One Way to Get “Unstuck” at the Junction

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

5-20-18 Alternative TK Junction Plan BHKelly

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

Elevation, Alternate Plan #2

PLENTY TO SEE AND DO

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

An optimal height that is compatible with the historic district.

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

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

MORE PLEASANT PARKING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

DID YOU SAY “PIAZZA”?

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

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

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

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

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

A DESIGN THAT DRAWS PEOPLE IN AND KNITS TOGETHER NEIGHBORHOODS

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

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

NO MUSS, NO FUSS

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

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

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

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

A List of Unresolved Issues with the Proposed Takoma Junction Site Plan

A group led by Roger Schlegel has now crowd-sourced a list of some 70 issues that remain unresolved with the developer’s current site plan for the proposed Takoma Junction development. You can read the entire list here.

The list is broken into sections on:

  • Overall Presentation
  • Aesthetics
  • Historic Character and Scale
  • Accommodations of the TPSS Co-op
  • Sustainability
  • Outdoor Public Space
  • Promoting Alternative Modes of Transportation
  • Enhanced Streetscape
  • Parking
  • Retail and Commercial Destination with Options for Local Community
  • Traffic Impacts
  • Emergency Vehicle Responsiveness
  • and Racial Equity.

Go have a look!

A Letter From Takoma Junction Businesses

This letter from a large majority of Junction businesses has been delivered to the City:

May 7, 2018

To: Mayor Kate Stewart, Council Members: Peter Kovar, Cindy Dyballa, Kacy Kostiuk, Terry Seamens, Jarrett Smith, and Talisha Searcy

From: Business Owners of Takoma Junction

Re: Proposed plan in the Junction

We stand in solidarity with The Takoma Park-Silver Spring Co-op grocery store, a vital resource and an anchor business located in Takoma Junction currently being threatened by the proposed development plan by NDC. The Co-op management and members have brought up a number of safety and operational concerns to the Council. We urge the Council not to take these concerns lightly. In addition, many of these issues may also affect our businesses located on Carroll Avenue.

We want to see the following issues addressed:

  1. Our Carroll Avenue strip has seen a particularly promising upswing in new, stable small businesses which may be threatened by increased traffic, difficulty parking, and the potentially higher rents in the Junction that may result from the large retail areas across the street putting additional strain on our businesses.
  1. The parking issue is especially concerning because it is likely that with increased volume of shoppers, some will look for free parking on the residential streets instead of using the metered parking garage. Parking on nearby streets by shoppers will likely require that Permit Parking be instituted; not something that all residents wish for but will need in order to maintain sufficient parking for themselves. Those who currently come to the Carroll Avenue shops might be deterred from patronizing our businesses due to increased traffic congestion and lack of free parking.
  1. If this project were to be completed, the large retail spaces are likely to be expensive to rent. As a result we are less likely to attract the small businesses that now characterize much of Old Takoma and Takoma Junction, namely, unique, individually-owned and operated shops and services. Higher rents in those spaces, if not designated for local businesses, may become occupied by chain stores and national businesses instead of locally-owned enterprises. We have a long-standing tradition in this City of encouraging locally-owned and operated small businesses that lend our community charm, character, and uniqueness in a large Metropolitan area filled with big chain stores.
  1. Keeping in mind the scale of what is already here should be a priority, and this NDC project is out-of-scale with the surroundings. It has been noted that the renderings are misleading and that the proposed building it actually much taller than shown.
  1. Finally, we are very concerned about the effect such an over-sized construction project including excavation for underground parking may have on our Historic buildings, nearly 100 years old now. Heavy trucks creating a lot of vibration are hard on our antique buildings.

Please do not turn a deaf ear on the business owners in Takoma Junction that already provide (and have for many years) tax revenue for the City.

