Planning Board Grants 5th Extension for Takoma Junction Project to Gain Approval
On September 15 2021, the Montgomery County Planning Board agreed to give Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) a fifth extension to obtain approval for their proposed Takoma Junction project. NDC now has until January 20 2022, (approximately 90 additional days), to attempt to get approval from the State Highway Administration (SHA) before returning to the Planning Board. To date, the SHA has found both the layby and the exit drive unsafe (in four separate rulings), despite multiple design attempts by NDC.
In approving this fifth extension request, individual Planning Board members appeared to be unfamiliar with the details of the project. Notwithstanding the Planning staff’s recommendations that both the extension and project be denied, and the City’s recommendation that its own project be disapproved, Board Chair Casey Anderson nevertheless opined (watch starting at 3:15:00 on the video) that this would be a great project for the City if only SHA would approve the layby.
Community Vision for Takoma (CVT) is taking this opportunity to straighten out some of the confusion, evident at the Board hearing, surrounding the current proposal.
These are the facts:
The layby is not the only problem cited by the City.
The City Council voted on June 23 2021 for a resolution to recommend the Planning Board vote to disapprove the project. In doing so, the City Council cited not only the lack of approval from the SHA, but four other longtime issues NDC has been unwilling or unable to solve: lack of meaningful public space, a problematic rear facade, lack of parking for surrounding businesses, and inadequate stormwater treatment.
The Planning Board may not concern itself with these issues, but the City does, according to their own resolutions and development agreement, and their vote in June. But the City needs to stand firm on these issues, explain them to the Planning Board, and pull out of the project if the Planning Board approves it.
The layby is not the only problem cited by the SHA. They have repeatedly cited the inadequate sight lines for drivers coming from the garage exit ramp driveway (the egress) as a continuing safety problem.
NDC has pushed back by comparing their proposed exit to the current exit from the City lot. In a June 16 2021 letter from NDC to the SHA, NDC asserts, “We note that the same sight line issue exists today from the Intersection…and the entry point to the City’s parking lot on Carroll Avenue.”
However, this is a false comparison.
The proposed development would reduce the sight line by moving the driveway from the current location 40 to 50 feet to the west, closer to the fire station and blind corner. Additionally, the current lot is completely above ground, allowing exiting drivers to have a longer period to observe traffic coming from the west. The proposal, with vehicles exiting from an underground parking garage, limits that observation time. The proposal would also have drivers exiting from a darkened garage at the end of the workday and looking west into the setting sun. This visual adjustment time increases danger to bicycles and pedestrians as well as motorized vehicles in this heavily used area.
There are additional issues regarding the sight line. The September 7 2021 letter from SHA to NDC notes that there are other obstacles to the sight line (fencing, tree, parked cars), so the issue is not just one of absolute distance.
No one should have been surprised by SHA’s repeated rejection of layby designs in 2021. Since the beginning, many concerns have been expressed about the layby.
In 2015 when NDC was chosen by the City Council, Councilmember Seth Grimes wrote that the absence of a layby in NDC’s initial design was one of the reasons he voted to choose NDC for the project. He said a layby would be a “step in the wrong direction,” and that the “Co-op has said this approach would be unworkable.” (NDC switched to a layby design only after winning the project).
In the spring of 2019, County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) reviewers noted that the layby “should be removed” because of safety concerns.
In the spring of 2019, the Chair of the County’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) agreed with a resident who called the layby “an abomination.”
In the spring of 2020, MCDOT again noted multiple reasons why the layby location could not be approved.
So in 2021, the SHA’s four consecutive rejections of layby designs should not have been surprising.
Just because other developments have pickup or loading in front of the building doesn’t mean the Junction layby would be safe.
In public comments at the Board hearing, and as the Board considered the extension, there was discussion of how some other county locations handle loading or pickups, and a suggestion that these should be considered precedents for the approval of the Junction layby. However, none of these other developments have the same specific constraints and conditions of the proposed Junction layby:
Marriott Headquarters (Bethesda) has a circle loop, not a layby.
Avocet Tower (Bethesda) has a smaller pickup and drop-off layby for cars, but would not accommodate large trucks.
Ace Hardware (Takoma Park) has loading by trucks on the street, but was never analyzed by State or County reviewers because it is an informal arrangement.
