Tuesday, July 1, 2008

panel recommends town square, library move for downtown wheaton

A group of planners have released their recommendations for Downtown Wheaton's redevelopment. Check out the IDA's suggestions in this report.

Over seventy people packed into a meeting room at Wheaton Regional Library night last to hear suggestions for the redevelopment of Downtown Wheaton, among them moving the Wheaton Library downtown and turning a parking lot into a town square.

A panel from International Downtown Associates, a worldwide network of planners and activists who work to create vibrant urban centers, released their suggestions in a report. Three months ago, they visited Wheaton, discussing the state of the business district with local residents and business owners. The planners, coming from as far away as Michigan and Vermont, said they had never seen any place like it before. "We do five or six of these panels a year, but I've never found one that parallels Wheaton," says Dave Feehan, president of IDA and a member of the panel. "It is a one-of-a-kind community."

County Executive Ike Leggett opened the meeting with some remarks about the revitalization, calling it one of the goals of his administration. Leggett dismissed those who were skeptical about Wheaton's future. "I recall many years ago in Silver Spring when many people had simply given up," says Leggett. "I heard similar things about Wheaton recently. . . If you look at Silver Spring, you look at Rockville, you look at Bethesda, there was a patience to do things right."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Wheaton's unique businesses are a strength, says IDA, but a lack of pedestrian provisions makes the business district hard to navigate.

Feehan and planner Betsy Jackson outlined a series of strengths and challenges for the downtown, emphasizing its mix of urban and suburban features. Like a large city, Wheaton is blessed with excellent transit access and a diverse population, but the Westfield Wheaton shopping mall and rapid residential growth resemble that of a suburb, they explain. While the community's redevelopment has been stalled by uncooperative property owners and a lacking "sense of place," the consultants were surprised by how committed people are to seeing it happen. "It's not everywhere we go that everyone has the best interests of the community at heart," says Jackson.

Jackson warned against the "cookie-cutter" approach to downtown redevelopment that many complain has happened in places like Downtown Silver Spring, instead stressing the importance of finding a unique solution. The consultants drafted a three-phase plan for revitalization, starting with a new branding campaign and using County-owned properties as catalysts for redevelopment.

One such site is Lot 13, a public parking lot bounded by Reedie Drive, Grandview Avenue, Ennalls Avenue and Triangle Lane. IDA suggests converting it into a town square, citing its current use for weekly concerts and the yearly Taste of Wheaton festival. "It's the perfect storm of development opportunity," says Jackson.

One of the biggest controversies of the evening was the fate of the library, which the consultants suggest should be moved to a new site at Georgia Avenue and Reedie Drive, currently home to the Mid-County Regional Services Center. They envision it as a bustling, mixed-use space similar to the Rockville Library or the Vancouver Library, which includes shops and cafes. Those who live near the existing library, which was built in 1962, were upset about the proposed move.

"We're sitting right now in my library in my neighborhood," says Peter Burgan, president of the Wheaton Regional Park Neighborhood Association, which abuts the library. "And Betsy, I'm very distressed to see it become the linchpin of this proposal." Burgan argued that moving the library would inconvenience those who lived north of Downtown at the expense of people yet to live there. Others in the audience yelled back, saying it was already inconvenient for people living south of Wheaton.

After the meeting, Burgan expressed concerns about striking a balance between the business district's needs and those of surrounding residential areas. "We are excited about the development, about having a 'real town feel,'" he says, "but we're trying not to lose everything about our neighborhoods."

IDA's suggestions for Downtown Wheaton included a town square at Reedie and Grandview similar to this rendering from several years ago, but at a scale that doesn't kill the community's small businesses. Image courtesy of Maryland Politics Watch.

Wheaton resident Chris Carman was happy about the report's findings. "I think it's a pretty professional group. The County's putting a good effort into this," says Carman, who's been following the decades-long revitalization saga. "What I'm waiting for is the implementation."

