Takoma Junction Timeline

Original concept submitted by NDC with truck parked in loading zone at rear. City chose NDC based on their proposal including this plan.

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.

1992. Takoma Park Historic District, including the Junction, established to protect against “unsympathetic alteration and insensitive redevelopment.”

1995. After residents “violently opposed” a proposed chain drug store on the empty Takoma Junction lot and express desire for a grocery store, City buys lot, hoping to attract Co-op to Junction.

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, weekly concerts, and in the pandemic, hands-free grocery pickup, Farmer’s Market, non-profit food distribution, and Black Lives Matter protest.

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.

2011. Co-op membership votes to authorize Co-op Board to pursue expansion.

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 and open public space 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.

March 2015. City chooses Neighborhood Development Company (NDC), based on their concept showing residential and commercial, a loading zone behind the building (no lay-by) and presumed expansion of Co-op as the anchor tenant.

March 2015. City Councilman Tim Male opines that plan is too big, says, “I have a hard time imagining…a 33,000 square foot building…on that spot.” City Councilmember Seth Grimes writes a blog post about why he chose NDC, citing the lack of layby in their design, among other elements. He notes that a lay-by would be a “step in the wrong direction,” and that the “co-op has said this approach would be unworkable.”

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 to document opposition.

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 of offices, retail, and restaurants (no housing). They do not use that “new” space to add any public use back in. The loading zone gets pushed out onto Carroll as a lay-by lane. 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.

April 2018. NDC submits revised plans with funkier facade but maintaining 50,000 sf size. Images portrayed from a high vantage point continue to minimize perceived size of development.

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.

May 2018. The majority of businesses in the Junction sign a letter expressing concern about the development, and noting that there has recently been a “promising upswing” in businesses there, but that they depend on the parking in the lot. Developer makes no promises about the number or cost of parking slots that would be available to the public in the proposed garage.

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 on a resolution, (5-2 with Kovar and Smith voting against), 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 more to NDC to sublet the lot than NDC is paying the City. So, NDC is now making money on the lot every month. City is now getting less per month from NDC than they got directly from Co-op to rent just part of the lot. Nevertheless, the Co-op begins providing free parking for the whole Junction on the lot they are paying for.

Oct 2018. NDC abruptly shuts down block of small businesses on a block they plan to develop in Deanwood, in Northeast DC. BlackLivesMatterDC leads protest march to home of NDC’s owner. Civil rights lawyer represents businesses against developer.

Oct 2018. Mediation between NDC and Co-op concludes. Co-op prohibited from any further protest or critique of the project, in return for ability to continue to rent lot from NDC until construction, and other accommodations. The prohibition against Co-op voicing any critique of the project remains in effect today.

Feb 2019. After failing to convince surrounding businesses to sell them “transferrable development rights,” NDC is forced to reduce plan size 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 and says it “should be removed,” and find planned location of exit onto Carroll unsafe, inadequate emergency access, plan is bad for walkers and bikers and public transit, and 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, tree loss. Mayor, City Manager push back. HPC backs off, but asks NDC to return with depictions of Columbia (“rear”) facade. NDC chooses to ignore this request.

Presentation to HPC, October 2019. Private balcony added. “Rear” facade pushed out toward Columbia. Note how small the Co-op (grey roof) still looks next to the development.

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. Developer persists in referring to it as a “vacant lot.”

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.

Spring 2020 The COVID-19 pandemic hits. Co-op receives national acclaim for protecting workers while remaining in operation. The entire Co-op staff keeps their union jobs. Both lots begin to be used intensively for food packing and distribution by local non-profits.

May 8 2020 State Highway Administration releases a letter to the NDC’s traffic consultant, stating that four different SHA departments have reviewed the project and that the development would increase traffic, cannot be built without reconfiguration of Junction roadways, and there is no state money for reconfiguration through 2025. It also questions many other aspects of the plan.

