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Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 5

Bloomingdale, Trinidad, Brookland, Fort Totten—these are a few of the neighborhoods included in Ward 5, which covers much of northeast DC. There are a lot of contested races for the ward's Advisory Neighborhood Commissions this year, with well over 50 candidates total. We found eight who deserve your vote.

Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.


What are ANCs, and why should I care?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes—Your vote, every vote, really counts.

Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.

Here are our endorsements

After reviewing the candidate responses from each competitive race in Ward 5, we chose eight candidates to endorse. Here, you can read their positions, along with responses from many unopposed candidates.

The historic seminary building, as seen from 13th Street NE. Photo by Jonathan Neeley.

In ANC 5A, we endorse Will Gee and Gordon-Andrew Fletcher

Much of ANC 5A is made up of Michigan Park, Fort Totten, Catholic University and the Old Soldier's Home. This ANC covers the areas east and west of the Red Line between the Brookland and Fort Totten Metro stations. One of larger controversies in the area is the development of 90 new row houses at St. Joseph's Seminary. Some neighbors have argued vociferously against this development, saying the buildings will "irrevocably damage [the] community" and destroy green space, even though the land is currently private.

A similar battle is unfolding nearby at the Takoma Metro station, which is just outside of 5A. There, a large underused parking lot has been slotted for redevelopment for years, but some community members have stalled it. One stop down, the mixed-use Cafritz development near the Fort Totten Metro is already under construction, but has been the source of community pushback in the past.

In situations like these, strong, reasonable, and proactive ANC leadership is desperately needed.

One leader we like is Will Gee, a candidate for 5A03, the district at the northeastern corner of the ANC on the Maryland border.

Will had smart and nuanced answers regarding the different developments in the area. For example, regarding Cafritz: "This is the kind of density around a Metro stop that we should be encouraging, though such a large-scale development is bound to have significant consequences, both good and bad." He similarly is excited about working with the developers at St. Joseph's, saying it is an "excellent place to add more housing" and a "critical opportunity for the Michigan Park community."

Will is a solid supporter of alternative transit, and was one of the few candidates who took our survey who unabashedly supported removing street parking if it meant improving bus infrastructure. This is a courageous and smart stance in a neighborhood where, as he puts it, such parking is "sufficiently available" and the change would be in the "neighborhood's best interest." Let's get this man a seat already.

Directly west lies 5A08, the area adjacent to the Fort Totten Metro station. Here, we endorse Gordon-Andrew Fletcher. Gordon-Andrew is also impressed by the efforts at St. Joseph's, and is "a firm believer that these townhomes will be a benefit for the area." He also envisions bike lanes along South Dakota Avenue and Riggs Road. To us, Gordon-Andrew seems like a thoughtful and responsive choice for commissioner, and we hope he gets a chance to serve his community.

Photo by Joseph Nicolia on Flickr.

In ANC 5B, we endorse Henri Makembe

North and east of the Brookland-CUA Metro stop lies Brookland and the rest of ANC 5B. Besides the development at St. Joseph's, neighbors here have their eye on the revitalization the Rhode Island Avenue corridor, and they want to know what commissioners will do to address public safety in their area.

There are only two contested races in 5B. For the first (5B03), we like Henri Makembe. Henri says that one of the reasons he is running is because he believes the "neighborhood should be thinking about how we want we want to grow in the future and go after it," and he sees Rhode Island Avenue as key to that growth. He also is supportive of developing more housing, "especially those suited for families.

Henri also envisions better connectivity between bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and wants to work closely with the Metropolitan Police Department to improve community policing.

Finally, Henri voiced his approval for the controversial homeless shelter proposed for Ward 5. While he agrees that "legitimate questions have not been answered and the process thus far has been opaque," he is unwavering in his support. We appreciate his rational, positive, and firm approach to these issues.

The other contested race is 5B04. This is an important district for any supporters of transit-oriented development, as it runs directly adjacent to the Red Line between the Brookland and Rhode Island Avenue Metro stops.

Unfortunately, we cannot endorse either candidate here.

The challenger, Carolyn Steptoe, has long been an opponent of development in the area. Her extraordinary comment here praises the neighborhood group known as the "200 footers," who won an incredibly impactful court case halting the construction of housing on the vacant property at 901 Monroe Street.

As further proof of Carolyn's consistent opposition to smart growth, she told us that "5B04 is fully saturated" when it comes to housing, and was against the very idea of accommodating new growth and residents."

Incumbent Rayseen Woodland is not any better. Frankly, this quote in response to our questionnaire astounded us:

I am not for too much housing. The more housing that come to the community, the more changes. People bring their own perspectives and they may not match with ours. I would not like to see residential parking become more of a disaster.
We cannot support a commissioner who, rather than address the needs of our growing city and citizens, values parking and keeping new people with different ideas out. We hope you won't support such a commissioner either.

If you live in 5B04, we encourage you to get involved in your ANC (though we wish you luck), and if you're interested in running for a seat next election, make sure to let us know.

New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road. Photo by Randall Myers on Flickr.

In ANC 5C, we endorse Carlos Davis and Sumner Shaw

Further south, ANC 5C is a heavily industrial area with housing mixed throughout, including neighborhoods like Brentwood, Fort Lincoln and Woodridge. It is bordered on the south by the National Arboretum and Mount Olivet Rd, and in the north it lies mostly below Rhode Island Avenue.

