Greater Greater Washington

Montgomery picks developers for Wheaton, Silver Spring

Last week, Montgomery County officials announced that they've picked developers to build on four publicly-owned sites in Silver Spring and Wheaton. Residents worry that the process isn't more inclusive, but are cautiously optimistic about the potential for new investment.


One of the redevelopment sites, Parking Lot 13 in Wheaton. Photo by the author.

StonebridgeCarras and Bozzuto will get to redevelop two public parking lots and the Mid-County Regional Services Center on Reedie Drive in Wheaton, along with the 3.24-acre Planning Department headquarters on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. In return, they'll build a new regional services center, offices for the Planning Department and another county agency, and a town square in Wheaton.

In July, county officials put out a Request for Proposals to develop all four sites together, rather than put them out to bid separately. The county previously had plans with developers to build on the four sites and had received substantial community input on how to do them, but the deals fell through.

The development team is locally-based and has some experience working on large, mixed-use projects. StonebridgeCarras is finishing the massive Constitution Square project in NoMa, while Montgomery County recently picked them to to build a new police station in Bethesda. Bozzuto has built dozens of apartment and condominium buildings in the region, including two in downtown Wheaton.

Residents want a say in redevelopment

Residents in both Silver Spring and Wheaton say they're anxious about the county's announcement and whether the community will get to provide input after having lots of opportunities to do so in the past.

Bozzuto was also part of the development team for SilverPlace, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission's plan to replace the Planning Department and Department of Parks' 1950's-era headquarters in downtown Silver Spring. The agency invited neighbors to participate in a design charrette, or workshop for the site, which resulted in a proposal to build new offices alongside 300 apartments, a grocery store and other shops, and a public park.


Rendering of SilverPlace from Torti Gallas and Partners.

Completed in 2008, the plan had public buy-in, but fell through when the development team disagreed about financial terms. At a June presentation by county officials in Silver Spring, neighbors worried that their previous input won't be included in the new deal.

"Back in 2008, there was a more inclusive process," said Darian Unger, who was chair of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board when the charrette occurred. "There was a discussion, public input was valued."

Meanwhile in Wheaton, the county made a deal with developer BF Saul in 2010 to build several million square feet of apartments, shops, and offices in downtown Wheaton, along with a town square. BF Saul had a website and public outreach team to gather feedback, but the deal collapsed when the County Council balked at the $39.5 million price tag of building a platform over the Wheaton Metro station so BF Saul could build office towers on top.


BF Saul's aborted plan for downtown Wheaton. Image from BF Saul.

Instead, councilmembers agreed to instead fund the construction of a new town square and Planning Department headquarters, which the new development team will build. At the time, resident Henriot St. Gerard called the decision a "show of disrespect" to the public.

Now chair of the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee, St. Gerard said he first heard about the decision via an email blast from county officials last week. "The county was pretty silent about things and I respected that," he wrote in an email. "I wish we were at least told that a decision had been made and an announcement would be made soon."

County officials emphasize "quality" of new proposals

At the meeting in Silver Spring, Jacob Sesker, who advised the County Council on the BF Saul deal, argued that this process would be more inclusive than had the county just sold off the land. "This is likely to result in more input from the community than the disposition of property would," he said. "It's very important that this community voice its concerns, but to understand that 2013 is not going to be the same as 2008."

The architects who helped craft both SilverPlace and the BF Saul plan offered to work with the county and the new development team. "We would be interested in working with developers that are interested in having that . . . memory, if you will, of community involvement," said Tom Gallas, principal of Silver Spring-based Torti Gallas and Partners, at the July meeting.

County officials say they'll show the developers the previous designs, but won't hold them to it. Al Roshdieh, deputy director of the Department of Transportation, noted that the county used a similar development process in the revitalization of downtown Silver Spring. "The bottom line is the quality of the proposal," he said. "I hope that one day we're proud of whatever the result of this is."

This week, the county will hold two more public meetings to discuss their announcement and where they'll go from here. Tonight, they'll meet at the Planning Department at 8787 Georgia Avenue Silver Spring Civic Building at One Veterans Place in Silver Spring. On Wednesday, they'll be at Wheaton High School at 12601 Dalewood Drive. Both meetings will be at 7pm.

Community leaders are cautiously optimistic about the new process. "All of us on WUDAC, including myself have some [skepticism] about the process. The best thing we can do as a group though is stay on top of developments and react accordingly," wrote St. Gerard. "It is only fair we approach redevelopment with an open mind as oppose to a place of confrontation and/or bitterness."

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Dan Reed is an urban planner at Nelson\Nygaard. He writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. All opinions are his own. 

Comments

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Correction-- Tonight's meeting is at the Civic Building and not the Planning Dept.

by Lynn on Sep 16, 2013 10:58 am • linkreport

@Lynn

Thanks for the correction! I just fixed it.

by dan reed! on Sep 16, 2013 11:00 am • linkreport

If they build up on the Wheaton Market Place lot then I guess that will mean the demise of Barbarian Comics. I suppose its time had come, but it was cool to see a funky independent small business like that still surviving.

by Chris S. on Sep 16, 2013 11:20 am • linkreport

So is redeveloping the bus bays completely off the table now?

by Lane on Sep 16, 2013 11:42 am • linkreport

Yay another MoCo managed development project. I'm guessing it will be at least 2023 before we see any completed redevelopment of the existing Planning Department site in DTSS. It's just astonishing how slowly anythin gets built in MoCo.

by Woodsider on Sep 16, 2013 1:19 pm • linkreport

It's just astonishing how someone living in DTSS could think their hood is an appropriate example of things being built slowly in MoCo. I'm impatient as the next guy, but seriously? The last 10 years in DTSS (recessions and all) is proof MoCo develops slowly? Umm, okay. I suppose if Dubai is the standard by which we're comparing.

by haha on Sep 16, 2013 2:32 pm • linkreport

@Woodsider:

ditto. Exactly what I was thinking. Privately-funded development already takes ages to get going, but any project that involves the county takes exponentially longer.

In downcounty alone the following public/ppp projects have been delayed for months or years (mostly the latter) before groundbreaking/opening: Bethesda police station, SS library, SS Transit Center, Studio Plaza (SS), Progress Place (SS), Lot 31 (Bethesda), and SilverPlace (mentioned in the article).

by King Terrapin on Sep 16, 2013 2:49 pm • linkreport

@haha

I should have clarified because I was referring to projects that MoCo is directly involved in developing: Very clear examples: Transit Center, Library, Fillmore, Metropolitan Branch Trail, Georgia Avenue streetscape, Silver Place, etc.

by Woodsider on Sep 16, 2013 4:33 pm • linkreport

I think this is good news for Wheaton. It is painfully slow — particularly when the county scraps years of work to start over as they did when they walked away from BF Saul. But maybe this will turn out for the best in the long run. And I'm hopeful, as happened in SS, that this level of public/private planning will spur other private projects in the core. It's not just the finished product in this case. The intent of the County and these two developers is an important step. We're already seeing several big building go up within a few block radius east and south of this huge potential project. Hopefully north and west landowners will start to see the potential too and be able to secure funding for redevelopment. (I'm looking at you Greenhill, BB&T, WMATA.)

Thanks Dan for reporting — once again WaPo, Patch, Gazette and the MoCo have done nearly zero to inform the public on this.

by dave in wheaton on Sep 17, 2013 10:44 am • linkreport

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