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.

NDC’s Traffic Study Is Skewed to Shift the Blame for Traffic to Others and Force a Costly, Questionable “Fix”

In which Roger Schlegel’s close analysis of the traffic studies leads him to the conclusion that “the next logical step would be to begin considering other kinds of site development with minimal impacts on peak-hour traffic.” Here, we give you the Introduction to his full 19-page analysis, with a link to read the rest, including charts, diagrams, and suggestions for logical alternatives to the current plan.

 

Introduction

When Neighborhood Development Corporation (NDC), presented its draft site plan for Takoma Junction in October 2017 and its revised site plan in April 2018, the required accompanying traffic study still wasn’t completed. Early critiques of the site plan thus couldn’t take into consideration the development’s impact on traffic, although it seemed that the driveway location and the truck lay-by could create traffic or safety hazards. Thinking that this was NDC’s “final offer,” I initially concluded that the Council should vote “no” because the revised site plan failed to respond adequately to ten of the eleven requirements set forth in the Council’s October 25, 2017 resolution. While the facade seemed acceptable, I soon realized that its height was incongruous with that of the Turner building and other buildings nearby.

As the process unfolded after April 4, there seemed reason to hope that the site plan could be revised to better meet the project goals outlined in the Development Agreement and the October 25 Resolution. Therefore, along with many other residents, I focused on suggesting adjustments that could address apparent shortcomings, particularly with respect to the size of the public space, the plan for deliveries and trash, and the total square footage. NDC’s responses to Council questions during work sessions indicated that the developer was unable or unwilling to make meaningful changes. Despite this impression, I collaborated with another resident, Byrne Kelly, who drew up an alternate 34,000 square-foot site plan that, in our view, better responded to the project goals and that could likely be profitable for NDC.

The completion of the traffic studies in mid-June changed everything for me. These studies were conducted by A. Morton Thomas (hired by the City) and by The Traffic Group (TTG), hired by NDC. Between June 19 and July 3, I carefully examined the studies, along with presentations and Council work sessions, to grasp fully what they reveal and how they are being interpreted.

What I’ve concluded is that if the City Council had had studies like these in hand in 2014 or 2016, it never would have sought a retail/office development anything like what NDC has proposed. The TTG study indicates that NDC’s commercial development would push Junction traffic to the breaking point, regardless of how deliveries or parking are handled. The study obscures that fact, though, by projecting that future off-site, “background,” developments would cause intersection failure; my analysis below calls that key assumption into question.

The studies make clear that the NDC design — especially the configuration of the lay-by and the public space — relies upon public funding for major changes to the junction of Grant, Carroll, Ethan Allen and Sycamore Avenues. The City Council is being advised that these “intersection improvements” (a) are necessary for other reasons and (b) will improve Junction traffic. Again, both of these assumptions must be called into question. As annoying as peak-hour delays can be, the Junction intersections are rated as having “acceptable” levels of service at present. While the intersection reconfigurations recommended by AMT and TTG would be projected to lessen peak-hour delays in the short term, they would immediately increase the total volume of traffic flowing through the 410 and 195 corridors in Takoma Park. As area drivers responded to the improved intersection capacity, the reconfigured intersection would generate still more traffic by inducing more trips along these routes — and could possibly generate new north-south routes involving Sycamore, Columbia, Elm, and Poplar Avenues.

Regardless, the City Council is being advised to vote “yes” for the NDC site plan in order to get the State Highway Administration (SHA) to study intersection improvements. However, the relationship seems to be the opposite: it’s not that site plan approval is needed to get a new intersection; rather, a new intersection design is needed to make the site plan feasible!  Obviously, the possibility of leveraging public funding for changes in the transportation infrastructure is not sufficient reason to vote “for” a particular development. And serious concerns exist about the advisability of making such changes, among them:

How long would it take for SHA to approve, design, and schedule intersection changes?

How much would an intersection reconfiguration cost?

How much would the City have to pay to make such a project happen?

