CVT Endorses Jarrett Smith for Mayor

Community Vision for Takoma (CVT) is endorsing longtime City Councilman Jarrett Smith to be the next Mayor of Takoma Park. The City election will be Tuesday, November 8th.

After considering the public records of all three candidates, including our observations over many years attending City Council meetings, and the responses on the CVT candidate questionnaires (see below), Jarrett Smith is our clear choice for Mayor.

If you wish to learn more about Jarrett, or support his candidacy, go to smithfortakomapark.com.

Jarrett has been the moral compass of the Council for the past ten years, often bravely voting in the minority to stand up for what’s right. Notably, he was one of only two Councilmembers, with Peter Kovar, to vote in 2018 against sending the unsafe and deeply-flawed Junction plan on to the County for approval. And he was the only Councilmember to join over 100 residents in a letter pointing out the racial equity implications of the proposed Junction plan.

Jarrett has pushed back against increasing taxes and the expanding budget, and against doubling the pandemic relief funds used to pay for library project cost overruns, and he has taken a righteous stance on many other issues. He has worked with quiet dignity for many years for the residents of his ward, while also engaging deeply with issues affecting all wards of the city. His many accomplishments include helping to found Lunch and Learn (a program supporting disadvantaged students with food and tutoring), and spearheading the successful Flower Avenue Green Street project. He also introduced the first City resolution on racial equity.

Jarrett has the most extensive leadership experience. He has served on the Council the longest (10 years) of any of the three candidates, having been elected for five consecutive terms by his constituents. He has also served as a leader in the county and state Municipal Leagues with elected officials from other cities. He is currently completing a Masters in Public Administration from UPenn.

Like half of all City residents, Jarrett Smith is a renter, and knows firsthand the challenges renters face. He served two terms as Chair of the Takoma Park Commission on Landlord Tenant Affairs (COLTA) before running for Council. He is a staunch advocate for protecting our rent-stabilized apartment stock, and for expanding affordable housing.

We encourage you to listen to all the speeches at the City’s Nominating Caucus last week. Residents stood up (starting at 1:45:00 on the video) to extol Jarrett Smith’s breadth and depth of knowledge, his nationwide network, his support for low-income residents and children and renters, his commitment to fiscal responsibility, his dedication to listening, and his many achievements.

We also encourage you to read the questionnaire responses below. Keep in mind that the two sitting Councilmembers are prohibited (we presume by the City Attorney) from saying anything about the on-going lease of our public land at Takoma Junction. It appears that Seth Grimes would keep the door open to a new plan from the same developer (NDC). And a reminder that even after the City Council voted unanimously to disapprove the Junction plan, Seth Grimes went to the Planning Board and urged them to approve it (at minute 2:31:30). 


 


 

Jarrett Smith, Questionnaire Responses

Q1 What is your position on how the City should proceed to the the impasse at Takoma Junction? Do you agree that the City must promptly end the current agreement to let NDC rent the lot? Why or why not?

As a sitting councilmember, I am limited in what I can say about NDC due to legal concerns.  I can say that the Council is evaluating all of its options. 

Q2 What is your vision for the equitable and inclusive use of the public land at Takoma Junction now, given what we have learned about the constraints of that space in terms of traffic, open space needs, safety, and support of existing and planned local businesses?

We have learned that use of this space must be a consensus. We need to host gatherings open to the entire community, and lead discussions to explore the endless possibilities at Takoma Junction, a prime location with so much potential. Together, I believe we could plan a destination for residents from all over our county, DC, and Prince Georges County. With a talented reputable nonprofit developer and a forward-thinking city like ours, we could build something unique. The process Public Works used for consensus on the Flower Avenue Green Street project should be used at Takoma Junction.

Q3 Do you agree that the City should survey residents to determine our needs for government services, and which services should be provided by the City, versus which services could be provided by the County? Why or why not?

Yes, I think residents should be surveyed on all the services that the city of Takoma Park currently provides. This will give everyone an opportunity to be heard.  This type of survey would serve to document what our residents want and allow us to measure every offering from a financial perspective.  On my watch, Takoma Park will operate in a fiscally responsible manner while delivering the services that have been prioritized by our very own city’s residents.

