Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams has been talking about the dilapidated, disjointed state of Takoma Junction since the late 1980s, when he was the co-chair of a local neighborhood group.
Not much has changed since.
The oddly configured intersection of Carroll and Ethan Allen avenues lacks adequate sidewalks; causes traffic congestion; leads to long waits for pedestrians at crosswalks; and could use an infusion of new development, according to a 107-page report by the Takoma Junction Task Force, a group of volunteers that in February presented its findings to the city council.
Some of those residents led city council members on a walking tour of the area on May 16, a few days after the council agreed to a fiscal 2013 budget that included a few Junction initiatives but excluded some major proposals.
“We’re going to do a lot of good little things, but we’re missing the chance to start on some of the big things,” said Councilman Tim Male (Ward 2), who was outspoken during a May 7 budget session in his desire to include a roughly $200,000 streetscape improvement project for the Junction in this year’s budget. “We’ve got the money in the budget. Who knows what we’ll have next year.”
Male said he had hoped the council would dip into more than $1 million in reserve money to do more with the Junction this year. Williams and council members Seth Grimes (Ward 1), Terry Seamens (Ward 4), Reuben Snipper (Ward 5) and Fred Schultz (Ward 6) urged a more careful approach with reserve funding in light of uncertainty about how state and county budgets might affect Takoma Park’s bottom line.
Council member Kay Daniels-Cohen (Ward 3) also pushed for more money toward the Junction in this year’s budget, but said she was satisfied with the mayor’s plan to revisit the issue in six months.
“What we’ve done so far is 10,000 times more than what’s been done in the past,” Daniels-Cohen said.
The budget the council finalized Monday will allow the city to add the equivalent of three new full-time positions, the first staffing additions since the city cut seven positions in fiscal 2011, the first layoffs in city history. About $66,000 was included for Junction projects in the Housing and Community Development budget. The city will use speed camera revenue to make surrounding sidewalks Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.
During the May 7 budget work session, Housing and Community Development Director Sara Daines told city council members her department would need an additional full-time planner, at a salary of about $80,000 per year, to work on the streetscape improvement project, which would include landscaping, sidewalk improvements, street furniture, public art, signage and other pieces.
“Everybody else was on the same page,” Williams said. “We need to take it slow.”
Task Force member Roger Schlegel said the Junction items the council did include in the budget, which include a $35,000 environmental study of the city-owned parking lot and funding for interim programming on the lot such as summer concerts or film screenings, are a good start. The city-owned lot, built on top of a former trash dumping site, could serve as a target for permanent development, such as the planned expansion of the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op. Another permanent commercial building or a business incubator for socially-minded groups were discussed in the Task Force report.
“My understanding of it is it’s still a year of scarcity, so they have to be very cautious,” Schlegel said. “The things that they included were low in cost, but things that would send a signal that change is coming.”
Still, Schlegel said the Task Force would prefer the city work a five-year strategic plan for the Junction into its budget. Male argued that without the design and engineering work on the streetscape project, the council won’t know anything more in six months than it knows now.
Grimes said it was premature to spend money on the streetscape project without a solid vision of what development in the rest of the Junction would look like.
That vision still is at least a few years away, Williams said, although he suggested the decades-long question of what to do with Takoma Junction was finally heading toward a resolution.
“There’s a lot more momentum than there has been and the community wants something,” Williams said after the walking tour. “So that should push it.”
Schlegel, who helped lead the tour, said the Task Force will continue its work until that change happens.
“It’s been a point of paralysis for too many years because we haven’t had the right buy-in,” Schlegel said. “We’re not going to rest until we really bring movement to the situation.”