Planning Board Grants 5th Extension for Junction Project to Gain Approval

Planning Board Grants 5th Extension for Takoma Junction Project to Gain Approval

On September 15 2021, the Montgomery County Planning Board agreed to give Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) a fifth extension to obtain approval for their proposed Takoma Junction project. NDC now has until January 20 2022, (approximately 90 additional days), to attempt to get approval from the State Highway Administration (SHA) before returning to the Planning Board. To date, the SHA has found both the layby and the exit drive unsafe (in four separate rulings), despite multiple design attempts by NDC. 

In approving this fifth extension request, individual Planning Board members appeared to be unfamiliar with the details of the project. Notwithstanding the Planning staff’s recommendations that both the extension and project be denied, and the City’s recommendation that its own project be disapproved, Board Chair Casey Anderson nevertheless opined (watch starting at 3:15:00 on the video) that this would be a great project for the City if only SHA would approve the layby.  

Community Vision for Takoma (CVT) is taking this opportunity to straighten out some of the confusion, evident at the Board hearing, surrounding the current proposal. 

These are the facts:

  1. The layby is not the only problem cited by the City. 

The City Council voted on June 23 2021 for a resolution to recommend the Planning Board vote to disapprove the project. In doing so, the City Council cited not only the lack of approval from the SHA, but four other longtime issues NDC has been unwilling or unable to solve: lack of meaningful public space, a problematic rear facade, lack of parking for surrounding businesses, and inadequate stormwater treatment. 

The Planning Board may not concern itself with these issues, but the City does, according to their own resolutions and development agreement, and their vote in June. But the City needs to stand firm on these issues, explain them to the Planning Board, and pull out of the project if the Planning Board approves it. 

  1. The layby is not the only problem cited by the SHA. They have repeatedly cited the inadequate sight lines for drivers coming from the garage exit ramp driveway (the egress) as a continuing safety problem. 

NDC has pushed back by comparing their proposed exit to the current exit from the City lot. In a June 16 2021 letter from NDC to the SHA, NDC asserts, “We note that the same sight line issue exists today from the Intersection…and the entry point to the City’s parking lot on Carroll Avenue.”

However, this is a false comparison.

The proposed development would reduce the sight line by moving the driveway from the current location 40 to 50 feet to the west, closer to the fire station and blind corner. Additionally, the current lot is completely above ground, allowing exiting drivers to have a longer period to observe traffic coming from the west. The proposal, with vehicles exiting from an underground parking garage, limits that observation time. The proposal would also have drivers exiting from a darkened garage at the end of the workday and looking west into the setting sun. This visual adjustment time increases danger to bicycles and pedestrians as well as motorized vehicles in this heavily used area.

There are additional issues regarding the sight line. The September 7 2021 letter from SHA to NDC notes that there are other obstacles to the sight line (fencing, tree, parked cars), so the issue is not just one of absolute distance.

  1. No one should have been surprised by SHA’s repeated rejection of layby designs in 2021. Since the beginning, many concerns have been expressed about the layby. 
  • In 2015 when NDC was chosen by the City Council, Councilmember Seth Grimes wrote that the absence  of a layby in NDC’s initial design was one of the reasons he voted to choose NDC for the project. He said a layby would be a “step in the wrong direction,” and that the “Co-op has said this approach would be unworkable.” (NDC switched to a layby design only after winning the project).
  • In the spring of 2019, County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) reviewers noted that the layby “should be removed” because of safety concerns.
  • In the spring of 2019, the Chair of the County’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) agreed with a resident who called the layby “an abomination.”
  • In the fall of 2019, the HPC staff noted that Commissioners were “unanimous in their concerns’ about the layby,” but were told to back off, which they did.
  • In the spring of 2020, MCDOT again noted multiple reasons why the layby location could not be approved.
  • So in 2021, the SHA’s four consecutive rejections of layby designs should not have been surprising.
  1. Just because other developments have pickup or loading in front of the building doesn’t mean the Junction layby would be safe. 

In public comments at the Board hearing, and as the Board considered the extension, there was discussion of how some other county locations handle loading or pickups, and a suggestion that these should be considered precedents for the approval of the Junction layby. However, none of these other developments have the same specific constraints and conditions of the proposed Junction layby:

  • Marriott Headquarters (Bethesda) has a circle loop, not a layby.
  • Avocet Tower (Bethesda) has a smaller pickup and drop-off layby for cars, but would not accommodate large trucks. 
  • Ace Hardware (Takoma Park) has loading by trucks on the street, but was never analyzed by State or County reviewers because it is an informal arrangement.

