WUDAC Dissatisfied With County Council’s New Redevelopment Recommendations

The Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee hopes to dissuade the council from a new downtown redevelopment plan that would delay or eliminate the WMATA platform.


The Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee scrapped its meeting agenda on March 13 in favor of discussing the new Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) recommendations for Wheaton Redevelopment proposed at the Montgomery County Council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) committee the night before. 

The $56 million proposed and onto a plan to create more office space in downtown Wheaton.

Committee members questioned how the new plan could be released March 9 and presented to the council on March 12--a Friday to Monday turnaround. Vice Chairwoman Marian Fryer said she felt it was unfair to be given such short notice, and the committee agreed.

They also were concerned the new proposal might be a quick fix that would not address Wheaton’s long-term goals, and some raised concerns about the accuracy of the budget numbers.

WUDAC members Henriot St. Gerard and Devala Janardan said they would write a letter to the County Council in response to the swift change in the CIP, which was presented by senior legislative analyst Jacob Sesker.

The letter will be sent before the council’s session on March 20 and will express the committee’s disapproval of the changes to the original CIP proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett. It will detail community concerns possibly neglected by the alternative CIP, relay their dissatisfaction with the eleventh hour presentation of the new plan and request more time to analyze the new information.

Members of WUDAC complained that they had been working on the county executive’s original CIP for the past two decades, incorporating a great deal of community input with private developer B.F. Saul and the Department of General Services.

The original CIP encompassed a “big-picture” solution for the future, committee members said, such as plans for a hotel and a bus bay location, which they said may be lacking in the new plan.

Adam Fogel, chief of staff for Montgomery County Council Vice President Nancy Navarro, talked up the alternative CIP, which he said would cut the construction time in half – to three years – and result in a larger budget, from $42 million to $56 million.

The county would own the mixed-use property that would house government agencies, with potential for ground-floor retail and high-rise residential space that would bring foot traffic at lunch and after work. There would be underground parking, but it would not necessarily include a bus bay platform, which was included in the original CIP.

Fogel noted that the County Council had been seeking alternatives to the county executive’s CIP and said that it was Sesker’s job to provide recommendations.

When Fogel gauged how unhappy the advisory committee was about the alternative plan, he said Navarro strongly supports redevelopment, as does the council.

Navarro’s top priority is to revitalize Wheaton, and she’s open to discussing alternatives, he said. He also gave credit to the community’s tireless lobbying efforts, which he said sparked the quick turnaround.

The fact that this new plan could already come to a straw vote at the worksession next Tuesday bothered the committee; it felt that its work with B.F. Saul was essentially being tossed out.

“This plan should have been subjected to the same kind of analysis as the county executive’s,” said William Moore, a WUDAC member representing large business. “This comes off as self-serving … it hasn’t gone through the same scrutiny.”

Fogel said the County Council won’t vote before the budget is approved in May, and if any action were to be taken at the worksession next week, it would not be binding. He also said elements of the original plan could be re-introduced and that the new CIP allowed for as much potential growth in the future as the original plan.

Fogel did pledge to improve communication with the council and said he would distribute a more comprehensive summary of the new plan to the committee.

