A motley collection of one and two-story strip malls in the DC suburb of Wheaton, Maryland is poised to be transformed into a high density urban downtown. Montgomery County officials have declared victory in downtown Silver Spring, where a decades-long redevelopment process injected millions of dollars of new development into what was an economically depressed district. County officials are looking to Wheaton for their next major project.
Wheaton is an important regional transit node — in addition to the Red Line Metro Station, roughly a dozen bus routes converge on the area where several busy roads converge. High density development has not happened due to zoning restrictions adopted in 1992 that were designed to limit the scale of new development and prevent Wheaton from becoming a large-scale edge city like Bethesda. However the tight restrictions on development mean there has been little new investment in the area and now community members — and Montgomery County officials — want change.
The illustrations above and below were created by architect Jim Russell for the Wheaton Redevelopment Advisory Committee. They depict the outcome of a community “visioning” process where residents and business owners proposed creating a dense development with a central park on land that today contains aging low-rise commercial buildings, a parking lot, and a Dunkin’ Donuts. While County officials are dreaming up plans, some major developers have been investing money: already two major luxury housing projects are open for business and the Bozzuto corporation plans to break ground soon on housing over the WMATA-owned bus depot. The website of the county’s Wheaton Redevelopment Program has more information on projects, and this map (PDF) dramatically illustrating how many projects are completed or proposed in the area.
The redevelopment program is moving aggressively to work with local businesses to improve their business saavy and modify zoning laws to attempt to preserve the “small business character” as much as possible. As part of that effort county officials have partnered with the DC-based Latino Economic Development Corporation to provide loans and financial advice to small Wheaton businesses.
Despite the bold goals and vigorous citizen involvement of the redevelopment project which will impact hundreds of businesses, most of the reporting has been regarding just one: Barry’s Magic Shop. I won’t go into the details here other than to say the shop is facing eviction by county officials to make room for a long-planned pedestrian walkway, just barely visible off Georgia Avenue in these renderings.
Thanks to the Wheaton Redevelopment Program for providing digital copies of Jim Russell’s drawings.