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County Council Staff Releases Third Proposal for Wheaton Redevelopment

The Montgomery County Council will meet April 10 to consider the three visions proposed by the county executive, the PHED committee, and the council staff.

Tuesday night, as the polls around Montgomery County closed after a day of dismal voter turnout, about 25 people met to discuss the future of Wheaton redevelopment, which the Montgomery County Council will take up again April 10.

They were all there to talk with Jacob Sesker, the senior legislative analyst whose alternate proposal in March for Wheaton redevelopment has caused quite a stir recently, and who today released a third proposal.

Around the table that night at in Kensington sat representatives from community groups, the county's executive branch, councilmembers’ offices, and county executive-backed advisory committees.

Marian Fryer, the leader of the Wheaton Citizen's Coalition, said she had convened the meeting to give the community a chance to ask questions about and comment on the different visions for Wheaton’s downtown.

Under scrutiny: Sesker’s proposal for a plan to begin with a county-owned office building and town square,

This proposal sidelines County Executive Isiah Leggett’s $41 million CIP recommendation for B.F. Saul to build a busbay platform on the WMATA triangle between Reedie Drive, Georgia Avenue, and Veirs Mill Road. Finding tenants to fill the 1 million square feet of office space on top of the platform, Sesker contends, would be very difficult.

“You cannot just transform a market that quickly and easily,” Sesker said.

He framed the choice between his plan for a smaller office building that the county can build and control versus the executive’s plan for a large amount of office space that the county must rely on market forces to fill. What Wheaton wants, Sesker said, is a spacious town square, and what Wheaton needs, he added, is “more people eating lunch there"—and his plan would bring both.

But as long as nothing else is marked out for the WMATA site, “the platform could always happen,” Sesker said. “It might happen later, it might never happen.”

The third proposal includes $1.7 million in planning and design funds for the platform in FY17 and FY18.

Pursuant to the PHED committee’s request, Sesker said Tuesday night that he had discussed language, feasibility and sequencing for redevelopment with the executive branch. “We are disappointed that they haven’t borne fruit to date,” he said, adding that the county executive’s staff have “indicated that they are not interested in alternative proposals.”

And in the legislative packet released April 6, Sesker wrote that the Department of General Services "expressed an unwillingness to explore alternatives to their original proposal."

Rob Klein, from the county’s Wheaton Redevelopment Program, said that Leggett stands by his original proposal, with confidence that the site’s proximity to mass transit makes it a valuable investment and a prime office location.

One of the biggest concerns for those who attended the meeting is parking, particularly for small business owners in the Wheaton Triangle.

“Under either scenario, there will be time when parking is not available on Lot 13,” Sesker said. What is needed, he added, is a comprehensive plan for parking access and signage, not just a straight number of parking spaces in the downtown area.

What do you think of the third proposal for Wheaton redevelopment? Tell us in the comments.

