UPDATE: On January 27th 2022, the Montgomery County Planning Board voted unanimously to deny approval of the Takoma Junction plans.
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 email@example.com, 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:
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.
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.
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).
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.”
A letter from NDC to the City Manager asking the City to cut down trees on private property adjacent to the proposed site.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Key Differences in the Four Projects
Pull-in, pull-out without right-angle turns?
Used for deliveries?
Trucks only (no drop-off/pick-up)?
Used for trash hauling?
Large trucks involved?
Deliveries/trash emphasize food-service?
Use shared by multiple properties?
Unconsolidated deliveries and hauling?
Delivery path conflicts with ADA route?
2-way adjacent traffic?
Adjacent stop line, crosswalk, and signal?
Adjacent bus stop?
Adjacent garage entrance/exit?
Requires crossing dedicated bike lanes?
Located down-block from a fire station?
Area needed for emergency access?
Routes traffic onto residential streets?
Routes traffic through unsignalized intersections?
Along block-long merge and crossing of two State Highway routes?
Visibility issues for approaching traffic?
Adjacent to walking route to school?
Approved by SHA & Planning Board?
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.
Takoma Park City Council moves to reject the NDC plan for a development at Takoma Junction.
UPDATE: September 15 2021 The County’s Planning Board votes to give the developer a 90-day extension (their fifth extension), to try to get approval from the SHA for the layby and the egress.
UPDATE: September 3 2021The County’s Planning Board has scheduled a vote on the Takoma Junction plan for Wednesday September 15th (tune in online starting at 11:15am). The County staff has posted a report recommending that the Board vote to deny approval for the project.
UPDATE: August 19 2021SHA “Returns for Revision” the latest NDC proposal. And, apparently, the tentative date for the Planning Board public hearing and vote has been delayed until later in September.
UPDATE: July 14 2021NDC submits yet another revision of their plan for the loading zone, in response to SHA’s rejections. SHA is due to respond by August 19th.
UPDATE: July 2021 The County’s Planning Board has tentatively scheduled their Public Hearing and vote on the NDC plan for September 9th. This is one day after the City Council returns from their six-week summer break. Ten days prior to the hearing, the Planning Board staff will release their report and recommendation to the Board on the vote. NDC’s fourth extension to get approval from the Planning Board will expire on September 16th.
UPDATE: On June 23 2021 The Takoma Park City Council voted unanimously (7-0) for a resolution to disapprove the proposed Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) plan for a development at Takoma Junction. View NDC’s final statement before the vote at minute 18:00, and the City Council discussion before the vote starting at minute 53:45HERE. See links to new statements from the City and NDC in our Junction timeline.
At the City Council work session on Wednesday June 16th 2021, the Council agreed unanimously (7-0) to craft a resolution to disapprove the Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) plan for a development at Takoma Junction. The move to reject the plan was based primarily on the fact that no approved loading zone was submitted by NDC.
You can watch the City Council’s decision on the video at time 3:28:30.
The formal vote will follow a week later, on June 23rd. The draft resolution should be posted on the agenda by this Friday, ahead of the vote.
Just minutes before the Council meeting started, the City posted a letter from the State Highway Administration (SHA) to NDC. In that letter, the SHA rejected the longer layby for a third time, and rejected the shorter layby as even less safe.
(That shorter layby also broke all agreements to accommodate the Co-op, as described in this June 11th letter from the Co-op to the City).
With no approved way to create a loading zone for the development, the City Manager announced in the City Council work session on the Junction resolution that City staff were recommending crafting the resolution for disapproval of the plan. Each Councilmember then agreed to choose the disapproval option for the resolution. All of them cited the fact that there was no approved loading zone. Some also mentioned flaws in the plan related to inadequate public space, and other issues.
Many questions remain about what will happen next. For all the latest news, see our facebook and twitter feed.
The State Highway Administration (SHA) has now rejected the layby (a delivery zone for trucks on Carroll Avenue), three times. And yet, the Neighborhood Development Company (NDC), continues to try to push their Takoma Junction development through. In essence, the footprint of the NDC plan is too big, creating multiple problems, including pushing the delivery zone into the intersection.
In their latest maneuver, NDC has submitted a plan (never seen by the public) for a shorter lay-by, which would exclude the largest trucks and the pallet jacks needed to unload them. This appears to be a violation of all the agreements requiring accommodations to keep the Co-op open. It is unclear whether City staff or Council were aware of, or okayed, the new plan. At the bottom, we post a new letter from Takoma residents who closely follow the Junction process.
