Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ward 3 special election winner: Kate Stewart

Kate Stewart won the special election for the Ward 3 city-council seat, formerly held by Kay Daniels-Cohen.

The final tally was 332 votes for Kate and 324 votes for Roger Schelegel. A real squeaker! Instant Runoff Voting kicked in. Those figures include second choices of people who voted for Jeffrey Noel-Nosbaum or a write-in as a first choice. Those second-choice votes split 9-9.

A bit of history: The 1985 Takoma Park mayoral race was decided by 7 votes, with Stephen Del Giudice defeating incumbent Sam Abbott.

Early-voting turn-out was heavy: 253 people voted Sunday or Monday. Congratulations to Jeffrey, Roger, and Kate for the strong effort that led to the (relatively) high overall turn-out, and to Kate for coming out on top. I look forward to working with her on the council, and to Roger and Jeffery on community issues. I hope to have stats soon on same-day registration and voting and on voting by 16 and 17 year olds, and FairVote may release results from their exit surveys.

The council will convene this evening (Wednesday) to accept the Ward 3 election results.

[The council will meet again Thursday evening, at 7:30 pm, for the first of our budget worksessions, focusing on Communications, Library, Public Works, and Police, and on Thursday, April 17 for a budget worksession focusing on Housing and Community Development, Recreation, Non-Departmental, and General Government (Information Systems, Human Resources, City Clerk, City Manager, Finance). Kate won't have been sworn in yet but she'll be welcome to participate.]

Then, Monday evening, April 21, there will be a reception welcoming Kate, at 6:30 pm at the community center, and Kate will be sworn in at 7 pm.

Now on to June 24, the Maryland primaries!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

City budget time: Hearing & presentation Monday, April 7

City Manager Brian Kenner has released his proposed FY15 Takoma Park city budget, posted online. Your comment is invited at a public hearing, Monday, April 7, at 7 pm at the community center. The hearing provides a special opportunity to communicate your thoughts, focused on the year ahead, regarding city services and programs, taxes and fees, and the budget process itself.

Following the 7 pm public hearing, at approximately 8 pm, the city manager is slated to present his proposed budget.

Notes on the FY 15 Budget

The city manager's FY15 budget would hold the city's property-tax rate at 57 cents per $100 assessed value, same as for FY14.

And yes, it includes design and site prep for a new dog park, new Colby Park (Ward 2) and Sligo Mill Overlook Park (Ward 3) playgrounds, and new sidewalk construction to include the Pinecrest neighborhood and Boyd and Elm Avenues (Wards 2 and 3).

Kay Daniels-Cohen was impatient to see the dog park, playgrounds, and sidewalks become reality, as they will in the next fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015.

Revenues, Expenditures, and Process

The FY15 proposed budget document is 200 pages in length, a lot to take in.

There will be multiple opportunities for public comment, in April and May. The council will hold the first of several budget worksession discussions on Thursday, April 10. The schedule of sessions is given in the city's Rolling Agenda. Additional public hearings are scheduled for April 28, and there are specific opportunities for comment at the May 12 and May 19 council meetings, when the council is slated to vote on the FY15 budget. Of course, you may comment at any council meeting, or relay your testimony to the council by e-mail to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov, and I'd be happy to discuss your concerns: sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225.

The city manager writes, regarding his proposed budget, "the total operating budget for all funds for FY15 is $26.6 million, a decrease of 1.3% from last year... The FY15 revenue budget is 5.3% higher than the FY14 revenue budget at $25.8 million," due primarily, I believe, to special grant funding.

"Total personnel costs are estimated to increase by 3% from FY14. The majority of this increase is due to growth in health care, benefit, and workers compensation costs. In addition, there is a small increase in staffing proposed from FY14 to FY15 of roughly 2.8 FTEs [full-time equivalent staff], however as in previous years, we have been careful to keep ongoing expenses funded by ongoing revenue."

Programs Versus Administration

I'll conclude by stressing that budgeting for the fiscal year is a process that starts well in advance of the release of the proposed budget. This year's budget is City Manager Brian Kenner's first -- the council's confidence in his budget-related competence was a key reason we offered him the job -- and Brian has taken helpful steps to improve the process.

