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WUDAC Airs Frustration About Council Redevelopment Vote

Councilmember Hans Riemer attended the meeting to answer questions and present ideas for moving forward with Wheaton redevelopment.

 

Anger and disappointment pervaded Tuesday night’s meeting of the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee, hours after the Montgomery County Council that would build a new Park and Planning headquarters in downtown Wheaton--instead of the platform that WUDAC and County Executive Isiah Leggett supported.

Committee members took out their frustration on Councilmember Hans Riemer, who came to delicately explain how the council’s budget decision was only a part of Wheaton revitalization and why the council needed WUDAC members to stay involved going forward.

“I know this has been contentious, but I really believe that we’re going to get a better and faster implementation” for Wheaton redevelopment with the council’s plan, Riemer said.

Riemer suggested quarterly meetings for all stakeholders going forward, so that everyone would be able to stay on board with the redevelopment process. But committee members, who are appointed by the county executive, said that they felt ignored by the council.

“You have to admit that it seems as if our input went for nothing with the latest budget investments, so after we’ve been deflated, it seems kind of hard to imagine that we’re all going to come and talk about the future of Wheaton,” said William Moore, who owns the IHOP on Grandview Avenue.

Moore added that the council’s plan was not subject to the same degree of public review as the B.F. Saul proposal. “I think what disappointed everybody was the fact that this new proposal seemed to come out of the blue and all of a sudden now it’s accepted,” he said.

WUDAC members went around the room, voicing their complaints.

Ken Nelson, who represents the Wheaton & Kensington Chamber of Commerce on WUDAC, said that he felt like their proposal was “smacked down like the NBA finals.” Linda Amendt said that she was “very disappointed.” Henriot St. Gerard, , told Riemer that “to me, this feels like a startover.” And Hollywood East owner Janet Yu said she believed that “the community should be owed an apology.”

“There’s a sense of disgust in the way the plan was passed,” Devala Janardan said.

Much of the disappointment centered on a feeling that one office building and a town square was not the expected scope of redevelopment Wheaton deserved. Riemer agreed that more was needed, particularly services that WUDAC could play an important role in lobbying for in the budget, such as programming for the town square.

“I’m trying to revive the sense of community purpose. I think that’s crucial, and I’d like to do what I can,” Riemer said. “We’re going to need those of you who might be bitter not to go home.”

Marian Fryer, WUDAC’s vice chair, said that she’s feeling optimistic about the future because although there has been plenty of talk about Wheaton redevelopment in the past, this is the first time the council is attaching money to any plans.

“We may be unhappy about how it came down, but I’m happy about how it’s going to end up because the money is going to be there,” Fryer said.

 

WUDAC meets the second Tuesday of every month from 5-6:30 p.m. at the . Meetings are open to the public.

