A large group of neighbors and activists, Junction shoppers and business owners, along with City Councilmember Jarrett Smith, sent this letter on racial equity this week to the County staff who are currently evaluating the proposed development at Takoma Junction. Community Vision for Takoma stands with this group of over 100 people who are urging the County to analyze the effect of the proposed development on racial equity at the Junction.
If you want to add your voice to these concerns, please send an email to Elza Hisel-McCoy, Montgomery Planning Board, at <email@example.com> and simply say you join with others in the community of Takoma Park who are concerned about the racial equity and social justice impacts of the proposed development.
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.”
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
County Reviewers Finding NDC’s Takoma Junction Proposal Deeply Flawed
The City has passed the Takoma Junction plan on and up to the County, but after initial review, County experts from multiple agencies are already finding multiple serious flaws in the proposal. Many of these flaws are those the community identified from the outset. But the feedback from County experts is buried in dozens of dense technical documents. So here, Community Vision analyzes the County’s critique on six key aspects of the proposed plan. (Links to some of the documents are here and here).
1.Proposed Garage Driveway Unsafe for Pedestrians and Cars
The County’s Department of Transportation (MCDOT) “Sight Distance Evaluation” finds the sight distance from the proposed underground garage driveway deficient. The measured sight distance from the proposed driveway looking to the left, around the bend towards the Fire House, is only 188-feet. The required line of sight is 325-feet. In other words, the proposed plan rests on an unsafe blind curve.
2. ‘Layby Lane’ Unacceptable
The County’s Department of Transportation opposes the layby as planned and comments that it “should be removed” because:
a. the loading area extends beyond the eastbound traffic light on Carroll Ave.
b. it conflicts with the bikeshare station.
c. it conflicts with the bus stop.
It also conflicts with the County’s Master Plan for a bike lane in the Junction.
County Park and Planning officials joined transportation officials to voice concerns about the layby lane’s safety and practicality.
A third County agency, Historic Preservation, also expressed significant concern over the layby.
State Highway Administration (SHA), not County DOT, has independent authority to reject the layby; but SHA is withholding comment pending completion of the SHA Planning Department’s Vision Study, now underway.
3. The Reduced Building Size May Still Be Too Large
After NDC already over-shot allowable density limits and had to reduce the proposed building from 52,000 to 40,000 sq ft due to their mistake on zoning requirements, it now appears that the building MAY STILL BE TOO LARGE due to another calculation error. Why? NDC’s design is based on the City claiming ownership to the center line of Carroll Ave; that added square footage increases the square footage that can be built. However, County reviewers say that this ownership proof is absent, which means the building would have to be reduced yet another 5,000 sq ft.
4. Historic Preservation Staff Gives Devastating Critique of Plan on Multiple Grounds
In comments to the DRC, which may presage the HPC’s independent view of the project when NDC seeks a historic area work permit, HPC staff pans the project as basically incompatible with the area in terms of “overall size, scale, massing, height, and architectural expression.” “The building is too tall.” “Glass tower is inappropriate.” It faults inadequate pedestrian space. It faults large-scale tree removal. And, critically, it notes that the proposed realignment of the Takoma Junction roadways is “incompatible with and detrimental to the historic district,” and would require “review and concurrence by Maryland Historic Trust as it is occurring in/on/to a State Road.”
5. Roadway Reconfiguration On Hold
NDC’s plan will require traffic mitigation because it would add more cars to a failing intersection. NDC’s plans are premised on a proposed major reconfiguration of the roadways to achieve that mitigation. But this proposed intersection redesign is just one proposed idea: all intersection improvement plans are on hold, pending completion of the State Highway Administration’s Vision Study. It remains unclear whether a reconfiguration would have a long-term positive effect. And neither design nor funds have been secured for any reconfiguration.
6. The Proposed Plan is Incompatible with Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Public Transit
MC DOT, Area Transportation, and Historic Preservation all note incompatibility of the NDC proposal with pedestrian, bicycle, and public transit requirements.
To date, even as reduced from 52,000 to 40,000 sq ft, NDC still proposes a building that may be larger than allowed, and does not fit the historic character of the Junction. As shown in the comments provided by numerous County agencies, the proposed building is incompatible with car and pedestrian safety, and the use of roads, sidewalks, bicycles, and public transit. The proposal rests on the removal of the Grant Ave crosswalk, removal of the all-red signal that allows safe pedestrian crossing of the intersection, a problematic layby, and a driveway exit on a blind curve. The proposed project would require a major (and expensive) reconfiguration of the roadways, and multiple waivers for parking space reductions, for being too close to adjacent buildings, and for cutting down many trees.
Does our community deserve a better plan?
Weigh in with your City officials.
Ask them to take back control of this project, and determine how we can safely use this public land for the public good.
The proposed Takoma Junction development plan is now going through the County approval process. But the City must still approve the tree plan, and the stormwater plan. So, stormwater experts with Community Vision for Takoma (CVT) analyzed the developer’s stormwater plan, and wrote this one-page summary of the many flaws in the plan.
TAKOMA JUNCTION DEVELOPMENT STORMWATER ISSUES
The City of Takoma Park has not reviewed stormwater aspects of the current proposal; the City’s approval letter in the record is based on the defunct April 2018 plan.
The City review of the older plan was incomplete; it did not consider many aspects of the proposal.
Neither the plan nor the City’s review considered the fact that nearby residents are already experiencing water management problems.
Currently most of the stormwater at the site flows from the City-owned parking lot to Carroll Avenue where it eventually enters City storm drains. The developer’s plan would divert this water to a storm drain on Columbia Avenue.
Neither the City nor the developer conducted necessary studies including geotechnical, hydrogeological or storm sewer capacity studies.
Neither the soils at the construction site nor the soils on the wooded slope have been well characterized. Clay layers in soil can make water management much more difficult; the limited studies available show clay layers on the site.
Stormwater can either run off over the surface or infiltrate the soil to become groundwater. This has implications for both surface drainage management and the ability of subsurface water to enter basements. Neither the City nor the developer has studied groundwater at the site.
Neither the City nor the developer has assessed the potential impact of this additional stormwater on the downstream storm water management system. It is not known if this system has enough capacity or what the potential impacts could be.
The proposed stormwater plan is under-designed given recent rainfall patterns and the anticipated effects of climate change in the future. The design, operation, and efficacy of the proposed stormwater management system is unclear. The overall efficiency of the proposed green roofs has not been determined.
There is no analysis of water containing sediment that can accumulate in the large excavation proposed for this site.
In summary, it is difficult to see how this proposal meets the Maryland State guidance of controlling stormwater to the maximum extent practicable.
Based on all this, it is recommended that a refined comprehensive analysis, that (1) includes stormwater, groundwater and construction water and (2) is based on geotechnical and hydrogeological data, be undertaken by an independent competent authority with complete transparency.
I understand that you will honor your commitment to guarantee that reasonable accommodations for the Co-op are made and that you are also open to the consideration of changes to the NDC’s site plan as a result of the on-going mediation process between NDC and the Co-op.
I have specific questions regarding servicing the Co-op, a potential new restaurant and other new businesses.
QUESTION 1: How have you determined that the proposed NDC delivery plan is feasible and safe?
QUESTION 2: Will you commit to advocating for changes to the site plan in order to provide safe, sanitary, and adequate servicing to both the Co-op and also to new businesses?
Question 1– Regarding delivery conditions:
According to City documents based on Co-op information, there are examples illustrating multiple, simultaneous deliveries to the Co-op which would test the limits of NDC’s proposed lay-by. (These examples do not include 18-wheelers which average between 70’-80’ in length and whose deliveries unlike others can be scheduled.)
On Friday, May 25, 2018 there were 5 vehicles that arrived within a few minutes of each other during the morning rush hour to deliver to the Co-op. Vehicle one – the first of this group – arrived as a 54’ vehicle was already parked and servicing the Co-op. They shared this area for the next 15-30 minutes. When the 54’ vehicle left, the first of this group – a 22’ vehicle was joined by a 40’ vehicle and a 26’ vehicle. During the next 15-30 minutes, while still at this location, these 3 vehicles were joined by 2 additional vehicles– one 20’ and another less than 20’. As we know, these vehicles need space to enter and exit as they deliver, collect trash, etc. and that parallel parking and double parking would be out of the question at the proposed lay-by location.
