By TIMMY CHONG
Takoma Park has been wrestling with the future and function of the parking lot located at the intersection of Carroll and Ethan Allen Ave. since it was bought by the city in 1995. After the Concept Plan created by the chosen Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) was presented at the Sept. 27 City Council meeting, strong opinions have emerged both for and against the mounting progress.
TIMELINE OF THE JUNCTION DEVELOPMENT PROJECT
Upcoming from now to early 2018: NDC and city traffic studies, Preliminary Site Plan
A more detailed project timeline is available on the Takoma Park city website.
The Oct. 25 City Council meeting was the most recent flashpoint after much community deliberation over the NDC concept plan presented a month prior. City Council has voted unanimously on several past occasions for progress at the junction, and voted to pass a resolution that functioned as a formal statement of the previous council in order to provide direction on the Takoma Junction redevelopment for the newly elected members, who were inaugurated at the Nov. 15 City Council meeting.
The Oct. 25 meeting lasted nearly six hours, largely due to the volume of community input—nearly 50 residents voiced their opinions on the junction redevelopment project.
“Fear is rising, tensions are escalating, fears for some that after all this time the development might not move forward, fears for others that our walkable grocery store may ultimately shut down… because of the failure of our political process,” said resident Betsy Taylor.
On one side of the issue, people have been waiting for decades on the redevelopment of the city lot. There’s a lot of foot traffic around the largely empty parcel of land that contains the city’s beloved Takoma Park-Silver Spring (TPSS) Food Co-op and Takoma Auto Clinic, and many residents are excited that there will soon be new retail stores and public space there.
While the City Council meeting is merely one method of receiving resident commentary, among the most prominent concerns expressed by those leaning against the development were the preservation of the TPSS Food Co-op, “Bethesdafication” of Takoma Park, and City Council losing control over the junction redevelopment project.
Several residents were critical of City Council actions, urging for increased oversight so that the project remains closer to what was originally envisioned.
“How is it that city management created an environment where NDC would be comfortable delivering a concept that was so dramatically misaligned with the stakeholder input that many really feel like this has been a bait and switch?” said city resident David Navarre.
Others were even more harshly critical of the Council.
“Now, Council reneges on all words and promises, blindly following a developer and granting a 99-year lease,” said resident Paul Huber.
Though several residents expressed concern that the City Council is rushing into a half-baked concept plan with NDC and that the leaders aren’t taking community input seriously, several council members reassured the public that there would be many future opportunities to continue critical dialogue, as the Concept Plan is just another rung in the process, and that they have been listening intently.
The resolution passed by the previous Council at the Oct. 25 City Council meeting amends the Concept Plan and clarifies some of the vague language in its contract with NDC. With its passage, NDC has been given the go-ahead to continue working toward conducting its traffic study and producing a Preliminary Site Plan of the project.
The resolution lays out the parameters to be used for the Concept Plan: that the development covers roughly 34,000 sq. ft. of office and retail space on two floors, public community space, underground parking, and a lay-by on Carroll Ave. It reinforces the previous Council’s expectation that the forthcoming Preliminary Site Plan, a fully fleshed-out blueprint for the project estimated to be completed by late Feb. 2018 according to the project schedule, meets the criteria originally agreed upon.
Furthermore, the resolution states that the provisions of the Draft Site Plan should provide “reasonable accommodation to the TPSS Co-op for access for loading of deliveries, customer parking, and continued operation during construction.”
Residents will be able to provide input on the junction redevelopment project after the completion of the NDC and city traffic studies, which are slated to happen over the next couple months according to Mayor Stewart, and again upon the presentation of the Preliminary Site Plan.
The cost of the city traffic study, which was scheduled to be voted on a several weeks ago, will be discussed at the upcoming Wednesday night City Council meeting on Nov. 28. Council delayed the vote to broaden the scope of the traffic study, which was allotted about $70,000 in the budget, according to Mayor Stewart.