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EXCLUSIVE: Apartment Construction Controversy Deepens

By Aaron Kraut

Tuesday - 1/14/2014, 9:15am  ET

Construction of the Bainbridge Bethesda apartment building overshadows BCC Automotive, which will likely close its doors by March 1

A car repair garage claims falling wet concrete damaged its clients’ luxury vehicles. A now shuttered gourmet sandwich shop says the very construction workers responsible for damage to its building would regularly clean up mortar dust and patch up cracks in its walls.

And despite a Montgomery County official’s determination that its buildings are structurally safe, the landlord next to the Bainbridge Bethesda apartment project has moved two popular tenants out and will likely move two more out in the coming months.

As crews work to finish the 17-story, 200-unit Bainbridge Bethesda apartment in Woodmont Triangle, the controversy surrounding the construction of the building has only deepened.

Greenhill Capital, the company that owns 4910 and 4912 St Elmo Ave. and 4905 and 4909 Fairmont Ave., claims shoddy foundation work from developer Bainbridge, its contractor and sub-contractor has led to permanent structural damage that means it must kick out its tenants for safety reasons.

Bainbridge, Turner Construction and the Schnabel Foundation Company deny the bulk of the landlord’s claims.

Even after a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of Greenhill in one lawsuit, the construction continues and the lawsuits keep coming.

Green Tomato LLC, the company that holds ownership of the St Elmo Avenue storefronts for Greenhill, sued Bainbridge and the contractors in November along with tenant BCC Automotive, Inc. A representative from Green Tomato said the luxury car repair company and the Red Tomato Cafe next door will likely have to leave their spaces by March 1 because of continuing safety issues.

Meanwhile, Fresh Grill — the Fairmont Avenue restaurant that closed in 2012 because of alleged structural damage on the other side of the block — is suing the developer, construction company and landlord.

Its owners say the entire saga put the restaurant out of business. It’s seeking at least $1.2 million in damages in a separate lawsuit filed in December.

Sheeting, Shoring And An Inauspicious Start

Construction on the Bainbridge Bethesda, then known as the “Monty,” started in August 2011. It was supposed to be one of the very first new residential towers completed in a new-look, reenergized Woodmont Triangle.

Before work on the apartment’s sheeting and shoring system began, there were signs that damage to the building next door was inevitable, according to separate lawsuits filed by Fresh Grill and White Flint Express Realty Group, the Greenhill LLC that owns 4905 and 4909 Fairmont Ave.

Shuttered Fresh Grill on Fairmont AvenueAccording to Fresh Grill’s suit, Bainbridge’s structural engineer consultant “confirmed that it is ‘impossible’ to excavate next to buildings such as the buildings on the White Flint Property without damaging same, and further opined that ‘it is impossible to excavate next to a light building such as 4909 and 4905 Fairmont Avenue and not induce both lateral and vertical movement to it, especially if the foundation is at a much higher elevation than the excavation.’”

Sub-contractor Schnabel said the expected movements in the sheeting and shoring system were within a safe range and would not pose a safety hazard.

Bainbridge and White Flint Express entered into an easement agreement to allow construction crews to perform all necessary tie-back and bracket pile work and operate a crane over its building. That easement agreement was the subject of the November ruling in which a judge ruled in favor of the landlord.

According to Fresh Grill’s suit, White Flint Express and Bainbridge settled the case soon after.

Fresh Grill went on to claim that Bainbridge, Turner and Schnabel disregarded their own plans for laying the apartment’s foundation.

It claimed the developer and construction company installed piles holding up the sheeting and shoring with a pile driver, instead of drilling holes.

Both Fresh Grill and White Flint Express claimed that meant severe vibrations that caused cracks and the wall of Fresh Grill to sink into the ground by more than the expected amount of about two inches laterally and one inch vertically.

By December 2011, Fresh Grill said it had notified its landlord of movement in its building and cracks to its rear walls and the entrance door. On Dec. 5, 2011, Fresh Grill claimed a “loud boom” from the construction next door was heard and felt in the restaurant, sending customers hurrying out of the shop.

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