Sunday, October 27, 2013

Compost + a Takoma Metro development resolution + tax duplication + drop-in hours

The Takoma Park City Council meeting, Monday evening, October 28, will feature 2 items of particular interest to Ward 1 residents, and I'll also update you on the county-city tax duplication situation, which is approaching a decision point. Those matters and a bit more:

1) The city council will consider expanding the city's food-waste compost collection program to cover most city neighborhoods, including all parts of Ward 1. In Ward 1, only North Takoma was included in the initial pilot. Judging from council reaction to Public Works Director Daryl Braithwaite's October 21 presentation on the pilot, the council will favor program expansion. My only regret, at this point, is that we can't include commercial establishments and multi-unit apartment buildings.

2) The city council will also consider a resolution on WMATA's plans for a Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement (JDA). The Amended JDA, currently slated for WMATA board approval once a traffic study has been released, would revive designation of developer EYA to create an apartment building, currently planned to have 212 units, at the Takoma Metro site.

I worked with city staff to develop the draft resolution. Its draws from discussions with community members, meetings and conversations with EYA executive Jack Lester and WMATA staff, and my, staff's, and my council colleagues' assessments of the EYA's plans and the best means of shaping the plans to respond to our community's interests and concerns. We took into account testimony offered at the council's October 7 public hearing and came to basic agreement on a city position, at this stage in what will be an extended process, in a worksession discussion on October 21.

The resolution is changeable -- I'll actually be asking for some adjustments prior to the council meeting -- so please let me and other council members and the mayor know if you have comments. Your comment will go to all council members if you send it to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov. There will be an opportunity for public comment before the council votes on the resolution.

3) Tax & service duplication has been with us for decades. Residents, businesses, and property owners pay taxes to both Montgomery County and the City of Takoma Park, while only the city provides police, recreation, and public-works services in Takoma Park. The county transfers certain compensatory payments to the city, according to an agreed formula that the county actually hasn't been living up to in recent years.

I bring this up now because the county council's Government Operations (GO) Committee is slated to discuss the topic at its October 28 meeting. The background packet is online. I and several of my city-council colleagues and city staff plan to attend. OLO suggests cutting the county's payment to Takoma Park and other municipalities. The city believes a cut is unfair and unjustified. A cut would also seriously affect city finances and could lead to service cuts and/or transfer of certain services to the county, which would mean a likely reduction in service levels.

To explain the issue:

Payments dictated by the formula are higher than the state requires tax-duplication payments to be, observes the Montgomery County's Office of Legislative Oversight. The payments are lower than the county's cost to assume responsibility for those services would be, says the city. So we are all seeking a rational, fair, sensible approach. We just differ on what that approach should be.

The city is hoping to find allies in the GO Committee members, GO Chair Nancy Navarro (District 4), our own District 5 representative Valerie Ervin, and at-large Councilmember Hans Riemer.

[Added October 28:] The city has a Web page on Municipal Tax Duplication that includes a link to an October 23, 2014 city letter to County Council Chair Nancy Navarro on the topic. 

I will plan to keep you posted on progress.

4) Finally, I'm resuming my Ward 1 drop-in office time. I had to take a breather starting in August because of my work and personal travel schedule. Please stop by my office the 2nd Tuesday of each month, 5 pm-6 pm, and the 4th Wednesday of each month, 8 am-9 am, if you'd like to discuss a city matter. Next dates are November 12 and November 27. My office is at 7006 Carroll Avenue, #202, entry between Mark's Kitchen and the Middle Eastern Cuisine restaurant. You're welcome to phone (301-873-8225) or write (sethg@takomaparkmd.gov) as well.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Takoma Metro update #74

No, this isn't really update #74 concerning proposed Takoma Metro site development, not even if you include exchanges that date back to last decade's stalled (expired, really) development proposal. Still, even with many months of discussions and meetings yet to come, it already feels like we've been going at it -- reviewing plans, assessing impact, organizing and attending meetings, and weighing community and city responses -- for ages. So update #whatever.

The Takoma Park City Council discussed a city position on the proposed development at Monday night's (October 21, 2013) meeting. Our discussion was informed by testimony at the council's October 7 public hearing, by e-mail we received commenting on development plans, and by public comment from community activists. The outcome is that the council will consider a resolution, the council's mechanism for establishing and communicating city policy, at the October 28 council meeting.

