Welcome to Community Vision for Takoma, an informal network of over 1000 Takoma residents and nearby neighbors, who want a Takoma Junction revitalization that uses public land for the public good. We also work on other issues relating to health, safety, and economic well-being, structural racism and gentrification, and transparency and responsibility in local government.
We are concerned that plans for the development of the publicly-owned property at the Junction–land that was secured for the purpose of benefiting the residents of the community–has evolved into a developer-driven project that will not be affordable for small, locally-owned businesses, or inclusive of all Takoma residents. We also believe that the plan would: exacerbate the Junction traffic congestion and related safety concerns; eliminate space for community activities and public gathering; and threaten the survival of the community-owned grocery store which is one of the largest employers in the City.
What We Stand FOR at the Junction:
Visionary placemaking at the Junction to create a town square open to all
Use of public space that is inclusive and welcoming without requiring consumption
Preservation of affordable retail spaces
Support for innovative, local, independent small businesses
Pop-ups, coffee shops, food trucks & Union-Market-style business incubator space
Respect for the “low and open” small town neighborhood architecture
Prioritizing innovative programming over building massive permanent structures
Continued support for our only downtown grocery store
Optimized use of public space for public events, music, and art
New landscaping and preservation, improvement, & expansion of green space
Highest environmental standards
Improvement in Junction traffic
Improvement in Junction safety
Development prioritizing public good rather than maximum income
It may be hard to see the full arc of the proposed Takoma Junction development process, a process unfolding over many years now. So here, we provide a preliminary timeline of events with linked documents, over the past 30 years. This is a draft, so we welcome suggestions.
1992. Takoma Park Historic District, including the Junction, established to protect against “unsympathetic alteration and insensitive redevelopment.”
1998. Co-op moves to Junction. City begins renting a portion of lot to Co-op for parking, storage, and loading. Co-op begins sponsoring public use, eventually including Earth Day, movie screenings.
2009. Independent study commissioned by Old Town Business Association (OTBA) identifies Co-op as the Junction anchor, recommends “every effort be made to encourage” its further development, and recommends 10,000 sf expansion of Co-op and addition of Co-op cafe.
Feb 2012. Takoma Junction Task Force Report issued. Mentions community desire for small town charm, food trucks, expanded community use, pavilion, playground, support for local businesses.
Jan 2014. Under a short-lived City Manager who now works for Amazon, City puts out Request for Proposals, effectively pre-ordaining choice of a commercial developer and excluding Co-op’s expansion proposal. City Councilman Seth Grimes later laments, “The city made a mistake in not providing detailed, clear guidance on community preferences” and that “none of the proposals” meet City needs documented by Junction Task Force.
2015. City chooses Neighborhood Development Company (NDC), based on their concept showing a loading zone behind the building (no lay-by) and presumed expansion of Co-op.
July 2016. City signs a Development Agreement with NDC, laying groundwork for choosing new anchor tenant if they cannot agree with Co-op on expansion.
2016. First of at least three petitions opposing the development. Over 1300 unique signatures gathered by 2018. Majority of public comments oppose plan at numerous City Council meetings over multiple years. City refuses to survey residents or hold referendum.
2017. NDC and Co-op fail to reach agreement for Co-op expansion as anchor tenant. City authorizes NDC to seek a new anchor tenant.
2017. NDC makes deal to acquire adjoining auto clinic, increases plan to over 50,000 sq ft, releases a three-story glass design received as “Bethesda style.”
April 2018. Community Vision hosts a packed Town Hall with State Highway Administration. Residents and Fire Chief express concerns about safety and traffic issues created by plan.
May 2018. NDC and Co-op, unable to reach a plan for Co-op accommodation during and after construction, agree to mediation funded by City.
June 2018. Two Junction traffic studies issued. They find multiple problems: new traffic will create a “failed intersection,” road reconfiguration will induce demand and create more congestion.
