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.

Unresolved Issues at Takoma Junction

Byrne Kelly and Roger Schlegel contribute this piece, documenting how the changes to the Takoma Junction plan requested last fall by our City Council still have not been resolved. These requested changes are documented in the Council’s October 25 2017 Resolution. (Previous analyses of how the current plan does not respond to City requests are found in previous posts here and here and here and here).

RESOLUTION ITEM (1) A large amount of vibrant, comfortable, and easily accessible street-level public space that functions as a community gathering spot, does not require the purchase of food or beverage to use, and is accessible for year-round use.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO MEET #1: A space that hugs the street edge, as the NDC design does, would not be “vibrant” or “comfortable.” If such a space were “vibrant” and “comfortable,” we would see people flocking to the picnic table near the Co-op entrance. The proposed (public) space is too close to the traffic and would be dangerous with cars entering and exiting the parking garage. The space would be in near-perpetual shadow for ninth months of the year.

RESOLUTION ITEM (2) Accommodation of delivery, trash and recycling vehicles in a manner that does not cause traffic problems, optimizes public enjoyment of the site, addresses the needs of on-site tenants, and provides reasonable accommodation to the TPSS Co-op.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO MEET #2: The lay-by:
  1. would add 200-400 feet to the delivery path for the people off-loading goods or loading trash and recycling – for both the Co-op and for tenants in the proposed development.
  2. would be in the State Highway right of way, up against the crosswalk and the “public” space, and likely to be blocked at times with drivers who are standing (legally) to pick up/discharge passengers.
  3. would be likely to cause additional trucks to double-park illegally and block traffic. (What else would waiting trucks do? Drive around the block, circle up Carroll, Flower, Piney Branch, Philadelphia, Grant, Lee, Maple, Sycamore, Columbia, Pine, Ethan Allen, Woodland, Beech, etc.)
  4. would be an ugly thing for people in the proposed “cafe” and other shops to look out at.
  5. would impede and endanger cyclists by encouraging them to clog up the sidewalk and thereby conflict with pedestrians.
  6. would create a hazard for children crossing, who are hard to see from the cab of a truck (as stated by a semi-truck driver at an State Highway Administration listening session in April).
  7. would create bottlenecks as it wouldn’t be possible to coordinate the timing of deliveries to the multiple businesses who would need to use the lay-by.

RESOLUTION ITEM (3) Placement of the elevator or elevators in a location that serves patrons and tenants conveniently, including patrons of the TPSS Co-op.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO MEET #3: NDC’s current site plan placed the sole elevator at the opposite end of the development, so that Co-op shoppers would have to traverse the length of the development block to get to the garage. NDC has not released any revised plans showing a relocated or added elevator.

RESOLUTION ITEM (4) A street-facing façade design that consists of large storefront windows on the retail level and includes exciting or iconic features that evoke the spirit of Takoma Park.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO MEET #4: The facade may look nice, but numerous architects and other residents, including members of Historic Takoma and the Facade Advisory Board, have pointed out that the perspective renderings are inaccurate and misleading in terms of perceived height, point of view level, shadows, utility poles and lines, and context with the surroundings.

RESOLUTION ITEM (5) Massing that fits with the area and is comfortable for those using and passing by the site on Carroll, Sycamore, and Columbia Avenues.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO MEET #5: The massing doesn’t fit with the area because the building would range in height from 38-45 feet above the sidewalk. That would cast a big shadow over the sidewalk and street. The typical two-story building in the Historic District is well below 30 feet in height, so it is out of context. In the rear, it would loom approximately 55 feet above Columbia Avenue.
  • The Council requested to see a building no larger than 34,000 square feet. The proposed building would be 50,000 square feet, including approximately 42,500 square feet on City-owned property.

RESOLUTION ITEM (6) Appropriate landscaping and building façade design of the Columbia Avenue side of the property that improves the appearance of the green space and would help address environmental sustainability and other goals for the project.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO RESPOND TO #6: To date, NDC has failed to provide sufficient details regarding the rear and side facades, and the construction impacts on the wooded area. Their plan does not address rear emergency egress doors and paths.

RESOLUTION ITEM (7) Design features that will preserve and improve alternatives to automotive transportation.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO MEET #7: The NDC/StreetSense site plan does the opposite. The Capital Bikeshare rack would be eliminated. There would be minimal space for locking privately owned bikes or for dropping rental bikes. The bus stop would be eliminated, with no clear plan for relocation. There could be greater danger to pedestrians at the relocated driveway.  The recently established crosswalk at Grant Avenue would be directly in front of the lay-by, which could create a safety hazard for small children.