TaL March 16, 2012 at 11:08 AM
This basically reads that the Navarro staffer was behind the dumping of years worth of work? Is it the case that Fogel/Navarro is behind the ditching of BF Saul and this new county boondoggle?
JHS March 16, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Why is a compromise that may guarantee the public property remain in the public purview in the end not a good thing? I have issues understanding how scaling the project back to allow the small businesses most affected by the proposed 3 vs 7 yr disruption somehow means nothing will happen in Wheaton, just because Saul may walk? Let's be clear, to my knowledge Saul has still signed nothing, no CBA or even a real commitment to do anything unless there is more burden on the taxpayers backs. My problem is that's what "they" said about Costco: If they don't get the gas station, they won't come-yet they are proceeding with only the 'hope' of the gas station, If Westfield doesn't get the $4mil ED money, they will not come-yet, again they are here and only $2mil has been appropriated to date, and in Kensington-If Konterra doesn't get the 75 hgt up-zoning outside the core they request-they won't build....I see this whole thing as corporate blackmail with our officials caving to the pressure and take issue with that! If our gov't, CE and CC, really want our opinions they need to lay out in real words and terms what they each propose which has not been done to date. I my opinion, this is a typical scenario "dividing" in the hopes of "conquering." Let's prove them wrong and demand better and more accurate info.... MoCo politics at it's finest....
Elizabeth Chaisson March 16, 2012 at 02:00 PM
There are 2 proposals on the table: a. the County PHED committee proposal to build a County-owned government building with underground parking and town square on parking lot 13 for 56 million+ over a 2-3 year period, during which parking lot 13 would be unusable. b. the public-private partnership with BF Saul, who would build a private hotel and at least 1 office buiiding on a new platform with 3 levels of new parking over the bus bays for 19.5 million PLUS temporarily relocate offices in the Mid-County building and move the bus traffic to half of parking lot 13 for 2-3 years before finally building a town square, a private residential building and/or new MNCPPC-owned building with underground parking over parking lot 13 over 2-3 years for the rest of the 20 million. Which do you want? a. the smaller government project, or b. the larger private-public project
AntonFisher March 16, 2012 at 03:44 PM
I definitely want the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP), which has been worked with BF Saul and discussed with the community for years. The self-serving new proposal, voted for by Leventhal, Floreen, and Reimer is not what the community, WRAC, WUDAC, and the County Executive have envisioned. This new proposal will guarantee nothing to Wheaton other than an addition of small office building 2 years ahead of when it was supposed to come anyways. Is that what we want? Of course not. We have waited decades for the redevelopment to start in Wheaton and we are willing to wait a couple extra years to see real developments.
Hans Riemer March 16, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Elizabeth, thank you for all you are doing for the Wheaton community. the Saul project has merits but the details have not been worked out yet. that is part of the problem; the county council has been asked to appropriate money for a project that has not actually been negotiated by the executive team. we don't know how much it will cost, and learned last week that the cost of the county government office building has to be included in their plan but isn't there now. the purpose of the county council is to provide scrutiny and oversight. we're doing that. what the PHED committee recommended was for the county to appropriate money now for a deal that we know is firm: build a county building on county property, build an urban park/town square and improve the streetscape to make it walkable. this does not rule out the bus platform partnership but it does not fund a deal that has not been negotiated or even quantified. when the deal is ready, we'll consider it. meanwhile, let's get going on improvements to the core now. wheaton redevelopment is starting but its going to take more than one project or one partnership. that's also why i have advocated for accelerating the library and rec center, as have other council members. thank you and i hope i can convince you that we are working faster and more effectively for Wheaton.
Commentous March 16, 2012 at 05:11 PM
It seems that Wheaton homeowner-residents are not part of the discussion. An influx of daytime workers is claimed as the main benefit of the new proposal. Without more, some businesses (restaurants primarily) may benefit, but it won't help property values. Newark, NJ, has thriving offices, but few professional workers stay, and property values remain low. Yes, I care about my property value. What homeowner doesn't? Here, property values dropped 35%-40% from their highs and have never come close to returning while wealthier areas had either no drop or only a slight one. Wheaton has loads of available small office space now, which isn't good. We also now have at least three check-cashing establishments, four if you count the laundromat with the "Check Cashing" banner out front. The laundromat is 1 of 2 located in former restaurants. We also have a porn shop. These businesses do not benefit homeowner residents. We don't have Silver Stars kids' gymnastics center, Sabang Indonesian restautrant, bike store (now New Kam Fong), Baskin-Robbins, Barnaby's, Asian Foods (store/carryout near Max's), Island Hut, Boqueron, an independent coffee shop, Long & Foster/Weichert, or Kosher Pastry Oven. Do I need to move (as several neighbors have done over the past 10 years) for my main investment--my home--to appreciate? Does the County Council want Wheaton to be a lower-income center for the County? I think the answer to both questions is a disheartening and resounding "Yes."
Commentous March 16, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Excerpt from the Gazette this January discussing differing budget priorities between the County Council and Council Members, including Councilman Hans Riemer: Councilman Hans Riemer (D-At large) of Silver Spring said there were not as many delays and cuts in the plan as he was expecting. Problematic for Riemer was the absence of anything in Leggett’s six-year plan for the Purple Line — a proposed $1.925 billion, 16-mile rail line that will connect Bethesda and New Carrollton. “The county cannot seem to retreat on the Purple Line,” he said. “It is a very, very important priority.” Leggett said the Purple Line is a priority, but without a definitive schedule from the state for construction, he was not willing to propose tying up the county’s early estimated share — at least $50 million — when other projects need funding. Also pushed beyond the six-year spending window was a new south entrance to the Bethesda Metro Station. Riemer said the $80 million Metro station project is as important of a project as the Purple Line. As proposed, the Purple Line would connect to the Bethesda Metro Station. Whole article at http://www.gazette.net/article/20120125/NEWS/701259589/1022/montgomery-leaders-worry-over-lack-of-funds-for-purple-line&template=gazette.
TaL March 16, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Hans- Why hasnt that deal been quantified yet? Havent BF Saul and the county been discussing this for 2 years now? Who dropped the ball? The community has spoken _repeatedly_ on this issue and all the council seems to do is impose ideas (move the library, big town square) that the community has said it is uninterested in. If Parks and Planning needs a new office space, why not the BBT space or Wheaton North/South? Why are we spending 55 million of county money to duplicate office space already in existance in Wheaton? Why is it when I have relatives in to visit they have to stay in Rockville or Silver Spring?
AntonFisher March 16, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Hans has the vision that no one else has (sarcasm). He does not want to commit money to the BF Saul partnership developments because he does not want to commit money for a deal that has not been finalized. On the other hand, he wants to commit the money to the Bethesda metro entrance to serve the Purple line, which will not be developed for years and years. In addition, the County Executive made it clear that there is no schedule for the construction of the Purple Line. Do you see your logic Hans? For one project, you want 100% complete plans before you commit funds, and for the other project, you just want to build the metro entrance disregarding the non-commitment from the state for construction time frame. Please explain.
TaL March 16, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Anton- Hans is a happy establishment liberal type, things like transit and big town squares are good, and private enterprise is bad. Thus he will help us achieve what he knows is best for us, even if we dont want it. Welcome to the Socialist Republic of Maryland's special super-liberal annex of MoCo where we pay more in taxes, benefit more unions, and have less services, crappy beer and wine options, and fewer shopping options all for our very own good....I know this because the Council tells me so!
Mr CDT2 March 16, 2012 at 08:55 PM
How does a new county office building help create a central business district in Wheaton, the vision endorsed by the County Council. County offices alone will not create a mixed-use central business district. The Planning Board's 20 year analysis concluded that "the most critical constraint on new office development in Wheaton is the lack of an established local office market....and the office market lacks signature buildings and large tennants." The Council can defer development of the WMATA platform without abandoning the plans for a public-private partnership. I have long been concerned about the negotations with BF Saul and have feared that the public commons and town center around parking lot 13 would be compromised. But those negotiations between county and private developer have yet to take place or be published. Why would the Council toss out 20 years of planning at this stage in the process and adopt a half-baked alternative that has little hope of stimulating the development of a business district, beyond a few restaurants to make lunches for county workers.
Andreas March 16, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Ive been living in the area for a year now and wonder if this project will ever take shape... A redevelopment of the area would be great!
TaL March 17, 2012 at 01:16 AM
Andreas- Ive been living here since August 2000, and seen 3 different plans all fail. The county has no real interest in renovating Wheaton. There is a reason we have the oldest rec center, one of the oldest libraries, and a downtown composed of for lease signs and check cashing places.
Patrickj March 17, 2012 at 04:05 PM
@Commentous I don't see a few high-buck apartment buildings on top of the metro stop being a successful redevelopment of Wheaton. Much of what has been built in the past decade is simply awful. Two prime examples are the Anchor Inn site and the Wheaton Plaza entry from Viers Mill by driving or walking past a closed car dealership and under a parking deck. Sure makes me want to go there. I wish I were more optimistic about outside-the-beltway East County, but trends are not in its favor. Less Government involvement may be more in Wheaton's case. Design guidelines, undergrounding utilities, and code enforcement might be more useful than paying developers to build things.
George Leventhal March 17, 2012 at 06:14 PM
I thought I would stop by to see the comments here, and I'm glad I did. TaL criticizes "liberals" for believing "private enterprise is bad" but I don't understand what that comment has to do with the discussion of Wheaton revitalization. Like most councilmembers, I would be delighted to see significant private investment in Wheaton - and I am glad to see the Safeway project being built, to see Costco breaking ground and to know that the Lowe Building has submitted a sketch plan for a 17-story mixed use building on Georgia Avenue. The proposal about which the County Council staff has expressed skepticism is for $42 million in public (not private) investment to build a big concrete hat on top of a bus bay. Someday maybe there will be private tenants on top of the hat, maybe not. If there were a significant private tenant lined up, I think the whole County Council would be more enthusiastic.
Sean March 17, 2012 at 06:38 PM
The Anchor Inn property was developed by a private developer without community input... it was not a public private partnership. I'm not happy with the result, but I don't own the land. The area over the bus bay and parking lot 13 (WMATA owns the bus bay and the county owns the lot) is being planned through a transparent (meetings, summaries, plans, etc. have been published on-line and through the Gazette and Patch), collaborative process that includes local residents, businesses, developers and county staff. This is the same process that led to Silver Spring's development. This is not to mean that Wheaton will look like Silver Spring, but that it will lead to a vibrant, walkable, transit-friendly mixed-use development unique to Wheaton. The county money will focus on things governments typically do like infrastructure (bus bay platform), and town-square, while developers will spend their money on developing property with certain types of tenants in mind, in this case office, retail and residential (mixed-use). As a long time resident of Wheaton (16 years) I feel as if the county council is ignoring the needs of myself and my neigboring homeowners when seems to show a higher scrutiny/ingnorance toward Wheaton's redevelopment than toward similar investments in Silver Spring, White Flint and Bethesda.
Sean March 18, 2012 at 06:35 PM
But the platform is an appropriate public sector investment because its infrastructure. Infrastructure is crucial because it attracts private-sector investment. Maybe the county could lease space as one of the earlier tenents?
Commentous March 18, 2012 at 08:46 PM
JHS--I live in Wheaton and have owned my home for more than 10 years, seen it rise in value and then drop like a hot rock due to foreclosures. My concern is--and I fully admit this--the value of my home. I like Wheaton's small businesses, but not the many check-cashing establishments, the porn shop, the laundromats, or the for-lease signs. Other than the porn shop and one check-cashing place, none of these establishments were here 10 years ago. We have lost a great deal of diversity in terms of small businesses already, but much of this has to do with the lack of disposable income available to people living in the area. Without disposable income, no one in Wheaton will do well. And bringing office buildings will benefit lunch shops but not much more. Most of the people claiming to be concerned about Wheaton do not live in Wheaton or seek to get input from people living here, and they focus solely on Wheaton's small businesses and diversity (which has decreased over the years). The oft-repeated concerns about small businesses has not resulted in saving diverse businesses from leaving downtown or going out of business. As a homeowner-resident, I believe that Wheaton needs housing AND businesses geared at higher incomes than are the current focus. We don't need to be Bethesda or Chevy Chase, but I'd like to see us become more like modern Brooklyn, NY than modern Paterson, NJ. I'm not sure the County Council cares as long as other projects are funded elsewhere.
Commentous March 18, 2012 at 08:49 PM
Sean--Just thought I'd say I agree completely.
TaL March 19, 2012 at 12:35 AM
Councilman Leventhal- Thank you for taking an interest in our affairs at the "street" level. What I was referring to was the sort of doctrinaire liberalism that produced the living wage bill that nearly killed the Costco project as a prime example of how the county is unwilling to promote a business friendly environment unlike Virginia's counties. http://www.gazette.net/article/20111031/NEWS/710319992/westfield-wheaton-puts-costco-project-on-hold&template=gazette What I am also unclear on is why the county needs to be spending 55 million to build a new office building when there is already a sizable amount of vacant office space in Wheaton. It would seem to me to be a much better idea to spend 10 million less on infrastructre that will facilitate private development, increased tax revenue, and additional nighttime foot traffic. The advantages alone of tying the metro garage into the downtown triangle without having to cross over that incredibly sketchy pedestrian bridge over Viers Mill Rd. alone would be incredible. Wheaton will only be revitalized if there is signifigant profit motive for business to want to invest here. When the County Council seems to yank the rug out from under a developer it had given "carte blanche" (Valerie Ervin's words at one of the seminars I went to) for some last minute back door plan, it leads us to believe that the council does not want Wheaton to revitalize, and makes us ask why.
TaL March 19, 2012 at 12:38 AM
The Anchor Inn development was built like that because Greenhill fully intends to pull it down in 15 years and build what they wanted to in the first place. The original plan was for a tall mixed use building, however the sector master plan at the time didnt allow for it, and the County wouldnt grant them a waiver. Of course 2 years later the county changed the entire sector plan with the hopes of producing more density and tall buildings. Just another example of how the county is uninterested in attracting business, and instead goes out of its way encourage them to go elsewhere.
Sean March 19, 2012 at 09:12 AM
I have no idea what Greenhill's intent is, but I hope you're right. Regarding the sector master plan, the reason the master plan was changed was to allow high density development, which was prohibited under the previous master plan and overlay zone.
TaL March 19, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Sean- Take a look at this Gazette article from 2006 http://ww2.gazette.net/stories/080206/silvnew193335_31951.shtml And this blog entry from Just Up the Pike interviewing the owner of Greenhill last year http://www.justupthepike.com/2012/01/lenny-greenberg-dreaming-of-wheaton.html To see how the county mis-manages Wheaton time and time again because of its anti-business and doctrinaire liberal attittudes...


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