Wheaton residents want more lights, cleaner city

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Local,Maryland,Andy Brownfield

Improved lighting, safer sidewalks and a cleaner appearance are what residents of Wheaton -- an area infamous for the perception of a high crime rate -- want, according to a presentation given to a Montgomery County Council committee on Thursday.

The report made suggestions on how to revitalize Wheaton based on surveys sent out to residents -- measures like cleaning up storefronts and commercial districts, hiring additional police officers and better marketing the city.

Mid-County Regional Services Director Ana Lopez van Balen said surveyors expected residents to say, "We need more police."

Instead, she said, "the top three issues were improved lighting, improved pedestrian safety and improving the general appearance of Wheaton."

When those surveyed were asked for comments, they listed some of the positive aspects of Wheaton as it being "funky and eclectic" and "on the brink of redevelopment," while some of the negative aspects were that it was "different and scary" and there was a "huge perception of crime."

While 95 percent of those surveyed said they feel safe during the day, 60

percent said they do not feel safe after 9 p.m.

For respondents who said safety was a concern, 55 percent said they wanted more lighting in downtown Wheaton, 53 percent said the city needs to improve pedestrian safety, 45 percent said commercial areas need to improve their appearance, and 44 percent said the area needs more police.

Officials said the appearance of higher crime was more perception than reality.

According to Montgomery County crime statistics, Wheaton has a higher-than-average number of robberies and aggravated assaults compared with other urban districts in the county, while it had lower numbers of thefts from vehicles, auto thefts and commercial burglaries.

Wheaton had 54 robberies in 2012 -- the same number as Silver Spring. However, Rockville had 17, while Bethesda had 14. Wheaton had 33 aggravated assaults, compared with 22 in Silver Spring, 13 in Bethesda and eight in Rockville.

However, Wheaton had only 88 thefts from vehicles, compared with 54 in Rockville, 135 in Bethesda and 144 in Silver Spring.

The report also recommends developing a plan for safer sidewalks, better-defined crosswalks, upgrading roads and creating bike lanes.

The report advises that Wheaton offer incentives for shop owners to clean up their storefronts and develop a program to design commercial areas in a way that reduces the fear of crime.

"There's a lot that's happening in Wheaton, and for those who are listening, they should pay attention because there's a lot of things going on," said County Council President Nancy Navarro.

abrownfield@washingtonexaminer.com

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