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The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission

Wheaton Downtown Study (2022)

wheaton downtown study

The Wheaton Downtown Study seeks to advance implementation of the 2012 Wheaton CBD and Vicinity Sector Plan. The Study explores how to further Wheaton’s economic diversity by strategically leveraging new investment and economic benefits created by large scale redevelopment, while fostering the successful and entrepreneurial nature of the existing small property owners and businesses interested in evolving and adapting. The Study establishes an urban design framework with near-, mid-, and long-term strategies to create a cohesive downtown that integrates recent development with Wheaton’s small-scale character while meeting the needs and aspirations of small businesses, property owners, and residents of the Wheaton Central Business District.

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 includes qualitative research, data collection, and extensive conversations with community members and key stakeholders. These findings inform strategies to allow the evolution of downtown Wheaton, including adaptive reuse or expansion of small properties as well as public realm improvements.

View the Wheaton Downtown Study.

Study Process

The Wheaton Downtown Study is a product of staff-led research and analysis, community input, and consultant expertise. Staff researched and documented development implemented in the last decade, catalogued recent and anticipated public infrastructure investments, and examined individual properties to identify ownership patterns and opportunities. Staff also engaged property owners, agency partners, community members, and other stakeholders to evaluate the potential for furthering the Sector Plan’s vision. Consultants for economic analysis and architectural development were also engaged to work with property owners to evaluate redevelopment potential at jointly owned properties of various sizes.

Wheaton Downtown Briefing: Planning History, Development Progress, and Public Infrastructure Investment

Draft Strategies

The Wheaton Downtown Study does not modify the 2012 Sector Plan’s overall vision or specific recommendations; it provides strategies to guide future public- realm investments and inform potential private development. The strategies improve connectivity, enhance existing public spaces, and create new public spaces.

Strategies are organized by the districts established in the 2012 Sector Plan and include specific actions grouped in the following categories. These are organized in order of priority to deliver incremental enhancements to improve the area’s appeal, which will potentially increase redevelopment interest in the future. Categories include:

  • Strengthen Wheaton’s Character and Support Revitalization: These strategies seek to identify interventions at key locations to strengthen and promote Wheaton’s unique character, and to provide guidance to support revitalization of existing properties.
  • Enhance Existing and Create New Public- Use Space: These strategies seek to enhance existing public- use spaces and identify locations for additional public- use space within the downtown area.
  • Improve Connectivity: These strategies seek to improve the quality of the public realm and enhance mobility and connectivity between districts.
  • Incentivize Potential Development: These strategies provide guidance to identify incentives to support redevelopment at key locations.

View the Wheaton Downtown Study.

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

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 Streetscape Standards

Streetscape improvements in Downtown Wheaton have been guided by standards that created the distinctive paver pattern established in many parts of the downtown area. Redevelopment projects over the past decade have successfully implemented these standards delivering attractive and accessible improvements. As the area continues to evolve, 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.

The approved 2023 Wheaton Streetscape Standards are based on adaptable streetscape types developed to accommodate pedestrians and alternative mobility modes in safe and attractive environments. This update includes:

  • A reduced number of streetscape types to streamline implementation as redevelopment occurs, in support of the recommendations of the 2012 Wheaton Central Business District and Vicinity Sector Plan, which envisioned significant redevelopment of downtown’s commercial properties.
  • Streetscape components that allow for flexibility in implementation, consistent with the sidewalk zones recommended by the Complete Streets Design Guide (CSDG) and components that support the revitalization goals of the approved Wheaton Downtown Study, which included strategies to leverage the economic benefits created by potential large-scale redevelopment to foster small property owners and businesses interested in evolving and adapting in the near-term.
  • Integration of pavement types recently introduced to the downtown area, most notably the variety of pavement materials associated with the construction of M-NCPPC’s Wheaton Headquarters, with the continued use of the prevailing Wheaton concrete paver pattern.
  • Information on street trees, groundcover plantings, and options to achieve adequate soil volumes to ensure planting growth.
  • Information on street furnishings and street lighting.

Read the approved 2023 Wheaton Streetscape Standards.

Frequently asked questions

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Staff Contact

Luis Estrada

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