Rhode Island Avenue's future is critically important to many of these neighbors, but perhaps more immediately pressing are the continuing controversies and stories coming from Brookland Manor, a large block of low-income housing that is set for redevelopment but is under scrutiny because of allegations of discriminatory practices.

The strip of land running north along of Bladensburg Road and bordering Brookland Manor is 5C02. In a close race, Carlos Davis struck us as the strongest candidate for this seat.

Carlos is in favor of bike lanes along Bladensburg, and is frustrated by the many missing sidewalks in his neighborhood, something he will work to fix. He envisions walkable urban villages for his neighborhoods, something he thinks is readily achievable with consistent "community and developer engagement."

Opponent Kevin Mullone seems generally reasonable, but he believes "the city is over saturated with new apartment units" and was against removing any street parking even if it meant improved bus services. We encourage you to give Carlos your vote.

Geographically the largest district in the ANC, the southern edge of the area bordering the National Arboretum is 5C04. There are three candidates running for the same seat here, and we think Sumner Shaw is a good choice.

Sumner has good ideas for the continued enhancement of Rhode Island Avenue, and seemed generally open to new ideas, as shown by his response about Brookland Manor: "I feel that progress in the form of development is a good thing as long as the constituents and their concerns are included prior and during said such progress."

More than anything, we think Sumner is a much better choice than his opponent Bernice Young. In reply to Brookland Manor: "No comment." Sorry, voters deserve to know where a candidate stands on perhaps the most public controversy in the ANC. Other answers were similarly terse and unhelpful. How would she like the neighborhood to look in 20 years? "I would like it to stay the same."

The third candidate, Jacqueline Manning, did not respond to our survey. Given the options, we think Sumner is the best choice here.

Trinidad. Photo by nauseaflip on Flickr.

In ANC 5D, we endorse Adam Roberts

Resdients who live in Ivy City, Trinidad, and Carver Langston live and vote in ANC 5D. It's a narrow district bounded on the southern edge by Florida Avenue and Benning Road, and on the north generally by New York Avenue.

Given those two thoroughfares, transportation is a big issue for the neighborhood. ANC commissioners will have opportunities to make their streets safer during their terms, as well as influence any work done around the Starburst Plaza at the end of the H Street corridor. We also wanted to know what prospective commissioners had to say about the ongoing redevelopment at Union Market, including the newer debates surfacing about historic preservation.

Within this ANC, the triangle in between Maryland Avenue, Bladensburg Road and Mount Olivet Road is 5D03, and for this seat we endorse Adam Roberts.

Adam's previous term has been busy, and he was proud to support "projects that have both positively activated space and met or surpassed the city's affordable housing requirements," including "13 brand new Habitat for Humanity homes" along Florida Avenue.

He recognizes that more can be done to expand the uses of the Starburst Plaza and looks forward to the coming redevelopment of the Hechinger Mall as opportunity to bring resources and vitality to the area. On transportation: "We do not need a six-lane highway running through Bladensburg; bike lanes are one way to slow down vehicular traffic, and get more visible people on the road, which I believe will certainly help deter crime."

Sounds good to us. We think Adam will continue to be a thoughtful, active and competent commissioner moving forward.

Eckington. Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

In ANC 5E, we endorse Hannah Powell and Michael Henderson

Along both sides of North Capitol Street are neighborhoods like Bloomingdale, Eckington, and Edgewood, to name a few. This area is covered by ANC 5E. The well-fought-over McMillan Sand Filtration Site (what all those "Save McMillan Park" signs are about) is a huge issue for this ANC to tackle in the next few years, as well the substantial mixed-use redevelopment of the Rhode Island Shopping center adjacent to the Rhode Island Metro stop.

There's potential for a serious influx of housing and smart development in some of these areas, though it will take strong support from ANC leaders to help make that happen.

One person who has our confidence is Hannah Powell in 5E03, which is the eastern half of Eckington.

Out of the three candidates running in this race, two responded to our survey and we liked both. Hannah's opponent, Mike Aiello, had strong answers to our questionnaire on transportation, historic preservation, and housing. It is clear he has a strong grasp of the issues in the neighborhood, but he did not take as clear a stance on McMillan.

On the other hand, Hannah summarizes the situation at McMillan very well: "While it would be wonderful to turn the site back into the large park it was before WWII, it is readily apparent that there is simply no way the District can fund the needed repairs on its own. Absent a public-private partnership and compromises on all sides, the site will likely remain in disrepair and fenced off from the community, unusable by anyone."

She also supports the plans for the Rhode Island Shopping Center: "I am supportive of smart, sustainable development clustered close to Metro, and the MRP/Rhode Island Avenue development is, for the most part, a good example of exactly that," though she says that "[t]he developers stand to gain significantly by increasing the number of housing units through their" request for zoning relief, and the community "should also share in the benefits, including an increase in affordable housing units." Hear, hear.

One reader also respected Hannah's "desire to welcome new residents but to honor and maintain the diversity of the existing neighborhood," in particular regarding different housing types and options.

In the end, Hannah rose to the top our list for this district.