Marian Fryer, who sits on the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Board, was glad to see the high turnout. "You notice I didn't ask any questions because I wanted the people to get their questions in," says Fryer. "I see a lot of new faces in the room, now that we're getting through."

Throughout the latest round of redevelopment talk, she's been encouraging residents to get involved. "The more people we get involved in that Sector Plan and understand and be proactive, the sooner we'll get ourselves heard and get things done."

While IDA compiled the report that was presented last night, the Montgomery County Planning Department held focus groups for the Wheaton CBD Sector Plan, for which hearings will formally begin in September. An amendment to the Sector Plan, annexing a proposed development at Georgia and Blueridge avenues into the business district, already went before the Planning Board last month and is expected to be approved.

Check out the IDA's suggestions for revitalizing Downtown Wheaton at Montgomery County's website.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just hope that they include adding some modernize High Rise Office Buildings to attract High Paying Employment.

Sligo said...

Technically the library was built in 1962, but really the current library is a result of a big renovation in the 80's. There's no way they get a new library until Silver Spring's is up and running.

Thomas Hardman said...

The IDA report is most enlightening.

The idea of repurposing the Reedie Drive mid-County Service Center into a new library is outstanding.

I remember a time around 1980 when I took one of the few city buses into downtown Houston to visit their brand-new public library. I was looking for a text on magnetohydrodynamics and that was the only place that it was available.

The building was an immense and glittering palace of learning that perfectly befitted its place at the center of Space City, which among other things is a university town among university towns.

IDA's report doesn't come right out and say it, but the fact is that Wheaton is far better situated in most ways than is Rockville to become the center and centerpiece of Montgomery County. It is far better served by surface highways and it's much more of an "easy to get to" destination than Silver Spring. If Montgomery County were to build its new flagship library in Wheaton, they ought to expand and extend the Reedie Drive building and integrate that and the Metro station into "A Destination" like a combination of that Houston Public Library and some superduper Food Court with integrated market-rate housing.

I seem to recall discussing the concept of "arcology" with Dan Reed, on this exact site, back when I was running on my ill-advised and poorly-backed campaign for County Council. The thing is, though the idea is an excellent one in all real terms, long-term support planning is going to be required, lest the place eventually wind up as something not much different from the giant Welfare Towers (Cabrini Greens) of Chicago, only with better mass-transit and more Starbucks.

That being said, I personally loathe crowds and high-density anything is anathematic to my personal preferences.

You know the sort of people who live to shop and to see and be seen down at the mall? Such people make me shudder and cringe, and places designed to attract them make my brain itch in a deep and hurtful way. I would far rather be in a nice quiet library carefully stalking some elusive facts that might shed light on interesting problems.

Wheaton deserves a world-class Major Urban Library as much as does anyplace, I suppose. However, for people like myself who have a reclusive and contemplative nature -- rather than a gregarious nature primarily concerned with attire and socializing -- such a library would be effectively useless and an utter waste of my tax dollar should it become the haunt of the sort of people who are only there seeking social status rather than knowledge or literary entertainment. Making people such as myself obligated to run a gantlet of public transportation followed by mandatory parade through the crowds of shopper and hangers-out in order to get to that library will assure that we are kept out of it no less than with locked bars and military guards with shoot-to-kill orders.

Maybe making it a "destination" would be an incredibly bad idea, unless of course you're the sort of gregarious social climber for whom style and fashion are your only substance, and who cannot stand those sort of people who just want some peace and quiet so they can get on with their work. Maybe the County can build some sort of "separate but equal" facility for those of us who can't stand The Mall People, where we can go to do some actual research and not have to listen to children entertaining each other by driving adults mad.

