Saturday, March 28, 2020

Montgomery County liquor store, nursing homes with coronavirus cases, Hogan touts Covid-19 research partnership with Bloomberg, Hopkins

Ride On reduces bus 
service to essential routes
drive-thru coronavirus 
testing site opens in Bethesda

A major coronavirus hotspot was identified by Montgomery County in one of its own County-owned liquor stores Friday. An employee at the Montgomery County Liquor store at 4920 Hampden Lane in Bethesda has tested positive for Covid-19, the County liquor department announced in a press release. The County said anyone who shopped at the Hampden Lane liquor store on March 23 or 24 should monitor themselves for coronavirus symptoms.

However, unless the employee only started working March 23, that does not seem like sound advice. The employee tested positive after exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19 on March 25. But a person can be asymptomatic for up to 14 days after being exposed to the coronavirus, so customers could have been at risk of exposure long before March 23.

When you think of how heavily the county government has pushed liquor sales during the coronavirus shutdown, and how many people in downtown Bethesda, Edgemoor, East Bethesda and Chevy Chase likely stocked up at the downtown Bethesda store over the last few weeks, this represents a major risk to the community. The Hampden Lane store has been temporarily closed for sanitizing and deep cleaning.

Montgomery County nursing homes
with coronavirus

The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services has identified three nursing homes in the county where either residents or staff have tested positive for coronavirus. Three residents at Brighton Gardens on Tuckerman Lane in Bethesda have tested positive for Covid-19, the HHS confirmed. All three are currently hospitalized.

One staff member at Fox Chase nursing home in Silver Spring, and one staff member at the Fairland Center on Fairland Road in Silver Spring also have tested positive. Each is self-quarantining at this time.

The reports on this and the liquor store are among the very few cases where the County has been open with the public on where infected people have worked, shopped or traveled. Such a lack of open information has helped to spread the coronavirus because residents could not avoid places of exposure, and people who were in those places could not self-isolate to protect vulnerable household members and others in the community.

Ride On further reduces
services to essential routes

Ride On announced that bus service is being further reduced to essential routes. If your regular bus includes a hospital as a stop, you're in luck, such as the Ride On 23 in Bethesda that goes to Sibley Hospital. If it doesn't, not so much. A full list of routes still operating can be found online.

Hogan announces partnership to find
coronavirus treatment with Bloomberg,
Johns Hopkins

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a major research initiative the state is undertaking in partnership with Johns Hopkins Medicine and Bloomberg Philanthropies. The research will center around blood plasma samples from patients who have recovered from Covid-19, and attempt to find a treatment for the disease, if not a vaccine. Bloomberg is donating $3 million, and the state is contributing $1 million.

MedStar opens coronavirus
testing site in Bethesda

MedStar has opened a coronavirus testing site in Bethesda, as predicted by Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich earlier this week. However, rather than using the White Flint Mall site Elrich suggested, MedStar has opened it at the Pauline Betz Addie Tennis Center, located at 7801 Democracy Boulevard. Before you jump in your car, though, you must have a referral from a MedStar physician who will approve you as a candidate for testing.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Wheaton Gateway project details come to light

Mixed-income, mixed-use complex's
ground floor retail plan
includes a food hall

The current redevelopment of the Ambassador Apartments property in Wheaton, formerly a Howard Johnson hotel and restaurant, is currently underway with the demolition of the existing structures on the site. A later phase of the same Wheaton Gateway project will replace the Lindsay Ford dealership right next door. Now I've learned more details about the project, and have some of the first renderings of its visual impact on the gateway to the Wheaton business district, and nearby homes.
View from Veirs Mill Road looking
toward Rockville
Developers of the project say Wheaton Gateway will be a "prime example" of the type of development favored in the Wheaton sector plan, which was approved by the Montgomery County Council in 2012. The development team emphasizes that each developer is a longstanding member of the county business community, not an out-of-state or fly-by-night firm. Those partners are the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission, the Duffie family (The Duffie Companies, headquartered in Silver Spring), and members of the Cohen family (Willco).
Helicopter view from Fenimore Road
looking toward Wheaton Plaza
While Lindsay Ford's plan to move to Aspen Hill was canceled, the development team says that the HOC recently acquired the Ford dealership's property. The HOC is now leasing that property short-term to Lindsay. Interestingly, Willco has owned the former Howard Johnson restaurant structure (a mattress store of late) since 1963.

