Still from Robert Anderson’s traffic video presentation at Monday night’s city council meeting.
BY BRANDI VINCENT
The Takoma Park city council’s Monday Nov. 3 meeting was a long one as residents lined up to express ongoing concerns about the city’s Takoma Junction redevelopment project.
The Public Comments session indicated that community support for the coop remains strong, and that residents are concerned about the process. Some feel they are not being heard.
In January, the city solicited proposals to develop a city-owned lot at the intersection of Carroll and Ethan Allen avenues, adjacent to the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op.
In August, the development bidders were narrowed down to four finalists: The Ability Project, Community Three Development, Keystar LLC/Eco Housing and Neighborhood Development Company. They presented their proposals to the public Sept. 23, as covered in The Voice.
The TPSS Co-op, a natural food grocery store owned by local shoppers, submitted it’s own proposal, which was not selected as a finalist due to its lack of development experience and other issues.
The primary concerns citizens voiced at the meeting traffic in the area, the Council’s management, and the developers’ apparent unwillingness to work with the community and Co-op in the planning process.
Photo from Robert Anderson’s presentation showing cars driving around stopped bus into opposite lane.
Long-time Takoma resident Robert Anderson presented what others called a “graphic” demonstration of the traffic issues in the area.
He shared a video that he recorded in just a few hours of drivers breaking the law due to the traffic set-up in the area. The State Highway Administration removed a bus bay at the busy intersection last year, forcing cars to wait behind loading/unloading buses, contributing to already long rush-hour backups on Route 410. The video showed several cars driving into the opposite traffic lane to get around a stopped bus. There were a few near-misses with oncoming traffic.
Anderson said before looking at developing the Junction it is imperative to address the dangerous traffic issues that already exist in the location.
Robert Anderson speaking to the city council.
Ward 3 resident Fred Feinstein objected to all the development proposals. Instead, he said, he “we should create a central town square” with a park, garden, performance space, hang-out space, a Co-op expansion with a couple of small buildings for community-based businesses such as a coffeeshop and adequate parking.
“I am concerned that this process has been flawed from the very beginning and I urge you to stop the process and really look at the entities at work here,” said Welmoed Laanstra, a Takoma resident who said she has a lot of experience with similar project proposal requests.
Laanstra pressed the council to consider a letter she wrote to them about the faults she found in the RFP process.
“I feel a lot of concern about having seven council members, four developers and perhaps two or three staff members deciding what will happen at this particular location,” Laanstra said.
Junction traffic a disaster
Mayor Bruce Williams replied to this and similar comments later in the evening. He assured the public that the council was there to represent resident’s views, and the public was part of the decision-making process, as evidenced by several public hearings and multiple opportunities for public feedback.
The future of the Co-op was the main concern for nearly all Takoma residents who attended the meeting. The two main Co-op issues are having a viable loading dock and being able to stay in business through the construction.
The Council assured the public that they shared concerns about the Co-op and traffic issues. They urged the developers in absentia to engage the community and Co-op in their efforts.
“From a traffic perspective, the Junction is a disaster and it has been for years,” said Councilman Fred Schultz, who added that traffic in the area must immediately be addressed.
There was consternation that only one developer, the Ability Project, appeared to have met with the Co-op recently.
“I’m also concerned that there’s been very little communication by any of the four developers,” Schultz said. “And I don’t understand what they’re waiting for – because if there is one thing that could be learned from the public conversations we’ve had over the last few weeks it is that the Co-op is issue number one…but now I think there are a lot of number one issues.”
Though City Manager Brian Kenner insisted there “is nothing final about the finalists” and that other paths may be considered, the Council said they will continue to focus on the four finalists.
The four original project proposals. Some have been revised in response to feedback.
Finalists say they HAVE met with Co-op
Matt Hurson, Board President of the finalist, The Ability Project, did not attend the meeting but said the developer is willing to work with the community and the Co-op throughout the planning process.
“From the very beginning we knew that the community and the Co-op were key elements of this entire process,” Hurson said. “We have tons of flexibility and are now working to actively collaborate with the Co-op on a plan that would provide a long and stable future for the all businesses in the Junction, if we are selected.”
Grant Epstein, Community Three Development president, reached by phone Nov. 7, said his group has been speaking to the Co-op and met with them Thursday, Nov. 6. He said they had a work session, walked the site and looked at the Co-op’s operation. He called the Co-op an important partner in the project.
The meeting was not a result of Monday’s public meeting criticism. Community Three and the Co-op had been trying to schedule a meeting for 2 and a half weeks, he said, and Thursday’s meeting was confirmed last Monday morning, before the city council meeting.
Adrian Washington, President of Neighborhood Development Company said his group “met with [the Co-op] on multiple occasions.” They met, he said, early on in the process, and again just before the proposal presentations. They’ve had email contact since, he said, and “we reached out to them again for a tentative meeting next week.”
He said the “Co-op is a valued part of the community,” and he understands how important it is to the city.
Bruce Levin, Keystar LLC owner, also reached by phone Nov. 7, said “I’ve had four meetings” with the Co-op, three of them in person and one via teleconference. Some were before the initial presentation, some after, he said.
He clarified Keystar’s statement about discussions with an alternative grocer, which had caused alarm among Co-op supporters. He said he was approached by a grocery store that was interested in the Co-op’s space, but only if the Co-op didn’t want to stay there. Keystar, said Levin, wants the Co-op to remain.
The community will have a chance to meet with developers and council members in a three-hour forum and discuss the future of the development project on Nov. 18.
[Voice Managing Editor Bill Brown contributed to this story]