Friday, December 29, 2006

dan and the snooty saleswoman

One of my favorite hobbies is visiting model houses. I couldn't ever live in one, but I like to see how The Other Half must be living. Here's the first part of a new series: Model House Reviews.

My travels on Wednesday took me through Bethesda, so I stopped at Bethesda Crest, a development of two-million-dollar townhomes near Medical Center. It's already famous with the NIMBY crowd after Park and Planning found out that Craftmark Homes dicked around with the plans and construction was temporarily halted last year.

The sales lady in the Belvedere II model home was waiting for me when I stepped inside. She was a thin, older woman, well-dressed and with white hair and defined wrinkles on her face. "Are you just wandering around? I saw you taking photos," she asked me. Maybe I seemed sketchy after, much to some construction workers' chagrin, climbing on top of a dirt pile to capture the amazing views of NIH (pictured). "Yeah, I'm just wandering," I said.

As I started to walk around the house she sat down at a table in the kitchen. Realizing she was watching me, I sidled over, beginning my normal salesperson spiel. I've had the pleasure to tour classier McMansions, so I didn't think much of her at first.

"How much are these houses selling for?" I asked her. "Two million," she said curtly. "Are you looking to buy?" This raised a slew of issues with me - did she assume I couldn't afford these houses? Were minorities that rare in Bethesda? And, worst of all, am I not allowed here if I'm not about to sign a contract right away?

Maybe she's not used to seeing a black/Indian college student in a natty coat showing up in her model house. I don't know. But I've toured model homes from Burtonsville to Baltimore and found that most sales people are willing to entertain questions from anyone who visits them, whether or not they're "looking to buy." They're not making money off it, but it's still good business, and it reflects well on the builder.

So that's when I decided to be difficult: "I heard there was a big stink last year," I said. "Craftmark got in trouble - something about not including the required affordable housing?" The sales woman became very uncomfortable. "I don't know anything about what you're talking about," she said, folding her arms on the desk. Craftmark did, in fact, build two affordable homes (pictured), and they definitely stick out. Perhaps their presence goes without mention in a development like this.

I asked Sales Lady for a brochure and, without much effort, she slid a single, photocopied page reading "Standard Features" across the table. Before I could reach for it, she pulled it back, then let go. I looked it over and asked if I could see some floorplans. Grumbling, she got up and walked across the kitchen. She opened up a cabinet, saying "they're right in here" as if I should have known, and returned with another sheet, this one in color, for the model I was standing in. There were three models pictured in plaques on the wall, but I knew better than to ask for anything else from her, so I walked away and continued my tour of the house.

I leave you with this warning: IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO BUY A NEW HOME, possibly one in the upper brackets, AVOID BETHESDA CREST AT ALL COSTS. Craftmark Homes may be a well-renowned builder, but they must not know customer service. I can only imagine what it must be like for one of the unlucky families who bought a house here.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

an air of professionalism

After months of being asked what the Just Up The Pike address is, and having to write it out on a decidedly-unprofessional scrap of paper, I have decided to get some business cards. VistaPrint will print them for free (you just have to pay shipping and handling) - a good deal for the starving blogger. Over on the right is a mock-up of the business card and some ideas for slogans. Feel free to vote on the one you like most.

This blog would not be anything if not for the readers. I put on a sitemeter about a month ago to see how many hits I get, and Just Up The Pike is well on its way to getting 3,000 hits by the end of the year. (This doesn't even include all the people who visited from inception in June!)

Thanks for reading! I wish you all a happy and safe holiday!

the trolley museum is boring

Christmas is over, and all is well in East County, except at the National Capital Trolley Museum on Bonifant Road, which like its forebearers fifty years ago will have to make way for the InterCounty Connector. (Is this ironic? I can't tell.) The Post notes that "there haven't been any jokes about the automobile once again plowing over the streetcar, as it did in the 1930s" in a story about the move a few hundred feet away to another spot within Northwest Branch Park.

The way I see it, this museum should be an advertisement for public transportation, but instead it's just boring. Currently, the visitors' center is small and crowded, and the centerpiece - a mile-long ride through the woods on a restored trolley - isn't particularly nostalgic or even entertaining.

The InterCounty Connector serves as a challenge for the museum to make the streetcar story more compelling - not just for the people who can remember riding them decades ago, but for those of us born after 1960 who grew up in cars or on the Metro. Upon leaving the Trolley Museum, I should be angry that the Purple Line isn't running already. Hopefully, the new museum will get people that excited.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

it's christmas eve in washington

I don't care what you say, "Christmas Eve in Washington" by Maura Sullivan is my favorite Christmas song. Period.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Just Up The Pike!