Key Differences in the Four Projects
Pull-in, pull-out without right-angle turns?
Used for deliveries?
Trucks only (no drop-off/pick-up)?
Used for trash hauling?
Large trucks involved?
Deliveries/trash emphasize food-service?
Use shared by multiple properties?
Unconsolidated deliveries and hauling?
Delivery path conflicts with ADA route?
2-way adjacent traffic?
Adjacent stop line, crosswalk, and signal?
Adjacent bus stop?
Adjacent garage entrance/exit?
Requires crossing dedicated bike lanes?
Located down-block from a fire station?
Area needed for emergency access?
Routes traffic onto residential streets?
Routes traffic through unsignalized intersections?
Along block-long merge and crossing of two State Highway routes?
Visibility issues for approaching traffic?
Adjacent to walking route to school?
Approved by SHA & Planning Board?
The community does not want to work with a company that tried to kick the Co-op off the lot.
The most recent and relevant gauge of community support for this project is not the City election almost a year ago (when all incumbents were re-elected, whether or not they supported the development).
In April, NDC sent a cease and desist order to try to kick the Co-op off the lot, threatening its ability to function as a business. This aggressive action towards the Co-op caused some residents who had supported the development (or were neutral) to oppose it. We know this because of comments on the feedback page set up by the City last spring. Approximately 380 out of 395 comments opposed going forward with NDC and the project, or 96% of responses. Clearly, the City heard this feedback—which is the most recent and direct gauge of community opposition to the plan—before voting to recommend that the Planning Board disapprove the project. The relationship between the City and NDC is unclear at this point, and their weekly meetings on the Junction have stopped.
Takoma Park City Council moves to reject the NDC plan for a development at Takoma Junction.
UPDATE: September 15 2021 The County’s Planning Board votes to give the developer a 90-day extension (their fifth extension), to try to get approval from the SHA for the layby and the egress.
UPDATE: September 3 2021The County’s Planning Board has scheduled a vote on the Takoma Junction plan for Wednesday September 15th (tune in online starting at 11:15am). The County staff has posted a report recommending that the Board vote to deny approval for the project.
UPDATE: August 19 2021SHA “Returns for Revision” the latest NDC proposal. And, apparently, the tentative date for the Planning Board public hearing and vote has been delayed until later in September.
UPDATE: July 14 2021NDC submits yet another revision of their plan for the loading zone, in response to SHA’s rejections. SHA is due to respond by August 19th.
UPDATE: July 2021 The County’s Planning Board has tentatively scheduled their Public Hearing and vote on the NDC plan for September 9th. This is one day after the City Council returns from their six-week summer break. Ten days prior to the hearing, the Planning Board staff will release their report and recommendation to the Board on the vote. NDC’s fourth extension to get approval from the Planning Board will expire on September 16th.
UPDATE: On June 23 2021 The Takoma Park City Council voted unanimously (7-0) for a resolution to disapprove the proposed Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) plan for a development at Takoma Junction. View NDC’s final statement before the vote at minute 18:00, and the City Council discussion before the vote starting at minute 53:45HERE. See links to new statements from the City and NDC in our Junction timeline.
At the City Council work session on Wednesday June 16th 2021, the Council agreed unanimously (7-0) to craft a resolution to disapprove the Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) plan for a development at Takoma Junction. The move to reject the plan was based primarily on the fact that no approved loading zone was submitted by NDC.
You can watch the City Council’s decision on the video at time 3:28:30.
The formal vote will follow a week later, on June 23rd. The draft resolution should be posted on the agenda by this Friday, ahead of the vote.
Just minutes before the Council meeting started, the City posted a letter from the State Highway Administration (SHA) to NDC. In that letter, the SHA rejected the longer layby for a third time, and rejected the shorter layby as even less safe.
(That shorter layby also broke all agreements to accommodate the Co-op, as described in this June 11th letter from the Co-op to the City).
With no approved way to create a loading zone for the development, the City Manager announced in the City Council work session on the Junction resolution that City staff were recommending crafting the resolution for disapproval of the plan. Each Councilmember then agreed to choose the disapproval option for the resolution. All of them cited the fact that there was no approved loading zone. Some also mentioned flaws in the plan related to inadequate public space, and other issues.
