Friday, January 27, 2012

Update on 410 ownership & resurfacing, 36 Philadelphia Avenue

Here is an update on the status of negotiations with the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) concerning ownership of State Route 410 (Philadelphia Avenue and Ethan Allen Avenue) in Takoma Park --

  • The city manager and city attorney revised the proposed SHA-city Memorandum of Understanding. They sent the revised version to the SHA's attorney last Friday, January 20.
  • The city council is slated to discuss the MOU on Monday evening, February 6. This will be a worksession, open to the public but not a public hearing. As soon as I get the draft MOU, I'll plan to send it to Ward 1 residents for comment.
  • The SHA has proposed a larger-scale meeting between SHA and city officials (staff & council members). This is tentatively slated for February 10 but my understanding is that it may not cover specific issues.

The SHA is slated to resurface Philadelphia Ave from Park to Carroll, in the spring, once the MOU is signed. I'm looking into ensuring that storm-water management and safety needs are covered, also the problem with vibrations from large vehicles that affect houses bordering that stretch of Philadelphia. And I'm working on the best way to pursue a safety upgrade to the Holly & Philadelphia intersection, which will also involve the SHA.

Regarding the abandoned house at 36 Philadelphia Avenue, near the intersection with Park Ave --

  • The city has signed a contract with an engineering firm to do a structural evaluation of the house to determine if/how the house could be restored. The firms that bid had looked at the house back in December and said that it needed to be cleared out prior to the evaluation. Clearing-out hasn't happened yet but will.
  • If the city determines that the best, or only feasible, option is demolition, the city will need an Historic Area Work Permit. The city has started work on getting the permit.

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns about these issues at this point.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The council agenda decoded: January 23, 2012

Another week, another council meeting. This go-around, Monday evening, January 23, starts with two legislative-session items, consideration of:

  1. A resolution of support for Montgomery County Zoning Text Amendment 11-08, which would define "commercial kitchen" (CK) and allow church CKs as a permitted use within certain residentially zoned areas.
  2. Three consent-agenda resolutions, that is, covering items considered non-controversial and therefore presented for vote without discussion.

I've posted several blog articles about ZTA 11-08, the commercial-kitchen zoning bill. In order of appearance, they are:

In sum: I've considered the positive role community commercial kitchens (CCKs) can play. Meals on Wheels of Takoma Park/Silver Spring, operating out of a commercial kitchen at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church on New Hampshire Avenue, illustrates CCKs' potential. (Zion is in the Prince George's annexation area of Takoma Park. Zion's CK is grandfathered into Montgomery County zoning.) CCKs are a very promising tool for promoting food security and healthy, local food sourcing and for creation of small-business opportunity, all with manageable neighborhood impact. I'm happy to be able to support the individuals and groups that are spear-heading this effort.

There are 3 items on the city council's worksession agenda:

  1. Takoma/Langley Sector Plan Design Guidelines
  2. Implementation of the Council’s Mission for the Recreation Department
  3. Discussion of Ward Nights and/or Council Engagement with the Community

On September 26, 2011, the (previous) city council passed a resolution calling on the Montgomery County Council to not approve the Takoma/Langley Crossroads Sector Plan without critical changes. (City staff explain that "design guidelines help implement the recommendations of approved and adopted master and sector plans," themselves important documents that create a framework for community development. The guidelines "illustrate how plan recommendations and goals might be met and encourage applicants and public agencies to propose designs that create an attractive and successful public realm.") My guess is that New Hampshire Avenue of 2020 will look much the way it does today, but I believe that dedication to revitalization, in cooperation with Montgomery and Prince George's Counties and with help from the State of Maryland -- noting new possibilities that will be created by the Purple Line -- will transform the New Hampshire Avenue corridor and the Takoma/Langley Crossroads area by 2030, for the better for current and future residents and businesses.

The Takoma Park Recreation Department has a new and, I believe, very able leader in Gregory Clark, who was recently promoted to fill the role vacated by retired former Director Debra Haiduven. The "council's mission" derives from a process that has included the city's Recreation Committee and residents, implemented in a "conceptual plan" to be presented Monday evening by Mr. Clark. I'm looking forward to his presentation!

