This controversial fence backing up to the Capital Crescent Trail in Chevy Chase belongs to Ajay Bhatt, the president of a group pushing to save the trail from Purple Line construction.
On Jan. 21, a district court judge ruled the fence — built last May — was built illegally, about 18 feet into the county’s right-of-way. It’s also in the path of a planned retaining wall for the Purple Line.
Thursday, longtime Purple Line supporter Wayne Phyillaier argued Bhatt’s new fence shows a conflict of interest and could pose problems for the Maryland Transit Administration if and when it starts building the 16-mile system. Part of the Purple Line would include two light rail tracks and a rebuilt trail on the existing Georgetown Branch extension right-of-way.
“I think it’s important that the county protect the right-of-way from new construction,” said Phyillaier, who wrote about the fence in detail on his blog, Silver Spring Trails. “He knew, or should have known, just from being in the middle of this for so long.”
Bhatt, who was fined $500, is appealing the ruling and will have another court hearing in April.
He is the president of the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, a group that opposes the Purple Line in its proposed form because it would mean the loss of the existing trail and some of the existing green space.
“Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail is dedicated to preserving and augmenting the opportunities to appreciate nature and recreation on the segment of Trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring,” Bhatt said in a prepared release on Wednesday in response to recent Purple Line funding decisions. “Our vision is a World Class Park stretching from Georgetown to Silver Spring. Clear cutting and removing a mature forest ecosystem inside the Beltway — where it can never be replaced — is contrary to the goals of smart growth and sustainability that so many environmental proponents of the Purple Line supposedly espouse.”
Behind homes in Chevy Chase that back up to the trail, there are many fences and sheds that are technically in the county-owned Georgetown Branch right-of-way.
Many were built before Montgomery County purchased the right-of-way for a potential transit line in 1988, some as far back as the 1950s. That has caused confusion and frustration among some homeowners whose backyards back up to the trail.
The trail used to be a CSX rail line.
Phyillaier said he’s making Bhatt’s fence a public issue because the construction is new.
“It’s the most recent construction that I know of,” Phyillaier said. “I don’t think it’s necessary for the county to start going through and ripping through all these old fences and old tool sheds. There’s really no public good in ripping them out or confronting the property owner. I think it’s important that the county confront Ajay or anyone else who is doing new construction.”
It’s the most recent example of Purple Line supporters and opponents butting heads.
As the Town of Chevy Chase debated a legal fund to lobby against the Purple Line, members of the pro-Purple Line Action Committee for Transit claimed Town Mayor Pat Burda had a conflict of interest and a public hearing wasn’t held in accordance with public meeting laws.
ACT also questioned the Town’s decision to hire a lobbying firm that employes the brother of an influential member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Burda rebuked ACT’s claims by saying the group was “attempting to distract from the obvious and abundant flaws,” in the Purple Line’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.
The Town Council later approved a contract of up to $350,000 with lobbyists and legal firms to fight the Purple Line and pressure the MTA into desired mitigation.
Phyillaier said he didn’t consult with ACT or any other pro-Purple Line group before examining Bhatt’s fence.
ACT on Thursday tweeted out a screen capture of the online court record of Bhatt’s fence case, which was brought by Montgomery County as a code violation.
Reached by email, Bhatt characterized the fence controversy as a series of personal attacks.
Fence photos via Wayne Phyillaier
The school system on Thursday spelled out where it stands in regard to the rest of the 2013-2014 school year calendar.
The original calendar, with room for four snow days built in, has the last day of school on June 12. MCPS has canceled nine days of school because of snow and inclement winter weather.
Because of Maryland’s requirement for at least 180 days of instruction, MCPS could be on the hook for five extra days of classes and would move the last day of school to Thursday, June 19.
So what about that waiver?
The Maryland State Department of Education has not yet begun accepting applications for a waiver of the 180-day requirement. When they do, MCPS will decide whether to apply for a waiver, and how many days it will seek to have waived.
A big factor could be any additional snow days in the coming weeks. MCPS has received snow day waivers before.
