GRANOLAPARK: You’re the one!

Photo: NDC’s original presentation, September, 2014. SORG’s architect silhouetted in front of screen.


Dear Readers,

Oh, baby!

You’re the one.

YES, you’re the one. You respond to my needs – my many, many needs! You’re so . . .  flexible!

That’s what the Takoma Park city council said to Neighborhood Development Company/SORG Architects. That was the development group the council picked in the final act of a long courtship ritual more bizarre than a bird-of-paradise’s.

The Council will put a ring on it with a vote at their April 13 meeting.

NDC, as the group is called, was one of four finalists who proposed to to develop a city-owned lot in Takoma Junction. The council and public have been subjecting the four to questions, complaints, challenges and suggestions in a series of packed, often rancorous, meetings since last September.

But finally, at their March 23 council meeting each council member in turn revealed that NDC was their choice. Most mentioned NDC’s demonstrated flexibility. NDC will need that flexibility, bending like pretzels to satisfy all the demands about to be poured over them like creamy salad dressing. The kind with lumps.

Gilbert brags

For the record, Granolapark singled NDC out when we reported on the September 2014 meeting when finalist developers gave their first public pitch.

Though Granolapark has been fairly neutral about the finalists, early on (Sept 2014) we said “In our opinion the fourth presenter, Neighborhood Development Company, had the most thoughtful and promising introduction to their proposal  . . . . ”

We were less thrilled with their architectural drawings. But as the council keeps saying – the real architectural details are yet to come, and they will be based on public feedback.


NDC’s drawings presented at original presentation last fall. Photo by Bill Brown.

You can review NDC’s original proposal here.

It shows examples of their work, their impressive and thorough look at the site and local architecture, and sensitivity to the surrounding community and environment – for example, terraced construction at the back so the building doesn’t loom over Columbia Street below, and window placement giving occupants views of the woods.

Half of their 49-page presentation is devoted to the design process to follow.


We’re at #1 on this process schedule. Click for larger image. Image from NDC original presentation.


Even spellcheck doesn’t know what a charrette is. A charrette is a meeting with the architects and every stakeholder: residents, city staff, businesses, tenants, employees, babies, innocent passer-bys, vampires, dogs, cats, squirrels, you name it!  The architect absorbs each stakeholder’s every thought until her/his head is as big as an oil drum. Then the developer squeezes the architect’s head, pushing all those ideas into her/his hands, through a pencil and onto a piece of paper. Or several pieces of paper.

Then they do it again. And again. Until those stakeholders are happy – or most of them are reasonably happy.

And that’s in the next phase, Dear Readers. Organize your every Takoma Junction thought!

Also in the next phase is a traffic study, and site study.

Annoying people

Before the Takoma Junction discussion, the public lined up at the city council auditorium microphone to comment. Many commented on Takoma Junction development.

The line was peppered with annoying people who haven’t been paying attention taking the council to task for non-existant issues.

We suppose we should know by now that in a long and complicated process like this, hardly any resident is going to have the time to follow or study up on it. So, many folks have partial, outdated or twisted information.

We think the city could do more to inform people. Oh, they have a ton of information online (though not easy to find), but who wants to lift a ton?


The sun sets on the development competition. Photo by Bill Brown

What they need is an FAQ.

They should start with this one:

Q: Why did you pick this design!? It is too big and ugly and doesn’t have any green space!

A: Picking a developer does not mean we’re picking a finished design. We are a long way from a final design and you will have many opportunities to help shape the design.

We can see how people get the opposite impression. For some crazy reason, each developer submitted architectural drawings with their proposals. EVERYBODY focused on the pretty drawings, of course. Most people thought they were choosing between developments, not developers.

In hind-sight, it would have been better if each developer submitted rough sketches/plans for at least two alternative approaches. Because what residents should have been focusing on is developer’s brains, not plans.

The council understood this, but getting residents to understand it was difficult. Most of them could not get past the drawings.


NDC’s original drawings show the terracing in the back.

More FAQs:

Q:. Why haven’t you done a traffic study? That should be done first.

A: No, first we pick a developer. Then the developer does the traffic studies.

Q: Why are you screwing the co-op? Stop the process!

A: The co-op is now on board. Read the co-op’s most recent announcement where they say “Neighborhood Development has shown an openness and willingness to work with the Co-op.”

Q: Why have you ignored the Takoma Junction Task Force recommendations? Stop the process!

A: We haven’t ignored them, but keep in mind that the council never voted to accept and follow the recommendations when they were submitted. There are actually very few clear recommendations in that report. Most of the report consists of background information and alternative suggestions to choose from – some of which contradict each other. Anyway, it is not too late to tell the developer what we want.

Q: Why are you rushing the process?

A: We’re not. This is just the first step and it has taken 6 months. Most of the process is still ahead of us. In fact, we are just beginning phase #1 of the process.

Q: Why did you pick this developer?

A: Because they are flexible and professional. We’re convinced they will make the best effort to listen to the community and stakeholders in a series of charettes and design the project that will satisfy most of them. They have a track record of this.

– Gilbert


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About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.