66°Partly Cloudy

by Aaron Kraut — October 13, 2014 at 9:00 am 177 0

Taste of Bethesda, looking north along Norfolk Avenue

Could Elrich Be Out Of Influential Committee Position? – The Washington Post’s Bill Turque wonders if Councilmember Marc Elrich may be left off the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee come next year. The move may come after Elrich supported Beth Daly to supplant one of his three at-large Council colleagues in June’s Democratic primary. The other three incumbent at-large members all won and one of them, George Leventhal, will likely be president of the Council next year and have a big say in committee assignments. [Washington Post]

Weekend Metrorail Service For Columbus Day – Metrorail will operate at Saturday service intervals on Monday, meaning trains every 6-12 minutes during the day. Parking at Metro-owned lots and garages is free on the holiday. Montgomery County government does not close for Columbus Day, so all county-owned parking lots and meters will require payment.

Council, Police To Discuss Officers In High Schools – After significant cuts during the recession, county leaders this year put enough money back into the budget to fund a police officer in each high school, also known as a School Resource Officer. Police officials will be at the County Council’s Public Safety Committee meeting on Monday morning to discuss the program. [Montgomery County Council]

White Flint Walking Tour Rescheduled – Because of rain, the Friends of White Flint rescheduled its walking tour of the area set for Saturday for Saturday, Oct. 25. Former Gov. Parris Glendening is still set to join the group to look at what’s working, what’s not working and what’s coming for roads and development. [Friends of White Flint]

by Aaron Kraut — October 6, 2014 at 11:55 am 1,481 19 Comments

Lot 10 and 24 behind the Farm Women's Market in Bethesda

Despite no apparent decisions from county planners, the Town of Chevy Chase is again sounding the alarm about the prospect of development on two parking lots on the edge of downtown Bethesda.

In a notification published Monday on the Town’s website, Town officials asked residents to email Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, County Council President Craig Rice and District Councilmember Roger Berliner about the potential for redevelopment on county parking Lots 10 and 24.

The surface parking lots provide a buffer area between the single-family home neighborhood that makes up the Town and the commercial and residential area of Wisconsin Avenue and downtown Bethesda.

The Town claims the parking lots are “at risk” and could share the same fate as Lot 31, a county lot that is being redeveloped into a five-floor apartment building and nine-story condo building overlooking the Sacks neighborhood:

At risk in the new plan is the fate of one critical asset to the Town — the buffer zone created by the parking lots separating our neighborhood from development along Wisconsin Avenue. County plans call for substantially diminishing these parking lots and replacing them with large “transitional” buildings. Only a narrow “Eastern Greenway” would remain.

A sense of how building development affects the adjacent neighborhood can be seen in the two large buildings nearing completion across from Barnes and Noble. Formerly, parking lots buffered the adjacent single-family homes of the Sacks community from this commercial area.

County planners are working on a rewrite of the downtown Bethesda sector plan, which could mean new zoning or development guidelines for all parts of the Bethesda Central Business District. So far, planners have released preliminary concept plans for new areas of development and park space.

The planning department’s actual recommendations aren’t due until later this year. It’s unclear which, if any, plans are in the works that would call for “substantially diminishing” the parking lots.

The issue came up in the spring, and county officials quickly shot down any notion that the county was planning a Lot 31-like development project on Lots 10 or 24.

The Planning Board and County Council must both approve the sector plan rewrite.

The Town said it’s joined a coalition of 18 residential communities surrounding downtown Bethesda to increase awareness of its concerns.

by Aaron Kraut — September 16, 2014 at 12:05 pm 237 0

The 2-hour parking limit on Friendship Boulevard isn't enforced, but could be if parking meters are added

Curbside parking meters may be coming to three roads in the Friendship Heights section of Chevy Chase.

Ken Hartman, Montgomery County government’s point person in Bethesda, outlined a preliminary plan for the meters along Wisconsin Avenue, Friendship Boulevard and Willard Avenue during a monthly advisory board meeting on Monday.

Hartman and a representative of the property owner that asked for the meters gave a long list of reasons for the proposal — including pedestrian safety, boosting the finances of the local Transportation Management District and preventing the type of robberies that have happened in the area’s ultra-pricey shopping areas.

On Tuesday, a Department of Transportation spokesperson said specific locations, hours and rates are still under consideration, though Hartman said the meters would operate much like the ones in downtown Bethesda.

DOT spokesperson Esther Bowring said the department isn’t yet sure if meters will be installed or how many would be put in. There is no timeline for installation yet and Hartman is looking for comments regarding the proposal.

