As smoke filled the Takoma Park city council chambers, it was a wonder anyone could see the slides being projected onto the screen. The presentation was by EYA, the developer of the housing project proposed for the Takoma Station Metro green space. The smoke had two sources, Takoma Parkian’s burning anger, and EYA’s smoldering disdain.
Pathetic is the only way to describe EYA’s presentation. Their changes were minimal and they brought no experts qualified to explain most of them. They admitted that the profit to EYA on the entire project was “marginal, ” that the only reason they were there was due to pressure from the Maryland governor’s office, that they might not actually make the changes they were presenting, and they didn’t really care what Takoma Park thought, they were going ahead with it.
Most of the changes were to Metro access and traffic: Handicap-access was improved ( the original plan did not meet ADA requirements). Four layover bus bays were added (the original 10 bus bays were minimal and allowed no future expansion). Traffic patterns were changed (allowing cars in the bus lanes and other aspects would have created a pedestrian unfriendly, traffic choked situation).
The changes would also eliminate four townhouses. The total now is 82. EYA held fast to the plan to include 2-car garages with most of the units. The 8 affordable-housing townhouses will each have a one-car garage.
Councilmembers and citizens were underwhelmed. They noted that while handicap-access had been improved for bus passengers, people being dropped off by private car would have to cross a distance exceeding the 200 foot minimal required by law.
Several, especially Councilmember Reuben Snipper, who rides a bus to that Metro station, thought that insufficient room was provided for buses during times of congested traffic or breakdowns. Others thought that the turnaround spaces were too small, that traffic onto Eastern Avenue would become snarled, and that there weren’t enough parking spaces to accommodate new traffic in the area.
The developer representatives answered all of these concerns with one answer, repeated several times. They said all of the traffic and road designs were done by WMATA to WMATA specifications, and since there was no WMATA engineer present the issues could not be addressed. EYA were prepared to discuss only housing design issues. Of course, there had been few changes to those.
There was the now-familiar parade of citizens, activists, and organizations lining up at the microphone to vent. Predictably, the questions and comments from both sides became increasingly testy. It was the same old exchange we’ve been hearing for years, and as before there was little enlightenment to be had.
Suddenly, a new face emerged from the crowd! Resident Vanessa Dixon (if we got her name right), said she was new to the issue and would EYA please explain what is your point in being here, what do you want from Takoma Park residents, and what is the role of the city council?
The EYA representatives, still bristling from previous hostile questioning, made a frank response. They were there at the behest of the Maryland governor’s office, though, they added ominously, the governor has no bearing on the project, it being in the District. What they wanted from the city council and community was for them to “buy in” to the proposed changes. But, they said petulantly, the city’s buy-in was not necessary, nor did EYA have to actually adopt the changes they were presenting.
As far as EYA was concerned, they followed proper procedure and have the support of the DC mayor and local DC city council member They are ready to roll with the current plan.
All that remains is for EYA to submit plans to the D.C. Office of Planning for Planned Unit Development and historic preservation approval processes. Takoma Park will be submitting strenuous objections also, just as they objected to WMATA’s recent application for Federal Transit Approval (FTA) of the concept plan. The outcome there is pending.
That the project is SO CLOSE to construction made it all the more shocking when the EYA reps admitted that the project with it’s estimated price range of $500,000 – $700,000 per unit is “marginal at best” in the current economy.
Residents underscored the marginality of the project, pointing out that at least four other housing developments were either built or planned for lots near Takoma Metro, and that similar units around other Metro stations were going empty for want of buyers and renters.
The next morning the stock market continued its plunge – while the world wondered if it had forgotten to attach the bungee cord. It was a question that remained unanswered the rest of the week. A more parochial question this brings to mind is whether in EYA’s minds, “marginal” has now become “suicidal.”