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by Aaron Kraut — March 2, 2015 at 8:00 am 1,031 4 Comments

Icy tree on Cordell Avenue, Sunday

Reminder: No More Free Parking At New Garage – Today is the first day Montgomery County will charge those who park at its new Capital Crescent Garage (7171 Woodmont Avenue). The county opened the garage in January and allowed drivers to park for free until today. The cost will be 80-cents-per-hour from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Friday. [Montgomery County]

Marriott Will Move From Bethesda Headquarters – Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson said the hotel giant will move away from its Bethesda headquarters, now in an office park on Fernwood Road. The company’s lease is up at the spot in 2022 and Sorenson said he’s looking for a more Metro-accessible location. More than 2,000 people work at the Bethesda headquarters. Sorenson said he’s held informal discussions with leaders from other area jurisdictions about the move. Marriott posted a 2014 profit of $753 million. [Washington Post]

Prominent Bethesda Justice Department Lawyer Dies – Robert Saloschin, the Justice Department lawyer who pioneered the Freedom of Information Act, died last week. He was 95. Saloschin was also credited with curbing violence against Freedom Riders during the Civil Rights era by suggesting the use of the Interstate Commerce Commission. After his Justice Department career, he worked for Bethesda law firm Lerch, Early and Brewer. [The Gazette]

Teachers’ Union Wants School Funding Restored, Decrease In Mandated Testing – The Montgomery County Education Association and its statewide counterpart will host a public briefing and call to action on Wednesday on federally-mandated standardized testing in elementary schools and proposed cuts to state education funding. The event is set to take place at 6 p.m. at MCEA’s headquarters (12 Taft Court, Rockville). [MCEA]

by Aaron Kraut — February 25, 2015 at 11:00 am 548 1 Comment

The Capital Crescent Garage will require payment starting Monday

The trial run at the new Capital Crescent Garage in downtown Bethesda is almost over.

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation will start charging drivers who park in the 960-space garage on Monday.

MCDOT and developer StonebridgeCarras opened the five-level garage under the Lot 31 project on Jan. 20. Parking has been free since “to give parkers time to become acquainted with the new garage,” according to the county.

County officials hope the facility will put to rest any complaints about a perceived lack of parking in Bethesda. The garage has a Bethesda Avenue and Woodmont Avenue entrance within walking distance of Bethesda Row.

The garage will have an 80-cents an hour rate from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Friday, same as the other county garages in downtown Bethesda.

Unlike most other county garages, the Capital Crescent Garage doesn’t have meters. Parkers will be given a ticket upon entering, then pay that ticket before getting back in their vehicles at pay machines. Machines at the garage exits will also let drivers pay from their vehicles with a credit card.

If you make it to the garage before Monday, don’t be alarmed to see entrance and exit gates down. MCDOT said Wednesday that parking personnel will be testing the gates before fees are required on Monday.

If the gate arms are blocking the entrance to the garage, take a ticket and use the ticket to exit. There will be no charge.

by Aaron Kraut — February 24, 2015 at 8:00 am 1,235 29 Comments

Proposed 2nd District Police Station for Rugby Avenue, via Montgomery County

The new 2nd District Police Station will likely come at the cost of more than 100 parking spaces in a popular downtown Bethesda garage.

County officials and representatives from developer StonebridgeCarras presented plans for the new station, set to be built on a gravel parking lot at 4823 Rugby Avenue. The site backs up to the 496-space Woodmont-Rugby Garage at the northern end of downtown Bethesda.

4823 Rugby Avenue, site of the planned 2nd District Police StationIn exchange for building the new station and taking on the costs, the county agreed in 2013 to give StonebridgeCarras the site of the existing 2nd District station at 7359 Wisconsin Avenue so that it can be redeveloped as the Bethesda-based company sees fit.

Greg Ossont, in charge of the county’s public-private development partnerships, said the existing police station is more than 50-years-old and one of the oldest facilities in the county’s portfolio.

The new station on Rugby Avenue will be about 10,000 square feet bigger with more modern security features. The design revealed at a public meeting on Monday is for a four-floor, roughly 60-foot tall building. There would be a public lobby and roughly 600-square-foot public meeting room on the ground floor, plus all the county-outlined requirements on the floors above.

But the project will include marking off about 115 spaces in the garage next door for police use only.

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by Aaron Kraut — January 30, 2015 at 10:05 am 331 2 Comments

4823 Rugby Avenue, site of the planned 2nd District Police Station

The developer set to build a new 2nd District Police Station in downtown Bethesda will hold a public meeting detailing the project on Feb. 23.

Montgomery County selected Bethesda-based StonebridgeCarras in 2013 to build the new station at 4823 Rugby Avenue, a private parking lot that backs up to the county’s Woodmont-Rugby Garage.

In exchange, the developer will get to build its own project on the land of the existing 2nd District Police Station at 7359 Wisconsin Avenue.

The public meeting on Feb. 23 is set for 7 p.m. at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center (4805 Edgemoor Lane). Regional Services Center Director Ken Hartman said StonebridgeCarras officials will also make a presentation at the March meeting of the Woodmont Triangle Action Group.

StonebridgeCarras announced in December that it had closed on the land for the new police station and that it hoped to complete construction by late 2016. The company partnered with Bethesda-based Buvermo Investments for the purchase and got $20 million in construction financing from the Bank of Georgetown.

The county has long sought a private developer to build it a new 2nd District Station in exchange for the existing station property. The station is more than 50 years old, and not big enough, according to county officials.

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by Aaron Kraut — January 27, 2015 at 3:25 pm 2,475 36 Comments

Parking meters in a county garage in downtown Bethesda

The fund Montgomery County uses to pay for upkeep and operation of Bethesda’s public parking lots and garages is dangerously close to being out of money.

A report released Tuesday by the County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight details how bond payments on the recently completed Capital Crescent Garage, funding help for groups such as the Bethesda Urban Partnership and an increasing amount of parking tax exemptions offered to property owners could mean the Bethesda Parking Lot District goes broke by FY 2020.

This fiscal year, the Bethesda PLD was budgeted to make $21.7 million in revenues, mostly from parking meter fees ($13.9 million) and parking fines ($4.8 million.)

The Bethesda PLD was budgeted to spend $24.8 million, $4.9 million of which went to retiring debt service payments on the Capital Crescent Garage/Lot 31 project. None of the county’s other Parking Lot Districts — in Silver Spring, Montgomery Hills and Wheaton — had any debt service payments.

“The Bethesda PLD fund faces serious structural challenges that will cause the fund to fall into deficit unless corrective actions are taken,” read the Legislative Oversight report. “Under current policies and practices, the fund will annually spend more than it receives in revenues driving its already precariously low fund balance toward zero. The insufficient fund reserve leaves the PLD incapable of absorbing an unanticipated spike in expenses or a downturn in revenue generation.”

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by Aaron Kraut — January 21, 2015 at 4:30 pm 3,368 38 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 1,958 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 1,189 22 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 25 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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