Ward nights, the last Monday-evening topic, were started a couple of years ago, in recognition of the benefits of an occasional focus on particular areas of the city and of, when appropriate, bringing the council to the people via meetings in several of the city's wards. The council will discuss whether and how to continue ward nights. Myself, I'm all for them and of additional steps to make council deliberations more accessible and attendable.

As always, Ward 1 residents, if you have concerns about Monday's evening's issues or other city matters, please get in touch.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Community Commercial Kitchens: An Update on ZTA 11-08

For those of you who are following the progress of ZTA 11-08, a Montgomery County Zoning Text Amendment proposed by Councilmember George Leventhal, an update:

Takoma Park City Council

The Takoma Park City Council, at its Tuesday evening, January 17 meeting, discussed ZTA 11-08 and a support resolution I drafted. I agreed to bring to the county council two suggested changes to the ZTA, based on city staff examination of the draft, which you can see along with the draft ZTA and support resolution in the staff-prepared city-council backgrounder. Those changes were a staff-proposed tightening of the commercial-kitchen definition to include "shared-use, community" and a floor-space upper-limit of 1,200 sq.ft. The council, by 4-3 vote, chose not to suggest a change to Special Exception (SE) from by-right Permission (P). Video of the council session is online at http://takomapark.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=907.
In my opinion, the most compelling worksession testimony was offered by resident Jill Feasley, a member of the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church's kitchen committee who has run the Takoma Park-Silver Spring Meals on Wheels program for many years. TPSS MOW operates out of a commercial kitchen at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, on New Hampshire Avenue in Takoma Park's Ward 6. No, that use is not illegal. Zion is located in the Prince George's annexation area and has operated its commercial kitchen, a Prince George's County permitted use, continuously for 40 years. Montgomery County code grandfather's otherwise nonconforming property uses that existed as of the July 1, 1997 annexation of the Prince George's portion of Takoma Park to Montgomery County.

Montgomery County Planning Board

The Montgomery County Planning Board, at a Thursday, January 19 hearing, voted to approve ZTA 11-08, with comments to be transmitted to the county council. Video of the hearing is online at http://mncppc.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=810.
Comments relate to 3 points (I hope I got them right): Suggest restricting vehicle trips allowed, restricting hours of use, and disallowing respite care and opportunity housing use of a CK.
I transcribed some material from the video, staff comments (Greg) --
"My gut feel would be that it would minimally impact the surrounding areas... The use would be limited in size. Generally speaking, you wouldn't have a number of vehicles going back and forth from the site."
"I got a call today... You can do this use any time of day or night. That would be a concern of neighbors. My read on that is, you can, or the council can establish some regulations that would... limit the hours of even utilizing a church building to do this... That's probably a good idea. The place in the section of the ordinance that deals with uses in more than one class, that's 59.A.6. I would recommend that we could do that... [Also section of the ordinance on delivery trucks.] The other way to deal with this is to make it a special exception use and deal with it on a case-by-case basis. The more I think about it, that may be overkill for the number of times that [church creation of a CK] would be done... The impact in terms of the number of vehicles going to-and-fro, to this kind of service facilities, you wouldn't be able to see the difference, really..."
"There is precedent for using hours of operation in the 59.A.6 portion of the ordinance..."
"I think they're self-regulated from [a parking] standpoint": by residential parking restrictions.
I noted one Planning Board member comment:
"I agree with you that special exception is a killer. Let's not do more of those at the moment."

Montgomery County Council

The Montgomery County Council hearing on ZTA 11-08 is slated for Tuesday, January 24. It's item #8, the 4th item listed for 1:30 pm, on the council's agenda. ZTA 11-08 is then expected to go to the Planning, Housing & Economic Development (PHED) committee on January 30, 2012. PHED is chaired by Councilmember Nancy Floreen and includes Councilmembers George Leventhal and Marc Elrich.
Council contact information is online at http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/csltmpl.asp?url=/content/council/contact.asp

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why No One Is Going to Open a Commercial Kitchen in the House Next Door to Yours

Should Montgomery County churches, if located in residential zones, be allowed to operate community commercial kitchens? I blogged the topic in A Community Commercial Kitchen for Takoma Park? but will take on a couple more points, Parking (and other disruption) and Operational requirements.