Wheaton Gateway will feature 30% affordable housing units, more than twice the standard 12.5% requirement, and twice the 15% the Council has required in recent sector plans. Ground floor retail is planned in the development, and it will be designed with the additional of the future Veirs Mill bus rapid transit line in mind.
View from Kensington Boulevard across Veirs Mill
still looking toward Wheaton Plaza

After meeting with nearby residents, developers used their feedback to modify some of the proposal. They heard that Wheaton's burgeoning status as an arts and entertainment area should be incorporated. More broadly, residents said they wanted more dining options, but restaurants that would be local and unique, as opposed to national chains. To facilitate the latter vision, the developers have fit a food hall space into the design of the complex.

If the food hall ends up happening, it will provide spaces to several eateries at a more affordable leasing rate than a full-size restaurant space. This concept has already found great success down Veirs Mill Road in Rockville at Pike Kitchen and The Spot. Outdoor patio seating is also anticipated for the dining area, which is designed to be shielded from the traffic noise and fumes from Veirs Mill.
Internal street would provide through-block access
between East Avenue and Veirs Mill Road
An internal street will provide access from Veirs Mill and from East Avenue for vehicles, and also break up the "superblock" created by the assembled properties. The plan also addresses a frequent complaint about developments in recent years, which rarely have pull-off driveways or drop-off zones, forcing delivery trucks and other vehicles to stop in traffic lanes. Wheaton Gateway will provide several such drop-off areas on the property for this reason, and with the future growth of meal deliveries and autonomous vehicles in mind.
There will be both underground garage parking, and above-grade structured parking. The precise number of total parking spaces has not yet been determined. Several electric vehicle charging spaces will be set aside. A flat plate design structure will be employed that will allow parts of the parking structures to be repurposed for other uses if parking demand drops in the future.
Helicopter view from University Boulevard,
facing northeast
Loading docks will be fully off street under the building structure. They will be accessed from University Boulevard. This is where tenants will move in and move out their belongings.
Right-of-way dedications
There will be three pedestrian routes through or around the property. A bicycle stairway is being proposed for the Kensington Boulevard right-of-way at the north end of the property, to help cyclists tackle the significant grade drop there (yellow area in the above rendering). The developers would like the Maryland State Highway Administration to add a traffic signal at Veirs Mill and Galt Avenue, to facilitate safer crossing of Veirs Mill at that location.
Phasing for Wheaton Gateway
The Phase 1 building that is replacing the Howard Johnson hotel and restaurant at the corner of Veirs Mill and University will be set back 55' from the curb to allow a larger public use space. Buildings will step down from the highest height of 154' (higher than the 130' allowable height there due to the bonus density earned by the 30% affordable units being provided) at the corner Phase 1 building to 124' at the front Phase 2 area of the Lindsay property, to 69' along East Avenue (where, without the 30% affordable, they would have been limited to 45'). A small, orphaned block of Kensington Boulevard is the closest residential development to the Wheaton Gateway property. The Planning Board has the option to cap height at lower than 45' if it determines 45 is incompatible with adjacent properties.

How many total units will be in the complex, and of which sizes, have yet to be determined. Architectural design is also still in the works - the renderings here are mainly for massing reference. But one promising sign is that Torti Gallas + Partners is on the design team.

The development partners are aiming not only for LEED certification for Wheaton Gateway, but also hope to achieve the even more stringent Passive House Certification.

All eight trees on the property will be cut down. The 15% net forestation requirement will be met not by planting more trees on this site, but by acquiring off-site forested land for preservation, or by paying a fee to Montgomery County in lieu of the other options.