Cavan said...

some of us social outgoing people would love to see Wheaton be even more lively. But this is not about social preferences. This is about making good use of the fact that Wheaton sits on top of a Metro station. This is not true everywhere. In order to decrease auto dependence and its twin, being bled to death at the pump, Wheaton needs to be as large and diverse as is sustainable. More things need to be accessable without a car. I live in Wheaton, in one of the neighborhoods just north and could survive without a car. As it stands, I only use it to go places that I can't walk or take transit to. For our nation and our planet's sake, more people need to drive less. The way to bring that about is to make not driving more convenient than driving. The way to do that is to have diversity in a walkable town/urban environment.
This has nothing to do with social disposition.

Thomas Hardman said...

Cavan,

For some years I lived in the District, in places as varied as Dupont Circle and Malcolm X Shabazz ("Meridian Hill") Park neighborhoods. Let's just say that I appreciate both diversity and walkable neighborhoods. As for my diversity, I like it a lot if it can speak my language and isn't trying to run me out of my own country after having already put me out of business. Since I am from here, I have no other place to go, and that which is both inescapable and hateful grows tiresome indeed. Try to understand that when I go to Wheaton, I am increasing its diversity. When they make the place unendurable to me, they are decreasing the diversity. To conclude my digression, let me quote from science fiction: "if you've got some sort of racial animosity for giant talking ducks from space, we'll be leaving now and take our weather stabilization technology with us... and put away that plum sauce and pancakes, dammit".

I have long pressed for changes in Montgomery zoning codes which would bring to most of the county -- not just Wheaton -- the essence of walkability, which is to say, corner stores and walk-up apartments over show rows.

However, the county in its "wisdom" has decided that it only supports The Mall People and their kin. Thus, you can't have walkability as they have it in almost every comparable jurisdiction; you're stuck with "centers". I do occasionally go to Wheaton to do some shopping and that's out of necessity alone. It takes me literally days or weeks to get over it. It's no better out here in Aspen Hill or even Olney. If I could afford the gasoline and the parking hassles I'd shop exclusively in the District, because there are almost limitless shops to choose from and they aren't all "big box national name brand" stores.

Look at the history of the W.T. Grant department stores. It was the first "big box" establishment, the Wal-Mart of its day. Rather than having people walk down the pleasant streets of a nice little town, to windowshop at the haberdashery or stop in at the bootmaker's shops, or perhaps have a bite at the pub, W.T. Grant put all of those things under one roof, much to the dismay of the traditionalists. Yet as the Suburban Car Culture was just getting established here in the States, W.T, Grant was initially a smashing success as people only had to drive to one place and there everything was to be had, surrounded of course by gigantic parking lots and gas stations.

People drove for miles to get there, and since places like Montgomery County could tax the heck out of it, it was good for business, good for government, and most importantly, it was easier to police than would be scattered-site or mixed-use housing. So Montgomery County, like many suburban government, planned everything to concentrate business and amenities and scatter suburbia into an every growing Sprawl that devoured entire ecosystems.

Wheaton does not need to be larger. Wheaton needs to be more dense at the core and it also needs more corner stores, and store-rows with walk-up apartments. A fine example of what works in the environment transforming through the range of small town become suburban center become urban secondary core is to be seen right across from the firehouse in Wheaton CBD and also at the site rebuilding the old Anchor Inn lot.

As for whatever they do with Reedie Drive and the development over it -- which given the location on so many transportation routes, it's inevitable that it will be immense -- and whatever they do with Lot #13 and the surrounding prospects, I'm sure it will be exactly the opposite of walkable, unless you happen to live right there. Nobody is going to spend that much money unless they think they'll be bringing in a heck of a lot of far-travel custom. The walkable neighborhood couldn't possibly generate enough business to pay for the sort of things under discussion, not in less than a century. Under the model of "pay for what you can walk to", unless you can afford millionaire rents once they make it fully walkable, you won't be living there. You'll be taking the electric bus or riding your bicycle through the snow like everyone else.

