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WRAC Vents Frustration, Disappointment to Councilmembers about Redevelopment Vote

Costco’s fueling station special exception also discussed.

Two of the larger issues facing the Wheaton community took center stage at Wednesday's Wheaton Redevelopment Advisory Committee meeting: the recently approved plans for Wheaton Redevelopment (in a straw vote by the Montgomery County Council) and the proposed special exception for a Costco gas station.

Wheaton Redevelopment

Echoing sentiments expressed during an , WRAC members aired their frustration over the process that led to the Montgomery County Council

Councilmember Hans Reimer shared his opinions and concerns about how things will move forward with Wheaton Redevelopment. “The overall concern I have now is to keep it [redevelopment] going,” said Reimer. “Wheaton revitalization started with Doug Duncan and continued with Executive Leggett.”

Reimer then proposed the creation of an ad hoc committee that would devise a plan to keep redevelopment going.

“I’m here to ask you to stay involved. We have a big agenda ahead of us, and your participation is needed," he said. "I hope that the council can count on your support.”

Reimer’s request was initially met with an awkward silence, soon followed by questions about the council’s level of knowledge of WRAC activities, led by WRAC member Chelsea Johnson.

“In the past one-and-a-half years, we’ve had many brainstorming sessions and all of the information went to [B.F.] Saul," Johnson said. “It would be nice if some of that was captured and made its way to the council.”

Johnson’s statement seemed to open the door for the expression of stronger opinions, focusing mainly on how the council made its decision.

“I’m seeing disengagement here, since the representative government isn’t doing what the people want,“ said Michael Kallens, another WRAC member. “You came here after the fact, why weren’t you here before?"

Reimer apologized and explained the council’s obligation to balance the opinions of committees like WRAC with other groups involved, and the tax-paying public.

Incensed by Reimer’s apology, WRAC member Joseph Capuano declared, “You said 'sorry if you feel ignored.' We are ignored. I feel angry when I look at the way you did business, and I feel sickened...I will personally oppose every single member of the council...I appreciate you being here, but at what point did anyone reach out to this committee where we all volunteer time? I didn’t get involved so all this would be ignored.”

Councilmembers Marc Elrich and Nancy Floreen entered the meeting at that point; they both tried to mollify the committee and refocus the discussion on the positive aspects of the approved plan.

“I know you feel as if all your hard work hasn’t been valued; you have been involved for a long time," Floreen said. “It feels like the rug got pulled up – we all really regret that from our perspective.”

“I hope we build as much office space as possible, not residential that empties out at 9:00 a.m.,” Elrich said. “Please don’t look at this as sabotage. We want feet on the ground, and we’ll get there with redevelopment.”

Floreen added that it "sounds like you want better communication with the council – let us see what we can do.”

WRAC chair Jonathan Fink ended the discussion by thanking the three councilmembers for their attendance, but he too seemed disappointed.

“The council’s action seems to speak of lack of vision, and we have to accept that the council proposal has less risk than a private-public partnership," he said. “The vision for Wheaton seems to be more limited than White Flint – an atmosphere that is disappointing.”

Costco and the Gas Station Special Exception Process

WRAC and members of the community, which included representatives from the Kensington Heights Civic Association, viewed a presentation about Costco’s proposed special exception for a fueling station at the Westfield Wheaton location.

Costco’s Erich Brann described the location of the proposed gas station, shared the company’s safety record and outlined their efforts to ensure the safety of surrounding neighborhoods if the gas station plans go through.

Members of WRAC and KHCA expressed concerns about the true need of the station, to which Brann responded that Costco has determined a need based on criteria in standards established by the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission. He went on further to explain that “this doesn’t mean that it is a necessity, simply that there is a hole in the market that will be filled by this.”

When WRAC chair Jonathan Fink asked how many gas stations were in the area already, Brann was unable to answer. Karen Cordry of the KHCA quickly responded with a loud “30!”

Mary Carter works at the , which serves students with special needs and is located approximately 1,000 feet from the site of the proposed gas station.

"I am very concerned about the potential impact of increased traffic where our students walk a path from the school to the food court at the mall," she said.

Other community members expressed concerns about the volume of fumes from vehicles idling in 90-degree summer heat as they wait to get gas, as well as the potential increase in traffic on local roads.

Cordry ended the discussion by expressing a contrary opinion on the Costco’s interpretation of the Needs Standard. “I’ve been reading the need study and disagree with your interpretation of the legal terms in the Needs Standard,” she said. “The study doesn’t show need. Costco is doing all they can to mitigate the issue, but this is like putting lipstick on a pig – it is still a pig.”

Fink referred the matter to WRAC's project review subcommittee.

AntonFisher April 19, 2012 at 08:00 PM
Why would would a representative from Navarro's office attend? They have nothing to add. They killed the ambitious plan to redevelop Wheaton and that is all what Navarro wanted for now from Wheaton.
Commentous April 20, 2012 at 11:53 AM
It would be nice if the Councilmember for our area would be represented at these meetings, especially one where she knows the community is very involved and concerned. Of course, Councilmember Navarro may have had other pressing things (and I don't mean that sarcastically). If so, however, it would be good if she simply said that or said that she regretted having to miss the meeting(s). Then again, the Council works in mysterious ways.
AntonFisher April 25, 2012 at 01:21 AM
This rendering at the M-NCPPC does not appear as bad if it incorporates both the residential and the office building into the development. http://montgomeryplanningboard.org/blog-news/2012/04/16/parks-planning-departments-may-move-to-consolidated-wheaton-headquarters/
Commentous April 25, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Is this the idea for walkable Wheaton? If so, I need a better imagination. Further, I'll need to see more of the plan before I can get behind it. The building would appear to be non-descript and worth little as far as being attractive to people considering Wheaton for their home. Still, this is just a design so that could change, but with money tight, creativity will be at a premium. The linked article from the M-NCPPC states this will "jumpstart" the Wheaton economy, which is disingenuous and self-serving. Small lunch businesses may get some infusion from these workers, but I've heard no outrage or concern from the businesses at its current location that all these valuable spenders will be moving. A few other businesses located very close to the building might benefit too, but it won't do much more for the local economy overall. And it will take up a large space in a lot at the center of Wheaton, which--with a bad design--could actually make the area less walkable than it is today. A little blob of a park at the end of 2 large buildings doesn't appear to be a well-developed, large step towards redevelopment. Like it or not, the private developers' willingness to take chances on Wheaton has helped the area more than the M-NCPPC HQ ever will. I've tried to say little more about the whole "redevelopment" because the WRAC meeting I attended seemed depressing and pointless. Still, as a Wheaton resident, I'd rather try not be trampled again.
Commentous May 05, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Here's a good plan for really redeveloping Wheaton: http://www.wheatonsnewdowntown.org/ And look! Here's the input gathered from people who LIVE HERE AND WERE ASKED FOR INPUT: http://www.wheatonsnewdowntown.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/PastCommunityInput_110318.pdf It still amazes me that the Council knew what was best for Wheaton without asking for residents' input. Why have Advisory Councils when their advice is ignored entirely? Here are some new suggestions for the Council to share Wheaton's diversity with more of the County: Increase the percentage of low-cost housing beyond the norm in all new housing in areas with very high median incomes. I'm sure lower-income people would like to live there and the Council already subsidizes some housing, so why not? In addition, perhaps convert government-owned parking or properties in wealthy areas to County-subsidized properties with significant amounts of low-cost housing. This also offers more lower-income children entrance into schools with very high test scores. Through these actions, the County will afford all people, not just Wheaton, opportunities to experience the diverse bounty of Wheaton that these areas lack so dearly.

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