The plans indicate that there will be little space left on the site for stormwater management. Therefore, all available open spaces will be employed as much as possible for stormwater management purposes. An access drive from Wheaton Gateway to East Avenue will be lined with stair-stepping bioretention areas.

Stormwater management planters will be placed wherever feasible along the Veirs Mill frontage of the development, and within the interior outdoor common areas. The developers plan to employ both green roofs and rooftop photovoltaic systems.

In conclusion, while not all details of the Wheaton Gateway project are finalized, it's clear this will be a dramatic transformation of a landmark intersection in Wheaton.

Images courtesy Wheaton Gateway partners
All rights reserved

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Abol Ethiopian space for lease, Fat Fingers closes for renovations in Silver Spring

The Abol Ethiopian restaurant space at 8626 Colesville Road is now available for lease, according to a sign in the window. I reported last month that their name had been removed from the awning out front, but they said at the time they were just updating their signage. Wednesday evening, the restaurant was closed during normal business hours. The awning had been repainted, and is now just blank.
Another downtown Silver Spring closure during this very stressful time for Montgomery County restaurants is Fat Fingers at 8213 Georgia Avenue. The highly-rated restaurant is temporarily closing for renovations, according to the owner. No reopening date has been announced at this time.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

17 Metro stations closing Thursday; does your apartment/condo building allow contactless delivery?


17 METRO STATIONS TO
CLOSE TOMORROW

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has already warned residents that you shouldn't be on transit unless you are an employee of an essential business, or a frontline healthcare worker. Riding Metro will get even tougher tomorrow, Thursday, March 26, 2020, when WMATA closes 17 Metro stations.

Red Line stations closing that may impact Montgomery County residents most are Grosvenor-Strathmore, Cleveland Park, and Judiciary Square. 

In addition, the Jennifer Street entrance to the Friendship Heights Metro station will be closed. So will the SW corner of L and Connecticut Avenue NW entrance to the Farragut North station, the South Entrance at 19th St & Connecticut Avenue at Dupont Circle, and the 12th and F Streets entrance at Metro Center.

SHOULD RESIDENTIAL BUILDINGS
ALLOW CONTACTLESS DELIVERY
TO THE DOOR OF YOUR UNIT?

The coronavirus pandemic, and its national and worldwide impacts, have put us in uncharted territory. Another new controversy emerging from the outbreak is whether multifamily buildings should permit contactless delivery of food directly to a resident's unit, or bar deliverypersons from elevators and hallways, and require tenants to come down to the lobby to pick up their food.

A change in policy at The Palisades apartments in downtown Bethesda has ignited the online discussion. One resident expressed concern that the building's management has reversed its policy that allowed delivery of food to unit doors in the building. The new policy is that the deliveryperson must place the food package(s) down on a table in the lobby for that purpose. Then the resident must come down to the lobby and retrieve their delivery.

The resident noted that having to travel through the corridor, elevator and lobby would naturally increase her exposure to the coronavirus. She is requesting the management company change the policy.

Several residents agreed with her. However, some said a delivery person traveling the corridors and "touching all the buttons" in the elevator is a health risk, as well.

This is a tough call. Clearly, having to leave your apartment puts you at greater risk than staying in. At the same time, the delivery man or woman is also contacting numerous customers and restaurant staff throughout his or her shift. That multiplies the number of contacts. Of course, with contactless delivery, he or she theoretically is not making contact. 

What do you think about this? What is your building's policy, and do you think it should change? Give your two cents in the comments below, and maybe we can get a sense of what policies are in place around Montgomery County, and which of these two reasonable and compelling arguments is stronger from a medical and contagion standpoint.

TALBERT'S DELIVERS

Montgomery County landmark Talbert's, the longtime convenience store and beer/wine retailer at 5234 River Road in Bethesda, is reminding drivers on River Road that it always has made deliveries. A sign attached to the store's famous sign pole out front reads, "TALBERT'S DELIVERS: 301-652-3000." I can confirm that they have just about every snack or beverage you would need to survive the pandemic, and ice in case the freezer you stuffed full suddenly gives out.