It's snowing tonight in the Blue Ridge
There's a hush on the Ches'peake Bay
The chimneys are smoking in Georgetown
And tomorrow is Christmas Day

The Tidal Basin lies quiet
The tourists have found their way home
Mr. Jefferson's standing the mid-watch
And there's a star on the Capitol Dome

It's Christmas Eve in Washington
America's hometown
For it's here that freedom lives
And peace can stand her ground

It's Christmas Eve in Washington
Our joyous wish to you
Is for peace, love and laughter
to last the whole year through

Snowmen peeking through the windows
It's warm with love inside
'Round the tree the children gather
Awaiting Santa's midnight ride

Mom and Dad are counting their blessings
Reflecting on all they've done
So thankful for another
Christmas Eve in Washington

Thursday, December 21, 2006

brewskis in the firehouse? no thanks

Yesterday, Silver Spring Scene suggested that a brewery might open up in the old volunteer fire house in Downtown Silver Spring. It may just be a rumor, but the only thing I can ask is: why? Why do we need another brewery/pub in Silver Spring, and if we do - why there?

Any use of the firehouse short of tearing it down is a good use, in my opinion, but I'm troubled that this historic - and, might I say, very cool - building could go to an establishment that will attract mostly yuppies and people with deep pockets, as I doubt more blue-collar Silver Springers would put down a lot of money for a beer. Whoever runs this place will obviously make a huge profit, but it won't be a true benefit to our community.

Personally, I was rooting for a music club a la The Recher Theatre in Towson, the "Silver Spring of Baltimore County." It's a small venue that hosts a lot of pop and rock acts. Last August, I saw one of my favorite bands there and was blown away by how nice it was compared to similarly-sized D.C. venues like the Black Cat. The Recher put Towson "on the map," so to say - but it also created a place where people of all ages can go.

Of course, Downtown will already be seeing a second branch of the Birchmere for folk acts and, for the time being, we still have The Death Star hosting punk bands. And eight Metro stops away in Gallery Place, we might see a new House of Blues for everything in between. But why should we have to go into D.C. for music anymore? Silver Spring has been cast as an "arts and entertainment district," and there's nothing artistic or entertaining about a brewery to me. Between plans to tear up "the Turf" and the neighborhoods' strident opposition to a proposed skate park on Fenton Street, it looks like Silver Spring is quickly becoming the "condo heaven" the Express recently called it.

We could do a lot better. If a brewery is indeed taking the firehouse, I hope whomever holds the keys - the investors, the Historical Society (Jerry McCoy? Are you listening?) - reconsiders handing them over. As Silver Spring Scene said when the firehouse first came on the market, "Silver Spring needs another special attraction."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

moco considers average joes

TOMORROW: A response to plans to open a brewery in the old Silver Spring Volunteer Fire House.
"With the moratorium, whichever way it goes, I will vote for what is best for my constituents." - Councilwoman Valerie Ervin
Just Up The Pike is holding to its moratorium on "moratorium" - but it's worth noting that the County Council's cooled down on Marilyn Praisner's original proposal to cap new development in Montgomery County, noting its potential to screw over "average Joes." But where does Valerie Ervin, who represents "average Joes" in Silver Spring, Wheaton and White Oak, stand on the moratorium? This appearance on NewsTalk from last August has her calling for a moratorium in Downtown Silver Spring. I can only hope she's reconsidered since then . . .

[Thanks to The Daily Penguin for the heads-up.]

Monday, December 18, 2006

a moratorium on "moratorium"

The past few weeks have seen a rash of "Dan bitches about moratorium" posts on other blogs, and while I can hear my father over my shoulder, saying "you'd better stand up for yourself," I can't help but admit: I can yell about Leggett and our scary new council members until I'm blue in the face, but I probably won't get much done that way.

I still can't buy the NIMBY argument, and I can't help but wonder if underneath all that talk about dropping property values and "overdevelopment" is a subtle prejudice towards newcomers. I know all people aren't like that, but some are, and those are the ones that worry me. But I am aware that our new County Council probably isn't so inclined.

So, in good faith that the County understands its past successes and missteps, I am proposing a moratorium of my own: on the word "moratorium." For the next year, Just Up The Pike is banning use of the word "moratorium" except in extreme circumstances. While Montgomery County reconsiders the path it chose ten years ago, I will be going easy on the rants. Why dwell? There are bigger fish to fry.

And, moratorium (sorry) or not, I will continue to press our leaders on improving public transit in this area. You had better watch out, Ike Leggett: you will hear from me again.

