IMAGE; During his presentation Adrian Washington, Neighborhood Development Company CEO addressed Co-op staff and supporters in the audience, assuring them that he held no animosity toward the Co-op. Photo by Bill Brown.
GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
Takoma Junction redevelopment is on pause for a month. The Takoma Park city council voted six-to-one Dec. 7 to give the TPSS Co-op and the Neighborhood Development Company 30 more days to sign a Letter of Intent. The signatures would allow the Takoma Junction redevelopment plan to proceed with the Co-op as its anchor store.
Before the vote Co-op staff and supporters had to endure sometimes scathing remarks from councilmembers at the weekly council meeting devoted almost entirely to the unsigned letter. A number of the council were clearly frustrated with the Co-op’s recalcitrance.
The store and the developer had 120 days to come to a basic agreement on the store’s future design and sign the letter. That time was up Nov. 26.
The city had the option to give them the 30 day extension, allow the developer to choose another anchor store (the Co-op would remain where it is), or fire the developer.
Once the 30 days have passed on Jan. 6, 2017 the council will still have the latter two options. The council does not meet again until Jan. 11 – which may give the two parties another five days. If the developer opts to choose another anchor store, their agreement with the city states it cannot be another grocery store.
The Co-op’s objection is that the developer’s plan requires large trucks to unload in the front, not the back of the proposed expanded store. Even if the Co-op opts out of the plan, however, their deliveries will still be in the front. The Co-op buliding, which they rent, is not part of the adjacent city parking lot redevelopment site.
The audience shortly before the Dec. 7 city council meeting. As the meeting progressed audience numbers increased to around 55. Photo by Bill Brown.
They’d be crazy to drop out of the deal, said councilmember Fred Schultz, but he did not have much hope or patience left. Schultz predicted the Co-op will not sign the letter by the deadline. If they don’t, he said, “I don’t want to hear about it.” His was the single “nay” vote against the 30 day extension.
Addressing the Co-op representatives he said “Things need to be said in a candid sort of way.” He stressed that the document is non-binding “It’s like getting engaged.”It doesn’t legally commit to anything “not even premarital sex,” he quipped.
Schultz, other councilmembers and Mayor Kate Stewart all described the many times and ways the council and city staff put in hours of work on behalf of the Co-op – from helping them get a lucrative beer-and-wine sales licence to sitting in on meetings between the Co-op and NDC, to spelling out support and legal protections for the Co-op in the development leasing agreement.
“How did we get to where we are today?” lamented TPSS Co-op Expansion Project Manager Marilyn Berger in her statement early in the meeting.
She said the Co-op does not accept NDC’s proposed truck-unloading design. The Co-op feels that they’ve been railroaded. They supported the city choosing NDC because NDC’s concept drawings showed large-truck delivery to a loading dock in the rear. But on June 16 NDC’s more complete plans showed large-truck delivery in the front, requiring the purchase and use of fork-lift equipment.
NDC’s proposal to move the entire Co-op into a new space in the development would, she said, break their lease. And NDC’s proposal to buy the Co-op’s building from the owner was not feasible, she said. The owner doesn’t want to sell.
Later in the meeting NDC president Adrian Washington said that the company had put out feelers to the building owners about those options and there were indications that the owners were open to negotiation.
NDC’s proposal to move the Co-op to a new space, rather than build an extension next to it and join them by breaking down the wall, is a solution to the Co-op’s requirement that the store remain open and accessible to customers throughout construction.
Washington’s presentation can be viewed on the city website, embedded in a redevelopment update by City Manager Suzanne Ludlow.
“I don’t see that the Co-op is in any way at risk.” councilmember Schultz said. Why, he asked, is the Co-op turning its back on a custom-designed, larger, brand new, modern, efficient, LEED-certified building? “I’m baffled why the Co-op cannot see this is a good thing for the Co-op’s future.” he said
He was also baffled by the Co-op’s claim that they could not prosper without a loading dock. “They’ve existed fine without one up ‘til now.” The Co-op currently unloads 18-wheeler trucks in the city parking lot next to the store. The goods are loaded onto pallets and conveyed into the building.
The proposed design would have a similar arrangement, except that the pallets would have to be conveyed 40 feet more.
He said the Co-op has presented no evidence such as a financial equation showing that that the 40 feet would adversely affect their profit margin. “I am not convinced 40 feet is going to make such a big difference.”
NDC’s solution is for 18-wheelers to make deliveries in the front, using a lay-by. The lay-by would be a parking lane parallel to the street. Trucks would park close to the building where they wouldn’t block the sidewalk. Goods would be unloaded and conveyed down a corridor to the delivery entrance at the back. Or the delivery entrance could be moved closer to the front – the store’s interior will not be designed until the Letter of Intent is signed.
Councilmember Rizzy Qureshi urged the Co-op to use the 30 days to work on the agreement. “No more e-mails gathering your supporters,” he admonished them. The Co-op has proven adept at turning out supporters and staff to city meetings and public hearings.
“I’m convinced we will have the same conversation 30 days from now.” Councilmember Schultz said.
Lost in the focus on getting two signatures on the letter of intent was the news dropped by NDC president Washington that moving the Co-op entirely into the city lot development changes the development’s character. In their July presentation, NDC’s proposal was for an “open retail concept” consumer-business incubator much like Union Market in Washington, DC. The current plan is for more traditional store fronts.
Not-so-lost was the news that the Ability Project will be a tenant. Once a bidder for the project, the Ability Project will provide a center for adults with special needs.
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