Mixed-income, mixed-use complex's
ground floor retail plan
includes a food hall
The current redevelopment of the Ambassador Apartments property in Wheaton, formerly a Howard Johnson hotel and restaurant, is currently underway with the demolition of the existing structures on the site. A later phase of the same Wheaton Gateway project will replace the Lindsay Ford dealership right next door. Now I've learned more details about the project, and have some of the first renderings of its visual impact on the gateway to the Wheaton business district, and nearby homes.
|View from Veirs Mill Road looking|
Developers of the project say Wheaton Gateway will be a "prime example" of the type of development favored in the Wheaton sector plan, which was approved by the Montgomery County Council in 2012. The development team emphasizes that each developer is a longstanding member of the county business community, not an out-of-state or fly-by-night firm. Those partners are the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission, the Duffie family (The Duffie Companies, headquartered in Silver Spring), and members of the Cohen family (Willco).
|Helicopter view from Fenimore Road|
looking toward Wheaton Plaza
While Lindsay Ford's plan to move to Aspen Hill was canceled, the development team says that the HOC recently acquired the Ford dealership's property. The HOC is now leasing that property short-term to Lindsay. Interestingly, Willco has owned the former Howard Johnson restaurant structure (a mattress store of late) since 1963.
Wheaton Gateway will feature 30% affordable housing units, more than twice the standard 12.5% requirement, and twice the 15% the Council has required in recent sector plans. Ground floor retail is planned in the development, and it will be designed with the additional of the future Veirs Mill bus rapid transit line in mind.
|View from Kensington Boulevard across Veirs Mill|
still looking toward Wheaton Plaza
After meeting with nearby residents, developers used their feedback to modify some of the proposal. They heard that Wheaton's burgeoning status as an arts and entertainment area should be incorporated. More broadly, residents said they wanted more dining options, but restaurants that would be local and unique, as opposed to national chains. To facilitate the latter vision, the developers have fit a food hall space into the design of the complex.
If the food hall ends up happening, it will provide spaces to several eateries at a more affordable leasing rate than a full-size restaurant space. This concept has already found great success down Veirs Mill Road in Rockville at Pike Kitchen and The Spot. Outdoor patio seating is also anticipated for the dining area, which is designed to be shielded from the traffic noise and fumes from Veirs Mill.
|Internal street would provide through-block access|
between East Avenue and Veirs Mill Road
An internal street will provide access from Veirs Mill and from East Avenue for vehicles, and also break up the "superblock" created by the assembled properties. The plan also addresses a frequent complaint about developments in recent years, which rarely have pull-off driveways or drop-off zones, forcing delivery trucks and other vehicles to stop in traffic lanes. Wheaton Gateway will provide several such drop-off areas on the property for this reason, and with the future growth of meal deliveries and autonomous vehicles in mind.
There will be both underground garage parking, and above-grade structured parking. The precise number of total parking spaces has not yet been determined. Several electric vehicle charging spaces will be set aside. A flat plate design structure will be employed that will allow parts of the parking structures to be repurposed for other uses if parking demand drops in the future.
|Helicopter view from University Boulevard,|
Loading docks will be fully off street under the building structure. They will be accessed from University Boulevard. This is where tenants will move in and move out their belongings.
There will be three pedestrian routes through or around the property. A bicycle stairway is being proposed for the Kensington Boulevard right-of-way at the north end of the property, to help cyclists tackle the significant grade drop there (yellow area in the above rendering). The developers would like the Maryland State Highway Administration to add a traffic signal at Veirs Mill and Galt Avenue, to facilitate safer crossing of Veirs Mill at that location.
|Phasing for Wheaton Gateway|
The Phase 1 building that is replacing the Howard Johnson hotel and restaurant at the corner of Veirs Mill and University will be set back 55' from the curb to allow a larger public use space. Buildings will step down from the highest height of 154' (higher than the 130' allowable height there due to the bonus density earned by the 30% affordable units being provided) at the corner Phase 1 building to 124' at the front Phase 2 area of the Lindsay property, to 69' along East Avenue (where, without the 30% affordable, they would have been limited to 45'). A small, orphaned block of Kensington Boulevard is the closest residential development to the Wheaton Gateway property. The Planning Board has the option to cap height at lower than 45' if it determines 45 is incompatible with adjacent properties.
How many total units will be in the complex, and of which sizes, have yet to be determined. Architectural design is also still in the works - the renderings here are mainly for massing reference. But one promising sign is that Torti Gallas + Partners is on the design team.
The development partners are aiming not only for LEED certification for Wheaton Gateway, but also hope to achieve the even more stringent Passive House Certification.
All eight trees on the property will be cut down. The 15% net forestation requirement will be met not by planting more trees on this site, but by acquiring off-site forested land for preservation, or by paying a fee to Montgomery County in lieu of the other options.
The plans indicate that there will be little space left on the site for stormwater management. Therefore, all available open spaces will be employed as much as possible for stormwater management purposes. An access drive from Wheaton Gateway to East Avenue will be lined with stair-stepping bioretention areas.
Stormwater management planters will be placed wherever feasible along the Veirs Mill frontage of the development, and within the interior outdoor common areas. The developers plan to employ both green roofs and rooftop photovoltaic systems.
In conclusion, while not all details of the Wheaton Gateway project are finalized, it's clear this will be a dramatic transformation of a landmark intersection in Wheaton.
Images courtesy Wheaton Gateway partners
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