Public hearing focuses spotlight on Takoma/Langley Crossroads
Most support newest draft of plan to redevelop area
A plan to transform the Takoma/Langley Crossroads into a commercial and transportation hub would breathe new life into the area, but the plan must protect existing small businesses as well, according to those who attended a public hearing last week.
The Montgomery County Council held a public hearing on the plan May 25, and representatives from the city of Takoma Park, various developers, citizens and apartment building owners spoke at the hearing.
"The Planning Board believes that this plan sets the stage for a reinvention in the Crossroads area," said Marye Wells-Harley, vice chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board, who drafted the plan.
While most said they liked the newest draft of the plan, which would turn the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard into a commercial, pedestrian and transportation hub, many speakers suggested changes as well.
The Crossroads hosts several shopping centers as well as apartment complexes. There are 20 vacancies in the shopping centers among the 170 possible spaces, said Erwin Mack, executive director of the Takoma/Langley Crossroads Development Authority.
Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams and City Councilman Fred Schultz (Ward 6) spoke at the hearing. The two both expressed approval of the plan but asked the county council to make sure Takoma Park programs like the Crossroads Farmers Market continue. The city council approved the plan's draft during a meeting earlier this month.
"We believe a transfer can occur that will retain small businesses and create new opportunities for new businesses," Schultz said.
Bob Wulff, senior vice president at B.F. Saul, which owns the Hampshire-Langley Shopping Center, said the developer was largely in favor of the plan but took issue with a proposal for a 1-acre green space in the plaza. Wulff said a grassy space would simply turn into a "mudhole," and the 1-acre allotment was too large and would be better used for more commercial space.
Wulff said the developer would prefer a smaller urban plaza with more hardscape?and less grass.
"We would argue that is not the right use," Wulff said. "Form follows function. This is an urban plaza next to a transit station. It's not where you play Frisbee. It's not where you sit on the lawn and have a picnic."
G. Neel Teague, president of the Takoma/Langley Crossroads Development Authority, advocated delaying changes until plans to build the Purple Line were completed.
A cornerstone of the plan is the routing of the proposed Metro Purple Line through the Crossroads, which would connect the shopping center to surrounding communities and bring in customers. The Purple Line is a proposed addition to the Metro system that would connect Bethesda with New Carrollton via Silver Spring and College Park. Plans for the line have been under discussion in the state for years, and nothing has been finalized.
"During that time, we do not want to see the deterioration of businesses in the short-term, while waiting for the long-run to happen," Teague said.
Jorge Cactic, a representative for various Guatemalan groups in the area, owns a Guatemalan products shop in the Crossroads. He said many Guatemalan business owners are concerned they will be pushed out of their businesses and homes in the Crossroads.
"That's going to be hard," Cactic said. "People keep talking about how nice the trains are going to look, but no one wants to talk about the negative side of it. People are going to have to move away."
Kim Propeack of Casa de Maryland echoed these concerns. She said Casa felt the plan needed a more concrete outline in making sure no affordable housing is lost in the development of the Crossroads area, which has many apartment buildings and single-family homes.
Council President?Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said the plan would not result in net loss of affordable housing.
"I get the very distinct impression when hearing from our friends at Casa that there is hysteria drummed up out there that the plan will throw thousands of people out of homes," Ervin said. "That is not the intention of what the council is doing in regards to this sector plan."
The draft has moved into discussions with the county council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee.
The plan's future, however, ultimately still remains uncertain and ongoing pending further action on the Purple Line.
"If there is no Purple Line, none of this happens," said Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large).