Showing posts with label Tower Oaks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tower Oaks. Show all posts

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Stein Sperling moving to more-prominent Rockville location

The law offices of Stein Sperling Bennett De Jong Driscoll will soon be moving to a much more high-profile location in Rockville. Currently located on W. Middle Lane, the firm is about to relocate to a newer office building on Wootton Parkway. Their sign was just installed atop the building, and I can report it could be seen heading southbound on I-270. It's now one of the sharper and more prominent signs along the interstate in Montgomery County.

Photo via Stein Sperling

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Mayor & Council approve Rockville Pike Plan, EYA Tower Oaks project, Circulator study

The final Mayor & Council meeting of the summer in Rockville last night had a full agenda, with several long-term projects gaining approval. More than eight years after beginning the process, the Rockville Pike Plan received unanimous approval from the body. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton reminded everyone that part of the delay was caused by the city's consultant, who drew up a plan that was not viable for Rockville. Successive mayors and councilmembers, and planning commissioners, were tasked with reshaping a European vision into something more suited to Rockville.

Depending on your perspective, the revised Pike Plan is either more flexible, or more favorable to developers, than the one sent to the Mayor and Council by the Planning Commission. Most prominently, building height restrictions will be much more liberal than the Planning Commission's height caps.

In other development news, the Mayor & Council unanimously approved EYA's Tower Oaks development, which will include 375 housing units along Preserve Parkway. Last minute edits to the plan included a notation that affordable units be spread out through the development rather than clustered in one spot. Newton suggested "scattered;" EYA SVP Aakash Thakkar said his firm uses the term "integrated" to mean the same thing. The latter language was deemed acceptable.

Councilmember Beryl Feinberg wanted some assurance that a shuttle would begin service for residents before 100% of the units were sold. Thakkar said 50% occupancy would create the "critical mass" needed to support the shuttle in terms of ridership. The Mayor and Council also accepted that provision.

Planning and Zoning Director Susan Swift suggested the Mayor & Council tie the shuttle to the issuance of occupancy permits for 50% of the single-family homes, townhomes and mulitfamily buildings. That would give City staff a way to verify the threshold had been met, she said.

Finally, the Mayor & Council voted 3-2 to approve a study of a Circulator bus or trolley within the City. City staff would develop a scope of work for the project in September. A consultant would be hired by early 2017, and a report would be due by Fall 2017.

Councilmembers Julie Palakovich Carr and Mark Pierzchala opposed the study. "I'm not enthusiastic about this," Pierzchala said. "As far as a Circulator type solutions, we have all the information we need right now. It's expensive."

Pierzchala said he also feared that a City Circulator would prompt Montgomery County to withdraw its investment in existing bus service, leaving Rockville taxpayers holding the bag. "I am really afraid...the County would have a justification to eliminate Route 45. Suddenly, we're in the transportation business."

After extensively considering various Circulator scenarios, Pierzchala said, "I can't make it work."

Palakovich Carr concurred. "I'm not sure what else there is to learn at this point," she said. "I just don't think we need to spend $60,000 or more." She suggested Rockville put its efforts toward County proposals like Bus Rapid Transit, and more direct door-to-door options for those in need.

Newton declared herself "disappointed" with the dissenters, arguing that the Circulator would address many of their stated political goals on the environment, among other issues. Feinberg proposed exploring having the study done by University of Maryland graduate students to save on costs.

While not ruling it out, Newton said it was important that the City use professional and experienced consultants. "This needs to be...done with the best experience and knowledge," she said.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Mayor and Council grant road code waiver to EYA Tower Oaks project

The Mayor and Council voted 4-1 last night to grant a road code waiver to the new EYA development at Tower Oaks. Street widths would be narrowed, and some additional street parking and a 1' buffer between the sidewalk and residents' properties would both be eliminated.

Councilmember Beryl Feinberg expressed concern that there would be insufficient guest parking available on the site. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and Councilmember Mark Pierzchala both said they thought the EYA plan was well-balanced between parking needs, green space and walkability. Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr, who has advocated for the City to adopt Vision Zero goals for pedestrian fatalities, said that the trade-off for better pedestrian safety was worth the compromise on parking.

The development on Preserve Parkway will include up to 375 residential units, including single-family homes, townhomes, and multi-family buildings. City staff calculated that a maximum of 41 street parking spaces would be lost under the exemption from the road code.

