(Last updated December 2019)
What are the issues with the proposed development at the Junction?
- The proposed building fills nearly the entire City lot, removing all surface parking and almost all public space. The City Council asked to see a 34,000 sq ft option, but the developer made a deal to acquire the adjoining auto repair business and delivered only a single 50,000+ sq ft plan, which the City Council passed.
- But then, it turned out that zoning will not allow a building this massive on this small site. So the developer attempted but failed to buy development rights from surrounding local businesses. In the meantime, they submitted a 40,000sf plan to the County, without any City or public input into how that “extra” 10,000sf of space would be used. They lopped that square footage off the offices in the back, without adding back any public space, or using any of the space to ameliorate the loading zone issues.
- The height of the building does not match the two-story height of surrounding commercial buildings. It’s more typical of a three or even four-story building, with huge mass because it runs the entire length of the lot and adjoining business.
- Gridlock at the Junction is already bad at rush hour. Traffic engineers showed the intersection will “fail” with the addition of the new offices and retail. They found that drivers trying to exit the underground garage into gridlock will have a five-car backup.
- Deliveries for the food Co-op on the adjacent lot would be forced off the City lot and onto a “lay-by” along the highway in front, creating new safety and traffic hazards, and potentially jeopardizing local businesses with backed-up vehicles.
- It is questionable whether the food Co-op can survive construction, permanent loss of off-street loading, and permanent loss of public surface parking in the lot.
- Increased retail rents, unaffordable to local businesses, will drive gentrification. The majority of Junction businesses signed a letter expressing their concerns about the development.
- Traffic engineers determined that the entrance/exit from the proposed underground garage would be dangerous because it is too close to a blind curve at the firehouse.
- There is insufficient study of the stormwater drainage issues.
- The plan submitted shows thirty trees, many of them in good health, being removed from the woods behind the development.
- The developer provides only a “Gazebo size” public space along the street, no large open space for public events now held on the lot.
- The building would span two lots with two different owners (the City, and the auto repair lot that would be acquired by the developer). This creates important legal issues, especially if the development fails or is sold.
- The current site plan does not respond to the majority of the requests made by City Council in their resolution last fall asking for changes to the plan. We documented some 70 unresolved issues with the plan approved by the City. (Below, read about some of these issues).
- This project gives control of the last flat, open, available public land in the heart of our City to a private developer.
Haven’t the residents commenting on the plan been evenly divided?
- No. City officials often have said they “hear from both sides” but have consistently declined to quantify the Citywide feedback they are getting. Former Councilmember Tim Male, did find a majority in his Ward were against the plan last fall.
- So we (CVTJ) recently requested all Junction emails sent to the City over a two-year period, and tallied them. A clear majority of residents (two to one) weighing in had concerns about the plan.
- This confirmed the pattern at City Council meetings, where those concerned by the Junction plan have vastly outnumbered those speaking for it. Those speaking against the plan at City Council have been notable for racial and income diversity, and for including Junction shoppers, workers, residents, and business owners.
- We (CVT) have over 1000 concerned citizens on our email list, and over 900 signatures on our petition asking the Council to vote NO on the plan.
Where are we in the process?
- The City gave a greenlight to move the project up to County and State in a 5-2 vote on Wednesday July 25th, 2018. However, the project still needs to get through numerous County and State reviews, including the historic review and traffic safety reviews, as well as obtain financing, before it can go forward. The developer and County have been back and forth through several rounds of re-submissions, most recently with over 50 new plan documents submitted in November 2020, and new and outstanding comments and questions from the County staff here. Documents in this review process are listed HERE.
- When the back-and-forth process with the County staff is complete, the plans will go to the City for final review and vote, and then to the the Montgomery County Planning Board for a vote.
- The City remains responsible for both the forest conservation and stormwater management aspects of the development.
- Mediation between the Co-op and the developer concluded, and resulted in some accommodations for the Co-op, but leaves the lay-by as the primary delivery zone for both the Co-op and the entire development. Many questions about parking, traffic, gentrification, bike lanes, bus stop location, and safety remain. The agreement also requires the Co-op to stop opposing the project.
- Two completed traffic studies (one commissioned by the developer, one commissioned by the city) showed that with the current road configuration, any new development in the area will cause traffic at the Junction to “fail” (in terms of minutes spent at each light). The state is now waiting for a new version of the traffic study to be approved, before they weigh in with the County reviewers and Planning Board.
- The developer and City pushed for a complete redesign of the Junction layout, rerouting Sycamore to run through what is now the triangle park (BY Morrison Park) to Carroll Ave, and moving the historic pavilion. Traffic engineers have admitted that “induced demand” means traffic at the Junction would increase after any roadway improvement and cause a return to gridlock. And the State Highway Administration (SHA) said they have no money in the near future for any such reconfiguration.
- The SHA has never released the Vision Study, which was supposed to weigh in on how or whether to reconfigure the roads at the Junction. But the draft, widely circulated, did not recommend reconfiguration, and City officials expressed displeasure to the SHA. It is unclear how the development could go ahead with a lay-by without restructuring the layout of roadways.
- At the time the Junction plan was being reviewed by the City, the City required an Equity Impact Statement for every City project. Two different Equity statements were issued for the Junction plan, but City officials then admitted that both were inadequate, and said they were “revisiting” the statement, and then pulled the plug on Equity Impact Statements altogether. (The first statement found no effect on Racial Equity with the development, the second found an improvement based on pedestrian ability to cross the Junction traffic, which made no sense). CVT believes this development will accelerate gentrification and destabilize the diversity found at the Junction, which has historically been a space for small African-American businesses, including a vet, music school, yoga studio, hair salon, and barber. Already, the yoga studio owner was driven out of Takoma by rising prices.
