Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pepco at the council Monday evening (Oct 27), and a film-permit discussion

In response to Takoma Park concerns about recent Pepco tree cutting, Pepco Vice President Jerry Pasternak has agreed to attend the Monday evening, October 27 city council meeting. Mr. Pasternak's presentation will start at 7 pm. It is described as "an update on Pepco's reliability enhancements and the proposed merger with Exelon," but he confirmed to me today that he will address our tree concerns and that he will be able to stay until around 7:45 pm, that is, through at least the first portion of the public comment period, which is slated to start at 7:30 pm..

The October 27, 2014 agenda and background material are posted on the city Web site.

The council will also discuss a film permit ordinance and regulations, resuming a discussion that we had a year ago. Per the backgrounder, "The City receives between five and ten inquiries each year for filming in Takoma Park... The intent of this proposed ordinance is to facilitate filming activities in the City of Takoma Park while protecting the health, safety, and welfare of residents, businesses, and visitors. Codifying the rules for film permits will enable a fair and clear process for City staff and filmmakers alike."

Finally, continuation of two on-going discussions are on the council schedule:

The council will continue discussion of Takoma Junction development proposals on November 3 and November 24, and new on the city agenda is a Takoma Junction Redevelopment Proposals Open House, Tuesday, November 18 at 7:30 p.m.

And the Monday, November 10 council meeting is scheduled to include an update on the city's environmental sustainability program and, tentatively, an update from the Committee on the Environment

If you have concerns about any of these matters or other city issues, please get in touch: 301-873-8225 or sethg@takomaparkmd.gov.

And please vote on November 4, or during early voting through October 30. I've posted my picks to my One Takoma blog.

My 2014 Election Endorsements

There are two critical contests in the 2014 general election -- for governor and for Montgomery County Board of Education -- and a trio of interesting ballot initiatives.

For governor of Maryland, I urge you to vote for Democrat Anthony Brown, a solid candidate. A plus: Howard County Executive Ken Ulman will be an excellent lieutenant governor.

Brown's opponent for governor, Republican Lawrence Hogan, espouses tax cuts that would be detrimental to Maryland's economic health. He is iffy on transportation projects such as the Purple Line and Baltimore's Red Line. And he's an advocate for expanded gun ownership who refuses to answer direct questions related to his planned policies.

The race is reportedly closer than one would hope. Your vote is important.

Election day is Tuesday, November 4, 2014, 7am to 8pm, and you can vote early, through October 30, 2014, 10am to 8pm each day, at any of nine county locations. They include the Silver Spring Civic Building, where I voted myself yesterday (October 25).


School Board

Board of Education races are always important. Our public schools define who we are as a community, and who we hope to be.

I strongly support Jill Ortman-Fouse, running at-large. You couldn't ask for a more accessible, sensible, engaged candidate. What won me over for Jill, early on, was her belief in a flexible approach that responds to the individual schools' concerns, in contrast to the cookie-cutter approach that has prevailed for some time.

I've looked into the candidates in the various district races, but frankly, my picks were strongly influenced by Sue Katz-Miller's and Lindsey Parsons' endorsements of Kristin Trible (District 1) and Laurie Halverson (District 3) and Dan Reed's endorsements of those candidates and Michael Durso (District 5) for reelection. Progressive Neighbors also endorses Durso. (The district candidates reside in the districts listed, but voting is county-wide.)

Ballot Questions


I suggest a For vote on the three ballot questions:
  1. Disallowing non-transportation use Maryland Transportation Trust Fund money except in a fiscal emergency.
  2. Authorizing "charter counties," including Montgomery County, to decide whether to amend their charters to institute direct election to fill mid-term county executive vacancies.
  3. Refining residency requirements for Montgomery County district councilmembers.
Other Races: Circuit-Court Judges

I've saved other races for last because there's really no contest in the Maryland District 20 state-legislative races or in the races for Montgomery County executive and District 5 and at-large county-council seats -- the Democratic candidates will win -- and because the election of circuit-court judges needs some explaining.