But first, a recap of the flurry of events since our last post:
May 18/19 2021. NDC immediately writes back to the SHA, with various accusations and complaints, rebutting the SHA’s findings yet again, and submitting the plan yet again. They include a new plan, reducing the layby length from 140 feet to 85 feet, which would exclude the largest trucks, and the pallet jacks needed to unload them. This new layby plan, never seen by the public, would apparently violate NDC’s Development Agreement with the City, the City’s 2018 Resolution, and NDC’s mediated Cooperation Agreement with the Co-op. All three of these agreements state that any plan must accommodate the Co-op’s deliveries.
May 24 2021. A letter from the SHA to NDC rejects the layby for a third time. But SHA also agrees to review NDC’s new plan for a shorter layby.
May 28 2021. Takoma Park residents write a letter to the SHA, questioning the assertions in NDC’s May 18/19 letter, and questioning NDC’s authority to submit a new layby plan that violates agreements with the City and Co-op.
A lot has happened at the Junction this week. And now, the City must decide between the developer, and the Co-op.
On Thursday night April 15th, a lawyer for the Takoma Junction developer (NDC) sent a “cease and desist” letter to the Co-op, telling them to halt all Co-op deliveries on the City lot immediately. They gave the Co-op 30 days to vacate the lot completely. This would potentially shut down the Co-op. And it would put the parking for all the Junction businesses in peril.
The next day, Friday, residents began arriving at the Junction to make sure the Co-op could receive deliveries. On Saturday and Sunday, those who love the C0-op, support local businesses, and are through with this developer, held protests at the Junction. Some 150 protesters occupied all three Junction sidewalks (both sides of Carroll and BY Morrison Park in the middle). Cars honked support as they drove through.
Even some who had previously supported the development expressed shock at this bullying of the Co-op, a community-owned institution that fed many of us through the pandemic. A flood of comments supporting the Co-op and calling for the end to the deal with NDC came in through the City’s Junction feedback comment form (Please post your comment!). It has become clear that you can no longer say you support the Co-op, and also support this development. Small local businesses and non-profits that had remained quiet, began speaking out. The photos here are a record of some of the signs. The overall message was #DropNDCNow and #SupportLocalBusinesses
The protest was covered by NBC Channel 4 News at six o’clock on Saturday night. Eric Bond was there recording interviews for his WOWD Takoma Radio news show, Talk of Takoma. His audio montage of “person on the street” voices, with the sounds of the protest in the background, was broadcast on Sunday.
On Monday morning, the struggle at the Junction was featured on Joni Eisenberg’s WPFW show, To Heal DC. Eisenberg, an activist who has lived in Takoma Park since 1979, called it a “Shocking situation in Takoma Park.” She connected this struggle to the activism of Sammie Abbott. “This is not just about Takoma Park. It’s not just about a health-food store. It’s about gentrification, and how it’s impacting the entire country,” Eisenberg stated. “We’re going to need to mobilize, together, to fight this developer, and to make sure the City of Takoma Park stands up for what is right for all of us.”
Listen here, starting at 2:30:
At this point, lawyers (presumably for the developer, City, and Co-op) are negotiating, and we have no idea what is happening. The Mayor and Councilmembers stopped giving substantive answers to resident questions, citing the legal proceedings. A series of three closed City Council meetings, with no public comments, began Monday night. All we know is that “fixing” the situation has to mean more than just letting the Co-op back on the lot. We must part ways with this developer.
City staff post some suspiciously unsubstantiated claims about the current Co-op delivery system on the lot being unsafe (and other new and bizarre claims about the development plans).
Co-op and residents challenge the City Manager to provide evidence.
No evidence forthcoming of danger on the lot, used for deliveries for decades.
State Highway Administration (SHA) says NDC’s proposed layby delivery system on Carroll Ave is not safe, cannot be approved.
This is not surprising. Residents and Councilmembers had concerns about the layby going back to 2015, and County and State reviewers expressed concern about it at several previous points in the review.
Without the layby, the developer cannot build something this big, or make as much money.
Then, NDC breaks their agreement with the City and Co-op by sending the Co-op the cease-and-desist letter.
For all the recent correspondence and relevant documents in one place, here is a timeline with links:
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.
