Sunday, October 4, 2015

New Hampshire Avenue opportunities and more: October 5 at the City Council

The centerpiece of Monday evening's city council meeting will be a New Hampshire Avenue item --
Discussion of Recreation Needs and Opportunities in the New Hampshire Avenue Corridor including: a) Report on Concept Plan and Site Analysis for the Site of the New Hampshire Avenue Recreation Center; b) Report on Study of Recreational Needs for the New Hampshire Avenue Recreation Center; c) Update on the Washington-McLaughlin Property; and, d) Other Opportunities.
This is an important item.

The New Hampshire Avenue Recreation Center is owned by M-NCPPC (Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission) and is operated and programmed by the City of Takoma Park, in exchange for a yearly modest fee, currently $87,650, provided via Montgomery County Park and Recreation. The facility is out-moded and should be replaced.

The council-meeting materials include reports from two city-commissioned studies:

a) Report on Concept Plan and Site Analysis for the Site of the New Hampshire Avenue Recreation Center

b) Report on Study of Recreational Needs for the New Hampshire Avenue Recreation Center

I won't summarize them here. I will say that it is Montgomery County's responsibility to renovate or replace this facility, soon. (The city does not receive a tax-duplication payment from the county, and city property owners, unlike Rockville's and Gaithersburg's, are not exempt from the county's line-item "Recreational" property tax.) I expect that Monday evening's council discussion will get into approaches that can bring a modern recreation facility to the eastern side of Takoma Park.

The council will discuss the Washington-McLaughlin Property, specifically, the wooded parcel that the city now owns. (Community members have suggested a better name for the property, the J. Enos Ray woods (or something similar), reverting to the name of the Prince George's County elementary school that used to operate at the site. The Takoma Voice explains, Who was J. Enos Ray anyway?)

At the time we were discussing buying the parcel, I publicly advocated consideration of selling the unwooded part of the parcel for construction of a couple of houses. As I recall, other councilmembers talked about this as well. I believe it is fiscally responsible and quite reasonable to consider recovering money we spent to buy the property. I do support preserving and restoring the woods. I don't recall covenants with anyone regarding disposition of the unwooded part of the parcel.

I would like the city to consider, as an interim measure, rehabilitating the disused basketball court, part of the unwooded portion of the site, for public use. I'm thinking nothing fancy: no lights, fences, or drinking water. Just a new, neighborhood recreational opportunity.

Finally, the agenda item contains a teaser, "At least one other site of considerable size in the eastern portion of the City may become available for recreational or other community use within the coming year." I think I know the site that's being alluded to, and the opportunity is indeed interesting.

The Rest of the Story

The full October 5 council agenda, with background materials, is online

I've separately written up two items, discussion of a resolution commenting on the 2016-26 Montgomery College Facilities Master Plan update and Boston Avenue traffic calming measures.

Otherwise, we'll be discussing:

- FY17 Community Development Block Grants. We anticipate being able to award $11,625 for community- or public-service projects. The Grants Review Committee will present recommendations -- for apartment-tenant community building and for EduCare Support Services' Takoma Park Food Pantry -- at 7:10 pm, with council discussion slated for 8:10 pm. The committee is not recommending funding for a third proposed project, "Pilot Program for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities," proposed by the Village of Takoma Park.

- Snow Removal Policies and Procedures, at 8:30 pm. This item continues early-2015 discussion, advanced by Safe Roadways Committee advocacy, of possible changes to city code. See the council backgrounder for staff's recommendations.

Please contact me at or 301-873-8225 with your comments, or send them to the full council via

And don't forget: We have a city election coming up November 3, 2015, with early voting October 30-November 2.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Boston Ave traffic calming, Montgomery College facilities master plan

The city council will consider two items of special interests to North Takoma neighbors, at Monday evening's council meeting.

At 7 pm, the council will hold a public hearing on requested Boston Avenue traffic calming measures. You're invited!

The council will then discuss the request, at 8 pm, following general public comment and other meeting preliminaries. The backgrounder for the hearing and council discussion is online.