In the middle of the ANC lies 5E10, where we endorse Michael Henderson. This SMD abuts the Rhode Island site directly, and it was good to read that Michael is "happy to see the Rhode Island Shopping Center being redeveloped," though he promises to advocate for better access for residents in Edgewood Terrace, more affordable housing, and more green space as part of the project. He did not take a strong stance on McMillan, but at least seemed open to see some positive development happen there.

Readers wrote in that Michael's answers reflected his "thoughtful nature and his commitment to making Edgewood an even better place to live." We hope he lives up to that!

McMillan Sand Filtration Site. Photo by carfreedc on Flickr.

It is worth mentioning that there were many candidates in 5E that we chose not to endorse, primarily because of their answers about the McMillan site.

In 5E06, Katherine McLelland did not commit to much in her answers, and in particular on McMillan she refused to take a stance either way: "Whichever the direction that our ANC is in favor of, I am personally in favor of." In 5E07, Aravind Muthukrishnan wants a museum on the site, and Bertha Holliday had a host of concerns about the current proposal and seemed to threaten "delays, modifications, and increased costs." Finally in 5E09, Kirby Vining has been an outspoken "Save McMillan Park" activist for some time, and in our survey was against adding housing or bike infrastructure in his neighborhood.

The McMillan site is one of the few remaining large parcels of land in the District where we can significantly add to our housing stock and bring mixed-use amenities to the area. Having reasonable, compromising, and courageous commissioners nearby will make a real difference for the neighborhood and the city as a whole. We hope readers help vote some in.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 5 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 5. You can also see responses and our endorsements for all 8 wards on our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page, and we'll publish our rationale for those in upcoming posts.

These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and presented endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.


It's time to build housing at the Takoma Metro station

Metro has been trying for over a decade to spur development around the Takoma station in DC, but in the past, opposing neighbors and their elected officials have created years of delay. The project is ready to move forward again, and hopefully the cycle won't repeat itself this time.

The parking lot at the Takoma station, where WMATA and EYA plan to move forward with plans to build townhouses. Image from Google Maps.

What's the problem?

Since before the turn of the millennium, Metro has planned to redevelop an underused parking lot next to the Takoma station, where parking usage is less than 50% most days. Housing developments on top of or adjacent to Metro stations is hardly controversial; it's a logical idea and part of Metro's development policy to promote them at or near Metro stations in order to make it easy for residents to get around.

In 2000, Metro selected EYA to develop the Takoma station's parking lot, and the first plan developed in 2006 called for the construction of 90 townhouses. Some local neighbors in Takoma, DC, as well as elected representatives of Takoma Park, MD, opposed the first plan, with groups like Historic Takoma saying the proposal was "too dense." They also argued that the two-car garages in each townhouse would bring too much traffic.

The Takoma Metro station today. Image from Google Earth.

Some smart growth supporters didn't think townhouses were unreasonable for an area right by a Metro station, but many did feel such large garages were unnecessary. EYA's original plan got sidelined by a combination of opposition and the recession, but in 2013 the company drew up a new plan to build a medium-density apartment building between five and seven stories high (but scaling down to four stories at Eastern Avenue) instead, with about 200 units and with fewer parking spaces per unit.

EYA's revised plan to build apartments by the Takoma station. Image from EYA.

Many neighbors again opposed EYA's plans, but this time, they had a much more effective online campaign, building and maintaining two separate opposition websites as well as both a Facebook page and Yahoo group. The neighbors also managed to garner support from elected officials this time around.

Complaints about EYA's proposal are varied, but the theme is evident: "it's too big and has too much parking."

The neighbors' petition cites their concerns over the size of EYA's proposed building, the loss of green space, and EYA's use of an above-ground parking garage with the building wrapping around it (rather than underground parking). ANC4B also raised concerns about traffic and said the size of the proposed building violates DC zoning rules for being higher than 50 feet.

Meanwhile, elected officials of Takoma Park also raised concerns about the size of the proposed building, the location of a loading dock for apartment residents, too much parking and that the plan steals public parking spots for the benefit of apartment residents.

Don't let perfect be the enemy of good

The latest development isn't perfect, but it's not terrible either. Looking first at the size, even if the neighbors are technically correct that the proposed building is greater than the underlying zoning, a four-story apartment building abutting Eastern Avenue and adjacent to a Metro station is hardly out of character for the neighborhood. DC law does allow projects (like this one) to go through a process called a Planned Unit Development, which can give a project some latitude, such as to increase density near a Metro station or for affordable housing. That seems like good policy.

The argument that this development will increase parking and traffic is wrong-headed. This development is adjacent to the Takoma station, where people will have to drive less, not more. It does shift a significant number of parking spaces from public to private use, but will retain the number of Metro parking spaces for riders and expands the number of bus bays serving Metro and Montgomery County's RideOn.

Former Takoma Park Councilmember Seth Grimes represented Takoma Parkers, who border the site and led the charge opposing EYA's proposal. He told me that Metro and EYA's motives are good with this project, as he fully supports development around the Takoma station, but he echoed what other neighbors have said: that EYA's plan is still too focused on parking and encourages car ownership and driving. However, the number of parking spaces has dropped from two per unit in the original plan to 0.7 per unit, and at the same time, the housing that would be available would increase from 90 to 200 homes.

Grimes opined that the size issues could be remedied by either building the parking below ground or by greatly reducing it. "EYA designed a building for 10 years ago as opposed to 10 years in the future," he remarked.

You can't always get what you want

The irony to all of this is that the neighborhood is struggling to attract businesses to its commercial street where the Takoma station is located. There is some good news in that Starbucks is opening a store in Takoma; even if it does upset some anti-corporate locals, many see it as a positive sign for the neighborhood's business climate. Heck, despite the announcement by Starbucks to open a store in Takoma, a new local coffee shop announced plans to open nearby too.

But if you walk around Takoma's main street (i.e. Carroll and 4th Streets, DC and Carroll Avenue, MD) you'll find plenty of empty space for lease, including the old Takoma theater, a grand property ripe for reuse. Given Takoma's reluctance to supporting chain businesses, such a result is not unforeseeable. Additionally, Takoma's historic districts may dissuade developers and businesses from wanting to build and invest here.

As an aside here, it's richly ironic that Takoma was founded by B.F. Gilbert, a "New York venture capitalist" who is beloved by many of the same neighbors that are leading the charge against EYA. Meanwhile, people in Takoma are clamoring for more shops, restaurants and services. Look here to see how excited the community was for the startup of a local food truck! Gilbert would have probably supported an even larger mixed-use development than what EYA has proposed.

Personally, I think Metro could do even more development at this site by rerouting the buses to the Silver Spring transit center and developing the entire parcel into a larger mixed-use space, but I doubt that the community would support the loss of neighborhood bus service or the loss of the greenspace, even if it is never used. Still, there is a housing crisis in DC and Takoma has a lot of crime that could be decreased with more "eyes on the street." If only Metro was more ambitious.

More development is coming to Takoma, so let's stop fighting already

With the recent opening of two new apartment buildings on Willow and Maple Streets, Takoma, like the rest of DC, is growing. Does this mean that we should start building skyscrapers adjacent to the Takoma station? Of course not, but Takoma residents cannot claim to be "progressive" and concerned about gentrification while simultaneously opposing new housing developments around a Metro station on the basis of zoning technicalities.

The effects of such diametrically opposed views results in pushing new development outside DC, which increases traffic and sprawl, and only isolates lower-income people from the jobs they need to make a living. While opposing activists may have slowed this development, with the support of other neighbors, the WMATA board approved it so it is now a question of when, not if. I spoke with Jack Lester from EYA and he confirmed that the project is still moving forward as EYA and WMATA work out some of the finer details.

But how do we thread the needle so that Takomans get more shops, restaurants and services while retaining the small-town feel (i.e. no significant traffic increase)? It's not rocket science and a lesson for all business districts: increased density = more people living in the area = more demand for more local shops and services = more supply of local shops and services.

What is most perplexing to me is that much of the opposition to this development appears to be coming from Takoma Park even though the development sits in Takoma, which, again, is in DC. Takoma Park is an extremely progressive community that has laws protecting trees and bans on styrofoam containers and is the only rent control municipality in Maryland.

How can a community that cares so much about the environment and those who are less fortunate be so opposed to increasing the amount of available housing (some of which will be reserved for people who are at or below the poverty line), increasing the number of people who live close to public transportation (which supports Metro's future) and are thereby unlikely to drive very much (which is better for the environment)?

In a Washington City Paper article about this whole ordeal, there was an interesting comment that may provide some insight. It reads:

There's an in increasingly common NIMBY strategy to pretend that what you're really fighting is evil developers. Complaining about the future residents can come off too classist or racist, but complain about the developers who enable those "others" to move in is supposedly going to convince us that the NIMBYs are pure hearted.

Developers wouldn't be interested if they couldn't find a buyer. They are merely agents for the future residents. There is no isolating your objections against "developers' greed" and your objections to the people that simply want a place to live near where you have found a place to live.

What do you think? Does this sounds like what is happening in Takoma or does the opposition raise some valid concerns?

Cross posted at Takoma Talk.


Town and gown clash over development in Takoma Park

Montgomery County's rapidly-growing community college, Montgomery College, wants to expand its northern Takoma Park campus. A number of Takoma Park residents don't like the idea, and are pushing for the college to expand in nearby Silver Spring instead.

Montgomery College sits partially in Takoma Park (inside the red line) and partially in Silver Spring. Image from Google Maps.

With campuses in Takoma Park, Rockville and Germantown, Montgomery College serves more than 60,000 students a year, a number that's growing quickly. Its first campus was built in northern Takoma Park in 1950, and in 2004 it expanded by adding new buildings in Silver Spring.

The college's board of trustees recently approved a new Facilities Master Plan for 2013-2023. The Master Plan is full of proposals and ideas for the Takoma Park campus, such as a new math and science center building, a new health and fitness center, and a new library. According to the plan, Montgomery College's Takoma Park campus has more capacity constraints and "obsolete or dysfunctional existing structures" than Rockville and Germantown.

The plan notes that enrollment has increased 18% over the past five years and is projected to increase another 27% by 2023. All of those additional students will need space for classes and laboratories. In order to achieve greater square footage without acquiring any new land, the plan calls for taller, wider buildings to replace the current ones, which are mostly smaller, two-story structures built to blend into the residential character of northern Takoma Park.

All of that has the college wanting to expand the Takoma Park campus, to the tune of over 56,000 square feet.

RenovationNew ConstructionDemolitionNew Growth
Takoma Park/Silver Spring9,295170,532(113,983)56,549

In the image below, the six buildings colored in yellow are those planned to be demolished and rebuilt, while the orange building is planned for renovation. It's worth noting that the college's daycare center (located on the right side and noted by the letters "DC") will be closed with no plans to reopen, meaning students with kids and some local parents will need to find a new childcare option.

Maps from the Montgomery College Facilities Master Plan.

Neighbors are opposed, but the college says it can address concerns

At a Takoma Park City Council meeting on January 20, 2016, Montgomery College Takoma Park campus provost and Montgomery College vice president Brad Stewart described the draft master plan to both residents and the council.

According to Historic Takoma, a non-profit organization founded to preserve the heritage of Takoma Park and the Takoma neighborhood of DC, the college agreed in writing in 2002 to consult with neighbors and the City Council on any proposed plans that could impact the neighborhood. While Mr. Stewart claims that two neighborhood discussions about the plan occurred (one in Takoma Park and one in Rockville), neighbors of the college claim that nobody told them.

Members of the City Council sided with the college's neighbors and chided Mr. Stewart about what they said was a lack of coordination on the college's part. Neighbors also complained that the larger, wider buildings contemplated in the master plan would be more appropriately located on the western side of its campus, which borders an urban, commercially zoned area on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring.

Mr. Stewart tried his best to allay concerns, noting that that Master Plan is not the final document with regard to actual design and construction. He assured the City Council that additional outreach will be done the school hires architects and starts considering building designs.

Regarding the building heights, Mr. Stewart responded that the college's architects heard neighborhood concerns and created setbacks on the top floors of buildings facing neighboring homes.

You can watch residents raise their concerns at the City Council meeting here, beginning around 13:20, with Mr. Stewart's presentation to the City Council starting around 2:02:00.

Residents and the college have clashed before

As noted above, during the January 20th City Council meeting a few local residents alleged that the college failed to conduct adequate consultation with the local community. But deeply embedded in the Master Plan is a section discussing the college's relations with its Takoma Park neighbors that brings into question whether opposing residents' demands about community involvement are reasonable.

Here's the critical part:

New development proposals on the Takoma Park side of Campus are nonetheless still opposed by a vocal minority of neighbors, who insist that the College shift all development to the Silver Spring side of Campus, or acquire new properties along Fenton Street and locate College programs there.
Jokingly referred to as "The People's Republic of Takoma Park," the neighborhood has a rich history as a community that is unafraid to challenge moneyed and other powerful interests. A recent blog post by Granola Park explains that in the 1970s the college sought to condemn and demolish 22 adjacent Takoma Park homes for new school buildings, but neighbors fought and won against the college.

Silver Spring development could be in Montgomery College's future

Interestingly, and perhaps as a result of repeated neighborhood opposition, the Master Plan does gesture towards future development on the Silver Spring side of the campus. The following map shows possible expansion sites:

Three of the four lots above are rather sterile space. The two on the east side of the railroad tracks are a combination of storage buildings, auto body shops and local rental car companies. One lot on the west side of the railroad tracks is a parking lot owned by the college's foundation and the remaining one abuts Jesup Blair Park where the college built a walkway to cross the railroad tracks and connect the campus.

Future expansion into Silver Spring would activate this space and make it more pedestrian oriented, which is great since the college is only six blocks from the Silver Spring Metro station and abuts the planned Met Branch Trail. But all of this would require the college to acquire these lots and then redevelop them, which is more costly and would take longer than to simply redevelop the buildings they currently own.

Crossposted at Takoma Talk.


The Takoma Langley transit center is rising from the ground

Construction is progressing rapidly at Maryland's Takoma Langley transit center. Take a look:

Construction progress as of Saturday, April 18, 2015. Photos by the author unless noted.

The transit center will feature bus bays and rider amenities, covered under a great curving roof that's sure to become a local landmark.

Fow now, the bright white frame looks more like something out of a sci-fi movie than a bus station.

Here's what it will all look like once construction is done:

Rendering of the final station from the State of Maryland.

Langley Park needs this

Langley Park, at the corner of University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue, is the busiest bus transfer location in the Washington region that isn't connected to a Metro station.

Eleven bus routes stop on the side of the street at the busy crossroads, serving 12,000 daily bus riders. That's nearly as many bus riders per day as there are Metrorail riders at Silver Spring Metro, and it's about double the number of Metrorail riders at Takoma station.

Corralling all those bus stops into a single transit center will make transfers vastly easier, faster, and safer for bus riders.

Heavy construction began at the transit center last year, and is scheduled to be complete around December 2015.

If the Purple Line light rail is built, Takoma Langley will become one of its stations, boosting ridership even more. The light rail transitway and station would have to be added later, and would fit snuggly in the median of University Boulevard.

How a Purple Line station would fit. Rendering from the State of Maryland.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Long Branch is primed for revitalization, but it needs the Purple Line to make it happen

For some neighborhoods, the Purple Line is more than a transit line. Without the Purple Line, revitalization might not happen in Long Branch, on the border of Silver Spring and Takoma Park.