This go-around, prompted by councilmembers' desire for advance discussion of program proposals, council and staff held two "retreats," public, off-site discussion meetings, and Brian organized two nights of council-staff "roundtable" exchanges, at the community center and televised. (Added April 7:) Brian and Deputy City Manager Suzanne Ludlow additionally met, one-on-one, with each council member, to discuss priorities city-wide and for the councilmember's ward.

We can always improve. I'm disappointed that the city manager has shifted Housing and Community Development (HCD) staff from program categories to a catch-all Administration category -- my council colleague Tim Male pointed this out to me, in the FY15 proposed budget -- just as last year Recreation staff were shifted from program break-outs to Administration.

I believe other council members also prefer the clarity provided by allocating staff expense to programs. Considering HCD, for instance, it's hard to know the cost of code enforcement, planning, economic development, landlord-tenant matters including rent stabilization, etc., when the salaries are placed under Administration.

In the course of our hiring a new city manager, last year's push-back got lost. We'll have to try again. Do you agree regarding allocating staff positions, and what other thoughts do you have about the city's FY15 budget? Please let the council know, at the April 7 public hearing or on another occasion soon.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Takoma Junction Progress Report

Because Takoma Junction sits in the middle of Takoma Park's Ward 3, it's a focal topic for the current Ward 3 council race. It's a key interest of mine as well: I co-chaired the city's Takoma Junction Task Force along with the indispensable Howard Kohn. (If elections were based solely on experience, Howard would simultaneously hold at least 3 council seats, just himself.) The task force work was a great team effort. Notably, Kay Daniels-Cohen had been a junction booster since forever, and brought a special brand of junction enthusiasm to the task force and then to the council.

My council colleagues and I, city staff, businesses including the TPSS Co-op, and community members have worked to advance junction revitalization in the 2 years since the task force issued its report.

The junction came up in a recent Facebook discussion of the Ward 3 race. I posted a response about junction status to the discussion thread. My write-up turned out to be somewhat lengthy. I'll share it.

My report --

We're making steady, if slow, progress on Takoma Junction. The city has executed well overall, in my opinion, on the task force's recommendations, per its February 2012 report.

Food truck Fridays, the Grant Ave Market, and other activities contracted by the city to the Old Takoma Business Association have been a success. We rebuilt the sidewalk between the fire station and the co-op, and we've extracted a promise from the State Highway Administration (SHA) to locate a new crosswalk between Grant Ave and the city lot. Crosswalk installation will be in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1; it took A LOT of pushing to get the SHA to agree, and we'll check in with them next month. Finally, we've completed 2 phases of city-lot environmental assessment and issued a Request for Proposals, closing date May 28, for city-lot development or other ideas. See the city RFP site for that latter stuff.

The opening of the Historic Takoma building and BikeShare station have been a boon to the area, and prospects are good to get the vacant Carroll Avenue storefronts occupied soon. We've also boosted pedestrian safety by adding crossing-guard coverage for schoolkids. I expect we'll take on other points -- the streetscape including intersection configuration, reworking of BY Morrison Park, etc. -- once the crosswalk is in and we have an idea where we're going with the city lot. (At the city's invitation, UMD landscape architecture students created a number of design concepts for BY Morrison Park this last fall. I believe they're viewable at the Historic Takoma building.)

Kay Daniels-Cohen worked hard to advance the Takoma Junction cause, and I'm sure Roger, Kate, and Jeffrey will as well: and, not or, because I recognize all three as committed activists. We're lucky to have all three in the race, and the desire city-wide to transform Takoma Junction into a crossroads that will benefit the whole of the community!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Takoma Metro update: Board vote Thursday... and council matters

The WMATA (Metro) board is scheduled to vote this Thursday, March 27, on 1) an amended and restated Takoma Joint Development Sales Agreement (JDA) and 2) a proposed Compact Public Hearing on changes to WMATA facilities. I'll provide information, but first, a council update.

