I am pleased to report that the negotiations between the City of Takoma Park and the chosen Takoma Junction developer (NDC) on the terms of the Development Agreement (DA) for the project have been completed in a manner that I believe is beneficial to the City, and which also takes into account in a reasonable way the needs and concerns of the Co-op and NDC.
The new version of the DA -- https://dwpl4lfcfux0y.cloudfront.net/initiatives/project-directory/HCD-20160726-takoma-junction-development-agreement-ndc-redline.pdf -- includes key amendments based on changes which I and several of my Council colleagues asked to be added to the DA in last week’s City Council meeting. With the addition of these new provisions, I plan to vote in favor of the DA when we consider it in tomorrow night’s Council meeting. The changes can be viewed on pages 4, 7 and 11 of the above link.
The DA includes the following new language:
· The City has the authority to terminate the Agreement with NDC if the Co-op and NDC are unable to reach agreement on a Letter of Intent (LOI)
· If there is no LOI agreement, and NDC seeks another anchor tenant, NDC is required to provide reasonable accommodation to the Co-op for loading and parking
· Failure to provide the above reasonable accommodations would be a valid reason for the City to terminate the Agreement as part of the Site Plan approval process
The previous version of the DA did not include language giving the City the ability to withdraw if there is no LOI agreement (the only options in the previous version were an additional 30 days for LOI negotiations or authorizing NDC to seek another anchor tenant). In order to exercise the new termination option, the City would have to pay NDC (up to $75,000) for out of pocket costs for NDC’s work in such areas as permitting, architectural drawings, engineering, traffic and parking studies, etc., and the City would then receive all of those materials.
The previous version did not require accommodation for the Co-op in the event NDC seeks another anchor tenant because of a failure to reach agreement on the LOI. This version requires reasonable accommodation, and specifically mentions parking and loading as part of that.
The previous version was not entirely clear on whether – if there is no LOI agreement – the City could terminate the Agreement if Co-op parking and loading are not reasonably accommodated in the Site Plan. The new version specifically includes these points in the list of Site Plan factors (LEED certification, green elements, public gathering space, etc.) which, if not agreed to, permit the City to terminate the Agreement.
These are all points I raised in last week’s Council meeting, and which the Council voted to ask our City and legal staff to press in negotiations with NDC. While I’m pleased that each of the issues has been addressed, I would like to emphasize that, from my point of view, this is an Agreement that is good for the City. I don’t view it as being pro-Co-op or pro-NDC, and I don’t think it should be. As I see it, the new language helps ensure that the City has control over what happens at key moments as the development unfolds.
If the LOI negotiations fail, we get to decide what happens next, including whether to terminate, which is a power we have at various other points in the process. Considering that we made a decision as a community (through the resolution passed by Council last year and in various other ways over the course of the public debate on this project) to designate the Co-op as the desired anchor tenant, it makes sense to provide the Co-op with reasonable accommodations if the LOI falls through. But that’s not undue favoritism, that’s being consistent with the resolution and other public statements supporting the Co-op, for the ultimate benefit of the City.
In the 8 months I’ve been on the Council, there have been multiple discussions about whether and how we should help certain local institutions (Washington Adventist Hospital, the Piney Branch Pool, the Library, the Farmers Market). Some are private and some are public, but all are viewed by some residents as being among the things that make Takoma Park a great place to live. However, there are often just as many folks who oppose making special efforts to help these institutions. So to me, the answer is to step back and try to determine what’s best for the City as a whole.
From that perspective, I think this Development Agreement is a very positive step forward. Is it perfect? I have yet to see a public document that is. But this one does give us a framework on which, with our usual active Takoma Park community participation, we can get a development that is a real plus for the City.
I understand that many residents will object to some aspects of the Agreement. Some may feel it doesn’t protect the Co-op enough; others will argue that it ties NDC’s hands; still others will say that the City should have more flexibility. I encourage all residents to ease away from a stark black and white view of the Agreement. The choice is not between saving the Co-op and giving everything to NDC. The reality is that there is lots of room between those two poles for finding a good way forward that is beneficial to all the parties.
Now is the time for all of us to commit to working together to find creative solutions to the challenges we face with the development project, and I’m looking forward to working collaboratively with residents and the other key parties in pursuit of that goal.
I encourage residents to attend tomorrow night’s Council meeting, and to share your views on the DA during the public comment period. Also, please feel free to share with me any comments or questions.
Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council (Ward One)