Comparison Table 

Key Differences in the Four Projects


Project Variables
Marriott HeadquartersAvocet TowerAce HardwareTakoma Junction
Lay-by?NoYesNoYes
Pull-in, pull-out without right-angle turns?NoYesYesYes
Used for deliveries?NoNoYesYes
Trucks only (no drop-off/pick-up)?NoNoYesYes
Used for trash hauling?NoNoNoYes
Large trucks involved?NoNoYesYes
Deliveries/trash emphasize food-service?NoNoNoYes
Use shared by multiple properties?NoNoNoYes
Unconsolidated deliveries and hauling?N/AN/ANoYes
Delivery path conflicts with ADA route?N/AN/AYesYes
2-way adjacent traffic?NoNoYesYes
Adjacent stop line, crosswalk, and signal?NoNoNoYes
Adjacent bus stop?NoNoNoYes
Adjacent driveway?NoNoNoYes
Adjacent garage entrance/exit?NoNoNoYes
Requires crossing dedicated bike lanes? NoNoNoYes
Located down-block from a fire station?NoNoNoYes
Area needed for emergency access?UnclearUnclearNoYes
Routes traffic onto residential streets?NoNoNoYes
Routes traffic through unsignalized intersections?NoNoNoYes
Along block-long merge and crossing of two State Highway routes?NoNoNoYes
Visibility issues for approaching traffic?NoNoYesYes
Adjacent to walking route to school?NoNoNoYes
Approved by SHA & Planning Board?YESYESNot reviewedNO
  1. The community does not want to work with a company that tried to kick the Co-op off the lot. 

The most recent and relevant gauge of community support for this project is not the City election almost a year ago (when all incumbents were re-elected, whether or not they supported the development).

In April, NDC sent a cease and desist order to try to kick the Co-op off the lot, threatening its ability to function as a business. This aggressive action towards the Co-op caused some residents who had supported the development (or were neutral) to oppose it. We know this because of comments on the feedback page set up by the City last spring. Approximately 380 out of 395 comments opposed going forward with NDC and the project, or 96% of responses. Clearly, the City heard this feedback—which is the most recent and direct gauge of community opposition to the plan—before voting to recommend that the Planning Board disapprove the project. The relationship between the City and NDC is unclear at this point, and their weekly meetings on the Junction have stopped.

Council Moves to Reject Junction Plan

Takoma Park City Council moves to reject the NDC plan for a development at Takoma Junction.

UPDATE: September 15 2021 The County’s Planning Board votes to give the developer a 90-day extension (their fifth extension), to try to get approval from the SHA for the layby and the egress.

UPDATE: September 3 2021  The County’s Planning Board has scheduled a 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.

UPDATE: 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.

UPDATE: 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.

UPDATE: July 2021 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.

UPDATE: On June 23 2021 The Takoma Park City Council voted unanimously (7-0) for a resolution to disapprove the proposed Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) plan for a development at Takoma Junction. View NDC’s final statement before the vote at minute 18:00, and the City Council discussion before the vote starting at minute 53:45 HERE. See links to new statements from the City and NDC in our Junction timeline.

At the City Council work session on Wednesday June 16th 2021, the Council agreed unanimously (7-0) to craft a resolution to disapprove the Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) plan for a development at Takoma Junction. The move to reject the plan was based primarily on the fact that no approved loading zone was submitted by NDC.

You can watch the City Council’s 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 this Friday, ahead of the vote.

What Changed?

Just minutes before the Council meeting started, the City posted a letter  from the State Highway Administration (SHA) to NDC. In that letter, the SHA rejected the longer layby for a third time, and rejected the shorter layby as even less safe.

(That shorter layby also broke all agreements to accommodate the Co-op, as described in this June 11th letter from the Co-op to the City).

With no approved way to create a loading zone for the development, the City Manager announced in the City Council work session on the Junction resolution that City staff were recommending crafting the resolution for disapproval of the plan. Each Councilmember then agreed to choose the disapproval option for the resolution. All of them cited the fact that there was no approved loading zone. Some also mentioned flaws in the plan related to inadequate public space, and other issues.

Many questions remain about what will happen next. For all the latest news, see our facebook and twitter feed.

NDC Threatens Co-op, Again. Layby Rejected, Again.

