The Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee scrapped its meeting agenda on March 13 in favor of discussing the new Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) recommendations for Wheaton Redevelopment proposed at the Montgomery County Council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) committee the night before.
The $56 million proposed would shift the redevelopment program's focus away from the much-debated WMATA platform and onto a plan to create more office space in downtown Wheaton.
Committee members questioned how the new plan could be released March 9 and presented to the council on March 12--a Friday to Monday turnaround. Vice Chairwoman Marian Fryer said she felt it was unfair to be given such short notice, and the committee agreed.
They also were concerned the new proposal might be a quick fix that would not address Wheaton’s long-term goals, and some raised concerns about the accuracy of the budget numbers.
WUDAC members Henriot St. Gerard and Devala Janardan said they would write a letter to the County Council in response to the swift change in the CIP, which was presented by senior legislative analyst Jacob Sesker.
The letter will be sent before the council’s session on March 20 and will express the committee’s disapproval of the changes to the original CIP proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett. It will detail community concerns possibly neglected by the alternative CIP, relay their dissatisfaction with the eleventh hour presentation of the new plan and request more time to analyze the new information.
Members of WUDAC complained that they had been working on the county executive’s original CIP for the past two decades, incorporating a great deal of community input with private developer B.F. Saul and the Department of General Services.
The original CIP encompassed a “big-picture” solution for the future, committee members said, such as plans for a hotel and a bus bay location, which they said may be lacking in the new plan.
Adam Fogel, chief of staff for Montgomery County Council Vice President Nancy Navarro, talked up the alternative CIP, which he said would cut the construction time in half – to three years – and result in a larger budget, from $42 million to $56 million.
The county would own the mixed-use property that would house government agencies, with potential for ground-floor retail and high-rise residential space that would bring foot traffic at lunch and after work. There would be underground parking, but it would not necessarily include a bus bay platform, which was included in the original CIP.
Fogel noted that the County Council had been seeking alternatives to the county executive’s CIP and said that it was Sesker’s job to provide recommendations.
When Fogel gauged how unhappy the advisory committee was about the alternative plan, he said Navarro strongly supports redevelopment, as does the council.
Navarro’s top priority is to revitalize Wheaton, and she’s open to discussing alternatives, he said. He also gave credit to the community’s tireless lobbying efforts, which he said sparked the quick turnaround.
The fact that this new plan could already come to a straw vote at the worksession next Tuesday bothered the committee; it felt that its work with B.F. Saul was essentially being tossed out.
“This plan should have been subjected to the same kind of analysis as the county executive’s,” said William Moore, a WUDAC member representing large business. “This comes off as self-serving … it hasn’t gone through the same scrutiny.”
Fogel said the County Council won’t vote before the budget is approved in May, and if any action were to be taken at the worksession next week, it would not be binding. He also said elements of the original plan could be re-introduced and that the new CIP allowed for as much potential growth in the future as the original plan.
Fogel did pledge to improve communication with the council and said he would distribute a more comprehensive summary of the new plan to the committee.