The MCPS press release sounds an optimistic tone, at least for two of the five overflow snow days:
The fact that Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley declared a state of emergency on February 13 and 14 may make it more likely that a waiver would be granted for these snow days, but it is not guaranteed. The district would still need to apply for such a waiver.
(Updated at 2:50 p.m.) An apparent accident involving a snow plow and power lines on Monday has meant a powerless Mia’s Pizza for the past three days.
A downed light pole remains on the front patio space of the popular pizzeria at 4926 Cordell Ave. A ripped up wire also remains and there is noticeable damage to the awning of next door Mexican restaurant Gringos & Mariachis.
A little before 7 p.m. on Monday, the power went out for about 700 Pepco customers in Woodmont Triangle and East Bethesda. Some on Cordell Avenue heard a loud sound before the outage:
Snow plow totally just hit a power line. Power's out in @BethesdaNow, but thankful for our generator.
— Carrie Ziskind (@CZiskind) March 3, 2014
Power was out to a number of businesses in Woodmont Triangle until about 9 p.m., according to Pepco’s outage map.
Mia’s wasn’t so lucky. Owner Melissa “Mia” Ballinger said she had all necessary repairs done by 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. She’s waiting for an inspection from Montgomery County, which must happen before Pepco can turn the lights back on in her building.
“Hopefully, Montgomery County will do the inspection tomorrow,” Ballinger said.
A sign on the restaurant’s front door said it’s hoping to open no later than Thursday.
The question came up last year during a three-week strike by workers for Gaithersburg-based Potomac Disposal, a trash and recycling pick-up contractor for the county that serves throughout, including in areas of Bethesda and Chevy Chase.
An initial payroll investigation by the county’s Department of General Services found 22 violations in 390 payroll records. Potomac Disposal and the workers have since entered into a collective bargaining agreement. The living wage law does not cover workers under a collective bargaining agreement.
The workers claimed the company threatened them with immigration enforcement after an unsuccessful negotiation for healthcare insurance and better wages. According to the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), trash collection truck drivers were making between $120 and $130 a day, while those who load trash into the trucks were making between $60 and $70 a day.
That would put the trash loaders below the current living wage of $13.95 per hour. In 2002, the county approved a living wage law that requires workers for county contractors to be paid a minimum wage based on the area’s Consumer Price Index.
The county’s Department of General Services started an audit to investigate the allegations that Potomac Disposal was not abiding by the law. Workers at Unity Disposal, another county-contracted sanitation company, also went on strike.
On Thursday, DGS will report to the Council’s Government Operations Committee with its findings and suggest new penalties for contractors that don’t submit payroll forms on time.
A Council questionnaire asked DGS if changes to the law were needed to help enforcement:
Implementing penalties for late payroll submission and other forms of enforcement may help motivate contractors to comply. The Prevailing Wage Law serves as a good model to ensure that workers are justly compensated for their efforts. The Living Wage Law should give the Director the ability to assess penalties for non-compliances, such as late payroll submissions and under-payments.
DGS estimated there are typically 400 county contracts subject to the living wage law. But it’s up to the contractor to file payroll reports about workers covered by the law. DGS said it has been receiving 50 to 200 reports each quarter.
DGS recieved 12 complaints about non-compliance since the law was enacted in 2003, including one about Potomac Disposal in 2007 in which DGS did in investigation. Potomac Disposal initially didn’t provide sufficient payroll records, DGS said. DGS said Potomac later provided those records and was determined to be in compliance.
Others were determined to be in violation and paid up. A Burtonsville landscaping company was determined to be in violation of the law in 2009 and retroactively paid $22,000 to employees. In another case, an audit of Cruz Cleaning Services found the company in violation of the law. DGS said the company did not make up for the lost wages, so the county terminated its contract in 2005.
The sanitation strike led to some delays in trash and recycling pick-ups, though the company assured Montgomery County that all scheduled pick ups would be made.
