B.F. Saul Withdraws Wheaton Redevelopment Plan

The developer remains interested in future redevelopment plans, however.

Private developer B.F. Saul has withdrawn from Wheaton redevelopment plans.

The Washington Examiner reported that Montgomery County officials were not surprised.

The Montgomery County Council on an office building shared between county government and Maryland-National Parks and Planning Commission on Parking Lot 13, instead of staying with the original plan for B.F. Saul to develop a platform with offices and a hotel. 

"The loss of B.F. Saul is a blow to the revitalization of downtown Wheaton, but it says more about them than it does about Wheaton," wrote Just Up the Pike blogger Dan Reed.

In a letter to the county's Department of General Services and the Montgomery County Council, B.F. Saul's Senior Vice President Robert Wulff explained why the company was pulling out:

This comparatively small site and opportunity does not match Saul's corporate growth strategy so we must reluctantly withdraw our name from consideration to be part of a County partnership to develop Parking Lot 13.  

Saul applauds the Council's commitment to redevelop downtown Wheaton and we are confident the County will have no problem attracting a high quality private sector partner to develop Parking Lot 13. 

However, Saul remains bullish on Wheaton and believes there is a role for Saul in determining Wheaton's future. 

Did you see this coming? Tell us in the comments below.

AntonFisher July 11, 2012 at 07:36 PM
Congratulation Montgomery County Council members. You mission is achieved. I am sure you are enjoying driving this major investment away from the County and Wheaton to serve your own personal interests.
Commentous July 11, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Agree with you, Anton. While other areas within DC (H Street, Anacostia), Virginia (all areas of Arlington and large swaths of Alexandria), and even Montgomery County (Silver Spring and Rockville) have revitalized over the last 15 years with large-scale plans, Wheaton continues to stagnate. Officials here see none of the possiblities for Wheaton that were seen by officials in these other areas, despite the Metro proximity. Their reasons for not having a large-scale effort were fears that we could not get a business or government agency to fill the space. Why did other areas with similar challenges take a chance and, for the most part, succeed in their redevelopment efforts? What makes prosperity so implausible for Wheaton? Still, redevelopment in Wheaton occurs in spite of concerted efforts to slow it down and keep housing and business lease prices down; only time will tell what Wheaton will end up being. So much for all of the talk by County officials at recent WRAC meetings about B.F. Saul still being so very interested in Wheaton's redevelopment. As the officials made clear, B.F. Saul and other developers will want to come to a place that has excellent business prospects and offer profitability. Obviously, they won't come to places that don't. Like Wheaton. Next question: Will the MNCPCC building really be mixed use, or will it ultimately be solely for the MNCPPC employees who, primarily, drive to work and never walk to or from the Metro?
CJB July 11, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Agreed, Congratulation Montgomery County Council members! What a shame! As a Wheaton homeowner and someone who WANTS to spend my money and time in Wheaton rather than going to other parts of the county or into DC, I am still VERY disappointed that the Council choice this short-sighted view of redevelopment that "appears" to benefit only the county rather than people that live in the area. All the time and resources that went into workshops and meetings to develop a downtown that the PEOPLE wanted is now wasted. How many productive and precious hours, days, weeks did people lose from their life working towards the B.F. Saul plan only to be replaced by this the Council's spur of the moment proposal? Whether or not you liked the idea to develop the bus bays they have done more damage re-arranging the sequence of potential redevelopment since the cost to develop the bus bay in the future will definitely be more given the rising cost of supplies, studies, labor, etc. than it would be currently. Prices ALWAYS increase! Hypothetically, if we say the bus bay redevelopment was going to cost $50-80 million in todays market, it will definitely be more 10 years from now, think closer to $100 million. Good work team, glad you thought that through! What are the odds that this MNCPCC building will really be mixed use? My guess, highly unlikely. Your move Council!
Commentous July 11, 2012 at 09:17 PM
CJB--The Council asserted that they believed the costs might be cheaper because Wheaton will be so attractive in the future (whenever that might be) that a lower subsidy will be needed to lure a developer. Of course, the same Council officials said in the same breath that it might be more expensive. So, it might be cheaper or it might be more expensive. I can't argue with that logic.
CJB July 11, 2012 at 09:53 PM
Commentous- Agreed. At the end of the day, the whole process is political, and the Council choose their words carefully and vaguely. All parties (i.e., government, businesses, residents), some more than others, have put a lot of energy into coming up with ways of revitalize downtown Wheaton. And as you stated, the Council has offered us up a new serving of doublespeak as part of the process of selling their ideas to the public. For me, currently in this moment in time, based off the Councils recent history...I lack faith in their ability to truly move forward in what is in the best interests of the community. Only time will tell! Hopefully, i'm not dead by then!
Commentous July 11, 2012 at 10:24 PM
CJB--Thanks for the laugh.
