Friday, June 30, 2023

Uniqlo construction underway at Downtown Silver Spring

Construction has begun on the interior fit-out of Uniqlo at 914 Ellsworth Drive at Downtown Silver Spring. As you can see, work is still in the very early stage. The Japanese apparel retailer has an existing Montgomery County store at Pike & Rose. It is in the midst of an expansion plan with the goal of opening twenty new stores each year in North America.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

These Silver Spring residents awake to a surveillance camera - and - flashing lights outside their bedroom windows (Video)

Big Brother is upping the ante in downtown Silver Spring. As I reported earlier, Montgomery County has placed a surveillance camera outside the Thayer & Spring apartments, level with some residents' windows. Under remote control by an unscrupulous operator, the camera could theoretically be rotated to face the apartments, and peer into windows. But as night falls over Silver Spring, something else has come to "light." Alternating police-style red and blue lights flash non-stop just feet away from bedroom windows. A camera, and a neon motel sign-on-steroids, outside your bedroom window? Downtown Silver Spring residents are indeed getting the benefit of their taxpayer dollars!

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Commas food hall construction update in Silver Spring

The new Commas food hall at Ellsworth Place mall in downtown Silver Spring is at least a year behind schedule in opening. As you can see here, construction is still in an early stage inside the 13,000-square-foot space. Walls dividing the individual stall areas are being formed out of metal frames. Only four tenants have been announced, out of the twelve available spaces, and that was almost a year ago. Is the food hall trend waning, or just getting started?

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Starbucks under construction at The Blairs Shops in Silver Spring

The interior fit-out of the new Starbucks at 1316 East-West Highway at The Blairs Shops is underway. It replaces Peet's Coffee. Front and rear counters are in place. The store is currently hiring, according to a flyer taped to the storefront. 

Monday, June 26, 2023

Mi Mariachi updates exterior paint ahead of Wheaton opening (Photos)

The historic Sir Walter Raleigh Inn building at 11301 Fern Street in Wheaton has a new, darker appearance. It has been repainted from its formerly bright yellow as new tenant Mi Mariachi prepares to open here in August. The old colors were left over from previous tenant Nava Thai. This building began its life as one of the original Sir Walter Raleigh Inn steakhouses in the Washington, D.C. region in 1970.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Montgomery County acts to preserve affordable Aspen Hill apartment complex

Montgomery County has utilized its Right of Refusal law to intervene in the proposed sale of the Westchester West Apartments at 3214 Hewitt Avenue in Aspen Hill. Residents concerned about the impact of the sale on rent prices, or the potential redevelopment of the property, sought to bring the proposed transaction to the attention of County elected officials with the assistance of nonprofit Action in Montgomery (AIM). County Executive Marc Elrich and County Councilmember Natali Fani-Gonzalez asked the County's Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA) to intervene in the sale.

On June 8, 2023, DHCA purchased Westchester West Apartments from Westchester Gardens LLC., for $67 million. It then immediately resold the property to ECD Westchester Apartments, LLC, for an undisclosed amount. The buyer is a shell company created by nonprofit Enterprise Community Development of Silver Spring. A $5 million loan to ECD was provided by the County to urgently address maintenance work at the property that the previous landlord had deferred.

Westchester West was seen as valuable by the County due to the fact that a large number of its 345 units are family-size 3-bedrooms. This is a size of unit increasingly hard to find at affordable prices, and market-rate developers are not building them in significant numbers today. 

Current rents at Westchester West Apartments are considered affordable to households with incomes between 55% and 60% of Area Median Income (AMI) under DHCA’s 2022 rent and income limits. Under the terms of the County's sale to ECD, Westchester West Apartments will remain affordable for 35 households with incomes at or below 50% of AMI;  275 households with incomes between 50% and 60% of AMI; and 35 households who earn more than 60% of AMI. The last category was implemented to avoid evicting current residents who earn more than 60% of AMI.

“Preserving affordable housing is an essential part of a successful affordable housing strategy,” Elrich said in a statement. “I directed DHCA to use the County’s right of first refusal to match the sale offer, purchase this building, and then transfer to an affordable housing partner. The bottom-line is that we saved the homes of hundreds of families who could have been forced out by increased rents if we did not intervene. If we are going to solve our affordable housing problems, we must get serious and use everything in our toolbox, including using our right of first refusal to intervene in similar transactions that could price out current residents.” 