Hartman said the current plan is to put meters on the west side of Friendship Boulevard, between Western Avenue and Willard Avenue, on the south side of Willard Avenue, between Friendship Boulevard and North Park Avenue and on both sides of Wisconsin Avenue between Somerset Terrace and Wisconsin Circle.

The Friendship Boulevard and Willard Avenue meters would allow up to four hours of parking. The Wisconsin Avenue meters would allow for up to two hours of parking. The meters would run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, except nobody would be allowed to park at the Wisconsin Avenue meters during rush hour periods.

The meters would cost $2 per hour, the same as in downtown Bethesda.

The Chevy Chase Land Company, which owns most of the retail property on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue in Friendship Heights, asked for the county to consider parking meters on the street in a letter last year.

Miti Figueredo, vice president of public affairs at the Land Company, said on Monday the idea sprouted from conversations with security guards after the April 2013 smash-and-grab at the Cartier store (5471 Wisconsin Ave.).

Proposed locations of curbside parking meters in Friendship Heights, via Google MapsAccording to Figueredo, the security guards (many who operate in stores as off-duty police officers) said one reason the stores are a target was because thieves can easily pull up to the curb, steal items and drive off.

“It makes it really easy for people to just block that travel lane and run directly into the store,” Figueredo said. “We started thinking about it more broadly, and thought about how meters might also improve pedestrian safety. One of the easiest and most low-cost things you can do to improve pedestrian safety is to lower the speed of traffic on Wisconsin Avenue.”

Figueredo also said the Land Company is interested in the idea because curbside parking meters typically mean more customer turnover in those parking spots.

Hartman said the installation of meters could encourage Montgomery County to fund enforcement. There are currently no streetside meters in Friendship Heights. Despite a number of curbside parking zones with two-hour limits, those limits aren’t enforced.

“Putting meters along these roads would essentially be a reason for them to contract with enforcement folks,” Hartman said. “Technically, if somebody’s lucky enough they can park all day in Friendship Heights for free.”

It would also mean some revenue for the Friendship Heights Transportation Management District, a group that encourages the use of transit and alternative commuting options. It’s not yet clear how much revenue would be generated.

Among the issues Hartman identified with the proposal were the frequent medical drop-offs on the southbound side of Wisconsin Avenue. It’s common for drivers to drop off and pick up elderly clients of a medical office on Wisconsin Avenue. By law, those drivers are allowed to park in front of the building for up to 15 minutes with their flashers on.

Hartman said the county is looking at carving out sufficient space so those drop-offs can continue.

Map via Google Maps

by Aaron Kraut — August 25, 2014 at 11:55 am 1,264 21 Comments

Woodmont Avenue, still closed between Bethesda Avenue and Miller AvenueThe road closure in downtown Bethesda that was supposed to be reopened in 20-24 months could continue into 2015.

Montgomery County spokesperson Sue Tucker said the county has determined that Woodmont Avenue between Bethesda Avenue and Miller Avenue is not safe enough to reopen because of the ongoing construction activity.

The section of road was closed in September 2012 to allow for construction of a new underground county parking garage, an apartment building and a condominium building from developer StonebridgeCarras.

After a visit last week by Montgomery County Chief of Parking Management Rick Siebert, the county determined the street will not reopen until the underground parking garage is ready to open, which could be January, Tucker said.

“They’ve determined the road is going to remained closed due to safety factors to pedestrians,” Tucker said. “The county went out there and decided they had concerns about the safety, so for safety’s sake they have decided not to open it.”

In July, StonebridgeCarras Principal Jane Mahaffie said the stretch of road would reopen by Friday, Aug. 22, on the weekend before the first day of the 2014-2015 MCPS school year. Mahaffie also said the garage, which will include 970 public spots to replace Lot 31, would open by or around Dec. 1.

Mahaffie didn’t return a request for comment.

The apartment and condo buildings (known as The Darcy and The Flats) will include ground-floor restaurants and retail and are set to be completed by May 2015.

The Darcy and The Flats are still under construction on either side of Woodmont Avenue. The section of road was repaved and marked in the last few weeks, though it became clear there would be no space for pedestrians until the buildings were closer to completion.

Earlier this month, electronic signs indicated the road would be reopened by or on Friday, Aug. 15 and then by or on Friday, Aug. 22. Those signs went dark over the weekend.

Last week, crews installed signs that read “No Pedestrian Access” and “Not Publicly Maintained Roadway.”

That apparently wasn’t enough to assuage concerns from the county, which joined StonebridgeCarras in a public-private partnership to build the new parking garage and buildings on the former site of Lot 31 near Bethesda Row.

