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Redevelopment Supporters Fear Funds Will Not Materialize

As the Capital Improvements Program comes under scrutiny in the Montgomery County Council, supporters of Wheaton redevelopment plans are anxious that councilmembers approve funding.

 

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.”

Jeff February 17, 2012 at 02:20 PM
The citizens of Wheaton are tired of feeling like we are stepchildren to the more affluent parts of the county. And we are tired of important projects such as this and the renovation of the Wheaton Library being delayed, often for years. When the library was supposed to be renovated in 2009 my daughter was in the 5th grade. If Ike Leggett has his way funds will not become available until 2018 for the actually renovation. My daughter will already be in college! Please start addressing the issues we've been living with for years in Wheaton.
TaL February 17, 2012 at 02:58 PM
Jeff- Part of the problem was Valerie Ervin who only has eyes on moving up the ladder and the worst constituent service/interaction of any of the council. She had no interest in having Wheaton redevelop because it might have poached from her signature DTSS growth. The county prefers to keep Wheaton downscale as it keeps rents low and gives them a place to put all their low income housing/rentals. My hope is that BF Saul plays 900lb gorilla and develops a nice high end downtown and buys enough of the council to support their investment.
Jeff February 17, 2012 at 03:34 PM
TaL, perhaps things will change now that Navarro will be representing much of Wheaton. She has been very supportive of the library and its future.
C Johnson February 17, 2012 at 05:26 PM
News of this was disappointing to me. Wheaton deserves redevelopment and revitalization NOW. After the ball has finally started rolling to redevelop and revitalize Wheaton, the budget for Wheaton's redevelopment is in jeopardy over speculation of what MAY come LATER to the already well developed and generously supported Bethesda. If you feel strongly about the need for improvements in downtown Wheaton, PLEASE email the county council at county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov ASAP.
mpd February 17, 2012 at 05:44 PM
I don't live in Wheaton, but I'd be royally p*ssed off about this if I did. I hope everyone in Wheaton understands what exactly is going on with the new Bethesda metro entrance. While a new entrance now would be a luxury, it certainly is not needed until well past 2018 when the Purple Line is built (if ever). However, there are hard core Purple Line supporters who lobbied the County Council very hard to get the funds allocated now. They are afraid that if the County does not allocate the funds now for the new entrance, then the County will send the wrong message to the State and Federal Government that the Purple Line is not a priority. So, basically, they want to tie up $80 million dollars (and crowd out projects that need to get built NOW) just to make some symbolic gesture that the County really wants the Purple Line. This is so ridiculous!
Henriot St. Gerard February 17, 2012 at 07:12 PM
Its important that citizens voice their concern and support for redevelopment. Publications like The Patch are informing the public on the latest developments and it is up to residents to take serious action to make sure that the ball is not dropped on this.
Jeff February 17, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Henriot, many of us are and in a number of ways. For example, you might be interested in Save Wheaton Library (http://savewheatonlibrary.com). The community worked together to make sure the future of the library was well-thoughtout and not just moved to the downtown core because it worked so well in other areas. And now we're working to make sure the promised renovations are carried out and not benched until 2018. There are other community groups in Wheaton working on other projects. I'm gratified by the level of involvement our neighbors have in our community.
S.K. February 17, 2012 at 08:33 PM
It's all good and well to plan ahead, unless something else requires immediate attention. The message Leggett and the council consistantly broadcast is that hard choices will need to be made in the upcoming budget. On Monday, the Montgomery County Council transportation committee voted 2 to 0 to approve a second Bethesda metro entrance. Of the three, Berliner and Leventhal were a yes, while Floreen abstained. Securing funds to connect the future Purple Line and metro doesn't feel like a "difficult" choice. After all, the Purple line isn't even built. Let's hope that when the full council votes, they see the true value in redeveloping all parts of the county, including Wheaton. Our area is important enough to plan for and deserves support without further delay. Doing what is right could end up being their most "difficult"choice.
Commentous February 18, 2012 at 04:46 PM
TaL wrote, "The county prefers to keep Wheaton downscale as it keeps rents low and gives them a place to put all their low income housing/rentals." I couldn't agree more. Wheaton generally has had an outflux of businesses that would benefit from middle-class incomes. Diversity has greatly diminished over the past 10 years since I came to Wheaton. Foreclosures have decimated property values. Numerous business have closed, and "For Lease" is the most popular storefront in town. For those with kids in school, the magnet program disfavors children of families who do not receive a food subsidy if they live in areas like Wheaton where most people do. Really. Someone in Bethesda or Chevy Chase has an advantage because they won't affect the local school FARMS:Non-FARMS ratio. The County wants to "increase diversity" by bringing wealthy people to the non-wealthy magnet schools. But they also want middle class peoplein lower-income areas to stay there so they don't worsen the ratio at those schools. If the county loves diversity, why not just bus many of the kids needing subsistence to the wealthy areas? Or move a worker's center there, as those areas have a lot more home renovation and landscaping work than most people I know in Wheaton. A low-rent high-rise would be good too.
steve February 18, 2012 at 04:58 PM
The redevelopment fund was available for the signs, windows, canopies, sidewalks, parking lots,Barries Magic Shop to relocate to rocvkville and the pay the building owner a fair price on his building. There was enough money to put up a new pass through from ga to lot 13. As far as the purple line the tracks were there when metro was built and they had no intention of connecting silver spring with bethesda it made to much sense. The same politics moved walter reed to bethesda and than oops we now need to fix metro and 355. Build the house then we will put in road and driveway to it after you move in. We will have meetings and more meetings. iTS A MONTGOMERY COUNTY THING. nothing gets done without more meetings
Kathleen Michels February 19, 2012 at 07:20 PM
So Now all of a sudden the county wants to give the 40 million instead to fund (JUST A PART!) of the Bethesda metro elevators (and tunnel). The elevators were not said in competition with Wheaton redevelopment just a short month ago. WHY IS THAT EVEN A TRADE-OFF? Find other funds for the elevators! Over the past decade and more when something good is supposed to happen for Wheaton, *the growing urban heart of montgomery County*, the money is taken away and given to private interests or other parts of the county while the good that was to happen (rafferty athletic center, library/recreaton center renovation most recently) does not happen. A vibrant new urban core in Wheaton will benefit the whole county. Strong urban cores have circles of beneficial effects for residents and business and the county tax base that go beyond the mere physical location. It will help no-one if , as Nancy Floreen stated in a candidates forum, Wheaton is again treated as the county's stepchild .
Sean February 20, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Wheaton needs balanced development. The CIP funding for this community will get us there as it will provide much needed lunchtime clientele for local restaurants, as well as spur additonal development. The project will also provide infrastructure that provides linkages with the rest of Wheaton and will help make the downtown more attractive to the local community.
JC February 21, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Didn't Wheaton get a large grant in the last year or two to help with redevelopment?
Kathleen Michels February 21, 2012 at 09:30 PM
No it did not! Westfield corp was given 4 million of our hard earned dollars no strings attached and not ro bring costco which was coming anyway. So nothing for the community or actual redev.

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