Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Recap of B.F. Saul Meeting

I just got back from the B.F. Saul meeting for community input on the Wheaton redevelopment project.  Overall, I came away from it with a good impression of both the redevelopment team and the Wheaton residents who participated in the meeting.  There was a great turnout - I would estimate about 125 people (but I reserve the right to be completely wrong on that).  After an initial intro, which included much patting on the back by county people and WMATA reps, the B.F. Saul team took the stage to give a brief presentation about their plans for public input on the process and they gave a recap of what past redevelopment meetings in Wheaton have shown residents are looking for.  I had to laugh at the chart they showed for what community groups they are getting input from.  The list included several local blogs, including Just Up the Pike, Good Eatin in Wheaton, and the Talk of Wheaton, but NO mention of Wheaton Calling.  Where's the love, B.F. Saul???

***Sidenote:  Mr. WC just reminded me that perhaps this omission was due to some not-so-kind words I had about the portfolio of work shown on B.F. Saul's website.  Fair enough!***

Anyways, after the initial intro, the audience broke into smaller groups at 8 different tables, which were centered around different themes for the revelopment:  Desired Land Uses and Small Business Impact, Streets & Sidewalks, Town Square & Open Space, and Overall Vision for Wheaton's New Downtown.  Each table had an architect (from Torti Galls) or developer rep(from B.F. Saul) acting as a facilitator and taking down suggestions from the residents on each topic.  After two 30-minute sessions, the development team pulled together common themes that they had heard and presented them to the group.  I was nicely surprised at how cohesive all of us residents were in what we asked for.  I came into this expecting much more of a strong NIMBY presence, but instead I found that people were passionately dedicated to preserving Wheaton's diversity and creating a lively, diverse town center that welcomes all residents and visitors to Wheaton.  The facilitators were also patient, taking down pretty much every suggestion and comment, even if they got a little wacky (my table jokingly asked for jugglers, to which the facilatator replies, "Okay!  We're putting jugglers on the list!").

The next steps in the process include B.F. Saul working out a deal on the land in question with the county and WMATA.  Once that is resolved, the team will work on putting together a concept plan of the project and will present it for further input from the community in March or April.  If you go to the project map on the team's website, the areas in red are the areas that B.F. Saul is currently working on purchasing from the county and WMATA.

Two members of the architectural team summarizing the input they heard from residents
 Here is an abridged summary of the input they heard from residents at the meeting (apparently scans of all the notes from the meeting will be posted to their website):

Desired Land Uses and Small Business Impact
-Avoid chain restaurants
-Provide retailers that benefit the community, i.e. a hardware store or pet shop
-Keep parking on the perimeter of the project
-Don't lose the unique small town feel of Wheaton
-Bring more office space and office workers to the downtown
-Facilitate loans for small business to improve their storefronts
-Attract more people to existing businesses
-Add a hotel to the downtown
-Leverage the anticipated crowds for Costco into opportunities for downtown Wheaton

Streets & Sidewalks
-Improve sight lines for drivers
-Tame (or even periodically close?) Reedie Drive
-Provide buffers between cars, pedestrians, and bikes
-Provide wider sidewalks with more plantings and trees
-Include flexible seating
-Improve access to the metro station
-Possibly partner with Brookside Gardens for plantings/streetscapes (I like this idea!)
-Design a signature lighting theme that includes banners, hanging flower baskets, etc.
-Improved bike lanes (how about any bike lanes?) and secure bike storage
-Less concrete, more green

Town Square
-Provide space for a farmers market and flea market; space should also work for the Taste of Wheaton and outdoor concerts
-Design a public space that welcomes all people
-Make sustainability a priority, especially stormwater management
-Better signage for metro entrances

Overall Vision
-More public art
-Pedestrian and bike access
-'Safety in Design' - through architectural design, lighting, and accessibility
-Celebrate Wheaton's diversity.  We don't want to be Bethesda, Silver Spring, or Rockville!

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