Tucker said she wasn’t sure if the sides entered into an agreement that stipulated timeframes for the reopening of Woodmont Avenue.

by Aaron Kraut — August 15, 2014 at 1:40 pm 504 6 Comments

Woodmont Avenue at Bethesda Avenue wasn’t quite ready to be reopened Friday after a nearly two-year construction closure.

In September 2012, Montgomery County closed Woodmont Avenue between Bethesda and Miller Avenues to allow construction of a four-level underground garage, part of which is under the roadway. 

The parking garage includes 970 public parking spaces to be operated by Montgomery County as the new Lot 31. Bethesda-based developer StonebridgeCarras built the new garage, a condominium building and apartment building on the former site of Lot 31, a popular parking lot for patrons of Bethesda Row.

Signs say the stretch of road will reopen “on or about” Friday. Officials hope to have the underground garage opened and ready for use by Dec. 1.

As of 1:30 p.m. Friday, the road was still closed.

The 970 public spaces will be separated by a gate from the roughly 300 spaces that will be reserved for residents and guests of the apartment and condo buildings. StonebridgeCarras hopes to have those finished by May 2015.

There is no apparent pedestrian access yet on the stretch of road, which has been paved and marked.

The StonebridgeCarras project will include a pedestrian cut-thru and plaza from Woodmont Avenue to the Capital Crescent Trail, which runs between the future apartment building and Ourisman Honda dealership.

by Aaron Kraut — August 1, 2014 at 3:10 pm 822 8 Comments

Woodmont Avenue to reopen on Friday, Aug. 15

After almost two years of construction, it’ll be just another two weeks until Woodmont Avenue at Bethesda Avenue is reopened.

An electronic sign at Woodmont Avenue and Montgomery Lane carries the news that the section of roadway in one of Bethesda’s busiest spots will reopen on Friday, Aug. 15. That’s a week before officials involved in the development of the Lot 31 project had hoped for.

StonebridgeCarras Principal Jane Mahaffie said crews and the county hoped to have the section of road between Bethesda Avenue and Miller Avenue reopened by Friday, Aug. 22, the weekend before the first day of the 2014-2015 county school year.

StonebridgeCarras and Montgomery County partnered on the redevelopment project of the former Lot 31, a surface parking lot just across the street from the heart of Bethesda Row.

In September 2012, the county closed the section of Woodmont Avenue to allow construction of a four-level underground garage, part of which is under the roadway. The parking garage includes 970 public parking spaces to be operated by Montgomery County as the new Lot 31.

Those spaces will be separated by a gate from the roughly 300 spaces that will be reserved for residents and guests of the apartment and condo buildings that Stonebridge Carras hopes to have finished by May 2015.

Officials hope to have the garage opened and ready for use by Dec. 1.

by Aaron Kraut — July 17, 2014 at 4:10 pm 163 0

Chevy Chase Village Hall (file photo)Almost every morning since a neighborhood repaving project began this month in Chevy Chase Village, residents have left their vehicles parked in the way.

That’s the message the municipality sent out Thursday, which says it has had to go through the arduous task of trying to contact the owners of the cars too often since the street paving project began on July 7.

“Village staff must try to contact the owners of these cars — which can be very time consuming — and when a resident cannot be located or is unable to move the car in a timely fashion, the car is towed,” reads the Village website.

To make matters worse, some residents have moved their cars, but into illegal spots:

Parking violations create hazardous conditions for pedestrians and vehicles alike.With the exception of permit parking restrictions (we understand that some residents will have to park on different streets due to being displaced by repaving), Village police will be actively enforcing all other parking laws during the repaving project.The below list represents some of the most frequent violations that we have encountered.Among other parking prohibitions, you must NOT park:

  • In violation of an official sign;
  • Within 5 feet of a driveway opening;
  • Within 30 feet of a stop sign or other traffic device;
  • Within 35 feet of an intersection;
  • Within 15 feet of a fire hydrant;
  • Within 2 feet of another vehicle;
  • Opposite the flow of traffic (‘left wheels to the curb’)

The paving operation will continue through the middle of August. The Village promoted the project as the final part of a number of infrastructure projects that have led to dug up streets and roads.

Apparently not everyone got the message.

“We need your help so that paving operations will not be delayed, and so that you will not get a parking ticket,” the Village website reads.

If your vehicle is towed, you can contact the Village Communications Center at 301-654-7300. For questions about the repaving project, the Village said residents can reach Michael Younes, its director of Municipal Operations, at michael[dot]younes[at]montgomerycountymd[dot]gov.

by Aaron Kraut — July 16, 2014 at 9:10 am 1,102 23 Comments

8008 Wisconsin rendering, via Douglas Development 8008 Wisconsin rendering, via Douglas Development

The latest new apartment building planned for Bethesda’s Woodmont Triangle neighborhood is a 14-story, roughly 130-unit project on the Wisconsin Avenue corner occupied for 18 years by the Ranger Surplus store.