Commentous April 10, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Excerpts from Councilmember Navarro's response last week to my concerns with the PHED redevelopment proposal. Note the focus on "small businesses," not residents. No other Councilmember even responded: The PHED Committee's approved plan would reverse the [County Executive's] phases ... to begin redevelopment more quickly and to decrease the ... time small businesses are impacted in the short-term. I support ... redeveloping Wheaton through construction over the bus bay site, as well as development of Lot 13. I am encouraged by the work that has already gone into finding the best way forward and hopeful B.F. Saul will recognize that the County continues to see them as an integral partner in the revitalization of the bus bay site.... Second, I want to clarify the role of the County Council in this process. Under the Montgomery County Charter, the Council has full budget authority. With this authority, comes a responsibility to evaluate and modify (if necessary) proposals we receive from the County Executive....The County Council has an obligation to Montgomery County taxpayers and residents of Wheaton to approve a plan that is transformative, but also fiscally responsible. ...Today, because of your advocacy, the Council is [near] approving more than $50 million ... to begin transforming Wheaton into [a] revitalized urban core our residents have been asking for.... Please know that I will ... work to protect the small businesses that give Wheaton its unique character.
Commentous April 10, 2012 at 05:24 PM
The PHED proposal and the County Council have taken a "less for more" approach and have disregarded a significant portion of the residents of Wheaton. The Council will pay more and the community will get less, unless the status quo is seen as "more." In exchange, small businesses--many of which are not unique and do not attract anyone to Wheaton--might remain viable. The plan is a disservice to homeowners who could choose to go elsewhere. I suspect in a few years my choice will be to remain in Wheaton, but only as one of the growing number of landlords. And the Council will be happy to see this, as their self-serving decision and others before it have implicitly sought to ensure that Wheaton remains a place focused on affordable housing and low-cost businesses. The Council has now made clear that economic prosperity will be focused on the areas that are already wealthy, redeveloped, and/or along the Purple Line. Thank you, Council, for knowing what is in the best interests of the people living in Wheaton--a more expensive proposal that will do less to transform the area. I fail to see how this plan is either transformative for long-term Wheaton residents or fiscally responsible to County taxpayers as a whole.
LocalGal April 10, 2012 at 06:47 PM
In a straw vote earlier today, the full County Council passed by a vote of 9-0 a Wheaton Redevelopment budget for $66.1 million which includes: funding for an M-NCPPC headquarters on Lot 13, parking, a Town Square, financial feasibility study regarding the Metro site, a parking study, planning for the Metro site starting in FY 18, and planning studies regarding creating local jobs, job training and small business protection. To me, it is a fiscally conservative decision that they believe leaves the door open for the development of the WMATA (bus platform) site later, once the market has had a chance to react to all the new housing coming to town (Safeway site, Baptist church site, Lowe Building site). However, it will be interesting to see if BF Saul is willing to wait for the County's timeline or if they just decide to take their investment offers elsewhere. To be honest, I am not nearly as hopeful as I was before.
Commentous April 10, 2012 at 08:50 PM
I didn't even realize there were public hearings on the budget over the next 3 days: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/Apps/Council/PressRelease/PR_details.asp?PrID=8384 I don't know if this will fit in my schedule, but I wanted to alert people to these after-the-vote sessions and the possible opportunity to express your support/concerns with the Wheaton redevelopment proposal, which was obviously passed before any of these public hearings. I write "possible" because all the slots may already be filled.
AntonFisher April 10, 2012 at 09:29 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.
ED April 10, 2012 at 10:19 PM
I don't see this as a "black day" at all. I think the PHED committee and Jacob Sesker came up with a plan that will get an office building and a town square in Wheaton sooner than the Executive/BF Saul proposal, while still supporting the public-private partnership. Personally, I'm tired of years of maybe's - BF Saul has said "maybe they can secure a GSA tenant", "maybe they can build a hotel", "maybe they can put residential at the corner of Veirs Mill and Georgia Avenue". All of these options were dependant on what the County will be offering. The only sure project I heard from BF Saul was a 5 or 6 story residential mixed-use building on parking lot 13, next to a town square of undetermined size, after a concrete platform was built on the taxpayers dime. I believe that the current Safeway project, Lowe's project, Baptist Church residential project, and now a definite office building and town square will spur redevelopment in Wheaton.
