Young Folks Against the Proposed Development

Last night at City Council, three young Takoma residents read the statement below, representing young people from Takoma, and others who grew up spending time in Takoma. They noted, “These signatures were collected over the past 24-hours alone and the list is growing by the minute.”

Here is their statement:

Those of us young folks signed below, urge you to vote no on the proposed Junction site-plan. We are concerned about the racial and socioeconomic exclusion that would undeniably result from this huge, high-end retail development, and instead urge you to put the community before corporations, by considering a plan with more communal, free, space.

The following 50 young voters in Takoma Park have currently signed the statement:

  1. Isabel Hendrix, Takoma Park
  2. Mahalia Iwogu, Takoma Park
  3. Eliza Wapner, Takoma Park
  4. Ashe Durban, Takoma Park
  5. Trevor Gibson, Takoma Park
  6. Ife Adelona, Takoma Park
  7. Eva Blockstein, Takoma Park
  8. Maaike Laanstra-Corn, Takoma Park
  9. Salah Khanjari, Takoma Park
  10. Dio Cramer, Takoma Park
  11. Alex Frandsen, Takoma Park
  12. Ariela Sirota, Takoma Park
  13. Ben Segal, Takoma Park
  14. Jenny Bates, Takoma Park
  15. Haki Johnson, Takoma Park
  16. Leila Bartholet, Takoma Park
  17. Lucas Richie, Takoma Park
  18. Adrian Kombe, Takoma Park
  19. Jeanne Jarvis-Gibson, Takoma Park
  20. Sam Dembling, Takoma Park
  21. Nick Huget, Takoma Park
  22. Jacob Rini, Takoma Park
  23. Sandy Hunter, Takoma Park
  24. Miles White, Takoma Park
  25. Ellie Struewing, Takoma Park
  26. Peter Berger, Takoma Park
  27. Alex Fairhall, Takoma Park
  28. Geneva Jimreivat, Takoma Park
  29. Dana Cook, Takoma Park
  30. Mattie Cohen, Takoma Park
  31. Erin Nolan, Takoma Park
  32. Amelia Langer, Takoma Park
  33. John Fair, Takoma Park
  34. James Fair, Takoma Park
  35. Becca Richie, Takoma Park
  36. Mer Caprioglio, Takoma Park
  37. Aimee Miller, Takoma Park
  38. Alison Goodman, Takoma Park
  39. Nesha Ruther, Takoma Park
  40. Molly Ellison, Takoma Park
  41. Paul Munger, Takoma Park
  42. Stella Del White, Takoma Park
  43. Jesse Broad-Cavanagh, Takoma Park
  44. Miles Royce, Takoma Park
  45. Lyla DiPaul, Takoma Park
  46. Ben Miller, Takoma Park
  47. Ian Askew, Takoma Park
  48. Alexis Redford-Maung Maung, Takoma Park
  49. Conor Donohue, Takoma Park
  50. Aidan Keys, Takoma Park
  51. Amye Gulezian, Takoma Park
  52. Karis Danner-McDonald, Takoma Park
  53. Sebi Medina-Tayac, Takoma Park

And the following young people from surrounding Maryland towns and DC, joined them in signing:

  1. Maya Montenegro, Silver Spring
  2. Emanuel Enrique Ceron, Silver Spring
  3. Will Buckley, DC
  4. Cole Garcia, Washington DC
  5. Jasper Saah, Glenmont
  6. Amir Price, Washington DC
  7. Connor Smith, Silver Spring
  8. Naomi Weintraub, Silver Spring
  9. Alex Michell, Silver Spring
  10. Naeem Alam, Silver Spring
  11. Conor James, Silver Spring
  12. Elia Tzoukermann, Silver Spring
  13. Rob Millar, Silver Spring
  14. Jonathan Chang-Min Hyon, Silver Spring
  15. AJ Jayawardena, Columbia
  16. Matthew Kickenson, Silver Spring
  17. Wyatt Qualiana, Silver Spring
  18. Serena Faruqee, Silver Spring
  19. Marco Saah, Glenmont
  20. Blue Keleher, Silver Spring
  21. James Anthony, Silver Spring
  22. Eric Suter-bull, Bethesda
  23. Charlie Flack, Washington DC
  24. Sean Durkin, Silver Spring
  25. Thea Piccone, Washington DC
  26. Stefan Bindley-Taylor, Fort Washington
  27. Leigh Cook, Silver Spring
  28. Kalanzi Kanjubi, Glenmont
  29. Harper Leigh, Silver Spring

 

 

What Do the Traffic Studies Tell Us Vis-a Vis the NDC Site Plan?

by Roger Schlegel

1. The traffic studies are extremely complex in terms of assumptions, methodologies, measurements, and recommendations. The City Council should seek expert review of these studies before moving to vote on the NDC site plan because that site plan appears to be dependent on reconfiguring the intersection. To be clear, there is no estimate of the cost of such a reconfiguration, nor is there a sense of who would pay for it, nor is there a sense of when or whether SHA would approve such a reconfiguration.

2. The site plan consideration and the exploration of a reconfigured intersection are not entirely separate, “parallel-track” activities. While it may be true that background traffic soon to come online will push the performance of existing Junction intersections just below acceptable levels of service, it is also true that the studies characterize the site plan’s design and traffic generation as necessitating an intersection reconfiguration. The City Council should be clear in recognizing that the new development is the main impetus for reconfiguring the intersection.

3. The projected improvements in traffic flow associated with the reconfigured intersection appear to rely on the elimination of an all-red crossing phase for pedestrians (both at the main intersection and at the Philadelphia Avenue intersection). They also require the elimination of the new crosswalk (and signal) at Grant Avenue. The City Council should consider carefully whether these changes would be sustainable after the construction of a new development that would increase north-south pedestrian movement and possibly encourage jaywalking.

4. The lay-by as designed is apparently too close to the stop line at the existing intersection. Moving that lay-by back would eliminate a chunk of the small proposed public space, increase the length of the loading/unloading path for trucks, and possibly make the development less attractive to tenants. The proposed reconfiguration of the intersection makes it possible for the lay-by to remain in the NDC site plan. Alternative concept plans exist which would provide off-street deliveries. The City Council should push NDC further to see whether it is open to an alternative design that doesn’t rely on a lay-by.

5. The studies did not address the functionality of the lay-by when multiple trucks arrive simultaneously, the possibility of double-parked trucks, the impact on streets and roads around the area if trucks are expected to circle around and re-attempt delivery or pick-up, or the impact on emergency vehicle movement. The City Council should seek answers to such questions before voting on the NDC site plan.

6. The NDC development would appear to increase traffic at the Junction by up to 11% during the AM peak-hour and by up to 24% at the PM peak-hour. This implies that the NDC development, not other increasing background traffic, would be the primary contributor to the projected failing performance of the Junction intersections. Again, the City Council should not marginalize the traffic impact of the new development as it deliberates about the site plan.

7. Big questions remain about the location and functionality of the driveway to the parking garage. The City Council should be certain that this is a viable design before passing the question on to reviewing agencies. In particular, if the City pushes ahead to try to reconfigure the intersection, it eliminates a possibly more viable location for a parking garage driveway, which would be on line with the existing signal at Carroll/Ethan Allen/Grant. It is clear that there will be significant queues to exit the garage during the peak PM period, even without a restaurant use. The peak AM projected queue does not assume the presence of a coffee shop on-site or of a grocery store open during those hours. There are real questions about sight lines and pedestrian and cyclist safety. The TTG study did not clarify how left turns into and out of the garage would be affected by queues in the travel lanes.

8. The future fate of the Turner Building needs careful consideration before any vote on the NDC site plan. Setting aside the impact of the site plan on the Co-op (as this is subject to the current mediation process), the City Council should consider closely how the proposed lay-by and the proposed intersection reconfiguration, would affect the future utility of the Turner Building (which the Co-op currently rents). In addition, the City should seek independent professional advice about the long-term viability of a lay-by arrangement for future tenants of the proposed NDC development. In particular, given the value that a grocery store provides as an anchor for a business district, the City should find out whether any grocery store would be attracted to a site that relies on a lay-by for all deliveries and trash handling. Beyond this, the City should investigate how suggested relocation of the entrance driveway and possible reactivation of the loading dock would impact the capacity of the Turner Building’s parking lot.

