What are/were the issues with the proposed development at the Junction?
- The proposed building filled 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 would 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 have been 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 could have survived construction, permanent loss of off-street loading, and permanent loss of public surface parking in the lot.
- Increased retail rents, unaffordable to local businesses, would have driven 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 have been dangerous because it was too close to a blind curve at the firehouse.
- There was insufficient study of the stormwater drainage issues.
- The plan submitted showed thirty trees, many of them in good health, being removed from the woods behind the development.
- The developer provided only a “Gazebo size” public space along the street, no large open space for public events now held on the lot.
- The building would have spanned two lots with two different owners (the City, and the auto repair lot that would be acquired by the developer). This created important legal issues, especially if the development failed or was sold.
- The NDC site plan did not respond to the majority of the requests made by City Council in their resolution 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).
- The NDC plan gave control of the last flat, open, available public land in the heart of our City to a private developer.
Weren’t the residents commenting on the plan evenly divided?
- No. City officials often said they “heard from both sides” but declined for many years to quantify the Citywide feedback they were getting.
- In 2020, over 100 people signed a letter expressing dismay about the gentrification and racial equity implications of the Junction proposal. This is in stark contrast to the lack of diversity among people advocating for the project.
- 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.
- Finally, in 2021, the City created a feedback page on their website, in preparation for their final vote on the Junction proposal. 380 out of 396 comments (96%) expressed concern or were against the proposal.
- 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?
(For a complete timeline starting in 1992, click HERE).
- The proposed plan cannot be built as is, but the developer still has a 99-year lease on the City-owned lot, and subleases it to the Co-op. So the Co-op is still operating under the mediated agreement requiring them to not oppose the development in order to maintain access to using the lot.
- On January 27 2022 The Montgomery County Planning Board voted unanimously to deny approval of the Takoma Junction plans.
- In June 2021, the City Council voted unanimously (7-0) to recommend that the Planning Board disapprove the project, citing five different reasons, including the fact that the State Highway Administration continues to find the lay-by unsafe after four different iterations.
- The City remains responsible for both the forest conservation and stormwater management aspects of the development.
- 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. Since the process began, at least two Black-owned business in the Junction have closed.
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 and inclusive placemaking at 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,
- Protecting and building more affordable housing at locations that could include WAH, Washington McLaughlin, and the Crossroads (Purple Line).
What’s CVT’s idea for this lot? Keep it the way it is?
All the storefronts at the Junction are now full, and the many new businesses in the Junction all use the lot for parking–it is often full these days. But at minimum, there would be many ways to make it more permeable, improve green space, improve use for community events, and encourage pop-ups and food trucks.
Unfortunately, NDC’s proposals did 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.
Was the Co-op really threatened by the NDC’s Junction development proposal?
- Yes. The primary threats were 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) would have meant everyone who wanted to park at the Junction would have been trying to use the Co-op’s small free lot on Sycamore, or trying to park in the neighborhood. The developer’s plan would have also prohibited parking on Columbia between Poplar and Sycamore, where many shoppers now park.
- The development company was transparent in their hostility to the Co-op, attempting to evict the Co-op from the lot in spring of 2021. They also, without informing the Co-op, proposed a version of the project that would have closed the Co-op’s entrance from 410 (Ethan Allen).
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 unionized 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 has become a lifeline for food distribution during the pandemic, and continues to support multiple food distribution non-profits by providing packing and distribution space, volunteers, and food.
- 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.
- In the proposed development, the Co-op would have lost the ability to not only get deliveries on that side of the building, but to get their trash and recycling picked up there. The developer had said they had no intention of taking responsibility for the Co-op’s trash and recycling, and they expected 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 were the traffic and safety issues with the development?
- The proposed lay-by did not provide enough space for simultaneous delivery by more than one large truck. Additional trucks would have either been backed up along Carroll Avenue waiting to unload, they might double-park, blocking traffic, or they would have simply driven away, disrupting Junction businesses awaiting deliveries.
- Even a small truck in front of the Co-op would have impeded sight lines, and blocked visibility for pedestrians, bikers, and other cars at this complex Junction. Impatient motorists would have pulled out past waiting trucks, creating safety hazards.
- All trucks would have needed to be headed East in order to use the lay-by, and then would have circled back through the neighborhood if they needed to head West after delivery.
- The lay-by would have displaced a vital bus stop, and the bike station, and it wasn’t clear where they would 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, made the crossing more perilous.
- Fire Department vehicles also enter and exit at the Junction, and the Fire Chief had expressed concern about the development and lay-by at a City Council meeting.
- Cars would have been 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 would have been 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 2018 Petition calling on City Council to reject the plan:
City documents on Takoma Junction here:
Analysis of the proposed development by an independent economist: