Takoma Junction Timeline

Original concept submitted by NDC with truck parked in loading zone at rear. City chose NDC based on their proposal including this plan.

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.”

1995. After residents “violently resist” proposed chain drug store on the empty Takoma Junction lot, 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.

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.

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.

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. NDC abruptly shuts down block of small businesses in NE 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 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.

Presentation to HPC, October 2019. Private balcony added. “Rear” facade pushed out toward Columbia. Note how small the Co-op (grey roof) still looks next to the development.

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.

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.

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 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.

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 Columbia Ave facade. The rest of the City is not invited to these meetings. Questions are collected.

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.

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.

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!

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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The Reality of 40-Feet High

In which resident Roger Schlegel writes about the true size of the current development plan at Takoma Junction: just one of many reasons to build a smaller development on this lot.

This is the image that the developer (NDC) wants the City Council to fixate on in considering the proposed new building at the Junction:

Rendering of NDC Building from Spring Mill(1)

Source: NDC revised site plan presentation to Council, April 4

NDC does NOT want the Council, or the public, to look too closely at this required elevation drawing:

NDC front elevation drawing(1)

Source: NDC revised site plan presentation to Council, April 4

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:

Cathedral Commons East view(1)

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.

Cathedral Commons - Newark St. (north) side(1)

So in viewing the artist’s renditions in NDC’s proposal, be sure to make these two mental adjustments:

  1. Don’t be fooled by the windows. Recognize that you’re looking at the equivalent of three- or even four-story building.
  2. Fill in lots of shadows since the sun would rarely be shining on that side of the street.