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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 14, 2012 at 05:20 PM
The County should definitely explore Mr. Sesker's proposition in further detail. The boots-on-the-ground argument makes a lot of sense. Boosting Wheaton's daytime economy is the shortest path to revitalization, with Class A office space the most reliable route.
TaL March 15, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Danila- http://wheatoncalling.blogspot.com/2012/03/county-council-throws-wrench-into.html I think makes the best argument as to why the county should fund the BF Saul plan, not some county office building that would be a ghosttown in the evenings and weekends....given the tendency of government workers to brown-bag it and the underground garage, I doubt more than 10% of them would set foot outside the building on any given day. A hotel, non-public housing apartments, and street level retail is a much better bet.
Wheaton Calling March 15, 2012 at 05:35 PM
You summed it up, TaL. A private company like BF Saul is going to be financially motivated to make a renovated downtown Wheaton a success. This "build it and they will come" idea that is the basis of Hans Riemer and the council's argument for the county building its own town square along with its own building will NOT give people any reason to come to downtown Wheaton on nights and weekends. On the other hand, BF Saul's plan to add a hotel, apartments, office buildings, and restaurants would add that influx of people that are needed to make a new town square a success.
Randall Spadoni March 15, 2012 at 05:44 PM
The goal of Wheaton redevelopment is “introducing office users and daytime population and creating a centrally located public plaza or gathering space"? What a horribly underwhelming vision for the area. In fact, it's not even a vision; this is two tasks (creating office space, town center) and a hope and dream that this will somehow lead to redevelopment and revitalization of Wheaton. Is this the integrated public-private-community vision that we are looking for in the vein of Columbia Heights or Silver Spring? Does this capitalize on all of the analysis and discussion that has gone on over the last several years?
Wheaton Calling March 15, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Again, I urge everyone to contact county council members about this issue. They are apparently going to vote on it March 20th, which is only 5 days away. Please make your voice heard! http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/csltmpl.asp?url=/content/council/contact.asp
AntonFisher March 15, 2012 at 10:03 PM
I have to clarify that the people of Wheaton need more than what Councilman Reimer proposes. Wheaton is not only concerned about how to bring more customers or retain the current businesses. Wheaton is looking for large developments as proposed in the County Executive and B.F Saul vision. Wheaton is looking for more than an office building for a County Agency. Wheaton is looking to have the platform built on the bus bays so large scale developments can transform the area into a transit-oriented community. Wheaton and its residents need hotels, several office buildings with major tenants, many additional residential developments, world recognized stores and restaurants complemented by the existing small businesses. Wheaton as Mr. Reimer envisions it is not what the people of Wheaton want. The people of Wheaton want to see Bethesda, Rockville, and Silver Spring recreated in the development. A town square and an orphaned office building will not cut it. The vision has been created and the community has bought on it. The last thing we need is to have our plans and dreams squashed by the vision of the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development committee of smaller redevelopment projects anchored by a small office building as Council members Mr. Reimer, Ms. Floreen, and Mr. Leventhal has voted for recently. Mr. Reimer, I urge the council members to support the County Executive's proposed vision of Wheaton. That is what Wheaton residents want.
Danila Sheveiko March 15, 2012 at 11:11 PM
Dear Anton, I understand your sentiment, but totally disagree with your assertion that Wheaton wants to be like Silver Spring and Bethesda. The high rents would force existing small business out and corporate chains would dominate. This is not something most small Wheaton businesses want. Wheaton wants to preserve its diversity.
Danila Sheveiko March 15, 2012 at 11:26 PM
Dear TaL, I read the Wheaton Calling article - while thoughtful, it does not mention any concerns with the BF Saul development, which kind of makes it look one-sided. Also, making it look like the need for a better public plaza was the Council's idea is not accurate. I participated in a number meetings WheatonCalling mentions, and there was always sentiment that the public square needs to be bigger and better. Personally, I like the piazza idea. As to the 10% number you site, I think it is far off the mark. Sure, plenty of people brownbag, but those same people will have their cars repaired by Wheaton mechanics, and have their hair cut by Wheaton barbers. Anyhow, all I said is that we need to explore our options. That's reasonable, right?
Sean March 16, 2012 at 12:23 AM
I've always respected the way the county has allowed the public to collaborate on deciding the common good through participating in various committees and public hearings. Silver Spring's development was in no small part successful because of collaborate among residents, local businesses, developers and county staff. It seems to be an unfortunate precedent for the council to make a major revision to Wheaton's redevelopment plan without substantial community input. The least they could do at this point is postpone a decision to later date. Maybe this could give council and its staff enough time to hear from the public.
Sean March 16, 2012 at 12:28 AM
To clarify, BF Saul and the County Executive are promoting a vision that was developed through their collaboration with Wheaton residents and businesses. The process was transparent (see reports from the Gazette and Patch as well as meeting summaries on the County website) and has gone on for over 10 years, before BF Saul's involvement.
Sean March 16, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Building a county office building, will give us an office building. Businesses thrive when the adequate infrastructure (roads, transit, telecommunications, schools) is in place. Gov'ts should spend money on ithat infrastructure so businesses can thrive. The bus platform is infrastructure. Build the bus bay and developers have the infrastructure they need.
AntonFisher March 16, 2012 at 02:04 AM
It is very clear that the community opposes the change in plans, which is being proposed by the Anti-Wheaton-Development-Trio, Leventhal-Floreen-Reimer. These council members are the exact reason why developers avoid Montgomery County and more specifically Wheaton. A deal has been worked out and significant community involvement has resulted in a vision that will transform Wheaton. Why would these three jokers come to change the plans? Do they think they have a better vision than the entire community and planners who have been involved all along? I don't think so. I think these Leventhal, Floreen, and Reimer have got to get out of the council. They never genuinely supported anything Wheaton. VOTE THEM OUT WHEATON.
AntonFisher March 16, 2012 at 02:11 AM
Danila, Wheaton residents and property owners want development. We want our property value to go up and be the same like the rest of the County. It would be a dream to most of us to have Wheaton become like Silver Spring, Rockville, and Bethesda. No one wants to loose diversity. Silver Spring, Rockville, and Bethesda are diverse with a taste that is appreciated by most people. Downtown Wheaton, on the other hand, is not an inviting place regardless of how much you try to make it sound so.
TaL March 16, 2012 at 03:37 AM
Danila- If the county needs an office building what is wrong with either the BBT space or Westfields North and South both of which have a high vacancy rate? Id be willing to bet that most of the government employees in the new office building will drive into their underground garage from Bethesda/Rockville/Olney at the start of the day and drive out at the end and never stop in wheaton other than to shop at costco. Without the retail/density that BF Saul proposed, ther is no reason for them to stay here and the big plaza would be a vacant expanse with few sleeping drunks.
Andy March 16, 2012 at 03:15 PM
I have to agree completely with TaL, WheatonCalling, and Anton. Danilia, you in no way embody the views of the majority of people that I have spoken with in the Wheaton area about the redevelopment. Yeah sure maybe building a single county office building and town square will sustain Wheaton the way it is for the next 20 years, but I dont think that is what the majority or even minority of people in Wheaton want. We want Wheaton to become a destination for people from all around the county to work, play, dine, and shop as well as have a happening night life. The new proposal of a single office building in now way will make that dream a reality at any time in the near or distant future. The County Executives plan has been in the works for many years and has included large amounts of community involvement. Now that the plan is about to become a reality Councilman Reimer wants to scrap all that work in favor of a pathetic so called redevelopment plan. Wheaton residents need to make their voices be heard and let all the council members no that we do not approve of Reimers plan!!
Danila Sheveiko March 16, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Dear RedevelopWheaton, please don't twist my words and the facts behind them. If you think daytime economy is not the fastest way to supercharge Wheaton, I dare you to start a poll right here on Patch. All I said is that we should talk about the Sesker idea. Is that really asking too much? You don't acknowledge any benefits of the Sesker plan, and refuse to acknowledge any drawbacks of the BF Saul plan. This kind of approach does not change people's minds and is usually employed by bullies. It's funny that plurality of opinion is usually attacked by people hiding behind anonymous nicknames.
AntonFisher March 16, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Danila, Your opinions are very twisted about Wheaton, Costco, redevelopment, etc. I am not sure what your agenda on here is. You seem to be only interested in self-serving end results whether it is regarding the Costco being yards away from your home or Wheaton redevelopment for God knows what reason. I am not clear on what benefits the Sesker’s plan has that are not in the larger scale agreed upon development plans with BF Saul. If anything, the Sesker plan dwarfs the benefits that Wheaton, the property owners, and the residents would get from the originally proposed development plans with BF Saul.
Danila Sheveiko March 16, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Dear Anton, I don't have an agenda here. I said the Sesker idea should be discussed. That's all. Can't you tolerate some open discussion? Why do you have to be so black and white? Bringing G-d into the conversation, and the Costco gas station, and calling elected officials jokers will not foster open discussion on anything, and will do a disservice to Wheaton.
Andy March 16, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Dear Danila, I made no mention of BF Saul in my post. I have no preference to the developer that works on the redevelopment of Wheaton. However, it seems that every opportunity you get to mention BF Saul you do and do so in a negative light. I am interested in what is best for Wheaton, and that is a mix of residential and office space that promotes foot traffic all throughout the day - morning, lunch, evening, and night - to support the street level retail space that also needs to be a part of the plan. Simply building a county office building that has an underground parking garage will just meagerly increase the lunch time foot traffic in Wheaton. This is only one small piece of the puzzle and I would argue that it is the least significant. A vast majority of these workers will not even leave their workplace during the day. And the small percentage that does may grab lunch at one of the local restaurants, but lunch crowds do not sustain restaurants. It may give them a little boost but the bread and butter of most restaurants is dinner service. Also you mention that these employees will get their hair cut at Wheaton barbers, I find this a bit odd as I have never gotten my haircut while at my place of work, or going to or from. We need to have a public-private partnership to increase the odds of success of the Wheaton redevelopment project. A private business has much more on the line in a large scale project, such as this, than the county council does.
