Letter from a Resident Architect

July 22, 2018

Dear Mayor and City Council Members,

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.

Sincerely,

Charles Poor, AIA

The Alternative Resolution

Our City is desperately divided over the Junction development, and in urgent need of a sensible compromise to avoid a legacy of bitterness, alienation, and political disruption. We need to start healing and moving forward together. As we face the Council’s vote this week, there is only one clear pathway to do that: the Alternative Resolution.

This Wednesday, the City Council has before it two separate resolutions on the Takoma Junction development, both listed on the agenda. The second resolution up for a vote is the resolution to greenlight the Junction development and send it on to the County and State agencies. But the first resolution on the agenda is an Alternative Resolution, requiring the City to allow completion of the mediation with the Co-op, get clarity on when and how traffic will be configured and who will pay for it, analyze the racial equity impact of the development, and hold a mediated process for the community to consider alternatives and reach a better consensus on the development, before voting to greenlight the development plan. There has also been a proposed amendment specifying that the developer should not become the Co-op’s landlord on the City lot until those four conditions are met (amendments in italics in the Alternative Resolution below).

But, the Council will not even discuss this Alternative Resolution, unless a Councilmember agrees to second Councilmember Smith’s move to consider the resolution. At present, no Councilmember has said they will second it. Voting it down is one thing. Refusing to discuss it, is quite another.

 

Please contact your Councilmember and urge them to second the move to consider the Alternative Resolution.

 

ALTERNATIVE RESOLUTION REGARDING THE TAKOMA JUNCTION SITE PLAN

OFFERED BY COUNCILMEMBER JARRETT SMITH

WHEREAS the City Council entered into a Development Agreement with Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) on August 1, 2016 with objectives including provision of public or community spaces that result in enhanced interactions, expansion of community use of public space, support of independent businesses, expansion of parking options for area businesses, improved mobility and enhanced streetscape, encouraging alternate modes of transportation, and a retail tenant mix with a high priority for local and regional operators;

WHEREAS after conducting a Community Consultation process and engaging in extensive communications with City staff and City Council members, NDC shared a draft Site Plan in September 2017 that was not sufficiently responsive to the terms of the Development Agreement;

WHEREAS City Council Resolution 2017-53 of October 25, 2017 called upon NDC to revise the Site Plan to incorporate eleven specific changes;

WHEREAS the presentation of NDC’s revised Site Plan is still incomplete in several key respects and fails to meet several terms of Resolution 2017-53;

WHEREAS NDC’s revised Site Plan now relies upon the removal of the signal and crosswalk at Grant Avenue and the reconfiguration of the intersection of Carroll, Ethan Allen, and Sycamore Avenues in order to accommodate a truck lay-by and public space;

WHEREAS the traffic impact analysis commissioned by NDC does not make clear the methodology by which it projects that the existing intersections will fail in the absence of intersection reconfiguration and also does not take into account potentially positive traffic impacts of the Purple Line and intersection improvements nearing completion at Ethan Allen Avenue and New Hampshire Avenue as well as the closure of Washington Adventist Hospital;

WHEREAS an analysis of the traffic impact study commissioned by NDC, indicates that the large-scale retail and office development proposed by NDC would introduce more traffic to the Junction than the current configuration of intersections can handle during peak hours;

WHEREAS there are many reasons to question the feasibility and advisability of such an intersection reconfiguration, based upon the reliance of such a project on the State Highway Administration; as well as uncertainty about the direct and ancillary costs, the funding sources, the possible impacts on downstream intersections, cut-through traffic, pedestrians, cyclists, and nearby businesses’ viability, and the “induced demand” which NDC’s traffic consultants acknowledged would be inevitable, as well as uncertainty about the impacts on the historic character of the Junction resulting from roadway realignments and on the quality of life in Takoma Park due to increased capacity for vehicles in the 410 and Carroll Avenue corridors;

WHEREAS NDC and the Takoma Park Silver Spring Cooperative Inc. (Co-op) have not yet reached final agreement on accommodations for the Co-op’s continued operations;

WHEREAS the Mayor, on behalf of the Council, in a letter of May 24th, 2018 to NDC and the Co-op, specified that the Council had approved up to $5,000 to support a mediation process between the two parties, that the mediation should conclude by early September, and that the goals of such mediation would be (1) to build trust between the parties, and (2) to reach agreement in a timely fashion on outstanding issues, including but not limited to deliveries, trash and recycling, parking, and preliminary plans for continuity of operations during construction;

WHEREAS such a mediation process has been entered into by both NDC and the Co-op with the understanding that the Council’s definition of what would constitute a timely fashion would be a conclusion by early September, not late July;

WHEREAS the City Manager, in a letter to the Co-op, informed the Co-op that as of September 1st, 2018, the City was canceling its contract of 20 years with the Co-op under which the Co-op paid the City for the use of a portion of the City parking lot that the Co-op has used for deliveries, trash and recycling, and parking; and in the same letter communicated to the Co-op that it should now negotiate terms for renting or otherwise being permitted to use any of the lot with NDC as of September 1st;

WHEREAS the current revised start date for the Ground Lease of September 1st is an arbitrary date unrelated to an immediate use of the lot by NDC, and furthermore, by imposing such a certain near date of a landlord-tenant relationship between NDC and the Co-op, regardless of the results of their current mediation and in the midst of said mediation, may unnecessarily complicate and potentially disrupt the mediation process and thus jeopardize the long term success of the Junction redevelopment;

WHEREAS NDC had previously sought and received approval from the City Manager for a postponement of the start date for the Ground Lease, thereby indicating that a further postponement of such start date and of the related payment of rent and any assessed taxes by NDC that such start date requires would not impose a hardship on NDC;

WHEREAS NDC has not yet provided a signed lease or Letter of Intent with an anchor tenant, and the City Council needs this information to be able to evaluate the suitability of the project for the community;

WHEREAS the City has not produced a racial or socioeconomic equity analysis of the impact of the proposed development, or a Racial Equity Statement;

WHEREAS the community is deeply divided over the current site plan, with a critical need for building greater consensus around an appropriate development through a community process of charrettes, Town Halls, and mediation;

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that the City agrees to wait for a vote on the NDC proposal until the following conditions are met:

(1) The mediation with the Co-op has been concluded, and the Council, after public consultation with both NDC and the Co-op, has determined that the outcome of mediation between NDC and the Co-op offers reasonable accommodation for the Co-op’s deliveries, trash and recycling operations, parking, and continued operations before, during, and after construction and development of the project site;

(2) We have clarity on how and whether the intersection should or would be reconfigured, who would pay for it, and how the intersection would function if the development is built before (or without) a reconfiguration;

(3) The City undertakes a racial and socioeconomic equity analysis and releases a Racial Equity Statement for the proposed development;

(4) The City holds an effective, mediated process for resolving the problems outlined here, including charrettes, and a Town Hall process to consider alternatives, and to help residents to better understand the reasons for any development, and to seek greater consensus in the community around any changes that can and should be made;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Council does hereby direct the City Manager to take such actions necessary as to cause (1) the immediate suspension of both the effective start date of the Ground Lease to NDC and the effective date of the termination of the Land License Agreement with the Co-op and (2) the indefinite postponement of both such dates until the conditions outlined above have been met and the Council has voted to approve a site plan/preliminary plan agreed to by NDC for the Junction redevelopment project.

 

 

On Declining to Survey Ward 3

To: kacyk kacyk@takomaparkmd.gov
Sent: Fri, Jul 13, 2018 6:05 pm
Subject: Ward 3 Survey on the Junction

 

Dear Kacy,

As your constituents, we respectfully urge you to survey the residents of Ward 3 on whether or not they support the current Takoma Junction site plan, before you vote on the Junction Resolution.
As you know, there is precedent for this, with at least two other Council members having done Ward surveys on the Junction in the past.
We understand that you are elected to use your judgement in City matters. But we also believe that, because our Ward will be the most affected by the development, you have a particular ethical responsibility to represent your constituents in Ward 3 in this matter.
In order to have as many days as possible for constituent responses, especially deep in summer, we would strongly suggest putting up the survey as quickly as possible. As we’re sure you understand, any later questions about the objectivity in the framing of the question would negate the survey results. We’ve included suggested language here.
As your Ward 3 representative, I will be voting YES or NO on July 25th on a resolution on the proposed site plan for development of the parking lot owned by the City at Takoma Junction. The Draft Resolution is here. The developer’s site plan is here
If the resolution is approved, the plan goes before County and State agencies for approval. 
Please register your opinion as to whether, as your representative, you would want me to:
A. Vote YES
B. Vote NO
Some neighbors in the last few days have asked us when residents will get to vote on the Junction plan. The process has been long and complex, and unfortunately, many neighbors deep in summer are still not aware that the Council will vote on July 25th.
Thank you for taking this final, important step to ensure clear feedback from your constituents.
Natalie Angier, David Blockstein, Megan Christopher, Leah Curry-Rood, Joan Duncan, Meriwether Jones, Sue Katz Miller, Merrill Leffler, Susanne Lowen, Ben Miller, Paul Miller, Dara Orenstein, Chas Poor, Debra Prybyla, Ron Resetarits, Roger Schlegel, Ann Slayton, Joe Uehlein, Paul Wapner, Rick Weiss
*****
Re: Ward 3 Survey on the Junction
From: Kacy Kostiuk, kacyk@takomaparkmd.gov
Date: Mon, Jul 16, 2018 2:09 pm

