Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Takoma Metro update: Board vote Thursday... and council matters

The WMATA (Metro) board is scheduled to vote this Thursday, March 27, on 1) an amended and restated Takoma Joint Development Sales Agreement (JDA) and 2) a proposed Compact Public Hearing on changes to WMATA facilities. I'll provide information, but first, a council update.

March 31 City Council Meeting

The Monday, March 31 city-council meeting will include a number of items of interest. We're slated to have three presentation items, starting at 7 pm:
  • Relocation of Washington Adventist Hospital - Update from Hospital President Joyce Newmyer
  • Anti-Littering Campaign Presentation
  • Police Department Annual Report
Also on March 31, the council is slated to have a work session (council and staff) Discussion of Information Retention from Public Safety Cameras. The cameras in question are license-plate scanners, used by the city to identify stolen vehicles. Current policy, set when the council first approved the scanners, is 30-day retention, with no information sharing with other police agencies. These restrictions were in large part a reaction to the state police's spying on Takoma Park activists. (See 2008 Washington Post coverage.) Takoma Park Police Chief Alan Goldberg would like authorization to retain data for a longer time, and to share data with other agencies, in order to fight crime more effectively.

The March 31 background items, including the presentations, will be posted in advance of the meeting. Please relay your comments on these or other matters to me at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225, or to all council members via clerk@takomaparkmd.gov, attend the meeting and comment then.

I'm also happy to discuss these and other matters in person, at my drop-in office time, the fourth Wednesday of each month (tomorrow, March 26), 8-9 am, and the second Tuesday, 5-6 pm, at my office, 7006 Carroll Avenue, #202, above the Middle East Cuisine restaurant.

WMATA Board Vote

The WMATA board is slated to vote this Thursday, March 27, on a resolution that would advance the Takoma Metro development to next stages: A WMATA public hearing and the Washington DC Planned Unit Development (zoning) process, necessary to allow the developer, EYA, to put up a building that exceeds zoning limits.

EYA's current building design does far, far exceed zoning limits. Most egregiously, EYA has designed a building rising to 72 feet (plus parapets, possibly) in a parcel zoned with 40 and 50 foot limits. The City of Takoma Park asked WMATA to defer action on the JDA, until the building size and other issues were addressed -- Washington DC Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 4B made the same request -- but WMATA's Planning, Program Development, and Real Estate (PPDRE) Committee chose to move ahead regardless. PPDRE, at its March 13 meeting, approved the resolution authorizing signing of an amended and restated Takoma Joint Development Sales Agreement (JDA) with developer EYA. (The previous JDA with EYA had expired.)

WMATA board chair Tom Downs chaired the March 13 PPDRE meeting, and also the prior, February 20 meeting, in the absence of committee chair (and Washington DC Ward 4 Councilmember) Muriel Bowser. I testified at the February 20 meeting; Maryland board alternate (and former Takoma Park mayor) Kathy Porter interceded at the meeting to convince the committee to invite the City of Takoma Park to submit a prioritized list of requests regarding the board resolution. We did that, and at the March 13 meeting, again with Kathy's intercession, the committee accepted a number of the city's points, although PPDRE declined to accept our key request, to mandate that developer EYA redesign the building to reduce its height to comply with by-right zoning limits.

The March 27 Board Action/Information Summary is online.

To be clear: The city's view, stated in our October 28 resolution, has not changed. Despite the board's modifications to its Takoma Joint Development resolution, WMATA has adequately addressed only one of the concerns we expressed, a small one, therefore the city still asks that WMATA board approval of the amended and restated JDA be deferred.

I will report the March 27 WMATA board meeting outcome.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Takoma Metro development: WMATA board vote, compact hearing to be set

After many months of delay, a WMATA board committee vote, to move forward with residential development at the Takoma Metro site, is likely to take place on March 13, 2014. Should the item pass, it would be considered by the full WMATA board on March 27.

The Takoma Park City Council, at its March 4 meeting, will have a final pre-vote discussion of the Takoma Metro topic, to decide priority items to be communicated to WMATA, at WMATA's invitation.

The Real Estate Committee Vote

The March 13 vote, by the board's Planning, Program Development, and Real Estate (PPDRE) Committee, would approve an Amended and Restated Takoma Joint Development Agreement (JDA) with developer EYA and authorize WMATA staff to set a date for a "compact hearing," which would take place in late spring.

The City of Takoma Park, Washington DC Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4B, and residents' group DC/MD Neighbors for Takoma Transit had all called on the board to defer consideration of the Takoma item until critical design issues have been acceptably addressed. Please see city Resolution 2013-68, part of the March 4 city council agenda packet. Issues, in our views, have not yet been acceptably addressed.

PPDRE was actually slated to vote on the Amended Takoma JDA at its February 20 meeting (postponed from February 13 due to inclement weather). The resolution and background materials are online. WMATA board chair Tom Downs, who presided on February 20, allowed me to testify on behalf of the city. My thanks to former mayor, and current WMATA board alternate, Kathy Porter, who was instrumental in Mr. Downs's agreeing to my request.

In response to city testimony and Ms Porter's suggestions, the committee voted to invite the city to submit ranked requests, regarding the Amended JDA and the joint-development process in Takoma, for consideration prior to a vote at the March 13 PPDRE meeting. Mr. Downs also stated that he would write Washington DC Mayor Vincent Gray, to ask that the City of Takoma Park be accorded party status in the anticipated "planned unit development" (PUD) zoning process, during which the developer would seek exceptions to the building height limits imposed by the Takoma site's zoning.

The height of the proposed building is really the critical issue.

Takoma Park's Ranked Requests: My Suggestions

The invited city requests would be drawn from the city's October 28, 2013 Resolution 2013-68 and thus would not enter new policy territory.

The city-council discussion had been slated to take place on March 3, but given the snow emergency, the meeting was postponed a day. Unfortunately, I will be out of town on March 4, although I do plan to participate in the council meeting by phone. Please, please: If you have a view regarding the requests, attend the meeting and comment at 7:30 pm, or communicate your views by e-mail to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov.

I have drafted my suggestions of ranked requests to the WMATA board, as follows. I'll remark that I have discussed my suggestions with several key local players, but at this point the suggestions belong to me alone. They are:

1. State in the board resolution that WMATA does not endorse the height, setback, or distance from the adjoining property of the proposed residential building nor the number of residential parking spaces.

2. In the board resolution (or another mechanism), require the developer rework the building design to conform with zoning height limits.

(The current design has a building rising to 72 feet within a parcel split between zones with 40-foot and 50-foot limits. The building rises 80% higher than allowed by zoning!)

3. Require the developer to reduce the number of the project's residential parking spaces to a minimal number.

(The current design has around 140 residential parking spaces for 212 apartments, this for a development at a transit hub.By contrast, the nearby Elevation 314 building has only 19 parking spaces for 52 units, and the Gables building, several hundred feet from the station, had, in December, over 50 unrented parking spaces. Over-supply of Takoma residential parking will add to building bulk, increase to EYA's construction costs, and invite a higher proportion of residents who will drive, meaning lower transit-user revenues for WMATA (and RideOn) and greater street congestion from cars.)

4. State that WMATA will welcome public comment, during the compact hearing, on building design elements and will weight that comment during evaluation of hearing testimony.

Again, my ranking is only a suggestion. The city council will discuss and decide on the city's request at its Tuesday evening, March 4 meeting. Please do communicate your views to the council.