Concerns surfaced at last night’s town hall meeting that coming redevelopment in Wheaton will displace small businesses and minority-serving community programs.
Luis Bonilla of Choice Electronics, a supporter of the Coalition for the Fair Redevelopment of Wheaton, asked Montgomery County councilmembers what they would do to ease problems for small business owners. Other members of the coalition sat in the audience gathered at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School and held up small green signs.
Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At large) responded that the small business character of Wheaton “is not something we want to lose.” He said that the redevelopment plan does not indicate that Wheaton is not thriving: “Wheaton is not a failed commercial district.”
However, Riemer added that because Wheaton’s business district has a Metro station, it should prepare itself to absorb development.
Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-At large) addressed what he called the “fundamental tension” between developers and the small businesses that currently occupy prime downtown real estate. As development raises property values, small businesses could be left with only one option: to move elsewhere.
“We have very few programs that help small businesses stay in place in the face of rising rent levels,” Elrich said.
But Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At large) cautioned that small business owners should not worry about being forced out soon because redevelopment will be a “20 to 30 year process.”
“Wheaton is not going to change radically tomorrow,” Leventhal said.
Redevelopment plans would displace the community programs currently housed in the Mid-County Services Center on Reedie Drive. One such program, Proyecto Salud, provides health services for minorities. At the town hall meeting, Proyecto Salud’s director, Cesar Palacios asked the councilmembers where the programs would be housed in the future.
The councilmembers deferred to Ana Lopez van Balen, the Mid-County Services Center’s director, who could not give a specific answer, but said that “the plan is to include everyone.”