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Wheaton Redevelopment: Different Site Considered for Park and Planning Headquarters

In addition, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett is recommending against moving county agencies from Rockville to share space with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in Wheaton, citing high costs.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission is still on track to move its headquarters from Silver Spring to downtown Wheaton, but perhaps not to Parking Lot 13 as previously proposed.

Instead, Park and Planning is looking across the street, to take over the site currently occupied by the Mid-County Regional Services Center at 2424 Reedie Dr. in Wheaton, according to a project description form submitted in March. (See attached PDF)

If this goes forward, Montgomery County likely would receive the Park and Planning headquarters site at 8787 Georgia Ave. in Silver Spring, in a land swap, said Greg Ossont, deputy director of the Department of General Services.

Leggett: $67 Million More Would Be Needed to Move County Agencies to Wheaton

Another major proposed change in the county's vision for Wheaton redevelopment has come to light recently.

The County Council envisioned a "multi-user government building" in Wheaton, and discussions this past year about the new headquarters building have included plans to move county agencies from leased space in Rockville to Wheaton. 

But Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett wrote in a memo to the County Council last week that making space for county agencies to share an office building with Park and Planning would be too expensive. (See attached PDF for the full memo text.)

Constructing additional floors on the proposed Park and Planning headquarters to house the county's Department of Permitting Services and the Department of Environmental Protection would cost an estimated $67 million more than the $65 million already planned for the project in the county budget, according to the memo. 

"As you are aware, additional debt capacity in the CIP is severely limited in the FY15-20 period," Leggett wrote, "and the addition of $67 million in costs for the Wheaton Redevelopment project will necessitate delaying or eliminating existing projects such as library renovations, recreation centers, and other high priority projects."

Park and Planning estimates that its headquarters will cost approximately $59 million, according to the project description form it submitted in March. (See attached PDF.) 

The project description form says that the building will include 132,000 square feet of office space for the M-NCPPC headquarters and 10,000 square feet for the regional service center occupants. The building may also include spaces for private commercial use.

Budget Decisions and Cost Estimates in 2012

Last year, the County Council passed over Leggett's plan for a partnership with developer B.F. Saul to build a platform over the bus bay site in the triangle formed by Georgia Avenue, Veirs Mill Road and Reedie Drive in Wheaton.

Instead, the County Council decided on a plan for a government office building and town square on Parking Lot 13.

At the time, DGS estimated that the costs for an office building shared by county agencies and Park and Planning on Parking Lot 13 would be approximately twice the amount the County Council allotted in the budget, Ossont said.

Total estimates by DGS in 2012 for a M-NCPPC and county building on lot 13, a town square and underground parking came out to $166 million. (See page ©21 in this document.)

The project description form for Wheaton redevelopment adopted by the County Council in May 2012 recognized that the budget provided only "partial funding for construction of the government office complex or building" and that the cost estimate would be revised after the design phase.

The County Council is anticipated to discuss Wheaton redevelopment later this month.

TaL April 03, 2013 at 01:18 PM
So ED, how do you feel now about the smelly end of the plunger that Navarro and the Council handed Wheaton when they forced BF Saul to pull out?
ED April 03, 2013 at 02:16 PM
The only thing BF Saul promised was an apartment building on parking lot 13 - everything else was "if we can get a government contract", then we "may" be able to build an office building and, afterwards, perhaps a hotel. Nothing was promised, but a lot of money was expected for a platform over the bus bays. Now that the County Council is considering moving the MNCPPC headquarters to the Mid-County site, BF Saul could move back in with their original "promised" plans. If not BF Saul, I'm sure another developer would be more than happy to develop this prime site and the development of a mixed-use, residential building on parking lot 13 is exactly what a lot of Wheaton bloggers have been hoping for. What disturbs me now is Leggett's actions. If MNCPPC moves into a building across the street and Leggett still has lot 13 and the Georgia Avenue MNCPPC current headquarters land for private development plus the reductions in the cost of the leased spaces in Rockville, why aren't these factored into the cost of moving DPS/DEP and what has really changed from his initial approval of the move from Rockville? Perhaps the County Council and Leggett should hold a joint "Town Hall" meeting to explain all of this.
Dave April 03, 2013 at 02:31 PM
Esther - thanks again for your reporting on this subject. That photo of Lot 13 says it all—what a waste. I'm generally an optimist. I suppose I wouldn't have bought a house in Wheaton if I weren't. But this is getting ridiculous. The Council—in its infinite wisdom—scuttled the public/private partnership with BF Saul and promised instead that Wheaton would get public investment and redevelopment on Lot 13. But they failed to make a compelling case for that project and more importantly failed to adequately approximate what it would cost and secure funding. So, once again, Wheaton hears a lot from the Council about how committed to redevelopment they are but gets nothing but abandoned websites, useless impact studies and, crumbling 50's parking lots to show for it. If the plan really is to use the lot on Reedie for a new Parks and Planning HQ it's time to find a private developer for the rest of Lot 13 again. Build the square. Commit public financing for underground public parking below a new privately developed building on the rest of Lot 13. And do so in a timeframe that encourages Wheaton residents that you truly are invested in Wheaton's redevelopment.
Dave April 03, 2013 at 02:58 PM
Interestingly, comparing the two PDFs the Exec has $103M in construction costs, in contrast to just $47M proposed in the M-NCPPC plan. In the "Cost Change" section the Exec hints at what that $63M difference might go towards—"unknown factors...the ultimate scale of the development...sharing costs with a private developer...land acquisitions." And the Exec's project description states: "The County intends to coordinate the construction of the town square in conjunction with private development on Parking Lot #13." Could they have a developer in the wings already? BF Saul and Leggett still trying to get around the Council on Lot 13? Kinda sounds like it to me. (But I already said I'm an optimist.)
Rachel Young April 03, 2013 at 04:25 PM
Thanks for the informative reporting, Esther!
Randall Spadoni April 03, 2013 at 05:01 PM
In January, the Department of Economic Development was looking to announce a new developer and seemed excited about the prospects. We haven't heard anything about that developer since then. I certainly hope that the county has an ace up their sleeve. Otherwise, this is looking like a pretty poor hand for Wheaton.
AntonFisher April 03, 2013 at 05:15 PM
definitely the newly proposed location will be better as it preserves the prime location on Lot 13 for a private investor/company to develop in a way that will bring live to Wheaton. I hope B.F. Saul comes back with their great plan. I am just like Dave, an Optimist but cautious.
AntonFisher April 03, 2013 at 05:17 PM
Does anyone know what happened with the plans for teh Ambassador? The Patch had a report on it a few months back and we were supposed to hear about the developer by now. http://wheaton-md.patch.com/articles/redevelopment-proposals-for-ambassador-apartments-under-review
Commentous April 03, 2013 at 06:29 PM
Definitely still hopeful but wary after what's happened before.
Commentous April 03, 2013 at 06:30 PM
Agreed. If there might be private development on Lot 13, it would seem to offer more towards redevelopment than the M-NCPPC building would have.
Ike Leggett April 08, 2013 at 05:58 PM
Dear Wheaton Patch Readers: I share your interest in the future of Wheaton, and appreciate your efforts to ensure a successful redevelopment effort. Like you and other residents of Wheaton, I am committed to this goal. Last year, I proposed a redevelopment project to bring a mix of office, hotel, retail and residential uses to Wheaton’s downtown, and to leverage significant private investment in addition to public dollars to accomplish this goal. In fact, my administration had already entered into a partnership with B.F. Saul Associates for this very purpose. However, the Council approved a Capital Improvement Project (CIP) for Wheaton that included the new headquarters building for Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), an option for co-locating other County offices there, along with an option to explore private development opportunities similar to my proposal. ... Continue on next comment
Ike Leggett April 08, 2013 at 05:59 PM
Because I believe that encouraging private development will be the key to a successful Wheaton Revitalization, I have communicated to the Council that Parking Lot 13 next to the proposed new town center on Reedie Drive should be reserved for a public/private development that includes residential, retail and restaurants. A project with this mix of features would generate nighttime activity in the area, and provide an economic boost not only by bringing more jobs but also more residents. I do not think that the M-NCPPC Headquarters project alone will provide the needed 18-hour foot traffic and activity necessary for the true revitalization of the Wheaton Central Business District. After exploring the option of including office space for other County agencies at the proposed M-NCPPC headquarters site, it is clear that an additional $67 million would be needed, above the $66 million already allocated for the project. While this would increase the employment base and bring some additional visitors to the area during the day, it would not provide a significant enough economic impact, and would not add vibrancy to the area in the evening. More importantly, adding $67 million to our Capital budget would jeopardize the County’s fiscal health by exceeding its capital debt limits. ... Continue on next comment
Ike Leggett April 08, 2013 at 05:59 PM
The cost analysis for the option of co-locating County agencies with the M-NCPPC headquarters was conducted by the County’s Department of General Services, using the same footprint as the M-NCPPC headquarters building. The FY13-18 Approved CIP budget is posted on the County’s website, http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/OMB/MasterPDF/13-18a_masterpdf.html. My primary objective for the Wheaton Redevelopment Project is to encourage private investment through targeted, complementary public investment. I will continue working closely with the Council to meet that goal.
AntonFisher April 08, 2013 at 07:31 PM
It is good to hear that the County Executive is committed to the successful redevelopment of Wheaton. We hope to hear from our Council members the same thing. Definitely preserving Lot 13 for a private mixed use development that ensures 18-hr activity is a good step. We, the residents of Wheaton, are still skeptical about all the talk about redevelopment since we never see anything materialize. Mr. Leggett, we appreciate you responding to us on this forum and hope to hear about the actual plans for Wheaton and the results of the closed meeting with the County Council last month. It was said that your office was discussing matters that could impact the selection of a developer. Is there actually talks with developers at this time or what was the meeting about.
Patrick Lacefield April 08, 2013 at 09:42 PM
Answering AntonFisher: The closed session with the County Council concerned options for property acquisition in the area. At some point in the future, the County will be soliciting proposals from developers to be partners in the project. -- Patrick Lacefield, Director of Public Information for Montgomery County
Danny Somma April 09, 2013 at 02:44 AM
The County Council does not like a mixed use residential public partnership building and has voted that down before, even though Commissioner Leggett wants it. We wound up with plan B, which was Park and Planning in a new building. But now we are getting Plan C, which takes away a government tenant (mid county services) and replaces it with another (park and planning). My math says 1 - 1 + 1 = 1 which is where we started from in the first place! This is not going to create the economic engine Commissioner Leggett talked about and has many Wheaton residents excited about.
Commentous April 09, 2013 at 12:17 PM
Just want to say "ditto" to Anton's thoughts and to the idea that we really need people in that area at all hours--not just work hours--for redevelopment to occur.
Corbetto April 09, 2013 at 02:12 PM
It's good to see the county executive and others taking an active interest in what residents of Wheaton have to say about the redevelopment effort. That said, as a Wheaton resident, I'd like to suggest that discussion of "redevelopment" move beyond what really sounds only like "new development". New buildings; new businesses. That's great for what it is. But anyone who commutes through Wheaton - up George Avenue or across University or Viers Mill - can clearly see that there are (at least )two issues beyond prime spaces - such as Lot 13 - sitting empty: first, poor positioning of parking options for existing businesses; and second, and to me, more importantly, a downtown with no cohesive, unifying identity. Many existing storefronts are poorly maintained. And, frankly, many of the existing businesses suffer because of it. With lack of curb appeal, many of the fine restaurants in the area miss out on business because potential customers are turned off by the outward appearance. All of which says nothing about the recently-constructed retail areas sit empty. Anchor Inn, anyone? These locations sit empty partly because smart business-owners can see the situation with available parking is an absolute nightmare. My point is this: New construction, bringing new business and life to Wheaton (and boy does it a shot in the night-life arm) is all well and good, but if what's there can't be upgraded and fixed, then it really is just a half-hearted effort.
Randall Spadoni April 10, 2013 at 03:47 AM
Thank you for your comment and information, Patrick. It often seems like Wheaton residents receive relatively little information about what is going on behind the scenes with regard to the redevelopment of our community so I appreciate your engagement. In April 2012 after the county surprised Wheaton by completely changing the direction of redevelopment, we were lead to expect a MOU on the new county building by the end of the summer and then the start of a design process. Instead, we did not hear anything until the end of March 2013 and then it was news that the plan would be changed because the Executive was no longer willing to commit the funding. This is after the county dropped the parking bay study, one of the last vestiges of the 2010 BF Saul deal that had received so much community energy and input. In January of this year the Executive hinted at an imminent announcement of a new developer but this announcement was delayed several times until the meeting on March 12th, which was then declared to be a closed session. Now your news that "at some point in the future" the county may be soliciting proposals from developers. Can the county tell us why a new developer was not announced? Why is the county only soliciting proposals at an unnamed date in the future? Our sector plan was approved in January 2012. We want to be a constructive part of the redevelopment process but we would appreciate information and opportunities to provide input.
Randall Spadoni April 10, 2013 at 04:58 AM
I appreciate these thoughts from the County Executive. I want to mention a comment from Roger Berliner just over a year after the approval of the White Flint sector plan: "The County has also been busy preparing for the implementation of the White Flint Sector Plan. The Executive Branch held a series of meetings with the White Flint community to determine what the major public amenities of the plan should look and feel like. The civic green, the new recreation center, the library, the recreational loop and a new regional services center were all discussed in detail. The results of this public process were recently released and can be found here if you're interested." http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/bertmpl.asp?url=/content/council/mem/berliner_r/white_flint_new.asp Are there plans for a similar engagement with the Wheaton community? Our sector plan includes many of the same intentions for public investments as White Flint and Wheaton is an area with a larger population (48,000 in 2010) and similar number of existing housing units within the sector plan (2,500). After the disappointment of BF Saul, we may need these kinds of community/county/developer events to get us reengaged, energized, and reconnected with the sector plan and Wheaton's redevelopment.
Wheaton-ite April 12, 2013 at 06:18 PM
Hi Patrick, From the meeting this morning about Wheaton redevelopment, it sounds like the Council is undecided about whether or not the space will be used for private or public development. In fact, nothing is actually decided until it passes through a vote. Is this correct? This has been such a confusing and frustrating process to witness. As a citizen of Wheaton, I'm so tired of being jerked around. The Triangle is a property ripe for development. I hope this happens sooner rather than later! I'd love to see this space become a welcoming area for congregation, shopping, etc. anytime of the day (including evenings and weekends).
Randall Spadoni April 16, 2013 at 07:40 PM
Anton, I wrote to the Housing Opportunities Commission and they wrote back with a nice note. "Developer interviews were held earlier this year and the selection process is still underway. We anticipate reaching a conclusion before the summer." Summer starts June 21st so I assume we'll hear something before then.
AntonFisher April 16, 2013 at 09:54 PM
Randall - Thanks for taking the time and contacting HOC. That is great to hear. I hope when they reveal the developer, a plan is revealed as well. I hope we hear, as promised, before summer begins.

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