Showing posts with label real estate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label real estate. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Maryland Supreme Court to hear case on sale of Moses African Cemetery on January 8, 2024

Maryland's Supreme Court is now scheduled to hear the case regarding the attempted sale of a Bethesda property containing Moses African Cemetery on January 8, 2024. The case of Dr. Olusegun Adebayo and the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC) vs. the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County (HOC) centers on the HOC's alleged violation of a state law that requires descendants of those buried in a cemetery to be notified of the potential sale of that land. 

A Montgomery County judge granted an injunction against the sale of the Westwood Tower property to Charger Ventures, but was overruled by an appeals court decision. Charger Ventures then withdrew its purchase offer. Adebayo and BACC have appealed to the state's highest court now, which will have the final say, unless the plaintiffs seek a further appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court following this ruling.

"This is the first time that a state supreme court is being asked to limit the power of developers and state agencies regarding the selling and desecration of African burial grounds and our ancestors," BACC said in a statement Monday. "The decision by the Maryland Supreme Court will have national and perhaps, international ramifications. The court will decide whether Black bodies can be sold to private or public agecies and the land laundered for non-burial purposes without oversight by the court or descendant families. BACC is on the front lines of fighting for both the living and our ancestors. Please plan to join BACC on January 8th and by your presence declare: Black Bodies are Not for Sale! People over Profit!"

BACC is organizing bus transportation to the Supreme Court in Annapolis for the January 8 hearing. To get a sense of how many people are interesting in riding the bus, BACC has created an online form at If you cannot attend, but want to help fund the bus trip and other efforts by BACC, an online donation portal has also been created.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Choice Hotels logo signage installed at future headquarters in Rockville

The glowing logo of hospitality giant Choice Hotels is now shining from atop the new office tower nearing completion at Pike & Rose, at 915 Meeting Street along Rockville Pike. Choice will be relocating its corporate headquarters down the Pike from its current location by the Rockville Metro station. 

915 Meeting Street is on-schedule for a Q4 2023 delivery at the Federal Realty development. Another Montgomery County corporate headquarters in Gaithersburg, Sodexho, has also been lured to the new 266,000-square-foot trophy office tower. Choice represents many brands familiar to travelers, from Quality Inn and Radisson to Cambria Suites and EconoLodge.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Gaithersburg Mayor & Council pave way for new Sheetz, Aldi stores at Walnut Hill with annexation vote

A new Sheetz convenience store and gas station, and a new Aldi supermarket, will soon be constructed at the Walnut Hill Shopping Center at 16529 S. Frederick Avenue in Gaithersburg, after the city's mayor and council voted unanimously to annex the retail property into the city limits last night. Several councilmembers expressed their optimism and excitement about revitalizing the shopping center, which has suffered a drop in customer traffic since anchor tenant Weis Markets closed in 2020. Walnut Hill's owners have said the revenue from a Sheetz store is needed to finance the property improvements Aldi requires, and the more business-friendly zoning of the City of Gaithersburg was needed to allow the Sheetz.

Concerns about the proximity of the proposed Sheetz to the just-opened Sheetz at MD 355 and Montgomery Village Avenue were lessened, after the business model of the convenience store chain was clarified to city officials. Those who travel the highways in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and - more recently - Maryland are familiar with passing multiple Sheetz, Wawa, Royal Farms, Dash-In, etc. stores along the way.

The mayor and council voted unanimously at the end of last night's meeting to approve both agenda items related to the annexation of the shopping center, which now becomes part of the city. They approved the formal annexation petition, as well as a separate resolution that authorizes the City Manager to negotiate an annexation agreement with the owners of Walnut Hill, and of a vacant lot at 8939 Westland Drive.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Gaithersburg Mayor & Council could annex Walnut Hill Shopping Center into City tonight

The Walnut Hill Shopping Center at 16529 S. Frederick Avenue hopes to soon count an Aldi grocery store, and a Sheetz convenience store and gas station, among its tenants. To achieve this, it must first be annexed into the City of Gaithersburg, which has the zoning allowances required for Sheetz that Montgomery County does not. Walnut Hill's owners have argued that the income from the prospective Sheetz store is necessary to fund the property improvements needed to meet the needs of Aldi. The long-awaited annexation decision is on Mayor and Council meeting agenda for tonight, Monday, October 16, 2023 at 7:30 PM at City Hall.

This past summer, the City's Planning Commission voted to recommend that the Mayor and Council approve the annexation. City staff has asked the Mayor and Council to vote tonight on the annexation petition, and a separate resolution that will authorize the City Manager to negotiate an annexation agreement with the owners of Walnut Hill, and of a vacant lot at 8939 Westland Drive. Both measures are expected to pass.

