Can Wheaton Become the Next Silver Spring?

Wheaton Redevelopment Concept Drawing

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.

WheatonWheaton 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.

Wheaton Redevelopment Concept Drawing

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.

Author: Rob Goodspeed


  1. I am concerned about the ethical issues raised by posting material on your personal website that you also used during a class at the UMD. I expect a memo on my desk by Monday…

  2. Megan, no problem here: Joe Davis gave me permission. PS: I give your comment a 91.5. More detail next time, please.

  3. Why do you hate Wheaton so much, to suggest that Silver Spring be a model for its intensification. FYI, the Main Street program did consulting with the Wheaton revitalization unit of MoCo back in 2000-01 I think, and there is an article about this in Main Street News from the time. They came up with four alternatives, suggesting mix and match, rather than picking merely one.

  4. Ugh. More Disneyfication of development. That’s some ugly buildings and would totally change the character of the neighborhood. I love downtown Wheaton as it is. I would hate to see it turned into another Arlington were local businesses are pushed out for a vaguely historical pastiche of chain stores and bad Irish pubs. Yuck.

    There needs to be away to have a framework for development, preserve the extant uses and inserting new buildings and uses into underutilized land. Encouraging, especially, smaller developers and more experimental types of architecture to coexist in the space that is there. Keeping footprints small and the rhythm of the buildings natural. Perhaps create a zoning overlay that allowed for things like Live/Work and smaller ground floor retail and taller buildings to mix in with the smaller buildings while limiting chain stores. It would be better, too, if all these places had actual city governments with more direct voter reprsentation instead of relying on large county bureaucracies to make these plans, but that’s a southern governmental structure that I don’t expect to change soon.

  5. can’t happen soon enough. other spots in the d.c. area are letting go of their narrow thinking and moving forward with development and reeping a better standard of living. wheaton refuses to live up to its potential—let’s change that!

  6. I hate Wheaton, Maryland. It’s ghetto look bothers me and I don’t think Wheaton has enough money to do such a thing. I’d find it nearly impossible for Wheaton to become the next Silver Spring. What’s the point of redeveloping Wheaton if its just going to be vandilized and spray painted on with gang violence?

  7. Wheaton is a stable Montgomery County Community, and doesn’t need further “upgrades”. The Mall already shames CityPlace. Wheaton is not ghetto though the swarms of harrassing officers and traffic stops may lead you to believe such. Places Like Barry’s Magic, IHOP, Anchor Inn are landmarks which add to the special history of the area. Keep renovating and remodeling and you’ll lose the bit of wheaton you have left.

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