Thursday, February 28, 2013


Plaza del Mercado is a classic shopping center in the Bel Pre area of Silver Spring. Having lost its Giant grocery store, it could use a new tenant.

One resident has started a petition that has garnered tremendous  support from the community, and now from the second-highest elected official in Montgomery County - County Council President Nancy Navarro.

The petition is asking Trader Joe's to open a store at Plaza del Mercado.

As of this morning, the petition has over 1600 signatures. Navarro has contacted the center's landlord, Federal Realty, to add some political support to the quest.

I commend Council President Navarro for this effort, and I wish other councilmembers would start taking this approach. This is exactly how we should handle "redevelopment" issues in our already-developed areas: asking what citizens want in their neighborhoods, rather than massive, top-down, developer-friendly sector plans such as in Wheaton and Glenmont.

Any redevelopment in our county should benefit those who live here now, rather than some theoretical rich people who we think will move here in the future. And in this case, Trader Joe's would give residents a neighborhood amenity they want, and attract more shoppers who will patronize other businesses while they are there.

And in doing that, no residents are being evicted from affordable housing, nor is any small business going to be run out of business.

Contrast this sensible, winning approach with Wheaton, where the just-approved plan carves up the downtown on a silver platter for developers.  The vast number of affordable housing units at the northern end of town are now all rezoned attractively for development.  Where exactly will the residents of those buildings go when they are demolished to make way for wealthy, "hip" newcomers? 

In contrast to claims that Wheaton is a "long-term" plan, we've already heard that the Ambassador apartments (formerly Best Western) are going to be "redeveloped." Predictably, we've heard little about where current residents will live when this happens.  What we have been told, is that the new building will be mixed-income. Which makes it mathematically impossible for all current residents to return.  Expect more of the same in the rest of Wheaton.

Meanwhile, the loss of convenient Triangle parking, along with the little-spoken-of sector plan provision that allows a new road to punch through one of the current Wheaton Triangle shopping centers, would seal the sad fate of small business owners there if fully implemented.

All of the taxpayer money going to developers in these plans would be better spent helping landlords maintain and refurbish existing commercial centers and apartments.

I don't believe Irene's should be replaced by Chipotle.

But I suspect most would agree that Trader Joe's replacing a vacant anchor space would only help the community.

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