Wheaton: A Foodie Magnet on the Verge of Change

by Shilpi Paul

Wheaton’s urban core.

Wheaton finally has Montgomery County’s attention. The mixed-income area adjacent to Silver Spring has been quietly declining for the past few decades, and though the ethnic restaurant scene is a draw, the overall vibe around town is one of neglect. But this is about to change.

“There’s been a big county emphasis on promoting development around the Metro stations in Montgomery County,” Glenn Kreger, Montgomery County Planning Department’s Area 2 Chief, told UrbanTurf. “It started in Bethesda, then a lot of effort and money went into the revitalization of Silver Spring. Wheaton is next.”

Developers seem to believe in this line of thinking, and have started swarming with both infill development and redevelopment. With a Costco coming to the area mall and a few residential projects on the way, Wheaton is preparing itself for some big changes. However, with all the development on tap, some wonder if it can maintain the local businesses that have defined the area for decades.

Hard to Define Boundaries

Wheaton’s boundaries are hard to define; UrbanTurf asked several people in the know and no one could provide a definitive answer. Roughly, Wheaton is bounded by Randolph Road to the north, Sligo Creek and Sligo Creek Parkway to the east, a winding path of small streets just above I-495 to the south, and a line that roughly runs along Connecticut Avenue to the east. The urban core of the area surrounds the Wheaton Metro station and is cut by three major thoroughfares: Georgia Avenue, University Boulevard West, and Viers Mill Road.

After World War II, developers started building single-family homes in previously rural Wheaton, creating an affluent suburban community. In 1957, the Wheaton Plaza mall opened up, giving the area a truly suburban feel. Now, the older homes, shops and public spaces are showing their age. One-third of Wheaton’s residents are foreign-born, and the racial breakdown is very diverse: 42 percent Latino, 12 percent Asian, 18 percent black and 26 percent white, according to 2010 Census data.

Wheaton’s Turn

The Wheaton Redevelopment Program is working on bringing public and private investment to the area and an updated master plan for the urban core reveals some big hopes: more nightlife, beautified public spaces, more jobs, and more housing, both affordable and luxury. Naturally, walkability is also on the minds of planners.

“The sidewalks need some big improvements,” said Kreger. “We’re really focused on what we can do to make Wheaton more pedestrian friendly. Right now, the pedestrian network is such that a lot of people just find it easier to drive from place to place.”

Rendering of The Exchange at Wheaton Station.

Ana Lopez van Balen, Director of Montgomery County’s Mid-County Regional Services Center, oversees Wheaton’s Urban District and is constantly thinking about how best to manage the growth of the area while maintaining the local diversity. She is eager to connect developers to area business owners, rather than draw in national chains.

“Can we have pop-up galleries in the open retail spaces?” van Balen asked. “Bring in artists-in-residence? Is a 9:30 Club possible? A children’s museum?”

Ethnic Food Smorgasbord and a Costco

For foodies in the region, Wheaton is already a destination. Ren’s Ramen and Island Hut show up on Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema’s recent list of favorite Cheap Eats, and Nava Thai and Hollywood East Cafe are perpetual blog favorites.

Les Dames d’Escoffier, with support from Local First Wheaton, coordinates a day-long culinary tour of the community each year, with stops at local shops like By Brazil, Carmelo’s Bakery, Hung Phat Asia Market, Filipino Grocery Store and Thomas International Market (which sells Middle Eastern goods), among others.

Ethnic grocery stores in Wheaton.

While these shops and restaurants are a draw, they can be intimidating for many potential customers. In a recent Wheaton Patch article, residents expressed concern that the local establishments will be priced out of the new, more expensive Wheaton. There is a sense of urgency to introduce these options to a more diverse client base, giving them stability before the rents increase.

Van Balen agrees. “How do we do more? Can we have tours more than just once a year? Can we incorporate more shops?”

The flip side of the ethnic food smorgasbord is that Wheaton doesn’t have as many typical ‘American’ cuisine options. “We’ve tried to embrace the area and enjoy the vast array of ethnic food,” resident John Clinger told UrbanTurf. “However, to this point we’ve found no edible pizza — we’ve looked very hard.”

The Costco coming to the Westfield Wheaton mall later this year has created some excitement, and the mall has undergone a revitalization. Still, Wheaton is not an area known for its action.