Aakash Thakkar, SVP of Development at EYA, said there is currently some street parking just outside the site, as well as paid garage parking at the adjacent office development, that guests could utilize. Thakkar also said that EYA is currently exploring partnerships with nearby businesses to help fund the shuttle service that is expected to take residents to Metro from the development.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Thursday, April 14, 2016

EYA Tower Oaks project recommended by Rockville Planning Commission (Photos)

Montgomery County took one more slouch towards becoming the world's largest bedroom community last night, with the Rockville Planning Commission's recommendation to the Mayor and Council that land designated for office space in Tower Oaks be converted to residential. Commissioners voted 4-2 to approve developer EYA's project plan amendment that would allow 375 housing units, including four multifamily buildings, townhomes and single-family homes, on the east side of Preserve Parkway. The project plan will now go the Mayor and Council for approval.

Staff presented the commission with 9 binding elements required for approval, and commissioners voted unanimously to add 2 more - a shuttle to take residents to Metro and nearby shopping centers, and to make a proposed market a binding agreement.

Aakash Thakkar, Senior VP of Acquisition and Development for EYA, described the market as being a "general store," where residents and their guests could purchase items like wine, cheese or a loaf of bread. Commissioner David Hill suggested making it a binding element, due to the absence of any grocery stores within easy walking distance of the site. EYA readily agreed to the addition, as well as the shuttle.

The project would wipe out two-thirds of the forested property, and preserve one-third. Thakkar said EYA plans to leave that forest in its natural state, and perhaps add a wood-chip path that would meander through it. He said EYA would be willing to sign an agreement that would ensure the remaining forest was never developed. The development will also include a clubhouse with swimming pool and patio, several pocket parks, and a nature trail with exercise circuit.

Commissioners expressed many misgivings about the proposal, but ultimately seemed to side with short-term real estate market realities over long-term ideals.

Thakkar said the development would target a similar demographic to that of the nearby Park Potomac, empty nesters. There would certainly be children, he said, but the lack of transit, dining and nightlife on-site would not appeal as much to millennials. He suggested that up to 20% of future residents might be current employees in the nearby office developments. The project was also supported by several adjacent office park owners.

Chair Charles Littlefield was among the most skeptical of the project, although he stressed that it had many strong points. "This is not smart growth," he concluded, based on the distance of the site from Metro and the proposed density. Thakkar noted that the density is lower than that of the developer's other projects, such as Park Potomac.

The trendy thinking in the County is that the office market is weak away from Metro, and will be in perpetuity. This is not accurate, however. Wheaton has a Metro station, and its office market is terrible. 4500 East-West Highway and 7550 Wisconsin, both a short walk from the Bethesda Metro, have had to lower expectations and lease to smaller tenants than expected. 4500 lost the bidding for Intelsat headquarters to Tysons.

How bad is it? One of the largest office buildings within walking distance of the Wheaton Metro station was just demolished to make way for - guess what? - housing.

In reality, the office market is weak because Montgomery County's private sector economy is moribund, and its business climate is one of the worst in the region. The County hasn't attracted a single major corporate headquarters in nearly two decades. Not a single County Council member was endorsed by any Chamber of Commerce in the County in the 2014 election, a damning indictment of the anti-business record of the Council.

As long as we continue to ignore that elephant in the room, we will never restore the office market. And you know what? Developers and landowners are largely fine with that. That's because the profits that can be realized from residential are far bigger than they will ever be from any office park or building.

So while there may be crocodile tears and renting of garments publicly over the weak office market, behind the scenes, developers are rubbing their hands together at the prospect of every office building and office park in Montgomery County being converted to residential.

Of course, that assumes that developers can continue to fill multifamily mid/high-rises with less-than-traditional suburban residents: heavily-subsidized millennials, contract and military housing, student housing, and the poor and homeless. That will not be so much the case in this Tower Oaks development, and several commissioners said they liked the home ownership and MPDU ownership opportunities the EYA project would provide.

But Littlefield was right on the money when he argued that "residential demand is not infinite." And equally so when he noted that "it's supposed to be the 'I-270 Tech Corridor,' not the I-270 residential corridor."

Whiile this project alone will not hurt much by itself, the flipping of office-to-residential is going to damage the City and County in the long-term. The loss of jobs and potential jobs, the incomes they provide compared to the retail/restaurant positions that replace them, and the impact on schools and roads are mounting by the day.

What happens if we one day have a pro-business County Council, and large corporate headquarters and government agencies like the FBI were being considered here? Where would they go? The land space would be gone.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Stanford Grill opening September 28 in Rockville (Photos)

An upscale new entry in the Rockville dining scene wants "to give our guests the best." That means your sushi roll on any given day at Stanford Grill may hold bluefin tuna caught off the coast of Japan. Or you might order a Westeross from Scottish waters, which Executive Chef Sean Kinoshita calls "the Kobe beef of salmon." Your sizzling steak will be USDA Prime or 1855 certified Angus beef.