AntonFisher April 10, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Ed, One thing captured my attention in your reply, which is the Lowe's project. I thought that I am well up to date with proposed projects in the area. You must know more about the area than I do. You know about Lowe's and I do not. If there is no Lowe's project proposed, then I take it that your comment is just a failed attempt to defend the shortsighted decision the Council took without knowing anything about Wheaten.
ED April 11, 2012 at 12:16 AM
The Lowe's project is a proposal to change the office building on Georgia Avenue (11141 Georgia Avenue, next to the MetroPointe) from an office building to a residential apartment building. The apartment building may be mixed-use (they're not sure) with up to 200 apartments and may be up to 14 stories tall. There was a "pre-application community meeting" on this on March 29, 2012 at Crossway's Community. I'm not sure of the Sketch Plan review date at Park & Planning, but I believe the number is 320120030. You should be able to access information at mncppc.org. This project was first proposed in January 2012. No "failed attempt" here.
AntonFisher April 11, 2012 at 01:27 AM
My mind took me to think Lowe's like Home Depot. I am aware of that project and have attended their pre-app meeting, I generally refer to it as the Computer building or the mustard building project (Lowe Enterprise). Anyhow, this developer is very likely to abort their plans since they communicated to the council their disappointment of the potential change of plans. They stated "It certainly affects our thinking. I would remain concerned about how the redevelopment of the bus lot gets accomplished". See this article http://www.gazette.net/article/20120321/NEWS/703219500/1094/wheaton-developer-questions-alternative-redevelopment-plan&template=gazette
Commentous April 11, 2012 at 01:27 AM
An excerpt from a Gazette article about 3 weeks ago re the Lowe project: “I think the success of the redevelopment of downtown Wheaton is dependent on the redevelopment of the current bus lot,” said Mark Rivers, senior vice president of Los Angeles-based Lowe Enterprises. Lowe Enterprises bought the five-story Computer Building on Georgia Avenue across from the bus bays in September with the intention of converting it into a 14-story, 200-unit apartment building that would serve as a compliment to the county’s project. Lowe has submitted its sketch plan application to the county, Rivers said. “It certainly affects our thinking. I would remain concerned about how the redevelopment of the bus lot gets accomplished,” Rivers said. “I just don’t see what the plan is if those funds are redirected.”
ED April 11, 2012 at 01:50 AM
Thanks for pointing me to the Gazette article, it also stated: "Washington Property Company Senior Vice President Daryl South said the competing proposals will have no influence on his company’s plans to start construction on 221 apartments on the site of the First Baptist Church of Wheaton by the end of 2012. 'Either of the two plans being considered by the county will bring new jobs, so either option is a big plus for downtown,' South said." Since the article was published March 21 and Lowe's met with the community on March 29 with no indication that they were withdrawing their proposal, who knows what their thoughts are today.
Henriot St. Gerard April 11, 2012 at 12:14 PM
I think its safe to say that any developer with intentions to come to Wheaton will either back out, wait and see, or scale down their plans. A county building a spruced up town square isnt going to get private investors running to throw money and invest in Wheaton. Citizens just have to be persistent with the County and on top of what they are doing with this new plan.
ED April 11, 2012 at 02:14 PM
I'm hoping the completed town square and MNCPPC office building, completed on the schedule proposed by the County Council, will entice developers. But who knows for sure. You are correct that citizens will "have to be persistent with the County and on top of what they are doing with this plan". In my opinion, the best thing to do right now is to support the plan and make sure the money stays in the budget when they go through their reconciliation.
Commentous April 11, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Totally disappointing, underwhelming, and undemocratic by the Council. Our input was not encouraged and was, for all intents, avoided. With a willing and able developer committing to a large-scale project, we will now not get their funds and there is no well-explained reason. The Patch summary discusses Jacob Sesker and Hans Riemer speculating that it MIGHT cost the County less in the future but they give absolutely no grounded reason to believe it wouldn't just as well be more expensive in the future. Mr. Sesker added that future development isn't precluded, but that misses the mark, doesn't it? Of course developers will go where they can make a profit, but isn't that why B.F. Saul was here NOW? What makes anyone on the Council believe a “lunch crowd” will entice potential residents or developers to Wheaton? Is it because businesses and residents within walking distance of the current M-NCPPC building have expressed grave concern about losing this valuable “lunch crowd”? Ultimately, the Council placed long-term residents' concerns behind everyone else's, including business owners (many of whom don't live in Wheaton), special interest groups, and Purple Line proponents like Mr. Riemer. In my opinion, the best thing to do is elect a Councilmember who truly cares about redeveloping Wheaton.