Please do not minimize the importance of a well-conceived plan for deliveries and trash removal at the proposed site. Once it is built it will difficult, if not impossible, to correct the situation of large trucks sitting in front of the building—possibly double-parked—lined up and emitting fumes. This would be both unsightly and smelly for anyone sitting out and forget dining al fresco!

Lastly, this is such an oversized complex at a time when shopping is increasingly done online, and malls and strip shopping centers are often left with vacant spaces or are closing all together. Once this two-story building is up, what will happen if it is mostly vacant? This plan is on the wrong side of what we stand for in Takoma Park, on the wrong side of a population needing and longing for more community and relaxing green areas, and on the wrong side of quieting a busy intersection.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Takoma Junction Business proprietors:

Rick and Bernita Leonard
Heritage Building and Renovation, Inc.
Suds Laundromat
7334 Carroll Avenue

Eric Sepler
Kinetic Artistry
7216 Carroll Avenue

Katherine Rurka
Spring Mill Bread Company
7300 Carroll Avenue

Mark Schneider
Urban HiFi, LLC
t/a Linear Tube Audio
7316 Carroll Avenue

Paul Aytch
Mary Newsome Yancy
Salon 2000
7310 Carroll Avenue
With independent operators:
Andrea Wilson
Irene Jackson
Sandra Fisher

Jo Anne Carey, D.V.M.
Takoma Park Animal Clinic
7330 Carroll Avenue

Mark Howard
Takoma Framers
7312 Carroll Avenue

Haresh Laheri
Takoma Postal & Business Center
7304 Carroll Avenue

Kendra Blackett Dibigna
Bikram Yoga   Takoma Park
7324 Carroll Avenue

Steve Cho
Carriage House Cleaners
7308 Carroll Avenue

Bruce and Inan Philips
Healey Surgeons
7211 Carroll Avenue

Nazirahk Amen, ND, L.Ac.
Wisdom Path Healing Center
Purple Mountain Organics
7120 Carroll Avenue

D. Doley
RS Automotive, Inc.
7224 Carroll Avenue

Rachel Hardwick, President
Board of Representatives
Takoma Park-Silver Spring Co-op
201 Ethan Allen

Does the NDC Combined Site Plan Meet the City of Takoma Park’s Takoma Junction Development Goals?

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

            The City of Takoma Park has invested many years of hard work and sustained community dialogue to craft its strategy and goals for developing Takoma Junction, through the rigorous analysis of the Takoma Junction Task Force and multiple City Council resolutions.

Yet the Combined Site Plan presented by the City’s chosen developer, NDC, diverges significantly from the Takoma Junction Task Force’s recommendations, the City’s RFP, the Development Agreement, and the City Council’s October 25, 2017 resolution on the development.

Key findings of an intensive comparison study of these documents by Takoma Park resident and Takoma Junction Task Force member Roger Schlegel include:

  • The building’s 40-foot height and 50,000 square foot size do not “blend harmoniously with adjacent residential neighborhoods” [1] or show “sensitivity to the historical character and scale of the area.”[2]
  • The Combined Site Plan fails to provide “reasonable accommodation”[3] to the Co-op for business continuity during construction,3 and for loading of deliveries, trash and recycling pickup, and customer parking.3
  • The Combined Site Plan’s less than 1,200 square feet of usable public space will not “serve as a cultural meeting-point for old and young in a diverse community”1 nor does it constitute “A large amount of vibrant, comfortable, and easily accessible street-level public space that functions as a community gathering spot.”3
  • The Combined Site Plan’s relocation of the bus stop serving the south side of Carroll Avenue, its elimination of the bikeshare station, and the absence of a bike lane fail to “preserve and include alternatives to automotive transportation.”3 [4]
  • The widely estimated rental rate of $45/sq. ft. makes it highly unlikely that commercial space within the building will be leased “predominantly to local and regional operators.”4
  • The garage driveway entrance and exit (just 60 feet from the Philadelphia Ave. stop line and fire house) and the truck lay-by’s ability to accommodate only one 18-wheel tractor-trailer make it impossible for the Combined Site Plan to “function adequately as a link within the local road and transit networks.”1 Moreover, Fire Chief Tom Musgrove testified that the truck lay-by, if occupied, could stack up a second truck and even a bus in the right lane, making it impossible for emergency vehicles to move quickly around traffic in the left lane.
  • Given the small public space, high rental rates and possible loss of the City’s sole centrally-located source of healthy food, the City Council must engage in detailed deliberations to ensure that “issues of racial equity [are] addressed proactively & deliberately in the course of decision-making.”[5]

