ROCKVILLE – A joint committee meeting of the Montgomery County Council turned into a call for creativity Monday as councilmembers urged county staff and developers to be more imaginative when designing an office building which will be a focal point of the Wheaton redevelopment program.
The council’s government operations and fiscal policy committee and the planning, housing and economic development committee met in a joint session to conduct a work session on an amendment to the program, which is intended to revitalize the downtown Wheaton area. The project’s new projected cost, according to senior legislative analyst Jacob Sesker, is $143.8 million.
Councilmembers expressed excitement about the plan, which includes a new open space along Reedie Drive, reconstruction of Triangle Lane to make it more accommodating for retail and the replacement of existing surface parking with new underground parking to create an additional 237 spaces.
Construction is estimated to begin in summer 2016 with the town square being completed in fall 2018.
“This is a moment Wheaton has been waiting for over a decade or so,” said Councilwoman Nancy Navarro, chair of the government operations and fiscal policy committee. “This really and truly is an amazing moment…it is an opportunity to turn a surface parking lot and old county building into something we can be proud of and will use for generations to come.”
Councilwoman Nancy Floreen said she believes the county is successfully squeezing as much as it can into what she considers a reasonable cost frame.
While councilmembers lauded the plan, they expressed concern about one of its central pieces— a brand new county office building which co-locate employees of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the county Department of Permitting Services and the Department of Environmental Protection.
Councilmembers said they would like to see a unique structure which could be a defining piece of architecture in Wheaton instead of a typical glass-window building.
Councilman George Leventhal said he has received letters and Facebook messages from constituents and groups who oppose sketches of a glass building provided by the county’s transportation department. Leventhal said he wants to ensure residents are being heard and he did not think the transportation department’s sketch was a consensus proposal.
“(The sketch) looks like a great big box,” Leventhal said. “I guess I would prefer to see something in the heart of Wheaton that the government builds that contains a lot of vegetation and is something other than a great big box.”
Leventhal asked the transportation department’s deputy director, Al Roshdieh, and the developers—StonebridgeCarras, LLC and the Bozzuto Group—to meet and listen to members of the community. Councilman Marc Elrich echoed his cry.
“Please listen to what folks are saying,” Elrich said.
Roshdieh said the drawings are only a concept plan, and that an actual design cannot begin until the council appropriates funds for the project to execute the development agreement. He also assured the council he will communicate with the community, but said no matter what design is used there will always be disagreement.
“I assure you what we deliver will be sustainable, signature and something that I want to be proud of,” Roshdieh said.