It may be hard to see the full arc of the proposed Takoma Junction development process, a process unfolding over many years now. So here, we provide a preliminary timeline of events with linked documents, over the past 30 years. This is a draft, so we welcome suggestions.
1992. Takoma Park Historic District, including the Junction, established to protect against “unsympathetic alteration and insensitive redevelopment.”
1998. Co-op moves to Junction. City begins renting a portion of lot to Co-op for parking, storage, and loading. Co-op begins sponsoring public use, eventually including Earth Day, movie screenings, weekly concerts, and in the pandemic, hands-free grocery pickup, Farmer’s Market, non-profit food distribution, and Black Lives Matter protest.
2009. Independent study commissioned by Old Town Business Association (OTBA) identifies Co-op as the Junction anchor, recommends “every effort be made to encourage” its further development, and recommends 10,000 sf expansion of Co-op and addition of Co-op cafe.
Feb 2012. Takoma Junction Task Force Report issued. Mentions community desire for small town charm, food trucks, expanded community use, pavilion, playground, support for local businesses.
2011. Co-op membership votes to authorize Co-op Board to pursue expansion.
Jan 2014. Under a short-lived City Manager who now works for Amazon, City puts out Request for Proposals, effectively pre-ordaining choice of a commercial developer and excluding Co-op’s expansion and open public space proposal. City Councilman Seth Grimes later laments, “The city made a mistake in not providing detailed, clear guidance on community preferences” and that “none of the proposals” meet City needs documented by Junction Task Force.
2015. City chooses Neighborhood Development Company (NDC), based on their concept showing residential and commercial, a loading zone behind the building (no lay-by) and presumed expansion of Co-op as the anchor tenant.
March 2015. City Councilman Tim Male opines that plan is too big, says, “I have a hard time imagining…a 33,000 sf building…on that spot.”
July 2016. City signs a Development Agreement with NDC, laying groundwork for choosing new anchor tenant if they cannot agree with Co-op on expansion.
2016. First of at least three petitions opposing the development. Over 1300 unique signatures gathered by 2018. Majority of public comments oppose plan at numerous City Council meetings over multiple years. City refuses to survey residents or hold referendum to document opposition.
2017. NDC and Co-op fail to reach agreement for Co-op expansion as anchor tenant. City authorizes NDC to seek a new anchor tenant.
2017. NDC makes deal to acquire adjoining auto clinic, increases plan to over 50,000 sq ft, does not use that “new” space to add any public use back in, releases a three-story glass design received as “Bethesda style.”
April 2018. Community Vision hosts a packed Town Hall with State Highway Administration. Residents and Fire Chief express concerns about safety and traffic issues created by plan.
April 2018. NDC submits revised plans with funkier facade but maintaining 50,000 sf size. Images portrayed from a high vantage point continue to minimize perceived size of development.
May 2018. NDC and Co-op, unable to reach a plan for Co-op accommodation during and after construction, agree to mediation funded by City.
July 2018. City Council votes on a resolution, 5-2, to let NDC submit site plan (over 50,000 sf) to County.
Sept 2018. Ground lease goes into effect. NDC begins paying rent to City. Co-op begins paying more to NDC to sublet the lot than NDC is paying the City. So NDC is now making money on the lot. City is now getting less per month from NDC than they got directly from Co-op to rent just part of the lot. Nevertheless, the Co-op begins providing free parking for the whole Junction on the lot they are paying for.
Oct 2018. Mediation between NDC and Co-op concludes. Co-op prohibited from any further protest in return for ability to rent lot from NDC until construction, other accommodations.
Feb 2019. After failing to convince surrounding businesses to sell them “transferrable development rights,” NDC reduces plan by more than 10,000 sq ft to attempt to comply with zoning. NDC submits plan to County.
March 2019. First review by County’s Development Review Committee (DRC) finds lay-by unacceptable, exit onto Carroll unsafe, inadequate emergency access, plan is bad for walkers and bikers and public transit, other issues.
2019. NDC has three Preliminary Consultations with County’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). In May and August, staff and Commissioners critique size, shape, lay-by, public space, public input. Mayor, City Manager push back. HPC backs off, but asks NDC to return with Columbia (“rear”) facade.
2019. All but one retail spaces in Junction currently rented, and public parking lot is frequently full now, undercutting City’s original stated intention to “revitalize the Junction” with a large development.
Nov 2019. NDC asks for a second 3-month extension to July 2020 for responding to the DRC’s comments, because they are waiting for the SHA’s Junction Vision Study on roadways and traffic.
May 8 2020, State Highway Administration releases a letter to the NDC’s traffic consultant, stating that four different SHA departments have reviewed the project and that the development would increase traffic, cannot be built without reconfiguration of Junction roadways, and there is no state money for reconfiguration through 2025. It also questions many other aspects of the plan.
May-July 2020 Residents get wind of backroom negotiations by the City to try to figure out some other way to accommodate the Junction development. Resident Andrew Strongin asks to see communications on this topic for the six-week period after the SHA’s May 8th letter. A month later, the City Attorney writes back that there are indeed over 200 communications on the Junction in this period, but that it will cost $985 to have him review and possibly redact the documents (due to “attorney-client privilege” or “executive privilege). A GoFundMe campaign raises the funds in a matter of hours, due to public outcry.
July 2020 At a series of City Council meetings, residents request that the City re-evaluate the Junction plan in light of the pandemic, the recession, Black Lives Matter, and the climate crisis. The City declines, saying they will look at and vote on the plan only immediately prior to the final Planning Board vote.
July 20 2020 Developer submits to the County’s DRC the revised Junction plans (here and here) responding to the March 2019 DRC comments. This sets in motion deadlines leading to the final County vote. New drawings finally depict the Columbia/Poplar facade, leading to public outcry:
August 2020 Under persistent pressure by attorney and resident Andrew Strongin, the City acknowledges three documents that were not originally posted anywhere. One is a July 14th response from the developer’s traffic group to the SHA, stating that they are assuming in their plans that the C0-op’s entrance from 410 will be closed, and all entrance and exit to and from the Co-op’s Sycamore lot will be from Sycamore. A second document is the “Justification Statement,” a narrative piece describing the newly revised plans. A third document is a technical drawing of the stormwater management plan.
Still to Come (Not Chronological):
- SHA Vision Study (on traffic, safety, and any reconfiguration at Junction) was due out in winter 2020, reportedly complete, and shared with various interested parties, but faced political pressure from the City and is not yet officially released.
- A fourth preliminary consultation with HPC on the Columbia Ave facade was requested by the HPC but NDC chose to ignore this.
- The DRC will write a final report.
- The City must then consider changes made to the plan since 2018, whether the Co-op is accommodated, and vote up or down on a recommendation to the Planning Board, before the Planning Board vote.
- NDC must get financing for the development, and find tenants.
- Montgomery Planning Board vote.
- NDC will then request a Historic Area Work Permit (HAWP) from HPC.
- City must review the plan separately for stormwater and tree conservation plans.