July 2018. City Council votes, 5-2, to let NDC submit site plan (over 50,000 sf) to County.
Sept 2018. Ground lease goes into effect. NDC begins paying rent to City. Co-op begins paying rent to NDC. City is now getting less per month from NDC than they got directly from Co-op to rent just part of the lot.
Oct 2018. Mediation between NDC and Co-op concludes. Co-op prohibited from any further protest in return for ability to rent lot from NDC until construction, other accommodations.
Feb 2019. After failing to convince surrounding businesses to sell them “transferrable development rights,” NDC reduces plan by more than 10,000 sq ft to attempt to comply with zoning. NDC submits plan to County.
March 2019. First review by County’s Development Review Committee (DRC) finds lay-by unacceptable, exit onto Carroll unsafe, inadequate emergency access, plan is bad for walkers and bikers and public transit, other issues.
2019. NDC has three Preliminary Consultations with County’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). In May and August, staff and Commissioners critique size, shape, lay-by, public space, public input. Mayor, City Manager push back. HPC backs off, but asks NDC to return with Columbia (“rear”) facade.
2019. All but one retail spaces in Junction currently rented, and public parking lot is frequently full now, undercutting City’s original stated intention to “revitalize the Junction” with a large development.
Nov 2019. NDC asks for a second 3-month extension to July 2020 for responding to the DRC’s comments, because they are waiting for the SHA’s Junction Vision Study on roadways and traffic.
January 9 2020, Montgomery County Planning Board votes to approve NDC’s extension to Sept 30 2020 instead of July, since the Planning Board will be out of session for the summer in July 2020.
Still to Come (Not Chronological):
SHA issues Vision Study (on traffic, safety, and reconfiguration at Junction) is due out “in winter” 2020. The report is completed, but SHA is letting interested parties review it before it is released.
Fourth preliminary consultation with HPC on the Columbia Ave facade.
NDC must return to DRC with revised plan responding to March 2019 DRC comments.
SHA requires an updated traffic study (the ones done by the City and NDC are now too old), then will make recommendation to the DRC on the project.
NDC will request a Historic Area Work Permit (HAWP) from HPC.
City must consider changes to plan, whether Co-op is accommodated, and vote on a recommendation to Planning Board.
Plan for funding road reconfiguration?
NDC must get financing for the development, and find tenants.
Colleen Cordes delivered a letter on behalf of Community Vision for Takoma this week warning of predicted “alarming” cell tower radiation from multiple antennae on a Takoma Park apartment building, and the racial equity issues of this potential health threat. The City weighed in to demand more information before a new antenna is approved. The issue, and Colleen, ended up on the local news. Here is our letter:
Approximately 75 people attended a community forum on the Takoma Park city budget on May 3 20019, organized by Community Vision for Takoma (CVT). The forum began with a presentation by David Navari, a Takoma resident who works in public sector consulting and examined the budget and met with each member of the City Council to discuss financial management best practices. The following are highlights from Mr. Navari’s presentation along with notes on comments from local residents. You can also listen to Mr. Navari’s 25-minute presentation and see his charts and data, in the video at the bottom.
1. The median household income in Takoma Park is about $85,000. That means 50% of households make less than $85K. This large group is “cost burdened” as housing exceeds 30% of their income – an increasing challenge when taxes grow faster than their income. (Note: The median for renters is $51,333 increasing the financial challenges for this group. See charts in video at bottom.) Several people in this “forgotten middle” spoke of needing to relocate out of Takoma Park and/or knowing many people who have had to leave Takoma Park due to the unsustainable tax burden. Others expressed strong concerns about working- and middle-class homeowners who are being squeezed.
2. 80% of the City’s expenses are personnel salaries and benefits and the city staff does not track time-on-task, so we do not know what the services/programs cost, meaning we don’t really have “true transparency”.
3. The City Council isn’t provided critical data to make informed decisions. For example, the tables of FY19 and FY20 budgets did not even show percent change from the previous year.