I spent time this past week compiling a statement, below, drawing from many hours of discussions and e-mail exchanges involving residents,including community activists from both Takoma DC and Takoma Park, Maryland, and from public testimony. The statement also reacts to an October 18 meeting and discussions I have had, jointly with Washington DC Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (4B) Sara Green and Faith Wheeler, with Jack Lester, an executive with developer EYA. Mr. Lester and colleagues are making changes to their Takoma "concept design." It is clear to us that the changes will fall far short of meeting community concerns.

My statement is a best attempt at a distillation of those consensus community concerns, and (I hope) it's reasonable. Points are made in bullet, rather than narrative or the WHEREAS... BE IT RESOLVED form that the city's resolution will take, because I am planning also to adapt them for testimony at the October 24 WMATA board meeting.

The statement addresses the WMATA board, whose Planning, Program Development & Real Estate (PPDRE) Committee is tentatively slated to consider a Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement (JDA), on November 7, 2013, if a traffic study is completed sufficiently before the meeting. The full board would vote on the Amended JDA at its next meeting that follows a favorable PPDRE vote. The statement's punch line is given in the first sentence...


WMATA board consideration of a Takoma Amended Joint Development agreement should be conditioned on adequate address of a number of procedural and project-design points. We explain those points and the reasoning behind them:

- WMATA is a public body whose responsibilities include providing exemplary transit services while maximizing transit accessibility, use, and transit-generated revenue. Any development of WMATA owned land must further this mission, hence WMATA's embrace of transit-oriented development that would get people out of cars and onto transit.

- WMATA's Policies of Local Jurisdictions Affecting Joint Development state, "WMATA coordinates closely with Local Jurisdictions to implement its joint development program. Additionally, WMATA requires its selected developers to work with Local Jurisdictions throughout the joint development process." Selected developer EYA has presented to a Local Jurisdiction, the City of Takoma Park, but has not worked with the city in any meaningful way.

- Within its mission boundaries, WMATA should seek maximum financial return from any development activities. Normally this means competition. We recognize that WMATA would prefer not to recompete its now-expired Joint Development Agreement with developer EYA. We trust WMATA to act in the public's best interests, which means that WMATA must justify any decision that would avoid competition, through transparency, disclosure, and accountability. We commend the public process surrounding Takoma joint development that has brought us to this point. In continuation of that process, WMATA should release the draft Takoma Amended JDA for public review. The WMATA board and the PPDRE Committee should not vote on the Amended JDA without allowing for ample time for public comment.

- Because the presentation of an Amended JDA with developer EYA involves a specific concept design proposed by EYA, approval by the WMATA board of the Amended JDA is an endorsement of that design. Yet the proposed Takoma concept design fails key points: Safety, disabled access, conformance with Transit Orient Development principles, and community compatibility. Specifically:
  • The design positions a loading dock, whose use includes waste hauling, that opens directly onto Eastern Avenue NW. The loading-dock positioning means that vehicles, including waste-hauling and delivery trucks, will back across the sidewalk. This design flaw creates a significant pedestrian-safety hazard.
  • The design degrades transit access for persons with disabilities. The proposed design increases the distance between the Metrorail elevator entry and the disabled drop-off by a factor of 2 to 3.
  • The design includes four levels of residential parking totaling 178 residential-parking spaces serving 212 apartment units. The .844 residential-parking ratio is far too high for an apartment development sited at a transit hub. Over-availability of residential parking may mean a lower-than-optimal rate of transit usage by residents, costing WMATA revenue. Further, the design's four levels of parking mean extra ramps that cost valuable space that could be given over to apartment units in ways that would improve community compatibility.
  • The design decreases the number of transit-user parking spaces from approximately 144 to 98 despite significant community parking demand (which has been artificially inhibited for years because of puzzling restrictions on rush-hour parking). Fewer transit-user parking spaces means fewer transit users and lower station transit revenue.
  • Regarding community compatibility, the set-back from Eastern Avenue would be a barely-adequate 23 feet, but of as-great concern is that the building would step up to 5 stories from 3 at a distance of only 8-10 feet from the front, Eastern Avenue face. Community compatibility, this Washington DC Historic District-located residential building, would mean a step-up to full height pushed farther back away from Eastern Avenue NW and a full height limited to 4 stories, the height of every other recent residential development in the Takoma area: Elevation 314, the Gables, Cedar Crossing, the under-construction Takoma Central building, and the planned Spring Place project.
  • The design separates 3 parking-access lanes from the adjoining residential property by only 9 feet, which is a clear affront to neighboring residents.
Adequately addressing these points will entail very significant design changes. Because the Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement incorporates EYA's proposed design, it should not be voted until those changes have been adequately made.

