County Planning Board Schedules Vote on Takoma Junction

Sunset at Takoma Junction, January 2022

UPDATE: On January 27th 2022, the Montgomery County Planning Board voted unanimously to deny approval of the Takoma Junction plans.

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The Montgomery County Planning Board has scheduled a vote on the proposed Takoma Junction development for January 27th 2022. It was originally scheduled for January 20th 2022 but has been postponed by a week.

To send a written statement with your opinion about the proposed development to the Board before their vote, email Board Chair Casey Anderson at  mcp-chair@mncppc-mc.org, by noon on Wednesday January 26th.

The proposal has now been rejected by the City Council, the State Highway Administration (multiple times), and the community (96% of 385 comments on the City feedback page were negative).

The Board staff continues to recommend denial of the project, and this week reposted their report with that recommendation from last September. (This staff report was not presented or discussed in September, because instead NDC got an extension).

New information released on January 7th by the Planning Board, and linked to the original January 20th Board agenda, includes new documents and correspondence dated between September 2021 and January 2022, including:

  1. An update on what has happened since the Board gave NDC a 90 day extension, with new research, written by the Planning Board staff in preparation for the Board vote. Among other things, the staff refutes the assertions that there are comparable lay-bys in use locally.
  2. A letter from the Planning Board Chair to the SHA pressing them to explain what design for the deliveries and the exit/entrance would be safe, or to state clearly that there is no safe solution.
  3. A reply from SHA to the Planning Board, reiterating that it is the developer’s job to submit a design for them to assess (not SHA’s job to figure out a design that would work).
  4. Description of a meeting of the Planning Board staff, SHA, NDC and City of Takoma Park staff. The NDC lawyer described it as an attempt “to help facilitate communications and bring the matter to some type of resolution.”
  5. A letter from NDC to the City Manager asking the City to cut down trees on private property adjacent to the proposed site.
  6. A letter from NDC’s lawyer requesting that the Planning Board vote to give them approval “conditioned on future SHA approvals” for the layby and the exit/entrance drive.
  7. A letter from the City to the Planning Board, reminding the Board that City Council “voted unanimously to recommend that the Planning Board not approve the current plan.” And they explain why the City Council “was deliberate in not recommending approval of the site plan conditioned upon State Highway Administration (“SHA”) approval of the lay-by.”

For a dated chronology of these new letters and documents, see our updated Junction Timeline.

Junction Misinformation and Politics

Yesterday, County Councilmember Hans Riemer, who is running against County Executive Marc Elrich, arrived very late to the Takoma Junction process, weighing in with a public letter filled with errors, misinformation, and inappropriate lobbying. This use of Council privilege to interfere with the County’s public review process, and apparently to try to score points in a political race, endangers residents by putting our community at risk of being saddled with an unsafe development.

The letter was addressed to the County’s Planning Board Chair, Casey Anderson, and urged the Board to “move forward” with the Junction project even though the State Highway Administration (SHA) has found the plan unsafe (four times). Councilmember Riemer used language including “I urge you to press SHA…” This, in spite of Planning Board rules stating clearly (Section 3.2) that Board members “must not communicate with any Person, other than Planning Staff or another Board member, about the merits or facts of any pending Application…except during the Board meeting when the Application…is being considered.” And yet Councilmember Riemer appears to be urging the Planning Board to pressure the SHA, and to flout Board rules on improper contacts.

Correcting the Errors, Point by Point

Here, we seek to straighten out any confusion caused by the errors and misinformation in Councilmember Riemer’s letter to the Planning Board Chair:

MISINFORMATION: Councilmember Riemer expresses “concerns about delays,” implying they are the fault of reviewers (such as SHA).

FACT: The current delay was caused by NDC asking for a fifth extension with the Planning Board, since they have not been able to manage to come up with a safe enough plan for approval by the SHA. The Board granted the extension, despite their own staff recommending against it.

MISINFORMATION: Councilmember Riemer states that his “conversations with Takoma Park residents” tell him the project is “very popular.”

FACT: The City’s own request for feedback last spring yielded 96% of comments against the proposed Junction project. (380 out of 395 comments).

MISINFORMATION: Councilmember Riemer states that “residents are bewildered” (implying they are bewildered as to why the project has not been approved).

FACT: Residents are indeed bewildered, but based on the written feedback, they are bewildered about why the City has not yet pulled the plug on this project, since the SHA has repeatedly found it to be unsafe, and the City Council voted unanimously to recommend against approval of the project, for five separate reasons, only one of which is the lay-by.

MISINFORMATION: The development “will provide additional parking” for the Co-op.

FACT: The project’s design requires a waiver to build a garage providing less than the amount of parking required by zoning for the new tenants alone. With loss of the City’s parking lot, there will be a net loss of parking for the Co-op and the existing small local businesses.

MISINFORMATION: NDC “needs the Co-op to succeed” as the Junction anchor.

FACT: This spring, NDC tried to evict the Co-op from the City’s lot, backing off only after the Co-op filed for legal protection. And NDC has already tried to buy the building out from under the Co-op. So it appears they do not feel they need the Co-op.

