Sunday, November 16, 2014

Takoma Junction update: Task Force recommendations and more...

The following is joint update from Councilmembers Tim Male, Kate Stewart, and Seth Grimes, describing how the City has applied the findings and recommendations of the Takoma Junction Task Force in the Takoma Junction revitalization process.


We encourage everyone to attend Tuesday evening's Takoma Junction open house. You will have the opportunity to engage with and ask questions of the current potential developers and the TPSS Co-op about their concepts for Takoma Junction. The meeting takes place Tuesday evening, November 18 at the Community Center, from 6:30 to 9:30 pm. There will not be a formal presentation so you can drop by at any time. We will be there as well.

Takoma Junction progress to date has been in alignment with the recommendations of the Takoma Junction Task Force, a residents committee created by the council in 2010. The Task Force's report is available online.

Here is a summary of some of the highest profile recommendations from the report's executive summary that focus on the City-owned parcel, what has occurred since the report was finished, and how each recommendation has been addressed in the current concepts for Junction redevelopment.

The City Lot

The report (p. 4) recommends four uses for the parking lot parcel (which includes some of the woods):

Improved pedestrian, bicycle and auto access and improved sidewalks.
  • The City replaced the degraded and unsafe sidewalks, between the fire station and the co-op, almost 2 years ago.
  • All street crossings were changed to incorporate designs that improved access for disabled residents. 
  • The City was one of the first adopters of BikeShare in the County with a station at the Junction lot, creating new bicycle options as directed by the report.
  • The City got the State Highway Administration to change signal timing to make it possible for pedestrians to cross all the way from the co-op side to the west side of Carroll in one light cycle.
  • Approximately 2 years ago, we funded 2 crossing guards to make pedestrian access by children, parents and commuters safer.
  • Within 8 months, the State Highway Administration is slated to install a new crosswalk across Carroll/Ethan Allen at Grant Avenue, which will reduce pedestrian crossing times and make pedestrians more visible, and will embark on upgrading the Junction's traffic signals. This last change may also facilitate slight shifts in signal timing that reduce traffic back up while still having a safe and acceptable duration for pedestrians to cross.
All the initial development concepts under consideration for Junction redevelopment maintain or add to pedestrian and bicycle accessibility.

Consolidated parking for visitors and employees in the Junction
  • The City eliminated 1 of 2 entrances to the lot and restriped the lot, making vehicle and pedestrian access safer and expanding the number of parking spaces available.
  • Recently, we reinstated paid parking in the lot. (There were formerly 8-10 metered spaces, near the TPSS Co-op, prior to the use of the lot to stage the fire station rebuilding.) Why? Because all-day parking by commuters, many from other areas of the state, overnight parking, parking of vehicles for sale was reducing parking available for residents and local business employees. For example, people would drive to the City, park for free, and then get on the F4 or RideOn buses for the remainder of their commute.
  • The addition of better and safer pedestrian crossings described above makes this parking lot more available to customers and businesses on the west side of Carroll Avenue.
  • The City has long leased dedicated space in the lot to the co-op for deliveries, employees, and customers and makes that same option available to Johnny's Auto Clinic and other businesses.
All of these actions have helped make the parking lot more useful to businesses and residents. All the initial development concepts we are reviewing would preserve public parking - questions remain about how much parking is needed and how the co-op's parking would be configured, if it changed at all.

Expanded Community Use
  • The City created the very popular food-truck program in the City lot, working in cooperation with the Old Takoma Business Association.
  • Community uses such as the Christmas Tree sale have continued; we are open to other possibilities. What do you propose?
  • We have expanded the Earth Day Celebration and added new functions like the Halloween Monster Bash. (We located the Grant Avenue Market across the street instead of in the parking lot to ensure there would be parking spaces for market visitors.)
  • The City installed a fence along the back of the parking lot to prevent illegal dumping in the wooded portion of the property.
All of the development proposals include preservation or some improvement to the open space on the property. The council, community, and developers are still discussing lots of options that would maintain or enhance the wooded portion of the site. We are hearing from many residents that they would like to have continued community use on the property. Continue to send us your ideas on what you would like to see in terms of community use and open space.

