Friday, June 30, 2023

Rockville Arby's building fenced off (Photos)

Construction fencing has been erected around the vacant Arby's restaurant at 11710 Rockville Pike. No new tenant has been announced, and the building is still being marketed for lease. Maryland property records do not show a sale of the property as of this morning. 

A Shake Shack restaurant had been proposed for the building, but those plans were, sadly, withdrawn. That was a huge mistake by the burger chain. They would have done massive business here, especially in drive-thru sales. If I was an investor in Shake Shack, I would be screaming. At least Tom Bodett left the light on for us in the kitchen. Hopefully a smart fast food chain like Jack in the Box or In-N-Out leases this building soon.

Da Yu Hot Pot plans scrapped on Rockville Pike

After more than three years of anticipation, it looks like Da Yu Hot Pot isn't going to open in Rockville after all. At least, not at this 1701 Rockville Pike location. Workers have removed the restaurant's logo sign from the building, and there is a dumpster out front, although there's no indication construction ever began inside. Da Yu Hot Pot may have been a victim of the pandemic, as the popular China-based chain installed its sign here on the former REI storefront in February 2020, just weeks before the first coronavirus cases in Montgomery County were reported.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Rockville Wegmans construction update (Photos)

Brick work is being added to the facade at the future Twinbrook Quarter development at Rockville Pike (MD 355) and Halpine Road. The first phase of the B.F. Saul development will include Wegmans as the retail anchor tenant. You'll notice that the color of the brick on each segment of the facade changes. One section is tan, and the next is a more traditional red. Brick facade installation will continue through the fall.

Inside the building, walls are being constructed for hallways and apartment interior rooms. Plumbing, duct work and electrical wiring are also being installed. Outside, underground utilities are still going into place, and new sidewalks, pedestrian ramps and traffic signals are being installed at the intersection of Halpine and Chapman Avenue.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Rockville Planning Commission to review site plan for new biotech development along I-270

There's a rare bit of good news on the high-wage employment front in Montgomery County, and not surprisingly, it's coming to us once again from the biotech sector of the economy. 2 Research Place, LLC (a shell company that appears to be an entity of Soltesz) has proposed a seven-story life sciences building for 2 Research Place in Rockville, along I-270. The development would include a six-story above-ground parking garage with 400 parking spaces, and a park. An existing office building and parking lot on the 2.82-acre property would be demolished.

Existing site as seen from I-270

The office building will be placed on the side of the property that fronts I-270, to take advantage of the visibility to the 250,000 cars that pass by the site on the interstate each day. This prominent vista will  "promote Rockville as the center for life science uses," the applicant's attorney, Pat Harris, writes in a letter to planning staff.  The building is being designed as a state-of-the-art research office building, with floorplates and ceiling heights scaled to the ideal measurements for laboratory uses as much as office use. 

I-270 is also figuring prominently in the office building's design. Its long facade facing the highway will be "sheathed in an iconic, high-performance glass and metal fa├žade system with variable panel shapes and spacings that amplify the feeling of movement, making a strong connection to the high-speed passersby," Harris writes. Alas, there are no high-quality renderings of the proposed architectural design available as of this writing, only the totally-uninspiring placeholder diagrams shown here.

Proposed site plan

The applicant is going above-and-beyond on several fronts. 100 more parking spaces than the 300 required by the City will be provided in the garage. And the development would include 12,267 square feet of public use space, essentially double the amount required by the City for a project of this size and use.

Office building rear with lobby entrance at left,
and loading docks at right

Side view of office building

The other side view

A centrally-placed large, central lawn will provide a park-like setting with seating. It will be placed in front of the rear of the office building and the parking garage. Auto traffic will circulate around it between the office, garage and main driveway access. A separate patio space with landscaping is also proposed for an area between the office building and the garage. The applicant is proposing a 4' sidewalk to connect the office building with Research Place, but is seeking a waiver to allow the sidewalk to be a foot narrower than the 5' required by the City.