1992. Takoma Park Historic District, including the Junction, established to protect against “unsympathetic alteration and insensitive redevelopment.”
1995. After residents “violently opposed” a proposed chain drug store on the empty Takoma Junction lot and express desire for a grocery store, City buys lot, hoping to attract Co-op to Junction.
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.
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.
March 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 square foot building…on that spot.” City Councilmember Seth Grimes writes a blog post about why he chose NDC, citing the lack of layby in their design, among other elements. He notes that a lay-by would be a “step in the wrong direction,” and that the “co-op has said this approach would be unworkable.”
July 20 2016. City announces a short-lived (less than a year) community advisory committee. NDC presents a (short-lived) “public market” concept, showing a photo of Union Market. In public comments, Co-op board president indicates a “lay-by” has been added in a new design they were given by NDC in June 2016. Residents express concern, including Marc Elrich who says “I’ve seen how things morph,” stresses the importance of the Co-op, the difficulty of the site, and the need to negotiate a clause for an exit from the agreement without penalty. He notes, “I’d hate to see you all lose money trying to extricate yourselves from this deal.” Fire Chief Tom Musgrove expresses concern about safety of the lay-by and what could become his “inability to come out and provide the necessary protection” to residents.
July 27 2016. City signs a Development Agreement with NDC, laying groundwork for choosing new anchor tenant if they cannot agree with Co-op on expansion.
July 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.
January 11 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 of offices, retail, and restaurants (no housing). They do not use that “new” space to add any public use back in. The loading zone remains on Carroll (the state highway) as a lay-by lane. 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.
May 2018. The majority of businesses in the Junction sign a letter expressing concern about the development, and noting that there has recently been a “promising upswing” in businesses there, but that they depend on the parking in the lot. Developer makes no promises about the number or cost of parking slots that would be available to the public in the proposed garage.
June 2018. Two Junction traffic studies issued. They find multiple problems: new traffic will create a “failed intersection,” road reconfiguration will induce demand and create more congestion.
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 every month. 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. NDC abruptly shuts down block of small businesses on a block they plan to develop in Deanwood, in Northeast DC. BlackLivesMatterDC leads protest march to home of NDC’s owner. Civil rights lawyer represents businesses against developer.
Oct 2018. Mediation between NDC and Co-op concludes. Co-op prohibited from any further protest or critique of the project, in return for ability to continue to rent lot from NDC until construction, and other accommodations. The prohibition against Co-op voicing any critique of the project remains in effect today.
Feb 2019. After failing to convince surrounding businesses to sell them “transferrable development rights,” NDC is forced to reduce plan size 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 and says it “should be removed,” and finds planned location of exit onto Carroll unsafe, inadequate emergency access, plan is bad for walkers and bikers and public transit, and 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, tree loss. Mayor, City Manager push back. HPC backs off, but asks NDC to return with depictions of Columbia (“rear”) facade. NDC chooses to ignore this request.
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. Developer persists in referring to it as a “vacant lot.”
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.
January 9 2020 Montgomery County Planning Board votes to approve NDC’s extension to Sept 30 2020 instead of July, since the Planning Board will be out of session for the summer in July 2020.
Spring 2020 The COVID-19 pandemic hits. Co-op receives national acclaim for protecting workers while remaining in operation. The entire Co-op staff keeps their union jobs. Both lots begin to be used intensively for food packing and distribution by local non-profits.
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. 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. The City drops the fee, and releases the documents. A text from the Mayor attempting to pressure the SHA is revealed.
July 2020 At a series of City Council meetings, residents request that the City re-evaluate the Junction plan for a retail and office development 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:
High vantage point minimizes mass.
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.
August 2020 Despite the fact that the City refused to hold work sessions on the plans, and that questions about the plan have gone unanswered, Councilmember Kacy Kostiuk arranges two zoom meeting with one neighborhood of her ward, with the Mayor, and City and County staff, to “listen to” neighbors angry about the effect of the proposed development on Columbia Ave. The rest of the City is not invited to these meetings. Questions are collected. It becomes apparent that the developer cannot, in fact, legally force the closure of the Co-op’s entrance from 410.
August 2020 The City posts a false description of the process, urging people to wait to weigh in with the County until later in the process, even though the County staff very clearly urged residents to weigh in now, or it will be too late. The City also falsely states that SHA has not weighed in, when SHA has already documented serious issues with the project.