This real life servicing occurred during the morning rush hour, during a time when pedestrians were walking to the metro, bikers were commuting, and children in this neighborhood were walking to school and bus stops.
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED MAY 25TH AT THE 137’ PROPOSED LAY-BY?
Question 2 – Regarding changes to the site plan in order to address servicing: NDC has committed to mediation with the Co-op to address critical servicing requirements. There are fundamental life safety issues to consider when factoring in the vehicular, bike, pedestrian traffic and nearby fire rescue services to these servicing issues.
Identification of problems with the current NDC plan:
Professionals (including David Cronrath) have weighed in and have identified trash pick up and servicing as a weak aspect of the current site plan design.
Eric Liebmann, a Takoma Park architect with extensive experience in development projects has provided a solution which illustrates how back of the house services can be accommodated where they belong – at the rear of the site instead of front and center in our pedestrian zone.
Eric has provided you with an alternative plan which illustrates how a 55’ long vehicle can service the site using a one-way service loop. This service loop is in addition to the NDC lay-by. His plan includes a building with an area of the NDC’s RFP Concept Proposal (identified in the Development Agreement with the City.) The current NDC site plan building has grown by about a third from its Concept Proposal and would not allow for this back of house delivery and trash servicing.
CAN YOU PROMISE/ HONOR YOUR COMMITMENT TO ADVOCATING FOR CHANGES TO THE SITE PLAN – INCLUDING SCALING THE BUILDING BACK IN ORDER TO PROVIDE SAFE, SANITARY, AND ADEQUATE SERVICING TO BOTH THE CO-OP AND ALSO TO NEW BUSINESSES?
I would appreciate your consideration to these important questions prior to July 25th and look forward to your response.
Our City is desperately divided over the Junction development, and in urgent need of a sensible compromise to avoid a legacy of bitterness, alienation, and political disruption. We need to start healing and moving forward together. As we face the Council’s vote this week, there is only one clear pathway to do that: the Alternative Resolution.
This Wednesday, the City Council has before it two separate resolutions on the Takoma Junction development, both listed on the agenda. The second resolution up for a vote is the resolution to greenlight the Junction development and send it on to the County and State agencies. But the first resolution on the agenda is an Alternative Resolution, requiring the City to allow completion of the mediation with the Co-op, get clarity on when and how traffic will be configured and who will pay for it, analyze the racial equity impact of the development, and hold a mediated process for the community to consider alternatives and reach a better consensus on the development, before voting to greenlight the development plan. There has also been a proposed amendment specifying that the developer should not become the Co-op’s landlord on the City lot until those four conditions are met (amendments in italics in the Alternative Resolution below).
But, the Council will not even discuss this Alternative Resolution, unless a Councilmember agrees to second Councilmember Smith’s move to consider the resolution. At present, no Councilmember has said they will second it. Voting it down is one thing. Refusing to discuss it, is quite another.
Please contact your Councilmember and urge them to second the move to consider the Alternative Resolution.
ALTERNATIVE RESOLUTION REGARDING THE TAKOMA JUNCTION SITE PLAN
OFFERED BY COUNCILMEMBER JARRETT SMITH
WHEREAS the City Council entered into a Development Agreement with Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) on August 1, 2016 with objectives including provision of public or community spaces that result in enhanced interactions, expansion of community use of public space, support of independent businesses, expansion of parking options for area businesses, improved mobility and enhanced streetscape, encouraging alternate modes of transportation, and a retail tenant mix with a high priority for local and regional operators;
WHEREAS after conducting a Community Consultation process and engaging in extensive communications with City staff and City Council members, NDC shared a draft Site Plan in September 2017 that was not sufficiently responsive to the terms of the Development Agreement;
WHEREAS City Council Resolution 2017-53 of October 25, 2017 called upon NDC to revise the Site Plan to incorporate eleven specific changes;
WHEREAS the presentation of NDC’s revised Site Plan is still incomplete in several key respects and fails to meet several terms of Resolution 2017-53;
WHEREAS NDC’s revised Site Plan now relies upon the removal of the signal and crosswalk at Grant Avenue and the reconfiguration of the intersection of Carroll, Ethan Allen, and Sycamore Avenues in order to accommodate a truck lay-by and public space;
WHEREAS the traffic impact analysis commissioned by NDC does not make clear the methodology by which it projects that the existing intersections will fail in the absence of intersection reconfiguration and also does not take into account potentially positive traffic impacts of the Purple Line and intersection improvements nearing completion at Ethan Allen Avenue and New Hampshire Avenue as well as the closure of Washington Adventist Hospital;
