People have been talking about how to revitalize Wheaton since before I was born. Even if a slew of meetings in the past year have restarted the conversation with increased fervor, there's been little focus on what exactly it'll take to make the Wheaton CBD a better place.
Today, Planning Board staff will make preliminary recommendations on revisions to the 1990 Wheaton CBD Sector Plan, which lays out how the downtown should grow over the next few decades. A new Sector Plan will be released early next year, though it may not be approved for a while longer. What makes this process exciting is that we've moved past simply brainstorming ideas. Planners are making more specific suggestions, such as:
- Allow buildings as tall as 200' along Georgia Avenue between Veirs Mill Road and University Boulevard, with heights stepping down further away. Buildings immediately adjacent to residential neighborhoods could be no taller than 45'.
- Convert public parking lot #13, at Reedie Drive and Grandview Avenue in the center of the CBD, to town square, and building an indoor public market similar to Eastern Market nearby. Public parking lots #14 (at Elkin Street and Blueridge Avenue) and #17 (at Fern Street and Price Avenue) and part of Wheaton Plaza's parking lots would become smaller, neighborhood greens.
- Get rid of the retail overlay zone first placed in 1990. Meant to preserve low-rise buildings and mom-and-pop retail in the CBD, it prevented the larger-scale investment that could've anchored the downtown. Instead, the county would explore creating Moderately Priced Retail Units (similar to the existing Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit program the County runs) to provide rent-controlled space for small businesses.
- Rezone properties in the CBD currently zoned solely for commercial or residential use, like
- Reopen the Pleasant View Elementary School, located at 3015 Upton Drive two blocks outside the CBD, to accommodate increases in student enrollment. It's currently used by Crossway Community, a Montessori school.
- Reducing speeds on Georgia Avenue, University Boulevard and Veirs Mill Road to 30 miles per hour, and creating more through-block walkways like the one completed between Georgia and Triangle Lane to improve pedestrian safety.
The next Wheaton CBD Sector Plan should be released this January, after which it'll be reviewed by the Planning Board and, if that's approved, it'll go before the County Council. At each point there will be public hearings for community input. Given that schedule, it's likely that the plan might get approved sometime in 2011. It seems like a long way out, but given how long talk of revitalizing Wheaton's gone on, a couple of years doesn't seem too long.
Next week, we'll look at some previous concepts for redeveloping Downtown Wheaton, including the results of a survey that reveals the often contradictory things Wheaton residents say they'd like to see downtown.