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.
The 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.
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).
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.”
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.
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 Properties, Southern 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.
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.
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]
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.
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.).
According 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]