AntonFisher April 11, 2012 at 04:54 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. The initial cost of the infrastructure project proposed by the County Executive is $42 Million for only infrastructure stuff in Wheaton (i.e., square, platform). The cost of relocating MNCPPC and and the redevelopment in Wheaton is $60 million. 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 it 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)
AntonFisher April 11, 2012 at 04:57 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)
ED April 11, 2012 at 05:13 PM
The County Executive total investement in Wheaton was not only $ 42 million. The $ 42 million only covered the platform - additional funds were expected for the town square, various other construction/property "incentives" for BF Saul, and rent that County offices would pay to BF Saul. BF Saul said from day one that this was a public-private partnership and the County would be expected to contribute (and, from what I've read, it wouldn't be only $ 42 million). Besides the town square and the MNCPPC office building, Nancy Navarro has pushed for monies in this budget for the library-recreaction center in Wheaton and the renovation of Wheaton High School and the Edison Center. I think people should be happy for what has been proposed not only in downtown Wheaton, but throughout the Wheaton area. I think the County Council is trying to do the best they can for Wheaton with the limited money they have in these economic times.
AntonFisher April 11, 2012 at 06:07 PM
The County Council is not doing favors to Wheaton by developing the long-neglected infrastructure in Wheaton. Rockville, Bethesda, Silver Spring all have received money way in excess of what Wheaton has received. What Wheaton is getting in this proposed budget is a fraction of what it really needs in order to catch up with the what other jurisdiction within the County have received. For the record, the County Executive's proposal included the cost of the town square.
Mike Smith April 11, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Redevelopment should focus on the Wheaton downtown. By building the library outside of the downtown, the County will be preventing Wheaton redevelopment rather than supporting it. Money allocated towards building a library outside of the downtown shouldn't be considered as supporting redevelopment.
Commentous April 11, 2012 at 06:25 PM
ED--I am a homeowner-resident in Wheaton since 2001 and live within walking distance of the Wheaton Metro. I have no official role with any local politician or group of any kind that would have a stake in redevelopment. Obviously, our opinions are not the same, and mine may admittedly be wrong in the long term. Maybe redevelopment would occur without any County assistance. Who can say for sure? You are definitely on top of things around here, and I noticed that your initials could stand for “Economic Development.” Are you officially connected to any specific entity involved directly with the proposals? I assume that’s not the case but thought I’d ask. Although we share differing views about the effect of the Council's decision to forego the Executive's proposal, I believe most of us—including you, of course--would like to see a Wheaton that supports some of the unique, worthwhile businesses while allowing development that can interest middle-income individuals and families to make Wheaton their home as well. Right now it’s a difficult sell because the current elementary school statistics where I live (Highland Elementary area) show that barely 50% of all students read at the 50th percentile on a standardized test.
ED April 11, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Commentous - I am a homeowner-resident in Wheaton far earlier than 2001 and live within walking distance of the Wheaton Metro. I have no official role with any local politician or group of any kind that would have a stake in redevelopment - except as a residential property owner and taxpayer. Obviously, our opinions are not the same, and mine may admittedly be wrong in the long term. Maybe redevelopment would occur without any County assistance. Who can say for sure? Funny that we have similar backgrounds and the same goals (a better Wheaton), but different views on how you reach those goals. To me, that's the beauty of living here. It never occured to me that ED could stand for "Economic Development", but no, I'm not "officially connected to any specific entity involved directly with the proposals". I just happen to be a property owner and taxpayer that likes to read and is extremely interested in Wheaton and the political process - a process that allows citizens to voice their opinions. On other than the differing views on how to get there, I agree with your last paragraph. While Highland Elementary has dismal scores (as do other schools in our area), most of the elementary schools in the downcounty area are also over-crowded. I have no idea how all of this residential development will affect that aspect of our desirability - but that's a subject for another day.
Commentous April 11, 2012 at 07:20 PM
Thanks ED. I sincerely appreciate your response and your opinions. In this instance, I do not think that the political process here really sought our opinions--the straw vote preceded any public hearings--but I don't think there's much to do about it now. I look forward to our continuing disagreements! ;)