Prime redevelopment site on the auction block in Rockville Town Center

A property with one of the most-desirable and high-traffic locations in Rockville Town Center will be auctioned off in 28 days. 255 Rockville Pike is currently improved with a three-story office building and heavily-used parking garage. While that would provide a steady income for the winning bidder, the site is also directly across from - and connected to via skybridge - the Rockville Metro station. That means the property is also eligible for a transit-oriented redevelopment at much greater height and density than the current structure.

255 Rockville Pike was once part of the now-demolished Rockville Mall. In recent decades, it was home to Montgomery County government offices. Now that those have been moved to the County's new government building in Wheaton, the vacant building is being put on the auction block. This puts a transit-oriented site on the heavily-traveled MD 355 highway corridor into play on the City of Rockville's economic growth chessboard. The Metro station across the street is not only served by WMATA's Red Line subway trains, but also Maryland's MARC commuter rail, and Amtrak's Washington D.C. to Chicago route trains.

Transwestern, which is marketing the Ten-X Commercial auction, notes that the current building's 12-foot ceilings would also make it a prime candidate for conversion to a biotech facility. It could also be redeveloped as a high-visibility corporate headquarters. Of course, as Montgomery County hasn't attracted a major corporate headquarters in a quarter century, there is also the very real probability of the site being redeveloped as a mixed-use residential tower. Some have long touted the need for more residents in the Town Center, to support the businesses in that struggling area, which the latter use would provide, although others have pointed to parking issues as the primary culprit for the area's empty storefronts.

The City of Rockville's 2040 Comprehensive master plan anticipates that 255 Rockville Pike will indeed be demolished and redeveloped. "It is recommended that the City take an active role in the
redevelopment of this area as a prominent site in Rockville’s downtown," the plan states regarding 255 Rockville Pike. "Redevelopment of this property should contribute to the realization of the Town Center downtown L-shaped ‘spine,’ and incorporate an expanded pedestrian promenade over MD-355 to the Rockville Transit Station."

Such recommendations suggest that the City, which is about to elect a new mayor and City Council, will be heavily engaged in any redevelopment of this property. While this could add to the complexity of building something new here, it's also likely that the new property owner could wrangle some benefits or concessions from the City if it presents a project with the amenities and potential to improve the Town Center/Metro station area's environment, business climate, and pedestrian safety. With such a rare opportunity for new construction at the Rockville Metro station, there should be no shortage of bidders. As the auction listing notes, the site's PD-RCI zoning allows for high-rise construction, but also the most Metro-accessible location for a biotech facility in the I-270 life sciences corridor.

Photos courtesy Transwestern

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Toll Brothers proposes redevelopment of Rockville townhome complex into condos

Developer Toll Brothers has proposed redeveloping a commercial townhouse complex at 622 Hungerford Drive (MD 355) at the north end of the Rockville Town Center area into a 2-over-2 condo complex. That style of building gives the visual appearance of 4-story townhouses, but inside, each townhome is actually two apartment units stacked one over the other. The proposed plan would include 48 condo units, with a maximum height below the city's zoning limit of 65' on this site. 15% of the property would be allocated to open space, under City of Rockville guidelines.

Each unit of the development, which would retain the Washington Square branding of the current townhome property, would have 2 parking spaces. There would also be 7 overflow parking spaces for guests. A central plaza, and a landscaped green space area at the south end of the property, would fulfill the open space requirements. The southbound slip lane to N. Washington Street by the U.S. Post Office would remain in place under the current proposal.

Current state of the property,
looking north

The College Square condominium association has expressed concerns about potential parking issues spilling over from the new development. Toll Brothers' attorney, Pat Harris, said that sales contract would specify that no parking is allowed on Ivy League lane. College Square is also concerned about the potential of owners at the future Washington Square development renting out their units. A Toll Brothers representative stated "our intention is that there would not be rentals [allowed] here."

Proposed configuration

After Toll Brothers submits its plans to the City of Rockville, a public hearing will be scheduled before the Rockville Planning Commission.

Images 1, 2 & 4 courtesy Toll Brothers

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Fire at the Grand apartments in White Flint

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service personnel responded to a report of a fire at the Grand apartments at 5801 Nicholson Lane in the White Flint area last night just after 7:00 PM. The fire was located in a dumpster in the basement trash room of the 15-story high-rise. MCFRS Pete Piringer reported that the fire was extinguished without spreading any further. 

