TAKOMA PARK — Tensions between residents and the Takoma Park City Council remain high as the project to redevelop a city-owned parking lot adjacent to the Takoma Park-Silver Spring Co-op enters its fifth year.
“Our county and the world is already affected enough by our cars and our carbon footprint, without trucks adding to it all,” said 13-year-old Ward 2 resident Elizabeth Comfort-Cohen during the City Council’s weekly meeting Wednesday. Comfort-Cohen, who goes by the Co-op on her commute to school, expressed concern the proposed Takoma Junction Redevelopment project could have on pedestrians and cyclists. “All I’m asking, council members, is that you think long and hard about the effect this project can make on the community and not just the government.”
“I think it’s time to look at recalling the mayor and recalling my councilperson,” said Byrne Kelly, a licensed planner and Ward 3 resident who proposed alternative plans of his own. “They’re not demanding what their constituents, us, want.”
In a meeting lasting into the early-morning hours on Thursday, the Takoma Park City Council conducted a work session to Takoma Junction, following nearly 90 minutes of public comments.
Situated at the intersection of Grant, Carroll, and Ethan Allen Avenues, the parcel of land in question functioned primarily as a parking lot since the 1930s before being purchased by the city government in September 1995 to “prevent private development of the property in a manner that did not accord with community values and interests,” while still allowing the city to redevelop the lot within county zoning regulations according to a February 2012 report by the Takoma Junction Task Force.
In addition to the future viability of the Co-op, many residents raised concerns about the wider impact the proposed two-story development by Neighborhood Development Company could have on the city.
Jacqueline Moore, also a Ward 2 resident, asked the Council if former Mayor Sammie Abbot would support a project that would increase “racial inequity” and “gentrification” in the city.
“It’s time to question motives, intentions, procedures regarding the push to develop the Takoma Junction area,” Moore said, referring to Abbot’s successful push in the early 1980s to prevent a proposed freeway from being built through the city.
Dara Orenstein, a Ward 2 resident and American Studies professor at George Washington University, said the council’s racial equity impact statement is inadequate and explained that the city needed to study historical land-use patterns and economic trends prior to initiating the development.
“I research the history of capitalism in the United States and draw on my expertise when I call this debate over the junction and over the right to the city … a textbook example of the political culture of gentrification,” she added.
During the meeting, Mayor Stewart suggested the Council’s Racial Equity statement, which appends all resolutions and states the impact any particular project will have on racial disparities, did not work as intended and should be left off future legislation.
“We are sometimes going to get it right and many times we may get it wrong or it may be very inadequate, because of the lack of data that may be out there that we can work with,” she said.
Ward 3 resident Nadine Bloch said she was disappointed in the Mayor’s suggestion on the racial equity statement adding, “because people have questioned how the racial equity assessment was done … the response from the mayor was ‘Maybe we’ve gone too far; let’s just stop talking about it.’”
In 2014, the Takoma Park City Council issued an RFP to potential developers to come up with concept plans for a multiuse building on the site that would include retail, office, and public space.
After being awarded the bid in 2016, NDC released a concept plan in October 2017, consisting of three floors — prompting many residents to voice concern and opposition.
“I think Takoma Park is a very intelligent, involved community with a lot of passion, and I thought the comments were great,” said Adrian Washington, CEO of NDC. “Just in terms of developers, what we’re trying to do is design something that fits with the site, fits with the town, is commercially viable, and achieves a number of objectives.”