A lot has happened since our last post on April 21st.

The State Highway Administration (SHA) has now rejected the layby (a delivery zone for trucks on Carroll Avenue), three times. And yet, the Neighborhood Development Company (NDC), continues to try to push their Takoma Junction development through. In essence, the footprint of the NDC plan is too big, creating multiple problems, including pushing the delivery zone into the intersection.

In their latest maneuver, NDC has submitted a plan (never seen by the public) for a shorter lay-by, which would exclude the largest trucks and the pallet jacks needed to unload them. This appears to be a violation of all the agreements requiring accommodations to keep the Co-op open. It is unclear whether City staff or Council were aware of, or okayed, the new plan. At the bottom, we post a new letter from Takoma residents who closely follow the Junction process.

But first, a recap of the flurry of events since our last post:

  • May 13 2021. The judge rules for the Co-op, granting a temporary Preliminary Injunction, allowing the Co-op to continue to use the lot for deliveries until the actual trial, which may be a year away.
  • May 18/19 2021. NDC immediately writes back to the SHA, with various accusations and complaints, rebutting the SHA’s findings yet again, and 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 of these agreements state that any plan must accommodate the Co-op’s deliveries
  • May 24 2021. A letter from the SHA to NDC rejects the layby for a third time. But SHA also agrees to review NDC’s new plan for a shorter layby.
  • May 28 2021. Takoma Park residents write a letter to the SHA, questioning the assertions in NDC’s May 18/19 letter, and questioning NDC’s authority to submit a new layby plan that violates agreements with the City and Co-op.

For a complete history of the Junction starting in 1992, see our timeline HERE.

Protest at the Junction

A lot has happened at the Junction this week. And now, the City must decide between the developer, and the Co-op.

On Thursday night April 15th, a lawyer for the Takoma Junction developer (NDC) sent a “cease and desist” letter to the Co-op, telling them to halt all Co-op deliveries on the City lot immediately. They gave the Co-op 30 days to vacate the lot completely. This would potentially shut down the Co-op. And it would put the parking for all the Junction businesses in peril.

The next day, Friday, residents began arriving at the Junction to make sure the Co-op could receive deliveries. On Saturday and Sunday, those who love the C0-op, support local businesses, and are through with this developer, held protests at the Junction. Some 150 protesters occupied all three Junction sidewalks (both sides of Carroll and BY Morrison Park in the middle). Cars honked support as they drove through.

Even some who had previously supported the development expressed shock at this bullying of the Co-op, a community-owned institution that fed many of us through the pandemic. A flood of comments supporting the Co-op and calling for the end to the deal with NDC came in through the City’s Junction feedback comment form (Please post your comment!). It has become clear that you can no longer say you support the Co-op, and also support this development. Small local businesses and non-profits that had remained quiet, began speaking out. The photos here are a record of some of the signs. The overall message was #DropNDCNow and #SupportLocalBusinesses

The protest was covered by NBC Channel 4 News at six o’clock on Saturday night. Eric Bond was there recording interviews for his WOWD Takoma Radio news show, Talk of Takoma. His audio montage of “person on the street” voices, with the sounds of the protest in the background, was broadcast on Sunday.

On Monday morning, the struggle at the Junction was featured on Joni Eisenberg’s WPFW show, To Heal DC. Eisenberg, an activist who has lived in Takoma Park since 1979, called it a “Shocking situation in Takoma Park.” She connected this struggle to the activism of Sammie Abbott. “This is not just about Takoma Park. It’s not just about a health-food store. It’s about gentrification, and how it’s impacting the entire country,” Eisenberg stated. “We’re going to need to mobilize, together, to fight this developer, and to make sure the City of Takoma Park stands up for what is right for all of us.”

Listen here, starting at 2:30:

Developer Versus Co-op, To Heal DC, WPFW, April 19 2021

At this point, lawyers (presumably for the developer, City, and Co-op) are negotiating, and we have no idea what is happening. The Mayor and Councilmembers stopped giving substantive answers to resident questions, citing the legal proceedings. A series of three closed City Council meetings, with no public comments, began Monday night. All we know is that “fixing” the situation has to mean more than just letting the Co-op back on the lot. We must part ways with this developer.