The council is slated to discuss, at 9:50 pm, a resolution regarding the 2016-26 update of Montgomery College Facilities Master Plan (FMP). Maryland state regulations require periodic plan updates.

The college first informed the city of the pending update only a little more than a month ago and briefed the community in a September 10 public meeting. As I observe in my September 14 meeting report, the college proposes a highly compressed schedule, in order to meet a February 1, 2016 Maryland Higher Education Commission deadline.

The October 5 city council discussion will surround a draft proposed council resolution commenting on the FMP process. The resolution comments on the process, because we don't yet have a draft 2016-26 FMP to comment on, and according to the college's timeline, we will have only a few days between draft availability and Montgomery College Board of Trustees consideration to comment.

Whether the FMP is subject to Montgomery Planning "mandatory referral," with a 60-day review period, is a matter that is being debated (still, so far as I know) by the Montgomery College and Montgomery Planning lawyers. Note that "Mandatory Referral review and comments by the Planning Board are advisory in that the statute allows the applicant to overrule the Planning Board's disapproval, or any conditions attached to approval, and proceed," according to Montgomery Planning's Mandatory Referral Submission Requirements.

Please review the draft city council resolution. Relay your comments to me at or 301-873-8225 or send them to councilmembers via

One remedy we could seek -- not (yet) reflected in the resolution -- is for Montgomery College to expedite facilities master plan development. The college would work to complete a draft by the end of October. The college would release that draft for public comment and for Planning Board review and comment. Allowing 60 days for review, Montgomery College could make any FMP revisions indicated and proceed with planned community meetings the first week of January. Board of Trustees presentation would take place the second week of January and the board approval vote, as already scheduled, on January 25, 2016, in time for February 1, 2016 submission to the state.

The council will discuss the resolution on Monday and vote on it, possibly with revisions, a week later, on October 12.

Finally: A reminder that there will be a meeting on traffic & parking around MC, Thursday, October 15, 2015 at 7:00 pm in Room CM211 in the Catherine F. Scott Commons Building on the MC Takoma Park campus.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Update on Takoma Junction development, Orchard Avenue development, and more at the Sept 28 city council meeting

Yesterday's Takoma Junction
Yesterday's Takoma Junction
Neighborhood Development Company (NDC), the city's chosen Takoma Junction development partner, will present an update on plans at the Monday evening, September 28 city council meeting. The presentation by NDC CEO and founder Adrian Washington and Michael Gilioni, analyst, acquisitions and development, is scheduled for 7 pm to 8 pm. Join us at the community center auditorium or view video via city TV live-streaming.

The city maintains a Takoma Junction redevelopment page. The council met last week to review a development agreement drafted by the real-estate attorneys retained by the city to assist us with the Takoma Junction process. NDC may request changes to the draft; once signed, the agreement will provide a framework for next steps include community design meetings and stakeholder consultations, including with the TPSS Co-op.

The Regular Meeting

The full September 28 council agenda is online. Public comment is scheduled for 8 pm, followed by a number of voting items.

Orchard Avenue Site Plan Comment

The first voting item is a Resolution Commenting on Site Plan for 6413 Orchard Avenue. Maggio Roofing plans to build a two-story storage structure at the site, which is adjacent to residences and close to an existing community garden and the planned Sligo Mill Overlook Park and playground, which are situated on Orchard Avenue. The site is a block from New Hampshire Avenue, but the existing street grid routes commercial traffic including trucks past the garden and park-playground site.

While the 6413 Orchard Avenue plan is of particular interest to Pinecrest neighborhood residents and businesses, commercial-corridor development has impacted and will affect residents in many Takoma Park neighborhoods, particularly along New Hampshire Avenue. The proposed Taco Bell, at New Hampshire Avenue and Holton Lane, is another, immediate example. The steps the city takes in the Orchard-Sligo Mill area -- beyond the council resolution on Monday evening's agenda -- and our to-be-discussed position on the Taco Bell site plan will show the degree of regard we pay to residents' concerns while accommodating business requests.

