How Does the New Site Plan Respond to the City’s Resolution?

Below, resident Roger Schlegel analyzes how well the NDC/STREETSENSE site plan responds to City Council resolution 2017-53 (from October 25, 2017). That resolution was designed to direct improvements in the previous version of the site plan.

I think that NDC has failed to meet most of the Council’s eleven (11) requests in Resolution 2017-53 and that it’s time to move on. Below is my breakdown of how NDC and StreetSense responded to the resolution. To summarize, NDC’s draft site plan:
– Fails to meet items #1, 2, 3, 5, and 7.
– Fails to respond to items #6, 8, 9, and 10.
– Responds adequately to item #4.
– Doesn’t provide enough information about negotiations or agreements with the Co-op relevant to item #11.

We have to assume that this is just about the best possible site plan that NDC can come up with, given that they have had months to respond to the Council’s requests. With NDC having responded adequately to just one of the eleven requests, it doesn’t make sense to continue negotiating with them.

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, is not “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. I’ve tried snacking there with my kids, and it’s an “ugly” place to be, in the unsolicited opinion of my 10-year old daughter. The reason is obvious: you’re too close to the traffic, and it leaves you feeling on edge. The NDC designed space is even worse because it’s going to be in near-perpetual shadow. (Their artist’s rendering depicts a sunny facade, which isn’t going to be the case except in the summer months in the early morning or the end of the day.)

RESOLUTION ITEM (2) DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO MEET #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.

– The lay-by adds many feet, and much extra time, to the delivery path for the people off-loading goods or loading trash and recycling. The lay-by is likely to be blocked at times with drivers who are standing to pick up passengers. The lay-by, when occupied by a truck or by cars, will cause additional trucks to double-park illegally and block traffic. The lay-by, when occupied by a truck, will be an ugly thing for people in the proposed “cafe” and other shops to look out at. The lay-by, when occupied by a truck, will make for a scary passage for cyclists and will encourage them to clog up the sidewalk. The lay-by, being so close to the main crosswalk, will create a hazard for children crossing, who are hard to see from the cab of a truck. It won’t be possible to coordinate the timing of deliveries to the multiple businesses who will 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: The elevator is at the wrong end of the development and makes for the maximum possible travel distance for patrons of the TPSS Co-op. These are the patrons who might be using shopping carts and having to negotiate the twisty sidewalk to get to that elevator. If people take carts to the parking level, it will be very hard for a Co-op employee to return multiple carts to the Co-op.

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 MEETS #4: The facade looks nice, with lateral variety and interesting details.

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 it pushes so far back into the existing woods, because it casts a big shadow over the sidewalk and street, and because it will loom over Columbia Avenue. The structure is better suited to New Hampshire Avenue when that area begins to redevelop further after the Bus Rapid Transit line and Purple Line stations are in place.

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: All I can find on the City website is the slide presentation from Wednesday night. I watched the entire site plan presentation, and there was no description of these items. NDC/StreetSense have failed to provide any sense of these items although they did tell the Council that they would provide these when the Council asked the question. It’s important to note that on this count, they have definitely failed to fulfill the requirements of Resolution 2017-53.

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 is eliminated. There is minimal space for locking privately owned bikes or for dropping rental bikes. The bus stop is eliminated with no clear plan for relocation. The sidewalk is no longer straight; it is twenty feet longer with four more turns. There is no provision for pedestrian access through the woods from Columbia Avenue as the Takoma Junction Task Force recommended. There is greater danger to pedestrians at the relocated driveway because, for drivers turning left into the driveway, pedestrian visibility is obscured by the plantings at the “public space” next to the driveway. The recently established crosswalk at Grant Avenue passes directly in front of the lay-by, which creates a safety hazard for small children. The lay-by creates a situation that cyclists will perceive as more hazardous, which will funnel some onto the sidewalk and create more conflicts with pedestrians.

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 indication given at the presentation was that all of these spaces would be metered. If the parking rates inside the garage are higher than those on the surrounding streets (and we know they will be more expensive that the free spaces on Columbia and in other neighborhoods and in the Co-op’s Sycamore parking lot), we are likely to see people circling the neighborhood and/or taking permitted spaces in the neighborhood or restricted spaces in the Co-op (e.g. buying one item in the Co-op and then doing other activities in the new building). There’s no clarity as to how many spaces will be reserved for employees or staff involved with enterprises/offices in the new building. NDC has failed to provide details and has thus failed to respond to Resolution 2017-53.