Further, we reiterate our request that the WMATA board not vote on the Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement before a traffic study has been completed and released to the public with ample time for public comment. Please note that we have NOT questioned the proposed 212 apartment units (and we have no doubt that a company of EYA's capabilities can adequately address our points, for instance, by placing a reduced number of residential parking spaces, along with the loading dock, on a single level under the ground-level transit-parking facilities). We and community members accept Transit Oriented Development, however only if it is:
  1. Park-friendly, preserving a Takoma Green as a Community Park. We call for creation of a permanent park, of size approximately 2 acres, in the current Takoma station green space.
  2. Pedestrian-friendly, design so walkers, bikers, wheelchairs and strollers have metro and bus access that is better, not worse, than today.
  3. Neighborhood-friendly, designed to fit the scale and style of the surrounding area rather than to assault it.
Please ensure that the points we have raised, on behalf of our (and your) Takoma constituents are adequately addressed before you consider a Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Update: Environmental Sustainability + Takoma Metro

Two points for today, on Takoma Park environmental sustainability and on proposed Takoma Metro site development.

Sustainable Energy Action Plan

The City of Takoma Park engaged consultant the Brendle Group to create a Sustainable Energy Action Plan, now available on the city's Web site. Brendle Group staff presented the plan, with recommendations, at the September 23, 2013 city-council meeting. Comment from the city's Committee on the Environment is posted as well.

The council is slated to discuss the draft plan and comments at our October 14 meeting (http://citycouncil-takomapark.s3.amazonaws.com/agenda/items/2013/101413-2.pdf), in order to provide guidance to staff on a preferred strategy. If you have thoughts to share, please let me know or send your comment, for distribution to all council members and the city manager, to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov.

Takoma Metro Development

Next, news regarding proposed Takoma Metro site development: I'll remind you that, given a) WMATA's public status, b) developer EYA would seek exceptions to zoning restrictions that apply at the site, and c) the site is in a Washington DC historic district, the proposal faces several rounds of public process and official approval. There are three bits of news:

1) The WMATA (Metro) board's Planning, Program Development & Real Estate (PPDRE) Committee postponed its vote on an Amended Joint Development Agreement, which had been scheduled for its October 10 meeting. PPDRE Chair Muriel Bowser deferred the vote because the Takoma traffic-impact study, while underway, has not yet been completed.

2) Given the delay, Mayor Bruce Williams has cancelled the city council's October 14 worksession discussion and October 21 vote on a resolution offering city comment. However, I see reasons to move forward with council discussion and a resolution and plan to take the question up with the mayor and my council colleagues.

3) The Eastern Avenue NW building set-back (closeness to the street) and massing (height) have been significant community concerns. Fortunately, EYA is in the process of modifying the design to address these points. Other elements, such as positioning of the loading dock entry directly on Eastern Avenue, which would have garbage trucks backing in across the pedestrian sidewalk, pose a clear safety threat and must be addressed. Some community members are concerned about overall building height, over 80 feet at its highest point: All matters for further discussion with EYA, which I expect undertake in cooperation with Washington DC Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Sara Green and Faith Wheeler. If there are particular points you'd like us to raise, please let me know.

You may also wish to add your voice to community organizing efforts by signing on at http://dc-mdneighborsfortakomatransit.org, where you can also find links to a variety of EYA, WMATA, and other documents.

Thanks,

Seth, 301-873-8225

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

City of Takoma Park letter on proposed Takoma Metro development

The City of Takoma Park sent a letter to WMATA relaying comments regarding the proposed Takoma Metro development project, which comes before the WMATA board's Planning, Program Development and Real Estate (PPDRE) Committee tomorrow, October 10. The letter, under the signatures of City Manager Brian Kenner and Mayor Bruce Williams, is addressed to PPDRE Chair Muriel Bowser.

The PPDRE Committe is slated to vote, at its October 10 meeting, Approval of [the] Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement (JDA). This vote would set the stage for an October 24 vote by the full WMATA board to revive WMATA's expired JDA with developer EYA. A Board Action/Information Summary document is online on the WMATA Web site.

A copy of the City of Takoma Park's letter is posted on the city's Web site. I will paste in the text below.

I'd be happy to field and forward on any comments to my city colleagues, or you can write directly to all Takoma Park City Council members and the city manager by sending your message to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov. In particular, the city council and staff are slated to discuss the WMATA-EYA Takoma Metro development plans at its Monday, October 14 meeting, and we expect to consider a city resolution at our October 21 meeting. Video of the city's October 7 public hearing on the development plans is available online.