Elections and Council Compensation

The council will vote Monday evening whether to put an advisory question on the 2015 ballot for referendum vote, whether to change the municipal election year to even years in order to align city elections with federal, state, and county general elections, and we will hear a presentation by the Council Compensation Committee regarding recommendations for council salary adjustments. Visit the meeting agenda page for these and other items, and do relay your views to me by e-mail,, or phone, 301-873-8225.

The 2015 Election

Finally, the nominating caucus for the 2015 election takes place Tuesday evening, September 29, starting at 7:30 pm. Election Day is November 3, preceded by several days of early voting.

The last day to register to vote via the Maryland State Board of Elections or the Montgomery County Board of Elections is October 13. Given Takoma Park same-day registration and voting, enacted in 2013, for city elections, residents (including non-citizens and 16 & 17 year olds) may register any time, up to and including the day of the election.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

City Council, September 21: Taco Bell, city committees, and more

The first agenda item at Monday evening's city council meeting -- following preliminaries that include 7:30 pm public comment -- is dryly titled "Presentation and Discussion of Site Plan Application for N.E. Quadrant of New Hampshire Avenue and Holton Lane (Taco Bell)." Key in on the last bit:

A San Antonio, Texas franchisee, MUY Companies, proposes to construct a Taco Bell restaurant at New Hampshire Avenue and Holton Lane, a location along a stretch that the city hopes to revitalize as The New Ave. MUY is required to file a site plan for Montgomery County Planning Board review that looks at, per the city council backgrounder, "landscaping, parking, and building specifics." The city may choose to comment on the site plan and call for rejection, approval, or approval with conditions.

I don't have any thoughts to offer on Taco Bell per se. I am distressed, however, about MUY's proposed mini-sprawl site design. The city seeks to encourage "quality, mixed-use, pedestrian oriented projects" along the New Ave. Design guidelines call for higher-density, multi-story development that will help us realize a smart-growth vision, centered on transit-friendly development, along New Hampshire Avenue, the city's most important commercial corridor.

The proposed project is a single-story building with a drive-thru service window. The proposed project detracts from the New Ave vision. It will degrade its location and offer lamentably few benefits for residents.

MUY Companies should eliminate the drive-thru and create a multi-story building with, if they still wish, Taco Bell as the ground-floor business. Failing these steps, I disfavor the proposed site plan.

If they chose to partner with local owners -- part of Takoma Park's ethos is a preference for small, locally-owned businesses -- that would be even better.

(Please see also my April 2015 write-up, Taco Bell in Takoma Park?!)

The full agenda for the Monday evening, September 21 council meeting is online.

Takoma Junction Legal Advice

The council plans to meet in closed session, "to receive legal advice regarding a development agreement with NDC for the City-owned lot in Takoma Junction," prior to the 7:30 pm start of the public meeting. NDC is the Neighborhood Development Company, the developer chosen by the city to pursue construction on the city-owned Takoma Junction parking lot. We're making progress on a careful process toward Takoma Junction revitalization. Additional community meetings with the developer should be scheduled soon.

City Boards, Commissions, and Committees

Three agenda items follow the Taco Bell site plan presentation and discussion. They are discussions of:

- A Bus Shelter Contract with Signal Outdoor Advertising, LLC
- State Legislation including Bond Bills
- The Appointment Process for City Boards, Commissions and Committees

The state legislation item will include a look ahead to the 2016 legislative session, which opens in January. Over the summer, the city forwarded three legislative action requests to the Maryland Municipal League, but of course we have many other interests we may wish to pursue in the next session. I'll single out one: state bond funding toward library renovation. Senator Jamie Raskin and Delegate Sheila Hixson have indicated willingness to submit bond bills, which could provide a few hundred thousand dollars toward the overall project cost should the city move ahead with library renovation.

The item on city boards, commissions, and committees is scheduled for 9:30 pm. Community members devote thousands of hours annually to this form of city service. Thank You! to all who participate; there are many opportunities to get involved. The Recreation Committee and Arts and Humanities Commission in particular could use new members.

Monday evening's discussion will cover our approach to recruiting and appointing applicants. This topic is especially significant because committee service (along with participation in tenant and neighborhood associations and community volunteering) is a very important element in maintaining responsive, inclusive city government.