The location of Long Branch. Image from Montgomery County Planning Department.

Long Branch has long been an immigrant hub. Tens of thousands of people from Central America, West Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere have moved to the area in recent years, attracted by low-cost housing and economic opportunity. Nearby Langley Park is widely known as Maryland's International Corridor.

But the neighborhood is also isolated from opportunities in the larger DC area. While it's a mile away from the revitalized downtown Silver Spring, Long Branch continues to struggle with crime, disinvestment, and a lack of economic opportunities.

Laying the groundwork for a new Long Branch

Attempts to give Long Branch new life have come in fits and starts. In 2002, the Long Branch Task Force began planning for how to bring down street crime and code violations in rental housing, both of which had become rampant. Two housing organizations with close ties to county government renovated hundreds of units nearby, preserving affordability for qualifying residents and providing resident services such as after-school programs.

But there's been little momentum in Long Branch's commercial core, centered on what planners refer to as Long Branch's "superblock," centered on Flower Avenue and Piney Branch Road. While Flower Avenue is a lively, walkable street that already attracts people, Piney Branch is a commercial strip designed for heavy car traffic, with oversized lanes and retail parking lots that doesn't match Flower Avenue's forward thinking.

Commercial landowners who have failed to invest in their properties over the years would see increasing land values with two Purple Line stations, at Piney Branch and Arliss Street and at Piney Branch and University Boulevard. With Purple Line trains passing down the center of Piney Branch Road, they'll finally have an incentive to remake the area as a more walkable urban place.

Arliss Street will get a Purple Line station (if the line is built). Photo from Google Maps.

To attract and shape redevelopment, Montgomery County passed the Long Branch Sector Plan last year. A theme of the county's planning approach is a "road diet," redesigning Piney Branch Road with a median and wider sidewalks to create a safer pedestrian environment. As a light rail line that runs in the street, the Purple Line can build on existing neighborhood connectivity and not create new impediments.

The plan also creates a "commercial revitalization overlay zone" for most of the town center. This is one of the new overlay zones in a revised 2014 zoning code designed to encourage higher-density, mixed-use development in many locations around the county where high volume transit exists or is planned.

Meanwhile, the City of Takoma Park is leading the Flower Avenue Green Street project, which will make this walkable street even better with traffic calming features, improved sidewalks and advanced stormwater management.

Long Branch needs the Purple Line to stay on the right track

The Purple Line's two stations in Long Branch will solidify the groundwork that the county has laid there. Long Branch is already a transit-dependent community; ridership on the area's eight existing bus routes is significantly higher among Long Branch residents than elsewhere, and household car ownership is sharply lower than other suburban areas.

The Purple Line would put important job centers like Silver Spring, College Park, and Bethesda a short train ride away, instead of a long and inconvenient bus trip as it is today. It will also makes Long Branch more attractive to investors, meaning residents will get the amenities they need and that Long Branch will become a more pedestrian-friendly urban district, which is what the county wants.

The effect the Purple Line will have on Long Branch is also important at the state level, as Maryland has started to recognize that transit that links inner-Beltway communities is a must if we are to avoid suburban sprawl.

However, new Governor Larry Hogan could stop this project altogether, and his intentions aren't clear yet. Much is at stake for Long Branch and other neighborhoods along the International Corridor as they wait to see if the new governor takes the logical next step to overcome blight and unlock economic opportunities for residents.


Otherwise-progressive Maryland elected officials choose exclusion at the Takoma Metro

In our region, in 2014, shouldn't building housing on top of Metro stations be an uncontroversial idea? To many people and elected officials in Takoma Park, that's only tolerable as long as you add a very small number of residents and don't build anything larger than surrounding buildings.

Photo by bradleygee on Flickr.

This attitude ensures that housing costs stay high and many communities remain off-limits to many people who would like to live there. Montgomery Council candidate Tom Hucker, gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur, congressman Chris Van Hollen, councilmember Marc Elrich, state senator Jamie Raskin, and delegate Sheila Hixson all reinforced much or all of this exclusionary attitude last week.

They were writing about the planned 200-unit apartment building atop the Takoma Metro station. It will cover what's now the Kiss and Ride parking lot and a patch of trees. The site is inside the District of Columbia, but is across the street from some houses in Maryland. The WMATA Board held a hearing last week on the proposal.

A group of people, led by Takoma Park councilmember Seth Grimes, have been fighting against the project. They want the project to preserve some open space, be shorter, have fewer residents, and include fewer parking spaces. And they say that the developer, EYA, has not listened to them enough in the process.

Image from EYA.

Plan has a lot of good, some room to improve

The current proposal isn't perfect. It probably does have more parking than is necessary. Some elements of the current design aren't as attractive as they should be.

On the other hand, it's not an unreasonable size for the area and for the fact that it's atop a Metro station. In fact, EYA has already shrunk it down from the first iterations of this apartment building plan, which had 225 units. WMATA and DC worked out a deal to keep the other half of the site as a park.

This building will be more compact than a 2006 proposal to construct townhouses. Neighbors also fought against that plan, and successfully delayed it into oblivion.