D.C.-based Douglas Development bought up the block and the Woodmont Avenue Beer and Wine house property last year. It’ll be the developer’s first foray into downtown Bethesda’s sizzling new apartment market, though probably not the company’s last.

Douglas also bought a block of buildings that includes the popular Tommy Joe’s and Pines of Romes restaurants a little farther south along Wisconsin Avenue.

This project, which attorney Emily Vaias hopes will be ready to break ground by 2016, would include 4,000-square-feet of retail on the Woodmont Avenue/Cordell Avenue corner. Most of that space would be dedicated to a restaurant.

Douglas selected architect WDG, the same firm that did the recently opened Gallery Bethesda just a few blocks away.

At a required public meeting on Tuesday, one next-door business owner and across-the-street building owner complained about the relative lack of parking the building will provide.

The proposal, which Vaias said the developer hopes to submit by the end of August, includes a two-floor garage with 77 parking spaces and access mid-block on Cordell Avenue.

Bruce Variety co-owner Linda Ridenour complained that didn’t seem like enough. The crafts and variety store moved to the house immediately next to the Beer and Wine store last year.

Ridenour’s building and store would remain, but she questioned if residents of the new apartment would seek parking in the public lot and street meters near her business, in effect preventing her customers form finding nearby parking.

“I invite you to come to that site and just observe what goes on,” Ridenour said. “I hope that the designers are processing in their mind what happens. People have to function with a car. You can wish it away as much as you want. You can say, ‘Oh, we’re all going to try to walk everywhere.’ Let’s be honest, it’s not the way people function.”

Joel Danshes, who owns the building that houses Sala Thai across Woodmont Avenue from the project, made similar criticisms. Danshes claimed Sala Thai already has issues with customers who can’t find parking.

Vaias explained that projects in downtown Bethesda — which functions as an official Parking Lot District — aren’t required to include any parking for residents because of the public parking facilities available. She also mentioned how many of those public garages are severely underutilized.

Danshes wasn’t hearing it. He suggested Douglas either dig deeper for a larger garage or reduce the number of units.

Patrick Cooper, a representative for Douglas Development, explained the financial balance that must be reached for a developer to proceed with a project.

“It is an absolute dance. You need as much density for the multi-family aspect to be able to subsidize the construction cost of the building,” Cooper said. “The deeper you go, you encounter bedrock. Construction costs go up astronomically when you have to deal with bedrock. The death knell for an owner is to overpark a building.”

One attendee of the meeting pointed out the concept of fewer than one parking spot per resident isn’t a foreign one. The person attempted to explain that many places, including D.C., seem to function just fine with fewer parking spaces.

Vaias pointed out that residents would be unlikely to park in one-hour or two-hour street meter spots, seeing as if they have a vehicle they would need to park it overnight in nearby public garages, or risk getting it towed.

Still, Ridenour and Danshes had their reservations.

“One would assume that a developer of that stature would have a civic conscience,” Ridenour said. “We’re asking you, please don’t take away our livelihood by robbing our customers and clients of parking.”

Vaias said she hopes the plan will go before the Planning Board in October. That hearing would allow for public comment.

The Woodmont Avenue/Cordell Avenue corner would also be rebuilt into a small pocket park as the project’s public amenity.

by Aaron Kraut — July 15, 2014 at 9:00 am 216 0

Chairs, shadows and fountain at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center

Starr: We Talked About More Than Boundary Changes – MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr evidently wasn’t thrilled that many (including us) focused on the discussion of boundary changes in Monday’s more wide-reaching talk about closing the county’s achievement gap. Starr tweeted: “our 3.5 hr session w/ council today re: strategies 2 reduce gap & prepare kids 4 future is now sound bite re: non-existent boundary changes.” You can view the entire discussion from Monday by going to the “Committee Worksessions” section of video at the Council website. [On Demand Council Videos] [@mcpssuper]

Montgomery, D.C. Members Of Council To Talk Transportation – The Transportation Committees of the Montgomery and D.C. Councils will meet on Wednesday for a first ever joint meeting to discuss coordination on transit and transportation issues that affect both jurisdictions. Councilmember Roger Berliner will co-chair the meeting with D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh. On the agenda is a discussion of extending Montgomery County’s planned BRT network into the District, extending the future D.C. Streetcar line north up Georgia Avenue into Silver Spring and extending existing Metrobus routes so more run through both jurisdictions. [Montgomery County Council]