I will not vote to retain Audrey Anne Creighton as circuit-court judge, given questions regarding her conflicts and conduct surrounding a personal relationship. Please see the Gazette endorsement article, Three on the bench, one challenger for circuit judge. I voted for sitting judges Nelson W. Rupp Jr., Joan E. Ryon, and Gary E. Bair and for challenger Daniel Patrick Connell. I spoke briefly to Judge Rupp, who urged anyone concerned about Creighton to vote for the sitting judges (including himself) minus Creighton, and then rely on the system to remove Creighton if merited: an alternative to consider.

I hope this helps!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Old Takoma parking -- status & council discussion

The October 20 council meeting includes a worksession (council and staff) discussion of parking in Takoma Park neighborhoods adjacent to commercial areas. Old Takoma is high on the list, given commercial development on/near Carroll Avenue and also the planned Takoma Park Presbyterian Church community commercial kitchen.

(Click here for the meeting agenda, which includes presentation of Takoma Park and Montgomery County Voting Rights Task Force reports -- I believe City Councilmember Tim Male, who co-chaired the county task force, will give the latter presentation -- and discussion of establishing a Recognition Commission.)

The October 20 Parking Discussion

The parking discussion backgrounder is online. It includes a staff-prepared presentation that describes the city's residential parking permit zones. Ward 1 has three zones, covering the Old Town-Carroll, PEN, and North Takoma areas. The presentation then provides stats on parking meters and discusses Old Takoma commercial-district parking.

An Update on Steps Taken to Date

I'll summarize steps the city and community stakeholders have taken to address Old Takoma parking and traffic congestion concerns:

-- In July, the council voted to hire a half-time parking-enforcement officer, reinstating a position that had been cut around five years ago. While parking-enforcement staff -- formally, they're "nuisance-abatement officers" -- do cover the whole city and occasionally have non-parking duties, we should see enforcement improvements.

Councilmembers and the city administration are aware of concerns about enforcement errors and procedures perceived as harsh or unclear. I expect we will discuss enforcement on Monday evening. In any case, if you live in a permit zone and park your car on the street, please do apply for a permit, and use your guest permit only for guests' vehicles.

-- City staff met over the summer with Andy Shallal of Busboys & Poets, regarding patron parking. (Last I heard, opening could be as soon as December. See an August Gazette article.)

These are City Manager Brian Kenner's summary notes:
  1. B&P assumes most of its employees don't drive to work. Gives transit subsidy to employees to encourage them to take public transportation. Most of employees at other B&P are relatively local (live close to restaurant) and thus public transportation is convenient for them, he expects the same from this location.
  2. B&P believes some patrons will drive to restaurant but one of the reasons he liked this location was proximity to metro and other public transportation modes.
  3. City committed to getting him parking resources so he can inform his customers about parking options.
  4. City informed B&P of 500 commercial parking spaces available and he indicated interest wanting to work with commercial parking lot managers to make parking available.
-- Those 500 commercial parking spaces: They were identified by Laura Barclay, executive director of the Old Takoma Business Association (OTBA). Laura contacted local property owners with spaces that could possibly be shared or leased or made publicly available, on a regular or occasional basis. Per the last page of the staff presentation for Monday evening's council meeting, those spaces are:
  • Willow Street, NW, behind CVS - 80 spaces
  • Laurel and Aspen Streets, NW - 80 spaces
  • SDA Church on Eastern Avenue, NW - 160 spaces
  • Takoma Business Center on Carroll Ave - 200 spaces
-- The Takoma Park Presbyterian Church has indicated that the church will arrange off-street parking, using Laura's information, for larger events such as the June funeral that overloaded nearby streets and snarled traffic at certain points.