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: We didn’t see enough details on this. We saw that the facility will have operable windows and a partial green roof. In particular we didn’t see details on how much of the woods would be removed to make way for the “bio-retention” feature.

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: We didn’t get any details on this in the NDC/StreetSense presentation, so they have failed to meet the requirements of Resolution 2017-53.

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: No agreement was described or represented visually in the site plan presentation. No details on negotiations in progress were provided.

Our Response to the Latest Plan

Below are initial responses to the developer’s “draft/final” plan unveiled in April 2018

Design Issues

  • The building fills nearly the entire lot, with almost no public open space.
  • The only public space is a sidewalk strip and concrete apron, separated from the highway by “scrappy” vegetation, with pedestrians and bikers passing through.
  • The lay-by was moved back. Workers will now travel almost the length of a football field with handcarts and pallets in order to get deliveries to the Co-op. This will significantly lengthen the time trucks are there unloading.
  • The elevator is at the opposite corner from the Co-op. Co-op shoppers who park in the garage will push grocery carts more than the length of a football field across the entire development to get to the elevator, and leave carts in the garage.
  • The rooftop open space is apparently now private space.
  • Space for storage and pickup of waste and recycling, including dumpsters, for the Co-op and the new businesses in the development, remains unclear.
  • We know nothing about how an underground garage would be kept safe and clean–a challenge for any garage.
  • We have multiple alternative designs for revitalizing the lot with green/arts/public space, and ground-level coffee/brewpub/pop-up local businesses. There is no current City process for considering alternatives.

Lay-by Issues

  • The Co-op cannot control the size of trucks (including 18-wheelers) or timing of deliveries. On an average morning, three or more trucks arrive simultaneously.
  • The lay-by does not have space for simultaneous delivery by more than one large truck.
  • The lay-by has eliminated the bus stop and bike share currently at this location. They must be moved to some undetermined location.
  • The developer suggested that waiting trucks drive around the block on a predetermined neighborhood route if the lay-by is occupied. Truck drivers have publicly stated that this will not happen, because it would set them way off their schedules. Trucks will either be backed up along Carroll, or double-parked blocking traffic, or simply drive away without delivering.
  • It is unclear what would stop a taxi or uber, or a motorist picking up a cup of coffee, or dropping off a friend, from stopping in the lay-by. There should be a required zone for this kind of stopping.
  • Trucks in the lay-by will impede sight lines, and block visibility for pedestrians, bikers, and other cars. Impatient motorists will pull out past waiting trucks, which already happens frequently with buses at the Junction.
  • The Fire Chief has expressed concerns on getting emergency vehicles out quickly with a lay-by.

Other Traffic and safety issues

  • Traffic congestion will get worse with new drivers to new offices and retail.
  • Students walking to and from school already face hazards. The hazards will multiply with trucks and buses blocking traffic on Carroll and Ethan Allen.
  • With increased traffic, how will cars safely enter or exit the garage into traffic on Carroll? If they can only turn right on exiting the development’s garage, they will have to drive through residential streets to return to Carroll going west.
  • Because it will be so difficult to enter or exit the garage onto Carroll, cars (and trucks) will seek parking in the adjacent residential streets.
  • People who don’t want to pay for parking or deal with the underground garage will try to park in the Co-op’s small lot on Sycamore.
  • Increasingly frustrated through-traffic motorists will speed through the residential streets, including the very dangerous Columbia Avenue, to avoid Junction congestion.
  • Where is the bus stop going to go? Will the new crosswalk be there? Both are absent or unclear in NDC’s drawings. Where will the bike station and bike lane go?

Economic Issues

  • The Co-op may not survive the disruption of business during construction, loss of off-street loading, and loss of public surface parking in the lot.  The Co-op is currently one of the largest employers and economic enterprises in our city.
  • Increased retail rents, too expensive for local businesses, will drive gentrification.
  • The City requires that the new spaces be rented to “predominantly” local or regional businesses. Will that be 51% regional chains and 49% national chains? Will a local franchise of a national chain be considered local (State Farm, for example)?
  • With a private garage, will there be any “public” spots, versus spots for specific businesses? And we don’t know the prices for parking there. Why would people pay private garage prices to shop here when there is plentiful public garage parking in Silver Spring and Bethesda?
  • This project gives control of the last flat, open, available public land in the heart of our City to a private developer who needs to maximize income on the building.
  • Public land should be used for the public good.