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by Aaron Kraut — April 22, 2015 at 10:20 am 279 3 Comments

Town of Chevy ChaseA little more than $7 million in the bank could give the Town of Chevy Chase room to continue its lobbying fight against the Purple Line and some flexibility when it comes to the future of a public parking lot on the Town’s border.

The Town will hold its annual meeting on May 5, which could provide an answer to whether it will pay for another year of lobbying against the 16-mile light rail.

The Town expects to spend $350,000 in FY 2015 for its contract with the K Street firm of Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, which as part of the deal has hired a subcontractor to lobby against the Purple Line on the state level in Annapolis.

Some on the Town Council questioned the need to continue the lobbying effort in February. Despite their concerns, the Council voted to continue the $29,000-a-month contract until at least the end of June in what Vice Mayor Pat Burda called “a critical time” for the project’s future.

Gov. Larry Hogan, who has expressed reluctance to go forward with major transit projects, will decide whether to proceed with the estimated $2.45 billion light rail in mid-May.

The Town is officially opposed to the Purple Line, which would run behind some homes in the Town along the Georgetown Branch extension of the Capital Crescent Trail.

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by Aaron Kraut — April 20, 2015 at 2:35 pm 296 0

Al Roshdieh (left) explains how the electric vehicle charging station works to County Executive Isiah Leggett on MondayMontgomery County’s first public electric vehicle charging stations opened today in Bethesda’s newest public parking garage.

County Executive Isiah Leggett and Acting Department of Transportation Director Al Roshdieh showed off the three stations capable of charging six vehicles at a time on the first floor of the Capital Crescent Garage.

The county built the garage in partnership with developers StonebridgeCarras and PN Hoffman, who are building an apartment and condo building above on what was a surface parking lot known as Lot 31.

The charging stations, which will cost users $0.13 per kilowatt hour, are the first of their kind to be offered publicly by the county. Roshdieh said MCDOT will install others in Bethesda Garages 11 (Woodmont Corner), 36 (Auburn-Del Ray) and 47 (Waverly) over the summer.

“This is part of our commitment in meeting the needs of those choosing a greener, cleaner lifestye,” Roshdieh said. “And part of our commitment to environmental sensitivity and sustainable transportation.”

The county rolled out the charging stations a few days before Earth Day. Leggett said the move is especially important considering the state legislature recently allowed electric vehicle company Tesla to sell its products directly to customers in Maryland.

Over time, the county says it will install enough charging stations in 24 parking lots and garages to charge 50 vehicles at a time.

Meanwhile, county officials say parking volume at the Capital Crescent Garage is picking up. Officials estimated the garage, which has about 960 public spaces, has been 60 percent full in peak times.

They’re hoping more people will use the garage when construction on The Darcy and The Flats finishes above.

The new spaces allow parking for up to four hours and do require drivers pay the same parking fee as those who use regular spaces.

by Aaron Kraut — April 14, 2015 at 2:10 pm 1,686 40 Comments

Dr. Francis Collins, via NIHUpdated at 3:45 p.m. – The director of the National Institutes of Health is defending the agency’s controversial decision to add employee parking to its Bethesda campus.

Dr. Francis Collins said NIH was surprised by a 2004 decision from the National Capital Planning Commission that set a new guideline for Washington area federal agencies. Agencies are now expected to pursue a ratio of one parking space for every three employees as a way to dissuade single-occupancy vehicle trips and encourage use of mass transit.

Collins made the defense in a letter to County Councilmember Roger Berliner, who along with Rep. Chris Van Hollen and state legislators recently urged NIH to reconsider adding more parking spots in its campus expansion plan.

Collins also wrote that most NIH employees can’t afford housing in downtown Bethesda, much of which is within walking distance of the NIH campus.

He referred to “numerous high-rise construction projects boasting luxury apartments that will be unaffordable for nearly all NIH and Walter Reed employees.”

Current employee parking on the 310-acre NIH campus exceeds the 1:3 ratio by 2,129 spaces. The agency’s master plan will increase employee parking by 1,000 more spaces over the next 20 years, resulting in a long-term parking ratio of 1 parking space for every 2.4 employees.

The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) rejected the plan because of the parking issue at its meeting on April 2. The hearing included a nearly hour-long discussion with an NIH planning official who claimed the agency needs the parking because it employs “a bunch of high-ranking scientists,” and “not your regular people.”

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by Aaron Kraut — April 14, 2015 at 12:25 pm 537 8 Comments

Photo from tipster shows what appear to be a G&G tow truck driver watching the Connor Building lot from the third floor of the Woodmont Corner Garage across the streetUpdated at 4:45 p.m. – A new county law would combat predatory towing by outlawing the use of “spotters” from tow truck companies and tows that happen in the middle of the night without a property owner’s permission.

The legislation, introduced Tuesday by Councilmember Roger Berliner, would make it harder for tow truck companies to haul off vehicles they deem are parked illegally in private commercial parking lots.

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, according to Eric Friedman, the director of the county’s Office of Consumer Protection.

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.

Friedman has been talking about the issue for years, appearing on national news programs and working with Berliner to craft the bill. A state law made Montgomery County’s ability to operate on its own more difficult with regards to trespass towing rules. There’s also a federal preemption issue that hinders the ability of local governments to establish their own guidelines.

