Sunday, July 21, 2013

July 22, 2013 at the City Council: WAH, WMATA/EYA, Housing, Safe Grow, and More

The city council takes up a long list of items at its July 22, 2013 meeting, the last before a summer recess that stretches past Labor Day, until September 3. The agenda includes:
  1. A presentation by Washington Adventist Hospital president Joyce Newmyer on the hospital's relocation request and its expected fall filing of a new Certificate of Need application with the Maryland Healthcare Commission. Ms Newmyer's presentation is slated for 8 pm. Expect innovative plans.
  2. Presentations, on plans for a proposed 200+ unit apartment building at the Takoma Metro station, by WMATA and developer EYA. I expect their presentations to be largely the same as the ones they gave at a Tuesday, July 16 community meeting. (Their July 16 slides are posted at dc-mdneighborsfortakomatransit.org; meeting turn-out was around 130. Washington DC Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Sara Green and Faith Wheeler joined me in organizing the meeting in cooperation with community members.) A July 22 difference is that the council will have an opportunity to pose questions and express concerns to the WMATA and EYA representatives. Please let me know if you have questions for me to relay. The council would consider a city response at a later meeting, after our summer recess.
The council is slated to consider 21 (!) resolutions or ordinances, after the presentations. They include second-reading votes (necessary to enact changes to city code) on:
  1. A rewrite of city housing code, prompted by city staff but also including an electoral provision I initiated, to ensure access for electoral candidates to multi-unit apartment buildings.
  2. The Safe Grow Zone ordinance, which would ban many cosmetic lawncare pesticides. Safe Grow attracted some opposition centered in Ward 1's Philadelphia-Eastern Neighborhood, rooted in concerns about justification and enforcement. These concerns and others have been discussed extensively in e-mail exchanges and at council meetings. I'll reiterate that my council colleagues and I have heard community concerns, also beliefs that the ordinance is too week, and have adjusted the ordinance in response. My final tally of Ward 1 voices is 96 For, 55 Opposed.
The last July 22 item I'll mention will be taken up in closed session prior to the 7:30 pm start of the public meeting, a discussion of next steps regarding the City-owned lot in Takoma Junction. Frankly I don't know why the mayor has scheduled this discussion for closed session; I'll make sure that community members are informed of the outcome to the extent allowed.

Finally, a reminder: Please attend a meet-and-greet with City Manager Brian Kenner, now entering his 5th week on the job, Thursday evening, August 1, 7 pm at the community center. All Ward 1 residents and business owners are invited.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Notes on a DC North/South streetcar line

Proposed North/South Streetcar Line
Washington DC has extensive streetcar plans: a 37-mile system, with a 22-mile priority subset that includes a North/South line terminating at Takoma. See a DCStreetcar.com page, which includes --
"The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is initiating an Alternatives Analysis to study DC Streetcar service in a proposed 9-mile, north-south corridor through the District. The prospective line would run from the Southwest Waterfront, cross the National Mall, travel up 14th Street, follow Georgia Avenue, and eventually terminate at the Takoma or Silver Spring Metro Stations, among other possibilities. The Alternatives Analysis will help determine the final route and mileage.
"This study is expected to start in Summer 2013."
Points to study, I'd assume, would include pluses & minuses for various terminus options and where a line to Takoma could terminate. I know there's a strong desire for the N/S line to serve the planned Walter Reed development. You can see an illustration of an alignment more likely than the one on the DCStreetcar.com page, if the line terminates at Takoma, in an October 2011 Washington City Paper blog article. There are local concerns about routing the streetcar through Takoma on non-arterial residential streets, and if the line were to terminate at the Takoma Metro station, having it pass through the Cedar Street NW underpass and cross pedestrian station-access paths, also about the location of the terminus at the site. Myself, I see a Takoma terminus, perhaps on the Blair Road NW side of the Metro station, as providing a development boost to Takoma that could spur creation of office space, which I believe would be a good complement to all the residential development going on around here.

On the DC council, Muriel Bowser's will be a key voice in all decisions. Mary Cheh is chair of the Committee on Transportation & the Environment.

The idea of running the line to Silver Spring rather than Takoma was supported, in 2011, by Montgomery County Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Nancy Floreen, who make up two-thirds of the council committee, T&E, that oversees transportation initiatives, as reported by Dan Reed in Just Up The Pike. Of course, a Silver Spring terminus would be outside DC and would require Montgomery County (or Maryland or federal) funding, with Montgomery County participation in design and construction.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Takoma Metro site zoning analysis

I wanted to better understand the zoning so I started looking into it and taking notes. From there it was a small step to the the write-up below, although I wouldn't call the write-up complete. One goal is to understand how significant a variance WMATA and/or EYA will be seeking, via Planned Unit Development (PUD), from what's allowed by-right by the zoning. The greater the variance, the more room for push back, if we have something we want to push back on. Another goal is to understand the review steps and timing, information I haven't compiled (yet).


Takoma Metro site zoning
The Takoma Metro station is wholly in the District of Columbia. The location that would be developed is split between two different zoning designations, R-5-A and C-2-A. The R-5-A portion is adjacent to Eastern Ave NW. The C-2-A portion looks to be about 60% of the to-be-developed area, backing on the railroad tracks. I uploaded a map.

(Several years ago, Washington DC created a an TK/C-2-A Takoma Neighborhood Commercial Overlay District that includes the portions of the site directly on Cedar St, NW. Notably, "the Takoma Neighborhood Commercial Overlay District would... Reserve sufficient open space to provide adequate light and air to encourage retail and service uses, and pedestrian circulation in the vicinity of the Takoma Metro station"

Washington DC zones are explained online --
  • R-5-A permits, "with the approval of the Board of Zoning Adjustment, new residential development of low density residential uses including row houses, flats, and apartments to a maximum lot occupancy of 40%... [and] a maximum floor area ratio (FAR) of 0.9, and a maximum height of three (3) stories/forty (40) feet... Rear yard requirements are twenty (20) feet, side yard requirements are not less than eight (8) feet."
  • C-2-A allows "housing to a maximum lot occupancy of 60% for residential use and 100% for all other uses, a maximum FAR of 2.5 for residential use... and a maximum height of fifty (50) feet. Rear yard requirements are fifteen (15) feet."
The planned Takoma construction would not conform with these zoning limits. Here's where the Planned Unit Development (PUD) comes into play.

A Planned Unit Development "allows a developer greater flexibility in site planning and building design. This flexibility permits the developer to incorporate amenities in the project that exceed those that could have been achieved under the general provisions of the Zoning Regulations. When a project is designated as a PUD, the ZC usually mandates the development of standards specifically tailored to the project."

Further, the Takoma Metro site is in the (Washington DC) Takoma Park Historic District, which was listed as a local historic district subject to the D.C. Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978. The design would have to pass muster with the DC Historic Preservation Review Board. According to ANC Commissioner Sara Green, "The HPRB looks at a number of standards -- primarily compatibility with the surrounding architecture. They do look at massing as well as the exterior design elements. The type of apartments and their size is not considered."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Safe Grow and Outside Advocacy

(Background: The Safe Grow Zone ordinance would create an education campaign around the health & environmental effects due to the application of pesticides for cosmetic lawncare purposes and would promote alternative pest-control methods. It would then ban cosmetic lawncare pesticide application in Takoma Park, albeit with a set of health and safety exceptions and a waiver process for exceptional cases. The city council, at its July 8, 2013 meeting, moved ahead with the ordinance and is slated to vote, on July 15 and 22, in two readings, to possibly make it city law.)

I've looked at advocacy material from Beyond Pesticides, whose reps have appeared at two council meetings -- one spoke at the March public forum on the initiative -- and from groups such as the Maryland Pesticide Network, which successfully advocated for "Bay Friendly Lawn Care" at the Maryland state house. I've looked at advocacy materials from the campaigns for the pesticide bans now in place in Ontario and Quebec and the partial bans in Connecticut and elsewhere.

I've also spoken to Pro-Lawn-Plus president Mark Schlossberg, who has attended several council meetings. According to his LinkedIn profile, Mr. Schlossberg is "President of the MD Association of Green Industries, Inc, which represents our Industry in Annapolis." I and my council colleagues have received comment from Tom Delaney, Director of Government Affairs at the Professional Landcare Network; Karen Reardon, Vice President, Public Affairs at RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment), who said she'd be attending the July 8 council worksession, although I didn't meet her; and Sam Camuso, "a Green Industry representative for nearly 20 years." And I had an e-mail exchange with someone from the Mosquito Squad of West Montgomery, initiated by a Holly Avenue resident.

Further, I had an exchange with Carol Holko, the MD Department of Agriculture assistant secretary responsible for pesticide programs -- she had testified against legislation, HB433, "Lawn Care Pesticides, Child Care and School Facilities - Prohibition," that was proposed during the 2013 Maryland legislative session -- and I had a not-very-useful exchange with a physician member of the Maryland Pesticide Advisory Council.                                                                                                                             
It's all grist for the mill. I and my council colleagues do our best to weigh advocates' points on their merits, taking into account their origins, together with Takoma Park public voices -- I ignore non-Takoma Park petition signatures -- in order to arrive at our positions.

Really, it doesn't matter to me whom Jay Feldman (Beyond Pesticides) or Mark Schlossberg (Green Industries, Inc.) has met locally or fed position points. What matters to me is the value we can derive from their advocacy.

By the way, here's a nice, 2-page brochure that Carol Holko from the MD Dept of Agriculture pointed me to: What You Can Do Without Pesticides. This is the sort of educational material that the city should be able to leverage in our educational campaign at very modest cost to the city. 

I hope this helps.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Takoma Metro station site development: concept plans, study, and update

Stan Wall, Director of WMATA's Office of Real Estate and Station Planning, has provided us with 4 documents relating to proposed Takoma Metro station site development, which we have posted at the links behind the doc descriptions:
  1. Takoma Station Access Technical Memorandum (Draft 7-2-2013)
  2. Conceptual Site Plans
  3. Conceptual Floor Plans
  4. Conceptual Massing
Mr. Wall states, "All of these items will also be part of the package that is sent to our Board for their information and posted to the WMATA public website on Monday morning. As we've discussed, these plans will continue to evolve and be refined as the project moves through subsequent stages of review (Compact Public Hearing, Planned Unit Development process, etc.). And similarly, the proposed enhancements to transit facilities identified in the Station Access report are also subject to refinement as result of the feedback we expect to receive from these same stages of review."

Mr. Wall also advised us that "per the direction of WMATA Board Member and Planning, Program Development and Real Estate Committee Chair Muriel Bowser, the Takoma Joint Development item will be now be presented as an information item - rather than an action item - when it goes before the Committee on July 11th."

Finally, a reminder about a community meeting on proposed the Takoma Metro site development, July 16, 7:00 pm, at the Washington Theological Union building, 6896 Laurel St NW, Washington, DC, near Eastern Avenue NW. WMATA and developer EYA will present their Takoma plans.