Moving Forward in Takoma Junction

The Takoma Park City Council is moving toward selection of a developer for the city-owned Takoma Junction lot. I expect the council will either decide — or decide when to decide — at its Monday evening, March 23 meeting.

My council colleagues and I — and city staff and the finalist developers and interested members of the public — have been listening, questioning, and evaluating for six months now, following on years of community and city exploration of junction revitalization possibilities. We have heard from a broad range of stakeholders and have considered a spectrum of views. It’s now time to decide.

NDC’s initial proposal for Takoma Junction city-lot development.
The facade and other design details will change!

My own preference is the Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) proposal although I find Keystar-Eco Housing’s an acceptable second choice.

I’ll offer a fuller assessment of those two finalist developers and their proposals, below. But remember: The council discussion/decision has not happened yet. My council colleagues have not voted yet. If there is an overwhelming constituent preference for Keystar/EcoHousing or another approach, I’ll reconsider my choice.

First recapping — skip the next two paragraphs to get to my assessment —

The city issued a development request for proposals (RFP) almost 14 months ago, on January 22, 2014. We received 7 responses by the May 28 deadline. On September 5, 2014, we identified 4 finalists. One of those finalists, Community Three Development, withdrew its proposal last month, and the council announced Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) and Keystar-Eco Housing as the finalist-finalists on March 2, 2015. While the Ability Project is out of the running, we welcome consideration of including them as a tenant, alongside the only must-accommodate business, the TPSS Co-op, which is the junction’s commercial anchor. By “must accommodate,” I mean that the city stipulates that the chosen developer must provide for co-op expansion and workable delivery unloading space in the site design and must ensure minimal disruption of co-op operations through the course of construction.

Do visit the city Web site for detail including links for the city’s 2014-5 Takoma Junction presentations, listening sessions, worksession discussions, and question sets, and visit the Takoma Junction Task Force site for material documenting the 2010-2 task force work.

A choice point —

My own assessment starts with a baseline belief that both NDC and Keystar-Eco Housing are capable, experienced developers. Both have sufficient financial resources to complete the project. Both would include the community in the process of refining the design and site plan, both would take required steps to accommodate TPSS Co-op expansion and operational needs, and both would recruit a tenant mix that will work for the site and for the community.

Since both Keystar-Eco Housing (K/E) and NDC could do the job, the decision can be made based on their actual proposed plans for the site, and (a distant second criterion for me) on financial return.

Both developers include street-level retail and an acceptable amount of public parking and both have signaled that they will explore inclusion of community space in their project. Design elements such as the facade can and will be changed.

Otherwise, the designs are markedly different —

  • K/E has 21 co-housing units versus 9 apartments for NDC
  • K/E’s building rises 2 to 3 stories versus 2 for NDC
  • K/E’s site plan includes the Takoma Auto Clinic lot; NDC’s does not

I like co-housing, and I like it for Takoma Junction. Apartment housing in that particular, highly-walkable and bikeable, transit-friendly location makes sense and could be built with minimal or no residential parking spaces so that the residences’ traffic impact would be minimal. Both K/E’s 21 co-housing units, versus 9 apartments for NDC, would work in Takoma Junction. That’s point #1, but…

Let’s refer to the Takoma Junction Task Force report, which is online with a host of other task force documents. (I co-chaired the task force until a few months before report delivery, when I joined the city council. I recognize that some community members view the finalist plans as insufficiently community-driven. I believe that the city’s current process is comfortably within the set of possibilities that the TJTF envisaged.)

The guiding, deciding recommendation for me is:

“C2. Any new development on the C1 parcel should harmonize with the existing architecture and scale of activity, and should not exceed two stories in height based upon previous commercial infill in the Historic District.”

…revised after community and city discussions.

The proposed Keystar-Eco Housing building is both too high and too wide. The proposed NDC building is a better fit for Takoma Junction.

I’ll call out one other design element. K/E would create a Carroll Avenue pull-in for large trucks making TPSS Co-op deliveries. K/E suggests that the city could install metered parking in the pull-in for daytime use. But the co-op has said this delivery approach is unworkable. Myself, I believe a Carroll Avenue pull-in would be a step in the wrong direction: We’re trying to make Takoma Junction more pedestrian and bicyclist friendly, to maximize community space and improve aesthetic appeal. I would hate to carve a wide truck/parking lane out of the current Carroll Avenue sidewalk area at the expense of the streetscape and community space. I have asked K/E to revisit this approach but the team has made no commitment to do that.

On the other side of the ledger, money. K/E has proposes to pay $600,000 for the Takoma Junction development parcel and NDC only $100,000. (It is unclear whether the sale would include the residentially zoned wooded parcel on Columbia Avenue.) While NDC’s proposed payment is low, NDC executives have said it could be higher if costs are lowered in certain ways, for instance, by reducing residential parking. There are other variations that come into play. For instance, both developers will consider a condominium arrangement with the co-op, where the co-op would purchase its expansion space and building (not that there aren’t signs that one of the two — my pick, actually — wouldn’t be easier for the co-op to work with). These variations may also change the financial figures. In any case, $500,000 isn’t remotely close to enough to sway me toward a less-desirable design.

Your reactions? Remember that council discussion is still ahead of us, and the council has not voted yet.

Please let me know your thoughts via e-mail to or by phone, 301-873-8225.

Thanks very much!

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