Photo by Nicole Duarte via Twitter
Caribou Coffee To Switch To Peet’s This Month — The announced switchover of D.C. area Caribou Coffee locations to Peet’s Coffee and Tea is starting. Both the downtown Bethesda location (
7926 7629 Old Georgetown Rd.) and Westfield Montgomery Mall location (7101 Democracy Blvd.) will close March 23 and are scheduled to reopen as Peet’s locations on April 28. [Bethesda Magazine]
SAT In For A Redesign — The college admission test taken by roughly 1.5 million high school students a year will get another redesign. This time, the College Board says the new test will be without the timed-essay portion, will involve fewer advanced vocabulary questions and will go back to the 1600-point scoring scale. The College Board says the changes are meant to make college more accessible to students who are now traditionally shut out. Some point out the SAT has fallen behind the rival ACT in total student customers. The new SAT will take effect in 2016. [Washington Post]
League of Conservation Voters Make More Endorsements — The Maryland League of Conservation Voters, one of the state’s most politically active environmental groups, released another round of endorsements on Wednesday for this June’s gubernatorial primary. In our area, the LCV endorsed Susan Lee for District 16 State Senate. Strangely enough, it also endorsed four candidates for three District 18 seats in the House of Delegates. Included are the three incumbents — Ana Sol Gutierrez, Al Carr and Jeff Waldstreicher — and challenger Rick Kessler. The group previously endorsed incumbent District 16 Del. Ariana Kelly and incumbent District 18 Sen. Rich Madaleno. [League of Conservation Voters]
Pre-Submission Meeting For Downtown Apartment Project — Developer Bainbridge is hosting a public meeting on its proposed 14-floor, 225-unit apartment project at the site of the long shuttered Exxon Station at 7340 Wisconsin Ave. The project was supposed to go before the Planning Board in December for its Project Plan and Preliminary Plan approvals. The developer is hosting another pre-submittal meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 18 at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center (4805 Edgemoor Lane).
Bloomingdale’s Hosting Fundraiser For National Down Syndrome Society — Bloomingdale’s (5300 Western Ave., Chevy Chase) is hosting a charity shopping event from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, March 13. Participants will get blowouts, brow treatments, makeovers a fashion trend show, old-fashioned shoe shines, music and drinks. The event is to benefit the National Down Syndrome Society through the Mamie’s Mile organization. Tickets are $25. [Mamie's Mile]
Flickr photo by pnfa111
U.S. Renal Care is a Texas-based company of more than 200 outpatient dialysis clinics that partner with local nephrologists to run its facilities.
Dr. Steven Burka, the medical director of inpatient dialysis at Sibley Hospital Memorial Hospital in D.C., also serves as the medical director of the new location at 4701 Sangamore Rd. Burka opened the dialysis center in downtown Bethesda, at 3 Bethesda Metro Center, before it merged with U.S. Renal Care.
“When I started 30 years ago, there was sort of a factor that was missing with these dialysis facilities,” Burka said. “They weren’t so warm. The lack of warmth and friendliness negatively impacted on the quality of life of a family member of mine who was on dialysis. I thought it would be a great idea to build a facility that had that built in, where the primary focus would be on having a warm, welcoming, enjoyable place to be. Where if you had to be on dialysis, this would be the place to be.”
The new facility is in Suite P107 on the top floor of the shopping center.
The municipality of a little more than 2,000 residents on the D.C./Maryland line has its own police department, a budget of about $6 million and sets real estate and property tax rates in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country.
The seven-member Board of Managers, which acts as the Village’s council, oversees and determines those services.
In May, the terms of Board members Michael Denger, Robert Goodwin and Elissa Leonard will expire. Goodwin and Leonard were elected last spring and assigned one-year terms in a random drawing.
Two resignations from the Board last year — brought on by new ethics requirements some felt were too stringent — meant two one-year vacancies needed to be filled.
Any Village resident can run for a seat on the Board if he or she is a registered voter in Maryland, has lived in the Village for 30 days prior to the election and files the required financial disclosure statement. Board members serve two-year terms.
