Friday, March 20, 2015

Moving Forward in Takoma Junction

The Takoma Park City Council is moving toward selection of a developer for the city-owned Takoma Junction lot. I expect the council will either decide -- or decide when to decide -- at its Monday evening, March 23 meeting.

My council colleagues and I -- and city staff and the finalist developers and interested members of the public -- have been listening, questioning, and evaluating for six months now, following on years of community and city exploration of junction revitalization possibilities. We have heard from a broad range of stakeholders and have considered a spectrum of views. It's now time to decide.


NDC's initial proposal for Takoma Junction city-lot development.
The facade and other design details will change!
My own preference is the Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) proposal although I find Keystar-Eco Housing's an acceptable second choice.

I'll offer a fuller assessment of those two finalist developers and their proposals, below. But remember: The council discussion/decision has not happened yet. My council colleagues have not voted yet. If there is an overwhelming constituent preference for Keystar/EcoHousing or another approach, I'll reconsider my choice.

First recapping -- skip the next two paragraphs to get to my assessment --

The city issued a development request for proposals (RFP) almost 14 months ago, on January 22, 2014. We received 7 responses by the May 28 deadline. On September 5, 2014, we identified 4 finalists. One of those finalists, Community Three Development, withdrew its proposal last month, and the council announced Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) and Keystar-Eco Housing as the finalist-finalists on March 2, 2015. While the Ability Project is out of the running, we welcome consideration of including them as a tenant, alongside the only must-accommodate business, the TPSS Co-op, which is the junction's commercial anchor. By "must accommodate," I mean that the city stipulates that the chosen developer must provide for co-op expansion and workable delivery unloading space in the site design and must ensure minimal disruption of co-op operations through the course of construction.

Do visit the city Web site for detail including links for the city's 2014-5 Takoma Junction presentations, listening sessions, worksession discussions, and question sets, and visit the Takoma Junction Task Force site for material documenting the 2010-2 task force work.

A choice point --

My own assessment starts with a baseline belief that both NDC and Keystar-Eco Housing are capable, experienced developers. Both have sufficient financial resources to complete the project. Both would include the community in the process of refining the design and site plan, both would take required steps to accommodate TPSS Co-op expansion and operational needs, and both would recruit a tenant mix that will work for the site and for the community.

Since both Keystar-Eco Housing (K/E) and NDC could do the job, the decision can be made based on their actual proposed plans for the site, and (a distant second criterion for me) on financial return.

Both developers include street-level retail and an acceptable amount of public parking and both have signaled that they will explore inclusion of community space in their project. Design elements such as the facade can and will be changed.

Otherwise, the designs are markedly different --
  • K/E has 21 co-housing units versus 9 apartments for NDC
  • K/E's building rises 2 to 3 stories versus 2 for NDC
  • K/E's site plan includes the Takoma Auto Clinic lot; NDC's does not
I like co-housing, and I like it for Takoma Junction. Apartment housing in that particular, highly-walkable and bikeable, transit-friendly location makes sense and could be built with minimal or no residential parking spaces so that the residences' traffic impact would be minimal. Both K/E's 21 co-housing units, versus 9 apartments for NDC, would work in Takoma Junction. That's point #1, but...

Let's refer to the Takoma Junction Task Force report, which is online with a host of other task force documents. (I co-chaired the task force until a few months before report delivery, when I joined the city council. I recognize that some community members view the finalist plans as insufficiently community-driven. I believe that the city's current process is comfortably within the set of possibilities that the TJTF envisaged.)

The guiding, deciding recommendation for me is:

"C2. Any new development on the C1 parcel should harmonize with the existing architecture and scale of activity, and should not exceed two stories in height based upon previous commercial infill in the Historic District."


...revised after community and city discussions.
The proposed Keystar-Eco Housing building is both too high and too wide. The proposed NDC building is a better fit for Takoma Junction.

I'll call out one other design element. K/E would create a Carroll Avenue pull-in for large trucks making TPSS Co-op deliveries. K/E suggests that the city could install metered parking in the pull-in for daytime use. But the co-op has said this delivery approach is unworkable. Myself, I believe a Carroll Avenue pull-in would be a step in the wrong direction: We're trying to make Takoma Junction more pedestrian and bicyclist friendly, to maximize community space and improve aesthetic appeal. I would hate to carve a wide truck/parking lane out of the current Carroll Avenue sidewalk area at the expense of the streetscape and community space. I have asked K/E to revisit this approach but the team has made no commitment to do that.

