Officials in Montgomery County are considering a relocation of Park and Planning Department offices from Silver Spring to Wheaton, where they could provide a major boost to plans to bring mixed-use development there.
The county, along with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and Bethesda developer B.F. Saul, are planning to transform the bus bay above the Wheaton Metro station and a county-owned parking lot into an urban town center featuring two towering office buildings and about 200 apartments as well as a hotel, shopping and a public square.
B.F. Saul recently provided the county with its initial cost estimates for the project, and the developer and county are in the early stages of negotiations.
But even if a deal can be reached, the project will have a difficult time getting off the ground without office users, which is why David Dise, director of the Montgomery County Department of General Services, says Park and Planning and affiliated agencies could relocate to Wheaton to jump-start the project.
“We are looking at this as a possible location for a new Park and Planning headquarters and also possibly locating a couple other county departments that have synergy with Park and Planning activities in order to help spur the redevelopment effort,” Dise said.
He said Park and Planning required well over 100,000 square feet and that if the county were to assemble enough agencies it “may be able to construct a county building instead of just sharing part of a building” as part of the Wheaton project.
Valerie Berton, a spokeswoman for the planning department, said that although there had been no formal proposal to relocate the agency it was the subject of preliminary discussions. “Generally speaking, the planning department is open to the idea of the move,” she said.
Partly, she said, that’s because the agency wants to play a role in seeing through a project for which it spent three years doing planning work. “We really could be a help to achieve some of the goals of achieving economic development in Wheaton,” she said.
But Park and Planning is also in need of new digs. It is currently located in an older building that it owns in Silver Spring, which leaks and requires costly repairs each year. The agency had considered moving before the recession. It is part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, but its budget is approved by the Montgomery County Council, which would have to appropriate funds for a move. “We had intended to move and build ourselves a new building but that proposal got shelved because of the economy,” Berton said.
If the agency did relocate, it would be a “huge positive for the redevelopment of downtown Wheaton,” said Robert Wulff, senior vice president of B.F. Saul. Wulff said that even if the county moved agencies to offices in Wheaton that weren’t a part of the company’s project, it would still help move the area forward.
“As the master developer for downtown Wheaton, the WMATA site and the parking Lot 13 site, owned by the county, we would welcome the county moving offices to Wheaton,” he said.