Junction Misinformation and Politics

Yesterday, County Councilmember Hans Riemer, who is running against County Executive Marc Elrich, arrived very late to the Takoma Junction process, weighing in with a public letter filled with errors, misinformation, and inappropriate lobbying. This use of Council privilege to interfere with the County’s public review process, and apparently to try to score points in a political race, endangers residents by putting our community at risk of being saddled with an unsafe development.

The letter was addressed to the County’s Planning Board Chair, Casey Anderson, and urged the Board to “move forward” with the Junction project even though the State Highway Administration (SHA) has found the plan unsafe (four times). Councilmember Riemer used language including “I urge you to press SHA…” This, in spite of Planning Board rules stating clearly (Section 3.2) that Board members “must not communicate with any Person, other than Planning Staff or another Board member, about the merits or facts of any pending Application…except during the Board meeting when the Application…is being considered.” And yet Councilmember Riemer appears to be urging the Planning Board to pressure the SHA, and to flout Board rules on improper contacts.

Correcting the Errors, Point by Point

Here, we seek to straighten out any confusion caused by the errors and misinformation in Councilmember Riemer’s letter to the Planning Board Chair:

MISINFORMATION: Councilmember Riemer expresses “concerns about delays,” implying they are the fault of reviewers (such as SHA).

FACT: The current delay was caused by NDC asking for a fifth extension with the Planning Board, since they have not been able to manage to come up with a safe enough plan for approval by the SHA. The Board granted the extension, despite their own staff recommending against it.

MISINFORMATION: Councilmember Riemer states that his “conversations with Takoma Park residents” tell him the project is “very popular.”

FACT: The City’s own request for feedback last spring yielded 96% of comments against the proposed Junction project. (380 out of 395 comments).

MISINFORMATION: Councilmember Riemer states that “residents are bewildered” (implying they are bewildered as to why the project has not been approved).

FACT: Residents are indeed bewildered, but based on the written feedback, they are bewildered about why the City has not yet pulled the plug on this project, since the SHA has repeatedly found it to be unsafe, and the City Council voted unanimously to recommend against approval of the project, for five separate reasons, only one of which is the lay-by.

MISINFORMATION: The development “will provide additional parking” for the Co-op.

FACT: The project’s design requires a waiver to build a garage providing less than the amount of parking required by zoning for the new tenants alone. With loss of the City’s parking lot, there will be a net loss of parking for the Co-op and the existing small local businesses.

MISINFORMATION: NDC “needs the Co-op to succeed” as the Junction anchor.

FACT: This spring, NDC tried to evict the Co-op from the City’s lot, backing off only after the Co-op filed for legal protection. And NDC has already tried to buy the building out from under the Co-op. So it appears they do not feel they need the Co-op.

MISINFORMATION: “The Co-op officially does not oppose the project.”

FACT: The Co-op has repeatedly stated its objections to parts of NDC’s plans that threaten the Co-op’s deliveries and customer access to the store. Following extensive negotiations, the Co-op signed the mediation agreement with the City and NDC to not oppose the project unless NDC changes the project in material way(s) that would adversely affect the Co-op’s operations.

MISINFORMATION: “The lay-by…will primarily serve the Co-op.”

FACT: Any development with retail and restaurants this size is legally (and logically) required to have a loading zone for their own deliveries, and waste pick-up. Since no tenants have been made public, we have no idea what deliveries the new tenants will require.

MISINFORMATION: Implying the developer would consider any option other than a lay-by, Councilmember Riemer writes “…if there is an alternative approach that is better than a lay-by, great…”

FACT: NDC has steadfastly refused to cede any rentable square feet to make a safe loading zone at the rear of the development, where it belongs according to zoning. They have insisted on a lay-by, despite being told by SHA, and County reviewers, after four separate submissions, that each lay-by iteration was unsafe.

MISINFORMATION: Implying that the City wants this project. Referring to “a fair and equitable treatment for the property owner (the City)” and calling this project “the City’s exciting vision.”

FACT: The City Council voted unanimously to recommend the Planning Board reject this development proposal, for five separate reasons (not just the lay-by). Councilmember Riemer neglects to make any mention of this fact.

MISINFORMATION: Councilmember Riemer calls the City lot “a moribund parking lot.”

FACT: The parking lot is in full use, and often full, supporting the small local independent Junction businesses relying on it, including some that have just opened, or will open shortly. The developer has no plans to provide any particular number of parking spaces to these businesses.

MISINFORMATION: This project is “infill development.”

FACT: Infill development is defined as the reuse of “unused or blighted land.” The City lot is in full use, providing an essential function. The “walkshed” for development near a Metro stop is recognized as a half-mile. The Junction is too far from the Takoma Metro to qualify as walking distance. A Metro planner came to City hall during public comments, expressly to explain that the Junction is too far to qualify as Metro-accessible.