May-July 2020 Residents get wind of backroom negotiations by the City to try to figure out some other way to accommodate the Junction development. Resident Andrew Strongin asks to see communications on this topic for the six-week period after the SHA’s May 8th letter. The City Attorney writes back that there are indeed over 200 communications on the Junction in this period, but that it will cost $985 to have him review and possibly redact the documents (due to “attorney-client privilege” or “executive privilege). A GoFundMe campaign raises the funds in a matter of hours, due to public outcry. The City drops the fee, and releases the documents. A text from the Mayor attempting to pressure the SHA is revealed.

July 2020 At a series of City Council meetings, residents request that the City re-evaluate the Junction plan in light of the pandemic, the recession, Black Lives Matter, and the climate crisis. The City declines, saying they will look at and vote on the plan only immediately prior to the final Planning Board vote.

July 20 2020 Developer submits to the County’s DRC the revised Junction plans (here and here) responding to the March 2019 DRC comments. This sets in motion deadlines leading to the final County vote. New drawings finally depict the Columbia/Poplar facade, leading to public outcry:

High vantage point minimizes mass.

August 2020 Under persistent pressure by attorney and resident Andrew Strongin, the City acknowledges three documents that were not originally posted anywhere. One is a July 14th response from the developer’s traffic group to the SHA, stating that they are assuming in their plans that the C0-op’s entrance from 410 will be closed, and all entrance and exit to and from the Co-op’s Sycamore lot will be from Sycamore.

August 2020 Despite the fact that the City refused to hold work sessions on the plans, and that questions about the plan have gone unanswered, Councilmember Kacy Kostiuk arranges two zoom meeting with one neighborhood of her ward, with the Mayor, and City and County staff, to “listen to” neighbors angry about the effect of the proposed development on Columbia Ave. The rest of the City is not invited to these meetings. Questions are collected. It becomes apparent that the developer cannot, in fact, force the closure of the Co-op’s entrance from 410.

August 2020 The City posts a false description of the process, urging people to wait to weigh in with the County until later in the process, even though the County staff very clearly urged residents to weigh in now, or it will be too late. The City also falsely states that SHA has not weighed in, when SHA has already documented serious issues with the project.

August 2020 Over 100 people, including City Councilman Jarrett Smith and Junction business owners, sign a letter urging the County to consider the racial equity and social justice impacts of the proposed development. The letter states, “…we ask that you do what the City of Takoma Park has not: cast a critical eye on a proposal that threatens the destruction of a racial minority-majority business community…”

November 6 2020 and January 15 2021 The developer submits to the County what is believed to be the final revisions of the plans, comprising over 50 documents. (Search for those dates HERE and HERE). The bike share is moved to BY Morrison Park (“the triangle”), reducing small public space there. The bus stop is placed in the “public space” in front of the development (but is not depicted in the 3D renderings).

Driveway into the garage, next to “public space.” Bus stop not pictured. Balcony is for private use.
Columbia side, “trees not shown for clarity of building facade.” No public use of balcony, terrace, roof.

December 2020 County responds to the November 2020 plans HERE. Recommendation is made for right-turn only going into or out of the garage/driveway onto Carroll Ave, diverting traffic onto residential side streets, including the curvy Columbia Ave, and encouraging U-turns.

December 31, 2020 The State Highway Administration (SHA) releases their long-awaited Takoma Junction Vision Study. It does not describe or recommend reconfiguration of the Junction, and points out that there is no money for such a reconfiguration.

January/February 2021 Two County reviewing offices, Department of Transportation (MCDOT) and of Planning Services (Right of Way), recommend against the lay-by, HERE and HERE.

March 10 2021 City Manager gives an update at City Council meeting, stuns the community by saying the lay-by is the only safe delivery solution, neglects to mention the County (MCDOT) letter finding the lay-by unacceptable and not safe. An elaboration of this statement with unsubstantiated claims about unsafe conditions of current deliveries on the lot, and other unsubstantiated claims about the economic effects of the development, is posted on the City’s “FAQ” page (later retracted by the City).