On the other side of the ledger, money. K/E has proposes to pay $600,000 for the Takoma Junction development parcel and NDC only $100,000. (It is unclear whether the sale would include the residentially zoned wooded parcel on Columbia Avenue.) While NDC's proposed payment is low, NDC executives have said it could be higher if costs are lowered in certain ways, for instance, by reducing residential parking. There are other variations that come into play. For instance, both developers will consider a condominium arrangement with the co-op, where the co-op would purchase its expansion space and building (not that there aren't signs that one of the two -- my pick, actually -- wouldn't be easier for the co-op to work with). These variations may also change the financial figures. In any case, $500,000 isn't remotely close to enough to sway me toward a less-desirable design.

Your reactions? Remember that council discussion is still ahead of us, and the council has not voted yet.

Please let me know your thoughts via e-mail to sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or by phone, 301-873-8225.

Thanks very much!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

March 16 at the City Council: Elections Update, Sustainability & Energy Efficiency, Plus a City Manager Search Update

The Monday, March 16 city council meeting opens with a 7 pm report by the Board of Elections on 2014 activities and plans for 2015 leading up to this year's city election. The board's report is online. It recommends a number of general steps to improve electoral awareness and others to increase voter registration and expand access to voting. I'll be looking for board reaction to a few ideas myself -- for instance, what if we required petitions to get on the ballot, which would force would-be candidates to get out into the community, replacing the nominating caucus, which requires only two nominators? -- and I'd be happy to forward your questions and suggestions to the board.

Environmental Sustainability Update

Also on the agenda, a Sustainability Program update from Sustainability Manager Gina Mathias and discussion of an energy efficiency incentive program.

The city's environmental sustainability initiatives center on efforts to win the $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize -- the city is one of 50 finalists -- and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Gina will outline a neighborhood-based energy-challenge competition the relies on individual green home certifications aided by incentives and development of a set of preferred contractors. The city government will take its own steps. See the backgrounder (linked above) for information and a break-out of the $258,475 program budget.

Your comments are welcome; you're participation is essential for the environment progress we aspire to.

City Manager Search

Finally, an update on the search for a replacement for Brian Kenner, who resigned as city manager effective January 30:

The council decided to conduct an expedited search this go-around. [Added March 16:] "Expedited" means that we reused the 2012-3 materials (position description, brochure) with only a basic update and not a rewrite. The council agreed to close the search after only 30 days and to screen the candidates ourselves, in order to come up with a short list, rather than use the search consultant. And it means not setting up a residents' committee; instead we'll involve residents only if there's a close split in the hiring decision. We may also involve residents informally during interviews, as tour guides.

We do welcome public input. You can relay your views to the city council by e-mail -- I'll paste in e-mail below -- or by commenting at the council meeting, at 7:30 pm.

Best to comment soon. We haven't made a selection, but I expect we'll have an announcement within 3-4 weeks.

Our last city manager search was very recent, only two years ago. (We were all surprised that Brian left so soon, but agree that appointment as Washington DC deputy mayor was a great opportunity.) The key quality sought then -- and now, I believe -- was/is desire for a city manager who will be engaged and visible in the community. That's on top of management experience and competence, of course.

Here are council e-mail addresses:

Bruce Williams <brucew@takomaparkmd.gov>
Fred Schultz <freds@takomaparkmd.gov>
Jarrett Smith <JarrettS@takomaparkmd.gov>
Kate Stewart <kates@takomaparkmd.gov>
Seth Grimes <sethg@takomaparkmd.gov>
Terry Seamens <TerryS@takomaparkmd.gov>
Tim Male <timm@takomaparkmd.gov>

Please share your thoughts!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Dog Park Decision Time

The city council agenda for Monday evening, March 9, includes a Dog Park update, slated for 8:10 pm. You can check out the revised site plan and estimated cost schedule, part of the council packet for the meeting.