RESOLUTION ITEM (8) Details regarding parking options for off-site businesses located in the Takoma Junction.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO RESPOND TO #8: NDC has not provided details beyond saying that there will be 72 spaces in total, and that some “may” be set aside for Co-op patrons. The Co-op and NDC are addressing parking in a mediation process, but the Council has not indicated that it will wait for this process to conclude before voting on the NDC site plan. Other questions about parking costs, arrangements, and impacts on other businesses and neighborhood streets are not resolved.

RESOLUTION ITEM (9) Design and construction features which satisfy the requirements for LEED Gold or higher certification from the U.S. Green Building Council or an equivalent certification.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO PROVIDE ENOUGH INFORMATION TO RESPOND TO #9: Although NDC says that they will be claiming LEED points for many design features as “Innovation” and “Alternative Energy Generation,” their plan doesn’t provide details. They have also claimed that the higher heating and cooling costs associated with high ceilings and larger volumes will be offset by lower lighting costs.
  • While this project has been promoted as an opportunity for improve stormwater management, NDC has given no evidence of this in their plan. There is no geotechnical information on the infiltration and percolation rates for hosting a bioretention facility on the site. Their current plan would be in conflict with regulations regarding placement of such facilities on steep slopes. There is no evidence of a Natural Resource Inventory and a Forest Stand Delineation as required by M-NCPPC.

RESOLUTION ITEM (10) Details necessary to provide reasonable accommodation to the TPSS Co-op for access for loading of deliveries, customer parking, and continued operations during construction.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO RESPOND TO #10: Unresolved issues include the width of the delivery alley, the accommodation during construction, the accommodation of multiple delivery vehicles, pedestrian safety, shopper convenience vis-a-vis parking and cart handling, employee parking, and construction vehicle access. There is also no information on where the staging of materials and equipment would occur during the sequence of construction.

RESOLUTION ITEM (11) Identifies any resolution or agreement reached between NDC and the TPSS Co-op regarding shared façade design or other improvements that would enhance the aesthetic appeal of the whole commercial strip between Sycamore Avenue and the fire station.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN DOES NOT PROVIDE INFORMATION ABOUT #11: NDC has aligned an “awning” with the 20-foot height of the Co-op building. No other design features or agreements are described or represented visually in the site plan presentation.

Straddling Two Lots at Takoma Junction

The Takoma Junction developer (NDC) chosen by the City plans to buy the auto repair business adjacent to the City lot. In the current site plan, the developer shows a footprint straddling the two lots, with the entrance to the garage on the lot owned by the developer. Here, lawyer and Takoma Park resident Jessica Landman writes to City officials to ask about the risks to a development that sits partly on City land, and partly on land owned by the developer.

Mon, Jun 11, 2018

Dear Mayor Stewart and Takoma Park City Council Members,

I am writing today to renew, more urgently, a request made to you during the public comment period at the City Council meeting on May 2nd.

In May I noted that the proposed Takoma Junction development plan anticipates construction of a building that straddles two parcels of land. It would bind the city to a 99-year lease, even though the city does not own or control one parcel that is vital to accessing the entire structure.

At the time I asked the City to investigate and inform the community whether this highly unusual arrangement poses a fiscal risk. As a lawyer and taxpayer, these questions concerned me greatly.

So far, there has been no response. The City’s silence left me wondering whether action was being taken or not.

Before the City adopts a Resolution committing to this project, it is vital that you determine whether there is a significant legal obstacle that could cause the City to have legal problems or incur unforeseen costs that the community would have to shoulder.

While I am not a real estate lawyer, I did undertake a preliminary review of the relevant rules in Montgomery County. From what I can discern, a building permit for a structure that straddles two parcels owned by two different parties will not be issued.

I urge the City to have its lawyers follow up, to determine whether they agree with the following analysis:

1.  Under Montgomery County’s building code, a building permit may only be issued for a building located on ‘a lot or parcel shown on a plat recorded in the County Land Records or on a parcel exempt from recording requirements under Section 50-3.3’. [1]

2.  The County’s subdivision rules define a ‘lot’ as a ‘discrete area of land that is described by a plat recorded in the land records for which the Department of Permitting Services may issue a building permit.’ [2]  The County Zoning Code uses nearly identical language to define a lot: ‘A lot is a contiguous area of land that is described by a plat recoded in the land records for which a building permit can be issued.’

Obviously, the two adjacent parcels at the Junction, while contiguous, are not on one ‘lot’ that is recorded in the land records. (Nor are they on a parcel exempted under the specific terms of the code.)

3.  At the Junction site there are two lots, which will not even be owned by the same entity. As such, the site does not meet the definition of a lot for which a building permit can be issued. The County’s rule is very clear; with the exception of a few exemptions irrelevant in this instance,

‘Construction of a new principal building may only occur on a lot or parcel shown on a plat recorded in the County Land Records.’[3]

My question for the City and the City’s lawyers is: Have you investigated how these constraints affect the Junction project?

