Greater Greater Washington

Development


Takoma Park progressives are for progress

Tim Male, a City Councilmember in Takoma Park, Maryland, sent us this response to Dan Reed's recent article, "Sometimes, it's okay for progressives to embrace progress."

Dan Reed wrote recently about the link between development and progressiveness in and around the area of Takoma Park, but the narrow coverage missed the real story of what is going on.


Takoma-Langley Crossroads, at the edge of Takoma Park. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Its true that City residents worked to oppose a proposed development that would have eliminated green space at the Takoma Metro in favor of townhouses with two car garages and less bicycle and bus access. Somehow that didn't sound like smart or progressive growth to us.

However, at the same time, development plans on nearby previously developed but underused sites have been moving forward near the Metro.

Elsewhere, the City of Takoma Park has been working to facilitate mixed commercial and residential space along the University and New Hampshire Avenue corridors to make more housing and affordable housing available on mass transit and future Purple line routes. These are developments that take advantage of underutilized commercial and retail space to build new capacity and energy into an areaand new housing.

In both cases, the City is supporting more density where it makes sense. In fact, if you actually watch the video about Melbourne, Australia's urban development plans that Alex Steffen refers to, they did precisely what Takoma Park has been promotingMelbourne avoided developing on any green space or historic areas and reused vacant commercial and retail to get more housing density.

And in reference to the claims of Takoma Park pushing poor people out, we have great data from the Community Indicators Project that shows just the opposite. We have a higher proportion of low and moderate income families than the rest of Montgomery County34 percent of our households are low income compared to 19 percent for the County and the average rent for a vacant unit in Takoma Park was more than $400/month cheaper than the County.

Part of this is because since 1980, the City has had a rent stabilization policy in place that has been an effective way to keep rents down and not without sacrifice from other residents who end up paying a higher property tax burden.

The point is, not all development is progressive and if you look a little deeper, you will see a lot more evidence that Takoma Park knows how to balance quality of life, diversity and development far better than Mr. Reed suggests.

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I feel better now.

by Alger on Feb 28, 2012 12:57 pm • linkreport

I don't know about this. As a resident of Takoma (DC), my sense is that neighbors on both sides of the border are generally opposed to development that brings density. The new mixed-use building going up on Carroll had to be scaled back because residents (and an ANC) thought it "didn't fit the community", despite the space being just an empty lot.

I'm younger and really like living in Takoma and generally can't relate to baby boomers who want to keep an awesome urban area with good transit access all to themselves. The anti-density crowd drives people farther out of the city and makes them more reliant on cars and sprawl.

by Matt on Feb 28, 2012 1:34 pm • linkreport

Its not clear to me from the above it the city residents who opposed the two car garage THs would have supported them if they had only one car garages, or no garages, or if they would have preferred higher density instead or if they objected to any construction on any green space, no matter how close to a metro station.

I would hope Mr Male undestands why the differences between those positions matters to the accusations that Mr Reed has made.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 1:38 pm • linkreport

With all due respect, the "green" space at the metro is left over lawn once the bus drive through lane was drawn. Further more, to be a "green" like the commons of a New England Village, it would have to be defined, which would mean allowing some development along the perifery of the metro site. This would be New Urbanist's wet dream to design the infilling and public space.

Also, while I commend your forsight of the purple line and anticipating more density at University and New Hampshire, it's a bit misleading. When people think Takoma Park, they think about the center near the Metro, not the perifery. the historic center is where you already have mass transit, not 10 years from now. Despite the hyper liberal politics of the place, it seems more conservative than Chevy Chase in that the old timers want to keep everything in the historic part as is (members only) while saying they're for progress as long as it's on the busy through streets.

Your data that show's there are plenty of low income folks would continue to work if you can get the tower blocks away from the historic part. So the increasingly unaffordable Victorians ($750k-one mill.) would become even more ecsclusive, while the working class would be concentrated on the outside, far from the metro.

I agree that historic Takoma Park is special, and I'm one of those hysterical preservationists, but there's a two city policy it seems, not very liberal or progressive. Have a sensitive planner draw up a vision that keeps everything that's special about Historic Takoma park, and where other's might be allowed to enjoy the lovely commercial strip and metro access.
Sharing is caring!

by Thayer-D on Feb 28, 2012 2:06 pm • linkreport

I was just in Takoma Park last night for dinner at Roscoe's, which is a good place to get pizza by the way. Takoma Park, however, is not a nice place. It's a mix between an old time downtown and a slum.

Every jurisdiction in the DC area should come to Takoma Park to see how not to do development. That area is hanging onto the past, but it has a lot of missing teeth, poor and narrow sidewalks, a general run down feeling of disinvestment, very little density and ultimately little reason for people outside of Takoma Park to go there.

I live in South Silver Spring and can walk to Takoma Park from my place, but I never go there. Why would I go someplace that is substantially worse than Downtown Silver Spring, Bethesda, DC, Arlington or Alexandria?