Seth


http://dc-mdneighborsfortakomatransit.org/WMATALetter_10.8.2013.pdf

October 8, 2013

The Honorable Muriel Bowser,

Chair, Planning, Program Development and Real Estate Committee
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
600 5th St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20001

Dear Ms. Bowser,


The City of Takoma Park deeply values the access to transit provided by the Takoma Metro station on our border with Washington, D.C. As the proposal to develop the Takoma Metro station property moves through the review processes before the WMATA Board and the District of Columbia, the Takoma Park City Council will submit comments regarding design elements.


We understand that the WMATA Board will be considering amending the Joint Development Sales Agreement with EYA for development of the station property at the Planning, Program Development and Real Estate Committee meeting on October 10. Further, we understand depending on the results of this meeting, WMATA intends on holding a Compact Public Hearing sometime later in 2013 to hear further public comment on the project and provide results of a recently issued traffic study. The Takoma Park City Council is in the process of receiving public testimony on the proposed concept plans and will consider a resolution on the concept plans on October 21. Since the WMATA Board may be taking initial action before that date, we ask you to consider the following information.


First, the longstanding position of the Takoma Park City Council is that access to transit facilities and services, now and in the future, is the most important function of the Takoma Metro station. The access by pedestrians, bicyclists, handicapped patrons, and bus riders should be easy, safe, comfortable and attractive. Transit facilities must be of an adequate capacity to accommodate the community's transit needs for decades.


Second, any development of the property should complement the surrounding neighborhoods in Takoma Park and Washington, D.C. While we cannot provide definitive comments on the concept plan until the results of the traffic study are examined and residents have shared their opinions with the City Council, we have some preliminary comments that may be helpful for the Board's early actions related to the project.


The proposed multi-family structure is more appropriate than a townhome development for the site. How the structure is sited on the property is important so that direct, safe and comfortable paths are clear for those coming to and leaving the transit station. The massing and design of the building should be attractive and not have a negative impact on adjacent properties, including those in Takoma Park, Maryland.


Green space on the property is a valued amenity. In particular, it is important that it be attractive, usable, and function as a buffer where needed.


If parking and circulation patterns related to the development are not well planned, there could be serious traffic impacts to the community. When the results of the traffic study are released and the site plans refined, the City of Takoma Park may have recommendations regarding these elements.


Thank you for considering our comments. We look forward to working with you and the District of Columbia throughout the review process for this development proposal.


Sincerely,


Mayor Bruce Williams

City Manager Brian Kenner

Sunday, October 6, 2013

October 7 at the council: Takoma Metro development & CDBG hearings

The October 7, 2013 Takoma Park City Council meeting will include three public hearings, two of which will be of interest to Ward 1 residents. I'll describe them below. 

The first hearing of the three, not of much Ward 1 interest, is on Long Branch Sligo neighborhood traffic-calming measures. The council meeting will continue, after the three hearings, with a Resolution Commenting on the Purple Line Final Environmental Impact Statement (public comment invited) and a council worksession discussion of city priorities for the 2014 state legislative session that will open in January and run until April.

I am traveling and will miss the October 7 council meeting, but I plan to watch the recording after I return. Of course, I'm happy to field your questions and hear your views at any time, via e-mail to sethg@takomaparkmd.gov and by phone, after October 9, at 301-873-8225. Testimony sent to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov will go to the whole council.

On the October 7 council agenda, following the LBS traffic-calming hearing -- 

A second hearing will solicit public comment on the FY2015 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. Via federal CDBG grants, the city funds capital and service projects: "The City will receive an estimated $125,000 in funds for PY40 (FY2015). Of this amount, not more than $18,750 or 15% of the anticipated award can be allocated to community or public service projects with the balance ($106,250) directed toward qualifying capital improvement projects. The actual funding level is uncertain at this time given anticipated budget reductions at the federal level."

The third hearing will be on Takoma Metro site development proposed by WMATA (Metro) and developer EYA. For background, I'll refer you to an update I posted on September 29, Takoma Metro Development: The October Agenda. Your views -- your comment at the hearing and your views, as sent to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov -- will inform the council's October 14 worksession discussion and October 21 resolution comment on the proposed development. I plan to work with my council colleagues to create a strong resolution. My reading is that the community will support sensible transit-oriented development that is appropriate in scale and design for the surrounding neighborhoods. To achieve this end, we must protect the interests of Takoma transit users, residents, and businesses, via (among other elements) adequate set-back and design facing Eastern Avenue and green-space preservation.