Sunday, January 22, 2012

Will Takoma Finally Embrace Its Inner Bethesda?

Denizens of the earthy Takoma neighborhood are finally seeing much-promised transit-oriented development beginning to sprout along underutilized Carroll Street NW, just steps from the Takoma Metro station.

Earlier this month, real estate giant Federal Capital Partners of Chevy Chase, which owns more than $1.8 billion in real estate assets in the mid-Atlantic region, announced the $36 million joint venture with Level 2 Development's Takoma Central, currently building in the 200 block of Carroll Street NW near the District-Maryland border.

Still, even as its neighbor to the north, Silver Spring, sees a burst of development, it hasn't been easy to convince the 17,000-plus globally-inspired Takoma Park citizens -- where illegal immigrants are allowed to vote in city elections and hold office -- to embrace their inner-Bethesda. Takoma Park residents, many of whom refer to the city as a "village," fought a long, but losing battle against a much-maligned CVS along Carroll Street in 1998 that led to the quick demise of a favorite mom-and-pop pharmacy on the Takoma Park, Maryland side. And a Subway sandwich joint that located in the village's historic district found its windows smashed in 2004 with the epithet "shop local" scrawled in spray paint.

But things may finally be changing in the People's Republic of Takoma Park as once development-wary residents embraced the Takoma Central design. That made it an ideal opportunity for Federal Capital Partners' Wade Casstevens, vice president of residential development.

"I think its a great place to live and well-kept secret," Casstevens said in an interview. "There haven't been areas in Takoma that you could build a large complex, so this is a true infill opportunity." Takoma Central will have amenities common to other Class A spaces in Logan Circle, Bethesda, and most recently Silver Spring, such as granite countertops, and stainless steel appliances, not easily found in Takoma. "Our strategy is to look for areas that have one or less competitors, not four or more, which is what we're finding in Silver Spring " he said.

Originally known as Ecco Park condos, the plan converted to apartments in 2008 under the design and ownership of SGA Architects. Takoma Central will be built in two phases.

Phase One, already under construction, is four stories, with a round, castle-like turret at the corner of Carroll Street and Maple, and will have 84 units and 70 underground parking spaces, plus 6,500 square feet for ground level retail.

Phase Two is a five-story, brick warehouse-style complex with 60 units and 35 underground parking spaces and ground-floor retail.

More importantly, the development may fill in a key gap between the bustle and activity of the Metro station and the quarter-mile walk to Carroll Avenue, Takoma Park's main street with well-kept sidewalks and quaint Victorian-era street lighting. Carroll Street NW becomes Carroll Avenue at the Maryland line, for those keeping score.

The 200 block of Carroll Street currently consists of a convenience store, a funeral home, the CVS pharmacy, and several surface parking lots. But the brick sidewalks are crumbling and there is no pedestrian friendly street lighting. Casstevens says the infrastructure and consistency of the street will improve with the completion of Takoma Central. "Right now, that part of Carroll Street looks a little beat up."

Phase 1 construction has begun already and Phase 2 will begin later this year. FCP says they will complete construction by the fourth quarter of 2013.

The construction of Takoma Central will go a long ways to renovating Carroll Street on both sides of the Metro line that the District and Maryland have been seeking to make ripe for transit-oriented development projects.

On the West side of the Metro line, where Carroll Street becomes Cedar Street, the District Office of Planning has been looking at possible enhancements to the neighborhood near the dormant Takoma Theater and its surrounds since Anthony Williams' tenure as Washington D.C.'s Mayor.

The Office of Planning's 2002 report shared the puzzlement over why TOD near Takoma Metro wasn't forthcoming. "Neither Carroll Street nor 4th Street have developed the critical mass of retail, commercial and housing that their Maryland neighbor enjoys, despite being anchored by the most heavily used pedestrian Metro transit station in the District of Columbia."

The Gables, a LEED-certified 142-unit complex opened in 2008 along Blair Road. FCP's Casstevens credits the opening of Gables for influencing their decision. "It was definitely a factor in our choice," he said. The Gables has many of the same amenities that Takoma Central offers, such as stainless steel GE appliances, hardwood floors and black granite countertops.

Still, south of Cedar Street there has been little progress in building a revitalized neighborhood around the historic Theater. Takoma Village, a unique co-housing urban village opened next to the historic Art Deco Takoma Theater in November 2000.

Milt McGinty, father of WUSA-9 anchorman Derek McGinty owns the theater, and wants to raze it to convert it to luxury apartments.

Preservationists want the the city to buy the theater outright but McGinty says the theater, which was built in 1923 isn't for sale and the theater stands in disrepair, prompting some accusations of "demolition by neglect." Like many development disputes, the fate of the Takoma Theater may end up it court while neighborhood redevelopment plans continue to gather dust.


IMGoph on Jan 23, 2012, 12:34:00 AM said...

To be pedantic - your calling it the "Takoma Park neighborhood" in the first sentence isn't correct. The neighborhood in DC is Takoma. The city in Maryland is Takoma Park (at least you do call it a city later in the article).

Minor? Of course. But worth noting.

Stronghold D.C. on Jan 23, 2012, 11:17:00 AM said...

What IMGoph said.

Dan Goldstein on Jan 23, 2012, 11:27:00 AM said...

Thanks IMGoph for the heads up.

Bob See on Jan 23, 2012, 11:56:00 AM said...

I live on the DC side in this area and don't care if people call it Takoma Park. There's no wall separating the DC side from the MD side and what happens on one "side" affects (hopefully benefits) people on the other.