9. The City still knows very little about the present state of cut-through traffic at the Junction. The City-commissioned study (AMT) provided measurements of cut-through traffic only on one route involving the length of Columbia Avenue. The studies provided no data on present cut-through traffic in other neighborhoods or on projections of cut-through traffic resulting from the proposed development (cars as well as trucks). It seems that it would be crucial for the City Council to get a clear understanding of present and projected cut-through patterns before voting on the NDC site plan.

10. The size of the proposed public space in the NDC site plan has been a huge issue. In response to criticisms that the proposed space is too small for community events, it is frequently noted that B.Y. Morrisson Park is a more appropriate place for such events. The City Council should think carefully about what the elimination of B.Y. Morrisson Park would mean for the Junction in terms of its potential as a place for public events and gatherings. A mid-intersection “pedestrian refuge” triangle should not be characterized as a true park space. Also, the loss of the four public parking spaces on the north side of B.Y. Morrisson Park should not be ignored as an impact of an intersection configuration.

11. The businesses and residents on the north side of the Junction should be given ample time to review and respond to the traffic studies before the City Council votes on the NDC site plan. Many of these businesses are reliant on convenient parking and easy pedestrian movement for their viability. The projected queue lengths and delay times for exiting the new parking garage may be of concern to north-side businesses, along with changes in pedestrian crossing routes, the elimination of B.Y. Morrisson Park, and the elimination of the all-red pedestrian crossing phase. The City Council should also consider a scenario whereby Manor Circle and other nearby neighborhoods choose to have residential permit parking — how would such a change impact the functionality and convenience of the new parking garage, and would north-side clients and customers be willing to “migrate” to the new parking garage?

12. Stepping back from the details a bit, one can imagine that if the site plan (or something like it) gets built — without or without an intersection reconfiguration — it will become clear that the development, along with Turner Building, needs a rear path for cars to circle around and for trucks to unload (a.k.a. an “alley”). The City Council should closely consider whether the creation of an alley is an eventuality and, if so, confront that potential need before voting on the NDC site plan.

In summary, it is very important for the City Council to take the necessary time to examine the implications of the traffic studies and address unanswered questions before taking any vote on the NDC site plan.

For an extended Issue-by-issue Analysis of the Traffic Studies Vis-a-Vis the NDC Site Plan in table form, addressing 20 specific issues, go to the google doc at this link.

Unresolved Issues at Takoma Junction

Byrne Kelly and Roger Schlegel contribute this piece, documenting how the changes to the Takoma Junction plan requested last fall by our City Council still have not been resolved. These requested changes are documented in the Council’s October 25 2017 Resolution. (Previous analyses of how the current plan does not respond to City requests are found in previous posts here and here and here and here).

RESOLUTION ITEM (1) A large amount of vibrant, comfortable, and easily accessible street-level public space that functions as a community gathering spot, does not require the purchase of food or beverage to use, and is accessible for year-round use.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO MEET #1: A space that hugs the street edge, as the NDC design does, would not be “vibrant” or “comfortable.” If such a space were “vibrant” and “comfortable,” we would see people flocking to the picnic table near the Co-op entrance. The proposed (public) space is too close to the traffic and would be dangerous with cars entering and exiting the parking garage. The space would be in near-perpetual shadow for ninth months of the year.