 

[1] Takoma Junction Task Force Report

[2] City of Takoma Park’s RFP for Takoma Junction Redevelopment.

[3] Takoma Park City Council Resolution 2017-53, passed October 25, 2017

[4] City of Takoma Park — Takoma Junction Development Agreement

[5] City Council Resolution 2017-28 on racial equity, passed April 19, 2017

 

To read the full study on googledocs with embedded links, go HERE. Or read through (no embedded links) the full study below:

 

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An Alternative Plan for Takoma Junction

 

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

 

takoma junction_comm vision_img2 (2)

 

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

 

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

 

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

The Reality of 40-Feet High

In which resident Roger Schlegel writes about the true size of the current development plan at Takoma Junction: just one of many reasons to build a smaller development on this lot.

This is the image that the developer (NDC) wants the City Council to fixate on in considering the proposed new building at the Junction:

Rendering of NDC Building from Spring Mill(1)

Source: NDC revised site plan presentation to Council, April 4

NDC does NOT want the Council, or the public, to look too closely at this required elevation drawing:

NDC front elevation drawing(1)

Source: NDC revised site plan presentation to Council, April 4

Why? Because NDC’s proposed building is over 40 feet tall. Use the scale at the bottom and measure for yourself. The gray section of the building rises to just under 40 feet, but the elevator tower reaches above 46 feet, and the arching facade surpasses 42 feet in height. Even the first-floor awning is at least 17 or 18 feet off the ground.

The project is ostensibly a two-story building, but this is a totally different animal, unlike any other two-story building in Takoma Park’s historic district. Typically, a 40-foot mixed use building includes three stories. Do a Google search on “2-story mixed use” “40 feet high” and you won’t find anything that fits the bill.

Aside from the Fire Station, there are just five other two-story commercial structures in Takoma Junction. (The Montessori School, Takoma Framers, Richardson School of Music, the Animal Clinic, and Suds Laundromat.) None of these comes close to the scale of NDC’s proposed building.

The historic character of a place is devastated when you drop an out-of-scale structure into the setting. To get an idea of what this looks like, take a look at this image from Woodley Park/Cathedral Heights in NW DC, where the Cathedral Commons development landed next to Cactus Cantina three years ago. The building on the right is about 35 feet high — 5 to 10 feet lower than what NDC proposes at the Junction — but you start to get the idea:

Cathedral Commons East view(1)

An out-of-scale building can also change a place’s character by casting huge shadows across the streetscape. This may not be so evident in the photo above because the building faces east, along Wisconsin Avenue. NDC’s proposed structure would face north, across Carroll Avenue. So, staying at the Cathedral Commons development and walking around the corner, this midday Google Earth image from 3700 Newark Street NW (looking east) gives a pretty good idea of the kind of shadow a 35-40 foot tall building creates. The building on the right, about 35 feet tall, faces north, similar to the orientation of NDC’s proposed structure.

Cathedral Commons - Newark St. (north) side(1)

So in viewing the artist’s renditions in NDC’s proposal, be sure to make these two mental adjustments:

  1. Don’t be fooled by the windows. Recognize that you’re looking at the equivalent of three- or even four-story building.
  2. Fill in lots of shadows since the sun would rarely be shining on that side of the street.

