“Set a Brave and Bold Example”

Community Vision for Takoma Junction (CVTJ) is not the only group organizing for a more inclusive and public use for the lot at Takoma Junction. Here, we print a letter from Badia AlBanna, Dara Orenstein, Michele Bollinger, Ron Resetarits, Kerry Danner-McDonald, Jennifer Satlin-Fernandez, Adriana Kuehnel, and Dave Zirin, who have been organizing meetings on Takoma Junction. To join them, email michele.bollinger@gmail.com.

An open letter to Takoma Park residents and elected officials:

We call upon you to live up to the values that Takoma Park symbolizes and to reject the current plan for Takoma Junction. Our goals are twofold: to promote racial equity and to provide a higher quality of life for all residents, especially those who are the least-resourced and most marginalized.

  • The City has pledged that it is committed to analyzing racial equity in each of its decisions—yet its attempt at a “racial equity statement” about the Junction has been woefully inadequate.
  • Only a plan that designs a space to be accessed and used by all will be truly equitable. The space at the Junction is the last piece of open public land in Takoma Park. To lease it to a private, commercial developer violates the spirit of democracy. Even if that developer recruits small businesses, and even if all parties are minority-owned, still, private individuals are profiting off of public resources. A few individuals are exploiting the City’s land, location, and cultural capital to enrich themselves, and in return the 17,000 citizens of the City are receiving, what exactly, a modest stream of property taxes that the omnipotent City Manager will allow to trickle down to the masses? The City should not be subsidizing an individual’s path to greater wealth. It should devote public resources to the common good. No trickle-down economics.
  • There are many ways to create opportunities for minority-owned businesses in Takoma Park, beyond the public land at the Junction. Let’s set standards and guidelines for economic development that center on racial equity—and let’s not allow the elite of Takoma Park to co-opt the language of racial equity as a hedge against those who want to preserve public resources for the public good.
  • Moreover, let’s set standards and guidelines for economic development that contemplate what it means to work in Takoma Park, not merely what it means to profit (as a business owner) or to shop. The Junction should model this principle. Low-wage, low-skill service jobs with minimal or zero benefits or workplace rights are not the answer for the Junction.
  • Speaking of shopping, our community is facing an affordability crisis. Property values have skyrocketed. A single cookie can sell for $3.00. Most businesses that have opened lately cater to the affluent customer. The current plan for development will bring in upper-end retail accessible primarily to upper-middle class households and will contribute to rising rents and prices. It is disingenuous to call such a scenario a “Junction for All.” It is selfish to prioritize enhanced consumer options for upper-middle class people—not to mention that it is the opposite of “racial equity.”
  • A better solution is to create a space that everyone can enjoy, free of charge. The Junction lies at the heart of Takoma Park: it should unite residents across all six wards. Only a commons-style plan can support this role. A youth center, a technology center, a basketball court, a community theater, a community kitchen—these are just some of the ideas in the air. Never would we challenge the current plan were it for a homeless shelter, a refugee shelter, a daycare center. We are not NIMBYers—we are YIMBYers! Yes to the People’s Junction!
  • Focus on our youth, especially our teens. There are many parks for our very youngest residents to frequent. But, at the Takoma Park Community Center, older kids are confined to a game room and a basketball court. As one veteran of Takoma Park civic life put it to us, “The Community Center is mainly for white adults.” Takoma Park does not support young adults by providing numerous facilities where they can mingle and play—and as a result we fear some children are getting the message (yard signs aside) that their lives do not matter. They deserve better.

We will not give up on our fight to do what is right for Takoma Park. We are eager to help the City launch a transformative planning process, starting, maybe, with a community advisory board. Our elected leaders are in a position to set a brave and bold example of how to shore up against the tidal wave of gentrification that has wrecked urban communities, if they abandon the current plan. We understand that to do so would mean to give up on years of effort (for now, at least). It may take us a long time to reach a healthy decision for the Junction, but, then, as the saying goes, there is more than one path to the top of the mountain.

Signed on June 5, 2018

Badia AlBanna, Dara Orenstein, Michele Bollinger, Ron Resetarits, Kerry Danner-McDonald, Jennifer Satlin-Fernandez, Adriana Kuehnel, Dave Zirin

 

The Junction of Grief and Hope

There are now almost 500 electronic signatures on the Community Vision petition asking the City Council to vote “No” on the current Junction site plan, and 187 comments. We recommend reading all of them. But many individuals have also taken the time to write to City officials at length, recording the history of our community at this moment. Read Dennis Huffman’s email to the City here. And to reach the whole Council, send your comments, while you still can, to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov.