RESOLUTION ITEM (2) Accommodation of delivery, trash and recycling vehicles in a manner that does not cause traffic problems, optimizes public enjoyment of the site, addresses the needs of on-site tenants, and provides reasonable accommodation to the TPSS Co-op.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO MEET #2: The lay-by:
  1. would add 200-400 feet to the delivery path for the people off-loading goods or loading trash and recycling – for both the Co-op and for tenants in the proposed development.
  2. would be in the State Highway right of way, up against the crosswalk and the “public” space, and likely to be blocked at times with drivers who are standing (legally) to pick up/discharge passengers.
  3. would be likely to cause additional trucks to double-park illegally and block traffic. (What else would waiting trucks do? Drive around the block, circle up Carroll, Flower, Piney Branch, Philadelphia, Grant, Lee, Maple, Sycamore, Columbia, Pine, Ethan Allen, Woodland, Beech, etc.)
  4. would be an ugly thing for people in the proposed “cafe” and other shops to look out at.
  5. would impede and endanger cyclists by encouraging them to clog up the sidewalk and thereby conflict with pedestrians.
  6. would create a hazard for children crossing, who are hard to see from the cab of a truck (as stated by a semi-truck driver at an State Highway Administration listening session in April).
  7. would create bottlenecks as it wouldn’t be possible to coordinate the timing of deliveries to the multiple businesses who would need to use the lay-by.

RESOLUTION ITEM (3) Placement of the elevator or elevators in a location that serves patrons and tenants conveniently, including patrons of the TPSS Co-op.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO MEET #3: NDC’s current site plan placed the sole elevator at the opposite end of the development, so that Co-op shoppers would have to traverse the length of the development block to get to the garage. NDC has not released any revised plans showing a relocated or added elevator.

RESOLUTION ITEM (4) A street-facing façade design that consists of large storefront windows on the retail level and includes exciting or iconic features that evoke the spirit of Takoma Park.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO MEET #4: The facade may look nice, but numerous architects and other residents, including members of Historic Takoma and the Facade Advisory Board, have pointed out that the perspective renderings are inaccurate and misleading in terms of perceived height, point of view level, shadows, utility poles and lines, and context with the surroundings.

RESOLUTION ITEM (5) Massing that fits with the area and is comfortable for those using and passing by the site on Carroll, Sycamore, and Columbia Avenues.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO MEET #5: The massing doesn’t fit with the area because the building would range in height from 38-45 feet above the sidewalk. That would cast a big shadow over the sidewalk and street. The typical two-story building in the Historic District is well below 30 feet in height, so it is out of context. In the rear, it would loom approximately 55 feet above Columbia Avenue.
  • The Council requested to see a building no larger than 34,000 square feet. The proposed building would be 50,000 square feet, including approximately 42,500 square feet on City-owned property.

RESOLUTION ITEM (6) Appropriate landscaping and building façade design of the Columbia Avenue side of the property that improves the appearance of the green space and would help address environmental sustainability and other goals for the project.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO RESPOND TO #6: To date, NDC has failed to provide sufficient details regarding the rear and side facades, and the construction impacts on the wooded area. Their plan does not address rear emergency egress doors and paths.

RESOLUTION ITEM (7) Design features that will preserve and improve alternatives to automotive transportation.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO MEET #7: The NDC/StreetSense site plan does the opposite. The Capital Bikeshare rack would be eliminated. There would be minimal space for locking privately owned bikes or for dropping rental bikes. The bus stop would be eliminated, with no clear plan for relocation. There could be greater danger to pedestrians at the relocated driveway.  The recently established crosswalk at Grant Avenue would be directly in front of the lay-by, which could create a safety hazard for small children.

RESOLUTION ITEM (8) Details regarding parking options for off-site businesses located in the Takoma Junction.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO RESPOND TO #8: NDC has not provided details beyond saying that there will be 72 spaces in total, and that some “may” be set aside for Co-op patrons. The Co-op and NDC are addressing parking in a mediation process, but the Council has not indicated that it will wait for this process to conclude before voting on the NDC site plan. Other questions about parking costs, arrangements, and impacts on other businesses and neighborhood streets are not resolved.