Rain Delay For Repaving Work – Repaving work that was set to start Sunday night on Wisconsin Avenue will now start this Sunday night. The SHA said heavy rain made it impossible to start the work, which will require lane closures in downtown Bethesda. [The Gazette]

City Burger Expands Menu – The new burger and shake place from Food, Wine & Co.’s chef Michael Harr opened in May and is already adding burgers and side dishes to the menu. According to a press release, the expanded menu will include the Spice Market, a green chile lamb burger, the Suburban, a turkey burger with Swiss cheese, and the Brooklyn Deli, a burger with pastrami, coleslaw and mustard. There will also be the Downtown, topped with green chiles, mayo and a fried egg, and a new veggie option with a fried quinoa-crusted black bean burger. There’s also two new hot dog/half smoke combinations and new sides including onion rings and fried green beans. [City Burger]

County To Discontinue Parking Meter CashKey – The Montgomery County Division of Parking Management will stop selling new CashKeys or put additional money onto CashKeys starting July 21. The manufacturer recently informed the county that the CashKey system is being permanently discontinued and it will no longer support the system’s software. The CashKey allowed parkers to add time to parking meters by inserting the key into a special slot on the meter.  Find out what to do if you have a CashKey by clicking the link. [Montgomery County]

by Aaron Kraut — June 25, 2014 at 4:05 pm 379 1 Comment

Potential areas for solar panels on top of the Woodmont Avenue Garage, via MCDOT Potential areas for solar panels on top of the Del Ray Avenue Garage, via MCDOT

Montgomery County on Wednesday put out a request for proposals for companies interested in installing solar panels in empty parking spots on the top of 12 public garages.

The county’s Department of Transportation is looking for vendors to put the solar panels on four garages in downtown Bethesda, seven in Silver Spring and one in Wheaton. The concept would have those vendors sell energy generated by the solar panels back to the county to power the garages, and perhaps other structures.

MCDOT says the RFEP (the “E” is for energy) is part of the county’s efforts to meet its climate and clean energy goals. Proposals are due by Sept. 5.

Three of the four garages included in downtown Bethesda are known as home to entire levels of empty parking spaces, especially on the top floors of the structures.

Photo of unused parking spaces on top of the Old Georgetown Road Garage, vis MCDOTThe six-floor Del Ray Avenue Parking Garage (4907 Del Ray Ave.) is so empty that the top floor is chained off. MCDOT estimates the top floor of the garage could fit enough solar panels to produce 757,355 killowatt hours annually. That would be enough to offset 66 percent of the energy used to power the garage each year.

Each garage presents its own set of challenges involving nearby buildings that would create shadows, elevation changes and HVAC units. The Del Ray Garage, for instance, has a large HVAC center at the center of the top floor that could cramp where solar panels would go.

A press release announcing the RFEP claimed it makes Montgomery County one of the “first major east coast urban jurisdictions to have solar generation on top of parking facilities.” The concept of solar panel canopies over parking spaces has been done, mostly in California.

MCDOT hopes to select its vendor early next year with a contract start date some time in the second quarter of 2015.

Other Bethesda garages included in the RFEP are the Woodmont Avenue Parking Garage (7730 Woodmont Ave.), the adjacent Old Georgetown Road Parking Garage (7661 Old Georgetown Rd.) and the popular St. Elmo Avenue Parking Garage (4935 St. Elmo Ave.).

The top level of the St Elmo Avenue Garage, via MCDOTThe St. Elmo Avenue Garage sees more demand than the other three. It’s not uncommon for the garage to be completely full on weekend evenings. The RFEP didn’t include estimates for how much kWH could be produced from solar panels on top of that garage.

MCDOT said it intends to purchase all electricity generated by the systems on a per kilowatt basis. It also said excess power could be used to reduce electric bills for the underground garages owned by the county.

Photos via MCDOT

by Aaron Kraut — June 25, 2014 at 10:20 am 596 4 Comments

A Bethesda Circulator shuttle in Woodmont Triangle on Wednesday

Adding stops to the downtown Bethesda Circulator route is among the most common requests the Bethesda Urban Partnership gets.

The simple mechanics of running an efficient and popular  2.1-mile, 19-stop bus loop mean additional stops or routes aren’t coming immediately. But in a conversation about BUP’s 20-year anniversary, Executive Director David Dabney said new areas of redevelopment spurred by the ongoing Bethesda Downtown Plan could one day lead to some expansion.

“This is the biggest challenge strategically for us because the sector plan will really kind of outline any growth or potential growth,” Dabney said.