MISINFORMATION: Takoma residents want more shops, and offices.

FACT: Because the rents will be significantly higher than current rents at the Junction, any shops will drive gentrification if they succeed. However, retail is a sector that has been circling the drain since the pandemic. And, there are empty offices all over the region, due to the ongoing pandemic. This project is obsolete.

MISINFORMATION: The project will bring “a lot of new wage-earner jobs.”

FACT: By trying to pressure the SHA into approving a dysfunctional and dangerous lay-by as the loading zone, we risk driving out the Co-op, possibly the largest retail employer in the City. The Co-op is beloved for employing a diverse unionized staff with excellent benefits, working to feed the community. Workers in retail stores typically make minimum wage, with no benefits. So this would be a terrible trade-off, in terms of local jobs.

ASSERTION: There has been political interference in the planning process.

FACT: Yes, Councilmember Riemer’s letter is an attempt to use his Council position for political interference in the planning process now that the project is pending at the Planning Board. And he appears to be attempting to distort the decision on the safety of the Junction development to gain political ground in the race for County Executive. The County Council, and Planning Board, should not let this behavior stand.

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.

Protest at the Junction

A lot has happened at the Junction this week. And now, the City must decide between the developer, and the Co-op.

On Thursday night April 15th, a lawyer for the Takoma Junction developer (NDC) sent a “cease and desist” letter to the Co-op, telling them to halt all Co-op deliveries on the City lot immediately. They gave the Co-op 30 days to vacate the lot completely. This would potentially shut down the Co-op. And it would put the parking for all the Junction businesses in peril.

The next day, Friday, residents began arriving at the Junction to make sure the Co-op could receive deliveries. On Saturday and Sunday, those who love the C0-op, support local businesses, and are through with this developer, held protests at the Junction. Some 150 protesters occupied all three Junction sidewalks (both sides of Carroll and BY Morrison Park in the middle). Cars honked support as they drove through.

Even some who had previously supported the development expressed shock at this bullying of the Co-op, a community-owned institution that fed many of us through the pandemic. A flood of comments supporting the Co-op and calling for the end to the deal with NDC came in through the City’s Junction feedback comment form (Please post your comment!). It has become clear that you can no longer say you support the Co-op, and also support this development. Small local businesses and non-profits that had remained quiet, began speaking out. The photos here are a record of some of the signs. The overall message was #DropNDCNow and #SupportLocalBusinesses

The protest was covered by NBC Channel 4 News at six o’clock on Saturday night. Eric Bond was there recording interviews for his WOWD Takoma Radio news show, Talk of Takoma. His audio montage of “person on the street” voices, with the sounds of the protest in the background, was broadcast on Sunday.

On Monday morning, the struggle at the Junction was featured on Joni Eisenberg’s WPFW show, To Heal DC. Eisenberg, an activist who has lived in Takoma Park since 1979, called it a “Shocking situation in Takoma Park.” She connected this struggle to the activism of Sammie Abbott. “This is not just about Takoma Park. It’s not just about a health-food store. It’s about gentrification, and how it’s impacting the entire country,” Eisenberg stated. “We’re going to need to mobilize, together, to fight this developer, and to make sure the City of Takoma Park stands up for what is right for all of us.”

Listen here, starting at 2:30:

Developer Versus Co-op, To Heal DC, WPFW, April 19 2021

At this point, lawyers (presumably for the developer, City, and Co-op) are negotiating, and we have no idea what is happening. The Mayor and Councilmembers stopped giving substantive answers to resident questions, citing the legal proceedings. A series of three closed City Council meetings, with no public comments, began Monday night. All we know is that “fixing” the situation has to mean more than just letting the Co-op back on the lot. We must part ways with this developer.

Background on What Just Happened (for dates and links, keep scrolling down):

  • County reviewers find the layby unsafe.
  • City staff post some suspiciously unsubstantiated claims about the current Co-op delivery system on the lot being unsafe (and other new and bizarre claims about the development plans).
  • Co-op and residents challenge the City Manager to provide evidence.
  • No evidence forthcoming of danger on the lot, used for deliveries for decades.
  • State Highway Administration (SHA) says NDC’s proposed layby delivery system on Carroll Ave is not safe, cannot be approved.
  • This is not surprising. Residents and Councilmembers had concerns about the layby going back to 2015, and County and State reviewers expressed concern about it at several previous points in the review.
  • Without the layby, the developer cannot build something this big, or make as much money.
  • Then, NDC breaks their agreement with the City and Co-op by sending the Co-op the cease-and-desist letter.

For all the recent correspondence and relevant documents in one place, here is a timeline with links:


2/2/21 
County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) letter cites safety concerns with the layby

3/10/21  City posts “Fact Sheet” (later removed) on City web site alleging current unsafe delivery conditions on the lot

3/17/21  Co-op response to City Manager about City “Fact Sheet”

3/17/21  City Manager response to Co-op 

3/31/21  Co-op response to City Manager asking City to correct the “Fact Sheet” and post Co-op’s responses

4/13/21  State Highway Administration determines layby is unsafe

What Takoma Junction Means to One Family

How does one family love the Co-op? And why are they weighing in on the proposed Junction development? Our City has repeatedly refused to hold a work session on racial equity at the Junction. We recently posted a letter signed by over 100 people urging the County to undertake a racial equity review of the Junction plan. But here, one voice, one story in all its rich detail, makes the point. With her permission, we are posting the letter Gimbiya Lim wrote to the County planning department this week.

The (seemingly endless) review process should come to an end one way or another this year, in 2020. So please weigh in now, this month, while the County staff is still reviewing the plan, with your own letter to Mr elza.hisel-mccoy@montgomeryplanning.org, and to City officials, to ask for a better Junction plan.

Straddling Two Lots at Takoma Junction

The Takoma Junction developer (NDC) chosen by the City plans to buy the auto repair business adjacent to the City lot. In the current site plan, the developer shows a footprint straddling the two lots, with the entrance to the garage on the lot owned by the developer. Here, lawyer and Takoma Park resident Jessica Landman writes to City officials to ask about the risks to a development that sits partly on City land, and partly on land owned by the developer.

Mon, Jun 11, 2018

Dear Mayor Stewart and Takoma Park City Council Members,

I am writing today to renew, more urgently, a request made to you during the public comment period at the City Council meeting on May 2nd.

In May I noted that the proposed Takoma Junction development plan anticipates construction of a building that straddles two parcels of land. It would bind the city to a 99-year lease, even though the city does not own or control one parcel that is vital to accessing the entire structure.

At the time I asked the City to investigate and inform the community whether this highly unusual arrangement poses a fiscal risk. As a lawyer and taxpayer, these questions concerned me greatly.

So far, there has been no response. The City’s silence left me wondering whether action was being taken or not.

Before the City adopts a Resolution committing to this project, it is vital that you determine whether there is a significant legal obstacle that could cause the City to have legal problems or incur unforeseen costs that the community would have to shoulder.

While I am not a real estate lawyer, I did undertake a preliminary review of the relevant rules in Montgomery County. From what I can discern, a building permit for a structure that straddles two parcels owned by two different parties will not be issued.

I urge the City to have its lawyers follow up, to determine whether they agree with the following analysis:

1.  Under Montgomery County’s building code, a building permit may only be issued for a building located on ‘a lot or parcel shown on a plat recorded in the County Land Records or on a parcel exempt from recording requirements under Section 50-3.3’. [1]

2.  The County’s subdivision rules define a ‘lot’ as a ‘discrete area of land that is described by a plat recorded in the land records for which the Department of Permitting Services may issue a building permit.’ [2]  The County Zoning Code uses nearly identical language to define a lot: ‘A lot is a contiguous area of land that is described by a plat recoded in the land records for which a building permit can be issued.’

Obviously, the two adjacent parcels at the Junction, while contiguous, are not on one ‘lot’ that is recorded in the land records. (Nor are they on a parcel exempted under the specific terms of the code.)

3.  At the Junction site there are two lots, which will not even be owned by the same entity. As such, the site does not meet the definition of a lot for which a building permit can be issued. The County’s rule is very clear; with the exception of a few exemptions irrelevant in this instance,

‘Construction of a new principal building may only occur on a lot or parcel shown on a plat recorded in the County Land Records.’[3]

My question for the City and the City’s lawyers is: Have you investigated how these constraints affect the Junction project?

If so, please share what you have learned.

If not, please undertake the appropriate due diligence to find out whether the project as currently contemplated would be unable to obtain a building permit.

Frankly, apart from the possibility that no permit would be issued for the proposed straddling two-lot project, the irregularity of the proposed arrangement strikes me, as a taxpayer, as risky. Could NDC – or a successor owner – who controls a portion of the parcel use that control to extract further, future fees or concessions from the City? What would happen in the event NDC defaults? Once can imagine many unhappy scenarios. Those may be the very reasons why the County rules forbid a construction permit for a structure that is not on a single ‘lot’. And even if a construction permit can somehow be obtained, the irregularity also suggests that investors will find the project risky, either steering clear or charging higher lending rates, which would in turn trigger higher rents.

Thank you for responding promptly to this letter; it is vital that you resolve these questions before you make a determination whether to approve the proposed project. It would be negligent for our City officials to fail to address these concerns.

Sincerely,

Jessica Landman

Ward 1

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

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.