18 April 2012

Councilman Hans Riemer Addresses WUDAC April Meeting

Councilman Hans Riemer made a surprise appearance at our April 10th meeting. In what could be considered a first attempt at fence mending after the council voted 9-0 on an alternative plan in opposition to the Wheaton Community's vision on urban redevelopment, Mr. Riemer explained the council's view for the Urban District revitalization. The plan calls for a county investment of $66 million to build a Park and Planning Headquarters and a Town Square in what is known as lot 13 near Reedie and Grandview.  In his address Mr. Riemer stressed that the council took its position in the belief that its plan was superior in that it would ensure a more rapid investment in the downtown area. He felt this plan would be less disruptive to nearby small businesses and quickly add foot traffic to spur daytime economic growth. He stated that the council did take the community's concerns into account and that this was just the first installment into a long term commitment to Wheaton. He recommended future quarterly meetings with community groups to continue this dialogue. Some items on his wish list for future consideration include possible free WIFI in the Urban District, bike sharing and rapid transit, and a task force to study the issue of safety perception in Wheaton and a survey of every street to ensure walkability.

Mr. Riemer took questions and comments from WUDAC Committee members. WUDAC vice-chair Marian Fryer expressed optimism because after years of false starts, at least now there are actual dollars to be invested in Wheaton. She reminded attendees that redevelopment is a process and that we need to continue to be engaged because there is plenty of time to affect the outcome. Matt Barry, large business representative and General Manager of Westfield, also expessed optimism and felt Mr. Riemer was right about the need for a safety review and a comprehensive vision dialogue.

Janet Yu, resident representative, summed up the feelings of many when she stated that the "excitement" the community felt of " building something together" was deflated by the council's action. Another residential representative, Henriot St. Gerard, reminded Mr. Riemer  that redevelopment was more than just the construction of a building and felt it was a mistake to ignore the private investment that B.F. Saul would have committed to Wheaton. Councilman Riemer replied that BF Saul wanted a hefty guaranteed return that the council felt did not warrant the risk of county money.

William Moore, large business representative, expressed his concerns that any future community dialogue may be ignored, much like the community backed plan that was tabled. WUDAC members Devala Janardan, Linda Amendt and Ken Nelson also expressed their frustration that the council's vote totally disregarded the feelings of the Wheaton Community.