In 2006, BUP took over operation of the Bethesda Trolley as Ride On planned to shut it down. In 2011, BUP switched out the old-school trolleys for sleek, modern Circulator buses similar to the vehicles in downtown D.C.

Last month, the Bethesda Circulator service provided 31,000 passenger trips on the route that connects Woodmont Triangle, the Bethesda Metro and Bethesda Row.

BUP promotes the service as a way to get to and from Metro. But mostly, BUP hopes people use it as a way to park in less popular parking garages before hitching a ride to activity centers such as Bethesda Row.

“It was really built around that, as to how to move people and to mitigate traffic,” Dabney said. “You want to be able to move people from one end of town to the other.”

Some would like to see the Circulator expand its definition of where downtown Bethesda ends. The route now reaches Rugby Avenue at its northern-most point and Bethesda Avenue at its southern-most point.

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the requests for expansion come from those looking for stops on Battery Lane and on Bradley Boulevard.

Bethesda Circulator map, via BUPThe difficulty, Dabney said, is maintaining the system’s headway. BUP tested the idea of bringing the route east of Wisconsin Avenue during a recent winter holiday season. BUP pushed the route along Montgomery Avenue and East-West Highway and the shuttles showed a net loss in ridership, Dabney said.

There were some new riders, but some of the regulars didn’t like the changes and the idea of getting off an eastbound shuttle to wait for the next westbound one.

Now, the idea of a new “Pearl District” centered around Pearl Street is floating around in Bethesda Downtown Plan discussions. BUP Marketing and Communications Director said any master plan changes will have to be taken into account. The original concept for the Circulator was in the 1994 Bethesda CBD Master Plan (though in that process it was called a jitney).

“I think it’s a matter of what comes out of the plan and funding,” Coppula said. “Right now, we’re doing as mch as we can do based on the funding.”

BUP’s funding for the Circulator comes mostly from parking fees collected at public garages, lots and curbside meters in the downtown. There’s also some revenue that comes in from advertisement space on the shuttles.

Dabney said the more immediate improvements possible for the Circulator service involve technology that lets users know exactly when a shuttle will arrive at a particular stop. BUP and its Board are taking on the idea of establishing a phone app locator for Circulator shuttles.

“If you don’t wan to wait 10 to 15 minutes, which can happen if the shuttles are in traffic, I could see on my app where that Circulator is,” Dabney said. “I’ll go to Starbucks and get a coffee. If that could happen, I don’t think it would be that difficult to go to Bradley or Battery because then, they’d know when it would be there. They could time it.”

Circulator Map via Bethesda Urban Partnership

by Aaron Kraut — June 17, 2014 at 11:10 am 1,177 34 Comments

Connor Building parking lot warning signsBob Silverberg claims it took only five minutes.

By the time Silverberg returned to the Connor Building parking lot on Woodmont Avenue, his car had been latched on to a tow truck. A few moments after leaving the parking lot to pick up a sandwich order two blocks away, the tow truck driver pounced.

Silverberg paid him a $50 drop fee.

“I can’t say I frequent any of the shops in the Connor Building, but now I will not do so for reasons of their parking lot policy,” Silverberg said of the April incident. “Whatever financial penalty the building’s tenants may suffer, I suspect that the revenue loss is more than made up in fees split with the towing company. Why else would they have contracted to have a towing firm literally standing by within a block or two of the lot?”

Silverberg is far from the first to fall victim to the notorious aggressive towing practices at the Connor Building lot. And his isn’t the worst case of predatory towing there. Silverberg did walk off of the lot, meaning he did park illegally.

But as a practical matter, the predatory towing situation is as concerning as ever, according to Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection Director Eric Friedman.

“Nothing will kill a business district more than getting towed,” Friedman told the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board on Monday. “It creates a level of frustration I’ve never seen in consumer protection.”

Friedman has been talking about the issue for years, even appearing on ABC News’ 20/20 program in 2012. On Monday, he indicated there is little hope for improvement. A recent state law made Montgomery County’s ability to operate on its own more difficult with regards to trespass towing rules. Then, there’s the federal preemption issue that hinders the ability of local governments to establish their own guidelines.

Friedman estimated there are between 30,000 and 40,000 trespass tows a year in Montgomery County and downtown Bethesda is among the more popular spots to find one. Friedman said trespass towing is a roughly $5 million a year industry in the county.

Connor Building parking lotThe Office of Consumer Protection gets about 3,000 complaints a year about trespass tows. The average cost to reclaim a towed vehicle is $168, not counting the time and effort it takes to get to the impound lot, which must be in Montgomery County no farther than 12 miles from the spot of the tow.

The Connor Building’s owners and other property owners have maintained it’s important to enforce parking rules to ensure spots for customers at their buildings.

