Friday, January 2, 2015

City council discussion of the Washington-McLaughlin School property, January 5

As many residents are aware, the IRS has seized for tax sale the wooded portion of the Washington-McLaughlin School property in Takoma Park. The question is, How should the City of Takoma Park respond?

The city council will be discussing the property at our Monday evening, January 5 meeting. We will discuss a possible city bid in the auction the IRS will conduct on January 22.

Buying the property would involve a significant dollar outlay. The council will need to weigh this expense against other city spending priorities, which are many of course, and against uses such as putting more money toward our unmet pension liabilities or holding the line on taxes. The city's buying the property would also remove it from the tax roll until we resell it, if we later decide to resell it.

Please weigh in with your opinion, whether prior to the council discussion or after. Contact me directly at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225, write to the whole council via clerk@takomaparkmd.gov, or comment at 7:30 pm at the Monday evening, January 5 council meeting. You may also wish to attend a community discussion organized by Councilmember Tim Male, which will take place Friday evening, January 2, at 7 pm in the Hydrangea Room of the Community Center.

The January 5 council agenda packet provides a full set of background materials. Because the city became aware of the tax sale only a week before Christmas, this is a late addition to the agenda and is scheduled for 9:45 pm. Attend the meeting or watch the discussion on city TV, including online.

In brief --

The wooded area is 2.68 acres, bounded by Woodland and Gude Avenues, by a row of homes along Elm Avenue, and by a "paper street" (public right-of-way) that is a continuation of Circle Avenue. The location is not far from New Hampshire Avenue, part of a larger parcel that is zoned R-60, which would allow by-right construction of single-family residences with a minimum lot size of 6,000 square feet. The City of Takoma Park is one of several parties that hold a lien on the parcel for unpaid debts, in our case, for property taxes and interest.

The Washington-McLaughlin parcel includes an old Prince George's County elementary school that is now partially used as a senior residence and day care center. That developed portion of the parcel is not part of the tax sale.

City options

If the city were to bid on and win the wooded lot, we could preserve it undeveloped or we could sell it to a developer that agrees to criteria we make part of the deal. Or we could let the property be sold directly to a developer, who would presumably build a maximal number of homes on the property although likely without the sensitivity to the neighbors and environmental that we would all prefer.

There many possible scenarios. Another is that a private individual or group, possibly a land trust, could win the property with the aim of seeking a conservation easement.

Your view?

Please do relay your view to the council or directly to me, in particular, whether you think the city should take steps to acquire the Washington-McLaughlin wooded lot and, if you favor city purchase, whether you prefer the lot be preserved undeveloped or be developed with single-family homes in a neighborhood-friendly manner.

Thanks, and best wishes for the new year!

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