-- City officials, Laura, Lorraine Pearsall from Historic Takoma, and the church have met about parking and traffic congestion near the church, and the church has discussed the matter with the Takoma Park Child Development Center (TPCDC). The city's Safe Routes to School coordinator, Lucy Neher, is evaluating conditions, focusing on TPCDC drop-off and pick-up and on the school-bus stop in front of the church gym building on Tulip. Lucy did similar work around Takoma Park Elementary School, where parking and congestion issues were a similar concern. Lucy will prepare recommendations, and I expect we'll be ready to meet again in within a month.

-- Regarding the planned church-housed Takoma Park/Silver Spring Community Kitchen (TPSSCK), quoting a TPSSCK Quick Facts sheet, "In the Spring of 2013, the Kitchen Coalition committed that the TPSSCK would not add any additional street parking in the neighborhood; recently the Coalition committed to avoid adding curb cuts or removing trees. Eight parking spots will be rented in the Takoma Business Center (TBC) for kitchen users and the Kitchen Manager. This cost is reflected in the budget and has been approved by the Property Manager of Takoma Business Center. Users will use the parking pad for drop off and pick up but will not park on the street or on the parking pad."

The Quick Facts sheet also states, "A traffic study will be done prior to construction to monitor all traffic to and from the Church throughout the day. This traffic survey will reveal what times of day operations will have the least impact on traffic conditions and neighbors."

Possible Outcomes

Monday evening outcomes could include a decision to go beyond steps currently underway. We could decide, for example, to conduct a comprehensive parking and traffic study. Or we may decide that a study isn't needed (yet) and that we should undertake smaller, immediate steps.

Your suggestions and comments are invited. Please write clerk@takomaparkmd.gov to get a message to the council and staff, or contact me at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225.

Finally, the council has commercial-vehicle parking in residential areas tentatively slated for November 3 worksession discussion.

Other Planned Council Discussions

Advance warning about several items of broad interest that are slated to come up at city council meetings in the coming weeks:

-- On October 27, Pepco Vice President Jerry Pasternak will present and discuss Pepco tree policies, starting at 7 pm. I would anticipate his staying for public comment, which is scheduled for 7:30 pm.

-- November 17 discussion of the city's state legislative priorities for the 2015 legislative session, which will open in early January. Legislative requests could include a change to beer and wine sales licensing, which is captured in state law, even at a local level. Currently in Takoma Park, only a restaurant with a license for on-premise sales of beer and wine may apply for an off (take-away) sales licenses. This means that businesses such as the TPSS Co-op, which does not operate a restaurant or cafe, may not apply to sell beer and wine. I would like the co-op to be able to sell beer and wine and to allow Republic to sell beer brewed on-site, which the restaurant is exploring.

-- Further council worksession discussions of Takoma Junction development proposals and options, on November 3 and November 24.

-- A dog park update on November 24.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

October 13: Hearing on a city polystyrene ban + police cooperation, snow removal & the city Web site

The October 13, 2014 city council meeting will open with a public hearing on a proposed ban on food-service polystyrene serviceware, at 7 pm. Also notable on the council's agenda: A police mutual aid agreement between Takoma Park and Montgomery County, discussion of snow removal plans and policies, and award of a contract for city Web site improvements.

Each item in turn --

The City Polystyrene Food Serviceware Ban

The city polystyrene ordinance -- the Young Activist Act of 2014 -- would forbid food-service use of polystyrene cups, plates, utensils, and other serviceware, effective July 1, 2015. Think "styrofoam" cups, plates, and clamshell take-out containers and also hard-plastic Solo Cups and the like marked with a number 6 recycling symbol. These materials have deleterious health effects, and they're not recyclable.

Recognition for Young Activist Club members in 2011.
The proposed city action culminates years of local advocacy by the Young Activist Club, which organized around efforts to replace disposable (non-recyclable) polystyrene foam trays, at Piney Branch Elementary School, with durable, reusable trays. That effort did not succeed, although earlier this year the county school system committed to switching to recycled/recylable cardboard trays.

