Wheaton redevelopment task force will have to wait -- Gazette.Net


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A Montgomery County Council-recommended task force to oversee the redevelopment of Wheaton will have to wait in the wake of residents’ concerns about the timing and scope of the group.

A vote to create the Wheaton Revitalization Implementation Working Group will be deferred to allow more general discussion on the roles of boards and commissions, said Adam Fogel, chief of staff for Councilwoman Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring.

Navarro and Councilman Hans Riemer (D-At large) of Silver Spring introduced the resolution to create the work group last week. It was scheduled to go to a vote Tuesday.

However, some residents told council members they would like to know how the group would interact with already-functioning citizen advisory boards, such as the Wheaton Redevelopment Advisory Committee and the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee.

The proposed group would consist of 10 to 15 members, including residents and business owners, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and council and planning department staff.

“It’s just another layer,” said resident and longtime activist Marian Fryer.

Fryer, who has been involved in Wheaton redevelopment talks since 1999, asked for a more defined role for the group when she spoke to council members last week. She said she will support the creation of the group.

“Especially if the community was not going to be involved in the right and responsible way, those questions needed to be answered before we could do anything,” Fryer said.

Navarro and Riemer proposed the working group, which would meet quarterly to review data and make recommendations to the council and executive, after the council broke with Leggett on his proposed redevelopment project in April.

The $63 million council plan approved in this fiscal year’s Capital Improvements Budget will put the county planning department’s future headquarters in a new office building near the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Veirs Mill Road by 2017.

There also will be an apartment complex and town square. The plan is a smaller version of Leggett’s proposal, which would have included a public-private partnership with developer B.F. Saul.

B.F. Saul would have built a hotel and more retail and office development on the nearby Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority bus bays, but council members expressed concerns about the cost of building a platform to support the buildings and the uncertainty of finding private office tenants.

Last month, B.F. Saul officials told executive staff the company would not be involved in the approved redevelopment project.

“The council rejected the development plan we agreed to,” said B.F. Saul Senior Vice President Bob Wulff. “The plan they developed is a great project. It’s a good thing for Wheaton. It just doesn’t match the way we want to build our real estate portfolio.”

Fryer, a member of WUDAC, said a number of residents were unhappy with the process. At a WRAC meeting in April — after the council approved its version of the redevelopment project — Riemer encountered criticism from members who thought their ideas were dismissed.

On Thursday, Riemer said the primary motivation for proposing the working group was to make sure the project goes smoothly.

“What’s behind that is the desire to see the best possible project for downtown Wheaton, to see an effective partnership with the executive branch and to give a wide array of stakeholders a chance to participate in the process,” Riemer said. “The council, when we made those changes, we heard the feedback from the community. We want to ensure that we have success there. Creating this task force is about trying to push, as quickly as possible, toward reaching that vision.”

akraut@gazette.net