March 31 City Council Meeting

The Monday, March 31 city-council meeting will include a number of items of interest. We're slated to have three presentation items, starting at 7 pm:
  • Relocation of Washington Adventist Hospital - Update from Hospital President Joyce Newmyer
  • Anti-Littering Campaign Presentation
  • Police Department Annual Report
Also on March 31, the council is slated to have a work session (council and staff) Discussion of Information Retention from Public Safety Cameras. The cameras in question are license-plate scanners, used by the city to identify stolen vehicles. Current policy, set when the council first approved the scanners, is 30-day retention, with no information sharing with other police agencies. These restrictions were in large part a reaction to the state police's spying on Takoma Park activists. (See 2008 Washington Post coverage.) Takoma Park Police Chief Alan Goldberg would like authorization to retain data for a longer time, and to share data with other agencies, in order to fight crime more effectively.

The March 31 background items, including the presentations, will be posted in advance of the meeting. Please relay your comments on these or other matters to me at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225, or to all council members via clerk@takomaparkmd.gov, attend the meeting and comment then.

I'm also happy to discuss these and other matters in person, at my drop-in office time, the fourth Wednesday of each month (tomorrow, March 26), 8-9 am, and the second Tuesday, 5-6 pm, at my office, 7006 Carroll Avenue, #202, above the Middle East Cuisine restaurant.

WMATA Board Vote

The WMATA board is slated to vote this Thursday, March 27, on a resolution that would advance the Takoma Metro development to next stages: A WMATA public hearing and the Washington DC Planned Unit Development (zoning) process, necessary to allow the developer, EYA, to put up a building that exceeds zoning limits.

EYA's current building design does far, far exceed zoning limits. Most egregiously, EYA has designed a building rising to 72 feet (plus parapets, possibly) in a parcel zoned with 40 and 50 foot limits. The City of Takoma Park asked WMATA to defer action on the JDA, until the building size and other issues were addressed -- Washington DC Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 4B made the same request -- but WMATA's Planning, Program Development, and Real Estate (PPDRE) Committee chose to move ahead regardless. PPDRE, at its March 13 meeting, approved the resolution authorizing signing of an amended and restated Takoma Joint Development Sales Agreement (JDA) with developer EYA. (The previous JDA with EYA had expired.)

WMATA board chair Tom Downs chaired the March 13 PPDRE meeting, and also the prior, February 20 meeting, in the absence of committee chair (and Washington DC Ward 4 Councilmember) Muriel Bowser. I testified at the February 20 meeting; Maryland board alternate (and former Takoma Park mayor) Kathy Porter interceded at the meeting to convince the committee to invite the City of Takoma Park to submit a prioritized list of requests regarding the board resolution. We did that, and at the March 13 meeting, again with Kathy's intercession, the committee accepted a number of the city's points, although PPDRE declined to accept our key request, to mandate that developer EYA redesign the building to reduce its height to comply with by-right zoning limits.

The March 27 Board Action/Information Summary is online.

To be clear: The city's view, stated in our October 28 resolution, has not changed. Despite the board's modifications to its Takoma Joint Development resolution, WMATA has adequately addressed only one of the concerns we expressed, a small one, therefore the city still asks that WMATA board approval of the amended and restated JDA be deferred.

I will report the March 27 WMATA board meeting outcome.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Takoma Metro development: WMATA board vote, compact hearing to be set

After many months of delay, a WMATA board committee vote, to move forward with residential development at the Takoma Metro site, is likely to take place on March 13, 2014. Should the item pass, it would be considered by the full WMATA board on March 27.

The Takoma Park City Council, at its March 4 meeting, will have a final pre-vote discussion of the Takoma Metro topic, to decide priority items to be communicated to WMATA, at WMATA's invitation.

The Real Estate Committee Vote

The March 13 vote, by the board's Planning, Program Development, and Real Estate (PPDRE) Committee, would approve an Amended and Restated Takoma Joint Development Agreement (JDA) with developer EYA and authorize WMATA staff to set a date for a "compact hearing," which would take place in late spring.

The City of Takoma Park, Washington DC Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4B, and residents' group DC/MD Neighbors for Takoma Transit had all called on the board to defer consideration of the Takoma item until critical design issues have been acceptably addressed. Please see city Resolution 2013-68, part of the March 4 city council agenda packet. Issues, in our views, have not yet been acceptably addressed.

PPDRE was actually slated to vote on the Amended Takoma JDA at its February 20 meeting (postponed from February 13 due to inclement weather). The resolution and background materials are online. WMATA board chair Tom Downs, who presided on February 20, allowed me to testify on behalf of the city. My thanks to former mayor, and current WMATA board alternate, Kathy Porter, who was instrumental in Mr. Downs's agreeing to my request.