But Friedman said it’s unlikely all property owners are calling their contracted tow truck company to report a walk-off or illegally parked driver — as is legally required.

“You have to have authorization from the property owner before the tow. But in practice, one or two firms get aggressive and work the system,” Friedman said. “One or two companies have spotters and they’ll hide and wait and call the owner instead and say, ‘Give me authorization.’”

Rockville-based G&G Towing patrols the Connor Building lot. It’s not uncommon to see a G&G tow truck staked out at a parking meter across Woodmont Avenue. G&G has been cited for its legally dubious practices in Silver Spring. The company doesn’t make statements to the media.

Friedman said the other major problem area in downtown Bethesda is a small lot near the U.S. Post Office on Wisconsin Avenue. With no apparent parking near the Post Office, drivers often park in the Mattress Warehouse and Verizon store lot next door.

Tow truck operators pounce, meaning a $50 or even $168 trip to pick up some stamps or drop off a package.

And in the case of some — like Silverberg — it means enough frustration to avoid the area at all costs in the future.

“The tow truck hovers on nearby streets ready to pounce on the unsuspecting. The tow truck driver admitted this when asked how he could have responded so quickly,” Silverberg said. “Agressive is an understatement. The building owners perhaps can be shamed into participating in the civilized world after all.”

by Aaron Kraut — June 16, 2014 at 2:30 pm 741 0

The 2013 AT&T National at Congressional Country Club

(Updated June 20) The PGA Tour event hosted by Tigers Woods is back with a new title sponsor next week at Congressional Country Club — and Tiger Woods will be back on the course.

Woods was recovering from back surgery with no timetable for a return, though reports indicated he was trying to make it back for the British Open in July. It seemed Woods would be out of the event for the second straight year. Then on the Friday before the event, he announced via Facebook that he does plan to return in time to take on Congressional:

After a lot of therapy I have recovered well and will be supporting my foundation next week at the Quicken Loans National. I’ve just started to hit full shots but it’s time to take the next step. I will be a bit rusty but I want to play myself back into competitive shape. Excited for the challenge ahead

It’s likely to mean a lot of walk-up sales at Congressional (8500 River Rd.), which makes it all the more important to plan where you’re going and what’s allowed.

The tournament runs from June 23-June 29, with exhibitions and practice rounds leading up to the first round of the tournament on Thursday, June 26. Here are the important things to know, courtesy of the tournament and Montgomery County:

Where Do I Park?

Those driving to the event and daring enough can seek out private parking on the front lawns of nearby homeowners (that will typically run you $10-$20). Or, you can play it safe and use one of the official tournament parking and shuttle lots, which are unchanged from last year:

Rock Spring Lot, 6720 Rockledge Dr., Bethesda (seven miles from Congressional at I-270 and Democracy Blvd.) This is the best location for those coming from Virginia and other areas south of Congressional Country Club. Operating:  Tuesday, June 24-Friday, June 27, 6 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, June 28-Sunday, June 29, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.  Single-day  and weekly passes available.

Montgomery County Fairgrounds16 Chestnut St, Gaithersburg. Operating: Thursday and Friday only, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. A single-day pass (Thursday or Friday only) is $7. Cost includes one-day parking and shuttle pass from the Fairgrounds to Congressional Country Club (less than 15 miles). Get single-day pass for Fairgrounds.

VIP Preferred Parking Lot F, 7727 Persimmon Tree La., adjacent to tournament main entrance, providing walking access to tournament.   Operating: Tuesday, June 24-Friday, June 27: 6 a.m.-7 p.m.  Single-day passes are available for specific days, ranging from $30 to $50, depending on the day of the week.

Shuttles will take off from the Rock Spring and Fairgrounds lots about every 15 minutes.

What Can I Bring In?

Security checks will be conducted on all passengers prior to boarding shuttles from the designated public parking lots. No bags larger than 6″x 6″x 6″ will be allowed.

You can bring cellphones into PGA Tour events, just make sure to turn those off or risk the ire of a nearby course marshall.

Here’s what you cannot bring in:

• NO cameras nor video cameras (nor other devices capable of taking a photograph) permitted after Wednesday.

• NO radios (XM portable radios ARE allowed), TVs, signs or banners.

• NO coolers nor beverages.

• NO alcoholic beverages may enter or leave the tournament grounds.

• NO large camera-carrying cases, chair carry bags, backpacks, packages and other carry items larger than a small purse (6″ x 6″ x 6″). Any of these will be confiscated, so please leave them in your car. This includes diaper/baby bags.

• NO firearms nor weapons of any kind.