Sean April 15, 2012 at 11:01 PM
The relationship between the council and executive seems bitter, based upon some comments made toward exec staff at council meetings, especially regarding who decides how county land is used. This reflects poorly on our political leadership all around, and it seems that Wheaton, rather than other communities, is paying the price. Timing is everything. Poor timing for Wheaton?
Jos April 16, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Ed - once again you are completely misinformed. You really stop doing this to yourself. Yes, in February the WRAC was informed that the County Executive's plan was in jeopardy. The WRAC was never invited to the April 3 meeting. They found out about that meeting by accident on April 3. At the April 3 meeting, which WRAC did not attend because they were never invited, Sesker discussed some ideas with a select group of individuals. The plan that the Council discussed on April 10 was not released to the public until a day or so before. At the April 10 meeting, the Council voted on that plan. How the heck do you arrive at the conclusion that the problem here is that the WRAC has only monthly meetings? Doesn't it seem irrelevant if the Council plans to vote on a plan that the community has never seen or discussed with any of the formal community represented bodies like WRAC and WUDAC. Doesn't it seem like a more reasonable conclusion that the Council has ignored the public and reached a decision that has not been vetted with the community?
Jos April 16, 2012 at 03:04 PM
What does the Council's plan achieve? Does it add significant new office space to Wheaton? Does it activate the downtown? Does it support the development of an 18-hour economy? Does it add retail to Wheaton? Does it make effective use of Wheaton as a transit hub? Does it promote or support private investment or public-private partnerships? Does it create mixed-used, transit-oriented development? Does it add to the tax base? Does it help our local schools? Does it improve parking? Is it the more cost-effective plan? Is it what the community wants? The answer to all those questions is no. What is does do is alleviate some concerns about parking by businesses in the triangle by expediting the construction and not re-routing the busbays to the triangle. That could have been achieved in other ways. It does send B.F. Saul home packing, no hotel, no new office space, no new retail, no new residential housing. It does accommodate the Parks and Planning people who need a new building. It does allow the Council to sell a lie to the public that this is the best use of our tax dollars, that it is good for us, that they listened to our concerns, all while allowing them to thumb their noses at the County Executive in the all important political competition they care so much about. Thanks Council. I think we should oppose each and every one of them in future elections.
Sean April 16, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Well stated Jos. The council plan does not provide any value-added or multipliers. Seems irrational from an economic development standpoint, but possibly rational from a political standpiont.
ED April 16, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Jos - As far as I'm concerned, you're right on only one point - I will stop doing this to myself after this last comment. If you're really lucky, Wheaton will get no money this budget cycle and you'll have at least twelve more meetings to moan about it.
Jeannette April 16, 2012 at 05:21 PM
I agree with Sean. You have asked the right questions, Jos, and state well what it feels like for many of us who are feeling let down and not listened to. I don't know if the Council members are reading these comments, but I think they should. I will forward the link to them.
Sean April 16, 2012 at 05:38 PM
To Ed, while I appreciate that the council is contributing something via the MNPPC headquaeters, I'm concerned that the location of that building in the middle of parking lot 13 does not fit within the overall plan for the triangle going back several years. The plan was developed through a transparent and collaborative process. Normally when the county does something like this it asks "What can we find that fits in the overall plan?" In this case it seems like the council is saying "We're giving you this, now say thanks." The land in parking lot 13 is prime real estate near a metro stop. According to basic tenants of redevelopment, and well established state and county' smart growth policies, such land should be used for high-density, multi-use development. The hq project precludes (crowds-out) such use.
ED April 16, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Sean - I don't see this Council plan as being much different than the overall view of Wheaton that has been around for years. The overall plan calls for a town square, a mixed-use building on lot 13, and office buildings on the triangle area between Veirs Mill Road, Reedie Drive, and Georgia Avenue (bus bay area). The difference, to me, is in the order of development. Rather than the platform first, Wheaton will get a mixed-use office building (MNCPPC) and town square on lot 13 first, then develop the bus-bay area. I think the Council is trying to answer the "What can we find that fits in the overall plan?" question and address the various Smartgrowth policies with this proposal. Personally, I think the higher density office building (MNCPPC) in the proposal and the town square is far better than the 5-6 story residential buidling and smaller town square that BF Saul proposed to build after the bus bay platform was completed.
Sean April 16, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Will the headquarters building be high-density,mixed-use? Will the community have input? On a related topic, will the council at least consider a second building within the square, possibly by a developer?
ED April 16, 2012 at 06:48 PM
As far as I've heard, the building will be mixed-use, high density and there is a possibility of a second office building, but I have no idea whether it will be a private developer or not. Remember - MNCPPC has been pushing high-density, mixed-use development in Wheaton, so it only makes sense that they'll want to be one of the first to showcase it. As with all high-density (Optional Method) buildings under the CR zone, the community will have ample time for input. In White Flint right now, sketch plans have come in to Park & Planning and the Planning Board had public hearings on them. After the sketch plans, there are preliminary plans and site plans that allow public input. A good project to watch (and perhaps comment on if you're so inclined) is the Lowe building (Georgia Avenue) - I'm pretty sure it is the first CR zoned project in Wheaton.
Sean April 16, 2012 at 06:56 PM
I'd like to believe it will be high-density, mixed-use, but I'd hate to assume MNCPPC will wan't to showcase anything. Right now it's selected the best spot (in front of the green space and right across from the metro) for itself. Is this in the community's best interest?
AntonFisher April 16, 2012 at 07:10 PM
The only thing the Council's plan achieves is that it siphoned the funds allocated for Wheaton redevelopment and funneled them to fund the construction of the MNCPPC building while jeopardizing the entire redevelopment of Wheaton.
Linda Amendt April 16, 2012 at 08:27 PM
I feel we have been duped, lied to, taken for granted, used, and abused (and yes Hans, there was a secret plan--they did NOT pull it out of their hat in 20 minutes...). After spending 7 years of my life being a member of WUDAC, attending a meeting every month (that's 1-2 hours for 84 months, or about 126 hours of my time), plus weekend meetings to plan new annual agendas, attending Council Meetings, Library Meetings, Town Hall Meetings, testifying for the County Council, etc. etc., I'm worn out with their antics. My respect for the Council has plummeted. Yes, there was a some "showing the County Executive who is boss", etc, but at the expense of a whole town that needs much more responsible leadership. My vote will express my feelings.
Sean April 16, 2012 at 09:25 PM
I believe some grave concerns have been well articulated. 1. Is the council paying attention? 2. Will it respond in a knowledgable (thorough) and respectful (not defensive) manner? 3. Will it consider meeting with the community? 4. Will it make adjustments to its plan accordingly? We understand, I think, that sometimes politicians don't get things right the first time (don't get the big picture) when they have so many pieces of legislation to balance. However, at the end of the day, can they make things right? This, I believe, is the true test of responsible leadership. We're all watching and will decide accordingly on election day. Some may even vote with their feet and move.
Kathleen Michels April 17, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Amen Eric! That building is going to have serve a lot of civic purposes to make the council plan actually work for Wheaton.
Kathleen Michels April 17, 2012 at 02:33 AM
bingo Sean! Yes to all you said.
Kathleen Michels April 17, 2012 at 03:05 AM
I ain't leaving. I'm fighting. Stand up for Wheaton! For a realized VISION for Wheaton! If that's all they're giving us lets fight to make it REALLY good , unique a destination in its own right. It's all about PARKS and PLANNING . Let the building embody that, push the boundaries of what real green community oriented building is.
Kathleen Michels April 17, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Just for the record - I was however looking forward to having a cool hotel nearby. One that patronized local artists. Drew in community events and gov conferences. Perhaps a rooftop restaurant overlooking Washington - we rarely realize wheaton is a "city on the hill" . Just not shining yet.
Jeannette April 17, 2012 at 04:23 PM
I like the way you think, Kathleen. There has been a lot of disappointment noted, and it seems time to start looking to the future and the possibilities that Parks and Planning and a Town Square can bring to Wheaton. We haven't heard from BF Saul. Only speculation that they may leave. Maybe we'll get that hotel. Maybe we'll get green space and streetscaping. Let's stay involved and keep fighting to make Wheaton an inviting place to come to, a great place to live and work in.
Commentous April 17, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Thank you for all the work you have done, Linda. My main role has been as a commentator on these boards and my goal at times has been just to keep the conversation alive. Considering my feelings of frustration with the non-inclusive process, it's difficult to imagine how strongly I'd feel if I had spent considerable time working on the goals of redevelopment and then not having a say in it. Unfortunately, unless the office building is truly mixed use, it will offer very little value to anybody except the workers inside and the businesses within a VERY short walking distance. As a resident, that's a pretty poor bargain for a lot of money, money that we will continually be reminded the Council has spent on Wheaton. Housing and retail appear to be the better bets for the community at this time. I have faith that Wheaton has too much going for it to not redevelop eventually, but I lack faith that the Council sees likewise. Perhaps the Council wants to ensure that there are affordable places to live in a County where most other areas have already gone up steeply in price. As long as Wheaton prices can continue to lag other areas, it will still be an "affordable" area compared to many other areas of the County. If the Council would meet us, at least some of this type of speculation might decrease. If the Council has done what it wanted to do and does not care about differing viewpoints, the deal is done.
