March 28, 2008
An advisory panel of urban planning experts commissioned by the Wheaton Redevelopment Program presented a draft of its findings in late March after touring the area and interviewing residents, business owners, nonprofits and property owners. The draft recommendations, coinciding with the process of updating the business district sector plan, and the Georgia Avenue corridor studies, signaled a renewed focus on the area and an opportunity to create a functional and economically viable downtown based on new zoning and past visions for Wheaton.
The panel of experts, who have helped direct urban renewal efforts in Detroit, Burlington, VT, Washington, DC, and Raleigh, NC, recommended a phased redevelopment of the Wheaton commercial district around the Wheaton Metro station over the next 10 to 20 years. The draft needs to be reviewed by the redevelopment office and county planners and will be subject to more public discussion.
Urban planners’ recommendations
- Key findings of the panel
Wheaton benefits from a core of diverse businesses, a citizenry that is both informed and active, and a team of knowledgeable county staff who are working to make sustainable development a reality.
- One of the urban district’s strengths is its small, locally owned businesses, which can and should be preserved and must be an integral part of any new development that takes place.
- Public transportation, including Metrorail, Metrobus and Ride On, and the parking to support them is critical to attracting additional office and residential development.
- Sustainable redevelopment, while inevitably increasing density, should blend with the character of existing neighborhoods
The first phase recommendations
Emphasis on the combined development of a “town center” that would include the Metro Air Rights Bozzuto property, Mid-County regional Services Center and Parking Lot 13. A portion of the parking area would become green space with amenities to support both formal and informal uses. Additional parking would be provided as part of the development program.
- Relocation of the Wheaton Library to the town center site to be combined with facilities for visual arts and cultural programming. The panel emphasized that this facility needs to be part of a larger public-private development project, and should serve as a key element to the community’s new visual identity.
- Increase services that are provided to the urban district’s small and locally owned businesses.
- Improve pedestrian safety and access, as well as public parking.
If the library moves, that would open its current site for development. Farther south on Georgia Avenue, Dallas-based Centex Homes is building about 140 townhouses, 45 condominiums and six single-family homes at the former site of Good Counsel High School. A gymnasium on the grounds will be renovated and owned by the county for use as a recreation center.
Planners are continuing the process of extending the central business district zoning to include a project at the corner of Georgia and Blueridge Avenues that would allow Avalon Bay to build housing units and a Safeway grocery store. That would leave the current Safeway site at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Reedie Drive open for other development.
On the other side of Reedie, MetroPointe, a mixed-use apartment development with first-floor retail is being constructed. The recommendations will be weighed by the redevelopment program and subject to more public hearings.
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