BLOG: County Council doesn’t know best when it comes to Wheaton Redevelopment

The County Council is set to consider and vote on a rushed plan to redevelop Wheaton and the community must demand input and a voice to what they envision for redevelopment.


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.

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TaL April 10, 2012 at 12:41 PM
Henriot- The Council (led by Navarro's office), feels that it is more important to pass a union/minority set-aside jobs bill than it is to re-develop Wheaton. By taking the project away from BF Saul and creating county office space, DGS will build a building half as big for twice as much which will then be staffed by "living wage" janitors etc from minority set-aside firms at three times the cost. All of these unions and minority contractors will then contribute to Navarro's future campaigns, allowing her to stay in office. There is no interest in our needs There is no interest in what 3 years worth of planning forums by residents, business stakeholders, or the market may actually want And best of all, you get to pay for this boondoggle with higher taxes
AntonFisher April 10, 2012 at 01:02 PM
You are 100% correct TaL. I am considered a minority and an immigrant who have a vested interest in Wheaton. Two lobby organizations in Wheaton, the Coalition for the Fair Redevelopment of Wheaton and the Latino Economic Development Corporation are two obstacles to the development. All what these organizations want is subsidies for rents, subsidies for inviable businesses to stay afloat, protection of the undesirable status quo, helping one segment of the population at the expense of everyone else. They never provide solutions or ideas that help everyone including the property owners and the residents.These two organizations are NOT interested in Wheaton, they are mostly interested in protecting their own lobby supporters.
Henriot St. Gerard April 10, 2012 at 01:05 PM
A lot is involved in contributing to this debacle and you can point the blame on all sides. While I appreciate and share the desire and need to keep Wheaton "unique" with its shops and other small businesses, I think the community does itself a disservice by having that be the end all to what redevelopment is about. We can keep whats special about Wheaton and still redevelop the area so its an economic viable community. To hang everything on preserving what we currently have with a few updates here and there is not redevlopment.
AntonFisher April 10, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Today is a black day for Wheaton. The County Council has just voted down the generous private investment proposed for Wheaton under the County Executives proposal and chose a smaller development of single County building tied to job training deal that is associated with special interest group (LEDC). I am very disappointed at the Council's straw vote results and hope that the people of Wheaton and Kensington remember how the Council betrayed them when it is time to vote.
Henriot St. Gerard April 10, 2012 at 03:46 PM
I especially liked how the council acted as if the Country Executive's proposal was all bout putting up the County building in an attempt to pivot the discussion. The weak attempt at satisfying those seeking true redevelopment through private sector activity with a study 4-5 years down the line is a joke. In the end, we have a building and a town square and eveyrthing else looks the same.
Commentous April 10, 2012 at 03:52 PM
I agree with most of these comments, especially Anton's. I think Councilmember Navarro's main issue is to keep Wheaton as-is, which is what non-profits and the wealthy areas want as well. And that does not mean "unique" or "eclectic." It means stagnant and "affordable" for new residents and businesses. Yes, there are some unique businesses, but many long-gone businesses were replaced by other businesses, some of which are not a draw. I support help for truly UNIQUE destination businesses (Little Bitts, the fish store, Barbarian, for example) that would be affected by redevelopment but not for non-unique businesses (check cashing, rotisserie chicken, for example). Many residents do NOT want Wheaton to be the County's funnel for affordable housing and low cost businesses. The County provided funds for a CASA Workers Center in Wheaton. CASA does not have a Workers Center in very wealthy areas where more workers work. CASA chose a space immediately next to a children's gymnastics center, which has since moved to Bowie. The LEDC also receives County funding but--at least in name--focuses on the "Latin" section of the community. It could have been the Small Business DC (or something like that) if it had wanted to attract all in our "diverse" community. The Coalition for Fair Redevelopment understandably supports its own interests too. Many residents, however, would rather see Wheaton flourish than become a designated residential-business "Affordability District" (my term).