Commentous April 18, 2012 at 11:45 AM
I commend you and Kathleen and others who see a bright future ahead for Wheaton, but if there's any way to change the future, the time is now. After reading and thinking about Richard Layman's comments in the GreaterGreaterWashington blog, I think the idea of a large office building is terrible for downtown Wheaton right now. It will be a ghost town at night and potentially block off open space where people currently feel comfortable walking. Close your eyes and imagine walking around the area we have today at nighttime, largely with the same old strip malls downtown, and then add a large building with no one in it after 5:00 p.m. Feel any safer? Want to walk around the area? An apartment building with retail would be much more inviting by providing real foot traffic at all times (not just "feet on the ground" for lunch) and bring in more people with disposable income. Wheaton would benefit much more from a mixed-use apartment building. A large office building will be a very poor choice for the space, but then again, the Council never really asked what residents want. I'd personally rather risk a one-year wait and potentially losing the County building if that allows open discussion of the issues instead of being forced to accept blindly what I'm told is what's good for me.
Commentous April 18, 2012 at 11:46 AM
Comments are both for and against the proposal and can be found here: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/14407/wheatons-limits-may-also-be-its-strength/.
Sean April 18, 2012 at 12:08 PM
So maybe the council should provide the hq bldg and another bldg, both mixed-use and high density, both receiving community input, but one bldg developed by private sector?
Commentous April 18, 2012 at 01:43 PM
That would seem to be a way for the community to get behind, or at least not detest, the Council's plan. The worst of all worlds would be a non-descript, no-retail M-NCPPC HQ building by itself that may leave downtown Wheaton largely a ghost town at night with little chance of revitalization. On the other hand, a modern-looking Parks and Planning building and a nice residential-retail building would provide (1) the needed new space for the M-NCPPC HQ and (2) the potential for nighttime foot traffic that would benefit local businesses (except lunch-only businesses that may not care about nighttime foot traffic, even if residents do) and would likely appeal to a broad cross-section of the the entire Wheaton community.
Sean April 18, 2012 at 03:53 PM
And the development in lot 13 should be done in a way that makes it attractive for potential developers of the WMATA /bus bay, if the council truly wants private developers to pick up more of the tab later as the market improves. Otherwise, the plan does more harm than good. Do it right or do nothing?
Commentous April 18, 2012 at 04:24 PM
I agree completely. Does anyone know if any Councilmembers are following this thread or planning to hear from any of the people who don't support the current plan?
Sean April 18, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Does anyone else have an opinion on this option? This is a good forum. What does the council think?
Gregdapy April 19, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Wow. I am very happy I stumbled on this thread. I am glad to see that there are a lot of people who share my views. I have been a resident of Wheaton for 5 years and I have been taken completely off guard by this new proposal. Is there a way to start a petition or something to voice our displeasure at this plan. Surely, there must be a way to make our voice heard.
Elizabeth Chaisson April 20, 2012 at 02:33 PM
I've read through this thread and agree with most of it. Can we band together and agree to write the Council and push for a high density, mixed-use building with ground-floor retail on parking lot 13 along with a town square and underground parking as envisioned in the Sector Plan? The smaller 150,000 sf M-NCPPC building does not have to be located here. They can build on one of the other Wheaton public parking lots and create a smaller plaza as proposed in the Sector Plan: there's Blueridge, Price Ave, University Blvd W. At the WRAC mtg Wed, DGS and the Council said BF Saul is still interested. Tell the Council to work out a new public-private deal with Saul that develops parking lot 13 first with mixed-use and the town square for less than $42M. It could include residential and office space for the Mid-County Reg occupants, DEP and DPS. When its complete, Saul can tear down the Mid-County bldg and build a hotel there as planned.
Commentous April 21, 2012 at 12:15 AM
Elizabeth, I like your ideas and appreciate that you took the time to speak at the WRAC meeting (where I was just a spectator). I'm not sure the community or the WRAC members feel that they have a say anymore. I think many are frustrated and/or burnt out after what happened so they may not feel like fighting that much anymore. I can only speak for myself and I feel that the Council feels they did the best they could do for Wheaton (even without asking the community for its opinion) and has now begun digging in their heels and using a thinly-veiled threat that if we don't take the M-NCPPC building now on Lot 13, they could take away the money and it may never return. I'm not sure I care enough anymore to fight, especially as an individual commenter on websites, which is just too inefficient. Good luck.

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