Q4 Do you think that the City has responded adequately to the climate emergency, or do you think we should take stronger action on issues including stormwater, city vehicles, preservation and expansion of the tree canopy and green space, and green construction of city buildings? What changes would you propose and what targets would you set?

The climate crisis is facing the entire globe. But we are a resilient city and forward-thinking when faced with challenges, and we must continue to lead and innovate in addressing climate change. We must continue our weatherize program and seek additional federal tax credits and grant programs for home energy efficiency. At every opportunity, the city must communicate ways to employ energy-efficient appliances, fuel-efficient or electric cars, solar panels, reduce wastewater, compost, recycle. And I have supported solutions to the stormwater threat, a byproduct of climate change, for years.

Q5 What is your view of the current budget process? Do you agree that the budget process needs to become more transparent? Do you feel the City Council should do more to curb the continuous growth of staff and spending, given that the City population is not growing. Why or why not?

Our new City Manager has made the budget process more transparent, and the budgeting process much more rigorous, to allow for more scrutiny for each budget line item. As Mayor, during our budget planning cycle I will convene a budget committee with representation from residents, councilmembers, and representatives of our unions to ensure there is adequate participation. This committee will be responsible for a cost-benefit analysis to justify every city expenditure. We will budget as necessary to continue to ensure the services provided are based on city priorities it can afford.

Q6 Do you agree that the current “racial equity considerations” process on Council agenda items is ineffectual? What would you propose to create a more participatory and inclusive process to involve residents in City governance. What new steps should the City take to address structural racism?

Racial equity is one of the most important policy issues for Takoma Park, as and for the rest of the world. I would like to see our council and residents start at the beginning in preparing a strategy towards racial equity. This strategy would incorporate nationwide data to ensure we are taking a bottom-up approach and using the most comprehensive data to make decisions. As Mayor, any steps we take together to address racial equity as a city will be based on real and true information. These steps will be transparent, and they will be measured, so that we can truly begin dismantling structural racism.

Q7 Takoma Park has the greatest density of truly affordable housing in the county and is the only rent stabilization program. Would you work to do everything you can to protect this rent stabilization, prevent the displacement of low-income communities, and ensure that housing for home renters is safe and up to code? Would you advocate for creating more truly affordable housing at the Washington Adventist Hospital site, and the Washington-McLaughlin School site? Why or why not?

Rent stabilization is part of our city’s character; we have maintained this city amenity for many years. But affordable housing is a Nationwide issue. I am committed to ensuring that this is a smart growth city, and will pursue additional senior and affordable multifamily housing. The former hospital and school properties are great locations to begin planning town homes, apartment buildings, electric car charging stations, restaurants, and shopping, green streets, etc. I would immediately put two site exploratory committees in place to begin a process for these opportunities.


 


 

Talisha Searcy, Questionnaire Responses

Q1 What is your position on how the City should proceed to end the impasse at Takoma Junction? Do you agree that the City must promptly end the current agreement to let NDC rent the lot? Why or why not?

Given that I am currently on Council, I am limited in what I can say regarding NDC due to legal concerns. However, I can say that we are reviewing all options.

Q2 What is your vision for the equitable and inclusive use of the public land at Takoma Junction now, given what we have learned about the constraints of that space in terms of traffic, open space needs, safety, and support of existing and planned local businesses?

Again, given that I am currently on Council, I am limited in what I can say due to legal concerns.

Q3 Do you agree that the City should survey residents to determine our needs for government services, and which services should be provided by the City, versus which services could be best provided by the County? Why or why not?

We’ve learned from a number of community engagement activities in the City that a survey is not the best approach to solicit feedback from our diverse resident population. The City could conduct surveys, focus groups, and canvas multi-family building to understand what residents’ needs are. Special attention should be given to engaging residents in our multi-family buildings and immigrant populations. This information can be used to determine who should provide the service.

Q4 Do you think that the City has responded adequately to the climate emergency, or do you think we should take stronger action on issues including stormwater, city vehicles, preservation and expansion of the tree canopy and green space, and green construction of city buildings? What changes would you propose and what targets would you set?

