Sunday, July 19, 2015

July 20 update: Recycling, grants, legislative requests, and problem properties

The Monday evening, July 20 city council agenda includes a first vote on extending recycling requirements to city businesses, continued discussion of vacant and blighted properties, a resolution on city requests for state legislative action, and three grants items: a vote on $10,000 construction funds for the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church Commercial Kitchen and discussions of city large grant designees and of community legacy grants.

The meeting opens with public comment at 7:30 pm.

Recycling

Following preliminaries, the council will vote on a recycling ordinance. Montgomery County requires businesses to recycle, but this particular county law doesn't apply in Takoma Park. To me, matching the county's business recycling requirement -- and taking steps to facilitate recycling by apartment residents -- is a long-overdue no-brainer.

Problem Properties

Skipping ahead: The final item on the agenda is continued discussion of vacant and blighted properties, slated for 9:30 pm.

This is an on-going discussion, prompted by the existence of too many vacant, run-down residential and commercial properties within the city. The Washington-McLaughlin property off New Hampshire Avenue at Poplar Avenue is a glaring example: Formerly a school, now in very-partial use as a senior residence and adult day care facility. The city would like to see this property and dozens of others in Takoma Park returned to productive use.

Further, in many cases, the properties are neighborhood nuisances, for instance, in Ward 1, the house at Piney Branch Road and Philadelphia Avenue. We have had extreme neglect situations where regrettably the only feasible outcome is demolition. 36 Philadelphia Avenue, now a vacant lot, is an example.

We have tools available to us but need more: The topic for Monday evening's discussion.

Legislative Action Requests

Each year, the city gets to ask the Maryland Municipal League to consider three items as MML legislative priorities for the next state legislative session. At a July 13 worksession, the council identified five items. You can see the five in the meeting backgrounder. Monday evening, we'll winnow the list down to three.

My inclination is to go with reforms to state tax duplication mandates (which I'll explain to anyone who wants to know) and a communication and coordination mandate for utilities and public agencies such as the State Highway Administration. I would expand the latter item to cover counties, who also face problems working with utilities, and not just cities. My third would be either a Highway User Revenue item or, more likely, a bill regarding reporting of pension liabilities.

Grants

The first of three grant items is a vote on a $10,000 construction grant for the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church commercial kitchen, recommended by the 2014 Grants Committee but deferred by the council pending progress in neighbor-church discussions. The parties agreed to a mediation involving neighbor and church representatives.

One outcome is that the kitchen group scaled back the design from what had been proposed a year or so ago. A second is that the parties have reached an "agreement in principle." They did table a number of topics until an October meeting but none relate to kitchen construction. In bringing the item to a council vote, the mayor clearly believes that progress has been sufficient to meet last year's council conditions. Myself, I have weighed all community views. I am aiming to act in a fair and principled manner and I'm aware of still-open concerns. I know all the parties and believe they will work in good faith toward resolution of open operational issues -- their goal is to finalize and execute an agreement by November 30, 2015 -- regardless of the release of the $10,000 in construction funds, and I plan to vote for the grant.

At 8:30 pm, the council is slated to discuss FY16 community grants, the city's large grants program. The 2015 Grants Committee presented its recommendations at the July 6 council meeting, per the July 20 backgrounder. My inclination is to go with the committee's recommendations with one addition and one adjustment. The committee left $4,000 unallocated. I would put this money, and move $7,500 from the Dance Exchange (DX) grant (leaving $22,500), toward a $11,500 grant to the Old Takoma Business Association for community festivals. OTBA-organized festivals enrich and draw outsiders to our community. City financial support is key. The adjustment would bring the DX grant in line with other partial grants to the Crossroads Community Food Network, EduCare Support Services, and Community Health and Empowerment Through Education and Research (CHEER).

And a discussion of proposed FY16 Maryland Community Legacy grants is scheduled for 9 pm. The proposed capital projects focus on two adjacent New Hampshire Avenue commercial properties. New Hampshire Avenue (the New Ave) revitalization is a key priority so I anticipate that the council will approve an application for these uses.

Your Thoughts?

Please let me know what you're thinking: 301-873-8225 or sethg@takomaparkmd.gov.

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