Friday, June 20, 2014

Old Takoma commercial district zoning

This is a belated report on the zoning discussion at last Monday evening's city-council meeting (June 16), regarding treatment of the Old Takoma commercial district in Montgomery County's proposed new zoning map.

The outcome is that the city is fine with NR (neighborhood retail) zoning, with modifications to an existing overlay zone. The city council will vote on a resolution regarding the new zoning map, this coming Monday evening. The agenda material and draft resolution are online.

Montgomery County Planning Director Gwen Wright and Deputy Director Rose Krasnow attended last Monday evening's meeting. Staffers Pam Dunn and Matt Johnson also participated.

The county planning staff clarified that Old Takoma zoning is governed not only by the area's base zone -- currently C-1 (convenience commercial), proposed for conversion to NR -- but also by the Takoma Park/East Silver Spring Commercial Revitalization (TPESS) Overlay Zone. The overlay zone will survive implementation of the county's new zoning code and zoning map.

The earlier plan had been to convert the Old Takoma base zone to CRT (commercial residential town) rather than NR. Gwen emphasized that the Historic Preservation ordinance would provide us very significant, additional protections. She reminded us that she was part of the creation of the Takoma Park Historic District a couple of decades ago. Given the historic district and overlay zone, NR is the right choice for the Old Takoma commercial district.

So the city is now comfortable with remapping of Old Takoma base zoning to NR, with certain modifications to the overlay zone, for instance, to require that any new building come up to the sidewalk rather than have parking on the parcel along the sidewalk. The Carroll Avenue CVS is an example of what WON'T happen elsewhere in Old Takoma.

The backgrounder from the June 16 council meeting is online. The meeting video is as well.

As always, please let me know if you have concerns.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

"Zero waste," zoning, and legislative action requests, at the council June 16

I'll call out three items slated for city-council discussion at the Monday evening, June 16 meeting. This is going to be a long update, with a fair amount of technical content. My write-ups are under the three section headers that follow.

The Young Activists Act of 2014

The Young Activists Club (YAC) raised over $5,000 to pay for a dishwasher for Piney Branch Elementary School, to allow the school to move from disposable polystyrene trays to durable, reusable trays. That was years ago -- the oldest Young Activists will start high school this fall -- and PBES still doesn't have a dishwasher, but the club's persistence won a partial victory: Montgomery County Public Schools will replace the non-recylable polystyrene with cardboard trays.

More recently, the YAC has asked the city to ban polystyrene food-service use, which includes styrofoam, city-wide. The council will discuss proposed legislation that does just that, and goes beyond to extend food-waste composting to apartments and businesses, on Monday evening.

The city's collection of food wastes from single-family homes, for composting, up to now a pilot program, will be extended city-wide in the fiscal year that starts July 1. It is a matter of equity that apartment residents should have the same benefit as residents of single-family homes. And business food-waste composting, and use of compostable disposables, while new to the eastern US, would catch us up to west coast cities that have long had compostables requirements.

The Young Activists Act of 2014 would also close a loop-hole, opting-in to Montgomery County business recycling requirements that have been in place for years.

Please read the council backgrounder to learn more -- I wrote it -- and also the draft ordinance. With this "zero waste" ordinance, Takoma Park would further environmental sustainability, for all our residents.

Legislative Action Requests

The city council will also discuss legislative action requests for consideration by the Maryland Municipal League (MML), for 2015 state-legislative session advocacy. The MML is an association of Maryland cities. We can ask the MML to take up three items, as priorities. Naturally, these should be items of broad municipal concern. Issues specific to Takoma Park, or to Montgomery County municipalities, we can take up through the District 20 or Montgomery County delegations.

In the past, the city's top priorities for MML advocacy have related to revenue issues such as gas-tax advocacy and transit funding. There is a revenue issue that is unresolved and should remain at the top of our request list:

1) The State of Maryland should dedicate a higher portion of Highway User Revenues for sharing with Maryland municipalities, in keeping with levels that preceded the start of the most recent recession. The city anticipates receiving just above $300,000 in FY15, up from a low of $43,931 in FY11, but far below amounts over $500,000 we received in years up to FY09.

