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.
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.
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 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 of offices, retail, and restaurants (no housing). They do not use that “new” space to add any public use back in. The loading zone gets pushed out onto Carroll 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.
July 2018. City Council votes on a resolution, (5-2 with Kovar and Smith voting against), 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 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 find 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 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, 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 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 22 2021 Co-op supporters take over the Junction for a third day of protest, asking the City to #DropNDCNow.
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 2021Protesters occupy the Junction for a third day of protest.
April 29 2021Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak writes about the Junction, stating, “…this — this messy, exhausting, divisive fight — is what democracy looks like.”
Still to Come (Not Chronological):
DRC will write a final report to the Planning Board.
During a final City review, the City must consider changes made to the plan since 2018, whether the Co-op has been accommodated, and whether it meets the City’s other requirements in the Development Agreement and Resolution. They will then vote up or down on a recommendation resolution 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 plan separately for stormwater and tree conservation plans.
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.