I think the City is addressing the climate emergency. The City has projects that address the 2020 Climate Emergency Response Framework Resolution. The City used ARPA funds to make building upgrades. ARPA funds supported an apartment complex renovation to meet Green Enterprise Community standards. The City’s Library renovation will be LEED Gold. More work is needed on transportation. The City should maintain its targets/goals but we need to implement approaches.

Q5 What is your view of the current budget process? Do you agree that the budget process needs to become more transparent? Do you feel that the City Council should do more to curb the continuous growth of staff and spending, given that the City population is not growing? Why or why not?

I think that the budget process can be more transparent. I am in favor of having a resident committee to provide feedback on budgeting process and ways to increase clarity in how the budget is presented and identify ways to increase resident engagement on the budget.

Q6 Do you agree that the current “racial equity considerations” process on Council agenda items is ineffectual? What would you propose to create a more participatory and inclusive process to involve residents in City governance? What new steps should the City take to address structural racism?

I don’t think our “racial equity considerations” statements are sufficient. We have to consider equity first and not an afterthought. That means continuing to modify our community engagement approach. While on Council, I worked to transform our committee process and offer incentives to participation. Regarding structural racism, I think the City must continue to address recommendations from its public safety task force.

Q7 Takoma Park has the greatest density of truly affordable housing in the county, and the only rent stabilization program. Would you work to do everything you can to protect this rent stabilization, prevent the displacement of low-income communities, and ensure that housing for home renters is safe and up to code? Would you advocate for creating more truly affordable housing at the Washington Adventist Hospital site, and the Washington-McLaughlin School site? Why or why not?

I believe in rent stabilization as a vital tool to help maintain affordability in the City. However, it is important that the City also have funds available to support and advance the quality of housing in the City. The City has a housing shortage across the income spectrum. As we learned from the our recent briefing on the Takoma Park minor master plan, all types of housing is needed and I would support housing at the Washington Adventist Hospital and Washington-McLaughlin School sites.


 


 

Seth Grimes, Questionnaire

Q1 What is your position on how the City should proceed to end the impasse at Takoma Junction? Do you agree that the City must promptly end the current agreement to let NDC rent the lot? Why or why not?

Takoma Park should negotiate termination of NDC’s lease, absent a new development proposal acceptable to the city, the Planning Board, and other authorities. However neither NDC nor the city has lived up to contractual commitments. The city may be legally vulnerable and precipitous action to terminate NDC’s ground lease could be counterproductive. An NDC lawsuit would be expensive for the city and could prompt NDC action that would harm the TPSS Co-op. Let’s proceed carefully.

Q2 What is your vision for the equitable and inclusive use of the public land at Takoma Junction now, given what we have learned about the constraints of that space in terms of traffic, open space needs, safety, and support of existing and planned local businesses?

My responsibility as mayor will be to marshall a process that reelicits the range of community views and visions and organizes and distills them into an action plan. It will also be to improve larger junction conditions — to boost pedestrian, bicyclist, and road safety; to see to health of junction businesses, to make the junction an attractive destination — regardless what happens on the city-owned lot, and to promote business district vitality.

Q3 Do you agree that the City should survey residents to determine our needs for government services, and which services should be provided by the City, versus which services could be best provided by the County? Why or why not?

My work on the Takoma Park-Montgomery County service-duplication issue dates back almost 20 years! I served on the leadership team of the city Tax and Services Duplication Issues (TASDI) Committee, which solicited residents’ views on services that the city could turn over to the county and evaluated options. It’s a complicated matter involving many trade-offs. I’m open to being convinced that a service-duplication survey should be a priority now.

Q4 Do you think that the City has responded adequately to the climate emergency, or do you think we should take stronger action on issues including stormwater, city vehicles, preservation and expansion of the tree canopy and green space, and green construction of city buildings? What changes would you propose and what targets would you set?

The city would — shockingly — rely on offsets, “which at current GHG emissions levels would cost at minimum about $757,000 per year,” to reach net zero by 2035. This is a total cop-out. We must do better and take strong action on stormwater, fleet conversion, tree-canopy expansion, and construction. Public space planning is work in progress. Community involvement is key, with strong equity, representation, and inclusion criteria and changes and targets based on community and expert input.

