“Set a Brave and Bold Example”

Community Vision for Takoma Junction (CVTJ) is not the only group organizing for a more inclusive and public use for the lot at Takoma Junction. Here, we print a letter from Badia AlBanna, Dara Orenstein, Michele Bollinger, Ron Resetarits, Kerry Danner-McDonald, Jennifer Satlin-Fernandez, Adriana Kuehnel, and Dave Zirin, who have been organizing meetings on Takoma Junction. To join them, email michele.bollinger@gmail.com.

An open letter to Takoma Park residents and elected officials:

We call upon you to live up to the values that Takoma Park symbolizes and to reject the current plan for Takoma Junction. Our goals are twofold: to promote racial equity and to provide a higher quality of life for all residents, especially those who are the least-resourced and most marginalized.

  • The City has pledged that it is committed to analyzing racial equity in each of its decisions—yet its attempt at a “racial equity statement” about the Junction has been woefully inadequate.
  • Only a plan that designs a space to be accessed and used by all will be truly equitable. The space at the Junction is the last piece of open public land in Takoma Park. To lease it to a private, commercial developer violates the spirit of democracy. Even if that developer recruits small businesses, and even if all parties are minority-owned, still, private individuals are profiting off of public resources. A few individuals are exploiting the City’s land, location, and cultural capital to enrich themselves, and in return the 17,000 citizens of the City are receiving, what exactly, a modest stream of property taxes that the omnipotent City Manager will allow to trickle down to the masses? The City should not be subsidizing an individual’s path to greater wealth. It should devote public resources to the common good. No trickle-down economics.
  • There are many ways to create opportunities for minority-owned businesses in Takoma Park, beyond the public land at the Junction. Let’s set standards and guidelines for economic development that center on racial equity—and let’s not allow the elite of Takoma Park to co-opt the language of racial equity as a hedge against those who want to preserve public resources for the public good.
  • Moreover, let’s set standards and guidelines for economic development that contemplate what it means to work in Takoma Park, not merely what it means to profit (as a business owner) or to shop. The Junction should model this principle. Low-wage, low-skill service jobs with minimal or zero benefits or workplace rights are not the answer for the Junction.
  • Speaking of shopping, our community is facing an affordability crisis. Property values have skyrocketed. A single cookie can sell for $3.00. Most businesses that have opened lately cater to the affluent customer. The current plan for development will bring in upper-end retail accessible primarily to upper-middle class households and will contribute to rising rents and prices. It is disingenuous to call such a scenario a “Junction for All.” It is selfish to prioritize enhanced consumer options for upper-middle class people—not to mention that it is the opposite of “racial equity.”
  • A better solution is to create a space that everyone can enjoy, free of charge. The Junction lies at the heart of Takoma Park: it should unite residents across all six wards. Only a commons-style plan can support this role. A youth center, a technology center, a basketball court, a community theater, a community kitchen—these are just some of the ideas in the air. Never would we challenge the current plan were it for a homeless shelter, a refugee shelter, a daycare center. We are not NIMBYers—we are YIMBYers! Yes to the People’s Junction!
  • Focus on our youth, especially our teens. There are many parks for our very youngest residents to frequent. But, at the Takoma Park Community Center, older kids are confined to a game room and a basketball court. As one veteran of Takoma Park civic life put it to us, “The Community Center is mainly for white adults.” Takoma Park does not support young adults by providing numerous facilities where they can mingle and play—and as a result we fear some children are getting the message (yard signs aside) that their lives do not matter. They deserve better.

We will not give up on our fight to do what is right for Takoma Park. We are eager to help the City launch a transformative planning process, starting, maybe, with a community advisory board. Our elected leaders are in a position to set a brave and bold example of how to shore up against the tidal wave of gentrification that has wrecked urban communities, if they abandon the current plan. We understand that to do so would mean to give up on years of effort (for now, at least). It may take us a long time to reach a healthy decision for the Junction, but, then, as the saying goes, there is more than one path to the top of the mountain.