“There isn’t all that much to do as far as nightlife and entertainment,” said Clinger. “We usually have to go to Bethesda, Silver Spring, or downtown DC to have some real fun.”

With Development Comes Generation Y-ers

Older single-family homes, which include split-level homes and Cape Cods, fill Wheaton’s residential blocks, but the housing stock is still affordable, attracting some first-time homebuyers who want easy access to DC. Recently, several townhome developments and apartments have gone up close to the urban center.

Real estate agent Kathy Whalen provided some housing statistics for 20902, the Wheaton zip code. The average asking price for homes on the market is $386,589, with current listings ranging from $62,500 to $645,000. In the past six months, 174 properties have sold.

Christopher Blackmon lives in a townhome near the area’s urban center with his wife and children. “Our neighborhood is what I call city living with suburban amenities,” Blackmon told UrbanTurf. “We always have parking because we have a garage. Although we’re without a yard, we have a common park area in our development.”

Mixed-Income Housing

At least two luxury apartment buildings are currently in the pipeline for Wheaton. The Exchange at Wheaton Station, a 17-story building, is under construction on Georgia Avenue across from Reedie Drive. The development from Patriot Realty will include a Safeway and 501 luxury apartments. Lowe Enterprises has plans to turn a 5-story office building at 11411 Georgia Avenue into a 14-story residential building, with construction scheduled to begin in early 2013. There are also several smaller projects in the works. “I think over the next couple years we’ll start seeing the development applications coming in,” to fill out the rest of the area, said Kreger.

With the new development, both Kreger and van Balen said that they expect an inflow of younger, wealthier residents to fill the new apartments, changing the demographic makeup of Wheaton.

With an eye towards keeping the community mixed-income, MetroPointe, an apartment building just south of The Exchange on Georgia Avenue, has a higher-than-normal percentage of affordable units (30 percent). The building, developed by Bozzuto and the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County, was completed in the fall of 2008.

The county is also working on a public-private partnership with developer B.F. Saul that could bring 900,000 square feet of office space to the area, as well as 40,000 square feet of retail and a town square. Rapid transit, a system that is something in between a bus and a rail line, is also being explored, and the county is in communication with the folks behind Capitol Bikeshare about the concept.

“We want to stimulate downtown on a 24-hour basis,” said Kreger.

Typical housing stock in Wheaton.

Transforming a Patch of Grass

Wheaton’s master plan also includes improved public spaces, especially in the urban center. Van Balen says there are plans to create a vibrant town square on what is currently a patch of grass with a couple aging picnic tables on it. “We want to build a place that draws families in, where kids can play freely.”

Leave the central business district and Wheaton already has some very appealing public spaces. In addition to trails and picnic grounds, Wheaton Regional Park has horse stables, a train ride and carousel, an ice skating rink, and Brookside Gardens, a 50-acre display garden and popular wedding venue. Wheaton Library is one of the most used libraries in the county, van Balen told UrbanTurf, and there are plans to connect it to the already existing community center across the street. (An interesting factoid: the Wheaton Metro boasts the longest escalator in the Western hemisphere. It takes almost 3 minutes to ride.)

Families, Schools and Crime

Families fill many of the detached homes and townhomes in Wheaton, and residents are close to some of Montgomery County’s better public schools, including Wheaton High School, Albert Einstein High School, Weller Road Elementary and Viers Mill Elementary.

A couple widely-reported shooting incidents in recent years have given the area something of a black eye, and van Balen acknowledges that a negative perception exists about crime in Wheaton. “But police tell me that we have the lowest crime levels we’ve ever had,” she insists. “I’m hoping that redevelopment and increased walkability will change perception.”

The Bottom Line

Wheaton has ethnic diversity, retail diversity and will soon see an increase in economic diversity. While development may take a while, the projects already underway promise to bring a new finish to the area.

“You’re finding people who realize they can get in on the ground floor of something,” Kreger said, using an oft-used phrase by those touting an area on the rise. “They can have access to the regional transportation system and all the great restaurants, but not live in Bethesda and pay that kind of money.”

See other articles related to: wheaton, hoods

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/wheaton_foodie_magnet_with_affordable_homes/5355


  1. jag said at 10:45 am on Friday March 30, 2012:

    “Wheaton is next” basically sums it all up. It’s a logical extension of downtown Silver Spring’s success and the pros and cons of Wheaton and pre-revitalized downtown Silver Spring are very, very similar.