Q5 What is your view of the current budget process? Do you agree that the budget process needs to become more transparent? Do you feel that the City Council should do more to curb the continuous growth of staff and spending, given that the City population is not growing? Why or why not?

Takoma Park’s budget process is backward. As mayor, I will turn it around with extensive up-front public-council-staff discussion of programs and services that will guide the city manager’s budget drafting. We should curb staff and spending growth and seek cuts based on a data-informed strategy. See, for instance, my 2020 article that notes crime trends down over 10 years, from 739 crimes in 2008 to 483 in 2019, unaffected by police understaffing. Cuts should possible.

Q6 Do you agree that the current “racial equity considerations” process on Council agenda items is ineffectual? What would you propose to create a more participatory and inclusive process to involve residents in City governance? What new steps should the City take to address structural racism?

My impression is that the city’s racial-equity evaluations are pro-forma, shallow, and often incomplete. Certainly they require more effort and then serious consideration of their determinations. I worked on inclusive processes during my council services. For an analysis, with points that still ring true, see my 2012 Race and Representation in Takoma Park, https://bit.ly/3eLdCPF. Regarding structural racism: I will advance discussion of various forms of reparations.

Q7 Takoma Park has the greatest density of truly affordable housing in the county, and the only rent stabilization program. Would you work to do everything you can to protect this rent stabilization, prevent the displacement of low-income communities, and ensure that housing for home renters is safe and up to code? Would you advocate for creating more truly affordable housing at the Washington Adventist Hospital site, and the Washington-McLaughlin School site? Why or why not?

I value and support and will defend Takoma Park’s rent stabilization while working to ensure that our city’s rental housing is safe and up to code. We do risk displacement, nonetheless, in part because a broad housing shortfall most seriously affects lower-income individuals and families. I not only would — I HAVE advocated creation of housing including affordable housing at multiple city sites and invite readers to visit sethgrimes.org/devlinks.


 

County Planning Board Schedules Vote on Takoma Junction

Sunset at Takoma Junction, January 2022

UPDATE: On January 27th 2022, the Montgomery County Planning Board voted unanimously to deny approval of the Takoma Junction plans.

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The Montgomery County Planning Board has scheduled a vote on the proposed Takoma Junction development for January 27th 2022. It was originally scheduled for January 20th 2022 but has been postponed by a week.

To send a written statement with your opinion about the proposed development to the Board before their vote, email Board Chair Casey Anderson at  mcp-chair@mncppc-mc.org, by noon on Wednesday January 26th.

The proposal has now been rejected by the City Council, the State Highway Administration (multiple times), and the community (96% of 385 comments on the City feedback page were negative).

The Board staff continues to recommend denial of the project, and this week reposted their report with that recommendation from last September. (This staff report was not presented or discussed in September, because instead NDC got an extension).

New information released on January 7th by the Planning Board, and linked to the original January 20th Board agenda, includes new documents and correspondence dated between September 2021 and January 2022, including:

  1. An update on what has happened since the Board gave NDC a 90 day extension, with new research, written by the Planning Board staff in preparation for the Board vote. Among other things, the staff refutes the assertions that there are comparable lay-bys in use locally.
  2. A letter from the Planning Board Chair to the SHA pressing them to explain what design for the deliveries and the exit/entrance would be safe, or to state clearly that there is no safe solution.
  3. A reply from SHA to the Planning Board, reiterating that it is the developer’s job to submit a design for them to assess (not SHA’s job to figure out a design that would work).
  4. Description of a meeting of the Planning Board staff, SHA, NDC and City of Takoma Park staff. The NDC lawyer described it as an attempt “to help facilitate communications and bring the matter to some type of resolution.”
  5. A letter from NDC to the City Manager asking the City to cut down trees on private property adjacent to the proposed site.
  6. A letter from NDC’s lawyer requesting that the Planning Board vote to give them approval “conditioned on future SHA approvals” for the layby and the exit/entrance drive.
  7. A letter from the City to the Planning Board, reminding the Board that City Council “voted unanimously to recommend that the Planning Board not approve the current plan.” And they explain why the City Council “was deliberate in not recommending approval of the site plan conditioned upon State Highway Administration (“SHA”) approval of the lay-by.”

