BETHESDA AREA

Montgomery County officials opened a new 930-space public parking garage last week in downtown Bethesda.

The $7 million garage has entrances on Elm Street and Bethesda Avenue, two glass elevators and decorative planters and trellises.

Parking for three hours or more, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, will cost 50 cents per hour; two hours or less of parking on weekdays will cost 40 cents per hour. In the evenings and on weekends, parking is free in the new garage.

DAMASCUS AREA

The Montgomery County Planning Board approved last week a Rockville developer's plans to convert the closed Druid Theatre into offices and shops, but some in the community are still hoping to see the Damascus landmark open once again as a theater.

Morris Pollekoff, an owner of the dilapidated theater on Route 27, has spent more than $150,000 on architectural plans to convert the interior of the Druid and to build an eight-store shopping strip behind it. But Friends of the Druid, a group of local residents that wants to keep the Druid as a theater, is still working toward restoring and reopening the art deco-style structure built in 1947. The group has been meeting with historic preservation experts and seeking advice on how to fund such a project.

The Druid's facade is protected by county designation as a historic site, but Pollekoff can consider other commercial uses for its interior.

Pollekoff said he will work with Friends of the Druid, and that he is still interested in finding out whether the theater could be financially successful if used for movies, plays or community meetings. He bought the property in 1970 and said he has since been waiting for a commercially viable period to renovate it.

Stores and offices at the site would probably bring greater financial return than a theater, Pollekoff said. He added that he has yet to make a final decision on the renovation, and said Friends of the Druid should not consider his appearance before the Planning Board to mean otherwise.

The Druid Theatre closed in March after the death of Donald Crate, who managed the theater with his wife Grindella.

CITY OF ROCKVILLE

The owners of the financially beleaguered Rockville Metro Center have asked a federal bankruptcy court for protection from creditors who have sought to foreclose on the office and retail mall.

The request for protection, filed July 13 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Rockville, was signed by John Kilbane, one of the principal developers of the project along with Roger W. Eisinger Jr.

Eisinger and Kilbane have suffered a series of financial setbacks this year, including another bankruptcy filing for their Air Rights office and retail complex in Bethesda -- also an attempt to block a foreclosure.

The complete financial picture of the Rockville Metro Center project is not yet clear. But bankruptcy documents show that the project's ownership group, including Eisinger and Kilbane, owe $5.1 million to 20 of its creditors.

The mall's owners have a $39 million mortgage with Marine Midland Realty Credit Corp., which filed for foreclosure on the mall in June. The Wilmington, Del., corporation had planned to auction off the mall, but that move was delayed as the bankruptcy filing over the mall appeared imminent.

These latest problems with the mall, located across from the Rockville Metro station, follow decades of frustrated efforts to find overall commercial success for the downtown area.

A strip of restaurants and small shops was razed in 1969 to erect the large mall, which remained largely empty until the Rockville Metro Center's multi-screen movie theater, offices and restaurants began opening two years ago.

CITY OF TAKOMA PARK

Takoma Park City Council members have unanimously approved the region's most rigorous anti-smoking law, requiring smoke-free workplaces, non-smoking sections in restaurants and the banning of cigarette vending machines where they are accessible to children.

The legislation, approved early Tuesday morning near the end of the council's last meeting of the summer, also prohibits smoking in day-care centers and the distribution of free samples of tobacco products and smoking in day-care centers.

The restrictions take effect Oct. 1.

Because Takoma Park straddles the border of both Montgomery and Prince George's counties, two sets of smoking regulations have been in effect. When work began on the bill earlier this summer, officials said they intended to enact a uniform smoking policy across the city and preferred to copy Montgomery County's smoking laws, which are among the most stringent in the region. But sentiment soon developed for a stronger anti-smoking package in Takoma Park.

Sponsored by council member Hank Prensky, a self-described "militant ex-smoker," the Takoma Park bill passed Tuesday contains includes Montgomery's ban on smoking in workplaces occupied by at least three people where at least one person opposes smoking. As in Montgomery, businesses in Takoma Park may allow smoking in private, enclosed offices or in designated enclosed smoking areas.

The City Council went beyond the county's rules, however, by requiring smoking and non-smoking sections in restaurants with at least 25 seats. Montgomery's regulations apply to restaurants serving 50 or more.

The bans affecting day-care centers and cigarette vending machines are novel for this region. Prensky had sought to ban all cigarette vending machines, but state law allows a ban only in cases where local jurisdictions show that health and safety are jeopardized.

The city's law says that children are endangered by the vending machines, allowing the city to remove them from such places as coatrooms and public buildings. A cigarette vending machine is located at police headquarters in the Municipal Building. Revenue from the machine has been used to help defray the cost of the city's Fourth of July activities. Cigarette vending machines, of which there are estimated to be less than a half-dozen in the city, may remain, for example, in bars, where children would not have access to them.

The council delayed until fall consideration of a proposed ban on smoking in all of the city's 12 restaurants.