WHEREAS an analysis of the traffic impact study commissioned by NDC, indicates that the large-scale retail and office development proposed by NDC would introduce more traffic to the Junction than the current configuration of intersections can handle during peak hours;
WHEREAS there are many reasons to question the feasibility and advisability of such an intersection reconfiguration, based upon the reliance of such a project on the State Highway Administration; as well as uncertainty about the direct and ancillary costs, the funding sources, the possible impacts on downstream intersections, cut-through traffic, pedestrians, cyclists, and nearby businesses’ viability, and the “induced demand” which NDC’s traffic consultants acknowledged would be inevitable, as well as uncertainty about the impacts on the historic character of the Junction resulting from roadway realignments and on the quality of life in Takoma Park due to increased capacity for vehicles in the 410 and Carroll Avenue corridors;
WHEREAS NDC and the Takoma Park Silver Spring Cooperative Inc. (Co-op) have not yet reached final agreement on accommodations for the Co-op’s continued operations;
WHEREAS the Mayor, on behalf of the Council, in a letter of May 24th, 2018 to NDC and the Co-op, specified that the Council had approved up to $5,000 to support a mediation process between the two parties, that the mediation should conclude by early September, and that the goals of such mediation would be (1) to build trust between the parties, and (2) to reach agreement in a timely fashion on outstanding issues, including but not limited to deliveries, trash and recycling, parking, and preliminary plans for continuity of operations during construction;
WHEREAS such a mediation process has been entered into by both NDC and the Co-op with the understanding that the Council’s definition of what would constitute a timely fashion would be a conclusion by early September, not late July;
WHEREAS the City Manager, in a letter to the Co-op, informed the Co-op that as of September 1st, 2018, the City was canceling its contract of 20 years with the Co-op under which the Co-op paid the City for the use of a portion of the City parking lot that the Co-op has used for deliveries, trash and recycling, and parking; and in the same letter communicated to the Co-op that it should now negotiate terms for renting or otherwise being permitted to use any of the lot with NDC as of September 1st;
WHEREAS the current revised start date for the Ground Lease of September 1st is an arbitrary date unrelated to an immediate use of the lot by NDC, and furthermore, by imposing such a certain near date of a landlord-tenant relationship between NDC and the Co-op, regardless of the results of their current mediation and in the midst of said mediation, may unnecessarily complicate and potentially disrupt the mediation process and thus jeopardize the long term success of the Junction redevelopment;
WHEREAS NDC had previously sought and received approval from the City Manager for a postponement of the start date for the Ground Lease, thereby indicating that a further postponement of such start date and of the related payment of rent and any assessed taxes by NDC that such start date requires would not impose a hardship on NDC;
WHEREAS NDC has not yet provided a signed lease or Letter of Intent with an anchor tenant, and the City Council needs this information to be able to evaluate the suitability of the project for the community;
WHEREAS the City has not produced a racial or socioeconomic equity analysis of the impact of the proposed development, or a Racial Equity Statement;
WHEREAS the community is deeply divided over the current site plan, with a critical need for building greater consensus around an appropriate development through a community process of charrettes, Town Halls, and mediation;
BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that the City agrees to wait for a vote on the NDC proposal until the following conditions are met:
(1) The mediation with the Co-op has been concluded, and the Council, after public consultation with both NDC and the Co-op, has determined that the outcome of mediation between NDC and the Co-op offers reasonable accommodation for the Co-op’s deliveries, trash and recycling operations, parking, and continued operations before, during, and after construction and development of the project site;
(2) We have clarity on how and whether the intersection should or would be reconfigured, who would pay for it, and how the intersection would function if the development is built before (or without) a reconfiguration;
(3) The City undertakes a racial and socioeconomic equity analysis and releases a Racial Equity Statement for the proposed development;
(4) The City holds an effective, mediated process for resolving the problems outlined here, including charrettes, and a Town Hall process to consider alternatives, and to help residents to better understand the reasons for any development, and to seek greater consensus in the community around any changes that can and should be made;
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Council does hereby direct the City Manager to take such actions necessary as to cause (1) the immediate suspension of both the effective start date of the Ground Lease to NDC and the effective date of the termination of the Land License Agreement with the Co-op and (2) the indefinite postponement of both such dates until the conditions outlined above have been met and the Council has voted to approve a site plan/preliminary plan agreed to by NDC for the Junction redevelopment project.