For a dated chronology of these new letters and documents, see our updated Junction Timeline.

Planning Board Grants 5th Extension for Junction Project to Gain Approval

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:

  1. 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. 

  1. 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.

  1. 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 fall of 2019, the HPC staff noted that Commissioners were “unanimous in their concerns’ about the layby,” but were told to back off, which they did.
  • 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.
  1. 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.

Comparison Table 

Key Differences in the Four Projects


Project Variables
Marriott HeadquartersAvocet TowerAce HardwareTakoma Junction
Lay-by?NoYesNoYes
Pull-in, pull-out without right-angle turns?NoYesYesYes
Used for deliveries?NoNoYesYes
Trucks only (no drop-off/pick-up)?NoNoYesYes
Used for trash hauling?NoNoNoYes
Large trucks involved?NoNoYesYes
Deliveries/trash emphasize food-service?NoNoNoYes
Use shared by multiple properties?NoNoNoYes
Unconsolidated deliveries and hauling?N/AN/ANoYes
Delivery path conflicts with ADA route?N/AN/AYesYes
2-way adjacent traffic?NoNoYesYes
Adjacent stop line, crosswalk, and signal?NoNoNoYes
Adjacent bus stop?NoNoNoYes
Adjacent driveway?NoNoNoYes
Adjacent garage entrance/exit?NoNoNoYes
Requires crossing dedicated bike lanes? NoNoNoYes
Located down-block from a fire station?NoNoNoYes
Area needed for emergency access?UnclearUnclearNoYes
Routes traffic onto residential streets?NoNoNoYes
Routes traffic through unsignalized intersections?NoNoNoYes
Along block-long merge and crossing of two State Highway routes?NoNoNoYes
Visibility issues for approaching traffic?NoNoYesYes
Adjacent to walking route to school?NoNoNoYes
Approved by SHA & Planning Board?YESYESNot reviewedNO
  1. 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.

A Better Junction Design

A Lot Has Changed

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:

takoma junction_comm vision_img2 (2)
Takoma Junction - Site Plan - A4b (3) (1)

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 tjcommunityvision@gmail.com.

Racial Equity at the Junction

 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 <elza.hisel-mccoy@montgomeryplanning.org> 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.

The Stormwater Issues

 

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 5.03.08 PM

 

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.
  • This is a summary of a longer report linked here.

Letter from a Resident Architect

July 22, 2018

Dear Mayor and City Council Members,

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.

Sincerely,

Charles Poor, AIA

The Alternative Resolution

Our City is desperately divided over the Junction development, and in urgent need of a sensible compromise to avoid a legacy of bitterness, alienation, and political disruption. We need to start healing and moving forward together. As we face the Council’s vote this week, there is only one clear pathway to do that: the Alternative Resolution.

This Wednesday, the City Council has before it two separate resolutions on the Takoma Junction development, both listed on the agenda. The second resolution up for a vote is the resolution to greenlight the Junction development and send it on to the County and State agencies. But the first resolution on the agenda is an Alternative Resolution, requiring the City to allow completion of the mediation with the Co-op, get clarity on when and how traffic will be configured and who will pay for it, analyze the racial equity impact of the development, and hold a mediated process for the community to consider alternatives and reach a better consensus on the development, before voting to greenlight the development plan. There has also been a proposed amendment specifying that the developer should not become the Co-op’s landlord on the City lot until those four conditions are met (amendments in italics in the Alternative Resolution below).

But, the Council will not even discuss this Alternative Resolution, unless a Councilmember agrees to second Councilmember Smith’s move to consider the resolution. At present, no Councilmember has said they will second it. Voting it down is one thing. Refusing to discuss it, is quite another.

 

Please contact your Councilmember and urge them to second the move to consider the Alternative Resolution.