Finally, my council service will end in two months. Until that time, I'll continue to do my best to represent and serve Ward 1 resident and other city stakeholders. As always, please contact me at or 301-873-8225 with city-related questions and concerns.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Montgomery College Facilities Master Plan update

I attended the Montgomery College meeting last week, on the planned Facilities Master Plan update, as did Jason Damweber and Roz Grigsby for the city. Residents attending included Lorraine Pearsall, Paul Chrostowski, Peter Kovar, and Richard Weil.

I'll give a few highlights from the meeting, and I ask residents to please contact the council ( or direct councilmember contact or public comment at a meeting) to ask the council to enact a resolution commenting on the plan.

- The Facilities Master Plan covers all three campuses: TP/SS, Gaithersburg, and Rockville.

- The schedule is compressed. MC plans to come up with a plan, covering the 3 campuses, and present it at public meetings December 8, 9, 10 (one at each campus), then present it to the MC board on December 14 and seek board approval January 25. The plan is due to the state February 1.

- MC hadn't planned a public comment period and said the facilities master plan is not subject to Montgomery County Planning Board Review. A Planning Board rep who was there, Marc DeOcampo, disputed that and said he believes there's a mandatory 60 referral period.

- In any case, MC says there won't be much new in the plan, that it will include building reconstruction that was in the 2006-16 plan that never happened. I believe that includes the science center buildings. MC foresees reconstruction in place rather than on the Burlington Ave parcel that's owned by the MC Foundation or onto the self-store parcels, which they'd have to acquire.

- The City Council passed a 2008 resolution commenting on a Facilities Master Plan Update. It's at

Dewey Yeates, MC's facilities and security vice president, said MC would be willing to meet with the city/neighbors during the course of creation of the Facilities Master Plan update, but of course there's nothing to react to right now.

I am asking my council colleagues to consider a resolution stating a city position on MC TP/SS facilities. It would reiterate points from the city's 2008 resolution, updated for current conditions of course, and perhaps include something about the compressed schedule and lack of a meaningful public comment period.

Based on conversations with the neighbors who attended, we should continue council advocacy of neighborhood-scale facilities in the Takoma Park portion of the campus.

Seth, 301-873-8225

Monday, September 7, 2015

September 8 council update: Carroll Ave bridge closure and discussion about moving city elections to even years

Happy Labor Day to all!

The city council's summer recess is over. The are five items on the meeting agenda for Tuesday, September 8. I'll give a run-down on the whole of the agenda and focus on two items, traffic calming associated with pending Carroll Ave bridge closure for reconstruction and discussion of a referendum on moving city elections to even years.

The meeting will open with a 7 pm public hearing on priority needs and proposed projects for Community Development Block Grant funding. CDBG is a federal program that targets persons or households of low and moderate income. If you have views on priorities, please attend and speak.

We will then, at 7:10 pm, have a report from the Emergency Preparedness Committee and emergency manager, followed by discussion and then the start of the regular meeting including public comment on other agenda items and city matters. At 8:10 pm, we're slated to discuss a site plan for a proposed project at 6413 Orchard Avenue, in the city's Pinecrest neighborhood.

A Referendum on Moving City Elections to Even Years

Councilmember Tim Male has proposed a referendum item, for the city's 2015 ballot, on moving city elections to even years, when they would coincide with non-municipal general elections. The aim is to boost voter participation in city elections, taking advantage of the higher voter turn-out generated by county, state, and federal races.

Material for September 8 council agenda item, which includes discussion of other 2015 election matters including early-voting dates, is online.

At this point, I support Councilmember Male's proposal and am leaning toward Option 2, which includes the clause "assuming voting rights can be maintained for 16-17 year olds, non-citizens and people with felony convictions who are on parole." I will explain my support, but also I'd very much like to hear your view regarding a referendum item.

