Everybody in the neighborhood seemingly has something to say about the sale of four acres of green space and parking lots at the Takoma Metro station, and Doug Payton just wants the controversy to be over.
"I have had it up to my eyeballs," said Payton, an advisory neighborhood commissioner who also is an aide to D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4). "I've seen my whole neighborhood ripped in two."
At the center of debate in the Northwest Washington enclave is Metro's plan to sell part of the Takoma station's seven-acre property to Eakin/Youngentob, or EYA, an Arlington-based developer.
In its proposal, the developer would build up to 95 townhouses, cut the station's 147 parking spaces to 75 and clear a sloping area lined with trees. In return, the plan calls for approximately one acre for a park, named Village Green.
The proposal must clear several hurdles, including approvals by the city's zoning commission and Historic Preservation Review Board. The Federal Transit Administration's approval is required for a sale -- which could cost EYA at least $7.3 million, depending on how many units are built -- before the contract is sealed, but its major concern is whether the development will hinder access to the Metro station, not whether the community wants the project.
The debate comes as "transit-oriented" development -- housing and retail built near a Metro station -- is cropping up across the country, promoted as "smart growth" that reduces reliance on automobiles. At least a dozen proposals have been approved in the metropolitan area in recent years, but not without neighborhood opposition. In Virginia, U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) is trying to block a plan for dense development on 56 acres near the Vienna Metro station.
The Takoma debate has dragged on for six years, involved several members of Congress, pitted some Maryland residents against some D.C. residents who live a few blocks away and drawn accusations of interference by outsiders with D.C.'s home rule.
Some District residents went to Fenty and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who asked officials of the Federal Transit Administration, which is part of the U.S. Transportation Department, to delay decisions on the property until Metro officials meet with residents later this year.
Some Maryland residents, concerned that they would have no say in the development just across the District line, turned to their congressman, Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Takoma Park Mayor Kathy Porter. Van Hollen included language in legislation governing Metro to ensure that Takoma Park residents would have a say and that green space would be preserved.
In the past two weeks, residents sat through three community meetings, including one in Montgomery County's Takoma Park to hear what the developer plans for the property. The community's Advisory Neighborhood Commission will meet Thursday about the project. The next few months promise more hearings with Metro and with government regulatory boards.
Opponents are gearing up a petition drive because they say building townhouses will suck up the last piece of open green space, eliminate needed parking spaces, affect the flow of buses and taxicabs into the Metro station, and bring more congestion to traffic-choked, two-lane streets. They point out that if all the proposed projects in the neighborhood were approved, it would mean that more than 600 units would have been built recently or added within the next five years.
Sara Green, who has lived in Takoma since 1975, turns red and speaks rapidly when describing the plans to turn the grass-filled lot and half of the parking spaces into housing units. She is "mad as hell" that opponents of the EYA plan are painted as "anti-development people." She wants the property to be upgraded into a community park.
"There's not a single person who doesn't want reasonable development," said Green, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner. "We all want this area to bloom. Don't you think a public park to serve these people would be a good idea?"
But others see this as a prime time to revitalize their quiet community with new young residents and a bustling business district. This will help reduce crime because more people will be around, they say.
Nancy Smith, who has lived in the community for 37 years, thinks some of her neighbors are just looking for ways to keep the same small town feel when the urban area all around Takoma is changing.
"This whole thing just burns me up," Smith said. "I become very upset when I hear that some of my neighbors want to prevent others from moving into the neighborhood, claiming that traffic and pollution will increase. Traffic will increase whether the developments are built or not."
The debate over the Metro property began in 1999 when city planners, developers and Metro officials decided that building townhouses on the land would ignite development in the neighborhood. It drew controversy from the start and was put on hold while the city performed two detailed studies.
But other developers didn't wait for EYA to build. Close to 100 units have been built in two small projects -- half across the street from the Metro station and half behind it. An additional 85 to 90 have been approved on Carroll Street, and a developer has proposed 150 more on Blair Road.
Payton, the neighborhood commissioner, just wants to see the controversy end.
"If they put up something there," he said, "I just want to work with the developers and get the best thing possible."