RESOLUTION ITEM (9) Design and construction features which satisfy the requirements for LEED Gold or higher certification from the U.S. Green Building Council or an equivalent certification.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO PROVIDE ENOUGH INFORMATION TO RESPOND TO #9: Although NDC says that they will be claiming LEED points for many design features as “Innovation” and “Alternative Energy Generation,” their plan doesn’t provide details. They have also claimed that the higher heating and cooling costs associated with high ceilings and larger volumes will be offset by lower lighting costs.
  • While this project has been promoted as an opportunity for improve stormwater management, NDC has given no evidence of this in their plan. There is no geotechnical information on the infiltration and percolation rates for hosting a bioretention facility on the site. Their current plan would be in conflict with regulations regarding placement of such facilities on steep slopes. There is no evidence of a Natural Resource Inventory and a Forest Stand Delineation as required by M-NCPPC.

RESOLUTION ITEM (10) Details necessary to provide reasonable accommodation to the TPSS Co-op for access for loading of deliveries, customer parking, and continued operations during construction.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN FAILS TO RESPOND TO #10: Unresolved issues include the width of the delivery alley, the accommodation during construction, the accommodation of multiple delivery vehicles, pedestrian safety, shopper convenience vis-a-vis parking and cart handling, employee parking, and construction vehicle access. There is also no information on where the staging of materials and equipment would occur during the sequence of construction.

RESOLUTION ITEM (11) Identifies any resolution or agreement reached between NDC and the TPSS Co-op regarding shared façade design or other improvements that would enhance the aesthetic appeal of the whole commercial strip between Sycamore Avenue and the fire station.

  • DRAFT SITE PLAN DOES NOT PROVIDE INFORMATION ABOUT #11: NDC has aligned an “awning” with the 20-foot height of the Co-op building. No other design features or agreements are described or represented visually in the site plan presentation.

Another Resident Weighs In

In which resident David Paris provides a historical perspective on the Takoma Junction development, and some parallels with other local development projects:

Neighbors —

 

It is in the interest of all city residents, including even those who only shop elsewhere, for the city’s Takoma Junction lot to be sold or groundleased to the Takoma Park Silver Spring food Co-op at a market rate price in order to avoid further undermining the cooperative’s competitive position, shrinking the city’s commercial tax base, and tying up funds that are needed for important civic purposes. The development should serve the interests of the Co-op and existing residents rather than those of an unreliable outside developer trying to get away with the same sort of bait and switch tactics practiced by developers and by the Washington Adventist Hospital (WAH). 
 
Amazingly, our Co-op has prospered despite the competitive advantages of nearby Shoppers Food Warehouse and Whole Foods locations, which both benefit from significantly larger stores coupled with seas of free parking spaces. Last year’s announcement that Amazon would be purchasing Whole Foods, accelerating existing  uncertainty regarding the future of the food industry, just adds to the long list of reasons why our city government should be working with our food Co-op rather than further undercutting its competitive position.

 

NDC has exhibited short-sighted insensitivity to the core grocery services that have made Takoma Junction an important community destination. Supposedly, NDC was chosen, despite its low bid, because it promised to build a loading dock. Instead, NDC quickly abandoned the loading dock, substituting a large and unsightly driveway in front of the store, despite a series of safety concerns expressed by the Takoma Park Fire Department. Moreover, promised plans to maintain access for grocery consumers during construction have not materialized, and promised community space is to be shoehorned into the front loading area.
The abandonment of the loading dock that the Co-op requires to survive, which was promised in all of its original plans, was rationalized in a 2016 NDC letter by a blithe reference to the existence of frontal loading at a single unidentified Trader Joe’s store. This turned out to be Trader Joe’s in Adams Morgan, which is located 6 miles from Takoma, located in a renovated building that, unlike the proposed new building, could not be retrofitted with a loading dock.
All of the Co-op’s nearby grocery competitors have substantial loading docks and parking lots, including Shoppers Food Warehouse (1 mile), Whole Foods (2 miles), and Safeway (2 miles). Moreover, all other Trader Joe’s DC locations have loading docks, including the West End facility, which nonetheless appears to have some problems with trucks blocking the sidewalk. A liquor license application for the Capital Hill Trader Joe’s includes a signed agreement with DC Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B, promising to “receive deliveries at the loading dock provided by the landlord of the subject premises for use by retail tenants.”
It is a tribute to its economic strength that the Co-op has been prospering despite the burdensome redevelopment process imposed by the city government. In 2014, the current wasteful Takoma Junction development process was initiated by the city in response to the Co-op’s forthright expression of interest in purchasing the city lot. In 2012, the Co-op’s working budget called for paying as much as $1 million dollars for the lot, which is ten times more than the value that NDC placed on the lot during the selection process. The land was purchased by the city in 1995 for $500,000 and appraised for $1.475 million, several years ago. In 2014, the Co-op planned for modest/buffered development, a wider choice of moderately priced merchandise, indoor/outdoor public facilities, and, of course, a loading dock.
If the lot had been sold or groundleased to the Co-op during 2014, the community already would be enjoying the benefits of an expanded facility. Instead of engaging the Co-op, the city instituted a seemingly rigged Request for Development (RFD) bidding process that irresponsibly ended up selecting NDC, which valued the property at $100,000, one tenth of the amount introduced by the Co-op and considerably less than the $500-600,000 valuations used by the other developers. Over its first five years, the NDC lease calls for the city to receive far less rent from NDC than the Co-op has been paying to park cars on a small portion of the city lot. Further, the rent breaks continue throughout the 99-year life of the lease.

