Thursday, May 1, 2008

planners, residents, seek new vision for wheaton

Khalid Afzal and Sandy Tallant from the Montgomery County Planning Department take questions during the Wheaton CBD Sector Plan forum last night.

As dinner guests slowly trickled into the bars and restaurants of Elkin Street, about seventy people packed into the Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity in Downtown Wheaton for a forum last night on the business district's future. Despite pessimism over the current economic downturn, County planners stressed that "this ts the time" for Wheaton's rebirth.

"You have a lot of great amenities to create interest and . . . celebrate our culture here in Wheaton," says Sandy Tallant, project manager for the new Wheaton Sector Plan and one of several representatives from the Planning Department there to hear resident concerns. "Wheaton has great bones."

Seventeen years after the Wheaton CBD and Vicinity Sector Plan was last drafted, Montgomery County wants to begin writing a new one that considers shifting demographics and a new environmental awareness. The Sector Plan covers Wheaton's business district, Wheaton Plaza, and a handful of residential neighborhoods to the north and east. Issues to be confronted by the Planning Department include sustainability, land use, and connections to surrounding communities.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Planners and residents are creating a new vision for Downtown Wheaton in preparation for the new Wheaton CBD Sector Plan, to be approved in 2010.

Wheaton resident Marian Fryer says the community has already created a vision throughout nearly two decades of similarly-minded meetings and forums. "People work for long periods of time and nothing happens until you get new people coming out of the woodwork who don't know what happened," says Fryer, who sits on the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Board and urged audience members to become similarly involved. "We keep reinventing the wheel each time . . . this wheel has been invented."

Tallant explained that Montgomery County was "actively looking" for major employers willing to locate in Wheaton. One perk of bringing a large corporation to the community would be having a "signature" headquarters building - similar to the Discovery Building in Downtown Silver Spring - that fills the area with office workers and attracts other businesses. "The reason the restaurants aren't full at noon is because there's no one to come down here for lunch," she says.

Citing heavy weekend traffic and the slowing economy, many residents expressed skepticism about the feasibility of more growth in Downtown Wheaton. "Wheaton is not Bethesda and it's not Silver Spring. It's Wheaton," says one resident. "I think if the emphasis is on pure commercial development - I mean high-rise housing - I think it will not be good in the long run." The resident slammed the block of apartments still under construction at Georgia Avenue and Reedie Drive, which he called "ugly as sin."

Kemp Mill resident Louis Maier spoke out on the "hodgepodge, piecemeal" character of Wheaton's business district. "I have seen stuff going up that is worse than ever," says Maier, who moved to the area in 1962. "With the Anchor Inn, I saw the most potential. It is in the center of town! Now it is a strip mall."

Some residents are upset about the scale and aesthetics of new development in Downtown Wheaton.

"Is there ever a point where you say 'there's too much development, there's too much housing?'" asks Chris Carman, who lives just outside of the business district. "If you can prove to me that only urban planners are going to move here and ride bicycles, then I'll be fine with it."

After the forum, Carman admitted that he wasn't fully opposed to increasing density. "I know this is gonna be an urban area," he says. "I want this to be a livable urban area."

Brooke Farquhar from the Department of Parks, who attended the meeting, was happy with the meeting's outcome. "I think it was successful in explaining where we are in the process," says Farquhar, who also helped design a "counter-proposal" for a planned shopping center in Ashton, where she lives. "People seem to understand what a sector plan is now."

Last night's forum was the first of three to be held for the Wheaton CBD Sector Plan. In May, the Planning Department will present an "issues report" containing resident concerns from this month's meeting. A draft of the plan will be issued in December, followed by public hearings throughout the winter. Planning officials hope to have a document approved and made law by May 2010.


Anonymous said...

For what its worth Wheaton has developed a character and charm all it's own, on it's own.

I hope they don't do what they did in Silver Spring and bring in a development corporation and bunch of national chains and make my town just like very other town in the country.

Anonymous said...

anonymous: I think it's pretty funny that you think the all new and improved Westfield-Shopping-Wheaton is unique. Although there are several chains in Silver Spring there are also plenty of privately owned small businesses that are doing well.

Before you start bragging about the local charm of where you live, you need to move.

Anonymous said...

Mark Fennel attended, Praisner did not attend the sector plan discussion. Why wouldn't you say that? Praisner also insulted the voters by ducking a debate with his opponent on Cable TV 21. Praisner fell and badly cut his head this past week. He appeared on a News Channel 8 interview that had been postponed due to his injury with a huge bandage on his head.

retgroclk said...

The only new vision that Wheaton needs, is less late night bars, and less crime, and less people urinating in alleys.

Other than these minor problems, some new facades, and maybe some improved parking and Wheaton will be nice.

Anonymous said...

I dont think anything is wrong with the new Silver Spring. There might be national chains but there is tons of culture as well. I know most of the time when I am driving through Wheaton is when I am heading to Silver Spring for a movie or dinner, Something I NEVER do in Wheaton. (Unless its Paul Kee or the burnt down Pollo Rico, etc.)