Clearing the Air: Takoma Junction

With the days winding down toward the November 3 election, we feel the growing tenseness in the air. This presidential election will mark a crossroads in our nation’s history. And locally, Takoma Park’s city election will be more important than in recent memory.

In Takoma Park, some candidates for Mayor and City Council are making themselves known. Mayor Kate Stewart is being challenged by a repeat candidate, Roger Schlegel, who has announced his intention. Rumors circulate as to which city council members may face challengers or might retire. It is rare, however, for incumbents to be unseated because divisive issues have rarely arisen.

It may be different in Takoma Park this year. Proverbial lines have been drawn in the sand over the future of the city-owned public parking lot at Takoma Junction. For years a small number of folks employing an endless array of objections have tenaciously argued against all versions of the proposed 2-story mixed commercial project. Opponents may know what they don’t want on the asphalt lot, but not what they do want. 

Meanwhile questions have arisen over the wisdom of paying $7 million to modernize and expand the City’s library. Covid-19’s threats cast a different light on the City’s finances. Going back many years the councilmembers have consistently voted to support both projects.

In this blog I want to address the Takoma Junction project. I will save the library for next time.   

NDC’s latest preliminary architectural rendering submitted July 2020 to the Montgomery County Planning Board

Opposition to the Junction project has always been vigorous, but now has tipped over into personal acrimony questioning the honesty and motivations of our mayor, the city manager and professional planning staff.

I have supported this project since the Takoma Junction Task Force (TJTF) made its recommendations in February, 2012. I am deeply familiar with the professional aptitude and integrity of each of the city officials involved with this project as well as the processes employed, which have been by the book.

Let me clarify unfounded alarmist claims against the Junction project as recently as the Council’s July 29 meeting.

1. The project does not address racial equity at the Junction.

The developer, NDC, is a Black-owned company. No names of tenants, if any, have been released. We can merely guess at the nature of the retailers and their price points. The Development Agreement limits subleasing to local and regional operators.

2. The new businesses will negatively affect other businesses in the Junction.

Economic Development principles stipulate the proximity of more, similar businesses attracts more customers and more spending. Hence the premise for town centers and shopping centers. 

3. We don’t know how the developer will get financing.

Financing is a private matter for the developer, not a concern for the public. NDC is a proven, experienced developer, having done many projects across the region, including the new project breaking ground at Carroll and Cedar Streets. 

4. Developers are not building because of the economy. 

This is untrue. According to the Washington Businss Journal 7/31//20, “Due to Covid-19, leasing velocity was slow in the 2nd quarter, and effective rents are likely to decline in the months ahead. However, activity in the Washington area has been more robust than in many peer markets, suggesting that this market is poised for a speedier recovery when conditions begin to normalize.

5.  TPSS Co-op is suffering from the project and has a gag order to keep it silent.

Neither is true. Were the coop suffering financially, it may be due to the pandemic, not the NDC project which hasn’t even started yet. No “gag” order exists as such, but maybe an agreement to cooperate with NDC.

6. There are secret negotiations occurring between the City and the County.

This is Trump-inspired paranoia. The City’s planning staff work daily with the County’s planners out of a spirit of cooperation and because laws require it. The Junction project is no different. Takoma Park relies on the County because we lack planning or zoning authority

7.  The project is too high and needs to be one story.

Since when? Nothing in the project’s planning since 2014, including the TJTF Report, has ever suggested a 1-story facility. What an enormous waste of valuable commercial land. Many of the nearby houses are two and three stories tall. 

8.  The SHA has raised objections to NDC’s project.

Not so far. SHA has only released a draft of its Vision Study findings, which does not adddress traffic issues or solutions for the intersection.

In sum, project review by State and County agencies may be slow but is proceeding deliberately. Our City’s staff are just doing their jobs professionally. NDC’s completed project will be a major asset to the City and our local economy. 

Next: The library expansion

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