Commentous March 16, 2012 at 05:57 PM
It seems that Wheaton homeowner-residents are not part of the discussion. An influx of daytime workers is claimed as the main benefit of the new proposal. Without more, some businesses (restaurants primarily) may benefit, but it won't help property values. Newark, NJ, has thriving offices, but few professional workers stay, and property values remain low. Yes, I care about my property value. What homeowner doesn't? Here, property values dropped 35%-40% from their highs and have never come close to returning while wealthier areas had either no drop or only a slight one. Wheaton has loads of available small office space now, which isn't good. We also now have at least three check-cashing establishments, four if you count the laundromat with the "Check Cashing" banner out front. The laundromat is 1 of 2 located in former restaurants. We also have a porn shop. These businesses do not benefit homeowner residents. We don't have Silver Stars kids' gymnastics center, Sabang Indonesian restaurant, bike store (now New Kam Fong), Baskin-Robbins, Barnaby's, Asian Foods (store/carryout near Max's), Island Hut, Boqueron, an independent coffee shop, Long & Foster/Weichert, or Kosher Pastry Oven. Do I need to move (as several neighbors have done over the past 10 years) for my main investment--my home--to appreciate? Does the County Council want Wheaton to be a lower-income center for the County? I think the answer to both questions is a disheartening and resounding "Yes."
Commentous March 16, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Excerpt from the Gazette this January discussing differing budget priorities between the County Council and Council Members, including Councilman Hans Riemer: Councilman Hans Riemer (D-At large) of Silver Spring said there were not as many delays and cuts in the plan as he was expecting. Problematic for Riemer was the absence of anything in Leggett’s six-year plan for the Purple Line — a proposed $1.925 billion, 16-mile rail line that will connect Bethesda and New Carrollton. “The county cannot seem to retreat on the Purple Line,” he said. “It is a very, very important priority.” Leggett said the Purple Line is a priority, but without a definitive schedule from the state for construction, he was not willing to propose tying up the county’s early estimated share — at least $50 million — when other projects need funding. Also pushed beyond the six-year spending window was a new south entrance to the Bethesda Metro Station. Riemer said the $80 million Metro station project is as important of a project as the Purple Line. As proposed, the Purple Line would connect to the Bethesda Metro Station. Whole article at http://www.gazette.net/article/20120125/NEWS/701259589/1022/montgomery-leaders-worry-over-lack-of-funds-for-purple-line&template=gazette.
Wheaton Calling March 16, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Everyone, I urge you to continue to write council members urging them to postpone ANY vote on this new proposal of theirs until they stop and actually listen to input from community members, WRAC and WUDAC. Pushing through funding for a project that we do not want will hurt Wheaton for years to come.
Danila Sheveiko March 16, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Dear RedevelopWheaton, thank you for your last comment. To explain once again - I only mentioned BF Saul in a negative light in order to introduce some balance, which was sorely lacking in posts by TaL and Anton. This was very clear from my language. Both projects have positives and negatives, but TaL's et al position seems to be that the BF Saul project has no flaws, and the Sesker project has no merit, which is a position that takes the level of civic discourse down a few notches. This was the same modus operandi that we experience when fighting the Costco gas station in our back yards, and it is a disservice to Wheaton because it fractures the community, separating people into us and them, friend and foe. All my original post was asking for is dialogue, and I look forward to discussing this and other Wheaton redevelopment topics with you in the future.
Commentous March 16, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Though I don't agree entirely with AntonFisher's last sentence, I do agree with the general sentiment: People living in Wheaton (as opposed to Kensington or Kemp Mill) would like to have diversity and increasing property values. Unfortunately, we don't believe that the Council cares about the latter interest. Also, an increase in property values does not make it impossible for businesses to stay afloat. A decrease in property values--as has occurred in Wheaton--has done just as much to destroy small businesses by attracting people who lack disposable incomes.
TaL March 17, 2012 at 01:25 AM
Danila- BF Sauls proposal has several flaws (from the parts that Ive seen) and Seekers proposal to move county office space has merit. However, BF Sauls proposal was developed with community input by a for-profit corporation that will seek to maintain its investment. The Seeker proposal was a last minute attempt to back door a bad idea and wastefull spending by the county with no community input. Which is why (just like moving the library) once it saw the light of day, it got such a negative response. Im all in favor of boosting the number of office workers in wheaton, but what I dont understand is how given the vacant BBT building and the barely occupied Westfields North and South why the county needs to spend 55 million to build more office space. The reason that Wheaton (and the county as a whole) has struggled relative to Fairfax/Arlington/Alexandria (higher taxes, lower job growth, lower home values, lower median income growth) for the past 20 years is that Maryland and MoCo are so anti-business and so pro-government/union that there is no reason to do business here. So when a private developer is actually willing to risk their own capital on a project to see the county yet again bungle it up in the "best interests of the people" makes me rage.
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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