When it comes to redevelopment in Wheaton, the County Council thinks it knows more about the potential economic viability of the community than developers willing to take on the financial risk to build and construct a more economic, vibrant area for its residents. I have personally spoken with some County Councilmembers and have read various articles and opinions on the best ways to approach Wheaton redevelopment, and found that residents are caught between fighting for a comprehensive redevelopment plan much like the one submitted by the County Executive or accepting a scaled-down version of redevelopment proposed by the Council. With all signs pointing to the Council voting for a scaled-down version of redevelopment that doesn’t fully address the needs and desires of the community, residents need to make it very clear that Wheaton will not accept what amounts to a tepid proposal put forth by the County Council.
The Council is set this week to hold a work session on the Wheaton Redevelopment Project, and a Council staff proposal to construct two County office buildings and a town square seems to be popular among the Councilmembers. This plan differs vastly from the County Executive’s proposal to construct a platform aimed at spurring the construction of office, residential, hotel, and retail space by developer B.F. Saul. According to some Councilmembers, uncertainty in the market for office space combined with the belief that Wheaton is not a community built to support a large-scale redevelopment effort make the County Executive’s proposal a risky proposition. In turn, the Council feels that Wheaton is not built for the type of redevelopment that residents and developers have been working on for more than 10 years.
It is hard to believe that the Council knows what Wheaton can and cannot support, when a large-scale developer is willing to take on great financial risk to redevelop Wheaton. An established developer like B.F. Saul would not be willing to take on a large-scale development project if it was not confident it would make a return on its investment. Furthermore, the Council’s belief that an investment in the platform would not yield returns, fails to take into consideration the economic impact of additional private sector and consumer activity in a newly developed Wheaton once the platform and subsequent construction is complete.
The County Council’s failure to consider the needs and wants of Wheaton residents is a show of disrespect. For more than 10 years, Wheaton residents, small business owners, and other stakeholders have had input on the future of a redeveloped Wheaton—and this has all been dismissed for a scaled-down redevelopment plan that ignores many of the community’s primary concerns. Also, the rollout of the Council’s plan did not provide enough time for input by Wheaton stakeholders.
The County Council needs to allow for more community input—and residents need to make their wants very clear, outside of a generic desire for redevelopment, that redevelopment in Wheaton involves a comprehensive and all-encompassing plan that truly revitalizes the community. Unfortunately, the plan most favored by the Council does not meet these requirements and residents must make their voices heard before a final plan is voted on and passed.