4. Eight out of nine years the taxes have
grown at a rate faster than inflation which is a challenge for elderly on a
fixed income and middle-income earners (i.e., middle/working class).
5. Takoma Park’s city manager makes $235,000 compensation (salary + benefits) which is the highest paid city manager per capita in the state of Maryland by a long shot. [See chart in video at bottom]
Community Questions and Comments: A Summary of Key Points
thirty people testified about our town budget. Here are highlights:
Federal contractors, non-profit groups and corporations track time to know what projects are absorbing most of staff capacity. Takoma Park should do this too.
The combined loss of the IRS tax deduction for state taxes and rising local and property taxes is squeezing many households in the middle-income bracket. One woman tearfully told of five friends who had moved out of the community due to rising taxes.
There is support for public and union employees but concern that the staff is growing and salaries and benefits may be growing at an unsustainable rate. The ratio of employees on salary for the city to number of local residents has increased exponentially over time.
The budget is driven by staff. It needs to be driven by the community.
The “I can’t afford to stay here” drumbeat is growing stronger all the time. Children of long-time residents cannot afford to buy here. Retired military personnel and most working-class people are being forced out.
We need to prioritize a deeper investigation into the budget, looking at the police department as well as our tax and revenue arrangement with Montgomery County.
Takoma Park needs to do a better job of benchmarking its expenditures to comparable cities in the area. How do we compare to others? Very few towns of our size, for example, have a police department at the scale that we do. What is the most economical and effective approach to public safety?
The way the budget is presented obfuscates things. We must see how this year’s budget compares to last year’s budget and how changing property assessments affect bottom line taxes.
There is a lack of trust that needs to be addressed.
The budget should not grow faster than the rate of inflation.
Capital projects are worrying many people. Can this small community support all the staff time required for proposed or anticipated development at the Junction, New Hampshire Avenue condos and rec center, Library, Adventist Hospital, Langley Park, and elsewhere? There are concerns about the financing for much of this and how much debt the city may be taking on.
The city is doing some things very well including developing metrics and outcomes to try to be accountable for positive impacts from various programs and spending flows.
Some feel we are losing the Takoma Park culture and spirit as it gets “fancy” and “unaffordable”. One person called for an emergency intervention on gentrification.
Some people feel the recent budget hearings were sufficiently transparent and that there is no problem.
The overwhelming majority of attendees urged the city to begin tracking personnel time by project (activity-based accounting) as of July 1 and the new fiscal year.
County Reviewers Finding NDC’s Takoma Junction Proposal Deeply Flawed
The City has passed the Takoma Junction plan on and up to the County, but after initial review, County experts from multiple agencies are already finding multiple serious flaws in the proposal. Many of these flaws are those the community identified from the outset. But the feedback from County experts is buried in dozens of dense technical documents. So here, Community Vision provides references to the County’s critique on six key aspects of the proposed plan.
1.Proposed Garage Driveway Unsafe for Pedestrians and Cars
The County’s Department of Transportation (MCDOT) “Sight Distance Evaluation” finds the sight distance from the proposed underground garage driveway deficient. The measured sight distance from the proposed driveway looking to the left, around the bend towards the Fire House, is only 188-feet. The required line of sight is 325-feet. In other words, the proposed plan rests on an unsafe blind curve. See:
State Highway Administration (SHA), not County DOT, has independent authority to reject the layby; but SHA is withholding comment pending completion of the SHA Planning Department’s Vision Study, now underway.
3. The Reduced Building Size May Still Be Too Large
After NDC already over-shot allowable density limits and had to reduce the proposed building from 52,000 to 40,000 sq ft due to their mistake on zoning requirements, it now appears that the building MAY STILL BE TOO LARGE due to another calculation error. Why? NDC’s design is based on the City claiming ownership to the center line of Carroll Ave; that added square footage increases the square footage that can be built. However, County reviewers say that this ownership proof is absent, which means the building would have to be reduced yet another 5,000 sq ft.
