June 26, 2018
Dear Mayor Stewart and City Council Members,
We are writing to you, as Takoma Park residents who are also professionals in the field of architecture and design, regarding the handling of the Takoma Junction project. Our goal is to express our concern about the approach the City is currently taking, and to offer our counsel about steps to be taken that can ensure that the customer’s vision – in this case, the City of Takoma Park is the Customer – is properly realized by the Developer. We appreciate that you as leaders of our City and many members of our Community have invested time energy toward the opportunity. However, we are concerned that collaboration with the Community has flagged and that the opportunities associated with inspired public space might be lost.
Traditionally in projects of this nature, the Customer’s goals and requirements are a starting point in working with an Owner’s Representative (an experienced architecture and design professional) to develop a Program that defines the required functions of the project. The Program is the resultant product of a phase where goals are clarified, relevant information gathered and priorities established. It details specific information such as estimated square footage and functional relationships of each usage type. The success of a project depends on the Customer, Owner’s Representative and Developer having a shared understanding of these key requirements and, to use the language of architecture and design, the problem to be solved.
Takoma Park has not followed standard practice and we are now paying the price for failing to do so. The City has produced a number of different documents that have elements of the necessary requirements: these include Resolution 2015-19, which spells out the project’s ‘Mission Statement’ and lists the elements to be included in the developer’s ‘conceptual plan;’ the Junction Development Agreement and Ground Lease, which provides additional objectives and intentions, and Resolution 2017-53, which offers a critique of the developer’s earlier plan and provides a one page list of goals going forward.
But what has been missing is the articulation of the requirements and expectations – in clear, concise and measurable/accountable form – that must be included in a successful project. That gap is what has empowered the Developer to deviate substantially from the initial concept plan and mission statement, moving the community further and further away from consensus and delaying the completion of an acceptable plan that is actually consistent with the Junction Task Force’s mission statement:
“Takoma Junction, predominantly located in the Takoma Park Historic District, is a small commercial district in the heart of a residential community, with historically significant resources and a vital fire station that should:
– encourage motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists to slow down, park, relax, and shop while functioning adequately as a link within the local road and transit networks,
– encourage sustainable commercial opportunities and provide convenience to local consumers,
– serve as a cultural meeting-point for old and young in a diverse community,
– blend harmoniously with adjacent residential neighborhoods, and
– all in a forward-thinking, attractive and environmentally sensitive way.”
We advise you to make a critical mid-course correction in the current process to enable us to realize the community’s vision. While it may take some time to develop a complete Program, the up-front investment will save time, irreversible decisions and lost opportunities, heartache and possibly litigation costs. Here is a suggested pathway for action:
1. Hire an experienced Owner’s Representative and, working with that architectural/ design professional using the documents already prepared by the City (Resolutions 2015-19 and 2017-53 and the Development Agreement and Lease), and other information already gathered from users, generate an outline Program and identify questions and research required.
2. Conduct a Community Programming and Design Charrette, open to the public, led by a Charrette facilitator to include: independent design professionals; the Developer and their professional design representative; local business owners, and neighborhood representatives. Produce a community-valued Program that establishes consensus and captures expectations.
3. Use a Council Resolution to formally adopt the Program.
4. Armed with the finalized Program, authorize and empower the Owner’s Representative to represent the City in the back and forth with the Developer.
During this recommended mid-course correction, we should also be examining our priorities in this project, emphasizing and enhancing what is valuable to us – our Co-op, other local businesses and services and our neighbors. There is also the opportunity to explore a shift in the current direction of this project to come up with some new ideas—a new way of looking at the problem to be solved. There are members in this architecture/design community interested in an exploration along these lines.
We urge you to heed our professional advice and put a process in place which will enable us to achieve a mission we have set for ourselves.
James A. DiLuigi, AIA, CSI (Ward 6)
Jeffrey C. Luker, AIA (Ward 1)
Joan Duncan, AIA (Ward 3)
William Mallari, AIA (Ward 5)
Carl Elefante, FAIA, FAPT, LEED AP (Ward 3)
Charles Poor, AIA (Ward 3)
Dana Haden, RA (Ward 2)
John Salmen, FAIA (Ward 3)
Sydney Katz, RA, LEED AP (Ward 2)
Charlotte Schoeneman, Architectural Designer (Ward 3)
Byrne H. Kelly, LLA, ASLA, QEP (Ward 3)
Richard J. Vitullo, AIA (Ward 2)
Joseph Klockner, LEED AP BD+C (Ward 2)
Maria Wright, Architectural Designer (Ward 2)
Rick Leonard, Pres., Heritage Bldg & Renov Inc. (Ward 3)
 The Mission Statement is spelled out in the 2015 Resolution: see footnote 1 above.