Sunday, January 25, 2015

January 26 council meeting: Police report, farewell to Brian Kenner, and the WAH resolution

I introduced key topics for Monday evening's council meeting in last week's write-up so what I have to offer now are updates of those items I covered then:

- The city purchased the Washington-McLaughlin Christian School wooded lot for a winning tax-auction bid of $253,000. We had at our disposal the commitment of up to $114,000 in funds donated by residents, some of which we'll likely use. The city will have to clear liens before we can gain clear title so the total cost will likely exceed our initial cash outlay. I'll post more information, including regarding plans for the property, when available.

- The council will host a farewell reception for departing City Manager Brian Kenner, at 7 pm in the community center atrium. Please join us in thanking Brian for his Takoma Park service and wishing him well in his new position, Washington DC deputy mayor for planning and economic development.

The council is appointing Deputy City Manager Suzanne Ludlow acting city manager while we conduct a search for a new city manager.


- The police department will present its annual report at 8 pm. See a preliminary stats presentation. The stats cover crimes by ward and trends over the last several years. I've asked Police Chief Alan Goldberg to cover clearance rates as well, the proportion of crimes that result in an arrest or administrative or other closure.

I also asked the chief for stats on our license plate reader data: The number of records collected monthly since August 2014, the first month the TPPD was authorized to share LPR data with the state fusion center; the number of TPPD requests to the fusion center and the number of closures that resulted from those requests; the number of non-Takoma Park requests to the fusion center for Takoma Park records; and anything else related that's of interest.

- The council will discuss and then vote on a resolution regarding comment on the Certificate of Need (CON) application filed by Washington Adventist Hospital for proposed relocation to White Oak. Our resolution will cover a Freestanding [Emergency] Medical Facility; on this point and others, it is highly likely that the resolution will be stronger than the draft you will find online. Hospital president Erik Wangsness presented at last week's council meeting and we heard public testimony in a public hearing that followed.

At 00:19:42 in the video that you will find online, Mr. Wangsness states, "Once regulations are developed -- once the new rules are in place -- our commitment is to evaluate those rules for feasibility of stand-alone emergency department services on the Takoma Park campus." Mr. Wangsness is referring to rules slated to be published by the Maryland Health Care Commission (MHCC), which evaluates CON applications. MHCC is likely to publish those rules by the July 1, 2015 end of a 2010 legislatively imposed moratorium on new Maryland Freestanding Medicial [Emergency] Facilities. Be assured that we will energetically pursue residents' and councilmembers' desire to see a free-standing ER created here.

Finally, a new topic:

The council will hold its second 2015 retreat this Wednesday, January 28, starting at 6 pm at Montgomery College, in Room ST302 of the Student Services Center. You are welcome to attend and observe this session.

The city will likely face significant revenue challenges in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2015. I will plan to post more on this topic to keep you informed and invite your comment on our choices.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Tuesday, January 20: Hearing on Washington Adventist Hospital relocation, and a city bid on the Washington-McLaughlin property

This update, in advance of Tuesday evening's city council meeting, covers two topics: City comment on Washington Adventist Hospital (WAH) relocation and our bid in the IRS auction of the wooded portion of the Washington McLaughlin property.

I'll also offer a look-ahead to the January 26 council meeting, which will be preceded by a farewell reception for departing City Manager Brian Kenner, at 7 pm.

Public Hearing on WAH Relocation

(TPSS Voice photo)
Please attend a public hearing, Tuesday, January 20, at 7 pm, to comment on WAH's proposed relocation to White Oak.

Yup, yet another hearing on a process that has now entered its tenth year. Tuesday evening's hearing is an opportunity for you to communicate your thoughts regarding WAH's application for a relocation Certificate of Need (CON). You may recall that in 2012, WAH withdrew an earlier CON application, filed in 2009, that the Maryland Health Care Commission (MHCC) seemed likely to reject.

The city council will then meet with legal counsel in closed session following the public council meeting. And we are scheduled to consider a resolution commenting on the application at our Monday, January 26 meeting. A draft resolution is part of the Tuesday agenda packet.

The draft resolution includes a Resolved clause, "that Adventist HealthCare work with the City of Takoma Park on a joint study regarding the feasibility of a Freestanding Medical Facility (FMF) [emergency room] on the Takoma Park campus, and, if feasible, diligently pursue that goal when regulations are formalized." To explain: The MHCC will be establishing a work group soon for the development of CON regulation of FMFs. We expect those regulations will be in place when a 2010 state moratorium on establishment of new FMFs expires.

Washington-McLaughlin Property Auction

The city council has agreed to place at least a minimum bid, $68 thousand, in Thursday's IRS auction of the wooded portion of the Washington-McLaughlin property, a 2.68 acre parcel nestled between Woodland, Circle, and Gude Avenues not far from New Hampshire Avenue. The winning bidder would be required to deal with over $400 of "encumbrances," which include around $200 thousand owed to Montgomery County and to the city for back taxes, unpaid fees, penalties, and interest.

Bidding could go much higher. How high should the city bid?

Our aim in buying the parcel would be to conserve the majority of the land undeveloped.

There are many uncertainties related to costs -- Could the liens on the property, the "encumbrances," be transferred to the parcels that are not up for sale? -- and to financing. The city would pay for a purchase using unallocated money from our general fund reserves, but we'd probably have to cover that draw-down, due to likely FY16 revenue pressure, by raising taxes or borrowing money and possibly by diverting funds from related purposes such as sustainability programs.

We could eventually sell a portion of the parcel for construction of single-family homes, in order to recover (some of) our purchase costs, and we could either retain the remainder of the property or sell or transfer it to a land trust or Montgomery Park for conservation.

A number of neighbors and others are highly concerned that the entirety of the property not fall into a developer's hands. They, the Plan B group, have constructively been raising funds that could supplement a city bid. I have posted their flyer. Do consider joining their effort.

And please do relay to me your view on this topic.

A Look-Ahead to January 26

The Monday, January 26 council meeting will be preceded by a farewell reception for departing City Manager Brian Kenner, at 7 pm. Please join us! January 31 is Brian's last day in Takoma Park; he starts as Washigton DC deputy mayor for planning and economic development on February 2.

By the way: The city will be posting the city manager job very soon. We will be conducting an expedited search. Stay tuned.

The January 26 meeting will feature presentation of the Police Department Annual Report at 8 pm. The past years have been challenging, but we have undertaken significant new initiatives, spurred by residents' organizing of last February's multi-jurisdictional crime summit.

Creation of a police mutual-aid agreement with Montgomery County is one advance; a similar agreement with the District of Columbia should be ready soon. And in November, the council authorized the police department to start up a city Safe Cam program that should help the police locate privately-shot video linked to crime incidents.

We should remain concerned about the civil liberties implications of our 2014 decision to share city license-plate reader data with the Maryland fusion center. "Governor-elect Larry Hogan picked as homeland security director a former Maryland State Police superintendent who oversaw a controversial and prolonged surveillance of death penalty and antiwar activists," reports the Baltimore Sun. The fox is back in charge of the chicken coop. Nonetheless, we can hope(although I am personally still skeptical) that LPR-data sharing will facilitate a higher crime closure rate.

Your Thoughts?

As always, please share your thoughts and concerns with the council, at the January 20 WAH public hearing, during council-meeting public comment at 7:30 pm, or via e-mail to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov, or contact me directly at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

January 12 at the city council: Safe Roadways, Takoma Junction financials, and more

The Monday evening, January 12 council meeting advances a number of items that have been on the city's agenda, including possible Takoma Junction development:

- We'll have a presentation of the Safe Roadways Committee's Annual Report at 7 pm.

- We will act on a number of items of interest to segments of the community:

. A resolution on alcohol-sales licensing within the city that would ask state legislation to a) eliminate special licensing provisions for Takoma Park, so that Montgomery County licenses would apply here, retaining special licensing only for certain businesses in the portion of Takoma Park annexed to Montgomery County from Prince George's; b) include Takoma Park in licensing for sales of house-brewed alcoholic beverages (which would be redundant if (a) passes); and c) supports an end to Montgomery County's alcoholic-beverage distribution monopoly. This legislation would answer the TPSS Co-op's desire to sell beer and wine and Republic's wish to sell house-brewed beer but would apply throughout Takoma Park.

. An ordinance (establishing city law) regulating commercial filming activities in the city, necessitated by increasing demand and by abuses by a particular company, Sirens Media of Silver Spring.

. A resolution authorizing execution of an agreement for a Maryland Bikeways Program grant. We've done well at winning outside funding for transportation programs. This grant is the latest example.

. A resolution communicating city attitudes toward development of the wooded lot, part of the Washington-McLaughlin Christian School property, which is up for IRS auction on January 22. The consensus is that the city would like to see the majority of the parcel conserved undeveloped; the city council will be strengthening the draft you see online.

And finally:

- We will discuss financial considerations associated with the four finalist Takoma Junction development proposals. City staff posed a series of questions to the finalists. I, for one, would find TPSS Co-op responses to the same questions quite interesting. The co-op has reworked its development proposal (as have two of the four finalists, the Ability Project and Keystar/EcoHousing) to the point where I believe the city's and community's best interests would be served by re-including the co-op in formal considerations.

Also: I have noted the Open Letter that has circulated for signatures in recent days. It states support for continuation of the current development-evaluation process. I welcome this advocacy!

