Sunday, November 23, 2014

Nov 24 at the council: Ride On, Dog Park, Takoma Junction, and NFZ

Monday evening, November 24 will be the last public council meeting of 2014. With the exception of a non-public administrative session on December 8 (which I cover in a separate update), the council will recess until January 5, 2015.

I'll call out four November 24 items: Ride On bus service, the planned city dog park, further Takoma Junction redevelopment discussion, and purchase of a list of nuclear-weapons producers, needed to enforce the city's Nuclear Free Zone ordinance. Each item in turn --

Ride On Bus Service

The November 24 council meeting will open with a visit from Carolyn Biggins, who is chief of the Montgomery County Division of Transit Services, which manages the county's Ride On bus system.

We all benefit from Ride On, whether we use it personally or not. The system has, unfortunately, earned a deserved reputation for erratic schedule adherence. The buses don't run on time. We're not going to solve that problem at the council meeting, but I'm hoping we'll hear about steps Ride On is taking to improve service. Councilmembers may bring up other topics, and I know that Councilmember Tim Male plans to ask about Takoma Junction stop locations.

Do you have topics for Ms Biggins? (The buses that serve Maple Avenue?) Please let me know.

The Takoma Park Dog Park

From the November 24 council backgrounder:
"Since June, City staff have arranged for a topographic survey of the site, soil borings and tree identification. In conjunction with the City, Takoma Dogs and a local architect, Eric Saul, have developed a concept plan for the site that includes a proposed lay-out of the site including one small dog/low activity area of roughly 4,700 sq ft and a large dog/high activity area of roughly 12,100 sq ft. A brief presentation has been prepared to update the Council on progress and next steps related to the dog park."
A presentation is included in the backgrounder. It includes a working schedule and a proposed design. That proposed design does include a number of options that the council will discuss in light of cost and funding. Please let me know if you have comments or concerns.

Takoma Junction Redevelopment

The latest council discussion of Takoma Junction redevelopment is billed as an Overview of Community Benefits and Trade-Offs Related to Takoma Junction, with a presentation by staff on the benefits and costs of development. Click for the presentation.

I'm sure the presentation will be interesting, but I also suspect it will add little in the city's determination of our path forward. Our direction will continue to be guided by the values and criteria discovered, via a community-consultative process, by the Takoma Junction Task Force (TJTF), and by the large amount of public comment we have heard this fall.

The city made a mistake in not providing detailed, clear guidance on community preferences to bidders via the request of proposals (RFP) we issued last January. We should have stressed the importance of the findings, recommendations, and options reported by the TJTF and of community consultation. I made a mistake in not pushing for inclusion of this guidance. Consequently --

None of the proposals the city received last spring sufficiently meet community or city needs in my opinion. Fortunately, as a small city, we have been able to provide, after the fact, guidance that was lacking in the RFP. The proposals -- including the TPSS Co-op's -- have improved significantly.

Back to the Monday evening (November 24) discussion:

I'll add that the estimates of certain financial considerations we'll be discussing -- the cost and income potential of parking, retail and office space, residential units, and community-amentity space that would be built by developers -- is *of concern to developers but not to the city*. The point of an bidding process is to get bottom line financial figures from bidders. Our city will then weigh bottom-line cash return of proposed projects as a tertiary factor, behind community benefit and project feasibility, in our decision making.

Finally, I am hoping that my council colleagues and I can find a way to formally reinclude the TPSS Co-op as a bidder and not just as a developer add-on. The city did invite the co-op to participate in events such as last week's open house. The co-op's reworked design options and the inclusion of a professional development consultant on the project team address two of the three significant problems with the co-op's spring 2014 proposal, and the third, lack of a builder partner, is addressable. The co-op's proposal is now worth considering alongside the proposals of the four "finalists."

A List of Nuclear-Weapons Producers

The city needs to obtain an up-to-date list of nuclear-weapons producers in order to enforce our Nuclear Free Zone ordinance. The city's NFZ Committee evaluated options and identified and purchased a list from a supplier, at a $6,000 cost. In a consent-agenda item -- no council discuss is scheduled, although you're welcome to comment at the start of the meeting, around 7:30 pm -- we expect to adopt a list prepared by MSCI ESG Research that the city purchased, with council approval, in July of 2014.

Why would you care? Some people think the city's NFZ ordinance is out-dated and should be reformulated or even scrapped. Monday evening's meeting is an opportunity to share your views.

Your Thoughts?

As always, please let me know your thoughts on these or other city issues, by e-mail to or phone, 301-873-8225. Contact the whole council by writing to Or pay me a visit. My next drop-in office time will be Wednesday, November 26, 8-9 am at 7006 Carroll Avenue, #202.

Pending city matters: City attorney, parking, Metro development, recycling rewrite

This note provides a brief update on a number of pending city matters: Our city attorney procurement, Old Takoma parking, Takoma Metro development, and business recycling.

The City Attorney Procurement

The city will be awarding a new contract for general legal services -- the city attorney function -- in 2015. Strange thing, however: We received only two proposals in response to the RFP we issued in September. Simply put --

I do not believe the council can make an informed choice, in the city's best interest, without inviting additional bidders.

Dozens of attorneys practice municipal law in Maryland. A couple of them already work for the city but chose not to bid. Kollman & Saucier provides our labor and employment legal services and Council Baradel supports cable-franchise agreement negotiations. A Council Baradel attorney told me she thought the procurement was wired for the incumbent. Now I'm glad that we did receive a proposal from the incumbent -- the Silber and Perlman law firm has filled the city attorney role for 28 years -- and one other firm, but we need more choice to ensure that we are getting the best available, on fair terms.

What should we do? The council should proceed with its December 8 interviews but should reopen the procurement, to invite additional proposals, prior to December 8. By acting prior to the interviews, we will make it clear that we are seeking choice, not finding fault. If we reopen after December 8, we will send the signal that the bids we received are lacking. Best to reopen now.

Let the council know your view if you wish, by e-mail to

Old Takoma Parking

I expect to meet, the second week of December, along with city staff and perhaps a couple of council colleagues, with representatives of the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church (TPPC), the Takoma Park Child Development Center (TPCDC), one other church tenant, and maybe the Old Takoma Business Association (OTBA). We'll talk about traffic and parking around TPPC, especially associated with TPCDC and school-bus drop-off and pick-up. The aim is to agree on steps that will lessen congestion around the church.

This meeting won't solve larger Old Takoma parking problems. We're all looking forward to the opening of Busboys & Poets in a couple of months, but patron parking on nearby residential streets will likely worsen existing problems.

The city has yet to hire the new half-time parking-enforcement officer that the council authorized earlier this year, but enforcement is only one tool. We'll continue work done by OTBA Executive Director Laura Barclay to convince commercial property owners to open their parking spaces for public use. We may consider changes to the city's permit system. We could extend hours for the 2A parking zone, which includes Tulip Avenue and the 7100 blocks of Holly, Cedar, Maple, and Willow, into the evening. If you live on one of those blocks, please let me know if that is an option you favor pursuing.

Takoma Metro Development

I've had a few queries recently about Takoma Metro development plans. There's not a lot to report. WMATA held the required "compact" public hearing on June 18, 2014. WMATA staff are working on a report, which will be released for public comment and will then be submitted to the WMATA board for an acceptance vote. The developer, EYA, will have to submit a Planned Unit Development (PUD) proposal for approval by Washington DC zoning authorities, because the proposed design (radically) exceeds building height limits and is non-conforming with other by-right zoning provisions.

A small bit of good news is that EYA executives and their architects met with Takoma DC-Takoma Park community representatives earlier in November. They listened to advocacy of a smaller building with greater set-backs and preservation of the wooded lot immediately next to the development site, and of a drastically reduced number of residential parking space. However they seem not yet to have the will to make scale changes that would speed project approval, lower building costs, promote transit use, and answer neighborhood compatibility concerns. We're working on them!

Business Recycling

The city is moving to close a recycling loophole and refresh our residential recycling requirements.

The loophole is that Takoma Park businesses are not subject to Montgomery County business recycling requirements that were put in place years ago and revised in 2005. It's a no-brainer that Takoma Park businesses should recycle waste paper and cans and bottles, but some don't recycle all the same. We need a legal requirement.

We were going to close the loophole as part of the polystyrene ban that we enacted earlier this month -- the Young Activist Act of 2014 passed on November 10 and bans food-service polystyrene material effective July 1, 2015 -- but the matter turned out to be more complicated than expected.