Signed on June 5, 2018

Badia AlBanna, Dara Orenstein, Michele Bollinger, Ron Resetarits, Kerry Danner-McDonald, Jennifer Satlin-Fernandez, Adriana Kuehnel, Dave Zirin

 

The Junction of Grief and Hope

There are now almost 500 electronic signatures on the Community Vision petition asking the City Council to vote “No” on the current Junction site plan, and 187 comments. We recommend reading all of them. But many individuals have also taken the time to write to City officials at length, recording the history of our community at this moment. Read Dennis Huffman’s email to the City here. And to reach the whole Council, send your comments, while you still can, to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov.

May 31, 2019

I am among the significant number of Takoma Park residents who are struggling to come to terms with what feels like the slow-motion death of a loved one.  While the patient’s demise has not been certified, the City Council will be voting on it very soon.

No. I am not taking about a piece of asphalt between the fire house and the Co-op – that’s just a symptom.  The imminent death I am talking about is Sam Abbott’s vision for a city committed to building racial and economic equity.

Perhaps it would be helpful to view this through the lens of the five stages of grief.  Many of us have been in a long period of denial (the first stage).  The council seems still to be denying its role in the problem, acting as though it is duty bound simply to cut the City’s losses and ratify the inevitable.  In the community, a common refrain (and I’ve said it myself) is that we are just now realizing how perilous things are.  Many of us were asleep, wanting to believe that our leaders were wise and progressive people who would always act in our best interest.

Which brings me to anger.  There has been a lot of anger expressed in a lot of meetings over the past few months.  Anger at the breach of trust.  Anger at the privatization of public land.  Anger at the Council’s blind faith in the developers.  And anger at Council’s stone-faced deafness in hearing after hearing.  Council appears to be angry that we’re angry. 

Bargaining, the third stage in the grieving process, is generally done with God, but in this case, it’s being done with the developers, who seem to be held up as somehow god-like by the council and City staff.  Rather than having big conversations, early on, about the beliefs and values of the people of Takoma Park, and how they might be reflected in the use of public land, the developer was left to negotiate with the Co-op about things like the loading dock.  And it turns out this “god” doesn’t heed the prayers of nonbelievers – the future of the Co-op is clearly threatened by this project.  But even those who may be unmoved by the plight of the Co-op are expressing alarm at the council’s unwillingness to stand up for its own criteria.  The city seems not to realize that it holds the upper hand in any negotiations with the developers.

Back to Sam Abbott’s vision.  Some may question how one development project can harm “equity,” but the problem with that question is that it presumes somehow that equity exists.  Equity does not exist.  It is equity itself that must be developed – built, if you will.  And the proposed project is utterly indifferent to equity.

This is all, of course, quite depressing (stage 4). The City needs the development to make money to hire staff to plan more development to make more money to hire more staff.  It’s the inevitable way of the world.  Some are already sighing deeply and slipping into acceptance (stage 5).  “Traffic will just get worse and worse,” they say.  “That’s how it is.”  But what if Sam Abbott had said that about I-95?  Takoma Park is a living breathing example of how we don’t always have to accept things as the rest of the world presents them to us. 

The Takoma Junction project sits at the intersection of grief and hope.  You are rolling rapidly into that junction, and you will either have to stop to reconsider or close your eyes and pray that things somehow turn out okay.  I, and many hundreds of others, are asking you to stop.  It is not too late to keep Mayor Abbot’s vision of an inclusive and equitable city alive.

Thank you.

 Dennis Huffman, Ward 3

 

A Letter to the City

Merrill Leffler is a nationally-recognized poet and publisher. Like hundreds of others he has signed the petition asking the City Council to vote NO on the proposed Takoma Junction site plan. In an email sent today he explains, “This NDC redevelopment plan cannot be fixed by mere compromise or mediation — it is fundamentally flawed.”

