Councilmembers Defend Wheaton Redevelopment Decision
Councilmembers spoke out about what they have done for Wheaton, before voting to approve a sectional map amendment to the Wheaton Sector Plan.
What was scheduled as a technical approval for a Planning Board application on Tuesday morning became an opportunity for Montgomery County councilmembers to talk about how much they were doing for Wheaton this budget season with redevelopment, the library and recreation center, and the high school modernization project.
At the first full council session since the April 10 unanimous straw vote on Wheaton redevelopment, various councilmembers defended their decision to go with the council staff proposal over the county executive’s proposal.
“I think Wheaton has done extraordinarily well this spring, and has been treated very well by this council,” said Councilmember George Leventhal. “I’m certain that with the passage of time, my constituents in Wheaton will appreciate all the good things we’re doing for them.”
He praised Councilmember Hans Riemer for “taking it upon himself to suffer the slings and arrows of community discontent a few nights ago,” referring to the frustrated comments directed at Riemer by members of the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee last week.
Council Vice President Nancy Navarro also chimed in, agreeing that Wheaton “has done very well” but adding that Wheaton had been patiently waiting a long time for the council to meet its needs. Navarro defended the council’s vote on Wheaton redevelopment--to start with a government office building in Lot 13.
“I think that there’s a bit of confusion that somehow the government building is it...and that is by no means the case,” Navarro said. “I feel very strongly that what the council did is the best course for Wheaton.”
(All of these comments were build-up to the business at hand: approving a sectional map amendment to the Wheaton CBD and Vicinity Sector Plan. The sectional map amendment implements the zoning changes from the updated sector plan, which the council approved in November. Of the 484 acres covered by the sectional map amendment, approximately 135 are changing zones. An April 10 public hearing drew testimony from only two individuals.)
Councilmember Marc Elrich nostalgically reflected on when Wheaton was “the center of the universe in Montgomery County,” but noted that it had fallen into the background as the council focused attention on other parts of the county.
“It’s time for Wheaton, it’s time for East County to get some things,” Elrich said.
But he shared his misgivings about the things proposed by the county executive for Wheaton redevelopment, particularly the partnership with private developer B.F. Saul.
“We want to make sure that the private-public partnership is actually in the best interest of the public partner, not just the private partner,” Elrich said.
Councilmember Nancy Floreen sounded an optimistic note: “We’ve done our part, and we’ll continue to do our part...We’re creating the opportunities that need to be created.”