Parking garage

The applicant is seeking a second waiver regarding the rooftop of the office building. Due to the specialized equipment required for life science research uses, the applicant is seeking permission to have more of the roof area dedicated to such equipment, and for the setback from the roof edge to be less than required under current City code. A 19'-high screen is proposed to hide the equipment from view.

Planning staff are recommending approval of the Site Plan, with conditions. The Rockville Planning Commission will review the plan at its meeting tonight, June 28, 2023 at 7:00 PM.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

VinoRita wine slushies kiosk to open at Montgomery Mall in Bethesda

A new frozen treat is coming to the Dining Terrace food court at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. VinoRita, a kiosk dispensing frozen wine slushies, plans to open next month at the mall. This will be the small-but-growing chain's first location outside of the south, where it currently has two kiosks in North Carolina, and one in Georgia.

VinoRita's wine slushie menu features its most popular Blackberry Sangria, alongside Peach Frose, Strawberry Daiquiri, and Blueberry Pomegranate. The kiosk won't be just for adults; there is a selection of non-alcoholic flavors available. VinoRita will be open 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM Monday through Wednesday, 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM Thursday through Saturday, and 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM on Sundays. 

Monday, June 26, 2023

Rockville's historic Wire Hardware building acquired by Futuris

Rockville staffing and technology firm Futuris has purchased the historic Wire Hardware building at 22 Baltimore Road, the company announced this morning. It will serve as the company's headquarters. Futuris plans to preserve the building, while updating it with contemporary sustainability and "green" features. Interior changes will emphasize natural lighting.

"We are incredibly excited about this significant investment in our future," Futuris CEO/CFO Robert Day said in a statement. "The acquisition of this exceptional building will not only allow us to accommodate our expanding workforce, but also provide a collaborative space that fosters creativity."

The two-story, Queen Anne-style building was completed in 1898. According to Maryland Historical Trust documents citing information compiled by local historian Eileen McGuckian, this property was in an area of the city that began to develop in anticipation of the arrival of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, whose Rockville train station would open in 1873. The railroad continues to operate today under the ownership of CSX, and is a major route used by trains between Washington, D.C. and Chicago.

William Wallace Welsh acquired the property at 22 Baltimore Road in 1884, building a frame general store that burned down in 1895. He then constructed the new store, as well as a home. The house, which was right next to the store, was demolished in 1978. From this prime location directly across from the railroad depot, Welsh and his partner David H. Warfield sold tools, grain, fuel and "provisions," McGuckian wrote. Paul Wire acquired the business and property in 1964, reestablishing it as Wire Hardware & Lumber Company.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Rockville would welcome Little Saigon from Falls Church

The City of Falls Church appears to have gotten caught trying to do its version of Montgomery County's highly-controversial "minor master plan amendment," for a small area that includes the popular Eden Center at 6751-6799 Wilson Boulevard. Home to over 100 businesses, the Eden Center is a commercial and cultural center for the local Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American community, and is often referred to as "Little Saigon." A plan seeking input about the future of that property and others surrounding it understandably rattled that community, and the small business owners. Falls Church is now furiously backtracking, telling The Washington Post that the plan was actually meant to explore how Eden Center "might be enhanced," and the center's owner has vigorously assured tenants and patrons that it did not request the initiation of the "Small Area Plan."

I don't closely follow local politics in the City of Falls Church, so I can't tell you if the city government is controlled by developers like Montgomery County's is. Is there a Falls Church equivalent to the Montgomery County cartel? I can't answer that, either.

But the Falls Church plan's "scope of work" looks very close to a Montgomery County minor master plan amendment. Such an amendment, the legality of which has been strongly debated but not successfully challenged in Montgomery County court so far, is virtually always initiated by a landowner in the area in question. Because it is illegal to rezone a single property for the benefit of its owner, Montgomery County created the MMPA process to provide a quick road to developer profits without requiring the complication of a full sector plan update.

How does the MMPA process work? A landowner and developer quietly approach elected officials and the Montgomery County Planning Department with their plans. Planning staff are directed to draw up a small map that includes the property seeking upzoning and redevelopment, and several other random properties around it. The Planning Department, Planning Board, and County Council tell the public the MMPA is simply an attempt to create a vision for the future of the area in question. In reality, a precise zoning change sought by the landowner/developer is already known, and will be ratified by the Board and Council after a "public process." The landowner/developer then submit preliminary and sketch plans for the redevelopment that was planned all along, but which the public has usually been kept in the dark about throughout the MMPA process.

To add insult to injury, the Planning Board and County Council rarely use the significant power they wield in the MMPA process to extract community benefits from the future development the new upzoning will allow. For example, a developer initiated the MMPA process for an area around the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Elm Street in Bethesda over a decade ago. It was seeking to redevelop 7272 Wisconsin Avenue at greater height and density than allowed under the zoning at that time. Greater scale means greater profit, and the MMPA is what allows that profit to be reaped.

Did the Planning Board and County Council use the opportunity to require the future developer of 7272 Wisconsin to construct a replacement Capital Crescent Trail tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue? No. In fact, it extracted no concessions at all in that MMPA. The original developer got the upzoning it sought, but ended up dropping its plans, and a second developer later successfully redeveloped the site. Now Montgomery County taxpayers are facing an $82.5 million tab for a tunnel that may never even be built at this point, all because the Council couldn't burden its developer sugar daddies with any extra expenses on their extra profits gained at public expense (schools, roads, services, and...trail tunnels).

So, while it may well be true that the owner of Eden Center did not request the City of Falls Church to initiate the "Small Area Plan," the process and zoning tool sound extremely similar to Montgomery's MMPA. I would suspect it's very likely some property owner within the plan area absolutely did get this process started. 

While many assurances are being made to the public and press about what the Small Area Plan plan won't do, city leaders are indeed going to be voting on a plan this Tuesday night. That plan states that introducing residential housing to the commercial sites that are included in the plan area is a high priority. It does propose squeezing a hotel with a ground floor cultural center onto the parking lot of the Eden Center, kind of a strange idea for shopping center that currently has a shortage of spaces at peak times.

However, the plan doesn't recommend redevelopment of the Eden Center at this time. It appears the well-organized efforts of the engaged community who patronize or own businesses at the center were effective in forcing a retreat by the City of Falls Church. 

But if the feared gentrification does come to pass in the future, the City of Rockville will be more than glad to warmly welcome the businesses at Eden Center to relocate here. Similar gentrification of Asian commercial hubs in Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia have been a boon for Rockville over the last two decades, as many of those businesses and residents have relocated here. As a result, Rockville is now arguably the top dining destination in the region for Asian cuisine, in addition to the many Asian retail and service businesses here. 

The Asian community in Rockville has become a major economic engine for the city. One reason this has happened is that land use decisions in Rockville are not made by the Montgomery County Planning Board or Montgomery County Council. The city has its own planning authority. Politically-active residents, and two consecutive mayors who made it a priority to retain Rockville's small town neighborhood character, have been able to hold off the high-density urbanization happening elsewhere in the County. Among the benefits of that, is many storefronts ideal for small business that might have been lost are still here.

A plan that envisioned turning Rockville Pike into a concrete canyon was batted down and soundly defeated in the last decade. As a result, the Pike has remained the retail powerhouse that has made it the biggest generator of commercial revenue in the entire state of Maryland. Sites like the former Century Ford dealership, that had been envisioned by out-of-town consultants as another cookie-cutter urban "town center," ended up redeveloping in classic Rockville Pike style, with fast food restaurants, AAA auto services and an urgent care clinic. While the Twinbrook Quarter development received a density exception, largely on the basis of its eagerly-awaited Wegmans grocery store retail anchor, imagining developments of its size up and down both sides of the Pike reminds us of the bullet Rockville dodged in recent years.