May 31, 2019

I am among the significant number of Takoma Park residents who are struggling to come to terms with what feels like the slow-motion death of a loved one.  While the patient’s demise has not been certified, the City Council will be voting on it very soon.

No. I am not taking about a piece of asphalt between the fire house and the Co-op – that’s just a symptom.  The imminent death I am talking about is Sam Abbott’s vision for a city committed to building racial and economic equity.

Perhaps it would be helpful to view this through the lens of the five stages of grief.  Many of us have been in a long period of denial (the first stage).  The council seems still to be denying its role in the problem, acting as though it is duty bound simply to cut the City’s losses and ratify the inevitable.  In the community, a common refrain (and I’ve said it myself) is that we are just now realizing how perilous things are.  Many of us were asleep, wanting to believe that our leaders were wise and progressive people who would always act in our best interest.

Which brings me to anger.  There has been a lot of anger expressed in a lot of meetings over the past few months.  Anger at the breach of trust.  Anger at the privatization of public land.  Anger at the Council’s blind faith in the developers.  And anger at Council’s stone-faced deafness in hearing after hearing.  Council appears to be angry that we’re angry. 

Bargaining, the third stage in the grieving process, is generally done with God, but in this case, it’s being done with the developers, who seem to be held up as somehow god-like by the council and City staff.  Rather than having big conversations, early on, about the beliefs and values of the people of Takoma Park, and how they might be reflected in the use of public land, the developer was left to negotiate with the Co-op about things like the loading dock.  And it turns out this “god” doesn’t heed the prayers of nonbelievers – the future of the Co-op is clearly threatened by this project.  But even those who may be unmoved by the plight of the Co-op are expressing alarm at the council’s unwillingness to stand up for its own criteria.  The city seems not to realize that it holds the upper hand in any negotiations with the developers.

Back to Sam Abbott’s vision.  Some may question how one development project can harm “equity,” but the problem with that question is that it presumes somehow that equity exists.  Equity does not exist.  It is equity itself that must be developed – built, if you will.  And the proposed project is utterly indifferent to equity.

This is all, of course, quite depressing (stage 4). The City needs the development to make money to hire staff to plan more development to make more money to hire more staff.  It’s the inevitable way of the world.  Some are already sighing deeply and slipping into acceptance (stage 5).  “Traffic will just get worse and worse,” they say.  “That’s how it is.”  But what if Sam Abbott had said that about I-95?  Takoma Park is a living breathing example of how we don’t always have to accept things as the rest of the world presents them to us. 

The Takoma Junction project sits at the intersection of grief and hope.  You are rolling rapidly into that junction, and you will either have to stop to reconsider or close your eyes and pray that things somehow turn out okay.  I, and many hundreds of others, are asking you to stop.  It is not too late to keep Mayor Abbot’s vision of an inclusive and equitable city alive.

Thank you.

 Dennis Huffman, Ward 3

 

A Letter to the City

Merrill Leffler is a nationally-recognized poet and publisher. Like hundreds of others he has signed the petition asking the City Council to vote NO on the proposed Takoma Junction site plan. In an email sent today he explains, “This NDC redevelopment plan cannot be fixed by mere compromise or mediation — it is fundamentally flawed.”

From: Merrill Leffler (Ward 3)

To: Kacy Kostiuk, Ward 3 Council Member

cc: Mayor Kate Stewart, Takoma Park City Council Members, Suzanne Ludlow

Dear Kacy,

After all the hours of public testimony and supporting documents critical of the NDC’s redevelopment plan at the Junction — including your “listening” sessions — I do not understand how nearly all the City Council members continue to support it. The plan neither benefits all residents of Takoma Park, nor reflects the community values of inclusivity our city prides itself on.

To begin with, the Council should have immediately rejected NDC’s outlandish conception of a lay-by for delivery trucks close to the confluence of two heavily-trafficked roads, Route 410 and Carroll Avenue, and its feeder streets. In addition to increasing traffic congestion, the lay-by creates hazards to pedestrians, bicyclists, and automobiles, and is at odds with a welcoming public space. Equally unworkable is the plan’s underground parking garage that would significantly disrupt the TPSS Co-op operations, increase traffic hazards below and above ground, and make parking expensive. But most at odds with genuine revitalization of our public property is the plan’s chockablock commercial building configuration that subordinates shared public space and homegrown businesses to the developer’s profit-making interest.

