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Wheaton Downtown Study (2022)

  • wheaton downtown study

The 2022 Wheaton Downtown Study will explore the potential for small businesses and individually owned properties to continue enriching the community while complementing and evolving alongside the larger-scale physical redevelopment. In keeping with the “complete communities” goal of Thrive Montgomery 2050, planners seek an integrated, synergistic central business district that welcomes a diverse mix of residents, businesses, and visitors within comfortable walking, biking, rolling, and transit distance. The result will be a block-level refinement of the larger plan detailing how existing properties can adapt and transform while building on Wheaton’s unique texture and history.

The Wheaton Downtown Study represents a new kind of process for the Planning Department: it allows for targeted refinements without changing the plan’s core recommendations. But similar to the Sector Plan process, the study will include qualitative research, data collection, and extensive conversations with community members and key stakeholders. Those findings will inform recommendations to allow the evolution of downtown Wheaton, including adaptive reuse or expansion of small properties as well as public realm improvements.

What We’ve Heard

Outreach to and engagement with stakeholders throughout the Wheaton downtown area have been critical to understanding challenges and opportunities to redevelopment; gaining familiarity with several parallel county-sponsored initiatives in Wheaton; and confirming community priorities.

To identify strengths, challenges, and opportunities in the Wheaton downtown area, staff:

  • Interviewed property owners, public agencies, Council staff, and stakeholders active in the Wheaton area.
  • Gathered input from staff from the Mid-County Regional Services Center, the Wheaton Urban District, and the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee.
  • Connected with groups offering support to businesses such as the Latino Economic Development Center and the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation.
  • Conducted in-person and virtual open houses and solicited feedback through an online questionnaire.

Please see below for a summary of what we’ve heard:

What do people like most about Wheaton? 

  • The small business character within the central triangle
  • Bigger brands being in Wheaton mall rather than the core
  • The Price Avenue Streetery provides a public open space and boosts restaurants
  • The mural program brings art into the Wheaton core

What do you want to see happen in Wheaton in the future? 

  • Improve walkability and bikeability with a focus on safety and accessibility: Ensure sidewalks are ADA accessible, work to control and enforce traffic speeds, and give more of the streetscape to buses, bikes, and pedestrians through dedicated lanes, wider sidewalks, and buffers
  • Implement a brand for downtown Wheaton, possibly based on art: Branded pathways and wayfinding, more public murals, art painted on crosswalks
  • Strengthen connectivity within each district as well as between districts
  • Increase the number of street trees and plant native plants
  • Create a unified streetscape with a signature sidewalk pattern common from block to block
  • Turn Lot 17 into a public open green featuring art

What is your biggest concern about the future of Wheaton? 

  • A continued series of studies but no direct action
  • That improvements to streetscapes and the public sphere won’t happen without new private development
  • That large brands will replace small businesses, especially with new development

The study will be a success if… 

  • Near-term improvements to unsafe pedestrian areas are implemented to make people feel safe and comfortable while walking and rolling within and between districts in downtown Wheaton
  • The area gains a distinct brand through a signature streetscape and identity based around art
  • Car traffic is calmed and more lanes are dedicated to buses and biking
  • Activated public space is created within the downtown core

Open Houses—June 2022 recap

At an in-person open house on June 14 and a virtual open house on June 27, Montgomery Planning staff provided an overview of the purpose of the study, discussed strengths, opportunities and challenges within the Wheaton Central Business District, and presented initial strategies to further the implementation of the 2012 Wheaton CBD and Vicinity Sector Plan.

Download June 14 presentation | Español

Vision of the Study

Planners envision Wheaton as a complete community, with a mixture of accessible residential and commercial uses. Wheaton’s future character could be a combination of larger, redeveloped sites next to smaller, adaptively reused properties, along with safer streets for pedestrians, cyclists, and wheelchair users. In addition to engaging property and business owners in confirming that vision, we want them to better understand what resources are available for their own individual redevelopment, expansion, and adaptation needs.

Beyond Wheaton’s demarcated downtown, this study will also continue to support the creation of strong edges around the Wheaton triangle. Though our focus is on integrating different types of development to strengthen Wheaton’s urban fabric, we will consider Wheaton’s uniqueness as a whole and how this burgeoning mix of new development and adaptively reused existing structures can both improve individuals’ experience of Wheaton and generate broad public benefit. Ultimately, the Wheaton Downtown Study will help enable a community with space for small and large businesses alike to grow along sound, accessible infrastructure and within a thriving Montgomery County.

Context to 2012 Sector Plan

Since the 2012 Wheaton Central Business District and Vicinity Sector Plan was approved, implementation of the plan has been underway. This study allows planners to zoom into key elements of the vision that was created in the plan and adapt work accordingly. The Planning Department has also spent the last decade developing countywide visions for things like multimodal safety, equity work, and housing attainability—so this study will help us weave all those threads together into the broader Wheaton plan and beyond. This study will not update the recommendations of the 2012 Plan, but rather explore how existing properties can evolve to further the vision established nearly a decade ago. The 2012 Wheaton Central Business District (CBD) and Vicinity Sector Plan rezoned most commercial properties in the area to consolidate redevelopment efforts for broad public benefit. Since then, several bigger properties have redeveloped in keeping with that vision by adding residential housing, improving the streetscape, and creating some limited public open spaces.

Wheaton Central Business District Streetscape Standards

Background

The 2002 Wheaton Central Business District Streetscape Standards have guided streetscape improvement efforts in many parts of the District, either by establishing streetscape requirements for developing properties or by guiding various public sector efforts to improve the area for pedestrians. But as the area redevelops, Wheaton is becoming a complex urban district with many unique streetscape environments that must be understood to adequately improve and integrate pedestrians, cyclists, micro mobility, transit access, safety and connectivity, while retaining the district’s character. Updated Streetscape Standards will assess existing conditions and provide guidance in keeping with the diverse character of the district.

Goal

Working with a consultant, to develop a comprehensive and implementable update to the 2002 Wheaton Central Business District Streetscape Standards that Identifies near and long-term improvements for sidewalks and streets, and integrates guidance from recent planning efforts regarding multimodal access and safety.

Elements of Streetscape Standards Update

  • Assess existing conditions in the area with a Vision Zero lens to identify and prioritize areas for improvement.
  • Coordinate with the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) and the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) to identify and integrate improvements by ongoing and future projects within the public right-of-way.
  • Incorporate guidance from countywide planning efforts completed after the 2012 Sector Plan adoption to improve transit access, reduce traffic fatalities and severe injuries, and address climate change.
  • Evaluate alternatives to safely improve pedestrian and bicycle connectivity between the Central Business District’s core and surrounding residential communities and amenities such as Wheaton Regional Park.
Last Updated: September 28, 2022