Developers mull plans for Anchor Inn site in Wheaton

Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2006

Developers of the Anchor Inn restaurant site in Wheaton, located at the area’s most prominent intersection, say the county’s recent vote to ease development restrictions in the downtown area might be too late for their project.

‘‘It’s a year or two late,” said Rockville-based architect Steven J. Karr, part of the partnership team that has promoted ambitious plans to redevelop the block surrounding the landmark seafood restaurant that was torn down in May. The restaurant had been vacant, but operated for 50 years at the corner of Georgia Avenue and University Boulevard.

‘‘We’ve pretty much missed the boat for the market for these large kind of mixed-use projects in this economic boom cycle,” Karr said.

Karr said last week he planned to meet with Leonard Greenberg, owner of the Anchor Inn site, to discuss possibly constructing a series of smaller buildings under what Karr called a ‘‘punt and fall back scheme” that they already have floated to the county’s Wheaton Redevelopment Advisory Committee.

Another option would be to do nothing and simply wait for the next building boom to renew interest in the project.

Greenberg, chief executive officer of Bethesda-based Greenhill Capital Corp., touted plans to build a 600,000-square-foot complex of shops, apartments and office space when he bought and closed the Anchor Inn in 2004.

Greenberg had already spent years buying up 80 percent of the rest of the block and Karr came to the table with the rights to redevelop the Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad around the corner on Grandview Avenue.

The pair created lots of buzz talking about a $50 million mixed-use development near the Wheaton Metro station that would rival anything around the Bethesda or Silver Spring Metro stops.

‘‘A year ago, they were lined up out the door for that site,” Karr said.

But he said the steam has begun to run out of the region’s real estate development kettle while the council debated the amendments passed on July 18 to ease development restrictions within the Wheaton Retail Preservation Overlay Zone. That’s what Greenberg had in mind last month when he told the council that his ‘‘four grandchildren, with a fifth on the way, will deal with [the Anchor Inn site] on their schedule” unless the zone was amended to allow taller development without review.

‘‘Wheaton has missed the train through three development cycles, and it appears it could be left behind again,” Greenberg said.

Karr said his ambitions for the fire station site also are stalled because the squad has not made a commitment on when it will move. The rescue squad plans to move about a mile north to the intersection of Georgia and Arcola avenues on a corner of the Good Counsel High School site. The school will move to Olney when its new campus opens in January.