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by Aaron Kraut — January 21, 2015 at 4:30 pm 3,267 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 20, 2015 at 1:25 pm 1,891 26 Comments

FOR MORE: Woodmont Avenue, New Garage Open In Bethesda

Say hello to the Capital Crescent Garage and goodbye to complaints about a lack of parking in downtown Bethesda.

At least that’s what Montgomery County officials hope will happen after opening the massive, five-floor underground garage on Tuesday near Bethesda Row.

The garage has an approximate total of 1,250 spaces. About 960 of those spaces will be reserved for county use, more than tripling the 279 spaces that were in the county lots that used to call Woodmont Avenue and Bethesda Avenue home — Lot 31 and Lot 31A.

The county allowed Bethesda-based developer StonebridgeCarras to build two buildings with 250 residential units on the lots. It also meant closing down Woodmont Avenue south of Bethesda Avenue for 28 months, to allow for construction of the new underground garage below.

“The most asked questions have been: ‘When will Woodmont reopen and when will the parking be back?’ Woodmont is now reopened and the parking capacity at Lot 31 has tripled from its previous level,” said StonebridgeCarras principal Doug Firstenberg in a county press release. “We want to thank Montgomery County and Clark Construction for working so hard with us to reach this point and we look forward to opening the balance of the project in the spring.”

The garage includes 290 private parking spaces for tenants of the development above.

The 28 months without any parking on the Lot 31 site led to a noticeable increase in demand at the county’s nearby Garage 57, situated between Bethesda Avenue and Elm Street.

While downtown Bethesda as a whole still had more public parking supply than demand, the loss of Lot 31 triggered complaints from Bethesda Row customers about a perceived lack of parking.

Ken Hartman, the director of the county’s Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, tweeted: “New 940+ space County parking garage should lay to rest myth of ‘no parking’ in Bethesda.”

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by Aaron Kraut — January 20, 2015 at 11:40 am 1,158 21 Comments

FOR MORE: MoCo Hopes 1,250-Space Garage Quells Bethesda Parking Concerns

Updated at 12:25 p.m. – A section of Woodmont Avenue that’s been closed for more than two years reopened on Tuesday morning near Bethesda Row.

Montgomery County closed Woodmont Avenue between Bethesda Avenue and Miller Avenue in September 2012 to allow for construction of a new underground parking garage to replace Lot 31 and Lot 31A.

In partnership with the county, Bethesda-based developer StonebridgeCarras and general contractor Clark Construction built the approximately 1,250-space garage, a condominium building and an apartment building on what used to be the lots, which had a total of 279 spaces.

The five floor garage will have roughly 960 spaces dedicated to public parking. The county won’t start charging for parking in the garage until March 1 to give drivers time to get use to the facility.

At about 10 a.m., workers unfurled a sign announcing the “Capital Crescent Garage Now Open.”

Traffic engineers then spent the next 90 minutes adjusting traffic signals and signage at the intersection of Woodmont and Bethesda Avenues. A little before 11 a.m., a crew removed the fence blocking the road.

At 11:40 a.m., the road was opened.

Woodmont Avenue was originally supposed to open within 20-24 months and before the new underground garage.

In July 2014, 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. Crews even placed traffic signs farther north along Woodmont Avenue to advise drivers of the reopening.

But in August, county Department of Transportation officials determined that the closed stretch of Woodmont Avenue wasn’t safe because of ongoing construction activity on both sides of the road.

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by Aaron Kraut — January 14, 2015 at 9:05 am 2,195 23 Comments

Lot 43 in Bethesda, proposed as a new mixed-use apartment building, via Google Maps

Montgomery County on Wednesday announced it has sold off another of its downtown Bethesda parking lots for a new mixed-use apartment building.

The county says it will engage in a public-private partnership with Manassas-based Aksoylu Properties to build a 310-unit apartment building on Lot 43 at 8009 Woodmont Avenue.

Aksoylu will pay Montgomery County for the parking lot land and has assembled properties in the 8000 block of Wisconsin Avenue for the project.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett emphasized the 62 moderately priced residential units that will be part of the project. The 20 percent MPDU rate is higher than the county-mandated minimum, which ranges from 12.5 to 15 percent depending on the amount of total units.

“This is a win-win for the County that provides great public benefits through enhanced economic development and the addition of affordable housing with more than 60 new units – all at no cost to the public,” Leggett said in a press release. “Bethesda is already an exciting place in which to live, work and play, and this project will make it even better.”

The agreement, spearheaded by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, calls for 13,638 square feet of commercial and retail space on the ground floor and 354 underground parking spaces.

The county press release said the underground parking will be private, but enough “to eliminate any reliance on other public parking facilities in Bethesda.”

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by Aaron Kraut — January 13, 2015 at 8:20 am 682 14 Comments

Lot 24, behind the Farm Women's Market in Bethesda

Fearing development on its western edge, the Town of Chevy Chase will pitch its own concept for new park and green space involving two Montgomery County-owned parking lots.

The Town hired land use attorney Rebecca Walker to represent it during the county Planning Department’s rewrite of the downtown Bethesda Sector Plan. It also hired Towson-based planner Chris Jakubiak to tinker with the Eastern Greenway concept county planners presented in December.

Jakubiak’s proposal, which he showed in a Town worksession on Monday night, differs from county planners’ concept in two key ways. It keeps any new building development taller than 35 feet at least 200 feet west of the Town’s single family homes. It also suggests using all of existing Lot 24 and Lot 10 as flexible and open park space, not as land where new development might be permitted.

“What we’re proposing here is not a major departure,” Jakubiak said. “It’s acknowledging that the Town exists next to this rapidly developing area and it doesn’t seem to fundamentally alter their plans at all. In many respects, it fulfills what they’re trying to do.”

Walker said she has a meeting scheduled for Thursday with county planners, Parks staff and officials from the county’s Historic Preservation Commission in which she’ll lobby for Jakubiak’s version of the Eastern Greenway.

While Montgomery County officials have said they have no immediate interest in allowing development on the two public parking lots (Lot 24 and Lot 10), adjacent property owners have been in to talk with planners about the possibility of building there.

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by Aaron Kraut — December 19, 2014 at 10:55 am 196 0

Montgomery County sealAll county government buildings and offices will be closed for Christmas on Thursday, Dec. 25 and New Year’s Day on Thursday, Jan. 1.

For restaurants that will be open on Christmas Day, check out our list here. For New Year’s Eve events, check out our list here.

Now, for details on the holiday closings and schedule changes:

County Offices — Closed

Libraries — Closed on Dec. 25 and Jan. 1; all branches will close at 6 p.m. on Dec. 24 and 31

County liquor stores — Closed

Recreation — All facilities closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1; senior centers, community and neighborhood recreation centers will be closed Dec. 25 through Jan. 1; aquatics programs operating on a modified schedule, contact each facility directly

Montgomery Parks — All Parks facilities are closed both days. For operating schedules during the holidays, including Brookside Gardens, ice rinks, tennis centers, trains and carousels, visit www.MontgomeryParks.org.

Ride On, Metrobus and Metrorail — Sunday schedule; more Metrorail details here.

TRiPS Commuter Stores (Silver Spring and Friendship Heights) — Closed

Refuse/recycling pickup – No collection. Regular Thursday collections will be provided on Friday and regular Friday collections will be provided on Saturday.

Shady Grove Transfer Station — Closed; Transfer Station will close at 5 p.m. on Dec. 24.

Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters — Free. County government wants to remind those who leave their cars in county lots while out of town to double-check that they are parking in a long-term space. Montgomery County also says it’s not liable for theft or vandalism that may occur.

MCPS Administrative Offices — Closed

State offices and courts — Closed

by Aaron Kraut — November 26, 2014 at 11:15 am 298 3 Comments

Parking meters in a county garage in downtown Bethesda

Montgomery County will let developers apply retroactively for a tax exemption that could cost the county $5.5 million for upkeep of its parking lots and garages.

The County Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that will allow developers in the Parking Lot Districts of Bethesda, Silver Spring and Wheaton to apply for exemptions from the county’s parking tax until February.

The actual deadline for applying for an exemption was April 1, but developers including StonebridgeCarras, Washington Property Company, Home Properties and Southern Management Corp. said that only after careful investigation, they found they were being charged Parking Lot District taxes that they shouldn’t have had to pay.