Friday, December 15, 2006

laurel mall biting the dust?

a Just Up The Pike special report.

ABOVE: One proposed scheme for the redevelopment of Laurel Mall.

After last year's walkway collapse, the moribund Laurel Mall probably earned its page on Built in 1981, it's one of the youngest malls in the region but has had a fast fall from grace. But after next month, prodigal shoppers in all four of Laurel's counties might have a reason to go back. In January, mall owner Somera Capital Management and manager General Growth Properties (better known for the Mall in Columbia) plan to make a big announcement next month about an even bigger transformation for the almost-dead mall.

The Laurel Leader has already written about piecemeal renovation efforts that already have patrons wondering what else is in store. However, all that the developer and the City of Laurel have said so far is that the mall will take cues from the open-air Bowie Town Center. However, these conceptual drawings from urban planning firm Seth Harry and Associates (also responsible for planning the Forest Glen Seminary redevelopment) give us a better idea of what the new Laurel Mall could look like.

For starters, the roof is gone, and the existing department stores (in yellow) are all that's left, except that they're now lined with "mixed-use" buildings (in red) - shops and offices and possibly even residential. Along Route 1, where the streetscape currently consists of giant parking garages, you'll see low-rise residential buildings and a couple of "pad sites" (I suppose they mean restaurants, banks, things like that) surrounding the main entrance.

You could say Laurel's trying to undo what the Mall did to their downtown in the same way that Rockville is with their town center project (pictured). Rockville's new town square is small and intimate, the same way Laurel Mall's square, in what was the food court, might feel when completed.

These drawings are all we have, but they suggest great things in store for Laurel Mall and perhaps the entire Route 1 corridor. I've long felt that Laurel hasn't done enough to revitalize its business district. However, this project might put the city on par with not just nearby College Park and Hyattsville, but also destinations in Montgomery County (here's looking at you, Silver Spring). It might also benefit from a proposed Green Line extension, depending on where it goes.

The only thing that could threaten any redevelopment plans in Laurel is the Konterra "mini-city" rising outside the city limits along I-95, which would have its own regional mall and "town center" (pictured). With both this and a new Laurel Mall on the way, the City of Laurel and Prince George's County (and Montgomery County, which is barely three miles away) need to put together a comprehensive plan for the development of both.

Improving the center of Laurel should be a priority over building on the fringe, but that may not be what actually happens, meaning that the renovation of Laurel Mall might be done in vain as shoppers and retailers take their business to Konterra instead. We've overlooked Laurel before - I think it's time for them to get their due.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

six-dollar metro fares?

Oh hell, no.

Metro says they want to "change rider habits" with severe fare increases. And they just might, by sending them onto other modes of transportation - car, bus, camel - anything would be cheaper.

We already have one of the most expensive subway systems in the world. They'd better find another way to pay for this. I can't imagine a better way for Metro to disrespect its customers.

Tomorrow: Just Up The Pike looks at plans to redevelop Laurel Mall, the ailing mall on Route 1 spurned by Montgomery and Prince George's County shoppers alike.

In the meantime - why don't you give your two cents as to why the Majestic 20 is so noisy?

I'll see you tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

why is the Majestic so noisy?

I just wanted to riff on this ridiculously long discussion on Silver Spring, Singular about noisy theatre patrons at the Majestic:

Says the 2000 U.S. Census and 2005 Census Update:

- The combined Black/Latino population in Silver Spring has been stagnant for the past five years, at roughly 50% of the population. Thus: the increase of noisy movies cannot be blamed on an increase in the minority population.

- The median family income has gone up from $60,631 in 2000 to $64,973 in 2005. The median home value has increased from $187,300 to $425,100. Thus: low-income people cannot be blamed, but the yuppies can.

- The median age in Silver Spring has gone down from 34.2 years in 2000 to 33.3 years in 2005. Perhaps it is the kids' fault. (I'm sorry.)

What is true, but less scientific: The Olney 9 sucks. The Loews Cineplex 11 at Wheaton Plaza sucks. The Loews Centerpark 8 in Calverton sucks. The ticket prices are high. Only one of them is Metro-accessible. Olney is predominantly-white; Calverton and Wheaton are not. But all of them are poor movie-going experiences.

The Majestic 20 is new. It's in a nice shopping complex and Metro- and bus-accessible. The screens are big, sound amazing, seating superb, and people will gladly pay $9.50 for a ticket. Most weekend showings sell out.