At the same time, Public Works Director Daryl Braithwaite would like to refresh, to modernize, the city's residential recycling requirements, which were enacted well over twenty years ago. So we'll cover both needs in an ordinance that should come before the council early in 2015. Daryl, Councilmember Tim Male, and I will work with Assistant City Attorney Ken Sigman on a draft.

Your Views

Please let me know your views on these and other Takoma Park city issues, at 301-873-8225 or


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Takoma Junction update: Task Force recommendations and more...

The following is joint update from Councilmembers Tim Male, Kate Stewart, and Seth Grimes, describing how the City has applied the findings and recommendations of the Takoma Junction Task Force in the Takoma Junction revitalization process.

We encourage everyone to attend Tuesday evening's Takoma Junction open house. You will have the opportunity to engage with and ask questions of the current potential developers and the TPSS Co-op about their concepts for Takoma Junction. The meeting takes place Tuesday evening, November 18 at the Community Center, from 6:30 to 9:30 pm. There will not be a formal presentation so you can drop by at any time. We will be there as well.

Takoma Junction progress to date has been in alignment with the recommendations of the Takoma Junction Task Force, a residents committee created by the council in 2010. The Task Force's report is available online.

Here is a summary of some of the highest profile recommendations from the report's executive summary that focus on the City-owned parcel, what has occurred since the report was finished, and how each recommendation has been addressed in the current concepts for Junction redevelopment.

The City Lot

The report (p. 4) recommends four uses for the parking lot parcel (which includes some of the woods):

Improved pedestrian, bicycle and auto access and improved sidewalks.
  • The City replaced the degraded and unsafe sidewalks, between the fire station and the co-op, almost 2 years ago.
  • All street crossings were changed to incorporate designs that improved access for disabled residents. 
  • The City was one of the first adopters of BikeShare in the County with a station at the Junction lot, creating new bicycle options as directed by the report.
  • The City got the State Highway Administration to change signal timing to make it possible for pedestrians to cross all the way from the co-op side to the west side of Carroll in one light cycle.
  • Approximately 2 years ago, we funded 2 crossing guards to make pedestrian access by children, parents and commuters safer.
  • Within 8 months, the State Highway Administration is slated to install a new crosswalk across Carroll/Ethan Allen at Grant Avenue, which will reduce pedestrian crossing times and make pedestrians more visible, and will embark on upgrading the Junction's traffic signals. This last change may also facilitate slight shifts in signal timing that reduce traffic back up while still having a safe and acceptable duration for pedestrians to cross.
All the initial development concepts under consideration for Junction redevelopment maintain or add to pedestrian and bicycle accessibility.

Consolidated parking for visitors and employees in the Junction
  • The City eliminated 1 of 2 entrances to the lot and restriped the lot, making vehicle and pedestrian access safer and expanding the number of parking spaces available.
  • Recently, we reinstated paid parking in the lot. (There were formerly 8-10 metered spaces, near the TPSS Co-op, prior to the use of the lot to stage the fire station rebuilding.) Why? Because all-day parking by commuters, many from other areas of the state, overnight parking, parking of vehicles for sale was reducing parking available for residents and local business employees. For example, people would drive to the City, park for free, and then get on the F4 or RideOn buses for the remainder of their commute.
  • The addition of better and safer pedestrian crossings described above makes this parking lot more available to customers and businesses on the west side of Carroll Avenue.
  • The City has long leased dedicated space in the lot to the co-op for deliveries, employees, and customers and makes that same option available to Johnny's Auto Clinic and other businesses.
All of these actions have helped make the parking lot more useful to businesses and residents. All the initial development concepts we are reviewing would preserve public parking - questions remain about how much parking is needed and how the co-op's parking would be configured, if it changed at all.

Expanded Community Use
  • The City created the very popular food-truck program in the City lot, working in cooperation with the Old Takoma Business Association.
  • Community uses such as the Christmas Tree sale have continued; we are open to other possibilities. What do you propose?
  • We have expanded the Earth Day Celebration and added new functions like the Halloween Monster Bash. (We located the Grant Avenue Market across the street instead of in the parking lot to ensure there would be parking spaces for market visitors.)
  • The City installed a fence along the back of the parking lot to prevent illegal dumping in the wooded portion of the property.
All of the development proposals include preservation or some improvement to the open space on the property. The council, community, and developers are still discussing lots of options that would maintain or enhance the wooded portion of the site. We are hearing from many residents that they would like to have continued community use on the property. Continue to send us your ideas on what you would like to see in terms of community use and open space.