“When I realized that the building was about to be sold, I saw this as an incredible opportunity for the County to intervene," Fani-González said in a press release. “Working in partnership with County Executive Elrich, we convened meetings with DHCA, and the community alongside AIM, to discuss how we could make this incredible purchase possible. Our low-income immigrant community took action to protect their families from displacement, and that’s why we are celebrating today.” 

Westchester West residents expressed gratitude for Elrich's action. "We are very grateful to the County government for this result,” resident Maria Vasquez said Thursday. “For us, giving stability to our children is our priority. Knowing that we have secured our home in an area where our children can access an excellent education is something that fills us with great peace of mind."  

There's much talk about affordable housing from developer lobbyists and Astroturf YIMBYs who are, in reality, just seeking upzoning for more luxury housing at market rates. They falsely suggest that building more supply will reduce prices, an argument soundly disproven over the last 20 years in Montgomery County and elsewhere. The U.S. housing market, sadly, no longer operates under market forces.

In contrast, actions such as Elrich took here will preserve large numbers of units. There are really only public, government solutions to the affordable housing crisis, if one is serious about the issue. Government acquiring or building housing itself is the only tool that will make any significant difference in housing prices and affordability. 

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Outback Steakhouse Silver Spring construction update (Photos)

You wouldn't know it from the outside, but a new Outback Steakhouse is being constructed inside the former Not Your Average Joe's space at Ellsworth Place mall in downtown Silver Spring. Inside, Unox ovens and Daybar doors sit in boxes awaiting installation. Some seating is already in place. Outback Steakhouse has existing Montgomery County locations in Aspen Hill and Germantown.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Bete Ethiopian Cuisine & Cafe temporarily closes for renovations in Silver Spring

Bete Ethiopian Cuisine & Cafe
has temporarily closed at 811 Roeder Road in downtown Silver Spring for renovations. The restaurant expects to reopen on July 1, 2023. Bete Ethiopian Cuisine & Cafe opened in 2009, and is known for its cozy dining room and efforts to closely follow Ethiopian culinary traditions. The Washington Post has called its cuisine "a true taste of Addis Ababa."

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Big Brother's watching on Thayer Avenue in Silver Spring (Photos)

You're on candid camera on Thayer Avenue. Montgomery County has placed one of its robot surveillance cameras outside of the Thayer & Spring apartment building. Always reassuring to see a camera right outside of your bedroom window. The County has previously deployed this type of camera near Downtown Silver Spring and Ellsworth Place.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Silver Spring TV station fined $18,000 by FCC

A Silver Spring television station has been fined $18,000 by the Federal Communications Commission, after it missed deadlines to upload program lists and report its children's programming details. WJAL Channel 68.1's ownership told the FCC that it failed to comply because it did not realize it had to continue filing the reports after it relinquished its spectrum-usage rights via auction to WUSA. The FCC replied that ignorance of the law was not an excuse, and that it will not drop the fine. 

However, the commission said it concluded that WJAL's failure to report was not an egregious or intentional action, and that it has continued to serve the public interest during the period in question. As a result, the FCC said, it will renew the station's broadcasting license. WJAL now broadcasts its digital signal from WUSA's Tenleytown transmission tower, and is the Washington, D.C.-area affiliate of the Falun Gong-backed New Tang Dynasty Television network. WJAL's fine was first reported by Broadcast Law Blog.

Broadcast image courtesy NTD Network

Friday, June 16, 2023

Silver Spring resident makes the cut on TV's MasterChef

Chef Gordon Ramsay has picked the 20 contestants for the latest season of MasterChef on Fox, and one of the aprons went to Silver Spring native Richie H. Richie is a chef and musician who also wants to produce films if given the opportunity. He says he was encouraged to enter the music business by a music teacher and theater teacher in Montgomery County, and has worked with Justin Bieber, Don Toliver, and Bryson Tiller - among others - as a writer or producer. 

Richie says he plans to host tastings of his food in the DC area this summer, and nationally in the fall. While he is legally bound not to spoil the outcome of the MasterChef season, he won't rule out hosting some watch parties in Silver Spring this summer.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Passport extension now available at Guatemalan Consulate in Montgomery County

Guatemala's Ministry of Foreign Affairs is making a new passport extension service available to Guatemalans living abroad. In the United States the service will at first only be available at the Guatemalan Consulates here in Rockville, Maryland and Lake Worth, Florida, in-person by making an appointment. Using the new service, the validity of a passport can be extended by 18 months for free. Validity of a passport can be extended for three years for a fee of $25. 