Dear Sue, Natalie, David, Megan, Leah, Joan, Meriwether, Merrill, Susanne, Ben, Paul, Dara, Chas, Debra, Ron, Roger, Ann, Joe, Paul, and Rick:

Thank you for reaching out to me with this request.
I appreciate your interest in having a survey conducted on the Junction project.  Throughout this process, I have sought to engage as many people as possible in this discussion and to carefully and thoroughly review the comments and information that residents have shared with me.  I have very much appreciated the high level of civic engagement on this issue and believe it has and will continue to result in an improved project.
Over the past few months, I have engaged in a lot of listening and thinking about the Junction.  I have spoken with and heard from residents at the Junction Project Open House, the Pop-Up, the One-on-One Conversations event last week, public comment sessions at every Council meeting since the beginning of April, two listening sessions that I arranged for Ward 3 residents, the traffic discussion with SHA at the firehouse, neighborhood gatherings, small-group meetings, one-on-one discussions, phone calls, emails, and listserv comments.
Thorough this process, I have carefully considered the perspectives of Ward 3 residents in particular.  Based on what I have heard, I have asked questions of NDC, the traffic firms, and City staff, and I have requested changes to the plan.  These include:
  • Adding an elevator to the west side of the building next to the Coop
  • Reducing the building height of up to 5 feet while maintaining natural light in the interior spaces
  • Minimizing negative impacts on the wooded lot behind the building
  • Setting 2700 sq ft as the minimum amount of public space
  • Minimizing noise and lighting impacts on the neighborhood from the rear of the building and requiring outdoor lights with no higher than 3000K temperature
  • Adding language to the resolution to require “non-formula” businesses without the Council’s consent
  • Dedicating a portion of the revenue from the project to the affordable housing fund
  • Requesting that NDC’s traffic firm complete an analysis of traffic based on a restaurant rather than just a shopping center prior to submitting to the County
  • Mediation between the Coop and NDC
I am still reviewing the Site Plan and Draft Resolution and considering if there are additional changes that need to be addressed prior to the vote.
Although I understand the impetus to call for a survey, I do not believe this would provide me with new information that would better inform my decision-making process.  Through all the engagement opportunities noted above, I have had opportunities to talk with and hear from residents, gaining a general sense of residents’ diverse range of perspectives throughout the ward.  The most important feedback I have gotten has focused on concrete aspects of the project or specific concerns.  These concerns have led to the changes I noted above, as well as others, and to me reconsidering the plan in a new light.  This is a vote on a resolution that involves a series of proposed changes to the project as well as opportunities for further amendments — not just a “yes” or “no.”
I can understand how frustrating it would be to feel that I am not listening.  I assure you that I have been and continue to be interested in hearing all of the opinions shared with me.  If you or others would like to talk more in-depth, I am happy to do so.  Anyone who feels they haven’t had a chance to share their thoughts is encouraged to email, call, or arrange a meeting with me.  I have appreciated all the input, and my discussions with residents have led to the changes I listed above and others.
Thank you again.
Best,
Kacy
*****

Alternative Plan #3

-Leibmann.alternate scheme 04-26-18 (3)-page-1Here, we bring you Alternative Plan #3, submitted to the City Council by Eric Liebmann, an architect experienced in working with developers on commercial, residential, and mixed-use buildings. This plan features a proper on-site loading zone at the back of the development.