August 2020 Over 100 people, including City Councilman Jarrett Smith and Junction business owners, sign a letter urging the County to consider the racial equity and social justice impacts of the proposed development. The letter states, “…we ask that you do what the City of Takoma Park has not: cast a critical eye on a proposal that threatens the destruction of a racial minority-majority business community…”
November 6 2020 and January 15 2021 The developer submits to the County what is believed to be the final revisions of the plans, comprising over 50 documents. (Search for those dates HERE and HERE). The bike share is moved to BY Morrison Park (“the triangle”), reducing small public space there. The bus stop is placed in the “public space” in front of the development (but is not depicted in the 3D renderings).
December 2020 County responds to the November 2020 plans HERE. Recommendation is made for right-turn only going into or out of the garage/driveway onto Carroll Ave, diverting traffic onto residential side streets, including the curvy Columbia Ave, and encouraging U-turns.
December 31, 2020 The State Highway Administration (SHA) releases their long-awaited Takoma Junction Vision Study. It does not describe or recommend reconfiguration of the Junction, and points out that there is no money for such a reconfiguration.
January/February 2021 Two County reviewing offices, Department of Transportation (MCDOT) and of Planning Services (Right of Way), recommend against the lay-by, HERE and HERE.
March 10 2021 City Manager gives an update at City Council meeting, stuns the community by saying the lay-by is the only safe delivery solution, neglects to mention the County (MCDOT) letter finding the lay-by unacceptable and not safe. An elaboration of this statement with unsubstantiated claims about unsafe conditions of current deliveries on the lot, and other unsubstantiated claims about the economic effects of the development, is posted on the City’s “FAQ” page (later retracted by the City).
March 29 2021 Although the SHA still hasn’t ruled on the lay-by, the City announced a schedule for the final review sessions and vote on the project in April and May.
April-June 2021 The City creates an online feedback form to gather public comments on NDC and the Junction. 396 comments are submitted, with some 380 of them opposed to the plan and/or the developer.
April 13 2021 The City posts a letter from the State Highway Administration, which finds the layby unsafe and unacceptable. The City cancels the April/May review, but implies this is just a postponement while the developer attempts to figure out another format for deliveries and waste pickup.
April 15 2021 A lawyer for NDC sends a letter to the Co-op instructing them to cease and desist all deliveries on the City lot effective immediately, and terminating the sub-lease and giving them 30 days to vacate the lot. The Co-op responds with a letter the next day.
April 17-18 2021 Some 200 residents protest for two days at the Junction with signs including “Save the Co-op” and “Drop NDC Now.” The story is on the nightly local 6 o’clock news, WOWD, and WPFW.
April 19-22 City holds three consecutive closed meetings with no public comments, at least two of them about the Junction. Mayor and Councilmembers have stopped responding to resident questions on the Junction with substantive replies “due to the legal nature of the situation.”
April 21 2021 Co-op update to community states that NDC’s termination of Co-op deliveries on the lot is now scheduled for April 26th. And, no evidence of unsafe conditions on the lot have been submitted to them, by anyone.
April 22 2021 City issues a statement saying they have “retracted in full” the “FAQ” City website page with (apparently) false allegations about the unsafe conditions for current deliveries on the lot.
April 23 2021 City updates their statement explaining that they “requested” that NDC rescind the cease-and-desist and sublease termination by noon on April 23rd. They report that there was no reply from NDC.
April 26 2021 Co-op supporters take over the Junction for a third day of protest, asking the City to #DropNDCNow.
May 18/19 2021. NDC writes back to the SHA, submitting the plan yet again. They include a new plan, reducing the layby length from 140 feet to 85 feet, which would exclude the largest trucks, and the pallet jacks needed to unload them. This new layby plan, never seen by the public, would apparently violate NDC’s Development Agreement with the City, the City’s 2018 Resolution, and NDC’s mediated Cooperation Agreement with the Co-op. All three agreements state that any plan must accommodate Co-op deliveries.
May 24 2021. A letter from the SHA to NDC reminds NDC why they have already rejected the layby twice. But SHA also agrees to review NDC’s new plan for a shorter layby. It remains unclear whether the City staff or City Council have seen, or approved, this new plan.
June 3 and 4 2021. NDC rescinds their threat to kick the Co-op off the lot (for now). But they persist in (presumably false) allegations about safety on the lot, allegations retracted by the City. The Co-op continues to remind everyone that they have been safely receiving deliveries on the lot for the past 20 years. The City remains silent.