MISINFORMATION: “The Co-op officially does not oppose the project.”

FACT: The Co-op has repeatedly stated its objections to parts of NDC’s plans that threaten the Co-op’s deliveries and customer access to the store. Following extensive negotiations, the Co-op signed the mediation agreement with the City and NDC to not oppose the project unless NDC changes the project in material way(s) that would adversely affect the Co-op’s operations.

MISINFORMATION: “The lay-by…will primarily serve the Co-op.”

FACT: Any development with retail and restaurants this size is legally (and logically) required to have a loading zone for their own deliveries, and waste pick-up. Since no tenants have been made public, we have no idea what deliveries the new tenants will require.

MISINFORMATION: Implying the developer would consider any option other than a lay-by, Councilmember Riemer writes “…if there is an alternative approach that is better than a lay-by, great…”

FACT: NDC has steadfastly refused to cede any rentable square feet to make a safe loading zone at the rear of the development, where it belongs according to zoning. They have insisted on a lay-by, despite being told by SHA, and County reviewers, after four separate submissions, that each lay-by iteration was unsafe.

MISINFORMATION: Implying that the City wants this project. Referring to “a fair and equitable treatment for the property owner (the City)” and calling this project “the City’s exciting vision.”

FACT: The City Council voted unanimously to recommend the Planning Board reject this development proposal, for five separate reasons (not just the lay-by). Councilmember Riemer neglects to make any mention of this fact.

MISINFORMATION: Councilmember Riemer calls the City lot “a moribund parking lot.”

FACT: The parking lot is in full use, and often full, supporting the small local independent Junction businesses relying on it, including some that have just opened, or will open shortly. The developer has no plans to provide any particular number of parking spaces to these businesses.

MISINFORMATION: This project is “infill development.”

FACT: Infill development is defined as the reuse of “unused or blighted land.” The City lot is in full use, providing an essential function. The “walkshed” for development near a Metro stop is recognized as a half-mile. The Junction is too far from the Takoma Metro to qualify as walking distance. A Metro planner came to City hall during public comments, expressly to explain that the Junction is too far to qualify as Metro-accessible.

MISINFORMATION: Takoma residents want more shops, and offices.

FACT: Because the rents will be significantly higher than current rents at the Junction, any shops will drive gentrification if they succeed. However, retail is a sector that has been circling the drain since the pandemic. And, there are empty offices all over the region, due to the ongoing pandemic. This project is obsolete.

MISINFORMATION: The project will bring “a lot of new wage-earner jobs.”

FACT: By trying to pressure the SHA into approving a dysfunctional and dangerous lay-by as the loading zone, we risk driving out the Co-op, possibly the largest retail employer in the City. The Co-op is beloved for employing a diverse unionized staff with excellent benefits, working to feed the community. Workers in retail stores typically make minimum wage, with no benefits. So this would be a terrible trade-off, in terms of local jobs.

ASSERTION: There has been political interference in the planning process.

FACT: Yes, Councilmember Riemer’s letter is an attempt to use his Council position for political interference in the planning process now that the project is pending at the Planning Board. And he appears to be attempting to distort the decision on the safety of the Junction development to gain political ground in the race for County Executive. The County Council, and Planning Board, should not let this behavior stand.

Planning Board Grants 5th Extension for Junction Project to Gain Approval

Planning Board Grants 5th Extension for Takoma Junction Project to Gain Approval

On September 15 2021, the Montgomery County Planning Board agreed to give Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) a fifth extension to obtain approval for their proposed Takoma Junction project. NDC now has until January 20 2022, (approximately 90 additional days), to attempt to get approval from the State Highway Administration (SHA) before returning to the Planning Board. To date, the SHA has found both the layby and the exit drive unsafe (in four separate rulings), despite multiple design attempts by NDC. 

In approving this fifth extension request, individual Planning Board members appeared to be unfamiliar with the details of the project. Notwithstanding the Planning staff’s recommendations that both the extension and project be denied, and the City’s recommendation that its own project be disapproved, Board Chair Casey Anderson nevertheless opined (watch starting at 3:15:00 on the video) that this would be a great project for the City if only SHA would approve the layby.  

Community Vision for Takoma (CVT) is taking this opportunity to straighten out some of the confusion, evident at the Board hearing, surrounding the current proposal. 

These are the facts:

  1. The layby is not the only problem cited by the City. 

The City Council voted on June 23 2021 for a resolution to recommend the Planning Board vote to disapprove the project. In doing so, the City Council cited not only the lack of approval from the SHA, but four other longtime issues NDC has been unwilling or unable to solve: lack of meaningful public space, a problematic rear facade, lack of parking for surrounding businesses, and inadequate stormwater treatment. 

The Planning Board may not concern itself with these issues, but the City does, according to their own resolutions and development agreement, and their vote in June. But the City needs to stand firm on these issues, explain them to the Planning Board, and pull out of the project if the Planning Board approves it. 

  1. The layby is not the only problem cited by the SHA. They have repeatedly cited the inadequate sight lines for drivers coming from the garage exit ramp driveway (the egress) as a continuing safety problem. 

