Developer proposes town square, residential units in downtown Wheaton
B.F. Saul presents concept plans of redevelopment on Parking Lot 13
A developer wants to build first-floor retail and restaurant space, residential units and a town square in an area of downtown Wheaton now occupied by a parking lot.
B.F. Saul, a Bethesda-based development company charged with redeveloping downtown Wheaton, presented loose concept plans for Parking Lot 13 and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority site to the Wheaton Redevelopment Advisory Committee on Feb. 16 that include residential units and retail space around a town square, as well as office buildings and a hotel.
A town square which will occupy the lower third of the 1.78 acre Parking Lot 13, closest to the Wheaton Metro has yet to be designed. This element will generate a great deal of comments from the public, says Robert Wulff, senior vice president of acquisitions and development at the B.F. Saul Company. To ensure the community can provide proper input to the design, B.F. Saul will create an ad hoc advisory committee consisting of members of various local interest groups, Wulff said.
"It's just a way to sort of touch base with different parts of the community a little more intimately," Wulff said.
Sara Lappano, a WRAC board member, said she appreciates that B.F. Saul wants to reach out to the community for input.
"I think it's a good sign that they're willing to listen to what the community input is going to be," she said. "The initial size that they presented to us of the square seems a little on the small side to me. But I like the idea of having the residential units right there."
The square will stretch from Reedie Drive between Triangle Lane and Georgia Avenue to about where Moby Dick's Seafood restaurant is located, at 11220 Triangle Lane, Wulff said.
A town square will feature community events, much like Ellsworth Drive in downtown Silver Spring. B.F. Saul prefers to own and program the space, but the task will likely end up in the hands of the county, Wulff said.
The other two-thirds of Parking Lot 13 will consist of first-floor retail and restaurants and residential, he said.
Ideally, B.F. Saul would remove a few buildings along Georgia Avenue to connect Ennalls and Price avenues, Wulff said. This would create a northern access point to the new development.
"To have a northern access point would be great, but our project is not dependent on it," Wulff said.
But the Metro site, which sits south of Parking Lot 13, proves a bit more difficult to design due to Metro bus-bays, Wulff said.
"Of the two sites, the Parking Lot 13 is kind of analogous to a green field in Iowa compared to the [Metro] site, which is very complicated," Wulff said.
The Metro site, located toward the point of the Wheaton triangle, will feature 18-story to 20-story office buildings and a business class hotel, Wulff said. Saul is working with the U.S. General Services Administration to attract a federal government tenant to the office space, he said. Close proximity to a Metro station increases a building's appeal.
The developer scrapped plans for residential buildings on the Metro site a concept presented at the Jan. 19 WRAC meeting because providing enough parking proves cost ineffective, he said. But the office buildings will require parking, and so the company plans to build a garage at the point of the Wheaton triangle, Wulff said.
Lappano said she's a little wary of a parking garage acting as a southern gateway into Wheaton.
"I wish the team would be more comfortable depending on public transit more than relying on a bunch of parking spaces," she said.
But removing the residential units from the Metro site shouldn't be an issue because of other developments, like the 17-story Safeway and apartment complex on Georgia Avenue and Reedie Drive, which will include 486 units, Lappano said.
"I feel like this volume of units is going to add more people to the neighborhood," she said.