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.


Satellite image and TPSS Co-op proposal drawing for Takoma Junction parcel development:

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.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sept 8 at the council: City grants and a polystyrene ban

The city council's first post-recess session is Monday evening, September 8. A 7 pm presentation of large-grant recommendations will be followed by public comment and then council discussion of the grants and of a city food-service polystyrene ban.

Large Grants

The council budgeted $122,000 for this fiscal year's large grants, for programming and capital projects that primarily benefit low and moderate-income residents and neighborhoods. Applications were due July 9; the city received 19. Grants Review Committee co-chairs Akena Allen and Gary Cardillo will present:

Capital Projects Grant Recommendations
- Old Takoma Business Association (OTBA) $8,000
- Takoma Park Presbyterian Church $10,000

Cultural and STEM Grant Recommendations
- African Immigrant and Refugee (AIRF) $12,500
- Docs in Progress $5,195
- Moveius Ballet $8,930
- Old Takoma Business Association (OTBA) $15,000
- Takoma Ensemble $15,000

Program and Operational Support Grant Recommendations
- Real Food for Kids $5,632
- Crossroads Community Food Network $19,622
- EduCare Support Services, Inc. $19,621
- Takoma Plays $2,500

STEM is science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The Takoma Park Presbyterian Church funding would go toward the church housed community commercial kitchen project. The OTBA funding would pay for banners (capital) and underwrite the Takoma Park Street Festival and the Art Hop arts fest (cultural).

Do attend the presentation (7 pm) and council discussion (8 pm) (or watch them on city TV, live-streamed), and please comment at the meeting (7:30 pm) or relay your views to me (301-873-8225, sethg@takomaparkmd.gov). You'll have another opportunity to testify about the grants on September 15, when the council is slated to vote our awards.

Food-Service Polystyrene Ban

The Young Activist Act of 2014 would ban food-service polystyrene use in Takoma Park starting January 1, 2015. It is named in recognition of the hard work and dedication of the Young Activist Club in pursuing an end to food-service polystyrene use given harmful health and environmental impact.

The council will discuss the proposal on Monday evening; I anticipate only minor tuning to the draft if any so that we should be able to bring it to a vote later this month.

I drafted the bill, translating the young activists' advocacy into legislation with the help and review of community activists including Brenda Platt, Committee on the Environment members Cindy Dyballa and Paul Chrostowski, Public Works Director Daryl Braithwaite, and Assistant City Attorney Ken Sigman. The council last discussed it in June.

We had actually been working on much broader bill. An earlier draft is included in the June 16 council backgrounder.

The earlier version mimics San Francisco and other West Coast cities in requiring food-service businesses and operations to use only compostable disposable food-service ware and to compost food wastes and other "organics." The earlier version also extends food-waste composting in Takoma Park to multi-family apartment buildings by instituting a requirement that landlords provide food-waste collection services in addition to recycling. These steps proved infeasible because of a dearth of local organics processing sites. I expect that we will revisit these steps in a year or so. In the interim, proponents including myself, perhaps with city involvement, hope to pursue pilot programs at several Takoma Park apartment buildings whose current waste haulers do provide organics collection services.

Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer plans to introduce, on Tuesday, a county bill banning food-service polystyrene and requiring that food-service disposables be either compostable or recyclable. This bill follows on a very similar bill passed in the District of Columbia just a few months back. The DC bill, introduced by Councilmember Mary Cheh and signed by Mayor Vincent Gray, covers only expanded-foam polystyrene service ware. Think "Styrofoam" cups and plates. The DC polystyrene ban and the draft Montgomery County bill's ban are more limited than Takoma Park's proposed ban and go into effect later, in 2016.

Finally, the earlier version of the Young Activists Act also included a provision stating that Montgomery County's business recycling requirements apply in Takoma Park. But it seems that we'd have to create an operational agreement with the county -- an opt-in to county law wouldn't be enough -- so instead City Manager Brian Kenner and the city attorney have agree to draft an update to Takoma Park's '90s recycling code. It would refresh residential recycling requirements and add a business recycling requirement. Look for a draft in the fall.