NDC has pushed back by comparing their proposed exit to the current exit from the City lot. In a June 16 2021 letter from NDC to the SHA, NDC asserts, “We note that the same sight line issue exists today from the Intersection…and the entry point to the City’s parking lot on Carroll Avenue.”

However, this is a false comparison.

The proposed development would reduce the sight line by moving the driveway from the current location 40 to 50 feet to the west, closer to the fire station and blind corner. Additionally, the current lot is completely above ground, allowing exiting drivers to have a longer period to observe traffic coming from the west. The proposal, with vehicles exiting from an underground parking garage, limits that observation time. The proposal would also have drivers exiting from a darkened garage at the end of the workday and looking west into the setting sun. This visual adjustment time increases danger to bicycles and pedestrians as well as motorized vehicles in this heavily used area.

There are additional issues regarding the sight line. The September 7 2021 letter from SHA to NDC notes that there are other obstacles to the sight line (fencing, tree, parked cars), so the issue is not just one of absolute distance.

  1. No one should have been surprised by SHA’s repeated rejection of layby designs in 2021. Since the beginning, many concerns have been expressed about the layby. 
  • In 2015 when NDC was chosen by the City Council, Councilmember Seth Grimes wrote that the absence  of a layby in NDC’s initial design was one of the reasons he voted to choose NDC for the project. He said a layby would be a “step in the wrong direction,” and that the “Co-op has said this approach would be unworkable.” (NDC switched to a layby design only after winning the project).
  • In the spring of 2019, County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) reviewers noted that the layby “should be removed” because of safety concerns.
  • In the spring of 2019, the Chair of the County’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) agreed with a resident who called the layby “an abomination.”
  • In the fall of 2019, the HPC staff noted that Commissioners were “unanimous in their concerns’ about the layby,” but were told to back off, which they did.
  • In the spring of 2020, MCDOT again noted multiple reasons why the layby location could not be approved.
  • So in 2021, the SHA’s four consecutive rejections of layby designs should not have been surprising.
  1. Just because other developments have pickup or loading in front of the building doesn’t mean the Junction layby would be safe. 

In public comments at the Board hearing, and as the Board considered the extension, there was discussion of how some other county locations handle loading or pickups, and a suggestion that these should be considered precedents for the approval of the Junction layby. However, none of these other developments have the same specific constraints and conditions of the proposed Junction layby:

  • Marriott Headquarters (Bethesda) has a circle loop, not a layby.
  • Avocet Tower (Bethesda) has a smaller pickup and drop-off layby for cars, but would not accommodate large trucks. 
  • Ace Hardware (Takoma Park) has loading by trucks on the street, but was never analyzed by State or County reviewers because it is an informal arrangement.

Comparison Table 

Key Differences in the Four Projects


Project Variables
Marriott HeadquartersAvocet TowerAce HardwareTakoma Junction
Lay-by?NoYesNoYes
Pull-in, pull-out without right-angle turns?NoYesYesYes
Used for deliveries?NoNoYesYes
Trucks only (no drop-off/pick-up)?NoNoYesYes
Used for trash hauling?NoNoNoYes
Large trucks involved?NoNoYesYes
Deliveries/trash emphasize food-service?NoNoNoYes
Use shared by multiple properties?NoNoNoYes
Unconsolidated deliveries and hauling?N/AN/ANoYes
Delivery path conflicts with ADA route?N/AN/AYesYes
2-way adjacent traffic?NoNoYesYes
Adjacent stop line, crosswalk, and signal?NoNoNoYes
Adjacent bus stop?NoNoNoYes
Adjacent driveway?NoNoNoYes
Adjacent garage entrance/exit?NoNoNoYes
Requires crossing dedicated bike lanes? NoNoNoYes
Located down-block from a fire station?NoNoNoYes
Area needed for emergency access?UnclearUnclearNoYes
Routes traffic onto residential streets?NoNoNoYes
Routes traffic through unsignalized intersections?NoNoNoYes
Along block-long merge and crossing of two State Highway routes?NoNoNoYes
Visibility issues for approaching traffic?NoNoYesYes
Adjacent to walking route to school?NoNoNoYes
Approved by SHA & Planning Board?YESYESNot reviewedNO
  1. The community does not want to work with a company that tried to kick the Co-op off the lot. 

The most recent and relevant gauge of community support for this project is not the City election almost a year ago (when all incumbents were re-elected, whether or not they supported the development).

In April, NDC sent a cease and desist order to try to kick the Co-op off the lot, threatening its ability to function as a business. This aggressive action towards the Co-op caused some residents who had supported the development (or were neutral) to oppose it. We know this because of comments on the feedback page set up by the City last spring. Approximately 380 out of 395 comments opposed going forward with NDC and the project, or 96% of responses. Clearly, the City heard this feedback—which is the most recent and direct gauge of community opposition to the plan—before voting to recommend that the Planning Board disapprove the project. The relationship between the City and NDC is unclear at this point, and their weekly meetings on the Junction have stopped.

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