As Wheaton’s redevelopment progresses, the community will now have a $350,000 grant from the state’s Community Legacy program to help the process.
The award will fund projects that will improve business facades and add solar-powered trash and recyclables compactors in Wheaton’s downtown area around the Wheaton Metro station, said Rob Klein, office manager of the Montgomery County Department of General Services’ Office of Planning and Development.
The Community Legacy program, run by the Maryland Department of Housing & Community Development, awarded recipients in 19 counties for various revitalization projects.
The projects were selected by state Secretary of Housing & Community Development Raymond Skinner based on recommendations from a review team including members from the Maryland Department of Housing & Community Development, the Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development, and the Maryland Department of the Environment, among other agencies.
Skinner said that facade improvements have been one of the main things the Community Legacy program has focused on over the years.
“By just spending a relatively little bit of money to improve the outside facade of a building, it can really make a big impact,” Skinner said. “It makes a visible difference in terms of what you see as you drive through a community.”
Kevin Baynes — director of the Office of Community Programs in the Division of Neighborhood Revitalization at the Department of Housing & Community Development — said the state has worked with Montgomery County in the past on projects in the Wheaton area but “not on this large, comprehensive scale.”
“This project is consistent with some of the momentum we’ve been working on over the years,” Baynes said.
He said the Wheaton projects are among other winning projects around the state that have a “catalytic effect.”
Using Silver Spring as a comparative example, Klein said Wheaton used to be “healthier” than Silver Spring, but has fallen behind the nearby, revitalized community.
“Wheaton’s moving, but not as fast as the community expects,” Klein said.
The funds will in part help businesses in need of an external makeover, Klein said.
“A lot of the businesses don’t look that good,” he said.
The specific plans for the improved facades will come from the businesses themselves, Klein said, and the county will select which ones will receive the state funds. The county will be reaching out to businesses in the next few months.
The new facades, he said, will incorporate recycled materials as much as possible.
“We want to have a little bit of a funkiness in the area,” Klein said, adding, “You want it to be inviting.”
Councilwoman Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring said the facade treatments will help the downtown Wheaton businesses that do not need a “major overhaul” but rather “just need some TLC.”
“I think it’s one more piece of the puzzle for Wheaton,” Navarro said of the grant.
The money will also go toward replacing 20 of the 80 compactors currently in the area with solar-powered trash and recyclable compactors, which Klein said will reduce operating costs.
He said he thought the new compactors will be the first in the county and could arrive by late spring 2013.
Klein said that redevelopment efforts throughout Wheaton are geared toward attracting young people to the community by making it one of the “cool places with transit.”
“We have to have places for them where they want to live,” he said.