Thursday, March 17, 2016

Takoma Junction project delays "kind of troubling" for Takoma Park leaders

Several Takoma Park City Councilmembers questioned development firm Neighborhood Development Company last night about what's taking so long to get the Takoma Junction redevelopment started. "It sort of seems like we lost a year in the process," Councilmember Tim Male said.

Takoma Junction is currently a low-density commercial area in "Old Takoma" along Carroll and Columbia Avenues. The City owns two significant parcels, and TPSS Co-op and a fire station are among the structures presently located there, mostly of a retail or service nature. Both City parcels are in the Historic District.

A major goal of the redevelopment for the City is to retain the TPSS Co-op store as Takoma Junction's anchor. This requires NDC to negotiate a letter of intent with TPSS before the project can begin. At last night's meeting, NDC representatives acknowledged they haven't even shown TPSS a first draft of such at letter yet. Councilmember Jarrett Smith said "It's kind of troubling" that an LOI hasn't been submitted to TPSS by this point. "The community wants to know why this isn't moving," Smith said.

Councilmember Rizzy Qureshi said there is a "sense of urgency" in the city about the project, and that residents are anxious to see it get started. NDC's CEO and founder Adrian G. Washington was frank in responding to the Council's comments, saying he himself was surprised at how long it has taken. "I would like to see the pace increase, personally," Washington said.

NDC's Diarra McKinney said the company hopes to have the LOI with TPSS within the next 30 days. They hope to meet with TPSS in the next 7 days. Regarding those negotiations, Washington predicted that "we're not gonna get everything we want, and they're not gonna get everything they want."

At the outset of the discussion, McKinney outlined a fairly precise schedule that shows a project timeline extending from March 31, 2016 to 2020. It proposes a community dialogue lasting from March 31 to May 31 of this year. Then the draft planning process would begin, and end with a Council vote on that plan this November 15.

NDC hopes to have approval of its site plan from the Montgomery County Planning Board by October 25, 2017, and to request construction permits in February 2019, with a 2020 delivery expected for the project.

Part of the community feedback process will be the creation of a four-to-eight member Advisory Committee, perhaps one resident from each ward of the City, and at least one member of City staff. The Committee will not make decisions, but will rather give feedback on NDC plans before they are shown to the greater public at meetings.

Two other hurdles to getting that process started are reaching a Development Agreement with the City, as well as a ground rent agreement. Smith urged NDC to reach out for help from the Council and City staff in moving the process along, particularly in dealing with Montgomery County.

Residential housing is under consideration for the Takoma Junction project, but Washington noted that an all-commerical development might be more "dynamic for your city center."

Earlier in the meeting, Mayor Kate Stewart and the Council voted unanimously in favor on the first reading of a bill that would set aside another $50,000 in funds to pay the law firm representing the City in the negotiations with NDC, Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz & Gilday, LLC.

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