NEW YORK IS THE EPICENTER;
WHAT ABOUT THE D.C. REGION?

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is warning America that New York City's increasing coronavirus death rate and spread is a preview of what's coming to other parts of the country in the next few weeks. Join Marsha Coleman Adebayo of Bethesda's Macedonia Baptist Church this morning at 9:00 AM on WPFW-FM 89.3 for a discussion with NYC activist Margaret Kimberly, the Senior Editor of the Black Agenda Report, and the author of Prejudential, and King Downing, JD, WBAI morning host.

SURVIVING CORONAVIRUS
IN ROCKVILLE

The same day that Montgomery County removed basketball hoops from some of its parks, Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said basketball hoops had to be removed from city parks due to groups violating the governor's ban on gatherings of more than ten people, and of Hogan's order to maintain social distancing. In an ongoing series of video updates posted by the City, Newton encouraged residents to follow Hogan's directives. "We will get through this if we follow the rules, make smart decisions, and, above all, be kind and supportive of each other," she said.

Kemp Mill Estates sidewalk virtual public hearing set for April 22

A public hearing on new sidewalks proposed for the beautiful Kemp Mill Estates neighborhood has been converted into a "virtual public hearing" due to the coronavirus pandemic. Residents and other interested parties can participate in the online hearing by using this link to log in at 7:00 PM on Wednesday, April 22, 2020.

The new sidewalks proposed would be along the north side of Hermleigh Road between Kemp Mill Road and Stonington Place; along the south side of Stonington Place between Hermleigh and Lovejoy Street; and along the east side of Lovejoy between 11525 Lovejoy and Stonington.
Existing cut-through path between
Lovejoy Street and Auth Lane
Also included in the project would be the formalization and paving of the existing informal walking path between Lovejoy and Auth Lane.

If you miss the live public hearing, you can request audio and video recordings by emailing the Montgomery County Department of Transportation.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Montgomery College student and employee test positive for coronavirus; YMCA offering free kids' meals, produce

College to restrict access to
campus buildings starting today

UPDATE - March 25, 2020: YMCA says it has had to suspend plans to distribute meals due to supply shortages.

Montgomery College announced Monday that one of its students, and one of its employees, have tested positive for the covid-19 coronavirus. The student hadn't been on-campus since March 11, 2020, and did not begin experiencing symptoms until March 16. But the employee did begin to feel sick the last day they worked on-campus, college officials said, which was March 13.

The college and the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services are cooperating to determine and identify who may have been exposed to either patient. Those individuals should be informed by the end of today.

A memo about the coronavirus cases by the head of public safety for the college did not identify which of the three campuses - Rockville, Germantown or Takoma Park - the student and employee were on. 

The cases came to light on the very day that the college transitioned most coursework to online classes. College officials said they had hoped to allow some campus facilities to remain in operation, but have now announced that starting today, March 24, access to all buildings on all campuses will be restricted even to employees. Only employees who have a critical need to take or return equipment or resources necessary to complete online course instruction will be allowed to enter any college facility. They will have to keep social distance of six feet while inside the building, and must exit the building in 30 minutes.

METROBUS IS NOW FREE

Gov. Larry Hogan has admonished residents that they should not be boarding transit unless they work at an essential business like a grocery store or pharmacy, or are a frontline healthcare worker. But if  you do qualify to ride, your Metrobus trip is now free by default. Starting today, passengers must board using the rear doors of the bus, unless they require the ADA features at the front doors. Passengers will not be required to pay fare on buses until further notice.

FRIENDSHIP HEIGHTS
VILLAGE SHUTTLE TO
ADD WESTBARD GIANT
TRIPS

The Village of Friendship Heights shuttle bus has been making trips to the Westwood Shopping Center Giant on Westbard Avenue on Saturdays since the Chevy Chase Giant store closed. Given the grocery shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the shuttle is adding a second day of Giant trips to Westbard. The shuttle will travel to the Westwood Giant on Wednesdays between 10 AM and 9 PM.