If the field is limited to three candidates, the candidates will be declared elected at the Village’s Annual Meeting, set for Monday, April 21. If there are more than three candidates, the Village will hold an election on Saturday, May 3.
Residents interested in running for a seat may contact Elections Committee Chair Charlotte Jones-Carroll by email at cjonescarroll[at]aol[dot]com, preferably no later than March 21. Nominations may also be made from the floor at the Annual Meeting.
To qualify as a candidate, an individual, including sitting Board members, must file the Financial Disclosure Statement with the Village Ethics Commission on, or before April 7, 2014. Forms are available in the Village office or by email at ccv[at]montgomerycountymd[dot]gov.
A prominent corner in downtown Bethesda will likely get a new tenant soon.
The 2,150-square-foot space formerly belonging to Kraze Burger at 4733 Elm St. is available after the Korean burger chain filed for bankruptcy in January.
Rich Greenberg, from the Bethesda-based Greenhill Realty Company, told us the landlord has had quite a bit of interest from national and local tenants. A decision could be coming in the next few weeks.
So, as we’ve done before, we ask: What if you could choose what tenant takes over this space? Are you looking for a particular type of restaurant Bethesda is missing or a specific chain you know would work well?
My Two Cents is a weekly opinion column from Bethesda resident Joseph Hawkins. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BethesdaNow.com.
Public school students behaving poorly in cyberspace resulted in the Montgomery County Public Schools creating a Cybercivility Task Force. Do we really need a task force? Is a task force really the best way to develop respectful digital citizens?
Having served on three MCPS task forces, I know the drill — lots of meetings, a report, a presentation to the Board of Education, and maybe two years down the road new policies and procedures emerge.
And so to save time, I was wondering: Why not just kick this problem down the food chain.
Let each individual MCPS school debate it, settle it and set their own rules for civility on the internet. This sounds somewhat uncontrolled, but I’ll bet that all 200-plus MCPS schools already have their own rules in place for how students use technology.
With a simple email to all principals, Superintendent Joshua Starr could request that the troops in the field add some basic rules around civility.
I’m sure there are “model” MCPS schools, but not having the time to sort that one out, I turned to my old high school, Bishop McNamara in Prince George’s County, to explore how a high school is dealing with an explosion in social media use of all types by teens.
The cost estimate for the Purple Line light rail has increased by $220 million, according to a Federal Transit Administration report.
The increase comes primarily from higher costs for right-of-way that must be acquired to make room for the system. The Purple Line is now projected to cost $2.37 billion, up from the previous projection of $2.15 billion.
The report, on the heels of President Obama’s recommendation on Tuesday for $100 million in federal funding for the project next fiscal year, gives a mostly favorable rating to the 16-mile, 21-station light rail system.
The Maryland Transit Administration is looking for $900 million in federal funding for the project, which it hopes to build and operate as part of a public-private partnership (P3) agreement.
The report does warn that the state’s projected growth in Transportation Trust Fund revenues and farebox collections “is more optimistic than historical experience.” The state projects 56,100 daily linked trips and almost 21 million annual linked trips by 2035.
Critics of the light rail proposed by the MTA have pointed to rising cost estimates as a reason alternative options — such as a bus rapid transit system — should be explored. The Purple Line’s western terminus would be in Bethesda and it would include a stop in Chevy Chase Lake.
“Success of rapid transit systems throughout the world, including the highly touted Select Bus Service in NYC, also beg the question whether Maryland’s persistent pursuit of an on-street fixed rail system in the middle of one of the most congested metropolitan areas is the most efficient use of tax-raised transportation dollars,” said Ajay Bhatt in a press release.
Bhatt is the president of the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail.
The Friends group is against building the Purple Line on its proposed route along the Georgetown Branch Extension of the Capital Crescent Trail. The Town of Chevy Chase is also doing federal lobbying and could pursue a lawsuit in its efforts against the system.
Other changes from the last FTA review of the project in 2012 include an increase to 58 light rail vehicles from 55. The MTA has removed two grade-separated street crossings from the project.
