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.