As for the City of Takoma Park: We ended our own use of polystyrene food serviceware in 2010, and a year ago, we disallowed use of polystyrene food serviceware at city festivals and by food trucks, which must apply for city permits.

Please comment at tomorrow (Monday) evening's public hearing -- it starts at 7 pm -- or you may submit written comments to the City Clerk, 7500 Maple Avenue, Takoma Park, MD 20912 or by e-mail to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov. The complete notice and text of the proposed ordinance may be found online. Actual council votes are slated for October 20 and November 10. (Two votes are needed to amend city law.)

Note that the Montgomery County Council will consider a county polystyrene bill. The bill was developed and introduced by Councilmember Hans Riemer (a Takoma Park Ward 1 resident). The county ban would take effect January 1, 2016, but would not cover non-foam food serviceware. The county bill would go beyond the city's by banning bulk sales of polystyrene foam serviceware and by mandating, as of January 1, 2017, that food-service businesses use only recyclable or compostable serviceware. I support the county legislation and hope it will be strengthened to cover non-foam polystyrene food serviceware.

County-City Police Mutual Aid Agreement

An ordinance on the council agenda is a next step in formalizing stronger cooperation between the Takoma Park and Montgomery County police departments. The draft agreement negotiated by the city and county is online. Assuming the council approves the agreement -- and I think we will -- it will go into effect once signed by Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett.

I expect the police agreement to come up around 8:30 pm. It will be preceded on the agenda by an --

Ordinance Awarding a Contract for Website Improvements

The city Web site has had issues related to content maintenance, indexing and findability of material, usability on smaller form-factor mobile devices, and accessibility for persons with visual disabilities. The city manager issued a Request for Proposals over the summer, and staff, assisted by a couple of council members, selected a contractor for council approval. The cost proposed by contractor Ignition 72 is $34,500. Please see the backgrounder.

I do have certain reservations. The contract would not cover posting of content that has long been missing from the city's Web site including old council minutes, resolutions, and ordinances as well as administrative regulations issued by the city manager. It is not at all clear to me that it provides for comprehensive indexing for search of all city content, in particular, council agendas and minutes hosted at Granicus, a service provider, and the MANY documents the city hosts in the Amazon S3 cloud.

Further, it is not clear that the contract would cover improved online processing of permit and rental applications, program registrations, payments, and the like, or a credible request reporting and tracking system. It is not clear that it would address undesirable practices such as creating PDF-document images of textual documents, which are not searchable or accessible to persons with visual disabilities. These documents should be created in accessible, indexable form. I have asked the city manager to address when and how he plans to address the request system and content accessibility.

Planning for Snow Removal and Snow Emergencies

Tomorrow evening's council meeting will close with preparation for "snow events." What's the issue? Here's how the council background describe it:

"The winter of 2013-2014 had seven winter weather events that involved calling Public Works crews in to pre-treat streets and plow snow. During some of these events, there was discussion over if and how the no parking provisions should be enforced on the City's one Emergency Snow Route on Maple Avenue. There were also complaints that many property owners did not clear their sidewalks of snow in a timely way and there were complaints that the City's enforcement of its sidewalk clearing law was ineffective. In April, the Safe Roadways Committee made a presentation to the City Council that noted sidewalks not adequately cleared, improper disposition of snow from parking lots onto sidewalks, the problems of snow-blocked sidewalk curb cuts at intersections, and urging greater attention to the needs of pedestrians and bicycle riders during winter weather events."

Scroll to the bottom of the agenda page for the backgrounder and three supporting documents.

Finally...

If you comment on these items or other city business, or questions or concerns that I can help you with, please contact me at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225, or pay me a visit during my next drop-in office time, Tuesday, October 14, 5-6 pm at my office, 7006 Carroll Avenue #202. The entrance is between Mark's Kitchen and the Middle Eastern Cuisine restaurant.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Takoma Junction developer presentations, video of the Sept 23 event, question form, and feedback invited


The City of Takoma Park has posted:

1) Video of the September 23 Takoma Junction development presentations.