MoCo YMCAs OFFERING
FREE BOXED MEALS FOR KIDS,
FREE PRODUCE FOR EVERYONE

Several YMCA locations in Montgomery County will be offering boxes that contain 3-days' worth of breakfasts and lunches to anyone 18 or younger twice a week. They do not need to have any affiliation with YMCA to receive the free meals.
In cooperation with Keany Produce, these YMCAs are also offering free fresh produce to anyone who wants it, while supplies last. All you need to bring is a bag to put the meals and/or produce in. Here is a list of the YMCA locations offering the meals and produce in Montgomery County, and the days and times they will be available:


Monday, March 23, 2020

Wheaton GameStop closing permanently amidst coronavirus effect on MoCo businesses

Historic Bethesda diner cordoned off
Something you don't usually see in downtown Bethesda is the Tastee Diner closed. But the usually 24-hour restaurant is shuttered. This is emblematic of the new abnormal of business in the age of coronavirus in Montgomery County, as businesses countywide react to frequent new restrictions placed on activities and operations, and make decisions about how, and if, to keep the lights on.

Lights out at the Hilton Garden Inn
in Bethesda

HOTEL INDUSTRY CRATERS

The Bethesda Hilton Garden Inn has closed, with the hotel industry being hit hard by the low demand for travel. General Manager Roberto Perez says the hotel doesn't anticipate reopening before May 1 at the earliest. Bethesda-based Marriott International is laying off a large percentage of its employees until the crisis pauses or ends.
Ordinarily, this curbside on Waverly Street is
a hectic scene of airport cabs, Ubers and luggage



GAME OVER IN WHEATON

GameStop in Wheaton is also closing - apparently for good, as the video game emporium's furniture and fixtures are all up for grabs in the store's closing sale. All products are 50-80% off. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is not reduced to a liquidation price, however. GameStop has been the subject of controversy in recent days, as the already-struggling chain argued that its employees were "essential," and therefore their stores should be allowed to continue operating. 
Right now, the Wheaton GameStop - located at 11147 Veirs Mill Road - is operating on a schedule of 12:00-8:00 PM. Only 8 customers may be in the store at one time, and they have temporarily suspended trade-ins to avoid coronavirus contamination. There's only one week left to shop here, according to a sign in the store window.



WE ARE STILL HERE!

Businesses still toughing it out amid empty streets and parking spaces are trying to let people know they are still open. "We're Still Here!" declares a sign popping up in some Montgomery County restaurant windows, including this one at Guapo's.

EagleBank at 7815 Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda closed Friday, but will reopen today, March 23. The Blue House is still open nearby. They are offering curbside pickup, Virtual Shopper service, and free delivery if you live within 5 miles of their store at 7770 Woodmont Avenue. Capital Beer & Wine is still open every day at 7903 Norfolk Avenue in Bethesda. They have online ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery.
Random Harvest is temporarily closed at 7766 Woodmont Avenue, but the good news is that you'll still be able to shop with them later this week. The Bethesda furniture store says they will operate by appointment or telephone sales after March 24. Check their website after that date for full details.

Also closed, like many around the county, is Starbucks on Norfolk Avenue in Bethesda. Starbucks customers can't give up their favorite drinks, though, and are lining up for long waits at Starbucks locations with drive-thrus in places like Gaithersburg, Kensington and Burtonsville. Drive-thru is the way to go!
Look for these signs in urban
areas of Montgomery County
to avoid paying for parking when
picking up your carryout orders
Curbside pickup is also the way to go at this time. Look for special curbside stopping areas where you can avoid having to feed a meter during the coronavirus crisis in downtown Bethesda, Silver Spring, Bethesda Row, Pike & Rose and Rockville Town Square. Buffalo Wild Wings at Rockville Town Square is currently offering curbside service from 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM. World of Beer has all 250 beers on their list available for carry-out.