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!

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