Dog Park site plan (March 4, 2015)
City staff members have been working closely with Takoma Dogs and architect Eric Saul, who has donated design services. Thanks! They have revised plans based on construction cost estimates for earlier iterations that came in very high. (The last council presentation and discussion occurred on November 24, 2014.) Note, however, that the site plan in the council packet is not final. Joe Edgell says that of Takoma Dogs is producing a new drawing this weekend that incorporates city staff changes.

At the March 9 meeting, the council will almost certainly approve moving forward with dog park construction. I support it, although the cost is higher than we had expected. According to city staff, the current construction estimate is $190,000 to $200,000. That does include $35,500 for a water line and fountain, which I would treat as an option, more on which in a bit.

Next steps would include land-use and permitting discussions with Montgomery County Parks and development of a construction request for proposals. I do plan to raise a number of questions at the meeting, and I'm sure my council colleagues will have their own.

My questions include whether we can get Montgomery County to run a water line to the end of the Darwin Avenue parking lot, to the planned entrance to the dog park, which if feasible could save the city over $35 thousand, according to staff's estimate of water-line cost. (The water fountain (for people and dogs both!) nearby in Takoma Piney Branch Park is out of order right now, but we'll try to get that fixed.) Another question is whether staff have identified any non-city funding that could make up for the $50+ thousand in Maryland Program Open Space money that we had hoped to use for the project this current fiscal year. The money is channeled through Montgomery County and had been approved by the county, but the county clawed it back.

A possible second phase would expand the dog park. I've asked city staff to provide a rough estimate of costs although Takoma Dogs suggests that an "option for the Council to consider is to hold off on phase 2 and instead put the money into opening a couple of the smaller, neighborhood parks that we proposed in our initial presentation."

Finally, I have asked city staff to address the status of development of the planned Colby Avenue and Sligo Mill Overlook parks, at Monday evening's meeting. Completing these parks is a priority.

Public comment, regarding the dog park or any other city topic you wish to speak about, takes place at 7:30 pm.

The dog park item will be followed by discussion of a proposal to locate advertising-supported bulletin board in city parks. And prior to the public meeting, the council will meet in closed, adminstrative-function session to discuss next steps in our search for a new city manager. I expect we will conclude that process by mid/late April if not sooner.

Thanks,

Seth, 301-873-8225

Sunday, February 22, 2015

City Council update: Takoma Metro, Takoma Junction, and Business & Multifamily Recycling

The three key topics to be discussed at the Monday, February 23, 2015 city council meeting are Takoma Metro and Takoma Junction development and a recycling requirement for city businesses and multifamily apartment buildings. The full agenda is on the city Web site.

I'll tackle the easiest of those three items first, recycling, then cover the development items --

Multifamily and Business Recycling

A proposed ordinance would require that Takoma Park businesses recycle cans, bottle, and paper goods, matching a Montgomery County requirement that was imposed back in 1993 and revised in 2005 that does not apply in Takoma Park. The city ordinance, if enacted, will close a huge loophole: Business recycling makes sense.

[Revised February 23:] The ordinance would strengthen the city's recycling requirements for larger multiunit apartment buildings, requirements that have been in place since 1993. (Our law would be more stringent than a Maryland state law enacted in 2012.) It would refresh existing city recycling code, which is now over thirty years old.

The draft ordinance is online. The council will discuss it -- the provisions, benefits, and costs -- at Monday evening's council meeting. We will then, presumably, vote on the ordinance in the weeks that follow.

Takoma Metro Development -- Comment on the Public Hearing Staff Report

I'll start with a Takoma Metro development refresher, then describe current status, and then tell you how you can comment to the WMATA board on development plans.

A refresher: The WMATA board voted last March to enter into an amended joint development agreement (JDA) with developer EYA. EYA plans a 200-unit residential apartment building in place of the current Takoma Metro station parking lot. A new transit-user parking facility, with fewer spaces, would be located under the new building.

Current status: WMATA held a public hearing on the proposed development on June 18, 2014. WMATA staff has prepared and released a draft report on the hearing. The report and a variety of exhibits, including a revised site concept plan, are posted on the WMATA Web site.