Contact

As always, please get in touch if you have questions, comments, or need help with city matters: 301-873-8225 and sethg@takomaparkmd.gov.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Food Waste Composting Notes

Takoma Park has now run two phases of a food-waste composting pilot, offering weekly curbside collection first to single-family homes in a couple of neighborhoods, and then to all single-family homes roughly south/west of Sligo Creek. The program is currently expanding to cover all city neighborhoods. Visit the city Web site for information and to sign up.

I responded to a request for stats on the city's experience, and thought I'd post what I wrote. 

I'll start by pulling stats from the October 21, 2013 council-meeting presentation, Takoma Park Food Compost Pilot: Current program results and next steps.

The pilot program cost was $33,500, covering 365 households for 35 weeks. That means a cost of under $1,000/week for 365 households (although the set-out rate averaged 70%, not 100%), or under $100 for one household for 35 weeks.

The pilot collected 55 tons of food wastes. I don't know precisely how much the city pays in trash tipping fees (although see below for an overall cost), but at the county's tipping fee rate of $56/ton, that's only $3,080 saved on tipping fees, less than 1/10 the cost of the pilot. The major benefit is environmental.

An extension to the pilot, agreed by the council in October, covers an additional 500 homes for $45,065 or $2.65 per home/week for 34 weeks. The council agreed to go city-wide, for single-family homes, this fiscal year, which started July 1. The city projected 175 tons of food-waste collection for the FY.

The city's FY15 budget provides the following Solid Waste Management figures on page 95:

Tons of trash
Actual FY13 -- 3,162
Estimated FY14 -- 3,100
Projected FY15 -- 3,000

Tons of recycling
Actual FY13 -- 1,489
Estimated FY14 -- 1,500
Projected FY15 -- 1,450

Tons of yard waste collected
Actual FY13 -- 421
Estimated FY14 -- 460
Projected FY15 -- 450

Tons of food waste collected
Actual FY13 -- 42
Estimated FY14 -- 130
Projected FY15 -- 175

According to page 97, approximate costs include "$190,000 for solid waste tipping fees and $35,500 for processing fees for single stream recycling processing, yard waste and food waste composting, and electronics recycling." (We also have staff, equipment, and facilities costs.)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

City manager review and blighted properties

This message covers two items on the city-council agenda for Monday, July 21.

The council will meet in a non-public administrative session to conduct the city manager's review. Brian Kenner started as Takoma Park city manager in late June, 2013, responsible for budgeting and management of city staff, programs, and facilities, under the policy direction of the council. We will discuss Brian's performance as city manager as well as his job-related goals and objectives.

If you have comments regarding Brian's performance that you'd like to share, please communicate them to me by e-mail (sethg@takomaparkmd.gov) or phone (301-873-8225). Please let me know if you'd like me to keep your comments confidential.

I've already written about the proposed resolution, scheduled for open session discussion at 8 pm, of city policy on sharing license plate reader data. Also on Monday evening's agenda, slated for 8:30 pm, is a discussion of applicability of Montgomery County Code in Takoma Park, which is a relatively technical matter.

The other agenda item that will be of broader interest is a discussion, Vacant and Blighted Property Tax Rate, slated for 9:20 pm. We'd like to figure out a way to better handle private properties that have fallen into serious disrepair. Many of them, but not all, are abandoned. In many cases, but not all, the property owner owes back taxes and/or fees to the city or the county.

The Washington McLaughlin Christian School property, located at Poplar and New Hampshire Avenues, is a prime example. There are others including several houses around the city. The house formerly at 36 Philadelphia Avenue, demolished by the city last year, is an example. (I wrote about that property several times, including here.) That case took us so long to address via the limited set of tools legally at our disposal that the property became unrestorable. We'd like to be able to act more quickly. We'd like to see the properties rehabilitated, whether by their current owners or by purchasers, so we're looking for new tools.

An approach applied in other jurisdictions is to create a high property-tax rate for blighted and vacant properties. The council will discuss this approach on Monday evening.