• NO lawn chairs (no matter what height). Portable folding stools and chairs with OUT bags are allowed.

• NO ladders.

• NO periscopes.

Strollers are allowed all days. Point-and-shoot style cameras are allowed only for the practice rounds on Tuesday, June 24 and Wednesday, June 25. If you want to bring in “professional-looking” long-range lenses, tripods and other equipment, you better have a media credential.


by Aaron Kraut — May 2, 2014 at 4:25 pm 381 1 Comment

Lot 10 and 24 behind the Farm Women's Market in BethesdaMontgomery County has no plans to develop a pair of surface parking lots that back up to the Town of Chevy Chase.

“No one’s seriously looking at it on the county level,” said Ken Hartman, who reports to the county executive as director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center.

“The county has no plans to redevelop Lots 10 and 24,” said Esther Bowring, a county spokesperson for the Department of Transportation, which owns and operates the lots.

But in Chevy Chase, where some are worried redevelopment would erase the neighborhood’s buffer area from downtown Bethesda, the fate of the parking lots has become a hot topic in the Town of Chevy Chase election, set for Tuesday.

“Just this week developers were surveying the parking lots in the hopes of developing one of the last open spaces in Bethesda,” wrote Town Council candidate Grant Davies in a prepared release. “Rather than selling this land to developers for another high-rise building, we should use the land to create recreational space while at the same time increase badly needed parking.”

Incumbent Town Councilmember Al Lang and candidate Kathie Legg have also spoken about transforming the lots into a park with underground parking. Legg said she first started floating the idea as a part of the Town’s Long-Range Planning Committee.

“I don’t think we can find a world-class city anywhere that doesn’t have substantial green space centrally located,” Legg said. “The more of us who support it, the better.”

Lang said he’s spent three months investigating how the Town might be able to use some of its $8 million surplus to buy the lots from the county. He said he envisions a bond deal similar to how the Town purchased the former Leland Junior High School, which today serves as Town Hall and a county-operated recreation center.


by Aaron Kraut — April 28, 2014 at 9:15 am 392 6 Comments

Lot 10 and 24 behind the Farm Women's Market in Bethesda Lot 10 and 24 behind the Farm Women's Market in Bethesda

Clarification: This story includes a clarification about the position of candidate Kathie Legg.

(Update at 7:15 p.m.) Imagine the parking lots behind the Farm Women’s Market as parks, creating a green buffer between the development of downtown Bethesda and the leafy single family home neighborhoods of of Chevy Chase.

That’s an idea at least two candidates for the Town of Chevy Chase Council said they’d pursue during a candidates forum on Thursday, as far-fetched as it seems.

With the in-progress Bethesda Downtown Plan — which could mean zoning changes for the Central Business District — many in Chevy Chase are worried about taller buildings and buildings with more density on their western border.

The word “encroaching” was used a few times by various candidates.

“The Town is green, quiet and safe,” said candidate Vicky Taplin. “It’s an oasis right next to downtown Bethesda.”

Councilmember Al Lang has proposed making Lots 10 and 24 into green space. It’s unclear how exactly that would happen.

The public parking lots at 4600 and 4601 Leland St. are owned by Montgomery County and have a total of more than 300 metered parking spots.

“I’ve been investigating the possibility of acquiring those parking lots,” Lang said. “I’m beginning to understand what it might take to do that. It’s going to be quite an endeavor to pull off.”

It seems unlikely that Montgomery County would agree to do away with parking spots that serve a busy area of downtown Bethesda.

But Lang said he’s worried the surface parking areas are ripe for development that will overshadow some homes in the Town. There have been no indications from the county that it would allow development on the parking lots.

According to the Montgomery County Planning Department, the parking spaces in Lot 10 were 78 percent occupied on average from July 1, 2012-June 30, 2013. Lot 24 was 77 percent occupied.

The spaces are behind a block of businesses on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue and a short walk away from busy Bethesda Row.

Candidate Kathie Legg, a member of the town’s Long-Range Planning Committee, endorsed the idea of converting the parking lots into a green buffer area, but said her hope is for a parking lot underneath the park.

She thinks there is some broad support for having developers involved in downtown Bethesda pay for part of the project, since it would serve residents of Chevy Chase and Bethesda.

Downtown Bethesda and the Town are served by Elm Urban Park, a 2.1-acre park surrounded by the Bethesda Crossing office development, Capital Crescent Trail and the entrance to the Town.

More green space was the No. 1 concern of Town residents who responded to a survey inquiring as to how the Town should use a budget surplus of more than $8 million, though

“We should use some of that money to acquire more land,” said Legg, referring to land inside and outside the Town.


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