 

ALTERNATIVE RESOLUTION REGARDING THE TAKOMA JUNCTION SITE PLAN

OFFERED BY COUNCILMEMBER JARRETT SMITH

WHEREAS the City Council entered into a Development Agreement with Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) on August 1, 2016 with objectives including provision of public or community spaces that result in enhanced interactions, expansion of community use of public space, support of independent businesses, expansion of parking options for area businesses, improved mobility and enhanced streetscape, encouraging alternate modes of transportation, and a retail tenant mix with a high priority for local and regional operators;

WHEREAS after conducting a Community Consultation process and engaging in extensive communications with City staff and City Council members, NDC shared a draft Site Plan in September 2017 that was not sufficiently responsive to the terms of the Development Agreement;

WHEREAS City Council Resolution 2017-53 of October 25, 2017 called upon NDC to revise the Site Plan to incorporate eleven specific changes;

WHEREAS the presentation of NDC’s revised Site Plan is still incomplete in several key respects and fails to meet several terms of Resolution 2017-53;

WHEREAS NDC’s revised Site Plan now relies upon the removal of the signal and crosswalk at Grant Avenue and the reconfiguration of the intersection of Carroll, Ethan Allen, and Sycamore Avenues in order to accommodate a truck lay-by and public space;

WHEREAS the traffic impact analysis commissioned by NDC does not make clear the methodology by which it projects that the existing intersections will fail in the absence of intersection reconfiguration and also does not take into account potentially positive traffic impacts of the Purple Line and intersection improvements nearing completion at Ethan Allen Avenue and New Hampshire Avenue as well as the closure of Washington Adventist Hospital;

WHEREAS an analysis of the traffic impact study commissioned by NDC, indicates that the large-scale retail and office development proposed by NDC would introduce more traffic to the Junction than the current configuration of intersections can handle during peak hours;

WHEREAS there are many reasons to question the feasibility and advisability of such an intersection reconfiguration, based upon the reliance of such a project on the State Highway Administration; as well as uncertainty about the direct and ancillary costs, the funding sources, the possible impacts on downstream intersections, cut-through traffic, pedestrians, cyclists, and nearby businesses’ viability, and the “induced demand” which NDC’s traffic consultants acknowledged would be inevitable, as well as uncertainty about the impacts on the historic character of the Junction resulting from roadway realignments and on the quality of life in Takoma Park due to increased capacity for vehicles in the 410 and Carroll Avenue corridors;

WHEREAS NDC and the Takoma Park Silver Spring Cooperative Inc. (Co-op) have not yet reached final agreement on accommodations for the Co-op’s continued operations;

WHEREAS the Mayor, on behalf of the Council, in a letter of May 24th, 2018 to NDC and the Co-op, specified that the Council had approved up to $5,000 to support a mediation process between the two parties, that the mediation should conclude by early September, and that the goals of such mediation would be (1) to build trust between the parties, and (2) to reach agreement in a timely fashion on outstanding issues, including but not limited to deliveries, trash and recycling, parking, and preliminary plans for continuity of operations during construction;

WHEREAS such a mediation process has been entered into by both NDC and the Co-op with the understanding that the Council’s definition of what would constitute a timely fashion would be a conclusion by early September, not late July;

WHEREAS the City Manager, in a letter to the Co-op, informed the Co-op that as of September 1st, 2018, the City was canceling its contract of 20 years with the Co-op under which the Co-op paid the City for the use of a portion of the City parking lot that the Co-op has used for deliveries, trash and recycling, and parking; and in the same letter communicated to the Co-op that it should now negotiate terms for renting or otherwise being permitted to use any of the lot with NDC as of September 1st;

WHEREAS the current revised start date for the Ground Lease of September 1st is an arbitrary date unrelated to an immediate use of the lot by NDC, and furthermore, by imposing such a certain near date of a landlord-tenant relationship between NDC and the Co-op, regardless of the results of their current mediation and in the midst of said mediation, may unnecessarily complicate and potentially disrupt the mediation process and thus jeopardize the long term success of the Junction redevelopment;

WHEREAS NDC had previously sought and received approval from the City Manager for a postponement of the start date for the Ground Lease, thereby indicating that a further postponement of such start date and of the related payment of rent and any assessed taxes by NDC that such start date requires would not impose a hardship on NDC;