March 29 2021 Although the SHA still hasn’t ruled on the lay-by, the City announced a schedule for the final review sessions and vote on the project in April and May.

April 12 2021 The City begins the first of three planned review sessions for the plan. The first is a presentation by the developer, City staff, and County staff, followed by breakout rooms for residents to ask questions.

April 13 2021 The City posts a letter from the State Highway Administration, which finds the layby unsafe and unacceptable. The City cancels the April/May review, but implies this is just a postponement while the developer attempts to figure out another format for deliveries and waste pickup.

April 15 2021 A lawyer for NDC sends a letter to the Co-op instructing them to cease and desist all deliveries on the City lot effective immediately, and terminating the sub-lease and giving them 30 days to vacate the lot. The Co-op responds with a letter the next day.

April 17-18 2021 Some 200 residents protest for two days at the Junction with signs including “Save the Co-op” and “Drop NDC Now.” The story is on the nightly local 6 o’clock news, WOWD, and WPFW.

April 19-22 City holds three consecutive closed meetings with no public comments, at least two of them about the Junction. Mayor and Councilmembers have stopped responding to resident questions on the Junction with substantive replies “due to the legal nature of the situation.”

April 21 2021 Co-op update to community states that NDC’s termination of Co-op deliveries on the lot is now scheduled for April 26th. And, no evidence of unsafe conditions on the lot have been submitted to them, by anyone.

April 22 2021 City issues a statement saying they have “retracted in full” the “FAQ” City website page with (apparently) false allegations about the unsafe conditions for current deliveries on the lot.

April 23 2021 City updates their statement explaining that they “requested” that NDC rescind the cease-and-desist and sublease termination by noon on April 23rd. They report that there was no reply from NDC.

April 26 2021 Co-op supporters take over the Junction for a third day of protest, asking the City to #DropNDCNow.

April 27 2021 Co-op sues NDC and City for breach of contract, in order to maintain access to deliveries.

April 29 2021 Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak writes about the Junction, stating, “…this — this messy, exhausting, divisive fight — is what democracy looks like.”

May 2 2021 Co-op Board President Diane Curran goes on WOWD’s Talk of Takoma with Eric Bond to explain why the Co-op had to take legal action to stop NDC from evicting them from the lot.

May 13 2021 Montgomery County Circuit Court judge grants a Preliminary Injunction preventing NDC from evicting the Co-op from the lot while they await trial.

May 17 2021. The State Highway Administration (SHA) rejects the layby as unsafe, for a second time.

May 18/19 2021. NDC  writes back to the SHA, submitting the plan yet again. They include a new plan, reducing the layby length from 140 feet to 85 feet, which would exclude the largest trucks, and the pallet jacks needed to unload them. This new layby plan, never seen by the public, would apparently violate NDC’s Development Agreement with the City, the City’s 2018 Resolution, and NDC’s mediated Cooperation Agreement with the Co-op.  All three agreements state that any plan must accommodate Co-op deliveries

May 24 2021. A letter from the SHA to NDC reminds NDC why they have already rejected the layby twice. But SHA also agrees to review NDC’s new plan for a shorter layby. It remains unclear whether the City staff or City Council have seen, or approved, this new plan.

June 3 and 4 2021. NDC rescinds their threat to kick the Co-op off the lot (for now). But they persist in (presumably false) allegations about safety on the lot, allegations retracted by the City. The Co-op continues to remind everyone that they have been safely receiving deliveries on the lot for the past 20 years. The City remains silent.

June 4 and 5 2021 The City announces a final work session to review the NDC plans on June 16th, and a final vote on the plan a week later, June 23rd. The resolution they craft approving or disapproving of the plan will then be sent to the Planning Board.

June 7 2021 The Co-op sends a letter to NDC, pointing out that the proposed shorter layby is “inconsistent with” the terms of their mediated agreement requiring accommodation of Co-op deliveries.