June 4 and 5 2021 The City announces a final work session to review the NDC plans on June 16th, and a final vote on the plan a week later, June 23rd. The resolution they craft approving or disapproving of the plan will then be sent to the Planning Board.
June 8 2021 At the “request” of NDC, the Mayor, City Manager, City Attorney, NDC representatives, and possibly others, meet with the Secretary of Transportation, and the head of the State Highway Administration, about the “the timing and approach of the review of the layby proposal for the Takoma Junction development site plan.”
June 11 2021 The Co-op sends a letter to the City stating that NDC’s new plan for a short layby would break all the agreements to accommodate their deliveries, and requesting additions to the City’s draft resolution that would clarify the City’s commitments to the Co-op.
June 16 2021 SHA sends NDC a letter rejecting the longer layby for a third time, and rejecting the shorter layby as even less safe.
June 16 2021 At the City Council work session, the Council agrees unanimously (7-0) to craft a resolution to disapprove the NDC plan, based primarily on the fact that no approvable loading zone was submitted. You can watch their decision on the video at time 3:28:30. The formal vote will follow a week later, on June 23rd. The draft resolution should be posted on the agenda by Friday.
June 23 2021 Takoma Park City Council votes unanimously (7-0) for a resolution to disapprove NDC’s proposed plan for Takoma Junction. This resolution constitutes the City’s official final input to the County’s Development Review Committee (DRC) and Planning Board. Unless the DRC or one of the partners withdraws (City or NDC), the Planning Board will now vote on the plan. It requires a supermajority (at least 4-1) to overturn the City’s disapproval.
June 24 2021 The City posts a statement and the final resolution disapproving the plan. That City statement notes that “despite the City’s recommendation that NDC waits until work with SHA had resulted in an SHA-approved design, NDC insisted on presenting the plan to the Council.” They also note that the project is tentatively scheduled to go before the County’s Planning Board in late July. NDC issues a statement implying that they are not walking away.
July 2021 We learn that the County’s Planning Board has tentatively scheduled their Public Hearing and vote on the NDC plan for September 9th. This is one day after the City Council returns from their six-week summer break. Ten days prior to the hearing, the Planning Board staff will release their report and recommendation to the Board on the vote. NDC’s fourth extension to get approval from the Planning Board will expire on September 16th.
July 14 2021 NDC submits yet another revision of their plan for the loading zone, in response to SHA’s rejections. SHA is due to respond by August 19th.
August 19 2021 SHA “Returns for Revision” the latest NDC proposal. And apparently, the tentative date for the Planning Board public hearing and vote has been delayed until later in September.
August 27 2021 The developer submits a request for a fifth extension of time to complete the County review process and bring the plan to the Planning Board for a vote. On September 3rd, the Board staff issues a recommendation to deny the extension. The Board will vote on the extension on September 15th. If the extension is denied, they will move on that day to vote on the plan itself.
September 3 2021 The County’s Planning Board posts the agenda with a scheduled vote on the Takoma Junction plan for Wednesday September 15th (tune in online starting at 11:15am). The County staff has posted a report recommending that the Board vote to deny approval for the project. The staff also recommends not giving a fifth extension to the developer to obtain approval.
September 7 2021 The State Highway Administration sends a letter once again refusing to approve the lay-by or the plan. They cite both the danger of the layby, and the danger of the sight lines for exiting the development.
September 15 2021 The Montgomery County Planning Board gives the developer a 90 day extension, their fifth extension, to get more clarity from the SHA about what they would need to do to get approval for the layby, and whether it is feasible. (On the video, the discussion starts at 2:13). (This occurs after Seth Grimes appears before the Planning Board and urges them to approve NDC’s plan).
October 4 2021 Planning Board Chair writes a letter to the SHA pressing them to explain what design for the deliveries and the exit/entrance would work, or state there is no practical way to safely accommodate those needs.
October 14 2021 The Co-op voluntarily dismisses their legal claims against NDC (the developer) and the City. It would appear that they feel safe enough now using the City lot to drop the suit and prevent further legal fees from piling up. They retain the right to refile the claims at anytime, including if NDC tries to evict them from the City lot again.
