Community Vision Takes Stand on Cell Tower Safety at Local Building

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:

CVT’s Town Hall on the Takoma Park City Budget

Community Conversation on the Takoma Park Budget, Firehouse, May 3 2019

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

Approximately 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. 
David Navari’s presentation on the Takoma Park city budget (with charts and data)

Junction Development in Trouble – County Rejects Lay-By

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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:
 
 
2. ‘Layby Lane’ Unacceptable
 
The County’s Department of Transportation opposes the layby as planned and comments that it “should be removed” because:
a. the loading area extends beyond the eastbound traffic light on Carroll Ave.
b. it conflicts with the bikeshare station.
c. it conflicts with the bus stop.
See item 6:
It also conflicts with the County’s Master Plan for a bike lane in the Junction.
 
County Park and Planning officials joined transportation officials to voice concerns about the layby lane’s safety and practicality https://eplans.montgomeryplanning.org/UserFilesSource/19017/61411/32-DRC-120190150.pdf/32-DRC-120190150.pdf
 
A third County agency, Historic Preservation, also expressed significant concern over the layby:  https://eplans.montgomeryplanning.org/UserFilesSource/19078/61605/32-DRC-820190090.pdf/32-DRC-820190090.pdf.
 
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.
See Item 9:
 
 
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

MC DOT, Area Transportation, and Historic Preservation all note incompatibility of the NDC proposal with pedestrian, bicycle, and public transit requirements.  http://eplans.montgomeryplanning.org/daiclinks/pdoxlinks.aspx?apno=120190150 (look for and click the following entry to download the document)
 

Submitted Supporting Documents

Other Document

3/15/2019 

1

MCDOT Comments-Takoma Junction-2019-03-19.docx

 
 
Summary
 
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 Stormwater Issues

 

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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.
  • This is a summary of a longer report linked here.

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.