Smoke from the fire did rise to some of the floors above, and some residents required assistance from firefighters. But there were no injuries, Piringer said, and no residents have been displaced. However, a lingering odor of smoke shortly after midnight this morning led a resident to call 911. MCFRS personnel responded, but found no evidence of fire.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Maryland Supreme Court to hear appeal in Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition case

Maryland's Supreme Court yesterday agreed to hear the appeal of the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition to overturn a state appellate court ruling regarding the sale of property that includes a major portion of Moses African Cemetery in Bethesda. The June ruling itself overturned an injunction by Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Karla Smith, that froze the impending sale of Westwood Tower at 5401 Westbard Avenue to Charger Ventures. Charger Ventures withdrew its purchase offer following Smith's ruling, but Westwood Tower owner Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County appealed to the higher court and won. 

The Supreme Court's ultimate ruling in this case will have local and national implications for Black cemeteries, many of which are today in states of desecration and disrepair, hidden, or under threat from development. Moses African Cemetery is in all three categories. 

Smith ruled that HOC had entered a sale agreement without notifying the descendants of those buried in the cemetery, and without giving them a chance to weigh in on the sale, as required under Maryland law. Inexplicably, the appellate court found that following the law was not necessary.

This is a common occurrance when citizens challenge developers and powerful real estate interests in any Montgomery County or Maryland court. BACC noted yesterday that the Maryland Supreme Court only accepts about 15% of the certiorari petitions filed. But residents win over developers in our courts at an even lower rate than that, with judges blatantly ignoring statutory requirements on developers and planning authorities, as in the Westbard case. Smith, a relatively recent appointee to the Circuit Court in 2015, was a rare exception in ruling that the laws actually do apply to developers in Montgomery County.

Photo courtesy Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition

Monday, September 18, 2023

Rockville Wegmans construction update (Photos)

Work continues to advance at the construction site of the future Rockville Wegmans grocery store at the Twinbrook Quarter development at the corner of Halpine Road and Rockville Pike. While the exterior continues to look closer to the finish line, nothing has been constructed on the grocery store's interior yet. Developer B.F. Saul says it will turn the shell of the grocery store space over to Wegmans' interior fit-out contractor in the early spring of 2024. As I reported previously, the supermarket will open in 2025.

Regrading of the road surface of Halpine at Chapman Avenue is now underway, and is expected to continue for a few weeks. Stacks of Belden pre-blended bricks can be seen at the site. The brick facade of the building is now about 85% complete, according to B. F. Saul. Storefront spaces should be enclosed by the end of 2022. Contractors have begun tarring the roof.

While no work has been done on the Wegmans interior, the same cannot be said for the apartment building interior. Drywall is now being installed in the residential units on the second floor. Installers will progress upward to higher floors as the fall season goes on.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Westfield hits pause on sale of Montgomery Mall in Bethesda

It's been more than two years since Westfield principal owner Unibail made public its intention to sell off its American mall properties, including Montgomery Mall and Wheaton Plaza here in Montgomery County, to focus on its investments in Europe. Over that time, Unibail has sold nine of its lowest-performing malls in the United States. But there's been no word or even rumor of a pending sale of Montgomery Mall. According to a new report from The Wall Street Journal, Montgomery Mall is one of several Westfield properties that are performing well enough that sale plans have been put on hold.

The Journal reports that sales and occupancy have bounced back to pre-COVID-19 levels or better at a number of Westfield malls. Among them are Montgomery Mall, Westfield Topanga Mall, Westfield Valley Fair Mall, Westfield Century City Mall, and Westfield Garden State Plaza. Interestingly, those are all in California except for Montgomery and Garden State. Wheaton Plaza is not on the Journal list, it should be noted.

According to the Journal, Unibail now intends to move forward with its plan to construct a new, outdoor-oriented addition to Montgomery Mall that includes residential units. Unibail Chief Executive Jean-Marie Tritant told investors on a recent conference call that the company has been pleasantly surprised by the recent upturn in its fortunes, and now has flexibility to sell off its U.S. portfolio at a pace of its choosing. This will likely mean obtaining higher cash value in return, as the company was unlikely to get the best price while buyers had the impression that a fire sale liquidation was underway.