Beyond that item, given concerns expressed by Takoma Park residents, I would consider asking the MML to take up:

2) Legislation to allow free-standing emergency medical facilities, beyond the emergency room (ER) at Shady Grove Adventist Emergency Center in Germantown. This request is a reaction to the planned relocation of Washington Adventist Hospital to White Oak. Many would like to see a leave-behind ER here in Takoma Park.

3) Legislation to strengthen protection of data held by the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC), a "fusion center" that collects data from agencies state-wide. The text of the bill passed in the 2014 legislative session (SB 699/HB 289) was so significantly weakened that sponsoring Delegates Ana Sol Gutierrez and Al Carr recently called on the City of Takoma Park not to share its license-plate reader data with MCAC.

4) Legislation to lift the 17% cap on locally-designated income taxes that may go to a municipality. Allowing cities including Takoma Park a greater share of the income-tax revenue that otherwise goes to counties would put all parties in better share to resolve long-standing city-county tax and service duplication issues.

5) Legislation to change state provisions that restrict county tax-duplication payments to cities to amounts for services funded by property taxes.

I could list additional candidates, but the city may put forward only three items, and I've listed five (although my #4 and #5 could possibly be consolidated). My council colleagues and city staff will likely propose other items. But what do you think about the items I've listed, and what have I missed?

Old Takoma Commercial-Area Zoning

A third notable item slated for June 16 discussion is a change to Old Takoma zoning that will apply to the commercial areas within the historic district. The zoning designation will regulate building scale and will have repercussions for transitions to residential blocks, for traffic, and parking.

The Montgomery County Council enacted a long-in-the-works rewrite of the county zoning code earlier this year. The map -- the designation of new zones to particular areas, to replace the designations under the old zoning code -- is due for county-council approval later this year. Unfortunately, county planning staff blindsided the city in recommending, without proper notice to the city, alterations to the designation proposed for areas that include the Old Takoma historic district. This is a significant change, which the city manager protested by letter to the county council's Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee by letter June 5, just prior to the June 9 PHED Committee meeting.

PHED is chaired by Councilmember Nancy Floreen; Councilmembers (and Takoma Park residents) George Leventhal and Marc Elrich are the other two members.

Per a memo from city Housing and Community Development Director Sara Daines, "The proposed change would convert all C-1 [convenience commercial] zoned property in the Takoma Park Historic District to the Neighborhood Retail (NR) zone, instead of the Commercial Residential Town (CRT) zone as originally supported by the Planning Board. City staff objected to the content and timing of the change." Ms Daines's memo and a variety of other materials are included in the city-council packet available online.

And That's It...

... for this update. Please let me know if you have questions or concerns, at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov, by phone, 301-873-8225, or during my next drop-in office time, Wednesday, June 25, 8-9 am at my office, 7006 Carroll Avenue #202.

Reminder: I've posted my picks for the 2014 Democratic primary election. I hope they're helpful!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

My 2014 Primary Endorsements

The following are my endorsements for contested races the 2014 Democratic Primary election, which takes place June 24, with early voting running June 12-19. My picks are listed in the order that offices appear on the ballot.

Governor/Lt. Governor: Heather Mizeur and Delman Coates
Heather is the most progressive candidate in the race.

Attorney General: Brian E. Frosh
Frosh is highly qualified and reliable (qualities lacking in one of his opponents), with strong positions on matters such as marriage equality (an issue with the other opponent).

House of Delegates, Legislative District 20 (vote for up to 3): Sheila E. Hixson and David Moon **
Sheila is a progressive champion, and her leadership position in Annapolis is a real asset for D20. David is a consummate strategist, a strong progressive, and great communicator.

House of Delegates, Legislative District 19: Paul Bardack
I've known Paul for years. His competence and integrity are truly outstanding, and you won't meet a nicer person.

County Executive: Ike Leggett
Ike is reliable and trustworthy and a champion for the county's neediest residents.