Guatemalan adults and minors can receive the extension by appearing in person at the consulate. Your passport must be expired or about to expire, and have enough blank pages remaining to cover the travel period expected. You must bring a current DPI or birth certificate. 

To receive answers to any questions you have about the new passport extension service, call the Rockville Guatemalan Consulate directly at (240) 485-5050. The consulate is located at 979 Rollins Ave in Rockville.

Photo courtesy Consulado General de Guatemala en Maryland

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Black cemetery advocates call for boycott of Montgomery County Juneteenth events over missing remains

Object cemetery advocates believe is
an intact headstone from
Moses African Cemetery, photographed
by observers during excavation for a
self-storage building in Bethesda

The Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition is calling for a boycott of Montgomery County government-sponsored Juneteenth events this year, if the County does not bring forward missing bone fragments - along with a chain of custody of those remains - discovered during excavation for a self-storage building behind the McDonald's on River Road in Bethesda, by June 19, 2023. Those fragments were dislodged during excavation work in 2020, on a property directly adjacent to the boundaries of the Moses African Cemetery, which is hidden beneath the rear parking lot of Westwood Tower and a gravel parking lot below the rear of McDonald's and Talbert's. The developer's archaeological advisor declared at the time that they were not human bones. But internationally-renowned anthropologist Dr. Michael Blakey, an expert on African-American burial sites and known for his role in the development of the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York City, called for an immediate halt to excavation after reviewing photographs of the mystery remains.

"The photograph I was shown...shows fragments of light-colored elongated material consistent with skeletal material, but is not currently verifiable as such," Blakey wrote in 2020. When Blakey asked Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich if he could examine the fragments with his own expertise, he was allegedly told that the bone fragments were now missing. 

"Marc Elrich and I talked, and he told me that human remains had been, I'm sorry, that remains had been found on the site," Blakey recounted in an interview earlier this year. "And they had been sent to a laboratory somewhere. And they were discovered not to be by those who were doing the assessment. And I assumed they were people with the kind of expertise I have as a bioarchaeologist, or they may have been forensic anthropologists, to identify human bone from bone fragments."

"I did not necessarily trust the situation myself at that point. I'd like to see! And so I asked Mr. Elrich if I could observe and examine those remains, and in so doing, my assessment might be trusted. And at some point along in the conversation - I think he was going to go back - and then we had a second conversation, as I roughly recall. They were not sure, his understanding was, that the archaeologists nor he were sure of where the remains were. And that's suspicious."

"I was not afforded the permission to [examine] those bone fragments. The question is, 'What are you hiding? What are you afraid of?' The way to allay distrust is transparency. Complete, utter transparency. There's no reason not to have that in a trustworthy situation. And so one would think [this] situation not trustworthy."

"The treatment of the descendant community in Bethesda was equivalent to calling them the N-word. Racism is about so many kinds of degradations, of exclusion, and 'white hoarding,' as someone put it, of things that don't belong to them. And maybe in this case, in the case of Moses Cemetery, the term 'dismissal' is appropriate. The Black community's humane interests were just dismissed."

Moses African Cemetery was desecrated and paved over during the construction of Westwood Tower in the late 1960s. A longstanding concern of cemetery advocates has been the possibility that some remains may have been buried beyond the property line of the cemetery, a common finding in other Black cemeteries across the country. Those concerns were unanimously dismissed by the Montgomery County Planning Board in 2017, at a meeting where Chair Casey Anderson called in armed police to confront Black activists peacefully protesting to stop the self-storage project.

With the approval of Anderson and the Planning Board, excavation at the self-storage site began. Blakey's concerns were echoed by those of Dr. Adrienne Pine, Professor of Anthropology at American University, Dr. Rachel Watkins, Associate Professor of Anthropology at American University, and Dr. Tammy R. Hilburn, an archaeologist and cultural property crime specialist. Hilburn observed the excavation and construction work at the site from beyond the property line on an almost-daily basis since June 8, 2020.

"I have seen no screening of dirt nor manifestation of the items or personnel typically associated with proper archaeological methodologies," Hilburn says. "I have seen archaeological strata and possible biomass, as well as possible osseous fragments, not to mention other cultural material, in piles being shifted around and re-used on the site that is to be the new storage facility." Among the possible funerary objects seen by observers was one that strongly resembled a headstone. The cemetery's headstones were believed to have been bulldozed into the earth prior to construction of Westwood Tower.

