a location of the winner’s choosing.

The money will go to Bethesda Cares, the nonprofit based on Woodmont Avenue that provides counseling services and help getting into permanent supportive housing to homeless individuals in Bethesda:

The highest bidder will get Curley’s Q BBQ Food Truck at the location of their choosing for one hour on Superbowl Sunday (or another date of their choosing that the food truck is available) serving up each of your 30 guests their choice of Curley’s award winning brisket, pulled pork, jerk chicken, or gaucho chicken served with slaw, crab scampi mac and cheese and two ribs, all sauces and paper goods are included.

Last year, Cornblatt cooked up 50 free meals for homeless and low income participants in Bethesda Cares’ meals program.

The auction is being done through Rasmus Auctions with promotional help from Yelp.

The high bid as of Wednesday at noon was $227. The auction will end on Monday, Jan. 26.

by Aaron Kraut — January 21, 2015 at 10:30 am 1,051 8 Comments

Montgomery Row at Rock Spring, rendering via EYA

The 168 townhouses coming to Rock Spring Drive and Fernwood Road will be called Montgomery Row at Rock Spring.

Bethesda-based developer EYA is behind the project, which got approval from the Montgomery County Planning Board last July. EYA hopes to open a sales center this spring.

Sign promoting Montgomery Row at Rock Spring townhousesIt will be EYA’s tenth community in Montgomery County and follows the company’s Little Falls Place and Grosvenor Heights projects elsewhere in Bethesda. But this proposal drew attention because of its location — smack in the middle of a suburban-style office park home to some major corporations.

The 10-acre property for Montgomery Row is across Fernwood Road from the corporate headquarters of Marriott International and a short walk along Rockledge Drive to the corporate headquarters of Lockheed Martin. A building constructed for IBM in the 1960s sits just north of the site, an empty swath of land reserved for two more office buildings and a parking garage.

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by Aaron Kraut — January 21, 2015 at 9:15 am 0

Flickr photo by ehpien

New Governor Larry Hogan – Anne Arundel businessman Larry Hogan will be sworn in today as the new governor of Maryland, which already has some drawing distinctions between him and predecessor Martin O’Malley. Hogan has never before held political office. [Baltimore Sun]

Transportation Group Needs New Member – The Bethesda Transportation Management District, which promotes carpooling, bicycling and other alternate means of transportation, has a vacancy. The group also looks at how to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety in downtown Bethesda. [Montgomery County]

Pike District = Pikers? – A reader letter to The Gazette from earlier this month explains a yet unheard of concern about the rebranding of the “Pike District.” The Rockville man who wrote the letter says the name “is a bad idea” because residents of the area “will be called pikers.” He then goes on to share the various definitions of the word, including “one who gambles with small amounts of money.” [The Gazette]

Senior Living Community Hires An Executive Chef – The Fox Hill retirement community (8300 Burdette Road) has hired a former executive chef at the Georgetown Ritz-Carlton to helm its kitchen operations. Quang Duong will oversee the community’s four dining venues. According to a press release, “he’s already adapted his menus to meet the demand of Fox Hill’s clientele, who prefer an emphasis on homestyle cooking.” [Fox Hill]

Flickr photo by ehpien

by BethesdaNow.com — January 21, 2015 at 8:00 am 388 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.

Mouse, a.k.a. Mo, is a sweet 7-month-old French Bulldog who was rescued from a puppy mill operation. When Mo came into rescue, he was malnourished, infested with fleas, full of parasites, and suffering from a severely damaged leg that was most likely the result of being attacked by another dog or mistreatment at the hands of his breeders. His leg went untreated for months, and he lived every day in pain.

While Mo’s story is sad, it’s also a story of resilience. Even through unthinkable neglect and mistreatment, he is still a happy and very playful pup who deserves to have a shot at a great life, and to experience love and human kindness.

Mutts Matter Rescue bannerWhen Mo came into the rescue, he went straight into foster care with one of our seasoned foster moms to begin his rehabilitation and to learn how to be part of a family. He was well on his way to recovery when he began to have seizures, and they grew more severe with time. An MRI revealed that he has a genetic condition called Hydrocephalus, an excessive buildup of fluid on the brain. This causes pain, pressure, headaches, seizures, and vision and stability problems. Left untreated, he would continue to have seizures and eventually die from this condition.

The good and hopeful news is that we took Mo to see a veterinary neurologist who determined that he is a good candidate for a special surgery that involves draining the fluid to alleviate the pressure on his fragile brain tissue. The doctors believe that this will allow him to lead a normal life and grow into a healthy adult Frenchie.

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by Aaron Kraut — January 20, 2015 at 9:45 pm 828 0

House fire in the Kenwood neighborhood on Tuesday night

Updated at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday – A kitchen fire in a Kenwood neighborhood home led to a large fire department response and two displaced residents on Tuesday night.

