The Takoma Junction parking lot slated for redevelopment. Image created with Google Maps.

Takoma Park has an outsized reputation given its small size. Its activism and progressive politics are legendary. Its diversity is a source of pride and celebration. It's also a desirable area with quaint neighborhoods with narrow tree-lined narrow streets and historic homes accessible to Metro.

People move to Takoma Park for its unique sense of place, which in turn contributes to the city’s rapidly increasing housing costs and displacement. Unfortunately, some local activists have seized on Takoma Junction — a modest development project on a city-owned parking lot — as a gentrification “proxy war.”

Over the last two years, they have waged an epic battle over the proposed two-story, mixed-use project on 1.4 acres in the city’s commercial district. They are framing the dispute as a referendum on the city’s values, identity, and future. However, the current proposal is a modest, two-story mixed-use office space above small format retail, a green roof, a public plaza, and underground parking. It's time for city leaders to vote yes for Takoma Junction.

 

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View of current Takoma Junction proposal. Image from the Neighborhood Development Company.

Takoma Junction is remarkably right for Takoma Park

The Takoma Junction proposal is a testament to Takoma Park’s progressive values. The project is the product of a remarkable four-year public engagement process after 20 years of debate and discussion.

While the scale of the project would be the envy of any community, the details are what make it so impressive. The city council successfully imbued the project with social justice, environmental sustainability, and economic resilience elements, including:

  • Dedicating public revenues from the project to support affordable housing programs
  • Achieving LEED Gold or equivalent building standards on an accessible, brownfield site
  • Diversifying the city’s tax base beyond single-family homes and attracting small, locally-owned businesses

A previous proposal with two stories and a set-back third story would’ve provided a rooftop community space, but project opponents convinced the city council that it was too tall. The current proposal moves the community space to the street-level. Activists contend that the project is too large, will generate too much traffic, doesn’t have enough public space, and that “corporate development” will hasten displacement of small business and people of color.

The Takoma Junction development site is a significant gap in an otherwise vibrant streetscape. Image created with Bing Maps.

Sensing defeat this Wednesday, July 25 before the Takoma Park City Council, a handful of activists are threatening to recall the mayor and members of the city council if they vote to advance the project forward. The rest of us are scratching our heads and ready to move on to more pressing community needs.

Takoma Park has equity issues, and stopping this development won’t help

Like much of the region, Takoma Park is undoubtedly changing. It’s getting more expensive, wealthy, and increasingly inequitable. There are systemic social equity issues needing urgent attention.

Our city’s affordable housing is disappearing, deteriorating, and segregated to the periphery. The county’s school boundaries exacerbate this inequality, districting the community’s low-income and minority children into crowded, underperforming schools.

Furthermore, the city’s services and amenities — its parks and playgrounds, infrastructure investments, and policing — are not allocated equitably to its lower-income wards. The focus and energy of the community needs to be on these serious issues, not a mixed-use development in the most desireable and expensive part of the city.

The proposal includes generous public space and setback from the street, a green roof, and a conservation area to the rear of the property. Image from the Neighborhood Development Company.

Activists are making public statements against the the project at every city council meeting, proposing “alternative designs,” denigrating city staff, and now threatening a recall petition against the city’s dedicated public servants. The tone and tenor is both out of proportion to the issues and out of control. It has to end at some point. Let’s end it now.

Tell Takoma Park’s elected officials you support the project

We all love Takoma Park’s many quirks, but this is not the type of activism that brought us here. We need to hold our public servants and elected officials accountable when they do wrong, but we should celebrate them when they push for smart, sustainable development.

Takoma Junction, like all new developments, is not perfect, but it is a reasonable project that is right for Takoma Park. At a minimum it will fill a large hole in the commercial streetscape, remediate an impervious surface parking lot, and provide an infusion of revenue for Takoma Park to support its affordable housing fund and provide other services to disadvantaged residents.

We ask the Greater Greater Washington community to lend your support to Takoma Park’s mayor, city council, and staff. If you feel so inclined, click here to send your message.

 

Email city officials today!

David Daddio is fascinated by the politics and process of urban change. He is a planner and policy analyst working in the transportation sector and holds a masters in city and regional planning. David, his wife, and young son live in Takoma Park. All opinions are his own.

Tony Camilli likes walking, bicycling, using public transportation and even driving. When not busy working and parenting, he enjoys Ultimate Frisbee, reading, and writing about the built environment. He and his family live in Takoma Park. All opinions are his own.