"Elrich has known since 2020 that bones were recovered at the worksite of the Bethesda Self Storage project," BACC President Marsha Coleman-Adebayo said in a statement Tuesday. "Those bones were trafficked across state lines with instructions in 2020 that they needed DNA analysis. None was done.  BACC calls for a boycott of Montgomery County [government's] Juneteenth activities in protest of these startling revelations that we received—not from Mr. Elrich or any other County official—but via our Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) requests."

“Mr. Elrich was told three years ago by world renowned anthropologist, Dr. Michael Blakey, that the loss of bones that were discovered at the site was unacceptable and suspicious,” the Rev. Dr. Segun  Adebayo, Pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church said in a statement. "Three years ago Dr. Blakey advised Mr. Elrich to halt construction and to bring BACC into a central role in the oversight process. Elrich failed to act, allowing massive destruction of Moses Cemetery.” Macedonia Baptist Church is the sole physical remnant of the Black community that existed on River Road from after the Civil War until the 1960s.

"Despite the County knowing of [National Historic Preservation Act] Section 106 mandates, Mr. Elrich consistently insists he is powerless to stop the desecration," Coleman-Adebayo continued in her statement. "No local official—the 106 process must be initiated by a government official—has stepped forward to initiate the process."

As a result, the BACC is calling for a boycott of County government-sponsored Juneteenth events for 2023, until and unless the remains are located and returned to the cemetery soil. BACC invites the public to instead attend its own Juneteenth observance on June 19, between 2:00 and 5:00 PM opposite 5119 River Road in Bethesda. Speakers at the event will include Maryland 8th District U.S. Congressman Jamie Raskin (D), and Harvey Matthews, a childhood resident of the lost Black community on River Road.

Montgomery County failed to apply the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966's "stringent  procedures regarding the disruption of a cemetery as prerequisites for building permits—and  archaeological best practices mandating the inclusion of the descendant community in the central role of the disposition of ancestral remains," Coleman-Adebayo said. "The County did none of these, yet still sings the praises of Juneteenth? Juneteenth didn’t stop Jim Crow. Juneteenth didn’t stop the Klan. And it hasn’t stopped the desecration" of Moses African Cemetery.

Photo courtesy BACC

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Another office-to-residential conversion floated in downtown Silver Spring

Downtown Silver Spring has become the hot spot in Montgomery County for office-to-residential conversions. In fact, the trend started here long before the pandemic, and something called WFH ever existed. The latest candidate is 801 Roeder Road. While the 10-story, glass facade building's price is not given in the listing, its location in a Qualified Opportunity Zone, 6.5 F.A.R., and "as-is" sale status are noted.

Monday, June 12, 2023

The Blairs Shops offers new restaurant pad site for lease in Silver Spring

The Blairs Shops
, the shopping center at The Blairs development at 1300 East-West Highway in downtown Silver Spring, is offering a new pad site for lease to potential retail and restaurant tenants. A leasing brochure outlines three possible scenarios for the yet-to-be-constructed building: A single, 5400-square-foot full service restaurant; subdividing the building between a 3200 SF full-service restaurant and a 2,200 SF fast casual restaurant; or a 2,200 SF fast casual restaurant alongside a 3,200 SF retail store. All restaurants under any of the three scenarios would have outdoor patio space.

Proposed site of the pad site in the
parking lot shown in light blue

Friday, June 9, 2023

AYCE Father's Day brunch buffet at J. Hollinger's in Silver Spring

J. Hollinger's Waterman's Chophouse
will serve an all-you-can-eat Father's Day brunch buffet bigger than its name on June 18, 2023 from 11:00 AM to 2:30 PM. For $39, enjoy Fried Chicken with Hot Honey, Slow- Roasted Ribeye with Fresh Herbs and Garlic, Old Bay Peel and Eat Shrimp, House Cured Gravlax and Bagel Platter, Brioche French Toast with Local Berry Compote, and much more. Kids 5-12 eat for $18, and kids 4 and under eat free.

Bloody Marys from the Bloody Mary Bar with all the fixings will be $12 each. You can also order Mimosas for the Table for $30 (serves 4 – 6). J. Hollinger's is located at 8606 Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring. Reservations can be made at the event website.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Will Jawando endorsed by Westminster mayor in Maryland U.S. Senate race

Westminster, Maryland
Mayor Mona Becker

Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando (D - At-Large) has been endorsed by the mayor of Westminster in the Maryland U.S. Senate race, his campaign announced today. Mayor Mona Becker is a member of the faculty, and serves as chair of the Science department, at Westminster High School. Jawando is seeking the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Senator Ben Cardin (D). 