Independent, non-chain business

The Task Force recommended business use of the City-owned property. (The Task Force was not merely addressing maintenance of business on private property nearby when it suggested business use for the City-owned property). Its recommendations included use by the Co-op, similar businesses or food trucks. The food truck program has been very successful.

All of the development proposals being considered incorporate expansion of the Co-op, consistent with the recommendation of the Task Force. No one envisions or proposes bringing out-of-character businesses to the Junction. Continue to send us your ideas on what you would like to see in terms of expanded business services on the property if there are more things besides Co-op expansion.

Additional Recommendations

The report went on to make many, many additional recommendations. Here are some of the ones that got the most emphasis related to the City-owned property.
  • Any development should harmonize with existing architecture and should not exceed two stories.
We are talking about development, as encouraged by the Task Force, and didn't (but should have) put a two-story limit in place when proposals were requested.
  • Give priority to using the parcel to support an addition to the co-op.
The City directed and has reemphasized that development proposals provide for Co-op expansion and operational needs (especially loading space for service by semi trucks) and make provisions for continuity of Co-op operations during any construction. The City has invited the Co-op to present to the council and community and has included the Co-op inTuesday evening's (November 18) open house.
  • Encourage Retention and Reuse of the Turner (co-op) and Healey Surgeons Buildings.
No plans being considered would fail to retain both buildings (which are both privately owned). We are committed to retaining both buildings.
  • City should work with building owners on aesthetic improvements and landscaping.
The City Council expanded the area in which Old Takoma Business Association financial assistance could be used, allocated a specific portion to the Junction, and added the Junction to areas eligible for facade grants. For example, the signage at the bicycle store and laundromat have benefited from the City's facade program technical assistance and grants.
  • Carry out a Phase 1 Environmental Assessment of the City lot. 
Done. No major issues identified.
  • Carry out a Phase 2 Environmental Assessment of the City lot. 
Done. No major issues identified.
To Be Done

Other elements remain TBD, to be done. But they are accommodated by the Takoma Junction revitalization process. Notably they include:
  • Construct a switchback pathway through the wooded area of the City-owned parcel... doable as part of lot redevelopment and part of at least one of the current concepts.
  • Streetscape improvements... envisioned once the crosswalk at Grant Avenue is in and we have an idea how the City lot will be used.
  • A comprehensive look at vehicular traffic -- patterns and congestion -- and pedestrian accessibility and safety... again most feasible once we have an idea how the City lot will be used.
  • Convening stakeholder and residents groups... how Takoma Park operates and on our agenda although a point we're admittedly behind on.
Additional Points

We offer a few additional points, regarding the Takoma Junction Task Force findings.
  1. Regarding an RFP process: Page 21 of the Task Force report includes text that is germane to discussion of the RFP process that the City has embarked on. The report reads,
"City staff additional information (December 2011): It appears that the City cannot engage in negotiations for the long-term use of City property without entering into a bid process. City contracts (which would include a sales contract, as well as a lease or development agreement) are to be awarded by competitive sealed bidding or competitive sealed proposals unless one of the exceptions applies. None of the exceptions to competitive bidding would seem to apply."
  1. Mixed-use development: The Takoma Junction Task Force did envisage housing within possible mixed-use development of the City lot. See page 28 of the Task Force report, which includes "The City could solicit bids for a development that combines commercial use on the ground floor with high-density residential housing on the top floor or floors as well as a section dedicated to public space."
In Sum

In sum, the City has implemented many of the Takoma Junction Task Force's recommendations. Some are complete; others are in process; many are part of our plans, accommodated within our Takoma Junction revitalization process. We have accomplished a great deal in Takoma Junction and are on track to accomplish even more, in conformance with the task force recommendations, and we thank all community members for your very helpful advocacy and involvement.

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