WMATA will accept comment on the report until March 2, 2015. Then the board's Planning, Program Development, and Real Estate (PPDRE) Committee is slated to discuss the report and comments at its March 12 meeting. The full board is slated to vote to accept the report at its March 26 meeting.

Once the board accepts the public hearing staff report, developer EYA is expected to submit a "planned unit development" (PUD) application for District of Columbia zoning approval. A PUD is required because the site design does not conform to the site's zoning. In particular, the planned building rises to a height of 69.5 feet within zones that limit building height to 40 and 50 feet.

That 69.5 foot height is actually a reduction from the last design released. In addition, WMATA and the developer relocated the loading dock to the side of the building and reduced the number of parking-access lanes from three to two, increasing the width of wooded green-space to be preserved, on the uphill side of the site, to thirty feet. The developer also substituted two-story units along Eastern Avenue NW, increased the setback from Eastern Avenue, and moved the step-back to maximum building height farther from the Eastern Avenue frontage. These are positive steps although they fall well short of changes WMATA and the developer can and should make to respond to the community's, and the city's, concerns.

The Takoma Park City Council will consider a resolution commenting on the draft public hearing staff report, at Monday evening's meeting. The draft resolution on the city Web site is not the latest draft, however; see this revision. The council may make additional changes.

The draft resolution references a document with detailed comments. The draft is online.

A key point: The design's oversupply of residential parking -- an estimated .55 parking ratio for a building located directly at a multi-modal transit hub -- is antithetical to smart growth principles. It's also contrary to the WMATA board's direction to staff and the developer "to minimize the number of the project’s residential parking spaces in order to promote greater transit utilization by residents and reduce traffic impact." The in-process Washington DC zoning rewrite would set a minimum (by right) parking ratio of just .17 (1-to-6); the current design includes over three times the DC-determined minimum so fails to meet the "minimize" directive.

Please relay your thoughts about the draft resolution and city comment to the council, by testifying Monday evening at 7:30 pm or by e-mail to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov or to council members individually.

To comment to WMATA directly: Per the WMATA Web site, "Comments on this Draft Public Hearing Staff Report must be received by 5 p.m. on Monday, March 2, 2015 and may be submitted via email to writtentestimony@wmata.com, faxed to 202-962-1133 or mailed to WMATA; Office of the Secretary; 600 Fifth Street, NW; Washington, DC 20001. Please reference R14-01 in your submission."

The city's position calls for a building height within zoning limits without any exception and for a steep reduction in the number of residential parking spaces. If you want to keep your own comment simple, ask for these two things. If you wish to submit comment in more detail, do review the draft city materials using the links I have provided.

Takoma Junction

Last Tuesday, February 17, the council met in closed session with finalist Takoma Junction candidate developers the Ability Project, Keystar/EcoHousing, and the Neighborhood Development Company. Finalist Community Three has withdrawn its proposal. The Tuesday meetings focused on financial matters; Mayor Bruce Williams has scheduled a closed-session continuation of discussions with Keystar/EcoHousing for Monday evening at 7 pm.

During the public portion of Monday evening's meeting, the council is slated to discuss Takoma Junction redevelopment next steps.

The city's Takoma Junction schedule tentatively calls for March 9, 2015 selection of a developer. Whenever we make that selection, I expect we will incorporate certain conditions in the development agreement. They include reaching agreement with the TPSS Co-op on design modifications and steps that will satisfactorily accommodate co-op expansion, operational needs such as truck loading access, and business continuity for the duration of construction.

I will plan to post an update summarizing the outcome of Monday evening's meeting.

Your Thoughts?

If you wish to comment at the council meeting, your opportunity will come at 7:30 pm, at the start of the public meeting. Otherwise, please communicate your thoughts and concerns to me at 301-873-8225 or sethg@takomaparkmd.gov, or send your comment to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov for distribution to the whole council.

Thanks!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Takoma Park library and Takoma Junction next steps at the February 9 city council meeting

The Monday evening, February 9 city council meeting opens with a presentation on library-redesign options, at 7 pm. Following public comment at 8 pm (later than usual!), and then a series of voting items, we'll have a "Review of Listening Sessions and Discussion of Next Steps for the Takoma Junction Site – Criteria for Developers." It's scheduled for 9:10 pm.