The plan may get even better in the future. WMATA wouldn't be approving the final design for construction. Rather, this project is what's called a Planned Unit Development, where the DC Zoning Commission has extensive input into its design. That part of the process hasn't even begun, and so there will be a lot of opportunities for people to ask for changes.

Maryland residents will be able to testify at Zoning Commission hearings on the project, and especially with two federal representatives on the Zoning Commission, there's every reason to believe that board will listen to any reasonable arguments they make.

However, Raskin, Hucker, Hixson, and Mizeur, who are the sitting state legislative delegation for the area, argue in their letter that Maryland "has limited formal involvement" in the PUD process. They therefore ask the WMATA board to delay approval until there can be yet another process, where a neighborhood working group with members from DC and Maryland get to push for more changes (surely including reducing the amount of housing even further).

"More dialogue" is a smokescreen

That letter also states that neighbors haven't been involved enough. So does at-large councilmember Marc Elrich's letter. Perhaps the developers have listened as much as they could; perhaps not. In countless development disputes, however, opponents say that they are just looking for "dialogue" and haven't been listened to, when in fact they are demanding a substantially smaller project with less housing, and that is not a realistic request.

Years of delays and battles killed the 2006 townhouse effort. Maybe if opponents can just delay this project enough, nothing will get built, or only a very small amount of housing will end up going at this site. That would be an enormous loss to the region. There are limited developable parcels around Metro stations, and those are best places for new housing and jobs. This building may be larger than many around it, but it's not really that big.

Hans Riemer, another at-large member of the Montgomery County Council, confined his letter to making specific recommendations to improve the project. That's a good approach and the developer should heed his suggestions. Opponents, unfortunately, have responded to his more constructive approach by campaigning against him in tomorrow's primary.

When other elected officials like Hucker (who hopes to win a primary contest tomorrow to represent the district on the council), Raskin, Elrich, Van Hollen, and the others ask in letters for delay and more consultation, they aren't standing up for good civic process. They are just strengthening obstruction.

Building apartments at the Takoma Metro means more customers to support Takoma's thriving local businesses, fewer people who need to drive everywhere, and the ability to meet the demand for housing, resulting in lower or at least more stable housing costs. That's the truly progressive thing to do, not trying to keep new people out in favor of those who came here first.


Takoma Metro development proposal is a real compromise

For more than 10 years, we've discussed what kind of development at the Takoma Metro station would make this station a lively, safer place. A new plan for a residential building does just that, while offering a compromise to neighbors concerned about open space and parking.

Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.

Since 2000, WMATA has attempted to develop the area around the Takoma station. Last year, developer EYA proposed building about 200 apartments on a surface parking lot. The building would have 3 stories on Eastern Avenue and step up to 4 toward the train tracks. It would replace most of the parking, only about half of which is used at one time.

The plan keeps the existing 2.5 acre green space open, and offers some enhancements to make it more usable. The proposed building and residents overlooking the site will help foster a safer, more pedestrian-friendly environment by orienting the building to the bus drive, with entrances and windows facing the lane. Previous plans for live-work units or retail space have been dropped because of the weak market for retail at the site.

A 2006 plan that later stalled out offered about 90 townhouses and a one acre village green, but no replacement for the Metro parking, which is only for short term use. While the attractive townhouse and inviting village green were worth pursuing, I always thought this site would be better for an apartment building.

Image from EYA.

Then and now, some neighbors in both Takoma and the adjacent city of Takoma Park, which sits across Eastern Avenue, have opposed the project. In 2006, both supporters and opponents gave the developer grief about building homes with 2-car garages at a Metro station. But many critics also said that WMATA should replace all of the existing parking, in addition to preserving the whole 2.5 acre open space in front of the station and adding more bus bays.

The new plan responds to nearly all of the major criticisms, while at the same time more than doubling the amount of housing originally proposed. Now, opponents mostly object to the potential building's height, even though it is on a block with other 3-story apartment buildings, all of which face single-family houses.

The proposal's modest scale is in sync with the downtown district's eclectic variety of buildings. EYA has already agreed to make the building shorter and reduce the number of units from 266.

At a March 13 WMATA committee meeting about the project, the board members incorporated amendments that the city of Takoma Park requested into its resolution to move the project forward. This Thursday, the WMATA Board will vote on an agreement with EYA to pursue the project, and to hold an official public hearing.

If WMATA approves the project, it will go to the DC Zoning Commission, which will have an opportunity to refine the design in its review process. Neighbors will have ample opportunity to raise their concerns about any aspect of the proposal then.

Like with any proposal, there is room for more improvement. The proposal offers much less parking for residents than before, which makes sense for a site next to a Metro station. But it could be lower still, since this is the transit agency's land and the point is to build housing for more transit customers.

The new proposal offers residential parking at about 0.7 spaces per unit, down from 1.5 to 2 spaces per unit in the townhouse proposal. It would be sensible for WMATA to require that developers on their property to build less parking and offer their residents incentives to ride transit and use carsharing. That makes it easier to market the building to transit-oriented households who rely much less on personal cars.

The other important way the WMATA Board could improve this project is to honor the DC Council's 2002 request that 20% of any housing at this site be set aside for households making 30%, 60%, and 80% of the area median income. This is still the right commitment for a property that the public transit agency and District of Columbia control, and our need for more affordable housing has only grown in the intervening years.