    One issue that I haven’t seen the county try to address (and it’s still an issue that holds back downtown Silver Spring) is that the pedestrian very obviously comes second in MoCo’s eyes. Very little has been done to address the lack of walkability along the major, high speed roads gashing right through the middle of Wheaton and, to a lesser extent, downtown Silver Spring. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the decline of these first ring suburbs is due in large part because they’ve been sacrificed, and continue to be seen as secondary, to those who live in exburbs and commute via car straight through everyone else’s communities (and unreasonably expect that they should be able to do so at 55 mph). MoCo is progressive in most every way, but leadership still can’t properly see that this is completely unacceptable in the eyes of most anyone under the age of 50 (a.k.a. the disposable income Gen Yers who the county needs to attract in order to prosper).

  1. lilkunta said at 10:55 am on Friday March 30, 2012:

    I dont feel Wheaton has been on the decline. Wheaton Mall was renovated. Plus there are new developments. While you cited the MetroPointe(Reedie&Georgia;) you didnt mention Archstone(Georgia) nor the luxury Clairmont Townhouses on Grandview(across from fire/rescue squad). Also there are the new townhouses on the land/cite of the old good counsel high scool : Leesborough (next to Wheaton Library(on the demolished Good Counsel land).

  1. lilkunta said at 10:57 am on Friday March 30, 2012:

    wow jag you are here too!

  1. Steven Anthony said at 11:21 pm on Tuesday April 3, 2012:

    Our residents need a public in community use turf field.  The fields in this area are horrid, and aren’t child friendly.  Turf fields would help this community vastly.  What do we have to do to get this going?

  1. Eve said at 10:47 am on Tuesday April 24, 2012:

    Wheaton High School is one of the County’s best? Really? On what basis? I’m very happy w/my kids’ elementary school here (Oakland Terrace), but most educated parents I know are at least a little concerned about what middle school and high school have to offer here in 20902. If there are good things about the middle and high schools here—and I’m sure there are many good things—someone needs to get that message out in a clear and credible way.

  1. 4 Brothers Buy Houses said at 3:43 pm on Thursday September 4, 2014:

    As a former resident of Wheaton (as of a few months ago), I had seen many positive changes in the time I was there.  However, as another user mentioned, getting around (either via car, bike, or walking) is a nightmare.  Even if you live in one of those new high-rises near the metro, the streets are busy, frustrating, and dangerous. 

    The author mentions Wheaton being something of a “foodie” haven.  While there are some good, authentic restaurants in Wheaton (Ruan Thai, Pollo Rico, Full Key), the majority of these places are not great and are quickly going out of business.  The pub scene is sad…one decent Irish pub.  Sure, we have a grocery store and Costco now, but it’s a disaster to access and park (especially the Costco/Wheaton Mall).  And yes…no edible pizza.  Closest is “Frankly…Pizza” in Kensington.  How about a good bakery?  Unless you like baguettes that weigh 2 ounces, you’re out of luck.

    I don’t really understand the area north of university on georgia between wheaton and glenmont.  It’s a collection of the oddest places that are very difficult to access.  Maybe there’s a chance to redevelop that area?

    All that said, some of the neighborhoods within 1/2 mile of the metro hold a lot of promise.  Most of them consist of 50s Ranchers with wide streets, biggish lots, and old trees.  Sligo creek park on the north-east side of town provides some tranquility.

    The main fact remains though…it’s so difficult to get around.  Let’s start with that.

Join the discussion

UrbanTurf now requires registration in order to post comments. Register here, or login below if you are already registered.

Click here if you forgot your password.

DC Real Estate Guides

Short guides to navigating the DC-area real estate market

We've collected all our helpful guides for buying, selling and renting in and around Washington, DC in one place. Visit guides.urbanturf.com or start browsing below!