From: Merrill Leffler (Ward 3)

To: Kacy Kostiuk, Ward 3 Council Member

cc: Mayor Kate Stewart, Takoma Park City Council Members, Suzanne Ludlow

Dear Kacy,

After all the hours of public testimony and supporting documents critical of the NDC’s redevelopment plan at the Junction — including your “listening” sessions — I do not understand how nearly all the City Council members continue to support it. The plan neither benefits all residents of Takoma Park, nor reflects the community values of inclusivity our city prides itself on.

To begin with, the Council should have immediately rejected NDC’s outlandish conception of a lay-by for delivery trucks close to the confluence of two heavily-trafficked roads, Route 410 and Carroll Avenue, and its feeder streets. In addition to increasing traffic congestion, the lay-by creates hazards to pedestrians, bicyclists, and automobiles, and is at odds with a welcoming public space. Equally unworkable is the plan’s underground parking garage that would significantly disrupt the TPSS Co-op operations, increase traffic hazards below and above ground, and make parking expensive. But most at odds with genuine revitalization of our public property is the plan’s chockablock commercial building configuration that subordinates shared public space and homegrown businesses to the developer’s profit-making interest.

We all understand that developers are in business to make money. More shops mean more rentals mean more income, and understandably NDC wants to maximize the return on its investment. This is all well and good for NDC. It is not well and good for the whole Junction, for residents, for the small businesses along Carroll Avenue, or for the patrons of these businesses (individually owned, not corporate). It is certainly not well and good for the Co-op, a grocery that exemplifies the independent, progressive spirit of Takoma Park.

To be clear: Everyone I know enthusiastically supports major revitalization of the Junction — it has been 30 years in the making, and it is time. A revitalization, however, that promotes the uniqueness of Takoma Park, our walkable city of neighborhoods, parks and playgrounds, small businesses, local schools, ethnic and racial diversity, an independent library — one of only two in Maryland — city-sponsored cultural programs, among them, We Are Takoma, and more. It is this uniqueness and commitment to progressive values that have drawn so many of us to live in Takoma Park and to work towards making the city a welcoming home for all its residents.

Takoma Park is racially and ethnically heterogeneous, as it has always been and continues to be. If anything, the City Council should be promoting ways for our diverse residents to share the same public space — the Junction is the one remaining area in the city where we have such an opportunity. Meanwhile, the City Council insists on pushing ahead with NDCs plan, which is more developer-friendly than it is community-wide friendly.

Maybe City Council members are fatigued by this long process and just want to be done with it. This is understandable but the decisions you and your colleagues make will have lasting effect on the shape of the Junction and the city — this is reason enough to reexamine just what most of you seem determined to vote for. We must not take what the developer is giving us — we should be adamant about what we want for Takoma Park, a development that will serve the interests of all our residents, a revitalization of our public land that we can all be proud of.

Amanda Burden, Chair of the New York City Planning Commission, points out, “cities are fundamentally about people — where people go and where people meet are at the core of what makes a city work.” It is not wall-to-wall building. “Even more important than buildings in a city,” says Burden, “are the public spaces between them. And today, some of the most transformative changes in cities are happening in these public spaces.”

To further quote Burden, a key figure in innovative open space development in seemingly disastrous, run-down sections of New York, “commercial interests will always battle against public space . . . a developer sees just one thing: customers.” (See “How Public Spaces Make Cities Work: www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7fRIGphgtk)

We live in a world where developers of all kinds tell us what they want and what they want is what we are supposed to want, with a few compromises here and there. This NDC redevelopment plan cannot be fixed by mere compromise or mediation — it is fundamentally flawed. It is long past time for the Council to tell NDC what we the residents and taxpayers of Takoma Park want, and if they can’t deliver and make enough of a return on their investment, then it is time to dissolve the contractual agreement and forge ahead with a revitalization that serves all the residents of our city.