It's been a long time coming, but this proposal for the Takoma Metro station will make downtown Takoma a better place for everyone. It will help a greater number of people use transit, have daily access to local shopping, and live with a lower carbon footprint. This is exactly where our region should be growing, and where we can accommodate more people who seek a transit-oriented lifestyle.

If you agree, ask the WMATA Board to move ahead with this project. Click here to let them know.


Slow start for Capital Bikeshare in Montgomery County

Since launching in September, the Capital Bikeshare stations in Montgomery County have been slow to draw riders, with some stations being used less than once per day on average. This may change over time, but it'll take a more complete bike network to increase ridership.

Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

I reviewed Capital Bikeshare's trip history data to find lessons from the first few months after the September 27 launch through December 31. Of the 50 stations in Montgomery County, the highest-performing ones were those in Friendship Heights and Bethesda, and those near Metro stations.

To count each station's number of trips, I included any trip that started or ended at the station. Trips that both started and ended at the same station counted only once, but if those trips lasted less than 30 seconds, I decided not to count them at all. To find the trips-per-day averages, I made sure to account for the fact that some stations were installed after the initial launch.

On the maps, blue dots are stations which averaged 10 or more trips a day; green dots at least 5 trips but less than 10; yellow at least 2 trips but less than 5; orange at least 1 trip but less than 2; and red dots were stations with less than one trip per day. Black dots represent stations that weren't installed until this year.

Bethesda and Friendship Heights

The most popular bikeshare station in Montgomery County so far is the one at the Friendship Heights Metro station, which was involved in about 11 trips per day. It has several things going for it. Metro stations are a popular place for bikeshare trips, as we'll see throughout this analysis. The location is also right on the border with DC, which has its own bikeshare stations nearby and, presumably, residents who were already members before the Montgomery launch.

Map by the author.

The next most popular station was at Bethesda Avenue & Arlington Boulevard, in the dense, mixed-use Bethesda Row area. The third most popular was the station at Montgomery Avenue & East Lane, close to the Bethesda Metro stop. Those two each saw between 7 and 8 trips per day.

The most common trip involving a Montgomery station went from Battery Lane & the Bethesda Trolley Trail to Norfolk Avenue & Fairmont Avenue. But this trip only happened 70 times last year, meaning a handful of users could easily be responsible for all the trips. As a result, I'm hesitant to draw any broad conclusions from the popularity of certain trips.


Bike sharing in Rockville started very slowly. The only station involved in more than two trips per day was East Montgomery Avenue & Maryland Avenue, which averaged 2.5 trips per day. It's the closest station to Rockville Town Center, and also less than a half-mile from the Rockville Metro stop.

Map by the author.

The most glaring omission in Rockville is the lack of a bikeshare station at the Shady Grove Metro stop. Capital Bikeshare put stations in the King Farm and Fallsgrove neighborhoods, both of which have bike-friendly routes to the Shady Grove Metro.

The lack of a bikeshare station at the Shady Grove Metro seems like a missed opportunity to connect residents to a major destination. Throughout the system, Metro stations are among the most popular sites for bikeshare stations. The two most popular stations in the whole system were the one near the Dupont Circle Metro stop's north entrance and the one near Union Station. Each was involved in more than 300 trips per day from September 27 to December 31 last year.

Silver Spring and Takoma Park

Map by the author.

Like Bethesda, Silver Spring has some of the highest rates of bicycle commuting in the county. But the most popular station in eastern Montgomery County was the one near the Silver Spring Metro station, at Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue. It saw just 4.3 trips per day.

There's no bikeshare station right near the Takoma Metro station. The closest one is at Carroll Avenue & Westmoreland Avenue. It was Takoma Park's most popular, averaging 4.1 trips per day after it was installed in late October.

Comparing Montgomery County to Alexandria

Alexandria was the first jurisdiction outside of DC and Arlington that Capital Bikeshare expanded to. The cluster of stations there is geographically isolated from other parts of the system in a similar way to the Montgomery County clusters.

The growth of ridership in Alexandria since its stations launched on August 31, 2012 could offer a clue for what to expect going forward in Montgomery.

There were 4,736 trips involving at least one of Alexandria's stations during the fourth quarter of 2012. In the fourth quarter of 2013, that number went up to 5,345, an increase of 13% from the previous year.

All eight stations in Alexandria launched on the same day, and there have been no additional stations since then, so it's easy to compare them from year to year.

Notably, and not surprisingly, the bikeshare station near the King Street Metro station was Alexandria's most popular.

Looking forward

Montgomery County can expect bike sharing to grow over time, but it shouldn't assume that such a slow start is normal.

In DC, the station at North Capitol Street & G Place NE opened in mid-December and managed 14 trips per day during the final few weeks of the year, even during a relatively cold month. The 10th Street & Florida Ave NW station, added in October, saw 25 trips per day for the rest of the year.

No station in Montgomery County really came close to those numbers, let alone those of the most popular stations in DC.

If the county wants its investment in bike sharing to pay off, it should fill in key gaps, especially at the Shady Grove Metro. Providing bike lanes or paths to connect neighborhoods to Metro stations would also encourage the kind of trips that have proven popular everywhere else in the system.

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