WHEREAS NDC has not yet provided a signed lease or Letter of Intent with an anchor tenant, and the City Council needs this information to be able to evaluate the suitability of the project for the community;

WHEREAS the City has not produced a racial or socioeconomic equity analysis of the impact of the proposed development, or a Racial Equity Statement;

WHEREAS the community is deeply divided over the current site plan, with a critical need for building greater consensus around an appropriate development through a community process of charrettes, Town Halls, and mediation;

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that the City agrees to wait for a vote on the NDC proposal until the following conditions are met:

(1) The mediation with the Co-op has been concluded, and the Council, after public consultation with both NDC and the Co-op, has determined that the outcome of mediation between NDC and the Co-op offers reasonable accommodation for the Co-op’s deliveries, trash and recycling operations, parking, and continued operations before, during, and after construction and development of the project site;

(2) We have clarity on how and whether the intersection should or would be reconfigured, who would pay for it, and how the intersection would function if the development is built before (or without) a reconfiguration;

(3) The City undertakes a racial and socioeconomic equity analysis and releases a Racial Equity Statement for the proposed development;

(4) The City holds an effective, mediated process for resolving the problems outlined here, including charrettes, and a Town Hall process to consider alternatives, and to help residents to better understand the reasons for any development, and to seek greater consensus in the community around any changes that can and should be made;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Council does hereby direct the City Manager to take such actions necessary as to cause (1) the immediate suspension of both the effective start date of the Ground Lease to NDC and the effective date of the termination of the Land License Agreement with the Co-op and (2) the indefinite postponement of both such dates until the conditions outlined above have been met and the Council has voted to approve a site plan/preliminary plan agreed to by NDC for the Junction redevelopment project.

 

 

On Declining to Survey Ward 3

To: kacyk kacyk@takomaparkmd.gov
Sent: Fri, Jul 13, 2018 6:05 pm
Subject: Ward 3 Survey on the Junction

 

Dear Kacy,

As your constituents, we respectfully urge you to survey the residents of Ward 3 on whether or not they support the current Takoma Junction site plan, before you vote on the Junction Resolution.
As you know, there is precedent for this, with at least two other Council members having done Ward surveys on the Junction in the past.
We understand that you are elected to use your judgement in City matters. But we also believe that, because our Ward will be the most affected by the development, you have a particular ethical responsibility to represent your constituents in Ward 3 in this matter.
In order to have as many days as possible for constituent responses, especially deep in summer, we would strongly suggest putting up the survey as quickly as possible. As we’re sure you understand, any later questions about the objectivity in the framing of the question would negate the survey results. We’ve included suggested language here.
As your Ward 3 representative, I will be voting YES or NO on July 25th on a resolution on the proposed site plan for development of the parking lot owned by the City at Takoma Junction. The Draft Resolution is here. The developer’s site plan is here
If the resolution is approved, the plan goes before County and State agencies for approval. 
Please register your opinion as to whether, as your representative, you would want me to:
A. Vote YES
B. Vote NO
Some neighbors in the last few days have asked us when residents will get to vote on the Junction plan. The process has been long and complex, and unfortunately, many neighbors deep in summer are still not aware that the Council will vote on July 25th.
Thank you for taking this final, important step to ensure clear feedback from your constituents.
Natalie Angier, David Blockstein, Megan Christopher, Leah Curry-Rood, Joan Duncan, Meriwether Jones, Sue Katz Miller, Merrill Leffler, Susanne Lowen, Ben Miller, Paul Miller, Dara Orenstein, Chas Poor, Debra Prybyla, Ron Resetarits, Roger Schlegel, Ann Slayton, Joe Uehlein, Paul Wapner, Rick Weiss
*****
Re: Ward 3 Survey on the Junction
From: Kacy Kostiuk, kacyk@takomaparkmd.gov
Date: Mon, Jul 16, 2018 2:09 pm

Dear Sue, Natalie, David, Megan, Leah, Joan, Meriwether, Merrill, Susanne, Ben, Paul, Dara, Chas, Debra, Ron, Roger, Ann, Joe, Paul, and Rick:

