A Letter to the City

Merrill Leffler is a nationally-recognized poet and publisher. Like hundreds of others he has signed the petition asking the City Council to vote NO on the proposed Takoma Junction site plan. In an email sent today he explains, “This NDC redevelopment plan cannot be fixed by mere compromise or mediation — it is fundamentally flawed.”

From: Merrill Leffler (Ward 3)

To: Kacy Kostiuk, Ward 3 Council Member

cc: Mayor Kate Stewart, Takoma Park City Council Members, Suzanne Ludlow

Dear Kacy,

After all the hours of public testimony and supporting documents critical of the NDC’s redevelopment plan at the Junction — including your “listening” sessions — I do not understand how nearly all the City Council members continue to support it. The plan neither benefits all residents of Takoma Park, nor reflects the community values of inclusivity our city prides itself on.

To begin with, the Council should have immediately rejected NDC’s outlandish conception of a lay-by for delivery trucks close to the confluence of two heavily-trafficked roads, Route 410 and Carroll Avenue, and its feeder streets. In addition to increasing traffic congestion, the lay-by creates hazards to pedestrians, bicyclists, and automobiles, and is at odds with a welcoming public space. Equally unworkable is the plan’s underground parking garage that would significantly disrupt the TPSS Co-op operations, increase traffic hazards below and above ground, and make parking expensive. But most at odds with genuine revitalization of our public property is the plan’s chockablock commercial building configuration that subordinates shared public space and homegrown businesses to the developer’s profit-making interest.

We all understand that developers are in business to make money. More shops mean more rentals mean more income, and understandably NDC wants to maximize the return on its investment. This is all well and good for NDC. It is not well and good for the whole Junction, for residents, for the small businesses along Carroll Avenue, or for the patrons of these businesses (individually owned, not corporate). It is certainly not well and good for the Co-op, a grocery that exemplifies the independent, progressive spirit of Takoma Park.

To be clear: Everyone I know enthusiastically supports major revitalization of the Junction — it has been 30 years in the making, and it is time. A revitalization, however, that promotes the uniqueness of Takoma Park, our walkable city of neighborhoods, parks and playgrounds, small businesses, local schools, ethnic and racial diversity, an independent library — one of only two in Maryland — city-sponsored cultural programs, among them, We Are Takoma, and more. It is this uniqueness and commitment to progressive values that have drawn so many of us to live in Takoma Park and to work towards making the city a welcoming home for all its residents.

Takoma Park is racially and ethnically heterogeneous, as it has always been and continues to be. If anything, the City Council should be promoting ways for our diverse residents to share the same public space — the Junction is the one remaining area in the city where we have such an opportunity. Meanwhile, the City Council insists on pushing ahead with NDCs plan, which is more developer-friendly than it is community-wide friendly.

Maybe City Council members are fatigued by this long process and just want to be done with it. This is understandable but the decisions you and your colleagues make will have lasting effect on the shape of the Junction and the city — this is reason enough to reexamine just what most of you seem determined to vote for. We must not take what the developer is giving us — we should be adamant about what we want for Takoma Park, a development that will serve the interests of all our residents, a revitalization of our public land that we can all be proud of.

Amanda Burden, Chair of the New York City Planning Commission, points out, “cities are fundamentally about people — where people go and where people meet are at the core of what makes a city work.” It is not wall-to-wall building. “Even more important than buildings in a city,” says Burden, “are the public spaces between them. And today, some of the most transformative changes in cities are happening in these public spaces.”

To further quote Burden, a key figure in innovative open space development in seemingly disastrous, run-down sections of New York, “commercial interests will always battle against public space . . . a developer sees just one thing: customers.” (See “How Public Spaces Make Cities Work: www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7fRIGphgtk)

We live in a world where developers of all kinds tell us what they want and what they want is what we are supposed to want, with a few compromises here and there. This NDC redevelopment plan cannot be fixed by mere compromise or mediation — it is fundamentally flawed. It is long past time for the Council to tell NDC what we the residents and taxpayers of Takoma Park want, and if they can’t deliver and make enough of a return on their investment, then it is time to dissolve the contractual agreement and forge ahead with a revitalization that serves all the residents of our city.

Here at the Junction, we have a chance to design a truly innovative, people-first development plan that will accommodate a large welcoming public space for adults and children, which people will want to share, whether to eat outdoors, meet or run into friends, or just relax and talk. I hope that in the City Council’s further deliberations, you will make this your number one priority.

Author: Susan Katz Miller


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