Published on: Monday, August 17, 2020 News Alert

Takoma Junction Project Next Steps

 

Final comments by reviewing agencies have been filed in the Montgomery County Development Review Committee online tracking process for the most recently submitted Takoma Junction Redevelopment Project plans. The City’s development partner, Neighborhood Development Company (NDC), will take those comments and work to revise its plans into the proposed Site Plan and proposed Preliminary Plan that will eventually be considered by the Takoma Park City Council and the Montgomery County Planning Board.

Because the process of getting comments and revising plans goes back and forth and is complicated, it is easy to be confused about the next steps and when and where it is most effective for public comments to be made. Here are the steps ahead:

  1. As noted above, the Development Review Committee reviewing agencies submitted comments in response to NDC’s July resubmission in Montgomery County’s development review tracking software. Note that City of Takoma Park’s professional staff is one of the reviewing agencies and their comments cite City Council Resolution 2018-41 and other City standards and requirements. It should also be noted that the Maryland State Highway Administration did not provide substantive comments as a reviewing agency, which is highly unusual for the Montgomery County Development Review process.
  2. Neighborhood Development Company staff will work on refining their plans given the comments provided. There will likely be some back and forth discussions between NDC and the various reviewing agencies if clarifications are needed.
  3. Besides revising the plans, NDC has other elements to prepare or update before submitting their full plans to the City Council and the Planning Board. Most notable among them is a new or revised traffic impact study. They will also be submitting preliminary tree plans (identifying planned removals and new plantings) and revised stormwater plans.
  4. Over a number of weeks, City staff will be working to review the evolving plans in light of City Council Resolution 2018-41, City Council Priorities, City regulations regarding stormwater and tree removal and protection, as well as noting how the revised plans incorporate the comments of the various reviewing agencies. There will be some back and forth with staff of NDC in the same manner as the other reviewing agencies while the proposed Site Plan and Preliminary Plan are finalized for consideration. City staff will prepare a document of findings that will assess how the revised plans meet the City’s requirements, including the City Council requirements enumerated in Resolution 2018-41. The findings can be the basis of a City Council resolution making recommendations to the Planning Board.
  5. The revised plans and the document of findings prepared by City staff will be transmitted to Council and made available to the public for review. This is the best time for members of the public to pay attention to the plans because the plans will not be changing as much and the technical analyses of the various reviewing agencies and professionals will be available to consider. The Council then has several options, as shown below. Note that at a minimum a public hearing is required for any of the following actions.

• The Council could choose to vote on a resolution making recommendations to the Planning Board to approve, approve with conditions, or disapprove the proposed Site Plan and Preliminary Plan. As will be seen below, the Planning Board would need a supermajority vote to act contrary to a recommendation of the City Council.

• The Council could choose to vote to terminate the project, consistent with the terms of the Development Agreement with Neighborhood Development Company, in which case the application would not proceed to the Planning Board for consideration. (For that reason, the Council would not likely make a recommendation to the Planning Board to disapprove the application.)

• The City Council could adopt a resolution that says it is not taking a position on the proposed Site Plan or Preliminary Plan; in this case the application would proceed to the Planning Board for consideration without a City Council recommendation. Note that this is contrary to a resolved clause (lines 502-508) of City Council Resolution 2018-41, but is possible to do.

  1. The Montgomery County Planning Department needs at least a week to review the new City Council resolution and address the Council’s recommendations in its staff report. The Planning Department must then post its staff report to the Planning Board at least 10 days before the Planning Board considers the plans. The County Planning staff report will recommend approval, approval with conditions, or disapproval of the Site Plan and Preliminary Plan, based on the findings of the Development Review Committee agencies, the City Council recommendation, and other input that had been received to date.
  2. The Planning Board will hold a public hearing and consider the Site Plan and Preliminary Plan. They may choose to approve, approve with conditions, or disapprove the plans. Note that the Planning Board would need a super-majority to take a position that conflicts with the recommendation of the City Council.
  3. If the Planning Board approves the plans or approves with conditions, the applicant must then go back to the Historic Preservation Commission for a Historic Area Work Permit and must get a final stormwater permit and tree removal and tree protection permits from the City of Takoma Park. Then they will need to go through the building permit process.
  4. Please note that if significant changes to the plans are made during this process, the plans may need to go back to the Development Review Committee reviewing agencies for additional review before being considered by the Planning Board.