October 25 2021 County Councilmember Hans Riemer writes a letter filled with misinfomation to Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, pushing for approval of the project and for the Board to “press” the SHA for yet another review (they have rejected four different lay-by submissions as unsafe). CVT responds with a call for the Council to censure Councilmember Riemer for this inappropriate attempt at influencing the process. Council President Tom Hucker does not respond to CVT’s letter.
November 19 2021SHA replies to the letter from the Planning Board, reiterating that it is the developers job to submit a design for them to assess (not SHA’s job to figure out a design that would work). They also decline to say no design could ever work, despite the Board’s request for them to do so.
December 15 2021 Planning Board staff hosts a (private) meeting with the SHA, NDC and City of Takoma Park staff in what the NDC lawyer describes as an attempt “to help facilitate communications and bring the matter to some type of resolution.” They also state that NDC has asked the City to cut down trees on private property adjacent to the proposed site, to improve the safety of the proposed exit/exit drive.
December 30 2021NDC’s lawyer writes the Planning Board to request that the Board give them approval “conditioned on future SHA approvals” for the layby and the exit/entrance drive.
January 3 2022 The Planning Board asks the City for their response to the idea of a conditional approval.
January 7 2022 The City writes the Planning Board, reminding them 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.”
January 7 2022 The Planning Board posts an agenda for their January 20th meeting with Takoma Junction on the agenda, including attachments with much of the correspondence that has occurred since September. The Planning Board staff reposts their report from the September meeting, including the recommendation for denial of the project. They also post a new update from the Planning Board staff, with new research refuting the idea that there are comparable lay-bys in use, in the region, (although the link to this doc is no longer on the postponed agenda).
January 27 2022 The Montgomery County Planning Board votes unanimously to deny approval of the Takoma Junction plans.
March 3 2022 The Takoma Auto Clinic (Johnny’s) goes up for sale. Without this lot, no one (including NDC) can create a development with the footprint proposed by NDC. Months later, Johnny takes it back off the market (it remains open).
March 31 2022 The Planning Board mails out the resolutions denying approval of the process, triggering the 30-day window for NDC to appeal the decision in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Still to Come :
The City and NDC must still end the agreement to rent the lot for 99 years, in order to move on.
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:
Historic Character and Scale
Accommodations of the TPSS Co-op
Outdoor Public Space
Promoting Alternative Modes of Transportation
Retail and Commercial Destination with Options for Local Community
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.
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”  or show “sensitivity to the historical character and scale of the area.”
The Combined Site Plan fails to provide “reasonable accommodation” 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 
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.”
Why? Because NDC’s proposed building is over 40 feet tall. Use the scale at the bottom and measure for yourself. The gray section of the building rises to just under 40 feet, but the elevator tower reaches above 46 feet, and the arching facade surpasses 42 feet in height. Even the first-floor awning is at least 17 or 18 feet off the ground.
The project is ostensibly a two-story building, but this is a totally different animal, unlike any other two-story building in Takoma Park’s historic district. Typically, a 40-foot mixed use building includes three stories. Do a Google search on “2-story mixed use” “40 feet high” and you won’t find anything that fits the bill.
Aside from the Fire Station, there are just five other two-story commercial structures in Takoma Junction. (The Montessori School, Takoma Framers, Richardson School of Music, the Animal Clinic, and Suds Laundromat.) None of these comes close to the scale of NDC’s proposed building.
The historic character of a place is devastated when you drop an out-of-scale structure into the setting. To get an idea of what this looks like, take a look at this image from Woodley Park/Cathedral Heights in NW DC, where the Cathedral Commons development landed next to Cactus Cantina three years ago. The building on the right is about 35 feet high — 5 to 10 feet lower than what NDC proposes at the Junction — but you start to get the idea:
An out-of-scale building can also change a place’s character by casting huge shadows across the streetscape. This may not be so evident in the photo above because the building faces east, along Wisconsin Avenue. NDC’s proposed structure would face north, across Carroll Avenue. So, staying at the Cathedral Commons development and walking around the corner, this midday Google Earth image from 3700 Newark Street NW (looking east) gives a pretty good idea of the kind of shadow a 35-40 foot tall building creates. The building on the right, about 35 feet tall, faces north, similar to the orientation of NDC’s proposed structure.
So in viewing the artist’s renditions in NDC’s proposal, be sure to make these two mental adjustments:
Don’t be fooled by the windows. Recognize that you’re looking at the equivalent of three- or even four-story building.
Fill in lots of shadows since the sun would rarely be shining on that side of the street.