Assuming Rockville voters continue to make wise choices at the ballot box this November, the city should remain an attractive destination for diners and Asian businesses alike. If Falls Church elected officials someday find developer profits to be a higher priority than keeping the jewel of Little Saigon within its borders, Rockville will be more than happy to add those businesses to our fold.

Map courtesy City of Falls Church

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Rockville-area fireworks displays 2023

Independence Day fireworks season will start early with a bang tonight in Rockville, at one of the most prominent country clubs in America. Here's a list of local public and private fireworks displays in and around the City of Rockville for 2023. Remember not to trespass on private property, but the private fireworks displays may be seen from nearby parking lots and public property.

Saturday, June 24 - 9:30 PM: Woodmont Country Club

June 30 - 9:00 PM: Manor Country Club, 14901 Carrolton Road

June 30 - 9:10 PM: Norbeck Country Club, 17200 Cashell Road

July 4 - City of Rockville Official Fireworks Display, 1800 Piccard Drive

The City of Rockville's official Independence Day celebration takes place at Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park in the King Farm neighborhood. Parking is located in nearby surface lots on Shady Grove Road, Gaither Road and Piccard Drive. See the map below for officially-designated parking lots.

Event schedule:

7 p.m.Music by Under the Covers 
8:45 p.m.Mayor and Council Greeting
8:55 p.m.National Anthem 
9 - 9:13 p.m. Music by Under the Covers 
9:15 p.m.Fireworks Display

  • Food and beverages will be available for purchase at the event.
  • Bring beach chairs or blankets to ensure comfortable seat­ing. Be considerate so that those around you can see the show too.
  • No chairs or blankets allowed within 100 feet of the stage. 
  • Outside, prepared food is permitted.
  • Most events will take place rain or shine. In case of inclement weather, cancella­tions will be posted at
  • Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park is smoke and vape free  
  • No tents, barbecuing or open flames
  • No outside alcohol
  • No wheeled recreational devices
  • No noisemakers, glass containers, drones, laser pointers
  • No weapons, illegal substances, explosives
  • No throwing footballs, frisbees, baseballs or other projectiles

Photos courtesy City of Rockville

Friday, June 23, 2023

Break-in at shuttered Lakeforest Mall

It was inevitable, and it's almost certainly not the last time it will happen. Someone tried to get inside the shuttered Lakeforest Mall at 701 Russell Avenue in Gaithersburg on Wednesday afternoon. Gaithersburg City police responded to the mall property at 1:35 PM. Officers arriving at the scene found evidence of forced entry. Lakeforest Mall permanently closed March 31. The mall is completely vacant, but an auction of its remaining contents is being held next month.

New mall property owner WRS, Inc. Real Estate Investments had planned to demolish the mall next year, after it had full approvals and permits from the City of Gaithersburg to move forward with its redevelopment plans for housing, shops and restaurants on the site. The company's sensible reasoning was that it could reopen the dead mall as a Plan B, should its proposal be blocked or suddenly not be viable due to a market downturn. 

However, WRS recently petitioned the City for assurances of approval that would allow it to begin demolition sooner. In addition to thrillseekers and vagrants who break into abandoned properties, there is a virtual cottage industry of urbex explorers who upload videos of their trespassing exploits, and Lakeforest is a tempting target for dead mall explorers.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Colony Grill opens in Potomac (Photos)

Colony Grill
is now open at 11325 Seven Locks Road at Cabin John Village in Potomac. The first guests attending Monday's grand opening were entertained by local R&B ensemble Let It Flow Band, which performed live at the pizzeria. They also saw the first photos to be added to the restaurant's Wall of Heroes, which features local veterans and first responders. This is the Connecticut-based chain's first Maryland location, and one of several high-profile dining additions at the recently-renovated and expanded Cabin John Village property.