MCFRS units responded to the house, in the 5300 block of Oakland Road, a little bit after 8:45 p.m., according to department spokesperson Pete Piringer. The cause of the fire was a dishwasher malfunction and the incident caused $10,000 worth of damage to the home.

The home’s occupants were already out of the house and firefighters quickly put out the fire. After firefighters checked to see if the fire had spread, Piringer said there were no injuries.

The incident had about half a dozen fire trucks blocking off Oakland Road, and some fire and police vehicles staged on nearby Brookside Drive.

by Aaron Kraut — January 20, 2015 at 4:20 pm 594 31 Comments

Councilmember Hans Riemer, lead sponsor of the foam foodware billThe Montgomery County Council on Tuesday approved a ban of environmentally harmful styrofoam plates, trays, cups and carryout trays.

The Council approved the ban by an 8-0 vote. Councilmember Nancy Navarro was absent from Tuesday’s session because of a death in her family. Bill sponsors Hans Riemer, Marc Elrich and George Leventhal said the measure was necessary because unlike other trash, studies show foam products don’t biodegrade and can’t be recycled.

The bill will ban the use of all polystyrene foam food service products and the sale of polystyrene loose fill packaging (known as packing peanuts) starting Jan. 1, 2016 in Montgomery County.

It also requires the county government and its contractors to use only compostable or recyclable “single-use disposable food service ware,” such as plates, bowls, cups and eating utensils effective Jan. 1, 2016. The same requirement will go in to effect for private businesses on Jan. 1, 2017.

Among the items the bill covers: foam containers, plates, cups, trays and egg cartons.

“Many studies have shown that these foam products, especially those used for take out food, make up a substantial portion of the waste found in our waterways,” Riemer said in a County Council press release. “It never biodegrades, but it breaks apart, making it especially difficult to clean up. Recyclable and compostable alternatives are readily available and competitively priced, so it is time to move on from using foam products.”

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by Aaron Kraut — January 20, 2015 at 3:15 pm 487 0

Updated 9 a.m. Wednesday – A Winter Weather Advisory is still in effect for our area until 6 p.m. Wednesday, though the National Weather Service has done away with its prediction of any significant snow accumulation.

The NWS now says accumulations of up to 1 inch in Metro Washington D.C. are possible, with 1-2 inches in Metro Baltimore.

The NWS originally predicted accumulations of 1-3 inches, with higher amounts possible in certain locations. Here’s the new advisory:

…WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 6 PM EST THIS EVENING…

* PRECIPITATION TYPE…SNOW.

* ACCUMULATIONS…UP TO 1 INCH IN METRO WASHINGTON DC AND 1 TO 2 INCHES IN METRO BALTIMORE. LOCALLY HIGHER AMOUNTS ARE POSSIBLE NEAR MASON DIXON LINE.

* TIMING…SCATTERED FLURRIES EARLY THIS MORNING WILL BE FOLLOWED BY SNOW DEVELOPING OVER THE AREA DURING THE MID TO LATE MORNING. SNOW WILL CONTINUE DURING THE DAYTIME. THE HEAVIEST SNOW IS EXPECTED FROM LATE MORNING THROUGH MID AFTERNOON.

* TEMPERATURES…IN THE LOWER TO MID 30S.

* WINDS…NORTHEAST 5 MPH OR LESS.

* IMPACTS…TEMPERATURES NEAR OR SLIGHTLY BELOW FREEZING WILL ALLOW SNOW TO ACCUMULATE ON ROADWAYS AND OTHER SURFACES. THIS WILL RESULT IN HAZARDOUS DRIVING CONDITIONS THROUGH THE AFTERNOON.

by Aaron Kraut — January 20, 2015 at 2:30 pm 297 2 Comments

Photo via California TortillaCalifornia Tortilla on Tuesday introduced a “Ramen Burrito,” the latest in a long line of wacky food combinations and promotions from the locally-based Mexican chain.

The burrito will be filled with Asian noodles, rather than rice. It will feature either chicken, steak or pork. To get that ramen flavor, California Tortilla will top the burritos with a red chili sauce, “Sriracha pickled onions,” avocado, spinach, corn, scallions and cilantro.

“Ramen was one of the hottest food trends of 2014, and our customers are always excited to try new flavors,” California Tortilla CEO Keith Goldman said in a press release. “So we reinvented the traditional noodle bowl without the broth, but with all the classic flavors, and wrapped it up in a flour tortilla.  It’s one of my favorite new menu items, and I can’t wait for our customers to try it.”

The Ramen Burrito will be available through April at the Rockville-based chain’s more than 40 locations, including the flagship location in Bethesda at 4871 Cordell Avenue.

In the tradition of California Tortilla founders Alan Cohen and Pam Felix, the restaurant has kept up with a slew of zany offers.

California Tortilla, purveyor of free ice cream“virtual” pinatas and presidential burrito bowls. Last year’s polar vortex also brought a wind chill-dependent chips and queso special.

Photo via California Tortilla

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