Thanks for the write up. Some things maybe that could be followed up on:
-Not sure what's happening with the Takoma Central project on Carrol St, after a bunch of excavation work a few months back it's completely stopped and is now just a water-filled pit.
-The large field behind the CVS (between Maple and Willow) had I believe been approved several years ago for an apartment complex. Part of being approved was that the three old vacant houses on the north end of the site were to be moved to the south end and renovated. Nothing has happened since, besides the serious deterioration of those houses.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't say the actual number, but Gables Takoma has a lot more than 38 units! Maybe a digit was inadvertently dropped--such as 238 units?

Richard Layman on Jan 23, 2012, 1:57:00 PM said...

yes, what people call takoma park varies, but the major point is that the lede in the story is about the Maryland side of the neighborhood yet all the developments discussed in the article are in the DC side. So it is misleading to say the least.

Takoma Central is a Douglas Development project, so it will happen when Doug Jemal sees fit to go forward. The success of the other mentioned projects would likely speed it up.

Richard Layman on Jan 23, 2012, 3:01:00 PM said...

Another thing. The headline is misleading. Takoma Park MD may have a Bethesda wish, although as an occasional volunteer for Takoma Main Street I know that isn't the case, but the DC side sure doesn't, and since all the developments mentioned in the article are on the DC side, the headline doesn't make sense.

Note that Takoma Park MD's "problem" vis-a-vis development is the fact that Montgomery County has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Silver Spring, while Takoma Park doesn't receive similar kinds of investments from the County, with the exception of the Long Branch area.

Bob See on Jan 23, 2012, 3:06:00 PM said...

"Gables Takoma has a lot more than 38 units"

Yeah, guesstimating from the footprint it's probably 38 per floor.

"Takoma Central is a Douglas Development project"

Don't think Douglas has any involvement with it...

Greg McElhatton on Jan 24, 2012, 1:26:00 PM said...

"The 200 block of Carroll Street currently consists of a convenience store, a funeral home, the CVS pharmacy, and several surface parking lots, something Casstevens hopes will improve with the completion of Takoma Central."

Also the home furnishings store Trohv (which opened in 2011 and is well worth your notice) and the pet supplies store Big Bad Woof, although they don't give quite the same air of desolation that you're trying to create here.

Richard Holzsager on Jan 24, 2012, 2:54:00 PM said...

As the prior commenters implied, the writer has not done much homework. My main gripe is the comment about the Takoma Theatre. Those of us who want to see the historic theater preserved are not lobbying for the City to buy it. There is a very active group called the Takoma Theatre Conservancy that has been trying for years to come to some sort of agreement with Mr. McGinty, but without any constructive response.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the coverage of our ever emerging community. In addition to the residential development noted in the story our Takoma DC neighborhood has seen several new businesses move here such as Landis Construction, a premier design/build firm, building a new office on Blair road north of the Gables.

What we do not have is an integrated vision that connects and reinforces both the DC and Maryland sides of our two interdependent neighborhoods.

Both the DC Office of Planning and the City of Takoma Park (and Montgomery County) need to sit down and help our communities build on the current successes to realize the full potential of our unique neck of the woods.

We, on the DC side, are eager for redevelopment to be supportive of the quality of life we have here and to support more jobs, needed services, and to accommodate both needed metro oriented development and a greener, greater Takoma.

Dan Goldstein on Jan 24, 2012, 9:28:00 PM said...

Richard H. I found this in the ANC4b Minutes from January 24, 2011.

WHEREAS a community-based group, the Takoma Theatre Conservancy, has written to Mayor Vincent Gray requesting ‘the inclusion of $10 million in the District’s 2012 Capital Budget for the acquisition and initial renovation of the historic Takoma Theatre, located at 6833 Fourth Street, NW, as a multifunctional community cultural arts and education center’;

Sounds like indeed they are hoping for the city to buy it.

Richard Holzsager said...

I apologize for criticizing your homework, especially since I think I was at that ANC meeting. I hope someone who knows more than I do will clarify.

Anonymous said...

Richard H is cool like that.

Steve Davies on May 20, 2012, 5:55:00 PM said...

Just saw this and had to comment. Man, some myths will never die. I refer to this sentence: "Takoma Park residents, many of whom refer to the city as a "village," fought a long, but losing battle against a much-maligned CVS along Carroll Street in 1998 that led to the quick demise of a favorite mom-and-pop pharmacy on the Takoma Park, Maryland side."

Completely untrue. There was a short "battle" which consisted of a few rallies to support local businesses (taken to mean Park Pharmacy), one of which was, I think, even attended by "Doc," the longtime pharmacist.

But then one day there appeared a letter on the door of Park Pharmacy, thanking the locals for their patronage. Doc had sold out to CVS, which probably would not have located there w/o a guarantee that it would get the prescription business from Doc's customers at Victory Towers. Once CVS bought Doc's prescription business, he retired to Florida. You see, he had worked 6 days a week and his wife had been urging him to retire. No one in his family wanted to bust their hump running the store. The protests did help Doc -- not by keeping his pharmacy in Takoma Park, but by giving him leverage in negotiations with CVS. Good for him.

Amusingly, one "shop local" supporter was so enraged by Doc's letter that she wrote a letter to the Takoma Voice castigating him. The gall of the man, not wanting to serve as the poster child for local activists' latest fight against The Man!

Oh, and btw, I've lived in Takoma Park for 20 years and never heard it referred to as a "village."

Anonymous said...

The future appears bleak for the Republic of Takoma Park. With big money dug in and glowering at us from across the district line, we had better savor our progressive suburb while it lasts. That is, those of us who remain faithful to what the Republic of Takoma Park stands for. Too many Takoma Parkers have backed away from the tenets that gave this city its nickname. We were once an impassioned citizenry who put our principles first: of late, we’ve become indifferent to the ills and evils against which we once fought so ardently. Until we rekindle our commitment to progressive activism, the Republic of Takoma Park will proceed in its slow but steady march toward archetypal suburbia.

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