Please let me know if you have thoughts on this matter.

Thanks,

Seth

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Should Takoma Park share license-plate reader data with the State of Maryland?

Monday evening, July 21, the city council will discuss and then vote on a resolution authorizing our police department to share its license plate reader (LPR) data with the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC). Police Chief Alan Goldberg requested this policy change; MCAC is a state "fusion center" that would retain the data for one year (or longer if needed for an active investigation), making it available for law enforcement investigations by agencies state-wide and for homeland security investigations. Current city policy is that our own police department may retain LPR data for up to 30 days and may not share it with outside agencies.

Takoma Park has three vehicle-mounted license plate reader systems. They identify vehicles that have been reported stolen or that are of interest in a criminal investigation. Please note that Takoma Park can continue to benefit from the LPR technology, for local crime reduction, without sharing data from our own readers. Our police force has accees to other jurisdictions' crime data, regardless whether we share our LPR data.

Vehicle-mounted LPR (Gazette photo)

We are reconsidering city policy. The aim is to establish city policy that responds both to legitimate law enforcement needs and to concerns that data sharing infringes on civil liberties and that shared data could be improperly used.

We could authorize our police force to create a local database with extended local retention, say up to one year, or we could instead authorize transmission of our data to MCAC (making local retention unnecessary).

What is your view?

Please let me know; constituents' views will inform my vote. Contact me at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225. Do consider attending Monday evening's council meeting to comment at 7:30 pm, or share your position with the council: Bruce Williams <brucewtakoma@gmail.com>, Frederick Schultz <SchultzAssociates@rcn.com>, Jarrett Smith <jarrett.smith@gmail.com>, Kate Stewart <katemarystewart@gmail.com>, Terry Seamens <TJSeamens@aol.com>, and Tim Male <timothymale@gmail.com>.

There are many information sources and opinions on this issue. They include:

- The resolution backgrounder, which includes the proposed General Order 717 covering sharing of LPR data; an excerpt of a MCAC internal policy document, and responses from LPR program manager Colleen Richarts to city questions; and a May message from Senator Jamie Raskin, Senate co-sponsor of a 2014 bill that governed MCAC data policy, regarding protections.

(Two House of Delegates co-sponsors of the 2014 bill, Ana Sol Gutierrez and Al Carr, also contacted us in May. They were dismayed that their bill had been watered down and asked the city not to change its policy. Carr wrote us, "We would also hope TP would not cede control of its residents' information to the fusion center (which can change its policy at any time and has discussed increasing its retention policy) and add to the growing problem of governmental databases about innocent individual's daily lives.")

- An informative May write-up by Councilmember Tim Male, and Councilmember Kate Stewart's most recent update, which provides a to-the-point description of the issue.

- The ACLU of Maryland, which issued a May action alter stating, "Sharing and storing location data is not necessary for using [automated] LPRs to identify stolen cars or find missing persons. But 99.8 percent of the data collected by police departments using this technology has no connection to any offense at all. If a crime occurs where location data might be useful, the Takoma Park police should store only that relevant data, and should not store or share all the data they collect. We must defend the core American principle that you are innocent until proven guilty. Takoma Park should not help fill a statewide database tracking the location and movement of innocent Marylanders. Tell Takoma Park Councilmembers: We can fight crime and protect privacy."

- Maryland SB699, as enacted this year, taking effect October 1, 2014, regarding state handling of LPR data. This is the bill that Senator Raskin co-sponsored -- again, see his e-mail to me in the Monday evening backgrounder -- but that Delegates Gutierrez and Carr believe falls short.

- Robert Wack, president of the Westminster, Maryland Common Council wrote us in May to related that Westminster decided not to share the town's LPR data. While Westminster's LPR use, like Takoma Park's current use, provides local police the "ability to scan, analyze, and report on licenseplate information day or night, under any weather conditions, and at any time, place, situation (driving or stationary)," from Westminster's "perspective, allowing the collection, storage, and sharing of this data is one more step toward a pervasive surveillance state that none of us are comfortable with."