Independent, non-chain business

The Task Force recommended business use of the City-owned property. (The Task Force was not merely addressing maintenance of business on private property nearby when it suggested business use for the City-owned property). Its recommendations included use by the Co-op, similar businesses or food trucks. The food truck program has been very successful.

All of the development proposals being considered incorporate expansion of the Co-op, consistent with the recommendation of the Task Force. No one envisions or proposes bringing out-of-character businesses to the Junction. Continue to send us your ideas on what you would like to see in terms of expanded business services on the property if there are more things besides Co-op expansion.

Additional Recommendations

The report went on to make many, many additional recommendations. Here are some of the ones that got the most emphasis related to the City-owned property.
  • Any development should harmonize with existing architecture and should not exceed two stories.
We are talking about development, as encouraged by the Task Force, and didn't (but should have) put a two-story limit in place when proposals were requested.
  • Give priority to using the parcel to support an addition to the co-op.
The City directed and has reemphasized that development proposals provide for Co-op expansion and operational needs (especially loading space for service by semi trucks) and make provisions for continuity of Co-op operations during any construction. The City has invited the Co-op to present to the council and community and has included the Co-op inTuesday evening's (November 18) open house.
  • Encourage Retention and Reuse of the Turner (co-op) and Healey Surgeons Buildings.
No plans being considered would fail to retain both buildings (which are both privately owned). We are committed to retaining both buildings.
  • City should work with building owners on aesthetic improvements and landscaping.
The City Council expanded the area in which Old Takoma Business Association financial assistance could be used, allocated a specific portion to the Junction, and added the Junction to areas eligible for facade grants. For example, the signage at the bicycle store and laundromat have benefited from the City's facade program technical assistance and grants.
  • Carry out a Phase 1 Environmental Assessment of the City lot. 
Done. No major issues identified.
  • Carry out a Phase 2 Environmental Assessment of the City lot. 
Done. No major issues identified.
To Be Done

Other elements remain TBD, to be done. But they are accommodated by the Takoma Junction revitalization process. Notably they include:
  • Construct a switchback pathway through the wooded area of the City-owned parcel... doable as part of lot redevelopment and part of at least one of the current concepts.
  • Streetscape improvements... envisioned once the crosswalk at Grant Avenue is in and we have an idea how the City lot will be used.
  • A comprehensive look at vehicular traffic -- patterns and congestion -- and pedestrian accessibility and safety... again most feasible once we have an idea how the City lot will be used.
  • Convening stakeholder and residents groups... how Takoma Park operates and on our agenda although a point we're admittedly behind on.
Additional Points

We offer a few additional points, regarding the Takoma Junction Task Force findings.
  1. Regarding an RFP process: Page 21 of the Task Force report includes text that is germane to discussion of the RFP process that the City has embarked on. The report reads,
"City staff additional information (December 2011): It appears that the City cannot engage in negotiations for the long-term use of City property without entering into a bid process. City contracts (which would include a sales contract, as well as a lease or development agreement) are to be awarded by competitive sealed bidding or competitive sealed proposals unless one of the exceptions applies. None of the exceptions to competitive bidding would seem to apply."
  1. Mixed-use development: The Takoma Junction Task Force did envisage housing within possible mixed-use development of the City lot. See page 28 of the Task Force report, which includes "The City could solicit bids for a development that combines commercial use on the ground floor with high-density residential housing on the top floor or floors as well as a section dedicated to public space."
In Sum

In sum, the City has implemented many of the Takoma Junction Task Force's recommendations. Some are complete; others are in process; many are part of our plans, accommodated within our Takoma Junction revitalization process. We have accomplished a great deal in Takoma Junction and are on track to accomplish even more, in conformance with the task force recommendations, and we thank all community members for your very helpful advocacy and involvement.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Takoma Junction discussion + new WAH president: Nov 3 city council meeting

The Monday evening, November 3 city council meeting will be devoted to one topic: Continued council discussion of Takoma Junction development proposals and options. But, as always, the meeting will open with preliminaries. Preliminaries include public comment, about the Takoma Junction process or anything else (preferably city related). And Monday evening, they include introduction of the new president of Washington Adventist Hospital (WAH).