The fact that lots of people go to the Majestic alone suggests it's going to be louder. That's just what happens when a lot of people are in the same room, even at a movie. I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 in a sold-out show at the AFI. People were yelling at the screen! Does it make a difference if they're yelling at President Bush or at Johnny Knoxville (from Jackass)?

If there's a problem, it's the staff. They're hard to find at the Majestic, and those you can find have different interests. I recall going there a couple of summers ago and the ticket-taker, who was white, demanded that some black teenagers in line empty their bags in front of him. Intimidating kids: that's the way to keep noisy people out of the theatre.

It's not a race or a class or an age issue. Some people just make noise at the movies, and if it bothers you, you can either go home or tell them to be quiet. There is no need to take prejudice to the movies with you, especially not in a place like Silver Spring. We're supposed to know better.

traffic relief: everything falls into place

This past week, Ike Leggett called for a gas tax increase, and the County Council passed a resolution saying the revenue should go to transportation projects like the Purple Line, and I fully agree with all of it. While these measures don't have the force of law (says the Gazette), it's a hopeful sign that traffic relief is on the way.

In an e-mailed press release, Ben Ross from Action Committee for Transit said that "consensus has been achieved at long last" in the County Council, with all nine members - including Roger Berliner, who represents Purple Line battleground Bethesda - supporting better transportation spending.

When the State doesn't follow through, it's time for local jurisdictions to step in and build it themselves, a trend the Post noted last month. This is what we should be doing: finding as many ways as possible to fund transportation projects so that they actually get built. Praisner's moratorium may feel good, but I'll tell you it's not going to take a single car off the roads.

Friday, December 8, 2006


The Blogger people have finally allowed Just Up The Pike to graduate to Blogger Beta, so you can already see one big change: Labels! I think this will make a big difference soon. Last week, I also added a site meter, which you can see at the very bottom of the page. There are about one hundred hits a day here, which I am very proud of. (Thanks, readers!)

There isn't much to discuss at the moment, so here is a fun "Where Should You Live" quiz, thanks to Dan (another Dan) from BeyondDC. It said I was a yuppie and will live in a trendy loft, and I can't decide how I feel about that.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006


Whoa. I might have to go home, walk over to Council President Marilyn Praisner's house and ask what's going on, because she just threw a moratorium on large development into the new County Council session that started yesterday. Yet earlier that day, while swearing in as County Executive, Ike Leggett said "the shouters have dominated the conversation [about growth] . . . It's time for us to banish from our lexicon shorthand words and phrases such as 'greedy developers' and 'NIMBYs.' "

What gives? We've decided not to cave in to either the pro- and anti-development crowds by calling a moratorium on development in the County? While still far from taking effect, the way Praisner's proposal works out is that projects as small as the expansion of this Giant at Plaza del Mercado would be put on hold through 2008. But what's stopping a grocery store do for Beltway traffic? For school crowding? For affordable housing in a County where the average new home costs nearly $500,000?

One day and we've already learned two things about the new Montgomery County Council: 1) that they are scared to death of Neighbors for a Better Montgomery and the NIMBY crowd (sorry, Ike) who dominated this year's elections, and 2) as a result, we're willing to throw a forty-year legacy of innovative planning aside to blindly follow the lead of Prince William and Loudoun counties, who also made efforts to stop growth yesterday.

But I think Nancy Floreen, one of three remaining council members from the "End Gridlock" slate, put it best:
"It's a political statement here, and I respect that," she said. "But the implications for affordable housing, for churches, is very significant, and without giving anyone any direction as to where we're going on this."

Friday, December 1, 2006

the seminary grows up

Two years ago, as a senior in high school, I wrote about my horrified reaction to the opening of the Downtown Silver Spring where, every weekend, thousands of people were descending upon a place that it seemed only a wrecking ball could love. The neighborhood I'd grown up in had changed and, suddenly, it no longer felt like it belonged to me.

That might be a good way to describe how some are taking the redevelopment of the National Park Seminary, the former summer resort, women's college and army hospital in Forest Glen. After decades of decay, the seminary is getting some well-deserved attention in the form of 257 new or renovated homes.

However, it all comes at a cost. While neighbors of the campus used to exploring the ruins won't be barred from roaming around the new project, there's probably a little resentment towards the well-heeled homebuyers they have to share the neighborhood with.

Check out this photo-essay on the redevelopment of the Forest Glen or National Park Seminary, complete with pictures of buildings both new and old. As the latest frontier in the revitalization of greater Silver Spring, the Seminary is a unique opportunity to see how historical oddities can be re-used for appreciation by a whole new generation.

third in a week of features at Just Up The Pike.