As your constituents, we respectfully urge you to survey the residents of Ward 3 on whether or not they support the current Takoma Junction site plan, before you vote on the Junction Resolution.
As you know, there is precedent for this, with at least two other Council members having done Ward surveys on the Junction in the past.
We understand that you are elected to use your judgement in City matters. But we also believe that, because our Ward will be the most affected by the development, you have a particular ethical responsibility to represent your constituents in Ward 3 in this matter.
In order to have as many days as possible for constituent responses, especially deep in summer, we would strongly suggest putting up the survey as quickly as possible. As we’re sure you understand, any later questions about the objectivity in the framing of the question would negate the survey results. We’ve included suggested language here.
As your Ward 3 representative, I will be voting YES or NO on July 25th on a resolution on the proposed site plan for development of the parking lot owned by the City at Takoma Junction. The Draft Resolution is here. The developer’s site plan is here.
If the resolution is approved, the plan goes before County and State agencies for approval.
Please register your opinion as to whether, as your representative, you would want me to:
A. Vote YES
B. Vote NO
Some neighbors in the last few days have asked us when residents will get to vote on the Junction plan. The process has been long and complex, and unfortunately, many neighbors deep in summer are still not aware that the Council will vote on July 25th.
Thank you for taking this final, important step to ensure clear feedback from your constituents.
Natalie Angier, David Blockstein, Megan Christopher, Leah Curry-Rood, Joan Duncan, Meriwether Jones, Sue Katz Miller, Merrill Leffler, Susanne Lowen, Ben Miller, Paul Miller, Dara Orenstein, Chas Poor, Debra Prybyla, Ron Resetarits, Roger Schlegel, Ann Slayton, Joe Uehlein, Paul Wapner, Rick Weiss
Thank you for reaching out to me with this request.
I appreciate your interest in having a survey conducted on the Junction project. Throughout this process, I have sought to engage as many people as possible in this discussion and to carefully and thoroughly review the comments and information that residents have shared with me. I have very much appreciated the high level of civic engagement on this issue and believe it has and will continue to result in an improved project.
Over the past few months, I have engaged in a lot of listening and thinking about the Junction. I have spoken with and heard from residents at the Junction Project Open House, the Pop-Up, the One-on-One Conversations event last week, public comment sessions at every Council meeting since the beginning of April, two listening sessions that I arranged for Ward 3 residents, the traffic discussion with SHA at the firehouse, neighborhood gatherings, small-group meetings, one-on-one discussions, phone calls, emails, and listserv comments.
Thorough this process, I have carefully considered the perspectives of Ward 3 residents in particular. Based on what I have heard, I have asked questions of NDC, the traffic firms, and City staff, and I have requested changes to the plan. These include:
Adding an elevator to the west side of the building next to the Coop
Reducing the building height of up to 5 feet while maintaining natural light in the interior spaces
Minimizing negative impacts on the wooded lot behind the building
Setting 2700 sq ft as the minimum amount of public space
Minimizing noise and lighting impacts on the neighborhood from the rear of the building and requiring outdoor lights with no higher than 3000K temperature
Adding language to the resolution to require “non-formula” businesses without the Council’s consent
Dedicating a portion of the revenue from the project to the affordable housing fund
Requesting that NDC’s traffic firm complete an analysis of traffic based on a restaurant rather than just a shopping center prior to submitting to the County
Mediation between the Coop and NDC
I am still reviewing the Site Plan and Draft Resolution and considering if there are additional changes that need to be addressed prior to the vote.
Although I understand the impetus to call for a survey, I do not believe this would provide me with new information that would better inform my decision-making process. Through all the engagement opportunities noted above, I have had opportunities to talk with and hear from residents, gaining a general sense of residents’ diverse range of perspectives throughout the ward. The most important feedback I have gotten has focused on concrete aspects of the project or specific concerns. These concerns have led to the changes I noted above, as well as others, and to me reconsidering the plan in a new light. This is a vote on a resolution that involves a series of proposed changes to the project as well as opportunities for further amendments — not just a “yes” or “no.”