Would it help if an outside expert did some kind of analysis?
- Nationally-known community economics expert Michael Shuman wrote an analysis (pro bono) of the planned Junction development. To read it, go to michaelhshuman.com.
Is CVT anti-development?
No. We are for:
- Visionary placemaking to revitalize the Junction,
- Innovative, local, independent businesses,
- Maximizing the space open to all rather than requiring purchases,
- Prioritizing public good rather than maximizing income,
- Preserving a “low and open” neighborhood architecture,
- Preserving our only downtown grocery store,
- Using public space for public events/arts/play and green space,
- Ensuring the highest environmental standards,
- Improving Junction traffic and safety.
What’s CVT’s idea for this lot? Keep it the way it is?
We have drawn up multiple ways of transforming the City lot. The most recent alternative by a local architect experienced in designing retail developments (with a proper U-drive behind the development for loading) is here.
Unfortunately, NDC’s proposals do not respond to the desires of the community as documented in the Junction Task Force report, the RFP, the Development Agreement, or the City Council’s fall 2017 Resolution.
Is the Co-op really threatened by the current Junction development proposal?
- Yes. The primary threats are forcing deliveries into the “lay-by” on Carroll Ave, the ability of the Co-op to stay open during construction on the lot next door, and the permanent loss of the public surface parking next door.
- Among other things, loss of free surface parking on the City’s lot (currently paid for by the Co-op and given to the public for free parking) will mean everyone who wants to park at the Junction will try to use the Co-op’s small free lot on Sycamore, or try to park in the neighborhood. The developer’s plan would also prohibit parking on Columbia between Poplar and Sycamore, where many shoppers now park.
What are the community benefits of the Takoma Park Silver Spring (TPSS) Co-op?
- The Co-op is the only full-service grocery store located at the center of the City, and a major employer critical to the local economy, with a diverse staff and customer base. They are a rare retail employer providing $15 minimum wage and full health insurance coverage.
- Walkable local grocers are a central tool in fighting food insecurity and obesity — which is why cities including Washington, DC provide subsidies for them. They help reduce vehicles on the road, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and build community.
- The Co-op takes SNAP and provides other benefits to low-income and senior shoppers.
- The Co-op offers healthy foods and produce, and acts as an incubator for small local businesses by providing space for over 100 local businesses (farmers, bakers, brewers, chefs, candlemakers) to sell their products.
- Because it sells more locally-produced products, money spent at the Co-op stays in the local economy.
- The Co-op is locally controlled by members, unlike other area grocery chains.
- The Co-op offers ecological options such as bulk goods, refilling of reusable containers, and many organic and fair trade products.
Why is a proper off-street loading zone important for the survival of the Co-op?
- The Co-op currently rents a portion of the City-owned lot for a loading zone from NDC, and offers the rest of the lot to the community for free parking. While the developer had off-street loading on the lot in their original proposal, once they had the contract, they substituted a “lay-by”: a pull-up spot on the highway in front of the Co-op.
- Every day, the Co-op receives deliveries of groceries by 18-wheeler trucks and other vehicles. The Co-op cannot control the size of trucks or timing of deliveries. Up to three or four trucks may be delivering simultaneously in the mornings. These trucks will be backed up on the street trying to unload if they cannot drive onto the lot as they do now.
- The Co-op will lose the ability to not only get deliveries on that side of the building but get their trash and recycling picked up there. The developer has said they have no intention to help solve the Co-op’s trash and recycling issues, and they expect the Co-op to use the Sycamore lot. The Sycamore lot is too small, would prevent shoppers from parking there if it was used as a loading and trash zone, and would create noise and truck traffic in the residential neighborhood behind the Co-op.
What are the traffic and safety issues with the development?
- The lay-by does not provide enough space for simultaneous delivery by more than one large truck. Additional trucks will either be backed up along Carroll Avenue waiting to unload, they might double-park, blocking traffic, or they will simply drive away, disrupting Junction businesses awaiting deliveries.
- Even a small truck in front of the Co-op is going to impede sight lines, and block visibility for pedestrians, bikers, and other cars at this complex Junction. Impatient motorists may pull out past waiting trucks, creating safety hazards.
- All trucks will need to be headed East in order to use the lay-by, and then will have to circle back through the neighborhood if they need to head West after delivery.
- The lay-by displaces a vital bus stop, and the bike station, and it’s not clear where they will go.
- The fact that elementary and middle school students cross through the Junction in the early morning, at the same time as commuters and grocery deliveries, makes the crossing more perilous.
- Fire Department vehicles also enter and exit at the Junction, and the Fire Chief has expressed concern about the development and lay-by at a City Council meeting.
- Cars will be entering and exiting the ramp to the underground garage, located even closer to the fire station than the current lot entrance. This is a blind corner, making it very difficult to safely enter and exit. And it will be very difficult to enter or exit because of gridlock at the Junction, at rush hours, or at almost any time.
Community Vision for Takoma (CVT)
For more, find us on facebook and twitter, or email us at TJCommunityVision@gmail.com
See the Petition calling on City Council to reject the current plan:
City documents on Takoma Junction here:
Analysis of the proposed development by an independent economist: