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 needy 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 needy 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.

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