Features of this plan:

  • A one way loop drive behind the development which would allow all trucks up to 55 feet to unload and collect trash off-street, and out of public sight and smell.
  • A lay-by would still be needed on Carroll, solely for the use of the largest trucks. Someday when the largest trucks are no longer in use, the development would still have a proper loading zone in the back, and the lay-by could be repurposed (bike lane? row of trees?).
  • From Carroll Avenue, the project could look virtually the same, Streetsense’s handsome facades could be retained, and virtually all the valuable street-front retail would be preserved. The number of underground parking slots is also preserved.
  • The loop drive and loading zone along the woods could possibly be used in off-hours as public space.
  • The overall project would decrease in size by around a third in order to accommodate the loop drive, which would return the project back to the size originally envisioned by several responses to the Request for Proposals (RFP).

-Leibmann.alternate scheme 04-26-18 (3)-page-2-Leibmann.alternate scheme 04-26-18 (3)-page-0

Funding an Alternative Plan

There is great interest in the community in any number of alternative plans for Takoma Junction, with either more public space, smaller commercial space, or both. The developers maintain that they cannot afford to give us the smaller 34,000 sq ft from their original drawing, or more public space, or space for proper off-site unloading in the back of the development.

One response would be for the City to recognize that some of the open public space has great value to the community for multiple reasons (just as we recognize that the wooded slope has great value), and that the City can and should include significant public open space, even if it isn’t “cost neutral.”

But there are also lots of sources of funding out there for visionary and transformative community space–for innovative open space, city placemaking, hubs and incubators–for a design that would benefit more than just people who can afford upscale retail. Ideas that have gained traction include a food hub, a crafting/maker hub, a job training hub, and a small business incubator.

Below are some possible funding sources other than commercial developers. This is a crowd-sourced document. Please email additional resource ideas to tjcommunityvision@gmail.com.

1. State Funding

  • Maryland Economic Development Assistance Authority and Fund – direct grants and low-interest loans are available for developments and infrastructure
  • Economic Development Opportunities Fund (Sunny Day fund) – grants and loans especially for projects that incorporate employment training or creation for populations with high unemployment
  • Maryland Industrial Development Financing Authority – taxable and tax exempt bonds to the city for development of particular projects including those related to clean energy
  • Community Development Block Grants
  • Maryland Venture Fund – if we included a Impact Hub for start-up small businesses
  • Maryland Economic Adjustment Fund
  • Maryland Industrial Projects Fund – if we created a partnership with University of Maryland with our Impact Hub focused on food businesses
  • Maryland Jobs Now – investing in workforce oriented projects (think a training program for lower income residents interested in business start-ups in landscaping, composting, backyard gardening, home based graphic design, etc.)

2. Philanthropic support

  • Annie E. Casey – for Impact Hub focused on environmental problem solving start-ups, from tree care to composting
  • Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation – for workforce development for high  unemployment pockets of Takoma Park
  • Abell FoundationThe Abell Foundation encourages initiatives that attract resident investment in neighborhoods, promote sustainability, increase economic development opportunities and nurture entrepreneurial talent to increase the livability of neighborhoods, the number of residents, the number of jobs and the size of the tax base.
  • Town Creek Foundation

3. Impact Capital (non-profit investment firms)

4. TPSS Co-op members 

5. Other funders interested in community building and placemaking, such as those listed here: https://www.pps.org/article/innovative-funding-programs-for-placemaking. 

6. Community crowd-sourcing and other forms of resident investment, including IOBY

Junction Construction: Predicted Greenhouse Gases and Air Pollution

Below, we print the recent public comment to City Council by resident Paul Chrostowski, PhD, QEP, on the greenhouse gas emissions from construction of the proposed Junction development plan. We also print a companion piece he posted yesterday on the air pollution impacts.

TAKOMA PARK CITY COUNCIL Public Comment

MAY 27, 2018

Environmental impacts of major construction are often overlooked, with a focus on the finished product rather than the construction process. However, construction can have significant impacts on air and water quality.

For example, the removal and disposal of the existing asphalt/concrete parking lot will likely involve jackhammers, compressors, front-end loaders, and roll-off or dump truck haulers. All of these operations use diesel fuel which emits greenhouse gases, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and fine particulate. In addition, particulate matter from the asphalt and concrete itself will be emitted. At typical published rates of activity, this could mean about two weeks of constant air pollution and noise. As many as 40 loads would be required to transport this material.