June 8 2021 At the “request” of NDC, the Mayor, City Manager, City Attorney, NDC representatives, and possibly others, meet with the Secretary of Transportation, and the head of the State Highway Administration, about the “the timing and approach of the review of the layby proposal for the Takoma Junction development site plan.”

June 11 2021 The Co-op sends a letter to the City stating that NDC’s new plan for a short layby would break all the agreements to accommodate their deliveries, and requesting additions to the City’s draft resolution that would clarify the City’s commitments to the Co-op.

June 16 2021 SHA sends NDC a letter rejecting the longer layby for a third time, and rejecting the shorter layby as even less safe.

June 16 2021 At the City Council work session, the Council agrees unanimously (7-0) to craft a resolution to disapprove the NDC plan, based primarily on the fact that no approvable loading zone was submitted. You can watch their decision on the video at time 3:28:30. The formal vote will follow a week later, on June 23rd. The draft resolution should be posted on the agenda by Friday.

June 23 2021 Takoma Park City Council votes unanimously (7-0) for a resolution to disapprove NDC’s proposed plan for Takoma Junction. This resolution constitutes the City’s official final input to the County’s Development Review Committee (DRC) and Planning Board. Unless the DRC or one of the partners withdraws (City or NDC), the Planning Board will now vote on the plan. It requires a supermajority (at least 4-1) to overturn the City’s disapproval.

June 24 2021 The City posts a statement and the final resolution disapproving the plan. That City statement notes that “despite the City’s recommendation that NDC waits until work with SHA had resulted in an SHA-approved design, NDC insisted on presenting the plan to the Council.” They also note that the project is tentatively scheduled to go before the County’s Planning Board in late July. NDC issues a statement implying that they are not walking away.

July 2021 We learn that the County’s Planning Board has tentatively scheduled their Public Hearing and vote on the NDC plan for September 9th. This is one day after the City Council returns from their six-week summer break. Ten days prior to the hearing, the Planning Board staff will release their report and recommendation to the Board on the vote. NDC’s fourth extension to get approval from the Planning Board will expire on September 16th.

July 14 2021 NDC submits yet another revision of their plan for the loading zone, in response to SHA’s rejections. SHA is due to respond by August 19th.

August 19 2021 SHA “Returns for Revision” the latest NDC proposal. And apparently, the tentative date for the Planning Board public hearing and vote has been delayed until later in September.

August 27 2021 The developer submits a request for a fifth extension of time to complete the County review process and bring the plan to the Planning Board for a vote. On September 3rd, the Board staff issues a recommendation to deny the extension. The Board will vote on the extension on September 15th. If the extension is denied, they will move on that day to vote on the plan itself.

September 3 2021  The County’s Planning Board posts the agenda with a scheduled vote on the Takoma Junction plan for Wednesday September 15th (tune in online starting at 11:15am). The County staff has posted a report recommending that the Board vote to deny approval for the project. The staff also recommends not giving a fifth extension to the developer to obtain approval.

September 7 2021 The State Highway Administration sends a letter once again refusing to approve the lay-by or the plan. They cite both the danger of the layby, and the danger of the sight lines for exiting the development.

September 15 2021 The Montgomery County Planning Board gives the developer a 90 day extension, their fifth extension, to get more clarity from the SHA about what they would need to do to get approval for the layby, and whether it is feasible. (On the video, the discussion starts at 2:13).

Still to Come (Not Chronological):

  • If the Board rejects the project, the City and NDC must end the agreement to rent the lot for 99 years.
  • If the project is approved, NDC would then request a Historic Area Work Permit (HAWP) from HPC.
  • If the project is approved, NDC must obtain a number of County waivers.
  • If the project is approved, City must review the plan separately for stormwater and tree conservation.
  • To build the project, NDC must still buy the auto repair lot adjoining the City lot to build the project.
  • To build the project, NDC must obtain bank financing for the project.
  • To create the project, NDC must still find tenants for the project.

Author: Susan Katz Miller

http://onbeingboth.wordpress.com/