The PLD tax is charged to developers in the Parking Lot Districts of Montgomery County’s downtown areas that don’t include the required amount of on-site parking in their projects. The PLD taxes go toward maintaining the county’s parking lots, curbside spaces and garages.

“Sophisticated developers with reams of accountants and lawyers did not know the rules of the game,” Councilmember Roger Berliner said on Tuesday. “For years and years, they have paid millions of dollars into a Parking Lot District fund, when they had spent the money to create enough parking spaces.

“Presumably, going forward everybody will know the rules of the game,” Berliner said.

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by Aaron Kraut — November 24, 2014 at 11:15 am 1,688 45 Comments

A tow truck company may be using prohibited means to find illegally parked cars in an infamous downtown Bethesda parking lot.

A tipster sent in the images shown here of what appear to be two tow truck drivers from Rockville-based G&G Towing perched on the third floor of the county’s Woodmont Corner Garage.

Photo from tipster shows what appear to be G&G tow truck drivers watching the Connor Building lot from the third floor of the Woodmont Corner Garage across the streetThe drivers appear to be watching the lot across the street at the Connor Building (7720 Woodmont Ave.), a place well-known for its high frequency of vehicle tows. In one of the photos, the men can be seen looking at the lot while their tow trucks are parked in spots nearby.

It turns out Montgomery County is well aware of the problem.

Eric Friedman, the director of the county’s Office of Consumer Protection and its point man on aggressive towing issues, said the Department of Transportation sent G&G a letter in 2009 ago advising the company to stop using its parking garage to watch the lot.

“DOT basically told them the garage can’t be used for their business purposes,” Friedman said. “We got them out of there once. It’s inappropriate.”

In April, the company successfully challenged parts of a 2012 state law that outlawed the use of “spotters” to watch for drivers who walk-off of private properties on which they’ve parked. (See the PDF of court decision below.)

Friedman, who has appeared on ABC News’ 20/20 program to talk about the predatory towing issue, said the state law outlawed employees who were “primarily” used as spotters, meaning tow truck drivers who also watch parking lots may be allowed.

“G&G gets upset when you call it predatory. They prefer aggressive. We call it overly-aggressive,” Friedman said. “But when they’re up high in a parking garage with cameras, that’s exactly what they are. Clearly the intent was they shouldn’t lie in wait and swoop in like hawks.”

Friedman said it appears the state will appeal the Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge’s opinion in the case to the state’s Court of Special Appeals.

G&G Towing, which often refuses requests for comment from the media, has yet to respond to a request for comment related specifically to the photos.

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by Aaron Kraut — November 14, 2014 at 12:00 pm 343 0

Parking structure demolition and reconstruction at Westfield Montgomery mall

The work is not done at Westfield Montgomery mall in Bethesda, even after the opening of its new Dining Terrace, movie theater and roster of new retail stores.

Westfield this week began tearing down and reconstructing the mall’s South Parking Deck and West Parking Garage near its Democracy Boulevard entrance.

The project, valued at $150,000 according to a Montgomery County permit, is expected to be completed in early December, the mall said on Thursday.

Westfield is encouraging shoppers, employees and retailers to park in the recently completed parking garage at the corner of Westlake Drive and Westlake Terrace, near the Macy’s entrance to the mall and which shares space with the new ArcLight Cinemas.

Since last October, the Australian shopping mall conglomerate has embarked on a $90 million renovation and expansion of the Bethesda property that has included the new garage, multiplex space, new lighting and scrapping of the traditional food court concept.

The Dining Terrace will include new fast casual and full service restaurants, including MET Bethesda (which celebrated its opening on Thursday), Cava Grill (opening Monday) and CRAVE (hosting a job fair Saturday).

by Aaron Kraut — November 13, 2014 at 11:00 am 936 7 Comments

Bernstein Companies' proposal for a mixed-use residential devlopment on Lots 10 and 24 in Bethesda, via Planning Department

Discussions are heating up on the future of two Bethesda parking lots — with the bordering Town of Chevy Chase considering a proposal of its own that would limit development at the spot.

Lots 10 and 24 are surface parking lots owned and operated by Montgomery County, just east of the Bethesda Farm Women’s Market and just west of the single family home neighborhood that’s part of the Town of Chevy Chase.