County Council At Large (vote for up to 4): George Leventhal **
George is the most responsive representative I have ever worked with, and has devoted his years on the council to bringing healthcare and social services to lower and moderate income residents, including our county's many immigrants.

County Council District 5: Evan Glass
Evan is a truly promising community leader, with local, Montgomery County leadership experience in affordable housing, environment, transit, and neighborhood building.

(For more on my at-large and D5 picks, see this link.)

Judge of the Circuit Court, Judicial Circuit 6: Gary E. Bair, Audrey A. Creighton, Nelson W. Rupp, Jr., Joan E. Ryon (the sitting judges)
These recommendations are actually Jamie Raskin's. I trust no one's judgment more than Jamie's.

Clerk of the Circuit Court: Alan Bowser
Alan is a community activist with strong legal and governmental experience.

Sheriff: Darren Mark Popkin
An incumbent who deserves to keep his job.

Democratic Central Committee At Large (vote for up to 8): Chris Bradbury, Dave Kunes, Kevin Walling
Dave is a leader in local party politics, and the Bradbury and Walling seem promising.

Democratic Central Committee, Legislative District 20 (vote for up to 2): Edward Malcolm Kimmel, Jheanelle Wilkins
I have known Ed for years, and Jheanelle made a good pitch for my vote.

Board of Education, At Large: Jill Ortman-Fouse
Jill is incredibly engaged, on the side of treating schools individually rather than via cookie-cutter management.


** I have not made a 3rd endorsement for D20 delegate because I think 6 candidates, in addition to the 2 I've endorsed, are qualified: Chappell, Hopewell, Jawando, Shurberg, Smith, Unger. Given the nature of the county-council at-large race, I'm bullet-endorsing a preferred candidate here.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Two picks for county council: George Leventhal and Evan Glass

A letter to Silver Spring/Takoma Park neighbors --

I'm writing to share some of my picks for the June 24 Democratic primary (early voting June 12-19). That's because I consider two candidates for Montgomery County Council to be essential:

- George Leventhal, running for reelection at-large.
- Evan Glass, a candidate for the open District 5 seat.

If you haven't made your choices, you may find my perspective helpful. I've worked with most of the incumbents and candidates. Why these two?

George has a record of accomplishment on behalf of the county's most needy residents, as long-time chair of the council's Health & Human Services Committee. George initiated the Montgomery Cares community-based healthcare program, which provides medical care to uninsured adults. He developed the Housing First initiative to match the homeless with permanent stable housing. Beyond his HHS work, George has been our most effective and responsive local voice on the council. His repeated intervention has kept the Piney Branch pool open, and he introduced and won council support for the zoning change that has enabled development of a Community Kitchen at the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church. George is former council president and currently serves as vice president. We need George on our side for another county-council term. (Visit http://georgeleventhal.com/ for further information.)

Evan is an experienced community leader and an astute political player. He will advance community interests county-wide. Evan gained his unique understanding of District 5 needs as chair of the county's Silver Spring Citizens Advisory board, as founder of the South Silver Spring Street Festival, and member of the county's Nighttime Economy Task Force. He has worked as an activist for a range of causes. He serves on the boards of Equality Maryland, Montgomery Housing Partnership, and Conservation Montgomery. I called Evan an astute political player. He covered national politics for years for CNN and will be an independent, effective advocate for government accountability. We in District 5 need Evan working on our behalf in Rockville. (Visit http://www.evanglass.com/ to learn more.)

Please make sure one of your four at-large council votes goes to reelect George Leventhal, and please vote for Evan Glass as our District 5 council representative.

Thanks and best wishes,

Seth, 301-873-8225

P.S. I'm also endorsing Heather Mizeur for governor; Brian Frosh for attorney general, Ike Leggett for county executive; Sheila Hixson and David Moon for delegate and Jamie Raskin for senator from District 20; Jill Ortman-Fouse for school board; and Alan Bowser for clerk of the court.

P.P.S. Please do share this message with anyone who might find it helpful.