The City of Takoma Park is pursuing a mixed-use development on a city-owned lot that could include the expansion of a neighborhood institution next door, the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op.

On Wednesday the city began a search for development companies interested in building on the 50,000-square-foot lot at the intersection of Carroll, Ethan Allen and Grant avenues, with a deadline of May 28.

The co-op has become a fixture for residents in search of organic or locally sourced foods and it stands to lose its parking lot and loading access if the lot is developed. But the co-op is also looking to expand and Brian Kenner, Takoma Park city manager, said he expects developers interested in the project to consider including the organization in their plans.

The City of Takoma Park is planning a development project that could mean an expansion of the neighborhood co-op.
The City of Takoma Park is planning a development project that could mean an expansion of the neighborhood co-op. (Washington Post)

“They’ve got tremendous customer loyalty and they’re a fixture here,” Kenner said. “I feel like they are a great anchor tenant for what could happen from a mixed-use perspective on our site.”

Marilyn Berger, director of administration for the co-op, said the organization had inquired with the city previously about expanding on the lot. The co-op began as a collective in a house on Sligo Avenue and currently occupies a little under 5,000 square feet on Ethan Allen Avenue, where it has been since the 1990s. It opened a second location in Silver Spring, which closed in the fall after years of financial losses.

The co-op has been introducing new local meats and cheese and Berger said it is interested in doubling its space in order to include more diverse offerings and to build a demonstration kitchen. She said the co-op also planned to apply for a license to sell local beer and wine.

“The expansion is really because we want to offer more choices to lower-income shoppers and other consumers who want to eat organically or locally produced food,” she said.

Takoma Park has long been known as a lefty cultural-political community that resisted commercial entries, but that may be changing.

In December Black Restaurant Group opened the Republic restaurant and bar (with cocktails named “The Fascist Killer” and “The Localist”) in the former Video Americain space on Laurel Avenue, and it has quickly become a popular dining spot.

Andy Shallal, owner of the local Busboys and Poets chain of restaurants, plans to open a 6,500-square-foot Busboys  just over the line in the District at the corner of Carroll and Maple streets NW. That restaurant is expected to open this spring as part of a mixed-use development  by Federal Capital Partners and Level 2 Development that will have 150 apartments upstairs.

The city purchased the parking lot in 1995 with the idea of revitalizing the commercial area around it, known as Takoma Junction. A new fire station sits a short way down the block. Kenner said this was a rare opportunity for developers to bring badly needed new amenities to the neighborhood. 

“This might be the first time that the city has put out a mixed-use opportunity I want to say ever, but probably 20 years is a good estimate,” Kenner said.

The city-owned lot that Takoma Park would like to develop. (Map courtesy of City of Takoma Park)

The town’s master plan, adopted in 2000, calls for the area to include “unique stores and services to both nearby neighborhoods and regional visitors.” Kenner, who formerly worked in the D.C. Department of Planning and Economic Development, said the city was encouraging developers interested in the project to consider neighboring properties, such as some Carroll Avenue auto repair shops, in order to expand the project. 

“What we’ve said in our solicitation is we’re very interested in people thinking about the adjacent parcels, including the auto clinics, the co-op and the co-op parking lot,” Kenner said.

Berger said she expects the co-op to either respond on its own or with partners or both. She said she could envision the co-op adding onto its existing building or relocating into whatever is built there instead. The worst scenario, she said, would be getting displaced and having to relocate.

“The downside is if we can’t make it work we’ll need to find another location,” she said. “If a big developer comes in they could decide that they don’t want us there. That’s the downside.”

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz