Wheaton redevelopment would transform the downtown area with a hotel, office buildings and a new town square. But those who support redevelopment fear those plans will slip through their fingers, as competing projects in the county’s CIP budget threaten to edge Wheaton out of the picture.
“I don’t want to sound the alarm, but it is not a done deal,” Ana Lopez van Balen, director of the Mid-County Regional Services Center, said at a Feb. 14 meeting of the Wheaton and Kensington Chamber of Commerce, which supports redevelopment. “It is a critical moment for this project.”
The Montgomery County Council’s Planning, Housing, and Economic Development committee will meet on Feb. 29 at 9:30 a.m. to discuss the CIP recommendations of $41 million for the Wheaton Redevelopment project.
Adam Fogel, Councilmember Nancy Navarro’s chief of staff, told members of the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee at their February meeting that the Bethesda South Metro entrance construction project (in preparation for the Purple Line) is competing directly with the Wheaton Redevelopment Program in the CIP.
And David Dise, director of the Department of General Services, said the same thing to the Wheaton Redevelopment Advisory Committee, which also met this week.
A Montgomery County Council transportation committee voted earlier this week not to defer the majority of the construction funds for the Bethesda Metro entrance--against Leggett’s recommendations.
Council Vice President Nancy Navarro, in a Feb. 13 letter to other councilmembers, said that she is “prepared to support the County Executive’s proposal as the best way to move forward for the residents of Wheaton and the surrounding area.”
Navarro noted that the $41 million included in the CIP for Wheaton redevelopment includes $19.5 million for building a platform and relocating buses from the current bus bay to part of Lot 13, which faces Grandview Avenue, during construction.
“This injection of public funds is well below several previous County-financed redevelopment projects,” Navarro wrote, referring to redevelopment in White Flint and Silver Spring.
The Coalition for the Fair Redevelopment of Wheaton wants these public funds to be accompanied by a community benefits agreement with developer B.F. Saul and the county--and is circulating a petition to that effect. But County Executive Isiah Leggett has rejected this idea.
“We’ve made it very clear to the Coalition that it’s a big table, and they get a seat at it, but they’re not the only ones at the table,” Steve Silverman, director of Econonomic Development, told the council's Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee on Feb. 7.
Without a significant public investment in redevelopment, there is not much confidence that Wheaton would see any economic growth in the near future.
“The economy’s not picking up any time soon,” Councilmember Valerie Ervin said at the PHED Committee meeting on Feb. 7. “It will be just sitting there languishing for another 15 to 20 years.”