Those will be replaced by at-grade crossings, meaning a reduced construction cost but a slightly longer travel time. MTA decided it needed the three extra vehicles to make up for that time.
Rendering via Maryland Transit Administration
Police are on the scene of a SUV that jumped a curb and hit a building on Wisconsin Avenue.
The incident was reported at about 9:10 a.m. in front of the Marin-Price Galleries at 7022 Wisconsin Ave.
It doesn’t appear the vehicle did much damage to the storefront. Both the Galleries and next door Golden City Chinese restaurant haven’t opened yet Wednesday.
According to scanner reports, the driver of the vehicle did not remain on the scene. The far right lane of southbound Wisconsin Avenue near the incident is closed off for the time being.
Others have been able to get by or even improve sales, thanks in part to the many orange-vested, hard hat-wearing construction workers now in abundant supply.
“Already, we’re doing better at breakfast in two hours than we were for three hours at dinner,” said Alonso Roche, owner and chef at Bold Bite (4901 Fairmont Ave.).
Roche and company decided to add coffee, homemade donuts and cheese arepas to a menu known for its specialty hot dogs and hamburgers. The new breakfast items, coupled with a 8 a.m. to 4 p.m schedule for February and part of March, have attracted many of the workers on two projects (Bainbridge Bethesda and 7770 Norfolk Ave) that have made for a messy situation on Fairmont Avenue.
With sidewalks closed, parking meters ripped out and construction equipment blocking road lanes, Bold Bite found that pretty much nobody was coming to the location during the darker dinner hours.
“The whole Fairmont Avenue area has been kind of a big construction zone lately. That’s been tough. We figured we should try out the breakfast,” Roche said.
On Tuesday, Roche said he sold out of donuts. The shop usually gets a rush of construction workers at 10 a.m., when they’re on break.
Roche said Bold Bite hopes to roll out the donut concept at a separate store and is piloting it with a food cart starting in May outside its Union Station location. He also hopes to reopen for dinner by the end of March.
On Bethesda Row, sales at the Dunkin’ Donuts slipped in the first year since parking at Lot 31 was taken away to make way for construction on a new underground garage and two residential buildings.
But in the nine months since — the nine months when more and more construction workers arrived on-site — franchise owner Boris Lander said both sales and guest counts have rebounded.
“Construction workers are patronizing the shop regularly,” Lander said. “I believe that has helped to stabilize sales.”
Lander’s Luis Group recently opened another Dunkin’ location in the Bethesda Metro bus bay and is scheduled to open a combination Dunkin’/Baskin-Robbins location on Cordell Avenue on March 29.
With the Bethesda Avenue store’s lease coming up on May 30 and landlord Federal Realty not interested in extending it, Lander said the popular location near Lot 31 could be relocating to a space on Elm Street, though a deal is still in the works.
Back on Fairmont Avenue, Roche said he realizes not every business around him has been as fortunate.
A dispute over structural damage between the construction company behind the Bainbridge Bethesda project and the landlord of the building next door has meant four shuttered businesses, including the well-regarded Red Tomato Cafe on St Elmo Avenue.
As the Bainbridge building nears completion and work on the 7770 Norfolk building ramps up across the street, Roche said he hopes better weather can help bring customers to the area.
“Everybody is feeling it around here. The construction, the weather has been uncooperative I guess you could say,” Roce said. “But we’re plugging away.”
