Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2007

Vote delayed on Metro townhouses

O’Malley’s call prompts WMATA board to hold Nov. 8 special session on project

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The long-anticipated decision by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority concerning planned development at the Takoma Metro station has been postponed again, after its board of directors voted last week to hold a special session Nov. 8 to examine the issue.

The decision to postpone was made at a Thursday meeting in which the board was expected to approve the proposal by Bethesda-based developer EYA. The plan would bring at least 85 townhouses, many with two-car garages, on existing green space surrounding the station.

Elizabeth M. Hewlett, a Maryland representative and chairwoman of the board, said the two-week postponement came after a request from Gov. Martin O’Malley, who appoints Maryland members to the board. While making an appearance Oct. 24 at Takoma Park Middle School , O’Malley (D) was asked to intervene by officials and Takoma Park residents, many of whom have opposed the plan since its inception eight years ago.

‘‘We were very moved by some of the concerns that we heard from Takoma Park and our governor,” Hewlett said.

At the Thursday meeting, residents and officials from Takoma Park and the Takoma neighborhood of Washington, D.C., used nine of the 10 available public comment slots to testify against the plan to sell up to 7 acres to EYA. They have argued that the proposal prioritizes development over transit needs by including insufficient space for buses, and limits pedestrian access while destroying existing green space.

The Takoma Park City Council has passed resolutions opposing the EYA plan since 2002. Residents and county and city officials also submitted letters to the board outlining their reasons opposing the plan — but it was revealed in last week’s meeting and other meetings between WMATA and Takoma Park officials that board members had not seen those letters prior to the Thursday meeting.

City Councilman Bruce Williams (Ward 3) told the WMATA board Thursday that the plan’s opponents are tired of being ignored.

‘‘You have neither heard nor received our message,” said Williams, who is running unopposed for mayor. ‘‘We’re frustrated and we’re angry.”

Other elected officials who testified against the proposal included state Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park and Takoma Park Mayor Kathy Porter.

The City of Takoma Park also submitted an alternative proposal to the board for how to develop to station site.

The EYA plan’s supporters, who include District Mayor Adrian Fenty, say the project would boost the area’s commercial district and that after eight years of debating, it’s time to move forward.

‘‘All the efforts, including the brand-new plan by the City of Takoma Park, Maryland, are just another effort to delay the project,” said Anthony R. Giancola, a District representative on the board. ‘‘... The bottom line is we need to move on, and I think at the end of the day you’re going to find that this particular project will benefit both the District and Maryland.”

EYA vice president Jack Lester said he isn’t disheartened by the postponement, since it was only the first time the issue had been before the board for a vote.

‘‘This two-week delay is immaterial in the context of the plan,” he said.

Lester said he’s confident that the proposal will be approved.

‘‘We look forward to the board considering the plan that’s supported by the District, the [District] mayor, the ward council members and the WMATA board,” he said.

The two-week postponement has given the plan’s opponents time to coordinate lobbying strategy.

‘‘These two weeks have got to be very productive,” Williams said at a Takoma Park City Council meeting Monday. ‘‘It’s not just a waiting period.”

Williams said he has requested a meeting with Jim Graham, the second vice chairman of the board and a District City Council representative, and will request a meeting with Virginia representative William D. Euille.

Councilwoman Joy Austin-Lane (Ward 1) said the city should begin preparing for a potential lawsuit.‘‘I want staff to be ready for legal action on Nov. 8 so that if [WMATA accepts] the plan, we can take immediate legal action,” she said.

Porter said she would defer to the advice of the city’s legal counsel concerning any legal action.

But opponents continue to stress that preserving transit access is their highest priority.

‘‘Simply getting a delay is not our goal,” said Sabrina Baron, president of Historic Takoma. ‘‘Our goal is to have a good transit plan.”