ED July 11, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Wheaton has a very small footprint, multiple property owner's and is nothing like Silver Spring or Rockville. Being incorporated, Rockville was able to use eminent domain (much to many property owner's chagrin) to bundle properties together for larger developments. Silver Spring had years of arguing and, finally, incredible County financing and public-private partnership incentives to redevelop. There are only three major property owner's in Wheaton, two of which prefer Wheaton "as is", and many of the little strip malls (Triangle Lane, Triangle Shopping Center) consist of multiple, small property owner's that often times have problems agreeing on facade's, much less redevelopment. One of the larger property owner's had the opportunity and the zoning to redevelop a whole block where Anchor Inn stood, but chose to build multiple, small shops. Long before the latest County plan, planners stated that it may be difficult to develop Wheaton with office tenants if there are no other major office tenants here. It seems to me that if you get MNCPPC and, perhaps, DPS in Wheaton, you may get builder's, architects, and other professionals that will want their offices close to these two tenants. I don't work for MNCPPC, but it seems to me that they would be complete hippocrite's if they did not build mixed-use after espousing the benefits of CR zone/mixed-use development. I'm not suprised Saul is leaving, but I believe other's will come.
AntonFisher July 12, 2012 at 12:51 AM
I wounder why none of these so called Council members or their staffers ever respond to the community's concerns as we post them here on the patch. I am sure they all read our comments, but they are all hypocrites and could careless what is good for Wheaton or Wheaton's people want.
Commentous July 12, 2012 at 02:34 AM
To be honest, the readership of Wheaton Patch may be pretty limited, which would explain why we always seem to be talking to the same people on all sides of these issues. Still, I am certain that at least some Council employees read the Patch because at least one commented on the redevelopment plans (supporting the Council obviously) before the Council's plan was pushed through. I also learned, to my amusement, that my emails to Council members led at least one of them to check my LinkedIn profile. At least that member is technologically aware.
ED July 12, 2012 at 03:03 AM
If I'm not mistaken, I believe one Councilmember (Hans Reimer?) responded to the blogs and was blasted off of the pages. I have no doubt that Councilmembers and their staff watch these blogs. I don't look at their lack of response as being hypocritical, I look at their lack of response as being political. I believe the Councilmembers absorb the various opinions and use them to their best end. Isn't that what politics are all about?
Commentous July 12, 2012 at 03:41 AM
I don't see much point in any politician going tit-for-tat in a comment area on the Patch. If I were the politician, I would not get embroiled in a controversy that way because it would never end. I don't see it as hypocritical, but sensible. As for being "blasted off the pages," that's quite an overstatement. Whoever it was may have been blasted, but he or she would decide to remove themselves from the discussion. There's really no "blast" from the steam we blow off. Also, I would assume that if the Councilmember was blasted, it was because vocal detractors of the plan (or at least detractors of the process used to create and approve a Council-determined plan) greatly outnumbered vocal supporters. I believe, as you do, that Councilmembers should absorb the various opinions. I believe that they should use these opinions as a secondary way to gauge the concerns and desires of citizens and other stakeholders. Concerned citizens need to make sure that the Council's "best end" takes into account the citizens' views of Wheaton's "best end." If there are no public hearings or requests for community input before decisions are made, that's very hard to do. It also sends a signal, intentionally or unintentionally, that the Council does not truly want that input.
Wheaton-ite July 12, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Thanks, Council Members. Now Wheaton-Glenmont will remain the token cesspool of Montgomery County. Mission accomplished.
jenny July 12, 2012 at 02:30 PM
I'm not sure how anyone can really say that Wheaton is stagnating, or is a cesspool, considering that there are 2 large developments being put in right at this very moment - plus the Costco. I live within a mile of the metro and it doesn't feel like a cesspool to me. B.F. Saul was getting a sweetheart deal, and now they've taken their toys and gone home. Fine. Other developers are putting in residential and retail without the county first spending 39.5 million dollars, for a building that was going to house, among other things, a bunch of offices - in an area that has a huge vacancy rate in office space. That makes zero sense. It remains to be seen how well the alternative plan voted on by the council is implemented, and hopefully they will do a good job and it will be something positive for the area. It would be very smart for someone else to come along and build a hotel in Wheaton, because that is one thing we do not have at the moment at all. Yes, the space above the bus bays is highly valuable, and should be put to use - but it doesn't seem like all that bad of an idea to do some more research into it, and get some other things done first. Then we can see what kind of interest is generated among developers.
ED July 12, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Bravo, Jenny.
Wheaton-ite July 12, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Good points. My frustration stems from the fact that a lot of dedicated citizens expended a lot of time and energy working on these plans. The council's involvement of the community in decisions about Wheaton's redevelopment has been suspect at best.
ROBERT SCHROEDER July 12, 2012 at 04:08 PM