Purple Line Gets Good News On Federal Funding — President Barack Obama’s budget, released Tuesday, included the Purple Line on a list of seven transit projects nationwide that the Federal Transit Administration recommends for a full funding grant agreement. That could lead to the $900 million in federal money state transportation planners are seeking for the $2.2. billion light rail. Obama’s budget also included $100 million in federal money for the Purple Line in the next fiscal year. The total amount of federal funding recommended for the system will be released Wednesday. The FTA still needs to issue its record of decision on the state’s Finale Environmental Impact Statement. [Washington Post]
Council Adopts New Zoning Ordinance — The County Council on Tuesday adopted a new zoning ordinance, not before one more debate on rules for the county’s agricultural reserve. After six months of committee discussions, Councilmember Nancy Floreen said she was “mystified” as to why the Council would spend more time debating the issue. “This is what makes our community frustrated with us,” Floreen said. The adopted version of the zoning ordinance will be viewable at the Zoning Montgomery website by Friday. It will be available for review until the Council approves the District Map Amendment that would effectively put it into action later this year. [The Gazette] [County Council]
Construction Set To Start On Downtown Apartment — Kettler, the developer behind the 101-unit apartment project at 7535 Old Georgetown Rd., has closed on a land and construction loan an dis ready to demolish the existing United Bank building and start construction. The building will be called “Element 28.” [Washington Business Journal]
Tiger Woods Tournament Could Be At Congressional Every Other Year — This is the last year Congressional Country Club is set to host Tiger Woods’ PGA Tour event. According to a member of the club, the club’s board of governors proposed bringing the event back every other year, beginning in 2016. The membership vote on the proposal is due on March 31. The event, known as the AT&T National, also has a new title sponsor — Quicken Loans. The tournament moved to a course near Philadelphia in 2010 and 2011 as Congressional geared up for and hosted the 2011 U.S. Open. [Golf Channel]
Flickr photo by ehpien
Water is reportedly leaking into the underground garage at 6820 Wisconsin Ave., the facility that provides parking for Staples, the Adagio condominiums, a CVS and a number of other retail tenants.
MCFRS reported the leaks at about 3:45 p.m. and have been on scene since. One MCFRS vehicle remains in the far right lane of southbound Wisconsin Avenue near its intersection with Bradley Lane.
A building inspector is reportedly en route.
The same garage had water problems in November 2012, when a water main replacement project led to two to three feet of water pooling up in the lowest level of the six-floor garage, damaging about five cars.
The Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations (MCCPTA) is sponsoring a legislative reception from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and has chartered buses from five locations in the county for the parents and students. The MCCPTA, with approval from MCPS, is offering three SSL hours to each student who come along, provided they stay for the 8 p.m.-8:30 p.m. session.
Montgomery County lawmakers have partnered with legislators in Prince George’s and Baltimore Counties to push for a state bill that would provide up to $20 million each year to fund a portion of school construction projects or project debt for the three large school systems.
“Montgomery County needs the State of Maryland to step up with a matched program for resources over and above what the County normally receives,” read an email sent from the county on Tuesday as part of its school construction funding campaign.
County Executive Isiah Leggett, Council President Craig Rice, MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr and Board of Education President Phil Kauffman are all set to lobby at the event, which will be held in the Lowe House Office Building, 6 Bladen Street, Room 170.
MCPS has grown by about 2,000 students a year and is projected to grow by about 25,000 students over the next 12 years. County leaders say Montgomery deserves state support in easing overcrowding concerns. Leggett recommended $1.1 billion of school construction funding in his latest capital budget and the county says its own funding for construction has increased by 36 percent.
But the bills — cross-filed in the Senate and House — face an uphill battle. County officials have blamed election-year politics for the efforts apparent failure so far to gain enough traction for approval.
The MCCPTA has said it expects about 300 to 400 parents at the advocacy event on Thursday.
Students who go to Annapolis must be accompanied by a parent, whether they go on MCCPTA buses or individually.
Kimberly Bloch-Rincan, the SSL coordinator for MCPS, wrote that advocacy activities are appropriate for SSL hours and that MCCPTA is a SSL approved nonprofit:
- Official MCCPTA representatives will ensure that all 3 phases of SSL are implemented (i.e. the preparation and reflection phases of SSL will occur on the bus and supervision during the action
phase in Annapolis)
- Students are encouraged to ride the MCPS buses to the event and must be accompanied by their
- Students are not encourage to drive in individual cars but if they do, they must meet the MCPS
buses in the parking lot to join the MCCPTA group in order be supervised and to receive the
One of the buses will leave from Whitman High School. Councilmember Roger Berliner will be on that bus.
For information on the MCCPTA buses, visit this site.
Flickr photo by richandalice