But the bill introduced Tuesday would address many issues associated with what Friedman has labeled predatory towing — tows that are technically legal but seem unreasonable and that county officials say can hurt businesses districts.

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by Aaron Kraut — April 10, 2015 at 1:50 pm 1,257 34 Comments

Bethesda Commons Park rendering, via Town of Chevy Chase

Consultants for the Town of Chevy Chase have come up with renderings and cost estimates for what they envision as a sprawling park space on two Montgomery County parking lots.

Bethesda Commons Park would be a 2.6-acre park that would serve two primary purposes: Providing much-needed open space in downtown Bethesda and buffering the single-family homes in the Town from the redevelopment likely to be part of the area’s new sector plan.

Land-use attorney Rebecca Walker and Towson-based planner Chris Jakubiak put together a 26-page concept and implementation plan for the Town. The park would go where the county’s Lot 10 and Lot 24 are today. 

Lot 24, behind the Farm Women's Market in BethesdaCounty planners envision that space as home to increased development and an Eastern Greenway that would provide some buffer zone for the Town. But Town residents, including Vice Mayor Pat Burda, don’t think the Eastern Greenway would do enough.

The concept and implementation plan estimates the park would cost $3.6 million to construct and roughly $35,000 a year to operate, depending on how much programming goes into the site.

It also provides an initial appraisal of the land at $13.7 million, though it recognizes the value of the two lots will likely go up if approved for more density in the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan.

The major road block, at least in the immediate future, is that Montgomery County has repeatedly indicated it’s against selling the lots and would need to replace the 316 metered parking spaces.

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by Aaron Kraut — April 9, 2015 at 4:10 pm 1,477 12 Comments

Lot 28 on Cordell Avenue. A local developer offered MoCo $5 million in cash for the lot, via Google Maps

A prominent Woodmont Triangle property owner says he offered Montgomery County $5 million in cash for two public parking lots in an effort to maintain the area’s “sense of individuality and uniqueness.”

Leonard Greenberg, founder of Greenhill Capital, offered the county the sum for its metered lots on Cordell and St Elmo Avenues, which have a total of about 30 spaces and sit adjacent to Greenhill properties.

Todd Brown, Greenhill’s land use attorney, wrote a letter to Regional Services Center Director Ken Hartman in which he said Greenberg made the $5 million offer after seeing the Bethesda Parking Lot District is close to going broke. County officials hope to fix the problem by moving around funding sources in next fiscal year’s operating budget.

Brown also made the argument that the low-rise, commercial-only development that Greenhill does could be especially valuable as Woodmont Triangle welcomes three high-rise apartment buildings with more in the pipeline.

“The Woodmont Triangle community has embraced a number of redevelopment projects, yet it has also expressed a need to retain a sense of individuality and uniqueness in the Triangle. Standard method development can help meet that need, at least in the near term,” Brown wrote.

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by Aaron Kraut — March 13, 2015 at 9:00 am 618 39 Comments

National Institutes of Health campus Bethesda

A group of elected officials this week asked the NIH “to be an even better neighbor” by reducing the amount of parking spaces on its 310-acre Bethesda campus.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Councilmember Roger Berliner, District 16 State Sen. Susan Lee and District 16 Delegates Bill Frick, Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman said they were disappointed the federal agency chose in its master plan to retain its 2-to-1 employee to parking space ratio for existing on-campus spots.

The master plan will also allow for 3,000 more employees and 1,000 additional parking spots over the next 20 years.

“We believe that the Selected Alternative, which will add 1,000 parking spaces to the site through the life of the plan, poses a significant challenge to the already overtaxed transportation system in Bethesda,” the elected officials wrote.

Across traffic-clogged Rockville Pike, Naval Support Activity-Bethesda (home to Walter Reed) has adopted a 3-to-1 employee to parking space ratio. The 3-to-1 standard is meant to encourage employees to take public transportation or carpool and is recommended by the National Capital Planning Commission, the planning authority for federal land in the D.C. area.

“[Naval Support Activity-Bethesda] is proving that a 3:1 ratio can work. NIH can and should follow its lead,” wrote the elected officials. “If NIH were to adopt such a policy, instead of adding 1,000 spaces as proposed, NIH would actually be in a position to remove 2,300 spaces — a net benefit of 3,300 spaces. Removing 3,300 cars from our clogged roads would be a ‘good neighbor policy,’ one we urge you to adopt.”

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by Aaron Kraut — March 6, 2015 at 6:00 am 3 Comments

Road conditions were improved, but snow and ice remained on Rockville Pike near Old Georgetown Road on Thursday night

Montgomery County will lifted its Snow Emergency at 6 a.m. Friday, though parking in county garages and lots will remain free until 10 a.m.

Drivers will no longer be prohibited from parking along Snow Emergency Routes and taxi cabs will no longer be permitted to charge $2.50 extra per trip.

Ride On bus service will return to normal operations, though some detours and delays may continue due to road conditions. The Montgomery County government will open at 10 a.m., with liberal leave in effect for non-essential employees.

County plow crews finished clearing snow from main county roads and started work on neighborhood roads around midnight Friday. The county’s Highway Services Division is reminding residents to expect multiple treatments on most streets.

While sub-freezing temperatures overnight slowed progress, MCDOT says salt, sun and traffic “will lend a hand to complete snow removal operations” on Friday morning.

by Aaron Kraut — March 2, 2015 at 8:00 am 1,053 5 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 554 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 1,241 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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