Takoma Park has had non-U.S. citizen voting for many years, for municipal elections only of course. We introduced 16 year old voting, and voting rights for on-parole and on-probation felons, in 2013, along with candidate access to apartment buildings and same-day registration and voting including on election day, this year November 3. These steps aim to encourage civic inclusion and to redress voting and voter-registration disparities. I wrote about these disparities in my February, 2013 "Let's Enfranchise Takoma Park Renters and Strengthen the Right to Vote!"

Even-year voter turn-out should better reflect the proportion of minority and renter residents than we see in our current odd-year city elections. There is risk that attention to city issues and candidates would be drowned out by news from the larger races and that many voters will be making uninformed choices among city candidates, but I can't see how we'd be worse off than we are now, when turn-out for (rare) hotly contested races barely exceeds one-third. And there's a limitation: A switch to even-year voting won't enfranchise the disproportionate number of minority and renter residents who aren't registered to vote. Yes, disparities will remain, but we should move forward where we can and keep working on additional steps.

What do you think about placing the voting-year change on the 2015 ballot?

Council discussion is scheduled for 9:30 pm.

Carroll Avenue Bridge Closure

Finally, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) is slated to begin rehabilitation of the Carroll Avenue bridge, near Washington Adventist Hospital, this fall. (The SHA will hold an informational meeting on September 24, 6-8 pm, at the Takoma Park fire station).

A city council discussion of temporary traffic calming measures, designed to mitigate the impact of the bridge closure, is scheduled for 8:50 pm. But because Ward 1 will be least-affected of the city's six wards by traffic changes caused by the bridge closure, I expect to defer to my council colleagues in this discussion.

Please contact me with questions or concerns about these or other city matters, at or 301-873-8225.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Bans as Takoma Park City Policy

Councilmember Jarrett Smith has drafted an ordinance that states, "a store may not distribute plastic disposable carryout bags to a customer at the point of sale." The proposed ban would not apply to packaging for bulk items, for restaurant carry-out, or certain other uses. It would address environmental and litter concerns.

I asked constituents' reactions. I got several pro responses and several opposing. Some opponents question the justification for this particular ban, and other think we do too much banning for a small city. One neighbor's response: "The only ban I would  like to see the City Council approve would be a ban on bans." Another asked, "what about addressing the tons of plastic and Styrofoam in all the things we buy? From plastic clamshells at Whole Foods to the many square feet of Styrofoam in the new printer we purchased, it makes up a significant percentage of my garbage each week." That is, there are bigger fish to fry, beyond the city's reach.

Let's look at local bans, starting with polystyrene, the material in Styrofoam.

The Young Activist Club celebrates Takoma Park's polystyrene ban
The city banned polystyrene food-service materials, via the Young Activist Act of 2014 (which I drafted in response to Young Activist Club advocacy), which went into effect July 1. It covers both foam and hard polystyrene food packaging. A Montgomery County polystyrene ban -- foam-only but also covering packing "peanuts" -- was introduced last year by Councilmember Hans Riemer. It will go into effect January 1, 2016. The ban on "peanuts" will affect local shipping stores, for instance, but of course isn't going to touch industrial packaging for shipping.

The city included hard polystyrene -- items such as Solo cups -- because the Young Activist Club made a strong argument about the health repercussions of those materials, in addition to their non-recyclability.

The point about bans is that they change behaviors in ways that reduce environmental harm and health threats. Replacement materials or practices are boosted and eventually you don't even think about the olds ways. We don't burn leaves any more nor smoke in restaurants or offices.

Montgomery County banned transfats back in 2007. An article from back then notes "Sara Lee cakes, for example, will be exempt" because they're produced and packaged outside the county. Fast forward to June 2015: "FDA orders food manufacturers to stop using trans fat within three years," reports CNN, for the same reasons the county banned them.

Sometimes local actions build into national change.

Back to local: I got take-out last week from a Takoma Park restaurant I've been patronizing for over 15 years. They're still using polystyrene cups, plates, and carry-out containers. They're aware of the city law but claim they can't find a supplier of non-polystyrene materials. That's bogus, and I'll add that this place's prices are high enough to cover any added cost. The city has provided information about suppliers; I'll make sure it gets to the restaurant again. The approach is to educate and facilitate, not to jump to punishment, in order to get to positive change.