WMATA might finally be able to build something on its extremely valuable land surrounding the Takoma Metro Station after fourteen years of effort. Starting in 2000, it worked with developer EYA and proposed building approximately 90 townhouses, each with a two car garage. The local residents objected to the proposal, and complained that the design had too many parking spaces, had too many streets, and eliminated too much green space.
WMATA ditched the plan after several years, and in 2013 began work on another EYA proposal for a new building that took neighborhood concerns into account: a 250 unit, mid-rise apartment building with a much smaller footprint, and fewer than half of the residential parking spaces. EYA’s new proposal would allow roughly the same amount of people to move into the desirable neighborhood, while preserving the green space and addressing the other concerns. Sounds like a win-win, right?
A group calling itself DC/MD Neighbors for Takoma Transit are concerned that the new proposal “is not compatible with the neighborhood in terms of height, massing, setback, and design.” They’re also worried about “its potential impacts on traffic, parking and the surrounding infrastructure.”
DC/MDNFT wants the site to be transit oriented, but also wants to EYA to build 153 parking spots in addition to the 178 resident spots. They also want to make sure commuters cannot use any of the 153 parking spots. They’re also concerned that all the additional parking spots will increase traffic.
DC/MDNFT wants the building to make the neighborhood more walkable, but have large setbacks, be less than 50 feet tall, preserve greenspace, and fit in with the character and scale of nearby buildings (except for the 150 unit apartment building a block away, the 10-story building immediately behind that, the 4-story, 145-unit building on the other side of the tracks, and the 4-story townhouses next door, all of which don’t count).
So far, EYA has lowered the number of units proposed and reduced the size of the building.
As David Alpert asked, “how many were opposing the plan because of its flaws, and how many out of resistance to building anything or adding new residents at all?”
We live in a world of trade-offs. Building 153 non-resident, non-commuter parking spots at the station is going to increase traffic and the size of the building compared to what EYA would have otherwise built. Enormous setbacks mean a building has to be much higher to have the same number of units. Walkability goes down when buildings are set far away from each other or from the street. If groups like the DC/MD Neighbors for Takoma Transit want to positively influence the project, then they need to accept these tradeoffs and give up on the demands that conflict with their other priorities.
A process like the one above is at work every time a building is proposed. A system that allows neighbors to substantially alter a building just because they don’t like its design means that we will continue to have buildings that are too small to meet demand in the entire District, with a housing shortage to match. Trying to meet the demands of people who would prefer a surface parking lot to new neighbors is only going to increase the cost of homes.
WMATA should insist that EYA builds all 250 units for the sake of affordability and to address the on-going housing shortage. The non-resident parking should either be open to commuters to promote transit, or should be eliminated from the project altogether. An apartment building built on public land at a Metro station is a prime opportunity to create a better, more affordable District. When the plan comes before the zoning commission, they should take these considerations into account, not the mutually-exclusive demands of the neighbors.