Plans are finally taking shape in Wheaton to replace the existing Safeway and add as much as 500 residential units worth of new neighbors. The Safeway, across the street from the Wheaton Metro, dropped the idea of relocating to the AvalonBay development (a project now on hold) last fall and began working with developer Patriot Realty, creating concepts that are now starting to gel. New plans call for doubling the supermarket's size, adding retail and parking, and building an 18-story residence in three towers.
The newly developed, LEED-certified Safeway will displace the box building and large parking lot opposite the Metro entrance, adding retail, residences and 550 parking spaces to downtown Wheaton. Initial designs insert 140 parking spaces below grade that will service retail customers and 411 residential spaces on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors, accommodating residents. In an effort to hide the three-story garage between the retail and residences, the team plans to cover the garage in a skin that "fits in and doesn't necessarily look like a parking structure," according to Steven A. Robins, Patriot Realty’s attorney from Lerch Early & Brewer.
Hord Coplan Macht is the Baltimore-based architecture firm planning the new building and designing the common spaces. Lee Driskill, a Principal with the firm and the lead architect for the project, says the mid-level garage will be blended almost seamlessly with the exterior of the upper floors. "The goal is to make the 3 levels of the garage meld with the design of the building. You will not see it." At least not from south or west, where most of the traffic runs. "This is still very conceptual, but its not going to be an open garage. The goal will be to make [the exterior walls] look integrated, potentially the majority of it will be glass. It will follow the design of the unit openings above" says Driskill. Ventilation will be likely achieved with screens on the less visible north and east sides.
According to Driskill, the overall strategy is to break the massing along Georgia Avenue, separating the design into 3 vertical towers that are more apparent than actual, since structurally it will comprise one integrated, "tall and elegant" building. "The skin has been organized to have these three tower elements come to the fore."
Though the county's Staff Report was largely favorable, controversy remains over the public space, an issue that could cost the developer $1m. Montgomery County requires a developer to either set aside 20% of the lot as public space, or contribute to a fund to purchase off-site space. In their review, county planners found little value in Patriot's planned outdoor space and "suggested" adjustments that removed it, a change that would effectively require Patriot Realty to buy into the off-site fund. At $35 per square foot, based on the assessed value of the land, that would cost Patriot $960,000. The modification irks Patriot, which blames county planners for the change, but, according to Robins, "it's just a question of how much it costs...and just figuring out how to pay for the land; whether its the land value or the cost of improvements." Its only money.
The Wheaton Safeway development will face Preliminary and Project Plan Review this week where the Planning Board will consider the "favorable" staff report, said Robins. After that, "we still have to get Site Plan approval...hopefully we could begin construction early next year." The county will take up the issue at its next meeting on Thursday.
Patriot previously built 8045 Condominiums, Crescent Condominiums, and the Portico apartment building, all in Silver Spring.
Wheaton Maryland real estate development news