Montgomery County looks to break ground for Wheaton project in two years -- Gazette.Net


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Long-awaited redevelopment of Wheaton could be complete in as little as four years from now, county officials said Tuesday.

Montgomery County projects to break ground on its portion of the Wheaton redevelopment project in about two years, with the entire project done in about four to five, Al Roshdieh, deputy director of the county’s Department of Transportation, said.

The county has requested proposals for plans to redevelop Wheaton that include a new headquarters for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, public parking, a town square, and residential and/or retail space.

The plans can encompass up to four sites, including the Mid-County Regional Services Center, Parking Lot 13 and Parking Lot 34 in Wheaton and the current park and planning commission site at 8787 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring.

At a briefing of the County Council on Tuesday, Roshdieh said developers have until 3 p.m. July 31 to submit proposals and until 4 p.m. July 17 to ask questions on the project.

Once the county selects a proposal, Roshdieh said he expects the county to be ready for construction on its portion as quickly as two years.

The county portion includes an office building that will house park and planning headquarters, the Mid-County regional services center and possibly the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Permitting Services. It also includes a public parking garage and the town square.

The private portion of the project could take a year longer to reach construction because the private sector has to proceed under a slightly slower method, Roshdieh said.

The private component will be a mixed-use development and will also include redevelopment of park and planning’s current space in Silver Spring.

Councilman Hans Riemer asked if there was a way to “green tape” the private portion of the redevelopment to avoid unnecessarily drawing out the project to the detriment of local businesses.

Riemer (D-At large) of Takoma Park suggested using development strategies that relate to existing businesses rather than harm their ability to operate.

Small business owners raised similar concerns during community meetings about the project and Roshdieh said he is confident that developers looking to compete for the contract heard them “loud and clear.”

“It is clear that the county has an interest to satisfy the community, businesses, and make sure that what is being proposed is consistent with the master plan, consistent with the zoning and consistent with the wish of the community,” Roshdieh said.

Peter McGinnity of the Department of General Services said the county will also do an assessment of the existing businesses to better understand the impact redevelopment will have on Wheaton’s economy.

Councilman George L. Leventhal asked that those who choose the project’s developer stress the importance of erecting a building that is architecturally striking, a signature addition to Wheaton’s emerging skyline.

“We are only going to have one chance to do this right,” he said.

Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park said the county’s architecture is otherwise generally boring.

It will be tricky to select a developer who is able to reconcile interests to keep Wheaton’s character with those who want a complete transformation, Council President Nancy Navarro said.

After years, the community is coming together with a consensus of what it hopes to see in Wheaton, Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring said.

What the county does not want to see is a complete exodus of existing businesses, she said, adding it is important when reaching out to businesses to communicate what assistance is available.

kalexander@gazette.net