How much time and attention from the Council and the public would be demanded by a process to evaluate and respond to designs for intersection reconfigurations?

– How would a changed intersection affect mobility for bus riders, cyclists, and pedestrians?

– How would a changed intersection affect cut-through traffic in residential neighborhoods?

– How long would it be until induced demand returned traffic delays to their previous levels?

– What effects would permanent increases in traffic volume have on other areas of the City?

– What environmental impacts would result from increases in intersection capacity?

– How would changes affect visibility and viability for businesses on Carroll Avenue?

– How would changes affect the historic character of the Junction, which is the chief bulwark against future widening of Route 410 through Takoma Park?

On what basis can we conclude that traffic is “bound to keep getting worse”? Given investments in the Purple Line, intersection changes at Ethan Allen and New Hampshire Avenues, possible establishment of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor on New Hampshire Avenue, increasing use of biking as a means of commuting, and the advent of driverless vehicle technology, is it possible that congestion is at its peak right now and about to start declining?

Given what we know, as well as what we don’t know, the wise course of action for the City Council is to vote “no” vote on this NDC site plan. Based on the traffic studies alone, the next logical step would be to begin considering other kinds of site development with minimal impacts on peak-hour traffic. Such uses could include small-scale retail, housing, certain kinds of institutional uses, continued parking, a park, or a multi-use pavilion.

– Roger Schlegel

(Member, Takoma Junction Task Force, 2010-2012)

Letter from Seven Former Members of the Takoma Park City Council

June 26, 2018


Dear Mayor Stewart and Councilmembers Dyballa, Kostiuk, Kovar, Seamens, Searcy, and Smith
:

 As former City Council members we appreciate the serious thought and considerable time you have invested in Takoma Junction development.  We respect the efforts of the Mayor and Council as well as City staff, many community stakeholders as well as the developer and consultants. 

 We can identify with the sense of “getting this project done” now after long hours of public debate.  The lengthy, complex and contentious process has led to even more questions and some issues, such as traffic implications, not fully answered. 

 Despite many great efforts, there is still a tremendous amount of community disagreement, which unless resolved, will threaten the larger sense of community for which Takoma Park is known.   We urge you to take additional time for consideration and debate to assure that Takoma Junction becomes a vital part of a larger community vision. 

 As you prepare for a vote on the Takoma Junction site plan we former Council members would like to share the following thoughts:

 Takoma Park is a built city

Two of us served on the Council in the 1980’s.  It was a time when the City was coming out of bank redlining issues (deposits from TP welcome; housing loans not so much) and beginning to deal with issues of gentrification.

 We are unsure whether any of the traffic study options will have positive impact in the short term.  However, we do believe that none of the options will make Takoma Park a better place to live in the long term.

 Even acceptable levels of traffic today will likely mean unacceptable levels tomorrow and create pressure in an area where road widening and neighborhood spillover are unacceptable.

 In a community like Takoma Park, process is at least as important as product

For so many of us who came to Takoma Park, the goal was a city welcoming for all, a city open to seeking out and hearing all opinions.   It is that view that took us beyond city to community.

While we understand the desire of the Council to conclude a long process and move on, the impact on Takoma Park will be decades long.  Disagreements are expected, honest and deserve consideration…and a process that assumes respectful and good faith postures can resolve them.

There are multiple stakeholders with different views on the use of the Takoma Junction property.  Each believes that their view contributes best to the public good. The Council’s role is not to tinker with design (we suggest that be left to professionals) but rather, something far more important, to manage us through a process that not only delivers a better Takoma Junction but also a stronger and more engaged community.

You now have your traffic studies. You do not have a unified community.  We encourage you to take some more time, bring together representatives of all stakeholders, keep your minds open and task them with creating several consensus options for your review.

We wish you our common success.