If so, please share what you have learned.

If not, please undertake the appropriate due diligence to find out whether the project as currently contemplated would be unable to obtain a building permit.

Frankly, apart from the possibility that no permit would be issued for the proposed straddling two-lot project, the irregularity of the proposed arrangement strikes me, as a taxpayer, as risky. Could NDC – or a successor owner – who controls a portion of the parcel use that control to extract further, future fees or concessions from the City? What would happen in the event NDC defaults? Once can imagine many unhappy scenarios. Those may be the very reasons why the County rules forbid a construction permit for a structure that is not on a single ‘lot’. And even if a construction permit can somehow be obtained, the irregularity also suggests that investors will find the project risky, either steering clear or charging higher lending rates, which would in turn trigger higher rents.

Thank you for responding promptly to this letter; it is vital that you resolve these questions before you make a determination whether to approve the proposed project. It would be negligent for our City officials to fail to address these concerns.

Sincerely,

Jessica Landman

Ward 1

A List of Unresolved Issues with the Proposed Takoma Junction Site Plan

A group led by Roger Schlegel has now crowd-sourced a list of some 70 issues that remain unresolved with the developer’s current site plan for the proposed Takoma Junction development. You can read the entire list here.

The list is broken into sections on:

  • Overall Presentation
  • Aesthetics
  • Historic Character and Scale
  • Accommodations of the TPSS Co-op
  • Sustainability
  • Outdoor Public Space
  • Promoting Alternative Modes of Transportation
  • Enhanced Streetscape
  • Parking
  • Retail and Commercial Destination with Options for Local Community
  • Traffic Impacts
  • Emergency Vehicle Responsiveness
  • and Racial Equity.

Go have a look!

Does the NDC Combined Site Plan Meet the City of Takoma Park’s Takoma Junction Development Goals?

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

            The City of Takoma Park has invested many years of hard work and sustained community dialogue to craft its strategy and goals for developing Takoma Junction, through the rigorous analysis of the Takoma Junction Task Force and multiple City Council resolutions.

Yet the Combined Site Plan presented by the City’s chosen developer, NDC, diverges significantly from the Takoma Junction Task Force’s recommendations, the City’s RFP, the Development Agreement, and the City Council’s October 25, 2017 resolution on the development.

Key findings of an intensive comparison study of these documents by Takoma Park resident and Takoma Junction Task Force member Roger Schlegel include:

  • The building’s 40-foot height and 50,000 square foot size do not “blend harmoniously with adjacent residential neighborhoods” [1] or show “sensitivity to the historical character and scale of the area.”[2]
  • The Combined Site Plan fails to provide “reasonable accommodation”[3] to the Co-op for business continuity during construction,3 and for loading of deliveries, trash and recycling pickup, and customer parking.3
  • The Combined Site Plan’s less than 1,200 square feet of usable public space will not “serve as a cultural meeting-point for old and young in a diverse community”1 nor does it constitute “A large amount of vibrant, comfortable, and easily accessible street-level public space that functions as a community gathering spot.”3
  • The Combined Site Plan’s relocation of the bus stop serving the south side of Carroll Avenue, its elimination of the bikeshare station, and the absence of a bike lane fail to “preserve and include alternatives to automotive transportation.”3 [4]
  • The widely estimated rental rate of $45/sq. ft. makes it highly unlikely that commercial space within the building will be leased “predominantly to local and regional operators.”4
  • The garage driveway entrance and exit (just 60 feet from the Philadelphia Ave. stop line and fire house) and the truck lay-by’s ability to accommodate only one 18-wheel tractor-trailer make it impossible for the Combined Site Plan to “function adequately as a link within the local road and transit networks.”1 Moreover, Fire Chief Tom Musgrove testified that the truck lay-by, if occupied, could stack up a second truck and even a bus in the right lane, making it impossible for emergency vehicles to move quickly around traffic in the left lane.
  • Given the small public space, high rental rates and possible loss of the City’s sole centrally-located source of healthy food, the City Council must engage in detailed deliberations to ensure that “issues of racial equity [are] addressed proactively & deliberately in the course of decision-making.”[5]

 

[1] Takoma Junction Task Force Report

[2] City of Takoma Park’s RFP for Takoma Junction Redevelopment.

[3] Takoma Park City Council Resolution 2017-53, passed October 25, 2017

[4] City of Takoma Park — Takoma Junction Development Agreement

[5] City Council Resolution 2017-28 on racial equity, passed April 19, 2017

 

To read the full study on googledocs with embedded links, go HERE. Or read through (no embedded links) the full study below:

 

Roger 1

 

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The Reality of 40-Feet High

In which resident Roger Schlegel writes about the true size of the current development plan at Takoma Junction: just one of many reasons to build a smaller development on this lot.

