GRANOLAPARK: The wrench in the works

IMAGE: Site plan shown by TPSS Co-op representatives as part of their statement to the Takoma Park City Council July 13, 2016. Screen grab from city website.

GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Dear Readers,

What’s all this fuss about the Co-op and Takoma Junction development?

It’s like this. The food co-op, the city council and the Takoma Junction developer walk into a bar.

The TPSS Food Co-op complains to the city council, “The developer won’t meet my core needs and is telling me to lump it or leave it.”

The city council says “don’t drag us into this, if you two are having a problem, get a mediator.”

The developer, Neighborhood Development Company, looks annoyed and checks his phone.

“Oh,” says the Co-op, “chatting with your OTHER grocery store?”

The other bar patrons take sides and start screaming at each other. The co-op supporters say the NDC and the city council are going to kill the Co-op. The NDC supporters say the Co-op should not get special treatment and the city should just get on with the development, already.

The city council crawls under the table and finds Your Gilbert waiting there with a bottle of cheap gin.

“We only came out to talk about the development agreements!” says the council.

“Are you going to drink ALL of that?” says Your Gilbert.

A tale of three documents

There are three documents you should know about.

Two of these documents seal a deal between the city and the developer NDC. They do not directly involve the Co-op. They are the Ground Lease and the Takoma Junction Development Agreement. These two are in a final draft phase and the city has invited public comment before they vote to approve them and sign them,

The third document sketches out an arrangement between the Co-op and the developver NDC. It does not involve the city. It is called the “letter of intent.”

The letter of intent is barely a legal document. It is non-binding. It is like a handshake over a list of things the Co-op and NDC want and agree on.

Without it, however, the project won’t proceed – not with the Co-op as the anchor tenant. If the Co-op and NDC can’t come up with that letter within a certain time, NDC can look for another tenant. However, that tenant may be the Co-op again. In other words, if it doesn’t work on the first go-round, they can re-boot.

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The TPSS Co-op and the edge of the city-owned parking lot destined for development glory. Photo by Bill Brown.

Regardless of the letter of intent or anything else, as long as the Co-op is in their current space, NDC cannot bring in another grocery store – says the yet-to-be-signed lease agreement.

The Co-op’s current store, by the way, is not part of the development. It is in a private building on private land. The development would break through the wall of that building into the city-owned lot next door, creating a new space for Co-op expansion. So, the Co-op can perch where they are as long as they have a lease. And as long as they are there, NDC cannot lease the new space to a competitor.

Also, if the city feels NDC has not negotiated with the Co-op in good faith, or if NDC’s plan falls short in a big way, the city can terminate the deal with NDC and find another developer. And, as it has stated in at least one resolution, the council wants the anchor store to be the Co-op.

In short, the city council feels like the Co-op is taken care of and they don’t think they need to play the over-protective parent confronting the mean kid down the block.

Front-loading

On the other hand, the city council’s eyebrows shot up when the Co-op showed them – during the july 13 Citizen Comment session – a site plan allegedly showing NDC’s take-it-or-leave-it offer for a loading dock plan.

There was no loading dock that a truck would back up to and off-load. There was a cut-out where trucks could park parallel to busy Route 410 in front of the new building. Trucks would off-load in the early morning to the pavement and, it looks like, goods would have to be carried or dollied into the Co-op and, presumably, other stores.

Co-op Expansion Project Manager Marilyn Berger says eighteen-wheel trucks make daily deliveries to the Co-op, seven days a week.

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Co-op Expansion Project Manager Marilyn Berger at a city council meeting earlier this year. Photo by Bill Brown.

“As many as 11 large pallets of products, weighing thousands of pounds, are delivered at one time,” she said. “Except for produce, the pallets are wrapped in plastic, so they would have to be unloaded in the area along the street, unwrapped, broken apart, and then manually carted while exposed to the weather, traveling over a hundred feet before reaching an entrance to the expanded Co-op.”

The cut-out, which would be a truck-long paved area, was also marked “Public Gathering” on the site plan. The lease agreement requires the developer to include public gathering space. If the truck off-loading zone is at other times the public gathering space, that’s laughable.

And, how is that going to look to have a patch of bare pavement between the sidewalk and the storefront as the development most visible feature, wondered everyone in the room.

Parking spaceless

The Co-op is also unhappy with the lack of parking during construction. They are limited to the 17 or so spaces in their own currently-leased space.

They currently enjoy the use of the city parking lot. Ah, but that’s where the development will be built. It’s not clear how they expected to maintain that parking capacity, but they did, and they are using terms like “this will kill the Co-op’.

That was the drift of a leaflet the Co-op cashiers dropped in customer’s shopping bags, and of a petition/letter to the city council being circulated.

As counclmember Rizzy Qureshi noted at the July 6 meeting, the Co-op “does good job of making their position known.”

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The council also reviewed new library renovation drawings. See below. Image: The Lukmire Partnership 

However, at the July 13 meeting Qureshi made the strongest pro-Co-op statement, saying “The LOI is the monkey wrench in the works.” It does a disservice to everyone, he said, putting negotiations behind a closed door, excluding the city. That puts the city in the uncomfortable postion of dealing seperately with each of the negotiating parties without really knowing what’s going on between them.

New language in the draft aggreements says the city will regularly monitor the development of the letter of intent – but not by sitting in on the negotiations.

The Co-op’s concerns overshadowed the issue on the council’s agenda – which was the two agreements between the city and NDC.

More on point

Other citizens had comments about the NDC/city agreements. Three or four noted with horror that there was no traffic-study requirement. The Junction intersection is notoriously backed up at times. The development is almost certain to increase traffic, causing much trepidation among neighbors and members of the Safe Roadways Committee.

Not to worry, said the staff and council later in the evening when the development agreement documents agenda item rolled around.

Besides the city’s requirements, there are many county hoops NDC has to jump through, and one of them is a traffic study. That would only address new traffic introduced by the development, it would not fix the current situation. However, there’s also a wide-area traffic study planned that might help them address the current traffic flow.

The city councilmembers addressed the Co-op’s concerns as well. They tried to assure the Co-op that the city holds firm on it’s wish to have them as the anchor store and that the agreements between the city and NDC would help more than hurt them.

Amongst themselves, the city council wanted to talk about the agreement terms. That was the agenda item before them, after all. There was a long discussion about termination and how it might be triggered, and what the cost and effect would be. Part of that was to assure the Co-op, and themselves, that the council had as much of a threat over NDC as NDC has over the Co-op.

Another concern was environmental requirements. A couple of residents said the agreements were too weak. One scoffed at the required LEED Gold standard. Old hat, he said, the city should be going for Platinum.Council asked staff to talk to those residents and look into their suggestions.

Pending adjustments based on such citizen feedback, the council will probably vote for the agreements at the July 27 council meeting.

If it does, the letter of intent between the Co-op and NDC will be due 120 later, in September, and the deadline could be extended another 30 days. So, PLENTY of time for NDC and the Co-op to Kumbaya.

What’s next

Next Monday, July 18, 7 – 9 p.m. there is an open house meeting at the Takoma Park Fire Dept., 7201 Carroll Ave., where citizens can learn more about the draft agreements between NDC and the city. Not the letter of intent.

At the July 20 regular Wednesday night council meeting, residents can voice opinions about the Development Agreement and the Ground Lease. The council will vote on them at the July 27 meeting, unless they get too far into the rewriting weeds, in which case the vote will be after the council’s August recess.

Twitterers distracted themselves from the city council chambers frigid air conditioning by tweeting from the list of prohibited uses of the future Junction development – listed at the back of the 45 page agenda packet. Banned are mortuaries, circuses, sports facilities, pawn shops, massage parlors, dance halls, pornography sales and places of religious worship. Also banned are medical marijuana dispensaries, to the Twittery disgust of former council member Seth Grimes, tweeting from his warm home.

The city has a spiffy Takoma Junction development website.

Tiny Folk Festival?

Tiny houses, now a tiny Folk Festival. Old Takoma Business Association Laura Barclay proposed to the city council Wedsday night that in lieu of the cancelled Folk Fesitval, there be a small one-stage folk festival in – of course – Old Takoma. The stage would be the gazebo on Carroll Avenue. This fall’s Takoma Park Folk Festival was canceled due to lack of volunteers, she noted, so the smaller festival would be an opportunity to sign up volunteers for next year.

Mayor Kate Stewart must have liked the idea. She asked staff to see if there is an extra $7500, the amount Barclay estimated it would cost.

It would also involve closing the street and help from police and the Dept. of Public Works. The date would be Sept. 11, same as the cancelled festival.

Lovely library

Sorry, a long meeting makes for a long column. The meeting went to 11:59 p.m.

Everybody LOVES the new architectural drawings for the city library extension/renovations. They are crazy beautiful. And only one tree would be lost.

But, the $5.3 million price tag, plus about another $1.3 million for furnishings and other Library Stuff. That part they don’t love so much.

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Two fairly similar options were offered. The differences were in the floor plans and some exterior materials. Image: The Lukmire Partnership 

Councilmember Jarrett Smith said the biggest pause was the price, which more than doubled from the original $2.5 million – before the new council asked to see bigger plans. Smith said the city has two other big loans for big projects and together with the library it would add up to $10 million, which he said, is a lot for a city with an annual budget of 30 million.

It would be SO beautiful, though.

The city’s Library renovation website where you can check out these and past options.

– Gilbert

 

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About the Author

Gilbert
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.

2 Comments on "GRANOLAPARK: The wrench in the works"

  1. Susan Schreiber | July 17, 2016 at 10:55 pm |

    Gilbert, you’ve covered a lot of ground here, but have missed a critical issue that has been driving much of the concern since the draft Development Agreement for Takoma Junction was posted 10 days ago: NO LOADING DOCK, NO CO-OP (or any other grocery store). As you note, the draft Agreement states that if the developer – NDC – and the Coop do not reach an agreement, NDC may be allowed to look for another anchor tenant for the project. A further statement that in that case, no tenant would be able to compete with the Co-op, sell groceries, etc., may be intended to reassure the community that the Co-op could continue to operate in its current building, in fact, without access to a loading dock, it’s highly unlikely that the Co-op or any other grocery would be able to operate on that site.

    A few years ago, Harris Teeter briefly expressed interest in moving to our community. The store would have been on the DC side, in back of the CVS where Doug Jamal has constructed the new apartment buildings. But one of the issues was the impact of big delivery trucks – 18 wheelers, as at the Co-op – on narrow streets at the center of town. People closer to the project than know more, but Harris Teeter pulled out. – On the other hand, we have a live and successful grocery that is walkable from many neighborhoods. Let’s not kill the goose that the golden egg.

  2. Seems everything cool around here either pulls out of the Montgomery County side of Takoma or goes to the DC side. So none of the tax revenue gets here. Frankly, with the exception of the bulk herb and spice selection, the CO-OP offers nothing but over-priced products that can be found at Whole Foods, Trader Joes, or any other place. It’s elitist, expensive and cluttered. It’s another nostalgic hold over from the old days that hardly serves anyone but the chosen few. I’d be thrilled if it disappeared altogether and we got a Trader Joe’s.

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