Brief background: Most residents who have contacted me support the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church's plan to open a CCK. A zoning change would be needed, however, given the church's location in an R-60 area, zoned for single-family housing. Churches may open in R-60 and other residential zones; the question is whether they should be newly allowed to operate CCKs.

Several residents expressed concerns to about parking and traffic impact. I don't see a TPPC community commercial kitchen, or any church CCK, generating more than a couple of vehicle trips per hour, on average. In TPPC's case, there is a 3-car zone marked with One Hour Parking signs, and other nearby streets require residential parking permits for daytime hours Monday to Friday. CK activity during the work day could not legally take street parking spots from residents. It would, however, affect Takoma Park Child Development Center parents and church visitors.

Other complaints about church-associated behavior relate to existing evening and weekend activities, when a church rents out a hall for events that attract large numbers of people and go on late into the night. Food for these events is brought in; CCKs are unrelated.

Concern two is that fear that a property owner will convert a single-family home into a church and open a commercial kitchen. I do not see significant risk of such conversions, in Takoma Park or elsewhere in the county. They would be uneconomical.

Consider Montgomery County's licensure and operational requirements for commercial kitchens, wherever located. Excerpting from a page on the county's Web site --
"Chapter 15, Montgomery County Code, 2004, requires that everyone who prepares, serves, sells, or gives away food to the public have a valid Montgomery County Food Service License. The only exception to this law is for the sale of fresh, whole produce or live crustaceans. At least one individual who has a current Montgomery County Certified Food Service Manager card must be present at all times when food is being prepared...

"All food that is prepared for sale or service to the public must be prepared at a licensed facility. A residential kitchen at a private home or apartment cannot be licensed for commercial use...

"When you make application for your [Montgomery County Food Service ] license, you will be asked to provide information concerning the types of food you intend to prepare, and develop a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) type food preparation review for typical items on your menu...

"An initial operating inspection will be conducted prior to the issuance of a license, unannounced operational inspections will be conducted each year."
County Certified Food Service Manager and Food Service Facility license applications are linked from another county Web page along with Maryland state HACCP guidelines, referenced above. They make me wonder if the CCP part (Cyrillic characters that stand for Soviet Socialist Republic) is coincidental.

These licensure, operational, and inspection requirements mean it is impossible to open a legal commercial kitchen casually.

(Someone willing to operate an unlicensed CK will ignore zoning restrictions.) Serious investment is involved, and remember the 5% space limitation on a CK per the proposed ZTA 11-08. A CK in a 2,000 sq.ft. property would be limited to 100 sq.ft., or 10'x10' and couldn't also be used for residential food preparation. A CK in 3,000 sq.ft. property would be limited to 150 sqft., or 10'x15'.

I conclude that no serious person is going to attempt to convert a house to a church in order to open a CK.

(No non-serious person will make it through the licensing & inspections.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Community Commercial Kitchen for Takoma Park?

A community commercial kitchen is a shared resource for safe preparation of food for sale at farmers markets and retail outlets and for distribution to shelters and to needful neighbors. Community commercial kitchens (CCKs) provide economic opportunity and play a vital service role.

We have one such initiative close to home, at the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church. I support this initiative, and I hope you will also, although if you oppose the idea, as Ward 1 city-council rep, I'd like to know. I'll provide background and then, toward the bottom of this note, suggest how to voice your opinion.

TPPC, in keeping with its community-service mission, wishes to renovate its kitchen as a community commercial kitchen. The church is located in a residentially zoned area, on Tulip Avenue, and their plans hinge on a zoning change. Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal has proposed a zoning text amendment (ZTA) that would allow TPPC and other county churches to operate CCKs. ZTA 11-08 will come before the Montgomery County Council at a January 24 public hearing, and at my request, the Takoma Park City Council is slated to discuss the topic this coming Tuesday evening, January 17, 2012 and consider a support resolution on January 23.