Thanks everyone, for your attention to city goings-on.

As always, you may attend the council meeting and comment at 7:30 pm, you may send your comment to the city clerk for distribution to all councilmembers (clerk@takomaparkmd.gov), or contact me directly sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225 to let me know about your thoughts and concerns.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

City Manager Brian Kenner to join Mayor Bowser's staff

Muriel Bowser has named Takoma Park City Manager Brian Kenner as Washington DC deputy mayor for planning and economic development.

I'm happy for Brian -- it's a great opportunity for him -- but disappointed for the Takoma Park. Brian is being hired for his former boss's position. Before he started work here in Takoma Park in June, 2013, he was chief of staff for the position he will now hold. I believe he starts in Washington DC on February 2. The Takoma Park City Council will announce our own replacement plans as soon as we can.


The Washington Post has reported the story, "Bowser names Brian Kenner top economic development aide, shuffles agencies."


Takoma Park's city press release reads as follows:
January 8, 2015 – Mayor Bruce Williams announces that Takoma Park City Manager Brian Kenner has bee n named Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development by Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and will resign his post as City Manager of Takoma Park. He leaves for his new position after 19 months of service as Takoma Park’s top executive. Previous to serving as the City Manager, Kenner was the Chief Operating Officer for the Deputy Mayor's Office of Planning and Economic Development for the District of Columbia.
Kenner started his position in June, 2013. He was chosen for the position after a nationwide search and was hired for his unique mix of skills and experience with public-private partnerships. Takoma Park has been notably active during his tenure. While Kenner was City Manager, Takoma Park became the first community in the United States to allow 16 year olds to vote in local elections, restricted the use of lawn pesticides and banned the use of polystyrene food containers. Kenner's tenure also saw the hiring of a Sustainability Manager and the solicitation of proposals to redevelop a City-owned parcel in the Takoma Junction area, two long term goals of the City Takoma Park.
When asked about the transition, Brian remarked: "Takoma Park is a special place with a unique and outstanding culture of community involvement and government leadership. I am happy to have been a part of the City and know it remains in strong hands." 
Looking back on Kenner's tenure, Mayor Bruce Williams noted he is thankful for his contributions which have built community optimism for the future of the City of Takoma Park which celebrates its 125th anniversary in April. "Brian has done a great job in Takoma Park. He engaged with the community right away, and he improved many aspects of our operations. We'll miss him, but we're in a strong position to tackle the issues we face in the coming months and years." 
Brian's last day is scheduled to be January 31, 2015.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Alcohol-sales changes brewing for Takoma Park

A heads-up --

The City Council will consider changes to Takoma Park alcohol-sale licensing at our Monday evening, January 5, 2015 meeting. The item is part of the Discussion of Legislative Items that is scheduled for 8:15 pm.

The council agrees on two specific aims, to allow off-sale (take-away sale) of beer and wine by the TPSS Co-op and to allow sales of house-brewed beer, for on-premise and take-away consumption, by Republic restaurant. Do note that these changes would apply throughout Takoma Park and not only for the co-op and Republic. Currently, only a restaurant that has a license for on-premise alcohol sales may apply for an off-sale license, outside the areas annexed from Prince George's County in 1997. That system was put in place in 2011, with a sunset provision removed in 2014.

We would simplify licensing by eliminating Takoma Park alcohol-sales provisions so that Montgomery County rules would apply, with the retention only of special licenses granted in the portion of Takoma Park that was annexed from Prince George's County in 1997.

How will all this happen?

Alcohol sales are regulated by Maryland state law, so the changes require state legislation. The proposed changes are described in a council resolution that is part of the staff-drafted agenda material. There would be two state bills. We would ask the Montgomery County state legislative delegation to modify Bill MC 18-15 to cover Takoma Park, and we would ask our District 20 delegation to develop a bill to remove restrictions on the types of Montgomery County alcoholic beverage licenses available to businesses and organizations in Takoma Park while retaining the existing "TP" alcoholic beverage licenses.

Licenses for alcohol sales in Takoma Park are handled by Montgomery County, with input from the City of Takoma Park. This aspect would not change.

The city council expects to vote on a resolution on Monday, January 12. The wording may be altered from the January 5 draft, based on council-staff discussion and on public comment. You may comment on both January 5 and January 12 at 7:30 pm, or send you comment to the council at clerk@takomaparkmd.gov or contact me at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225.

Thanks,

Seth

Friday, January 2, 2015

City council discussion of the Washington-McLaughlin School property, January 5

As many residents are aware, the IRS has seized for tax sale the wooded portion of the Washington-McLaughlin School property in Takoma Park. The question is, How should the City of Takoma Park respond?

The city council will be discussing the property at our Monday evening, January 5 meeting. We will discuss a possible city bid in the auction the IRS will conduct on January 22.