We all understand that developers are in business to make money. More shops mean more rentals mean more income, and understandably NDC wants to maximize the return on its investment. This is all well and good for NDC. It is not well and good for the whole Junction, for residents, for the small businesses along Carroll Avenue, or for the patrons of these businesses (individually owned, not corporate). It is certainly not well and good for the Co-op, a grocery that exemplifies the independent, progressive spirit of Takoma Park.

To be clear: Everyone I know enthusiastically supports major revitalization of the Junction — it has been 30 years in the making, and it is time. A revitalization, however, that promotes the uniqueness of Takoma Park, our walkable city of neighborhoods, parks and playgrounds, small businesses, local schools, ethnic and racial diversity, an independent library — one of only two in Maryland — city-sponsored cultural programs, among them, We Are Takoma, and more. It is this uniqueness and commitment to progressive values that have drawn so many of us to live in Takoma Park and to work towards making the city a welcoming home for all its residents.

Takoma Park is racially and ethnically heterogeneous, as it has always been and continues to be. If anything, the City Council should be promoting ways for our diverse residents to share the same public space — the Junction is the one remaining area in the city where we have such an opportunity. Meanwhile, the City Council insists on pushing ahead with NDCs plan, which is more developer-friendly than it is community-wide friendly.

Maybe City Council members are fatigued by this long process and just want to be done with it. This is understandable but the decisions you and your colleagues make will have lasting effect on the shape of the Junction and the city — this is reason enough to reexamine just what most of you seem determined to vote for. We must not take what the developer is giving us — we should be adamant about what we want for Takoma Park, a development that will serve the interests of all our residents, a revitalization of our public land that we can all be proud of.

Amanda Burden, Chair of the New York City Planning Commission, points out, “cities are fundamentally about people — where people go and where people meet are at the core of what makes a city work.” It is not wall-to-wall building. “Even more important than buildings in a city,” says Burden, “are the public spaces between them. And today, some of the most transformative changes in cities are happening in these public spaces.”

To further quote Burden, a key figure in innovative open space development in seemingly disastrous, run-down sections of New York, “commercial interests will always battle against public space . . . a developer sees just one thing: customers.” (See “How Public Spaces Make Cities Work: www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7fRIGphgtk)

We live in a world where developers of all kinds tell us what they want and what they want is what we are supposed to want, with a few compromises here and there. This NDC redevelopment plan cannot be fixed by mere compromise or mediation — it is fundamentally flawed. It is long past time for the Council to tell NDC what we the residents and taxpayers of Takoma Park want, and if they can’t deliver and make enough of a return on their investment, then it is time to dissolve the contractual agreement and forge ahead with a revitalization that serves all the residents of our city.

Here at the Junction, we have a chance to design a truly innovative, people-first development plan that will accommodate a large welcoming public space for adults and children, which people will want to share, whether to eat outdoors, meet or run into friends, or just relax and talk. I hope that in the City Council’s further deliberations, you will make this your number one priority.

One Way to Get “Unstuck” at the Junction

The Takoma Park City Council asked to see a 34,000 square foot plan for Takoma Junction. But the developer delivered another 50,000+ square foot plan. Here, landscape architect Byrne Kelley and Roger Schlegel give us a New Alternative Plan that could provide a way forward: (for a high-resolution view go HERE).

5-20-18 Alternative TK Junction Plan BHKelly

And, new as of July 10, here’s an elevation!

Elevation, Alternate Plan #2

PLENTY TO SEE AND DO

34,000 square feet (what the City asked for), two stories, and a dynamic streetscape.

An optimal height that is compatible with the historic district.

Great retail spaces, including a generous front-to-back restaurant space on the west side. Office and/or studio space upstairs.

Eye-catching progressive setbacks along Carroll Avenue that bring in afternoon light.

MORE PLEASANT PARKING

Underground garage with more spaces than current surface lot and more natural lighting.

Mid-block entrance with better sight distances and easier left turns in and out.

Potential connections to Co-op lower level and Fire Station parking terrace.

STROLL AROUND THE BACK (AND MAKE DELIVERIES, TOO!)

On the west side, a pedestrian-friendly “mews” allows standard trucks to access the rear.

This route turns onto a rear terrace where tenants’ delivery and trash operations can occur.

The Co-op can use this same terrace route for deliveries, trash, and recycling.

The terrace offers a lovely woodside connection between the restaurant and the piazza.

 

DID YOU SAY “PIAZZA”?

Yes! Between the new building and the Co-op, there’s a 40’ by 100’ multi-use public plaza.

This space can host vendors, games, picnics, flea markets, movies, and beer gardens.

A retractable canopy and a portable dance floor provide event space to draw us all together.

4,000 square feet = plenty of room for the Halloween festival and holiday tree sales, too!

The piazza can have a canopy connecting to expanded Co-op space in the new building.

A DESIGN THAT DRAWS PEOPLE IN AND KNITS TOGETHER NEIGHBORHOODS

The east front corner is a focal point for visitors coming up Grant, Carroll, and Ethan Allen.  That focal point entrance leads into a glass-enclosed gallery space alongside the piazza.

The gallery space connects to a light-filled central atrium enlivening the building’s interior.  The elevator tower is just twenty steps from the Co-op, at the atrium entrance.  

NO MUSS, NO FUSS

Construction can be phased, with initial “Piazza” serving Co-op needs during “Phase Two.”

The Grant Avenue crosswalk, bus stop, and bikeshare station can stay where they are!

Pesky 18-wheelers can be accommodated via a lay-by OR via off-hours use of the piazza.

Win-Win-Win. City gets real public space, Junction gains vibrancy, NDC gets showcase project.

A List of Unresolved Issues with the Proposed Takoma Junction Site Plan

A group led by Roger Schlegel has now crowd-sourced a list of some 70 issues that remain unresolved with the developer’s current site plan for the proposed Takoma Junction development. You can read the entire list here.

The list is broken into sections on:

  • Overall Presentation
  • Aesthetics
  • Historic Character and Scale
  • Accommodations of the TPSS Co-op
  • Sustainability
  • Outdoor Public Space
  • Promoting Alternative Modes of Transportation
  • Enhanced Streetscape
  • Parking
  • Retail and Commercial Destination with Options for Local Community
  • Traffic Impacts
  • Emergency Vehicle Responsiveness
  • and Racial Equity.

Go have a look!

A Letter From Takoma Junction Businesses

This letter from a large majority of Junction businesses has been delivered to the City:

May 7, 2018

To: Mayor Kate Stewart, Council Members: Peter Kovar, Cindy Dyballa, Kacy Kostiuk, Terry Seamens, Jarrett Smith, and Talisha Searcy

From: Business Owners of Takoma Junction

Re: Proposed plan in the Junction

We stand in solidarity with The Takoma Park-Silver Spring Co-op grocery store, a vital resource and an anchor business located in Takoma Junction currently being threatened by the proposed development plan by NDC. The Co-op management and members have brought up a number of safety and operational concerns to the Council. We urge the Council not to take these concerns lightly. In addition, many of these issues may also affect our businesses located on Carroll Avenue.

We want to see the following issues addressed:

  1. Our Carroll Avenue strip has seen a particularly promising upswing in new, stable small businesses which may be threatened by increased traffic, difficulty parking, and the potentially higher rents in the Junction that may result from the large retail areas across the street putting additional strain on our businesses.
  1. The parking issue is especially concerning because it is likely that with increased volume of shoppers, some will look for free parking on the residential streets instead of using the metered parking garage. Parking on nearby streets by shoppers will likely require that Permit Parking be instituted; not something that all residents wish for but will need in order to maintain sufficient parking for themselves. Those who currently come to the Carroll Avenue shops might be deterred from patronizing our businesses due to increased traffic congestion and lack of free parking.
  1. If this project were to be completed, the large retail spaces are likely to be expensive to rent. As a result we are less likely to attract the small businesses that now characterize much of Old Takoma and Takoma Junction, namely, unique, individually-owned and operated shops and services. Higher rents in those spaces, if not designated for local businesses, may become occupied by chain stores and national businesses instead of locally-owned enterprises. We have a long-standing tradition in this City of encouraging locally-owned and operated small businesses that lend our community charm, character, and uniqueness in a large Metropolitan area filled with big chain stores.
  1. Keeping in mind the scale of what is already here should be a priority, and this NDC project is out-of-scale with the surroundings. It has been noted that the renderings are misleading and that the proposed building it actually much taller than shown.
  1. Finally, we are very concerned about the effect such an over-sized construction project including excavation for underground parking may have on our Historic buildings, nearly 100 years old now. Heavy trucks creating a lot of vibration are hard on our antique buildings.

Please do not turn a deaf ear on the business owners in Takoma Junction that already provide (and have for many years) tax revenue for the City.

Please do not minimize the importance of a well-conceived plan for deliveries and trash removal at the proposed site. Once it is built it will difficult, if not impossible, to correct the situation of large trucks sitting in front of the building—possibly double-parked—lined up and emitting fumes. This would be both unsightly and smelly for anyone sitting out and forget dining al fresco!

Lastly, this is such an oversized complex at a time when shopping is increasingly done online, and malls and strip shopping centers are often left with vacant spaces or are closing all together. Once this two-story building is up, what will happen if it is mostly vacant? This plan is on the wrong side of what we stand for in Takoma Park, on the wrong side of a population needing and longing for more community and relaxing green areas, and on the wrong side of quieting a busy intersection.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Takoma Junction Business proprietors:

Rick and Bernita Leonard
Heritage Building and Renovation, Inc.
Suds Laundromat
7334 Carroll Avenue

Eric Sepler
Kinetic Artistry
7216 Carroll Avenue

Katherine Rurka
Spring Mill Bread Company
7300 Carroll Avenue

Mark Schneider
Urban HiFi, LLC
t/a Linear Tube Audio
7316 Carroll Avenue

Paul Aytch
Mary Newsome Yancy
Salon 2000
7310 Carroll Avenue
With independent operators:
Andrea Wilson
Irene Jackson
Sandra Fisher

Jo Anne Carey, D.V.M.
Takoma Park Animal Clinic
7330 Carroll Avenue

Mark Howard
Takoma Framers
7312 Carroll Avenue

Haresh Laheri
Takoma Postal & Business Center
7304 Carroll Avenue

Kendra Blackett Dibigna
Bikram Yoga   Takoma Park
7324 Carroll Avenue

Steve Cho
Carriage House Cleaners
7308 Carroll Avenue

Bruce and Inan Philips
Healey Surgeons
7211 Carroll Avenue

Nazirahk Amen, ND, L.Ac.
Wisdom Path Healing Center
Purple Mountain Organics
7120 Carroll Avenue

D. Doley
RS Automotive, Inc.
7224 Carroll Avenue

Rachel Hardwick, President
Board of Representatives
Takoma Park-Silver Spring Co-op
201 Ethan Allen

Does the NDC Combined Site Plan Meet the City of Takoma Park’s Takoma Junction Development Goals?

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

            The City of Takoma Park has invested many years of hard work and sustained community dialogue to craft its strategy and goals for developing Takoma Junction, through the rigorous analysis of the Takoma Junction Task Force and multiple City Council resolutions.

Yet the Combined Site Plan presented by the City’s chosen developer, NDC, diverges significantly from the Takoma Junction Task Force’s recommendations, the City’s RFP, the Development Agreement, and the City Council’s October 25, 2017 resolution on the development.

Key findings of an intensive comparison study of these documents by Takoma Park resident and Takoma Junction Task Force member Roger Schlegel include:

  • The building’s 40-foot height and 50,000 square foot size do not “blend harmoniously with adjacent residential neighborhoods” [1] or show “sensitivity to the historical character and scale of the area.”[2]
  • The Combined Site Plan fails to provide “reasonable accommodation”[3] to the Co-op for business continuity during construction,3 and for loading of deliveries, trash and recycling pickup, and customer parking.3
  • The Combined Site Plan’s less than 1,200 square feet of usable public space will not “serve as a cultural meeting-point for old and young in a diverse community”1 nor does it constitute “A large amount of vibrant, comfortable, and easily accessible street-level public space that functions as a community gathering spot.”3
  • The Combined Site Plan’s relocation of the bus stop serving the south side of Carroll Avenue, its elimination of the bikeshare station, and the absence of a bike lane fail to “preserve and include alternatives to automotive transportation.”3 [4]
  • The widely estimated rental rate of $45/sq. ft. makes it highly unlikely that commercial space within the building will be leased “predominantly to local and regional operators.”4
  • The garage driveway entrance and exit (just 60 feet from the Philadelphia Ave. stop line and fire house) and the truck lay-by’s ability to accommodate only one 18-wheel tractor-trailer make it impossible for the Combined Site Plan to “function adequately as a link within the local road and transit networks.”1 Moreover, Fire Chief Tom Musgrove testified that the truck lay-by, if occupied, could stack up a second truck and even a bus in the right lane, making it impossible for emergency vehicles to move quickly around traffic in the left lane.
  • Given the small public space, high rental rates and possible loss of the City’s sole centrally-located source of healthy food, the City Council must engage in detailed deliberations to ensure that “issues of racial equity [are] addressed proactively & deliberately in the course of decision-making.”[5]

 

[1] Takoma Junction Task Force Report

[2] City of Takoma Park’s RFP for Takoma Junction Redevelopment.

[3] Takoma Park City Council Resolution 2017-53, passed October 25, 2017

[4] City of Takoma Park — Takoma Junction Development Agreement

[5] City Council Resolution 2017-28 on racial equity, passed April 19, 2017

 

To read the full study on googledocs with embedded links, go HERE. Or read through (no embedded links) the full study below:

 

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