Takoma Park and College Park are in the running for the most embarrassing places in the DC region. Both places should be amazing; Takoma Park with its somewhat nice old downtown area and College Park as a hub of intellectualism and learning. Instead, both have resisted smart growth and suffer because of it.

Takoma Park residents may think they are progressive, but being against development is bad for the environment. It encourages sprawl. The fact that the Takoma metro is surrounded by parking and very little of value on the Montgomery County side is embarrassing.

Tim Male, you're city needs a lot of work.

by Patrick Thornton on Feb 28, 2012 2:15 pm • linkreport

I apologize for accidentally use you're in the last sentence of my rant. That's uncalled for.

The rest still stands, however. Takoma Park is anti-smart growth and pro sprawl. To think otherwise is delusional.

by Patrick Thornton on Feb 28, 2012 2:18 pm • linkreport

Councilmember Male,

Since I wrote my post two weeks ago, I've gotten responses from a few Takoma Park city officials pointing out all of the great, progressive things that the city's doing. I'm excited about The New Ave initiative, and even though it's in the early stages I look forward to seeing what happens. I also got to watch the planning process for the Takoma-Langley Crossroads Sector Plan as a legislative aide to County Councilmember Leventhal two years ago, and I'm happy with the larger vision for the area.

That said, my post was about progressive politics as it relates to Takoma Park's community activists, not the city's policies. I don't think it was constructive for residents to oppose a dense residential development at the Metro station on the grounds that there was parking.

As you well know, zoning laws in both the District and Montgomery County require parking in new housing. Every single new apartment and condominium development around the Takoma Metro, whether on the DC or MoCo side, has parking. Not only is it required by zoning, it's arguably demanded by the market as well, even at a site adjacent to a transit station. Even in Takoma Park, half of all adults drive to work (click on "Economic Characteristics" to see that data.) It may not be ideal, but it's a reality that has to be taken into consideration.

By opposing a development that, as I said before, could've provided much-needed housing, drawn customers to local businesses and encouraged public transit ridership in spite of its garages, the community got nothing.

Could something better have happened? Certainly. And I hope when that better proposal comes along, Takoma Park progressives come out in full support of it.

by dan reed! on Feb 28, 2012 3:03 pm • linkreport

The writer still clearly doesn't get smart growth. "Green space" and "by the Takoma Metro" are two things that should not be in the same sentence. No, they shouldn't build 2 story townhouses directly adjacent to the Metro station. They should build a ten story or taller condo building!

by MrTinDC on Feb 28, 2012 3:08 pm • linkreport

I'll step out of this after this post. There doesn't seem to be much of a discussion going on that will change anyone's opinion here.

Following Dan's lead I looked up other stats for commuters in the DC region and it seems Takoma Park is low average but not exceptional for the region when it comes to people driving alone to work (which is the number cited by Dan). Check this out:
District of Columbia--34.8%
Silver Spring CDP--48.9%
Hyattsville CDP--49%
Takoma Park--50%
Bethesda--56.3%
Prince George's County--64.7%
Fairfax City--72%

Which brings me to my personal conclusion. The Takoma Park Progressive thing is (at this point in time anyway) a myth. And you know, I am so relieved to be out from under that relentless pressure.

Anyway, peace out.

by Alger on Feb 28, 2012 5:18 pm • linkreport

Wow! What an amazing pile of stereotypes most of these comments amount to!

Alger you have conclusively proven that Tak Pk folks don't drive to work any less (or significantly more for that matter) than residents of Hyattsville or Silver Spring. Take that! Takoma Park's liberal reputation is conclusively and entirely proven a myth!

Thayer-D you are certainly correct that houses are a lot more expensive near the metro stop than at University and New Hampshire. But I believe that is true everywhere else in, well, the world. Housing is more expensive near mass transit. Feature, not bug. The rest of Takoma Park is very far from being uniformly wealthy, white, or much else. Apartments are concentrated in the center of town, just down the street from the most expensive homes on Maple Ave, and just down the street from some of our cutesy retail.

As a resident i think I spend more time than most others here ranting about TP. But most of these comments are mis-informed stereotypes. For example, the reason Takoma Park has lousy nightlife has a lot to do with the particular history of a place that was world HQ for the Seventh Day Adventists than any elitism, exclusivity, or whatever.

by DavidDuck on Feb 28, 2012 8:53 pm • linkreport

The urge to turn every DC neighborhood into Manhattan has really gotten out of hand. Takoma Park is a pleasant, green community with wonderful 1920's bungalow architecture. If you want to live in a tall building surrounded by nightlife I can direct you to Clarendon or Silver Spring. Believe it or not, you might one day be the same age as the evil "baby boomers", and appreciate a quiet neighborhood as well!

by Jeff on Feb 28, 2012 9:14 pm • linkreport

I hope we don't start using personal driving habits as an indicator of politics. Because that would mean a lot of progressives I know are in trouble.

