Blasting at a construction project in downtown Bethesda has left store owners and residents shaken -- literally.
Crews have been blasting out dense rock at a construction site on the corners of Woodmont and Bethesda avenues across from Bethesda Row, leaving a 3.3-acre hole in the ground where old Parking Lot 31 used to sit. The blasts started in early December and were halted during January. But they're back, shaking the neighborhood each time an explosion occurs.
Developer StonebridgeCarras expects the blasting will continue through the rest of the month.
"We're in communication with our neighbors on a regular basis," said Doug Firstenberg, principal at the firm. "When you've dug a 3.3-acre hole in the middle of Bethesda, there's lots of conversations about it."
Some store owners, workers and patrons said they thought a gas line had exploded; others compared it to a bomb being dropped. One employee of a downtown shop said he thought one of the cars from the nearby Honda dealership had been dropped off its parking desk.
"When the blasts first happened, some [employees] were concerned it was another earthquake," said Ed Rentfro, operation division manager of Commercial Printing in Bethesda, whose office is next to the construction site. "It's pretty scary. You can feel it rumbling at your feet."
On Thursday, slightly after 10:30 a.m., another blast startled passersby on the street.
Firstenberg said construction is on schedule and residents of Bethesda won't have to deal with the blasting much longer. He said construction should be complete by winter 2015.
"I just want it to be over soon," said Methee Thavornvongkajorn, owner of Zen Tara Tea off Bethesda Avenue. "It's impacting businesses around here."
Many businesses said they've had problems with not only the blasting -- which can happen two or three times a day -- but also traffic congestion the project has caused. Thavornvongkajorn said many of his customers are unsure where to park, and if they park in the wrong place, are plagued with parking tickets.
Last winter, he said Bethesda Row was much busier, and he's pretty sure the blasting has something to do with it.
"You can tell most people don't want to come to Bethesda anymore," he said.