While Montgomery County officials have said there are no plans to sell or build on the lots, many in the Town have said they’re wary of how the ongoing rewrite of the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan might change that. They also see the county’s deal with a developer on the Lot 31 project as a blueprint for how development might happen.

Town officials and residents are against a proposal from property owner Bernstein Management that would put a mixed-use, predominantly high-rise residential building on the site, with smaller multi-family and townhouse units facing the Town.

“We understand developers have begun looking at the parking lots as tools for their developments. We view them a little differently,” said Rebecca Walker, a land use attorney who the Town has hired to represent its interests in the Bethesda Downtown Plan process.

“We’re like a dog with a bone at this point,” Walker said during a Town Council briefing last week. “We’re not letting go and we don’t think there’s a reason to.”

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by Aaron Kraut — November 6, 2014 at 8:05 am 743 4 Comments

Tire and rim thieves left a car in the Grosvenor up on cinder blocks in a theft last year at the Grosvenor apartment complex (file photo)Thieves stole the tires and wheels right off three vehicles parked in Bethesda garages on Monday.

The mini-spree happened in the middle of the day. Police said two cars parked in the Auburn-Del Ray Garage (4910 Auburn Ave.) were raised on car jacks so the thieves could remove the tires and rims.

The thefts happened between 11 a.m. and 12:45 a.m., according to an alert in a regular weekly email sent out by the county’s Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center.

One car was on the second level of the garage, the other on the third.

Later on Monday, a car just a few blocks away in the Cordell-St. Elmo Garage (4935 St Elmo Ave.) was found with its tires and rims removed.

Officers from the Bethesda-based 2nd District are investigating. Anyone with information is asked to call 240-773-6700.

by Aaron Kraut — November 3, 2014 at 2:25 pm 536 3 Comments

Solaire Bethesda, rendering via Washington Property Company

Some local developers want refunds from Montgomery County, claiming they were improperly charged a decades-old parking tax despite building projects that should’ve been exempt.

Last Thursday, the County Council’s Transportation Committee recommended approval by a 3-0 vote of a bill that would let the developers apply for the Parking Lot District tax exemption retroactively. The county executive’s office is urging the Council not to pass the bill, saying it was the property owners’ responsibility to apply for the exemption by April 1.

According to Bethesda-based land use attorneys Bob Dalrymple and Anne Mead, developers StonebridgeCarras, Washington Property Company, Home PropertiesSouthern Management Corp. and others were surprised to discover a few months ago that they weren’t receiving the exemptions from the PLD tax that they thought they were.

The PLD tax is charged to developers in the Parking Lot Districts of Bethesda, Silver Spring, Wheaton and Silver Spring that don’t include a certain amount of on-site parking in their projects. The PLD taxes go toward maintaining the county’s parking lots, curbside spaces and garages.

But in written testimony provided to the Council, Dalrymple, Mead and Washington Property Company President Charles Nulsen said developers couldn’t tell they were incorrectly being charged the tax because it was “embedded” in the property tax that appears in a lump sum on annual tax bills.

“We quickly learned that not only were the Named Clients unaware that they were not receiving the lawfully entitled exemptions (which is especially alarming since they all routinely have in place a detailed review of all property tax invoices by in-house and outside tax advisors), but also that the manner in which the PLD tax is levied and collected, and the lack of any clear direction to property owners advising of the possibility that exemption from the PLD tax might be legally entitled, combine to make the PLD taxation system and process an unmitigated disaster,” Dalrymple wrote.

In simpler terms: “In it’s worst light, it can be described as bureaucratic theft,” wrote Nulsen.

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by Aaron Kraut — October 23, 2014 at 10:05 am 0

Meter parking along Bethesda Avenue

Utility work next week will mean no evening parking on the north side of Bethesda Avenue.

Crews will be installing a telecommunications line on the street between Woodmont Avenue and Arlington Road beginning at 6 p.m. and ending at 6 a.m. each day from Monday, Oct. 27 to Saturday, Nov. 1.

Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Director Ken Hartman tweeted the news Thursday morning.

Alternate parking spots can be found in the Bethesda Elm Street Garage (Garage 57) or a block east of Wisconsin Avenue at the public parking lot at Willow Lane and Leland Street.

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.

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