- The draft Takoma Park resolution, authorizing data sharing with MCAC within MCAC's one-year retention policy.

Is the police chief's proposed policy acceptable?

Could it, or the council's authorizing resolution, be strengthened?

Will the law enforcement benefits that result from LPR data sharing be sufficient to justify this policy change, given the civil liberties and privacy concerns?

These are questions that the council will discuss in considering the resolution. Myself, I am unconvinced that LPR data sharing will enhance law enforcement in Takoma Park, or elsewhere. I have not seen a compelling crime-fighting argument.

My own suggestion is a compromise. The Takoma Park Police Department should be authorized to retain data for up to one year, and to continue accessing other jurisdictions' data through MCAC and other channels and systems. In one year, the department would report back to the council on the effectiveness of longer local retention, and the council would then, at that time and using actual data now lacking, consider data sharing.

Please do share your thoughts.

Seth

Added July 22, 2014:

The city council voted to change city policy on license plate reader data sharing and retention. By a 4-3 vote, the council decided that city LPR data should be transmitted to the Maryland fusion center, where it will be retained for one year (or longer, if needed for an investigation) and where it will be available for law enforcement and homeland security investigations.

I voted Against, because it did not seem that law enforcement benefits would be sufficient to outweigh privacy and civil liberties concerns. Also voting against were Jarrett Smith and Terry Seamens. Voting For were Bruce Williams, Tim Male, Fred Schultz, and Kate Stewart.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Green Purchasing & Flower Avenue Green Street: July 14 at the City Council

The July 14 city council meeting includes two items that will interest many residents: A vote on an environmentally-preferable purchasing ordinance and an update on the city's Flower Avenue Green Street project. (The complete agenda is online.) (The mayor has postponed, until July 21, a resolution setting out city policy for sharing of city license-plate reader data that had been scheduled for this Monday evening.)

The environmentally-preferable purchasing ordinance extends existing city purchasing preferences, which currently cover recycled products. The expanded preferences will help the city gain Sustainable Maryland certification, opening a variety of financial and technical assistance opportunities to the city. Information on Sustainable Maryland is online as is Monday's council backgrounder, which includes the draft ordinance. A big Thank You to Cindy Dyballa and the city's Committee on the Environment for their work on this ordinance!

(Meanwhile, we're continuing to develop the Young Activists Act of 2014, which would opt in to Montgomery County's business recycling requirement; expand food-waste collection to city apartment buildings and businesses; ban most food-service polystyrene use (including styrofoam); and require that disposable food serviceware be compostable. The council green-lighted development of the bill at a June 16 worksession. We are working over the summer to address questions about feasibility, costs, and facilities and hope to bring a bill to vote in September.)

The Flower Avenue Green Street project will transform a heavily-used, substandard street via the installation of new sidewalks, stormwater facilities, bus shelters, and traffic-calming measures. The city annexed the full Flower Avenue right-of-way from Montgomery County, took control of the street from the State Highway Administration, and has assembled over $2.2 million in funding for the project, which has taken shape over the last four years. We now own Flower Avenue between Piney Branch Road and Carroll Avenue (and then downhill to Sligo Creek Parkway).

We have six primary objectives for the Flower Avenue Green Street project, as described in the council backgrounder:

"(1) Design of ADA complaint sidewalk on the east side of the street and identification of repairs needed to the existing sidewalk on the west side, (2) identification of locations for, and design, of low-impact stormwater retention facilities to capture and filter run-off from the street, (3) design improvements to pedestrian crossings and bus stops, (4) recommend energy efficient street lighting fixtures for the area, (5) identify the amount of on-street parking needed for the current residents and (6) assess the optimum road configuration to enable objectives 1 - 3 above. The City will repave the street, once the project improvements are implemented." Upgrades to the Flower-Carroll intersection are also in the works.

Attend or watch the Monday-evening council session for the Flower Avenue update, or learn more at a community meeting that the city will be holding on Wednesday, July 16, 7 pm at Washington Adventist University's Wilkinson Hall.

And as always, please contact me directly, at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225, about any city-related matter that concerns you.