I can understand how frustrating it would be to feel that I am not listening. I assure you that I have been and continue to be interested in hearing all of the opinions shared with me. If you or others would like to talk more in-depth, I am happy to do so. Anyone who feels they haven’t had a chance to share their thoughts is encouraged to email, call, or arrange a meeting with me. I have appreciated all the input, and my discussions with residents have led to the changes I listed above and others.
Here, we bring you Alternative Plan #3, submitted to the City Council by Eric Liebmann, an architect experienced in working with developers on commercial, residential, and mixed-use buildings. This plan features a proper on-site loading zone at the back of the development.
Features of this plan:
A one way loop drive behind the development which would allow all trucks up to 55 feet to unload and collect trash off-street, and out of public sight and smell.
A lay-by would still be needed on Carroll, solely for the use of the largest trucks. Someday when the largest trucks are no longer in use, the development would still have a proper loading zone in the back, and the lay-by could be repurposed (bike lane? row of trees?).
From Carroll Avenue, the project could look virtually the same, Streetsense’s handsome facades could be retained, and virtually all the valuable street-front retail would be preserved. The number of underground parking slots is also preserved.
The loop drive and loading zone along the woods could possibly be used in off-hours as public space.
The overall project would decrease in size by around a third in order to accommodate the loop drive, which would return the project back to the size originally envisioned by several responses to the Request for Proposals (RFP).
Below, we print the recent public comment to City Council by resident Paul Chrostowski, PhD, QEP, on the greenhouse gas emissions from construction of the proposed Junction development plan. We also print a companion piece he posted yesterday on the air pollution impacts.
TAKOMA PARK CITY COUNCIL Public Comment
MAY 27, 2018
Environmental impacts of major construction are often overlooked, with a focus on the finished product rather than the construction process. However, construction can have significant impacts on air and water quality.
For example, the removal and disposal of the existing asphalt/concrete parking lot will likely involve jackhammers, compressors, front-end loaders, and roll-off or dump truck haulers. All of these operations use diesel fuel which emits greenhouse gases, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and fine particulate. In addition, particulate matter from the asphalt and concrete itself will be emitted. At typical published rates of activity, this could mean about two weeks of constant air pollution and noise. As many as 40 loads would be required to transport this material.
During my 6 years on the Committee on the Environment, I pressed for environmental impact analysis of proposed major construction in the City. Since this has not been done, I have undertaken my own evaluation starting with a Limited Life Cycle Analysis of the proposed NDC development plan, focusing on greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
I based my analysis on material on the City’s website including the development plan: demolition and removal of the existing parking lot, 50,000 sq. ft. building with one level underground parking, about 8,000 sq. ft. of paving, and no recycling of demolition materials (none required in RFP or agreements). This did not include demolition of Takoma Auto Clinic (Johnny’s) structure, excavation for underground parking, or any street reconfiguration (all of which will also have impacts).
Using standard methods in the environmental engineering profession, I predict that this activity will release about 88,000 MTCO2e (190 million pounds). This is more than the Brendle Group 2013 report predicted for 2018 for the entirety of all greenhouse gas emissions in Takoma Park and would negate all the improvements we have made over the last several years. One would have to plant over one million trees to offset this effect. In reality, we would not be able to mitigate this impact. An alternative design concept I have seen is for a 34,000 sq. ft. building with no underground parking. This would cut the greenhouse gas emissions by about 60% and with careful attention to construction practices and offsets could be mitigated.
I encourage Council to pay close attention to these environmental impacts and engage any developer in a discussion to mitigate the impacts. The legacy of this project should not be that it contributed in any way to climate change or local air pollution.
AIR POLLUTION IMPACTS OF PROPOSED JUNCTION DEVELOPMENT
July 6, 2018
In my testimony of May 27, I presented the results of a technical analysis of greenhouse gases (GHG) during construction of the proposed development. At that time, I did not include emissions from the excavation for the underground parking level or impacts from demolition of the Takoma Auto Clinic. Including these, the GHG emissions will approach 90,000 MTCO2e (about 200 million pounds). These GHGs will contribute to climate change and stay in the atmosphere for some 39 years – long after a decision on this project has been made. These emissions are so high that they cannot be mitigated unless the project is made smaller.