 

The short-sighted willingness of NDC to abandon the critical loading dock, which is tantamount to killing the goose that laid the golden egg, is reminiscent of the eagerness of WMATA and EYA to compromise future Takoma Station bus spaces and to consume parkland to accommodate townhouses with two-car garages under the guise of transit oriented development. In contrast, the community proposed a small apartment buildingon the station parking lot. In 2008, lenders would have been interested in financing the apartment, in light of rental unit demand resulting from a the freeze on residential construction. In 2010, NDC partnered to develop a DC school site with EYA, which has maintained a stranglehold over Takoma Station development for well over a decade.
Misleading and irresponsible comments about the Co-op from Takoma Park officials and the prejudicial planning process seem to have been calculated to rationalize shackling the Co-op with a developer, subverting local control of the grocery’s expansion. For example, during the October 6, 2014, council work session, City Manager Brian Kenner and a council member irresponsibly speculated that the Co-op might not remain at Takoma Junction and that it might fail within two years of expansion, due to the uncertainties facing groceries.
The discriminatory RFP process downgraded the Co-op submission because it lacked development experience and outright failed to credit the Co-op for the expertise of its advisors, including Edward S. West, a successful real estate attorney, who has negotiated leases involving a long list of businesses including, McDonalds, Food Lion, Giant Food of PA, J. Crew, Ann Taylor, Patagonia, Thrift Drug, Au Bon Pain, Safeway, and Pepco. Other Co-op advisors included an architect and a nationally recognized development team that has been associated with 200 successful food coop expansions, according to Co-op testimony.
There is nothing sacrosanct about RFPs, as exemplified by the misrepresentations, deflated expectations, and scandal surrounding the RFP process for the White Oak LifeSci mega-development. In fact, the project was renamed “Viva” after few initial bio-enterprises, other than WAH, were attracted. In 2016, the county dropped longstanding plans to participate in hundreds of millions of dollars in anticipated profits as a partner in the mega development because county employees somehow failed to identify restrictive covenants. The public documents should have been turned up by even the most perfunctory of title searches, let alone a protracted RFP process. In 2017, County officials appropriately chose Valentines Day to approve the sweetheart sale of the $42 million property to the developer for ostensibly $10 million.
Our city government further revealed its true colors when it appropriated $80,000 to pay the pro-developer law firm of Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz & Gilday (BBS&G) to negotiate the groundlease, which is overly generous to NDC by providing ongoing rental breaks. Similarly, in 2016, Montgomery County hired BBS&G to provide legal advice regarding the White Oak development debacle. The retention of the firm was controversial. Critics argued convincingly that retaining the BBS&G was tantamount to hiring the fox to guard the hen house, since White Oak Master Plan was the “signature project” of Francoise Carrier, one of its attorneys, during her term as chair of the Montgomery Planning Board (MPB).
In 2013, BBS&G authored a highly controversial report, supposedly exonerating the MPB from charges of racism regarding the closure of the only roadway providing access to the historic Sandy Spring, Maryland residential community. Both the county and city legal teams include Carrier, who turned heads when she quickly joined BBS&G after presiding over adoption of the problematic White Oak master plan, in July 2014. The previous December, Carrier issued a press release proclaiming that the $120,000 Bregman report was “through and conclusive.” One month later, she announced that she would not be seeking a second term as planning board chair.
The BBS&G report “fails to address,” allegations by the county inspector general that state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler “quashed an investigation of the Farm Road matter,”after receiving campaign contributions from members of the Bregman firm. “The community got exactly what it predicted from Mr. Bregman – half truths and distortions,” complained Judy Penny, a relative of an elderly resident. The landlocking of the Farm Road community, established by African Americans following the Civil War, was the subject of a Maryland Black Legislative Caucus Hearing and a series of WUSA exposes. The access road is just as critical to the beleaguered Farm Road residents as the Co-op loading dock is to the success of the grocery store.

