Saturday, November 23, 2013

Takoma Metro development: Traffic analysis + my November 21 comment

WMATA has provided a Takoma Traffic Analysis Technical Memo assessing the impacts of the proposed joint development project at Takoma.

WMATA's next official project step will likely be consideration, by the board's Planning, Program Development & Real Estate (PPDRE) Committee, of a Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement (JDA) with developer EYA, at a December 5, 2013 meeting. If PPDRE votes to move forward with the Amended JDA, the full board would take up the topic at its December 19 meeting.

For those who are interested, the following is my comment before the WMATA board, at its November 21, 2013 meeting. Also commenting were ANC 4B Commissioners Sara Green and Faith Wheeler and community member Jim DiLuigi, an architect with ADA-accessibility expertise.

My comment:

Good morning. I am Seth Grimes, a member of the Takoma Park City Council. Thank you for the opportunity to comment this morning.

I was here at the last board meeting, last month, to comment on the Takoma project. Subsequently the Takoma Park City Council did pass a resolution on Takoma Metro development, on October 28. You received it. It was also transmitted to the Montgomery County Executive, to the Montgomery County Council, to the Director of the Maryland Department of Transportation.

The city, officially, does call on WMATA and developer EYA to modify the design for development at the Takoma Metro station, that would be incorporated in the Takoma Joint Development Agreement, to fully address concerns about safety (the loading-dock positioning in particular), transit accessibility for persons with disabilities, neighborhood compatibility, massing and step-back from Eastern Avenue, building height within the current zoning -- the proposed building height is far outside the current zoning limits, and speculation about a Washington DC Planned Unit Development process is only speculation at this point -- and traffic impact on Takoma.

I understand that the design that we were provided by developer EYA on November 4th mislabels the position of the ADA and elderly persons' drop-off. We have not been provided with a revised design, nor with a design that addresses the loading-dock positioning, which would entail trucks backing across a sidewalk on Eastern Avenue NW.

It is important for you, as the WMATA board, to insist on a correct, workable, safe, accessible design, prior to voting a Takoma Amended Joint Development agreement, in particular, noting that WMATA does wish to move forward with EYA despite an expired [earlier] agreement, without recompeting the project. Normally a recompete would surface the best financial terms and best design.

We are confident that EYA can come forward with great financial terms for WMATA, with a design that will promote transit usage, that will meet community concerns regarding safety, transit accessibility, traffic impact, community compatibility.

We ask you to insist on such a design from developer EYA, prior to enacting a Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement.

Thank you.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Attitudes toward council initiatives, and metrics-based performance management

I recognize that some are still angry about Safe Grow and the time spent on topics that one Philadelphia-Eastern Neighborhood (PEN) resident characterizes as "excesses" and another calls "grandstanding, headline issues." Another PEN resident asked why the council isn't "establishing measures of accountability to the community, that is, mechanisms to measure success of the initiatives they voted for and funded."

By way of response:

We don't agree that the initiatives seen as excesses and grandstanding, are. Local supporters of innovations such as Same Day Registration & Voting, and voting for 16 year olds and on-parole/on-probation felons, believe that these are positive steps that make a substantive difference. They are designed to work for Takoma Park, and financially, they don't cost much.

Uncontroversial steps such as creation of a half-time senior-services coordinator position (designed to support Aging In Place and city-wide "village" development) and opening the library on Sunday afternoons are likely to cost far more.

Yes, innovations do gain headlines. (That's not bad in itself.) I'm glad that the coverage I've seen has been positive. The voting analysis Takoma Park Sees High Turnout Among Teens After Election Reform is typical, and I was glad to read ex-Takoma Parker Susan Harris's take on Safe Grow, Lawn Pesticides Outlawed! (Safe Grow won a first victory before it was even enacted, when Washington Adventist Hospital agreed to forego use of lawncare pesticides.)