Thank you for reaching out to me with this request.
I appreciate your interest in having a survey conducted on the Junction project.  Throughout this process, I have sought to engage as many people as possible in this discussion and to carefully and thoroughly review the comments and information that residents have shared with me.  I have very much appreciated the high level of civic engagement on this issue and believe it has and will continue to result in an improved project.
Over the past few months, I have engaged in a lot of listening and thinking about the Junction.  I have spoken with and heard from residents at the Junction Project Open House, the Pop-Up, the One-on-One Conversations event last week, public comment sessions at every Council meeting since the beginning of April, two listening sessions that I arranged for Ward 3 residents, the traffic discussion with SHA at the firehouse, neighborhood gatherings, small-group meetings, one-on-one discussions, phone calls, emails, and listserv comments.
Thorough this process, I have carefully considered the perspectives of Ward 3 residents in particular.  Based on what I have heard, I have asked questions of NDC, the traffic firms, and City staff, and I have requested changes to the plan.  These include:
  • Adding an elevator to the west side of the building next to the Coop
  • Reducing the building height of up to 5 feet while maintaining natural light in the interior spaces
  • Minimizing negative impacts on the wooded lot behind the building
  • Setting 2700 sq ft as the minimum amount of public space
  • Minimizing noise and lighting impacts on the neighborhood from the rear of the building and requiring outdoor lights with no higher than 3000K temperature
  • Adding language to the resolution to require “non-formula” businesses without the Council’s consent
  • Dedicating a portion of the revenue from the project to the affordable housing fund
  • Requesting that NDC’s traffic firm complete an analysis of traffic based on a restaurant rather than just a shopping center prior to submitting to the County
  • Mediation between the Coop and NDC
I am still reviewing the Site Plan and Draft Resolution and considering if there are additional changes that need to be addressed prior to the vote.
Although I understand the impetus to call for a survey, I do not believe this would provide me with new information that would better inform my decision-making process.  Through all the engagement opportunities noted above, I have had opportunities to talk with and hear from residents, gaining a general sense of residents’ diverse range of perspectives throughout the ward.  The most important feedback I have gotten has focused on concrete aspects of the project or specific concerns.  These concerns have led to the changes I noted above, as well as others, and to me reconsidering the plan in a new light.  This is a vote on a resolution that involves a series of proposed changes to the project as well as opportunities for further amendments — not just a “yes” or “no.”
I can understand how frustrating it would be to feel that I am not listening.  I assure you that I have been and continue to be interested in hearing all of the opinions shared with me.  If you or others would like to talk more in-depth, I am happy to do so.  Anyone who feels they haven’t had a chance to share their thoughts is encouraged to email, call, or arrange a meeting with me.  I have appreciated all the input, and my discussions with residents have led to the changes I listed above and others.
Thank you again.
Best,
Kacy
*****

Alternative Plan #3

-Leibmann.alternate scheme 04-26-18 (3)-page-1Here, we bring you Alternative Plan #3, submitted to the City Council by Eric Liebmann, an architect experienced in working with developers on commercial, residential, and mixed-use buildings. This plan features a proper on-site loading zone at the back of the development.

Features of this plan:

  • A one way loop drive behind the development which would allow all trucks up to 55 feet to unload and collect trash off-street, and out of public sight and smell.
  • A lay-by would still be needed on Carroll, solely for the use of the largest trucks. Someday when the largest trucks are no longer in use, the development would still have a proper loading zone in the back, and the lay-by could be repurposed (bike lane? row of trees?).
  • From Carroll Avenue, the project could look virtually the same, Streetsense’s handsome facades could be retained, and virtually all the valuable street-front retail would be preserved. The number of underground parking slots is also preserved.
  • The loop drive and loading zone along the woods could possibly be used in off-hours as public space.
  • The overall project would decrease in size by around a third in order to accommodate the loop drive, which would return the project back to the size originally envisioned by several responses to the Request for Proposals (RFP).

-Leibmann.alternate scheme 04-26-18 (3)-page-2-Leibmann.alternate scheme 04-26-18 (3)-page-0