Residents Try to Thwart Takoma Station Project

By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2007

Maryland's elected leaders and Takoma Park residents are trying to block the Metro board today from approving a townhouse development at the Takoma station that they say would limit access for walkers and bikers, and shrink tree-lined open space.

The project is just across the Maryland border in the District's Takoma section and has the strong support of many D.C. leaders, including Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who represented the neighborhood on the D.C. Council.

Metro has proposed selling part of the station's seven-acre property to Bethesda-based EYA developers. Today's vote, a critical step in the process, has revived a long-standing dispute and has Maryland and District leaders clashing over the definition of transit-oriented growth.

Opponents of the development say they want to ensure safe access to the station, sufficient space to accommodate buses and a swath of sloping parkland to provide a buffer between Metro and the residential neighborhood of Victorian homes.

"The Maryland folks are not trying to tell D.C. how to do development," said Takoma Park Mayor Kathy Porter. "Our concern is transit."

Supporters say the project will revitalize the retail center of the Northwest Washington neighborhood and encourage more people to get out of their cars. Rosalynn Hughey, the District's deputy director of planning, said the plan strikes a balance by matching the character of the community while ensuring an economically viable project for the developer.

Lisa Farbstein, a spokeswoman for Metro, called the project a strong example of transit-oriented development that reflects suggestions from the surrounding community.

"We have heard what people have said and made changes," Farbstein said. "We also are aware that we can make a whole lot of changes, but there will always be people who will want more. That's the reality."

The opposition includes residents on both sides of the border. Sara Green, a D.C. advisory neighborhood commissioner for the area that includes the Takoma station, said hundreds of District residents have signed petitions to block the project. On the Maryland side, Megan Scribner, a freelance editor who lives six blocks from the station, is concerned about the plan to reduce the number of public parking spaces and to build two-car garages for the townhouses.

"As a community, we're not against development at this site, but we want a transit-friendly development, and this plan is not," she said.

Takoma Park residents have cranked up the pressure, sending hundreds of postcards to Metro and mobilizing Maryland's elected officials. Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) have urged Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. to postpone action, calling the project significantly flawed.

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) planned to talk with Fenty before today's vote, the governor's spokesman said, to relay the concerns of Montgomery residents.

The Metro board has six voting members, with two each from the District, Maryland and Virginia. If both Maryland members oppose the project today, the plan would be blocked. The issue poses a political challenge, though, because Maryland's representatives will need the District's support to move forward with other Maryland-centered projects.

If the project is approved today, it would need to win support from the Federal Transit Administration and the District's planning and zoning officials.

Peter Benjamin, a former Garrett Park mayor who represents Maryland and Montgomery County on the board, said yesterday that he was unsure how he would vote. Opposition from residents, he said, has evolved from " 'Not in my back yard, I don't want anything' to 'We want to shape it this way.' All of which is legitimate. But when does that process end? When has it been shaped enough?"

Board Chairman Elizabeth M. Hewlett, the second voting member from Maryland, did not return two phone messages requesting comment.

The project has the support of D.C. Council member and Metro board member Jim Graham, who said he has tried to accommodate the opposition.

"On two occasions I have requested more time in order to see if things could be worked out. It's clear now that that's not possible," the Ward 1 Democrat said. "I think it's very important that we move forward."

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