Sunday, May 31, 2015

More on Residential Area Parking, and More on Zoning and Development

The Monday evening, June 1 city council meeting will include further council-staff discussion of parking in residential neighborhoods adjacent to commercial areas -- this is a special concern, of course, in Old Takoma and near Montgomery College -- plus a discussion of the city newsletter and a vote on resolution disapproving of proposed Montgomery County zoning text amendment (ZTA) 15-04. I'll describe this items and post a bit more one reasons to revisit zoning along New Hampshire Avenue and in the Takoma/Langley Crossroads area, a topic I covered last week.

Opposing Overbuilding at Washington Adventist University

The resolution opposing ZTA 15-04 will pass unanimously. (A ZTA alters county zoning code. This one would allow Washington Adventist University to build beyond the 35-foot height limit imposed by Maplewood Avenue's residential zoning.) We did express opposition to the ZTA just weeks ago, via Resolution 2015-20. Monday evening's restatement is required because the county council's Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee is considering a modification to the original proposed ZTA. We do have two of PHED's three members on our side, namely Council President George Leventhal and Councilmember Hans Riemer, as well Councilmembers Marc Elrich and Tom Hucker. Given a negative PHED vote and George's opposition, it is likely that we'll be able to stop the ZTA. Nonetheless, we need to protect against reintroduction of a modified ZTA. At the suggestion of a sympathetic county legislative attorney, I have suggested adding language stating that we oppose ZTA 15-04 regardless of any revisions or amendments that may be made.

The City Newsletter

Takoma Park's city newsletter is the #1 most used city information source, according to our 2014 residents' survey. 93% of respondents read the newsletter at least once, as compared to 68% who visited the city's Web site. For 91% of respondents, it's a key information source, compared to 82% for #2, special mailings. Clearly the newsletter is important. Monday evening's council meeting will include a newsletter discussion: How can we make it even more useful?

Parking

Yup, another parking discussion. It's a thorny issue! A draft for a proposed parking study states, "Public parking is a community asset but should be well-managed to meet the needs of residents, businesses and visitors. City of Takoma Park parking regulations have not been comprehensively studied for decades and needs and technology have changed significantly over this time." With council approval, work would be done over the summer, with a report back to the Council in the fall. For more, visit the backgrounder, which details possible near-term adjustments and review -- to parking permit zones, grant of permits to businesses and non-profits, and data collection -- and possible long-term actions and options.

Zoning and Development: New Hampshire Avenue

My May 25 "Council update: Zoning matters" looked at certain zoning and development concerns along the New Ave -- a vision for a transformed New Hampshire Avenue between the Eastern Avenue NW and University Blvd. -- and the Takoma/Langley Crossroads area. I advocated higher density and mixed-use development, rather than, for instance, the pocket sprawl creation, at NH Ave and Holton Lane, of a single-story Taco Bell with a drive-thru service window.

I thought I'd share a bit more of my thinking, a response to a constituent that I posted a few days ago to the PEN list. (I've made minor edits.) I start with a question --

Here's an opportunity to ask yourself, "What would Sam Abbott do?" I ask myself that question occasionally. This Taco Bell chunk of pocket-sprawl development will be with us for decades and will set the stage for more like it. What would Sammie do?

Let me reframe the discussion. Don't ask, "Why would a Taco Bell need a second floor?" Do ask, "What is the highest and best use for the site?" It's a mistake to ask, in effect, "What's the best design for a Taco Bell facility at the site?" I prefer to ask, "How can a Taco Bell fit in to a larger vision for the location?"

Density is appropriate at that location and all along New Hampshire Avenue in Takoma Park. That's why, in a similar situation, the city negotiated with a property owner who's putting in a dry cleaner farther down New Hampshire Avenue, to put in a second level. The Taco Bell site is zoned to allow a floor area ratio (FAR) of 2.5. Given space for the drive-thru, I'd estimate the FAR of the proposed Taco Bell at .5, meaning that the one-story building fills half the lot. With a 2.5 max FAR, you could put up a 5 story building in that footprint!

Further, the site is zoned for mixed-use development -- our New Ave initiative aspires to "quality, mixed-use, pedestrian oriented project[s]" -- which envisions that a site, even a building, will support a combination of retail, residential, office, and cultural/community uses.

In Takoma/Langley Crossroads, buildings equal opportunity. Melanie Isis, the T/LC Development Authority's executive director, presented at a recent council meeting. She said that the T/LC's commercial occupancy rate is 98%.

I went to a program May 24, here in Takoma Park, with Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and Robert Goldman, president of the Montgomery Housing Partnership, speaking on demographics trends in our county. We're already way short on affordable housing. Where better to create new housing, in mixed-use developments, than in the transit-rich crossroads area?

So to answer your question: The community -- businesses and people -- need a second floor, and maybe even more, on the Taco Bell building. And we lose opportunity if ground area is devoted to drive-thru service, which will mostly serve passers-by, at a congestion and pedestrian safety cost, rather than locals and visitors who will also patronize other businesses.

The site -- we -- are inside the Beltway. Yet here we're contemplating a proposed Taco Bell, with a drive-thru, that's a small chunk of sprawl development in what should be a smart-growth zone.

Your Thoughts?

As always, please share you thoughts with me, at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225, or send comments for the council as a whole to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov. Thanks for reading and engaging!

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