Many questions remain about what will happen next. For all the latest news, see our facebook and twitter feed.
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:
Video presentation of Community Vision for Takoma’s analysis of the April 2021 proposed plans for Takoma Junction development.
NEW: State Highway Rejects Layby
The State Highway Administration (SHA) released their finding this week that the proposed layby is not safe, and cannot be approved. This confirms concerns about a Junction layby going back to the beginning of the development process. The City review process is now on hold, while the City and developers figure out how and whether to continue pursuing this plan.
Traffic, Public Space, Stormwater, Trees, High Rents
But the layby is not the only outstanding issue with the current plans. Just before the SHA put out their finding, Community Vision for Takoma (CVT) shared this video of our plan analysis. It was recorded at our Takoma Junction Town Hall on April 9th. Our team of resident experts compared the current plans to the City commitments in the Development Agreement of 2016, and 2018 Resolution.
We found these plans meet almost none of the City Council’s own requirements for the project, nor did they respond to the County staff concerns.
This video presentation documents:
The unsafe layby
Traffic and parking pushed into back streets
Inadequate public space
Inadequate parking and effect of construction on local businesses
A rear facade that looms over Columbia
Inadequate stormwater treatment
Reduction and destabilization of the forest in the back
New stairs making it difficult and unsafe for wheelchairs and strollers
High rents that will drive commercial gentrification
Refusal to recognize the value of open space in the pandemic
A lot has changed in the pandemic. The office, retail and restaurant sectors are struggling. Some changes may be permanent, as people who can have shifted to working from home, buying from home, cooking at home. So why are we building offices, retail, and restaurants at the Junction, to compete with the struggling local businesses we all want to support?
Meanwhile, the pandemic has given us a new appreciation for the heroic role of a grocery store with union jobs and good health benefits as the central engine of the Takoma Junction economy, providing a safe sales outlet for over 100 local farmers, bakers, brewers, and more. The Co-op has led the nation in keeping both workers and shoppers safe. And, they have generously loaned use of both their own small lots and the large City lot they now rent from the developer, to non-profits sorting and packing and distributing food to the community in the pandemic. The value of this open space has never been more evident.
Reminder: A Lighter Design
Almost four years ago, we proposed a lighter, less dense design with more open public space, for the City’s Junction lot. And now, it seems more relevant and attractive than ever before.
This design creates 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. Imagine permeable pavers, solar lights, a stage, food trucks, pop-ups. This plan provides for off-street deliveries and waste collection at the back of the lot where they belong (removing the safety issues of the lay-by and making space for a bike lane). And it eliminates the problematic “not quite underground” parking while preserving surface parking to support local businesses. It utilizes “flex space” with thoughtful design and timed usage programming to accomplish more with less:
This plan was based on a Community Vision for Takoma group concept to transform the lot while preserving public space. The plan was fleshed out and drawn up by local design and construction professionals Joseph Klockner and Rick Vitullo. It is adaptable for multiple uses, is less expensive, and more sustainable, than the current design proposed by developers.
If you are wondering how our community could pay for this kind of community-oriented design, see some ideas here and here.
We invite your comments and suggestions on Facebook or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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 23 2021 City updates their statement explaining that they “requested” that NDC rescind the cease-and-desist and sublease termination by noon on April 23rd. They report that there was no reply from NDC.
April 26 2021 Co-op supporters take over the Junction for a third day of protest, asking the City to #DropNDCNow.
May 18/19 2021. NDC writes back to the SHA, submitting the plan yet again. They include a new plan, reducing the layby length from 140 feet to 85 feet, which would exclude the largest trucks, and the pallet jacks needed to unload them. This new layby plan, never seen by the public, would apparently violate NDC’s Development Agreement with the City, the City’s 2018 Resolution, and NDC’s mediated Cooperation Agreement with the Co-op. All three agreements state that any plan must accommodate Co-op deliveries.
May 24 2021. A letter from the SHA to NDC reminds NDC why they have already rejected the layby twice. But SHA also agrees to review NDC’s new plan for a shorter layby. It remains unclear whether the City staff or City Council have seen, or approved, this new plan.
June 3 and 4 2021. NDC rescinds their threat to kick the Co-op off the lot (for now). But they persist in (presumably false) allegations about safety on the lot, allegations retracted by the City. The Co-op continues to remind everyone that they have been safely receiving deliveries on the lot for the past 20 years. The City remains silent.
