Residents warming up to increased density
Public space, pedestrian-friendly downtown among requests at Wheaton sector plan brainstorming session
Wheaton residents, business owners and developers told planners last week they want to see more density near the Wheaton Metro station, a public space in downtown and a more pedestrian-friendly central business district area.
The suggestions were made at a brainstorming forum intended to gather opinions from the community in advance of work on Wheaton's sector plan update, which is getting under way this year.
Many in the crowd of more than 100 at Crossway Community in Kensington seemed excited about the prospect of more development around the Metro. And although most seemed wary of having too many national chains in downtown Wheaton, participants agreed that increased density in the central business district wouldn't destroy Wheaton's ethnic and cultural flair.
Wheaton resident Ellen Griffiths said she's excited about development around the Metro but wants it to remain appealing.
"I don't want to see it deteriorate," she said. "I want to see it thrive."
Several people suggested creating a public center in the central business district, most likely in the parking lot 13 in the Wheaton Triangle area. A place to gather for entertainment, people-watching or relaxing would make the area more appealing to residents and visitors, participants said.
"There's nowhere you want to stay downtown," Wheaton resident Moira Ratchford said. "It's not attractive."
As county planners begin work to update the sector plan for Wheaton's central business district, it is important to talk to residents about what they want for the town's future, said Sandra Tallant, Wheaton redevelopment lead planner with Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
"Wheaton is the next frontier," Tallant said.
Residents met with planners to analyze what they want to see in Wheaton's sidewalks and roads and how they want to define the town's cultural identity, an important guideline for the updated version of an 18-year-old sector plan that hasn't allowed for much creative development.
Rob Klein, the director of redevelopment programs for Wheaton, said more people are warming to the idea of "quality density," which he said means development that's not overbearing and flows with the rest of the town.
Safety was a concern for many people who attended the forum. Although Wheaton is a reasonably walkable community, Klein said, traveling by foot puts pedestrians at risk.
There are several major streets running through Wheaton's downtown area, including Georgia Avenue, a six-lane highway with shops and restaurants on either side.
"I almost hit three different people in the same day," resident Alice Fisher said of driving through the central business district.
To make the area safer, residents recommended widening sidewalks, adding plantings and creating more crosswalks.
Many residents said they wanted new development to allow local, diverse businesses to stay in the central business district. Diversity is what makes Wheaton special, they said.
"We are definitely individuals here," said resident Sylvia Didone.
Tallant said she will continue to hold brainstorming meetings with the community, businesses and other groups in Wheaton before coming up with several possible designs for community and Planning Board comment. A draft sector plan should be ready in about nine months, she said.
Resident Peter Burgan said he's glad planners have these kinds of meetings because they get everyone thinking about the possibilities for Wheaton.
"They ask people to think outside the box," he said.