Buying the property would involve a significant dollar outlay. The council will need to weigh this expense against other city spending priorities, which are many of course, and against uses such as putting more money toward our unmet pension liabilities or holding the line on taxes. The city's buying the property would also remove it from the tax roll until we resell it, if we later decide to resell it.

Please weigh in with your opinion, whether prior to the council discussion or after. Contact me directly at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225, write to the whole council via clerk@takomaparkmd.gov, or comment at 7:30 pm at the Monday evening, January 5 council meeting. You may also wish to attend a community discussion organized by Councilmember Tim Male, which will take place Friday evening, January 2, at 7 pm in the Hydrangea Room of the Community Center.

The January 5 council agenda packet provides a full set of background materials. Because the city became aware of the tax sale only a week before Christmas, this is a late addition to the agenda and is scheduled for 9:45 pm. Attend the meeting or watch the discussion on city TV, including online.

In brief --

The wooded area is 2.68 acres, bounded by Woodland and Gude Avenues, by a row of homes along Elm Avenue, and by a "paper street" (public right-of-way) that is a continuation of Circle Avenue. The location is not far from New Hampshire Avenue, part of a larger parcel that is zoned R-60, which would allow by-right construction of single-family residences with a minimum lot size of 6,000 square feet. The City of Takoma Park is one of several parties that hold a lien on the parcel for unpaid debts, in our case, for property taxes and interest.

The Washington-McLaughlin parcel includes an old Prince George's County elementary school that is now partially used as a senior residence and day care center. That developed portion of the parcel is not part of the tax sale.

City options

If the city were to bid on and win the wooded lot, we could preserve it undeveloped or we could sell it to a developer that agrees to criteria we make part of the deal. Or we could let the property be sold directly to a developer, who would presumably build a maximal number of homes on the property although likely without the sensitivity to the neighbors and environmental that we would all prefer.

There many possible scenarios. Another is that a private individual or group, possibly a land trust, could win the property with the aim or seeking a conservation easement.

Your view?

Please do relay your view to the council or directly to me, in particular, whether you think the city should take steps to acquire the Washington-McLaughlin wooded lot and, if you favor city purchase, whether you prefer the lot be preserved undeveloped or be developed with single-family home in a neighborhood-friendly manner.

Thanks, and best wishes for the new year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Takoma Junction meeting schedule

A resident asked me about the city's schedule for further consideration of Takoma Junction redevelopment options. Here's information:

There will be a January 5 council meeting, our first after out 2014 holiday recess. Takoma Junction isn't on the agenda, but attendees are free to comment on the junction during public comment, at 7:30 pm.


The current city "rolling agenda" lists the following --

MONDAY, JANUARY 12, 2015 Work Session:
- Discussion of Financial Information related to Takoma Junction Redevelopment Proposals

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 21 -- (tentative) TAKOMA JUNCTION REDEVELOPMENT PUBLIC COMMENTS, 7:00 p.m. (CC Auditorium)

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 3 -- (tentative) TAKOMA JUNCTION REDEVELOPMENT PUBLIC COMMENTS, 7:00 p.m. (CC Auditorium)

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 10 -- (tentative) TAKOMA JUNCTION REDEVELOPMENT PUBLIC COMMENTS, 7:00 p.m. (CC Auditorium)

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 17 -- CITY COUNCIL WORK SESSION, 7:30 p.m. (CC Auditorium)
Work Session:
- (tentative) Discussion of Takoma Junction Redevelopment

The tentative January 21, February 3, and February 10 meetings are not city council worksessions. That is, there would not be council/staff discussion although I would assume that councilmembers will aim to attend.

These meetings were laid out in the schedule on the last page of a November 24, 2014 presentation. That presentation was part of a Overview of Community Benefits and Trade-Offs Related to Takoma Junction worksession. Video from that worksession is at online.

On January 12, the council will talk about "some of the specific financial information from the [four finalist] proposals," according to City Manager Brian Kenner. This numbers will be linked to property status -- selling the city lot versus retaining ownership and leasing it to a non-city entity -- and to community-amenity trade-offs. We discussed trade-offs on November 24. They could include accepting lower cash return in exchange for inclusion of community space, public parking, and other amenities in whatever's developed or for concessions such as reduced building height, great set-backs, undergrounding parking, and other steps that add to developer cost or reduce the return to the developer.

Myself, I think it would be interesting to compare the TPSS Co-op's perspective on Takoma Junction financials, especially since the co-op has reworked its proposed design, to financials associated with the four finalists' proposals.

I don't have any further information on these meetings and I don't see any on the city's Takoma Junction Web page, but you can visit that page for background on redevelopment discussions to date.

I hope this helps.