June 4 and 5 2021 The City announces a final work session to review the NDC plans on June 16th, and a final vote on the plan a week later, June 23rd. The resolution they craft approving or disapproving of the plan will then be sent to the Planning Board.
June 8 2021 At the “request” of NDC, the Mayor, City Manager, City Attorney, NDC representatives, and possibly others, meet with the Secretary of Transportation, and the head of the State Highway Administration, about the “the timing and approach of the review of the layby proposal for the Takoma Junction development site plan.”
June 11 2021 The Co-op sends a letter to the City stating that NDC’s new plan for a short layby would break all the agreements to accommodate their deliveries, and requesting additions to the City’s draft resolution that would clarify the City’s commitments to the Co-op.
June 16 2021 SHA sends NDC a letter rejecting the longer layby for a third time, and rejecting the shorter layby as even less safe.
June 16 2021 At the City Council work session, the Council agrees unanimously (7-0) to craft a resolution to disapprove the NDC plan, based primarily on the fact that no approvable loading zone was submitted. You can watch their decision on the video at time 3:28:30. The formal vote will follow a week later, on June 23rd. The draft resolution should be posted on the agenda by Friday.
June 23 2021 Takoma Park City Council votes unanimously (7-0) for a resolution to disapprove NDC’s proposed plan for Takoma Junction. This resolution constitutes the City’s official final input to the County’s Development Review Committee (DRC) and Planning Board. Unless the DRC or one of the partners withdraws (City or NDC), the Planning Board will now vote on the plan. It requires a supermajority (at least 4-1) to overturn the City’s disapproval.
June 24 2021 The City posts a statement and the final resolution disapproving the plan. That City statement notes that “despite the City’s recommendation that NDC waits until work with SHA had resulted in an SHA-approved design, NDC insisted on presenting the plan to the Council.” They also note that the project is tentatively scheduled to go before the County’s Planning Board in late July. NDC issues a statement implying that they are not walking away.
July 2021 We learn that the County’s Planning Board has tentatively scheduled their Public Hearing and vote on the NDC plan for September 9th. This is one day after the City Council returns from their six-week summer break. Ten days prior to the hearing, the Planning Board staff will release their report and recommendation to the Board on the vote. NDC’s fourth extension to get approval from the Planning Board will expire on September 16th.
July 14 2021 NDC submits yet another revision of their plan for the loading zone, in response to SHA’s rejections. SHA is due to respond by August 19th.
August 19 2021 SHA “Returns for Revision” the latest NDC proposal. And apparently, the tentative date for the Planning Board public hearing and vote has been delayed until later in September.
August 27 2021 The developer submits a request for a fifth extension of time to complete the County review process and bring the plan to the Planning Board for a vote. On September 3rd, the Board staff issues a recommendation to deny the extension. The Board will vote on the extension on September 15th. If the extension is denied, they will move on that day to vote on the plan itself.
September 3 2021 The County’s Planning Board posts the agenda with a scheduled vote on the Takoma Junction plan for Wednesday September 15th (tune in online starting at 11:15am). The County staff has posted a report recommending that the Board vote to deny approval for the project. The staff also recommends not giving a fifth extension to the developer to obtain approval.
September 7 2021 The State Highway Administration sends a letter once again refusing to approve the lay-by or the plan. They cite both the danger of the layby, and the danger of the sight lines for exiting the development.
September 15 2021 The Montgomery County Planning Board gives the developer a 90 day extension, their fifth extension, to get more clarity from the SHA about what they would need to do to get approval for the layby, and whether it is feasible. (On the video, the discussion starts at 2:13).
Still to Come (Not Chronological):
If the Board rejects the project, the City and NDC must end the agreement to rent the lot for 99 years.
If the project is approved, NDC would then request a Historic Area Work Permit (HAWP) from HPC.
If the project is approved, NDC must obtain a number of County waivers.
If the project is approved, City must review the plan separately for stormwater and tree conservation.
To build the project, NDC must still buy the auto repair lot adjoining the City lot to build the project.
To build the project, NDC must obtain bank financing for the project.
To create the project, NDC must still find tenants for the project.
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.