I'll use this occasion to provide a WAH summary update and then write about current Takoma Junction redevelopment status, but first --

If you haven't already voted, please vote on Tuesday, November 4. Polls are open 7 am to 8 pm. You'll find information including polling-place look-up and a sample ballot online. And if you'd like voting recommendations, I'd welcome your checking out mine.

Washington Adventist Hospital Update

Erik Wangsness started as WAH president on September 22. WAH issued a press release regarding his appointment.

Adventist Healthcare Vice President Rob Jepsen presented an update to the council, on September 15, on the hospital's application for a Certificate of Need (CON) to relocate to White Oak. Mr. Jepsen's presentation slides are online -- page 10 lists health care facilities that would remain in Takoma Park -- and you can view video of his presentation and the discussion that followed. Also, the Gazette reported on Mr. Jepsen's city council visit.

The city has, subsequently, received renewed questions and advocacy from a number of residents who wish the city to press the hospital to apply for state permission to operate a free-standing emergency room (FER) in Takoma Park.

The State of Maryland has a moratorium in place on licensure of new FERs. The moratorium expires on July 1, 2015. By that date, the Maryland Health Care Commission (MHCC) is supposed to establish "review criteria and standards for issuing a CON required to establish a freestanding [emergency] medical facility in the State after July 1, 2015."

Were I an Adventist Healthcare executive, I would be reluctant to file a CON application until the review criteria and standards for its acceptance have been issued. I note that July 1, 2015 is only eight months from now, and WAH is likely to continue operating an emergency room in Takoma Park for several years after that date.

I did pose questions to Mr. Wangsness and Mr. Jepsen: "Will WAH will apply for a Takoma Park FER, rules-permitting, once the moratorium expires? How will WAH decide?" We'll see what response they have, whether on Monday evening or in subsequent discussions.

Discussion of Takoma Junction Redevelopment Proposals

The September 23 presentations by the four finalist Takoma Junction bidders generated A LOT of community questions, about particular proposals or all of them. We also had questions and comments about the development process and proposal-evaluation criteria, and we got the message that support for TPSS Co-op operations and expansion is essential. Mayor Bruce Williams invited the co-op to present at the September 29 council meeting, and at Councilmember Jarrett Smith's suggestion, the co-op compiled and sent to the finalists a number of must-have points for the co-op's continued viability.

Back to the questions and the November 3 council meeting --

City staff sorted and consolidated the many questions and comments. Following discussion at the October 6 council meeting, the city forwarded a set of eleven of them -- clarifying questions -- to the prospective developers. We directed additional questions to three of the bidders.

And here are their responses:
Finally, city staff prepared an information sheet summarizing the four finalists' proposals.

I found the responses to be helpful. All four finalists proposed a community-involved process although none provided completely satisfying detail on support for co-op operations (in particular, loading access) and expansion.

I'm going to cherry-pick a number of points where I found responses particularly interesting:
  • Three of the four finalists would go forward without necessarily building on the wooded lot on Columbia Avenue. Community Three, however, stated "elimination of the proposed single family home on the R-60 lots would require our team to revisit our team's financial proposal." (The Takoma Junction Task Force (TJTF) recommended leaving that lot undeveloped).
  • Neither of the developers that had proposed a three-story building -- Community Three and Keystar/Eco Housing -- definitively stated a willingness to proceed with a project if the building was limited to two or two-and-one-half stories (a TJTF recommendation).
  • Community members called certain proposals "Bethesda"-like, presumably responding to the exterior design. (None of the developers is proposing chain stores.) Three of the four finalists answered Yes to the question "Can the fa├žade design be modified during the process?" Community Three did not answer the question.
Looking Ahead

The city has an open house, for discussion of Takoma Junction Redevelopment Proposals, scheduled for 7:30 pm on Tuesday, November 18. Please attend! And the council has one more Takoma Junction meeting scheduled before our holiday recess. That's on November 24, when we'll also have a dog park update and a presentation by Carolyn Biggins, chief of the Montgomery County Division of Transit Services, which includes Ride On.

Comment Invited!

As always, you may comment shortly following the council meeting's 7:30 pm start, or send your comment to the whole council via the city clerk, Do get in touch with me directly if you wish, at 301-873-8225 or My next drop-in office time is 5-6 pm, Tuesday November 11, at 7006 Carroll Avenue #202. You don't need to make an appointment, although I'm happy to set a meeting time if you can't make my drop-in hours or have a sensitive topic to discuss.