4. Historic Preservation Staff Gives Devastating Critique of Plan on Multiple Grounds
In comments to the DRC, which may presage the HPC’s independent view of the project when NDC seeks a historic area work permit, HPC staff pans the project as basically incompatible with the area in terms of “overall size, scale, massing, height, and architectural expression.” “The building is too tall.” “Glass tower is inappropriate.” It faults inadequate pedestrian space. It faults large-scale tree removal. And, critically, it notes that the proposed realignment of the Takoma Junction roadways is “incompatible with and detrimental to the historic district,” and would require “review and concurrence by Maryland Historic Trust as it is occurring in/on/to a State Road.” See https://eplans.montgomeryplanning.org/UserFilesSource/19078/61605/32-DRC-820190090.pdf/32-DRC-820190090.pdf
5. Roadway Reconfiguration On Hold
NDC’s plan will require traffic mitigation because it would add more cars to a failing intersection. NDC’s plans are premised on a proposed major reconfiguration of the roadways to achieve that mitigation. See Appendix H (p. 201): https://eplans.montgomeryplanning.org/UserFilesSource/19017/61411/16-TS-120190150-001.pdf/16-TS-120190150-001.pdf. But this proposed intersection redesign is just one proposed idea: all intersection improvement plans are on hold, pending completion of the State Highway Administration’s Vision Study. It remains unclear whether a reconfiguration would have a long-term positive effect. And neither design nor funds have been secured for any reconfiguration.
6. The Proposed Plan is Incompatible with Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Public Transit
To date, even as reduced from 52,000 to 40,000 sq ft, NDC still proposes a building that may be larger than allowed, and does not fit the historic character of the Junction. As shown in the comments provided by numerous County agencies, the proposed building is incompatible with car and pedestrian safety, and the use of roads, sidewalks, bicycles, and public transit. The proposal rests on the removal of the Grant Ave crosswalk, removal of the all-red signal that allows safe pedestrian crossing of the intersection, a problematic layby, and a driveway exit on a blind curve. The proposed project would require a major (and expensive) reconfiguration of the roadways, and multiple waivers for parking space reductions, for being too close to adjacent buildings, and for cutting down many trees.
Does our community deserve a better plan?
Weigh in with your City officials.
Ask them to take back control of this project, and determine how we can safely use this public land for the public good.
The proposed Takoma Junction development plan is now going through the County approval process. But the City must still approve the tree plan, and the stormwater plan. So, stormwater experts with Community Vision for Takoma (CVT) analyzed the developer’s stormwater plan, and wrote this one-page summary of the many flaws in the plan.
TAKOMA JUNCTION DEVELOPMENT STORMWATER ISSUES
The City of Takoma Park has not reviewed stormwater aspects of the current proposal; the City’s approval letter in the record is based on the defunct April 2018 plan.
The City review of the older plan was incomplete; it did not consider many aspects of the proposal.
Neither the plan nor the City’s review considered the fact that nearby residents are already experiencing water management problems.
Currently most of the stormwater at the site flows from the City-owned parking lot to Carroll Avenue where it eventually enters City storm drains. The developer’s plan would divert this water to a storm drain on Columbia Avenue.
Neither the City nor the developer conducted necessary studies including geotechnical, hydrogeological or storm sewer capacity studies.
Neither the soils at the construction site nor the soils on the wooded slope have been well characterized. Clay layers in soil can make water management much more difficult; the limited studies available show clay layers on the site.
Stormwater can either run off over the surface or infiltrate the soil to become groundwater. This has implications for both surface drainage management and the ability of subsurface water to enter basements. Neither the City nor the developer has studied groundwater at the site.
Neither the City nor the developer has assessed the potential impact of this additional stormwater on the downstream storm water management system. It is not known if this system has enough capacity or what the potential impacts could be.
