At its March monthly meeting, the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee (WUDAC) unanimously approved a letter of support for Wheaton small businesses to be sent to County Executive Ike Leggett in response to a request by the Coalition for the Fair Redevelopment of Wheaton.
Citing the small business community’s concerns related to parking loss, rents, and accessibility during construction, WUDAC called upon Montgomery County to fund the Small Business Assistance Program, or Bill 6-12, in the FY14 budget; create adequate signage and a transition parking plan to help customers more easily access affected businesses; and create marketing and public awareness campaigns before, during, and after construction to inform the public about changes and to raise the visibility of Wheaton’s Urban District.
The letter was drafted in response to the Wheaton Coalition’s request for a letter of support in November 2012. About 20 small business owners from the Wheaton Triangle participated in the meeting during which Coalition member and Barbarian Comics’s Raymond Rose presented a 1-page document requesting the letter.
WUDAC’s letter of support in favor of the Coalition’s requests is the second Advisory Committee to support the Coalition’s work to ensure that the existing community is able to benefit from the Wheaton redevelopment project. In December 2011, the Wheaton Redevelopment Advisory Committee sent its own letter of support to the County Executive.
At last night’s final FY14 Budget Forum at the Eastern Montgomery Regional Services Center, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett said he will put funds into the County’s Small Business Assistance Program in his proposed FY14 budget set for release on March 15th.
Members of the Coalition for the Fair Redevelopment of Wheaton were present to hear the County’s presentation on the FY14 budget and participate. County documents state that redevelopment construction in downtown Wheaton will begin in FY15 – which could mean as early as July 2014.
Given the revamped Small Business Assistance Program allows small businesses to apply for financial assistance as soon as 12 months before the project begins, Coalition small business member Herbert Quiñonez of Wheaton General Insurance Agency asked the County Executive whether he would put funds in the program.
“Businesses near Parking Lot 13 and along Triangle Lane will be seriously affected by the construction,” Quiñonez said.
Citing a desire to provide more support for small businesses under the new program given the challenges that many small businesses faced during the redevelopment of Silver Spring, Leggett said the County will work to reduce the negative impacts of the project and he will propose funds for the assistance program in the FY14 budget.
This is good news. Community members have called for the full funding of the Small Business Assistance Program as a key piece of responsible development and keeping Wheaton eclectic and diverse.
The question now is – how much will be proposed? Will there be adequate funds to meet the needs of small businesses adversely impacted by 2-3 years of construction?
The Coalition is ready to work with the County Executive and the Montgomery County C0uncil to ensure there is adequate funding appropriated to meet the needs of Wheaton’s small businesses and preserve the strengths of the small business community.
Yesterday, the Coalition for the Fair Redevelopment of Wheaton submitted official public comment to the proposed regulations for the Montgomery County’s revamped Small Business Assistance Program.
The program is designed to provide financial assistance to “financially healthy” small businesses adversely impacted by County initiated or publicly subsidized redevelopment projects. The regulations outline requirements that existing small businesses in Wheaton would have to meet to qualify for assistance during the redevelopment of Parking Lot 13 in the Wheaton Triangle — a 2-3 year construction project slated to begin as early as July 2014.
The Coalition believes that small businesses that want to stay in Wheaton and work hard to improve their businesses deserve a fair shot to qualify for assistance to survive construction. The proposed regulations are too restrictive and at times vague, which threatens to endanger the program’s end goal of connecting small businesses with critical assistance.
Business owners are committed to preparing for redevelopment under the guidance of technical assistance providers that they trust can understand their needs and challenges to make improvements, strengthen their profitability, and position their businesses for success. But businesses that can’t demonstrate sufficient profit in previous years – a central focus of key definitions in the regulations – shouldn’t be at risk of not qualifying for assistance when their tax dollars are making the project possible.
The Coalition, supported in part by approximately 50 small businesses in Wheaton, also wants to ensure that businesses can qualify for grants that give them an adequate amount of assistance to cover basic fixed costs (rent and utilities) given the significant expected loss of revenue during the 2-3 year construction project.
Many business owners in the Wheaton Triangle have spent decades driving Wheaton’s economy, have made critical decisions to facilitate their continued operation despite the economic downturn, and are committed to staying in Wheaton. The regulations should change to give small businesses a fighting chance.
Read the Coalition’s full response by clicking here.
Coalition member and small business representative Raymond Rose of Barbarian Comics responds on behalf of the Coalition to the 2012 Wheaton Small Business Survey Results identifying parking, rents, and safety as the top three concerns of businesses in the area.
