Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Takoma Metro update #74

No, this isn't really update #74 concerning proposed Takoma Metro site development, not even if you include exchanges that date back to last decade's stalled (expired, really) development proposal. Still, even with many months of discussions and meetings yet to come, it already feels like we've been going at it -- reviewing plans, assessing impact, organizing and attending meetings, and weighing community and city responses -- for ages. So update #whatever.

The Takoma Park City Council discussed a city position on the proposed development at Monday night's (October 21, 2013) meeting. Our discussion was informed by testimony at the council's October 7 public hearing, by e-mail we received commenting on development plans, and by public comment from community activists. The outcome is that the council will consider a resolution, the council's mechanism for establishing and communicating city policy, at the October 28 council meeting.

I spent time this past week compiling a statement, below, drawing from many hours of discussions and e-mail exchanges involving residents,including community activists from both Takoma DC and Takoma Park, Maryland, and from public testimony. The statement also reacts to an October 18 meeting and discussions I have had, jointly with Washington DC Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (4B) Sara Green and Faith Wheeler, with Jack Lester, an executive with developer EYA. Mr. Lester and colleagues are making changes to their Takoma "concept design." It is clear to us that the changes will fall far short of meeting community concerns.

My statement is a best attempt at a distillation of those consensus community concerns, and (I hope) it's reasonable. Points are made in bullet, rather than narrative or the WHEREAS... BE IT RESOLVED form that the city's resolution will take, because I am planning also to adapt them for testimony at the October 24 WMATA board meeting.

The statement addresses the WMATA board, whose Planning, Program Development & Real Estate (PPDRE) Committee is tentatively slated to consider a Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement (JDA), on November 7, 2013, if a traffic study is completed sufficiently before the meeting. The full board would vote on the Amended JDA at its next meeting that follows a favorable PPDRE vote. The statement's punch line is given in the first sentence...


WMATA board consideration of a Takoma Amended Joint Development agreement should be conditioned on adequate address of a number of procedural and project-design points. We explain those points and the reasoning behind them:

- WMATA is a public body whose responsibilities include providing exemplary transit services while maximizing transit accessibility, use, and transit-generated revenue. Any development of WMATA owned land must further this mission, hence WMATA's embrace of transit-oriented development that would get people out of cars and onto transit.

- WMATA's Policies of Local Jurisdictions Affecting Joint Development state, "WMATA coordinates closely with Local Jurisdictions to implement its joint development program. Additionally, WMATA requires its selected developers to work with Local Jurisdictions throughout the joint development process." Selected developer EYA has presented to a Local Jurisdiction, the City of Takoma Park, but has not worked with the city in any meaningful way.

- Within its mission boundaries, WMATA should seek maximum financial return from any development activities. Normally this means competition. We recognize that WMATA would prefer not to recompete its now-expired Joint Development Agreement with developer EYA. We trust WMATA to act in the public's best interests, which means that WMATA must justify any decision that would avoid competition, through transparency, disclosure, and accountability. We commend the public process surrounding Takoma joint development that has brought us to this point. In continuation of that process, WMATA should release the draft Takoma Amended JDA for public review. The WMATA board and the PPDRE Committee should not vote on the Amended JDA without allowing for ample time for public comment.

- Because the presentation of an Amended JDA with developer EYA involves a specific concept design proposed by EYA, approval by the WMATA board of the Amended JDA is an endorsement of that design. Yet the proposed Takoma concept design fails key points: Safety, disabled access, conformance with Transit Orient Development principles, and community compatibility. Specifically:
  • The design positions a loading dock, whose use includes waste hauling, that opens directly onto Eastern Avenue NW. The loading-dock positioning means that vehicles, including waste-hauling and delivery trucks, will back across the sidewalk. This design flaw creates a significant pedestrian-safety hazard.
  • The design degrades transit access for persons with disabilities. The proposed design increases the distance between the Metrorail elevator entry and the disabled drop-off by a factor of 2 to 3.
  • The design includes four levels of residential parking totaling 178 residential-parking spaces serving 212 apartment units. The .844 residential-parking ratio is far too high for an apartment development sited at a transit hub. Over-availability of residential parking may mean a lower-than-optimal rate of transit usage by residents, costing WMATA revenue. Further, the design's four levels of parking mean extra ramps that cost valuable space that could be given over to apartment units in ways that would improve community compatibility.
  • The design decreases the number of transit-user parking spaces from approximately 144 to 98 despite significant community parking demand (which has been artificially inhibited for years because of puzzling restrictions on rush-hour parking). Fewer transit-user parking spaces means fewer transit users and lower station transit revenue.
  • Regarding community compatibility, the set-back from Eastern Avenue would be a barely-adequate 23 feet, but of as-great concern is that the building would step up to 5 stories from 3 at a distance of only 8-10 feet from the front, Eastern Avenue face. Community compatibility, this Washington DC Historic District-located residential building, would mean a step-up to full height pushed farther back away from Eastern Avenue NW and a full height limited to 4 stories, the height of every other recent residential development in the Takoma area: Elevation 314, the Gables, Cedar Crossing, the under-construction Takoma Central building, and the planned Spring Place project.
  • The design separates 3 parking-access lanes from the adjoining residential property by only 9 feet, which is a clear affront to neighboring residents.
Adequately addressing these points will entail very significant design changes. Because the Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement incorporates EYA's proposed design, it should not be voted until those changes have been adequately made.

Further, we reiterate our request that the WMATA board not vote on the Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement before a traffic study has been completed and released to the public with ample time for public comment. Please note that we have NOT questioned the proposed 212 apartment units (and we have no doubt that a company of EYA's capabilities can adequately address our points, for instance, by placing a reduced number of residential parking spaces, along with the loading dock, on a single level under the ground-level transit-parking facilities). We and community members accept Transit Oriented Development, however only if it is:
  1. Park-friendly, preserving a Takoma Green as a Community Park. We call for creation of a permanent park, of size approximately 2 acres, in the current Takoma station green space.
  2. Pedestrian-friendly, design so walkers, bikers, wheelchairs and strollers have metro and bus access that is better, not worse, than today.
  3. Neighborhood-friendly, designed to fit the scale and style of the surrounding area rather than to assault it.
Please ensure that the points we have raised, on behalf of our (and your) Takoma constituents are adequately addressed before you consider a Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement.

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