 

The outcome of the current Takoma Junction process will establish the basis for future community and developer expectations regarding a flood of upcoming development projects involving New Hampshire Avenue, the Takoma Station, the soon-to-be-vacated hospital campus, and the sites of two former schools. The linkage between Junction development and other projects, which has been recognized by city staff and officials, is exactly why the city needs to get Junction development right. The failure of the city government to defend actively the threat to local emergency services created by the county’s recruitment of WAH to anchor the White Oak Science Park has already established Takoma Park as a soft target.
It is obvious that Takoma Junction development process has diverted city resources from more important matters, including keeping emergency services local and securing a sustainable WAH medical campus. With the hospital move a year away, next year’s county budget contains no funds for additional ambulances, and no study has been commissioned of the impact of moving the WAH ER. Moreover, amazingly there has been no effort to regulate hospital-run urgent care centers, like the facility WAH plans to leave behind, although such regulation is being pursued in many other states. Meanwhile, our officials are touting the addition of a Takoma paramedic, which was extremely low-hanging fruit, since our station is the last unit in the county to be assigned a paramedic.
The TPSS Co-op has been a reliable member of our community since 1995, when it renovated and moved into the vacant Turner Building, creating a thriving ongoing community enterprise that is now threatened by governmental intermeddling and developer misrepresentations. The Co-op steadfastly went ahead with the move, despite the failure of the Maryland Assembly to appropriate $1 million in economic development funds for the Junction. The funds were to have been available “if the city could demonstrate there also was significant new private money ready to be invested” in addition to the city’s planned expenditure of “$515,000 next month to acquire a vacant 1.4-acre lot in Takoma Junction.” 
 
Over the years, the Co-op has paid its own way. It may even have been overcharged by the city for use of the city lot for parking, judging from the reduced rental rate that the city is considering charging NDC. A recent state capital improvements grant, which must be matched, is the first occasion of the Co-op receiving or requesting substantial government economic assistance. Over recent years, the Co-op has been forced to spend hundreds of thousands for legal and architectural fees participating in the wasteful and unproductive process imposed by the city. Instead, the funds could have been applied to paying a fair price for the city lot, allowing the city to focus on more important matters.
The Co-op deserves the freedom to develop its own property independently, with the city government’s cooperation and supervision, rather than its domination. The city should sell the Takoma Junction lot to the Co-op for a significant portion of its appraised value. Although history has shown that the Co-op, unlike WAH, keeps its word, it is reasonable to expect the Co-op to sign an undertaking detailing how it will carry out its longstanding promises regarding density, community facilities, and a broader selection of products selling at lower prices.

Thank you for your attention.
 
Sincerely,
 
Dave Paris, Larch

“Set a Brave and Bold Example”

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

An open letter to Takoma Park residents and elected officials:

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

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

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

Signed on June 5, 2018

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

 

The Junction of Grief and Hope

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

May 31, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

 Dennis Huffman, Ward 3

 

A Letter to the City

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

From: Merrill Leffler (Ward 3)

To: Kacy Kostiuk, Ward 3 Council Member

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

Dear Kacy,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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