I'll provide a bit of detail on the library and Takoma Junction items and a couple of the voting items. The full agenda is online. Note that it includes distribution (but not discussion) of the Arts and Humanities Commission Annual Report.


Library Redesign

Per the council backgrounder, "in January of 2014, the library issued a 'Community Needs Assessment and Visioning for a 21st Century Public Library' [document] prepared by Providence Associates." The city subsequently engaged The Lukmire Partnership (architect of the new Silver Spring Library) to produce re-design plans, with options for both renovation and expansion.

Note that the city has not yet committed to any redesign work.

Greg Lukmire, the partnership's principal architect, will present options and estimated costs as detailed in the project report, which is part of the backgrounder file.The report summarizes Lukmire's findings, conclusions, and recommendations. The price tags aren't small. The estimated project costs range from $2.1 million to $3.5 million. Clearly we'll have to consider the options, benefits, and financing carefully before proceeding

A Resolution and an Ordinance: Washington-McLaughlin Property and a New Contract for the City Attorney

Among the seven voting items on the agenda are:

- A "Resolution Approving the City of Takoma Park's Purchase of 2.68 ± Acres of Land, Known as Parcel 3, of the Washington-McLaughlin School Property at the Internal Revenue Service Public Auction Sale on January 22, 2015." The resolution approves and ratifies the city's $253,000 winning bid for the January auction purchase of the property's wooded lot.

The city will apply $53,000 in privately donated funds toward the purchase, reducing the city's cash outlay to $200,000. The council will vote a resolution of thanks to the individuals who are contributing toward our purchase of the property.

- The city issued a request for proposals for legal services late last year. After interviewing responding firms, the council decided to extend the tenure of the Silber, Perlman, Sigman & Tilev law firm as city attorney.

We'll formalize our decision with an ordinance authorizing signing of a new contract, although the voting item will be pulled from the consent (non-discussion) agenda in order to allow discussion of contract terms. There are no major issues; an authorizing ordinance will pass, granting SPST a five-year contract with five option years. We'll simply be fine-tuning the wording.

Takoma Junction

Takoma Junction is on the council's agenda once again, this time in the form of council-staff review of the testimony at recent listening session and then discussion of proposal evaluation criteria.

I disagree with staff's statement, "Of primary importance is how the development team will work with the Council and the community, not the specific design elements included in the preliminary submissions." Specific design elements are primary, in particular, whether housing should be the project's centerpiece in a wide building that includes the current Takoma Auto Clinic (Johnny's) lot; whether we are accepting of a three-story building with a smaller number of housing units; and whether we will accept construction of a pillar-supported parking deck extending well over the wooded hillside. I'm referring to the Keystar/EcoHousing, Community 3, and Ability Project proposals. The fourth is Neighborhood Development Corporation, whose propoal doesn't include any design elements that are *significantly* at variance with the Takoma Junction Task Force recommendations in my view.

You'll find a timeline in the backgrounder file. Three future items are listed:

- February 17, 2015: Closed Session Council Interviews with Developers

- February 23, 2015: Work Session on Next Steps (Proposed)

- March 9, 2015: Council Selection of Developer (Tentative)

The mayor controls the council's agenda. I have asked Mayor Bruce Williams to explain why the February 17 session would be non-public. This isn't a question of authority; state law allows closed "administrative function" sessions. I simply can't think of any topic we would discuss that could not be discussed in open session.

As indicated, the direction we're heading is choice of a developer with whom we would discuss project modifications, including cooperative work with the TPSS Co-op to meet co-op expansion and operational needs, with the presumption that if we make progress, we'll advance toward a formal agreement. I support this next step in the process started when we issued a development RFP over a year ago, although I'd think about engaging in these focused discussions with two top-tier finalists rather than one.

Your Thoughts

Please communicate your thoughts and concerns to me at 301-873-8225 or sethg@takomaparkmd.gov, or send your comment to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov for distribution to the whole council. And if you'd like to meet in person: My next drop-in office time is Tuesday, February 10, 5-6 pm at my office, 7006 Carroll Avenue #202. No appointment is necessary: Just show up.

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.