Sunday, February 22, 2015

City Council update: Takoma Metro, Takoma Junction, and Business & Multifamily Recycling

The three key topics to be discussed at the Monday, February 23, 2015 city council meeting are Takoma Metro and Takoma Junction development and a recycling requirement for city businesses and multifamily apartment buildings. The full agenda is on the city Web site.

I'll tackle the easiest of those three items first, recycling, then cover the development items --

Multifamily and Business Recycling

A proposed ordinance would require that Takoma Park businesses recycle cans, bottle, and paper goods, matching a Montgomery County requirement that was imposed back in 1993 and revised in 2005 that does not apply in Takoma Park. The city ordinance, if enacted, will close a huge loophole: Business recycling makes sense.

[Revised February 23:] The ordinance would strengthen the city's recycling requirements for larger multiunit apartment buildings, requirements that have been in place since 1993. (Our law would be more stringent than a Maryland state law enacted in 2012.) It would refresh existing city recycling code, which is now over thirty years old.

The draft ordinance is online. The council will discuss it -- the provisions, benefits, and costs -- at Monday evening's council meeting. We will then, presumably, vote on the ordinance in the weeks that follow.

Takoma Metro Development -- Comment on the Public Hearing Staff Report

I'll start with a Takoma Metro development refresher, then describe current status, and then tell you how you can comment to the WMATA board on development plans.

A refresher: The WMATA board voted last March to enter into an amended joint development agreement (JDA) with developer EYA. EYA plans a 200-unit residential apartment building in place of the current Takoma Metro station parking lot. A new transit-user parking facility, with fewer spaces, would be located under the new building.

Current status: WMATA held a public hearing on the proposed development on June 18, 2014. WMATA staff has prepared and released a draft report on the hearing. The report and a variety of exhibits, including a revised site concept plan, are posted on the WMATA Web site.

WMATA will accept comment on the report until March 2, 2015. Then the board's Planning, Program Development, and Real Estate (PPDRE) Committee is slated to discuss the report and comments at its March 12 meeting. The full board is slated to vote to accept the report at its March 26 meeting.

Once the board accepts the public hearing staff report, developer EYA is expected to submit a "planned unit development" (PUD) application for District of Columbia zoning approval. A PUD is required because the site design does not conform to the site's zoning. In particular, the planned building rises to a height of 69.5 feet within zones that limit building height to 40 and 50 feet.

That 69.5 foot height is actually a reduction from the last design released. In addition, WMATA and the developer relocated the loading dock to the side of the building and reduced the number of parking-access lanes from three to two, increasing the width of wooded green-space to be preserved, on the uphill side of the site, to thirty feet. The developer also substituted two-story units along Eastern Avenue NW, increased the setback from Eastern Avenue, and moved the step-back to maximum building height farther from the Eastern Avenue frontage. These are positive steps although they fall well short of changes WMATA and the developer can and should make to respond to the community's, and the city's, concerns.

The Takoma Park City Council will consider a resolution commenting on the draft public hearing staff report, at Monday evening's meeting. The draft resolution on the city Web site is not the latest draft, however; see this revision. The council may make additional changes.

The draft resolution references a document with detailed comments. The draft is online.

A key point: The design's oversupply of residential parking -- an estimated .55 parking ratio for a building located directly at a multi-modal transit hub -- is antithetical to smart growth principles. It's also contrary to the WMATA board's direction to staff and the developer "to minimize the number of the project’s residential parking spaces in order to promote greater transit utilization by residents and reduce traffic impact." The in-process Washington DC zoning rewrite would set a minimum (by right) parking ratio of just .17 (1-to-6); the current design includes over three times the DC-determined minimum so fails to meet the "minimize" directive.

Please relay your thoughts about the draft resolution and city comment to the council, by testifying Monday evening at 7:30 pm or by e-mail to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov or to council members individually.

To comment to WMATA directly: Per the WMATA Web site, "Comments on this Draft Public Hearing Staff Report must be received by 5 p.m. on Monday, March 2, 2015 and may be submitted via email to writtentestimony@wmata.com, faxed to 202-962-1133 or mailed to WMATA; Office of the Secretary; 600 Fifth Street, NW; Washington, DC 20001. Please reference R14-01 in your submission."

The city's position calls for a building height within zoning limits without any exception and for a steep reduction in the number of residential parking spaces. If you want to keep your own comment simple, ask for these two things. If you wish to submit comment in more detail, do review the draft city materials using the links I have provided.

Takoma Junction

Last Tuesday, February 17, the council met in closed session with finalist Takoma Junction candidate developers the Ability Project, Keystar/EcoHousing, and the Neighborhood Development Company. Finalist Community Three has withdrawn its proposal. The Tuesday meetings focused on financial matters; Mayor Bruce Williams has scheduled a closed-session continuation of discussions with Keystar/EcoHousing for Monday evening at 7 pm.

During the public portion of Monday evening's meeting, the council is slated to discuss Takoma Junction redevelopment next steps.

The city's Takoma Junction schedule tentatively calls for March 9, 2015 selection of a developer. Whenever we make that selection, I expect we will incorporate certain conditions in the development agreement. They include reaching agreement with the TPSS Co-op on design modifications and steps that will satisfactorily accommodate co-op expansion, operational needs such as truck loading access, and business continuity for the duration of construction.

I will plan to post an update summarizing the outcome of Monday evening's meeting.

Your Thoughts?

If you wish to comment at the council meeting, your opportunity will come at 7:30 pm, at the start of the public meeting. Otherwise, please communicate your thoughts and concerns to me at 301-873-8225 or sethg@takomaparkmd.gov, or send your comment to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov for distribution to the whole council.

Thanks!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Takoma Park library and Takoma Junction next steps at the February 9 city council meeting

The Monday evening, February 9 city council meeting opens with a presentation on library-redesign options, at 7 pm. Following public comment at 8 pm (later than usual!), and then a series of voting items, we'll have a "Review of Listening Sessions and Discussion of Next Steps for the Takoma Junction Site – Criteria for Developers." It's scheduled for 9:10 pm.

I'll provide a bit of detail on the library and Takoma Junction items and a couple of the voting items. The full agenda is online. Note that it includes distribution (but not discussion) of the Arts and Humanities Commission Annual Report.


Library Redesign

Per the council backgrounder, "in January of 2014, the library issued a 'Community Needs Assessment and Visioning for a 21st Century Public Library' [document] prepared by Providence Associates." The city subsequently engaged The Lukmire Partnership (architect of the new Silver Spring Library) to produce re-design plans, with options for both renovation and expansion.

Note that the city has not yet committed to any redesign work.

Greg Lukmire, the partnership's principal architect, will present options and estimated costs as detailed in the project report, which is part of the backgrounder file.The report summarizes Lukmire's findings, conclusions, and recommendations. The price tags aren't small. The estimated project costs range from $2.1 million to $3.5 million. Clearly we'll have to consider the options, benefits, and financing carefully before proceeding

A Resolution and an Ordinance: Washington-McLaughlin Property and a New Contract for the City Attorney

Among the seven voting items on the agenda are:

- A "Resolution Approving the City of Takoma Park's Purchase of 2.68 ± Acres of Land, Known as Parcel 3, of the Washington-McLaughlin School Property at the Internal Revenue Service Public Auction Sale on January 22, 2015." The resolution approves and ratifies the city's $253,000 winning bid for the January auction purchase of the property's wooded lot.

The city will apply $53,000 in privately donated funds toward the purchase, reducing the city's cash outlay to $200,000. The council will vote a resolution of thanks to the individuals who are contributing toward our purchase of the property.

- The city issued a request for proposals for legal services late last year. After interviewing responding firms, the council decided to extend the tenure of the Silber, Perlman, Sigman & Tilev law firm as city attorney.

We'll formalize our decision with an ordinance authorizing signing of a new contract, although the voting item will be pulled from the consent (non-discussion) agenda in order to allow discussion of contract terms. There are no major issues; an authorizing ordinance will pass, granting SPST a five-year contract with five option years. We'll simply be fine-tuning the wording.

Takoma Junction

Takoma Junction is on the council's agenda once again, this time in the form of council-staff review of the testimony at recent listening session and then discussion of proposal evaluation criteria.

I disagree with staff's statement, "Of primary importance is how the development team will work with the Council and the community, not the specific design elements included in the preliminary submissions." Specific design elements are primary, in particular, whether housing should be the project's centerpiece in a wide building that includes the current Takoma Auto Clinic (Johnny's) lot; whether we are accepting of a three-story building with a smaller number of housing units; and whether we will accept construction of a pillar-supported parking deck extending well over the wooded hillside. I'm referring to the Keystar/EcoHousing, Community 3, and Ability Project proposals. The fourth is Neighborhood Development Corporation, whose propoal doesn't include any design elements that are *significantly* at variance with the Takoma Junction Task Force recommendations in my view.

You'll find a timeline in the backgrounder file. Three future items are listed:

- February 17, 2015: Closed Session Council Interviews with Developers

- February 23, 2015: Work Session on Next Steps (Proposed)

- March 9, 2015: Council Selection of Developer (Tentative)

The mayor controls the council's agenda. I have asked Mayor Bruce Williams to explain why the February 17 session would be non-public. This isn't a question of authority; state law allows closed "administrative function" sessions. I simply can't think of any topic we would discuss that could not be discussed in open session.

As indicated, the direction we're heading is choice of a developer with whom we would discuss project modifications, including cooperative work with the TPSS Co-op to meet co-op expansion and operational needs, with the presumption that if we make progress, we'll advance toward a formal agreement. I support this next step in the process started when we issued a development RFP over a year ago, although I'd think about engaging in these focused discussions with two top-tier finalists rather than one.

Your Thoughts

Please communicate your thoughts and concerns to me at 301-873-8225 or sethg@takomaparkmd.gov, or send your comment to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov for distribution to the whole council. And if you'd like to meet in person: My next drop-in office time is Tuesday, February 10, 5-6 pm at my office, 7006 Carroll Avenue #202. No appointment is necessary: Just show up.