Outdoor patio with
fire pit
All of these menu selections are part of Stanford Grill's effort to provide an upscale dining experience, which will also include a live piano bar, glassed-in in-house bakery and outdoor patio with fire pit. You'll even have your own parking garage entrance at Stanford Grill's home, the Tower Co. office building at 2000 Tower Oaks Boulevard.




This second Stanford Grill outpost will fuse the familiar-but-premium American comfort food of the existing Columbia, MD location with the world-class sushi of Kinoshita, who comes to Maryland from the acclaimed Tao Asian Bistro in Las Vegas.
Executive Chef
Sean Kinoshita in
front of the sushi bar
Coming from the over-the-top Vegas tourist scene to the peaceful suburbs of Montgomery County hasn't been as hard of a transition for Kinoshita as you might expect. In Sin City, "we kind of focused on us. We didn't really worry about what other people are doing," Kinoshita recalled in an interview Tuesday at the restaurant. Vegas was about volume, he said, and this large space at Tower Oaks is designed to hold 300 in its main dining room, with another 100 on the patio. There's also a private dining space that can hold 24.

The chef said his ability to adapt to high-volume service, and work under pressure, allowed him to take on what other chefs might find too ambitious of a venture here. But sitting in the dining room as workers put the finishing touches on the decor and assembled furniture, Kinoshita marveled that "this is probably the most beautiful restaurant in Montgomery County."





Of course, the design can only go so far. What will be on the plate will matter most. "I think we'll surprise people with the sushi," Kinoshita predicted. Being born and raised in Hawaii, where Japanese residents and tourists demand the highest quality in sushi, has been the perfect preparation for his ventures on the mainland U.S., where Kinoshita has managed sushi bars for 15 years. The rolls getting the biggest raves among early taste testers so far? Yellowtail with cilantro and jalapeños, and the Coconut Shrimp Roll.

For those who prefer turf to surf, Stanford Grill is offering meats from a wood-burning grill. The booth-heavy seating configuration - and live musicians who have performed with greats like Eric Clapton and Tony Bennett - will combine with the carefully-sourced beef to create a bit of a steakhouse aura familiar to power lunchers and diners in the District. "The menu is American comfort food," Kinoshita noted. "The food is recognizable."

Not every steakhouse has its own bakery, though. Stanford Grill does. Unlike even some of the best dining destinations in the area, diners here will know that their bread and baked goods were made that morning, in the restaurant. While there may be a bread basket in the future, right now the bakery's output will be found in the bread on your sandwich, the bun on your burger, or on the dessert menu.
A sneak peek inside the
glassed-in in-house bakery
Head Baker Christian Haug
has obviously already been
here today...
Key lime pie, flourless chocolate cake, and seasonal cheesecakes are some of the classic items found on the dessert menu. But don't forget the "monster-size" bread pudding Kinoshita said "people drive miles for."

What about the libations? Assistant General Manager Phil Guernsey said they'll do their best to provide a diverse selection, despite the notoriously-difficult Montgomery County liquor regime. The sleek bar will host 5 taps, which will include a rotating selection of D.C. Brau and Laurel's Evolution brews. There will be standbys like Stella Artois, Yuengling and Blue Moon. But also local seasonal bottles like Evolution's Jacques Au Lantern.

The initial wine list will be California-heavy, Guernsey said, but also have some selections from France and Italy, including one rosé and one sparkling wine. A handcrafted list of 14 cocktails will lean toward classic concoctions, while emphasizing freshly-squeezed juices and naturally-infused vodkas in drinks like a fresh honeydew martini.

While the patio is surrounded by suburban green space and a fountain, the site is easily accessible from I-270 by taking the Tower Oaks branch of the Montrose Road exit.

Those who take the off-ramp will find "great service, quality food and a great setting," Kinoshita promised. "We don't promise anything other than a great experience, and consistently great food. And everything is reasonably priced."

Stanford Grill
2000 Tower Oaks Boulevard
Rockville

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Despite special order proposal, Montgomery County staying in liquor business

The current special orders system for beer, wine and liquor in Montgomery County is hurting bars and restaurants' bottom lines and social media reputations, according to several county businesspeople who testified before the Ad Hoc Committee on Liquor Control last night.

Mark Moore of Bethesda's Tyber Bierhaus said that customers can't always get the special German, Belgian or Czech Republic brews they were expecting there, leading to negative comments online that hurt business. The reason some of his taps are not in use at times, Moore testified, is that the County Department of Liquor Control can't fulfill the special orders.