During my 6 years on the Committee on the Environment, I pressed for environmental impact analysis of proposed major construction in the City. Since this has not been done, I have undertaken my own evaluation starting with a Limited Life Cycle Analysis of the proposed NDC development plan, focusing on greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

I based my analysis on material on the City’s website including the development plan: demolition and removal of the existing parking lot, 50,000 sq. ft. building with one level underground parking, about 8,000 sq. ft. of paving, and no recycling of demolition materials (none required in RFP or agreements). This did not include demolition of Takoma Auto Clinic (Johnny’s) structure, excavation for underground parking, or any street reconfiguration (all of which will also have impacts).

Using standard methods in the environmental engineering profession, I predict that this activity will release about 88,000 MTCO2e (190 million pounds). This is more than the Brendle Group 2013 report predicted for 2018 for the entirety of all greenhouse gas emissions in Takoma Park and would negate all the improvements we have made over the last several years. One would have to plant over one million trees to offset this effect. In reality, we would not be able to mitigate this impact. An alternative design concept I have seen is for a 34,000 sq. ft. building with no underground parking. This would cut the greenhouse gas emissions by about 60% and with careful attention to construction practices and offsets could be mitigated.

I encourage Council to pay close attention to these environmental impacts and engage any developer in a discussion to mitigate the impacts. The legacy of this project should not be that it contributed in any way to climate change or local air pollution.

 

AIR POLLUTION IMPACTS OF PROPOSED JUNCTION DEVELOPMENT

July 6, 2018

In my testimony of May 27, I presented the results of a technical analysis of greenhouse gases (GHG) during construction of the proposed development. At that time, I did not include emissions from the excavation for the underground parking level or impacts from demolition of the Takoma Auto Clinic. Including these, the GHG emissions will approach 90,000 MTCO2e (about 200 million pounds). These GHGs will contribute to climate change and stay in the atmosphere for some 39 years – long after a decision on this project has been made. These emissions are so high that they cannot be mitigated unless the project is made smaller.

In the meantime, I performed an air pollution analysis of diesel exhaust that will be emitted during the excavation for the underground parking. To do this, I focused on air pollutants regulated under the federal Clean Air Act – nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. In addition to these pollutants, diesel exhaust also contains hundreds of other pollutants that have been associated with human health effects. I used standard engineering assumptions that the underground garage would be 10 feet tall with a 2-foot subbase resulting in a 12-foot deep excavation. After subtracting 1 foot for asphalt removal and using the dimensions from NDC’s diagrams, this results in a 14,400 cubic yard excavation. We don’t know NDC’s excavation plans, so I developed a benchmark scenario using one 200 HP dozer, a track loader, and 30 cubic yard dump trucks. It would take about 6 months to excavate this hole using this equipment. Using more (or larger) equipment would shorten this time but increase diesel exhaust emissions.

I obtained emission data from the Environmental Protection Agency and the scientific literature. I then used a simple air quality model to project these emissions out to 350 feet from the center of the proposed project, where people are likely to be exposed. At this distance, the diesel particulate concentrations would exceed EPA’s screening level that is based on pulmonary inflammation and the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for oxides of nitrogen. Besides pulmonary inflammation, exposure to diesel exhaust has also been associated with cancer, cardiovascular disease, central nervous system effects and developmental effects according to the EPA and the World Health Organization. In addition to local health effects, this excavation would add about 250 MT of pollutants to the airshed.

Exceeding screening levels in a preliminary environmental impact analysis does not necessarily mean that there will be health effects, but it does mean that there should be an in-depth refined study prior to implementation of construction. This would be based on NDC’s exact construction plans and would include appropriate mitigation measures. It is premature to approve the development plan without considering its potential impact on the health of Takoma Park residents.

NDC’s Traffic Study Is Skewed to Shift the Blame for Traffic to Others and Force a Costly, Questionable “Fix”

In which Roger Schlegel’s close analysis of the traffic studies leads him to the conclusion that “the next logical step would be to begin considering other kinds of site development with minimal impacts on peak-hour traffic.” Here, we give you the Introduction to his full 19-page analysis, with a link to read the rest, including charts, diagrams, and suggestions for logical alternatives to the current plan.

 

Introduction

When Neighborhood Development Corporation (NDC), presented its draft site plan for Takoma Junction in October 2017 and its revised site plan in April 2018, the required accompanying traffic study still wasn’t completed. Early critiques of the site plan thus couldn’t take into consideration the development’s impact on traffic, although it seemed that the driveway location and the truck lay-by could create traffic or safety hazards. Thinking that this was NDC’s “final offer,” I initially concluded that the Council should vote “no” because the revised site plan failed to respond adequately to ten of the eleven requirements set forth in the Council’s October 25, 2017 resolution. While the facade seemed acceptable, I soon realized that its height was incongruous with that of the Turner building and other buildings nearby.

