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Committee Recommends $55 Million Wheaton Redevelopment Plan

Plan would favor office buildings over a bus bay platform.

Office buildings, rather than a should take center stage in Wheaton’s Redevelopment plans, according to the recommendation of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee.

On Monday, the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development committee (PHED) gave Wheaton Redevelopment plans their approval, but not the plans centered on the proposed by County Executive Ike Leggett (D) in his 2013 fiscal budget.

Instead the committee backed a plan put forth by senior legislative analyst Jacob Sesker which would still include a public space, but would make office buildings on Lot 13 the cornerstone of the redevelopment project.

Following a brief discussion of the economic development for the Universities at Shady Grove project, PHED committee chair Nancy Floreen (D) stated “We are absolutely committed to doing what it takes to redevelop Wheaton – that is a given in this conversation.”

Sesker began by expressing that the goal of Wheaton redevelopment was “not to build a platform or be the public partner of a public-private partnership, rather “introducing office users and daytime population and creating a centrally located public plaza or gathering space.”

He acknowledged the value of the platform to GSA tenants and long-term opportunities beyond the capacity of parking Lot 13, as well as the plan’s consistency with the overall Master Plan for Wheaton, but presented a recommendation that is “different from the Executive Branch’s for a number of reasons.”

Sesker also recognized the communication from the Wheaton community, in the form of emails, testimony at CIP meetings and attendance at the recent forum on , expressing concerns about redevelopment’s affect on small businesses.

He went on to propose a “simpler version of redevelopment” that involves building a county office building on the site of Lot 13, next to the town square that would “allow the county to meet its real estate needs and also increase the daytime population.” Sesker believes that one advantage is of his proposal is that the “development of an office building can happen in a much shorter timeframe, rather than serving as a staging ground for the bus bay to be built.” He reiterated that the “Executive’s plans” would cause disruption from fiscal year 2014 to 2020.

Sesker estimated that Lot 13’s capacity for an office building would be as much as 415,000 square feet “plenty of room for an MNCCP building and a county office building.”

He felt that his recommendation would “put boots on the ground faster, cause minimal disruption and continue to build a town square – creating a publicly accessible, centrally located public place, a civic presence in the heart of downtown Wheaton, and also provide additional lunch crowd and daytime population.

Montgomery County General Services Director David Dise and other General Services staff members countered Sesker’s recommendation by pointing out that the platform plan included a significant amount of office space, and that it was crucial to have the infrastructure built in anticipation of the office market’s eventual rebound, when long-term, major office tenants could help turn downtown Wheaton into a destination. Director of Economic Services Steve Silverman supported those assertions.

The discussion was contentious at times, with Montgomery County Councilmember as to why his own commitment to the project has continually come into question, and describing the Executive’s plans for “two and a half office buildings a hotel that “maybe, might be constructed” being contingent upon a “substantial change in the market.” Leventhal’s concerns were echoed by committee members Floreen and Marc Elrich (D).

Councilman Hans Reimer (D) and Chair Floreen also expressed opinions about the importance of the size and scope of the public space no matter which plan is ultimately approved.

The entire Montgomery County Council is slated to discuss the issue of Wheaton Redevelopment during its March 20 work session.

Danila Sheveiko March 17, 2012 at 02:05 AM
Dear TaL, we are finally getting to the crux of the matter with your post below. I agree with your concerns regarding lack of public input of the Sesker idea, but it does represent some of the more cogent issues the BF Saul project did not address. As to your general point about the County's business environment... I do agree, but have to point out that, while small and medium businesses are terrorized, the big guys get blank checks that have yet to benefit the County. Once again, thanks for the sentiment, and I understand your position better now, I think. What you are saying is "let's make the BF Saul project BETTER?" Regards.
TaL March 17, 2012 at 02:58 AM
Danila- My point is more BF Saul has a plan, the community likes it, dear god Ive been living here 12 years can we please get something started, even if we have to tweak it as we go along? The county's pro-union/anti-business stance against large business led to the size cap that while initially targeted against Walmart (god forbid I could have cheap bulk toilet paper) is now keeping out Wegmans and Lowes. The county's living wage laws, and community benefits bunk have killed off tons of large projects. The lack of interest in tax credits and incentives have cost us Northrop Grumman, Bechtel, Howard Hughes Medical Insittute, amongst countless others. The over-regulation/over-permitted/over-taxed environment also impacts small and medium sized businesses as well.
Sean March 17, 2012 at 06:53 PM
My wife and I have owned a home in Wheaton for 16 years and we're tired of waiting for something to happen. Residents and businesses and county staff and developers have spent a lot of time working on a plan that will benefit the common good. How awesome is that! Isn't that wonderfully democratic? And now, a well meaning council staff member is going to provide a counter plan in a couple of weeks with none of the collaboration used with the other plan? And that's the plan elected officials want to use? How un-democratic. Oh, and I vote. Want to guess who I wont vote for on election day?
Commentous March 18, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Honestly, do you think the County Council cares what you or I (10-year owner-resident) any others who oppose the new plan want? To take action that would dismiss the collaborative plans developed over years demonstrates a lack of concern about owner-residents of homes in Wheaton. And there may not be enough pushback from people like us because we have become a small percentage of Wheaton residents over time. Neither the Council nor groups advocating solely on behalf of lower-income residents want Wheaton to flourish economically. If Wheaton gained an economic foothold, where would lower-income people go? The County does not try to distribute lower income individuals around the County; instead, they take a view that anyone is welcome anywhere, but housing prices make this "equitable" approach an insurance that group houses and lower-income individuals are kept in specific pockets of the County. By welcoming lower-income individuals anywhere in the County while supporting lower-income support systems (LEDC, worker centers) only in specific areas (like Wheaton), the Council essentially funnels the less fortunate to specific areas. I think the County's self-serving "equality" has a clear effect on Wheaton homeowners that is not felt in wealthier areas. How many worker centers, group homes, or development corporations are near where these workers work? And to be clear, my neighbors are good people; my concerns are systemic. The County espouses idealism and practices classism.
TaL March 19, 2012 at 12:48 AM
Commentous- One of the funniest (in a it makes me cry) encounters Ive had with the county was at one of Leggett's budget listening town halls 2 years ago--- I asked the question "Im a mid-30's professional who is a homeowner and landlord in the county, I make a solid salary and have no children. I would seem to be exactly the type of citizen the county wants to attract and retain. I look at the difference between MoCo and Fairfax and see that I pay higher taxes, have worse schools, lower property values, and far fewer social activities/rec centers targeted at people my age range. What does the county intend to do to keep me here" The response I got was..."We have the Agricultural Crescent that is a wonderful undeveloped area that we preserve, whereas Fairfax has lots of town houses and no trees" There is a huge disconnect between those who pay the bills in the county and those who get paid by the county. East of the park exists to be a dumpling ground of their liberal ideas (affordable housing, day laborer outreach, etc) and a piggybank for the advocates of those causes who then in turn donate to the Council. Sorry, I doubt its going to get better anytime soon...there are too many entrenched interests in the county who prefer the status quo.

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