Anyway, please point out to me the plans to turn any neighborhood in greater washington into Manhattan. Difficulty: you can't rely on just the example of buildings between 10-20 stories. Also point out where habitable single family homes are being torn down to place towers rather than vacant (or commercial/industrial) lots being filled in.

by Canaan on Feb 28, 2012 9:52 pm • linkreport

Turning DC into Manhattan would be great! Think of the diversity of neighborhoods: Greenwich Village, Alphabet City, Chelsea, Morningside and Hamilton Heights, the neighborhoods bordering Central Park. All wonderful low and mid-rise neighborhoods with strong communities.

by Neil Flanagan on Feb 28, 2012 10:19 pm • linkreport

@Jeff

I am a baby boomer, who is looking at possibly moving to a hirise. Not all baby boomers are alike. Its also odd that you are raising an issue about hi rises when what started this was a discussion of townhouses. I take it the community was NOT looking for higher density then?

Also, I think Dan was not pointing out TP driving habits to criticize TPers for driving, but to explain why the townhouses proposed for the metro station have garages. Every TPer to take issue with Dan so far has mentioned the garages as a reason to oppose the townhouses.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 10:21 pm • linkreport

Quote Matt: The new mixed-use building going up on Carroll had to be scaled back

Only thing I recall is that in 2006 or so was originally going to be condominiums but that went bust, and the current project is proceeding as apartments.

http://dcmud.blogspot.com/2006/08/architect-to-build-new-takoma-condos.html

Massing looks the same to me. So what was scaled back?

Quote Patrick: Takoma Park residents may think they are progressive, but being against development is bad for the environment.

I've no idea where you drew that conclusion they are against development.

Quote dan reed: I don't think it was constructive for residents to oppose a dense residential development at the Metro station on the grounds that there was parking.

That was a cookie-cutter suburban townhouse development, hardly what I would call dense residential development, and as I understand the issue was the excessive surface paving. It's not that there's parking, it's how it's done.

Quote dan reed: And I hope when that better proposal comes along, Takoma Park progressives come out in full support of it.

Three new condo/apartment buildings with below-ground parking were recently built around the metro, two with ground floor retail. I don't recall any opposition.

Quote DavidDuck: Alger you have conclusively proven that Tak Pk folks don't drive to work any less (or significantly more for that matter) than residents of Hyattsville or Silver Spring. Take that!

Uh, yeah. And?

by Bob See on Feb 28, 2012 10:45 pm • linkreport

btw, why was there no mention of the new apartment complex behind the CVS that was approved several years ago, but the developer hasn't actually done anything yet?

by Bob See on Feb 28, 2012 10:55 pm • linkreport

While making a place in the image of Manhattan might be preferred by some and despised by others for perfectly legit reasons, there's no doubt that manhatttan style living results in less environmental impact per person than what's currently in TP. There's not anything necessarily wrong about TP residents opposing density on the grounds that it will change the city's character but to oppose it on environmental grounds is laughable.

by Falls Church on Feb 28, 2012 11:41 pm • linkreport

Rent control is being "progressive?" Please
Rent control is one of the reasons Takoma Park has missed out on a decade of redevelopment in Montgomery County. Substandard apartments are haphazardly zoned into single family neighborhoods are an eyesore that would otherwise be redeveloped into modern housing if it were not for that law. Takoma Park has one of the highest property tax burdens in Maryland due to its lack of real estate tax base - attributable to the rent control law.

Its time to bring Takoma Park into the 21st century and repeal these arcane laws which are holding back the city.

by Cyrus on Feb 28, 2012 11:44 pm • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

About half of the ggw contibutors (and commenters) think that the DC area should be some kind of perfect urban utopia and every square inch of it should be dense, green, "vibrant," and easily accessible by pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders (but not motorists). Yeah that's all fine and dandy, but a stark contrast to present (and future) reality.

by King Terrapin on Feb 29, 2012 3:13 am • linkreport

King Terrapin: Because a goal will never be perfectly achieved is no reason to avoid progressing toward it.

by Daniel on Feb 29, 2012 9:06 am • linkreport

Takoma Park is far behind in many aspects of green building and sustainability. There are other municipalities and counties, around the DC area, that are ahead of the city. We must first catch up to them before we can pass them to even attempt to claim that Takoma Park is a leader in the green community.

by John Peterson on Mar 2, 2012 4:07 pm • linkreport

Use of the term Manhattanization should earn any commenter two demerits and require their attendance at a smart growth lecture of at least one hour! Takoma Park has a population density of about 7,000 people per square mile, similar to the city of Los Angeles (and Oakland and a number of other places). Manhattan has a density of about 65,000 people per square mile, so "Manhattanizing" Takoma Park would require every developed square inch of the city become nine times as dense as it is now! Location of housing, building form, transit access, affordable housing, what areas called open space are important to preserve--these are all the substantive parts of the discussion.

by parlorpink on Mar 2, 2012 5:49 pm • linkreport

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