Last night, the Coalition for the Fair Redevelopment of Wheaton responded to the release of the 2012 Wheaton Small Business Survey results at the monthly meeting of the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee (WUDAC). Members called for WUDAC to draft a letter to County Executive Ike Leggett requesting that the County outline its commitment to small businesses and the greater Wheaton community in writing regarding the upcoming redevelopment project in downtown Wheaton.
Approximately 20 business owners from the Wheaton Triangle were present for the release of the results. Presented by Wheaton Redevelopment Program staff member Pete McGinnity, the results identified parking, rents, and safety as the top three concerns of small businesses in the area.
Raymond Rose, an employee at small business Barbarian Comics that will celebrate its 45th year in Wheaton next year, delivered the official response from the Coalition. Rose said the loss of parking in Parking Lot 13 during construction would lead to significant loss of business, threatening the livelihoods of business owners in the immediate area.
“The big question we have is – are people going to want to come into the downtown area and shop during the construction phase?” Rose asked.
He also talked about the challenging decisions facing many business owners in 2013 and 2014 absent a clear commitment from the County and property owners – whether they should/can renew their existing leases given unaffordable rents and construction on the horizon. Businesses in the survey identified assistance with lease negotiations as one of their top three needs.
To alleviate these concerns, Rose indicated that the Coalition is asking for the County to create a construction mitigation plan as part of a written pledge for the Wheaton community, including the small business community. The Coalition also requested that WUDAC send to the County Executive a letter of support for the Coalition’s requests.
You can read the Coalition’s official response to the survey results by clicking here.
At the October 7th Wheaton community potluck, more than 35 participants were asked to identify “their hope for Wheaton” in one sentence.
For Kofi Sillah, Coalition member and owner of Wheaton small business Global Cafe African Grill, his hope was captured in three words.
“Keep Wheaton Vital.”
Another participant spoke to the importance of making Wheaton visibly green while maintaining its existing assets.
“Visibly green, sustainable community with a strong base of small businesses and diverse population.”
What’s your hope for Wheaton? Leave your sentence in the comment area below.
On Sunday, the Coalition for the Fair Redevelopment of Wheaton hosted a community potluck for the Wheaton community.
Despite the cold, rainy night, the first Nationals playoff game in progress, the fervor over the Venezuelan elections, and Columbus Day weekend, a wonderful mix of homeowners, renters, small business owners, Councilmembers, County Executive representatives, and civic association representatives came together to talk about the future of Wheaton.
“The best part of this potluck is that we can get to know each other better and work together to make sure that the [Wheaton downtown redevelopment] project reflects what this community wants,” said Luis Bonilla, Coalition leader and owner of Wheaton small business Choice Electronics. “What we really want is justice for this community.”
On Tuesday, members of the Coalition delivered copies of the Small Business Pledge to Montgomery County Councilmembers in advance of today’s final vote on the FY13 Capital Improvements Program Budget for the Wheaton redevelopment project.
Council members have unanimously voted in support of investing $66 million of public taxpayer money to jump start Phase 1 of the Wheaton redevelopment project. Coalition small business leaders, including Filippo Leo, Raymond Rose, Luis Bonilla, and Kofi Sillah, met with District representative Councilmember Nancy Navarro on Tuesday to thank the Council for its support as well as indicate the Coalition’s continued commitment to the fair redevelopment of the area. The Coalition also presented more than 100 petition signatures in support of the Small Business Pledge from Sunday’s Taste of Wheaton festival.
Kofi Sillah, owner of Wheaton small business Global Cafe African Grill, shared his enthusiasm for the Coalition’s work to activate new voices in the Wheaton community to become more involved in the significant decisions that affect his community. He reinforced his hope that the redevelopment project slated to begin in 2014 will ultimately benefit the existing community, including small businesses.
“I want to be able to say that I was there when all of this began,” Sillah said.
Councilmember Navarro stressed to members the importance of a holistic approach to revitalizing Wheaton, citing the downtown redevelopment project in addition to scheduled renovations to the Wheaton library and the modernization of the Wheaton/Edison high schools.
In response to members’ priorities including an adequate transition plan for parking and financial support during construction, Navarro mentioned the importance of funding the new Small Business Assistance Program and getting community feedback regarding how to help Wheaton shoppers, including those with disabilities, more easily access small businesses. The Coalition has requested timely, written responses to the Small Business Pledge from all nine Council members.
The Coalition will continue to work with stakeholders in the Wheaton community to ensure the redevelopment process is both transparent and accountable moving forward.