Here at the Junction, we have a chance to design a truly innovative, people-first development plan that will accommodate a large welcoming public space for adults and children, which people will want to share, whether to eat outdoors, meet or run into friends, or just relax and talk. I hope that in the City Council’s further deliberations, you will make this your number one priority.

One Way to Get “Unstuck” at the Junction

The Takoma Park City Council asked to see a 34,000 square foot plan for Takoma Junction. But the developer delivered another 50,000+ square foot plan. Here, landscape architect Byrne Kelley and Roger Schlegel give us a New Alternative Plan that could provide a way forward: (for a high-resolution view go HERE).

5-20-18 Alternative TK Junction Plan BHKelly

And, new as of July 10, here’s an elevation!

Elevation, Alternate Plan #2

PLENTY TO SEE AND DO

34,000 square feet (what the City asked for), two stories, and a dynamic streetscape.

An optimal height that is compatible with the historic district.

Great retail spaces, including a generous front-to-back restaurant space on the west side. Office and/or studio space upstairs.

Eye-catching progressive setbacks along Carroll Avenue that bring in afternoon light.

MORE PLEASANT PARKING

Underground garage with more spaces than current surface lot and more natural lighting.

Mid-block entrance with better sight distances and easier left turns in and out.

Potential connections to Co-op lower level and Fire Station parking terrace.

STROLL AROUND THE BACK (AND MAKE DELIVERIES, TOO!)

On the west side, a pedestrian-friendly “mews” allows standard trucks to access the rear.

This route turns onto a rear terrace where tenants’ delivery and trash operations can occur.

The Co-op can use this same terrace route for deliveries, trash, and recycling.

The terrace offers a lovely woodside connection between the restaurant and the piazza.

 

DID YOU SAY “PIAZZA”?

Yes! Between the new building and the Co-op, there’s a 40’ by 100’ multi-use public plaza.

This space can host vendors, games, picnics, flea markets, movies, and beer gardens.

A retractable canopy and a portable dance floor provide event space to draw us all together.

4,000 square feet = plenty of room for the Halloween festival and holiday tree sales, too!

The piazza can have a canopy connecting to expanded Co-op space in the new building.

A DESIGN THAT DRAWS PEOPLE IN AND KNITS TOGETHER NEIGHBORHOODS

The east front corner is a focal point for visitors coming up Grant, Carroll, and Ethan Allen.  That focal point entrance leads into a glass-enclosed gallery space alongside the piazza.

The gallery space connects to a light-filled central atrium enlivening the building’s interior.  The elevator tower is just twenty steps from the Co-op, at the atrium entrance.  

NO MUSS, NO FUSS

Construction can be phased, with initial “Piazza” serving Co-op needs during “Phase Two.”

The Grant Avenue crosswalk, bus stop, and bikeshare station can stay where they are!

Pesky 18-wheelers can be accommodated via a lay-by OR via off-hours use of the piazza.

Win-Win-Win. City gets real public space, Junction gains vibrancy, NDC gets showcase project.

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!

An Alternative Plan for Takoma Junction

 

Revitalization of Takoma Junction by development can take many forms. Here is a lighter, less dense version that creates public space for events, outdoor markets, or community use, and preserves Co-op functioning, while adding a coffee shop, pub, food hub, and/or business incubator/worker training components. This plan provides for off-street unloading, and eliminates underground parking. It utilizes “flex space” with thoughtful design and timed usage programming to accomplish more with less:

 

takoma junction_comm vision_img2 (2)

 

Takoma Junction - Site Plan - A4b (3) (1)

 

This plan was based on a Community Vision for Takoma Junction group concept, and created by local design and construction professionals Joseph Klockner and Rick Vitullo. It is adaptable for multiple uses, is less expensive, and more sustainable.

 

We invite your comments and suggestions on Facebook or at tjcommunityvision@gmail.com.

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.