Let It Flow Band

Outdoor patio seating

Catch the latest sporting events on TV

Wall of Heroes

Indecent exposure in Rockville parking lot

Rockville City police responded to a report of indecent exposure in the Rockville Town Center area on Tuesday afternoon, June 20, 2023. The incident was reported in a commercial parking lot in the 300 block of N. Washington Street at 3:31 PM.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Car stolen from Rockville apartment building

Rockville City police responded to a report of a stolen vehicle at an apartment building Monday morning in the Rockville Town Center area. The vehicle was reported stolen at an apartment building in the 100 block of Monroe Street. It is believed the vehicle was stolen sometime between 6:30 PM Sunday night and 9:15 AM Monday morning.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Signage installed at Pines of Rome Express, opening soon in Rockville

Signage has been installed at Pines of Rome Express at 121 Congressional Lane at the Congressional North Plaza shopping center in Rockville. It's in the form of an awning with the flag colors of Italy; a second sign provides the URL for the Pines of Rome website. The new offshoot of the landmark Bethesda Italian restaurant is hoping to open on July 5, 2023. Popular with generations of Bethesda residents since its opening in 1972, the original Pines of Rome is best known for its white pizza.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Tesla touts EV tax credit at Rockville store

is promoting the $7500 electric vehicle tax credit outside its Rockville store at 1300 Rockville Pike. The tax credit provided by President Biden's 2022 Inflation Recovery Act can be challenging to receive if you are not a careful car shopper. A short list of EVs are eligible, if they are made in North America, and if a large-enough portion of their battery components made in the United States. 

New Model 3 and Model Y Teslas are on that list. Interestingly, according to the Associated Press, if you lease instead of buying your EV, you can receive the tax credit on any electric vehicle. An electric vehicle is in your future, whether you like it or not. By 2035, all cars sold in Maryland will have to be electric.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin to speak at Montgomery County Juneteenth event

Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin (D - 8th District) will be the headlining speaker at what is shaping up to be the biggest Juneteenth event in Montgomery County for Monday, June 19, 2023. The Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition's Juneteenth Observance event will be held by the site of the desecrated Moses African Cemetery, next to 5214 River Road in Bethesda (behind the McDonald's), from 2:00 - 5:00 PM on Monday. Raskin will be the first U.S. Congressperson to personally visit the cemetery site. BACC representatives have sought Raskin's support for the cemetery cause, so his remarks on Monday will be heard with great interest.

Also appearing at the event will be Maryland Delegate Lorig Charkoudian (D - District 20), historian and author C.R. Gibbs, and Harvey Matthews, an official with Macedonian Baptist Church and a former resident of the lost African-American community that existed for about a century on River Road in Bethesda. The performing talents of Evergreen Productions and the Walt Whitman Drumline will be on display at this very special commemoration of Black history in Bethesda.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Colony Grill sets opening date at Cabin John Village in Potomac

Maryland will be getting its first taste of Colony Grill's famous "Hot Oil" pizza this coming week. The pizzeria's newest location will be opening this Monday, June 19, 2023 at 11:30 AM, at 11325 Seven Locks Road at Cabin John Village in Potomac. With a 4800-square-foot dining space, the pizza parlor will seat about 175 customers at tables, the bar and on the outdoor patio. Like all Colony Grills, this location will feature a Wall of Heroes. Cabin John Village patrons are encouraged to submit 8 by 10-inch photos of friends, family members or themselves, in their military branch uniform, to be added to the wall.

Colony Grill has been named one of the “56 Greatest Old-School Pizzerias in America” by The Daily Meal and is a regular on TripAdvisor's “Top 101 Pizzas in America” list. You can add whichever toppings you wish to your pizza, but a standard Colony Grill "bar pie" with its pepper-infused hot oil atop a thin crust and thin layer of cheese is your best introduction to this new pizza adventure.

“We are thrilled to be open in Maryland,” Colony Grill Chief Operating Officer Ken Martin, said in a statement. “The Potomac area in general and the Cabin John Village development specifically are buzzing with activity and people from all walks of life. We are excited for guests to try our unique pizza and look forward to working hard to be a valued member of the community.”