Friday, June 12, 2015

June 15 discussion of library options, and a question: Should the city offer paid parental leave to employees?

The Monday evening, June 15 city council meeting will be devoted to a discussion of library renovation options, taking place in and around the library, taking place after a public hearing and vote on debt issuance -- debt refinancing, actually -- and a first vote on a revised employee classification and compensation system.

The public hearing is legally required, scheduled for 7 pm. Usual public comment on other matters will be at 7:30 pm. According to the city manager, refinancing a bond issued to pay for the community center will result in anticipated savings of about $160,000 over 10 years.

Paid Parental Leave?

The council discussed the proposed revised employee classification and compensation system last week. The city aims to make up for ground lost during the recession. The revision will raise pay to fair, competitive levels. We plan to phase in higher pay over the next three years.

During last week's discussion, I brought up another compensation possibility. I asked the council to direct the city manager to evaluate offering paid maternity and paternity leave (which would extend to adoptions) to city employees.

City employees already have the possibility of equivalent coverage, through employee-paid disability-leave options and donated sick leave. The city manager estimates that offering parental leave would cost the city some tens of thousands of dollars yearly. Yet "equivalent" is not "equal." I believe offering parental leave is the right thing to do. But we will pursue the matter only if there's support, hence my question to constituents:

Should the city offer paid parental leave to employees?

President Barack Obama noted, in last January's State of the Union address, "Today, we're the only advanced country on Earth that doesn't guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers."

An employer can offer a benefit even if not legally required. I'm sure the city can craft a paid parental leave plan that works, at acceptable cost.

But what's your thought on the topic? Please let the city manager and council know, via e-mail to or comment at a council meeting.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Zoning Tools Can Help Takoma Park Shape Local Development

The City of Takoma Park has a variety of tools at its disposal, when it comes to guiding development within city limits.

Montgomery County zoning code, enacted by the County Council, applies in Takoma Park. Zoning is administered by the county's Planning Department and governed by the five-member Planning Board. Yet the city does have a say in zoning linked decision. I'll attempt to explain how Takoma Park can shape local development, reposting a write-up I sent to constituents as part of a neighborhood discussion.

The Takoma Park Historic District

Beyond base zoning code, a number of artifacts carry weight. They include (area) master plans, sector plans, and design guidelines. We also have -- and can seek modification of -- overlay zones that refine the base zoning for a defined area. This is all in addition to the Historic District protections. Finally, prospective developers are often required to submit site plans for Planning Board approval, and the city can and does weigh in on these.

I'll give examples and also explain a provision on state law that gives Takoma Park special say in zoning matters within the city. Residents with more expertise than I have (including Frances Phipps and Faroll Hamer) and others can add to, correct, or clarify all this.

Planning Documents

  • Much of Takoma Park is within the Takoma Park/East Silver Silver Spring Commercial Revitalization (TPESS) overlay zone, which was created a number of years ago and modified during the 2013 county-wide zoning rewrite.

  • I am advocating that the city discuss creation of an overlay zone for Takoma-Langley Crossroads and the full extent of New Hampshire Avenue in and bordering Takoma Park.

  • The Takoma Park Master Plan is available online.

  • It's possible to seek a "minor master plan amendment" in order to make adjustments.

    Other county master plans are functional, covering uses rather than specific geographic areas. Montgomery County's recently-adopted Bikeways Master Plan is an example.

  • You can also find the Takoma Langley Crossroads Sector Plan online.
  • For New Hampshire Avenue, we've created a Corridor Concept Plan and Streetscape Standards.

    I realize that these docs wouldn't cover residential tear-down situations, if the county were to alter residential zoning. I don't see much risk of that happening any time soon, but certainly we could discuss using the tools available to create new protections for Takoma Park residential neighborhoods outside the Historic District, within the county's zoning framework.

    A Special Supermajority Provision

    State code § 24-202 says, "A two-thirds majority vote of both the district council and the county planning board is required to take any action relating to zoning within the City of Takoma Park that is contrary to a resolution of the Mayor and City Council."

    Many Montgomery County zoning text amendments (ZTAs) -- including the now-withdrawn ZTA 15-04 -- would apply within the City of Takoma Park. Therefore a vote on such a matter, whether on a Planning Board resolution recommending alterations or an ordinance of the County Council (sitting as the district council) to enact a ZTA, is an "action relating to zoning within the City of Takoma Park."

    A Planning Board 3-2 vote would not advance a matter the City of Takoma Park opposes. A Montgomery County Council 5-4 vote would not advance such a matter.

    A Montgomery County legislative attorney I consulted agrees with this reading, as does a Montgomery County planning official. The real test, however, would come when we actually § 24-202. Takoma Park City Attorney Sue Silber said that she hasn't yet found any case law indicating a deviation from the plain reading of § 24-202.

    Do these references help in your understanding of tools Takoma Park can use to shape local development? Please do post comments or send me corrections.

    Relationships Count

    Do note that all I've described is tools. There is no substitute for forming relationships with the city's property owners, regional developments, county planning and elected officials, and state and Prince George's County officials. We need both tools and relationships if we are to successfully advance our own Takoma Park vision of locally appropriate, environmentally sound, transit friendly development that creates amenities and economic opportunity for all community stakeholders.

    Monday, June 8, 2015

    June 8 city council meeting: routine matters

    I haven't prepared an extensive update for this evening's city council meeting because the agenda items are routine matters: contract awards and policy clarifications. See for yourself: the agenda is online.

    I'll call out just two items:

    - The council will vote to move ahead with installation of sponsored notice-board kiosks in city parks. This initiative was organized by Play Lady Pat Rumbaugh (thanks!), who recruited a business that will donate the kiosks at no cost to the city. The kiosks would have a small donor logo. You can see the draft resolution and a design sketch online.

    - We are scheduled for the first of two required votes on a new classification and compensation plan for city staff. The plan is the outcome of policy discussions and union negotiations that took place over an extended period. The city contracted out for a compensation study in 2014; it found that "almost all salaries were below market levels and a number of positions were particularly low compared to similar positions in comparable municipalities." The city plans to bring salaries back to competitive levels, phasing in increases over three years.