Montgomery Mall's high financial performance is not necessarily surprising. After Westfield invested $100 million in additions and renovations to the property a decade ago, Montgomery Mall recorded the highest sales in its 55-year history.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Fairchild Apartments in Germantown recall the golden age of Montgomery County (Photos)

Montgomery County was once the economic engine of the Washington, D.C. suburbs. Today, it's recognized as economically-moribund by everyone from The Washington Post to Maryland Governor Wes Moore, and has ceded the spotlight to Fairfax County and other booming job centers in Northern Virginia. To see how far Montgomery County has fallen, one only has to look back at its golden age, which lasted roughly from 1960 to 2000. Lockheed Martin and Marriott International are among the few remaining vestiges of that boomtime, a time when a big player like IBM had not just one, but three sites in the county. A new apartment building in Germantown pays elaborate tribute to one of the brightest jewels in Montgomery County's golden age crown, Fairchild Aircraft.

Fairchild was a major aerospace design and manufacturing firm. Its presence in Maryland included a corporate and R&D campus at 20301 Century Boulevard in Germantown, and an aircraft manufacturing plant in Hagerstown. A short runway outside the Germantown site was used by corporate executives to travel between the company's two Maryland campuses aboard a Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) turboprop airplane. Curiously, the STOL runway bore a large Iron Cross insignia - - even more curious given the background of the firm's most famous executive, one who is excluded from the tribute.

It's almost hard to believe today, but during the 1970s, the father of spaceflight had an office overlooking I-270. Wernher von Braun served as Fairchild's Vice-President of Engineering and Development from 1972 until his retirement in 1976. A brilliant and complicated man with an equally-complicated history, von Braun was a German pioneer in rocketry. He was also was a member of the Nazi Party and the SS, and fully aware of the use of slave labor that was utilized at the underground Mittelwerk V-2 rocket assembly plant, labor that was drawn from the adjacent Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp.

The U.S. government looked the other way at the questionable parts of von Braun's resume following World War II, as it did with so many former Nazis it brought to America through the controversial Operation Paperclip, ostensibly to ensure these scientific and engineering wizards didn't end up working for the Soviets. Only through dogged investigation by journalists did the wartime actions of many of these men sooner or later come to public light. Von Braun, through his work for the Department of Defense and NASA, was largely responsible for the United States winning the race to the moon in 1969. He died from cancer shortly after his retirement from Fairchild.

Fairchild Aircraft logo "easter egg"
on the Fairchild Apartments facade

The 1980s brought great changes to Fairchild. Its Hagerstown plant closed in 1984. The end of the Cold War hit the company hard. Orbital Sciences Corporation acquired the Germantown division of the firm, now known as Fairchild Space and Defense Corp., in 1994. Orbital sold FS&D Corp. to the Smiths Group in 2000. Five years later, Smiths announced it would be closing the Germantown campus, which once employed over 1000 people.

Since then, the old Fairchild campus area has slowly begun to redevelop. The latest addition is the Fairchild Apartments development at 20013 Century Boulevard. While many new apartment buildings offer little more than a gimmicky brand name and cookie-cutter design, the Fairchild Apartments development displays great thought and effort in memorializing its namesake company.

A Fairchild Aircraft logo is sculpted right into the facade of the building, for starters. One museum-quality display provides information about the history of the Germantown Fairchild campus, noting that the A-10 Thunderbolt and the landing gear for the space shuttle were both designed there. The Iron Cross runway and campus layout are depicted. It even features a photograph of the Fairchild Porter turboprop lifting off from the Germantown runway!

Another display pays tribute to the founder of Fairchild Industries, Sherman Mills Fairchild. It notes his memorial foundation in Chevy Chase, Maryland "distributes more than $35 million annually to support higher education, fine arts and cultural institutions." There's no display for von Braun.

Fairchild campus layout, including the 
runway with Iron Cross at right

Other displays feature the A-10 Thunderbolt "Warthog," also known as the "Tank Killer," and the Germantown facility's last major project, the Topex/Poseidon satellite. Designed with a NATO-Soviet European ground war in mind, the A-10 instead ended up as the most-feared nemesis of tank crews in the third-world nations America invaded in the post-Soviet era. The Topex/Poseidon mapped the topography and circulation of Earth's oceans as they had never been seen before, from its launch in August 1992 until its mission-ending malfunction in 2008. It's still up there somewhere, circling the Earth.

Down on Earth, part of the Fairchild campus is still here, as well - - albeit reclaimed by nature. Street names at a townhome development further up Century Boulevard recall Fairchild, and some of its famous products, like the C-119 "Flying Boxcar." One street there, Stol Run, is a nod to Fairchild's iconic STOL runway. More developments, especially those built on or near historic sites, should incorporate those past landmarks and associated individuals to the same degree that the Fairchild Apartments have here in Germantown.