Northern Virginia

Profiles of 14 neighborhoods across Northern Virginia

Looking to Give People A Reason to Stay Past 6pm
Happily Straddling the Line Between City and Suburb
Columbia Pike
Arlington’s Neglected Stepchild is Getting a Makeover
Crystal City
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Lyon Village
Developing An Air of Exclusivity?
Hitting Its Growth Spurt
An Urban Village Hitting Its Stride
Del Ray
Virginia’s Small Town Near the Big City
Eisenhower Avenue
The Vibrancy Might Take a Few Years
The Quiet Neighborhood By the Beltway
Old Town
Mayberry By The Potomac
132 Commerical-Free Acres
Downtown Falls Church
Staying the Same in the Midst of Change
Tysons Corner
Radical Change Could Be On The Way

See more Northern Virginia »


Profiles of 14 neighborhoods in suburban Maryland

Small-Town Living in the State Capital
Bedroom Community Gets Buzzing Cache
Cabin John
In With The New While Maintaining the Old
Chevy Chase
Affluence, Green Lawns and Pricey Homes
Downtown Silver Spring
Experiencing a Resurgence After a Bumpy History
A Suburb on Steroids
Rockville Town Square
Despite the Dynamism, Still Somewhat Generic
Takoma Park
More Than a Little Bit Quirky
A Foodie Magnet on the Verge of Change
Capitol Heights
Kudzu, Front Porches and Crime
Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Mount Rainier
Artists, Affordable Homes and A Silo Full of Corn
National Harbor
A Development Rises Next to the Potomac
Riverdale Park
A Town Looking For Its Identity

See more Maryland »

Northwest DC

30+ neighborhood profiles for the city's biggest quadrant

16th Street Heights
DC's Sleeper Neighborhood
Where (Almost) Everyone Knows Your Name
AU Park
One of DC’s Last Frontiers Before the Suburbs
DC’s Northern Neighborhood on the Cusp
DC’s 535 House Neighborhood
Cathedral Heights
Do You Know Where That Is?
Chevy Chase DC
Not to Be Confused With the Other Chevy Chase
Cleveland Park
Coming Back After A Rough Year
Columbia Heights
DC’s Most Diverse Neighborhood, But For How Long?
An Island of Serenity East of the Park
Dupont Circle
The Best of DC (For a Price)
Foggy Bottom & West End
Where the Institutional Meets the International
Forest Hills
Ambassadors and Adventurous Architecture
Fort Totten
Five Years Could Make a Big Difference
Foxhall Village
350 Homes Just West of Georgetown
Friendship Heights
A Shopping Mecca With a Few Places to Live
History, Hoyas and H&M
Glover Park
One of DC’s Preppier and More Family-Friendly Neighborhoods
A Posh View From Embassy Row
LeDroit Park
A Quiet Enclave in the Middle of the City
Logan Circle
Trendy Now, But Not By Accident
Mount Pleasant
Sought-After Homes Surround Main Street in Transition
Mount Vernon Triangle
From Seedy to Sought-After
The Long, Skinny Neighborhood at the City’s Northwest Edge
Park View
It’s Not Petworth
Penn Quarter/Chinatown
DC’s Go-Go-Go Neighborhood
Getting a Vibrancy of Its Own
The Duke’s Former Stomping Ground
Shepherd Park
DC’s Garden of Diversity
Spring Valley
A Suburb With a DC Zip Code
Not To Be Confused With Takoma Park
Not Quite Like Its Neighbors
U Street Corridor
The Difference a Decade Makes
Woodley Park
Deceptively Residential
Adams Morgan
No Longer DC’s Hippest Neighborhood, But Still Loved by Residents

See more Northwest DC »

Southwest DC

The little quadrant that could

Southwest Waterfront
A Neighborhood Where A Change Is Gonna Come

See more Southwest DC »

Northeast DC

Profiles of 10 neighborhoods in NE

New Development Could Shake Up Pastoral Peace
A Little Bit of Country Just Inside the District’s Borders
Not to Be Confused With Bloomingdale
H Street
A Place To Party, and To Settle Down
The Northeast Neighborhood That Few Know About
Michigan Park
A Newsletter-On-Your-Doorstep Community
Evolving from a Brand to a Neighborhood
Ripe for Investment Right About Now
The Difference 5 Years Makes
Big Houses, A Dusty Commercial Strip and Potential

See more Northeast DC »

Southeast DC

6 neighborhoods from Capitol Hill to East of the River

Capitol Riverfront
Still Growing
Hill East
Capitol Hill’s Lesser Known Neighbor
Congress Heights
Gradually Rising
Notable for Its Neighborliness
Historic Anacostia
Future Promise Breeds Cautious Optimism
Eastern Market
A More European Way of Living

See more Southeast DC »

Upcoming Seminars ▾