“I am proud to endorse Will Jawando’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate," Becker said in a statement this morning. "All across the country, we have seen vicious attacks on the LGBTQI+ community coming from Republican politicians, and it is putting our community in direct danger. We need a progressive champion in the Senate representing Maryland who will fight like hell for our rights and not let our country slip back away from progress. I am confident that Will is the right person for the job, and I am excited to help him win this race.”

“I have been lucky to partner with Mayor Mona Becker in my capacity as Councilmember, and I am deeply honored that she has decided to endorse my candidacy for the Senate," Jawando said in a statement. "Mayor Becker leads Westminster with compassion, dignity, and grit. From defending LGBTQI+ rights to protecting our environment to so much more, we share the same bold progressive vision for the future of this country. I look forward to working alongside her to build a brighter tomorrow and represent the state of Maryland in Congress.”

Becker's endorsement may give Jawando a boost in the Democratic primary in the western part of the state next year. Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) has been winning the endorsement side of the contest for Cardin's seat in the early stage of the race, having picked up the backing of influential Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer (D). Other key endorsements Alsobrooks has received include those of Maryland Comptroller Brooke Lierman, Baltimore-area Congressman Kweisi Mfume, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, State Senator Anthony Muse, Town of Somerset Mayor Jeffrey Slavin and former Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett.

One prize endorsement observers are awaiting the announcement of is that of Maryland Governor Wes Moore (D), who has established relationships with both Jawando and Alsobrooks. A Moore endorsement could raise Jawando's profile statewide tremendously, or seal the race for Alsobrooks, whose toughest competiton so far is ultrawealthy Congressman David Trone (D). Maryland 8th District Congressman Jamie Raskin (D) could scatter all of this political calculation to the wind, however, should he decide to enter the race this summer. Raskin has a national profile, energizes progressives, and has beaten big-spending Trone before at the ballot box.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Silver Spring artist wins Wheaton Arts Parade & Festival 2023 poster contest

Silver Spring artist Fernando Santiago's entry has been declared the winner in the 2023 Wheaton Arts Parade & Festival poster contest. His design will now be the official poster for this year's event, and also appear on the official t-shirt. Santiago will receive a $500 award from the Wheaton IHOP. Restaurant owner William Moore will also donate $100 for art supplies in Santiago's name to Glenallen Elementary School.

The poster design is greatly enhanced by featuring an apartment building with architecture you might see driving around the Wheaton area. It looks very reminiscent of the garden apartment buildings at Glenmont Forest.

"My family loves parades," Santiago said in a statement yesterday. "We are known to travel long distances to see them. In 2019, we were at the Wheaton Arts Parade and it was amazing. The floats, the artists and the overwhelming love of art struck a chord in me. It was after the 2019 arts parade that I decided to get back into art. I had not made art since graduating from my art high school in Puerto Rico in 1996, but watching all those artists marching in the arts parade inspired me to ask ‘If not now, when?’ This is the phrase I chose to portray in my submission to the poster competition. In it, I show regular people taking a chance to bring beauty to the world they inhabit.”

The theme of this year's parade will be "Art to Action." Sponsors include Greenhill and Westfield Wheaton Plaza mall. The event will take place Sunday, October 15 from from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM in the Wheaton Triangle, and on the Marian Fryer Plaza, located adjacent to the bus loop at the Wheaton Metro Station. See the official event website for complete information.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Elsi Ethiopian Restaurant & Bar opening in Silver Spring

Elsi Ethiopian Restaurant & Bar
is coming soon to the Briggs Chaney area of Silver Spring. It will be located at 13825 Outlet Drive in the Briggs Chaney MarketPlace shopping center. The 3765-square-foot restaurant will seat 100, and will open this summer. Hours of operation will be 7:00 AM to 2:00 AM Sunday through Thursday, and 7:00 AM to 3:00 AM on Fridays and Saturdays.

Mi Mariachi to return in Wheaton

Mi Mariachi Bar & Grill,
a Mexican-Salvadoran restaurant with live mariachi music, is returning to Wheaton. It will open at 11301 Fern Street, which was most recently home to Nava Thai. This will, for the immediate future, preserve this historic building that began its life as one of the famous Sir Walter Raleigh Inns in the Washington, D.C. area. Mi Mariachi was previously on University Boulevard. 

The owner hopes to open at the beginning of August. Hours of operation will tentatively be 11:00 AM to 1:45 AM Sunday through Thursday, and 11:00 AM to 2:45 AM on Fridays and Saturdays.