Friday, July 30, 2010

this week in wheaton: no gas station for you

It's been a big week for Wheaton, where talk of redevelopment has been ignited despite the sluggish economy. New proposals loom on the horizon, though not all of the news is good to local residents who feel that they're still getting the short end of the stick.

Wheaton Bus Turnaround
The Wheaton Metro station and bus turnaround. Wheaton Plaza is in the background.

- Wednesday, County Executive Ike Leggett announced that developer B.F. Saul would get to redevelop an 8.2-acre area around the Wheaton Metro station, bounded by Veirs Mill Road, Georgia Avenue, and Reedie Drive.

The project would include up to 1.7 million square feet of development - for comparison, Wheaton Plaza currently has 1.4 million square feet of space - including offices, residential units, and definitely a hotel. There won't be many stores, though. "Retail is not going to be the dominant use of this project," Gary Stith of the county's Department of Economic Development told

Sara at Wheaton Calling looks at B.F. Saul's website and isn't impressed. "Apparently all they can say is, 'We love to build large boring buildlings without any distinguishing characteristics. Yay. Go us,'" she writes. It's unclear how much mixed-use development they've done, and their biggest contribution to East County so far is the White Oak Shopping Center.

Fortunately, the county's also tapped Silver Spring-based architects Torti Gallas and Partners to design the project. Torti Gallas - where I sent many doomed resumes during college - is nationally-renowned for this kind of development. Locally, they designed the newest phase of Bethesda Row, the redeveloped area of Columbia Heights in the District, and the Village at Shirlington in Arlington.

- And at Westfield Wheaton Wheaton Plaza, mega-retailer Costco will do without a gas station alongside the store they'd like to build at the former Hecht's (above), which closed in 2006. In January, the county offered them $4 million to locate at the mall and an sped-up approval process, royally pissing off the Kensington Heights Citizens Association, which sits behind the mall, and setting Adam Paguncco of Maryland Politics Watch on a weeks-long shit-fit the likes of which we'll never see again.

Now, they'll submit separate applications for the store and the gas station, says the Gazette. "Costco views opening in Westfield Wheaton as 'a good deal without the gas station, and a great deal with it,'" Erich Brann, director of real estate development at the company, told the Kensington Heights Civic Association. But neighborhood groups are still unhappy with the proposed gas station, which would sit at the farthest edge of the mall's parking lot.

Richard Layman at Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space would rather see the entire mall razed and rebuilt as an urban neighborhood tying in with the rest of downtown Wheaton. "It's pretty clear that Wheaton Mall isn't all that successful," he writes.

Visiting Wheaton Plaza last month, I counted no fewer than four shuttered wings or entire buildings on the site, not to mention years-long vacancies inside the mall itself. However, Westfield claims that Wheaton's one of their most profitable shopping centers nationwide, and that they're not seeking any big changes.

That may be the case - the mall retains a number of high-end stores from its renovation in 2005, though Lydia at Snoburbia pointed out a few months ago that well-heeled customers still tend to avoid the place, even if it's closer than Montgomery Mall or the Mall in Columbia.

County Parking Lot 13, Wheaton
The Wheaton CBD Sector Plan proposes turning Parking Lot 13 into a town square.

- Yesterday, the Planning Board allowed developer Centex, who's putting the finishing touches on Leesborough, a subdivision of townhomes and condos on the site of the former Good Counsel High School at Georgia and Dawson avenues, to get rid of a recreation center they'd initially promised to have on site.

According to the report (PDF!), they'll replace the Rafferty Center, a gym once attached to the high school before it was razed, with a larger green space and four additional homes. The building was supposed to become a county-run recreation center but funding no longer exists to operate it.

- Plans have also been submitted for a new apartment complex on the site of the First Baptist Church of Wheaton, located at Georgia Avenue and Veirs Mill Road. Like Good Counsel, the church is relocating to greener pastures in Olney. This is a different project than the redevelopment of the First Baptist Church of Silver Spring, who plans to build apartments next to a new sanctuary, allowing them to stay in their neighborhood.

- Tying all of this together is the Wheaton CBD Sector Plan, which would set guidelines for revitalizing the downtown. Last night, the Planning Board held a public hearing for the plan, which if approved will then go before the County Council. Some of the plan's proposals include allowing buildings up to 200 feet tall along Georgia Avenue (like the new apartment tower and Safeway going up at Georgia and Reedie Drive) and turning Parking Lot #13 at Reedie and Grandview Avenue into a town square.


Patrick said...

I know it's fairly new, but the idea of saving the Rafferty Center gym inside a townhouse complex always seemed goofy.

Kbear said...

What a strange title. NOT- "no gas station for you". We have PLENTY of gas stations thank you very much! Its "No recreation center for you" "go wander the streets kids and find something to do!" the Rafferty is at the edge of the complex not in the middle and is next to the future rescue sqauad where the building would have buffered the Leesborough community from the noise of the emergency vehicles and sirens. It was a challenging project yes but a great location from a walkability adn accessibility standpoint for the community and could have been linked creatively with the rescue squad (which was one heart of my NY community growing up) library and current woefully inadequate Recreation Center in a complex of fun, interesting and edcuational activy within walking distance of many many residents in the Wheaton core.

Now we get nothing - no renovations, no 4 season indoor recreation facility for young to old. Just A leaky library that urgently needs renovation and a similarly decaying recreation center next door that is not sufficient for more than a few residents at time- if one group is meeting there or using the equipment everyone else in teh whole facility can hear them.

Wheaton residents need to stand up for what we all need to make the wider Wheaton core a vibrant, safe, fun, healthy place to be with businesses, housing, entertainment, AND recreation in close proximity.