As the process unfolded after April 4, there seemed reason to hope that the site plan could be revised to better meet the project goals outlined in the Development Agreement and the October 25 Resolution. Therefore, along with many other residents, I focused on suggesting adjustments that could address apparent shortcomings, particularly with respect to the size of the public space, the plan for deliveries and trash, and the total square footage. NDC’s responses to Council questions during work sessions indicated that the developer was unable or unwilling to make meaningful changes. Despite this impression, I collaborated with another resident, Byrne Kelly, who drew up an alternate 34,000 square-foot site plan that, in our view, better responded to the project goals and that could likely be profitable for NDC.

The completion of the traffic studies in mid-June changed everything for me. These studies were conducted by A. Morton Thomas (hired by the City) and by The Traffic Group (TTG), hired by NDC. Between June 19 and July 3, I carefully examined the studies, along with presentations and Council work sessions, to grasp fully what they reveal and how they are being interpreted.

What I’ve concluded is that if the City Council had had studies like these in hand in 2014 or 2016, it never would have sought a retail/office development anything like what NDC has proposed. The TTG study indicates that NDC’s commercial development would push Junction traffic to the breaking point, regardless of how deliveries or parking are handled. The study obscures that fact, though, by projecting that future off-site, “background,” developments would cause intersection failure; my analysis below calls that key assumption into question.

The studies make clear that the NDC design — especially the configuration of the lay-by and the public space — relies upon public funding for major changes to the junction of Grant, Carroll, Ethan Allen and Sycamore Avenues. The City Council is being advised that these “intersection improvements” (a) are necessary for other reasons and (b) will improve Junction traffic. Again, both of these assumptions must be called into question. As annoying as peak-hour delays can be, the Junction intersections are rated as having “acceptable” levels of service at present. While the intersection reconfigurations recommended by AMT and TTG would be projected to lessen peak-hour delays in the short term, they would immediately increase the total volume of traffic flowing through the 410 and 195 corridors in Takoma Park. As area drivers responded to the improved intersection capacity, the reconfigured intersection would generate still more traffic by inducing more trips along these routes — and could possibly generate new north-south routes involving Sycamore, Columbia, Elm, and Poplar Avenues.

Regardless, the City Council is being advised to vote “yes” for the NDC site plan in order to get the State Highway Administration (SHA) to study intersection improvements. However, the relationship seems to be the opposite: it’s not that site plan approval is needed to get a new intersection; rather, a new intersection design is needed to make the site plan feasible!  Obviously, the possibility of leveraging public funding for changes in the transportation infrastructure is not sufficient reason to vote “for” a particular development. And serious concerns exist about the advisability of making such changes, among them:

How long would it take for SHA to approve, design, and schedule intersection changes?

How much would an intersection reconfiguration cost?

How much would the City have to pay to make such a project happen?

How much time and attention from the Council and the public would be demanded by a process to evaluate and respond to designs for intersection reconfigurations?

– How would a changed intersection affect mobility for bus riders, cyclists, and pedestrians?

– How would a changed intersection affect cut-through traffic in residential neighborhoods?

– How long would it be until induced demand returned traffic delays to their previous levels?

– What effects would permanent increases in traffic volume have on other areas of the City?

– What environmental impacts would result from increases in intersection capacity?

– How would changes affect visibility and viability for businesses on Carroll Avenue?

– How would changes affect the historic character of the Junction, which is the chief bulwark against future widening of Route 410 through Takoma Park?

On what basis can we conclude that traffic is “bound to keep getting worse”? Given investments in the Purple Line, intersection changes at Ethan Allen and New Hampshire Avenues, possible establishment of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor on New Hampshire Avenue, increasing use of biking as a means of commuting, and the advent of driverless vehicle technology, is it possible that congestion is at its peak right now and about to start declining?

Given what we know, as well as what we don’t know, the wise course of action for the City Council is to vote “no” vote on this NDC site plan. Based on the traffic studies alone, the next logical step would be to begin considering other kinds of site development with minimal impacts on peak-hour traffic. Such uses could include small-scale retail, housing, certain kinds of institutional uses, continued parking, a park, or a multi-use pavilion.

– Roger Schlegel

(Member, Takoma Junction Task Force, 2010-2012)