Wheaton town square should belong to the public
It looks like Wheaton's getting a town square after all. Last week, the Gazette wrote about developer B.F. Saul and their plans to turn Parking Lot 13, located at the corner of Reedie Drive and Grandview Avenue, into a town square:
A town square will feature community events, much like Ellsworth Drive in downtown Silver Spring. B.F. Saul prefers to own and program the space, but the task will likely end up in the hands of the county, [representative Robert] Wulff said.Great urban places need great public spaces, but they can be expensive to build and maintain. Montgomery County can't afford to give every community a space like Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring.
As a result, the task will have to fall on developers for whom a plaza or square can be an amenity, drawing tenants, shoppers and residents to their projects. One example of a successful privately-owned public space is the Piazza at Schmidt's in Philadelphia, which draws people from all over the region for shows, markets, and just hanging out.
Yet it's important to ensure that the public has a right to these spaces other than as customers. Saying that Montgomery County will "likely" own and program the town square in Wheaton is not an option.
Didn't we learn a lesson from Ellsworth Drive, which Montgomery County leased to a private developer who banned photography on the street until the ensuing outcry required the county to defend the people's right to free speech? I find fears that redevelopment will turn Wheaton into Silver Spring complaints irritating, but this is one mistake from Silver Spring we shouldn't repeat.
Montgomery County has essentially handed the keys to downtown Wheaton to B.F. Saul by giving them the right to build on several properties in the area. Nonetheless, the community should be assured that the most significant public space in this revitalized neighborhood will belong to them, even if they don't hold the title.
B.F. Saul's and the county's roles in the town square should be made clear as soon as possible.
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