In response to city testimony and Ms Porter's suggestions, the committee voted to invite the city to submit ranked requests, regarding the Amended JDA and the joint-development process in Takoma, for consideration prior to a vote at the March 13 PPDRE meeting. Mr. Downs also stated that he would write Washington DC Mayor Vincent Gray, to ask that the City of Takoma Park be accorded party status in the anticipated "planned unit development" (PUD) zoning process, during which the developer would seek exceptions to the building height limits imposed by the Takoma site's zoning.

The height of the proposed building is really the critical issue.

Takoma Park's Ranked Requests: My Suggestions

The invited city requests would be drawn from the city's October 28, 2013 Resolution 2013-68 and thus would not enter new policy territory.

The city-council discussion had been slated to take place on March 3, but given the snow emergency, the meeting was postponed a day. Unfortunately, I will be out of town on March 4, although I do plan to participate in the council meeting by phone. Please, please: If you have a view regarding the requests, attend the meeting and comment at 7:30 pm, or communicate your views by e-mail to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov.

I have drafted my suggestions of ranked requests to the WMATA board, as follows. I'll remark that I have discussed my suggestions with several key local players, but at this point the suggestions belong to me alone. They are:

1. State in the board resolution that WMATA does not endorse the height, setback, or distance from the adjoining property of the proposed residential building nor the number of residential parking spaces.

2. In the board resolution (or another mechanism), require the developer rework the building design to conform with zoning height limits.

(The current design has a building rising to 72 feet within a parcel split between zones with 40-foot and 50-foot limits. The building rises 80% higher than allowed by zoning!)

3. Require the developer to reduce the number of the project's residential parking spaces to a minimal number.

(The current design has around 140 residential parking spaces for 212 apartments, this for a development at a transit hub.By contrast, the nearby Elevation 314 building has only 19 parking spaces for 52 units, and the Gables building, several hundred feet from the station, had, in December, over 50 unrented parking spaces. Over-supply of Takoma residential parking will add to building bulk, increase to EYA's construction costs, and invite a higher proportion of residents who will drive, meaning lower transit-user revenues for WMATA (and RideOn) and greater street congestion from cars.)

4. State that WMATA will welcome public comment, during the compact hearing, on building design elements and will weight that comment during evaluation of hearing testimony.

Again, my ranking is only a suggestion. The city council will discuss and decide on the city's request at its Tuesday evening, March 4 meeting. Please do communicate your views to the council.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Video of Town Hall Meeting on Crime Prevention

The city has posted video of the February 27th, 2014 Town Hall Meeting on Crime Prevention, organized by Sycamore Avenue residents with the participation of regional and state police officials, moderated by Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot and Mayor Bruce Williams.

The Sycamore Avenue residents created a white paper in advance of the meeting.

Participating in the meeting were:

  • Takoma Park Police Chief Alan Goldberg
  • Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger
  • Prince George's County Police Chief Mark Magaw
  • Washington DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier
  • Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Marcus Brown
  • WMATA Police Chief Ron Pavlik
  • Montgomery County Park Chief of Police Antonio DeVaul
  • UMD - College Park Police Captain Philip Tou

I do want to make sure that everyone knows about the AlertTakoma e-mail list. AT is "a channel for information on crime incidents and immediate actions to take or that have been taken in response. It is also a channel for announcements relating to crime from authorities. The geographic coverage is the neighborhoods within Takoma Park Maryland and the Takoma neighborhood of Washington DC centered on the Takoma Metro station."

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Remembering Kay Daniels-Cohen: Monday evening "open microphone" + Facebook page + family information

The city has issued a news release on the death of Ward 3 Councilmember Kay Daniels-Cohen.

Monday evening, February 24, the city council will hold a short meeting followed by a time to remember Kay. That's --

Open microphone, 7:45 pm Monday, for comments from those who would like to share their thoughts about Kay Daniels-Cohen's life and passing.

Also, city staff have set up a Facebook Remembrance Wall for the community to share thoughts and stories of Councilmember Kay Daniels-Cohen.

There's information on that page for those who wish to make a memorial donation or write to Kay's husband and brother.