The most important places/times to provide public comments are to the City Council (step 5 above) and the Planning Board (step 7 above). These are the two deciding bodies. At the point the plans come before them, the technical reviews will have been compiled and the plans will have stopped changing. If the City Council and the Planning Board approve the plans, they will likely be approved “with conditions.” This means that there will be some plan or process changes or steps required of the applicant but that the plans will not need to come back for another hearing.

Public comments are most useful when they are specific and when they focus on impacts or on approval criteria:

Impacts: Identifying impacts that are wanted or not wanted are important. As an example, it is very helpful for a resident to say that they want to make sure lighting from the project does not shine in their home window. That may be more helpful than requesting the relocation of a particular light fixture as there may be several ways to ensure that the light does not cause a negative impact. It is also very helpful to identify the aspects of the project that are liked. Changes required in one aspect of the plan may result in tradeoffs and adjustments to other areas. It can be very frustrating for people to see that a change to the plans made by the Planning Board to address one issue removes an aspect of the plan that people liked.

Approval Criteria: Public comments that reference specific criteria that the reviewing body is using are often more helpful than a more general comment.

The City Council will be reviewing the plans in light of the provisions enumerated in Resolution 2018-41 and the City Council’s Priorities. While the Council is not restricted to those documents in making its recommendation, it is likely that those documents will guide the consideration.

The Planning Board will be reviewing the plans in light of the provisions of the Montgomery County Subdivision and Zoning Regulations. Chapter 50 Subdivision regulations relate to the review of the Preliminary Plan and are online at https://montgomeryplanning.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Adopted-Chapter-50.pdf. Section 50.4.2 outlines the approval procedures, while section 50.4.2.D. lays out the required findings.  Section 4.3 identifies the elements of a technical review. Section 59.7.3.4 of the Zoning Code lays out the requirements for review and approval of Site Plans, while section 59.7.3.4.E lays out the required findings for Site Plan approval.  Division 59.4.6 lays out the development standards for the NR and the other Employment Zones. Section 4.9.16 lays out the requirements of the Takoma Park/East Silver Spring Commercial Revitalization (TPESS) Overlay Zone.  Chapter 59 may be found online at:
http://library.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll?f=templates&fn=default.htm&vid=amlegal:montgomeryco_md_mc

Public comments on the plans can be submitted by email at any time to the Montgomery County Planning Department for the lead reviewer’s consideration and public record. The Montgomery County Planning Department’s lead reviewer for this project is Elza Hisel-McCoy, who may be reached at Elza.Hisel-McCoy@montgomeryplanning.org. Comments may also be submitted at any time to the Takoma Park City Manager at SuzanneL@takomaparkmd.gov or the Takoma Park City Council at clerk@takomaparkmd.gov.

Once dates are set for City Council and Planning Board consideration, members of the public are encouraged to submit public comments and/or sign up to testify in the methods identified in the processes for the hearings. Comments to the City Council may be sent to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov.  Comments for the Planning Board may be sent to MCP-Chair@mncppc-mc.org. In general, comments for the Planning Board are sent close to the hearing date.

Timeline

The timeline below is very general and any stage may take longer than is shown here. Major elements that come into play are the time that NDC needs to prepare its plans in response to the agency comments, and City Council and Planning Board agenda scheduling. Nevertheless, here is an idea of how the consideration of the project may move forward:

Now through the fall: NDC works on revising plans based on agency comments and preparing materials required for submission to City Council and Planning Board for consideration. NDC will likely request an extension of the development review timelines, postponing Planning Board consideration until later in the fall or winter, to allow adequate time to complete its submission and have the City Council consider the plans and adopt a resolution regarding them.

Now through the fall: Takoma Park City staff will be reviewing the plans and materials and preparing a set of findings and recommendations for use by the City Council as it considers the plans. The findings and recommendations will be available to the public in time for members of the public to review them and prepare testimony to the City Council and the Planning Board.

Fall or winter: City Council consideration of the plans, involving hearing from the applicant, staff and public and then voting on a Resolution transmitting its recommendations to the Planning Board.

Winter: County Planning staff prepares its report, referencing agency comments and the recommendation of the City Council. The report must be submitted to the Planning Board and be available for public review at least 10 days prior to the Planning Board’s consideration of the plans.

Winter: Planning Board holds a public hearing and considers the plans. They will vote to approve, approve with conditions, or disapprove the plans. A supermajority vote is required for the Planning Board to vote in a way that differs from the recommendation of the City Council.

Spring: Assuming the plans are approved or approved with conditions, NDC then goes back to the Historic Preservation Commission for a Historic Area Work Permit and proceeds for a final stormwater permit and tree removal and tree protection permits.