I agree too, after Safeway & Costco & the rescue 2 is built they should go elsewhere to build, I do not want to see another Silver Spring with its towers of buildings.
Wheaton Calling July 13, 2012 at 01:54 PM
I think that this sets a bad precedent moving forward for a public-private partnership for Wheaton. I mean, in this case, the council pretty much torpedoed years of work between Leggett's office and B.F. Saul. I could definitely see other investors shying away from using their resources to pursue a similar partnership in the future after seeing the council basically throw out years of negotiations with Leggett. This basically shows that the county executive is almost powerless to make a deal happen, and that the county council can shoot the deal down at any point without much discussion or negotation with the investor. Not a good message to send to the business community, in my opinion.
Henriot St. Gerard July 13, 2012 at 02:42 PM
Just as a point of clarification, the community and stakeholders spent years doing studies, discussing, and going over what a redeveloped wheaton would look like. I can see how one views this so-called measured approach by the council as a breath of fresh air or well needed if they dont have all the information before them. The council ignored Wheaton while the community pushed forward with plans and studies. the second, they decide to get involved, they pretty much press the restart button and ignore all the work put into by the community. Im not here being bitter cause at some point we have to move on. At the same time though, lets not give all this credit to the council because they pretty much just came in and passed a plan to fit their desires and scrapped all the years of work put in by people in and around Wheaton.
Maryland_lawyer July 14, 2012 at 09:00 PM
I am not at all impressed with this County Council. They think they can dictate the terms of development, but they drive away the private sector that makes development happen. Dealing with this Council is unpredictable and time-consuming. For an investor, not what you want.
Commentous July 15, 2012 at 05:05 AM
I am unimpressed by the Council's "vision" for Wheaton because it doesn't take into account Wheaton's vision for Wheaton. I am unimpressed that: -the Council talks of walkable space and then plans a centrally-located office building that will potentially have no foot traffic at night or on weekends (but hopefully has at least mixed use); -the best spot near Metro is reserved for an agency where most workers drive and thus likely will not walk beyond the Triangle; -the County Council and Executive cannot get along, leading Councilmembers to remind Wheaton that the Council outspent the Executive (as they did again in the Memo on the potential Working Group) instead of actually talking with Wheaton's stakeholders on the WUDAC and WRAC about what Wheaton wants; -the Council did not say: The Executive's plan costs too much. We need to hear from Wheaton stakeholders immediately to get their ideas; -the Council listened to WRAC and WUDAC members only AFTER the Council had created and approved their own plan for Wheaton; -at least one Council member stated a desire to keep business rent affordable around the Triangle to support "creative businesses" without explaining how this doesn't also support unattractive, low-rent businesses; -these same Council members do not seek to maintain low rents for businesses in other areas of the County (i.e., they're pro-capitalism in other areas and anti-capitalism in Wheaton). I'm done writing for a while. Good luck.
Sean August 04, 2012 at 03:42 PM
The county and the state have promoted smart growth for years. Parking lot 13 is prime real estate in a location screems smart growth. Smart growth says that there should be higher-density, mixed-use development in urban core near transit and lower-density, dedicated-use development in outlying areas. Having high density development near transit promotes more transit and less driving. Mixed-use (retail, office, entertainment, dining) creates a symbiotic relationship. During the day, office workers patronize local dining establishments. During evenings and weekends, residents patronize the same dining establishments. However, people do more than eat: People also want to browse/shop, maybe get coffee/dessert and enjoy entertainment. Silver Spring and Bethesda also attract people (day and evening) who don't work or live there because they offer more than restaurants. So, offering retail and entertainment strengthens the restaurants and encourages office-based businesses an attractive place for workers. It also improves lagging housing prices. So far Wheaton missed this opportunity because of an overlay zone which created additional barriers to high-density, mixed-used development near the metro, where it belongs. If Park and Planning's property uses prime real estate near the metro for a low-density, dedicated-used property, aren't they, in effect, causing as much harm as an overlay zone??
Sean August 04, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Regarding office space vacancies. The offices I'm aware of are the two buildings at Westfield and the BBT building. If the BBT building has high vacancies, it may be because tenents know that buiding is going away. Regarding all three properties, do you think a large tenent (which is what we're trying to attract) would be interested in either buidling which happen to be far from the urban core/transit and might need to be retroffitted or raized to meet the requirements of a major tenent. To put it another way, if a Discovery Communitations-type tenent were to consider coming to Wheaton, where would they go... the Westfield Towers, the old BBT property on Blueridge Ave.... or in/around Parking Lot 13? Comparing the current office space (doctor offices and other small tenents) and office space in Parking Lot 13 is lke comparing apples and oranges.


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