Background on What Just Happened (for dates and links, keep scrolling down):

  • County reviewers find the layby unsafe.
  • City staff post some suspiciously unsubstantiated claims about the current Co-op delivery system on the lot being unsafe (and other new and bizarre claims about the development plans).
  • Co-op and residents challenge the City Manager to provide evidence.
  • No evidence forthcoming of danger on the lot, used for deliveries for decades.
  • State Highway Administration (SHA) says NDC’s proposed layby delivery system on Carroll Ave is not safe, cannot be approved.
  • This is not surprising. Residents and Councilmembers had concerns about the layby going back to 2015, and County and State reviewers expressed concern about it at several previous points in the review.
  • Without the layby, the developer cannot build something this big, or make as much money.
  • Then, NDC breaks their agreement with the City and Co-op by sending the Co-op the cease-and-desist letter.

For all the recent correspondence and relevant documents in one place, here is a timeline with links:


2/2/21 
County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) letter cites safety concerns with the layby

3/10/21  City posts “Fact Sheet” (later removed) on City web site alleging current unsafe delivery conditions on the lot

3/17/21  Co-op response to City Manager about City “Fact Sheet”

3/17/21  City Manager response to Co-op 

3/31/21  Co-op response to City Manager asking City to correct the “Fact Sheet” and post Co-op’s responses

4/13/21  State Highway Administration determines layby is unsafe

Plan Analysis for Takoma Junction

Video presentation of Community Vision for Takoma’s analysis of the April 2021 proposed plans for Takoma Junction development.

CVT’s Takoma Junction Town Hall, April 9 2021


NEW: State Highway Rejects Layby

The State Highway Administration (SHA) released their finding this week that the proposed layby is not safe, and cannot be approved. This confirms concerns about a Junction layby going back to the beginning of the development process. The City review process is now on hold, while the City and developers figure out how and whether to continue pursuing this plan.

Traffic, Public Space, Stormwater, Trees, High Rents

But the layby is not the only outstanding issue with the current plans. Just before the SHA put out their finding, Community Vision for Takoma (CVT) shared this video of our plan analysis. It was recorded at our Takoma Junction Town Hall on April 9th. Our team of resident experts compared the current plans to the City commitments in the Development Agreement of 2016, and 2018 Resolution.

We found these plans meet almost none of the City Council’s own requirements for the project, nor did they respond to the County staff concerns.

This video presentation documents:

  1. The unsafe layby
  2. Traffic and parking pushed into back streets
  3. Inadequate public space
  4. Inadequate parking and effect of construction on local businesses
  5. A rear facade that looms over Columbia
  6. Inadequate stormwater treatment
  7. Reduction and destabilization of the forest in the back
  8. New stairs making it difficult and unsafe for wheelchairs and strollers
  9. High rents that will drive commercial gentrification
  10. Refusal to recognize the value of open space in the pandemic

What Takoma Junction Means to One Family

How does one family love the Co-op? And why are they weighing in on the proposed Junction development? Our City has repeatedly refused to hold a work session on racial equity at the Junction. We recently posted a letter signed by over 100 people urging the County to undertake a racial equity review of the Junction plan. But here, one voice, one story in all its rich detail, makes the point. With her permission, we are posting the letter Gimbiya Lim wrote to the County planning department this week.

The (seemingly endless) review process should come to an end one way or another this year, in 2020. So please weigh in now, this month, while the County staff is still reviewing the plan, with your own letter to Mr elza.hisel-mccoy@montgomeryplanning.org, and to City officials, to ask for a better Junction plan.

Racial Equity at the Junction

 A large group of neighbors and activists, Junction shoppers and business owners, along with City Councilmember Jarrett Smith,  sent this letter on racial equity this week to the County staff who are currently evaluating the proposed development at Takoma Junction. Community Vision for Takoma stands with this group of over 100 people who are urging the County to analyze the effect of the proposed development on racial equity at the Junction.

If you want to add your voice to these concerns, please send an email to Elza Hisel-McCoy, Montgomery Planning Board, at <elza.hisel-mccoy@montgomeryplanning.org> and simply say you join with others in the community of Takoma Park who are concerned about the racial equity and social justice impacts of the proposed development.

Junction Development in Trouble-County Rejects Lay-By

IMG-7137
 
 
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 analyzes the County’s critique on six key aspects of the proposed plan. (Links to some of the documents are here and here).
 
 
 
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. 
 
 
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.
 
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.
 
A third County agency, Historic Preservation, also expressed significant concern over the layby.
 
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.
 
 
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.”  
 
 
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.  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.  

 
 
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

 

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 5.03.08 PM

 

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.

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.