In the meantime, I performed an air pollution analysis of diesel exhaust that will be emitted during the excavation for the underground parking. To do this, I focused on air pollutants regulated under the federal Clean Air Act – nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. In addition to these pollutants, diesel exhaust also contains hundreds of other pollutants that have been associated with human health effects. I used standard engineering assumptions that the underground garage would be 10 feet tall with a 2-foot subbase resulting in a 12-foot deep excavation. After subtracting 1 foot for asphalt removal and using the dimensions from NDC’s diagrams, this results in a 14,400 cubic yard excavation. We don’t know NDC’s excavation plans, so I developed a benchmark scenario using one 200 HP dozer, a track loader, and 30 cubic yard dump trucks. It would take about 6 months to excavate this hole using this equipment. Using more (or larger) equipment would shorten this time but increase diesel exhaust emissions.
I obtained emission data from the Environmental Protection Agency and the scientific literature. I then used a simple air quality model to project these emissions out to 350 feet from the center of the proposed project, where people are likely to be exposed. At this distance, the diesel particulate concentrations would exceed EPA’s screening level that is based on pulmonary inflammation and the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for oxides of nitrogen. Besides pulmonary inflammation, exposure to diesel exhaust has also been associated with cancer, cardiovascular disease, central nervous system effects and developmental effects according to the EPA and the World Health Organization. In addition to local health effects, this excavation would add about 250 MT of pollutants to the airshed.
Exceeding screening levels in a preliminary environmental impact analysis does not necessarily mean that there will be health effects, but it does mean that there should be an in-depth refined study prior to implementation of construction. This would be based on NDC’s exact construction plans and would include appropriate mitigation measures. It is premature to approve the development plan without considering its potential impact on the health of Takoma Park residents.
Dear Mayor Stewart and Councilmembers Dyballa, Kostiuk, Kovar, Seamens, Searcy, and Smith:
As former City Council members we appreciate the serious thought and considerable time you have invested in Takoma Junction development. We respect the efforts of the Mayor and Council as well as City staff, many community stakeholders as well as the developer and consultants.
We can identify with the sense of “getting this project done” now after long hours of public debate. The lengthy, complex and contentious process has led to even more questions and some issues, such as traffic implications, not fully answered.
Despite many great efforts, there is still a tremendous amount of community disagreement, which unless resolved, will threaten the larger sense of community for which Takoma Park is known. We urge you to take additional time for consideration and debate to assure that Takoma Junction becomes a vital part of a larger community vision.
As you prepare for a vote on the Takoma Junction site plan we former Council members would like to share the following thoughts:
Takoma Park is a built city
Two of us served on the Council in the 1980’s. It was a time when the City was coming out of bank redlining issues (deposits from TP welcome; housing loans not so much) and beginning to deal with issues of gentrification.
We are unsure whether any of the traffic study options will have positive impact in the short term. However, we do believe that none of the options will make Takoma Park a better place to live in the long term.
Even acceptable levels of traffic today will likely mean unacceptable levels tomorrow and create pressure in an area where road widening and neighborhood spillover are unacceptable.
In a community like Takoma Park, process is at least as important as product
For so many of us who came to Takoma Park, the goal was a city welcoming for all, a city open to seeking out and hearing all opinions. It is that view that took us beyond city to community.
While we understand the desire of the Council to conclude a long process and move on, the impact on Takoma Park will be decades long. Disagreements are expected, honest and deserve consideration…and a process that assumes respectful and good faith postures can resolve them.
There are multiple stakeholders with different views on the use of the Takoma Junction property. Each believes that their view contributes best to the public good. The Council’s role is not to tinker with design (we suggest that be left to professionals) but rather, something far more important, to manage us through a process that not only delivers a better Takoma Junction but also a stronger and more engaged community.
You now have your traffic studies. You do not have a unified community. We encourage you to take some more time, bring together representatives of all stakeholders, keep your minds open and task them with creating several consensus options for your review.
We wish you our common success.
Rino Aldrighetti, Lynne Bradley, Jim Di Luigi, Sharon Levy, Hank Prensky, Marie Ritzo, and Dan Robinson