2) The presentation slide decks.

3) A form for submission of questions for the four finalists.

City council discussions of the finalist proposals -- and I guartantee that the TPSS Co-op's proposal and alternative Takoma Junction possibilities will come up -- are scheduled for Monday evenings, September 29, October 27, and November 24.

I would really, really welcome your views on the proposals as presented and also on the TPSS Co-op's proposal. What do you think of the proposed:

- Uses of the site, that is, the business/community/residential mix in each proposal.

- For the buildings facing Ethan Allen/Carroll: the height, footprint, and neighborhood impact and compatibility.

- The uses of the wooded lot including, in some of the proposals, extension of the Ethan Allen/Carroll construction over or down the hillside.

- Attention to the TPSS Co-op's current needs (including truck access) and desire to expand.

- Parking and pedestrian and bicyclist impact.

Do note that we expect the developers to modify their proposals in the course of discussions with the city and the community. They know that they have to work to accommodate the co-op. As a reminder: I posted last week on the Takoma Junction development process and the TPSS Co-op proposal.

Finally, I would like to know what criteria you would like to see the council, city staff, and community apply in evaluating options. Please let me know: sethg@takomaparkmd.gov, 301-873-8225.

Seth

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Takoma Junction development process and the TPSS Co-op proposal

Thanks to everyone who has been in contact about the Takoma Junction development proposals and process.

There have been questions about community involvement and openness. I'll try to tackle those topics by reviewing how we got where we are, starting with the council's 2010 creation of the Takoma Junction Task Force. But first I'll reinforce that the city has been very deliberate in exploring development possibilities and will continue to be. Takoma Junction development is not on a fast track. And I'll reiterate what you've heard from the city manager and the mayor: The city intends to accommodate co-op expansion in any development scenario. (I've provided co-op proposal information, distributed publicly by the co-op, toward the end of this article.)

History

The council set up a Takoma Junction Task Force (TJTF), which I co-chaired, in response to SS Carroll neighborhood advocacy and the recommendation of an informal Takoma Junction working group that included a few council reps. The task force minutes and materials are online. You can find minutes from meetings of the working group there as well.

The TJTF issued its report in early 2012. You can read about the TJTF's community meetings and interviews in the report.

Let me excerpt one bit of text, staff opinion on a different point. It's labelled "City staff additional information (December 2011)," on page 21:
"It appears that the City cannot engage in negotiations for the long-term use of City property without entering into a bid process. City contracts (which would include a sales contract, as well as a lease or development agreement) are to be awarded by competitive sealed bidding or competitive sealed proposals unless one of the exceptions applies. None of the exceptions to competitive bidding would seem to apply."
TJTF member Kay Daniels-Cohen and I were elected to the council in November 2011. We and our colleagues promoted development explorations and other steps such as requesting that the State Highway Administration install a crosswalk at Grant Avenue.

The city moved forward by conducting an environmental assessment of the city-owned parcel. The assessment docs are available online. City staff also had an appraisal done. I have not seen it.

The co-op had set up an expansion task force and approached the city with sketches of an expansion into the city lot. Then co-op-president David Walker presented to the council on July 30, 2012. I blogged about this a couple of weeks later: A Takoma Junction Update: Co-op Expansion Plans and Progress on Other Fronts. Subsequently, the council decided that the city's best interest would be served by inviting anyone interested to propose development or another site-improvement concept. This discussion took place at the council's October 1, 2012 meeting. You can read the minutes and watch meeting video online.

Last year, the city hired a new city manager. The individual we chose, Brian Kenner, has experience in economic development that included work, as a Washington DC employee, on reuse of the Walter Reed and Saint Elizabeth's hospital campuses and H Street redevelopment. (Washington Adventist Hospital's planned relocation to White Oak is another local challenge for Takoma Park.)

