Takoma Metro development moves forward

A new apartment complex at the Takoma Metro station got the go-ahead Thursday from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board of Directors, though some neighbors disapprove.

“I think this is really a positive step,” said Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

More than 50 Takoma Park and Takoma D.C. residents attended the board meeting at WMATA’s headquarters in Washington.

Since 2000, WMATA has tried to develop the area around the Takoma Red Line station, which is in Washington, just over the Maryland line.

In 2013, Bethesda developer EYA proposed a building with 200 apartments on a surface parking lot. The building would have three stories on Eastern Avenue and step up to four toward the train tracks. It would replace most of the parking, only about half of which is used at any one time.

At the meeting, board member Kathy Porter, a former Takoma Park mayor, said she supports the development and explained that the board is not endorsing any design issues “at all.”

“There’s no other way for this board to deal with many of the issues that had been brought up other than moving to the point where design issues can be taken up,” Porter said.

Residents said EYA, which works almost exclusively around Metro stations, did not reach out to the community as much as they had hoped, and they are still worried that the complex will destroy green spaces and cause more traffic congestion.

But Cort said WMATA will conduct a hearing to discuss general terms and how the project affects transit. Then “we advance this proposal to the D.C. zoning commission.”

During her testimony, Cort explained that the plan will keep open the existing 2.5-acre green space, and the site will develop a more pedestrian-friendly environment.

Some residents called the plan “too vague” and the board’s vote premature.

Residents also were concerned about reducing the number of metered parking spaces in the area from 141 to 95. According to Metro documents, the reduction should not be a concern for Metro riders, as the spaces “have historically not been more than 50 percent occupied. The developer will build the new spaces at its own cost and own and maintain the garage. Metro will install the meters and collect the revenue from the new spaces.”

Cort, however, explained that the project is still in its early stages.

“We actually haven’t had even the initial steps in terms of public process for Metro to say, ‘OK, we have the outline of a plan. It looks OK, so let’s bid,’” Cort said.

Jack Lester, EYA senior vice president, said EYA is pleased with the WMATA approval.

“This was simply a vote to move the project forward … there is still a long way to go,” Lester said. The company met with residents through public meetings at least four times, he said, but he understands that there will be always different opinions on a project of this scale.

“I think there are two sides to this and there is a group that supports a more vibrant Takoma … and takes advantage of this incredible resource,” Lester said.

The WMATA board said it needs at least 18 months for studies and meetings before any contract is signed.

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