Sincerely,

Rino Aldrighetti, Lynne Bradley, Jim Di Luigi, Sharon Levy, Hank Prensky, Marie Ritzo, and Dan Robinson

 

A Letter from 15 Local Architecture and Design Professionals

June 26, 2018

Dear Mayor Stewart and City Council Members,

We are writing to you, as Takoma Park residents who are also professionals in the field of architecture and design, regarding the handling of the Takoma Junction project. Our goal is to express our concern about the approach the City is currently taking, and to offer our counsel about steps to be taken that can ensure that the customer’s vision – in this case, the City of Takoma Park is the Customer – is properly realized by the Developer. We appreciate that you as leaders of our City and many members of our Community have invested time energy toward the opportunity. However, we are concerned that collaboration with the Community has flagged and that the opportunities associated with inspired public space might be lost.

Traditionally in projects of this nature, the Customer’s goals and requirements are a starting point in working with an Owner’s Representative (an experienced architecture and design professional) to develop a Program that defines the required functions of the project. The Program is the resultant product of a phase where goals are clarified, relevant information gathered and priorities established. It details specific information such as estimated square footage and functional relationships of each usage type. The success of a project depends on the Customer, Owner’s Representative and Developer having a shared understanding of these key requirements and, to use the language of architecture and design, the problem to be solved.

Takoma Park has not followed standard practice and we are now paying the price for failing to do so. The City has produced a number of different documents that have elements of the necessary requirements: these include Resolution 2015-19[1], which spells out the project’s ‘Mission Statement’ and lists the elements to be included in the developer’s ‘conceptual plan;’ the Junction Development Agreement and Ground Lease,[2] which provides additional objectives and intentions, and Resolution 2017-53[3], which offers a critique of the developer’s earlier plan and provides a one page list of goals going forward.

But what has been missing is the articulation of the requirements and expectations – in clear, concise and measurable/accountable form – that must be included in a successful project. That gap is what has empowered the Developer to deviate substantially from the initial concept plan and mission statement, moving the community further and further away from consensus and delaying the completion of an acceptable plan that is actually consistent with the Junction Task Force’s mission statement[4]:

“Takoma Junction, predominantly located in the Takoma Park Historic District, is a small commercial district in the heart of a residential community, with historically significant resources and a vital fire station that should:

encourage motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists to slow down, park, relax, and shop while functioning adequately as a link within the local road and transit networks,

encourage sustainable commercial opportunities and provide convenience to local consumers,

serve as a cultural meeting-point for old and young in a diverse community,

blend harmoniously with adjacent residential neighborhoods, and

all in a forward-thinking, attractive and environmentally sensitive way.”

We advise you to make a critical mid-course correction in the current process to enable us to realize the community’s vision. While it may take some time to develop a complete Program, the up-front investment will save time, irreversible decisions and lost opportunities, heartache and possibly litigation costs. Here is a suggested pathway for action:

1. Hire an experienced Owner’s Representative and, working with that architectural/ design professional using the documents already prepared by the City (Resolutions 2015-19 and 2017-53 and the Development Agreement and Lease), and other information already gathered from users, generate an outline Program and identify questions and research required.

2. Conduct a Community Programming and Design Charrette, open to the public, led by a Charrette facilitator to include: independent design professionals; the Developer and their professional design representative; local business owners, and neighborhood representatives. Produce a community-valued Program that establishes consensus and captures expectations.

3. Use a Council Resolution to formally adopt the Program.

4. Armed with the finalized Program, authorize and empower the Owner’s Representative to represent the City in the back and forth with the Developer.

During this recommended mid-course correction, we should also be examining our priorities in this project, emphasizing and enhancing what is valuable to us – our Co-op, other local businesses and services and our neighbors. There is also the opportunity to explore a shift in the current direction of this project to come up with some new ideas—a new way of looking at the problem to be solved. There are members in this architecture/design community interested in an exploration along these lines.

We urge you to heed our professional advice and put a process in place which will enable us to achieve a mission we have set for ourselves.

Sincerely,

James A. DiLuigi, AIA, CSI (Ward 6)

Jeffrey C. Luker, AIA (Ward 1)

Joan Duncan, AIA (Ward 3)

William Mallari, AIA (Ward 5)

Carl Elefante, FAIA, FAPT, LEED AP (Ward 3)

Charles Poor, AIA (Ward 3)

Dana Haden, RA (Ward 2)

John Salmen, FAIA (Ward 3)

Sydney Katz, RA, LEED AP (Ward 2)

Charlotte Schoeneman, Architectural Designer (Ward 3)

Byrne H. Kelly, LLA, ASLA, QEP (Ward 3)

Richard J. Vitullo, AIA (Ward 2)

Joseph Klockner, LEED AP BD+C (Ward 2)

Maria Wright, Architectural Designer (Ward 2)

Rick Leonard, Pres., Heritage Bldg & Renov Inc. (Ward 3)

 

[1] https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/resolutions/2015/resolution-2015-19.pdf

[2] https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/initiatives/project-directory/Takoma-Junction/HCD-20160801-DA-GL-wOCRScannedSignaturePages.pdf

[3] https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/resolutions/2017/resolution-2017-53.pdf

[4] The Mission Statement is spelled out in the 2015 Resolution: see footnote 1 above.

Young Folks Against the Proposed Development

Last night at City Council, three young Takoma residents read the statement below, representing young people from Takoma, and others who grew up spending time in Takoma. They noted, “These signatures were collected over the past 24-hours alone and the list is growing by the minute.”

Here is their statement:

Those of us young folks signed below, urge you to vote no on the proposed Junction site-plan. We are concerned about the racial and socioeconomic exclusion that would undeniably result from this huge, high-end retail development, and instead urge you to put the community before corporations, by considering a plan with more communal, free, space.

The following 50 young voters in Takoma Park have currently signed the statement:

  1. Isabel Hendrix, Takoma Park
  2. Mahalia Iwogu, Takoma Park
  3. Eliza Wapner, Takoma Park
  4. Ashe Durban, Takoma Park
  5. Trevor Gibson, Takoma Park
  6. Ife Adelona, Takoma Park
  7. Eva Blockstein, Takoma Park
  8. Maaike Laanstra-Corn, Takoma Park
  9. Salah Khanjari, Takoma Park
  10. Dio Cramer, Takoma Park
  11. Alex Frandsen, Takoma Park
  12. Ariela Sirota, Takoma Park
  13. Ben Segal, Takoma Park
  14. Jenny Bates, Takoma Park
  15. Haki Johnson, Takoma Park
  16. Leila Bartholet, Takoma Park
  17. Lucas Richie, Takoma Park
  18. Adrian Kombe, Takoma Park
  19. Jeanne Jarvis-Gibson, Takoma Park
  20. Sam Dembling, Takoma Park
  21. Nick Huget, Takoma Park
  22. Jacob Rini, Takoma Park
  23. Sandy Hunter, Takoma Park
  24. Miles White, Takoma Park
  25. Ellie Struewing, Takoma Park
  26. Peter Berger, Takoma Park
  27. Alex Fairhall, Takoma Park
  28. Geneva Jimreivat, Takoma Park
  29. Dana Cook, Takoma Park
  30. Mattie Cohen, Takoma Park
  31. Erin Nolan, Takoma Park
  32. Amelia Langer, Takoma Park
  33. John Fair, Takoma Park
  34. James Fair, Takoma Park
  35. Becca Richie, Takoma Park
  36. Mer Caprioglio, Takoma Park
  37. Aimee Miller, Takoma Park
  38. Alison Goodman, Takoma Park
  39. Nesha Ruther, Takoma Park
  40. Molly Ellison, Takoma Park
  41. Paul Munger, Takoma Park
  42. Stella Del White, Takoma Park
  43. Jesse Broad-Cavanagh, Takoma Park
  44. Miles Royce, Takoma Park
  45. Lyla DiPaul, Takoma Park
  46. Ben Miller, Takoma Park
  47. Ian Askew, Takoma Park
  48. Alexis Redford-Maung Maung, Takoma Park
  49. Conor Donohue, Takoma Park
  50. Aidan Keys, Takoma Park
  51. Amye Gulezian, Takoma Park
  52. Karis Danner-McDonald, Takoma Park
  53. Sebi Medina-Tayac, Takoma Park

And the following young people from surrounding Maryland towns and DC, joined them in signing:

  1. Maya Montenegro, Silver Spring
  2. Emanuel Enrique Ceron, Silver Spring
  3. Will Buckley, DC
  4. Cole Garcia, Washington DC
  5. Jasper Saah, Glenmont
  6. Amir Price, Washington DC
  7. Connor Smith, Silver Spring
  8. Naomi Weintraub, Silver Spring
  9. Alex Michell, Silver Spring
  10. Naeem Alam, Silver Spring
  11. Conor James, Silver Spring
  12. Elia Tzoukermann, Silver Spring
  13. Rob Millar, Silver Spring
  14. Jonathan Chang-Min Hyon, Silver Spring
  15. AJ Jayawardena, Columbia
  16. Matthew Kickenson, Silver Spring
  17. Wyatt Qualiana, Silver Spring
  18. Serena Faruqee, Silver Spring
  19. Marco Saah, Glenmont
  20. Blue Keleher, Silver Spring
  21. James Anthony, Silver Spring
  22. Eric Suter-bull, Bethesda
  23. Charlie Flack, Washington DC
  24. Sean Durkin, Silver Spring
  25. Thea Piccone, Washington DC
  26. Stefan Bindley-Taylor, Fort Washington
  27. Leigh Cook, Silver Spring
  28. Kalanzi Kanjubi, Glenmont
  29. Harper Leigh, Silver Spring

 

 

What Do the Traffic Studies Tell Us Vis-a Vis the NDC Site Plan?

by Roger Schlegel

1. The traffic studies are extremely complex in terms of assumptions, methodologies, measurements, and recommendations. The City Council should seek expert review of these studies before moving to vote on the NDC site plan because that site plan appears to be dependent on reconfiguring the intersection. To be clear, there is no estimate of the cost of such a reconfiguration, nor is there a sense of who would pay for it, nor is there a sense of when or whether SHA would approve such a reconfiguration.

2. The site plan consideration and the exploration of a reconfigured intersection are not entirely separate, “parallel-track” activities. While it may be true that background traffic soon to come online will push the performance of existing Junction intersections just below acceptable levels of service, it is also true that the studies characterize the site plan’s design and traffic generation as necessitating an intersection reconfiguration. The City Council should be clear in recognizing that the new development is the main impetus for reconfiguring the intersection.

3. The projected improvements in traffic flow associated with the reconfigured intersection appear to rely on the elimination of an all-red crossing phase for pedestrians (both at the main intersection and at the Philadelphia Avenue intersection). They also require the elimination of the new crosswalk (and signal) at Grant Avenue. The City Council should consider carefully whether these changes would be sustainable after the construction of a new development that would increase north-south pedestrian movement and possibly encourage jaywalking.

4. The lay-by as designed is apparently too close to the stop line at the existing intersection. Moving that lay-by back would eliminate a chunk of the small proposed public space, increase the length of the loading/unloading path for trucks, and possibly make the development less attractive to tenants. The proposed reconfiguration of the intersection makes it possible for the lay-by to remain in the NDC site plan. Alternative concept plans exist which would provide off-street deliveries. The City Council should push NDC further to see whether it is open to an alternative design that doesn’t rely on a lay-by.

5. The studies did not address the functionality of the lay-by when multiple trucks arrive simultaneously, the possibility of double-parked trucks, the impact on streets and roads around the area if trucks are expected to circle around and re-attempt delivery or pick-up, or the impact on emergency vehicle movement. The City Council should seek answers to such questions before voting on the NDC site plan.

6. The NDC development would appear to increase traffic at the Junction by up to 11% during the AM peak-hour and by up to 24% at the PM peak-hour. This implies that the NDC development, not other increasing background traffic, would be the primary contributor to the projected failing performance of the Junction intersections. Again, the City Council should not marginalize the traffic impact of the new development as it deliberates about the site plan.

7. Big questions remain about the location and functionality of the driveway to the parking garage. The City Council should be certain that this is a viable design before passing the question on to reviewing agencies. In particular, if the City pushes ahead to try to reconfigure the intersection, it eliminates a possibly more viable location for a parking garage driveway, which would be on line with the existing signal at Carroll/Ethan Allen/Grant. It is clear that there will be significant queues to exit the garage during the peak PM period, even without a restaurant use. The peak AM projected queue does not assume the presence of a coffee shop on-site or of a grocery store open during those hours. There are real questions about sight lines and pedestrian and cyclist safety. The TTG study did not clarify how left turns into and out of the garage would be affected by queues in the travel lanes.

8. The future fate of the Turner Building needs careful consideration before any vote on the NDC site plan. Setting aside the impact of the site plan on the Co-op (as this is subject to the current mediation process), the City Council should consider closely how the proposed lay-by and the proposed intersection reconfiguration, would affect the future utility of the Turner Building (which the Co-op currently rents). In addition, the City should seek independent professional advice about the long-term viability of a lay-by arrangement for future tenants of the proposed NDC development. In particular, given the value that a grocery store provides as an anchor for a business district, the City should find out whether any grocery store would be attracted to a site that relies on a lay-by for all deliveries and trash handling. Beyond this, the City should investigate how suggested relocation of the entrance driveway and possible reactivation of the loading dock would impact the capacity of the Turner Building’s parking lot.

9. The City still knows very little about the present state of cut-through traffic at the Junction. The City-commissioned study (AMT) provided measurements of cut-through traffic only on one route involving the length of Columbia Avenue. The studies provided no data on present cut-through traffic in other neighborhoods or on projections of cut-through traffic resulting from the proposed development (cars as well as trucks). It seems that it would be crucial for the City Council to get a clear understanding of present and projected cut-through patterns before voting on the NDC site plan.

10. The size of the proposed public space in the NDC site plan has been a huge issue. In response to criticisms that the proposed space is too small for community events, it is frequently noted that B.Y. Morrisson Park is a more appropriate place for such events. The City Council should think carefully about what the elimination of B.Y. Morrisson Park would mean for the Junction in terms of its potential as a place for public events and gatherings. A mid-intersection “pedestrian refuge” triangle should not be characterized as a true park space. Also, the loss of the four public parking spaces on the north side of B.Y. Morrisson Park should not be ignored as an impact of an intersection configuration.

11. The businesses and residents on the north side of the Junction should be given ample time to review and respond to the traffic studies before the City Council votes on the NDC site plan. Many of these businesses are reliant on convenient parking and easy pedestrian movement for their viability. The projected queue lengths and delay times for exiting the new parking garage may be of concern to north-side businesses, along with changes in pedestrian crossing routes, the elimination of B.Y. Morrisson Park, and the elimination of the all-red pedestrian crossing phase. The City Council should also consider a scenario whereby Manor Circle and other nearby neighborhoods choose to have residential permit parking — how would such a change impact the functionality and convenience of the new parking garage, and would north-side clients and customers be willing to “migrate” to the new parking garage?

12. Stepping back from the details a bit, one can imagine that if the site plan (or something like it) gets built — without or without an intersection reconfiguration — it will become clear that the development, along with Turner Building, needs a rear path for cars to circle around and for trucks to unload (a.k.a. an “alley”). The City Council should closely consider whether the creation of an alley is an eventuality and, if so, confront that potential need before voting on the NDC site plan.

In summary, it is very important for the City Council to take the necessary time to examine the implications of the traffic studies and address unanswered questions before taking any vote on the NDC site plan.

For an extended Issue-by-issue Analysis of the Traffic Studies Vis-a-Vis the NDC Site Plan in table form, addressing 20 specific issues, go to the google doc at this link.

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.