Straddling Two Lots at Takoma Junction

The Takoma Junction developer (NDC) chosen by the City plans to buy the auto repair business adjacent to the City lot. In the current site plan, the developer shows a footprint straddling the two lots, with the entrance to the garage on the lot owned by the developer. Here, lawyer and Takoma Park resident Jessica Landman writes to City officials to ask about the risks to a development that sits partly on City land, and partly on land owned by the developer.

Mon, Jun 11, 2018

Dear Mayor Stewart and Takoma Park City Council Members,

I am writing today to renew, more urgently, a request made to you during the public comment period at the City Council meeting on May 2nd.

In May I noted that the proposed Takoma Junction development plan anticipates construction of a building that straddles two parcels of land. It would bind the city to a 99-year lease, even though the city does not own or control one parcel that is vital to accessing the entire structure.

At the time I asked the City to investigate and inform the community whether this highly unusual arrangement poses a fiscal risk. As a lawyer and taxpayer, these questions concerned me greatly.

So far, there has been no response. The City’s silence left me wondering whether action was being taken or not.

Before the City adopts a Resolution committing to this project, it is vital that you determine whether there is a significant legal obstacle that could cause the City to have legal problems or incur unforeseen costs that the community would have to shoulder.

While I am not a real estate lawyer, I did undertake a preliminary review of the relevant rules in Montgomery County. From what I can discern, a building permit for a structure that straddles two parcels owned by two different parties will not be issued.

I urge the City to have its lawyers follow up, to determine whether they agree with the following analysis:

1.  Under Montgomery County’s building code, a building permit may only be issued for a building located on ‘a lot or parcel shown on a plat recorded in the County Land Records or on a parcel exempt from recording requirements under Section 50-3.3’. [1]

2.  The County’s subdivision rules define a ‘lot’ as a ‘discrete area of land that is described by a plat recorded in the land records for which the Department of Permitting Services may issue a building permit.’ [2]  The County Zoning Code uses nearly identical language to define a lot: ‘A lot is a contiguous area of land that is described by a plat recoded in the land records for which a building permit can be issued.’

Obviously, the two adjacent parcels at the Junction, while contiguous, are not on one ‘lot’ that is recorded in the land records. (Nor are they on a parcel exempted under the specific terms of the code.)

3.  At the Junction site there are two lots, which will not even be owned by the same entity. As such, the site does not meet the definition of a lot for which a building permit can be issued. The County’s rule is very clear; with the exception of a few exemptions irrelevant in this instance,

‘Construction of a new principal building may only occur on a lot or parcel shown on a plat recorded in the County Land Records.’[3]

My question for the City and the City’s lawyers is: Have you investigated how these constraints affect the Junction project?

If so, please share what you have learned.

If not, please undertake the appropriate due diligence to find out whether the project as currently contemplated would be unable to obtain a building permit.

Frankly, apart from the possibility that no permit would be issued for the proposed straddling two-lot project, the irregularity of the proposed arrangement strikes me, as a taxpayer, as risky. Could NDC – or a successor owner – who controls a portion of the parcel use that control to extract further, future fees or concessions from the City? What would happen in the event NDC defaults? Once can imagine many unhappy scenarios. Those may be the very reasons why the County rules forbid a construction permit for a structure that is not on a single ‘lot’. And even if a construction permit can somehow be obtained, the irregularity also suggests that investors will find the project risky, either steering clear or charging higher lending rates, which would in turn trigger higher rents.

Thank you for responding promptly to this letter; it is vital that you resolve these questions before you make a determination whether to approve the proposed project. It would be negligent for our City officials to fail to address these concerns.

Sincerely,

Jessica Landman

Ward 1