I just wish they'd spend enough of my tax dollar on safety and security so I could walk to the Aspen Hill stores and shop without getting my butt beat for having the audacity to prefer to shop within walking distance. Or they could put enough security on the buses so that I could safely take the bus to shop. I'd love to use my local library more often, as it has a very good and interesting collection, but evidently I'm just too diverse for them to stand and they run me right out of there every time I show up. Lucky for me that there is the internet, and endless opportunity to debate.

Rockviller said...

Should MCPS sign as lead tenant for the Bozzuto Air Rights Project Wheaton will get a first class town center, library, and transit center. Versus the shitty Sarbanes Transit Center and the far off Silver Spring Library (which lies in the way of the Purple Line), Wheaton offers better road access, a more central location, and a more electic mix of restaurants and businesses than does the still-depressed downtown Silver Spring.

Thomas Hardman said...

Doubtless, "it's just me being me", but I don't eat out. I want places that sell things, not places that sell services. I want the widest possible selection of goods, ideally durable ones.

I want some place where I can buy clothes that fit me; any such place is (in my opinion) worth a dozen Starbucks and 50 ethnic eateries. I realize that there is an entire culture surrounding me outside of my weird self that actually enjoys having utter strangers handle their food, but frankly if I have to deal with utter strangers, I would rather have them selling me clothes, or televisions, or cars, or hardware.

If utter strangers are going to be selling me services, how about intercultural educational opportunities that go both ways. Perhaps they could sell me their arts. Perhaps they could sell me expert services that won't be flushed down my commode the next morning. Perhaps they could sell me some math tutoring. Perhaps they could play their music for me or show me their culture's film works. Perhaps I could sell them instruction in English rhetoric, a commodity clearly lacking in this county, along with real multiculturalism and capacity for logical thought.

As much as I like the IDA report's assessments of the strengths of Wheaton, as they point out, there is a major shortage of office space in a location which has such an excellent and central site on so many transport axes. They seem to think that one of Wheaton's greatest strengths is the multiplicity of ethnic eateries, but people cooking each others' dinners is not an engine of economic growth. The owners of the restaurants might be making good money but I assure you that this isn't the case for their busboys.

In any case the income from 600,000 square feet of restaurants cannot in any way compare to the income from 2,000,000 million square feet of law-firms or engineering enterprises or defense contractors. Leave the restaurants so that the lawyers and engineers can buy a damn fine variety of extremely diverse lunch, and develop Lot #13 so that it's the Wheaton equivalent of Dupont Circle Park downtown, or Farragut Square. We need serious business and serious income and Wheaton is a great place to do it. But depending on big-box retail and mom-and-pop ethnic eateries isn't a sensible bedrock of economic policy or investment choices.

IDA says that you can't just do everything at once, and I agree. For now, build on the blatant kitsch that is the main attraction to Wheaton, but in the name of the almighty, can't someone open a beergarden that has live bands. The Cinema and Drafthouse will come close and it's a step in the right direction. But once we make Wheaton into party central and the dining hub of the Maryland suburbs of the District, can we not get some offices -- and some much-needed jobs -- into the Mid-County?

Anonymous said...

Cavan said...
some of us social outgoing people would love to see Wheaton be even more lively. But this is not about social preferences. This is about making good use of the fact that Wheaton sits on top of a Metro station. This is not true everywhere. In order to decrease auto dependence and its twin, being bled to death at the pump, Wheaton needs to be as large and diverse as is sustainable. More things need to be accessable without a car. I live in Wheaton, in one of the neighborhoods just north and could survive without a car. As it stands, I only use it to go places that I can't walk or take transit to. For our nation and our planet's sake, more people need to drive less. The way to bring that about is to make not driving more convenient than driving. The way to do that is to have diversity in a walkable town/urban environment.
This has nothing to do with social disposition.

July 01, 2008 1:26 PM

RE: In ordr for that to be successful then the Planners need to find ways to attract High Paying Jobs to Whaton so that the people that live in that area don't have to make long commutes to DC and Northern Virginia to those High Tech IT jobs....

