Greater Greater Washington

Hans Riemer discusses White Flint, Wheaton, and eastern Montgomery County

Hans Riemer is an at-large candidate for the Montgomery County Council. At his campaign kickoff, I was impressed with his vision for Smart Growth in Montgomery County. Recently, he was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions.


Riemer at a recent house party.

1. What details about the newly approved White Flint Sector Plan will require the most attention and consensus-building? How do you intend to ensure White Flint becomes a vibrant, sustainable town?

There are several ongoing issues that will shape the success of this great vision for the White Flint community. First, I will protect the integrity of the community's vision so that it will be an area that prioritizes walking and biking. The Pike [Rockville Pike, MD 355] has closely resembled a highway for too long. You can't build community on a highway. Yet, some policy makers don't see it that way and promise to re-prioritize auto speed at the expense of community if they can.

A second major issue will be the successful implementation of transit infrastructure improvements and the street grid, which together will bring walkability to White Flint's daily life. Walkability has been crucial for winning the support of the surrounding community. Turning this auto desert around with improved transit, separated bike paths, and a walkable street grid that can move more people and more cars will require a lot of scrutiny. The commitment to this vision cannot be allowed to slip over timeno more Clarksburgs!

A critical factor to success in White Flint over time will be continuing to involve newer residents, young families, retirees, and others who see the value of the new planning model. When empowered, these important residents will press elected officials to hold true to the vision in the recently passed Sector Plan. This takes new and committed County leadership; people who see their job as helping to engage the community and organize for change.

2. Wheaton is both routinely overlooked by the county as a whole and also posseses great economic and social potential as a vibrant, walkable, sustainable town. What is your vision for Wheaton's future?

Wheaton's time has come! The next Council must prioritize Wheaton for investment and support. There are many interesting and good plans for revitalizing the parking lot in the center of town into a community square. We should move those plans forward.

However, the elephant in the room is the Westfield Wheaton Mall. We should establish a walkable street grid with housing on the mall property, and use economic development dollars to incentivize the transformation through gap financing. If we attract more residents who embrace walkable lifestyles to the urban core in Wheaton, the small businesses there will flourish. It is a very risky proposition to move existing businesses out of their spaces and hope that they survive during a rebuildand will be able to afford new-building rents afterwards.

If well designed, such a transition of the Mall would work without jeopardizing Wheaton's existing small business character. Finally, if the County is going to give Westfield $4 million to build a Costco, they should use that as leverage to get going on a mixed use (housing + retail), walkable street grid on mall propertywithout any more gas stations. Georgia Avenue already has plenty.

I will also add that plans for Wheaton have come along every few years and have gone nowhere for a variety of reasons. We're only going to see success during this coming Council term if we bring together the bloggers, transit advocates, neighborhood activists, immigrant organizers, small businesses, property owners, and others, in a mighty chorus of "Now is the time!"

3. In your campaign kick-off, you expressed a clear vision for locating many new jobs along existing infrastructure in East County rather than in new office parks in Gaithersburg West. What sites do you envision for new jobs and do you see a need for new transit infrastructure to support them?

We have plenty of room for new jobs in Silver Spring, Wheaton, White Oak, Burtonsville, and Glenmont. Many of these areas are currently served by Metro. Others are in the Route 29 corridor, which needs a rapid transit service in order to support new jobs. One cost-effective transit solution would be a next generation bus system, as described by Councilmember Elrich, with its own separated lane and priority through intersections. In our present time of fiscal austerity we will need to think creatively about how to finance itwe need a model that larger landowners can pay for.

I helped push the Council to a good compromise on Gaithersburg West, but one of the concerns I raised was that the plan is projected to reduce job growth in East County. We can't let that happen! East County has been given short shrift for too long. We need good planning to create the commercial space, housing, and transit that will get this under-served area moving again.

We also need policymakers who can get new people involved to support the kind of change that we need in the Countypeople like Councilmembers Valerie Ervin (D-5) and Nancy Navarro (D-4). I hope to join them in this cause and I am grateful for their support of my efforts to get this County moving again.

Cavan Wilk became interested in the physical layout and economic systems of modern human settlements while working on his Master's in Financial Economics. His writing often focuses on the interactions between a place's form, its economic systems, and the experiences of those who live in them. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. 

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In the context of the Montgomery County General Plan (e.g. wedges and corridors), U.S. 29 (Colesville Road/Columbia Pike) is not a corridor. There is but one corridor in Montgomery County, and that is the I-270 Corridor.

by C P Zilliacus on Apr 30, 2010 4:23 pm • linkreport

I see that Hans Riemer is trying to KILL OFF WHEATON MALL which will result in Upscale Economic Suicide for Eastern Montgomery County and will Force Morer Montgomery County Tax Payers to shop in Northern Virginia's Pentagon City Mall(located and a Very Vibrant Arlington Business District) and Tysons Corner(the second Larges Business District outside of DC).

It is safe to say that after reading the response to question 2. Hans Riemer has Lost my Support and any selfish person who wants to Viciously Sabatoge future Upscale Retail Growth by ripping out the Only Indoor Mall in Eastern Montgomery County under some so-called "Smart Growth" street Grid Development in which it can be done easily on top of Wheaton Metro then sure support the guy.

If anyone supports removing Wheaton Mall is only doing so to help support Virginia's Retail Economy because that is where the shoppers will go if Wheaton Mall is removed...

It would be different if there were plans alone the pipe line to build a Large Upscale Indoor Shopping Mall near wheaton or along the US 29 Corridor but as far as I know they are not so that means that they can't just remove Wheaton Mall and not have another Large Upscale Indoor Mall to replace it.......

Again he WILL Lose Support behind this:

2. Wheaton is both routinely overlooked by the county as a whole and also posseses great economic and social potential as a vibrant, walkable, sustainable town. What is your vision for Wheaton's future?

However, the elephant in the room is the Westfield Wheaton Mall. We should establish a walkable street grid with housing on the mall property, and use economic development dollars to incentivize the transformation through gap financing. If we attract more residents who embrace walkable lifestyles to the urban core in Wheaton, the small businesses there will flourish. It is a very risky proposition to move existing businesses out of their spaces and hope that they survive during a rebuild — and will be able to afford new-building rents afterwards.

by tim on May 1, 2010 1:07 pm • linkreport

In case it wasn't clear, I am advocating for mixed use in that space---retaining retail use but adding housing. So there will continue to be a lot of shopping.

by Hans on May 1, 2010 3:06 pm • linkreport

I thought Hans Riemer was supposed to be crazy?

by anonymous on May 1, 2010 6:29 pm • linkreport

Hans - In case it wasn't clear, I am advocating for mixed use in that space---retaining retail use but adding housing. So there will continue to be a lot of shopping.

re: As long as it does not involve Demolishing an inch of Wheaton Mall but include some space for future expansion.

A perfect plan for mix-use on that site will be removing the surface parking lot, build 2-4 multi-level parking garage including multi-level underground parking garages. Build a 1-3 apartment complexes, 1-3 multi-level office towers, and 1-2 four or five star hotels replacing the surface parking lot and on top of Wheaton Mall(resembling Pentagone City, Tysons Corner Mall II, and Ballston Commons Mall)...

by tim on May 2, 2010 4:50 pm • linkreport

Tim - Wheaton Plaza (who calls it Wheaton Mall?) should be demolished. A town center with housing and all of the stores from Wheaton Plaza (or Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton) should be brought back into it. Mixed-use city-like shopping is the future while malls die a slow painful death.

by Eric on Sep 15, 2010 2:03 pm • linkreport

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