What about "mechanisms to measure success of the initiatives"? Implementation of suitable mechanisms is something I and other council members have been pushing. One, in particular, is collection of operational data ("metrics") with regular reporting against performance benchmarks in order to determine the cost, effectiveness, and ways to improve the spectrum of city programs and operations. My understanding is that the previous city manager had committed to piloting metrics & reporting for one city department -- Josh Wright could possibly comment on this -- but didn't deliver. I brought up metrics & reporting during the search that led to hiring of the current city manager, and I believe he will deliver. Please hold me accountable on this point.

I have also been pressing for staff-council discussion of year-ahead program plans, during the first quarter of the calendar, prior to the budget presentation and discussion that takes place, in April & May of each year, for the fiscal year that starts the following July 1. I don't know if I can make this innovation happen. Really, it depends on buy-in from the mayor, who creates the council agenda, and Bruce Williams hasn't yet reacted on this point.

Thanks again to everyone who has shared thoughts on city operations and planning and the choices we make. Please do keep them coming.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Inauguration of the new council, Monday evening, November 18 + CDBG grants

The new city council -- same as the old council -- will begin its two-year term Monday evening, November 18.

The meeting agenda is online. Please join us for a dessert reception following the meeting, at approximately 8:30 pm, at the community center. This will be an ideal occasion to (re-)meet the council members, at the start of a term.

First, the last act of the old council will be to vote on FY15 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) recommendations. Takoma Park's recommendations will be forwarded to Montgomery County for incorporation in plans for the county's overall allocation.

"The CDBG program provides flexible funding for a variety of neighborhood revitalization, economic development, capacity building and housing projects which directly benefit low and moderate income (LMI) residents of Takoma Park or are located in and serve an area that is predominantly inhabited by LMI residents." As a Capital Improvement Project, the council is supporting $106,250 for the Flower Avenue Green Street project. Public Service Projects may receive up to 15% of the overall allocation. The council will support the city review committee's recommendations:

- Catching Up Program, $5,000, funding the African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation for homework assistance with individualized mentoring and tutoring, with interpretation and translation assistance, targeting 20 students residing in the Essex House Apartments (7777 Maple).

- Microenterprise Development, $6,480, to the Crossroads Community Food Network, Inc. to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate job training (food production), mentoring, and skills development and linkage of micro-entrepreneurs with existing resources and local food mentors.

- Smart Choices with Emotions, $7,270, to the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, DC-Youth and Family Service for weekly therapeutic group meetings for at-risk students at Takoma Park Middle School.

Thank you to reviewers Elizabeth Boyd, Franca Brilliant, Gary Cardillo, Andrew Kelemen, Howard Kohn, Anand Parikh, Lesley Perry, and Jacqueline Schick!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A city-election report, and a council retreat

Incumbent members of the Takoma Park City Council all ran for reelection and -- no surprises we all won. The only contest was posed by a late mayoral write-in campaign. A big Thank You! to everyone who voted.

Election results are posted. The vote tally includes 59 16 and 17 year olds, 41 of whom took advantage of the city's new Same Day Registration & Voting. Overall 91 individuals registered just before voting: 64 U.S. citizens and 27 non-citizens. Early voting, from October 30 to November 3, attracted 226 voters.

The City Council -- the old council, same as the new council -- will meet this week in a facilitated discussion of council priorities, in a "retreat" format rather than in a conventional meeting. The meeting is open to the public. Join us if you wish: Tuesday, November 12, 6:00 p.m. at Washington Adventist Hospital, Building 7620, 3rd floor, although the public will not participate and the meeting will not be broadcast or recorded.

I welcome constituents' comments on the agenda posted below, in advance of the meeting, by e-mail ( or phone (301-873-8225) or in-person at my resumed twice-monthly Ward 1 councilmember drop-in office time, Tuesday November 12, 5-6 p.m. The address is 7006 Carroll Avenue, #202, entrance between the Mark's Kitchen and the Middle Eastern Cuisine restaurants. My drop-in times after that will be the 4th Wednesday of the month, November 27, 8-9 a.m, then the 2nd Tuesday of December, December 10, 5-6 pm.

The draft agenda for the Tuesday, November 12 council retreat, created by facilitator Ellen Kandell, is as follows:

6:00 Dinner, welcome, agenda review and ground rules

6:20 What are the criteria for evaluating priority items?
Outcome: Information sharing and discussion

6:40 Review of Priority rankings memo
Outcome: Consensus on priorities


8:00 This legislative term: What do you want to accomplish? What are the themes for this term?

Outcome: Consensus on themes

9:00 Legislative decision making process:
A) How do you support the body's decisions when you don't agree with them?
B) How to streamline the council process?
Outcome: Possible list of ground rules or common understandings

9:45 Next steps

10:00 Adjourn

What about city priorities?

Earlier this fall, City Manager Brian Kenner asked councilmembers to prioritize items in an extensive list of city matters. He compiled the responses as follows:

Top 10 High Priority Goals - Prioritized

1. WAH Relocation
2. Tax Duplication
3. Gang Task Force
4. Dog Park
5. Flower Ave Green Street
6. Upgrade Web Content
7. Anti-Littering
8 (tie). Sustainable Action Plan
8 (tie). Police in Schools
10. Safe Grow

[Paragraph added November 10, in response to comments I received by e-mail:] We recognize that this exercise does mix items that are funded and part of current city plans, such as the Flower Avenue Green Street project, with items that are aspirational, in relatively early stages and not yet funded, such as the dog park. Further, this priority ranking is for purposes of discussion at the Tuesday council retreat. It is not a planning document or anything like that, and there isn't going to be any "one from group A, one from group B" type of selection.

Top 3 Goals - organized by their rank in each thematic area

Environmentally Sustainable
1. Sustainable Action Plan
2. Safe Grow
3. Food Compost

Service Oriented Govt
1. Upgrade Web Content
2. Library Visioning
3. Outreach Coordinator

Safe, Accessible & Enjoyable Community
1. WAH Relocation
2. Gang Task Force
3. Dog Park

Fiscally Sustainable
1. Tax Duplication
2. Flower Ave Green Street
3. Takoma Junction

Again, join us if you wish at the retreat Tuesday, 6-10 p.m. at WAH, or get in touch with me directly by phone (301-873-8225), e-mail (, or during my drop-in office time.



Monday, November 4, 2013

Latest EYA plans for Takoma Metro site development

Three update points concerning proposed Takoma Metro site development:

1) The Takoma Park City Council passed a Resolution Regarding Development Proposed for the Site of the Takoma Metro Station on October 28, 2013. 

2) WMATA's real-estate (PPDRE) committee will defer its consideration of a Takoma Amended Joint Development Agreement (JDA) with developer EYA -- reactivating the expired agreement from the previous development initiative -- until at least its December 5 meeting. In particular, the Takoma traffic study that WMATA is conducting was not completed in time for November 7 PPDRE consideration.

3) Jack Lester, an executive at developer EYA, has provided an updated building + site design plan. It shows a degree of response to community concerns. Mr. Lester wrote, in November 4 e-mail:
"Height: We have eliminated an entire level of residential from the building. The building is now 4 levels of residential above the podium level.

"Parking: We have dramatically reduced the residential parking from .87 spaces/unit to .67 spaces/unit. This results in a reduction of parking of more than 40 spaces.

"Density: Density has been further reduced to 208 total units."
The key page to look at is the last, A08. You will see that while the building is maximum 4 levels above the podium, the podium height at Eastern Ave NW is 18' 4" for a total building height, fronting on Eastern Ave, [corrected November 4:] of 39' 8", rising to 50' 4" after a set-back of only 8 to 10 feet, despite zoning restrictions that limit the front half or so of the building, which bears Washington DC R-5-A zoning, to 40'.

My only other comments for the moment are: a) EYA has not relocated the building's loading dock. It still opens onto Eastern Ave NW, which would mean vehicles including trash trucks backing in across the Eastern Ave sidewalk, a clear safety hazard. b) The distance between the "ADA drop off" and the elevator entrance to the station remains significantly greater than the current distance. This degradation of transit accessibility for the disabled and the elderly is a continuing negative about the design.