In their first meeting since the release of senior legislative analyst , members of the Wheaton Redevelopment Advisory Committee (WRAC) invited two county officials—Greg Ossont, deputy director of the Department of General Services and Adam Fogel, chief of staff for Councilmember Nancy Navarro—to help clarify the future of Wheaton’s redevelopment.
The committee also discussed changes to the WRAC charter and some impending improvements to Price Street.
Rob Klein, of the Department of General Services, opened the meeting with a review of recent redevelopment issues, including announcing that Lowe Enterprises plans for the “Computer Building” located at 11141 Georgia Avenue are moving into a commentary phase, construction on the BB&T building will begin this fall and that the recent warm temperatures have allowed construction crews to get ahead of schedule on Costco and Dick’s Sporting Goods (now slated for an October opening) and the new Safeway (with the exterior now expected to be completed by December).
Klein also announced that County Executive Leggett’s budget included additional funding for Wheaton’s Clean and Safe Team and the Wheaton Library, which will allow both groups to extend their service hours.
Greg Ossont took the floor next, stressing that he did not feel that the two plans for Wheaton Redevelopment— Leggett’s initial $42 million proposal and council staff advisor Sesker’s $55 million version—were in competition with each other.
“That’s not the direction we are heading in now. [The] commitment to Wheaton is there from both [the council and executive] branches,” Ossont said. “There has been good collaboration over last week since the PHED Committee meeting and things are looking much better than they were a week ago.”
Ossont firmly believes that it is realistic to accomplish the intent of both proposals. “[A] big dollar amount investment in Wheaton is not in doubt, but order and timing is being discussed.” He went on to state that both groups will “be on the same page” by April 10, when the full Montgomery County Council will convene to discuss and vote on funding for Wheaton redevelopment. However, he admitted that no sequencing will likely be agreed upon by that date.
Many WRAC members expressed frustration about the timing of the release of Sesker’s plan—that it did not seem to have the same opacity as County Executive Leggett’s—and their concerns that they will not have adequate time to review and comment prior to the April 10 council meeting.
Councilmember Navarro’s chief of staff Adam Fogel responded that it is a budget deadline issue. “We need to put a plan in place that can go into the CIP and ultimately be approved on May 24. What we are doing now is working with all parties to get all the information together to make a recommendation to the council, who will ultimately make the decision.”
Ossont and Fogel were in agreement that comments from WRAC, business owners and concerned citizens were not only welcome, but encouraged as soon as possible.
“This decision is going to affect Wheaton for decades to come. We want to get it right,” Fogel said.
The remainder of the meeting was comprised of updates from WRAC's Economic, Planning & Visioning and Project Review subcommittees, a review of proposed minor changes to the WRAC charter and a description of some improvements to the Price Avenue Streetscape, including widening the sidewalks, installing new dark sky friendly lighting and upgraded street grates. The changes are expected to begin sometime this summer and be completed within two months.