Urine. Graffiti. Broken windows. Roaming gangs of teenagers who harass passersby in shadowy stairwells.

For more than a decade, this has been the experience of many commuters who use the parking garage at the Wheaton Metro station.

“The smell of urine, I’m pretty sure, is soaked into the concrete at this point,” said Erin Mulcare, who stopped using the garage two years ago after her car was broken into. “And it’s so upsetting that in 10 years, nothing has changed.”

Over the years, commuters and neighborhood residents have repeatedly raised the alarm about conditions at the garage. They’ve asked elected officials and Metro to install unbreakable plexiglass windows, new lighting and security cameras, and to increase the police presence.

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Now, in response to “community concerns,” Metro said it plans to install security cameras “throughout the garage” by the end of the year.

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"In addition, the garage will undergo a major rehabilitation project beginning next spring that will include brighter paint, the installation of additional emergency phones, and transparent doors to enhance safety in stairwells," Metro spokesman Ian Jannetta said in an email.

Jannetta said Metro has not determined the cost of the project, which will be funded from the agency’s capital budget. Asked why Metro did not act earlier to address complaints about the garage, Jannetta said the agency had not considered Wheaton “for cameras in the past because its crime rate is quite low relative to other locations.”

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The garage has seen no crimes “against persons” so far this year and just four “property crimes,” Jannetta said — three instances of vandalism and one incident involving “destruction of property.”

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Asked about crime at the garage, Metro Transit Police pointed to Metro’s numbers. A spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Police Department, which partners with Metro to patrol the garage, said it is impossible to determine exact police statistics for the site because the department’s online incident-tracking system cannot differentiate between the garage, the station itself and the nearby mall.

However, the garage was the scene of several high-profile crimes over the past four years, including two sexual assaults committed by the same man in December 2014. Christian A. Jordan was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the assaults.

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In July 2015, a man was fatally shot in the garage; his killer received a 20-year sentence. And a few months later, four carjackers attacked and robbed a man walking through the garage. The carjackers were never found.

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The Wheaton garage, one of 44 parking facilities Metro owns and maintains adjacent to its stations, has 977 spots. Daily parking costs $4.45 Monday through Friday and is free on weekends and holidays.

Silver Spring resident Sean Corbett, who has parked in the garage to ride Metro to his job since 2008, said he is certain Metro is underestimating crime at the facility. He said he reached that conclusion while serving on a “safety task force” of residents and politicians commissioned to study Wheaton’s downtown in 2017.

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“It became very clear that a lot of things that should be reported as issues are not reported,” Corbett said. “For example, vandalism like graffiti — often they don’t report it; they just send in a crew and scrub it away or paint over it.”

That’s what happened earlier this month, Corbett said, when he alerted Metro to graffiti left in a stairwell that included profanity and an anti-gay slur.

Corbett said he was pleased that the agency sent someone to paint over the scrawled words within a day or so. Jannetta said “complaints related to graffiti and cleanliness are addressed as quickly as possible, and within hours in the case of offensive or hateful content.”

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But such temporary fixes are ultimately inadequate, Corbett said. He called them stopgap measures unlikely to do much to address overarching, recurring issues of vandalism, disrepair and crime.

“It’s a blight, honestly, and when you walk into the garage you can feel it: It’s grimy, it’s dingy, it’s dark,” he said. “Over the last year or so, it feels like conditions within the garage have just been deteriorating further and further — but that graffiti was just a line too far for me.”

In addition to contacting Metro, Corbett also reached out to state Del. Emily K. Shetty (D-Montgomery). Shetty, who lived in Silver Spring for five years, said she used the Wheaton garage “thousands of times.” She was already concerned about the facility and had advocated for improvements while serving on a local transit advocacy group.

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Both Corbett and Shetty said they know scores of neighbors who, like Mulcare, stopped parking in the Wheaton garage out of disgust over the state of the facility or concern for their safety. The topic comes up at almost every Wheaton community meeting and town hall, Corbett said. Shetty described a long history of “lingering complaints and little action” from Metro.

Still, after Corbett emailed her about the graffiti this month, Shetty decided she would give it one more try and contact Metro herself. As a newly empowered delegate (Shetty took office this year), she thought she might have a better shot at spurring action.

When Shetty reached out, Metro informed her of its intention to install security cameras and renovate the garage. That was the first Shetty — or any other residents — heard of the agency’s plans, she said.

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“I’m really grateful they’re doing all of these needed repairs to the facility, but I would love to see the garage moved up in the calendar,” Shetty said. “After at least 10 years, it’s not surprising that many in the community feel very frustrated at the pace at which Metro is undertaking these repairs.”

Elizabeth Arias has lived in Silver Spring for about 30 years, and she’s used the Wheaton garage — which opened in 1990, according to Metro — almost as long.

Arias used to pass through the garage and its pedestrian bridge almost weekly on her way to shop for groceries at the Westfield Wheaton mall. That changed two years ago, she said, when she was harassed by a group of teenagers who yelled anti-Hispanic slurs at her while she crossed the bridge.

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Since that night, Arias said, she either shops at another, less convenient grocery store or waits until the weekend, when her husband can accompany her.

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“That bridge, the garage, the windows are broken, there’s trash everywhere, it looks abandoned,” Arias said. “And that’s why those kids — why people feel free to do bad things. They just know nobody is coming.”

Montgomery County police and Metro said they “regularly” send officers to patrol the garage. Montgomery police said they had no plans to increase surveillance; Metro said it does not “release details regarding police patrols or deployment strategies.”

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