Our Response to the Latest Plan

Below are initial responses to the developer’s “draft/final” plan unveiled in April 2018

Design Issues

  • The building fills nearly the entire lot, with almost no public open space.
  • The only public space is a sidewalk strip and concrete apron, separated from the highway by “scrappy” vegetation, with pedestrians and bikers passing through.
  • The lay-by was moved back. Workers will now travel almost the length of a football field with handcarts and pallets in order to get deliveries to the Co-op. This will significantly lengthen the time trucks are there unloading.
  • The elevator is at the opposite corner from the Co-op. Co-op shoppers who park in the garage will push grocery carts more than the length of a football field across the entire development to get to the elevator, and leave carts in the garage.
  • The rooftop open space is apparently now private space.
  • Space for storage and pickup of waste and recycling, including dumpsters, for the Co-op and the new businesses in the development, remains unclear.
  • We know nothing about how an underground garage would be kept safe and clean–a challenge for any garage.
  • We have multiple alternative designs for revitalizing the lot with green/arts/public space, and ground-level coffee/brewpub/pop-up local businesses. There is no current City process for considering alternatives.

Lay-by Issues

  • The Co-op cannot control the size of trucks (including 18-wheelers) or timing of deliveries. On an average morning, three or more trucks arrive simultaneously.
  • The lay-by does not have space for simultaneous delivery by more than one large truck.
  • The lay-by has eliminated the bus stop and bike share currently at this location. They must be moved to some undetermined location.
  • The developer suggested that waiting trucks drive around the block on a predetermined neighborhood route if the lay-by is occupied. Truck drivers have publicly stated that this will not happen, because it would set them way off their schedules. Trucks will either be backed up along Carroll, or double-parked blocking traffic, or simply drive away without delivering.
  • It is unclear what would stop a taxi or uber, or a motorist picking up a cup of coffee, or dropping off a friend, from stopping in the lay-by. There should be a required zone for this kind of stopping.
  • Trucks in the lay-by will impede sight lines, and block visibility for pedestrians, bikers, and other cars. Impatient motorists will pull out past waiting trucks, which already happens frequently with buses at the Junction.
  • The Fire Chief has expressed concerns on getting emergency vehicles out quickly with a lay-by.

Other Traffic and safety issues

  • Traffic congestion will get worse with new drivers to new offices and retail.
  • Students walking to and from school already face hazards. The hazards will multiply with trucks and buses blocking traffic on Carroll and Ethan Allen.
  • With increased traffic, how will cars safely enter or exit the garage into traffic on Carroll? If they can only turn right on exiting the development’s garage, they will have to drive through residential streets to return to Carroll going west.
  • Because it will be so difficult to enter or exit the garage onto Carroll, cars (and trucks) will seek parking in the adjacent residential streets.
  • People who don’t want to pay for parking or deal with the underground garage will try to park in the Co-op’s small lot on Sycamore.
  • Increasingly frustrated through-traffic motorists will speed through the residential streets, including the very dangerous Columbia Avenue, to avoid Junction congestion.
  • Where is the bus stop going to go? Will the new crosswalk be there? Both are absent or unclear in NDC’s drawings. Where will the bike station and bike lane go?

Economic Issues

  • The Co-op may not survive the disruption of business during construction, loss of off-street loading, and loss of public surface parking in the lot.  The Co-op is currently one of the largest employers and economic enterprises in our city.
  • Increased retail rents, too expensive for local businesses, will drive gentrification.
  • The City requires that the new spaces be rented to “predominantly” local or regional businesses. Will that be 51% regional chains and 49% national chains? Will a local franchise of a national chain be considered local (State Farm, for example)?
  • With a private garage, will there be any “public” spots, versus spots for specific businesses? And we don’t know the prices for parking there. Why would people pay private garage prices to shop here when there is plentiful public garage parking in Silver Spring and Bethesda?
  • This project gives control of the last flat, open, available public land in the heart of our City to a private developer who needs to maximize income on the building.
  • Public land should be used for the public good.