Why is it soo hard for the County to understand that if they add more High Tech Jobs to areas like Wheaton, Silver Spring, and other parts of Eastern MoCo then there would be less of the desire of using automobiles or wasting transit money to commute more than 20 miles from their home....

It looks like Loudon and Fairfax County has it right because there aren't as many Virginias commuting to Maryland for Jobs as Marylanders are Commuting Rapidly to Virginia for IT Jobs......

gohomelexinva said...

Lex from VA, go back to your confederate flag Waving, second-rate low tech state.

Anonymous said...

gohomelexinva said...
Lex from VA, go back to your confederate flag Waving, second-rate low tech state.

July 02, 2008 11:19 AM

RE: First off Who the Hell are you calling Lex!?!?!?!?

Is that you Mr. Ihateyuppies that migrate to Maryland from Virginia/DC?????????

Ya Good 'Ol Boy, you won't be happy until Maryland is rid of wealthy Upper/Middle Class People and the state transitions into a 3rd World Corrupted Welfare State that is Controlled by Communist Dictating Politicians while your state of Virginia continues to reap the benefits of former Maryland Tax Paying Wealthy/Educated Citizens and continues to beat Maryland stupid with with their uncontrolled Upscale Retail Growth, High Paying IT Tech Jobs, Highway/Rapid Transit Building, and Upscale McMansion Housing................

gohomelexinva said...

You lunatic Virginia-loving anti-Maryland ignorant Retard. Maryland is ahead of third rate Virginia with its #1 tech RANKINGS, #1 Income, TOP Colleges/Universities as well as public schools with Montgomery County having higher SAT scores that Fairfax County despite being a more diverse county. New MEGA-DEVELOPMENTS in KONTERRA, WHITE FLINT, and NATIONAL HARBOR dwarf the little piecemeal garbage Virginy is building in shitty Tysons. With UPSCALE DOWNTOWNS such as BETHESDA and FRIENDSHIP HEIGHTS with the most UPSCALE retail in Washington compared to the desolate streets of Rosslyn and Ballston and the BLAND architecture of RESTON, even WHEATON is better than the crap you guys have over there in Virginia. Why don't you stay on your side of the river? I mean it Lex!

Anonymous said...

gohomelexinva said...
You lunatic Virginia-loving anti-Maryland ignorant Retard. Maryland is ahead of third rate Virginia with its #1 tech RANKINGS, #1 Income, TOP Colleges/Universities as well as public schools with Montgomery County having higher SAT scores that Fairfax County despite being a more diverse county. New MEGA-DEVELOPMENTS in KONTERRA, WHITE FLINT, and NATIONAL HARBOR dwarf the little piecemeal garbage Virginy is building in shitty Tysons. With UPSCALE DOWNTOWNS such as BETHESDA and FRIENDSHIP HEIGHTS with the most UPSCALE retail in Washington compared to the desolate streets of Rosslyn and Ballston and the BLAND architecture of RESTON, even WHEATON is better than the crap you guys have over there in Virginia. Why don't you stay on your side of the river? I mean it Lex!

July 03, 2008 3:06 AM

RE: Who the Hell is Lex????????????

It looks like your the one thats a Lunatic you anti-Progressive Maryland hating Troll...........

gohomelexinva said...

you are the troll LEX from Virginia. Trolling around Maryland blogs making trouble and putting down a state that is better in every way than yours. With the NEW ICC SUPERHIGHWAY, significant LIGHT RAIL investment, first RATE parks and schools, UPSCALE retail rising all over while STAGNANT TYSONS CORNER decays. Go home LEX from Virginia. I mean it LEX!

Richard Layman said...

look up some basic urban economics. The computer jobs locate in NoVa and up I-270 for some very specific reasons, agglomeration-critical mass benefits. Wheaton could leverage proximity to White Oak, even UMD. But it's not just a matter of building some office buildings and expecting them to fill up.

john said...

It is far better served by surface highways and it's much more of an "easy to get to" destination than Silver Spring.
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John
Wide Circles