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Wheaton redevelopment faces battle for funds

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Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

A $42 million redevelopment project in Wheaton faces a tough battle in the competition for Montgomery County funding.

If lawmakers delay funding, the long-planned project might not happen in the foreseeable future, officials said.

"You could be potentially knocking it out altogether because you need to get some momentum," County Executive Ike Leggett said. "To step back from that, I think, would be a huge mistake and would potentially jeopardize this project for a long, long time."

The county's $42 million covers the costs of building retail and office space on top of Metrobus bays at Georgia Avenue and Veirs Mill Road, as well as a town square at Reedie Drive and Grandview Avenue. On a lot adjacent to the town square, developer B.F. Saul has planned a mixed-use development.

The project has been in the works for 12 years, said Councilwoman Nancy Navarro, D-Eastern County. "This is not a large-scale project, but it's exactly what Wheaton needs in order to spark its redevelopment."

The project is expected to be completed in fiscal 2015 or 2016, said David Dise, director of the county's Department of General Services. But if it doesn't stay on schedule, the county could lose its window of opportunity.

"You have market conditions that will put us ahead of a recovering economy," he said, explaining that the property would be a valuable piece of real estate if the county acts now. "This is a unique opportunity for the government to be actually ready for a recovery, not riding a wave after the recovery has already taken place."

Early in March the County Council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee will consider whether the county should delay the project or proceed as planned.

Councilman George Leventhal, D-at large and committee member, questioned whether the project is ready to move forward, citing disagreements about specific aspects of the project.

"This may not be ready for prime time," he said.

Others have suggested that money allocated for the Wheaton project should be used instead to pay part of the $80 million needed for a second entrance to the Bethesda Metro station, a project necessary for the Purple Line light rail project.

Two council members told Leggett "they would much prefer funding Bethesda and not fund the Wheaton project," the county executive said, though he would not say which council members.

But the competition is really between Wheaton and every other project slated for funding in the county's $4.2 billion capital budget, Dise said.

And the community wants to protect their project.

"A lot of people are now energized," said Ash Kosiewicz, lead organizer for the Coalition for the Fair Redevelopment of Wheaton. "We don't want to see this project fall apart."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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