This is the image that the developer (NDC) wants the City Council to fixate on in considering the proposed new building at the Junction:

Rendering of NDC Building from Spring Mill(1)

Source: NDC revised site plan presentation to Council, April 4

NDC does NOT want the Council, or the public, to look too closely at this required elevation drawing:

NDC front elevation drawing(1)

Source: NDC revised site plan presentation to Council, April 4

Why? Because NDC’s proposed building is over 40 feet tall. Use the scale at the bottom and measure for yourself. The gray section of the building rises to just under 40 feet, but the elevator tower reaches above 46 feet, and the arching facade surpasses 42 feet in height. Even the first-floor awning is at least 17 or 18 feet off the ground.

The project is ostensibly a two-story building, but this is a totally different animal, unlike any other two-story building in Takoma Park’s historic district. Typically, a 40-foot mixed use building includes three stories. Do a Google search on “2-story mixed use” “40 feet high” and you won’t find anything that fits the bill.

Aside from the Fire Station, there are just five other two-story commercial structures in Takoma Junction. (The Montessori School, Takoma Framers, Richardson School of Music, the Animal Clinic, and Suds Laundromat.) None of these comes close to the scale of NDC’s proposed building.

The historic character of a place is devastated when you drop an out-of-scale structure into the setting. To get an idea of what this looks like, take a look at this image from Woodley Park/Cathedral Heights in NW DC, where the Cathedral Commons development landed next to Cactus Cantina three years ago. The building on the right is about 35 feet high — 5 to 10 feet lower than what NDC proposes at the Junction — but you start to get the idea:

Cathedral Commons East view(1)

An out-of-scale building can also change a place’s character by casting huge shadows across the streetscape. This may not be so evident in the photo above because the building faces east, along Wisconsin Avenue. NDC’s proposed structure would face north, across Carroll Avenue. So, staying at the Cathedral Commons development and walking around the corner, this midday Google Earth image from 3700 Newark Street NW (looking east) gives a pretty good idea of the kind of shadow a 35-40 foot tall building creates. The building on the right, about 35 feet tall, faces north, similar to the orientation of NDC’s proposed structure.

Cathedral Commons - Newark St. (north) side(1)

So in viewing the artist’s renditions in NDC’s proposal, be sure to make these two mental adjustments:

  1. Don’t be fooled by the windows. Recognize that you’re looking at the equivalent of three- or even four-story building.
  2. Fill in lots of shadows since the sun would rarely be shining on that side of the street.

The NDC Takoma Junction Site Plan: Private Profit, Public Harm

 

The draft site plan for the development of Takoma Junction presented to the Takoma Park City Council on April 4th will take our public land (the parking lot next to the Co-op) and turn it over to private use with minimal public benefit and potentially significant public harm. Specifically, the plan:

 

  • Worsens pedestrian, biker, bus rider and automobile safety. When trucks are parked in the lay-by (a proposed new delivery area for the Co-op and other new stores), visibility will be blocked for everyone. When multiple trucks make Co-op deliveries at the same time (a common occurrence), they may double-park, blocking traffic. And the proposed new location of the garage entrance threatens the safety of pedestrians on the sidewalk and requires a near-blind right turn onto Carroll Avenue because of the road’s curvature around the Firehouse.

 

  • Threatens emergency response. Fire Chief Tom Musgrove testified that the plan could compromise how quickly fire trucks and rescue vehicles can exit the Firehouse

 

  • Could drive the Co-op out of its current location. Replacing its off-street loading area with an on-street lay-by will not work, because multiple trucks make deliveries at the same time. Crates and pallets will have to be moved almost the length of a football field. There is no provision for trash and recycling storage or pickup, nor is it evident how the Co-op can operate during construction because deliveries will be blocked.

 

  • Leaves out vital details the Council must have before it makes its decision. The plan has no place for bus stops and the bike-sharing dock, and says nothing about how the construction process will impact the area, the Co-op and other businesses. Plus, the State Highway Administration’s analysis of the two traffic studies has yet to be completed.

 

  • While the entire lot is currently owned by the public, once the project is completed only 1200 sq. ft will be preserved for “public space” so tiny, it’s unusable.

 

  • Promotes gentrification. The exorbitant cost of constructing this massive building will require high rents that are only affordable to high-end stores and national chain franchises.

 

  • Reflects a failure of policy and imagination. Workable alternatives are available that would develop the Junction with multiple uses including new retail, public space and true reasonable accommodation for the Co-op.

TELL THE CITY COUNCIL: VOTE NO! Sign the petition HERE.