D. Janardan April 10, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Henriot, this is an excellent commentary. The essential question is "what is redevelopment?" The Council has time and time again said that they support the revitalization/redevelopment of Wheaton. The Council's plan essentially puts a county-owned office building on Lot 13. The County Executive's proposal would provide the infrastructure necessary for an immediate office-building (with the foundation for another 2), a hotel (day and night economy), 2 small public plazas, and an influx of private money. BOTH proposals provide for a much needed town square. So which one is truly redevelopment? Which one is best for Wheaton? The County Executive's proposal had years of Wheaton citizen participation. The Council's proposal was released in March 2012, hardly enough time for an appropriate dialogue with the Wheaton community.
Commentous April 10, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Hate to move out of the area, but when the kid is in high school, we will likely move to another county in the area. The hypocrisy of the "liberal" County Council is repugnant, and anyone who knows me would attest that I am actually much more liberal than conservative. When it comes down to it, the County lacks diversity--look at the school statistics to bear this out, not the false 2005 census figures used in the ULI plan--and wealth is spread extraordinarily unevenly throughout the area. Wheaton was hit harder by the economic downturn than just about anywhere in MoCo in terms of percentage decreases in housing prices. Rather than redeveloping the area, the County's policies and support systems aim to make Wheaton a less-diverse place (in ethnic and economic terms) that remains inviting to those needing "affordability." This will also allow the Council to brag about diversity by providing cumulative statistics instead of acknowledging that most of the County is not diverse and that the County has implicitly decided that Wheaton will be a County Affordability District (CAD, my new abbreviation!). Meanwhile wealthy areas need not be affected by an influx of residents and businesses seeking and catering to the affordability sector. If we have an opportunity to be heard in person, we need to try to take advantage of it. Obviously, downtown Wheaton residents simply are not a significant part of the equation.
steve April 11, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Lot 13 is easy to take away from the residents and business owners. It Is the 800 lb gorilla in the room they, the county, will do what they want when they want it The county does not and will not care about small business. Montgomery County will take out lot 13 destroy the smaill business, forcing a drop in sales tax revenue and jobs. No sales tax mean higher property taxes and since we are businesses with a triple net lease, who takes the hit. The County members do not own businesses in the area nor do they live in Wheaton it does not affect there lives. Has the country taken a survey to find out how many of the new townhown home owners or apartment owners in wheaton shop or eat here? What good was spending all that money to take out barrys magic shop and chuck levins property across from the county building. We are being scolded like we are children and the county are the parents. They know what is best for us and your thoughts and opinions don't matter, they think they know what is best. Its not necessary, if you want a town center go to the mall make it open air like it was. Build from there. Oh by the way whose idea was to make the rockville library a center piece for the new town center with its limited parking and shortened hours. That sure brings in alot of revenue.to the area
AntonFisher April 11, 2012 at 05:01 PM
The Council did not really care about the redevelopment of Wheaton. They only needed the cost of the MNCPPC new building covered from somewhere. Therefore, they proposed for it to come to Wheaton so the cost of the building will appear as if it was for Wheaton redevelopment. The initial cost of the infrastructure project proposed by the County Executive is $42 Million for only infrastructure projects (i.e., square, platform). MNCPPC needed to relocate regardless of the redevelopment of Wheaton. And therefore, the cost of relocating MNCPPC should have come from somewhere else. But by tacking the relocation to Wheaton redevelopment, the cost of MNCPPC got absorbed by Wheaton redevelopment. So, in the end, Wheaton got less Money for redevelopment because instead of having only infrastructure paid for as part of this redevelopment, we paid for relocating MNCPPC, which had to relocate anyways. County Executive total investment in Wheaton = $42 Million only for only Infrastructure work that will attract big investors (Platform and Square) + Cost of MNCPPC County Council = $60 Million in total for MNCPPC and minimal infrastructure (square)
Commentous April 11, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Excellent point, Anton. I agree that the Council's actions (avoiding open discusion) and decisions make clear that redevelopment is left to market forces. Unfortunately, everything else the Council does is anti-market and supports Wheaton becoming the low-cost center for Montgomery County in all respects. If Wheaton ever redevelops, it will be in spite of the Council's (and other entities') efforts. Is there a list of businesses or groups that supported Mr. Sesker's plan? If so, I'd sure like to see it.
Sean April 13, 2012 at 01:05 AM
We should have kept the overlay zone in Wheaton because the council's plan limits development in the same way as the overlay zone.


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