AntonFisher April 11, 2012 at 07:21 PM
ED, you stated " I just happen to be a property owner and taxpayer that likes to read and is extremely interested in Wheaton and the political process - a process that allows citizens to voice their opinions." I am surprised that you supported the Council's last minute proposal, which had zero input from the community to replace the executive's proposal that evolved after years in the working with the community. Yo never fail to amaze me of the way you think, and I like to be amazed. Therefore I continue to read your comments even though I do not agree with most of what you write regarding Wheaton's redevelopment
ED April 11, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Anton - I happen to think that the County Council did have considerable input from the community. There had been public charettes and public meetings for multiple years prior to and during the BF Saul/Executive proposal that guided the Jacob Sesker and the PHED committee - i.e. Main Street America, Urban Land Institute, etc. There also, most recently, were all of the public meetings and requests for input on the Wheaton Sector Plan. The vision is there. I believe the problem is not what the community wants, but how you get there. After the PHED committee made their proposal, members of the WCC (Wheaton Citizens Coalition) held a meeting (April 3)with community members, DGS/WRAC and Council staff members. I look at the County Council proposal as just a shift in the staging - a shift that was necessary due to the budgeting of the vision - and, personally, I like the idea of the town square and office building first, rather than a concrete platform that may or may not ever be built upon. Was the proposal a surprise? Absolutely. Do I think it will hurt Wheaton in the long run? Absolutely not.
jenny April 12, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Actually, Highland Elementary does not have "dismal" scores, I'm not sure what statistics you were looking at. http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/schools/highlandes/aboutus/index.aspx My family just bought a house last summer within that school district and believe me we looked at those literature regarding the local schools when we chose where to look at homes. My daughter is 4 and we have another on the way. I heard in my research (talking to people who's kids go there, and to teachers who know staff that actually teach there) that it was having problems for some time, but not now. And Ed, I do tend to agree with you. It seemed to me that the proposal with B. F. Saul left many things up in the air - the county proposal actually does something, right away, and follows up with studies of the bus bay issue which will hopefully lead to future partnerships with Saul or some other developer. Waiting until the two other large projects (the safeway + apartments and the apartments going up where that church is) are well underway or done just doesn't seem like a bad thing. I think the neighborhoods around Wheaton metro are probably fairly attractive right now to those of us who can't afford (or don't want) downtown SS, but still want decent metro access, shopping, and good schools. They were to us, anyway.
ED April 12, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Jenny - Thank You. I'm happy someone tends to agree with me - I was beginning to feel a little lonely out here.
Danila Sheveiko April 12, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Ed and Jenny, there are plenty of people who support your position. While the Council's plan is smaller, it is much more realisitic and transparent than many parts of the BF Saul proposal.
ED April 12, 2012 at 09:44 PM
Thanks, Daniel. I'm a firm believer in "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
Commentous April 12, 2012 at 10:03 PM
jenny, Thank you for your comment. I apologize for misreading the statistics. Only Grade 2 shows a low reading score (50.7%) at the top of page 2 of the school report. I'm very glad to be corrected--grades 3-5 have much higher scores. I will add that the school itself has excellent teachers and--in part due to past problems--an incredibly good student-teacher ratio, especially in the lower grades. My error was based largely on reading page 2 as a conglomeration of all grades instead of just grade 2 statistics. As for the plan, I disagree with it for many of the reasons discussed. I've written the Councilmembers and the County Executive with my view, and there's little more to do about it now. Perhaps more importantly, I disagree with the Council not seeking input from the whole community on what is best. The Council could have shown a sincere interest in redevelopment plans at any time before a month ago. Only when the Executive's plan was going to become a possibility did the Council get involved, revealing and approving a totally unforeseen plan. Whether it is good for Wheaton remains to be seen, but I believe that even some supporters of the approved plan could understand some residents' dismay at having almost no open discussion of the proposals. Thanks for your views.
Sean April 13, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Interesting for the council to use some parts of the report and ignore others. I hope its not intentional.

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