Brian developed the approach we're following and the council approved it. The city issued a Request for Proposals in January with a May 28 closing date. The RFP and other materials are online. The city subsequently met with prospective developers including the co-op. In accordance with the steps and criteria laid out in the RFP, staff selected four finalists. That down-select was made by the city manager and Housing and Community Development staff. They briefed the council on September 3; the council agreed with their selection.

And that's where we are now, on September 18.

The Coming Months

Again, the four finalists will make public presentations on Tuesday, September 23 at 7:00 pm in the community center auditorium. I plan to attend, and I hope you will as well, or you can watch the presentations, live or later, via city TV and on the city Web site.

The city manager is working on a structured way to collect feedback; nonetheless, you can relay your views to the council at any time, via e-mail to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov, or to me at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225.

The steps that follow will include a September 29 city-council worksession devoted to discussion of Takoma Junction Development Proposals and, tentatively, further council discussion on October 20. These sessions will be open to the public. There will be public comment at the start of the meetings but no public participation in the discussions.

The TPSS Co-op Proposal

Finally, the co-op posted its proposal, minus a diagram that was included in the printed version available at the co-op. I've attached a copy of that diagram to this message. Getting a proposal this way is a not the same as seeing it presented, but nonetheless, the co-op's materials will communicate to you what they have in mind.

[Update Sept 21: The co-op refreshed the posted version of its proposal, to include a variant of the diagram that was originally posted, the diagram I included below center. I am posting that additional image, below right. Click on the images to see larger versions. The additional image (below, right) does clarify one aspect of the co-op's proposal. It shows topography lines on the right side, which is the wooded lot that is beyond the edge of the current city-lot paved surface, although the drop-off actually starts just to the right of the rightmost parking row.]


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Washington Adventist Hospital relocation update, library redesign, and more, September 15

Of note on the city council's September 15, 2014 agenda: An update on Washington Adventist Hospital's relocation plans, and a number of more-routine items including award of a contract for library space planning and interior redesign, the outcome of a community visioning process that has taken place over the past year.

Robert Jepson, Vice President of Business Development for Adventist HealthCare, will present the hospital update. This will be the first appearance by an Adventist HealthCare official since the departure of former Washington Adventist Hospital (WAH) President Joyce Newmyer, who recently took over Adventist hospital management in the Pacific Northwest. Ms Newmyer's replacement at WAH is Erik Wangsness, whose start date is the week after this next.

WAH has filed a Certificate of Need application with the Maryland Healthcare Commission, whose approval of plans to relocate the hospital to White Oak, some distance from Takoma Park, is required. WAH has previously stated the intention to maintain certain healthcare facilities here in Takoma Park post-move, while leasing parts of the current WAH campus to Washington Adventist University. I do expect that Jepson may announce significant changes to the CON application and plans.

Other items on the September 15 council agenda include an ordinance approving large-grant awards. The agenda item is online, although I am concerned that the draft doesn't closely match direction provided by the council at last Monday evening's meeting.

Also there has been no council discussion of the idea of allocating $10,565 from the city's Emergency Assistance Fund to one of the large-grant applicants, which the draft ordinance would have us do. From the city's Web site: "The Emergency Assistance Fund provides financial assistance to income eligible residents experiencing a health crisis, a pending eviction notice, or notice of a sheduled utility cut off, often the result of the loss of employment or financial circumstances beyond their control. Established in 2001 by the Takoma Park City Council, the program is funded in part by tax-deductible donations from the community and managed by Ministries United Silver Spring Takoma Park." I have asked Mayor Williams that there be open-session council discussion that involves Ministries United, in a meeting prior to any action to reallocate significant EAF money to any other program or purpose.

Finally, the council will hear about development plans for 6450 New Hampshire Avenue, a parcel that's currently vacant, whose owner is planning a laundromat, a permitted use according to the site's zoning.

Please let me know if you have views on any of these topics or any other city matter. I'm at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov and 301-873-8225.