Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Wheaton Gateway sketch plan submitted to Montgomery County

The Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission, Willco and the Duffie Companies have submitted the sketch plan for their Wheaton Gateway development proposal to Montgomery County. A tentative public hearing date for the sketch plan before the County Planning Board has been scheduled for June 3, 2021.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Jollibee sets opening date at Wheaton Plaza...again

Let's try this again! Jollibee at Wheaton Plaza is one of the most highly-anticipated openings of 2021, and many were disappointed when its debut was postponed a few weeks back. The good news is that mall operator Westfield has just announced a new opening date, Thursday, April 8, 2021.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Pickpocket strikes at Silver Spring grocery store

Montgomery County police responded to a report of a pickpocket picking pockets at a Silver Spring grocery store yesterday afternoon. The incident took place at a supermarket in the 12000 block of Cherry Hill Road in the Calverton-White Oak area around 5:00 PM, according to crime data. There is an Aldi store on that block..

Friday, March 26, 2021

Wheaton Plaza photo ops for spring (Photos)

While we can't be sure what the world has in store for us this spring, Westfield is providing an environment of optimism at Wheaton Plaza. Check out these new photo backdrops the next time you're at the mall. They'll be perfect for your next Instagram post. Be on the lookout for the Easter Bunny while you're at it. And don't forget that the AMC Wheaton 9 movie theater is reopening today at the mall!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Olney Giant to expand

The Giant store at 18140 Village Mart Drive in Olney is about to get bigger. There are plans to expand the store into an adjacent space at the Olney Village Center this year. The store will grow by about 3600 square feet in size as a result.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

David Blair announces candidacy for Montgomery County Executive

Businessman David Blair (D) announced this morning that he will again run for Montgomery County Executive in 2022, after losing the Democratic nomination for the office by only 77 votes in 2018. Blair will face a rematch with the current executive, who squeaked past him and went on to win handily that year, Marc Elrich (D). Elrich has also signaled his intention to run for reelection. Both men may face competition from term-limited County Council members in the Democratic primary, but none have demonstrated the popular support of Blair and Elrich seen in 2018.

Blair has maintained a high-profile since his narrow 2018 loss. While unsuccessful, he scored points with many for his gracious concession speech, and for declining to challenge the extremely close voting results. There is no sign he has lost the strong support from the business community he enjoyed in 2018. And his founding of the Council for Advocacy and Policy Solutions (CAPS) since the election has furthered his effort to earn progressive credentials while running as a pro-business candidate.

The Blair campaign site launches with a 3-minute video with prominent scenes of downtown Bethesda, small businesses, and the pandemic. Montgomery County's economy has been stagnant for more than a decade, and has not improved since 2018, with the impact of the pandemic not helping matters. 

The County has failed to attract a single major corporate headquarters to relocate here in over 25 years, and ranked last in the region over the last decade by virtually every relevant economic development measure. This has tanked County revenues. But rather than trim spending, the Council has simply raised taxes each year, except for 2014. That has led to a flight of the rich to lower-tax jurisdictions in the area, further reducing revenue.

All that bad economic news gives Blair a strong foundation again to run on. But Elrich is the most popular politician in Montgomery County by the numbers. He not only aligns with the most-progressive faction of Democrats that increasingly is steering that party in Maryland, but also wins support from Republicans and independents concerned about development and quality-of-life issues. Elrich has demonstrated that he will continue to resist the influence of real estate development interests that now control all nine seats on the County Council.

Elrich will also be receiving a timely bailout from Uncle Sam, courtesy of the American Rescue Plan Act just passed by Congress. The influx of $203.7 million in American taxpayer funds could go a long way to papering over the County's disastrous budget picture for one fiscal year. A fresh piece of tape over the "Check Engine" light on the County budget dashboard is a welcome development for any incumbent official in Montgomery County. A Council with several members who want to oust Elrich hasn't so far been inclined to follow his budget priorities, however.

The Blair-Elrich matchup was tremendously entertaining for anyone who enjoys politics in 2018. A 2022 rematch promises to be the title fight again. On the undercard, the addition of two new Council seats, at least two other open seats, and new district boundaries will make 2022 an exciting year in Montgomery County politics.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Exhale Smoke Shop coming to downtown Silver Spring

Exhale Smoke Shop
 is coming to 8203 Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring. Originally described as a convenience store selling tobacco products and packaged food, the business model appears to have shifted to strongly emphasize the former. The space was previously home to Hertz and a wig store.

Monday, March 22, 2021

2 cars stolen in Silver Spring

Montgomery County police responded to the report of a stolen car in the Wolf Acres area of Silver Spring near Colesville yesterday afternoon. The vehicle was parked along the street in the 13200 block of Bregman Road. A second vehicle was taken from the driveway of a house in the 600 block of Venice Drive, off of New Hampshire Avenue.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Silver Spring construction update: Elan condos (Photos)

Here is a look at the tremendous progress on the conversion of an office building into the Elan condos at 700 Roeder Road in downtown Silver Spring over the winter. The contemporary design condos will offer Blomberg and Whirlpool appliances, Hunter Douglas vertical blinds, Kohler and Delta fixtures, quartz countertops in the kitchens and bathrooms, and an on-site business center. 

We've gone from this in November 2020... this in March 2021

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Copper Canyon Grill construction update (Photos)

The new front of Copper Canyon Grill appears to be just about finished at Downtown Silver Spring. Logo signage has been installed. The new louvered design is about twice as tall as the original. Rattlesnake Pasta is still my entree recommendation!

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Jollibee signage installed at Wheaton Plaza

The opening of Jollibee at 2800-B University Boulevard West in Wheaton has encountered another delay. Jollibee has promised that it will give at least 7 days notice of the grand opening. Meanwhile, here is a look at the Jollibee signage out front.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Raising the roof at Kaldi's in Silver Spring (Photos)

Kaldi's Social House
at 918 Silver Spring Avenue will be closed through the end of the month for renovations. Yesterday, contractor Mejia Iron Works was on location with a crane. They are raising the height of the roof by 4' as part of the remodeling.

Max Cafeteria & Grill closes in Wheaton

Sad news from the Wheaton Triangle. Max Cafeteria & Grill has closed at 11200 Grandview Avenue. The interior has been cleared out. Max opened in September 2017.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Wheaton Plaza to be put up for sale next year

International mall operator Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) plans to sell most of the malls it owns in the United States in 2022, the company announced last week. The news immediately puts the future of Montgomery Mall and Wheaton Plaza into serious question; URW owns both malls.

The news might have been a complete shock had it come prior to Westfield's acquisition by Unibail-Rodamco in 2018. After all, Westfield sunk well over $90 million into additions and renovations of Montgomery Mall alone this past decade. If Westfield was still the sole principal owner, this would not be happening.

Clearly, URW is not committed to bricks-and-mortar and indoor malls, and is seeking a Sears-Kmart-style payday via selling off the real estate. Here in Montgomery County, that real estate is worth a fortune.

However, despite a Wheaton sector plan filled with developer giveaways, there has been little to no demand in the private sector for mixed-use development in the same area of Wheaton where Wheaton Plaza is located. Since the new plan was passed by the Montgomery County Council roughly a decade ago, only two smaller, private sector apartment developments with no retail or dining have been constructed. A Montgomery County government project, a taxpayer-subsidized government office building at the Wheaton Metro station, is the only other significant project to be realized in the last decade.

It will be interesting to see who the potential buyers of Wheaton Plaza will be, and what they plan to do with the property. Montgomery Mall's site has greater demand. But there is serious question as to the quality of the redevelopment of both sites. 

Will they become two more cookie-cutter multifamily housing developments like recent housing projects at Rockledge and Tower Oaks, or vibrant communities with high-profile retail and restaurant tenants like Pike & Rose and Virginia's Mosaic District? Will the new owners take the cautious approach Westfield had planned by building on parking lots around the malls first, or a high-risk dice roll like the one that backfired on Lerner, when it pulled the plug on its popular White Flint Mall only to wind up with an empty field and no income?

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Montgomery County Council bucks state advice to lift covid restrictions on business

While most of Maryland reopened for business without restrictions yesterday, the Montgomery County Council resisted Gov. Larry Hogan's call to end restrictions on business. The Council met as the Board of Health Friday, after debating its authority to rebuff Hogan's statewide lifting of limits on retail and restaurants all week. Councilmembers ultimately chose not to lift capacity limits on indoor dining and shopping, which will remain at 25% capacity (although some large retailers have been able to get a waiver for the 25% cap for months), and only rise to 50% on March 26. The updated guidelines unanimously approved by the Council include the following:

As of yesterday at 5:00 PM:

  • removing local restrictions on capacity at child care facilities, which follow state requirements
  • increasing outdoor gatherings to a maximum of 50 people
  • increasing indoor gatherings to a maximum of 25 people
  • eliminating the limit of one person per 200 square feet
  • eliminating alcohol limits on food-service facilities; alcohol can be sold after 10 pm
  • eliminating the restriction on buffet service for food-service facilities
  • increasing the capacity for religious facilities to 50%

The following changes will go into effect on March 26:

  • increasing the maximum capacity to 50% for indoor dining, retail shops, fitness centers and other businesses
  • permitting arts and entertainment facilities to open at 25% capacity, provided they do not sell or permit food for consumption in the facility

The guidelines for entertainment venues as written do not immediately appear to apply to movie theaters, which serve food. Only "theaters" that don't serve concessions may reopen at 25% as of March 26. Given that concessions are key to profits for cineplexes, it seems unlikely they would forgo sales of food just to reopen.

County Executive Marc Elrich cited the low percentage of Montgomery County residents who have received a coronavirus vaccination as a primary reason to not lift covid restrictions to the degree the state did Friday. "County leaders will continue focusing on what works, listening to our public health experts and acting based on the needs of our community because public health is the key to a sustained and robust recovery for all," Elrich said in a statement yesterday after the Council vote.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Strong-arm carjacking in Takoma Park

City of Takoma Park police responded to a report of a strong-arm carjacking this past Tuesday evening. The carjacking was reported in the 200 block of Ethan Allen Avenue around 8:42 PM. Crime data indicates the victim was also robbed of other property.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Silver Spring construction update: Solaire 8200 Dixon (Video+Photos)

Washington Property Company's latest apartment project is the Solaire 8200 Dixon, rising on the former site of Progress Place. When completed, it will be the tallest building in downtown Silver Spring at 26 stories. It will also include a 15000 square foot food hall at street level. It currently stands about 8 stories over the Ripley District.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Copper Canyon Grill Silver Spring renovations update (Photos)

The renovations of the exterior of Copper Canyon Grill at 928 Ellsworth Drive at Downtown Silver Spring continue. Work has advanced quite a bit since the bare framework seen in my last update. Copper Canyon remains open for business during the renovations.