Archive for February, 2011
See Rollin Stanley’s presentation to the Montgomery Village Foundation, February 11, 2011.
We recently had a walk through the Wheaton central area as part of our Montgomery Plans series on County Cable Montgomery. It was a great opportunity to talk about the wonderful bones of what is one of the most diverse parts of our county. The businesses, activity and residents present a great foundation for growing the social and economic base of the community.
Our Wheaton master planning effort underway builds on the strength of the businesses and existing communities that surround them. The interface between those communities is a critical element to offering new services while ensuring the scale and type of development fits in. This is a challenging exercise, and the level of participation by residents both in Wheaton and Kensington over the past year has helped us develop appropriate planning and zoning tools in the emerging plan.
Have a look at the short video. The exciting new Safeway site development where a state of the art food center with 486 condominiums has just been approved, offers not only the newest food shopping experience in the County, but it also will help bring new people into Wheaton. This has been the experience where other mixed use projects have occurred.
Standing in the County parking lot west of Georgia off Reedie Drive, we can envision the exciting urban form that can complement the existing businesses and attract newcomers into the community.
It is not often we see “double ended” retail: in this case, at the higher elevation along Georgia and the lower level off the alley facing the parking area. The contrasting frontages offer different character and scale in retailing. I always like to shop in small spaces like alleys, and the food selection — Italian tuna for example — is now a staple for my shopping needs. Take a walk here and you’re sure to find something you like.
The Wheaton Mall, with the addition of the DSW, Macy’s and so many other shops including the Dollar Store (so handy for the office party gifts), offers a different experience as well as considerable growth potential. As part of our current master plan process. the mall owners are exploring short- and long-term strategies for reinventing the mall, something they have done in other parts of the country.
Look up Veirs Mills past the mall and the vacant car dealer. This is real opportunity to create a whole new face to the site with active frontages and enhanced pedestrian connections across this busy roadway. While the high level of vehicle traffic may seem overwhelming, I always like to answer that there are plenty of examples of busy streets acting as the spine for active pedestrian scale retail activity. Veirs Mill can be one of these streets and so can Georgia. It’s about investing in pedestrian infrastructure. And this does not mean slowing vehicle movement. We already have some signalized intersections so cars will not be slowed.
This blog is about visualizing the future so think for a moment about the Veirs Mill-Reedie Drive intersection. The pavement is re-striped into a “scramble” intersection where, when traffic stops, pedestrians cross in all directions. Enhanced signalization, wider sidewalks, new lighting systems and buildings frame the sidewalks with large open windows and creative lighting displays. Encouraged by the improvements, people walk to and from the Metro and from the mall into downtown Wheaton for additional shopping, eating, or just browsing.
While folks who drive through on Georgia and Veirs Mill and don’t stop are missing out, we hope the new master plan currently working its way through Planning Board approval will help set a framework for new mixed uses. Key to this is having the County parking lots redevelop to serve as a catalyst.
In the plan, we are seeking the right balance between the desire for insulation from activities that may be seen as creating issues – such as noise outdoor storage places or odors from restaurants – and the need to provide for infill opportunities to help upgrade some properties to more active uses. The recent development proposal on the north side of University across from the Giant store is a good example.
Several houses have been boarded up for some time. A bank branch is proposed for the site. Would a low-rise, three-story building with a mix of uses close to the sidewalk with a setback to the residential properties to the rear, limited and screened parking, been a better proposal for residents and the community? We have lots of drive-through banks, curb cuts and fragmented building forms along our arterials.
As we grow it will be very important to begin to coordinate the building form and uses along our commercial streets to encourage more mixed uses and pedestrian activity. This is a challenge all over the County, and one we are just beginning to explore in the Burtonsville Commercial Crossroads Neighborhood Study.
If you are familiar with Wheaton, many of the points in this posting will be familiar to you. If you are a stranger to Wheaton, take a Saturday afternoon and check it out. Park the car and explore what the area has to offer. It’s a lot more than just the world famous Chuck Levins music store. And don’t forget to eat one of the many restaurants. In fact, try an entrée at one place and dessert at another.