The proposed stormwater plan is under-designed given recent rainfall patterns and the anticipated effects of climate change in the future. The design, operation, and efficacy of the proposed stormwater management system is unclear. The overall efficiency of the proposed green roofs has not been determined.
There is no analysis of water containing sediment that can accumulate in the large excavation proposed for this site.
In summary, it is difficult to see how this proposal meets the Maryland State guidance of controlling stormwater to the maximum extent practicable.
Based on all this, it is recommended that a refined comprehensive analysis, that (1) includes stormwater, groundwater and construction water and (2) is based on geotechnical and hydrogeological data, be undertaken by an independent competent authority with complete transparency.
I understand that you will honor your commitment to guarantee that reasonable accommodations for the Co-op are made and that you are also open to the consideration of changes to the NDC’s site plan as a result of the on-going mediation process between NDC and the Co-op.
I have specific questions regarding servicing the Co-op, a potential new restaurant and other new businesses.
QUESTION 1: How have you determined that the proposed NDC delivery plan is feasible and safe?
QUESTION 2: Will you commit to advocating for changes to the site plan in order to provide safe, sanitary, and adequate servicing to both the Co-op and also to new businesses?
Question 1– Regarding delivery conditions:
According to City documents based on Co-op information, there are examples illustrating multiple, simultaneous deliveries to the Co-op which would test the limits of NDC’s proposed lay-by. (These examples do not include 18-wheelers which average between 70’-80’ in length and whose deliveries unlike others can be scheduled.)
On Friday, May 25, 2018 there were 5 vehicles that arrived within a few minutes of each other during the morning rush hour to deliver to the Co-op. Vehicle one – the first of this group – arrived as a 54’ vehicle was already parked and servicing the Co-op. They shared this area for the next 15-30 minutes. When the 54’ vehicle left, the first of this group – a 22’ vehicle was joined by a 40’ vehicle and a 26’ vehicle. During the next 15-30 minutes, while still at this location, these 3 vehicles were joined by 2 additional vehicles– one 20’ and another less than 20’. As we know, these vehicles need space to enter and exit as they deliver, collect trash, etc. and that parallel parking and double parking would be out of the question at the proposed lay-by location.
This real life servicing occurred during the morning rush hour, during a time when pedestrians were walking to the metro, bikers were commuting, and children in this neighborhood were walking to school and bus stops.
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED MAY 25TH AT THE 137’ PROPOSED LAY-BY?
Question 2 – Regarding changes to the site plan in order to address servicing: NDC has committed to mediation with the Co-op to address critical servicing requirements. There are fundamental life safety issues to consider when factoring in the vehicular, bike, pedestrian traffic and nearby fire rescue services to these servicing issues.
Identification of problems with the current NDC plan:
Professionals (including David Cronrath) have weighed in and have identified trash pick up and servicing as a weak aspect of the current site plan design.
Eric Liebmann, a Takoma Park architect with extensive experience in development projects has provided a solution which illustrates how back of the house services can be accommodated where they belong – at the rear of the site instead of front and center in our pedestrian zone.
Eric has provided you with an alternative plan which illustrates how a 55’ long vehicle can service the site using a one-way service loop. This service loop is in addition to the NDC lay-by. His plan includes a building with an area of the NDC’s RFP Concept Proposal (identified in the Development Agreement with the City.) The current NDC site plan building has grown by about a third from its Concept Proposal and would not allow for this back of house delivery and trash servicing.
CAN YOU PROMISE/ HONOR YOUR COMMITMENT TO ADVOCATING FOR CHANGES TO THE SITE PLAN – INCLUDING SCALING THE BUILDING BACK IN ORDER TO PROVIDE SAFE, SANITARY, AND ADEQUATE SERVICING TO BOTH THE CO-OP AND ALSO TO NEW BUSINESSES?
I would appreciate your consideration to these important questions prior to July 25th and look forward to your response.