The city-council meeting was moved from the usual Monday-evening slot because the Martin Luther King holiday is Monday, January 16. MLK Day will be a day of service for many in Takoma Park, Silver Spring, and communities throughout the country. While the January 16/17 timing is coincidental, the thought -- the ethos -- behind the local CCK initiative, which is being developed by a local coalition, is completely in keeping with Dr. King's work.

In the words of the local organizers, excerpted from a sample advocacy letter that you can adapt and send to your city and county council representatives,
"A vital need exists in our community for commercial kitchen space to address hunger issues and to provide a facilities for low and moderate-income families who want to participate in micro-enterprise to achieve economic self-sufficiency for their families. Takoma Park Presbyterian Church has such a commercial kitchen and has used it in the past for micro-enterprise development and for feeding those in need. Currently the existing kitchen is in need of renovation to bring it up to code. The Church has partnered with Crossroads Farmers Market and the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op and applied and received grants to help make the kitchen operational and a vital community resource.

"A shared-use neighborhood commercial kitchen facility can be a key component in building economic opportunity, environmental sustainability, and improving the health of local citizens. By meeting all mandated health and safety requirements, the kitchen facility would provide small-scale food entrepreneurs the space to prepare value-added food for public sale. In addition to creating income for these entrepreneurs and their families, the kitchen would provide a location to process locally grown food, thus increasing economic opportunity for community farmers. This micro-enterprise focus strengthens our area’s food system by increasing the volume of food grown here that can be processed locally."
What can you do? Please contact me or your Takoma Park City Council representative to express your views on community commercial kitchens. Easiest is to send a single message to clerk@takomagov.org, or write to individual council members. Your message doesn't have to be complicated. I suggest writing simply, "Please support Montgomery County ZTA 11-08 as introduced by Councilmember Leventhal." Add your own, personal message if you wish, and sign with your name and street. Or if you have a different view, communicate it.

Please use the addresses at on the Montgomery County Council Web site to send a message regarding ZTA 11-08. Again, I hope you'll express support!

Lastly, my understanding is that Takoma Park city staff plan to recommend that the city council endorse a zoning change with a "special exception" (SE) rather than a Permission (P) provision. Staff note the existence of other residentially-zoned churches in Takoma Park. I would oppose this endorsement unless Councilmember Leventhal changes the proposed ZTA prior to the city-council vote. I agree with George's assessment of the situation -- that abuse of the zoning change by county churches is unlikely -- that an SE would place a significant financial burden on churches that are seeking to provide a community service to needful residents.

But in addition, every Takoma Park church I can think of is located on an arterial street, except TPPC and the Geneva Ave church that used to be Joshua Group, which is part of a small compound. Picturing them in my mind, I believe all have off-street parking, so that the neighbor impact of a community commercial kitchen in any of them, if any do have plans in that direction (which is questionable), would be lessened. Further, I don't see much risk of their behaving in an unneighborly fashion.

Monday, January 2, 2012

City council meeting, January 3: Zoning, Sustainability Coordinator, Walt Rave, Betty Barclay

The Takoma Park City Council, at its Tuesday evening, March 3, meeting, will take up several items that will interest many residents. Scheduled for 8 pm (approximately) are --

Two worksession (non-legislative) items will follow. Scheduled for 8:15 pm (approximately) is --

  • A Presentation on the Montgomery County Zoning Rewrite with Rollin Stanley, Montgomery County Planning Department's Planning Director, and Pamela Dunn, the project manager. A significant recent change is the creation of new county Commercial Residential Zones (CRNs). See the agenda backgrounder at http://takomaparkmd.gov/clerk/agenda/items/2012/010312-3.pdf.

Then, scheduled for 9:20 pm (approximately) is --

  • Discussion of Sustainability Coordinator Position. This position was recommended by the city's Task Force on Environmental Action but has yet to be filled. The council will discuss whether the coordinator should be an in-house (rather than contract) position with management supervisory responsibilities within the city's Public Works Department. Background information is posted at http://takomaparkmd.gov/clerk/agenda/items/2012/010312-4.pdf.

As always, you can view the council meeting online at http://takomapark.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2 and on city cable TV. And as always, the council meeting will open with a public-comment period, at 7:30 pm.

Please do let me know if you will not be attending the meeting but have comments or concerns.