Hans Olson of Clyde's Tower Oaks Lodge recalled that his business was told by the DLC that a bartender staple, Maker's Mark, was simply not available during the busy holiday season. Another popular spirit, Grey Goose vodka, was unavailable in the county for six weeks on one occasion, he said.

And prominent local chef Geoff Tracy, who owns Chef Geoff's in Rockville and Lia's in Friendship Heights, said the DLC is currently unable to serve MoCo restaurants at the level of service their DC and Virginia competitors currently enjoy.

Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction in the state of Maryland with total government control of liquor through the DLC. The Ad Hoc Committee has been unsuccessful in answering the question of many residents and businesspeople: Why is the county involved in the liquor business to begin with? It is now down to only one reform suggestion, allowing alcohol wholesalers to sell and deliver special orders to retailers and restaurants. DLC would continue to have a monopoly on distribution of "stock" beer and wine.

Of course, this will cost around 15 county employees their jobs, for which the proposal offers little substantial remedy. And it will take a sizable chunk out of the approximately $30 million in revenue the county takes in annually from liquor sales. To make up that lost amount - now even more critical with the Supreme Court Wynne decision costing MoCo $50 million in the FY-2017 budget, and added Purple Line cost of $50 million - the county will have to levy some kind of tax on alcohol sales.

Such a tax or fee could end up raising the cost of alcohol. Some in the hospitality business question why the county is still entitled to revenue, if it is no longer providing any service. Good question. What's the justification? And, while we know "Option 4" will be financially beneficial to a few private liquor distributors, will the new special order system sustain, worsen or improve the current situation for restaurants, bars, and their patrons? Sure, accounting and delivery speed will surely improve, but what about prices, particularly with the unknown county tax added?

Molly Horn, bar manager at the new All Set Restaurant and Bar in downtown Silver Spring, noted that customers can now get the same drink for a lower price right over the border in DC under the county's current system. That's a huge disadvantage to county restauranteurs and patrons.

But the county even gouges retailers, currently. Charleen Merkel of Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda said the county is charging private retail stores like hers a higher markup on wine, while selling it for a cheaper price to consumers in county-operated liquor stores.

Of course, Option 4 sounds good under the circumstances. If you were a political prisoner surviving on bread and water in solitary confinement, and the warden said you could have a prime rib and a run around the prison yard once a day, you might consider that good news, too. But it wouldn't make the overall wrong right, and hardly be celebration-worthy.

But there's entirely too much fawning media coverage of the "effort" to reform the liquor system in Montgomery County by Councilmember Hans Riemer. If Option 4 indeed comes to pass, it won't be the end of liquor control by county government. It doesn't assure that prices will be lower in the long term.

What Riemer and other officials are saying is, we're going to give you back a little bit of your business we have no business being involved with in the first place. They're still not getting out of that business. And they still don't trust you, the adult taxpayer, to buy Bud Light or a sub-$10 wine bottle at Giant or CVS.

Before the MoCo political machine apologists say, "but that's the state law, not the county!" - yes, it is.

But charging a tax and allowing private distribution, if Option 4 comes to pass, will require two legislative actions in Annapolis. Why not add in grocery and convenience store sales to the legislative "ask" at the same time? Guess what, they're not going to. Put those pom-poms away.

Speaking of fawning media coverage, when will the local media ask Councilmember Riemer what he knew, and when he knew it, regarding alleged illegal activity in the DLC? Riemer appeared to be highly-involved in an NBC4 investigation, which purported to show employees drinking on the job, and engaged in other illegal activity. Yet that report, which included a well-staged, formal sit-down interview with Riemer, aired a mere 48 hours after Election Day in November 2014.

Was illegal activity in DLC known to Councilmember Riemer prior to Election Day, but not disclosed until after he was safely reelected? Riemer and the County Council have oversight authority over the DLC, and each of them took an oath of office that required them to uphold the law, which would include reporting illegal activity immediately to law enforcement authorities.

Enquiring minds want to know.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

STANFORD GRILL TO OPEN IN ROCKVILLE (PHOTO)

Stanford Grill, from the creators of Copper Canyon Grill, will open a Rockville location in 2015 at 2000 Tower Oaks Boulevard. According to a press release, the hickory-grilled steakhouse will also feature live music nightly, a full sushi bar, a fire pit, a display bakery and a sizable outdoor terrace.

A signature cocktail line will round out the cuisine at the 400+ seat restaurant.

The restaurant will be located in the ground floor of a large office building.

Photo courtesy Stanford Grill